COLETTE

This is a little something I wrote for ‘Six Sentence Stories’ on the site GirlieOnThe Edge. We are to write a story of exactly six sentences, this week using the prompt word ‘strike’. Thanks to Denise Farley of GirlieOnTheEdge for coming up with this fun and challenging idea. I hope you enjoy my six sentence story, ‘Colette’.

She is our miracle baby, the light of our lives, the most precious gift anyone could ever hope for.

No matter how miserable I’m feeling with deep-rooted arthritis pain that won’t let go, no matter how tired I am and long to hide myself away and do nothing but write, the moment she smiles at me my pain washes away.

She’s like a lightning bolt, a heavenly strike from the skies that penetrates the top of my head and courses its way down to my toes, spreading joy, happiness and love throughout my body.

She is Colette, our perfect 28-month-old granddaughter, with the face of an angel and the determined heart of a lion.

When I am with her there is no force that can strike me down for she fills me every day with an ineffable love that defies understanding.

I love you, my sweet baby girl, beyond the moon and the stars and all the galaxies in the universe. 

NAR © 2022

STUCK

Hey, fellow bloggers, followers, readers, friends, etc, etc.:

HELP!!!

That image above could be me dealing with WordPress. I am STUCK! I admit I’m not the most technologically fluent person but really – should it be this difficult??

You know that little bell icon located in the right corner of your page? This is what I see when I press that icon:

Yeah – nothing, zip, nada … just a little circle buffering, just a little obnoxious thingy going round and round and round, mocking me. I can’t see any of your comments, etc.

Not only that, when I go to one of YOUR pages to see YOUR latest posts, I cannot ‘like’ anything; I press and press and press the ‘like’ button but nothing happens. Dorothy at New Vintage Kitchen posted about a delicious-looking Tomato and Fennel Summer Salad. Can’t like it. Mitch Teemley wrote an interesting article about Vacation Homes for You to Try. Can’t like it. Richard Braxton has just posted another of his great poems called Don’t Beg Me For Money. Can’t like it. The list goes on and on.

I’m not begging for money. I’m begging for H.E.L.P.!!!

I am in WordPress Limbo – a very real place. It’s horrible and full of stupid people and sites that don’t work. Just ask our friend and fellow WordPresser Cindy Georgakas at Unique Times about her recent fall down the WordPress rabbit hole. (Cindy, if you’re out there, drop me a lifeline!)

I’ve been communicating with WordPress. Not for nothing (as they say) but are we all speaking English here or what? None of their “Happiness Engineers” has been able to help me and the advice they do give is impossible to interpret. Stop with the computer-ese and talk to me like I’m four years old; honestly, I will not be offended. Happiness Engineers – I am not happy! My grandchildren could do a better job explaining this to me. Note to self: call grand kids.

I am at my wit’s end right now. I want you all to know I am not ignoring you; I’m stuck in a WordPress bubble and can’t find my way out. If any of you can help, I am open to suggestions and/or advice. I’m not kidding! Truly, I’m not kidding!

Thanks, dear friends. Now to see if I can publish this post! 🤞🏼

P.S. – Did I say I wasn’t kidding?

NAR © 2022

THAI ONE ON

NB: This is a humorous work of fiction
with no intention of disparaging
any professions, persons, nationalities or ethnicities.

If you are seeking a woman with beautiful, exotic looks and a lovely disposition, a single Thai lady is the way to go. Thai women love to laugh and tend to be quite happy. They are demure and sweet in public, perhaps a bit shy, but when alone with their partner they are open and sexually accommodating.

Reading that online advert made Frank Morelli’s eyes widen. One of these Thai girls could be just what he was looking for. Intrigued, Frank decided to read a bit more. He scrolled down to see a bevy of available women – 922 to be exact. Beneath each pic was a name, age, contact address and the city in which the woman resided. There were also three options: 1) 💬 Say Hello; 2) 📧 Send a Message; 3) ❤️ Add to Hotlist.

There were some like Primmie who looked like she was just 17 and you know what I mean – a captivating schoolgirl-type with huge brown eyes, pouty lips and dewy skin. Primmie gave the impression of being a sweet, shy young thing with her glossy hair in pigtails wearing a short school uniform when in reality she could have invented sex. She was capable of teaching most men a thing or ten, taking them to erotic levels they’d never experienced before.

Then there were others like Opia who looked like she’d gone a few rounds with Mike Tyson – and won. She had an angry scowl and a leathery face that could stop a clock. She wouldn’t even be able to arouse a blindfolded Wilt Chamberlain – and he is reputed to have had sex with 20,000 women!

More than a few of the girls could easily be adult movie actresses while others looked like the ubiquitous hunchbacked dishwashers in greasy Chinese takeout joints that smelled like burning rancid oil. And by some miracle they were all available and willing to be dutiful wives and make anyone’s wildest dreams come true. At what cost? That part of the equation had not entered Frank’s mind. Even if it had, Frank was the type who acted first and thought later, if at all – a habit that got him into trouble more times than he was willing to admit.

The truth was most of these girls were looking for a ticket to The States, for some poor unsuspecting sap exactly like Frank to get them to fall madly in love and secure a green card and a one way ride out of Bangkok.

Frank made himself comfortable in his battered and patched pseudo-leather Barcalounger, his iPad nestled comfortably on his lap. A 25oz can of Bud Lite to his left and a bag of Utz pork rinds to his right set the stage for what could be the luckiest night of his vapid life. Frank loosened the drawstring of his sweatpants and wriggled his feet out of his Air Jordan knockoffs; this online mating game could take a while.

For lack of a better word, Frank was a “loser” – a thirty-something, short, stocky, balding, bespectacled, single, white, Italian Walmart shelf stocker living in his parent’s basement in Queens, New York. In other words – he was George Costanza.

This wasn’t exactly the ideal living arrangement as far as Frank or his parents were concerned but it didn’t cost him a dime and his mother did everything for him. Besides being as lazy as a slug, he just didn’t have that many friends and most of the ones he did have were married with children. He went on a couple of dates but he wasn’t what you’d call “a catch” and couldn’t hold a woman’s attention for very long. Frank wasn’t attracted to any of the women at work and the feeling was mutual.

There were a few things he enjoyed doing but most of them were solo activities like playing video games, listening to heavy metal music and watching porn. His father called him a no good, lazy bum and dreamed of the day he would move out of the house and stop being a drain on his wallet. His mother called him Frankie Boy and waited on him hand and foot, all the while lamenting the fact that she was not and probably never would be a grandma. She tried matching him up with a couple of her friend’s daughters but Frank left them cold.

Mrs. Morelli cooked all Frank’s meals and washed his laundry, including his fossilized jerkoff rags. She finally got fed up with her fancy hand towels being violated and bought Frank a case of cheap industrial-quality tissues from Amazon which he discovered in his closet one day. Neither he nor his mother ever said a word about the tissues but they kept being used and a new case would discreetly appear every month.

So there sat Frank, comfortably reclining in his “man cave”, taking his time perusing the ladies on the Thai bride website, adding his favorites to his hotlist when suddenly a photo of a girl named ‘Niki ‘ appeared. Frank nearly choked on his pork rinds when he saw her and he believed with all his heart she was the one for him. His iPad began to levitate as he felt himself getting hard. Grabbing a handful of Amazon tissues, he took care of business in about 20 seconds. She was a hot number, that Niki, and Frank was only looking at a still photograph!

Frank made himself presentable and clicked the FaceTime icon, his finger hovering over option #1: 💬 Say Hello. It was now or never so, mustering all the courage he possessed, he pushed the button which could determine the outcome of the rest of his life – a life with the enchanting Niki.

A few strange electronic sounds were followed by a shrill ring, then a child-like yet sultry voice was heard coming from behind what appeared to be a satin curtain:

“Ooh, swasdi. Hellooo, this Niki. You want Niki?”

Frank was flustered, intrigued and aroused all at the same time. “Oh, yes. Hi. Yes, I want nookie … I mean Niki. Hi, I’m Frank; is this Niki?’

Giggles from behind the curtain on the iPad gave Frank an erection. “Tee hee hee! Ooh, Frang want Niki nookie? Tee hee hee! Yes?”

“Yes” replied Frank. “No. Yes and no. Is this Niki?”

More giggles. “Yes, Frang. This Niki. You want Niki.”

“It’s Frank and, yes, I definitely want Niki.”

“What you want, Frang? You want tawk Niki, see Niki? You want marry Niki? Niki be good wifey.”

While Frank imagined Niki as his life partner from the moment he saw her photo, this was all moving very fast. On one hand he was thrilled to be speaking to a woman, especially a beautiful willing woman, and he hoped to have a relationship someday but on the other hand, was he ready to fly off and get married to a total stranger?

“Frang? Hellooo? You want Niki?”

Frank said the first thing that popped into his head: “How much will it cost me?”

Giggles. “Tawk free, see free on FaceyTime. Airplane tickie to marry.”

“I want to see Niki” replied Frank with an uncharacteristic smidgen of common sense.

“Okay, Frang. Here Niki” and the satin curtain was pulled back. There she was; Frank recognized her immediately from her photo. She was even more bewitching in person – long silky black hair, porcelain skin with tiny, doll-like features, a small mouth painted red and a diminutive body which Frank found delightfully appealing. Niki looked like Frank could snap her in two, like a delicate glass swizzle stick. She wore a lacy camisole which was surprisingly modest and revealed nothing. Niki was the opposite of all the blonde, busty, Botoxed porn stars he was used to where everything was supersized.

Frank was mesmerized.

Ooh, hellooo. You Frang?”

“Yes. Hi. I’m Frang” was Frank’s dimwitted response.

Giggles. “Ooh, Frang hansom Merican man from USA. You big strong. Niki like you. You like Niki?”

“Yes, I like Niki very much.”

“Niki make good wifey. You come Bangkok. Marry Niki.”

Frank’s head was spinning. “Wow! Yeah, that sounds great Niki! But first can we just talk like this for a few days and get to know each other?”

“Ooh, Frang. Niki no do nookie on FaceyTime. Betta you come Bangkok. You like Niki, marry Niki.”

It was now or never time for Frank and he was squirming in his pants. He had to ask himself what was holding him back. There wasn’t a thing going on in his life; he had nothing to lose by jumping in. This could be his one shot at happiness.

As usual, before Frank knew what he was doing, he blurted out “You know what, Niki? You’re right, dammit! I’m gonna fly over there and make you my bride!”

“Ooh, yay!” Giggles and little hand claps. “Frang let Niki know when you come Bangkok.”

“I definitely will, sweetie. Talk to you soon, Niki. Bye bye” and Frank wiggled his pudgy fingers at Niki like a ten-year-old boy.

Frank jumped up excitedly. He was a man on a mission. He went into the laundry room to retrieve his luggage and there stood his mother. Her face was as red as her hair and her expression said it all.

Mrs. Morelli clutched Frank’s suitcase and screamed at him: “You ingrate! You are a complete moron! Look at you, all hot to trot! Why can’t you go out and find yourself a nice Italian girl like your cousin Gerald instead of traipsing half-way around the world to some Godforsaken place called ‘Bangkok’? What kind of sick, perverted name is ‘Bangkok’ anyway? Oh my God, I think I’m going to be sick!”

Befuddled and feeling like a little boy, Frank snatched the suitcase from his mother’s arms, yelling back at her “You don’t know anything about it. I’m a grown man! Just mind your own business!”

Frank’s father heard the arguing and was now in the basement. “What the hell is going on down here?” he demanded. “You idiot! Look how upset your mother is!”

Mrs. Morelli wailed “He’s running off to someplace called ‘Bangkok’ where he thinks he’s gonna find a wife!

Mr. Morelli slammed his hand on the washing machine. “You ungrateful bum! Can’t you see what you’re doing to your mother? What kind of a sicko are you? I had a war buddy from my time in Korea who took off for Bangkok looking for a little filly. Nobody ever saw him again!”

“If you leave here for that sex den, you better not step one foot back in this house!” Mrs. Morelli shrieked. “I work my fingers to the bone for you and your father. If you think I’m going to start waiting on you and some mail order sex kitten living in my basement, you got another thing coming!”

You’re a disgrace to this family, Frank! A disgrace!” bellowed Frank’s father.

Frank sputtered ineffectually, pulled at what little hair he had and scurried back into his room. He could hear his parents shouting upstairs. Not live here? Where would he and Niki stay? Frank hadn’t thought about that. Well, he’d figure something out. Besides, once his parents saw Niki they’d welcome her with open arms.

“I’ll think about that later. It’ll all work out” Frank muttered to himself. “Right now I’ve got a bag to pack.”

NAR © 2022

BIRD OF PROMISE

Along with a group of about 100, I can proudly say I am a #1 bestselling author! We made it to #1 on Amazon!!

When I was first approached by Gabriela Marie Milton to contribute two poems to “Wounds I Healed: The Poetry of Strong Women“, I was somewhat taken aback. “I’m a storyteller, not a poet” I said to myself. Although I have written a few poems, poetry is not my wheelhouse and I was reluctant to accept Gabriela’s offer. However, after learning what this anthology was about, I realized I could not refuse. I put pen to paper and imagined I was Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

To my amazement both my poems were accepted and now I can add poet to my resume! This has been a unique experience – both profoundly rewarding and humbling – and the subject is of utmost importance in our society today: the challenges women face and how they found the courage and strength to overcome them. If I should ever be asked again to contribute my poems, I will do so without hesitation.

I am a wife, a grandmother, a lover, a friend, a singer, a writer, a poet and a dreamer. I am a woman. I hope you enjoy the first of my two poems, Bird of Promise. Thank you for the privilege.

BIRD OF PROMISE
It was just a fling, just one of those things she fell upon
quite by accident with no intent of malice or harm.
She never meant for the strong desire so wrong to last so long.

No child, she. A life well spent with no sense
or scent of doubt or regret
for she was a one off, a rare and spirited
bird of promise in thought, action and word.

