Monthly Archives: June 2015

The Old House

Holding a dozen red roses, I stepped inside the flapping, torn screen door and I saw that the roof was half gone, long vines growing through it. I hesitated a moment as I remembered the last time I stood there, sixty years ago on July 4th.
This house sat at the bottom of a sloped pasture from our home. My little four-year-old legs only took moments to scramble through the tall grasses and to mount the creaking wooden steps. I heard her voice.
“Baby boy! Git on in this house right now! I got some ice cold wallermelon for ya!”
Mary’s voice made me feel happy. Ma and pa were pleasant, but they were miserable like the weight of the world was about to weaken their knees, forcing them to the ground. Ma tried to find a smile and a gentle caress from time to time, but Pa never rose above a scowl and a menacing leer. I kinda felt sorry for Ma. She carried her sorrow around like a rough old wool blanket, but Pa scared me to death, like he was gonna pull back his fist and knock me from here to kingdom come. My brothers were on Pa’s side. They told me the only reason Mary liked me was because she just wanted to touch my white skin. Those mixed emotions made going to Mary’s little cabin across the way so exciting: her comforting manner and my fear that Pa would find out. For the longest spell I never understood why Pa and my brothers hated Mary.
“Now you come over here and sit on Mary’s lap so she can give you a big hug.”
When I walked across the room she noticed the dandelions I had picked along the way through the pasture.
“Why, is those for me, Baby Boy? Mary’s gonna have to give you a extra big slice of melon for those purty flowers.” She put her big brown arms around me and hugged. Mary smelled like fresh-baked cornbread.
Just then the screen door flew open. My father’s hulking frame blocked the sunlight trying to flood into the tiny dark room.
“JerDan! Didn’t I tell you never to come to Mary’s place again?”
Actually, he used another word in front of her name, but ever since that day I never felt right about using it. He grabbed me up under my armpit and jerked me toward the door. The dandelions fell from my hand. As he dragged me out the screen door and across the porch, I heard Mary calling.
“Baby Boy, ain’t ya gonna say good-bye to Mary? Baby Boy?”
And for the first time I heard her cry.
The next morning Ma told me Mary died over night and the ambulance had come for her body. I looked through our back door and across the pasture to see the men carry Mary’s body out on a stretcher. A bunch of black folks stood in the yard crying. I supposed they were her family.
All these years I thought Mary died because I had broken her heart, and the memories caused hot tears to run down my pale wrinkled cheeks. I didn’t bother to wipe them away. I just walked over to the spot where I had dropped the dandelions and placed the dozen red roses, putting on top of them a card that said:
“I’m sorry, Mary.”

Remember Chapter Six

“Let’s try again. One, two — two, three. One — forward right — two, three — side right. One, two — back with your left — three . . . .”

Lucinda could not believe she was actually teaching someone to dance. A million years ago in another lifetime when she was a gangling teen-aged girl with undeniably bulbous eyes she announced to her mother that she was going to ask her father when he came home from his job that night to teach her to dance. The school was holding the homecoming dance in the gymnasium on Friday night, and she had decided this was the year she was going to attend and be held in a boy’s arms. Her mother’s mouth flew up, and then she informed her daughter she would do no such thing. Her father worked too hard all day to have to put up with some silly little girl with impure intentions involving reckless young men. So Lucinda’s mother took it upon herself to teach the girl how to dance a proper waltz. It was a short lesson, but Lucinda felt confident she had learned the basics. After all, Lucinda was a bright student. In the end, however, it was all for naught because Lucinda spent the entire homecoming dance standing under the basketball netting with a handful of other girls deemed too irretrievably plain to ask to dance. A couple of the girls decided to dance with each other, but Lucinda sensed that was somehow intrinsically wrong.

“Very good Vernon. Now let’s repeat those steps a few more times, and I think you will have it.”

She allowed herself to close her eyes and pretend she was back in the school gymnasium at the homecoming dance, the band was playing, and Vernon Singleberry had rescued her from a long evening of embarrassment. The bedroom door creaked open, and when Lucinda’s eyes opened, she found herself back in the boardinghouse and staring at her landlady Emma Lawrence who had a cigarette hanging from her lips.

“Hey, I think I’m getting the hang of it,” Vernon said just as he disappeared into Lucinda’s past.

“Dancin’ by yourself?” Emma took her cigarette from her mouth and flicked ashes on the rough wooden floor. Her faded print dress hung oddly on her undistinguished frame.

“Just — just remembering some — some happy times,” she replied and then laughed which she thought sounded hollow and frightened.

“Hmph.” Emma arched her unattractive bushy eyebrows. “You seen Cassie?”

