Tag Archives: Judy Dykstra-Brown stories

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/

 

The Stories Held by Things

IMG_9078

The Stories Held by Things

Niata and Solchi sit in the shade of a baobob,
coils of bright plastic between them,
bright green, pink, white, black, green.
Blue. Yellow.
They do not touch the yellow.
They are afraid of it, perhaps,
or dubious. Yellow is the color of the water
that carried their sister away
as she called out to them,
helpless on the bank––
the color
of the skin of their brother
who was surrendered to the water
to be carried away as well.

Yellow is not in their
creative vocabulary
as they wind, wind the plastic cord
into bracelets, forming designs
of checkerboards and crosses,
stripes like the stripes in candy canes
given in December by the missionaries.
Now a band of blue, then back to white lines
on black backgrounds.

 They fantasize about
who would wear these bracelets.
A penny each, they are given for their efforts.
Such cheap adornment—who would buy?
They weave into the bracelets stories
of the other village girls.
The one married to the tiger who carried her away.
The one with a pact made with the devil
who gave her to the handsome rich white man
who, it is said, took her to America
to sit in a chair and be waited upon,
preserving her beauty like any shiny thing
laid on a shelf.

This girl, Rishan, has entered the folklore of the town
in her lifetime. They imagine her, at nighttime by the fire,
on her throne in America. Perhaps a couch
by Ikea or Walmart or other shopping places
of the rich and famous. Like diamonds, she sparkles
in the heat of July—perhaps in a bikini her mother
would blush at, reclined by a pool of sparkling water
that she never enters, meant as she is to remain
at the edge of life. One beautiful thing
surrounded by others.

 On their tongues
are stories of Rishan and their sister
carried away, their brother lost.
They store their memories as each completed bracelet
is cast in the basket with the others;
so by night time, they cannot tell
who made which.
Their lives so cast together
that they can barely tell the difference
between them. So that when
Niata slices her finger on the knife
meant to cut the plastic strips,
Solchi cries out, thinking it was
her own hand that was cut.

 Such is the sameness of life in these places
where baubles are constructed
for American ladies to buy in a gallery
miles from town in a Wyoming outpost
of the rich and famous—a retreat
for fantasies of Westerns watched in their youth.
Dude ranches, golf courses, polo fields
and a gallery made special by the thirty miles they must drive
to comb through treasures from Mexico, India and Africa.
All the places the gallery owner goes who loves to shop––
bringing back treasures for others to buy.
This huge basket filled with bracelets
reduced from four dollars to one dollar to fifty cents.

 I line my arms with them.
They are cheap treasures—a steal at this price
and when I bring them home to Mexico,
I wear them more often than the silver bracelets
purchased over a life time—favorites all.
Perhaps contentment in life
consists of creating new favorites
and treasuring all, regardless of the price;
so that when we are asked to surrender all,
there is no accounting necessary.
All equally valuable—priceless or of so little monetary value
that they have to be valued by their beauty, like Rishan,
put on the pedestal of their memory so these girls
spread near the riverbank like colorful flowers
might imagine themselves stringing pearls
and diamonds, emeralds and beads
of bright lapis lazuli
instead of this humble beauty in the making
that I find as precious
as the stories
their makers will tell
over and over again,
winding words around
long afternoons.

 

Locked Secrets

                                                                      Locked Secrets

daily life color093
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.

Vocabulary Lesson: The 7 Word Challenge

https://7words2inspire.wordpress.com/2015/09/26/word-list-week-4/ Write a story or poem making use of as many of these words as you wish: (oneiric cigar shenanigans cold-cocked finish sun-dried knickers) To save you the bother of checking them off, I’ll tell you I used them all—in order. The unbelievers can check them off anyway if they wish.

IMG_3811
                                              Vocabulary Lesson

She was more than irritated. Pissed, really, as she thumbed through the dictionary in search of the word “oneiric.” Any word that needed to be looked up didn’t belong in a “Dear Jane” letter anyway–as though to the very end he was trying to demonstrate his superiority—her inferiority.

