Archive for November, 2008
Luke Bryer grew up with very few of the amenities that so many of his schoolmates enjoyed; his father passed away when he was still in his mother’s womb and she, wanting to give him all the world could offer, was unable to do so because she was not intellectually gifted and therefore ended up with a menial, low paying job at the nearby airport. Sarah managed to provide food, shelter and an occasional extravagance for Luke, who was the very center of her world. She and Luke were inseparable and Luke’s eyes grew as big as half-dollar coins whenever she smiled at him. He wanted nothing more than to make her happy and therefore applied himself quite studiously in the classroom, always rising to the top of his class. On his thirteenth birthday, knowing of his love for violin music, she purchased an old violin at a local pawn shop. Its appearance paled in comparison to the shiny new violins that the other kids in band class owned, but in Luke’s astute young hands, it soon out played all of them. As years passed Sarah began suffering from severe pain in the ball of her left foot, but due to her limited income and lack of insurance it went untreated. Many were the nights that she’d come home in such pain and Luke wanted nothing more than to relieve her. Having done all within his limited ability to ease her physical suffering, he would play the most soothing melodies that lifted her spiritually to a place far from the center of her pain. With a desire to help Sarah financially Luke began following her to work at the airport, violin in tow, where he’d play for hours at a time leaving his violin case open to welcome the donations from those duly impressed passersby. Eventually Luke earned a scholarship and went on to a local Medical College where he majored in the field of podiatry. Luke Bryer DPM was the first and last foot doctor that Sarah Bryer ever visited; she now dances to the strings of his violin and quit her job at the airport.
The young girl hurried from the schoolhouse knowing that she’d be expected to complete her chores before being rewarded with the usual paltry fare of a slice of hard crusted brown bread and a boiled potato. Hearing a familiar sound in the distance she started running frantically, meanwhile, looking for a place of safety. She slipped upon a patch of ice giving way to her forward momentum which brought her crashing to the ground. Scrambling to her feet, giving little acknowledgement to her throbbing head, the abrasions on her hands and the blood flowing from her knee, she continued the trek to a nearby ditch. When endangered, most would lay face down covering their head, but the survivalist in her knew clearly that she must lie on her back so she could gauge the distance of the oncoming destruction. She trembled; laying in this frozen hollow of earth, tears streamed from her soft blue eyes and cascaded down to dampen her shoulder length blonde hair.
At the age of eight, life had already repressed her youthful tenderness; her innocence now resigned to a tool employed whenever she was forced to beg for handouts. Her journey to this ditch was wrought with fear and uncertainty. Sirens warning of potential air raids were not uncommon and city wide blackouts had been experienced many times. Bombings on two previous occasions were comparatively light, but on this night Chris and her family were forced to leave all their possessions in the path of annihilation.
Sirens warned of the impending doom as 280 British Royal Air Force bombers approached. Throughout the city lights were extinguished. Christel and her family groped their way down four flights of stairs in complete darkness, instead of seeking shelter in the basement they ran towards the Rhine River; the safety of water amidst the flames was alluring. They followed the river to the outskirts of the city as the bombers unleashed their fury for what seemed like an eternity; 1200 high explosive and 380,000 incendiary bombs were dropped on Wurzburg. Almost 90% of the city was destroyed as a result of the 927 tons of munitions that fell on the previously quiet city. Once outside the city, they began their long journey to the town of Huttenheim where, other than an overbearing grandmother and uncaring uncle, she found herself a complete stranger.
As the icy cold of her refuge began to cut through her legs, which were only partially covered by a skirt, the panic subsided enough for her to regain her senses. She realized that the noise of the plane that prompted her flight did not imply danger as she remembered that the war was over. Her propensity to flee was ingrained from her past. She rose from the icy trench wiping the tears from her eyes. Life goes on.
The young girl hurried from the schoolhouse knowing that she’d be expected to complete her chores before being rewarded with the usual paltry fare of a slice of hard crusted brown bread and a boiled potato.
My wife Michelle and I love to frequent a local Mexican restaurant with our friends Dwayne and Kari. It’s located near the center of a strip mall that’s tucked away behind a local bank. Were it not for the huge red letters located high above the entrance boldly announcing “EL AZTECA” and “MEXICAN RESTAURANT” below them in green, one could easily miss it altogether. The diner’s all glass frontage is probably no more than 24 feet wide and, despite its transparency, serves as an icy reflection of what faces it and insulates the warm atmosphere within.