“She brought me some boxes a few minutes ago.”

Emma blew smoke in Lucinda’s direction. “There’ll be a charge for them boxes, you know.”

“Of course.”

“Fruit boxes like that don’t come easy, you know.” She waved at the corner where the boxed books sat.”

“Of course.”

An obvious sneer dominated her wrinkled face. “You can finish your dance.”


“I always knew you had no common sense.” Emma turned and left the room, shutting the door with more force than was necessary.

Lucinda closed her eyes, lecturing herself that it would be foolish to cry because of what an unpleasant person like Emma Lawrence said.

“I’m getting better.”

Thank God, she thought. Vernon was back. She opened her eyes, and there she was back in her classroom and in her student’s arms. She winced as his large left foot landed on hers. “Not quite. You stepped on my foot again.”

“I told you I was uncoordinated.”

“You’re getting better though.” She smiled. “At least you can say it correctly.”

“Oh, Nancy will never go out with me again.” Vernon turned away in despair.

“If you’re lucky,” she muttered.


“Oh, nothing.” Lucinda sat at her desk, unconsciously rubbing chest.

“Maybe I’d do better with the modern dances where you don’t have to be so close.”

“Then you’ll have to find someone else to teach you. I don’t know them.” Her jaw dropped slightly, indicating her disapproval. “Frankly, I don’t think they’re very moral.”

“Mama says the same thing.” Vernon sat at a student desk. “Of course, mama thinks slow dancing is sinful too.”

“Oh no. Waltzes are too graceful to be sinful.” A brief image of a Viennese ballroom crossed her mind.

“You know, what always confused me about that is the dance where you’re far apart is supposed to be bad while when you’re actually touching each other, well, that’s supposed to be okay.”

“So you agree with your mother, that all dancing is wrong?”

“Heck no.” Vernon flashed a big country smile. “I think all dancing is great — if you can do it. For a long time I said I didn’t dance because I thought it was wrong, but it was really because I was so clumsy. But I can’t really see being dishonest about it anymore. Don’t you think being dishonest about how you feel is worse sin than dancing?

Lucinda stood to go to the window right. Fresh green leaves covered the trees. Soon the Texas heat would wither them almost unto death, but not quite. Alive but without life. “You amaze me with your theology, Vernon.”

But you didn’t answer my question.”

She turned to smile. “I didn’t know you wanted an answer.”

“Don’t you think people should be honest about their feelings?” He did not know the searing truth in his question.

“Sometimes it’s best to keep your feelings to yourself.”

Anyway, I don’t want mama to know, but I think when I get out on my own — you know, after the university and I get a job in computers—“

“Computers? You’ve decided on computers?” She was relieved to talk about other matters.

“Yeah, didn’t I tell you?”

She walked back to her desk, returning to her professorial attitude. “No, you hadn’t. But you were telling me what you were going to do after you got your degree.”

“Yeah, well, once I got a job and a place of my own to live in Dallas or someplace neat like that—“ . . . .

“Please watch your slang, Vernon,” she interrupted. “Dallas is not neat, per se.”

“I’m sorry.” He paused to reflect. “I think exciting is the word I’m looking for.”

“Yes, I’d say Dallas is definitely exciting for a young man out of college.” She sat. “Go ahead.”

“I don’t think I’ll join a Baptist church. You know, I might hunt around for something that isn’t so — Baptist. You know what I mean?”

“Turning your back on your religious heritage is not something to be taken lightly.” Lucinda thought of Nancy and how she would be taking her place at the dance. “Have you talked this over with Nancy? What church does she attend?”

“Heck, I don’t know. And I wouldn’t talk to her about anything like this. She might think I’m — well, some sort of church weirdo. You know?” Vernon looked directly into her eyes with complete sincerity. “I mean, I only talk about personal things like this with you.”

“Why, thank you, Vernon. I hope I always merit your confidence.”

“Miz Cambridge, lunch is ready!” Cassie’s voice boomed from the hallway.

He looked at the door. “That sounds like Cassie Lawrence. That’s right. You said you were living in her mother’s boarding house.” He wrinkled his brow. “I told you Nancy used to live here, didn’t I?”

“Yes, Vernon.” She pursed her lips.

“I drove her home yesterday and asked her to the dance right on the front porch.” He sighed. “I guess Nancy still isn’t here, is she?”

“Hardly anyone is here anymore except Cassie’s aunt and me.”

“I hate to see you living in this firetrap. I hated to see Nancy living in this firetrap.”

“That was ten years ago.” Her eyes twinkled in a less-than-funny irony. “It really is a firetrap now.”

