Wednesday, December 23, 2015

It’s That Time of Year

Merry Crisis! Happy Stressmas! Oh, wait, that’s not right. Except maybe the stress in Christmas. This is the most stressful time of the year…oh, wait, I have to pay an overdue bill I forgot. Be back, one sec. 

Really, it is a time saver to pay bills online, but why is such a simple procedure so time consuming? I need to get my head wrapped around Christmas, so I turn the radio to the station that has the 24/7 continuous Christmas music that started last month. I guess it is all right since there is not really any Halloween music anyway and only one song that could pertain to Thanksgiving. 

Christmas tree lights on a tree is a very old tradition, dating back to the 17th century in Germany when those who had money decorated their trees with candles. In 1882, an associate of Thomas Edison and vice president of Edison Light Company, Edward Johnson, had 80 red, white and blue incandescent light bulbs the size of walnuts specially designed for his Christmas tree. But it was not until the 1930s that it became feasible to have the little globes replace candles for most people. From then to now: zoo lights and massive displays, to the tune of 250,000 lights at a Colorado mall, for the wonderment of all. Which reminds me to take down the outdoor lights, which reminds me that I need a better ladder this year, as statistics show that I am more likely to die from falling off a ladder stringing lights than I am to be killed by a terrorist. 

Oh, darn! Forget to order the Christmas dinner roast. Quick phone call to QFC. That exasperated sigh gave my memory a jolt. I’m sorry to have added some stress to the guy taking my order who remembered that I already ordered it when I picked up the Thanksgiving turkey.

That song with the refrain “Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!” makes me anxious. Don’t let it snow! That would really unhinge me!! I hate driving on icy roads and navigating parking lots. I have a few gifts already bought but far from being done!! Snow belongs in the mountains not in town! Shut up about it! Better to turn off the radio. Take a deep breath, and answer the phone.

Checked out the unknown caller on the internet to find out it is a scam call, which sets my teeth on edge. Take my advice and always confirm the website is legitimate; type in the URL yourself. And do not use a debit card, which is attached to your checking account, use a credit card. It is even safer to use a one-time-use credit card. Never, ever, give out credit card information by way of email or phone; if you cannot verify that it is a secured website, do not order anything from it. Be especially careful of e-cards, as these can contain malicious spyware—keep your anti-virus and anti-spyware current. According to the website, “Purchase gift cards online, if possible. Or, only buy the cards from retailers when they’re kept behind registers or available upon request.” Do this because it is easy for the scammer to get the card numbers and call the 800 number to learn when the card is activated. And sadly, beware of charity scammers, all too prevalent this time of year.

The box of Christmas cards teetering on the desk just fell onto the floor, splaying out 60 cards and and 60 envelopes. I could have sent those out last week. I forgot to get Christmas stamps and labels and ink for the printer.

What the heck is so good about this time of year??!!! I have no time for things I want to do, no energy for the obligations of the season. I want to be somewhere else...somewhere with sunshine and tropical sunsets.

Doorbell. I just hope it is not a salesperson for windows. I feel I should post a sign that we have had all of our windows replaced, which is not exactly true, but some of them were. Five years ago. Be right back.

A beautiful Christmas floral arrangement for me from my daughter. She has sent flowers at Christmas time every since she left home, even when she was deployed overseas; now she is living here in the same city, and still reminds me that I am special.

And that is the answer to my question. Christmas is about reminding those we love that we do care. It can be as elaborate as a gold-plated Rolls Royce or as meaningful as a sit down dinner with relatives and friends; it can be a gift wrapped with newspaper and twine or foil and velvet ribbon; it can be a dollar bill in the Salvation Army pot or an unwrapped toy for a tot; it can be reading The Night Before Christmas to your children or taking them to see the zoo lights. It is giving of yourself and that is priceless.

If I could give a gift to my readers, it would be the gift of time. Take time for yourself, give your time to those who matter to you. And have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Forcing the Hand of God: Chapter 19 (part 2)

Everyone shifted to the kitchen, but Kyle, drink in hand, and Carrie behind him, continued on through the kitchen. Kyle held the door wide for Carrie who stood sideways eyeing the table as she lectured her brother on the finer points of letter writing. The table had been set with everyday dinnerware, except for Madeline’s heirloom cut glass bread plate and pressed glass butter dish. She had fixed Rodger a plate of roast beef, bread, and hot vegetables with cold sliced tomatoes.

Heather crammed meat and peas into her mouth, while Rachel separated the peas and corn into piles and lined the slices of meat up in a row. Rodger tensed, waiting for his mother to scold both girls for their breech of manners. Instead, she placed her hand on top of Rachel’s hand holding the fork and stilled her.

“Rachel, eat a bite of each vegetable and one slice of beef. Heather,” she smiled at Heather, “please drink your milk slowly so you won’t have an upset stomach later.”
Rodger ate in silence until Madeline began clearing the dishes. He looked up directly into her eyes and swallowed hard.

“Mother, I just want you to know that I really do appreciate all that you’ve done for Adele.”

Madeline took a step back and cocked her head before she stammered. “Really, Rodger, I’ve not done half as much as she has for me.”

She picked up another plate and stacked flatware. “Everyone has done a lot for me since your father died. I just want to keep myself together for Rachel and Heather.”

Rodger rose and went to stand beside her, adding a fork and spoon to the plate.

“I know it’s not easy, Mother,” he fumbled for words to fit his emotions, “but we’ll all get by day by day. That’s how any of us survive.”

Madeline heaved a wrenching sob, the flatware rattled on the dishes as she sat them upon the table. She waved Rodger away.

“Just give me a minute, please.”

Surprising himself, he reached for her and pulled her to him in an awkward one-armed hug. She pressed her forehead lightly against his shoulder and rested without speaking. After a few minutes, she took a step away and turned to address the girls.

“Rachel and Heather, you may go to my room and turn on the radio. Mind you, I don’t want to hear it down here.”

The girls scampered out of the kitchen, through the living room and up the stairs. Rodger sat again at his place at the table, bemused by his mother and her brother. Kyle stood against the back door and, with a wave of his drink, refused Madeline’s offer of food. Aunt Carrie had left Kyle outside to come sit at the table with Rodger, picking at the stray vegetables on his plate. Rodger slapped together a sandwich and ate, listening to those around him.

Aunt Carrie, her mouth full of tomato, begged Madeline, “You must talk some sense into your boy. Jonelle is a beautiful name, but you must give her a middle name. Why, that poor little thing’ll have a peck of troubles with no middle name. Just last week I was talking with a lady from Sommerset about her niece who named her baby—”

“Carrie!” barked Madeline. “That’s between husband and wife.”

“I personally like the name,” interjected Kyle, coming in the door and sitting across from Rodger at the table.

Rodger, chewing loudly to annoy his aunt, looked gratefully at his uncle.

“It’s not the name, it’s the principle!” huffed Carrie. Rodger cleared his throat. “It’s a silly issue for Rodger to be so stubborn about.”

Wearily, Madeline sat down at the head of the table.

“I think it’s very nice that he named her after John. And who else?” She looked off in the distance, tapping the table top. “I remember! Adele’s friend who was killed.”

“Well, if you ask me, it’s creepy, giving a baby that much of dead folks’ memories.”

Madeline laughed, the sound tinkling like icicles breaking in the wind. Rodger smiled at her, sipping on his drink.

“And what of family names, sister? Aren’t those in memory of ‘dead folks’?”

“That’s different,” Aunt Carrie grumbled. Her hands flagged the air. “Family traditions are important!”

Rodger swallowed the last of his sandwich.

“Couldn’t agree more! That’s why we’re starting our own traditions.” He pushed his plate closer to Aunt Carrie.

While she nibbled on the leftovers, Kyle set his glass down on the countertop then walked out of the kitchen. Rodger heard the front door whisper shut. He listened, interested. He could pick out the humming of a car engine. Madeline and Carrie talked on, their voices rolling over his head.
Rodger felt all of his energy drain from him like an oil leak. Unlike a mission completed, he felt no victory or sense of belonging here. He wondered about Kyle leaving; maybe he’d gone next door to see Ada. Could be something between them, could not be something between them. Maybe he should just go on home and not disturb them. He might sleep tonight. Without pain. Without nightmares. Sweet dreams.

He checked his watch. Before it was too late, he’d go by Ada’s house.

Rodger caught his mother watching him. He’d been surprised by how easy he felt around her. Then, in a lull of the conversation, she tilted her head to one side and leaned toward him.

“I’d like you to have something. I’ll be right back.” She rose, stately like a queen, turning at the doorway. “You might say good night to Rachel and Heather. They’re in their room.”

As Rodger stood, Carrie grabbed his right arm.

