Tag Archives: family

Heather’s Ghost Nanny

Heather was a very precocious little five-year-old girl. She knew how to smile and giggle and always get exactly what she wanted. She and her family, mom, dad and brother, recently moved into a nice house with a swimming pool in a new town. She heard how her parents were very excited about the good price they got for the house, much lower than they expected. Heather’s bedroom and her brother’s bedroom were across the house from the master bedroom, so she thought she was going to be able to get away with a lot of naughty things after her family had gone to sleep.
That was before the first night she slipped out of bed after midnight to turn on the television to watch the shows her mom and dad didn’t want her to see. After she punched the on button and turned to sit on her bean bag chair, the television promptly turned itself off. Hmph, she thought to herself. That never happened before. So she stood and went back to punch the on button again but it went off even faster than it did before.
Frowning, Heather decided that wasn’t any fun so she went back to bed. A few days later a nice lady from next door came to welcome the new family to the neighborhood.
“Of course, you know about the Andersons,” she said.
“The couple who lived here before us,” Heather’s mom said.
“Yes,” the neighbor lady said.
“All we know is that their children seemed eager to sell the house,” Heather’s dad said. “They lowered the price very fast.”
“That’s because they both died in the house.”
Heather wasn’t really paying attention. She really wanted to go out to play but she knew she had to make a good impression on the neighbor. She might be giving out freshly baked cookies one day and Heather wanted to get one.
“Oh,” her parents said in unison.
“He died in his sleep in the master bedroom,” the neighbor said. “His wife died a year earlier.” She paused. “In the swimming pool.”
“What?”
“Mrs. Anderson was a sweet lady but she had a drinking problem. Went to AA meetings but it didn’t seem to do much good. When she went on a bender her husband could not stand to be around her. One night she was particularly out of control, so Mr. Anderson left the house and just sat in the car, waiting for her to pass out on the floor so he could go to bed. An hour later he heard no more banging about inside so he figured it was safe to come back in. It was then he saw her floating face down in the swimming pool. Evidently she had staggered out to the patio and fallen into the pool and was too drunk to get out. I don’t think he ever forgave himself. For the next year he just sat in a lawn chair, staring at the pool and smoking a cigar, until he finally died.”
“So that’s why we got the house cheap,” Heather’s dad said.
Heather was only vaguely aware of what all that really meant to her. After all, she was only a five year old girl. That night she got up after midnight to turn on the television again, and again it promptly turned itself off.
“Mrs. Anderson, is that you?” she whispered.
She could swear she felt a dripping wet hand firmly but gently pushed her toward her bedroom. Heather never tried to watch television again after midnight. As she grew up, however, Heather seemed to forget about Mrs. Anderson from time to time, until the dripping wet ghost decided to become her nanny.
When her girl friends came for a sleep over, Heather was never able to get the refrigerator door open so they could sneak ice cream. No matter how hard the girls tried, the door was stuck, until morning, that is, when her mom easily opened it to get out milk for the girls.
By the time Heather turned thirteen, all the boys in the neighborhood knew the way to her house. She had parties all the time but when she and one of the boys wanted private time in her room, the door would never shut. Each time they tried to close it, the door would swing open and stay open.
By the time she was eighteen, Heather had started going steady with one boy after another. She was always the one to call it off and always had another boy willing to be her plaything for awhile. One night, on the front porch when Heather was saying good night to her latest boyfriend, he decided to get a little closer than she wanted.
Suddenly he felt a hard slap, right between his shoulder blades.
“How did you do that?” he asked, wincing in pain.
“Do what?” Heather asked.
“Slap me on the back,” he said.
Heather told him to turn around and, sure enough, there was a wet hand print on his shirt.
“Oh that’s my ghost, Mrs. Anderson. She thinks she’s my nanny.”
Needless to say, she never saw him again. A couple of years passed and finally Heather met a nice young man. One night he shyly started talking about marriage. He jumped and Heather asked what happened.
“I could swear I felt someone kiss me.” He felt his cheek. It was wet.
“My nanny ghost, Mrs. Anderson, must like you very much.”
By the next spring, Heather married her nice young man and had the wedding reception by the swimming pool. When the pictures were developed, there stood the beautiful bride and her groom, and standing behind them, very clear in the photograph, was an elderly woman, drenching wet and chugging on a bottle of gin.

