Happy Birthday

Tiny dust motes drifted across her vision, carried by gentle breezes from the open window next to her bed.  Fascinated by their lazy fall down toward the 100-year old hardwood floor, she gently blew them away, stretched and arose from her soft bed.  “What a glorious morning,” she thought to herself as she wandered into the bathroom to wash her face and brush her teeth.

Looking into the mirror, she laughingly wondered who was staring at her in the antique mirror over the pedestal sink.  The face reflected was so much older than the young-at-heart girl standing with a toothbrush in her sadly gnarled hand.

So many years had passed in what seemed a single breath.  It simply wasn’t possible that today was her 80th birthday.  This moment she began her 81st year on this earth.  Giggling at the idea, she choked on toothpaste, spat it all over the sink and reminded herself, “You’re just being silly, Helga; age is only a number.”

For the grand accomplishment of staying alive for 80 years, she decided a special breakfast was in order.  Pancakes; yes, that’s what she would fix today, pancakes.  Pancakes, real bacon and the total decadence of rich, homemade maple syrup, not the nasty stuff from the grocery store.  Her syrup came from trees tapped right there on her Vermont property.  Yes, it was going to be a very special, indulgent day.

As she readied the old iron skillet on her now antique wood-burning stove, she heard Tom scratching at the kitchen door.  Tom was a barn cat who had wandered into her life one day and taken up residence permanently.   They had an agreeable arrangement, she and Tom.  He kept the vermin away, and in return was fed and allowed to nap on an old child’s iron bedstead she’d covered in a tattered quilt in the corner of the ancient kitchen.  Turning away from the stove, she opened the door and let the mangy cat come inside.  Tom jumped into his bed, turned several times, kneaded the quilt, causing a strange clicking noise, and finally settled in for a long nap.

The old woman lingered over her breakfast, savoring every bite.  Treating herself to a second mug of tea, she knew it was time to get her day started.  Just like every other day, a brisk walk down her mile-long drive for the morning paper and back again would get her blood flowing and work off some of those pancakes. She relished the exercise and fresh country air.

Taking the dishes to the sink, she looked over at the old iron bedstead with Tom softly snoring and smiled.  She rinsed her plate and mug and placed them in the drainer.  She would wash them later.

Lovingly, she bent down over the bed, moved the sleeping cat to one side and gingerly wrapped the quilt around her little sleeping angel.  “Time for our stroll, my lovely,” she cooed to the bundle in the quilt.  Tom rearranged himself in the bed and returned to his nap.

The old lady strolled through the house, out the front door and down the lane softly singing and cradling her bundled quilt; bits of bone and hair, the remains of her only child born 60 years ago and still the love of her life.

Yes, it was an absolutely glorious morning.

Look Homeward Angel

Pat had no idea what to expect as she neared her old neighborhood. This was her first visit back in so many years. The years had flown by. Married, divorced, buried both parents and a baby; this journey to her childhood home was a difficult one, yet she felt compelled to see it one more time.

Each street she turned down brought an avalanche of memories; some good, some not so good. She could hear kids yelling and screaming as they skated down the sidewalks or played in makeshift cardboard box forts…so long ago. Sitting on front porches, hanging out on the steps with the gang drinking Cokes and singing the latest tunes, dreaming of going to the beach after graduation some day; the memories started spilling out of the boxes where Pat had stored them.

On that corner, under that street light, her first boyfriend had kissed her. Such a bittersweet memory; he had been killed in the war. Over there – why, that used to be a corner market where Pat always went to get candy. Now it’s a McDonald’s. Things change. People change. Life goes on.

Arriving at her old street, Pat was surprised to see that many of the houses were gone; torn down and replaced with huge structures that didn’t fit in with the neighborhood architecture. These behemoths sat on tiny plots of land and made the houses around them look sad and neglected. What a shame.

Pat’s house was still there in its original form; the carport was intact. She could see the metal fence surrounding the back yard; the same back yard where she had played with her collie, Prince. As she drove by, Pat noticed the old redwood deck that Dad had built all by himself. The house looked so tiny – that’s not how Pat remembered it. As a youngster, that house had been huge with the terrifying gravity furnace in the basement. Pat never went to the basement.