Fuck! She slammed the dictionary to the floor, picked up the half-smoked cigar he’d left in the ashtray last night, relit it and surveyed the new paper cut on her index finger. Just one more of his shenanigans, she thought. Right after he’d cold-cocked her with the news that he and she were finished—that he was leaving her FOR HER MOTHER!!!!!!, he’d lit up his Cubano for one more puff before grinding it out and handing her this letter, telling her not to open it until he’d gone.

His finish had been pretty much like their beginning—with him ending up on the floor. But this time she was standing over him rather than lying on top of him. Idly, she flicked an ash into his open mouth, hitting him squarely on his tongue. The sun-dried blood on his lip looked like the smudge of a lover’s lipstick. Around his head were the remains of the crystal candlestick her mother had given them for their wedding.  She sucked at the paper cut, then at the gash across her palm that she had gotten from a shard of the candlestick that had taken a far smaller part out of her than it had out of him.

Far away in the kitchen, the phone rang and rang. Probably her mother. Well, let her get her knickers in a bunch waiting for him. Let her think (for as long as she could put off coming to investigate) that her daughter had reclaimed her property. She was in possession for now and everyone knew possession was 9/10ths of the law. She took another long draw before examining her wounds again.

Then, her curiosity getting the better of her, she moved back to the dictionary to thumb through the o’s. When she’d found the word, she chuckled and looked back at her lost love. Gone from this world, but no one would ever know it if she just shut his jaw and wiped off the bloodstain. As a matter of fact, he’d look downright oneiric!


I
f you want to join in the fun, post your story or poem HERE.

https://eternityinabox.wordpress.com/2015/09/26/word-list-for-week-4-submit-your-creativity-to-7-words/

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.

th-1
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/

Bob’s Rope

DSC09975

                                                                        Bob’s Rope

A week ago, I drove to the Santa Cruz, CA area to visit old friends. It has been fourteen years since I left there to move to Mexico, and when I spent the night with my friends Linda and Steve, they invited my other good friends Dan (pictured above) and Laurie to come for dinner. When we fell to comparing our present physical ills, as old farts like us are prone to do, I admitted that over the past year I have experienced a number of anxiety attacks when I go to bed, mainly centered around fears that I will soon stop being able to breathe. When I told Dan about these attacks, he said that he, too, had been having them for a long time but that he’d found a cure–that cure being Bob’s rope. The story goes like this.

About twenty years before, Dan and Laurie had decided to drive down to Baja and asked my husband Bob and me to accompany them. We took two cars because they had to come back before us as Laurie didn’t want to leave her elderly aunt for too long. Dan said he had felt terrible anxiety before the trip. What if their car broke down? With no big towns in Baja, what would they do? Nonetheless, we went, and on our second day of driving, we fell behind them a mile or two. We were nearing the crest of a big hill when we suddenly saw a big engine part lying in the road. We swerved around it and as we passed over the summit, we spied Dan and Laurie’s car down below at the bottom of the hill. We thought they were waiting for us to catch up, but then saw Dan get out of the car and wave us down.

Part of the engine had fallen out of their van! We went back to pick it up and discovered that it was the universal joint or some part of the engine that contained the universal joint, which is a vital part of the engine, or so I was told. Dan was sputtering a bit, but Bob just went to the back of our Blazer and pulled out this colossal hemp rope…maybe twenty feet long and about two or three inches thick. This he tied to our trailer hitch and to the chassis of Dan and Laurie’s van. We then towed them about 20 miles until we found a tiny “town” consisting of a small gas station. We pulled in and Dan, who knew more Spanish than we did at the time, (we knew none) asked the station man where the next garage might be. There were a sum total of three little houses in the town that we could see, and the man pointed to one across the road and said we should go see Jose.

Jose had about 5 old cars parked in his yard and when he inspected the part we’d retrieved from the center of the road, he said he’d see what he could do. He scrounged around in the various cars and came up with a part which he promptly dropped in the dirt, at which point all the bearings dropped out onto the ground, rolling every which way and burying themselves under powdery dirt and sparse grass clumps. He laboriously scavenged, picking bearings out and cleaning them off on his shirt before dropping them into wherever bearings go. He worked for a half hour or so–maybe longer.

