The Terrible Black Dragon

Black DragonI overheard two friends talking about upcoming events in their lives.  One was going with his wife to a casino in Tulsa where they would celebrate their anniversary.  There would be fine dining followed by some time at the slot machines then a night together in a suite.  Another talked about the celebration of a child’s birthday and ensuing party.  There would be relatives, friends and a recently ordered birthday cake with 23 candles.

After the two talked and laughed for a matter of minutes one looked at me and, as if I was going to relate a similar story, asked what I was looking forward to; there must be some upcoming event that I was anxiously awaiting.  With the passage of no more than a few seconds I answered, “I’m looking forward to the end of this day and the time of the Black Dragon.”

There was a moment of silence then one of the two laughed, a brief cynical chuckle, followed by, “why would you say that, are you saying that there is nothing in your life that you look forward to, not even the arrival of the next day.  And what is this black dragon?”

I answered, “When that following day comes, just as it always seems to, I know that I’ll look forward to the ravenous Black Dragon, the darkness that the night brings and the death of that day.”  Both of my friends once again responded with uncomfortable and somewhat forced laughter while one soon commented, “It sounds like this dragon is a terrible creature.”  The conversation then took a turn to lighter topics.

After we parted company, and later that afternoon, I thought once more about the earlier conversation.  I realized that neither of my friends knew exactly what I was talking about and I knew full well that there was no way to ever make them understand my meaning; the meaning of my words when I spoke of the Black Dragon.

While asleep I can fashion dreams into works which very closely mirror my innermost thoughts but when awake I find that my life is filled with so very many flaws.  When I wake I find that I live in a land of giants where I am not welcome and those giants relentlessly torment me and beg me to leave.

The dragon awakes from his sleep each evening but does not move, not one muscle is flexed.  As he slowly opens his eyes he lies motionless while silently waiting for the prey, the light of day, to come to him.  And once within range, the striking distance, with great ferocity the monster attacks the unsuspecting prey, slowly taking from it its very life.

The scaly, fire breathing spiked tail ravenous creature has an insatiable appetite for lonely days, and that appetite cannot be satisfied.  Each night, as the last breath of the dying day is felt, the dragon’s lust for daylight offers me perchance the gratification of bidding ado to yet another lonely day.  When I fear that the bright sunlit day will never end the dragon appears, and that beast is in many ways, my salvation.

Each evening the unsuspecting sun travels to the very edges of the western sky unaware that there, hidden in a cloak of darkness, lurks the Black Dragon.  As the dragon unmercifully attacks the once great ball of fire the sun’s blood turns the sky orange, then red.  The darkness acts as if it were a ravenous carnivore, one that I have to come to know as the Black Dragon, as it kills and devours the day.

Just as I have no love for the unending sun-drenched days, nor do I harbor the slightest affection for the monstrous Black Dragon.  The gluttonous creature is merely a means to an end.  I pray that the black hearted dragon may indulge my candor.  I have no intemperate words to utter regarding the monstrous beast as I find that I must accommodate his existence. The dragon and I share an uneasy coexistence yet I ask not for the loathsome Black Dragon’s pity nor do I ask anyone else for that unwelcome gift.

When the funeral song for the sunlit day is sung I cannot find complete relief from its diurnal sadness as I know that the solitude I endure will be reborn in but a few hours when the dawning of yet another day will come, albeit vehemently unwelcome.  Although known to be one of little faith I pray that the good and gracious angels who once watched over me may someday return and bestow happiness to their helpless charge.

The tale of the dragon’s ferocity is carried on the winds that move across the land.  The red evening sky is looked upon with amazement and when the black monster sleeps the world is bright, but that brightness doesn’t bring happiness to some; and most assuredly joy doesn’t fill my heart when the Sun’s light warms the land below.

This world is filled with magic and each of us must find and possess the extraordinary vision to distinguish the dark and wicked magic from the bright and wondrous magic; and that my friends, can be so very difficult a task.

Unfortunately I find that my eyes are oversensitive to light and I cannot see that glorious and brilliant radiance which emanates from good magic.

There is an ancient and often spoken aphorism; my enemy’s enemy is my friend.  Well, the monstrous carnivore is not my friend but the fearsome beast does each day slay and bring an end to what I fear; the day in which I must live, today.