She knew herself better than any woman or man
who came to her with open heart and hand,
never afraid to take a stand,
without trying she could command
a room of strangers or friends
for she was the willow that always bends.

Never intimidated, she wouldn’t allow herself to be
berated, deflated, abused or humiliated. 

Then this thing, this once in a lifetime fling
blossomed like the bouquets of spring,
bursting with an uncontrollable,
unstoppable, insurmountable
force she could not rein in.

How did she allow herself to be so exposed,
for him to see her inner core,
wanting and demanding more
than she could give or afford
while inflicting pain with nothing to gain
except stress and blame
and risking the loss of all things
she held near and dear,
almost extinguishing
her brightest inner flame.

Resolve restored she said
“No more!” She’d said it before,
two, three times, maybe four.
Get up off the floor, open the door;
be that bird of promise and soar.
This time she meant it but her heart was broken
and sore like those who suffered
and bore
the ravages of war.

She loved him;
that was her greatest sin.

NAR © 2022

OY, MY PAPA!

My father was the type of man who liked to have fun, even if the joke was on him. I’m guessing the picture shown above ⬆️ was taken at least 60 years ago but I remember it like it was yesterday. While my mother, sister and I were occupied with other things, Dad quietly went around the house collecting stuff – in this case a scarf, a yarmulke from a friend’s wedding and our family Bible. He then sat there not saying a word until one of us noticed and we all cracked up. I’m pretty sure at that point he started chanting which made the whole scenario even funnier. I showed this pic to my husband last night and even he cracked up. Yes, dad, your legend lives on!

Dad’s jokes weren’t always funny and he didn’t have much of a filter. I remember a family friend was complaining that she needed to lose weight. Dad told her she looked fine just the way she was which would have been totally acceptable if he’d left it at that but he had to add that she was “pleasingly plump“. Our friend was not happy with that description and huffed off, angry and embarrassed. Meanwhile dad couldn’t understand what he said that was so bad. He’d often do things without thinking them through like the times he’d invite people over for dinner and fail to tell my mother until a couple hours before their guests arrived, usually resulting in mom reacting sorta like this:

Mom was like Gina Lollobrigida on steroids!

She never really hit him over the head with a frying pan but she wanted to – lots of times. But that wouldn’t have stopped dad from telling the same old joke about the canary who ran out of gas or thinking he was entertaining countless waitresses by ordering an Al Pacino instead of a cappuccino which always resulted in an eye roll or a blank stare.

Speaking of blank stares, some of my relatives were hard nuts to crack and dad’s cornball jokes were definitely not appreciated. This was a particularly tough crowd; they look like they’re at a funeral instead of a bridal shower. ⬇️ And why is the woman on the left clutching her purse so tightly? She’s in my parent’s house; who’s gonna steal it? Probably fight or flight reaction due to Dad’s jokes.

L. to R. – My Aunt Cesaria, my grandmother (Dad’s mom), my Aunt Lena

What’s with all the purse clutching? Must be a generational thing. Man, I would have loved to have been around when this next photo was taken. ⬇️ Talk about surreal! The parents look like very nice, normal people but totally confused and amused at the same time; I think those guys had that effect on all of us. (I was going to say they looked “Dazed and Confused” but that was done by a much better band – no offense.)

KISS with parents

My dad was a good guy who meant well and wouldn’t hurt a fly. He was all talk and no bite, like the time he convinced an art auctioneer that he was “connected“. The poor guy was wetting his pants and falling over himself to make sure ‘Don Vito‘ was satisfied and there would be no retaliation. Mom just rolled her eyes and called dad “stunad“.

Dad had a lousy head for figures so, naturally, he volunteered to be the church treasurer. He then proceeded to botch the books so terribly, the Elders of the church came to our house looking very serious and officious in their black suits and asked dad how he managed to screw up the numbers so badly. Even dad couldn’t figure out what he’d done wrong; he was totally flustered and way over his head. Everyone felt sorry for him but business is business and dad was officially removed him from his position.

Dad was an immigrant from Sicily who taught himself to speak, read and write English entirely on his own. And he barely had an accent. His biggest achievement in his eyes was being able to do the New York Times crossword puzzle in ink! Everyone loved my dad and it gave him so much pleasure to entertain his friends and spend time with his family.

Times were tough, often heartbreaking. In 1943 mom and dad lost their first born and only son, the brother I never knew, when he was only 2-years-old. Baby Frank passed away on New Year’s Eve; my parent’s never celebrated or went out on New Year’s Eve ever again after that. Then my dad got drafted and was sent overseas. I can only imagine what Father’s Day must have been like that year. Talk about rough times!

Dad with Baby Frank, 1943

Now that I’m older and hopefully wiser, I regret being embarrassed in front of my friends when dad told a corny joke or sang a silly song. I wish I didn’t think of him as a clown or a buffoon; no one else saw him that way (except my sister) and he made a lot of people happy. I was young and stupid; I didn’t realize at the time everything he did was with good intentions.

My grown sons remember my dad, or ‘Papa’ as they called him, but I have four grandchildren who never knew him. I hope when my granddaughters start dating, my sons will wait up for them to come home from their dates, just as my dad did right up till the night before my wedding.

Me and Dad on my wedding day, June 10, 1972

When you’re young you think you have all the time in the world, then you start to realize the older you get the faster time goes by. There are plenty of things I wish I could go back and do over; I can’t. I just have to believe that my dad knew I loved him even when I didn’t show it. I hope he’s proud of the person I have become. I’m proud of my dad and I miss him. I know he’s listening so “Happy Father’s Day, dad! I love you!”

Dedicated to my father, Vito Schembre, July 14, 1915 – August 1, 1998

NAR © 2022

ESPERANZA

Photograph by Eileen Mroz

The #6 subway from Grand Central to my station in Ridegwood Queens was surprisingly empty for 5:40 on a Friday afternoon. At first I questioned whether I had gotten on the wrong train but as I looked around I saw some of the familiar faces.

Diagonally across from me on my left was a man wearing a ‘sorta-suit’ – my made-up name for a jacket and slacks of slightly different shades that one tries to pass off as a suit but it never quite works. Not only was it always rumpled but it needed to be cleaned. His tie was missing and probably stuffed into one of his pockets. He always stood whether there were seats available or not. With his right hand he held onto a pole while he clenched and released his left hand as though squeezing a stress ball. I guessed he was a detective. He was probably in his early 30s but he looked older. Lots of people who ride the subway every day look older than they are.

Directly opposite me sat a young guy who always traveled with an oversized orange duffel bag. He was 19 or 20 years old and naive-looking, perhaps Scandinavian with blonde hair and cool blue eyes. There were numerous tags on his bag; the most prominent identified him as a student at Queens College. Living on campus could be extremely expensive and I wondered what he was doing for accommodations. It looked like all his earthly possessions were crammed into that orange duffel bag. For a nanosecond I entertained the possibility of offering him the spare room in my parent’s house; they knew what it was like to struggle alone in a foreign country but they were elderly now and this wasn’t quite the same as bringing home a stray!

On the other side of the subway car was a nurse in royal blue scrubs. My guess was she was just starting her overnight shift; she looked refreshed and her uniform was neat and clean. Her hair was nicely done and she didn’t have that after-work jaded look on her pleasantly round face. She hugged a large black bag tightly on her lap, her phone resting on the bag with her ear buds nestled in place. From the rapturous look on her face, she was probably listening to some “Help me through another day at work, sweet Jesus” type of music.

Sitting next to the nurse on the verge of dozing off was an Asian man wearing a windbreaker, corduroys and an N95 mask. I had him pegged as an IT guy or possibly a research analyst. He always had a flat yellow plastic bag with him which looked like it had a comic book or two inside, probably for his kids. I liked him; he looked like a good dad and a decent person.

Those were the regulars; here and there a few stragglers would wander on and off but these were my daily traveling companions. We rode together every day, rain or shine, come hell or high water, yet we didn’t know each other’s names, avoided eye contact and never talked. That’s how it’s done in the subways of New York – anonymity at all costs.

Today, however, there was a young couple on the train I had never seen before. They spoke softly and their vibe was very intense. He was in a navy uniform and she wore black pants, white sneakers and a black and white checked shirt, her fingers interlocked over a slightly protruding belly – a baby bump, I was quite sure. His back was to me and he wore a mask so I could not see his face; still, by his posture, I could tell he was ill at ease and the conversation was not going well.

It eventually became obvious they had reached an impasse; talking ceased and she stood with her back to the door, a symbolic stance I’ve seen 1,000 times. The frozen expression on her face was one of utter disappointment, despair, unhappiness, hurt and rejection. They mumbled a word or two but barely looked at each other. It was not a comfortable situation.

At this point I was compelled to take out my phone and snap a photo of the couple, pretending to be busy doing something else. There was a story unfolding before me; I could sense it and needed more than my memory to remember this sad turn of events. At the next stop the sailor prepared to get off; he reached for his seabag and his fingers fleetingly touched the pregnant woman’s arm but he made no other contact. He quickly headed for the steps, never looking back.

The doors closed and the woman leaned against them, staring down at her shoes. I could see streaming tears coursing down her face and her shoulders silently shook. I knew at that moment the couple had broken up and she was beyond heartbroken; she was shattered. I thought at any moment she might drop to her knees and wail in hopelessness.

Our eyes met and I held up my hand offering her a tissue. Without a word she walked the three feet to where I was sitting, took the tissue I proffered and sat down beside me. We were now connected yet we did not speak. I felt the need to console her but I decided to stay silent; if she wanted to say something to me she would.

Shoulders shaking, hands wringing, tears silently flowing. She tore at the tissue I gave her and I thought she was about to say something when her phone buzzed. Her voice was barely more than a whisper.

Anita, Tommy is gone. Sí, just now. I don’t know. Just text it to me, por favor.”

She ended the call and looked over at me embarrassed, smiling poignantly. “Excuse me. May I?” and I nodded quickly, handing her another tissue.

Gracias.” She wiped her face and shoved the tissues into her little purse. With tentative fingers she pressed the link Anita had sent her. She spoke softly with no emotion. “Hello. My friend gave me your number. My name is Esperanza. Now? Yes, I can come now.” And that was all she said.

The train slowed down for the next stop and Esperanza stood up and began walking to the door. I impulsively called out her name and she turned looking at me with hollow eyes. I handed her my package of tissues, hoping she would stay on the train. After a moment’s hesitation, she took the tissues, turned and left the train.

So many thoughts went through my head in that instant. I remembered from Spanish classes in high school that ‘esperanza’ means ‘hope’. I thought it was one of the most beautiful words I had ever heard.

Where Esperanza was going I had no idea. I wondered if I’d ever see her again? Above all, I hoped she would be alright.

NAR © 2022

N.B.: My usual routine when writing is to search for an appropriate graphic after a story is complete; sometimes this process takes hours. When my photo-snapping friend Eileen posted this pic, it hit me like a ton of bricks. To say it took my breath away would not be an exaggeration. It screamed out to me that something heavy, perhaps even life-changing, was going on in an otherwise seemingly innocuous photo. Some people will gloss over a pic like this, not really seeing anything; others will be glued to it and the woman’s face. I was transfixed. In a glimpse it can look totally mundane and unimportant – except for the excruciatingly heartbroken expression on the woman’s face and the sailor’s inability to look her in the eyes. This is a first for me – a story based on a photograph; hopefully there will be more in my collection. I hope I did it justice. NAR

BLIND DATE

In March of 1968 I went on a blind date. This was a new experience for me and I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was the guy’s name. I insisted my best friend and her boyfriend (who set up the date) tag along in case my date turned out to be Hannibal Lecter (hey, it could happen).

As soon as I answered the door, I felt like I was in the middle of a chick flick. I stared at him, smiling; I heard birds tweeting and angels singing “Today I met the boy Im going to marry“. On the other side of the door my date was staring and smiling back at me. I think he heard the music, too.

His name was Bill.

I’d just turned 17 and he was not yet 20. Bill was different in so many ways from any guys I knew, most notably was the fact that he didn’t look like he belonged to La Cosa Nostra. He was tall, lean, tan and blonde and the way his biceps looked in his white t-shirt made my stomach flutter.

We went to another friend’s house for a party and spent the whole night talking to each other. After that blind date, we didn’t go out with anyone else ever again.

Bill’s what I affectionately call “a mutt” and he’ll be the first to agree. He’s 1/2 Irish, 1/4 Finnish and 1/4 Italian. He’d never met a first generation Sicilian girl like me before let alone gone out with one (we’re a rare breed, you know!); he thought I was “exotic” and looked like Sophia Loren. Every time he said that I got goosebumps – and he said it a lot.

We were crazy about each other; two years after that first date we got engaged and two years after that we got married.

Bill’s a real handy-man, the kind of guy who can fix just about anything. Back in the Stone Age before Google, we had a bunch of ‘do-it-yourself-books’. If Bill didn’t know how to fix something, he’d read about it. And if the books didn’t help, he’d solve the problem himself. He wasn’t afraid of getting his hands dirty – whether he was repairing an engine or changing a diaper.

Not only is he a hands-on kind of guy in every aspect of our lives, he’s also very smart and I don’t mean smarter than your average bear. Bill is flat out brilliant and that’s not a word I toss around lightly. He’s got the degrees to prove it but he’s too humble for that and definitely not the type to rub his smarts in your face. He has a classic wit – a dry and clever sense of humor that makes me laugh every day.

They don’t come any better than Bill. He’s the homebody type, not one looking to go out partying. His one guilty pleasure is fishing. He’s loved fishing since he was a kid growing up on City Island and you can find him on his boat every Saturday. In fishing terminology, Bill’s ‘a keeper’.

Now you can go ahead and call me delusional but I know what I know – and I know Bill.