The Turtledove

Everything was looking up on our farm just outside Cumby, Texas, during the Great Depression. Pa, Ma, me and my brother Bill worked hard to keep the homestead going. Finally, that fall a big crop of cotton was about to pop open. On top of that, Ma had just had a baby, a little girl just like she always wanted.
For the first time in a couple of years Pa had to hire a family to help bring in the cotton bolls before they rotten in the fields. The Jones family had worked for us before. The father was a big strapping man, somebody you wouldn’t want to sass. The mother was short, kinda rolly polly with a big bosom and a big heart. And, boy, did she love to talk. She could practically talk the cotton bolls off the stalks. Which was good because it made the day go by faster under the hot Texas sun and it made you forget how much your back ached from dragging that long cotton bag all day.
The Joneses had two boys that we used to play with but they were almost grown up now and didn’t look like they’d care to bother with a couple of li’l ol’ boys like Bill and me.
Anyway, one day, halfway through the cotton fields Miz Jones finished one long story about the sickness her boys had been through but they were just fine now ‘cause they was big strong healthy boys and she worked hard to keep them that way. Fed them good food, made sure they got plenty of milk, meat and greens.
“And, of course,” she added in a low, secret-like voice, “you got to keep them away from the magic.”
“The magic?” I asked.
“Oh, there’s all kinds of magic in the world,” Miz Jones said. “And all of it is bad. Some folks says there’s good magic out there to protect the babies but I says all magic is bad. If it ain’t come from the Lord it’s bad.”
“Is that so?” Bill said. I could tell he was busting a gut trying not to laugh out loud. “Like witches and such? Potions and voodoo?”
“Well, there’s bad folks out there. I don’t say that. They can do some mighty hurt with them poultice bags, but the worst magic comes from old Mother Nature herself. She’s done got tricks up her sleeve, ooh. You gotta be on your guard day and night.”
“Like what?” Bill hung his head low so she wouldn’t see his smile.
“There’s a lotta bad magic out there but I say just about the worst has to be from the turtledove.”
“The turtledove?” I asked.
“Now I tell you, if you ever have a turtledove get in the house, nestling in the rafters going, ‘Coo…coo,’ you done had it. There’s going to be a death in the family for sure. No doubt about it. Once you hear a turtledove cooing in the house, boy, it’s all over. Somebody’s gonna die.”
Bill and me, we thought we done real good in not guffawing at Miz Jones. Ma had always said it wasn’t nice to laugh at somebody to their face. Besides, those Jones boys looked like they could beat the tar out of us if we made fun of their ma.
The next day Pa pulled us aside. “You boys been working so hard in the fields that you deserved a day off to go hunting.”
So Ma packed us a lunch, we oiled and polished our .22 rifles, and off we went through the woods. We got us some squirrels and rabbits. Mostly we just lollygagged about, joking and laughing about anything and everything. The day was just about over when we heard it:
Coo…coo…
Bill and me looked at each other and smiled. The best joke of all. We stalked lightly through the brush until we spotted the nest. Mama turtledove had just flowed off, looking for food. There they were, three babies cooing their heads off. We gently stuck out our hands into the nest and scooped up one of the chicks. We hurried back home before the others came out of the cotton fields. We snuck into the field hands’ cabin and placed the baby turtledove up in the rafters.
We grinned during supper.
“Well, you boys must have had a good time hunting,” Ma said as she ladled out the squirrel and rabbit stew made from our catch.
“Yes, Ma,” we mumbled.
“That’s good.” She cuddled our baby sister on her lap as she settled in to eat. “Good times. We’re having good times right now.”
Just then there was a loud rapping at the door.
“Mr. Cowling! Mr. Cowling!” It was Mr. Jones. “Come quick! Miz Jones is terrible upset!”
“What on earth…” Pa muttered as he pushed away from the kitchen table.
“Can we come too, Pa?” Bill asked.
“I guess.” He looked at Ma. “Is that okay with you?”
“Sure. They done finished their supper.” She stood holding the baby close to her. “I’m putting the baby down to bed.”
So Bill and me scampered behind Pa to the Jones’ cabin. When we walked in Miz Jones was waving her arms, her eyes wide with fright.
“Oh, Mr. Cowling! Somebody’s going to die!”
We tried not to smile because those Jones boys was watching us mighty hard. Mr. Jones was trying to put his arms around his wife but she wouldn’t have none of it.
“There’s a turtledove in the rafters just cooing away. I swear somebody’s going to die, Mr. Cowling, I just know it.”
Pa stood tall and held up his hand. Miz Jones got quiet right away.
“If someone who is not a member of the family takes the turtledove out of the house, the curse is broken.” Pa then climbed up in the rafters and retrieved the little turtledove.
“Oh, praise the Lord!” Miz Jones said, her hands going to her cheeks. “Thank you, Mr. Cowling, thank you, sir. You done saved our lives.”
With much pomp and ceremony Pa held the turtledove, which was still cooing, in his hands high above his head.
“Hallelujah, Mr. Cowling. Thank you, Mr. Cowling,” we heard Miz Jones say we closed the door behind us.
When we got back to the house Pa placed the cooing baby turtledove in the kitchen sink. The bird began cooing again. He turned to stare hard at Bill and me.
“Are you boys behind all this?” he asked. His jaw was tied up in a knot.
“It was just a joke,” Bill mumbled.
“These are good, hard-working people,” Pa lectured us. “We’re lucky to have them working for us. They can’t help it if they’re superstitious. If you pull anything like this again I’ll—“
Ma came running into the kitchen from their bedroom. “Pa! Come quick! The baby’s not breathing!”
He ran into the room and leaned over the crib. As he put his mouth over the baby’s mouth trying to breathe life into her, Ma fell to her knees sobbing.
Then Bill and me, we heard something behind us.
Coo…coo…
We looked at each other.
Pa glared at us and shouted, “Get that turtledove out of this house right now!”
Bill and me grabbed the turtledove and just as we crossed the threshold of the front door, our baby sister sucked in a lot of air and started crying loud. Ma and Pa cried too, picking her up, kissing all over her little face. Bill and me didn’t say nothing, just stared at each other.
Coo…coo…
Maybe Miz Jones knew more than we did about the magic of Mother Nature.
The cooing of the turtledove.