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The Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Ever

Noel schoolIt’s been one and seventy years since Larry walked to and from that old stone schoolhouse.  The walk home sometimes took various routes but the walk to school and Mrs. Viles’ first grade classroom was always the same.  Larry said goodbye to his mother each weekday morning as he walked, with brown paper lunch bag in hand, to the antiquated stone building that the children living in the southwest Missouri town of Noel called school.

Larry and his family lived in a rented house on North Kings Highway in Noel.  The family owned a home and property in an area known as Blankenship Hollow a few miles from the Noel city limits’ sign but on Thursday April 12th 1945 the wrath of nature came calling.

As that day’s sunlight transformed into the dim haze of evening, Larry’s parents talked about an event that shocked the country and, for that matter, the entire world.  Earlier that day President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, affectionately referred to as F.D.R. passed away at his Warm Springs, Georgia home.

Larry knew his parents spoke with serious and saddened words but he didn’t fully understand the meaning of the conversation, however the boy realized that his father was also concerned about the weather.  He left the house several times and while standing on the front porch gazed intently toward the blackening and ominous sky and it wasn’t long before terror came to Blankenship Hollow.

A rash of tornadoes had, earlier that day, brought devastation to Muskogee, Oklahoma and to towns throughout the country’s Midwest.  As the winds picked up and the treetops bent a tornado came to the once peaceful hollow.  The cyclone’s devastating circular winds tore at the windows and roof of the house rendering it unlivable.  After a day or so, the family gathered up their belongings and moved into the old Leeming house on North Kings Highway in Noel; a small stone house that would surely keep the uprooted family safe from any future winds.

Living within the city limits of the small town brought several changes to the family’s lifestyle and for Larry there was one very noticeable difference; he no longer sat on the hard seat of the #2 route school bus driven by Luther Hatfield.  The five year old first grader would now walk several blocks to school.

The children in grades one through twelve attended classes in an old stone building.  Classrooms were on the main floor while lunches were served to hungry children in the basement cafeteria.  The basement was also home to the coal fueled, blackened soot producing furnace that sent a moderate volume of heat upstairs to the classrooms.

Larry’s walk to school and Mrs. Viles’ first grade class each morning lasted fifteen or so minutes and was usually very uneventful.  The Main Street stores hadn’t yet opened for business and the parade of cars and farm trucks that normally moved along the narrow street was still an hour or so away from arriving.  However, the walk home from school was about to take an unexpected turn.

The walk home always seemed to take a little longer as the streets were full of interesting sounds.  As Larry walked along the old Main Street sidewalks his eyes darted back and forth as he tried to capture a glimpse of the source of those sounds.  While his shoes moved along the old and broken concrete the aroma of spring was carried by the south winds. The cold clean breezes of winter were soon to be a thing of the past as the flowers and trees were starting to bring color back to the Ozark hills.

But wait, that breeze carried with it yet another smell and it was one easily recognized by the young boy.  Larry instantly recognized that fragrance as being that of freshly baked cookies.  You see, five year old boys can’t hear their mother calling their name or see the mountain of clutter on their bedroom floor but they have the almost instinctual ability to detect the slightest of odors left by the baking of cookies.

The sound of a door opening suddenly distracted Larry from his game with the broken bits of concrete and as he glanced in the direction of that sound the image of an old woman came into view.  As the woman walked through the doorway of the log home and onto the porch the youngster noticed how cautiously the short in stature woman moved.  It appeared that each step taken was deliberate and well planned.

“Larry, would you like a cookie,” she asked.  Larry couldn’t explain why but although the name of the woman was unknown to him she looked familiar.  “I sure would,” he replied as he ended his game with the fall leaves and walked onto the porch.

In the woman’s hand was one, and only one, chocolate chip cookie.  “Hello, I’m Mrs. Jefferies, a friend of your mothers.  I see you in church on Sundays once and awhile.”  The accumulation of more than seventy years of life had caused Mrs. Jeffries’ posture to become somewhat stooped over and less than straight.  The years, and gravity, seem to have that effect on the elderly.