* He’s colorblind but can identify blue; that’s why it’s his favorite color.
* He’ll ask other shoppers which bananas are ripe because he can’t tell yellow from green; he’s found people are very obliging and happy to help with his “handicap“.
* He loves Carvel soft serve vanilla ice cream in a waffle cone with chocolate sprinkles.
* All his food has to be cooked well done; if you think his burger is done,
cook it for an additional 10 minutes.
* He’s very proud of me and tells everyone I’m “an author”.
* Our doctor adores him and will spend the first 15 minutes of our appointments looking at new photos of our grand kids.
* He’s a die-hard NY Rangers Hockey fan.
* He and his identical twin brother were number 18 in the Vietnam draft
but they failed the physical due to pilonidal cysts.
* He would walk our newborn baby to sleep every night for as long as it took, most times more than an hour.
* He’ll do whatever it takes to avoid an argument.
* Family comes first, always.
* He’s a very generous tipper; people are grateful and remember that.
* I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like him.
* His favorite song is “Only You”.
* He’s a ‘one woman man‘. He doesn’t flirt or stare at other women;
that’s just not his style.
* He’s never given me reason to be jealous.
* He’s the most decent man I know.
* He never forgets my birthday or our wedding anniversary, especially this anniversary because it’s TODAY. And today’s not just any anniversary – IT’S OUR 50th!

I have to believe God knew what He was doing when He brought us together. Fifty years – it just doesn’t seem possible! I look at Bill now and I see the same guy I fell in love with the night of our blind date. I’m awfully glad he was the one on the other side of the door that March night in 1968.

NAR © 2022

The dating and newlywed games
June 10, 1972

BANG A GONG

As the parents of four young children, Kay and Michael Morgan wanted nothing but the best for their kids – 7-year-old twins Jack and Luke, 3-year-old Ella and baby Ivy. After meeting in college in Philadelphia and living there for the past twelve years, the couple had recently moved back to their hometown. It was great reconnecting with old friends and making new ones.

Kay and Michael wanted to send the boys to a good summer camp and everyone recommended Camp Dino-Mite. Not only did the camp offer a broad variety of indoor and outdoor activities ranging from chess to archery and just about everything in between – it was an easy ten-minute walk from their house.

The Morgans were looking forward to orientation day when the boys would meet their counselors and the other kids in their groups. The day turned out to be great fun with games for the campers and a barbecue lunch for everyone. Before heading home, Kay and Michael stopped at the main office to buy camp t-shirts for the boys and pay their registration fee.

They were just about to pay when Michael heard an unwelcome voice call out “Is that you, Morgan? Well, the Boy Wonder has returned! Ain’t that just Dino-Mite?!” Michael cringed; it was his old childhood nemesis Rex Tirano. Michael suddenly realized why the name of the camp was so familiar; “Dino-Mite” used to be Rex’s favorite expression. Apparently, it still was. Slowly Michael turned around to face his one-time foe.

Let’s just say the aging process for Rex did not go well. He had become a caricature of himself – a living, breathing buffoonish cartoon character – and Michael bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing. Rex was pasty, prematurely balding and terribly overweight; he looked ridiculous stuffed into a camp t-shirt and a pair of khaki shorts. Rex was the complete opposite of the stereotypical tanned goomba high school bully with slicked back hair that Michael remembered; the only things unchanged were his pushy attitude, big mouth and cold, forbidding eyes.

“Rex” Michael replied coolly. “It’s been a while.”

“Yeah, I heard ya was back in town, living in a nice big house with your Wall Street job and your perfect little family. Must be nice being you, Mikey Boy – Mr. Quarterback, valedictorian, prom king big shot. Ain’t ya gonna introduce me to your wifey? Hiya, sweetie. What’s your name?”

Michael had always been intimidated by Rex – everyone was – but he wasn’t about to apologize for being successful and he certainly wasn’t going to allow his wife to be insulted or let his kids see him cave.

Where are my manners? Rex, this is my wife, Kay. Honey, this is Rex Tirano. We went to school together.”

“Kay and Michael – just like from The Godfather. Ain’t that precious? Well, you got yourself a Dino-Mite little lady there, Mikey. A real looker.”

Trying desperately to avoid an unpleasant scene, Kay greeted Rex cordially. “Are those your children, Rex?” Kay asked.

Rex nodded enthusiastically; his kids were almost as big as him and just as neanderthal. They were porcine, slovenly nose pickers practically bursting out of their camp uniforms. Rex beamed proudly as he introduced his kids. “Yeah, this here’s Bruno, then Gino and my little angel Claudia. My wife’s around here somewhere, meetin’ and greetin’.”

Aren’t you a little old to be wearing a camp uniform?” Jack asked innocently.

“And big?” Luke added, always unable to resist stating the obvious.

Michael wished his sons hadn’t said anything but they was just kids; he had to admit he was curious himself. Well, the cat was out of the bag now and there was nothing Michael could do about it.

Rex glared at Michael. “Whoa, Captain America, don’t tell me there’s something you don’t know!? Dino-Mite!! Allow me to explain: I own this camp! That’s right, Mr. Touchdown, hot shot class president – this is all mine” Rex boasted loudly, stretching out his arms causing his t-shirt to rip under his sweaty pits.

By now Rex’s crowing had attracted a lot of his attention and people rushed over to see what was going on.

Luke whispered to Jack that Rex looked David Banner about to transform into the Incredible Hulk. That was too funny for Jack and both boys started laughing at the sounds of ripping cloth and the sight of huge sweat rings under Rex’s arms.

Why you little smart asses! Looks like your daddy forgot to teach you some manners so I guess we’re gonna have to. Bruno, Gino, let’s show these two skinny little bean poles what happens when they don’t give proper respect to Rex “Dino-Mite” Tirano.”

Kay started to take a step forward but Michael blocked her; no way was he going to let anything happen to her. Besides, he’d been waiting for this chance for a long time.

“Listen, Rex. We didn’t come here looking for trouble. We just wanted a good camp for our boys where they could be with respectable people with decent attitudes. Apparently we made the wrong choice. You’re right – I didn’t know you owned this place. If I did, we wouldn’t have wasted our time coming here. You may have gotten larger, Rex, but you certainly haven’t grown up!” And with that, Michael turned his back on Rex and began to lead his family out of the camp.

Before Michael could take two steps, Rex grabbed him by the shoulder, spun him around and took a swing at him. Michael ducked and Rex’s big flabby fist landed squarely on Kay’s face. Everyone gasped loudly and people immediately ran to help Kay. Michael stood protectively in front of his children. A group of men held Rex back while someone yelled for the police; within minutes camp security and the police showed up.

Rex was cuffed and hauled off to the police station; he was charged with assault and battery as well as endangering the welfare of children. Michael was asked if he wanted a restraining order against Rex. “Oh, hell yeah!” said Michael. “I don’t want this beast anywhere near my family“.

The crowd of people started murmuring among themselves. No one really wanted their kids going to Camp Dino-Mite; they were just intimidated by Rex and he bullied every other camp owner into shutting down. He was the only game in town. Now people were no longer afraid to show Rex how they really felt; they tore up their registration checks and pulled their kids out of Camp Dino-Mite.

Michael didn’t give a damn about Rex – it was time he got his due – but he felt awful about what happened to Kay. An ambulance had taken her to the hospital; she had a broken nose and a nasty black eye which she wore with pride. She told Michael it was worth it to bring down a prehistoric galoot like Rex. The kids were in awe of Kay; in fact, everyone was in awe of both Michael and Kay for doing something no one else had the nerve to do – stand up to Rex Tirano.

It turns out the restraining order wasn’t necessary but it was worth it just to see the expression of Rex’s face. After losing the camp and the power he held over people, Rex had nothing left and Kay convinced Michael not to press charges. Rex moved his family to New Jersey, his tail between his legs.

That was the end of the “Tirano Menace” and it didn’t even take a meteor shower to bring him down. No, it was a woman, a manasaur – the so-called “feral, dirty and sweet little girl” who knew how to bare her teeth, show her claws, bang a gong and get it on – since time immemorial! 🦕

NAR © 2022

ALLEGIANCE

For those of you who don’t know, knew and forgot, live in another country or just don’t care – THERE IS A DIFFERENCE.

Memorial Day and Veterans Day honor those innumerable individuals who sacrificed themselves to preserve the freedoms all Americans enjoy.

On Memorial Day we remember those who died while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.

On Veteran’s Day we honor all who served in the U.S. Armed Forces, whether living or deceased. 

God bless those men and women.

God bless America; she needs all the help she can get right now!

Wishing you a blessed Memorial Day. 🇺🇸

“Our flag does not fly because the wind blows it;
It flies with the last breath of every soldier who died defending it.”

NAR © 2022

LITTLE PINK HOUSES

You know, Jack, it’s been a while since we visited your parents.” Diane put her gardening tools down and glanced up at her husband who was busy painting the backyard fence. Her heart always did a little flip when she looked at him; at 50 he still had his dad Henry’s rugged good looks and his mom Alice’s mass of blonde curls. “Why don’t we drive over for Memorial Day?”

That’s a swell idea, hon! Funny, but I was just thinking about my folks the other day. Thanks for always remembering.” Jack was that ridiculously likeable guy who said words like “swell” and nobody gave it a second thought. Diane grinned at him like she always did.

Diane stood up and tossed her gloves onto the porch. “It would be wonderful if we could get the kids together. I’m going to call the boys; if they don’t have any plans maybe they can wrangle the grand kids and join us. It would be such a nice day with the family.”

Jack and Diane had two sons – Rob and his wife Kelly had 5-year-old twin boys Kyle and Kevin while Mark and his wife Janice had a 4-year-old daughter named Sophie. When COVID came along two and a half years ago, visiting was curtailed for everyone.  It seemed even more cruel since the family lived only 15 minutes apart and used to get together all the time.

While Jack and Diane were good about keeping in touch with the kids via computer, that wasn’t the case for Jack’s parents, “Pops” and “Mims” ; they couldn’t be bothered with all that “new techno gadgetry“. Their Philips transistor radio on the kitchen counter and a rotary dial phone on the side table in the living room was good enough for them.

Due to social distancing, Rob and Mark were unable to bring the kids to visit their great-grandparents. The kids didn’t get to know “Pops” and “Mims” very well or learn about some of the amazing things they did, like the years they spent in Vietnam.

Diane called Rob and Mark via FaceTime – their lifeline over the past twenty-eight months. Now that socializing restrictions had been lifted, Diane asked her sons if they’d like to get together for Memorial Day and pay a visit to “Pops” and “Mims”. The short drive was easy for everyone and Diane planned a family dinner after their visit. Mark and Rob thought it was a great idea. Kyle and Kevin were really into the military superheroes like Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Deadpool and Spider-Man and would love hearing stories about their great-grandparent’s tour of duty in Vietnam.

Henry was a medevac helicopter pilot flying unceasing perilous missions and Alice held down the arduous assignment of an army triage nurse. They met in the jungles of South Vietnam and fell in love; their love for each other was one of the few good things to come out of the carnage of Vietnam. As soon as they returned to The States, they got married and Jack was born one year later. Henry and Alice made military life their careers and Jack was an “army brat’ – something else the kids would enjoy hearing about.

Married members of the military usually have the highest priority for private housing – both on and off base – so Henry and Alice chose to live in their own house on base with their son Jack.

Diane’s parents owned a popular bar and burger joint a couple of klicks from the army base; that’s where Jack met Diane who was working as a waitress. The place was called ‘The Pink Palace’ because all the houses and barracks on the base were painted various shades of pink. Just like Alice and Henry, love was in the air for Jack and Diane. The couple got married in the little church on base and settled down in the nearby town of Alexandria, Virginia where Jack was working as a carpenter.

Now 25 plus years had gone by and it didn’t seem possible to Diane. Folks often say “Don’t blink” when talking about life, raising a family, kids growing up, people passing away, etc. Logically Diane understood the inevitability; emotionally was another story and she found that old feeling of nostalgia worming its way into her heart. Diane suddenly was filled with melancholy knowing that Kyle, Kevin and Sophie missed so much time with “Pops” and “Mims”. Her momentary period of sadness vanished as soon as she caught sight of her grandchildren.

Kelly and Janice had dressed the kids in blue and white outfits, their faces scrubbed and their light blonde hair shimmering in the sunlight. The boys waved little flags while Sophie carried a wicker basket of red carnations. “Pops” was extremely fortunate to have returned home from Vietnam and he realized Memorial Day didn’t apply to him but he regarded it as a deeply sacred day. He lost a lot of good friends there, too many young men to count. Memorial Day was for them and all those selfless men and women from every war who never made it home.

Jack and Diane held hands as they walked down the path, ready to greet his parents; their little family followed closely behind. Finally they reached the neatly trimmed grass still glistening in the morning dew. Before them, in gleaming white marble stood the final resting place of Jack’s parents – an immaculate plot at Arlington National Cemetery. The family was devastated when they lost both “Mims” and “Pops” just one year after COVID hit; they both survived the ravages of the Vietnam War but didn’t have the strength for this virulent virus.

The family stood by the grave site as Jack read the inscription:

HENRY JOHN CONWAY
CAPTAIN, MEDEVAC PILOT
UNITED STATES ARMY
JULY 20, 1950 – FEBRUARY 11, 2020
AND WIFE
ALICE FITZGERALD CONWAY
TRIAGE NURSE
UNITED STATES ARMY
NOVEMBER 2, 1950 – FEBRUARY 24, 2020

Jack rested his hand on his parent’s headstone and everyone was very quiet. Sophie placed her basket of carnations on the ground and Kevin and Kyle stuck their little flags in on either side.

The sun shone brightly in the blue sky, as warm and radiant as one of “Mims” smiles. Off in the distance was the sound of a bugle playing Taps, whispering to them it was time to leave. It was a lovely visit, the perfect Memorial Day salute to “Pops” and “Mims”.

NAR © 2022

HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?

I wrote this just now in response to a friend’s post. I have no problem with this person; he’s a good man and it was a fine post. I have a problem with the world we live in and what you see here is the outpouring of my heart. I may get a lot of flack for this. That’s okay. I can handle it. The question remains:
“HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?”

