Category Archives: Stories

Broken Hill and Other Adventures

This is a square from a memory box that I published photos of in June of this year. I promised to tell the story of any square people asked me about, and then welched on my promise, so here I am atoning, albeit a few months too late. If you want to see the entire memory box, go HERE, then return to this page to hear the story of this box.

The tin of quinine pills were in the box when my sister gave it to me, but she may have foreseen my trip through the Panama Canal forty–some years later, as quinine is a medication for malaria, which we had to be inoculated against–or perhaps she intuited all the times I would have to drink quinine water to rid myself of the arm and leg cramps that have frequently attacked me at night for my entire life. Come to think of it, I haven’t had so many attacks in the past year after I stopped drinking Diet Coke and using aspartame. If I drink even one Coke, however, I am plagued by cramps again—sometimes as many as four times a night and sometimes both arms and both legs at once. The water I drink instead of the Coke probably helps, as well.

As for the pins, the “Peace on Earth” pin was my grandma’s–one of the “prizes” she gave me whenever I went to visit her. Above it is my pledge pin for XO, my college sorority and below it is my Tasbureau pin from a trip to Tasmania. My friend and I left the bus tour part way through and rented a car and saw the rest of the country alone. All of the other members of the tour group were much older and although they were nice, they cramped our style a bit. They didn’t seem to hold it against us, though, for one of the men later came to visit my parents in Arizona! By then I was traveling through Southeast Asia or living in Africa. After a slow start growing up in a tiny town in South Dakota, I had an exciting life in my twenties and thirties.

When I lived in Australia in the early seventies, three friends and I drove from Sydney to Broken Hill to Adelaide in my tiny Morris mini car. In Australia, there were very strict rules about no women being allowed in the men’s bar of the Leagues Clubs. There was a lounge area women could go into, but when my friends and I went there for a meal, we were spied by the guys in the bar who invited us into the men’s bar and made us honorary members of the Broken Hill Leagues Cub. I still have the pin to prove it right here in my memory box in this square.

The material in the back was a large tablecloth I purchased in India and gave to my sister to make a robe for me. Instead, she made something for herself out of it and used a few pieces of the remnants to back up a few squares in this box. Sisters! I have to forgive her, though, because if it hadn’t been for her, we would have had no photos of our early life–including a number of the photos in this memory box.

Again, if you want to see the entire memory box, go HERE.

Memories Decoded

IMG_9013This square actually contains two stories, both of which have been requested. I’ll tell the story of the other one tomorrow.

When I published the photo of my memory box, I promised to tell the story of any square in it that someone requested I tell. Two people have requested I tell the story of this one, so I’ll tell it first. If you’ve requested other stories, they will be coming up in the near future, one a day.

The year was 1966 and Christmas was fast approaching. That year, my sophomore year at the University of Wyoming, my folks had let me bring to college the little red Ford Galaxie that my dad traded a combine, two horses and a bit of cash for my junior year in high school. The way my sister and I learned my dad was buying us a car was that he told us to get in his pickup, we were going to White River. What for? A surprise. When we got almost to White River, 23 miles away, he pulled off the road into a lot filled with a number of machines, cars and farm equipment and pulled up to a little red Galaxie, told us to get out of the car and tossed us the keys. My sister and I soon got the message that this was our car. I was 16 and had just gotten my driver’s license. My sister Patti was 20. We got in the car, stared at the stick shift and revealed to my dad that neither of us knew how to drive a stick shift. Well, he guessed we’d learn on the way home, he said, and took off in his pickup. He was right, we learned on the way home.

The thing about stories is that every story has so many stories attached to it and so it is with this one. At any rate, with no further digressions. Since I was one of the few girls in the sorority house who had a car and since I was always up for adventure, shortly before Thanksgiving, I decided I would take friends up to the Snowy Mountains to cut a Christmas tree for the Chi Omega house where I lived. With a bit of squeezing, the back seat could accommodate four; the front seat, with its gear stick on the floor, could accommodate two. So, six of us piled into my car in the early afternoon, sure that we could get to the Snowy Range, cut a tree and be back by our ten-o’clock curfew that night. Included in the group were three of my best friends since my freshman year and two new pledges, both from California.

Our troubles didn’t actually start until we had arrived in the mountains. Because the dirt road was very narrow and steep, there was really no place to pull off, so all I could do was to pull as far over to the side as possible and hope no traffic came along. We knew the chances were remote, as it was a timbering road meant for the trucks that went back and forth to the lumber camp at the top of the mountain, the road being too small and rough for regular traffic. We set off scouting out a tree and soon found one the right size and proceeded to chop it down, not too skillfully, I might add. It had started to snow as we set out from the car but we were so intent on finding and chopping down the tree that we didn’t pay much attention to the fact that the snow was falling more and more heavily.

It was as we were dragging the tree back to the car that we heard the loud beeping of a horn, which in the muffled air of what was now a snow storm sounded more like a fog horn than a car horn. As the other 5 dealt with the tree, I ran out to the road to discover a huge lumber truck pulled up behind the car. My friends wrestled the tree into the trunk and I tied the lid down with the top few feet of the tree sticking out behind the trunk. We piled into the car and since I could not get past the truck to head back down the mountain, I was forced to drive further up the mountain—up the deep ruts of the frozen dirt road that were quickly filling up with snow, the lumber truck close on my heels, now and then sounding its horn if I slowed down too much.

