Tag Archives: love

Burly Chapter Five

(Previously in the book: Herman anticipated fifth birthday on the plains of Texas during the Depression. He was overjoyed to receive a home-made bear, which magically came to life when Herman’s tear fell on him. Before Christmas, Burly told Herman he wanted a family too.)
Herman and Burly went out to the barn after putting on their coats, for the East Texas wind made the winter cold even colder than it was. Herman’s coat was made of denim, and Burly’s was actually a piece of old flannel with a hole in the middle. Papa called it a poncho. Moving bales of hay, papa had his denim coat off and his sleeves rolled halfway up his arms. Ever since he hugged his father for giving him Burly, Herman wasn’t afraid of those worms.
“Papa? May I talk to you a minute?” Herman spoke right up.
His father looked around, his face all twisted up from working so hard, but when he saw Herman he smiled very big. “Yes, son. What do you want?”
“I was thinking, it would be nice if Callie and Tad could have burlap bears like Burly for Christmas. Mother said she would make them if you had the burlap bags to spare.”
“That’s a good idea, son. I have a whole stack of empty ones over in the corner. You pick out two for your mother to make the bears.” He patted his son. “I was worried I wouldn’t have anything to give them this Christmas. Yep, you had a really good idea.”
Herman smiled broadly because both his mother and father had told him he was good for thinking of the bears for his sister and brother. He was beginning to understand what they meant when they said in church that it was more blessed to give than receive. All of a sudden, though, his happy thoughts turned to worry. In order for the new bears to be real parents to Burly Bear, they would have to be able to talk, just like Burly. And that would mean they would have to come from the same magical kind of burlap that Burly came from. What did Burly say about how he made his burlap bag move under father’s hand to make him think of making the stuffed bear? Oh, Herman wished father wasn’t standing so close so he could talk to Burly and get his advice.
Herman slowly touched all the empty burlap bags, but they all felt the same to him. He went through the stack again.
“Haven’t you picked out two bags yet?” his father yelled at him.
“No,” Herman replied. Maybe it was his father who had the magic touch to pick out the exactly right burlap to make the magical bears. “Would you pick the bags for me?”
His father walked over laughing. “You’re a good boy, Herman, but sometimes you do act silly.”
Herman was afraid his father wouldn’t take time to pick the right ones because at first he just grabbed the two on top.
“These will do,” he said, but then he stopped and looked at the bags. “Oh no. That won’t do at all. They got big holes in them. Let me look again.”
Herman smiled to himself. Father would make the right selection this time.
“Here, take these.” He tossed two bags at Herman.
It wasn’t long until Christmas came to the little farm house near Cumby. Father found a cedar tree, cut it down and dragged it into the house, filling the air with sweet evergreen aromas. Mother popped corn, and Callie and Tad strung the kernels together and hung them on the tree. Father bought a sack of cranberries which were strung on the tree too. All three children cut and colored paper ornament until the tree became pretty enough for the holidays.
Christmas Eve the family gathered around the tree after a meal of chili and cornbread. Father cleared his throat which was a sign for everyone to become still and silent.
“Times have been hard this year, and your mother and I can’t afford to give you anything except what we’ve always given you—our love. So I want each of you to come to your mother and me, and we’ll give you our present, a hug and kiss.”
Callie led the way and gave father and mother the biggest hug she had. Tad looked down and shuffled his feet like he was sad he wasn’t getting anything else, but he was able to give his parents a warm hug. Herman skipped over and got his hug and kiss, barely holding back a giggle, since he knew that wasn’t all some of them were getting.
After the children sat down again, father said, “Now two of you are getting something extra.”
“Yeah, and I can guess which two it’s going to be,” Tad grumbled.
“No, I bet you can’t guess,” his father said.
Mother pulled out the two bears wrapped in old newspaper. “These are for you and Callie.”
“Oh my goodness! Thank you! “ Callie yelled as she grabbed her package and tore it open.
“For me!” Tad squealed, his eyes dancing. He tore into his gift.
Each held up their burlap bears and hugged them, and then ran to their parents.
“They’re wonderful!” Callie exclaimed.
“Yes! Oh thank you!” Tad appeared younger and happier to Herman.
“You should tank your brother Herman,” their mother said. “He’s the one who suggested I make them for you.”
Callie hugged Herman and kissed him on the cheek. “Oh Herman, you’re so sweet!”
And so, Herman got his second Christmas present, the wonderful feeling of giving to someone else. Unfortunately, Tad broke the Christmas spell by throwing his bear to the floor.
“I don’t want the old thing!” he growled. “Herman just did it so he could get people to say he was wonderful. And—and he knew I wouldn’t want a silly old bear so he’d end up having two bears, the little pig!”
Callie turned red and stepped toward Tad. “Oh Tad!” She stopped abruptly, looked at her parents and sat down. For a nine-year-old girl, she was learning to mind her own business, Herman decided.
“Tad, that’s not a nice thing to say to your brother,” his mother said softly.
“Well, that’s what he is, a little pig!” Tad kicked the bear across the room.
“That’s enough of that, young man.” His father stood. “We’re going out behind the barn.”