Thank you for using the word “murdered”; that’s exactly what this was. Premeditated murder. The murderer didn’t wake up that morning and say “Gee, I have nothing to do today. Think I’ll go kill a bunch of innocent babies. Won’t it be fun to see the utter terror in their tear-filled eyes and to listen to the screams of panicked parents outside the building who would claw their way inside if they could? Yeah, that’s what I’m gonna do today but first, I think I’ll shoot my grandma in the face.” People say “Well, he was troubled.” To that I respond “Damn straight he was troubled!” Where are the parents, the families, the friends, the neighbors, ANYONE who saw ‘he was troubled” yet neither did nor said anything? How can an 18 year old (or younger) have access to weapons and build an arsenal in his bedroom or basement while mommy and daddy remain blissfully unaware. How is this possible? Let’s say the parents aren’t unaware but are too afraid of their own son to do anything about it. Again, how is this possible? How can anyone live with themselves knowing one word from them to someone in authority could have saved countless lives yet they remained deaf, dumb and blind? Yes, he was troubled. Tell that to the parents of the children who are murdered on a fairly regular basis; I don’t think they would wipe their tear-stained cheeks and say “Oh, yes. I understand now. It couldn’t be helped because he was troubled. Yes, that makes burying my baby so much easier.” HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE? Obviously neither you nor I have the answers as to why this happens; if we did, these atrocities wouldn’t be happening. I have a lot of questions about big businesses and our country’s leadership (or lack of). I question if there is any goodness in the hearts of most people in government. I have lost all faith in them. There is an incredible amount of evil on our doorstep and that angers, sickens and frightens me. I’m terrified for my grandchildren. There is no innocence any longer. There is nothing left to chance. Everything is planned, manufactured, created and spread to cause mass hysteria. How did we get to this point? I pray that God in his infinite wisdom will do exactly what Jesus did that day in the temple when he had his fill of corruption – He cleaned house!

NAR © 2022

P.S. – In the short time since I wrote the above piece I have learned that four years ago at the age of 14 this Texas murderer was arrested for declaring that when he turned 18 he was going to get guns and shoot up a school. He was a minor and nothing was done at the time. He was released. Apparently nothing was ever done even though this was a known fact because four years later he did exactly what he said he was going to do. He was allowed access to guns because his record was CLEAN; there was no mention of his arrest 4 years earlier. Again, my friends, I must ask: HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?

OUT ON A LIMB

The message on the Willoughby’s answering machine came as quite a shock. Roger Willoughby was suddenly facing a life and death scenario. He wasn’t ready.

Roger remembered how it all started a couple of weeks ago when he felt a twinge in his shoulder. Thinking perhaps he slept in a wrong position, he decided to take a soothing hot shower to ease his sore muscles. Afterwards he applied an anti-inflammatory cream and went about his business. The discomfort disappeared and he forgot about it.

A few days later Roger joined his buddies for a round of golf. It was a glorious morning and the foursome decided to play 18 holes instead of 9. Mid-game Roger started feeling sore but continued playing. Later that afternoon he was paying the price. His shoulder was killing him and he could barely move it. The pain was more intense than ever. His wife Muriel said it looked swollen and scheduled an appointment with her doctor. Lord knows, she couldn’t remember the last time Roger had seen a doctor.

After a thorough examination, the doctor arranged for Roger to have an MRI and also set up a consult for him with an orthopedic specialist. In the meantime, Roger was prescribed something for the pain and waited for the results of the scan. The orthopedist told Roger he would call as soon as the results were in.

Coming out of his trance, Roger shook the cobwebs from his head and listened to the message again:

“Mr. & Mrs. Willoughby, this is Dr. Arbor calling. I have the scan results. I was hoping to be able to give you better news but after consulting with my colleagues, we’ve concluded the best course of action would be to treat the affected limb aggressively. I’m sorry to say there’s an extensive amount of an insidious degenerative disease which spreads rapidly if not treated in a timely manner. Unfortunately, it wasn’t caught in time and there’s nothing we can do. Even with treatment the situation is too far gone and I’m afraid we have no other options. I was quite taken aback to see the amount of deep tissue decay. Once that sets in it spreads voraciously and is extremely difficult to treat; in fact, 9 out of 10 cases are inoperable. I know these are drastic measures but we must remove the limb as soon as possible and check to see if the disease has spread further. I’m terribly sorry; I know this isn’t the information you were expecting. I’ll have my assistant call you to make the necessary arrangements.”

Roger was so incredibly shaken by the message, he suddenly felt drained of all energy and his shoulder hurt more than ever. Cradling his arm against his chest, he stumbled into the bedroom to rest and drifted off to sleep. Perhaps it was the pain meds he was taking but he fell into a very deep sleep. An hour or so went by when he was roused by his wife’s voice; she was speaking softly on the phone in the kitchen. Roger felt very groggy and got up for a glass of water. As he drew near the kitchen he could hear what Muriel was saying and he stopped dead in his tracks.

Yes, Dr. Arbor, I understand there’s nothing you can do. As harsh as it sounds, I believe you are right; we should bypass the limb removal and go straight for termination of life. I was hoping to save the old guy but it’s clear his time is up. Sadly, everything comes to an end. I agree with you there’s no point in dragging it out any longer. As you said, the spread is inevitable. While end of life measures are drastic, removing both limbs is quite radical and seems so cruel when all that would do is prolong the unavoidable. I know Roger will be shocked but I’ll talk to him, make him understand it must be done. Besides, having the old guy gone will free up some space around here, maybe even bring in a handsome new fellow! Yes, let’s do it as soon as possible. I’ll leave everything in your capable hands.”

Roger couldn’t believe what he was hearing. After 40 years of marriage Muriel was ready to toss him into his grave without a second thought. How could she be so cold- hearted, agreeing to end his life without so much as a second thought?

“So, this is what it’s come to, Muriel! How dare you!” Roger bellowed. Muriel was so startled by Roger’s outburst she dropped the platter of chicken and dumplings she’d just prepared for dinner. “When were you going to tell me you and the good doctor were going to do me in? Not even giving me the opportunity to discuss my options. Just chop me up into little pieces and toss me into the compost, why don’t you? I’ve never felt so betrayed and hurt in my whole life. How could you be so heartless? After all these years, I thought I knew you!” Roger collapsed onto the kitchen chair, his head in his hands.

Muriel couldn’t control herself and burst out laughing. Roger stared at her as if a knife had been plunged into his heart. His head was about to explode. Seeing the look on his face, Muriel composed herself; stepping over the spilled food, she pulled up a chair and sat next to Roger.

Are you finished ranting and raving, you old fool? I’ll have you know that conversation you overheard was between me and Dr. Arbor, the tree surgeon – not your doctor. The old oak in the backyard is infested with some horrible mange and he has to chop it down. We were talking about the tree, Roger, not you. Chopping off limbs and termination of life! Honestly, do you think I have such little regard for you?! You mean everything to me, Roger.

Husband and wife stared at each other. Muriel sat with her arms crossed while Roger stammered and stuttered looking for the right words.

So I’m not dying of some rare degenerative disease? What about this pain in my arm?”

”Well, if you gave me half a chance to explain before you started screaming at me you’d know I already spoke to the doctor I dragged you to last week. You’re in pain and you haven’t had an examination in ages so now you’re assuming the worst. Well, it’s a simple case of bursitis in your shoulder, Roger, and all you need is a cortisone shot.”

“Thank God! I was frantic thinking you were going to put me down, Muriel. My entire life flashed before my eyes. Why, I swear my arm feels better already. Maybe I don’t even need a shot after all.”

“Roger Willoughby, don’t you dare try to weasel your way out of this one! We’re going to the doctor tomorrow and that’s final. Now what do you have to say for yourself?”

“What do I have to say? I feel great and I’m starving, Muriel! What’s for dinner?”

Muriel gave Roger a withering look. “What’s for dinner?! Is that what I just heard you say? Well, since our chicken dinner is ruined, you’re eating the next best thing, Roger – crow! You’re eating crow for dinner tonight! Now help me clean up this mess.”

NAR © 2022

GUEST POST: I LISTEN – BY ROSEMARIE HOULIHAN

It’s always a thrill for me to open my page for guest posts and share some great writing. Today it’s a special honor to present a very meaningful and personal story written by my sister, Rosemarie Houlihan. I believe her words will touch your hearts as they did mine.

Mom’s 90th birthday

If I believed in saints, my mother would be one.

Mom had a very difficult life. Her mother was an invalid requiring daily injections and healthcare which my mother gave her. Yet, despite my grandmother’s fragile health, she imposed rules and regulations which my mother had to follow.

As a child my mother did all the heavy household jobs such as scrubbing the marble steps leading up to the first floor of their three-family house. Her education was limited to the eighth grade because she had to go to work to supplement her father’s income. Mom’s first year of work was as an unpaid apprentice dressmaker. She remained a dressmaker most of her life and her work was unparalleled.

When my parents married in 1939, they lived with my mother’s parents. My father and grandfather worked conflicting hours, so Mom was always cooking a meal for someone.

A baby boy was born in 1941 but he had kidney disease and died at home at the age of two. War had already broken out and my father was called to serve. Married men with children were not being drafted at the time so all Mom’s aunts had their husbands and babies home with them. Mom was bereft, at home, caring for her mother and mourning the loss of her baby. She would sit on her bed folding and unfolding her baby’s unused clothes. Her aunts saw what this was doing to Mom and convinced her to accompany them on an errand. While she was out, her uncles dismantled the crib and put all the baby’s things in storage. Mom was furious when she returned but this act of tough love probably saved her sanity.

I was born after my father returned from WWII and then exactly four years later, on my birthday, my sister was born.

Throughout her life Mom cared for someone who was sick. Her mother, her baby, her father and eventually her husband who was ill for more than thirty years. When my great-grandmother Mada Rana found herself in need of care, my mother took her into our home and looked after her as well.

I was so used to my mother always sewing at home, doing alterations for friends and neighbors, making clothes for me and my sister, I thought nothing of “volunteering” her to sew all the ladies’ costumes for a Gilbert & Sullivan production at our high school. As busy as Mom was, she got the job done and became the official costumer for all our plays until my sister graduated high school.

Despite all she did for us, I remember feeling “cheated” that my mom was not like other moms. She didn’t sit with us after school and chat; in fact, we never really “talked”. She was always working at something – cooking, sewing, cleaning.

Into her old age Mom continued caring for my father – and he was a handful! He was a good man but incapable of doing much. Still, Mom took great pride in taking care of Dad, calling it “her duty”. I’ve often wondered if Dad was truly incapable or did he feel inadequate because Mom could do anything she set her mind to? Mom was a powerhouse and Dad may have felt overwhelmed. Who knows what he might have been capable of if given half a chance? Maybe he could have helped Mom but she didn’t know how to share the load.

When Dad died, Mom aged abruptly; she became overwhelmed with day-to-day life. The change was shocking but when I think about it, she relaxed for the first time in her life and just let go.

Throughout her life Mom never complained.  She never cried, never shouted – and everything stayed inside her, tightly sealed.

I am in a place now where I compare myself to Mom because my dear husband of 54 years has major health issues – not only physical but emotional. And I am failing miserably at caring for him.

I say I’m failing because I do not have the grace that my mother had. I cry, I yell and curse, chastise and apologize and resent him while always loving him. I start each day saying I will do better, but he rarely smiles or says “good morning, how are you” – and, of course, I take it personally which I know I shouldn’t.

But it hurts. The man I married and looked up to is facing his inability to live as he used to. His eyesight has failed him, his memory is poor, his ability to do anything physical, mechanical, technical – all gone. He feels diminished, sad, useless.

And I don’t know what to do.

Oh, I participate in a twice-monthly caregivers’ group and it is cathartic. I make promises to myself. And when I “talk” to my mother, the memories of her ability to cope often come to me. And I listen.

Do I believe in saints? Actually, I do.

RH © 2022

THE UNEXPECTED 180

Ann and John were friends for more than 5 years, having been introduced by a mutual acquaintance. They got along well, shared common interests and belonged to a few of the same online groups. Over the years their relationship blossomed into a strong friendship but never anything of a romantic nature. Ann was happily married for many years and John was always the perfect gentleman. Even though separated by thousands of miles and never having actually met in person or talked on the phone, they got to know each other very well. They emailed and texted regularly, exchanged small but meaningful birthday and Christmas gifts and shared information they were not comfortable divulging to other people.

John enjoyed going for long walks and visiting different locations near his home; he also had a passion for photography and would often text Ann photos he took while walking. Ann thought the photos were some of the loveliest she’d ever seen and encouraged John to create a coffee table type photography book. He liked the idea and was pleased that Ann was enthusiastic about his photos. He was also extremely computer knowledgeable and could easily put a book like that together.

Ann wasn’t as computer literate as John and would frequently reach out to him whenever she ran into a technical problem; he was always happy to help, many times going above and beyond. He was not the least bit condescending and displayed a great amount of patience. He was the impetus behind getting her website set up and operational, something for which Ann was extremely grateful. She called him her ”answer man”.

They had their own points of view as well, of course; after all, no two people can always agree on everything but there were very few serious differences of opinion. In fact, one day after a rather meaningful email exchange, John admitted to Ann that she was probably his only friend. Reading that made her feel honored yet melancholy at the same time.

John seemed to be more patient and accepting than Ann. He took most things in stride, willing to give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Ann, on the other hand, was the emotional sort who wore her heart on her sleeve. She had little patience for people who didn’t follow through on promises or who didn’t react the way she expected or wanted. Ann was a passionate woman and felt people should share her passion; that was unrealistic. She set herself up for falls more times than she cared to admit but old habits die hard.

As transcendent and meditative as John was, his Achilles Heel was criticism. He frequently felt people did not appreciate his work and accomplishments, often feeling overlooked or brushed aside. It was a real sore spot with him and he was quick to point out other people’s creative shortcomings. He would say to Ann “Look at that! Thirty-six ‘likes’ for that pathetic piece of rubbish!” Ann commiserated with John but kept her comments to a minimum. She believed John needed a sounding board; he was making a point but wasn’t really looking for validation from her.

