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.
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 One of them is Jack Fulton’s. I’m not saying they sell out of date stuff but I picked up some eggs, opened them up to check for cracks and six chicks tweeted back at me.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.
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.
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.
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’sDeli. 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.
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 🐘
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.
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!
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.
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!
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. Walter 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.