“You must see about a few of the details your mother hasn’t been able to tend to. Tomorrow.”

“Sure, Aunt Carrie. Why don’t you make me a list?” Rodger placed his hand on hers, lifted it off his arm, giving it a firm squeeze, then moved quickly away.

His aunt smiled smugly as she got up and plodded to where his mother kept stationery and pen. Suddenly, Rodger heard her groan.

“Aunt Carrie, are you all right?” Rodger paused from the bottom of the stairs and peered around the hall doorway.

“Oh, Rodgie, don’t worry yourself over me. Nothing but a touch of arthritis.” She beamed at him. “It’s so sweet of you to care.”

Rodger flashed a quick smile, then bolted up the stairs. I’m sure she’d remind me if I didn’t care, he thought. He poked his head into his sisters’ room. They scurried from the doorway and each hopped into a bed.

“Good night, rascals. Don’t forget our date tomorrow.”

They giggled. Heather, in a small voice, called out, “Please, Rodger, a kiss.”

Rodger hesitated, and then went in, standing between the two twin beds and bending to give each a quick peck on the forehead. “Say your prayers and go to sleep.”

“We will, Rodger,” whispered Rachel.

As Rodger walked down the hallway, he saw Madeline standing at the threshold of her bedroom. Rodger walked slowly over to her, stepping inside the room. She fumbled with something in her hands.

In the awkward silence between them, his mother stared at a gold watch and fob.

“Here,” she offered, “take it. Your father wanted you have it.”

The watch dangled in front of him. He didn’t move.

“I don’t want it, Mother, if you’d rather keep it,” he said gently.

“No, no,” she murmured. “I have enough memories and such.” Tears fell from her eyes sprinkling the bodice of her dress. “He wanted his grandson to have it.”

Rodger reached out and took the watch, unlacing the chain from her fingers.

“Thanks. I’ll save it for him.”

“You might want to,” she stammered, “to have it for yourself.” She wiped the tears away and looked directly into his eyes. “It doesn’t matter if it’s passed on or not. Grandsons, granddaughters.”

Rodger shrugged, not knowing what to reply.

“Can’t believe I’ve got a kid. It hasn’t sunk in yet.” He straightened, his back cracking. “I’m beat.”

He cleaned his teeth with his tongue.

“Where’d Uncle Kyle go?”

Madeline’s eyes narrowed. “He comes and goes. I don’t ask because it’s none of my business.”

“Right, we’ll leave that to Auntie.” Rodger rolled his eyes, eliciting a grin from Madeline. “You don’t mind my using your car? I’d like to go to Chicago. Get something special for Adele.” He smoothed the watch in the palm of his hand, and then slipped it into his pants pocket.

“I’ll have it late tomorrow afternoon.” Madeline’s forehead furrowed. “No, never mind. I’ll make other arrangements.”

Rodger blew air bubbles, which used to annoy his mother, but tonight she gave him a half-smile and shake of the head. “No, I don’t want to inconvenience you. I’ll be back around noon or little after.”
“Rodger,” Madeline stopped him with a tug at his arm, “please keep the car and use it. I don’t really want to drive.”

“Well, Aunt Carrie’s making me a list of things I should take care of.” Rodger waggled his eyebrows, “I’ll need to be here early, I’m sure.”

Madeline nodded, releasing him. “You need to go home and get some sleep.” She cast a quick glance at her big bed. “You’ve had a busy day.”

He felt sorry for her, after thirty‑two years, to be without her husband, but he couldn’t imagine his mother lonely for a man. It didn’t suit her.

“Good night, Mother. Call me, if you need anything.” He turned away from her and started for the stairs. “Anytime. I’m used to service hours.” He gave a parting wave.

As he stepped out onto the porch, he called, “’Night, Aunt Carrie. See you tomorrow.”

He quickly shut the door and leaped over the steps onto the walk. He took long strides, stretching his legs, swinging his arms loosely by his side until came to an abrupt stop at Ada’s gate. He checked his wristwatch; twenty‑two fifteen. Ada’s house was dark, except for the porch light. That meant only one thing. She was gone, out for the night.

Rodger rubbed the stubble on his chin. It just might be. Maybe. But an odd couple, the two of them.

Rodger looked up then down the sidewalk, remembering as a kid overhearing gossip in town about Ada and Sam. He’d thought it unlikely, then, because he knew Ada so well.

He went out to the car, welcoming the cool touch of the car’s upholstery against his strained muscles as he climbed in the driver’s seat. He glanced once more to Ada’s empty house. He might have jumped to conclusions. He turned over the engine. Would Adele know anything? Just how the hell could he ask her about Kyle and Ada? A chuckle rose in his throat and just as suddenly choked him. So many things he didn’t know for sure anymore.
A familiar ache returned as he entered his own house. The part of him that was hollow could never be filled with people. He gently placed his father’s watch on the bureau and undressed. God, it never changed for him, this relentless need to be free. He wished he could get the hell out of here and fly.

Weariness rolled over his entire body. He stretched out on top of the bed covers as sleep crashed down on him. A dreamless night, a reprieve.

In the morning, he awoke refreshed. He hummed to himself, anticipating a day in the city. He took a small box of loose Burmese rubies and a pure silver band that he had bought for Adele in China from beneath the socks in his dresser drawer and examined them, thinking that he would find a jeweler and have something made with them. As he shaved, he laid out the plans for his day.

A solo flight, there and back. Just a routine mission. At thirteen hundred hours, he’d be back in town. With presents in hand. Just an everyday hero, he thought sourly as he locked the front door behind him. He shielded his eyes from the glaring morning sun, plucking his sunglasses from his pocket and putting them on.

Everyday, six days a week, fair and foul weather, his father had walked to work. He shook free of the memories. He was only his father’s son. Not an imitation of the man. And at last, he thanked him for that.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Forcing the Hand of God: Chapter 19 (part 1)

Rodger eased the car into his driveway and cut the engine. Their house looked at once inviting and strange. He slumped back into the seat. Tired. He was so tired.

The front door lock jammed. Rodger pressed his forehead against the door and sighed, then jiggled the key until the lock slipped. He eyed the kitchen but just thinking of food made him queasy. Later, he muttered.

He stripped off his clothes and lay down on the bed. He rubbed his hand along the ridges of the scar on his shoulder and pictured Adele laughing and crying as she held their newborn. He whispered to her, “I’m healed. It’s only a scar now.” Then he fell into the comfort of deep sleep.

In the dim light of dawn, he awoke with a start filled with a sickening dread of having left part of himself somewhere else. His watch read O-six-hundred-five. He showered and dressed to go see Adele and their new baby daughter.

He had an agonizing moment of disorientation when he came through the front doors of the hospital.
The smell.

“Christ! These places all smell alike!”

A passing orderly stopped. “Sir?”

“Nothing, nothing,” Rodger waved him on, turning to the receptionist. “What room is Mrs. Brown in?”

“Two‑twenty‑two. Down the hall and to your right.”

As he passed the nursery window, Rodger peered in, squashing his face against the glass. “Baby Brown,” the name tag, prominent on the outside of the bassinet, was the third from the left in the front row. A nurse motioned that she would pick her up. Rodger shook his head, tossed the woman an off‑hand salute, and moved on down to Adele’s room.

Rodger slipped into the room, his hand bracing the door as it closed. Adele lay semi-reclined, propped up by wadded pillows, her eyes shut and her honey‑colored hair spilling over the pillows. She opened her eyes and smiled.

“You just missed the crowd.” She pointed to an array of white and pink flowers.

“Oh, damn, I forgot!” Rodger frowned at the flowers. “I wanted to bring you some, too.”

“But I don’t need any more.” She patted a place on the bed beside her. “Come sit with me for a while.”

He waved in the general direction behind him. “You did one hell of a job in there.” He kissed her forehead. “I was so proud of you.”

“Everything worked out for the best, as it turns out. Dr. Adams had ordered some medication, but my labor went too fast. The nurse said it was better not to have any medication if I wanted to nurse right away.”

Rodger jumped to his feet. “You’re not going to are you?”

Adele folded her hands, placed them squarely over her abdomen. Her face set, eyebrows pinched together.

“Women have done it for centuries, Rodger. It’s perfectly natural.”

Rodger paced in a small circle at the foot of the bed.

“But I won’t be able to help with the night feedings if you do that.”

Adele’s eyebrows shot up. “I would never have thought of that!” She eyed him suspiciously.

“Does this mean you won’t re-enlist?”

Rodger shifted from one foot to the other.

“No.” He looked away from her probing stare.

“I want to help.”

“All right, Rodger. I’ll nurse her for the first three or four days.”

“Why even start?”

"Because. It’s better for both of us.” Adele stared him down. “Ask your mother to explain.”

