Tag Archives: family

Remember Chapter Twelve

Previously: Retired college teacher Lucinda remembers her favorite student Vernon. Reality interrupts when another boarder Nancy scolds her for talking to her daughter Shirley. She remembers letting it slip to Vernon that she didn’t like Nancy.
Inside she stopped at the bottom of the stairs and considered the effort she would have to exert to return to her room. She thought she heard her bed calling her to come rest awhile, and she obeyed.

Lucinda had just nestled her head in her pillow and endured the squeak of the mattress springs when a knock at the door jerked her back awake.

“Miz Cambridge? It’s Miz Godwin. May I come in?”

“Of course, Mrs. Godwin.” Lucinda lifted herself from the bed and stood, forcing a pleasant look upon her face as Bertha came in.

“They said you was feelin’ poorly. I wanted to check on you.”

“How kind. I’m much better.”

“Good, because I need some advice.” Bertha stepped forward with the urgency of a life insurance salesman at the front door.

Lucinda’s body twitched. “How may I help you?”

“I suppose you’ve heard the fuss about the fire marshal.”

“Yes, some improvements have to be made.” Without thinking, she slumped into her rocking chair.

“Well, Emma is hell bent – excuse my language – on not doin’ a thing. She’s the most stubborn woman in the world.” She smiled as though she had been caught not being a proper Southern lady. “I should know, bein’ her sister.”

“And you want to know if I think you should inform the authorities of her noncompliance?”

Bertha paused, as though her mind had to translate into her Texas vernacular what Lucinda had just said. Eventually, she nodded. “I’d never hear the end of it if she knew I was the one who turned her in. But I don’t want to wake up some night with flames all around me. The way she smokes, I know it’s goin’ to happen.”

“I learned long ago not to make other people’s decisions for them.” Even now she shuddered at the advice she had given Vernon. “You have to look within yourself for wisdom.”

“You’re afraid you’ll lose the roof over your head too?” Bertha asked in sympathy.

“No, that’s not—“

Emma’s voice rang throughout the drafty old house. “Bertha! Come wash these dishes!”

“I’ve got to go.” She headed for the door. “You’re right. It’s my decision.” She looked back and added with what seemed to be sincere concern, “Now you git your rest.”

Before she knew it, Lucinda was back at her desk at the college, and Vernon, dressed in blue jeans and a pull over sweater, entered carrying a notepad and a textbook.

“Vernon. I’m sorry I displeased you earlier.” At that time in her life, Lucinda was not very good at apologies. “I hope any little arguments we have don’t disrupt our friendship.”

“What argument?” he asked as he sat.

“In the hall. You were in your gym shorts and we were talking about—“

“Oh, that was months ago,” he cut her off with a wave of a hand. “I’ve already forgotten about that.”

“Good.” She sighed in relief and focused on his notepad. “What do you have here?”

“It’s that paper you wanted me to do on Dante’s Inferno. And that poem I had to write about death.” He opened the notepad to the page where he had scribbled a few words. He shook his head. “Gosh, Mrs. Cambridge, this is hard.”

‘Well, do you see why I wanted you to write it?” Lucinda relaxed, comfortable in her old element of the classroom.

“Sure, if you go to – um, Hades, that means you must be dead and if we write a poem then we kinda know what Dante must have gone through to write his poem,” he explained with uncertainty.

“That’s right. So, read me your poem.” She leaned forward with anticipation.

Vernon blinked a few times and then began to read, forming each word with care, “One night on a dark country road/ I sped on my way home./ With thoughts lingering about my date/ I didn’t think of what was ahead./ Suddenly before my car/ Was a rabbit frozen with fear/ Fixed in the middle of the road./ The headlight glare caught the shock and fear in his eyes./ Then he died./ And I cried.”

“Very touching, Vernon.” She stood to walk around to his desk and read it again from over his shoulder. “I assume that really happened.”


“I’ve no quarrel with the free verse with the rhymed couplet. But it is very brief. Perhaps in here – “she leaned over to point at one section “–right before the rhymed couplet you could relate some other experience facing death.”

“I haven’t had any.”

She looked at him. “Surely one of your grandparentshas died.”

“No.” He shook his head, averting eye contact. “All of them are still alive.”

“Oh, there’s someone you’ve known who died.” She became aware of his aftershave, which she recognized as a common brand like her husband had used. “You just don’t remember. And there’s been some experience in your life when you’ve been faced with your own mortality.”