As the snowfall got heavier and heavier, I found it harder and harder to see, the windshield wipers barely keeping up with the accumulating slush at their corners as well as the newly fallen snow. It seemed like an eternity as we drove farther and farther up the mountain. On one side was a sheer drop-off. On the other side, a steep mountain bank and trees. The mood was tense in the car as we searched each side for a possible place where we could turn around to go back down the mountain. As I type this, I can again feel the tension—a feeling of fullness in my chest—a panicked sensation of something gathering and swelling in my throat. It was panic, a growing fear that there was no way we were going to get back down that road, even if we were able to reach the lumber camp.

“I think we’re going to be spending the night at the lumber camp,” I remember thinking—and perhaps saying. The one good thing about our situation was that truck behind us, which could help us if we got stuck and which could also lead us to shelter in the lumber camp. But when we finally did get to the top of the mountain and a dirt space large enough to turn the car around, whoever was driving the lumber truck just parked the rig, jumped out and headed down through the trees. Not knowing where he was going or how to find the camp, we turned the car around and headed back down the mountain.

By then it was so dark and snowing so hard that the only way we could see to stay on the road was to open all the windows and hang our heads out, shining flashlights out of each window to see where the edge of the road was. We drove slowly for what seemed like hours, the tires sliding on the icy road until finally, the car went into a skid and started to go over the side of road. Knowing that it was a sheer drop off on the side we were skidding toward, I pumped the brakes, then as it seemed sure we were going to plunge off the side, I jammed down on the brakes and pulled the emergency brake as well. As the car went over the edge, however, the banked snow and frozen dirt stopped us. With the two passenger-side wheels hanging out into the air and the rear driver’s side wheel barely making contact, the only thing keeping us from going down the side of the cliff was the wheel and undercarriage under me. I knew it was necessary to get as much weight as possible out of the other side of the car, and yelled at the passengers in the back seat to slide as far over to my side as possible and to jump out of the back window–the side nearest the road. Then I told the person in front with me to climb into the back seat and to exit by the same means. As she did, I opened the glove box and emptied its contents into my purse. A package of chewing gum, five packets of ketchup, an extra flashlight, matches, a lighter–I don’t remember what else–but I knew we might have to survive for awhile on whatever was there. When all of my friends were out of the car, I opened my door and jumped out into the snow, fearing that without my weight the car would go on over the side.

It didn’t, but we knew it was not safe to stay in the car as it could go over at any minute. But what to do? We were all dressed warmly except for one girl from California, who had no socks and no gloves. I had earlier taken off mine and given them to her when they had gotten out of the car to push at one point. We were not equipped to survive in a mountain snowstorm, however, and I knew we needed to find shelter. In spite of the fact that we had noticed no cabins on our way up the mountain, finding one would be our only hope of survival. We had, as I recall, four flashlights, and since it seemed important to stay in contact with the car, I devised a system whereby I would stand as far from the car as I could so I could still see the car and shine a flashlight in front of me. The others would walk together shining one of the three remaining flashlights in front of them, fanning the area around them looking for shelter. They would walk as far as they could so long as they could still see my flashlight. When they had walked the furthest possible still seeing my light, one person would stand and turn on her flashlight, fanning the surroundings as they had before. If they saw nothing, that person would again shine the flashlight in a forward direction into the woods parallel to the road and the other three would walk forward together, fanning their flashlights to look for a cabin for so long as they could see the light being held by the second person. When they got to the furthest spot that they could see her light, one more would stop and shine her light for the remaining two. In this way, it would always be possible to find their way back to the car. And luckily, when they were almost to the furthest place where they could still make out the third light, they discovered a cabin, tightly boarded up for the winter. They blinked their flashlight twice, the girl above them turned and blinked her light at the one closest to me, who turned and blinked her flashlight at me and I blinked my light twice to let them know I had seen them, then grabbed the axe, thinking we might need to chop some firewood, and headed down the mountain toward lights number two, three and four!

Little did I know that I’d be using the ax to chop down the door to the cabin, which was nailed tightly shut, as were all the window shutters—a precaution against bears! Luckily we hadn’t considered the possibility of bears. The cabin was as cold as the outside air, however, and we knew we needed to get a fire started as soon as possible. The prospect of cutting down a tree and getting wet wood to burn did not appeal to us. Luckily, there were wooden chairs which we chopped up—but what to use to start the fire? Finally, we stripped insulation from the walls to stuff under the pieces of the chair and lit a fire in the cookstove. What we had not taken into account, however, was that the owners had put a coffee can over the smokestack before closing up for the winter to keep it free of critters and snow, so the cabin quickly filled with smoke.

As a result, we could just spend a few minutes in the cabin before going outside to breathe the clear air, and this was how we spent our time for I know not how many hours, taking turns standing outside to watch for any possible light coming up the road. Could there possibly be another lumber truck? Who else would be out on a night like this in such a remote spot? It was past midnight when one of the girls came running into the cabin to say she had seen a light. We all ran out, waving our flashlights as a pair of headlights made its way up the mountain. As the rangers’ four wheel drive vehicle pulled up on the road above us, we all went running up the hill, screaming, waving our arms as three men piled out of their vehicle.