This part of the story I didn’t witness as Laurie and I were across the street in the shade of the service station eating the best tamales I’ve ever had in my life. We’d purchased them from a little woman who had a stand by the side of the road. They were incredible in that every single bite tasted different from every other bite. She had put everything into them: pork, pineapple, cheese, mild chilis. Each bite was a totally new tamale experience and the masa was moist and light and wonderful. I was thinking that it was worth Dan’s U-joint just to get to eat these tamales! We thought we should buy some for Dan and Bob, but as time wore on, we ended up eating theirs as well. Only so much can be expected of girls marooned in the heat with only the shade of a forlorn little gas station for comfort.

At any rate, I’m sure we bought more tamales for the male members of our expedition and eventually, they drove up in Dan’s van. As they (probably) ate their tamales, Dan spoke in wonder of the fact that Jose had somehow been able to gerrymander the part from the pieces of the different cars–none of which were vans or even the make of his van. And, when he asked how much he owed them, they said, “Oh, 150 pesos!!!” This at the time was about $15. He said he would have paid more but alas, that happened to be all the cash he had on him and I’d spent all our money on tamales and gas.

So it was that we went on to a few more days’ adventures before they headed north again and we continued to Mulege and points south, took the ferry over to Guaymas on the mainland of Mexico and drove up the coast and back home. Later, Dan reported to us that he’d stopped by to see Jose on the way back up to California and left him with a couple of cases of beer and a bit more money, which he felt he had certainly earned, even though he had not commanded a higher price.

A happy Dan drove his van home and for 6 months it performed perfectly; but he started worrying about it and thinking it was bound to eventually give him problems, so he went to the authorized garage of whatever make his van was and had them order the correct U-joint and install it. Afterwards, he had had nothing but trouble with the van and they ended up trading it in. He admitted then that he never should have meddled with the perfection of Jose’s repair job.

Now, he said, every time he felt anxiety, he thought of Bob’s rope and it would calm his fears and remind him that things worked out because they had to and that there was really nothing to be so anxious about that it kept him from doing what he wanted to do. When Bob died and I moved to Mexico, I asked them what they would like to have from our house to remember us by and Dan quickly requested the rope! He’s had it ever since. They now split their time between their house in Boulder Creek, CA and a house near the southern tip of Baja and every trip they’ve taken down, they have carried that rope in the trunk of their car. Dan still suffers night anxiety attacks as I do but he said when he does he thinks of Bob’s rope coiled in the trunk of his car and that calms him.

That is the story of Bob’s rope–how it came to have such importance in Dan’s life and how it has come to have a potential for comfort in my life as well.

DSC09974                                                     Laurie seems to have life whipped.

The  Prompt: Tell us about a journey you have taken, either physically or emotionally.
https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/journey/

Boxed Salad

                                                               Boxed Salad

The story of my life is like a salad–more palatable when someone else does the cutting up and the mixing. I don’t know what to leave out of a salad.  I put everything into it every time–lettuce chopped so fine it’s better eaten with a spoon, carrots, celery, purple onions, avocado, apples, walnuts, cranberries, green olives and croutons, blue cheese, balsamic vinaigrette. All chopped up and blended to within an inch of its life so that each bite contains a bit of each.  Delicious, yes, but not enough variety between bites, perhaps. All of the elements mix up so much it is impossible to taste the flavor of each.  They blend into a fresh hash that becomes another thing entirely.

And this is what my life is like, as well.  Everything is remembered in such detail that I can’t sort out the relevant facts.  No one thing stands out as being the thing to feature.  I can’t get the gist of events.  What does it mean–that year or more in Africa? Somehow, after a lifetime of reading books that  imply reasons for things, nothing in my own life makes sense anymore.

I try to look at myself objectively. What in her makeup made her fall in love with a man who would become her stalker? What makes her leave places where things seem to be working out fine to jump into a new location and situation where she is thrust once again into the role of stranger?  Does she think, perhaps, this time she will come closer to finding herself?  Or does she think it will be a chance to try out a new life without the censure of friends who expect her to be the same person she was yesterday or last year?