While Larry couldn’t recall seeing the old woman at the Methodist church located just around the corner, she never the less must have seen him, after all she knew his name.  “Thank you mam,” Larry responded.  “I really like chocolate chip cookies.”

Each afternoon as Larry left Mrs. Viles’ classroom he wondered if he would again see Mrs. Jeffries standing on her front porch with a chocolate chip cookie in hand.  To his delight the event became somewhat of a tradition and each and every day for the remainder of the school year the two said “hello”.  Mrs. Jeffries asked how his day was, cautioned him to be careful walking home and gave him one chocolate chip cookie.

Larry didn’t know exactly why, perhaps the tradition was a secret only to be shared by the old woman and the young boy, but he never told anyone about Mrs. Jeffries or the cookies.  Larry sometimes saw the baker of cookies in church but he didn’t speak to her; he only waved and smiled.

There were no more cookies after first grade and Mrs. Jeffries eventually left her Main Street log home in Noel and moved to Neosho.  Route #2 school bus driver Luther Hatfield left this world on June 8, 1991.  He was 88 years of age.  Larry’s first grade teacher, Mrs. Bernice Viles, taught at the Noel school for only seven years.  She passed away on June 14, 1986 at the age of 80.  Mabel Jeffries died on December 18, 1987.  Larry’s childhood friend was only one year shy of the century mark when she died.

With the passage of more than seventy years Larry finds that he still enjoys an occasional chocolate chip cookie but none have ever been as good as those he had when he was five years old.

There has always been some difference of opinion as to which is the more tasty, oatmeal raisin or chocolate chip; cookie-wise that is.  For Larry the preference has been, and shall always be, chocolate chip.

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I’ll Work for Cliff

As Larry sat in his office mulling over stacks and stacks of paperwork his attention was directed toward the office doorway when he heard the sound of movement coming from the other side of, and just beyond, his large wooden desk.  As his eyes strayed away from the mound of papers which covered the desktop and toward the doorway, the image of a man came into focus.

The man was someone Larry didn’t readily recognize but then, in the course of his job, he met and interacted with many people. However, the short in stature and casually attired gentleman was most assuredly not an employee of the company.  During the time that he had worked there Larry had come to know all of the employees working at the American Family Homes Company, a builder of manufactured homes.

Larry started working for the Anderson based company four years earlier and had risen to the position of purchasing agent.  He was responsible for ensuring that all the materials needed to build each home were on-site and available. The family man, then in his early forties, made daily contacts with vendors and contractors, many locally owned, trying to get the right products at the best price possible.

The owner of the company, Harry Taylor, had every confidence in Larry and when the materials were gathered together production manager, Wayne Carson, directed a crew of employees as they assembled varying sizes of homes suitable for potential buyers of all tastes and with families of any size.

The American Family Homes Company employed approximately fifty hardworking employees, all of whom lived in the McDonald County area.  The close-knit group worked together to send approximately sixty new homes per month to customers scattered throughout the Midwest and South.

However, Larry’s company wasn’t the only employer in the hills of the Southwest Missouri Ozarks building the manufactured structures.  McDonald County was home to as many as seven different companies with names like New Style Homes, Sundancer, Diplomat and others.  Not only did these companies employ hundreds of local residents but the fingers of each company reached out across the county and beyond to local suppliers who earned a living selling products to the manufacturers themselves.  This business of constructing pre-fabricated homes, which was at one time the areas major industry, dominated the county’s commerce from the early 1960’s until the middle part of the 1980’s.

Larry sized up the visitor while allotting some time for his memory to work but, after no name or recollection of a previous meeting could be brought to mind, he asked, “Can I help you.”  The man needed no time to think and abruptly answered, “Y’all hirin?”

The hiring of people who would work in the department for which Larry managed was in fact Larry’s responsibility but hiring for the production process was the responsibility of Wayne Carson.  Larry responded with a completely relative answer, “Maybe, what type of work are you looking for?”  “Prittnear anything,” the straight-faced man answered.

Rather than continue the conversation, Larry raised up from his wooden straight-backed office chair and the foam seat cushion that helped ease his backside discomfort and walked the short few steps across the room to a large metal file cabinet.  “Let me grab an employment application,” Larry said as he opened the top drawer of the scratched metal cabinet.