Long story short, they were park rangers, who winched our car out from its precarious position, put out the fire in the cabin and wedged the door shut, then loaded three of us into the park rangers’ vehicle and the other four into my car, insisting that one of them would drive my car. We made our way down the mountain to the entrance of the park, at which point we were met by highway patrol cars. Those of us in the park rangers’ vehicle were transferred to a highway patrol car. “I can drive my car, now,” I protested, but a highway patrolman slid into the driver’s seat and we proceeded to the Laramie city limits.

At that point, we were transferred to a city police car for a brief ride to the University of Wyoming campus, where the campus cops assumed responsibility for us, driving us up to our sorority house where every light in the house was blazing and every girl in the house was waiting inside the entrance to the house, along with our house mother. By then it was 3 in the morning and they had been waiting up for us all night. When we hadn’t shown up for curfew, friends had admitted that we’d gone up to the Snowies to cut down a Christmas tree. Our house mother had called the dean, who had called the police who had called park rangers. Search parties had been sent out both from the University of Wyoming and the park headquarters. It had been 1 in the morning when they had received word we’d been found, but by then the story had been picked up by A.P. and U.P.I. and broadcast nationwide.

The next morning, we did not go to class, but slept in. We’d be seeing the Dean of Women in the early afternoon to face the music. When I woke up the next morning, the phones had already starting ringing—the press, wanting to hear the story first hand. Unfortunately, the person who answered the phone calls was Kathy Mulcare, the California girl who was the one I’d loaned my gloves and socks and boots to. Were we warmly dressed? The reported asked, “Yes, everyone but Judy Dykstra from Murdo, South Dakota. She was in low-cut shoes with no gloves!” And that was how the story went out nationwide.

When I called my parents the next morning, wondering how I was going to break the news, I said, “Hi, Mom. Guess what?” She said, “You mean how you were stranded in the mountains while cutting a Christmas tree last night?” My heart sank. It turns out that they had been up all night listening to the radio, knowing only that six girls from the U. of Wyoming were missing in the mountains after going up to cut a Christmas tree. No names had been given, but my mother said, “Ben, I just know one of them is Judy!” My dad said “Don’t be ridiculous. There are thousands of girls in the University–what are the odds that one would be Judy?” But he, too, waited up until they learned they had been found. No names, though, until I had been the one to tell them that alas, it was their daughter.

Yes, we were campused for the next semester. In addition, once the names had been announced, my dad came in for a lot of ribbing from his coffee buddies in Mack’s Cafe. “Can’t you afford to buy that daughter of yours boots and socks and gloves, Ben?” they teased. My mother advised that I not come home for Thanksgiving that year. “If you do, your Dad is going to take your car away.” And that is how I came to spend Thanksgiving in Thermopolis, Wyoming, with two of my friends who had shared the great Christmas Tree Adventure, and yes, there was another big adventure awaiting us in Thermopolis. But that is a story for another time and place and this is the story for that particular square in my memory box. Why the elephant and dog? That, too, is another story entirely.

Postscript: The strange thing was, no one ever asked us to pay for the damage to the cabin, and, although the news story ended with the quote “the little Christmas tree they had risked so much to get was left behind in the mountain blizzard,” in fact, they didn’t confiscate it. Nor did they ask if we had a permit to cut it, which we didn’t.

Although the original post was made in June, and I started this post then, I evidently got distracted. Forgottenman just found it in my drafts. So here it is, three months late. You can see the entire memory box HERE.

Fernweh

Family trip to Idaho, 1950

 

I’m putting the prompt words first today as they include two obscure words and giving definitions to save you the problem of looking them up if, like me, you don’t already know the meanings. Prompt words today are fernweh (a German word that means the opposite of homesickness–a craving for travel or longing for distant places you have not yet visited), facetious, blanket, vellicate (to pluck, twitch, nip, pinch or cause to twitch), and complex.

Fernweh

I miss it, that feeling of fernweh–a craving for travel or a longing for distant places not yet visited that is one of my very earliest memories. I remember standing by the highway that passed through our town just two blocks south of the house I grew up in and longing to be that child with her nose pressed against the window looking back at me as the car she was in whizzed past. Who were they, these people in the cars that passed in strings through our little town each summer? “They are tourists” my mother told me, and I imagined tourists to be perpetual travelers with no homes of their own. What did I want to be when I grew up? “A tourist,” I would reply. Everyone laughed at what they considered to be a facetious reply. They had no idea that I meant exactly that.

Although I had been on short trips before–at the age of three, to visit relatives in Idaho, at the age of 8, to accompany my parents when they drove my sister to college in Iowa, other one-day trips to drive my sisters to summer camp, when I was 12, my family finally took the long vacation I always begged them to take. They left it up to me to decide where we were going, and I declared that I wanted us to start out and then take turns deciding which way to go. When we came to the first crossroads, I said “Left!” At the next crossroads it was my sister’s turn, then my mother’s and finally my father’s for two glorious weeks. We all agreed that it was a wonderful vacation. Because he never knew where we were going, my father couldn’t press us more quickly toward our destination than we may have chosen to go and so we stopped numerous times along the way and spent as long in each spot as we wished to. We saw cousins we had heard about but never met and visited old neighbors in Minnesota, just “dropping in,” but always being urged to spend the night, and doing so.

