Sunday, February 28, 2010

Momma kept staring (part V of V)


“We’ll go see her soon. In a couple of days.” Aunt Heather was strong and her words convincing. We finally walked inside the house and I noticed Jack sitting at the entrance to the kitchen, not moving or not speaking. I guess he’d been there all along.

The three of us sat at the table for dinner that evening. Jack, my aunt, and me. Dad didn’t come home that night, or any other night. Aunt Heather tried to explain, but it didn’t make much sense to us.

The days drifted into weeks and we didn’t see Momma. Aunt Heather kept saying, “She’s not quite ready yet.”

One night at dinner, Aunt Heather told us we were going to her house. She had things she needed to do at her place; she had a job and they needed her back, and Momma wasn’t getting better anytime soon.

My mind raced. She was talking about moving, not just visiting. Leaving my home, my friends, my school, and my parents. Well, leaving Momma, at least; by then, we had figured out that Daddy had left us all. I loved Aunt Heather, but this was home and I needed to be here. I’d never lived anywhere else and I had never thought of leaving.

I begged, pleaded, and bargained. I told Aunt Heather she could move into our house. She could have our room. We’d sleep in Mom and Dad’s bed. We’d be good, work hard. Her friends would come and visit. She could find a job here. She listened, even cried along with me at times. Held me a lot. Nothing worked. By the weekend, we were packed and gone.

Momma kept staring (part IV of V)


A few weeks later, I came home for dinner to an ambulance in the driveway. I feared Momma might be dead, and for a split-second, I wanted to run. I didn’t know where I’d go; I was just afraid to find out what was happening inside. But the door was open and I could see people in the living room—they looked like firemen—at the couch, talking to Momma. I started to walk toward the door, but Aunt Heather saw me and quickly gathered me on the porch, so I couldn’t hear or see what was happening inside.

“Your momma’s sick,” she explained again. “She needs more help than I can give. She’s going to the hospital.”

“What’s wrong? Does she need an operation?” Momma had told me that people went to hospitals for surgery and to die.

“It’s not like that. She doesn’t need an operation. It’s like I told you with the soldiers.” I could see she was struggling to find words to help me. She finally put her right hand to her chest. “It’s her heart. She’s sad. But not a regular sad. This is a sad that won’t go away. It’s so big she can’t feel anything else. There are doctors that can try to help her at the hospital.”

The ambulance drivers had moved my mom to a stretcher, and they were coming our way. Her eyes were beyond the stare. Her eyes were almost totally empty. I could tell she didn’t see me. I didn’t know if I should say something, or try to touch her. She was out the door before I could decide.

The ambulance doors slammed and they quickly drove off.

Momma kept staring (part III of V)


One day after school, my great-aunt Heather was at the house. My mom lying on the couch; she was awake, but she didn’t notice me. Aunt Heather put her index finger to her mouth, nodded for me to be quiet and follow her into the kitchen.

“Your momma’s sick. She needs our help. I’m gonna stay here for a while.” She did her best to comfort me; if anyone ever could, it was her.

Life got better and worse at the same time. Aunt Heather helped us get up and ready for school, she cooked great meals, and she watched TV with us. She’d tell amazing stories about when she was a nurse in the war; in Korea, not the “The Big One.” It had been a few years before I was born and my dad was there too, but they never saw each other. She said she helped soldiers in the hospital, the ones who hadn’t been wounded, “not by bullets, at least,” she added. Jack asked why soldiers were in the hospital if they hadn’t been shot.

Every day after school, I’d still come home to find Momma on the couch. She didn’t say much and it was scary to watch her stare without seeing.

Momma kept staring (part II of V)


After school, Mom might still be in bed; sometimes, she sat in the front room, looking out the big window. Looking, but not seeing. Eyes squinted; she’d ask me for a hug and then go back to her staring. Sometimes in the afternoon, a variety show played on the TV, but no one watched it.

After school, I was back out the door and off to find friends, hopefully without my brother tagging along, as soon as I could. When I came in for dinner, she was still in the living room, or maybe already in bed.

Dinner would be a mix of whatever we wanted, as long as we could find it and fix it ourselves. We thought the cooking was fun. Didn’t pay much attention to the cleaning up.