His shoulders shuddered a bit. “But I don’t want to think about it. It scares me.”

“Well, Vernon, dying scares all of us.” She was practically whispering in his ear. “Part of living is overcoming the fear of death.”

“Sometimes, late at night, I think about what it’s going to be like not to exist anymore. Not to feel, be hungry, be happy, look forward to doing things.” His voice took on a mournful, frightened quality.

“Only atheists believe death means not existing anymore.” She pulled away when she was aware she had entered a realm of preaching instead of teaching. She always prided herself on keeping the two issues separated.

“I know that.” He exhaled. “But if I’m not here I’m not existing. Being in heaven is something I don’t know anything about. That won’t be existing like this is existing.” He turned to look at her face. They were very close. “I’m not saying this very well.”

She smiled. “I think you’re saying it beautifully.”

Remember Chapter Eight

Previously: Retired college teacher Lucinda remembers her favorite student Vernon. Reality interrupts when another boarder Nancy scolds her for talking to her daughter Shirley. Later she remembers how she tried to teach Vernon how to dance.
“Let’s try again,” Lucinda said to Vernon. “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 ball 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 open, 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 participate. 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, 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 her 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 a worse sin than dancing?

Lucinda stood to go to the window. 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.”

The Dream

I have a lot of dreams.
This is mostly because I have Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep disorder. Put simply, I stay in the dream stage and never go into the deepest level of recuperative sleep. Sorry to bore you with my medical history, but it’s plot exposition, and I thought it best to get it out of the way up front.
One recent night I had this vision of a young boy in a tee shirt and blue jeans. He had a long angular face—soulful, sad. He seemed to be sitting on an L-shaped shadow. Then he spoke.
“Mom is worried about you.”
The pronouncement was so shocking I bolted awake and immediately tried to figure it out. My first thought was it was my interpretation of my son’s concern for my health. Before he leaves for work he reminds me where his work number is written down and tells me to be sure to call if I start to feel ill.
But how would he know if his mom was worried about me too? She died three years ago. And why would I see him as a child in my dream? He’s 45 years old. And he didn’t look anything like the dream boy when he was that age.
Then I remembered the framed photographs hanging in my childhood home. My picture was there, as well as my two brothers. The fourth photo was of the oldest brother who died six years before I was born. He was about seven years old. He wore a white shirt and bib overalls. As I thought more about it, his long face in the photograph did look very forlorn.
That meant when he said, “Mom is worried about you,” he was talking about our mother who died when I was fourteen years old.
The pieces were coming together for me. For traditional dream interpretation I am the one who is worried about myself, and I chose family members who had already passed to express my subconscious concerns.
For one who has an active imagination, however, I wonder if it weren’t a dream at all. Maybe it was an actual message from the other side saying I’ve got dead folks who are worried about me. It’s nice to know somebody up there cares.

The Future Me

When I awoke this morning I was confused. Looking down at me was my mother. She’s been dead for fifty years, but there she was, looking as young and beautiful as I remembered from my childhood.
“And how is Jerry this morning?” she asked.
I was so dumbfounded. I could not find the words to respond. This bald man came up, put his arm around my mother’s shoulder and smiled.
“Look, Daddy, Jerry is wide awake and ready for breakfast.”
Okay, this man was not my father. My father was not bald and he rarely if ever smiled. Mother picked me up and handed me to this man she called Daddy. How this guy could hold me I could not figure out. I was a two hundred pound old man. For that matter how could my mother pick me up? And when I was the size for my father to carry, he never did. At least I did not remember him carrying me. There was something terribly wrong about this situation. They were calling me Jerry and that was my name. The woman looked very much like my mother. And this man was a complete stranger.
“Bring Jerry in here, Anthony,” the woman called out from the kitchen.
Now I was really confused. My father’s name was Grady. And I never knew anyone named Anthony until my daughter started dating. My daughter, where was she? For that matter, where was my wife? And why was I peeing in my pants? I hadn’t peed in my pants in more than sixty years.
“I’ve got to change his diaper first, Heather,” this man trying to pass himself off as my father said. My real father never changed a diaper in his life.
I wrinkled my tiny brow. He called my mother Heather. My mother’s name was Florida. My daughter’s name was Heather. All this confusion made me very unhappy. The only thing I could think to do was cry.
“Why is the baby crying?” Heather called out from the kitchen.
“If your pants were wet you’d cry too,” this man who called himself Anthony said.
After he changed my diaper, I began to feel hungry. Bacon and eggs would taste good, I thought. Maybe not. I now could not rightly remember what bacon and eggs tasted like. I had bad dreams all the time. My wife could usually tell me what they meant, but at this moment I could not remember her name. I did remember how good that bottle of milk tasted. My father—whatever his actual name was—was pretty good slipping it between my little lips.
I decided he was not so bad. I looked at my mother and knew I had loved her a long time, way back in a past that was fading away and into a future that was brand new yet so familiar. Maybe even better.
Author’s note: This is, of course, sort of a fantasy. I already have a grandson named Liam.