“Then why do you live here?” Vernon could not hide the irritation in his voice.

“I can’t afford anything else on my pension. Last December I collapsed in the classroom and was forced to retire. My sister she died of a heart attack in February, so I moved in here about four months ago.”

“The one you stayed with during the summer? The one in Galveston?”


“So she died of a heart attack.” His eyes lit with alarm. “Do heart attacks run in your family?”

“They gallop.” She stood in an effort to end the conversation which had grown too personal for comfort. “I suppose you must go now. Mrs. Lawrence will give me the most withering stare and announce the vittles are cold because the teacher woman tarried too long with her books.”

Vernon stood and headed to the door. “You’re taking good care of yourself, aren’t you?”

“As well as I can on my pension.”

“Well, do what the doctor says.”

“I do.”

The background slowly melted from classroom to bedroom, and Vernon’s voice began fading. “I know this sounds silly. But I want you to live a long time because us memories—“

“We memories.” She was hardly conscious she was verbally editing his speech.

“. . . we memories only live as long as the person who has the memory lives. And I like living in your memory.”

“Why, Vernon, don’t worry. Your memory will live.”

“It will?” he asked with hope.

“Even after I die because of all the other people who have these same memories of this sweet, dear young man. I know your mother has them.”

“Is mama still alive?” he persisted with another question.

“Yes, and I’m sure she visits with her memories of you every day.”

“I wonder what kind of memories Nancy has of me?”

Lucinda turned abruptly. “I wouldn’t know.”

“I guess I better go and let you eat lunch.” He was almost out the door and into the mists of yesterday when he stepped for one last question. “You wouldn’t happen to remember if I had a good time at the dance?”

“If I did I don’t think it would be ethical to tell you.” She knew her reply was evasive, but her emotions would not allow truth.

“Miz Cambridge!” Cassie called out again.

“I’ll see you later.”

Vernon’s farewell was hardly audible and when he was finished, Lucinda found herself firmly affixed with her sad present tense.

Cancer Chronicles Eight

Another thing we didn’t know about cancer before my wife started chemotherapy for breast cancer is that patients will probably need a couple of blood transfusions before the ordeal is over.
I figured transfusions were a part of having leukemia but not breast cancer. I should have realized this since chemotherapy screams around with the entire body while killing the cancer. So far my wife has needed two transfusions. It’s not as gruesome as County Dracula chomping down on a neck but rather a tedious process of watching the blood slowly drip in through the same port in her chest which is also used to inject the chemo cocktails into her body. And it’s kept frozen before anyone needs it, so my wife learned to call ahead so the staff can take a bag or two out of the freezer. Oh, and the patient has to go to the hospital for the transfusion. This isn’t a one-stop operation. At least it gives them time to thaw out the blood.

This is why the staff also checks the patient’s blood count before each session so therapy can begin on a high note.
“Congratulations! You only have to endure two-to-three hours hooked up to a tube instead of four to six!”

Juneteenth and Why It Matters

So, how did you celebrate Juneteenth last week? Neither did I, and that’s the problem.
To refresh your memory, June 19, 1865, was the day the Union military announced the Emancipation Proclamation in Texas, a really long time after President Abraham Lincoln issued it. One reason put forth for the delay was that the plantation owners wanted to get one more free cotton picking season out of the slaves before they set them free. For the first few years, Juneteenth was only celebrated by freed slaves in Texas. Eventually black communities throughout the south observed the date.
I’ve participated in two Juneteenth celebrations since I’ve lived in Florida. When I was a child in Texas I only knew the date as a day my father, who drove a soft drink truck, sold a lot of Royal Crown Cola and Nehi fruit sodas. It was his biggest sales day, second only to the county fair.
A large black man organized both events and asked me to help with the publicity. I wrote letters to business and community leaders asking them to sponsor the event for anything from $50 to $1,000. No takers, but my new friend was impressed by the effort I put into it. One problem we had was that he was dead set on having a four-day event with everything from carnival rides for the children to a living history freedom trail featuring historic artifacts from the slave period. When he was told that area carnival ride companies were all going out of town that week, he refused to take the rides off the program.
“If I have to, I’ll give them all piggy back rides around the park,” he said, refusing to change his plans.
Actually the opening program went very well. City and community officials showed up and made speeches. There was the horse cavalry group, based on the historical black cavalry unit during the Spanish-American war. Local churches sold barbecue, children sang and danced and a good time was had by all. By the last day, however, only a handful showed up to hear a very long presentation on the history of slavery in America.
A couple of years later my friend tried it again, but instead of a city park he had to hold it in the parking lot of a fraternal lodge. Many black residents who participated the first time did not want to bring their children to a place where beer was sold. I think there were more people on the stage than sitting in the chairs. It was June in Florida and very hot. The highlight of the day was a group of rappers from Orlando who were there to get exposure for their act.
A lot of the problems arose from my friend. He was bull-headed, and his social skills declined from there. It’s sad to want to lead the parade only to have everyone behind you go home early. But he was relentless in keeping the entire community aware of racial injustices in the town’s past, which is tough going when you’re talking to the descendants of the men who owned the slaves.
He was a little sloppy with details too. He tried to run for city council and had to provide a statement from his daughter that he lived in the city limits with her. He had her sign the document and took it to a friend who was a notary public. The man notarized the document even though he did not actually see the daughter sign it. The local authorities were ready to throw him in jail for it when he died of a heart attack. The last time I saw him I gave him copies of stories about the case from a bi-weekly newspaper wrote for. My friend looked terrible but still determined to fight for his rights.
Now when Juneteenth rolled around I thought of the man who was not socially equipped to fight for the rights of black citizens, but he didn’t let that stop him. Maybe what we need next Juneteenth is a memorial for all who have died to create a society where everyone knows indeed they are equal. And white residents need to acknowledge that the struggle continues, and no one is truly free as long as just one black man marches in a civil rights parade.