Once inside, the visual, aromatic, and aural senses are bombarded. My faculties wage war as they struggle for distinction above one another. Booths, tables and chairs mock the Crayola 8 count box of crayons and illuminate the room brilliantly in yellow, blue, green and red. Macaws are hand carved in the backrests of the booths, perched majestically and painted in the colorful regalia of those native to Mexico. Antique brick shatters through the stucco interior to create irregular shaped frames that surround beautiful scenes of Old Mexico which are hand painted on the walls. Murals adorn the table tops, sealed by a thick clear varnish.
The smell of sumptuous Mexican fare penetrates my nasal passages forcing saliva to spill into my mouth as the omnivore within anticipates the forthcoming epicurean delights; I am Pavlov’s dog. My ears are filled with the sounds of love and care as family and friends congregate to enjoy each other and partake in the sensual pleasures.
Once seated, we are greeted by Jose, Fernando, Omar, or one of the other native Mexicans as they deliver warm homemade chips and salsa that finally bring some degree of palatial fulfillment. We eventually gratify our hedonistic nature as we sip wine, beer, or Margaritas and sample each other’s dishes which were chosen from a menu that offers a broad range of Mexican culinary classics. Finally, we bid farewell to Raul, the owner. We leave with our senses and our bellies overloaded.
Recognizing the need for some supplies to clean my aquarium I decide to run to a local pet store and pick up a few things. Jungleland Pets is a small store situated in a strip mall that adjoins a Schnuck’s supermarket not far from the house.
The store is a sole proprietorship and there’s usually only one person working there at a given time, although that’s not always the case. I knew before I left the house that Michelle would be working today. As I drove there I figured that I’d try to kill two birds with one stone. No, I wasn’t planning on killing any of the birds in the store; I figured that while I picked up my supplies, maybe I could knock out one of my writing assignments at the same time. My instructor wanted me to interview someone and then summarize it for the whole class to read. Of course I’m thinking, what the heck do I know about interviewing people. I’m not a journalist. What a crazy assignment anyway. Oh well, nothing ventured, nothing gaind I figure; guess I’ll give this a shot.
I’m totally unprepared but as I walk towards the store I mentally dress myself as Howard Cosell figuring I’ll just take the place by storm. Wait a minute; I realize that I don’t have a microphone. And where’s the cameras? Surely Howard wouldn’t go in like this. I ditch the Howard act at the door. Well shoot, now I’m just me again. No mike, no prepared questions. This is going to suck. Oh well, I figure that Lori won’t kick me out of class just because my work stinks. Surely she’s had losers in other classes too. Anyway, she really seems like a nice gal. Maybe she’ll just chuckle at my idiocy. Who knows, she might even think it’s cute or something. I kind of doubt that though.
When I opened the doors I was assailed not only by the constant noise of birds and dogs, but also by the combined smell of all of the animals. Despite the fact that the store is probably only around 1200 square feet, it houses a wide array of reptiles, birds, cats, dogs, and rodents.
The fake electronic bell sounds as the door closes and prompts Michelle to walk from the rear of the store. “Hello Hon,” she says. “Whatcha need?”
I just love the way Michelle always greets me. She seems like such a happy person. “I’m just here to pick up a few things for the aquarium.”
As usual, she’s wearing a colorful smock and a round yellow nametag with a picture of a parrot. Jungleland arches at the top of the tag, Pets in a semi-circle at the bottom, and Michelle’s name just below the parrot’s butt. We know each other pretty well so conversation for us comes easy. She’s been working at the store for around four years and, like many of us out in the work force, her attitude towards her job vacillates from time to time. One day it’s a blessing, the next day it’s a curse. Despite the ups and downs of the job, it’s clear that she takes more pride in her work than any of the other employees, if for no other reason, because she dresses the part and had the special nametag made up for her and everyone else that works there at her own expense. Yet she’s the only one that wears it.
She confesses that she’s not as knowledgeable about the animals as she’d like to be but, despite that, it’s patently clear that she loves being around them. She drags me around the store, first to show me one of the cute little kittens, then we’re in the bird room, from there she points out a new puppy, finally asking me if I’d be interested in one of the new fish. I try to recall an instance in which I’ve walked into the store when she did not take the time to show me at least one of the animals. I can think of none. She always greets me with a warm and friendly smile. We eventually end up at Trotter’s cage.
“Kenny, have you ever heard Trotter sneeze,” she asks as she grabs a peanut from one of the feed bins near the cage. She tempts the huge Macaw with this morsel by holding it between the bars of the cage as she says “Trotter, can you sneeze? Sneeze for me Trotter.”
“shoo” says the huge bird as his head bobs towards his breast. He immediately grabs the peanut from between her fingers with his massive beak. Trotter’s the store mascot. He was there before the current owner and will likely be there for the next, or until the struggling store closes.