As Larry’s fingers flipped through file after file his hand suddenly came to rest, “Here we are,” he said.  Removing the printed form from the cabinet he looked toward the man as he closed the drawer.  “Here you go,” he said.  “You can bring this back in when it’s completed.”  “If I had my druthers I’d make it out now,” the man said.  Larry thought about all those papers on his desk and the telephone calls that would surely come before the end of the long day but he didn’t have the heart to say no.

“Sure,” Larry replied, “there’s a chair just outside the office. You can sit there and make out the form.”  “Gotta pen or pencil?” the man asked.  Larry once again walked across the office to his desk and took a pen from a coffee cup that sat atop the desk.  “Here ya go,” Larry said as he tossed the pen to the waiting man.

Larry returned to his desk and the papers and telephone calls and almost forgot about the job applicant sitting just outside his office until the man walked through the doorway.  Holding the application and pen in one hand the man walked toward the desk and dropped the two items directly in front of Larry.

“All done?” Larry asked.  “Yep,” the man answered.  “Well, as you can see, I’m pretty busy right now but I’ll look over the application and give you a call.  Is your number on the form?”   “Sis’s number is,” the man replied.  Without another word the man turned and left the office.

Curiosity got the better of Larry and he had to take a closer look at the document.  All areas of the form seemed to be completed however some of the writing was illegible.  As he perused the form, his eyes fell to the section which asked “What type of work are you seeking?”  The answer caused some concern as Larry read the words, “Work for Cliff.”  Larry thought for a moment then said to himself, but aloud, “who is Cliff?”

Larry walked out of his office and called the materials handler, Sandy Chandler, over.  “Do we have any new employees named Cliff,” Larry asked.  “Nope, no new employees at all,” Sandy replied.  Larry went back to his desk and for some time tried to diminish the size of that stack of papers but shortly his mind came back to the curious answer on the application.

He could stand it no longer and finally Larry called the telephone number on the form.  A man answered and Larry immediately recognized the voice as that of the man in his office’s doorway.  “Hi, this is Larry from American Family Homes; I have a question about something you wrote on the application.”  “Okay,” the man of few words said.  “You say here that you want to work for Cliff.  We don’t have anyone here by that name.”  Interrupting the man said, “Wrote I’d work the forklift.”  “Oh,” Larry said.  “Well we don’t have any openings for forklift operators right now, sorry.”  Larry heard the click of the receiver returning to its cradle as the conversation ended.

There were no unfilled positions at that time but Larry often thought that someone looking for a specific job should know how to spell it.

forklift

 

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In Search of the Stone

kidney-stoneI fervently believe that, for a poor soul of advanced years, I am in relatively good health.  Oh sure I have some arthritis and those trips to the restroom seem to come more frequently but in light of my age I find that my body seems to function as designed by nature.  I have noticed that as I age gravitational forces seem to be stronger as my height has lessened and my once taught skin has become loose and some once visible bones are now hidden.  But I’m told that all these things are just part of getting older.

After several months of intermittent episodes involving severe pain in the lower right portion of my back I decided to seek the advice of a physician.  I believed I knew the cause of the pain as I had experienced similar symptoms in the past; a kidney stone had most likely been born in my kidney and was traveling down the ureter on its way to the bladder.

It seemed as though I experienced a bout with this ailment every five or so years but the pain typically lasted only four or five hours then passed with no noticeable or lingering affects whatsoever.  But, this time the pain made its appearance every few days, subsided then reappeared.

I had made plans to visit my son over the Christmas Holliday and didn’t want to suffer through the bouts of discomfort so I made an appointment to undergo an examination with a local urologist.  The timing of my visit was critical as I, as I have already stated, wished to enjoy a carefree visit with my son, my daughter-in-law and my granddaughter.

As I sat in the examination room, I wondered what magic treatment might be recommended and when that remedy might be implemented.  After speaking with the physician and explaining my history and the details of the current issue there were several moments of silence.  “We need to schedule a CAT scan.  Once I get the results of that procedure we’ll know what action to take.”  Without any hesitation I said, “let’s do it,” believing that the sooner something, anything, was done the sooner the pain caused by that tiny stone would end.