Burly Chapter Four


Burlap or future teddy bears?
(Previously in the book: Herman anticipated fifth birthday on the plains of Texas during the Depression. He was overjoyed to receive a home-made bear, which magically came to life when Herman’s tear fell on him.)
Late one night, early in December when the first blue norther was just about ready to sweep down on the East Texas prairie from the Panhandle, Burly Bear nudged little Herman who was fast sleep.
“Huh?” Herman mumbled.
“Not so loud,” Burly whispered, holding his burlap paw to his lips. “I want to tell you something, but if Callie or Tad wake up I won’t be able to.”
“All right,” Herman said as he yawned and rubbed his eyes. “What is it?”
“Well,” Burly began slowly, looking down. “I’ve really enjoyed living with you and your family this year.”
Herman gave Burly a big hug. “And I love having you, too.”
“You love your mother and father very much, don’t you?” Burly asked softly.
Herman smiled broadly. “Oh yes. Mama is wonderful and papa isn’t half as scary as I thought. You helped me see that.”
“I can tell they love you too.” Burly paused for a long moment, then sighed deeply. “I want a family to love and to love me.”
“Why, Burly Bear,” Herman exclaimed. “I’m your family.”
“Shush,” Burly went.
Tad shuffled in his nearby bed. “Herman, shut up,” he mumbled, then rolled over and went back to sleep.
“I’m sorry,” Herman whispered.
“What I mean is, I want a family, a mama and a papa bear to love me and take care of me,” Burly finally blurted out.
Herman wrinkled his little forehead. “I don’t know how we can do that. Usually parents come first, then the children.”
“But stuffed bears don’t usually talk. So usually doesn’t count here.”
“I guess,” Herman said in a dreamy sort of way, staring out of the window. He turned back to Burly. “Christmas is coming soon. I could ask for two more bears.”
Burly shook his head. “That really wouldn’t be fair, would it? I mean, you already have me, and Callie and Tad don’t have any bears at all.”
Herman’s eyes twinkled. “Oh yes. Callie would love a mama bear very much. She’s always telling me how cute you are.”
“And Tad?”
Herman frowned again. “Oh, Tad. I don’t think he would like a stuffed toy. He’s almost grown.”
“Twelve years old is not as grown up as you think,” Burly said, adding wisely, “or as grown up as Tad thinks.”
“But Tad doesn’t like anything. I still don’t think he even likes me very much.”
Burly smiled. “I think he likes you more than you know. And he might like you better if he thought you liked him.”
“Oh, I like Tad,” Herman replied.
“But does he know that?” Burly asked. “What have you done to let him know?”
“I’m just six years old. What could I do to show Tad I like him?”
“You can do more than you think,” Burly replied. “Always remember that.”
“Okay.” Herman sighed. “What do I have to do?”
Burly whispered in Herman’s ear for several minutes, and then they both went to sleep, because they had busy days ahead of them before Christmas. After breakfast the next morning when the others left, Herman tugged on his mother’s apron as she washed the dishes.
“Mama, can I—can we give Callie and Tad something special for Christmas?”
His mother looked down at him with a sad look on her face. “I’m afraid none of us are going to get anything special this Christmas. You remember why, don’t you? I explained it all to you.”
Herman nodded seriously. “Yes. You called it the depressions.”
His mother laughed lightly and patted him on the head. “No, the Depression. Only one. Thank goodness.”
“But couldn’t you make Callie and Tad bears out of burlap, like you did Burly Bear?” Herman said quickly before all his courage went away.
“Why, yes, I suppose so.” She looked at Herman and looked proud of him. “I hadn’t thought of that. Yes, that would be a good idea. You’re smart, Herman. And sweet.”
She leaned over to kiss Herman on the cheek. One part of him wanted to pull away and pretend he didn’t like it. But another part liked it and wanted to hug his mother. That part won out, and Herman wrapped his arms around his mother’s waist. For a fleeting moment he noticed how terribly thin she was.
“If you want me to, I’ll go ask papa for the burlap,” Herman offered happily.
“You don’t mind doing that?”
“Oh no, papa and me, we’ve become big pals,” Herman bragged.
“Very well. He’s out in the barn, I think.”