Remember Chapter Five

Breaking Lucinda’s thoughts, Cassie came in with a couple of cardboard fruit boxes. “I found them boxes you wanted, Miz Cambridge.”

“Hmm?” She fluttered her eyes.

“The boxes for your books.”

“Oh, thank you, dear. How kind.”

“Where do you want them?”

Lucinda stood to go to the other boxes, bending down to turn them on their sides, but found she was too weak to move them. “Here. Would you help me turn them on their sides? Like shelves.”

“Sure, Miz Cambridge.

Lucinda and Cassie knelt by the books and boxes, arranging them as library shelving. As much as she tried, she couldn’t shake the memory of Vernon. “Cassie? Do you remember Vernon Singleberry?”

“Vernon? Why sure.” Cassie continued to put the boxes on their sides. “He was always kinda funny actin’, wasn’t he?”

“Not really. I—“

“Wasn’t that somethin’, what happened to ‘im? That reminds me. Nancy and her little girl are goin’ to be here for lunch today.”

Lucinda decided Cassie was not the right person with which to share her thoughts at this moment. “Yes, I know.”

“Shirley is so cute.” She giggled.

“Yes, she is.”

“Ain’t it a shame?” Cassie clucked her tongue and sighed, “Love child.”

“Mrs. Cambridge!”

Vernon’s voice caused her to jump and look up. She was back in her classroom. She couldn’t help but smiled as Vernon, wearing an ironed short sleeved shirt, jumped around the room.

“I can’t believe it! I got a date for the spring dance!”

At first Lucinda studied Cassie’s face. It was obvious she didn’t hear what the old teacher was hearing. Lucinda stood, leaving Cassie to her task, which evidently engrossing her very much.

“So it’s spring now,” Lucinda whispered.

“This is a really great day for you to remember!”

“Of course, it’s spring, Miz Cambridge.” Cassie it seemed, was not as oblivious to the situation as Lucinda thought. “ Didn’t you know that?”

Lucinda turned back to Cassie and smiled. “What, dear?”

“I got all these books stacked up the way you wanted.” Cassie stood with a grunt.

“Thank you, Cassie. That’s very sweet of you.”

Vernon was still jumping around the room like a puppy dog expressing its joy that its owner had finally arrived home. “And I’ve got a girl!”

“Are you all right, Miz Cambridge?”

Lucinda looked back at Cassie whose face was scrunched up with concern. “Yes, dear. Thank you, dear.”

“You already thanked me.”

“I did?”

“You better take a nap before lunch,” Cassie advised her.

“That might be a good idea.”

Cassie went to the door, turned back and smiled. “Remember, we’re havin’ chicken and stars!”

After Cassie disappeared down the hall, Lucinda was very pleased to give Vernon her complete attention. She never knew anyone who could be so overjoyed by something as simple as a date to a school dance.

“I can’t believe I finally got a girlfriend — well, one date, but at least it’s my first date,
and she’s wonder—“

“Slow down, Vernon, you’re running your sentences together.” She slipped into her rocking chair.

He froze in mid-whirl, focused on Lucinda and nodded. “Yes, ma’am. I’ll be careful.”

“That’s better.”

Vernon inhaled intensely before resuming his ballet of joy. “I mean, I asked her out, of course, but she was really hinting for me to ask her by asking if I was going to the dance and saying—“

“Slow, slow.”

