SHIT HAPPENS

John Lennon’s quote “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” will most likely be the header across my tombstone, since it seems to describe my intentions I tried to keep throughout. images[1] (35)

“Shit happens” also seems to fit the bill at times too. In fact, it has become my mantra over the past thirty years. Raising kids and step kids, being married and not, various careers and plain old jobs have all added to the mosaic that is my life. I am a mother-in-law and it is hard.

For me, October is traditionally a time of reflection and introspective analysis. It’s always been that way, even when I was a kid. It is also the time of year my Jewish friends observe Yom Kippur, perhaps adding the need to enhance my own self-awareness and preservation. A time of nip and tuck, of cleaning up and throwing out, October is essentially my spring clean up, occurring amid the calling leaves and cooling temperatures. I seem to feel the need to look for work during this time, and yearn to quit once the spring breezes roll around.

So it came as no surprise to learn a book I had been working on with my publisher, which was supposed to be released this holiday season, has been pushed back to December 2010. Not what I had intended, but it’s the way it is.

Perhaps it is the cosmic push I needed to finish my other works, all in various stages of development. In between, other ideas have popped into my already crowded cranium’s horizon, squeezing out uncertainty and doubt. Looking for work has become a depressing and fruitless endeavor, reminding me what a psychic told me several years ago.

“Don’t stop” he said. “Don’t stop writing.” Sure, I thought to myself, easy for him to say. He’s got the express train to the future; I have to sit and wait it out at the station. There doesn’t seem to be any kind of employment in my future, except for the freelance work I find from time to time. Perhaps it is the economy, or New York or my age. In any event, this year’s reflection has been filled with realizations and revelations. Things will never be the same.

“Let’s just get on with it” my purple bathrobe calls to me. Wrapped around me on cool, rainy days like these, it is the muse which beckons me to sit and pay attention to those feelings of uncertainty, doubt and just do it, do it, get on with it and get it on the page.

There are just so many lunch dates, shopping sprees and tv marathons to be used as excuses to do not do it. Eventually, everyone and everything is full.

So shit happens and life goes on. I suppose I should be thankful for that.

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MAPLE LEAF SOUP

images[1] (34)I’ve written many stories regarding the escapades of a dog named Riley.

There’s been stories of imaginary animal characters, magical, talking creatures of the air and the land and of the sea, all living in the Kingdom of Doolittle with Emeline. I used them all as metaphors to display the immeasurable kindness of humanity and the insatiable desire of the soul to do good, sometimes amongst the stranger and sometimes in heartfelt acts of love for their neighbor.

Mostly they were conversations in my head, a way to convey a message of hope and faith to those closest to me, a nod in their direction or a slight scolding as to what they were currently doing in their life at the moment.

Things that I would never say to them, but Emeline could.

All these creatures were imaginary, but some among them have become real, serving as gentle nudging of love and commitment to beings that could not live alone and ask for little to survive, and loving so much in return.

But before there was Riley, before Eleanor and her sassy sister, Simmons, and before the queen and Emeline’s nemesis, Zeekee, there was someone else.

Before them all, there was Jack.

Jack was the black Labrador retriever that changed my life, even though he had passed away long before I met him.

Black Jack Riley, his full name and title, was the subject of another’s writing, a loving tribute to a faithful companion who brought much joy to those around him, especially those closest to him. He was put down on a cold winter’s day in an act of compassion, but breaking the hearts of those who loved him. The tale of the loss brought tears to my eyes, a shocking surprise to myself and to others who knew me.

I’ve pictured him in my mind as the kindly old grandfather that everyone loved, walking slowly down the gravel lane to the lake, and laying down amongst the cool rocks on the shore. I can see him in my mind’s eye as he and his master strolled during their daily constitution. I can imagine the love his master washed over him as he got more crippled and infirm as the weeks wore on, finally barely able to walk at all.

But I can also picture this animal of grace as a younger, sturdier, livelier Adonis of the canine world.

Jumping high with all fours outstretched, catching biscuits thrown in mid air in his mighty jaws, what a spectacle of health and athletic exuberance he must have been! His shiny black coat glistening in the sun, zig zagging back and forth as he played fetch and tug of war with a rope.

But there must have been a playful and mischievous side to him as well. Sitting in the passenger seat of the fire truck in many a Fourth of July parade, he would reign as the king of all station dogs, proudly displaying fake antlers at Christmas or a yellow fire chief hat, loving the attention and adoration.

Jack was the kind of dog that was adored by animal lovers and even those less trusting of his ilk. Never threatening, his master would have to search house by house to call his errant son home.

Come back and visit us again tomorrow, Jack!”, they would call after him as he would traipse down their driveway and into the arms of his laughing “Dad”.