We wound up on the shores of Lake Superior–which to me looked like one of the oceans I had always dreamed of visiting. I remember sneaking out at night to collect water and sand from the lake in an empty prescription container—the rush of the waves dashing against the rocks, the blanket of stars overhead, that smell of freedom I had been longing to experience my entire life. It would be eight years more before I actually saw an ocean and at that time I would spend four months on it, sailing around the world. My parents thought it would solve my fernweh, but little did they know. The minute I graduated from college, I was off again.. to Australia, and then to parts more wild for four long years before finally returning home.

Life is complex and I have found that I am rarely able to predict what will happen next. That lust for change that has driven me my whole life to leave friends behind to explore foreign countries, to leave houses and careers I’ve spent years building to take off for the great unknown—that need to be the stranger and to face situations I have been in no way prepared for—has taken me to all but one of the seven continents. It is as though those yearnings for strangeness and change were errant hairs that needed to be vellicated and travel was the only way in which to pluck them.

So how does a person like me deal with the forced isolation that the coronavirus has foisted upon us all? Strangely enough, it has alleviated a guilt that has been creeping up on me for the past few years—a strange feeling of contentment regarding where I am and what I am doing. I am taking an intense pleasure in my own back yard, instigating changes in my house and garden that I’ve been too busy to attend to in my past years of going here and there. I am sorting through pictures of past travel, reading disks from long-dead computers that chronicle the adventures of long ago. I am starting to dread trips away from home, to enjoy days where I see no one, go nowhere. In taking off for longer trips inwards, I am perhaps growing into myself, seeking satisfaction there, perhaps because it is a richer place to be because of a lifetime of venturing out.

Heading out into the Timor Sea on a WWII tank barge, 1973

The Awakening

The Awakening

She woke to a whiff of Darjeeling—that gentle caress to her nostrils that told her that Lorenzo had awakened early today. She could feel the press of his body on his side of the bed as he lay the tray there, ready for her when she was ready for it. He would not disrupt her, knowing all too well how she loved her Saturday mornings away from the press of the paparazzi and the demands of the fashion world.

On any other day, it wouldn’t be feasible to sleep in, but in addition to being a weekend, this was her birthday. She fell again into a sleep where there was no good reason for fantasy.  Her own life was fabulous enough to be replicated in dreams. Both children grown and off to their own fairytale lives: Francesca in Crete with her minor royalty husband, Sebastian a skillful artist flying from one country to the next to fulfill the long list of commissions that stretched out to infinity.

All-in-all, she herself had lived out all her childhood fantasies and only now had it become feasible to start to delegate tasks—grooming some of her most talented protégés to take over the designing and running of her couturier salon. Time to lie back and take it easy and let Lorenzo pamper her in all the ways he knew so well.

She stretched luxuriously, reaching her arm up to hit against the silk of her padded headboard, but strangely, hit instead against wood. Curious.  She opened her eyes. Light leaked into the room from between bent venetian blinds. Where was she? On the edge of the bed, a slightly paunchy old man with a day’s stubble on his cheeks sat studying the center foldout of a magazine he held at arm’s length. As she stirred, he looked up from it, his eyes widening in surprise. “Essie?”

She looked down at her own wrinkled hands, extending from the sleeve of a cheap pair of pajamas. She stroked her cheeks, dry and wrinkled , and wiped a small line of drool from the corner of her mouth. “Where am I?” Her voice felt as flaky and dry as her skin, her throat almost choking with the words.

“Yer here in Elm Gap,” he said, “where we’ve always been. Essie, do you remember what happened, yer slipping on the ice and falling sideways against the water tank?  Do you remember anythin’, Essie, of the twenty years since then?”

“Twenty years? I’ve been asleep for twenty years? What of Lorenzo and Francesca and Sebastian? Where are they?”

“They’re right here, Ma, waiting for you as usual,” a straw-haired woman said from the corner of the room. She, like her father, was rounded and nondescript—a thirtyish childlike frumpy creature much like the girl Essie had been. She was patting a tall pile of romance novels. “I been reading them to you for twenty years, Ma. You woke up just in time, cuz Ladonna LaRue, their author, just died and there won’t be any more.  But now you won’t be needing her life any more, because you’ve returned to your own. We always knew you’d return to us, Ma. This is your lucky day. And ours.

 

The prompt words today were skill, disrupt, whiff and feasible. Matt’s prompt was to create a simulated world.  Here are the links:

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/11/09/rdp-friday-skill/
https://fivedotoh.com/2018/11/09/fowc-with-fandango-disrupt/
https://wordofthedaychallenge.wordpress.com/2018/11/09/whiff/
https://dailyaddictions542855004.wordpress.com/2018/11/04/daily-addictions-2018-week-44/feasible
For Daily Inkling’s Simulation Theory.

First Offense

OldPaintDuckieSoulRed

First Offense

He took a cursory look at the damage. Just a paint scratch, really—one that could probably be removed from his back bumper with a little turpentine. Taking a look at the vehicle that had rear-ended him at the street light, he doubted that it had insurance, so it was a good thing that he’d already decided that there was no need to file a claim or to persecute the offender. It would make a good yarn once he got to the office and a perfect excuse for his being late. 

“Better stay on the sidewalk after this,” he yelled at the back of the toddler pedaling his toy car quickly away from the scene of the crime, his little friend in the toy patrol car pedaling down the sidewalk after him in pursuit, red light blinking, siren wailing as they rounded the corner.