He nodded again and sat in the chair closest to Lucinda’s desk. A look came over him as though he were trying to recall a Shakespearean soliloquy to deliver. “She said she didn’t know who she was going with. Billy Bob had hinted he might ask her. But she said she didn’t really want to go with him.” In fact, he spoke so slowly and with deliberate conviction, Vernon’s Texas drawl almost faded away.

“I don’t blame her. Billy Bob Longabaugh is a cretin.” Her mouth tightened with disapproval.

“Now I don’t know if Billy Bob was really going to ask her or not — you know what I think?” He cocked his head as though looking for approval for his theory of social interaction among aboriginal peoples.

Lucinda smiled, becoming caught up in Vernon’s exuberance. Her mind thought of her days as a young woman, wishing she had been able to whip up such emotion in young men. Quickly she chastised herself for being so imprudent and returned to her function of educator. “No, what do you think?”

“I think she said that so I wouldn’t think she was desperate to go out with just anybody, that she really wanted to go to the dance with me.” He stated his conclusion impassively, but could not contain himself, leaping from the chair and exploding around the room. “With me! With me!”

“Close your mouth and count to ten before you start hyperventilating.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Vernon stopped and frowned, trying to remember his numbers. “One, two . . . .”

“I’m really very pleased you finally asked a nice young girl to a school dance.”

“. . . three, four . . . .”

“You know I’ve been after you all school year to expand socially as well as academically.”

“. . . five, six . . . .”

“I know it’s hard for a shy person. I was terribly shy and had a hard time getting dates for proms and the such . . . .”

“. . . seven, eight, nine, ten. I don’t care if I do hyperventilate! I can’t believe a girl as pretty as Nancy Meyers would be interested in me. I . . . .” His voice trailed off when he noticed the expression Lucinda’s face. “You don’t look very happy for me, Mrs. Cambridge.”

“I am, Vernon,” she replied in her soft tone reserved for reciting poetry.

“That didn’t sound very enthusiastic.”

A wry smile crossed Lucinda’s wrinkled face. “I’m an old woman, Vernon. If I get as enthusiastic as you do I’d have a heart attack.”

“Oh.” He ducked his head. “Then maybe I shouldn’t ask what I was going to ask.”

“Go ahead.

“Well, there’s one problem to all this business about taking Nancy to the spring dance. I don’t know how to dance.”

“And you want me to teach you.” With all of the will she had developed in decades of teaching, she kept her face expressionless.


She stood to walk towards him. “I suppose I can’t neglect that part of your education.”


Lucinda and Vernon stood opposite each other. Her heartbeat quickened as she became aware of his height, broad shoulders and large, rough hands. She could not help but tense her body.

“Anything wrong, Mrs. Cambridge?”

“Oh. Um. No. I was just trying to decide how to start,” she lied. After a pause, she continued, “All right. Let’s start with a waltz. Now, put your left hand at my waist and extend your right hand out and I’ll take it.”

“Like this?” Vernon put his left arm around her. Lucinda gently pulled away.

“I said at my waist, not around my waist,” she whispered.

“I’m sorry.”

Placing a bright smile on her lips, Lucinda tried to recover her propriety. “That’s quite all right. Now put your left hand on my hip.”

Vernon followed her instruction circumspectly.

“That’s right,” she said with encouragement. “Now extend your right arm.” Lucinda took Vernon’s right hand.

“Am I doing it right so far?”

“Yes, you are. Now take one step forward with your right foot, then a step back and behind your right with your right foot and a step back and behind your right with your left and repeat. One, two, three, one, two, three . . . .”

“Now you’re running your sentences together.” He grinned impishly.

“It’s really quite simple.” She chose to ignore his comment. “We’ll go slowly. Now right foot forward.”

They began to move slowly, awkwardly.

“Here we go,” he said in the same manner he would say it if he had been on a roller coaster as it pulled out of the station.

“Then left foot forward — but not on my foot.”

“Gosh, I’m sorry.”