As they traveled in the Autumn to their favorite haunts, there were many memories made as years went by. Not used as a hunting dog as was his nature, but a dog of inquisitive fun, he would stop at a puddle full of maple leaves and get a drink.

“I noticed he would always look up and wait for me to say what I always said,” his “Dad” would laugh as he recalled the memory to me.

“….And he wouldn’t move until I muttered the words. I swear he knew what I was saying.”

“And what was that?” I would ask, even though I knew the answer, for I never tired of the telling.

The Man would smile sadly and say it once more, as if it was yesterday.

“..’Oh Boy, a big pot of Maple Leaf Soup, eh Jack?’ and then I’d throw him another biscuit.”

The Man would talk to him all the time, and Jack would talk back.

It was the description of the dog that drew me to the Man, to this place, to this new life that I have, living in the Kingdom of Doolittle. Never a dog lover myself, the story of Jack made such an impression on me that I knew I had to know the person who had experienced such profound love and wanted to share it with others. I began to feel that love myself, when he taught me how to talk to the animals too.

If all dogs go to Heaven, I know that I will want to meet up with him, and share a pot of maple Leaf Soup with him. I’m sure he will let me run with him and I will ask him all kinds of questions about his life down on earth and the secret to his tenderness, the ability to change the lives of those around him.

He certainly changed mine. Surely an angel in heaven now, I’ll quote my friend the Man, and say you are the “Catcher of Slow Rabbits.”

The Lord sends us friends and companions when we need them most, helpers to aid our battered and withered souls when we are lonely, to make us smile when we are down and to show us love when we feel unlovable.

Gifts from above. Black Jack Riley sent me mine.

 

 

MAGNIFICENT MEANDERINGS

images[3] (3)Magnificent meanderings
My mind goes off to seek
Beyond the boundaries set before
The fences meant to leap

Omniscinet perpetual
The picture wide and deep
My eyes have been cast open
No more perchance to weep

Contractual perponderance
Forever sworn to reek
A new frontier is beckoning
Not useful to the meek

Magnicient meanderings
Goodbye I’ve gone to sleep
The truth is lost beyond there
A memory meant to keep

VESPERTINE – Another chapter from the Doolittle Chronicles

Vespertine was a ladybug who desperately wanted to be noticed.

She wore high black stilleto heels most of the time, as an attempt to make herself appear somewhat taller and perhaps more authorative when she walked. Slim and petite as most ladybugs are, she knew she was also a source of good fortune to those around her.

Unfortuntely, to be of any luck to those who truly needed it, she had to find them first.

Vespertine had no sense of direction. She couldn’t find her way out of a paper bag. Her habit of getting lost was legendary among the animals of the Kingdom of Doolittle, and it seemed to get worse every time she ventured out.

“How many times in a day DO you turn around, Vespertine?” they would ask, not unkindly.

The little ladybug would just smile and batt her little ladybug eyelashes. She was not against laughing at herself; what she lacked in stature and navagational skills, she abounded with humilty.

Although directionally challenged, Vespertine didn’t let that flaw stop her from travelling to the outskirts of the kingdom and beyond. She was an adventurer at heart and an explorer by nature.

Vespertine knew it was her destiny to become famous someday. But how did one achieve fame when they stood only several millimeters tall?

Running in her high heeled shoes as fast as her little ladybug legs could carry her, she often became so consumed by the task at hand she forgot that she could arrive at her destination so much sooner if she would just remember to fly! A simple fact was that she would sometimes run so fast, she would fall down, skinning her knees and ripping her pantyhose. It was only then she would remember to spread her silvery wings and flutter off to where she needed to be.

It was sometime the simplicity of things that were the hardest for her to see.

She was scurrying down the lakeshore one afternoon when she came upon Boyette, sitting among the rocks. She was shaking her head slowly back and forth, her gaze towards the path worn in the sand by Turtle Dave.

Vespertine landed on the small shale beside Boyette, and crossed her dainty ladybug legs.

“What is it?” she asked quizzically, also looking towards the intendation of the sand.

“Tsk, tsk” murmered Boyette. “That dumb turtle” she said absentmindedly. She had not noticed Vespertine.

“Why doesn’t he ask Romaine to be his true love, everyone knows how crazy they are about each other!” and she slowly got up on her thick bunny legs to hop away.

“Romaine?” Said Vespertine. “He still hasn’t said anything to Romaine? How could that be?”

“I don’t know” she said simply, now seeing the pretty bug for the first time. She began to hop away slowly, but then stopped in mid air, turning her head back around to face her.
“Somebody should go put a bug in his ear” and with that she turned around again, hopping into the tall grass along the side of the shoreline.
Vespertine smiled.
(Read “Turtle Dave” to learn about his infatuation with the beautiful pelican, Romaine.)