What writer more competent than myself could find the pattern where all these pieces fit together into a recognizable whole? Perhaps Barbara Kingsolver could determine more easily how I fit in to my time or Joyce Maynard could extract those details that would make my life read like a mystery. Anne Tyler could describe those eccentricities that make my family readable, even if they aren’t from Baltimore; and I could certainly use the help of Abraham Verghese in writing the portions of my life that took place in Ethiopia. But undoubtedly, these favorite writers are all embarked on projects of their own, so it is not likely that any will be forthcoming in helping me to solve the conundrum of my own life story.

It’s like all of the details of my life are jumbled together in one of those big boxes out in the garage that I haven’t opened in fourteen years.  Even if I could bring myself to open those boxes, how could I ever make sense of them?  Yes, there are all these little boxes as well–where I’ve sorted the very best details into stories or poems or essays.–but where do those little boxes fit within the shipping container of my life?

In spite of a lifetime of writing, I have to face the fact that I don’t have the skills to write my own biography. Perhaps my task was to get famous enough to prompt someone else to do the deed, but it is getting late in my life and that seems unlikely to happen.  My chances to become infamous are equally long past, or at least I hope they are.  I have no wish to become famous due to my misdeeds or eccentric behavior.  Perhaps it is enough to unpack these tiny boxes one by one on my blog–like little parts of the entire tossed salad of my life.  Not biography.  Just bites.

DSC02426
The Prompt: Ghostwriter–If you could have any author –living or dead – write your biography, who would you choose?

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/ghostwriter/

John Wayne and I

DSC00169

When the Union Pacific Railroad was finally completed on May 10,1869, it was a cause for great celebration. A very good source describing the somewhat hilarious ceremony may be found here, but a segment from that source follows as a background for my own story:

A railroad linking America’s east and west coasts had been a dream almost since the steam locomotive made its first appearance in the early 1830s. The need for such a link was dramatized by the discovery of gold in California in 1848 that brought thousands to the West Coast. At that time only two routes to the West were available: by wagon across the plains or by ship around South America. Traveling either of these could take four months or more to complete.

Although everyone thought a transcontinental railroad was a good idea, deep disagreement arose over its path. The Northern states favored a northern route while the Southern states pushed for a southern route. This log jam was broken in 1861 with the secession of the Southern states from the Union that allowed Congress to select a route running through Nebraska to California.

Construction of the railroad presented a daunting task requiring the laying of over 2000 miles of track that stretched through some the most forbidding landscape on the continent. Tunnels would have to be blasted out of the mountains, rivers bridged and wilderness tamed. Two railroad companies took up the challenge. The Union Pacific began laying track from Omaha to the west while the Central Pacific headed east from Sacramento.

Progress was slow initially, but the pace quickened with the end of the Civil War. Finally the two sets of railroad tracks were joined and the continent united with elaborate ceremony at Promontory, Utah on May 10, 1869. The impact was immediate and dramatic. Travel time between America’s east and west coasts was reduced from months to less than a week.

The ceremony at Promontory culminated with Governor Stanford of California (representing the Central Pacific Railroad) and Thomas Durant (president of the Union Pacific Railroad) taking turns pounding a Golden Spike into the final tie that united the railroad’s east and west sections. As the spike was struck, telegraph signals simultaneously alerted San Francisco and New York City, igniting a celebratory cacophony of tolling bells and cannon fire in each city.
“It was a very hilarious occasion; everybody had all they wanted to drink…”
http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/goldenspike.htm

It will probably come as no surprise that in 1969 it was decided to have a huge ceremony honoring the 100th anniversary of the “Wedding of the Rails” in Utah. To that end, two trains set out—one from the easternmost point of the track and the other from the westernmost point. These trains were destined to meet at the original point of their joining, but since they were filled with dignitaries, they made numerous stops along the way with celebrations at each point where they stopped.