The CAT scan was conducted and I was surprised as to the simplicity of the procedure.  I was asked to lie on a table and remove any clothing with metal fasteners near the soon to be scanned areas of my body.  The table was then maneuvered by the technician placing the lower right portion of my back inside a tunnel.  “Take a deep breath and hold it,” the technician said.  She uttered those words several times and after only a few seconds she would say, “Ok, you can breathe.”  That was easy enough, and the whole process lasted no more than fifteen minutes.

I left the room wondering how long I would wait before hearing from the doctor’s office regarding the results of the scan but, as it turned out, my wait was not an extended one.  The following morning, and then only a mere five days before Christmas morning itself, the telephone rang.  I answered the early morning call saying “hello,” and at the same time looked at the displayed digits on the phone’s caller ID screen.  I knew the call was from the doctor’s office.

“Hello, this is Kim with the doctor’s office.  I’m calling to give you the results of the CAT scan”.  “Ok, go ahead,” I said.  “The scan showed a stone in the right ureter and the doctor recommends getting rid of it.”  That was great news, “I also want to be shed of it.”  The woman on the phone continued; “Can you be at the hospital at 2:30 P.M. this afternoon at which time the doctor will perform the procedure.”  The sooner that the, what must surely be meteor sized object was gone, the better as I had scheduled my trip’s departure for the following morning.  “Sure, I’ll be there.”

Using a non-invasive procedure known as Shock Wave Lithotripsy, SWL, I thought the stone would be blasted into many small pieces which would, without notice, exit my body.  While the nurse inserted an IV into my hand we talked about the weather, the upcoming Christmas day and anything else that might distract me from that needle that penetrated the skin on my hand.  After a few minutes the doctor, dressed in green shirt and pants, entered the room.

“Well we’re going to get that kidney stone and I’m sure you’ll feel much better very soon.”  “Get?” I asked.  “Yes, I’m going to use an invasive procedure known as Ureteroscopy to remove the stone.”  I can tell you that I certainly didn’t like the sound of that one bit.  The term invasive procedure, as you might imagine, was cause for concern.  Where, how and with what manner of device was my body going to be invaded?  Before my concerns could be voiced the doctor once again began to speak.  It was if my questions had been written on my face.

“I’m going to insert a small fiber optic instrument in you, locate the exact location of the stone and with the use of a cage-like instrument, grab it and pull it out.  “Ouch,” I thought; A large volume of mechanical equipment being forced into a sensitive part of my body; cameras, cages etc.; Oh my.

Well the procedure went well and as I awoke from the anesthesia the doctor came into the room.  With a reassuring smile on his face he said, “Everything went well and that pesky stone is gone.”  “What a relief,” I said.  As I quietly wondered if any heavy equipment had been mistakenly left inside me he raised his arm, opened his hand and while holding a small plastic container said, “Here is that 3mm jagged bit of calcium that caused all the trouble.”  “Hmm,” I said.

I’m feeling much better now and want no more details regarding the fiber optic instrument, the basket or the procedure in general.  As they say, “All’s well that ends well.”

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I Say, Where’s the Fire?

firetruckThe 1962 school year had ended and the arrival of the first day of June ushered in the start of the soon to come hot summer days in Noel.  Noel, Missouri, a small town located deep within the Ozarks of southwest Missouri, was home to less than one thousand residents.  However, on the sweltering hot weekends of summer the number of people in the town exploded as tourists flocked to the area.  Noel, you see, was nestled between the green tree covered Ozark hills and bluffs and the small, slow moving waters of the Elk River.

Campgrounds scattered along the banks of the river beckoned would-be campers with enticing signs picturing roaring campfires and people enjoying the cool waters of Elk River.  Enthusiastic tourists flocked to the small town filled with hopes that their favorite camp site was available; the same small patch of rock covered riverbank they had claimed the year before.

John was seventeen years old and for him the summer months offered the opportunity to earn some much needed money.  He knew Skip Meek, the owner of Shadow Lake, and the teenager finagled a job there renting paddle boats, keeping the ice containers in the bar filled and serving coke, 7-Up, Dr. Pepper and other non-alcoholic beverages to the customers.