Remember Chapter Six

Previously: Retired college teacher Lucinda remembers her favorite student Vernon. Reality interrupts when another boarder Nancy scolds her for talking to her daughter Shirley.
“I’m sorry, Vernon, but I’m confused.” As she stared at him 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 left 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.”

I Get Lost Easily

(Author’s note: this story was written as an exercise in using wildly different phrases. They were the titles of the plays on the schedule at the local community theater: Oklahoma, Moonlight and Magnolias, I Love You You’re Perfect Now Change, and Born Yesterday. See if you can find them all.)
I have to confess. I get lost easily. Very easily.
My wife and I joked the best way to learn your way around in a new big city was to get lost on its streets for several hours. However, when our son was being born, getting lost was no laughing matter.
I had just started a new job at the Oklahoma City newspaper as a copyeditor on the night shift. My wife was due any moment; in fact, she was past due, and I was getting worried.
“Maybe I shouldn’t go to work tonight because you’re in extreme pain which comes and goes, but mostly coming.”
“Don’t fret,” she said. “I can always call a taxi and phone you from the hospital.”
The trouble with that was I hadn’t been to the Oklahoma City hospital yet, only the doctor’s office. So wouldn’t you know it, at about 10 p.m. I get a call from my wife saying she was in the emergency room, and the baby was due any second. I went to the old, balding man who was in charge of the copyediting desk that night. I told him I had to go. I was about to become a father.
He arched his eyebrow and rolled his stubby cigar around his lips. “I don’t understand. Are you the doctor?”
“No, I’m just the father. But my wife told me to get to the hospital as soon as possible.”
“Oh hell. I had five kids, and wasn’t there for any of their births, and they turned out okay. My ex-wife and them live in California now, and they get to go to Disneyland all the time.”
“I don’t know if I could concentrate on editing stories and writing headlines because I’m so worried about my wife.”
“Oh hell, get out of here. Nobody nowhere wants to work no more.” That was a triple negative which was why he was the boss. He got his journalism degree somewhere in Texas which explained a lot.
All I knew was the address. My wife told me it was at the corner of Moonlight and Magnolias. You couldn’t miss it, everyone in the doctor’s office assured her. Well, she might not miss it, but I was so sure about myself. I was almost late to my wedding because I couldn’t find the church. She married me anyway but informed me on our honeymoon she had high expectations.
“I love you,” she said. “You’re perfect. Now change.”
The changes had been painfully slow, but nevertheless they had been forthcoming. They were not forthcoming fast enough, however, the night my son was born. I couldn’t find Moonlight or Magnolias anywhere. I stopped at a couple of convenience stores. The man behind the counter at the first one said in broken English he only knew how to get from his mother’s house to the store where he worked. The woman at the other store put her hands on her hips when I told her my wife was about to have a baby and I didn’t know how to get to the hospital.
“What’s wrong with you? Everybody knows where the hospital is.” She paused to cock her head. “Are you a Yankee?”
I didn’t know what to say. Maybe being a Yankee would make me more sympathetic, or it might make her get out her gun and shoot me. That might work because someone would have to call an ambulance to take me to the hospital at Moonlight and Magnolias.
“”Yes?” I replied timidly.
“Oh hell. That explains everything.” She came around the counter, took me by the hand, walked out the front door and pointed down the street. She talked very slowly. “The hospital is only three blocks away. And be sure to go in the emergency room entrance.”

Within minutes I was at the information desk and explained to the clerk that my wife had arrived at the emergency room earlier in the evening and was about to have our baby. I told her I would have been there sooner but I got lost.
“I get lost easily,” I said.
She pointed to a big clock on the wall, and its hands pointed to 12 and 45. “I don’t know anything about your baby. The shift changed at midnight, and he was born yesterday.”

Remember Chapter Two

Previously: retired college teacher Lucinda suddenly starts having memories of her favorite student Vernon.
“Why, it’s time for your composition class, Miz Cambridge.”