Michelle turns to me and laughs, again showing her warm and friendly personality. I laugh with her. As we talk she shares with me that she likes her job but she’s also looking forward to going to school to be a CNA. At one time she had worked in a nursing home and she feels drawn back to a job where she’d be caring once again for people instead of animals. Not to mention that she could make better money than the owner of the store can afford to pay. “I really think it will be rewarding to care for others,” she says.
“You’ll be good at it,” I reply. “And the change will be good for you too.”
The fake electronic bell sounds the entrance of another customer. Michelle walks away. “Can I help you?”
I take the opportunity to grab the supplies I came after and, when I see Michelle is free to check me out, I walk to the counter. We conclude the business transaction as we converse about nothing in particular. She rings me up and then applies her 30% discount to the bill as she always does.
“Thanks Shelly,” I say. “Have a good evening.”
“Bye Hon, see you later.”
As I head out to the truck I wonder how I can turn that exchange into an assignment that comes off like an interview. Man, if only I’d had that mike, I could have gone in with journalist mentality. When I got home I grab my laptop and start slugging at the keys. Before I know it, this appeared. “I guess it could have been worse,” I say to myself just before I hit the submit button.
Just as I’m finishing I hear my wife coming in from the garage. “Hi Hon, I’m home,” she says.
“Hi Shelly, how was your day?”Did you like this? If so, please bookmark it, RSS feed.
With his right foot pointed slightly inward, Mike schleps into the Sunday school class almost ten minutes after its scheduled start time incognizant of the fact that all of the class members were there early. This has come to be expected of him whenever he fills in for the regular discussion leader. A sheepish grin supports his thick brown moustache as he enters the room. Mike sees the world through brown eyes that are set deep in their sockets behind a nose that rivals that of W.C. Fields in size, although not quite as bulbous. Based on the wheezing as he breathes through the big apparatus, apparently it doesn’t serve him as well as one might expect. I sometimes get a sinus headache just listening to him fight for air, almost wanting to scream, “Breathe through your mouth already!”
“Sorry I’m late,” he precedes and follows with a lengthy oratory of the events that caused his late arrival. The fault usually lies with his wife or young daughter but clouds of doubt seem to hang over the heads of those who know him. Eyes and smiles dart between the students throughout his explanation. The dark circles around his eyes testify to a lack of sleep, and while not wanting to use clichés, in this case I must. The phrase ‘a day late and a dollar short’ is the best description I can find for his customary tardiness.
His irregular cut reddish brown hair is unkempt, looking as though he gave it no regard since getting out of bed that morning. It gives the impression that he woke up, slammed into his clothes, and departed from home without the benefit of a shower. Standing below his scruffy coiffure, Mike opens with a prayer and then turns our attention to the lesson at hand. He seems unprepared but his degree in Youth Ministries seems to have equipped him well for the occasion as his lessons are always insightful.
Mike often gives allusions to his financial straits, which makes it clear that he simply does not know how to manage his money well. All in all, he just seems like he’s totally disorganized. It seems a paradox that someone so completely disorganized and disheveled could lead a class of adult learners to such great spiritual insights as effectively as he does.
Members from the next class begin to line up outside the door as Mike trails on and on, almost as though he needs to assure his tardiness to whatever lies next on his schedule. Finally, after closing with another prayer, we file out of the room to meet the relieved eyes of those waiting to enter. Mike’s voice grows faint in the distance as I walk away from the class giving evidence to the fact that he will be the last one to leave. Last in, last out. No hurries.Did you like this? If so, please bookmark it, RSS feed.
I seat myself at Maggie’s and before I can blink I’m greeted by Sally. “Hi Ken, how are you today,” she asks as she parks a glass of ice water and plops a menu down on the table in front of me. “Good to see you again. Ain’t seen you here in awhile.”
Sally and I attended the same school but she was a grade behind me. I’d gotten to know her throughout high school at parties that sprouted in the woods or at the end of some farmer’s field. These were often attended by bon fires that gave us something to gaze at as we sat around indulging in things that I now try hard to keep my daughter away from. “Hey Sally. I’m doing great. How about you,” I reply. “How’s the world been treating you?”
“I can’t complain. Can I get you something to drink?”
I order a diet coke and scan the restaurant for familiar faces as Sally scurries off. I recognize a lot of the faces but no one is any more than a casual acquaintance. Immediately behind the counter and closest to the cash register are two tables that have been joined together. It wears no sign of ownership, yet somehow it’s always occupied by the very same group of regulars. I suspect that they’ve chosen a table near the front so they can see who comes and goes. In this way, they’re able to add fodder to their conversations. Life in a small farming community holds little excitement.