 

The prompts for today are yarn, being, cursory, and persecute.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/08/21/rdp-82-yarn/

https://fivedotoh.com/2018/08/21/fowc-with-fandango-being/

https://wordofthedaychallenge.wordpress.com/2018/08/21/cursory/

https://dailyaddictions542855004.wordpress.com/ persecute

Little Duck’s Almost Novel Adventure

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One day Little Duck was bored, and although Big Duck was not bored at all, Little Duck decided he needed to be educated in the art of flying. “Just stretch your left wing out like this,” he instructed Big Duck. Of course, Big Duck had neither left wing nor right wing, so he stretched his left arm out as far as he could.

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“Very good,” said Little Duck. Then, “Stretch out your right wing!” he quacked like a drill sergeant, in a very bossy tone. And so Big Duck stretched his right arm out as far as he could.

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“Now, spread out your wing tip feathers and flap both wings at the same time,” demanded Little Duck; but try as he might, Big Duck just couldn’t do it.

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Upon further investigation, Little Duck decided that aside from a failure to coordinate wing movements, there was a further complication that foretold that for Big Duck, flying lessons would never come to fruition,

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for it seemed that in addition to malformed wings, Big Duck also lacked the webbed feet necessary for landing and propelling himself through water as well as the tail to serve as a rudder.

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“Very strange indeed!” shouted Little Duck from waaaaay down on the floor, where he had gone to investigate the matter. “In fact, in spite of your name and the color of your feet, you seem to resemble this palefoot human standing right over here to my right more than you do a duck.”

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“But I love you anyway,” Little Duck quacked at Big Duck, as he winged up to his shoulder to give him a reassuring peck on the cheek.

And, never one to give up on chances for adventure, Little Duck put on his thinking cap and tried to think of something Big Duck might be better able to accomplish. It was important after his last big failure that he give him a simple task more suited to his talents than flying seemed to be.

“Eureka!” he thought, and hopped up to share his idea with Big Duck, who at first looked somewhat dubious.

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But, in his usual inimitable fashion, Little Duck persevered. “As a team, we are unbeatable,” he insisted. “With my creativity and great mind and your mutated feathers capable of maneuvering a keyboard, we could write great literature!” And so, after a great deal of quacking and what passed for quacking on Big Duck’s part, the two settled into a collaboration.
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“It was a dark and stormy night,” lisped Little Duck.

“That sounds a bit trite to me,” countered Big Duck.

“Once upon a time,” quacked the littler of the two.

“Been done already,” Big Duck fired back.

“Duck!!!!!” shouted little Duck as he saw a wasp zeroing in on Big Duck’s ear.

“That sounds a bit better,” enthused Big Duck, and typed the first word of their document, complete with five exclamation marks and an ending quotation mark.

Knowing there was very little time for action, Little Duck soared through the air to Big Duck’s shoulder just in time to snap up the angry wasp in his martyred and heroic beak.

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“What comes next?” asked Big Duck, totally unaware that he’d just been saved from his biggest fear by Little Duck.”Did you notice that I remembered the closing parenthesis?” He asked, pointing proudly at their first completed sentence. “Do you have an idea for the second sentence?”

“There was a wasp about to sting you on the ear and I saved you by catching it in my beak!” shouted Little Duck.

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“Now who in the world is ever going to believe that?” protested Big Duck, and threw up his hand in defeat.

And that is how Little Duck’s Big Adventure never came to be written and why Big Duck’s name has not gone down in the history of literature, or even at the very least, in the blogger’s hall of fame.

THE END

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What to do with leftover Little Duck photos on the way between St. Paul and St. Louis with Big Duck doing all the driving.  I hit the publish button just as we arrived at the motel!  Now that is timing.

Crave more Little Duck adventures? https://judydykstrabrown.com/2016/09/25/travels-with-ducks-the-continuing-saga-of-little-duck-episode-5/

Uncornered

                                                                         Uncornered

daily life color103 (1)

Corners are the great equalizer, for it is a fact that no matter how large or small the house, every corner is exactly the same size. I remember being so small that I could fit all the way into a corner, right up to where it bent. If I was facing the wall, I could hold my head straight and fit my tongue into the crack that spread out in an L to form the two sides of the corner. If I faced outwards, I felt less punished and more ready to branch out from the corner into the kitchen, perhaps, with the refrigerator to be visited and a cherry popsicle to be collected on my way out into the world of my house.

Lying on my back on the purple living room rug––a floor that, although it extended to each corner of the room, had no actual corners itself. No chance of punishment. Facing downwards on the rug was entertainment: playing jacks or putting together a picture puzzle, moving paper dolls around their world of Kleenex box furniture, pot and pan swimming pools and matchbox coffee tables. In this paper universe were treasures purloined from the jewelry boxes of our mothers. Rhinestone bracelets became flapper necklaces and ruby-colored rings bangle bracelets. A folding fan stretched from side-to-side of the corner became the dressing room where Debra Paget donned her dressing gown, slipping out of her red paper high heels.

In the corner of my sister’s closet was the little cave I’d carved out of the shoe boxes and cardboard boxes of cast-off toys. There I’d wait for her to arrive home with friends in tow, to eavesdrop on their conversations in hopes of finding out who the boy was who had called her on the phone and hung up without identifying himself when he asked if she was there and I’d said no, she was out on a date. I might discover what she was going to give me for my birthday or hear any of the interesting secrets shared by girls four years my senior. But instead, it was the corner I fell asleep in, to wake up hours later when my mother called us down to supper.

“Where’s Judy?” I heard her ask my sister from the bottom of the stairs.