She drove on. No sense stopping. She envisioned walking up to the front door, knocking and telling the owners she had once lived there as a youngster. Would they let her come in and look around? The odds were slim the current owners would allow it; too much crime these days. You can never be too careful. Just look at all the alarm signs at various houses. When Pat lived here, the front door was always unlocked. “How times have changed,” she thought to herself.

At the corner was the two story brick home that belonged to Mrs. Juvinetti. Ah…Mrs. Juvinetti. All the kids loved her. Children would show up at her door and find that Mrs. J had just baked chocolate chip cookies; everyone was invited in and there was always enough cookies and milk to go around. Pat spent many hours at the Juvinetti household and had even roomed in college with Cindy Juvinetti until the night of the murder. Pat hadn’t thought of Cindy in a very long time.

She pulled the car to the curb. The memories were overwhelming her. Pat got out of the car and walked up to the Juvinetti house. The grass needed mowing; the bushes were overgrown and the paint on the shutters was peeling. “I wonder…” she thought to herself.

Arriving at the front door, Pat rang the doorbell and stood back from the door. In a few moments, the door opened and there stood an old, stooped white-haired woman dressed in a flowery housecoat. Though the years had taken their toll, there was no mistaking Mrs. Juvinetti. She was still alive and Pat was so excited to see her again.

“Mrs. Juvinetti!” “Mrs. Juvinetti!” “It’s me, Patty Connor from up the street. The old lady looked at Pat and slowly started to smile. Then she opened her arms and in a soft voice said, “My little Pattycake!” “Come in, come in!”

Pat walked into the house and immediately smelled the mustiness of years of dust and clutter. Mrs. Juvinetti had always taken such pride in her home. Now it was decaying, like Mrs. J. Pat was saddened to see the conditions in the house.

Mrs. Juvinetti led Pat to the living room and Pat sat on the same sofa that had been in that room during her childhood years. It was a very large piece of furniture, with a bright floral pattern now stained and worn with years of use. Mrs. Juvinetti gently lowered herself into an armchair – the kind that had hand-crocheted antimacassars on the arms and the back of the chair – Mrs J had lovingly made those so many years ago they were yellowing.

Pat felt bad she hadn’t kept in touch with the Juvinetti family after Cindy had been so tragically killed. It was simply too painful. And then the years got away from her.

But she was here now and wanted to take advantage of the time as Pat knew this would be her last trip home. Her life was elsewhere now. She would stay a few minutes; have a cookie and reminisce then be on her way.

“Mrs. Juvinetti, you look wonderful,” Pat commented.

“Oh my dear girl, I’m an old woman now just waiting to die. There are so few children in the neighborhood these days. Not many come to visit me anymore. I still bake my cookies, but now once a week a nice lady picks me up and we take the cookies to the hospital and share them with the children’s wing. You know how much you loved my cookies when you were little! Why don’t I make us some tea, dear, and while I put the kettle on maybe you would go out to the garage and get some cookies out of the freezer for me. They will only take a few minutes to thaw out and then we can sit and chat to our hearts content.”

“That sounds lovely, Mrs. J – I’ll run to the freezer and be right back.”

Mrs. Juvinetti slowly got up from her chair and shuffled out to the kitchen. Pat stood up and stayed in the living room for a moment just taking it all in. She turned and went through the side porch to the breezeway which led to the garage. Opening the garage door, Pat saw the tall freezer at the end of the room and walked over to it. Pat smiled at the thought of those wonderful chocolate chip cookies.

She opened the freezer door and reached inside for a package of cookies. But there were no cookies in the freezer. There were no shelves in the freezer either. All that was in the freezer was the bent and long-frozen body of Mr. Juvinetti.

Perhaps it’s true…you can’t go home again.



How her feet hurt in those new penny loafers as they both ran to catch the bus.  “Slow down, please!”  It was so difficult to keep up with an adult who wasn’t hampered by ugly new shoes.  Leaping up the stairs of the bus and dashing down the aisleway to the last seats available, she knew without a doubt those loafers were going to cause a nasty blister on at least one heel. 