Rodger made a face at her. Adele laughed, holding out her hand for him to take. He grabbed it and pulled himself down so that he could kiss her on the lips.

“Have you had the baby here with you yet?”

“Yes,” Adele whispered reverently. “She’s so tiny! So perfect!” She kissed his knuckles, one by one. “We have to name her.”

“Yeah. I was just thinking of that.” He rubbed her hand between the two of his. “It’s not easy coming up with a name.”

“I was so sure it was a boy.” Her look held uncertainty.

“Are you sorry?”

“No, are you?” Her grip tightened.

“Uncle Kyle says little girls are nice. But when they grow up…!”

Adele leaned forward; Rodger could hear the sharp intake of a breath. He shook his head.
“Hell, I’m so glad she’s alive!”

Adele relaxed. “Ada said there was some doubt. Did you know?”

Rodger looked away. “I knew.”

“You didn’t show it. Maybe a little when you didn’t eat much.” She squeezed his hand, “I thought you didn’t like my cooking.”

Suddenly, hunger pangs made him aware he was hungry. Ravenous. “When I go see Mother, she’ll feed me. I suppose everyone will be over there.”

“I think so.” Adele shrugged, shaking her head as if arranging her thoughts. She looked pale as she spoke in a wispy voice. “Your mother was telling me there’s a family history of names. Do you have a favorite?”

“No.” Rodger dropped Adele’s hand and stood up. “I hate all that nonsense about family history. We’re all born with new blood in us.”

“How about ‘Joan’?” Adele worked the sheet into a knot. “Or ‘Samantha’?”

Rodger watched the traffic from the window. Something Ada had said a long time ago. Love comes back in many forms. “You said you’d name your daughter after Ellen. Remember?”

“That could be her middle name.”

“How about Jonelle? And no middle name.”

“Jonelle, Jonelle Brown,” Adele repeated the name in a singsong. “But she’s got to have a middle name. Everyone does.”

“She doesn’t have to have anything,” Rodger growled, immediately regretting it. “It’ll help build her character if she’s not like everyone else.”

Adele frowned. She tugged at the blanket, wadding it into a larger knot.

“You know, you can be a bully. The kid doesn’t stand a chance with you as her father.”

“Oh, I don’t know. She beat the first odds just being born.” He touched Adele’s cheek. “She’s got you.”

“Jonelle Brown.” Adele scrunched up her face. “Jonelle Elizabeth Brown?”

“Nah. Sounds too poetic.”

The nurse tapped on the door. “All visitors must leave.”

He bent close and kissed her, prolonging the touch of their lips until the tapping resounded on the door.

He whispered in her ear, “’When I look into your eyes, I fall in love with you.’”

Seeing her smile, he smiled.

“See you later. Get some rest.”

“You, too, Rodger. Eat something tonight. You need to take of yourself.”

“I will.” He hugged her, kissed her again, and slipped out the door where he met the nurse coming down the hall.

“Mr. Brown, would you sign the birth certificate, please?”


Rodger stopped at the desk and took the form. He noted Jonelle’s birth weight, seven pounds, fourteen ounces, and time of arrival, two‑forty five, July 19, 1943. Attending physician was Dr. Adams.

Not quite true, he fumed. What the hell was the nurse’s name? He couldn’t remember. Let it go. On the line for a name, he penned “Jonelle Brown.” The nurse took the form and scanned it.

“What a pretty name! But, sir, you forgot the middle name. This is an official record so it must be complete.”

“I didn’t forget, nurse.” Rodger winked at her and was out the door before she could stop him.

He debated whether or not to go to his mother’s house. So many people would be there. He couldn’t very well call and just ask for Kyle. He’d have to make it through the whole evening with the family before he’d get away for a drink with his uncle and talk about flying. There was a hollow spot inside of him, part of him that needed to fly. He wanted to be back in his arena, the sky. Doing his job. His uncle understood that; he doubted anyone else in his family did.

He stood several minutes by his car staring at the nearly empty parking lot, unwilling to make a choice. This part of the world had forgotten about the war, it seemed, and simply went on living and dying.

“This town could eat a man alive,” he said aloud, flinging himself into the seat of the car. He shook his head, freeing himself of his gloom and drove to his mother’s house.

Madeline greeted him at the door, dressed in a pale blue a-line dress and her make-up perfect. She pulled him into the living room where Aunt Carrie, Rachel, Heather, Ada, and Kyle all sat. It occurred to Rodger that his mother was an attractive woman, and always had been with her clear complexion and sparkling blue eyes, although her face had a fine webbing of lines hinting at her age.
Ada sat encircled by his younger sisters, deep into a merry conversation. Her printed dress, cinched by a snug-fitting belt, reminded him of how she seemed forever the same, just as she looked to him now.

“Hey.” Rodger nodded to Kyle to get him a drink.

“We saw the baby!” squealed Heather, running to him.

“Only through the glass,” corrected Rachel. “And only a little of her face.”

Ada smoothed Heather’s curly hair, the ringlets popping up as her hand passed over each one.
“Did you pick out a name?”

“Jonelle.” Rodger clinked glasses with Kyle.

“Oh, how sweet!” Aunt Carrie lumbered across the room, displacing her brother to be at Rodger’s side. “And her middle name?”

“None. She’s Jonelle Brown.”

“Oh, no! That’ll never do!” Carrie clucked like a distraught hen. “Just think of all the trouble she’ll have with papers and such in school!”

“Oh, honestly, Carrie,” Madeline snapped. “It’s not important!”

Rodger couldn’t respond. His mother had said that.

“I think it’s—” Kyle started, but Carrie cut him off.

“Mind you, she’ll not thank you for this!” she admonished, wagging a finger in Rodger’s face.
Rodger looked over to his mother. “I’m hungry. Do you suppose I could get something to eat?”

“Of course.” Madeline started for the kitchen. “I’ll be just a few minutes.”

“Anything, Mother, would be fine. Make it simple!” he shouted after her.

Ada rose from the couch and came to him. “That’s a lovely choice of a name. How is Adele? Is she resting?”

“Yes. She wanted to name the baby after you.” Rodger winked at her. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his aunt stiffen.

Ada swallowed her chuckle. “Too many of us old birds around as is.” She kissed him on the cheek. “Good night. Drop by tomorrow.”

“I will.”

Ada left, and the conversation closed in again, tightening around him. Rachel pulled at his left arm.
“Rodger, have you heard of Captain Midnight? He’s on station WGN at five-forty-five. Mother lets us listen. You’d like him.”

“He’s a pilot! Just like you!” Heather’s smile exposed the gap where her front teeth were just coming in. “Mother’s going to send off for our very own secret decoder ring.”

Rachel rolled her eyes. “That’s kid’s stuff. But I think you might like the adventure.”

Rachel looked exactly like John had when he used to try and coax them into something.

“Maybe tomorrow night. In fact,” he tweaked Rachel’s nose, “it’s a date.”

Both girls clapped. Madeline called from the kitchen.

“Girls! Rodger! Come to supper.”

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Catch Up with Fran Reed and Friends!

The first two books in my Bully Dogs series are available to read online! Book 3 is coming soon so here's you chance to catch up on all the adventures of Fran Reed and her friends.

Bully Dogs Book 1
Bully Dogs
Faced with her neighbor’s three ferocious dogs, and a group of girls at school determined to put her down, Fran isn’t sure whether to stand up for herself or sit the tough times out. Fran’s chore-centric mother is no help! And one of her best friends, Annie, has begun hanging out with the bullies. When Fran sees that her school’s volleyball team won’t succeed unless the bullying ends, she realizes she’ll have to stand up for herself. But who should she face first: the vicious-looking dogs who chase her to school, or the girls who try to make her feel bad about being herself?

As Fran begins to discover her own strength and find her self-confidence, she sees bullies are like growling dogs who just won’t go away. And Bully Dogs proves that when it comes to bullies, their bark can be worse than their bite!

All of the Bully Dogs chapters are available to read for free online:

Bully Dogs Book 2
YNK (You Never Know)
It is not easy to be 13 and going into the seventh grade.  Frances Reed, our gal from Bully Dogs, once again faces her peers in, YNK You Never Know, second in a series about her coming of age.  Fran gets a new look, a first kiss and a revised perspective on her relationships with boys, girlfriends and parents. She has to once again deal with bullies, and with some tragic consequences of bad choices. Through all the whirlwind changes, Frances must make moral decisions that impact her relationships with her parents, her girlfriends and her boy/friend, redefining herself along the way. People change, circumstances change, from one minute to the next, life changes, and you never know what will happen next.