HALLOWEEN TOWELS – A GEORGE & BOB STORY

From the book “George & Bob Stories: Life Lessons From Little Brothers.”

This is the story of George and Bob, who were brothers.

One was older than the other.

But I forget which one.

George was feeling pretty good, despite the fact he was suffering from a head cold.

“Achoo!” he sneezed as he was putting on his school sweater.

“God Bless You!” yelled his little sister Francine as she ran by his bedroom door. She stopped and ran back to peek her head inside the open archway.

“You okay, George?” she knew how he must be feeling, because she had just gotten better herself.

“Great!” he said although he voice was watery, and playfully threw his pillow at her.

“Ah!” His sister then ran back down the hallway to the stairs.

She stood at the landing, the only girl of three older brothers, and pulled into her lungs the aroma of breakfast downstairs. It smelled of French toast and bacon, her favorite. It was going to be a good day, she decided.

Mommy, whose real name was Madeline, stood at the sink washing some last minute dishes. She hummed while she placed the last dish into the drain, and dried her hands with a towel. She looked at the towel briefly and smiled. A faded cotton cloth, no more than a rag really, containing so many memories. It was obviously well worn, but the pictures of pumpkins and witches flying on broomsticks brought a smile to her face.

Her Halloween towels were the signal of the beginning of the season. When decorating it was one of the first things to come out of the boxes, packed away in the attic. Mommy liked to fix the house up according to the holiday. Amongst the straw figures and scarecrows, ghostly cardboard drawings and cottony spider webs, there were the kitchen towels and potholders. Nobody knew where they came from or how old they were. They were just always there.

And candy corn. There was always a giant glass pumpkin full of candy corn. It was the only time Mommy let them have candy (well besides Easter and Christmas) and it was something her brood looked forward to every year.

“Achoo!” she heard from behind. She turned around to face her son, nose red from sneezing and blowing, but a smile on his face just the same. He too had seen the Halloween towels and was getting excited for the big night.

“Can’t wait to go trick or treating!” He announced happily.

“But what should I be this year? What costume should I get?”

“Why don’t you go as a clown, your nose looks like it…” offered Bob who had just come from outside. It was his turn to take out the trash for trash day and he had thrown his heavy coat over his p.j.’s.

“Very funny” George stuck his tongue out at his brother. He knew he was kidding, but he didn’t like his brother making fun of how he looked. It was beginning to bother him that his nose DID look like a clown’s. When was this cold going away?

“That’s enough” said Mommy. “Sit down you two, and Bob you go get dressed.”

Bob ran up the stairs but not before grabbing his own nose and yelling honk! honk!, then laughing maniacally.

Francine just shook her head and Mommy laughed. George didn’t.

The three of them sat down and silently ate their French toast and bacon, lost in their own thoughts. Bob finally came down stairs and entered the room. Mommy began to laugh and Francine stifled a giggle. George had his back to the doorway and couldn’t see his brother right away. He was getting ready to turn around when Mommy blurted out “Bob! My lipstick!” and then they all laughed.

Bob had covered his entire nose in red lipstick. George looked at him for a moment, then turned his head away, trying to hide his grin. His brother DID look funny, but wasn’t going to let him know it.

“Wipe your nose, Bob” Mommy said, and handed him one of the raggedy Halloween towels. Everyone was still laughing and finally George could hold in his guffaws no longer and let one out himself.

Bob was just about to wipe his nose when he felt a giant sneeze coming on.

“ACHOO!” he said and buried his face into the cloth, wiping the red lipstick all over his face.

“You can go as Lulu the Clown!” laughed George, feeling somewhat better that he had given his brother his cold. He was done with it anyway.

“Oh yeah? Well then we can be sisters!” and Bob jumped up to run over to George, rubbing his face on his chin, spreading the lipstick further all over his face and George’s. They finally tumbled to the ground, laughing and coughing and rolling around.

Mommy looked at Francine, who had been fascinated with the idea that you could actually put lipstick somewhere other than your lips.

“It’s going to be a good day, isn’t it Mommy?” she asked, not really expecting a response.

“A good day, indeed.” Mommy answered.

Then she reached into her pocket to pull out the thin tube of makeup to line her lips with lipstick. Puckering dramatically, she reached over and planted a giant kiss on her little girls cheek, leaving a red lip outline on the side of her face. Her daughter laughed and calmly stuck a buttery slice of French toast in her mouth.

The clump of wrestling boys looked up from the floor for a moment and stopped, amazed that Mommy would do that.

But Mommy was cool. If anything, she knew how to laugh. They knew that it was always cool to laugh at yourself and not take yourself too seriously.