I usually sit only a couple of tables away from this group of men, partly because I do find their conversation somewhat amusing and partly because, like them, I kind of like to keep my eye on the entrance to see who comes in. I sit in silence as I listen to these old country boys drawl stories out before one another. It’s mildly entertaining to witness the ‘tall tale’ competition that seems to rise from their midst.
Sally’s back to take my order and, knowing full well what I plan to have, starts writing on her little pad. “You want fries with your tenderloin sandwich today,” she asks. I sometimes wonder why she even brings me a menu. As far as I’m concerned there’s only one thing on the menu; pork tenderloin.
“Sure, why not. What’s a few more pound’s gonna hurt?” At this, she smiles.
After a few minutes of mindless gazing I spot my cousin Rod tromping in wearing the usual bib overalls, T-shirt, and duck billed cap. His lips curl into a smile as soon as he sees me. By this time I’m eager for a little conversation of my own and look forward to the visit. It’s always fun to listen to Rod tell stories and it seems as though he entertains himself as much as he entertains others. “Whut the hell you doin here boy?” He opens with the usual greeting.
“Not much man, how you doing,” I reply. We engage each other in small talk, sharing news of extended family when we finally land on his son Kyle. His brown eyes squint as he begins to chuckle. The smile twisting his scruffy beard which acts as though it’s trying hard to point in every possible direction.
“Lissen ta this man, yer gonna love it,” he starts. “That d-mned Kyle an’ Glen took his little ol’ Cavalier up ta Mid America Raceway cuz they were holdin an open track where anybody could sign up ta race.”
“What,” I interrupt. “He took a Cavalier to the racetrack? A little bitty four cylinder. You’re kidding me, right.”
“Hell no, I’m not a kiddin’ ya,” he says through a smile. “All his friends drive these little ol’ cars but they put nitrous kits in ‘em and some of ‘em are pretty darn quick.” We both laugh at the thought. “These d-mned kids wouldn’t know what to do with the old muscle cars we use ta own. Anyway, Kyle got into one of the races and Glen, why he wuz sittin up in the stands a watchin. They was only runnin the quarter. Kyle said he was a runnin down the track an’ he looked up an’ waved at ol’ Glenn a sittin up there.” His head tilted back with laughter and I couldn’t help but laugh along. “Kyle said, sh-t dad, I was goin so slow I’da had time ta read the d-mned newspaper.” At this he laughed harder than before, as did I, not knowing if I was laughing at the story or laughing at the way Rod told it. “That d-mned kid; he’s an ornery little cuss.”
Our laughter finally levels down to a mild ripple. We shared bit more conversation and finally Rod perks up. “Well hell, guess I’d best be goin. Jean’s expectin me at the house. Saw your bike outside an’ figured I’d stop in ta see ya.” He rose from the chair. “You take care of yourself, ya hear?”
“I sure will man. You do the same. Good seein ya again.”
I finish my sandwich, drop a tip on the table and head to the cash register. Other than what’s necessary to conclude the transaction, the cashier and I exchange no words. As I walk out the door I hear Sally. “Bye Ken.” I turn to see her waving. “Sorry I didn’t get to talk to you more. We’ve been kinda busy in here.”
“Hey no problem Sally, take care of yourself. I’ll see you next time.”
I throw on my helmet and fire up my bike. As I head back east on the highway I feel good about the fact that, even though I had to get away from the small town atmosphere, I still maintain a shred of a connection to it.Did you like this? If so, please bookmark it, RSS feed.
I woke to a sound that was new to me, a sound that scared me. It was just outside the window nearest the bed in which I laid. The sun was trying to beat through a paper blind that shielded the room from the morning’s light, turning it into a nearly translucent shade of amber. I was in a bed that I was not familiar with, in a house that I was not familiar with. I remembered that it was at my grandfather’s house. Fearful of the noise outside the window I sprang from bed and jolted towards the door. With both hands clutching a diamond shaped glass doorknob, I realized that the world beyond it was uncharted territory. My fear shifted from that which was beyond the window to that which was beyond the door. I pressed my ear to the door but all I heard was the thumping in my chest that had somehow moved up into my head. A familiar voice finally penetrated the door. It sounded like dad. Yes!