“She’s not up here,” I heard my sister answer as she went hop skipping down the stairs, two at a time. Even after I heard the door close at the bottom of the stairs, I stayed quietly where I was, barely breathing.

Five minutes later, I heard my sister clomping up the stairs again—looking in every room, the bathroom, under beds, in every closet except her own—I guess because she knew I couldn’t be there since she’d been in her own room for the hour before supper. I stayed quiet, giggling inside.

After my sister went downstairs,  I sneaked quietly out into the hall and down the stairs in my stocking feet, then creaked open the door and went running around the corner into the kitchen and dinette to take my usual place at the table—on the bench against the wall.

“Where were you?” my sister asked, “You weren’t anywhere!”

“It’s a secret!” I answered, and to this day, my whereabouts that day are an unsolved family mystery.

“Where was she?” They ask each other. Then, “Where were you?” they ask me again, but try as they may, no one has ever cornered me to give an answer.

Didn’t follow the daily prompt today as I’ve written about this one a couple of times, but here it is: https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/strike-a-chord/

 

Locked Secrets

                                                                      Locked Secrets

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I’d just received my school’s math prize and my Uncle Jimmy, after handing me a twenty dollar bill, had, in his usual self-effacing manner, proclaimed that I must have gotten my smarts from him.  “How is it that you are both the pretty one and the smart one in your family?”  He teased.  My sister Eleanor was out of the room at the time.  If she’d been there and I hadn’t, he would have been proclaiming her the prettiest.  We all knew this about our uncle.  He adored us, and was not above flattery in revealing the fact.

This time, however, he had overlooked  both the precociousness and competitiveness of my two-and-a-half-year-old youngest sister, Stephanie.

“Elebben, eight, twenny, fiteen,” she recited proudly!

“Well, forgive me, Missy. Aren’t you a smart young lady, knowing how to count?” He reached into his lumpy pocket and tossed her a nickel.  Amazingly, she caught it.  Perhaps she was going to be the first athletic one in the family.

“Fohty-two!” she exclaimed proudly. “free, sebben-elebben, one, one, one.” This time he extracted his wallet, took out a one-dollar bill and handed it to her.  Putting his wallet back in his back pocket, he turned one side pocket inside out. “But that’s it, Teffie.  No more money. If you want to go on counting, it will have to be for free.”

His other pocket still bulged with its contents: coins, a rubber ball to throw for our dog Pudge, oatmeal cookie bits in a small plastic bag–also for Pudge.  My Uncle Jimmy always proclaimed that doggie treats were a real gyp and that no self-respecting dog would perform for such a dry, tasteless mouthful.  So, he preferred to bake his own dog treats.

My sisters and I agreed, and sometimes we would perform, hoping to be rewarded with one of Pudge’s treats.  We were all constantly performing for our uncle, whom we adored. He was the one person who paid more attention to us than to our parents when he visited.  He was our favorite babysitter, and our parents’ favorite as well, as he always waved away payment.

He would take us to Fern’s Cafe for strawberry malts, greasy hamburgers and mashed potatoes and gravy, since Fern didn’t have a French fryer. He took us for wild rides over cow pastures in his beat up old red Ford pickup.  Once he took us to a matinee cartoon show in Pierre, sixty miles away, and got us home and in bed again before my folks got home.  We were sworn to secrecy and so far as I know, none of us ever told.  I know for sure I didn’t.  My Uncle Jimmy had my undying loyalty.  I would have borne torture before giving away any of his secrets.

Sadly, Uncle Jimmy died during one of those wild rides across the South Dakota prairie.  This time he was flying solo over a dam grade and veered too far to the right, rolling the pickup.  He drowned trying to get out of the passenger door, the pickup mired driver-side down in the mud at the bottom of the dam.  We had always felt like such ladies as Uncle Jimmy graciously got out of his pickup to personally open the door from the outside for us.  We didn’t know then, as we know now, that it was a peculiarity of that door that it would only open from the outside.

“Thank God the girls weren’t with him,” my mother sobbed to my father, as they sat side-by-side at the kitchen table, my dad’s arms around her.  It was past midnight, and they were sitting in that room furthest away from our bedrooms, thinking we wouldn’t hear her sobs.  But, unable to sleep, we had stolen out to the living room to listen––all consumed by that missing of Uncle Jimmy that would last our whole lives.

“Oh, he never would have driven that wildly if the girls were with him,” my dad said.  But Eleanor and I and even Steffie just exchanged that look that we were to exchange so many times in our future lives together––that look that children exchange that would tell their parents that they know something their parents don’t know––if only their parents took the time to notice. Even Steffie understood.  And Uncle Jimmy was right when he proclaimed her wise beyond her years.  Even Steffie never told.

(This is a work of fiction.)

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Your Days are Numbered.” What’s the date today? Write it down, remove all dashes and slashes, and write a post that mentions that number.

One No Trump: JNW Prompt Generator

Today, in honor of my sixth posting to Jennifer’s site, I decided to take the first six prompts given by her prompt generator and to try to use them all, in order, in a poem, story or essay. What occurred was this short short story. The phrases that were generated were: hurt awareness, fair incident, muddy kitchen, innocent ring, tired reputation, stupid recommendation.