Forever With Mama

Insect love.


Mama told me all the stories of the great blinding light and times of darkness and cold. She did not live through them herself, but she assured me it was not so long ago. Before the great glow, never-ending darkness and cold, there walked upon the earth terrible giants who kindly fed us and just as ruthlessly crushed us underfoot.
These stories were fading from my memory, and I was afraid. They gave me a reason for living and the determination to keep my legs moving in the eternal search for food. If I could only find Mama she would explain why food made life worth living. Or, rather, what worthwhile reason made eating so important.
The last time I remembered being with Mama we were in the midst of our kind. We clamored over each other trying to find food. At one point my legs gave way, and I felt a thousand little legs on my back. I sensed their fear and desperation. There were so many of us, and no one knew what to do but keep scampering around. If we kept moving maybe we would find a gooey mountain that once was one of the giants. The giants had become our food.
I knew that I was not smart. When I didn’t know what to do, I often did absolutely nothing and hoped absolutely nothing happened to me. This also gave me time to think about things Mama told me. We needed food to exist, but if we could not find food, we should look for water to drink. Drinking water would keep us alive until we found food.
If I found a pipe, she told me, crawl up it because pipes always carried water. I bumped into a long round thing which I thought was one of those pipes Mama talked about, and I climbed on it and began to scuttle upwards. One of my feet slipped into a crack so I decided to crawl inside. Mama said water was always inside the pipe.
It was dry. My legs weakened. I didn’t know how much longer I could walk. Within my body was a growing perception that I no longer cared to move. I tried to control the panic. Just ahead, I came upon a hole. Crawling through, I found myself in a great basin. My spirits lifted. This was one of the places where water existed.
In the distance I saw a great brown mound. It was one of us. As I came closer I knew who it was. I recognized the pattern of the shell. I smelled its essence. My antennae touched its antennae. It was Mama. I nudged her, hoping that she was just sleeping. But she was not sleeping. All that was left was her dry shell.
Momentarily I considered leaving to continue my search for food and water but changed my mind. My fatigue overwhelmed me. My legs could move no more. I was with Mama. And all was good.

Petunias and Violets


(The petunia mentioned in this story was unavailable to pose for the picture so this other flower filled in.)
Petunias and violets in a flower bed,
Violets turn to petunias and said,
“Petunias, petunias, you’re crowding me here.”
“Violet, oh violet, so sorry my dear.
“My petals are big and need room to grow.”
“Petunia, oh Petunia, share the sun and let it show.”
“Violet, oh violet, this bed is not big enough.
“Either you must go or I will go nuts!”
Then someone walked up and went ooh and ah.
“The prettiest pot of flowers I’ve seen so far.
“Petunias and violets, pretty purple and pink.
“What a clever combination, whoever would think
“To plant them together in the very same way.
“Why seeing them side by side has made my day!”
Petunia looked at violet and turned an embarrassed red.
“It was mean of me to say you must leave this bed.
We must stay together; we must find a way!”
Violet thought just a moment to say,
“Let your petals lounge over the rim, giving them room
“To cascade down and show off your spectacular bloom.”
Petunia nodded happily and agreed, “And then
“That will leave the middle for you to grow, my friend!”
Petunias and violets thrive in their flower bed.
All it took was love and using their heads.