Sometimes Ann agreed with John that he wasn’t being treated fairly but she couldn’t help picking up on an underlying jealousy on his part. There were those awkward times when Ann felt John’s work simply wasn’t as good as he thought it was but she kept her critiques to herself for the sake of their friendship. John did not appreciate being criticized and would probably get in a snit if Ann started pointing out where his work fell short or in what ways it could have been better. 

However, one day a great difference of opinion developed between John and Ann about one of their groups and she took it very personally. In truth, she had every right to take it personally and made no bones about it. She let John know how upset she was, saying he had no business doing what he did. Yes, she was quite vociferous about her disappointment and didn’t try to hide her anger. The issue dealt with one of their online groups; Ann felt John acted impetuously and went behind her back. In fairness to Ann, she tried to soften the accusatory blow by telling John she considered him a man of honor, one who normally would not behave in such a manner. That was not pandering on her part; it was the truth. Ann never thought John would do what he did without consulting her (or anyone) first.

Ann probably tried a little too hard to get John to understand why she was so upset. After a couple of texts to John, he responded with two GIFs – a mountain and a mole peeking up through its hill of dirt – which Ann took as an attempt at humor on John’s part. She thought John was trying to put the incident behind them and she responded with an emoji of herself giggling over the mountain/molehill images. Apparently she was mistaken; clearly John didn’t want to read any more explanations and the GIFs were more of a reproach than an attempt to make nice.

That’s when the unexpected 180 happened. Just like David Copperfield, John disappeared and Ann didn’t hear a word from him again.

In the blink of an eye all communication from John came to a screeching halt. Over the course of the next ten days Ann reached out to John three times; the first two messages were short texts asking if he was okay since she hadn’t heard from him. The third text Ann sent was more direct; she made her concerns known and asked if perhaps he was not feeling well, was busier than usual or was annoyed with her. After that message, John finally replied with a curt response which loudly implied “You assaulted me with your diatribe. I wonder why I bother doing the work I do. If you want to take over the group, it’s all yours.”

Translation: “I’ve had it and I’m outta here.”

Ann was stunned and wrote back apologizing to John, asking him to please write to her, clear the air, try to get things back to ‘normal’. She truly made every effort to salvage their friendship; her text was sincere and heartfelt and she hoped John would consider a reconciliation. He never responded.

Ann is no fool. She is a smart, savvy and intuitive woman; there was more to this than met the eye. Yes, she knew John had recently had an unusual amount of upheaval in his life but his reaction was beyond the pale; truth be told, he was not the only one going through upsets. Ann had some troublesome health issues which weighed heavily on her; they clouded her judgment and made her short-tempered. But to allow a once viable and congenial relationship filled with thought-provoking conversations, many laughs and good times disintegrate overnight was a shame and the way it was handled was wrong.

Ann has recently come to grips with the incident and has found closure in her own inimitable way. One thing she is quite certain of is she was a ‘scapegoat’ of sorts, a means for John to get out of the group; their friendship was collateral damage. She believed John was capable of many things but completely erasing five years from both their lives and destroying a wonderful friendship was something she would never understand. How does someone do that?

What a surprising and unpleasant turn of events. What a shame.

NAR © 2022

UNTIL THE WELL RUNS DRY

According to today’s standards and statistics, my mother had what is now referred to as a “borderline geriatric pregnancy”; she was 34 years old when I was born. Thirty-four! That’s not even half my current age! Oh, to be 34 again.

I wish I knew my mom when she was still young, sexy, vivacious and carefree with a glowing tan and a radiant smile – just as she was in that photo.

Yes, how I wish I knew her then. That woman is not the mother I remember. Life changed her.

By the time I came along mom had been through hell, caring for her own sick mother, losing her precious golden-haired two-year-old baby boy to nephritis and watching her husband march off to fight a war. As bad as that was, it was just the beginning of my mother’s difficult life. To say she suffered many hardships would be an understatement.

Yet, through it all, she never stopped doing, caring, giving. Only when she became old and tired, her thoughts wandering and her memory failing, did she rest.

That’s what women do. That’s what mothers do. They give until the well runs dry.

There are many things in my heart I long to say to my mother. Later tonight when all is quiet I’ll share my thoughts with her but for now all I want to do is wish her Happy Mother’s Day.

My mother. Concetta DiStefano Schembre, 1917-2009. Rest peacefully, Mom.

NAR © 2022

TO THE WATER’S EDGE

How I long to walk to the water’s edge,
to dip my toes and cool my burning feet.

There are times I think if I could just reach the water
all my pain would wash away.

Where are the days when I skipped along the shore
collecting shells and rocks and starfish?

My body would bake in the brilliant sun as I danced
like a gazelle from one end of the beach to the other. I’d look back
in amazement wondering how I walked that far.

Sometimes I would catch my reflection in the water
and see that young woman, vibrant and alive.

Hair of burnished gold, skin smooth and lustrous,
deeply tanned, and eyes as green as the ocean itself.

I smile at her but she does not smile back. Perhaps
she knows the hurt that lies ahead and is already grieving.

I desperately want to be free from these chains of pain
but the key has long been buried in the sand. I reach for it
but it eludes me.

Where is that young, desirable woman? Where did she go?
If you see her walking by the water’s edge,
please send her home.

I have much to tell her. My heart is strong and my lust for life
and love has not diminished. Only my muscles fail me.

How I long to walk to the water’s edge,
but my tired and failing limbs will not support me.
Oh, how they mock me!

Will someone carry me to the water’s edge?

How I long to walk there once again.

NAR © 2022

I AM WOMAN!

It gives me great pride to say two of my poems were accepted for inclusion in Wounds I Healed: The Poetry of Strong Women (Gabriela Marie Milton, Ed.). This anthology of poetry addresses the challenges women face in our society and the diversity of means they use to overcome pain and accomplish their dreams. Gabriela chose this theme because she wanted to underscore how powerful women are and how much they can achieve regardless of the adversities most of them go through. Women are strong. Women can stand up for themselves and be successful under very difficult circumstances.

When Gabriela Marie Milton, a #1 Amazon bestselling poet and an internationally published author, first approached me about writing a couple of poems for the book, I was honored but hesitant; poetry is not my wheelhouse. I’m a storyteller, not a poet. But the truth is I knew if I put my mind to it I’d be able to come up with something worthy of this incredible endeavor.

When I received word that my poems were accepted, I felt a tiny bit like Sally Field the night she won the Academy Award. She bubbled over with glee as she excitedly proclaimed “You like me!”

I know I can spin a tale; Gabriela never would have asked me if that were not true. It was my poetic prowess I was unsure of. But that’s the idea of the book – to show that women can take on any challenge and succeed.

When I first started writing short stories, it was never my intention to become a published author. I briefly entertained the idea of self-publishing but it was not a driving force in my life. Writing, while a passion for me, is a hobby and I love it. Now here I am in the company of some amazing poets. I’m thrilled to be included and proud of myself for giving this a shot.

Thank you, Gabriela, for having faith in me; I’m delighted I didn’t let you down.

NAR © 2022

STELLA BY STARLIGHT

It was Friday night and my paycheck was burning a hole in my pocket. As it turns out, my on again/off again boyfriend was off again so I was free as the proverbial bird. Just as well; I was getting tired of the slouch anyway. But it was New Year’s Eve 1946 and I didn’t want to be alone.

Anxious to hit the casino and ring in the new year, I got myself all dolled up in an outfit that was quite possibly illegal in 33 states – a lowcut slinky little silver number with a high side slit, silky fishnet stockings with lacy garters and black satin stilettos. Maybe I’d run into a high roller ready, willing and monetarily able to treat me to a bourbon, a thick juicy steak and a slice of pie a la mode for dessert.

I grabbed a taxi to the hotel, the driver ogling me in the rearview. I wasn’t interested in any two-bit palooka so I played it cool. I pulled my hat down around my eyes, raised the collar of my coat and lit a Chesterfield. The smoke encircled my head and my bright red lipstick left a perfect kiss around the filter. 

When we arrived, I tossed a fiver at the cabbie and stepped out onto the sidewalk. The clickety-clack staccato of my heels on the cobblestones alerted the doorman.

“Evening, Miss Stella. You lookin’ like an angel tonight, yes you is!” His eyes twinkled gaily, lighting up his round ebony face.

“Jasper, you sweet talker! Too bad some lucky lady already snatched you up!” and he cackled like he was hearing it for the first time.

Only regulars at the Floridian Hotel were on the down low: you took the elevator to the ninth floor then walked up a flight of stairs and headed toward a nondescript door at the end of the hall. If the scowling peepers that glared through the slit in the door approved, you were escorted into a room and through a closet that led to a full-scale casino.

One gander at me and I was in like Flynn.

Just as I was about to knock on the door, I heard a man’s voice in the darkness.

“This must be my lucky night. How you doin’, doll?”

I’d know that voice anywhere; it was my MIA boyfriend Jake. Yeah, he was a no-account but what a dreamboat – a regular Tyrone Power! He stepped out from the shadows and I found myself getting all twitchy. He looked real good.

“What’s cookin’, baby? You looking for a little sugar?” Jake laughed softly and grinned.

“What do you think, Jake? I’ve been all on my lonesome for three months with you gone! Were you in the slammer?”

Like I said, he looked good so I walked right up to him and kissed him long and hard on the lips. He pulled me close, groaning as his hands slid up my dress. He was more than happy to see me, if you get my drift.

“Listen, baby, I had a nice gig dealing at a casino up in Buffalo and I made some serious moola running a fool-proof scam. I’m dealing here tonight. If we double up, we can make a killing.”

It sounded dangerous and exciting. I nibbled his ear and reached between his legs, giving him an approving squeeze. “I’m in” I whispered.

Work first, then I’ll show you how much I missed you” Jake said. We knocked on the door.

The slit opened and immediately slid closed; the door cracked an inch and we were quickly ushered inside. “’Bout time you made an appearance, Jake. Boss man’s waiting on ya” barked Marcellus, the bouncer. “Stella, my beauty! Lawdy, you lookin’ fine! Always a pleasure.”

“Yeah, the pleasure’s all yours, big boy!” I laughed and gave Marcellus a smooch on his chestnut brown cheek. He always smelled of Old Spice.

Jake and I worked our way to the dimly lit back room; the boss was steaming and I huddled behind Jake. I’d never been in the back before; the aroma of old leather and cheap cigars was heavy.

“I don’t like waiting, Jakey Boy” the boss man grumbled.

“I apologize, Mr. Walters. I was waiting on my girl. You know how dames are. It won’t happen again.” Jake made nice and I peeked over his shoulder at the head honcho. “Please allow me to introduce Stella.”

As I stepped from behind Jake he smoothly slid off my coat. Old Man Walters nearly stroked out when he saw me, eyes bugging as he gave me a slow once over from head to toe.

I extended my hand. “Charmed, I’m sure, Mr. Walters” I purred doing my best Marilyn Monroe.

He kissed my palm and drank me in like a man dying of thirst. “Enchenté. Beautiful, just like the song ‘Stella by Starlight’. Please, call me Sid.” He licked his flabby lips, drooling like a bulldog. “Jake, you’re working the main table tonight. Bring the lovely Stella with you. She’ll attract the big bucks for sure. You know your way around the tables, honey?”

Sure, Sid, I’ve done it all, even boxman. I’m a pro” I lied. I coulda told Sid I was a circus monkey and he woulda believe me.

Is that a fact? Excellent! Our usual boxman is out tonight – some nonsense about his wife having a baby. You’ll be Jake’s boxman.” Sid had no idea he just opened the door for us. Jake winked at me on the way out to the floor.

We set up shop at the main craps table; I’d been hanging around casinos long enough to know what I was doing. As boxman, I was the only one allowed to handle the money to make change for chips. The action was heavy and the men were mostly looking at me, not the table. Jake charmed the ladies and I distracted the men. He was like that amazing English magician, David Berglas, with flawless sleight of hand. No one noticed big dollar chips making their way into hidden pockets in his suit. My clutch purse was lousy with bacon. Hell, I woulda stuffed big ones in my panties if I was wearing any! The excitement was exhilarating and I was flying high as a kite.

At 3:00 AM Jake and I went down the service elevator for a smoke break. An hour later we were on a train headed to a little desert town out west called Las Vegas with nothing but the clothes on our backs and a whole lot of dough. Along the way I dyed my signature platinum locks auburn and bought myself a plain dress. We changed our names, kept our noses clean and landed jobs in a greasy spoon, cautiously but consistently making a buck. We shacked up in a room in the back and our salary included a bed and three squares a day. We bided our time until at last we caught a break – Jake bought an old casino and slowly brought it back to life. We started living the good life. We didn’t look back and Sid never found us. We heard through the grapevine he kicked the bucket trying to screw some chippy young enough to be his daughter. As Jake liked to say “The only way to go!”

A couple years later I mailed four grand in plain brown packages to Jasper and Marcellus. Inside was a card signed with a single ‘S’; they’d know. I had a sweet spot for those two big galoots and they always kept their mouths zipped; it was the least I could do.  

NAR © 2022

GUEST POST: NORTH POINT – BY VINNY PREST

It’s been a while since I did a guest post but today I had to share this very funny read by my friend, Vinny Prest. It had me laughing out loud the morning of my stress test which certainly says a lot! Thanks, Vinny, for taking the edge off my otherwise stressful situation and giving me a good laugh! Hope you all enjoy this as much as I did!

We have a few shopping centres dotted about here in Hull. These kind of places are all very similar aren’t they, same shops, same bright lights. But we have one here slap bang in the middle of a huge council estate in the north of the city that’s been around for years. It’s called North Point, and it’s not for the faint hearted.

As soon as you enter the huge car park you get a sense of unease. Menacing birds circle the car as you open the door. A couple will land on the roof straight away, gazing at you with black beady eyes as if to say ‘Go on! Try moving me!’ This place is that rough they have knuckle dusters on their bony claws. And you can guarantee when you get back the car will be covered. One time I saw a flock of blackbirds nicking a bag of shopping off an unwary customer there….getting away with two frozen pizzas and a garlic bread…..If you get past them then it’s the front doors, which are usually surrounded by a dozen or so people smoking because you can’t smoke inside the building. You hold your breath then try and get through the smokey blue haze, moving as fast as you can, emerging to the other side like a contestant on Stars In Your Eyes. “Tonight Matthew, I’m going to be…..stinking of fag ash!”