Shadow Lake was a well-known night-spot where people from all over the nation’s Midwest came to drink, dance and have a good time on the hot summer evenings.  The dance floor overlooked a bend in Elk River and onlookers gazed at the water as it slowly moved on its downstream journey to River Ranch and Wayside campgrounds.  The live music generated by the various bands that played there could be heard by those casually strolling along the crowded Main Street sidewalks and sometimes as far away as the funeral home that signaled the end of the town’s business district.

On one hot sweltering evening the sound of the music was joined by that of the wail of sirens.  Sirens were very rarely heard in the small town and John, being an inquisitive sort, placed the two bags of ice he carried on the floor and walked outside to get a look at the source of the noise.

As John’s eyes moved from side to side, the Noel City Marshall’s car passed in front of Shadow Lake followed closely by a red fire engine.  With sirens blaring both vehicles passed over the narrow Main Street bridge and turned south onto the two lane road that lead toward the Arkansas border, a mere five miles away.

John stood there for a moment or two feeling that he deserved a break from his ice bag toting chores.  As the sound of the sirens slowly faded and John prepared get back to work once again the sound of those sirens came back to life.

As the boy stood with head cocked the noise became louder and louder until the Marshall’s car and the fire engine came into view.  John watched as the two vehicles passed the Main Street Bridge heading north and in the direction of Southwest City.  The sound of the sirens began to fade but John had no thoughts of going inside as he realized there may be more of the saga yet to come.

John was right.  After the passage of a minute or two the scream of the sirens could again be heard and the noise was becoming louder.  John looked around for any sign of smoke that may provide some evidence regarding the fire’s location but none was seen.  Then, and very abruptly, the sound of the sirens stopped and John watched as the car and firetruck turned off of Highway 59 and crossed the bridge.

Marshall Fine’s red 1960 Chevrolet slowed to a stop on Noel’s narrow Main Street almost directly in front of Shadow Lake while the fire engine came to a stop directly behind the Marshall’s car.  John watched as the two volunteer firemen seated in the truck’s cab seemed to be speaking to one another in raised voices.

The two men exited the truck and John quietly watched and listened intently as words were exchanged.   Words like “I told you,” and “you told me,” were overheard.  “I said,” and “you said,” seemed to be popular words as were, “don’t tell me.”

The arrival of pointed index fingers soon made their appearance as each of the men not only threw words at the other but also emphasized their positions by pointing those fingers.  With the passage of no more than a minute the straightened index fingers transformed into fencing rapiers as the men jabbed each other in their chests thusly attaching more importance to each spoken word.

John continued to watch and was certain that at any moment a full-fledged fight would erupt but the confrontation would soon be brought to an end.  The Marshall slowly exited the Chevy and walked down the street toward the two angry men.  As he neared the two John noticed the Marshall reach into his right rear pants pocket possibly to ascertain if something was inside.  Then John saw a black bit of leather which he recognized as being part of a slapper; a small leather covered striking instrument containing small lead pellets.

“I say, I say ah, just where is this here fire,” asked the Marshall as he placed his arms between the two men thusly separating them.  The two firemen once again began arguing but as the Marshall began to talk the two stood silently and listened.

Marshall Fine spoke in a voice too softly to overhear but it was obvious that the two found the words to be important.  After no more than a few seconds the disgruntled firefighters returned to their truck and left.  With little fanfare the Marshall got into his car and drove away down Main Street and across the railroad tracks.

The moments of excitement had passed and if there ever was a fire to be extinguished it was never located; at least to John’s knowledge.

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You Were So Remarkably Imperfect

 

robin-garageI had no way of anticipating the extent to which my life would change after I met you.  I truly believed I knew everything there was to know about selecting a wardrobe, ordering from a menu and dealing with the common cold.  Little did I know that, at least according to you, I was like a lost child raised by wild animals in the wilderness; I needed to be educated and cared for.

When I was sick you made me get into bed.  I felt well enough to carry on but you seemed to think you knew more about my condition than did I.  You placed your hand on my forehead, took my temperature, gave me medicine and on the stove warmed soup which you brought to me in my favorite bowl.  You repeatedly asked how I felt and there were times when your obsessive attention to my health became extreme and you took me to the doctor.  You were so annoying.