All of the YNK (You Never Know) chapters are available to read for free online:

Coming Soon!
Bully Dogs Book 3
A Penny in Time 
Life is dumping a load of changes on thirteen-year-old Dusty, one of Fran's close friends. Her best friend only cares about makeup and boys. Her recently divorced dad has a new girlfriend who loves everything frilly and pink. And she's wondering about the strange feelings she has for her friend Frank. A fantastical trip in another dimension—or was it only a dream?—gives Dusty a fuller perspective and points her in the right direction in A Penny in Time, third in a series about Fran and her friends coming of age. Dusty learns she cannot change those around her but she can remain in charge of her choices—when to adapt, how much to compromise, and most important, how to remain true to herself.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

My Best of 2015

There's something about this time of year that makes me wait to look back and reminisce about the year that's now in the past. As I've read back through my notes, journals, and, of course, my blog, I've found some of my favorites from 2015 to share here with you. Enjoy!

I hear voices. These come from children, women and men who are speaking about the bullies in our lives, those that use manipulation, coercion, intimidation and ideology to justify egregious acts in our homes, schoolyards, workplaces, sports arenas, corporations, and countries. Some voices are faint and I strain to hear the words; others are loud enough to be heard around the world; and then, there is a deafening silence that scares me the most.
Read the entire story>>

The use of manipulation, coercion, intimidation, and/or physical force, defines the tactics of a bully’s game, whether it is in the home, schoolyard, workplace, sports arena, corporations, countries, or in our relationships. It is a mean game wherever it is played; the same sport, different arenas. And who has not at one time or another been a player? There are winners and losers in any game, but today I salute some of the winners.

My friend's granddaughter, an introspective, pretty girl of thirteen, is in junior high school. She started the year without a best friend, without a clique to hang with. Five mean girls reminded her daily that she was a loser: nasty remarks about her appearance, sniping with cruel taunts, making a game of “Who has to sit next to (holding one’s nose) Emma?” Or making sure she heard, and understood, that she was not invited to the birthday party of a classmate.  
Read the entire story>>

Mind Your Manners
Shane Licht: His Story
One fateful day in 1994, one bad decision changed a twelve year old’s life forever. Initially home from school for a snow day, Shane invited his best friend over to his house, ignoring the message that the school bus would be on a later schedule. Both boys knew about gun safety, knew better than to pick up a gun, whether it was loaded or not. Tragically, the gun discharged in his friend’s hand and the bullet struck Shane, paralyzing him from the neck down.
Read the entire story>>

Shame on You
It is interesting to me how in one week I have read two articles, extreme in opposite of content; one about shaming children on social media, by Robbyn Peters Bennett in the Sunday, August 23, 2015, edition of Seattle Times and another from the writer Susan Sontag’s journal, “Don’t Reprimand Him Harshly", published in the July/August 2015 issue of Reader’s Digest. Both articles speak to parenting skills; one highlights the most damaging form of discipline, public shaming by bully parents, the other, a mother’s eleven commandments on how to discipline her son, while respecting his personhood.
Read the entire story>>

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Forcing the Hand of God: Chapter 18 (part 2)

In a flurry of white uniforms, a tall, robust grey-haired woman emerged from the group, quietly giving orders. Rodger stood in the middle, clasping Adele’s hand, noting the pin on the nurse’s uniform: Mary Richards, Head Nurse. The procession moved toward the doors. Rodger stepped up to the head nurse.

“Where the hell is the doctor?”

“Train accident south side.”

“What the...” Rodger’s voice dissolved with Adele’s scream. He dogged the nurse’s footsteps. “Are you going to deliver our baby?”

“Yes,” she started to move past him.

Rodger straightened. “Have you done it before?”

She looked over her shoulder at him. “Over five hundred in World War I, mister.”

Rodger danced around her. “Let me assist.”

She pointed to a room down the hall as Adele was wheeled into the delivery room. “Wait there.”

Rodger’s heart thumped erratically inside his chest. “I have to be with her.”

“You’re not a doctor.” The woman stepped toward the basin and began lathering her hands.

Rodger followed her, pressing his advantage. “I’ve just come from a tour of duty at the hospital at Bose. You can check with the head nurse there.” He stood in front of her so that she could not enter the other room. Adele’s pants and groans echoed in the next room.

The head nurse whirled around and whispered savagely, “Scrub up!”

As he had seen the nurse do, he lathered with the soap and dried his hands. He turned as a young nurse tugged on his sleeve so that she could slip the gloves onto his hands. Stabbing pains shot through his injured shoulder as he slid his arms into a gown the nurse held for him. Nurses moved as if in patterns, knowing what they were about.

“Rodger! Rod-ger!” Adele cried out.

Rodger surveyed the room, allowing his gaze to lock with the eyes of the head nurse. He nodded briskly at her, then walked over and stood by the head of Adele’s bed, not daring to touch her. Her face was bathed in sweat and tears.

Rodger bent over her. “It’s all right, honey,” he soothed over and over.

“Goddamn it, Rodger! Adele swore, “It’s not all right!”

“What can I do?” He mopped her forehead with a towel given to him by a nurse. The head nurse, bowed over Adele’s draped legs, spoke calmly, evenly.

“You’re doing fine. The baby’s in a good position. Try to breathe with the pains and push only when I tell you.” She shot Rodger a hostile look. “You stay there.”

Adele focused on the head nurse and breathed jaggedly in and out, timing each breath to the pains. She no longer looked at Rodger. She pushed, exhaling a loud groan.

He suddenly felt stranded in this roomful of women. As he caught their reflections in the mirror above the table, he thought of the first time he met Adele.

To relieve some of the boredom during intermittent flights, Rodger would meet the RAF Bristol Bombay transport when it arrived and help the crew unload. The Sunday flight usually came in late afternoon, and there would be a party of sorts for the overnight crew with ample supplies of beer and hard liquor.

At the deafening sounds of the incoming plane, Rodger had gazed skyward and marveled at the monster’s dexterity as the four‑engine bomber came effortlessly gliding down for a perfect mid‑field landing. He saluted the unseen captain.

He had continued watching as the magnificent bird taxied into the revetment. Then, squinting hard, his breath had come more quickly as he became aware of the emerging backside of  a woman from the cockpit; absolutely no way such curves could belong to a man! No, not one but two women—-the co‑pilot was a woman, too.

Rodger wiped Adele’s forehead again. “It’s going to be all right, honey. It’ll be over soon,” he consoled.

The irony of it! he thought. He hadn’t wanted anything to do with her as pilot of a transport. Or with any of the British Air Transport Auxiliary, or their women pilots trained to ferry transports and the like around the country. Women had no business operating machines and learning the technical skills it took to fly. While Rodger conceded they might be capable, they could hardly be reliable. Not that they could help being that way, simply because they were subject to hormones the way a man was not. Rodger found it foolish and dangerous to all concerned to have women in the air over enemy territory. She surely had proven him wrong. She had been rightly confident of herself and her crew, never losing a plane or any one of her crew.
“Rodger, the baby...,” Adele dug her fingers into his arm.

He gripped her hand, lacing his fingers into hers. At least she hadn’t outranked him.

Rodger smiled down at Adele. She eased her head back and sighed. “I’m glad I didn’t let you get away,” he whispered.

He had, at the last minute, invited her out to dinner. They had spent the better part of the night discussing airplanes. She really knew her stuff.

“Oh! The baby’s coming!” she cried out in pain, laughing at the same time.

Rodger tensed. A wave of nausea hit him.

“Oh, God, please!” he breathed. “Please don’t take this one from me.”

The room became deathly silent. Rodger’s head lightened for a moment. He exhaled. He turned and looked at the mirror. As the baby’s head became visible, he edged to the end of the table.

The bloody hands of the nurse grasped the baby’s head. She whispered to the nurse beside her. Rodger caught her last words: “....cord is around the neck. Clamp it!”

Rodger’s heart contracted. He stood elbow to elbow with the head nurse as she eased the tiny body out. It slid out, blood-streaked and blue.

Adele called to him, a note of alarm in her voice. “Is the baby all right?”

He couldn’t move. The ugly beast of terror rose in his chest, choking him. A nurse cut the umbilical cord, whisked the baby away to the far side of the room. Two white forms loomed over the baby, hands ministering it, blocking his view.

Rodger heard the head nurse softly talking to Adele. He shifted his body so that he could turn his head over his right shoulder and look from Adele to the nurse.

“You’ve got a baby girl. Now give me a big push for the placenta. That’s it,” she encouraged Adele. “It’s better this way, no anesthetics. You’ll recover faster.”

Adele’s face contorted. As she relaxed, her features softened as she beamed up at Rodger. Rodger drew a mask over his face, flattening out his fear. But he dared not trust his voice.