Burly Chapter Three

(Previously in the book: Herman anticipated fifth birthday on the plains of Texas during the Depression. He was overjoyed to receive a home-made bear, but his brother Tad’s ouburst ruined the moment.)
Herman climbed into the loft, took his clothes off and got into bed with Burly. He looked out of the window at the dark sky and thought how lonely he still felt. Burly was wonderful, and he could him hug him; but, Herman still felt lonely and sad. Part of it was because Tad made such a fuss and another was—well, Herman still didn’t know why. Again, as so many nights, tears began to fall from Herman’s eyes.
“Herman,” Burly said in a soft, soothing voice, “please don’t cry.”
Herman looked around. He didn’t know where the voice came from. Then he looked down to see Burly smiling up at him.
“Burly! You’re alive! You can talk!”
“Not so loud,” Burly shushed him. “Yes, I can talk, but only when it’s just you and me. When Callie and Tad, or anyone else is around I’m just a regular stuffed animal.”
“But why?”
Burly wrinkled his brow. “I don’t know. I don’t know why I can talk. But when your tear hit the top of my head I began to talk. That’s all I know.”
“Oh this is wonderful,” Herman whispered, hugging Burly tightly. “Oh! I didn’t hurt you by squeezing too right, did I?”
“Oh no,” Burly replied. “We burlap bears are pretty tough.”
“And you’ll be my friend!”
“Of course, I’ll be your friend,” Burly said. “I’ve been your friend ever since I was that feed bag. Remember, you rode in the pick-up to buy me at the feed store.”
“Not really,” Herman had to admit.
“You impressed me because you were so nice and kind and polite,” Burly explained. “And honest.”
“Thank you.”
“See how polite you are. Do you want to know a secret? I t was really my idea for me to be made into a bear. I made the bag rustle underneath your father’s hand that day so he would notice me and get the idea.”
“I didn’t think papa liked me enough to think of it on his own,” Herman sighed, a bit sad.
“Oh no, Herman,” Burly corrected him firmly. “Your father loves you very much. I could have sat there rustling all day long, but if he hadn’t really wanted you to have a bear, my rustling wouldn’t have meant much.”
“Oh.” Herman was happier knowing his father did love him after all.
“And do you know why he left so quickly after the birthday party?”
“He had to check the horses and cows,” Herman replied innocently.
“Wrong again,” Burly said. “He left because he didn’t want you to see him crying.”
“You mean papa cries? Gosh, I didn’t think anybody that big and strong ever cried.”
“Your father cries all the time, but you and your brother and sister don’t know it. He loves you all very much, and it makes him sad when he can’t give you things.”
“I guess things don’t matter as long as I know papa loves me.”
“Oh my, nice and kind and polite and smart too,” Burly sang. “I knew I was right to want to belong to you.”
Herman smiled a little, then thought of Tad and sighed. “I just wish Tad didn’t hate me.”
“Your brother doesn’t hate you,” Burly said. “He’s just jealous because he never got a stuffed bear. And he’s jealous because he has to go to school and help on the farm more than you do.”
“I do what I can,” Herman protested. “I’m only five.”
“Six. But you see, Tad is still just a little boy, even though he is bigger than you, so he doesn’t understand these things.”
“So maybe when he’s older he won’t hate me,” Herman said hopefully.
“Of course,” Burly assured him. “After all, he is your brother.”
Herman smiled and hugged Burly, knowing he would never feel sad or lonely again. “And you are my friend.”
“Yes, and you are my friend.”
Herman heard Callie and Tad come into the house, muttering and crying. He felt sorry they had gotten into trouble but felt good that they would know better as they got older. Like he would know better as he got older, with the help of Burly Bear, of course. He hugged Burly once more.
“Happy birthday, Burly.”