Cancer Chronicle 7

Cancer patients know there is a cure for the cure to the cure for cancer.
It sounds like Gertrude Stein’s poem, “A rose is a rose is a rose,” except that the observation on cancer is not poetry but pain built upon pain built upon pain with a topping of frustration and anger.
First was the diagnosis of cancer immediately followed by hugs and reassurance. The first line of treatment was chemotherapy. The patients learned that they returned the very next day for an injection to increase blood cell count and reverse the harsher aspects of chemotherapy.
What patients experienced from the injection was fever and chills, loss of appetite and little red dots on their arms and legs. The staff had a pill for that. At least it was an over-the-counter drug primarily meant for allergy relief. It worked eventually, but by the time the appetite fully returned it was time for another chemotherapy session, then inoculation and another round of allergy pills. An over-the-counter lotion was supposed to fix the rash; well, may for some but not so much for others.
This vicious circle consisted of pain, discomfort followed by a few hours of almost feeling good before the whole process started again.
No wonder patients start snapping at the caregivers if their pills were not delivered as promptly as they would have liked. If caregivers asked patients to repeat a request because the last word of the sentence was lost in a cough, the patients reprove them for not bothering to listen.
Caregivers can take it because they know sometime along the way of life that they had had moments of temper which the now-patient took in stride.
It is part of the better or worse clause, but this is not the worse. What could be better than showing love in the worst of circumstances?

Susie’s Story*

I always looked forward to hurricanes that were headed our way.
Usually my best girlfriend Louise would come over to spend the night. Her parents thought our house was better built than theirs, and they wanted their little girl to be in the safest place possible. On the other hand, they always stayed at their house because if a hurricane did hit they wanted to be there to protect their personal property.
We spent the whole night in front of the television set watching the weather updates. I sat on Daddy’s lap as the weatherman told us that the storm had made landfall south of Miami and was turning northwest, right toward our town.
A few times I got scared, but Daddy just put his arms around me and told me everything was going to be all right. “And if it does hit our house, all that means is that we’ll have to move to another house, and we’ve done that many times. You’re used to that. And if we do get killed in the hurricane, well, we won’t have to be worried about them anymore, will we?”
By the time the hurricane reached out town it was a tropical storm, and just rained a lot, which made Louise and me very sleepy and we went on to bed. When we thought Daddy and Mommy were good and asleep we’d sneak out of my bedroom and get the ice cream out of the freezer, grab two spoons and go back to bed, eating ice cream. In the morning Louise’s mom picked her up. We could tell she had been crying all night, worrying that she would never see her little girl again. She was certain they would lose everything they owned and they’d never have anything ever again for the rest of their lives.
For a moment, I thought I should tell Louise’s mom what Daddy told me, but decided she didn’t really want any advice for an eleven-year-old girl. I never told my parents how I felt about hurricanes, but I suspected they knew, the same way they knew we had raided the freezer and ate ice cream.
One day when I was planning the next adventure for Louise and me, Daddy said in a casual way, “You know, I had a best friend when I was your age. He was about two years older than me, just like Louise is two years older than you. So he became a teen-ager before I did and things changed. It’s not like we weren’t friends any more, but we were becoming different people.”
Sure enough, in a couple of years Louise became a teen-ager and our friendship was never the same as it was when she would come over and watch the hurricane news on television.
We’re both grown-up now, and I miss the late night weather watches. Not so much about Louise but—I miss sitting on Daddy’s lap, having his arms around me, hearing him whispering in my ear, “Don’t worry. Everything will be all right.”
*Author’s note: I wrote this as though I were my daughter. I hope she really feels this way.

Remember Chapter Four

“I’m sorry, Vernon, but I’m confused.” As she stared at Vernon he came into sharper focus. She noticed his fair-skinned cheeks were rosy from the cold. And the prettiest eyes she had ever seen on a man.

“Of all the days of my life you had to remember, why did you have to pick this one?” Vernon kicked the desk knocking his books to the floor, scattering them everywhere.
“Please! Compose yourself!” Lucinda’s hand went to her mouth. She rubbed her right arm. “You’re making me very nervous.”

Vernon paused, looked at her and breathed deeply. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Cambridge. It was very rude of me to break into your conference period like this. I’ll gather my books and leave.”

“No, you don’t have to leave. Just calm down and tell me what’s the matter.”

“Oh, it’s daddy again,” he replied as he picked up the last book and plopped into a chair.

“What did your father do?”

“It’s what he didn’t do.” Vernon held his head in his hands. “My grades from the first semester came in the mail, and I showed them to him. I made an A in algebra.”

“And all he noticed was the C in English composition,” she said, trying to anticipate his story.

“No. He didn’t notice nothin’.”

“He didn’t notice anything.” Lucinda had a bad problem with correcting the grammar of people trying to communicate with her. Since she did not see this characteristic a problem, she would probably never change it.

“No.” Vernon looked at her. “You wouldn’t notice anything. He didn’t notice nothin’.”

She could not help but smile. “I should have given you a B.”

“Oh, it wouldn’t have made any difference. Good grief, he just doesn’t care about anything but the farm.”

“Exactly what did he say or do?”

“He looked at the grades for a moment, put the paper down and said I needed to mend the fence out back of the barn before the goats got out.”