The place is essential a long covered strip with wonderful emporium’s full of delights. Cheap and cheerful. Well, cheap anyway. It’s not exactly Oxford Street in London but can you get a cup of tea and a bacon sandwich for two quid there? I don’t think so. I’d like to say the locals are down to earth but to be frank they are more subterranean. Like the warlocks from The Time Machine but less friendly.

A couple doing the weekly shop

It’s got a few discount frozen food shops there. A sign of the times. One of them is Jack Fulton’s. I’m not saying they sell out of date stuff but I picked up some eggs, opened them up to check for cracks and six chicks tweeted back at me. Jack’s had a great deal on for the locals around Valentine’s. Frozen kebab meat and chips. An Arctic roll and a bottle of white lighting cider plus a plastic red rose all for five quid. The queue went right around the centre…. twice. Must have been a lot of loving going on that night! One thing is definite, midwives will be rushed off their feet come November.

And then you have the mobility scooters. Its like a race track at weekends and if it’s warm you could almost be at the Monaco grand prix. The start line is next to the doors, a few of them dot their cigs out and bang! They’re off! The powered up pensioners zoom past you zigzagging between the public, racing for the post office, occasionally hitting the bolted down plastic seats or skidding on a patch of melted ice cream. The security men look on, chatting together, arms folded, bored stiff as a kid runs out the vape shop with a few boxes under his arm, straight past the cut out lifesize smiling policeman warning shoplifters will be arrested.

Stop! Or I’ll say stop again!

Its a bit like Machu Picchu or The Taj Mahal. You have to see it before you die. From knicker elastic to a Knickerbocker glory you can get it there. If you’re ever up this way give it a go … just bring a gas mask to get through those smokey door.

By Vinny ©
Life Is A Rusty Rollercoaster

A SUMMER PLACE

It was 1966 but it feels like only yesterday.

My sister had just landed her first real job for a large company in Manhattan. Her boss was a department executive; he probably made a pretty good salary because he owned a summer beach house in Barnegat Bay, New Jersey. For my parents – simple, hard-working people from The Bronx – that was equivalent to being a millionaire.

You can imagine our amazement when we were offered use of the beach house for a week. The only beach we knew was our local Orchard Beach; believe me, that was a far cry from the idyllic little seaside town of Barnegat Bay.

Looking back, the house wasn’t exactly Frank Sinatra’s Palm Springs estate, but it wasn’t Daniel Boone’s stark log cabin, either. If was fully stocked with everything anyone could need for a little seaside getaway; all we brought were clothes and suntan lotion. We’d never been to the shore so this was “heaven on earth”, as my Dad put it. I can still picture that redwood house right on the water’s edge; it seemed like we could see for miles watching yachts and cabin cruisers sailing by. The sunsets were biblical, like something out of a Cecil B. DeMille movie.

We were not wealthy people by any stretch but we made the most of that vacation. We ate all our meals at the house; most dinners consisted of something Dad would barbeque while watching the bikini-clad women walking on the beach. Once or twice we went out to a seafood restaurant and we even had lobster!

As fabulous as the seashore was, we were rather far from any activities or amusement parks and there wasn’t much to occupy my 15-year-old self. Then one night I noticed a small bonfire on the beach and heard the carefree laughter of teenagers. I begged my parents to let me walk down to see what was going on but they were reluctant; they finally agreed with one stipulation – they had to come with me.

The idea of my parents chaperoning me was mortifying but I figured I had to suck it up if there was a ghost of a chance of having any fun. So that night my mother, father and I went for a casual stroll on the beach. I kept about ten feet or so behind my parents hoping the other kids would think I was by myself. Music was playing and marshmallows were roasting on long sticks. Everyone was tan and blonde and beautiful – and that’s when I saw him. He looked just like Troy Donohue from ‘A Summer Place’. He glanced up as we walked by and smiled and I fell hopelessly in love.

Thankfully my parents quietly observed without engaging anyone in conversation. Satisfied it wasn’t a remake of “Reefer Madness”, we walked back to the beach house but not before I had a chance to look over my shoulder and give Troy a little wave. He grinned and waved back; I was in heaven. I knew I had to go to the next bonfire – alone.

I guess being out in the sun all day fried my parent’s brains a bit. When I nonchalantly asked them the next night if I could walk down to the bonfire by myself for a little while, they agreed! Thank goodness my 19-year-old sister considered herself too mature for a “silly teen beach party” and didn’t want to tag along.

The group was friendly and waved me over. I casually headed straight for Troy and sat down next to him. The kids were into Jan and Dean and The Beach Boys; I was a Beatles girl but I wasn’t going to let that get in the way. I also had my first beer that night and found I liked it quite a bit. By the end of the night, Troy and I were holding hands and agreed to meet again the following night.

That was the most blissful week of my young life. There were lots of kisses and petting and professions of love but we didn’t go beyond 2nd base. All I knew was I’d never been as happy or excited to be with someone as I was with Troy.

At the end of the week we exchanged phone numbers and promised to call each other but that never happened. It’s ok; none of my friends can say they spent a week making out on the beach with Troy Donohue.

NAR © 2022

 

 

BACK BEFORE YOU MISS ME

Rebecca Jameson couldn’t get to sleep. She shifted her body from side to side but just couldn’t get comfortable. Maybe she should go downstairs and watch The Tonight Show.

“Can’t sleep, Becca?” Danny asked groggily.

Sorry, honey. I didn’t mean to wake you!”

Danny flipped on the nightstand lamp. Rebecca glanced at the alarm clock; it was very late and Danny had to get up early for work. She felt terribly guilty but this last month of her pregnancy was rough. She got up and waddled to the bathroom, then settled back in bed cradling her substantial belly. Danny propped himself on one elbow and rubbed Rebecca’s tummy.

“Well, I’m up now so what can I do for you, babe?”

Rebecca looked at him sheepishly and Danny grinned. “Rocky Road with Gummy Bears and rainbow sprinkles?” he asked, knowing her cravings so well.

You don’t mind?”

“For you and Danny Jr? I’d do anything, Becca. Thank God for the 24-hour Dairy Princess!”  He kissed her forehead, grabbed his wallet and bounded down the stairs. “Back before you miss me!”

That was the last time Rebecca saw Danny.

When Danny didn’t return after 30 minutes, Rebecca wasn’t worried; late Friday nights at the Dairy Princess were always busy. One hour later and she was starting to get a little anxious. After two hours she was a nervous wreck. She tried calling Danny; her calls went straight to voicemail. When she called her dad Frank, a detective with the NYPD, he answered immediately.

“Becky! Are you OK? Is it the baby?”

The baby and I are fine, Dad. It’s Danny. He went for ice cream two hours ago and hasn’t come home yet. Daddy, I’m scared” and she started to cry.

“Sweetie, Mom and I are coming right over. Try not to worry; I’m sure everything’s gonna be alright.” Frank hoped he sounded confident but he knew Danny; this was totally out of character.

Rebecca and Danny knew each other all their lives. They were childhood sweethearts and never dated other people. Rebecca was a kindergarten teacher and Danny managed Jameson’s Deli. They had the same friends and spent all their free time together; they even shared the same Facebook page. There were no secrets between them.

Danny was thrilled when he and Rebecca found out she was expecting a boy. He started calling him Danny Jr. and talked non-stop about the things they’d do together. With just two weeks to go, Danny was eager to be a dad.

When Rebecca’s parents arrived, they found her nervously looking out the window. Her mom Betty made a pot of tea while Frank talked soothingly to his daughter.

“Listen, honey. I called the station on the way over here and my guys are out combing the area. I know you’re scared but there’s got to be a logical explanation. People don’t just disappear, especially not Danny.”

The hours ticked by without a word. Rebecca became more and more agitated, certain something terrible had happened. Betty convinced Rebecca to get a little rest and she managed to doze off. When she got up to use the bathroom, Rebecca’s water broke and Frank drove them to the hospital. They went straight to the ER and a few hours later, Danny Jr. was born. He was perfect but Rebecca’s world was never the same.  

Seasons came and went without a trace of Danny. Frank and his team never stopped searching; every trail led to a dead end. It was as though Danny Jameson never existed.

Rebecca never accepted Danny’s disappearance. How could someone simply vanish and why? She took solace in caring for Danny Jr. which was a double-edged sword. He was a happy, well-adjusted child who gave Rebecca much joy but he was also the spitting image of his father. Whenever Rebecca looked at Danny Jr. she saw Danny. It was difficult.

Danny Jr. asked about his father and Rebecca explained as best she could. At first the boy seemed content with the answers his mother gave but as he got older he heard people talking about how his father “just up and left”. He asked Rebecca about that which she vehemently denied; there was no way Danny would have walked out on them. Still, restless thoughts occasionally visited Danny Jr. It didn’t help when people would comment on how much he looked like his father.

A missing person case eventually turned into a cold case. Rebecca refused to have Danny declared legally dead. As painful as the unknown was, that closure was too much for Rebecca to handle.

When Danny Jr. was in his late teens, Rebecca was diagnosed with breast cancer. Whenever Rebecca went for a chemo treatment she’d say “Back before you miss me”. She struggled for 8 years, finally succumbing at the age of 52. Danny Jr. was 26 years old, happily married with one daughter.

On the day of Rebecca’s funeral, Danny Jr. and his family stood near the side of his mother’s grave. His mind was whirling with memories of his mother and questions about his father. Would he ever know what really happened to Danny?

As the priest recited the final prayers, Danny Jr. stared straight ahead, his eyes filling with tears. Just then he noticed a man standing across the street from the gated cemetery. Danny Jr. was shaken to the depths of his soul by the appearance of this man; their resemblance was uncanny. At that moment Danny Jr. realized he was looking at the face of his long-lost father. Even at a distance the men’s eyes locked and Danny Jr. began to slowly walk across the cemetery.

As he drew near to the man a large bus rolled by, momentarily obscuring his view. When the bus had passed and Danny Jr. had a clear view, the man was gone.

In his heart Danny Jr. knew that man was his father. He would have given anything for just one hour with him.

NAR © 2022

DON’T MAKE ME REGRET THIS

They held a candlelight vigil for me but what was the point? I was already dead. The night before all my friends were together enjoying a dinner and in less than 24 hours my fate was sealed. 

There were many thoughts going through their heads but one question they all shared was this: “How could something fall apart so quickly?” The denouement came to be through a very neat series of synchronized, predetermined events as they stood by helplessly. How could they have been so blind to the trouble headed my way? 

I was the most charismatic in our group; they flocked to me and we became friends immediately. They were mesmerized when I spoke, as though I knew all the answers. Sadly, I did know for my father had prepared me. 

My message rang true like none they’d ever heard before, so simple yet so profound. I spoke words of love – not a romantic, physical love but an all-encompassing, never-ending, consuming ardor which burned deeply into their souls. It wasn’t just one thing; it was all things. 

They loved me beyond measure; there was nothing they would not do for me yet they failed me miserably. 

I asked so very little of them. I gave them my all. 

Lauded and praised. Denied and betrayed. Derided and defiled. Beaten and broken. Nailed and speared. The agony!   

My children, you are forgiven your many failings, your countless sins. I did not want to die. Please don’t make me regret this. 

Wishing my fellow writers, poets, philosophizers and dreamers as well as those who consistently and faithfully follow me and read my humble imaginings a very blessed Easter and a lovely Spring. May your lives be full with all things bright and beautiful. Thank you for being an important part of my life! – Nancy 🐘

NAR © 2022

GOD AND ME

It’s been quite a while since I went to church. It wasn’t one specific thing that happened; it was a lot of little things that changed the way I feel about church.

Up until a few years ago, a large portion of my time was spent attending Mass and being involved in church activities. I was a Leader of Song, the Assistant Choir Director of the Children’s Choir as well as an active member of both the Adult English and Italian Choirs. I was president of the Parish Council, taught CCD and was also the music curator for a long time; I put my heart and soul into that position.

As I said, a lot of little things changed my opinion of church and by that I mean organized religion. I know for many people being physically inside a church and attending services is an integral part of their lives. Sitting in the sanctuary, singing the hymns, hearing the word of God, receiving Communion, praying, feeling the presence of the Holy Spirit can be extremely moving, comforting and fulfilling. To those people who honestly feel that way, I’m very glad your lives are so richly filled.

I know where I stand with God; He and I have been pretty close since I was born – probably before that. I believe He knows my innermost feelings and hears me when I speak to Him, which is often. I tried to talk to God every night but I wasn’t always successful; I’d get tired and fall asleep. I had good intentions and He knew that. Now I speak with Him whenever I feel like it even though He knows all about me (and I truly believe that).

You notice I don’t use the word “pray”. For me that’s a bit too formal but if it works for you then go for it. There were times when I’d only pray when I was worried and things were troubling me; I’d tell God what I did wrong (as if He didn’t already know) or what was weighing me down and pray for Him to intervene. I’m sure many of you can relate. 

The thought of talking to God came to me quite by accident one night after spending the day with my grandchildren. It was a particularly good day and I was thinking about the joy those kids bring me. I found myself taking a few minutes to say “thank you” to God for the many blessings in my life. I think that’s when I finally realized my blessings far outweighed my troubles and I wanted to acknowledge where those blessings came from. We had a wonderful talk, God and me. It didn’t last long, there was no kneeling or reciting the rosary. I just talked and I know God heard because a calmness came over me. It’s amazing what a couple of minutes one-on-one with God can do. I don’t want to be a hypocrite and only show my face in church on Christmas and Easter. I’d rather just have my own personal relationship with God whenever the ’spirit’ moves me.