We’d watch TV until the late news came on. Most days, Jack fell asleep next to me. I’d half wake him and guide him to our room. I’d roll him into his bed and climb up to the top bunk. He kept sleeping, but it took a long time for me to fall asleep. I’d wait, listening to hear if Dad came home.

He often did, but really late. And most mornings, he was gone by the time I woke up. Mom said he had two jobs because he loved us so much. A day job, like other kids’ dads, and a night job to help for extra things. He had to work Saturdays, too.

Sunday was the day, if any, that I’d see him. We could watch cartoons all morning, if we didn’t fight over which ones. When he finally got up, he’d read the paper while taking a hot bath. I knew when he’d gotten to the funnies when the laughing started. If he was in a good mood, he’d play with us for a while in the afternoon and make something fancy for dinner. He’d put records on the stereo and turn up the volume while he drank beer and cooked. Mom was all smiles at having her family together. She was still in her bathrobe on the couch.

Momma kept staring (part I of V)


Most days, Mom would be in bed when we left for school. Or, at least, when we tried to leave for school.

In the morning, I’d listen to the sound of my favorite cartoons from the living room as I made toast and hot chocolate. I’d smell the steam, then dip the corner of the bread into the hot cup. I’d watch the butter float away, expanding to the edges. I guess it looked like an oil spill, but I loved it. After I’d brush my teeth, I’d rush toward the door, hoping to make it before she could call, “Boys, come back here! I wanna see you before you go!”

My brother Jack and I would grudgingly walk down the long hall to her room. Dust played in the sun beams that peeked through cracks between the drapes. Cigarette butts in the ash tray reminded me that Dad had been there recently, although we had not seen him for days.

We had to sit on her bed as she prepped us for the coming day. I’d fidget, afraid of missing the bus. Afraid of not being with my friends. Afraid of being responsible for my brother. Afraid of missing the bell and being late for class. Afraid of explaining my tardiness to the teacher again, with the whole class listening. I hated being late.

Before we could go, we’d all hold hands and pray, finishing with hugs and a kiss. I’d bolt for the door, jump off the porch and race across the yard, looking around the corner to see if the other kids were still waiting for the bus. My brother would call after for me to slow down. No kids in sight meant that the bus had come and gone. We’d start walking.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sister Said She’d Help

I was the new teacher. School was a mile from the interstate, but the community was easily fifty years behind the times.

Recess duty and I’m talking with a veteran teacher. We watch two boys playing basketball. One was in seventh grade the other in eighth. They moved in tandem, switching from offence to defense with the turn of the ball. Score is kept but matters little.

She lowers her voice, “They think they’re cousins. But they’re not. They’re brothers. Born too close and their mom couldn’t handle it. Sister said she’d help and raise the little one. Never told ‘em.”

Monday, February 22, 2010

My soul stirs

My soul stirs
What will another sunrise bring?

My soul stirs
Memories, hope, and expectation
I forestall anticipation to prevent disappointment.

My soul stirs
Anxious yet willing
Aware but uncertain
I will wait while shadows linger once again.

My soul stirs
Words may emerge
An answer is unlikely
Silence, is that the response?
Absence, its own confirmation.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Resurrecting Easter (a very short story)

Easter’s just Easter. Eggs, bunnies, and ham dinner. Preachers rant about resurrection. Catholics and Lutherans make a season of it. But, they’re not real Christians. At least, I’m sure, the Catholics aren’t.

Christmas, that’s a real holiday. Every business plays carols and decorates; TV runs unending versions of “A Christmas Carol” and that Charlie Brown show. How could you not be spiritually moved?

If Christians— and I mean real Christians— are going to save Easter, they need some major help. Maybe the church leaders should turn this thing over to the business community, and we might be able to save it.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

April Fool’s Day

Someone should make a law
That we hold all weddings on April 1st
Because only fools would make
Those promises

Promises to
Put another person first and
Stick with them
No matter what happens

To love
To sacrificially give
All because of a promise;
It’s almost un-American

There are too many examples
Of failure and despair
Outsiders mock it,
Rationalize, and degrade it

Some lie through their teeth
They make the hollow promises
For convenience
To get what they want

But some, the true fools,
Still make the promises
Maybe their youthful zeal
Blinds them to what’s ahead

And some, more foolish yet,
Keep their promises
Not because it’s easy
Or because they meet all expectations

But true fools believe the promises matter
That love cannot be forced
That it’s sometimes found
By two fools

Who learn to laugh together

Thursday, February 11, 2010

How long?