A petite woman stepped briskly up to the head nurse, one hand cupped under the baby’s head, the other beneath the tiny butt. The mouth moved, twisting like a newborn bird’s. Rodger gasped. His eyes suddenly filled with tears. He forced himself not to blink, until the stinging went away. He looked up into the boring eyes of the head nurse. And smiled. She held her gloved hands, oozing with strings of thick blood, in front of her, and pointed to Rodger with an elbow.

“Give the new father his baby daughter.”

Rodger opened his mouth to protest, but no sound came out. The nurse turned and thrust the baby into his arms.

He froze. Bloody mucus dripped onto his gown. Little arms and legs churned. Her face puckered. She squawked. The cries grew louder and louder, a crescendo in a room of smiling women.

“Oh, damn,” murmured Rodger.

Adele laughingly scolded him. “That’s no way to welcome your daughter, Rodger.”

With careful steps, he walked to Adele and placed the baby girl into her outstretched hands.
“Did you count her toes?”

Rodger numbly shook his head. Watching Adele as she cradled her baby, cooing to her, he thought the room began to undulate. He sucked in air, carefully releasing it. His body began to tingle and warm. He reached out to touch the wrinkled head of his baby.

“Isn’t she beautiful?” Adele looked up, awed.

Rodger stroked the baby’s forehead. “Yes. Did you count her toes?”

Adele’s deep, throaty laughter pealed throughout the room.

A nurse swooped down and carried the baby off, talking over her shoulder. “I’ll bring her to you later, all cleaned up. My, isn’t she pretty!”

The head nurse brushed past Rodger. “You can come with me.”

Rodger followed her into a room where he, too, took off the gown, and snapped each glove from his hands. His pants were splattered with blood. He waited until the nurse was leaving before he spoke.
“Should I wait here, or come back later?”

The woman’s face cracked into a broad smile. “Come back at six. Give your wife a rest.”

“Hey! Thanks!” Rodger went to shake her hand, but overcome by a sudden shyness, dropped his arms to his side, then shrugged his shoulders. He heaved a sigh. “Doc Adams thought she might not be born alive.”

The nurse leaned close enough she could have kissed him on the cheek. “You’re welcome. Congratulations. She’s a healthy, little girl.”

Rodger walked to the car in a daze. He propped himself against the warm metal of the car door, crossed his arms over his chest, and just stood watching the traffic. He saw Ada, Kyle, and his mother getting out of the Chevy in the parking lot. He could talk to them later. He knew he had to get out of here unseen by family or he wouldn’t have another chance to be alone for a while. And he had something he had to say to his dad. He got into the car and, taking the side road, drove to the cemetery.

He sat for a long while in the car, staring at the walnut tree that shaded his father’s grave. He reached for his coat, heaped in the corner of the back seat, and fumbled in the pockets until he collected the boxes of medals. He laid them out on the front seat, fingering the outlines. Then he gathered them all, got out of the car to make his way to his father’s plot.

He knelt beside the soft, overturned dirt at the head of the grave, set aside the medals and dug into the moist earth with his hands. Deeper he dug, his tears streaming unchecked down his face. He dug, ignoring his shoulder afire with prickling pains. He scraped his finger and the blood ran and streaked the brown earth, but he dug, flinging the dirt to one side. He bored deeper. When the hole was deep enough, wide enough, he stopped. Sitting back upon his heels, he wiped his muddied hands upon his pants. He threw in the boxes of medals and clattering, they piled upon themselves. Then he pushed the dirt over and tamped it down.

It was done.

He stood up, running his sleeve across his face, drying the tears.

“Those belonged to you, Dad,” he said aloud.
Rooting for keys in his pocket, he pulled out the bead Mary Elizabeth had given him. He chewed on his lip, looking at it for a long time. He played it in circles in the palm of his hand, thinking of his newborn daughter. Perhaps he’d stop at the jewelry store and find a gold chain for the bead. He’d give it to his daughter on her twelfth birthday.

He put the bead safely back into his pocket then unlocked the trunk and dumped the clothes out of his knapsack. Mary Elizabeth’s doll flopped out onto the pile of clothing. Rodger scooped it up, slammed the trunk down, and walked back to the grave.

At the head of the grave he channeled the soft ground until he had a large hole. He held the doll with its smudged face and sightless eyes in the palm of his hand. Folding the limp arms across the midriff, he laid her down in the grave, packing the earth around her.

A birth for a death, he thought. It’s all a game of balance.

With deliberate steps, he walked back to the car and slid onto the hot seat then hurriedly cranked the window down for some air. He turned over the engine, welcoming the vibrations as the car moved ahead. He leaned out the window, searching the bright, sunlit sky, gave thumbs up, and shouted heavenward, “She made it!”

Then, putting on his sunglasses and edging the car forward, he whispered, “Thank God.”

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Survive the Holidays with Bullying Relatives

7 Holiday Survival Tips for Dealing with “Challenging” Relatives
by Susan Call, inspirational speaker and author

Can you feel it? There’s been a palpable change in the air…it’s almost as though you can tangibly feel the holiday excitement.  With growing to-do lists, and plans still taking shape, it takes conscious effort not to get swept in the frenzy of holiday stress.  And, if you are like most people you may feel that regardless of the amount of time you put into your holiday preparations, there is one thing that can derail your holiday celebrations… family. Regardless of how easily our families get along, sometimes different personalities get the best of us making the holidays feel unpredictable and stressful.

Maybe you too can recognize a few of these relatives?
  • One-upper – The one-uppers seem compelled to top any and all stories they hear. They are quick to share their story that is a “one better” to whatever anyone else shares.  When Aunt Martha shares that she finally made it to that Broadway show she’s wanted to go to, the one-upper quickly shares that they not only went to the same play, but they had front row seats and a back stage tour.
  •  It’s all about me – Every roads lead to the “all about me” relatives. What ever topic you bring up, seemingly with in seconds, they’ve hijacked your story and are telling one of their own that likely has nothing to do with the original story.
  • The Gossip – Unlike the “it’s all about me” relatives, with these family members, it’s all about everyone else. They long to share everyone else’s news whether it’s appropriate or not.
  • The boundary-less – Your business is their business, whether you want them in the middle of it or not. They will pry. They will push. They will diligently insert themselves.
You can’t change your family, so what can you do?

Read the entire article on Susan's website>>

Susan Call is an inspirational speaker and author of A Search for Purple Cows, grand prize winner of Inspiring Voices Book Publishing Content.

Her memoir is an inspiring story of forgiveness and redemption after betrayal and abuse.

Find A Search for Purple Cows on Amazon>>

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Forcing the Hand of God: Chapter 18 (part 1)

The tires squealed as Rodger turned the corner into the cemetery. The sign on the opened gate read: hours: 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

The weather had turned ungodly hot and humid. His own sweat made him itch and want to be anywhere else. He parked the car and loosened the top button of his shirt, then discarded the tie. He climbed out of the car, leaned against the door, and scanned the rows of grave sites, neat and orderly. As a boy, he had played hide and seek on summer nights amongst the tombstones and over the graves of long-dead relatives. Never had found any ghosts.

Rodger walked to the far side, to where Sam’s grave lay. A few flowers, blue forget‑me‑nots, dotted the site. Grass had begun to fill in the outline. He bowed his head, his mind a curious blank.

He tried to find reasons, tried to think that in the unknown mind of God there might be an answer. But it was all too much, all so little.

Rodger backed away and turned on his heel, reading each marker as he moved slowly eastward. He stopped beneath the boughs of a huge, sprawling trunk with peeling bark. Ada had said underneath the walnut tree. There it was, a fresh mound of dirt dotted with red and white carnations with no head stone yet. Beside the newly dug earth of his father’s grave, lay a grassy strip that would be his mother’s grave some day. He wondered if his mother had ever looked into his father’s eyes and fallen in love with him. Or maybe his father had felt like a schoolboy, too, once. Maybe. Could have been.
Rodger picked at his bandage, trying to ease the discomfort. He worked his fingers underneath the adhesive and worked loose the edges. He brushed away beads of perspiration on his lip, swatted at flies.

“Well, damn, Dad.” He focused on the spray of carnations at the top of the grave. He could see his dad’s face so clearly in his mind’s eye and felt some essence of his dad lingered.

“I remember you taking out your railroad watch every night at 9:15 to check the Night Express comin’ through. Every night.” Rodger played with a piece of tape between his fingers. “You’d get the most god‑awful longing on your face.” He flicked the sticky ball away. “I felt for you. Every goddamn night. I wish I could ask you if you did it for us, left the railroad for a safer life.”

Rodger watched a mockingbird dance along a branch of the walnut tree. He spat. The bird took flight.
“I’m going to be a father, but the baby might not live. I’ve had so many people I’ve cared about die that I thought I couldn’t care very much anymore. But I do.”