The Halloween Tree

“Back in the old days,” my father used to say to me, “we didn’t git no candy on Halloween. Warn’t no such thing as tricker-treatin’ or whatever you darned kids call it. Puttin’ on some fool costume and prancin’ around the streets, why that’s just plain sissy.”
I got that lecture every year when the air turned crisp and the kids at school chirped about what they were going to wear for Halloween and what candy they wanted in their trick or treat bags. I suspected my father held his high falutin’ principles against childish behavior on October 31st because he didn’t want to spend money on a costume or candy.
“So there wasn’t Halloween at all?” I asked.
“Sure there was Halloween, but we didn’t go hog wild over it like they do today. Folks would have barn parties, and all the neighbor kids would come over. We’d play games right up to midnight.”
“What kind of games?”
“Oh, bobbin’ for apples. Nothin’ fancy.”
My face perked up. “Bobbing for apples? That sounds like fun.”
I saw my father’s eyes widened as he thought about the price of apples.
“Oh, you wouldn’t like it. It warn’t no fun at all. You got your face wet and choked on the water. No fun at all.”
“Then what did you do for fun?”
“Well, some boys used to knock over outhouses Halloween night.”
“That doesn’t sound like fun to me.” I imagined the stench of human excrement spewing from the overturned outhouse, and I gagged. “Did you do that?”
“Only once.”
“What happened?”
“I got caught.”
“How?”
“Well, pa came up to me the next day and started talkin’ about how George Washington told his pappy the truth about choppin’ down the cherry tree. Then I asked me if I had knocked over the outhouse. I owned up to it, and he turned me over his knee and started wallopin’ my behind. I says, ‘Pa, George Washington’s pappy didn’t spank him when he told the truth about choppin’ down the cherry tree.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, but George Washington’s pappy warn’t up in that cherry tree when he chopped it down.’”