What Maude Learned Too Late


My mother-in-law Maude was always certain she was right because of this list of wise sayings from her mother.
“You get more with honey than vinegar…what goes around comes around…”
No need to list any more of them. They’re all from Benjamin Franklin, Confucius or some other source forgotten in time. Any problem in life could be solved by one of them, and Maude was the first one to remind you of it.
Often I asked her why she thought I was wrong about everything.
“It’s not that I think you’re wrong. It’s just that I know that I am right.”
The rare instance when I was able to prove she was factually wrong and I was right and I asked why she corrected me anyway, she’d reply, “Well, I thought if I didn’t know you wouldn’t either.”
Of course, a sense of being right all the time can create an air of confidence and as we all know nothing succeeds in life more than having confidence. Her biggest success was as a bookkeeper because one and one are always two. She kept the books for the family coal company, and they always had the exact amount of money that Maude said they had. And I say this without sarcasm. Not knowing exactly how much money a business had caused a lot of bankruptcies and kept governments teetering on the brink of insolvency.
For myself, I know intellectually one and one equals two but putting it down on paper has always been the problem. It’s hard to concentrate on one and one when a pretty butterfly flutters by or I consider what happens when the wrong one tries to join to another wrong one. And what was I talking about in the first place?
Eventually Maude’s county elected her to be treasurer. This was in the 1980s when bank interest rates were double digits. She kept the county’s money in various short-term accounts with different banks, and every morning she called each bank to see what the going rates were. Then she transferred accounts to the best rate. She made her county several million dollars just by switching money around. The national association of county treasurers named her treasurer of the year. Not just of small population counties but of every county in the United States of America.
I could not, would not deny Maude this distinction and the achievement of making so much money without raising taxes, fees or penalties. I wish every politician could do that. And I’m sure Maude gave credit to one of her mother’s time-worn proverbs.
What I had trouble with was her translating her accomplishments into moral imperatives to impose her superior judgement onto how my wife Janet and I raised our children, ran our household and chopped onions. My wife Janet was smarter than I was. She was able to hide the pea of our lives as she shuffled the walnut shells right in front of her mother. I, on the other hand, was a terrible bamboozler. Everything I did was out for the entire world to see and criticize.
Maude lived a long and fruitful life. Wisely, her husband Jim became a federal coal mine inspector in his later years thereby insuring his wife had the best health insurance available as she endured several heart attacks. One cannot outsmart death forever, and eventually Maude entered Hospice and awaited the end from advancing coronary disease.
Despite how aggravated I was with how she treated my family and me, I openly admitted that this was the woman who gave birth to the woman who saved my life and gave me two wonderful children. Through the years I took her to her doctor appointments and was by her side as she went from being bed-ridden at home to many hospitalizations and finally to Hospice.
I sat next to her one day when she announced, “I’ve been going through all my mother’s sayings in my mind, and I can‘t think of one that applies right now. For the first time in my life, I don’t know what to do.”
The next day when I visited, her speech was slurred and she had trouble holding up her hands. She had a letter from back home and I read it to her. I asked if she remembered the person who wrote the letter. She feebly nodded her head.
The day after that I found her asleep, a rasping sound escaping her lips. After sitting next to her in silence, I looked out the window and commented that it was raining. When I turned back I noticed she had stopped breathing.
Despite what she said, I think Maude did know what to do. She just didn’t want to do it.

Burly Chapter Two


(Previously in the book: Herman anticipated fifth birthday on the plains of Texas during the Depression.)
One night after supper, mother cleared away the dishes and brought out a small chocolate cake—Herman’s favorite—with six flickering candles on it. She and Callie sang happy birthday while his father and Tad sat there and pretended to mumble the song. Herman had actually forgotten his birthday. But when he blew out the candles and tasted the sweet chocolate cake he remembered—only for a second—what his mother had said about a teddy bear. After everyone had finished the cake, his mother with a beaming smile on her face pulled out a bundle wrapped in butcher’s paper.
“I colored pictures on the wrapping paper,” Callie announced proudly.
For a nine-year-old girl with too many freckles she was very nice, Herman thought.
“What! He gets a present!” Tad exploded.
“Be quiet, son,” his father said softly but firmly.
“But he don’t do half the work around here that I do, and he don’t have to go to school!”
“Oh, shut up, Tad,” Called chided her brother.
“You shut up,” he retorted.
Tad was a big twelve-year-old but he looked like a pouting baby when he was angry, which was too often, Herman believed.
“Now both of you settle down before I take you out behind the barn,” their father warned.
“But it isn’t fair,” Tad whined.
“Shush,” his mother added, handing the gift to Herman.
“Not fair,” Tad said under his breath.
Herman was sad his brother was mad, but he put that out of his mind as he tore into the paper and what he found made him grin from ear to ear.
It was a bear made of burlap with buttons sewed on his arms and legs so that they could move. He had a sweet little smile sewn on his face. Two more buttons made the eyes.
“Ooh, how pretty!” Callie cooed, hugging Herman. “Isn’t it wonderful, Herman?”
Herman was speechless.
“Mama made it,” Callie told him.
“It was your father’s idea to use the burlap bag,” their mother said, smiling sweetly and nodding to her husband.
Herman jumped up, without thinking about the worms on his father’s arms, and ran over to hug him and kiss his rough, weather-beaten cheek. For the first time he could ever remember, he felt those long, strong arms fold gently around him and pat him softly. He stood quickly.
“Um, I’ve got to go see how the livestock’s doing,” he mumbled, rubbing his eyes with his hands and walking with long strides out the door.
Mother rubbed her eyes with a towel. “Time to clean up,” she announced crisply. “Callie, clear away the dishes.”
“Mama, can I play with my bear?” Herman asked timidly.
“Of course, dear.”
“What are you going to name him, Herman?” Callie said excitedly, leaning down to look at the bear.
“I don’t know,” he replied simply.
“Why don’t you name it after yourself,” Tad said with a nasty sound in his voice. “Baby.”
“Oh, shut up,” Callie spat, then turned back to Herman. “Since he’s made out of burlap, why don’t you call him Burly?”
Herman smiled. “Yeah. Burly Bear.”
“Mama,” Tad began to complain, “It ain’t fair Herman gets fancy toys and I—“
“It isn’t a fancy toy,” his mother interrupted. She sighed deeply, then pinched her pinched together. “And whether it’s fair or not—well, I’m just too tired to worry about it. Times are might hard, children. Things aren’t fair for just about everyone. Maybe Mr. Roosevelt can do something about it but for now, let’s just try to get along and survive.”
Herman turned for the loft ladder when Tad jumped in front of him, pointed his finger and made a silly face. “Baby, baby, baby,” he said in a cruel sing-song voice.
Callie ran over and kicked Tad in the shins and screamed, “You’re so dumb and awful! I hate you!”
Tad yanked Callie’s long, stringy hair. “Oh stay out of this!”
Tad and Callie began to fight and scream but stopped very fast when their father came through the door and bellowed, “Hey! What’s goin’ on here?”
Both of them tried to tell their side of the story but since they were talking at the same time their father couldn’t understand either one. “All right,” he announced, “I’ve had enough of this. You’re both going out behind the barn.”
With muffled protests Callie and Tad went out the door with their father. Herman was glad he kept his mouth shut because he knew what awaited them behind the barn, a paddling.
“Why does Tad always call me a baby?” Herman asked his mother.
She smiled and hugged him. “Why, you are the baby of the family. And you’ll always be my baby, even when you’re grown and as big as papa.”
“Gosh, will I be that big?”
“Yes. Now get ready for bed. Take Burly with you.”