“I haven’t taught since last December,” she replied in a bare whisper.

“Heck no. It was jest two days ago.” Vernon giggled in a non-malicious way.

“Are you real?” Her hand went to her boney chest where it made vague circles.

“Of course I’m real.” He took a step toward her, looking seriously at her face. “Miz Cambridge, you all right? You don’t look good.”

“I’ve had problems with my heart lately.” She valiantly tried to dismiss her unease and the feeling—not that an elephant was sitting on her chest—but that an elephant was in her chest trying to get out.

“Hope you’re goin’ to the doctor.” His eyes crinkled in concern.

“Yes, I have.”

“Well, that’s good.” Vernon tried to sit at one of the school desks but dropped all his books in the process. He slid out of the seat, went to the floor and started pulling the books toward him.

Lucinda always considered herself an intelligent person but could not figure out what was going on. Was she having a hallucination? She also considered herself too sophisticated to take spiritualism seriously, but now she doubted her previously held beliefs. “Are you a ghost?”

Vernon, with books securely tucked into his gangly arms, sat back in the desk chair and looked at Lucinda quizzically. “I don’t think so. I think I’m what they call a memory.”

“I’m sorry, Vernon.” She shook her head and closed her eyes. “I’ve tried very hard to forget you for the last ten years — quite successfully until today. So please, be a nice young gentleman and leave.”

“Why, that’s silly, Miz Cambridge. I’m your memory. I wouldn’t be here unless you wanted me here. I always did what you wanted me to.”

“Then if it’s up to me, you must leave now.” She pointed to the door which her logical self knew wasn’t really there. “The way you came.”

Looking slightly hurt, Vernon stood and rather clumsily gathered his books. “Anything you say, Miz Cambridge.” He walked to the door but he stopped, as though something were confining him.

“Vernon, I said go. Now!”

“Somethin’s holdin’ me back.” He stopped trying to go through the door and turned. “I think it’s you.”

“What on earth are you talking about?”

“I think there’s a part of you that doesn’t want to think about me but another — more powerful — part that does. So I guess I’m stuck here for a while. He paused. “Can I sit down now?”

Lucinda forced herself to see the room as it actually was—a boarding house bedroom and not a classroom—and stood to go to the real door.

“Cassie! Cassie!”

“What are you doin’?” Vernon’s voice sounded hollow, as though an echo through a long tunnel.

“If I talk to someone, I won’t have to think about you,” she muttered. Then she yelled as loud as a woman of her age and health could. “Cassie! Cassie!”

“Cassie? You mean ol’ Cassie Lawrence?”

“Yeah, Miz Cambridge?” a voice emanated from down the real hall.

“Yep, that’s ol’ Cassie.” Vernon was sounding fainter and fainter, though a light-hearted condescension was still evident.

“Be kind, Vernon,” Lucinda lectured.

“Whattaya want?” the voice from down the hall grew stronger.

“Please come to my room.”

“You mean you live in her mama’s boardin’ house?

“Yes, Vernon.” Lucinda became impatient. “Hurry, Cassie!”

“Hey! Nancy lives here!” His voice lightened. “I wonder which room?”

Cassie, a plain woman in her late thirties and with a club foot, finally appeared in the hall. “Whattaya want, Miz Cambridge?”

Lucinda put her arm around Cassie, guided her into the bedroom and walked right past Vernon. “Yes, Cassie. Thank you for coming.”

“I hope it don’t take long. Mama’s jest about got lunch ready.” Her dull blue eyes lit. “I think we’re havin’ chicken with stars soup!”

“I told you Cassie was a little funny,” Vernon said.

Lucinda looked distracted because Vernon’s voice was becoming strong again.

“Miz Cambridge?” Cassie asked.

“Um, yes.” Lucinda did her best to focus on Cassie. “What did you want?”

“You wanted me.” She shook her head in confusion.

“Am I makin’ you act funny?” Vernon frowned in concern.

Lucinda looked back and forth between Vernon and Cassie, who, of course, could not see Vernon.

“Miz Cambridge, You’re actin’ discombobulated.” Cassie’s tone went up an octave.

“Um, I suppose I am a bit distracted this morning.” She smiled nervously.

“No, you’re actin’ discombobulated.” Now her eyes were so wide they seemed ready to pop out of their sockets.

Lucinda needed a logical sounding excuse fast. “I need some more boxes for my books.”

“You gonna give them away?” Cassie asked. “Mama really hopes you give those books away.”