“The more I know, the less I know.” He backed a step away from the grave. “About you. Me.”
Rodger clenched his fists, staring fixedly at where the headstone should be.

“I can’t play it safe, not even for Adele.” He squatted down on his heels. “I gotta fly. That I know. And I’ll be damned if anyone will ever tell me I can’t.”

He stood as if to leave, but found he could not.

“It’s a rotten deal. You’re gone just as I had a chance to know who the hell you were.”

His throat tightened, aching as much as his shoulder. A bird’s shriek made him start. He searched the grounds until he spied the offending male calling for his mate.

“See, he just builds her a nest and stays for a little while. That’s the nature of the beast.”

Rodger unclenched his fists and focused on his palms.

“I never forgave you for not telling me what was important. I felt I walked along a dark road all alone. Big Red, Dee, and all my dreams up in smoke. You never said a word. You could have, you know. But,” he stared intently down at the ground in front of him, “it was better this way. The way I learned. My own way.”

He suddenly felt drained of all the bitterness and fatigue of the last weeks. He turned and walked back to the car. Sitting at the wheel, he unbuttoned his shirt and removed it. With quick jerks, he stripped the tape off, burning his skin, then wadded the sullied and frayed tape into a huge ball and tossed it in the back seat of the car. He put his shirt back on, buttoned it, got out of the car and stood inside the door so that he could unzip his pants and tuck his shirt in properly. Finished, he tilted his head all the way back to look up into the tree, searching for movement.

There was no breeze to ruffle the leaves, only sunlight reflecting through the branches, throwing shadows and light. The glare of the sun made him blink. He strained his eyes to see the outlines of bark and leaf.

After a moment, he rested his chin on his chest and rotated his shoulders. He climbed back into the car and headed for Ada’s house.

He parked his mother’s car on the street between her house and Ada’s, then quietly shut the car door. Long strides brought him up the walk to the porch. He jumped from the bottom step onto Ada’s porch, just as he had always done as a kid. He opened the unlocked screen and, leaning against the door, held onto it as it swung him into the house.

“Ada! It’s Rodger!”

He heard Ada’s voice, soft and cajoling. Then he saw a kitten bounding down the hall. Spying him, the kitten sprang straight up in the air, then bounced over to him. Ada appeared in the doorway.
“Rodger! I thought I heard you!” She rushed across the room to hug him.

Rodger pointed to the black, fuzzy creature. “What is that?”

“You’ve never seen a kitten?” Ada asked innocently. “Meet The Kid.” She blushed. “He reminds me a lot of you.”

“I hate cats.” Rodger patted Ada’s cheek, then made a face at the kitten.

Ada swept up the kitten in her hand. The Kid turned and started biting and swatting at her fingers.
“Make yourself comfortable.”

Rodger sat down on the bluish-green sofa, bent over and unlaced his shoes, using first one foot, then the other to push off a shoe. He stretched out on the couch, covering his eyes with his right arm.

“I stopped by Dad’s grave.” He peeked between his arms to see the kitten claw at the lace doily over the fraying material of the green chair that Ada sat in next to him. “Sam’s, too.”

Ada restrained the kitten with both hands, putting him in her lap. She stroked his head and calmed him as she spoke.

“Most everybody in town showed up for your dad’s funeral. Fred Hewling closed his business for the day.”

Rodger could remember lying here listening to the radio as a kid. Sometimes, after he’d put out the garbage cans for Ada, they’d make popcorn, then sit on the couch and listen to The Shadow and munch handfuls of popcorn together. Many times they would say very little all night, just be with each other.

“Uncle Kyle told me about Dad. The Army. The medals.” He dropped his arm, but did not look at Ada, his gaze riveted on the ceiling. “Secrets. All these years.”

Ada watched him. She put the kitten down, shooing him away. “It wasn’t meant to be like that. Your father wanted you to make your own way, not try to live up to some glamorous image.”

“He was right. I didn’t have a glamorous image to live up to.”

“He gave you wings, Rodger. Don’t deny him that,” Ada shot back.

Rodger sat up. “I don’t know what you mean.” He rubbed his temples.

“John gave you your independence. Sam never would have let you near Lucy if it hadn’t been for your father.”

The words bit into him. Ada spoke calmly but with fierceness Rodger had never heard in her voice before. He didn’t like the change in her. He couldn’t argue with her.

“Rodger,” she softened, “don’t you understand? He loved you so much he wanted you to be the best, do the best, and have the best he could give you. Not be a reflection of him. He fought your mother over so many issues that concerned you and boxing and just about everything!” Ada suddenly angered. “And what right do you have to judge him?”

Taken aback, Rodger stammered, “I...don’t really. It’s just…that…I don’t understand.” He stared directly into Ada’s eyes. “Or maybe I do. Beginning to.”

Ada stood then moved to sit down next to Rodger, placing a hand on his. “I understand how you feel. I do. But somehow,” she hesitated, patting his hand absently, “we’ve got to bury our childhood. It becomes like a thin veil that stops us from seeing clearly.”

“I get your point. I’m trying to see through that veil.”

He sat up abruptly. “Dr. Adams thinks there may be complications.”

Ada shivered. With a catch in her voice, she asked, “What did he say?”

“Stillborn. Normal labor.” Rodger willed his headache away. “Adele doesn’t know.”

“It’s not a sure thing, Rodger. Dr. Adams couldn’t know for sure.”

“No, he said maybe.”

“Then we’ve got hope.”

“That’s about all, Ada.”

“No, Rodger.” She leaned close to him, touching his good shoulder. “I know it seems like you’ve lost a lot. You have.” She gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze. “But, with faith, we go on living. And there will be happy days for us. You. Adele. Me.” She gestured to the house next door. “All of us.”

A moment of strained silence hung over them. Rodger went to the radio and turned it on. The announcer blared, “A train wreck, southside of Chicago, just a mile out of the Williams Station, derailed. Several people injured. Doctors from surrounding areas called to aid the victims, many women, children and soldiers.”

Ada frowned, clucking in dismay. “That’ll put our hospital staff short. And already, with the younger ones enlisted, there is only the nursing staff to handle all of it. Luckily,” Ada sighed, “our town has very few crises.”

Rodger sat again on the couch, looking sharply at Ada’s face. So many changes in her, yet, really, she remained much the same. Except for moving a little slower, Rodger thought, she hadn’t changed.
With an annoyed wave at the radio, Rodger snipped, “The train wreck will be the talk of the town. Every little thing is something to sit and discuss for hours.”

“I can imagine it’s not what you’re used to.” Ada got up and turned the radio off.

Rodger swiveled to look out the window. “Saw a lot of dying, Ada. It’s part of the job. Every day counts.”

The front door to his mother’s house suddenly opened and out rocketed Rachel, headed straight for Ada’s house. Breathless, she charged into the living room, passed Ada at the door, and stood before Rodger. Rodger braced himself, ordering his thoughts as Rachel gasped and heaved out unintelligible words. The kitten hid beneath a chair, mewing. Rodger sneered at it, wanting it to go away.

Rachel waved frantically at the house. “The hospital!”

Rodger nodded, perplexed. “Yeah, we heard it on the radio.”

Ada spoke, her voice low and reassuring. “It’s all right, honey. There will be doctors and nurses to take care of the people.”

Rachel scowled at them, shaking her head and gasping, “Come on...Adele.”

Rodger gently held Rachel by the shoulders. “Adele? In labor?”

Rachel nodded.

Ada muttered, “Oh, my God,” as she hurried out the door.

Rodger hugged Rachel quickly. “Don’t be scared, Tagalong. Everything’s going to be all right.” He squatted and gathered his shoes, sitting on the edge of the couch to hurriedly put them on. He stood and held his hand out to Rachel.

“Let’s go see what’s happening.”

She latched onto to his hand, looking up with frightened eyes. Rodger guided her out the door with the kitten following.

“Stay here,” he ordered, kicking at it.

Rodger fished in his pants pocket for the keys to his mother’s car. Ada and Kyle were struggling with Adele down the steps. Rodger hurried to move the car from the curbside to the driveway. Leaving the engine running, he scooted across the seat and flung the door open. Kyle lowered Adele into the seat, into Rodger’s hands. She groaned.

“How far apart are the pains?” Rodger looked at his watch.

“Four, five minutes.”

Kyle poked his head inside. “I can drive.”

“No, thanks,” Rodger slid back to the steering wheel, releasing the brake. “I’ll get us there.” Kyle gave a sharp wave of his hand.

Out of the corner of his eye, Rodger studied Adele’s face. Sweat trickled down her forehead and temples. Her eyes were screwed shut, her nose puckered, and her lips stretched taut against her white teeth.