When Maude Became Maude


When I think of my wife Janet’s mother Maude, I can’t help but recall a line from Gone With the Wind. Rhett Butler said of his daughter Bonnie Blue, “She is what Scarlett would have been if it had not been for the war.”
If Maude had not been forced to live through the Great Depression of the 1930s, perhaps her better qualities would have shone through more.
Maude’s father was the chief electrician for a coal mining company in southwestern Virginia which meant the family had a good company house and the older children were able to go to college. As the middle child, Maude became caregiver to her three younger brothers and sister. Her mother also gave her the responsibility of walking to the coal mine every day when the whistle blew to accompany her father home to make sure he didn’t stop in the bar along the way. A small girl didn’t have the actual ability to keep Daddy from going through those swinging doors and stagger back out an hour later. When he finally arrived home, her mother blamed Maude and not her father.
What a terrible moral burden to place on a child, predestining her to fail. Maude spent the rest of her life trying to keep everyone else away from moral turpitude; and, dammit, she was determined not to let her mother down.
When she was fourteen, her father died of tuberculosis, and the coal company kicked the family out of their house because no one there worked for them anymore. Whatever community standing that came with her father’s being the company electrician went away. The money went away. She remembered searching through all the furniture for a missing penny so her mother could mail a letter. The older children helped out the best they could, and Maude and the oldest of her younger brothers went to work. And they couldn’t expect help from the family to go to college either.
One of the bright moments of Maude’s youth was to take the train to the next town over to spend the weekend with her Aunt Missouri. Missouri’s children had all moved away, so she could devote every moment of her gentle attention on Maude. She counted down the days to Friday and the trip. On Thursday evening before she left, a neighbor lady came to visit her mother, bringing along her large, shedding dog. Her mother told Maude to take care of the dog while the neighbor shared the latest town gossip. By the time the woman finished and took her dog home, Maude’s sinuses began to swell from all the dog dander. The trip to Aunt Missouri’s house had to be canceled.
So when Janet and I began having pet dogs, Maude came up with plenty of excuses why we should get rid of them.
“If you didn’t have to spend all that money on the dogs then you could afford to get the children something they really want,” she told me once.
“But what they really want are their dogs.”
Maude arched her eyebrow, sighed in exasperation and muttered, “I suppose you’re right.”
Right before she died, Maude told the story of the canceled train trip to visit Aunt Missouri and how it was canceled because of dog dander.
Another time Maude told us how she was so tired of cleaning house she decided to lie on her bed and pretend she was in her coffin. Everyone in town came by to say how pretty she looked dead and told her mother how they were all going to miss her. Her mother ruined her day dream when she walked by the bedroom.
“You know you’re really not dead and just lying there is not going to get your chores done.”
With great effort and with a sense of martyrdom, young Maude arose from the dead to complete her obligations to the family, which, she was sure, her brothers and sister did not appreciate.
Maude never could sit down of an evening to watch television with the rest of us. She had to wash clothes, iron or fold and put them away. Something in the kitchen wasn’t clean enough. I think she was afraid her mother was going to come back from the grave to tell her to stop watching that silly television and get her chores done.
Of course, all this is speculation on my part. I must remember I wasn’t there, and all I had to go on was Maude’s version of these stories. Who knows what actually happened back then. All I knew was the Maude who survived the Great Depression.