“They make bookcases.” She smiled with phony confidence

“Okay.” Cassie sounded disappointed.

“Thank you.”

“Okay,” Cassie repeated in the same disappointed tone.

“Good bye.” Lucinda decided to capitulate to her demanding memory of Vernon.

“Okay.” Cassie walked to the door, looked back, shook her head and disappeared down the hall.

It Was The World Back Then

Recently I was going through some old files and found this nostalgia piece I wrote in the early 1970s, about 50 years:

It was the world back then. A garden to be tilled, a home for rabbits and chickens and dogs. Oh yes, cats too.
That backyard was long and wider than I had the breath to run past. But, of course, I was always a puny kid.
Half of it for many years was a garden—corn in the back, then okra, many rows of potatoes and tomatoes, then radishes, cabbage and onions. Sometimes a few petunias if my mother was in the mood. They made adequate trumpets, I recall.
To keep the garden alive during those scorching, drought-tinged Texas summers of the mid-fifties, my father and mother put the garden house at the end of a row and let it run.
Much to their chagrin, I often decided to dam up the works and create a lake, with branches seeping from one row to another. This also provided plenty of mud for various products like mud pies. It also substituted for blood for my re-enactment of the Saturday war movie.
Then the hose was turned on me before I was allowed in the house.
But the garden isn’t there anymore. Not since my mother died.
The other half of the yard was for play—with my dogs. I always had a couple; then when one was run over and killed—which seemed altogether too common an occurrence—I still had one.
They would chase me, nipping at my heels, until I would fall down and cover my head. They would lick at my neck and I would squeal with delight.
I learned the facts of life from the cats. Kittens were as common as the rain wasn’t in those days. I can think of no better education than the excitement of gingerly crawling under the house, softly calling out the mother cat’s name and have her return with a pleasant meow. As I crawled closer, she would proudly roll over to show me her babies, their eyes still closed. If I dared pick them up too much they would not be there the next day. The mother would move them.
My father built a hutch in the back and tried raising rabbits once. But that was a futile venture because he wanted to eat them, and I wanted them as pets. Bantam chickens were safer, we both agreed only to eat the eggs. One day, however, I came home to find dead chickens over all the yard. One of the dogs acted sheepishly. I cried and then decided to grant amnesty. The law of the backyard was based on mercy.
And the playhouse. I could never forget that. It began as one small room with tin Royal Crown Cola signs for sides and roof. That didn’t seem large enough so I added another room and a wooden roof and a second floor.
To celebrate the expansion I invited a friend over to spend the night in the house with my brother and me. We watched “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” and drank a concoction of mine made of Nehi orange, grape and strawberry and Upper Teen.
Then we ventured out for the night. The sky was clear and the moon full. It was joyous. We danced and frolicked in our underwear at midnight. My friend’s shorts had monkeys on them. I teased him, but secretly I was envious.
Somehow two rooms and a second floor didn’t seem enough. I doubled the bottom, had more lumber for roofing and even had a perch on top of the second floor.
A few years later my interest waned, and my father wanted me to tear it down, but I didn’t have the heart. He relented and tore it down himself. At one point he pushed apart two main posts and bore a strange resemblance to Sampson, I thought.
Now I come home occasionally and the yard has changed. As I said, there is no garden. It is now an expanse of grass. I only vaguely spot where the rabbit hutch and the wonderful playhouse sat.
The only things that are the same are the honeysuckle vines and mimosa trees I planted for my mother many years ago. The trees are quite stout now.
It makes me feel old.
The smell of the honeysuckle is still sweet and brings back the memories, though. I have honeysuckle growing outside the door of the home I share with my wife and son. It makes me feel good.
I want a large yard for my son to have adventures in, to learn responsibility in, a nice place to grow up.
But this yard, for all the world events that transpired within its reaches, seems so small now.

Fifty years later, I have to admit the yard was not always that wonderful. In fact, some memories are best kept where they belong—in the past. And as for the yard seeming so small, to this old man the world has grown much too large.