In 1969, I was attending university in Laramie, Wyoming. It was announced that John Wayne and Glen Campbell would be on one of the trains and that they would do a whistle stop where they would both say a few words before continuing on to the ceremony. Now it just so happened that this event coincided with Sigma Chi Derby Days—an annual event that consisted of a number of challenges whereby campus groups could assemble points. What the prize was I can’t remember, but I do remember that one of the contests was to gain the signature of the most famous person, and I happened to know that John Wayne himself had been a Sigma Chi. If I could somehow gain his signature, we would have it made in the shade for that particular challenge.

And so on the prescribed day, we were off, fully laden, with five of us filling the seats of my little red Ford Galaxy. How we would get close enough to the train to gain the autograph, I did not know, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.

There was, as may be expected, a huge crowd at the Laramie train station, and we waited in anticipation for the train. Finally, it came up, sounding its whistle, flags waving. Several men came out to a small stage that had been constructed just in front of the train. Finally, Glen Campbell came out, but no John Wayne. We were puzzled when the speeches started without him. What could have happened to John Wayne? Finally, I was hit with one of those instant inspirations often depicted by a light bulb going off over someone’s head in cartoon bubbles.

“I bet he got off the train to fly back to California!” No one disagreed and it was my car, so off we sped to the airport, which was several miles outside of town. We drove well over the speed limit down the two-lane nearly carless road. As we approached the airport, we could see no larger planes loading, but there was one smaller private plane. We went speeding up to the airport. “I’ll go see what’s going on with that small plane,” I told my friends, springing from the door almost as soon as the car had come to a screeching halt. I went running out onto the field—not hard to do in a small airport in those years before airport security­—and ran smack dab into a man who was walking toward the plane from the opposite direction. “Well, whoa, there, little lady. Where ya goin?” said the brick wall I’d just run into.

“I’m trying to find John Wayne. Do you know if he might be in that plane?” I asked.

“Nope, I’m pretty sure he’s not,” said the man, “because he’s standing right here!”

I looked up—way up—and sure enough. There he was with his hands still on my forearms where he had caught me just before I ran into him broadside!

Yes. It was a surreal experience. And it was even more surreal when I explained about the points and he said, “Well, would it give ya more points if instead of delivering my autograph you could deliver me?” I said it sure would, and we had reached my car and my somewhat astonished friends had piled four in the back for him to climb into the front seat with me when a harried looking man came running out from the landing field shouting, “John, John! What are you doing?”

Long story short, John Wayne did not come back to campus with us. His manager managed to persuade him it was not in his best interests given that something in California was important enough to warrant his immediate return. But, I did get his signature and no, I did not turn it in for Sigma Chi Derby Days. To this day, it resides in a square of a memory box—one of the kind popular in the sixties and seventies that is made out of an old newspaper print box—and as proof, I include a picture below.

And yes, of course John Wayne was three sheets to the wind, for in keeping with the original rail-joining ceremony, “It was a very hilarious occasion; everybody had all they wanted to drink…”

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/whoa/

DSC00166
For another great story about how Garry Armstrong met John Wayne, go here: http://teepee12.com/2016/01/08/the-duke-and-garry-a-pilgrims-tale-garry-armstrong/

The Prompt:  What’s the most surreal experience you’ve ever had?

My earlier post wouldn’t pingback to the Daily Prompt site, so I had to repost.  Here are comments from that earlier post:

lifelessons
grieflessons.wordpress.com
jubob2@hotmail.com
189.169.119.208

This seems to be a day for synchronicities. Did you read Mark Aldrich’s piece? Today is also my best friend’s birthday and I need to call her as well. Your mentioning your birthday reminded me of hers, so the chain goes on. Thanks for your kind words, Anton.

Mark Aldrich
thegadabouttown.wordpress.com
markaldrich68@hotmail.com
68.174.46.193

I wonder why that did not ping properly.

That is a treasure of a story.