Fruitcake for Christmas

Fred would have been the perfect catch for any young eligible woman—he was smart, kind, gentle, considerate and rich. His only problem was that he looked like a fruitcake. Not crazy like a fruitcake, but lumpy and round like a fruitcake.
Diane worked at his computer services company. As owner Fred found a reason to go by her desk everyday to see how everything was. She would look up from her paperwork, smile and say, “No problems.”
This smile was kind, professional and beautiful. Her straight glistening white teeth were framed by full red lips and surrounded by soft, clear skin. Her blue eyes showed respect, friendliness but nothing much beyond that.
Fred was devastated. He tried to find ways to show Diane that he was more than a good boss and all around good egg, but she never seemed to notice. He did impress her with his all-encompassing knowledge of the technical world of computers. Diane laughed at all his jokes because he really was a funny fellow. She went, “Aww” when Fred showed her pictures of his nieces, nephews and cousins who were always climbing over him in gleeful play. Diane was the first in line to pet Andy, Fred’s basset hound which he brought to the office often. But nary a romantic glint ever entered her eyes when Fred appeared at her desk.
He hoped that would change at the Christmas office party. Fred cooked all the cookies and snacks each year himself. Besides all his other talents, he was a gifted cook. Fred learned all the tricks of the trade from his grandmother who passed down loads of recipes guaranteed to make guests go “Yum.”
His ace up his sleeve was Grandma’s fruitcake recipe. Even people who hated fruitcake loved Grandma’s recipe.
“It’s good enough to make people fall in love,” Grandma told Fred with a wink. “Be careful. This is mighty powerful stuff.”
The day of the office party everyone had turned off their computers, put away their files and lined up at the long table filled with all sorts of goodies.
“Would you like some fruitcake?” Fred shyly asked Diane.
She shook her head politely. “I don’t eat fruitcake.”
“Why not?”
“How do I know this isn’t one of those fruitcakes that’s been mailed around the world a couple of times?” she said with a laugh.
“I baked it with fresh ingredients last week,” Fred replied, trying to hide his hurt feelings. “It’s been soaking in Jamaican rum ever since.”
Diane furrowed her brow a bit. “Oh, I’m sure it must be very good because you made it. Everything you cook is good. I just don’t like fruitcake.”
“How do you know you won’t like this fruitcake?” Fred asked. He didn’t want to sound too aggressive. “I mean, when was the last time you ate fruitcake?”
“I don’t know. An aunt sent it to me for Christmas.”
“Oh, then it must have been filled with all sorts of preservatives and chemicals.”
“You’re probably right about that.”
“Then why won’t you try my fruitcake?”
Diane reached out and lightly touched Fred’s arm. “I’m sure there are a lot of girls out there who like fruitcake and who would take a slice of your fruitcake willingly.” She paused. “But I don’t like fruitcake.”
Fred was beginning to feel a little frantic. His neck was warm, and he was sure his face was turning red. “Of course, everyone has a right to eat or not eat anything they wish.” He stopped and collected his thoughts. “But think of all the wonderful things they miss out on because they just assume everything that looks round and lumpy isn’t right for them.” He looked into her eyes. “Do you like a nice lean steak?”
“Well, yes.”
His heart started pounding. Fred could tell he was beginning to aggravate her. “How many times have you bitten into a nice looking steak and found it to be tough and stringy.”
“I guess a lot.”
“But it didn’t keep you from eating steak, did it?”
“No.”
Fred took a slice of the fruitcake on a paper plate and held it up. “I know this doesn’t look as delicious as a steak. But it doesn’t taste as bad as other fruitcakes you’ve seen. It’s my fruitcake. It isn’t like anyone else’s. It tastes good. It tastes good every time because I care enough to make it taste good every time.”
Pinching a bite off the slice, Fred carefully held it up to Diane’s perfectly formed red lips and held his breath.
She looked at him and then at the fruitcake, sighed and bit a portion from the slice in his hand. Diane looked up and her eyes widened. She ate the rest of the cake from his fingers, and smiled. Then the smile changed.
In those eyes, Fred could see the respect and friendliness, but now there was something else. Diane leaned forward, gently placing her hands behind Fred’s head and kissed him.
Wow, Fred thought, Grandma’s fruitcake does taste good.