I converted to Catholicism when I was 32 years old. Going to confession for the first time was deeply meaningful and I felt reborn. The second time was not like the first; sadly, all the priest wanted to do was gossip about other people in the church. That, I realize, is an anomaly but it turned me off to confession. Perhaps some day when I know my time on earth is reaching an end I’ll want someone to absolve me of my sins but for now I don’t need an intermediary; I talk to God and I know He forgives me.

There may be some who no longer consider me a very good Catholic; that’s okay. I like to think I’m a good Christian and a decent person. There’s no denying I screw up big time. Frequently. I’m only human and I’m sure God is looking down at me saying “There she goes again!”. Guilty as charged. I’m also sure God understands and is always ready and willing to give me another chance. 

I hope I never take advantage of God’s forgiveness; how selfish and ungrateful would that be? After all, look at the sacrifice He made for our undeserving souls. Pretty awesome, no? Thank God!

To all who observe this very sacred day I wish you a most blessed Good Friday. I’ll tell God you said “Hello” next time we chat.

NAR © 2022

TOP ALTO

Just like all people, I have my talents and weaknesses. There are some things I can do very well with pride and great ease. At the same time, there are tasks in life for which I have no talent whatsoever and have zero chance of accomplishing even with someone holding a gun to my head.

It’s been a known fact since elementary school that I’m absolutely terrible at mathematics; I just didn’t have a head for numbers. Having to tackle word problems would make me sick to my stomach and anything beyond basic math would cause me to break out in a cold sweat. It was quite distressing and I’m sure I failed every math test I ever took. There’s no grey area in mathematics, no wiggle room, and I found it to be stifling and utterly confusing. Clearly my left brain was dominated by my right. Eventually the time came for me to study algebra and geometry. The situation was so traumatizing for everyone that the school principal and teachers took pity on me (and themselves). They had a discussion with my parents where it was decided I would be dismissed from further math classes and allowed to concentrate of different subjects. I was granted a pardon from the warden and permitted to double-up on courses such as English, foreign language, music, history or religion.

Two other things I’m really bad at are playing sports and drawing. Can you imagine the humiliation of never being chosen to play on any sports team? I was always the last person standing on the sidelines, staring down at my shoes waiting for my name to be called. Likewise, in art class I couldn’t sketch a decent stick figure or draw a crooked line let alone a straight one and most of my work was unidentifiable, leaving people scratching their heads in bewilderment.

My stronger points lean toward the creative and dramatic, including the ability to learn foreign languages, music, singing, playing the piano and organ, acting, cooking and gardening. If there’s a trivia game, I’m the girl you want on your side. I was always good at fashion and makeup which opened the door for some modeling. I’m also a damn good driver, unafraid of bad weather, 18-wheelers or New York City taxi drivers. And let’s not forget my great love – writing – a true passion realized later in life. I’m good with words and turning a phrase, my imagination is unstoppable and I’ve got fantasizing down to an art form!

While I’ve only been writing in earnest for five years, music has always been a huge part of my life, hence my nickname “Top Alto”.

In school I auditioned for and landed the lead role in every musical. I can sight read any piece of music I’m asked to sing. In fact, when practicing my alto lines at home, I would often play the soprano, tenor and/or bass line on the piano while singing the alto line. It’s not that easy to do but an excellent way to learn your part.

Now, please don’t misunderstand; this is not bragging – it’s simply stating the facts. And if you want a list of other things I can’t do very well I’ll be happy to provide one. Believe me – it’s a long list! But that’s not the purpose of this story. Today I want to tell you about a time I failed at something I normally do very well. I didn’t just fail; I tanked. Royally.

You see, our choir was practicing for a special Mass, one we had been anticipating for weeks. Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York, along with a retinue of religious bigwigs and officials, was going to visit our parish and I was chosen to be Leader of Song for the Responsorial Psalm. The melodies of some Responsorial Psalms are complex while others are rather easy. This particular psalm was bordering on ridiculously easy, a tune I could sing in my sleep. It consisted of ten words all chanted on the same note. Let me repeat that: ten words, one note, ridiculously easy. This was not Celine Dion belting out “My Heart Will Go On” while precariously balanced on a replica of The Titanic in Las Vegas.

I practiced a lot; the Mass was a big deal. The Cardinal, previously mentioned bigwigs and a church packed with the faithful as well as TV crews from Catholic Faith Network and Fox News were in attendance. Did I say it was a big deal? Now, I’ve sung at countless Masses in front of packed churches for years; this was a no-brainer!

The choir looked resplendent in robes of red and gold and I was hell bent for leather. Fifteen minutes into the Mass and it’s time for the Responsorial Psalm. Ten words, one note, Top Alto.

The organist played the intro, nodded at me to begin and I opened my mouth to sing. Now, let me just say if I choked and nothing came out of my mouth it would have been preferable to what did come out of my mouth. I, a mature, confident, talented woman, had suddenly been transformed into Alfalfa from The Little Rascals!

This was supposed to be a piece of cake and I was so damn sure of myself. I was ready; I didn’t clear my throat or wet my whistle before singing. Nope, I just plunged into the deep end of the pool.

Ten words, ten frog-like notes, Alfalfa.

Everyone averted their eyes and I couldn’t blame them. To say I was stunned and humiliated is an understatement; I just sort of slunk down into my chair and hid behind my music binder. Why is there never a rock to crawl under when you need one? I couldn’t help wondering if Cardinal Egan was asking himself “WTF was that?”

It’s all water under the bridge since that debacle and it’s something I can laugh about now but at the time I just wanted to croak. Come to think of it, I did!

RIBBIT!

NAR © 2022

LONG AGO AND FAR AWAY

Rosa Scalia was born in 1896 in the tiny Sicilian village of Cattolica Eraclea in the Province of Agrigento. The village, which was founded in medieval times, is situated in the valley of the Plàtani River, a 64-mile-long natural thing of beauty which feeds into the Mediterranean Sea.

Surrounded by high chalky mountains, the valley has a bountiful production of grapes, olives, almonds, pistachios, honey, citrus plantations as well as cattle breeding and sheep farming.

These ancient mountains with their numerous caves and tunnels are fortresses and castles for young boys at play, secret rendezvous destinations for lovers and even hideouts for bandits and highwaymen.

When the almond trees blossom in Sicily, it is a glorious sight. Throughout February the trees dotting the cool green hills are bedecked in lacy blossoms. Almonds are ready for harvesting between the end of July and the beginning of September.

This was the happiest time of year for Rosa. Every morning during the summer it was the 14-year-old girl’s job to walk by the chalky mountains to harvest almonds. Her supplies consisted of two huge baskets, a long-handled broom and a sheet. The Sicilian sun was strong so to keep cool during her day of hard work Rosa would wear sandals, a long cotton skirt, a thin white peasant blouse and a straw hat concealing her lustrous raven curls. Tied around her waist was a sack with her lunch – fruit, cheese and a water skin.

Thanks to their protective shells, harvesting almonds was not difficult but it did require hours of manual activity. Rosa would begin by spreading her sheet under the almond tree, then shake the branches of the tree by hitting them with the broom until the almonds fell onto the sheet. She would then pour the contents of the sheet into her baskets, moving from one tree to the next until the baskets were full.

Before beginning her laborious walk back to her village, Rosa would grab the back hem of her long skirt, pull it forward between her legs and tuck it into the front waistband transforming the skirt into knee-length pantaloons. Rosa would then shake the debris off the sheet, fold it into a thick ‘scarf’ and drape it over her neck and shoulders to act as a cushion for her delicate skin. Hanging one full basket on each end of the broom handle, she would carefully balance it across her shoulders, grasping the pole firmly with her hands on both sides of her neck.

Rosa walked deliberately, her sylphlike hips swaying with each step. Her sheer blouse became translucent as beads of sweat trickled down her neck, chest and back. On the tender cusp of womanhood, Rosa was unaware of how desirable she could look at times. She continued her journey, peaceful and content with another day’s work.

However, this day was different for unknown danger lurked inside the caves of the mountains as Rosa innocently walked by.

In need of a rest, Rosa paused in the shade of a sprawling olive tree and carefully lowered the heavy baskets to the ground. Before she knew what was happening, two ruffians emerged from a nearby cave, whistling and taunting as they encircled her. One pinned her arms behind her back while the other tore at her paper-thin blouse revealing her developing breasts. Her hat was tossed to the ground and long black hair cascaded around her lovely face. The men were encouraged by Rosa’s beauty and grinned lasciviously at her naked and writhing torso as she fought their advances.

One wretch roughly groped Rosa’s breasts while the other who held her arms behind her back reached around to cover her mouth, but Rosa was able to let out a loud scream. Her cry ricocheted off the mountains and echoed loudly, powerful enough to reach the ears of a young man returning home to Cattolica Eraclea with his flock of sheep. His name was Francesco Schembre.

Well acquainted with the area, Francesco knew the shriek was not far away. He commanded his sheepdog Dante to hunt down the source of the scream while he followed as quickly as possible. A second dog, Rico, helped to keep the sheep moving along. Francesco reached for the shotgun which he always carried over his shoulder in case of a wolf attack so he was well prepared for whatever awaited him.

Meanwhile, Rosa was struggling for her life. She grew weaker by the minute and one attacker pinned her to the ground while the other dropped his pants. Just then the man’s eyes bulged in his head and he screamed in agony as Dante sunk his fangs into the would-be rapist’s dangling testicles and would not let go.

Francesco fired his gun once into the air and Dante released his clench. Both men quickly unhanded Rosa and began scrambling down the path, however they were no match for Dante and Rico. The fearless dogs jumped on the men’s backs and knocked them to the ground.

Francesco tied the attacker’s together and pulled their pants down around their ankles as the growling dogs stood by, teeth bared. Francesco commanded his faithful dogs to stand their guard. He then ran to Rosa who by this time had regained her wits. The feisty young woman had wrapped the sheet around her exposed chest and tucked it securely into her skirt. Francesco and Rosa walked back to the men who were still cowering in fear of the dogs, their shaking hands protecting their precious private parts.

The two men were still tied together as Francesco adjusted their pants around their waists. He demanded both men to pick up a heavy basket of almonds and start walking – no easy task. Francesco kept his shotgun aimed at them while Dante and Rico herded the sheep.

They were quite a sight as they walked into the village; Francesco quickly explained what happened although it was obvious to everyone. Rosa’s mother ran to her and embraced her, tearfully kissing her face while her father thanked Francesco profusely for protecting his daughter. The highwaymen were quickly taken into custody before the villagers could turn on them.

In the months that followed, Francesco and Rosa’s relationship blossomed and they fell in love. They were married one year later and began a family. The young couple had five children – one daughter and four sons. One of their sons, Vito, would eventually become my father.

Francesco and Rosa Schembre were my grandparents and this is the story of how our family started long ago and far away in the village of Cattolica Eraclea.

Written in memory of my grandparents, parents and many relatives, some gone a long time and others recently departed. May they rest in peace.

NAR © 2022

Francesco and Rosa Schembre, 1911

SO SHE WENT AND DID IT!

And why not?!

My beautiful granddaughter, just one month from her 13th birthday, discovered the blues and turned into a rock star with a brave new attitude – and I couldn’t love her more for it! Truth be told, she always had confidence and bravado; now she’s just braver and newer with a whole lot more attitude. She is the epitome of cool.

Mckenna made a bold move, something many of us would vacillate over for weeks on end. Why, it takes me forever to decide whether I want fries with that or not! She’s in middle school now – that’s big league! She was ready to take on the challenge. She’s been ready for this change for a while now and Mom at last gave the thumbs up. (Kudos to Mom for holding out as long as she did.)

This kid. My first grandchild. My first baby’s first baby – quite a mind-blowing concept, isn’t it? I’ve said this many times: “You think you can never love anyone or anything more than your children … until you have grandchildren”. Those of you who are grandparents know what I mean; if you’re not, I hope you get to experience that relationship sometime in your life.

Every grandparent thinks their grandchildren are the best things since the potato peeler. I’ve never heard any friend of mine say “My grand kids are real pains in the butt and I wish they’d just leave me the hell alone!” Well, think about the long lonely months just a couple of years ago when we could only see our grandchildren through the front windows of their houses because of a little thing called COVID. We’d make signs proclaiming our love, drop off groceries or birthday presents and blow kisses. Mckenna went through a rough time back then; most kids did. What the children must have been thinking! My daughter-in law is a fantastic pediatric nurse and a great Mom; she had a handle on things and knew how to explain to the kids what was going on but they still worried. Seeing us whenever we could drop by was one thing; not being with us was quite another and kids have huge imaginations. The first time we were allowed to be physically together, Mckenna hugged me for close to ten minutes and wouldn’t let go. And I didn’t want her to let go.

Mckenna will always hold a special place in my heart, not just because she’s my first grandchild but because she’s a fabulous person. When she was an infant her Mom would drop her off at our house so we could babysit. Mom always said “Please don’t let her nap on you; put her in her crib.” I nodded and proceeded to let Mckenna nap on my shoulder, sometimes up to three hours. That was a real bonding experience for me and Mckenna. Don’t tell Mom; that’s our little secret.

Mckenna’s a great student, active in a variety of sports, plays several musical instruments, is in drama club and probably tons of other stuff this aging brain of mine cannot remember. She has lots of friends and loves to read and write stories (Check out her guest posts here on my site; one of her stories got more ‘likes’ in one day than any of mine! That’s my girl!). She loves music, Harry Potter, WWE Wrestling, nail polish, Junior Mints and jewelry but is not beyond getting on the floor with her younger brothers and playing with their huge LEGO collection. You know, all teen girl stuff.

And speaking of her brothers, she loves them, too, but there are those days when all they have to do is breathe a bit too loudly and she turns on them like a she-wolf. You know, all teen girl stuff.

What can I say other than I love this kid – excuse me, this young lady. I hope I can be just like her when I grow up!

NAR © 2022

MAKE IT RAIN

Becoming a stripper wasn’t my life’s ambition, rather a steppingstone while I figured out what to do with myself.