Anton Wills-Eve
antonwillseve.com
willseve@aol.com
78.144.91.230

Judy you should have been a journalist! One of the best and most interesting posts I’ve ever read.Well done, but tell me, how did you know May 10 was my birthday? Seriously, it is. Anton. 🙂

Most of the Time: A Serial Tale, Chapter 4

Most of the Time

Chapter 4

 “And the tea, as always, was marvelous!” What?  What had Marjorie just said to me? Her statement was a complete non-sequitur, for I had been daydreaming about rum and Cokes and it was microwave pizza I had tasted as I bit into dainty canapés selected from a tray at the ladies luncheon in support of something-or-other.

Although I hadn’t been back to see Ninny Ricketts in the month since I’d first visited, she was often in my thoughts,  as was her “zero” quote.  “If you look at zero you see nothing; but look through it and you will see the world. ”I hadn’t been able to resist asking Peter what he thought it meant, but he had just stared at me in that puzzled and somewhat irritated manner that signaled this was not a topic worthy of his consideration, then went back to the fascinations of the Dow Jones Average or stock issues or whatever it is they display on the Money Channel’s report of the roulette wheel-like game they call the Stock Market.

How anyone could find the making and losing of money to be their primary hobby was as much a mystery to me as my humming was to Peter.  How in the world had we wound up together? Marjorie was now going on about something else.  I caught every tenth word or so, but luckily there was an entire table full of women hanging on her every word, so I was absolved of the obligation of following her drift.  “Paisley . . . carpet nap . . . ceiling coves . . . The words faded away.

My hidden adventures had started the third year of my marriage.  It was my friend Sharon who had suggested “slumming it” by going to one of the pool parlor bars frequented by both blue-collared locals and college kids from the nearby University.  We were barely beyond college age ourselves, both disenchanted with our “picture perfect” marriages, though we had not yet admitted it to ourselves, let alone to each other.

We’d know each other since we had scabs on our knees and chigger bites on our skinny shins from rolling in the grass clippings left in the wake of my dad’s hand-push lawnmower.  She’d always been the adventurous one, pulling me along in her wake.  She had helped me pad my first training bra and crammed my first tampon into me, stubbornly insistent in spite of my protestations that it would never fit.  She had procured for us our first fake i.d.’s and explained the logistics of diaphragms and KY Jelly long before we needed either.  With three older brothers, she knew the ways men thought and wasn’t afraid of them—a feat I never have become versed in, despite years of her tutoring.

She knew how to get along with men and was one of those women who, by merely sitting down in a booth in a bar, somehow attracted invitations to play pool or to dance or play darts from whatever close fraternity of men that was pursuing that pastime.  She was the one men sent drinks over to, the one who was responsible for us sailing into packed clubs while others stood in line to do so.  She was my tutor of sin and even though I wasn’t a very good student, somehow some of what she taught me has stuck to me to be resurrected when I needed it most—when I was sinking in, mired by the awful normalcy of life in the affluent suburbs.

That was when we began our twice-yearly other life­­­­­—the shopping trips to Ross Dress for Less to buy slutty tops, cheap skirts and strappy shoes­­—the nighttime trips to workers’ bars and gay bars and V.F.W.’s.  The object was never to find a new man or even to find a man for a one-night-stand.  As a matter of fact, after twenty-two years of such sojourns—first with Sharon and then on my own—I was still a virgin slut.  The thrill was in becoming who I might have become if I hadn’t married Peter, just for a night or an afternoon.  To try to fit in with people who may not have had much else but who still possessed the ability to have fun. To let go. To be what I wanted to be without worrying about what other people would say or think or do.

It is inevitable that we got into some trouble—the one night flirtation that turned out to be the new dentist who had come so highly recommended.  “Don’t I know you?” he had asked, as I prepared to open wide for my first appointment.  He had looked at me quizzically three or four more times during the appointment, and just as I was leaving, he had said, “Aren’t you . . . ?” But I had left quickly and never gone back.

“Why don’t you want to go back to him?” Peter had queried, but I hadn’t answered.  Finally, the fifth time he quizzed me, “Bad breath” I had said. He was surprised. No one else had had that problem with him, he said, and insisted that he wanted to make an appointment with him himself to check him out.  “He hums under his breath all the time,” I said.  “And whistles.”  Peter put down the phone.  Neither of us ever saw the quizzical dentist again.