She clasped her slender fingers in front of her face. “From what you’ve told me, that seems to be his way, isn’t it?”

“But it doesn’t make it right. It doesn’t make me feel like he appreciates what I’m doing. I mean, I put in a lot of work on the farm and pull a full load at school. Okay, I only had one A and a bunch of Cs but I didn’t flunk anything.

“I think I’m going to give you today’s assignment early, so you can start thinking about it.” She went to her blackboard and picked up a piece of chalk.

“What?” The comment caught Vernon off guard. “I thought we were talking about daddy?”

“I want you to write an essay on the person you most admire.” She wrote Most Admired at the top of the board.

“That’ll be easy. I’ll write about you.” He smiled broadly without a hint of the overly complimentary nature of his reply.

“Oh. Well, thank you.” On a line below the title she wrote My Father

Vernon slumped in the chair. “Aww, you gotta be kiddin’.”

“Please, don’t lose your diction along with your composure.” She looked over her shoulder to smile.

“Very well. You must be kidding.” His mouth twitched with aggravation.

“No, I’m not. Get out a piece of paper and pen.” Lucinda turned and leaned against her desk.

“Right now?”

“Yes. I want you to take notes.” She had set aside all her reservations and fears about remembering her time with Vernon, and she was enjoying it immensely.

“I know what you’re doing. You’re using the assignment as an excuse to lecture me about daddy,” he grumbled.

“Nonsense. Now list all your father’s good qualities.” She turned back to the board and wrote the numeral one. “Put a number one and a period. At least it will be a start.”

Vernon wrote that, then looked up. “Now what?”

“Surely you can think of something admirable about your father.”

“No.” It was a flat statement, devoid of emotion.


“He hasn’t done much for me.” He put the pen down.

She went to his side to look over his shoulder at the paper. “You’re always talking about how strong you are.” Lucinda patted his back but quickly pulled her hand away. “You got your strength because he had you work on the farm with him. He helped you there. And how many sons get the opportunity to work side by side with their fathers?”

“Guys get muscles working on a chain gang too, but that’s no reason to thank the warden.” He looked up at her, dead serious.

“Oh Vernon, you’re so negative.” She walked back to the board and began her own list. “Your father is dependable. He has always been there for you and always will. He is steady, sturdy, a sound foundation on which you have built a pretty wonderful person.”

“In other words, he’s like a rock.”

“Yes!” She swung around and smiled. “Solid as a rock. Never crumbling. The rock of ages.”

“But a rock has no feelings. It’s cold. You can’t hug a rock. A rock can’t say I love you.”

Feeling defeated, she sat at her desk. “You learned metaphors too well.”

“Thank you.” His deadpan response was softly delivered.

“But,” she paused to reorganize her thoughts, “your father is not a stone. He indeed has a heart and a soul and feelings for you whether you can see it or not.”

“You don’t know him.” He nodded perceptively. “You’ve never even met him.”

“But I knew a man like that.”


“My late husband couldn’t express emotion. When I’d get home from a night class late he’d burst into a worst tirade. But I knew he was worried about me. He — he may not have hugged and kissed me much, but I knew he loved me.” In the back of her mind Lucinda wondered if she were trying to convince him or herself.

“My father doesn’t care if I come home late. As long as I milk the cows he doesn’t care.”

“Well then, that proves your father trusts your judgment.” She gestured to him, pleased she had finally made a cogent argument.

“Then your husband didn’t trust you?”

She shook her head. “You’re confusing me.”

“I guess I better go now.” He gathered his books.

“Yes, I think you should,” she sighed in defeat.

“Good bye.” He stood and walked to the door.


“Yes, ma’am?” He turned to look at her, his face now clear of the darkness that covered it just moments ago.

“If you can write a paper that fools me into believing you admire your father, I’ll give you an A.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Vernon replied with a smile before melting away into her subconscious.

“As I recall, he got an F on that paper,” she said to herself. “I suppose it was a tribute to his inherent honesty and integrity he couldn’t write anything he didn’t believe.”