The Baby Shower Part Five

We were home from the baby shower only a couple of weeks we received a phone call from my proud and happy son-in-law. It seems all those kicks in the womb meant Liam Anthony wanted to come out—right now. So on Sunday September 16, he came out, all seven pounds thirteen ounces, twenty inches of him, including, 10 fingers and 10 toes.
Both mom and the baby were in good condition, and I could tell dad was ecstatic. They were home within a couple of days, and then the real work began, all those nightly feedings. My wife chose to bottle feed our children so I was able to take my turn. But with breastfeeding, my daughter has to handle it on her own. And he’s a very hungry little boy.
At the two-week checkup he was already over eight pounds and had grown another inch. My daughter, on the other hand, was worn out, just all all mothers. That’s why they get a special day every day. Sometimes I wonder why fathers get a day. The moms do all the work. But I better shut up because I enjoy my Father’s Day presents too much to lose them.
My granddaughter is a very helpful big sister, and I knew she would be. But I’m a biased grandpa so what do you expect?
As for the baby shower delivery day pool, everyone missed it because he decided to arrive early. My daughter checked the chart to see who came closest and it turned out to be a dear friend and coworker. Her friend she’s going to spend the money on Liam’s first Christmas present, so all turned out well.
Speaking of Christmas, my son and I already have our plane tickets to go up to New York in December. Liam will be three months by then and who knows how big he will be. Now all we have to do is pay off the credit card bills before we plan any trips to see the grandchildren in the new year.

The Baby Shower Part Four

The four-hour wait in the Charlotte airport was over, and we boarded, on our way home from the best baby shower ever. What I had forgotten was that there was this tropical depression which had delayed our departure by a day. It was now a hurricane slowly moving toward Louisiana, but the outer bands were still sweeping across central Florida.
“There’s no reason to cancel the flight, but we do want to apologize ahead of time for any possible turbulence you may experience in the next couple of hours. Enjoy your flight.”
All sorts of thoughts flooded my mind. During a half a century of flying I had never encountered any major degree of turbulence so I suppose I couldn’t complain much. Then again, it only takes one bad storm to bring an airplane down. What a way to ruin a perfectly good baby shower weekend. What if I didn’t die in a crash but the constant dipping and shaking made me sick to my stomach? I checked the pocket in front of me and found the air sickness bag. It didn’t look very big. I could fill that thing up with one really good whoop-whoop.
It was then my eye caught the airline magazine—you know the ones with articles about exotic locales you could visit for next to nothing with your frequent flyer miles, except I didn’t travel that frequently. After I read all the articles I saw three Sudoku puzzles. Now if they couldn’t keep my mind off crashing then nothing could.
I made it through the easy puzzle fairly fast. The medium one took a little more time. However, once we crossed the border from Georgia into Florida the plane started to jiggle some. When I started on the third puzzle, the most difficult one, the flight was getting bumpier. I found it hard to write the numbers in the little boxes without my fingers looking like they were drunk and slurring badly.
“We will be entering Tampa International Airport airspace within the next half hour. Reports say the storm is slowly moving west. However, turbulence is expected to increase before we land. Have a nice day.”
Then we experienced our first major drop. We could hear the baggage in the overhead compartment jumping around.
“Whee!” One child clearly did not understand the implications involved here. This was not a roller coast at Busch Gardens. However, perhaps it was better that the child thought it was fun. If they become hysterical and cried, my stomach might started grumbling and I didn’t want that.
In the amount of time it would take to ride a giant wooden roller coast three times, the turbulence settled and we began our descent, and I still had my lunch. And I was going to live for the next flight to my daughter’s house at Christmas.
What more could I ask for?

