“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”.
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!
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?
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.