I was attending classes at NYU during the day and working at a dive bar in New Jersey at night. It was a grueling job with very little pay, lousy tips, sticky floors and lots of pervs hitting on me. After much thought, I decided to take a break from school and look for more desirable employment. I was a class act – clean, pretty and always dressed to the nines. I deserved better than a sleazy Jersey joint.    

While looking through the classifieds, I came across an ad that read “High-end cocktail lounge seeking hostesses”. No name was listed but the address was well-known – Billionaires’ Row, the wealthiest and most exclusive section of Manhattan. I called the number in the ad; it turned out to be “The Sapphire Gentlemen’s Club”, the most elite lounge in Manhattan. I went for an interview the next day and started working that night.

Everyone from the kitchen staff to Luca, the manager, treated all the girls with dignity and respect – a far cry from the dumpster in Jersey. The clientele was equally gracious. I’d been watching the dancers here interact with the guests. The Sapphire was a one-way contact club; the girls could touch the customers, sit in their laps, etc. but the men could not touch the girls.

After a few nights Luca asked if I was interested in dancing. I knew I could make a lot of money so I agreed. When he told me I’d need a stage name, I chose Blaine, my hometown in Ohio. “I like it!” Luca said. “How’s this for a catchphrase: ‘Come make it rain for Blaine!’?”

My first night on stage was thrilling. The house lights dimmed and Luca announced me. When the spotlight hit me, I was standing with my back to the room; I wore stiletto heels, a sparkling G-string and nothing else. A hush fell over the room. As Journey’s song “Lovin’, Touchin,’ Squeezin” began to pulsate, I grabbed the pole and peeked provocatively over my shoulder at the crowd, my long auburn hair cascading down my back. I danced with total abandon and money rained down.

Luca told me a prominent customer requested I join him at his private table in the darkened balcony. I froze; this was not what I bargained for. Luca was quick to calm my fears saying everything would be alright and a bodyguard would be discreetly positioned two feet away.

Julius, one of the bodyguards, escorted me upstairs. I was surprised to see an elderly man at the table; he looked and talked liked an older version of Mr. Rogers. I whispered “Hello” not sure what to do next. I resisted the temptation to call him “Fred”.

He looked at me and smiled. “Blaine, lovely to meet you.” He stood up, removed his suit jacket and wrapped it around my naked body. “My name is Walter Ashcroft. Please join me”.  

A waitress appeared with a bottle of champagne and two glasses. I declined saying it was against company policy to drink while working. “Oh, I don’t think Luca would object” Walter said. “After all, I own this establishment. In fact, I own every building on this street.”  

I glanced up at Julius who simply nodded once in agreement.

“What do you want me to do, Mr. Ashcroft?” I questioned, curious as to what would happen next.

“My dear, I realize I’m old enough to be your grandfather but please call me ‘Walter’. All I want is someone to talk to. Tell me about yourself. You are an enchanting entertainer but I don’t think this is all you want to do. Tell me, Blaine. What are your goals in life?”

I found myself telling Walter about my life in Ohio, college, New Jersey, my dream to someday own my own business. I even divulged my real name: Doris Freeman. He listened attentively, encouraging me to continue talking. After about an hour he announced it was time for him to leave. I returned his jacket and he took both my hands in his. After Walter left I looked down; there were five $100 bills nestled in my hands!

This went on for one week. I found my talks with Walter to be the highlight of my night and it wasn’t because of the money; I genuinely liked him. He spoke very little and hung on my every word. He was the epitome of the perfect gentleman.

Finally one evening Walter asked me a question: “So, tell me, Blaine. What is this business you’ve been dreaming about?”

“You know the Russian Tea Room, right? An important man like you, of course you know it! Someday I want to own a place just like that – a haven of fine cuisine and decadent desserts, especially elegant afternoon tea for ladies of high society. Crazy, isn’t it?”

“Not at all. There’s nothing crazy about dreaming big. How do you think I got here?”

That was the last time I saw Walter; he suddenly just stopped coming into the club. When I questioned Luca, he sadly informed me that Walter had passed away. It sounds ridiculous but I cried like a baby. I had become quite attached to that man, strange as it may seem. And I know he genuinely cared for me. As the days went by I tried not to think about Walter but I just couldn’t forget him.

Things just weren’t the same after that and even though I still enjoyed my job, something was missing. I’d find myself glancing up at the darkened balcony hoping to see Walter, knowing that was an impossibility. Several weeks went by and I was still in a funk. Why could I not forget that man?! I seriously considered quitting the club and going back to school. I had some money saved up so I knew I’d be okay until something came along. The last thing I wanted was to become a career dancer. Did I really want to do this for another fifteen years only to be replaced by younger girls when my looks started to fade? Or should I take Walter’s advice to dream big?

One night Luca approached me and said a messenger had dropped something off for me. He handed me a little flat leather box which contained a business card for Hamilton Barrow, Esq. On the back was written very neatly “Dream big, Blaine. Hamilton is expecting your call. Affectionately, Walter.” I’m not embarrassed to admit seeing Walter’s name felt like a warm hug from an angel.

That afternoon I called Hamilton Barrow; he was very British and quite proper. “Ah, yes. Miss Freeman. It appears that Walter Ashcroft named you as a beneficiary in his will.”

“That’s incredible! Walter was such a sweet old guy but I don’t understand why he’d name me.”

“Well, Miss Freeman, it’s not our place to wonder why. In any event, I believe what I’m trying to say is that ‘sweet old guy’ made it rain. Can you come to my office this afternoon?”

Bewildered, I agreed. When I arrived at Mr. Barrow’s office, he handed me a thin grey linen envelope. Inside was a check made out to me. I nearly fainted looking at the number of zeros.

“There must be some mistake” I mumbled.

“I assure you there is no mistake, Miss Freeman. Water Ashcroft did not make mistakes. He left you a considerable amount of money, a fortune some might say, with the instructions to ‘Dream Big’.”

This was my chance to see my life’s ambition come true. “God bless you, dear Walter. I won’t let you down. And no matter how successful I become I will never forget you.”

“Good luck, Miss Freeman” Mr. Barrow declared.

“Thank you, Mr. Barrow. Tell me: how does the name ‘Ashcroft’s’ sound to you?”

Quite appropriate, Miss Freeman. Quite appropriate.” I even detected a slight twinkle in his eye.

And for the first time in weeks I felt truly happy.

NAR © 2022

 

THE BUS STOP

Every morning my father would walk with me to the bus stop and wait for the school bus. No matter the weather, he never missed a day. Once I was safely on my way to school, he would go to work at the bagel store right on the corner by the bus stop.

Dad was a widower raising me on his own. My mother died from a fever when I was still an infant and I don’t have any memories of her. We had no other family nearby and dad did everything himself. I never heard him complain and I knew I was loved. Dad always packed small bagel pieces in my lunch bag; he sprinkled them with sugar and cinnamon and I giggled when he told me they were the ‘bagel holes’.

Next door to the bagel store was a shoe repair shop. A young woman sat in the window busily attaching new soles onto worn shoes. Sometimes she would stitch together a tattered handbag; I liked to watch her work, her fingers deftly plying the leather and pulling the needle through.

The shoe lady never looked up from her work but I could tell she was beautiful. She had dark brown hair that fell over her shoulders and long eyelashes. I asked my father if he thought she was pretty but he said he hadn’t noticed.

One morning during a rainstorm, we stood under the awning of the shoe shop. I watched the lady in the window and this time my dad watched her, too. She must have become aware of our presence and she looked up at us. I don’t know if it was a thunderclap or some other force of nature but when her eyes met my dad’s, the shop’s big front window shook and the lights inside flickered.

The next morning on our way to the bus stop, I noticed dad was carrying a worn pair of shoes – and he was softly humming. I said nothing but my heart began to dance. Together we walked into the shoe repair shop and the lady smiled shyly at us. She was indeed very beautiful. Dad handed her his shoes and asked if they could be repaired. Their fingers touched and neither one pulled away. The lady said dad’s shoes would be ready in four days.

Each morning after that as we waited for the bus we would smile and wave at the lady in the window. She’d smile and wave back, her gaze lingering on my father’s handsome face. On the afternoon of day four dad picked up his repaired shoes. He surprised the lady by giving her a bag of warm bagel holes sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. The shoe lady peeked into the bag and laughed gaily, saying she never had such a treat. She and my dad smiled radiantly at each other for a long time.

That was chapter one of our happily ever after. Now every morning both my dad and the shoe lady walk with me to the bus stop; he holds my right hand and she holds my left. From the bus window I watch them walk to work, their heads close together and their fingers intertwined, and my heart does a little dance.

NAR © 2022

MADA RANA

My great-grandmother, Mada Rana, 1947

The house is quiet tonight. Eerily quiet. All the lights are off and only the glow of candles shines dimly through the curtained windows, performing a ballet of shadows on the walls and ceiling. Every so often a door softly opens, barely perceptible murmurings are audible, then the door gently closes. Intermittent muted sobbing creeps up from the parlor.

I sit on my bed huddled under a blanket, a tiny flashlight flickering a pale yellow beam on my diary as I jot down my memories of the day. I must be quiet; my mother will be very upset with me if she discovers I’m still awake at this late hour.

My window is open just enough to let in some fresh air. The distinct smell of cigarette smoke wafts up into my room. I peek out to see my mother’s uncles sitting on the back steps silently smoking their unfiltered Lucky Strike cigarettes. Their black armbands are starkly visible against their plain starched white shirts. 

I tip-toe across the length of my bedroom, praying the old wooden floorboards beneath the well-worn rug will not creak. Ever so slowly I turn the glass doorknob; the hallway is dark. I can detect a muted light downstairs and I scurry nearer to the staircase railing for a better look. I sit there hugging my knees for a long time; there is no movement on the lower level. Just as I am about to descend the stairs, a giant amorphous outline begins approaching the parlor. The huge silhouette is frightening but only momentarily as it slowly becomes smaller and eventually reveals itself to be the profile of my mother draped from head to knees in a long lace shawl. She stands just outside the parlor for a moment fidgeting with her handkerchief, then enters the room, quietly sliding closed the heavy pocket doors.

A few hours earlier the ambience of the house was much different, still subdued but active as delivery men and acquaintances paying their respects came and went. My mother and her aunts labored in the kitchen like silent worker bees, preparing trays of food for the constant flow of visitors. My father, along with my mother’s uncles, directed the traffic of floral deliveries and positioned the many arrangements throughout the parlor. And we children sat quietly on the two enormous matching sofas along the side walls, eyes downcast, confused and uncharacteristically subdued. Occasionally we would glance toward the walnut casket resting atop a platform in the center of the room and quickly look away. Around 6:00 we were quietly whisked away into the dining room where we silently ate our evening meal, then returned to the parlor to continue our vigil.

There seemed to be a never-ending flow of people, a soft parade of mourners entering my house. Veiled women dabbed their eyes and men removed their hats, heads bowed. This stream flowed seamlessly from 2:00 in the afternoon until 9:30 that evening, many people lingering to reflect while others stayed only minutes. The priest arrived shortly after 9:30; he spoke softly in our native Sicilian dialect, offering prayers and words of consolation. When he was finished, everyone except my mother’s aunts and uncles departed. My little cousins, some no longer able to stay awake, were carried home and my sister and I were shooed off to our bedrooms upstairs.

It had been a long and sorrowful day. Mada Rana, the family matriarch, had died.

Her name was Maria Giuliano and she was my great-grandmother. We called her Mada Rana, our abbreviated version of the Italian Mamma Grande or Big Mamma. Mada Rana was a Sicilian immigrant, mother of six, grandmother of 16 (including my mother) and great-grandmother of 27. Her husband Giovanni died long ago when my mother was still a very young child and Mada Rana remained a widow for the rest of her life. 

Heavy-set and of medium height, she had the appearance of being stoic and unapproachable but her blue eyes danced whenever the children were around. Like magic, she would produce homemade cookies from her apron pockets and sneak them to us behind her back, pressing her fingers to her lips signaling us to keep her secret.

At one time or another most of the family lived in the same apartment building on 153rd Street and Third Avenue in the Melrose section of The Bronx. In time all Mada Rana’s children married and had families of their own. Mada Rana never lived by herself; her children were happy to take turns providing a home for her until she eventually moved into our house with my parents, sister and me. That was where she held court over the family meal every Sunday. Our house was large and well-appointed, filled with the noisy sounds of children laughing, women cooking and men excitedly playing cards. And there was music, always music. Mada Rana’s bedroom was on the first floor near the parlor and that’s where she died, surrounded by her loved ones.

Tonight the house is silent and the intense perfume of flowers hangs heavy in the air. As is the tradition, Mada Rana lay in repose in the center of the house; she wore a dress of deep purple to compliment the lilac velvet lining of her casket, her rosary beads secure in her hands.

Tomorrow morning we will say our last goodbyes to our beloved matriarch. Our cars will slowly follow a horse drawn carriage to St. Raymond’s Cemetery where Mada Rana will be laid to rest with her beloved Giovanni. It has been firmly explained to the children that everyone will kiss Mada Rana’s forehead as a final sign of respect; my stomach is in knots thinking about kissing a dead person. The concept is frightening and I don’t want to do it but I must.

I will forever hold dear countless memories of Mada Rana – her larger-than-life presence at the dinner table, her silver hair pulled in a bun, black stockings rolled down below her knees, the house-dresses she wore inside and the ubiquitous black mourning ensemble she wore when in public, the rapid-fire way she would roll home-made cavatelli one after the other off a small grooved paddle, her muted prayers as she devoutly recited her rosary, the way she closed her eyes and smiled when Caruso sang.

I will never be able to erase from my mind the overwhelming smell of flowers in the parlor during her wake, the sound of dirt and pebbles pelting her casket or the cold, waxy feel of her forehead under my quivering lips. My dreams were filled with those recollections for years and sometimes still haunt my sleep.

NAR © 2022

This recording was made in September 1920, less than a year before Caruso’s death. His health was failing and the recording equipment was, by our standards, primitive. Despite all that, the power and beauty of his voice remain unmatched.