The Baby Shower Part Three

The party was over, and we had to leave the next day. So sad. I loved the games my granddaughter made up for us to play, but we had to return the rental car by 8 a.m. and be on the plane by 9:30. Morning would be here soon.
The flight out of White Plains went without a hitch but then were faced with the four-hour layover in Charlotte. We found a nice little eatery with all kinds of Italian fast food—pizza by the slice, calzones, pastas, and Caesar and Greek salads. Why they threw in the Greek salad I don’t know why, but I’m glad they did. It’s my favorite. My son got a slice of all-meat pizza, his favorite. We even snagged a place to sit down. And next to us was a guy who had his Chihuahua in a carryon cage. I was tempted to go over and ask to pet the dog, but this was a busy airport so I restrained myself.
Then came the dreaded four-hour wait. I was too tired to pull my notepad and write a new story and I had traded in my smart phone for a dumb phone to save money so I couldn’t browse the internet. My son had a smart phone and a laptop to play games so I was on my own. So I resorted to an old favorite I shared with my wife years ago—people watching.
There were the great groups of teen-aged athletes bubbling with excitement about the event they were going to or coming back from. Always running behind were the old, overweight coaches trying to keep up.
Another group that was interesting was a group of young men with clerical collars, apparently on the way to or from the seminary. They were happy but not as giddy as the student athletes. But then they weren’t in competition with anyone else. I supposed that made a difference.
My favorite group to observe were the families. Most of the time the children, with their noses in their smart phones, were either far ahead or far behind the beleaguered parents who were left to drag all the luggage. I don’t care if they are on wheels, they still weigh a lot and trouble to pull or push, whichever method you prefer.
The family that made me smile the most had a muttering mother taking an aggressive lead with her husband a couple of feet behind her with the baggage. Lagging behind were two young boys. The littlest one looked up and said in a sad little voice, “I know, Mommy, we’re all bad.”
Actually, after I smiled I realized how sad air travel could be. I bet that that little boy never had to apologize for being bad at home. Everyone was too busy going about things that made them happy rather than dwell on how bad they were.
That made me start noticing how many couples were holding hands. Not many at first, but then I started seeing them. Interestingly, most of them were older couples. There was the well-dressed couple (maybe they were from White Plains) whose ringed fingers were gracefully intertwined. Right behind them were a couple that decided to become hippies in the 60s and, dad-burn-it, they’re still hippies fifty years later. From the do-rags on their heads to the beads around their necks and the old sandals on their bare feet. And theirs was not just any regular hand holding. No sir. They had their arms tightly wrapped around each other waists. Not a hint of daylight between them.
But my favorite was another old couple. She held a cane in one hand and a drink in the other. He held her elbow so when she wanted a drink he could help lift the cup to her lips.
I’m going stop with that one. Nothing can top it.

The Baby Shower Part Two

After the nightmare of a flight I was ready to have fun at the baby shower. It was an easy drive from the White Plains to Wappingers Falls where my daughter and her family live. At least it was easy for me: my son was doing the driving.
When we arrived at the homestead everyone was busy for the crowd the next day. My son-in-law mowing the backyard where they had set up a party tent. More than 40 friends and family were coming and they all couldn’t fit in the house.
Inside, my daughter finished party favors which she had made by hand. She should really be a professional party planner. Remember, she was doing all this while seven and a half months pregnant with her baby boy who made his presence known by kicking every few minutes.
My five-year-old granddaughter was doing her job well, which was being cute and adorable. My son and I showed her the stuffed animals we had picked up on our spring trip to the British Isles—an Irish lamb with a green ribbon around its neck, an English lion, Paddington bear and toy store mascot bear from this six-story emporium which had entire floors dedicated to Star Wars and Harry Potter. She and I played with them the rest of the weekend.
The next morning we put table cloths out under the tent, tied balloons up and did a bunch of other stuff I can’t even remember now. Luckily my son-in-law’s parents showed up early and helped out. They are experts on preparing for their relatives at a party.
It’s kind of nice when the party begins because then I could just sit down and talk to the guests. That’s the easy part. There was a whole table of aunts who liked to exchange stories about which are the best cruise lines to go on and who has the best food. At another table cousins were talking about a recent trip they took to Alaska which they did without the aid of a travel company. The pictures were really breathtaking. I particularly liked the story about the teen-aged son who wanted to take a dip in the Pacific Ocean on the Alaskan beach. After all, it was July. Well, he ran it and immediately ran out; but at least he went in, which is more than I would have been brave enough to do.
My daughter made a calendar marking the due date and the two weeks before and after. For five bucks everyone could guess when the baby would arrive. My son has a mean sense so he chose his niece’s birthday which my daughter didn’t appreciate. I thought, hey, she’d had one busy day but then birthdays would be over for the year. I chose the doctor’s projected due date, which showed my unreasonable faith in the judgement of doctors.
Then there was the food. First were two tables of appetizers from chips to huge shrimp, on which I overindulged. Big mistake. Next out they filled the tables with all kinds of salads and gigantic rings of sandwiches stuffed with everything. When I thought I couldn’t eat another bite, my son-in-law’s mother came by asking how everyone wanted their hamburgers cooked. I politely declined. Of course, there was cake and ice cream. Everyone bravely attempted singing, “Happy baby to you.”
Even though I’m from the South where huge family gatherings flourish, I’m not used to them. I’m one of the few with a relatively small extended family. But this family knows how to party. The next weekend a cousin’s daughter was having her Sweet Sixteen party.
A hundred and twenty-three were expected for that.