How big could an eighth grader be? Willie towered over me. He’d been held back twice. Held back, no one flunked anymore. He wasn’t trouble. He simply didn’t do anything. Didn’t talk. Didn’t study. Didn’t care.

I called his parents and requested a conference. I planned to ask if there were ways we could work together to help improve Willie’s grades and prepare him for high school.

His dad showed up a few days later. “How long does Willie have to waste his time here before he can quit and make himself useful on the farm?” he asked.

Got my answer.

Monday, February 8, 2010

I do not beg

I do not beg for you to answer
I do not expect my pleadings fulfilled
I do not press for you to prove yourself
I do not desire the childish rush
Of emotional connections,
Rooted in infatuation, delivering
An adolescent pseudo-spiritual climax

I am tired of the stories
Of what is supposed to be
As I seek
Follow, listen, and wait
It does not ring true
It never has

But the fear of exclusion,
Hovering failure
Long caused me to
Mimic the words,
And teach the expectations to others
Possibly damning them to
An unending state of guilt,
Confusion and fear
Terrorized from within
That they are the only ones
Who do not have a “relationship” with you

Like the songs that
Fill our Sunday mornings,
Or other scheduled times,
If we are really trendy
We read the texts that crowd
The Christian bookstore,
With terrible beginnings
And overwhelmingly
Victorious denouements

I’d be better served to
Keep quiet
To know contentment
Being satisfied with
What has been entrusted to me,
And then to wait and listen--
No, to actually clear my
Schedule and mind
And wait--
Not to see if God shows up
But to discover
If I can discover
What has always been

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Critic

“You’ll see. Monday morning, there will be a dozen or more in the inbox,” the aging staffer explained to the newest, and youngest, member of the editorial board as they checked the newspaper’s “Feedback” email account. “The guy’s crazy, but he keeps the fire burning.

“We wait every morning for his daily venom. He’s old, but he adapted quickly with the change from letters to email. He mentioned saving money and not having to use envelopes and stamps. He was glad to be done with ‘that damn, backwards United States Postal Service.’”

The old timer stood, picking up his coffee mug as he rose, and the rookie followed suit, trailing him to the staff break room down the hall.

“It’s always the same,” the staffer continued as they walked. “He hates the liberals for spending his money, and hates conservatives, too, for not getting anything done. He must just rummage the web all day looking for anything to support his ranting.”

“The critic?” another editor asked as she walked into the break room. She held out her mug for a refill, after the rookie finished filling the chief’s cup with stale coffee from a dingy pot. Taking a drink, the veteran nodded.

“He focuses mainly on local politics, candidates, and causes. As far as he’s concerned, the whole town has gone to hell. He drones on and on about the old days, when he was a kid,” the second editor elaborated for the rookie.

“But watch out if someone gets caught in his crosshairs; they are as good as DOA,” the old timer said, reminding both the underlings not to disregard the crackpot. “People still talk about the year he undermined both major mayoral candidates and that ‘hippie kid’ snuck in.”

“He hated the kid, too, but considered him better than one of those career politicians,” the second editor noted as the three of them walked to the conference room, where four other editors waited to begin their morning staff meeting.

“If we don’t hear from him by noon, we joke about checking the police blotter,” the old timer said with a small smile, and the other editors laughed while the rookie chuckled nervously.


Darkness arrived early in December. It was cold and black by his daily dinnertime. He started at the unusual sound of his ringing doorbell. Must be one his kids, probably his son. He opened the door, beginning to speak. Out of the dark, the shotgun pellets shredded his chest; he slumped to the floor.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

February plea

As the second month
February is easy
To forget or ignore
Something about following
January’s celebration
It’s too short
Even when we
Add the “twenty-ninth”
Every fourth year
Optimists herald longer days
The approaching spring
Yet darkness and drizzle
Soon overwhelm their
Heart-felt cries
Ash Wednesday arrives
About mid-month
Begging us to embrace the barren
And retrench for
The weeks of sacrifice
And self-denial
To not rush to spring
To quickly
But to somehow
Enter into the
Lingering death of winter
With hope of again
Discovering a new resurrection