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One No Trump

I wouldn’t say that she was totally disillusioned with life, but she did carry this air of hurt awareness that one unfair incident after another had worked against her best interests in life. She remained stubbornly sure that her choices, if they had worked out, would have led to a glorious life. No one even tried to convince her that her goals and means toward them were destined to fail from the first–not because the plans themselves were not worthy ones, but because she had an innate talent for messing them up.

She started in working diligently to attack the one wrong thing in her life she could most easily alter: her muddy kitchen. When the first giant crashes of thunder had been loosed upon the world, the dogs had set up a tremendous chorus of howls, scratches at the door and barks. She had let them in immediately, not realizing that the little one had been amusing himself in her new flower bed. In their great rush, one had upset the water dish and that combined with Hampton’s muddy paws, had made quick work of her earlier labors in creating a spotless kitchen.

She washed the mop out in the kitchen sink, creating a second dark ring around the sink. It was the innocent ring—dark black—that paralleled the slightly raised reddish-rust ring a few inches above. It was that red ring that she needed to scrub off before the break of day. It would not do to let anyone see that guilty ring. No matter what her justifications were, the world would not believe her. She had one of those unlikable faces that turned people against her, no matter how reasonable her arguments were. It was too late to alter the frown lines that pulled her lips downward, the darting eyes that said “I am not entirely believable” and the hands that wrung themselves by habit.

It was not, given the record of her entire life, that she did not have an adequate reputation—respected family, charitable acts, donations to the correct causes. It was just that over the years she had started espousing strange causes and slowly her actions had started becoming a bit odd as well. Chasing odd cars down the rows of the Walmart shopping center screaming abuse at their drivers for the sentiments revealed on their bumper stickers. Standing on a corner on Main Street holding up a placard that read “Polluter!” each time a car or truck passed, spewing black smoke.

She called the parents of children she witnessed bullying other children as she sat on a park bench near the school crossing and harangued the parents of large families about zero population growth. She was so scathing in her criticism of her bridge partner when, even though he had opening count himself, he had failed to raise her one trump opening bid, that he’d dropped out of bridge club; and when no one else would consent to be her partner, she, too, had been forced to quit.

So, it wasn’t so much that she had a bad reputation but that she had a tired reputation. She just couldn’t bother with the niceties anymore. She said what she thought—without taking tact into account. Bastards didn’t deserve tact. But even her best friends, the few of them she had left, admitted that her behavior was becoming ever more aggressive and bizarre.

And this is how she came to have that damned second ring in her sink. She knew she never should have gotten into a discussion about politics with anyone in this town, let alone a stupid plumber who lived up to all the stereotypes of plumbers when he knelt down showing his butt crack.  What tipped the balance was the cretin smugness of the plumber as, seeing her Hillary sticker on the fridge, he declared that he was going to vote for Trump just to see the fun that resulted.

This, coupled with the coincidence of his request that she give him the big wrench, had caused her, for that one moment in her life, to act to the full extent of her wishes. She gave him the wrench full force over the back of his head. He then departed this life with no fuss, no struggle, merely sinking forward into a full bow, his forehead against her kitchen floor.

There was a lot of blood, and although it was an unplanned act, she congratulated herself in her choice of locales—the kitchen being the best possible place to get rid of the evidence. That was why she had taken care of the hard job first, digging the new flower bed a good bit deeper, dragging his body out, head in a black garbage bag pulled tight, pouring the quick lime and then covering the body well with soil, planting the bushes that would establish the deepest roots. Putting the ring of flowers around the bushes and raking a solid cover of largish stones over them, fooling herself into believing this would discourage the new terrier’s digging instincts.

So now, taking the pup’s paws into account, she supposed she’d have additional work to do on the flowerbed, too; but her first priority was the blood rings in the sink. Like Lady Macbeth, no matter what she did, those stains held fast. She rued, then, that penurious nature which had caused her not to replace the porous old sink, older than she by far, that held stubbornly on to everything that passed its way–blueberries, coffee. Blood. She scrubbed to no avail.

Looking out the window, she could see where the puppy had uprooted Peony bushes and flowers and ground cover. More work there to complete before sunup. Hours ago, she had called a housekeeping company in another town to ask about the best way to remove bloodstains from a worn porcelain sink. The woman had been no help. “Call a plumber,” she had said,“He should be able to solve your problem!” Stupid recommendation.

https://topicgenerator.wordpress.com/      https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/que-sera-sera/

Most of the Time: A Serial Tale, Chapter 2

Well, again, today’s prompt is one I’ve already done, but the prompt I did yesterday involves taking the first and last line of a favorite book and using the last line as the first line of my writing and using the first line of the book as the last line in my piece.  I did so and the results, if you haven’t read them, you can find HERE.  I then asked readers to provide the name of another book and its first and last lines so I can continue the story.  I’m going to continue so long as people keep providing me the first and last lines.  More info about that is at the end of my Chapter 2.  So, here goes Chapter Two:

Most of the Time

Chapter 2

Nothing is an unmixed blessing. The fact that my frequent trips to the firing range furnished me with an easy out any time I wished to leave the house carried certain penalties. For one, I had no permit to carry a concealed weapon, so if I was planning on really going elsewhere, I had to figure out where in the house to stash my guns so Peter would not find them and start wondering why I would be going to a firing range with no guns. It was not an option to leave them in the car. I may be irresponsible in some regards, but gun safety is not one of them. I will not carry concealed weapons. Nor will I take the risk of anyone breaking into my car to steal them.