The Baby Shower Part One

I was looking forward to flying with my son to New York for my daughter’s baby shower on Labor Day weekend. All my son-in-law’s relatives were to be there, and they are a lot of fun. We’d fly up on Friday, help them with the preparations on Saturday, enjoy the party on Sunday and fly back on Monday. What could be easier than that? My only problem was that I wasn’t paying attention to the weather.
Yes, we were having late afternoon rain but that’s sort of a Florida tradition, isn’t it?
The sun was shining when we arrived at the airport. We checked in, got checked out by security and settled in by our gate to wait for our departure. Then the afternoon clouds formed. Darn, I was hoping to take off before the rain began. With lightning and thunder.
What had not registered with my mind was that there was a low pressure trough lingering off Tampa Bay up to Apalachicola. It was now a tropical storm and wasn’t going away anytime soon. Someone came over the loud speaker to announce all flights had been delayed because of the lightning. Thirty minutes. That wasn’t too bad.
At the end of the thirty minutes lightning was still popping over the airport so the departure was delayed again. At the end of that thirty minutes the loud speaker person said the flight was now on schedule but they were looking for a pilot.
Well, that caught my attention. I thought getting a pilot was at the top of the check list for scheduling a flight, not a last minute afterthought.
By this time the clock was approaching 8 p.m. The storm had abated but evidently still no pilot. The announcer came back on and said the flight was canceled because of turbulent weather and that passengers would have to go to the gate counter to get a card with the emergency number to call to reschedule.
This is why I like traveling with my son. He took care of things like for me now that I am a senior citizen. The newest aggravation was that when the person on the other end of the phone was about to give him important information the loud speaker blared out instructions for passengers at other gates. The best we could do was go back home, an hour’s drive away, and take off the next morning.
The airline offered to make reservations for us at a nearby hotel, but it wasn’t going to pay for it. If the official reason for the cancellation had been no pilot, then it would have been the airline’s fault; but, since the reason was bad weather, it wasn’t anybody’s fault. No thanks, we went home.
The nice thing about the flight the next day was that there was only an hour’s layover in Atlanta which was a nice convenient amount of time to walk from one gate to another. On the transfer plane I knew we were landing in White Plains because I saw a lot of Gucci bags walking down the aisle. (I’d take time to explain that joke but I’m still too tired from the trip.)