There were times when you had the audacity to question my sense of fashion, or as you so frequently remarked my lack thereof; how dare you.  I tried my best to leave the house wearing my most beloved pants and shirt but you almost always caught me.  Why was it so inappropriate to combine my favorite striped shirt and plaid pants?  As I looked in the mirror the combinations of colors and intricate patterns seemed to complement one another so very well.  What gave you the right to save me from potential unwanted embarrassment?  You were so pretentious.

Who in their right mind doesn’t like thick juicy cheeseburgers?  Can there be anyone who hasn’t craved salty hot French fries?  What about creamy vanilla ice cream with gobs of rich chocolate chips that seem to find their way into each and every bite taken?  But, somehow you found that I enjoyed those items too much, and far too often, so you took it upon yourself to control the portions I ate and limit the occasions upon which those delicacies found their way into my stomach.  Who made you a dietician?

What about those vegetables and fruits.  Sure, I sometimes enjoyed an apple or found that I craved a ripe orange but who eats mangos.  I didn’t object to the occasional ear of corn but you purposely placed spinach, cauliflower and broccoli on my plate.  You tried to justify your attempts to force feed me by alleging that those awful tasting and despicable looking foods were, in fact, good for me.  Who did you think you were fooling?

I couldn’t fully enjoy a leisurely drive in the family car.  Everyone knows that seat belts are purely cosmetic and not really needed; that is everyone but you.  You made it clear that we could not start a journey, even a short trip to the store, unless my seatbelt was properly fastened around me.  I would have been much more comfortable without that restraint but with your insistence I always used that useless safety device.

You were one of the many taken in by reportage, you know, the widely exaggerated stories about the unhealthy relationship between the sun and the bodies’ skin.  I must acknowledge that the sunlight occasionally caused my skin to become red and painful but the scarlet color always faded away.  You however, insisted that I cover the exposed areas of my body with messy creams called sunscreen.  I don’t seem to recall that you ever attended medical school.

As I grew older I asked that you ignore my birthdays but you instead always remembered them with a cake, a present and a kiss.  I told you that I preferred not to dance when the band played a slow song but you made me hold you on the dance floor.  Although you didn’t care for my favorite restaurant you pretended to enjoy the food.

You left make-up and hair curlers scattered about the bathroom countertop and empty shampoo bottles in the shower. You always remembered our anniversary but were forgiving if I forgot.  You said “I’m sorry” far too often albeit the argument itself was most often my fault. How could I have tolerated all of your annoying habits?

If in fact you found my shortcomings so offensive what in heaven’s name fueled the desire to continually refashion me. I guess I have now come to understand what kept that spark alive and as I bask in the afterglow of your life it is that realization that now leaves me breathless; you loved me.  Thank you for caring about me.

Amid the plethora of faults you were still just my style and the idea that you were so imperfect; well I wouldn’t have wanted you to be any other way.

You were so remarkably imperfect.

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Mary and The Valencia Chalice

valencia-chaliceI had for some time corresponded with Mary through emails.  We bounced the internet based conversations to and fro for several months until we made a mutually agreed upon decision to meet face to face.  We selected a well-known restaurant where we could talk, get to know one another and have an enjoyable lunch.

I arrived at the meeting place somewhat early and after giving the hostess my name asked if anyone had been asking about me.  The young woman, looking a little confused by the question, said, “No, are you expecting someone?”  I answered, “Yes,” and after giving my name asked that anyone asking about me be directed to my table.

After the passage of ten or so minutes an attractive well-dressed woman entered the restaurant and as I watched and wondered if she was to be my luncheon companion I saw the hostess nod her head and point to me.  Mary, smiling as she spoke, said, “Hello, my name is Mary, you must be Stan.”  “Yes,” I replied, “please have a seat.”

Time passed as we became acquainted and the conversation between Mary and I eventually turned to talk of our departed spouses.  My words were spoken in tones of sadness and I expressed my feelings of loneliness and despair.  She however talked about the hopes and dreams she had for the years in her life which were yet to come.  I quietly as Mary spoke.

“We as human beings have been blessed with the gifts of rational thought and free will.  Those are great and awesome abilities but at times they can cause our lives to become difficult, and even sad.