Grotto Falls

(Author’s Note: Sometime truth is best expressed as fiction. Your lost loved is always with you, even if just in a dream.)
“I don’t think I can make it.”
“Of course, you can.”
“No, really,” the wife said. “I have to sit down for a while.”
“But we can’t say we’ve been to the Smokey Mountains if we haven’t hiked up to see Grotto Falls,” the husband protested light-heartedly.
“Yes, but the first time was forty years ago. We were young.” She paused. “Oh look. There’s a nice big rock. Come on, let’s sit down for a while.” After she sat, she made a face. “Yuck. It’s wet.”
“It rained this morning, remember,” he said. “Everything is wet. The trees are still dripping with rain. Leaves are a deeper green after rain, don’t you think?”
“Are you going to sit down or not?” the wife asked.
“Why not?”
“I don’t want to get my butt wet,” he replied.
She laughed.
“Do you feel better now?” he asked.
“Not much. Why don’t you go on without me?”
“No. I have to have you with me so I can kiss you under the falls,” he explained.
“I tell you what,” she began her bargain, “you go up to the falls alone, and I’ll give you a big kiss when you come back.”
“It won’t be the same.” He took a moment to pout. “I think I can hear the falls from here. It can’t be too much further.” He sniffed. “I can even smell the water spray.”
“You know I can’t smell anything.” She took his hand. “Look in my eyes. Can’t you see I can’t take another step?”
He didn’t have to look. He knew. “All right. But you better have your kisser ready when I come back around that bend in the trail.”
“Absolutely. Now go ahead so we can get back to town for supper.” She smiled. “I tell you what. You cup your hands and fill them with water from the falls. Then you can splash me with it.”
“You don’t like being splashed.”
“Just this once. Just for you.”
He looked up the trail and started plodding along. “She’s always been a party pooper,” he mumbled. As he went around the bend he saw the falls. “I knew we were almost there.” He paused and glanced down the trail. She could still make it, he thought. He knew she could. Then he shook his head. “I think I’d rather splash her with the water.”
The falls were crowded with families. Children laughed as they dipped their feet in the cold mountain stream.
“I knew it,” he whispered. He didn’t want the others to notice the old man was talking to himself. “It’s not as much fun without her.”
He cupped his hands and dipped them into the pool in front of the falls. He began his trip back to his wife. When he turned the corner he saw the boulder where she was sitting. The water slipped through his fingers. She was gone.
“Where did she go? Where did she go? Where did she go?” He started running and tripped over a tree root.
As his old body crashed onto the floor he awoke and found himself in his bedroom. Lifting himself up, he crawled back into bed and reached over to the other side—her side—and found it empty.

Valentine’s Day

He sat across from his wife of 40 years in their den and wondered what to get her for Valentine’s Day.
Way back in the old days, he bought the biggest heart-shaped box of chocolates he would find, with all the fancy ribbons and bows on top. And if he could find one, he would get it in orange, not red. Orange was her favorite color. Often she kept the boxes, saying they were too pretty to throw out and she just knew she could find some use for them. She never did, and when the colors faded and the closet filled with old heart-shaped boxes, she threw them out.
Candy was always an easy choice. She loved chocolate. He loved chocolate. She let him eat her chocolates. What wasn’t there to love? After 40 years, though, they couldn’t eat as much chocolate as they used to. They still had candy left over from Christmas.
For a while he bought her roses. She liked those, especially when he could find orange ones, but now her allergies were worse and fresh cut flowers made her sneeze.
“Do you want to go out for dinner on Valentines?” he asked her.
“I don’t know. What day of the week is that?”
“Tuesday,” he replied.
“We eat breakfast out with our friends on Tuesday,” she said. “That would be eating out two meals in one day.”
“Would that be so bad?”
“Sometimes I eat so much for breakfast I don’t want anything else the rest of the day, except maybe a chunk of cheese.” She had her nose stuck in the newspaper.
“Well, I can’t give you chocolate. We got way too much chocolate left over from Christmas.”
“Yeah, I don’t know why, but I haven’t been in the mood to eat chocolate lately.”
“Would you like to go to a movie?”
“On a Tuesday night? Aren’t the theaters crowded on Tuesday night?”
“Why would the theater be crowded on Tuesday night?”
“I don’t know.”
He felt his blood pressure rising. “Well, maybe I shouldn’t get you anything for Valentine’s this year.”
“Well, if you don’t want to, you don’t have to.”
“Of course, I want to give you something for Valentine’s Day. Why do you think I asked you if you wanted to go out for dinner?”
“I don’t know.”
“You do this to me all the time, and it drives me nuts.”
“I’ve already bought you something.”
He decided to go ahead and buy her fresh cut roses for Valentine’s Day. He didn’t care if she sneezed her head off.
“I was in Wal Mart today. They had the nicest selection of roses I’ve seen in years. They had them in all colors. I also picked up a new allergy prescription.”
Okay, he would get the orange ones.