I squeaked by that time. Peter faded away into the man cave that would one day house my guns as I settled back into my Hercule Poirot mystery.  So many years ago, I was living a vicarious life and therefore had more of an appetite for the literature of adventure. It would have been reassuring to me then to know that one day, I would be less dependent on mystery authors for my thrills and would be ready to write about my own adventures.

The book I have written and the book you are now reading is a saga of stubborn adherence to a belief that adventure is something that can be dammed up but never completely squelched; that revenge need not be executed by violence; and that by looking through the zero, one can sometimes actually see the world that society seems to be trying so hard to keep obscured.

But way back then, over twenty years ago, I was dependent on Agatha Christie to impart fairness to my world. I am both your narrator and that long-ago self as she settles back further on the cushions of the sofa and raises the book closer to her eyes. There is murder in this book, the second most famous in England, but what I intend here is more than a saga of violence.

220px-DavidSuchet_-_Poirot
Thanks to Joni Koehler for today’s prompt, which was a doozie.  It was from Erik Larsen’s “Thunderstruck.” First sentence: “There is murder in this book, the second most famous in England, but what I intend here is more than a saga of violence.” Last sentence: “And the tea, as always, was marvelous.”  Thanks for furnishing a real challenge this time, Joni.  You devil!

If you go backwards for the past three days in my blog, you will find Chapters 1-3 of this tale.

Who will give me the next prompt?  Nope, still not doing the WP Daily Prompt.

The Queen of Iceland

The Queen of Iceland

Pete didn’t even come into the kitchen. He just bounded right down the steps and out the front door like he had mornings for the past month, calling back at the last possible minute, “I’m late. I’ll grab breakfast on the run. See you tonight!”

He was back within minutes, searching along the walk and in the bushes. He came into the house, his alibi some forgotten business papers. So close to the truth. That’s what a good liar learned to do – to stay as close to the truth as possible, merely omitting the details that formed the lie. She heard him run up the stairs, the almost silent opening of the closet doors, the flushing of the toilet as he checked the bathroom.

It was almost fun observing him. He was like a character in a movie who doesn’t know what the audience knows. It lets the onlooker feel wiser than the character on the screen, because the audience gets to figure it out first.

“Find them?” she asked as he entered the kitchen.

“No.”

“Want me to help look?”

He eyed her suspiciously, as though it had just entered his mind that perhaps she had already found what he was looking for.

“Tell me exactly what you’re looking for, and I’ll come help look for it.”

She could see his distorted reflection looking back at her from the chrome-like polish of the stainless steel blender, their eyes meeting as though in a mirror. His eyes revealed confusion, fear, a bit of anger.

What did he see in her eyes? She tried to feign indifference.

He worried the change in his pocket, fisting the coins and then letting them fall. Up and down, up and down, they pulsed like his blood and his indecision as he tried to decide what to do.

“What do the papers look like?” she asked, making off in the direction of the stairs.

It was then that he had decided he must have left the papers at the office and had quickly left for work.

She took the stolen letter out of the blender. She had been right. He had never thought to look there. She saw Pete’s neat handwriting on the sealed envelope she had found in the pocket of the jacket she had taken out of the closet for a quick pressing this morning. Running the iron over the pocket, she had heard a crackle that was the stamped letter addressed to a woman unknown to her. In the upper left hand corner was his name and return address–a PO box unknown to her.

She had had time to do little other than find a fast hiding place for it, because she knew that when he got to the letterbox at the corner and discovered the letter missing that he would be back fast to try to find where he’d dropped it. And she’d been right about it all.

Now that he was gone for the day, she slit open the letter with a skewer and read:

“I feel like one of the ceramic figurines on the shelf in my Grandmother’s house. Chosen so long ago, it is not clear whether I am of value or merely a familiar part of the environment. The insecurity that has kept me from writing sooner is based on that same metaphor: my feeling that the fact that someone once chose me does not mean that I have enough value or taste or appeal to anyone else in the world.”