Rodger let go of the steering wheel with his right hand, to give a reassuring pat to Adele’s arm.
“Hang on, kid, we’ll be there in a jiff.”

“Rodger ... I ... can’t,” Adele cried out.

“Yes, you can.” Rodger swerved to miss a careless dog. He ran a stop sign. “Look! There’s the hospital!”

Adele whimpered. Once again, her swollen body lurched and shuddered. Her damp dress clung to her. Raindrops of sweat dripped from the ends of her hair.

“Wait here!”

Rodger sprinted to the front doors of the hospital. Nurses and orderlies crisscrossed the halls. Rodger grabbed a nurse by the arm.

“My wife’s having a baby!” He jabbed at the air, toward the car behind him, as she pushed away from him.

Irritated, the nurse pointed to the desk. “The receptionist will help you.”

Rodger rushed to the desk. “My wife! She’s having a baby!”

“Last name?” The woman pulled out a sheet of paper and began writing.

“Brown. Listen, she’s in the car and—”


Rodger slammed his fist down. “Goddamn it! She’s having the baby in the car!”

The woman looked up in alarm, throwing her hands up. The pen she had been writing with arced across Rodger’s nose as she sprang to her feet.

“Wheelchair!” she barked.

Feet scurried. An orderly whizzed past. Rodger, on the run to the car, was unexpectedly joined by two more people.

Hands, swift and efficient, lifted Adele from the front seat and into the wheelchair. She panted and moaned, her body heaving in great spasms. Rodger watched helplessly as they wheeled her through the doors and down the long corridor to the delivery room. He dashed to catch up to Adele, turning to face her as he danced on his toes in a backward shuffle until they came to a stop before the delivery room doors.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

I’m the bully?!!

“It’s a big spider.”

I have flung the door and windows open and stand armed with the 3-foot wooden security bar and a bottle of soap-peppermint-oil which I have liberally sprayed on the offending creature, plastering it to the wall. Without his glasses, Sir Norm-the-Chivalrous can barely see anything and he dropped the spider in his first attempt to gently sweep it off the wall to take it outside; it landed on the bath towel, my towel.

“Not compared to you.”

I can tell he is peeved as I give him no choice but to flush it down the toilet. It is after midnight and I forgo washing a load of towels and climb into bed. My good knight has gone to sleep, leaving me a lot to think about this restless night. I suspect his reference to me being a bully was more about how I yelled at him and demanded he get rid of that ..#*!?!*.. thing. He has no qualms about picking up a bug of any kind and escorting it outside. But he has not been in therapy to overcome an irrational fear of insects, especially spiders.

The key word is fear; with the initial adrenaline rush is a painful contraction of muscles, a heightened sense of ‘fight or flight’ response, an awful feeling of powerlessness and panic. What am I going to do? I can’t kill it and I can’t contain it and it cannot touch me. The fear turns quickly to anger, anger that I am unjustly put into a position that I have to deal with this. It is not fair and I am the victim here; it should not come out when I am in the same room, therefore it would not have to die. But I have scooped up (smaller) spiders in a jar and taken them outside. I have been bitten by a black widow spider and obviously survived both the bite and being touched by an arachnid, so I know better than anyone that this phobia is my only justification for behaving badly. In my fear, I have lost civility and conviction, swearing at my husband and insisting he kill a harmless being.

I’m recounting this incident here to illustrate that everyone has the capability to be a bully under stressful situations. I advocate for the victims of bullies, especially young children who are tormented by peers, siblings or parents; how mortifying it is to think of myself as a bully! But this has given me a chance to examine the “other” side, perhaps to understand what motivates a bully. Three things are clear to me about my bully behavior: one, it is fear-based, secondly, the spider became a ‘thing’, not a living being, and thirdly, I could justify my misbehavior.

I have often wondered how a parent or another person could humiliate, or hurt someone intentionally, without feeling any connection to the act. We have all known shame and have been embarrassed one time or another and know how painful physically and psychologically it can be. Why would anyone want to inflict that on another? For one, if the bully does not think of his victim as a person, he is not going to have any feeling towards the other as someone like himself. This lack of empathy is a disconnection to a person, someone who feels pain, which allows the bully to impose his will or physical strength without conscience. Then, there is the desire to have it my way, not yours, which negates another’s rights in a relationship, a power-struggle for dominance and control, making one a petty dictator and the other a subject. This is a cycle of abuse, one many men and women perpetuate in relationships--husband and wife, sibling-to-sibling, parent to child, or peer-to-peer.

Fortunately, the spider incident brought out the best in my husband. It could have been a case where he belittled my fear, minimizing my feelings; or he could have shamed me or berated me. By taking care of the immediate problem he acknowledged that my fear is real to me and, although it disables my better judgement, he supported me. This, ironically, makes me think that next time I can handle a spider by myself.

I thought not so long ago that there is not much else I can say about bullying issues. It may seem inconsequential that a mere spider can impact my life so dramatically, but by examining my behavior, motives and consequences, I gleaned an understanding of being both a bully and a victim. And if one person changes a bully behavior by reading this, then there is a pattern broken, and a shift in the paradigm.

At least for the spiders.  

Thursday, October 22, 2015

YNK Chapter 8: 14AA41 (One For All, All For One)

I don’t put on any mascara, just in case I cry. I finally decide on the brown dress. A simple sheathe with six buttons on the cuffs. I have shoes with inch heels that go with it nicely. I like the smoothness of pantyhose on my legs and the way my dress curves into my waist. Even my hair looks good today. Just perfect for a funeral.

I sit at the end of my bed and squeeze the strap of one shoe between my toes, twisting it, untwisting it, until my mom knocks on my door.

“Are you about ready, Fran?” She pops the door open and peeks in. “We should be leaving here soon. You look very nice. I like that dress.”

“I’m not going.”

“You’re sure about that?”


“All right, then. I think I understand.”

She whispers the door shut, and I continue twisting the shoe strap until my toes cramp. My dad knocks, then enters.

“You look very lovely, daughter-o-mine.”

I look up and smile at him. “So do you, Dad.” My dad hates wearing a suit and tie, but he’s not the least bit fat, so he looks good in his Sunday attire. Or funeral suit.

He steps over to the window and stands there gazing out with his hands clasped behind his back. “Beautiful day. I asked myself this morning how could it be so beautiful? Collin’s parents, his brother and sisters, his family, this isn’t a beautiful day for them, is it?”

“Dad, where do you suppose God was when Collin died?” Out to lunch?

“I don’t know, Fran. I don’t know why a young man dies for no good reason. I can’t say I know why good and evil exist. Some things we aren’t given the answers to. But I have faith that God exists. I wish,” he turned away and came beside me, “I had the answers for you, honey. I guess the best I can tell you is this: I can only act faithful. You know, full of faith.”

I’ve slipped my shoes on and stand up. “I don’t think I like funerals.”

He hugged me tight into his side. “I don’t either.”

The church is packed, it seemed with every student and his or her parents, grandparents, and family members. Even my grandmother showed up.

“Hi, Gram.”

She kissed me on the cheek and squeezed my hand. “How’s my favorite granddaughter?”

I shrug but return her smile as we all sit down in a pew. I look around and spot Dusty with her mom, and think it odd that I’ve not seen her with her dad for a long time; Dean and his father are in the very back, but he sees me.

Annie comes with her mother and I motion her over to us. Wordlessly, they sit where a space has been made for them. Annie looks at me critically, then leans over to whisper in my ear, “Brown is so your color.”

I smile and nudge her with my shoulder. “You look so good, but you always do!”

The service begins with Father Michelson reading from Psalms. It seems a long time, this reading and prayers and all the service. I can feel my butt go to sleep.

During a lull, Annie again whispers in my ear. “Are you going to go look at him?”

My stomach drops at the thought of having to parade past Collin there in a casket. I can see the profile of his face, and I think, maybe he could just wake up and it would all be one horrible mistake. I shake my head until I’m sure everyone can hear my brains rattle.

Then, to my surprise, Brian, Timothy and Justin file in one by one, lining up by the casket. The church is quiet, so quiet I think no one is breathing.

They sing Safest Place to Hide a cappella. And it is beautiful.

Annie is stunned into silence, too. Everyone around us is fixated on the three guys standing there, even after they are finished. Brian turns and places a piece of paper, looks like a program, inside the casket, before he steps away. They all file back out again and I’m sure that’s when everyone took a breath. Then, like wasps awakened, we all move and go to the hall where the reception is.

“There’s a ton of food here!” Annie exclaims. “Did you get some punch?”

She nibbles a cracker, while I load my plate with cookies.