This was the first visit to my grandparents in the states. The family that I knew, my mom’s family, were still in Germany and I already missed them. I crept from the bedroom and peered into the kitchen to confirm my father’s presence before proceeding. He was seated at the table with my grandfather. Grandma was standing by the sink and, as I passed by, a blank stare rifled from behind her horn rimmed glasses and drilled me. No smile, nothing. She obviously didn’t think as much of me as did the Oma we’d left behind. I held her gaze for a few seconds then quickened my pace to the table, my bear feet slapping the floor.
“Hi hotshot,” dad said from behind a smile as he ruffled my hair. “Want some breakfast?”
“Uhuh,” I mumbled, peering over the edge of the table from the chair next to him. I propped myself up on my knees so I could see over the table. Dad filled a clear glass bowl with Special K, drowned it with milk and topped it with a few drops of Sweet 10. These too, other than the milk, were new to me.
“Daddy, there’s something outside the window in the bedroom. Do you hear it?”
He listened. “Oh, that’s just a whippoorwill son,” he said, and went on to explain that it was just a harmless bird.
When mom emerged from the bathroom I shuttled from the table to the comfort of her arms. She carried me back to the bedroom. Gene woke up when we entered. Thankfully, the whippoorwill had finally shut up. As always, mom dressed us in identical clothes. We were too young to know or care that we resembled the Bobbsy twins; that would come later in life. With my older brother Gene in the lead, we two city slickers ventured out into a strange new world.
We stepped out of the house to a gravel driveway that stretched out before us stopping short of a barnyard gate. The gravel spilled down the steep hill to our right, where it met a blacktop road right next to where a lone mailbox stood. Turning our eyes left, we saw banks that encased an almost perfectly circular pond. As though playing follow the leader, I stayed behind Gene. Bullfrogs fell silent as we approached the huge puddle. Dragonflies were new to us and when one of these bombardiers dove towards us we scurried off towards the barnyard, running with all our might.
We were transformed that weekend. Somehow, between surviving the attack of the dragon, and braving a walk through a barnyard filled with cattle and sheep, we were turned from city slickers into brave young explorers. Although admittedly, Gene was the brave one, I was nothing more than the sidekick. That morning, and the remainder of the weekend, was spent making fresh encounters with some things that we’d only heard of and some things that we’d never heard of, like the dragonflies.Did you like this? If so, please bookmark it, RSS feed.
I stormed out of the office in a haze. I was furious. Before I realized it I had walked through the parking lot and found myself in the car. I knew that I needed some time alone. I cranked up the car, sped out of the lot and within a few minutes was heading west on Interstate 70. An hour later I sat in the forest on top of Graham’s Cave, my feet dangling over its mouth. This had always been a favorite place when I grew up, a place where I could think things through. There was something about this spot that always seemed to lift me out of my depression.
The evening sun was growing weak–as had I–yet it still managed to force its way through the trees and sprinkle the ground with patches of light. The dark black of an asphalt path, which spilled down the hill from the mouth of the cave to the parking lot, contrasted against the myriad colors of nature surrounding it and served as a reminder that even when our lives seem dark, we’re surrounded by good. I knew that I had to focus not on the gloomy events of the day, but instead, on the extraordinary things that I’ve been blessed with.
I closed my eyes, breathed deep the fresh air, and listened to the breeze whisper through the trees and the sound of leaves rustling against each other. Birds chirped and cawed all around me and a woodpecker drilled for its evening meal. The nearby waterfall, though only a trickle, played a soothing melody and was joined by the strumming of crickets. All the sounds of nature overshadowed the low hum of the interstate that was now off in the distance. This, I thought, is how I should live; concentrating on the wonders of life while keeping the busyness of the world at arm’s length.
I continued to watch the sun as it struggled to ward off nightfall. It weakened and eventually collapsed to nothing more than a burnt orange crack on the horizon that split the day that was from the night that was yet to be. I realized that I too had weakened. I knew that, like the sun, I had to acquiesce. I had to put this day behind me, but as the sky grew darker, it seemed to drag my soul with it. Suddenly, in the midst of the dark blue sky a single star appeared, then another. Before long the sky was black, but it was filled with tiny mirrors that reflected sunlight cast from the other side of the horizon. It continued its fight. It refused to give up. Despite the fact that it initially seemed to have lost its battle to night, the sun managed to sprinkle the sky with light, just as it had earlier sprinkled the forest bed. The darkness had no hold over these millions of shards that hung in the heavens and neither would it have a hold on me.
I rose from my position atop the cave and began my descent with renewed hope, encouraged that no matter how dark and treacherous life may be, it’s full of bright spots. I have a choice each day; I can focus on the dark, or I can focus on the light. I choose the light. I choose the good things in life.Did you like this? If so, please bookmark it, RSS feed.