She stopped reading, then reread the first three lines again and again, as though trying to wring all meaning out of them before plunging again into the letter. Was she referred to in those sentences? Was her life being scrutinized as in a novel? And if so, was she to be villainess or heroine? She probed her own memories for proof supporting one view or the other. Knowing oneself from the inside out, how could anyone ever claim complete innocence? For the world knows us by the decisions we make whereas we know ourselves as all the alternatives seriously considered before making a choice.

“She caters to me like she caters to guests. Polite, fair, maintaining her distance, she is like a really good household staff member.”

She stopped again. Reread the sentences. Reread them. Reread them. Unfair. He was not being fair. He made her sound so cold. If it was she he was describing. She picked up the letter and read on.

”I feel like the exception, the holdout in her life, for everyone else loves her. I, who know her best, am the only one she can’t convince.”

She sat down on the kitchen stool, plopping down hard more by necessity than design. It was the greatest infidelity. He was placing someone else’s mind and affections before hers. Talking about her, like the vilest gossip.

Each sentence farther into the letter, she was being pulled closer to the core of him and seeing herself strained through and stained by his consciousness; and she realized suddenly that it was the greatest self-cruelty that prodded her to read more. And so, although there was a page more of writing, she folded the letter without reading on. She had learned as much of his truth as she ever wanted to know.

She folded the letter into the envelope, then folded the envelope into a tight roll and put it back into the blender. The apple juice sat on the counter where she’d put in readiness for him. Next to it were all of the other unused ingredients for his morning cocktail of blended fruit, juice, cereal and soy milk. Neatly, she sloshed out a cup of juice. She reached for the soy milk next, then the banana, papaya and frozen blueberries. She put on the lid and watched as sweet ingredients mixed with the bitter words to form a purple mass. She lifted the lid and began to add the eight ice cubes, one at a time. When the action grew sluggish, she added more juice and heard the clunk of the eighth and last cube meet the propellers.

She turned off the blender, leaned over to extract a very large plastic glass from under the counter. The mess in the blender filled the glass and another just like it. She took one in each hand as she left the kitchen, climbed the stairs. She walked down the hall. To her right and her left, the hall was lined with the portraits of his ancestors. Beautiful and prosperous, they seemed to form some unattainable goal, like trophies lined up on a shelf. Winners all, they dared her to live up to them.

As she walked between them, she felt as though she were running the gauntlet. Her eyes went from glass top to glass top, watching so as not to spill a drop.

She walked down the hall to their bedroom, sat down on his side of the bed and put one glass on the night table as she bent over to open the wooded door of the night table. Inside was a small freezer full of Healthy Choice frozen nonfat yogurt bars, sugarless popsicles and frozen natural health-food candy bars. She slipped the two glasses into the freezer along one side, then shut the door.

The alarm rang as usual at 6 a.m. the next morning. Jarred from her sleep, she sat stiffly upright, like a mummy rising from the tomb. As she felt her way down the stairs, still half-asleep, he fumbled around in the bathroom. Ten minutes later, she was back with two mugs of coffee. As if rehearsed, he cracked the door to the bathroom and stuck his hand out. She placed the insulated mug onto his palm and the hand withdrew, leaving the door ajar.

“Early meeting again today?” she asked, walking across the room to perch on his side of the bed.

From the bathroom came shaving sounds. “Yeah, all this week.”

She bent down and opened the bedside mini-freezer, withdrawing a tall glass.

“I thought that might be the case, so I made your shake yesterday morning and froze it. If you put it in the microwave for a minute when you get to the office, it will thaw out enough to drink.

“Thanks, Rita. I’ll owe you one—anything you want.”

Her eyes caught on the steam sifting out from the cracked-open bathroom door as she climbed back into bed for an hour’s more sleep. Nestling more snuggly down into the pillow, she answered him in thought only.

Anything, Pete? You should be careful. You know me–I’m fully capable of making you eat your own words.

(Here’s another fictional response to today’s prompt, Fight or Flight.)