Dean brings us both a cup of punch just as Dusty joins us. “What did you think of that performance by the badgers?” she says in a low tone. “Was that not awesome?”

Annie and I nod. Dean is looking at Brian, who is coming straight for him.

He looms over us like an ogre. “You didn’t do enough.”

Then he bows his head and swallows hard, looking up at Dean with tears sparkling in his eyes.
“Hey, man! Listen, I just want to say I’m sorry. You know, for being such a jerk.” He put his hand out for Dean to shake.

Dean hesitated. Slowly, ever so slowly, Dean extended his hand.

Brian shook it and let go. “I thought it was…was,” he looked away, then back again at Dean, “um, fantastic how you came over and gave Collin CPR. Really, man, that was great.” Brian swallowed audibly, looked around the room then continued in an almost whisper. “Collin was my best friend. I wish I could have done something.”

Well, not one of us expected that from Brian. Maybe he had his tie to tight and it cut off the oxygen to his brain.

“I wouldn’t trust him very far with a penny of mine!” I said as Brian walked away to rejoin his parents. I looked at Dean, realizing that he did not share my sentiment.

“You don’t really think he’s sincere, do you? Not!”

Dean turned to me, with a not-quite-a-smile. “I want to think people can change for the better, Fran. Otherwise, we’d all still be swinging from the trees.”

He took my cup away from me, but before he left to refill it, he added, “We’ll see, won’t we? He may be human or he may be a leopard.”

Dusty rolled her eyes. “Or he just may be a self-serving creep.”

But Annie looked pensive, and that brought to mind that maybe Dean was right about people changing. Only, Annie, by nature is good, and I’m not convinced Brian is.

Annie glanced at her watch. “Well, time to put on the ball and chain and go to the food bank for four hours. See ya.”

Dean handed me a cupful of punch. “Want to do the Wessenfeld’s yard today?”

It was an awkward moment, as Dusty was right beside me. I’m sure she wondered, too, if Dean meant all of us.

“Oh, are you going to pay us a fair share?” I smile wickedly at him.

“Sure. Less for each divot.” He collects all of our plastic cups and pitches them into the trash can.
“Ugh, I think that leaves me scooping poop?” Dusty wrinkles her nose. “Three dogs….”

I loop my arm through hers. “Nope. I scoop, you edge. Dean does the heavy stuff.” Then I loop my other arm through Dean’s and as one, we head for the parking lot.

“We’re off to see the wizzers of sod!”

Mrs. W made us tuna sandwiches. “Thanks, Mrs. Wessenfeld. How’s Mr. W?” I break a chunk of my sandwich and slip it to Athos; Dusty gives Porthos a chunk and Dean gives Aramis the rest of his sandwich.

“Oh, George is doing great! He’s the man of the hour at the rehab center where is recovering. He leads everyone in sing-alongs and he’s started a book club. He’s going to miss his new friends when he comes home next week.” She sips from her glass of lemonade and we all do likewise. “It is strange, but I think he’s made more friends there than he has his whole lifetime! I guess it’s true that when God shuts one door, another opens.” She collected our glasses and paper plates. “You all did such a nice job on this lawn. I just don’t how to thank you enough!”

I leash up Aramis and Athos, while Dean snatches Porthos for Dusty to leash. “Bye, Mrs. Wessenfeld. Be back in an hour!”

Dean disappeared to get his newpapers while Dusty and I walked the dogs. On our way back, Dusty hesitated a little before asking, “Fran, what do you think about walking by Annie’s house. You know, just in case she sees us we can wave?”

“Dusty! It’s creepy how you read my mind!” I veer across the street and down the next block. “I thought the same thing!”

“Oh, great minds!”

We don’t see Annie but we see Dean and wave to him as the dogs go crazy yipping and dancing. You would have thought they hadn’t seen him an hour ago.

As we are leaving, Annie drives up with her mother. At first she pretends, I mean she can be so obvious sometimes!—that she hasn’t seen us, but then she calls out to us.

“Hi! Guys!”

“Ask your Mom if you can walk a ways with us!” I shout through cupped hands, the dogs quieted momentarily by Dean petting them.

Annie joins us. “Mom said fifteen minutes. Can we walk up and down this block?”

“Sure,” Dusty moves aside so that Annie fits between us. The dogs work both sides of the sidewalk.
Dean scoots ahead. “See ya!” he shouts as he turns to wave good-bye.

We walk and talk about the day’s events. I ask Annie, “How goes it at the Food Bank?”

“Depressing,” is all Annie will say.

Dusty and I drop Annie off at her house and half-run the dogs home. It would become our routine for the summer to go by and see if Annie could walk with us.

Dean biked by when the three of us were walking back to Annie’s house. We stopped to talk with him as he hopped off his bike.

“Hyy! Whatsup?”

Annie actually turned to Dean and said, “Hi! We were talking about you.”

We weren’t, but it was funny to see the look on his face when not one of us said anything more.
“W—well, I heard something about you.” Dean leaned his bike onto a nearby tree.

Annie stiffened. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.” Dean stared at her for a minute. “It seems your kiddie program on Sundays has made a big impression with Father Michaelson.”

“Oh,” Annie shrugs, but I can tell that she is pleased. “I entertain them with books.” She flips her wrist and notes the time. “I gotta go in a few minutes. Food bank.”

“I w-want to know if you girls are interested in taking a CPR class? We could all sign up for Saturday workshop—-or,” Annie had looked away, taking a step away from us, “if you’ll go Annie, we could take the class offered at the hospital three nights next week.”

Annie’s turn to look surprised. I wondered if this got-cha game would be an all-the-time thing between these two.

“I’ll ask my Mom and let you know tomorrow. Is that okay?” she asked with mock politeness.
Dusty waved us good-bye. “Sounds good to me! See you tomorrow!”

Dean picked up his bike as I untangled the dogs to walk back to the Wessenfelds.

He helped me unleash them, refill water and food dishes and hang up the leashes.

“Hey, you, Fran,” he whispered in my ear, “would you like to see a movie tonight?”

My Dad took us to and from the Cineplex. Dean and I held hands during the movie, but truthfully, I was glad he didn’t kiss me around all those people. I felt special just being with him.

All of us, Annie, too, took the CPR classes at the hospital. Each one of our parents drove us and picked us up. Dean’s dad took all of us to Baskin and Robbins on the last night for ice cream.

Dusty turned to Annie. “I like your hair short. Are you letting it grow out?” We’ve all heard how Annie would like to get her haircut but has no money.

Annie sighed, twirling a shaggy piece of hair. “I have no money to get a hair cut. I’ll be paying restitution till I’m eighty.”

I leaned over and sized her up. “Hmmm, maybe we could work something out.” I wiggled my index finger for her to lean closer to me. “Listen, I’ve got a plan.”

Dusty and Dean smiled, my co-conspirators, and licked their cones as I informed Annie that we had been asked to mow the Hutchinsen’s, Grover’s and Stilburn’s yards while they are on vacation.

“With the four of us doing all three jobs and splitting the money, we could do a good job, earn some money and have fun doing it together!”

Annie blushes slightly. “I’d have to give the money to my parents—”

“Let Fran finish,” Dean waved his cone at me. “She has more to say.”

“We’ll all put in a third of our pay, to be used for whatever we want to do—it’s for all of us to decide what to do with it, and I think we just might want a haircut.” I look at Annie sternly. “Clip and Go.”

Annie pokes her spoon into the sorbet and squeezes the paper cup a couple of times, staring intently down at the table. “Did you know about the fourth Musketeer, d’Artagnan?”

Annie is really good with languages, especially French, and she pronounces it ‘da-DAN-yo’, sounding very sophisticated.

“He fought the other three Musketeers until a whole bunch of guards showed up to take away Aramis, Porthos, and Athos. D’Artagnan fought along side the Three Musketeers, then the four of them formed an alliance.”

Dean’s dad had finished his sundae and had gone to the car to wait for us.

I hold up my cone; Dean and Dusty theirs, and Annie whips out the spoon, flinging a bit of raspberry sorbet on me. I make a big production of wiping it off with a napkin, then re-salute.

“One for all, all for one!”

We had a great summer, the four of us! Annie did get her haircut, and she was asked to take over the Tot’s Sunday Fun class, which she did and talked about it all the time, how she would do this and that, this kid and that kid and what if this? what if that?

Dusty was invited to an art and photo workshop for young artists and took a first place ribbon for a photograph of fishing boats at the Ballard marina.

Dean and I taught CPR classes for teens, with the adult supervisor just sitting there shuffling papers throughout our demonstrations.

It would be the summer remembered as good times and friendship. We pledged at the beginning of the school year we would be forever friends. Well, you never know what the four Musketeers might accomplish in their lifetimes.