Oh, how hot it was on that bus.  All the windows were down but the wicked stepmother got to sit next to the window and the little girl with the hurting heels sat in the aisle seat bumping up against a rather large man on the opposite side of the bus.  He was sweating profusely.   The bus was crowded that day and the young girl hoped with all her might their trip would soon end.  She had recently worked on vocabulary words at school.  Recalling the word “aromatic”; the child thought it a perfect word for that bus. She smiled to herself for a quick moment.  It was going to be a long day.

Arriving at their bus stop, she was hurriedly pushed off the bus toward their destination, that ugly lump of hospital looming on the horizon.  She didn’t want to go there.  Her feet hurt even worse than before; she was hot and sweaty, and not looking forward to what was coming.

Inside the hospital, the smells changed drastically.  There was disinfectant, strong perfumes,  and a strange odor she couldn’t identify.  She hoped it had nothing to do with dead or old people as she knew that’s what happened in hospitals; you go there to die. At least that’s what they told her had happened to her real mother.  She never was quite sure of the story.

Into the doctor’s office she was propelled and quickly found a seat, slipping out of those nasty loafers she had been forced to wear.  Why would anyone wear brand new shoes knowing full well a day of walking was ahead?  She sat and pondered her position in life and realized she had no say in anything.

As her name was called, she put on her new loafers over the raw patch on her heel and limped into her future.

Unwanted Guest

It was the ugliest wallpaper she had ever seen. A white background with threatening tendrils of dark green ivy growing every which way.

Surrounding the small dining alcove, the wallpaper appeared to grow onto the walls like kudzu gone wild inside the house. She found it very disturbing to her young brain and it hurt her eyes to follow the various tendrils as they snaked their way around the room without ever breaking apart. Ever. The tiny room had been wallpapered in one fell swoop. There were no seams. She wanted seams. Seams would mean the ivy had no chance of continuing to grow into another room.

At about 10 feet by 12 feet, the dining room was cramped at best.  Still it was stuffed with very old and heavy mahogany furniture.  Between the furniture and the ivy tendrils, she knew the room couldn’t breathe.

Against one wall was a buffet upon which stood a regal sterling silver pair of pheasants. She always thought silver birds were a bit pretentious and she waited for them to tarnish. But they never did. Other priceless pieces of sterling sat on the buffet and yet none of it was ever used.

Across from the tall buffet was a small mahogany table with only two chairs. Other chairs were hidden somewhere else in the house to be brought out when company arrived. She had once seen the table reach the entire length of the dining room — something called leaves had been put into the table. She thought again of the wallpaper. It had too many tendrils and not enough leaves; that was what was wrong with it. It wasn’t natural.

Nothing about that house or its occupants was natural.

On top of the table was a piece of lace. She had been told that it was very old. She liked to touch it and one day she put her finger through one of the holes and made them bigger. She thought it looked nicer that way — random. She didn’t like patterns. Patterns were too predictable. Predictable was dangerous.

It was some time after Christmas when she walked through the dining room at night alone. Others were in the house but they were occupied with someone called Lawrence Welk in the family room. The hallway light was on gently illuminating the dining room.

She casually visited each corner of the dining room and gently ran her fingernail down the corner of the wall from top to bottom. She had to step on one of the two chairs to do this and hoped no one would suddenly want a snack from the kitchen and discover her. She was on a quest. Corner by corner, she scored down all four until each wall was separated by a seam and the ivy was no longer connected.

She slept well that night.


sometimes the load is heavy,
and I pray for respite.

sometimes I think God is busy and my prayers are relegated to the bottom
of the pile in the folder in the cabinet labeled Insignificant.

sometimes I feel guilty complaining because
 I know there are atrocities in the world and by comparison my issues are miniscule; specks of dust in God’s eye.

sometimes I wish God would look at my folder just once and not rubber-stamp me as “to do later”.

Emma Lou Haiku

Gold red fur gleams in
Early morning rays of light
EmmaLou sleeps on

Big brown eyes searching
Nose pushes under my arm
Stroking her brings peace

Chew toy drops from mouth
She smells treats in my pocket
Never could fool her

As I lay on couch
Crying tears of frustration
She licks my wet face

How can just a dog
Have such an impact on life?
My angel in fur

EmmaLou looks up
From her spot in the sun ray
Knowing I need her

With head on my lap
Emma sighs contentedly
We are family.