My Son’s Birthday


For my son’s 44th birthday he wanted something different than our usual dinner and a movie. I’m always up for an adventure, but I didn’t realize I was going to enter the mind-warping world of virtual reality.
It was a place called Void at Disney Springs in Orlando. Forty years ago they called the lakeside shopping center Disney Marketplace. Then they updated and expanded it under the name Disney Village. Now it’s been tripled in size and added a giant parking garage so it needed the new moniker.
This was not our first encounter with Disney Springs. Two Christmas Eves ago my son and I went over for a different holiday experience. We ate at this expensive steak restaurant and within half an hour I was puking my guts out. As much as the meal cost, it should have come with sick bags.
Luckily this time we were more interested in the live occurrence than the food. My son bought tickets for a specific time online so we didn’t have to wait too long, although we did have to fill forms clearing them of any responsibility if the virtual reality show made us sick. The restaurant could have used those warnings.
The situation was this: we were the good guys who had stolen Storm Trooper uniforms and we were on a mission to save the princess or steal plans for the Death Star or something else just as dangerous. We put on a power pack, got a rifle and a helmet. When the helmet’s visor lowered we were in complete darkness until the show began.
This was one of those exercises in trust where you were led into a room, totally without vision. Then when the switch was flipped we were in a science fiction world worthy of the George Lucas name. We weren’t really moving but somehow walked down this dark hallway when Storm Troopers started jumping out at us, and we had to shoot them. I actually felt the impact of their blasters, and when I looked down I saw singed dents in my virtual uniform.
At some point our guides directed us into another room which was no more than three steps away but felt further than that. After all, it was virtual reality. In front of me was an opening in the fortress tower and below was a river of lava. We had to cross an iron grid bridge with no handrails.
How on earth did this pass safety regulations? One false step, and I would fall into the lava. That wouldn’t be good. Then I remembered I was in a virtual reality. I was walking on durable commercial-grade carpet. One step either way wouldn’t make any difference. But I had trouble convincing myself of that. I actually felt dizzy like I was going to fall down.
That’s when I virtually slapped my face and told me to get a grip. I didn’t want to really fall down and embarrass my son. Although at the time I didn’t exactly where he was. We were in a small group of virtual warriors and all the Storm Troopers looked alike.
So I bucked up and crossed the bridge only to find myself confronted by a giant dragon rising from the lava. We all focused our fire on him and he soon melted away. I did have lingering doubts about how a dragon that lived in lava could be done in by a few laser shots.
But there was no time to waste. We had to find the princess/the Death Star plans/whatever. In the fourth and final room we saw what we came for, but, of course, you-know-who was standing in the way—Darth Vader himself. Well, I lost it and unloaded my blaster into him. After all he was the one who killed Obi Wan Kenobe.
We didn’t kill him, but a voice did come through our headsets telling us we had recovered the object we came for and we could now escape the empire fortress. On the way out we had our pictures taken. I tried to look like Sylvester Stallone in Rambo shooting his rifle and screaming at the same time. Instead I looked like some demented old man who needed to be taken back to the Home immediately.
For lunch we ate at a huge fast food place across the plaza from the Void. It wasn’t fancy or expensive, but at least it didn’t make me throw up. All in all it was a fun day. I didn’t embarrass my son too much. That was the least I could do considering it was his birthday.

Rubbing Tummies

I used to have a black lab mix which my wife insisted we adopt about thirteen years ago because the dog had a cute face. Forget that those honking big puppy paws meant she was going to be the size of a bull mastiff. How adorable that she could walk on the back of the sofa. What grace. What style. Eventually she got so big she couldn’t walk atop the sofa and fell off, looking at me as though I had done something wrong.
Then she went through her bratty years. I could not pet her back leg without her growling and exposing her teeth. I kept petting her leg but lightly slapped her mouth. What kind of mixed message that sent out I don’t know. I’m not a dog whisperer. She liked to chew on my prescription lensed glasses. This was getting expensive until my doctor told me to buy No. 2 grade magnifying glasses at the drug store.
As she matured she started liking the way I patted her belly; in fact, she would position herself in front of me so I couldn’t move unless I leaned over to pet her. They developed into full-blown tummy rubs. Usually after the rubs she’d prance around the room like she had just scored the winning touchdown. She quit eating my glasses but she did like to carry around my socks and handkerchiefs, tossing them in the air and catching them on her nose. In fact, she could not sleep unless she was cuddling something that was drenched in my body odor.
She’s gone now. Towards the end, I didn’t rub her tummy as often as I had. She stood patiently while I stroked her underside and afterwards she gave me an appreciative look before settling on her designated spot on the sofa.
This reminds me that as we get older we forget to be kind to the people we are closest to, not because we don’t care but because we focus on the constant crick in our sacroiliacs. Our loved ones seem to understand but they still appreciate it when we remember. And when they leave–like my wife and the dog have done–it’s too late for that caress.
(Author’s note: Please realize this is only a metaphor for life. Only rub the bellies of your long-time pets who may be expecting it. Do not rub the belly of a dog that does not belong to you. If you do and the dog bites, don’t demand the dog’s owner pay for your doctor bill. Also, do not attempt to rub the tummies of long-time friends and relatives. This could result in being arrested and held for psychological examination. Repeat: this is only a metaphor on how we should treat our loved ones.)
On the other hand, if you have been married to your spouse for 40 or more years, and you can’t remember the last time you rubbed his or her tummy, please do so sometime this evening. I think you will be in for a pleasant surprise.