As careful as I am, I’ve been known to forget to lock the car. What if a child were to enter and find one of the guns and, thinking it was a toy, discharge it? So it was that I purchased the lock box that I kept in a special compartment, also locked, under the gardening box behind the lawnmower shed. I had it made specially, and it was so cleverly contrived that it was impossible to see that there was a secret slide-out compartment under the large chest that held clippers, shears, weed whacker, gloves, various lawn fertilizers, garden pest sprays and powders and about a thousand Daddy Long Legs that had decided this year to use it as their main clustering spot. A padlock secured it against any child getting into the poisons or any prowler making off with our tools, but there was a crack big enough to permit access by spiders, tiny frogs, and this year’s infestation of Daddy Long Legs.

I slid my fingers into the crack on the side of the secret compartment that allowed the lock to pop out, unlocked it and slid my Ruger Mark 4 into the small tray that ran along the left side of the compartment. There was plenty of room for several rifles or shotguns in addition to six or more pistols or revolvers, but it would have been overkill to pretend to take more than one firearm on a day when I had no intention of going to the range. It would be easy for me to sneak a small pistol into the house. Not so easy to deal with smuggling an item as large as a rifle if Peter happened to get home before I did.

I clicked the tray shut, heard the automatic lock snap in place, then turned the key to position the deadlock. Free at last! I sprinted to the car and spun out in my excitement to be off on another adventure. “She cleans closets by night, comes out of the closet by day” ran through my mind, picking up a melody as it repeated itself. No song had written itself in my mind for a very long time, and even this silly line began to acquire a validity that I might have disregarded if I hadn’t felt so elated to once again have the company of my muse. Even so, I had to admit the line didn’t have much of a chance as anything outside of a C&W refrain, but I’m no snob about music. I’m open to pretty much any kind of music that comes to me.

Peter hates it when I hum. He gets this irritated look, first, and if I continue in spite of it, his usual line is, “You’re humming again!” After twenty years of being cutting short by this line, I still feel put down every time he says it. “I am not farting!” I used to say, “—or snorting or coughing without covering my mouth. I am simply revealing my happy mood, not to mention my creativity. It’s an original song I’m humming, Peter. It’s part of my expression of my art.”

Those sorts of arguments didn’t make it much past our first year of marriage. It took me less time than that to learn that such unburdenings of my soul had absolutely no effect on Peter. The next time I hummed, the look he shot me was no less lethal. “Old women hum tunelessly under their breaths,” he once said during yet another putdown. “Can’t you save your humming for private moments?”

I rolled down the window and bellered. Top of my lungs. Top of the morning. I’d reached open country and there was no one to hear me with the exception of the crows and passing motorists, none of whom even turned their heads to check me out. I was noisily invisible. That was comforting, actually. I really enjoyed being the thing overlooked in places where I knew I didn’t belong. I would soon be that person again in whatever place I chose to enter next. I headed out for the industrial part of a very large town merely twenty miles away from the house I called home. That was far enough in this hugest of towns. I had never once run across anyone I knew on one of my little sorties. These little adventures were the dessert that kept me true to the restricted diet I was on in the other ninety-some percent of my life. I was going to have fun. Even if it killed me, I was going to have fun while I still remembered what fun was.

As I pulled off the four lane onto a long straight gray street, I could hear the buzz of the telephone lines, the maddening drone of a weed whacker, the electrical current pushing the street lights off and on, the rhythmic turning of cars whizzing by, the mashed together sound of people talking, TV’s and radios blaring, When I rolled up my window, all of the noises went away; but as I pulled to a stop in front of a little lowlife dive and opened the door, I could hear its neon sign doing its own cyclical hum to join with all the other sounds. “Ninny Ricketts Place” the sign announced without the benefit of apostrophe, and it joined in the humming mesmerizing chorus of that whole grim landscape until the buzz in the street was like the humming of flies caught between glass and the window screen, with no place else to go but here and no way to get there even should they determine to go.

To See Chapter 3, go Here.

Yesterday’s Prompt: Choose a book at random from your bookcase. Use the last sentence in the book as the first sentence of what you write. Then turn to the first sentence of the book and use it for your ending sentence. (I used the ending line of the book I chose as my title, which actually is the first line of a book to my way of thinking. Hereafter, however, I will use whatever prompt I’m given as the first line of the next section of the story.)

Today’s Prompt from Patti Arnieri: My suggestion is from “The Cuckoo’s Calling” by Robert Galbraith (otherwise known as J.K. Rowling). First line: “The buzz in the street was like the humming of flies.” Last line: “Nothing is an unmixed blessing.”

If you would like to suggest a book for me to use the first and last lines of for tomorrow’s writing, please give the title of the book, the author, and the book’s first and last lines in the comments section of this posting. Remember that I’ll use the last line as the first line of tomorrow’s posting and the first line as my last line. Who knows where this tale will wind? If no one gives me tomorrow’s prompting lines, the rest of the story will never be heard, and perhaps that is a good thing. C’est la vie.

P.S. If any of you would like to accept this same challenge, just watch to see what beginning and ending lines I use and use the same ones. If you are a day behind, no problem. It would be interesting to see what varied stories occur given the same beginning and ending lines. Please post a link to your story or poem on the page it corresponds to in my blog—i.e. the one where I make use of the same beginning and ending lines.Will anyone accept my challenge? Sam? Macgyver? Laura? John?