“I came to the realization that the decisions we make are based somewhat like the choices made by a computer’s binary code of 1’s and 0’s which are strung together to form bits which are then used to create bytes; A computer makes calculations by either selecting a 1 or a 0, and we make decisions by either deciding yes, or no.  There came a moment in my life, a life changing moment, when I decided to select yes, and that moment allowed me to view the future with optimism and hope.

“Have you ever been to Valencia, Spain, well probably not?  Several years ago I decided to travel to Europe hoping that a change in scenery would help me recover from a tragic loss.  You see my husband passed away and I had fallen so low and into a life of despair.  I didn’t think the days ahead held the promise of a better life and I wondered if there existed a reason for me to live.

“As I traveled from country to country and city to city I knew I was searching for something but didn’t know what that elusive thing was, that is until I reached an old cathedral in Valencia, Spain.  You’ve probably never hear of this cathedral but it’s called ‘La Cathedral de Valencia.”  I knew nothing about the cathedral itself but I had been told that it was a place where miracles might take place, and I was so much in need of a miracle.

“I walked into the old church, I freely admit, with doubt in my mind; the doubt that I believed would remain with me until I eventually followed my husband in death but then I saw the object that caused me to make a computer-like decision and changed my life for the better.  I saw the Santo Cáliz, the Holy Chalice, the most blessed of vessels and the cup that the lord Jesus drank from at the last supper many, many years ago.

“As I silently stood there, and I’ll admit feeling somewhat uncomfortable, I listened to the murmuring of hundreds of believers who stood in the cathedral.  With bowed heads and interlaced fingers they spoke words like, savior, god and holiest of objects, the Holy Grail.  Suddenly it came to me; I could, if I truly wanted to, say yes.  I could choose to believe that this relatively ordinary of goblets was once used by Christ himself.  I could say yes and accept the idea that the son of God once held the old relic and his thirst was quenched by the liquid contained within.

“I can only describe what happened next as an epiphany.  Something unexplained, even to this day, compelled me to say yes, I believe.  I looked around the church and I felt as though I was one of the others and no longer a mere bystander.  I was filled with the feeling that I belonged to something greater than words could ever describe and the sensation of a comforting peace was almost overwhelming.

“The walk from the cathedral to the street was slow and my mind was full of thoughts of my experience.  When the sunlight touched my face I remember feeling as though my mind and heart were then filled with clarity and hope.  I believed that my life had purpose and I looked with optimism to the future.  Those were feelings I had not had for many years and since the death of my husband.  Since that day spent in Valencia my life has been filled with happiness and, more often than not, I continue to say yes.”

Mary became silent as if she were thinking of something important she needed to say.  She looked at me and asked, “I’m not preaching to you but can you say yes, I can be happy and I have hope?”  I thought for a moment and while looking down I softly uttered the word, “maybe.”  I realized that the word did not resolve the issue but simply postponed the yes or no answer and Mary quickly brought that to my attention.  After a brief moment I raised my head and while looking into Mary’s eyes I again spoke to her’ “Maybe I can.”

I’m afraid that I’ve said no for so very long that I may not know how to say yes.  There have been so many doses of reality thrust upon me that I can no longer remember how to dream.  Life has shown me how cruel it can be over and over again and I doubt that I can find the beautiful side of the world I live in.  How do I once again find the hope, faith, and yes a reason, to say yes.

The food was good as was the conversation and company kept.  I enjoyed a very nice afternoon.  As the two of us walked to the parking lot we continued to talk and discussed each other’s plans for the near future.  We bid goodbye to one another and as Mary walked away I said, “Mary, I agree with your opinion regarding the need to bring an issue to a resolution but to answer your question, at least for now, I can only say, maybe.”

Everyone has to believe in something and the gift of freewill grants us the ability to choose that one thing.  Each day of our lives present us with challenges which require all of us to make decisions.  The paths our lives take are shaped by our responses to those issues, and simply stated, our decisions are either yes or no.   Mary made a decision that most memorable of days to believe a cup, a chalice, was once held by the son of God.  That fateful decision led her to find the glorious faith and happiness that she had for so long lived without.

Mary found her miracle at the Cathedral de Valencia.

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