Cancer Chronicle Six

If anything positive will come from my wife’s battle with breast cancer is the confirmation that patients learn they are not alone.
I myself became aware of this fact several years ago when I was diagnosed with Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep disorder. I don’t go into the deepest level of sleep, leaving me with night-long dreams that are sometimes nonsensical, most times boring, other times thrilling and all too often angry or frightening. The lack of true restorative sleep will someday kill me, either by heart attack or stroke. Many times when I share this information I will find how many people have some form of sleep disorder or know someone who does.
After my wife announced she had breast cancer, she was surprised by how many have been treated for some form of cancer and survived.
The saddest connection came about through my storytelling at a farm near home which has a sunflower maze in the spring and a cornfield maze in the fall. Next my tent was a family which sold kettle corn. Soon the daughter gave me a bag of corn to munch on during the day. After a few seasons the mother brought the bag of corn to me and shared the fact that her daughter was undergoing treatment for breast cancer. By the time the next season rolled around the daughter had passed on but the mother still gave me kettle corn because her daughter really liked my stories. Now my wife is battling breast cancer, and the girl’s mother gave my wife a wonderful bag of supplies that she knew from her own experience my wife would need.
Cancer is terrible; the friendships that are forged through mutual suffering are priceless.


I don’t quite remember when this happened. It was back in the days when there actually were a few weeks between baseball, football and basketball seasons. That was a hell of a long time ago, but not before cable television. We all went over to Hoyt’s house on Monday night, schlepped down the stairs to what is now known as a man cave. In one corner was the washer and dryer and the other an old sofa and a couple of recliners in front of a television. In another corner was a harvest gold refrigerator filled with sodas and beers.
This was where we watched our games. Hoyt’s wife Thelma didn’t mind if we spilt beer on the furniture as long as we didn’t mind if she did a few loads of laundry. We just ratcheted the sound up to high. We were all going deaf anyway so what difference did it make? Thelma was good to us. She always brought us down a tub of popcorn.
Anyway, it was during these off seasons we switched over to TCM, Turner Classic Movies. Hoyt, Marvin, Kenneth and me, we liked the old black and white movies. This was like a secret society we had there, because a lot of guys didn’t like admitting they liked watching movies except porn. If they watched anything else, their wives made them watch and it was a royal pain in the ass.
Not me and the boys. We didn’t care if it was John Wayne, Jimmy Cagney or Fred Astaire. And the dames were good too. Back in the old days I don’t think they wore bras all the time. When we were growing up, these were the movies that came on after midnight Friday. The folks and the younger kids had gone to bed. There I was, all by myself, a bowl of popcorn and a Nehi red (I couldn’t decide if it was strawberry, raspberry or what), and I could watch anything I wanted because the next day was Saturday and I had nothing to do.
Somehow Hoyt, Marvin and Kenneth let it slip during the Super Bowl one year that they liked all those old movies because they brought back good memories. The next thing we knew we kept Monday night reserved for just us, no kids, no wives, no arguments. On this particular night, we watched King Kong.
“Did you know Fay Wray wasn’t really a blonde?” Kenneth tried to form his words around the kernels of corn he had just crammed into his mouth.
“Knew that. Black hair. Do I win a prize?” Marvin replied.
“Yeah, you win the ‘Stop Being a Smart Ass’ trophy,” Hoyt said.
“You know, we should go out and buy some plastic trophy and put that title on it.” I was always the creative one in the group.
“If we’re going to have a trophy, it ought to go to the one who comes up with the most unusual fantasy one-night stand from the old movies.” Kenneth swallowed his popcorn so we could actually understand what he was saying.
“Yeah, and you get disqualified if you say someone like Jean Harlow. Like who wouldn’t?” After one or two beers I was ready to let my imagination fly.
“Did you know her husband killed himself because he couldn’t—well, he couldn’t,” Marvin said.
“I still think we need a “Stop being a Smart Ass” trophy,” Hoyt said.
“Spring Byington.” The name just popped out of my mouth.
“Wasn’t she a bit old?” Kenneth asked.
“She was young at some point,” I defended my opinion. “She was always so giggly sweet. I don’t think she was ever mean to anyone.”
“You did know she had a girlfriend, didn’t you?” Marvin relished every syllable.
“Aha! I gotcha on that one!” Kenneth beamed. “She was married in 1910 and had a couple of kids before her husband died.”
“Margery Main was married too, then her husband died,” Marvin instructed us with a knowing nod of the head. “That doesn’t mean anything.”
“Margery Main was married?” My voice went up an octave.
“As you said, she had to have been young at some point.” Hoyt finished his beer and was about to go to the harvest gold repository of refreshments when he shook his head and sat back down. “Margery Main…that puts me off my beer.”
Just at that moment Thelma came down the stairs with a basket of dirty towels.
“What are you boys talking about?”
“Spring Byington and Margery Main,” Kenneth replied. A smile tried to crack around the corners of his mouth.
“Oh, I just loved those two old ladies!” Thelma crammed the towels into the washer. “I used to have this fantasy they were my grandmothers, and on stormy nights all three of us would crawl into bed and cuddle under the covers.” After she turned on the machine Thelma turned and smiled. “Anybody want another beer?”