9 ½ MINUTE CAN’T FAIL HOLIDAY FRUITCAKE

2 ½ cups of sifted flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 jar (28 oz Borden’s Mince Meat)
1 15 oz Borden’s Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk
1 cup walnuts coarsely chopped
2 cups (1 lb. jar) mixed candied fruit
Butter 9-inch tube pan. Line with waxed paper. Butter again. Sift flour and baking soda. Combine eggs, mince meat, condensed milk, walnuts and fruits. Fold into dry ingredients. Pour into pan. Bake in slow 300 degree oven for two hours, until center springs back and top is golden. Cool. Turn out; remove paper. Decorate with walnuts and cherries if you desire.

Grandpa’s Secret


Grandpa and Santa
Grandpa had a secret.
Little Jimmy learned what it was on late Christmas Eve as he sat with grandpa watching the tree lights twinkling.
“I can’t wait for Santa to arrive.”
“Me too,” Jimmy said. Then he looked at grandpa. “Why are you waiting for Santa?”
Grandpa gave him a big hug. “I’m going to tell you a secret. Do you promise to keep it?”
“Of course, Grandpa. We’re best friends.”
“Well,” he whispered, “I’ve seen Santa Claus every Christmas Eve for the last 80 years. I caught him leaving presents under the tree, and he said if I promised not to tell anyone he would grant me special wishes. For years I wished for toys. Then I wished to get into a good college. Then I wished I would make enough money to give my children everything they ever wanted.” He paused to wink at Jimmy. “Sometimes you wish you didn’t get everything you want.”
“What do you mean, Grandpa?”
“Well, I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, but your daddy and your two aunts are awfully spoiled.”
Jimmy smiled. “Yeah, but I didn’t want to say anything.”
Suddenly there was a blast of cold wind and a soft “ho, ho, ho.”
“Well, James I see you have your grandson with you,” Santa said.
“Promise, Santa, I won’t tell,” Jimmy said.
“So, James, what’s your wish this year?”
”I don’t have a wish, except that Jimmy start having his wishes now.”
“He’s a good boy,” Santa said. “I think he can handle it. So, Jimmy, what do you wish for?”
“I just want grandpa to be happy.”
“Done.”
The next morning everyone gathered around the Christmas tree–grandpa, Jimmy, his parents and his two aunts. Jimmy opened each present and hugged and kissed his parents and aunts.
“Dad,” Jimmy’s father said, “you didn’t give Jimmy anything.”
“Yes he did,” Jimmy said spontaneously. “He introduced me to Santa Claus.”
“Introduce you to Santa Claus?” one of his aunts said with shrieking laughter.
Jimmy looked at his grandpa with terror. He had let the secret out. Grandpa nodded, smiled and told his family that he had visited with Santa for the past 80 years. Jimmy’s father scolded him for telling such silly tales to confuse the boy. The two aunts, almost simultaneously, accused grandpa of dementia, to which Jimmy’s father announced that if that were the case then grandpa had to be committed and all his funds taken into a guardianship handled by his three children.
“Oh, yes,” the other aunt added with an evil giggle, “I could take care of Daddy’s money very well.”
Tears filled Jimmy’s eyes as he sat in the judge’s chambers a month later with grandpa, his parents and two aunts. The judge sat at his desk and peered over his glasses at the stack of paperwork in front of him.
“I’m so sorry, Grandpa,” he whispered.
Just then there was a cold blast of air entered the chamber as Santa Claus appeared to Jimmy and grandpa. Everyone else was frozen.
“I wished for grandpa to be happy,” Jimmy said with a pout.
“But you were the one who told,” Santa reminded him.
“Is it too late for me to have a wish?” grandpa asked.
“No, I guess not,” Santa replied.
“I just wish this hadn’t happened.”
“Done.”
With another blast of air, Santa was gone, and the judge looked up from his papers.
“I’m sorry. What were we saying?”
“I was saying,” Jimmy’s father said, “my sisters and I have discussed it, and we think our father has given us more than we deserved throughout our lifetimes. We want our father’s will be changed so that everything will be left to his only grandchild, Jimmy.”
“Oh, I think that can be arranged,” the judge said.
“But Grandpa,” Jimmy said.
“Shh.” Grandpa put his finger to his lips. “It’s a secret.”