What’s the word I’m searching for? Shallow…That’s it. That’s how I felt — shallow. No; maybe it was superficial. Oh let’s just get right to the heart of it and admit what I truly felt was useless. I was merely taking up space on this planet and I wasn’t sure it was even my space.

It was another late night and once again I found myself sleepless sitting in front of the tv watching one more informercial for some ridiculous kitchen gadget. It was enough to send me over the edge. Or maybe it was a ledge, not an edge — I was close to climbing a ledge and taking the big leap. But then again, I’m afraid of heights.

And then He showed up. Oh crap…here we go again. He is always there when I begin to wallow to pull me back off the precipice and speak to me of hope. I realy wasn’t in the mood for this discussion.

“Just leave me alone. I’m not worth your time,” I said outloud.

In the small still voice in my head came….”You aren’t shallow; you aren’t useless. I didn’t make you that way. I gave you special gifts when you were created; some of which you are aware; some you use frequently much to my delight. You have gifts which will surprise you when the time is right. In MY time, beloved, not yours.”

“Oh puhleeze…here we go again with that My time versus yours stuff.” But I knew He was right; His time would always trump mine. Good thing God and I never played chess.

I climbed back into bed and fell asleep. I dreamed of an old woman with snowy white hair. She seemed so pleased to see me and immediately invited me to join her for tea. I looked around and realized we were in some type of nursing facility. I could hear everyone in the background; the tv in the sitting room, ladies in brightly colored smocks milling about and I could smell flowers. An elevator dinged signaling someone’s arrival. But this little lady tugged at my sleeve and looked at me as if I should understand to follow her and have tea. I woke up in a cold sweat.

Looking at my alarm I realized I had forgotten to set it; I was late for my volunteer job at the Senior Assisted Living Center. I gulped down a cup of coffee, grabbed a muffin and got in my car.

I always enjoyed volunteering at the Center. I felt good when I was there –like I was giving something back to my community. I didn’t have a specific job there per se. I just generally showed up on Tuesdays and brought little items for the residents; books, magazines, a comb. Sometimes I would read to someone. Other times I sat and visited. Whether they knew me wasn’t important. I always hoped someday someone would do this for me. Most of these people were Alzheimer’s patients and knowing I carried the gene for this devastating disease made me want to spend time with these souls who were slowly losing their way. I too, was losing my way and I felt a connection here.

I walked into the facility that Tuesday morning and all was quiet. How unusual. No one was around. Coming down the hallway toward me was a tiny old woman with snowy white hair. I remembered my dream and was a bit surprised as she approached me. But this was different from the dream. There was no one else around. No one. No background noises, no ladies in colorful smocks. Just the old woman and me. She reached for my hand and led me to a sitting area. We sat on a lovely damask sofa. Feeling a bit awkward I introduced myself and asked her what her name was. She told me, “You may call me Hattie; all my friends do.” “Alright, I said, “Hattie it is. What can I do for you today? Would you like me to read to you or maybe brush your hair? “Oh no, dear,” Hattie replied, “That’s not necessary. I’m not staying long. My son is coming to take me home later today. Let’s have a nice cup of tea and chat for a bit.” I turned around to see an orderly carrying a tray with a china pot and two tea cups. I had never seen him here before. I shook my head as Hattie said, “Will you pour, dear? I’m afraid these days my hands aren’t as strong as they used to be.” I poured our tea, handed Hattie her cup and said, “So Hattie, what shall we chat about?”

“Well, dear, we need to discuss your feelings of uselessness of course. I thought I made myself clear in our little chat last night but you weren’t paying attention were you sweetie? You simply must start listening to me. You do have gifts and it’s time to start using then. You are needed.” She smiled and took a sip of her tea. I excused myself to go to the ladies room promising I would be right back. Hattied just smiled and continued sipping.

I was only gone a couple of minutes but when I returned Hattie was nowhere to be seen. I did see a nice lady in a brightly colored smock behind a desk close to the sofa. I walked over to her and said, “Excuse me, but did you see where Hattie went? We were having tea over there on the sofa and she seems to be gone. Did she say when she woulld be back?” Looking over over at the empty sofa and chairs in the sitting area and with a strange look on her face, the smocked lady said, “Honey, no one named Hattie lives here. We have a Dottie, and A Betty, but no Hattie. You must be mistaken.


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