Because even if you had a cold, it would go away eventually. Especially if you were lucky enough to have a goofy brother to share it with.

That’s the story of George and Bob, who were brothers.

One was older than the other.

But I forget which one.

SMELLS LIKE 5TH GRADE

images[1] (32)I am constantly in awe of the human brain and the memories it is able to store. The minutia of thought and emotions, a mere smell or quick turn of my head can evoke the most vivid of memories or recollection of a time gone by in my short and relatively uneventful life.

Opening the door this beautiful sunny morning, I let loose the dogs for their morning ritual of running around the fenced in yard. A giant playpen, it is where they play with each other as they chase and jump and playfully maul. Even though they are all different shapes and sizes, it is a way of expressing their love for each other. One will jump on the back of the other, trying to nip at their collars, or run around to the front, tugging on their ears. It is never done in anger, and if they could laugh, I am sure there would be large guffaws and back slapping as they race round the yard, doing lap after lap of their own Indy 500.

They learn from each other and they teach each other.

As I opened the screen door, I breathe deep the air. It is a clear, winter morning and the wind has died down. After a few days of wind and snow, the grassy area is replaced with the hard packed white blanket on which they will run.

But it is the smell of the air this day that holds my attention and catches my breath, for it is a smell that I have breathed in once before, seemingly eons ago. It brought back a memory in an instant that brought a smile to my face and a tear to my eye.

It was a winter day in 1964 and I was in fifth grade. I was the new kid in school, yet again, for my family moved a lot. We never left New York State, but my father’s job required he manage different petroleum distribution plants. The hours were long and it seemed like he was always working, so living as close to the plant as we could was a concession my parents always made.

Although it was hard to say goodbye to friends I had made over the years, I knew that it was really a good thing for me. It taught me how to talk to anyone and to get the heart of the matter of someone in order to be their friend.

This time around, we had moved very close to the elementary school I attended. It was a move that suited me, for I loved going to school. Our house was at the top of the hill and the school was located in the gully below. Every morning I would open the back door of the kitchen and walk down the hill to be joined by the students milling around outside. We lived so close I could hear the kids laughing and yelling, playing tag or throwing snow balls.

Opening the door one sunny, winter morning, I caught the whiff of the cold breeze wafting up from the gully, bringing the voices of the children waiting for the door to opening down below. It is the smell that has stayed with me all these years and was awakened this morning, buried deep within my psyche in safekeeping for when it was called forth once again.

They saw me and I saw them. “Hey! Eileen! Come on!” they yelled and I smiled to myself that I was welcomed and loved, for that was not always the case. 

I looked towards the dogs as they circled back around to the doorway, content they had completed their laps and ready for a kiss and a cookie.

Letting them in, I lingered just a moment longer as I breathed deep the memory of being a 5th grader in the wintertime, filling my lungs and my mind once again with its sweet fragrance.

CB LOVE

 

images[1] (31) 

After leaving my son’s house and visiting with our new grandbaby, my beloved and I left in our separate cars to make our way home.  Having both arrived from different locations,  we visited with Aunt Marion in the nursing home first, and then stopped by my son’s house for a quick peek at the baby.

 

Always driving a head of me, it is like he is surveying the landscape for danger, clearing the way of all obstacles that could hurt me or interfere with any plans for the evening.

 

Soon the cell phone in the side pocket of my handbag will ring and it will be him.  I have learned to remove it from the side pocket when I leave work and place it on the passenger seat beside me as I pull out of the parking lot and drive into traffic.  That is how sure I am that he will call.  Even though technically it is against the law in New York to chat on the cell phone while driving, I find it less hazardous to have it at arms reach rather than having to fumble around for it.  

 

Most of the times it’s just to chat, to find out how my day went, or what he accomplished that day.  He is still the ultimate list maker, even though he is supposed to be on sabbatical for the summer. 

 

At first I was annoyed at the daily calls because I felt he was checking up on me, or just trying to control the day.  But then I remembered my Mom and Dad and how they used to communicate.

 

It was in the early 1970’s and the CB Radio was all the rage.  Used mainly for truckers, a few enlightened folks had them installed in their vehicles.   They gave themselves cute call names, “handles” if you were really into it.

 

It was also during this time that my mother opened her own shop, an artist’s dream come true, the reward for having put her career on the back burner and raise a family.  Although my father had a 9-5 job in the city, he would join her on the weekends when her shop was the busiest.  My mother and father did everything together, so making money was no different.  It was as if they were mowing the lawn together; just another list of things to get done that day.

 

Sometimes during the summer months I would travel to the shop with her,  not really my idea of a good time.  It was more of a punishment, to have to be with the customers instead of hanging out with my friends.  Luckily she had another daughter who loved doing that, and pretty soon I was set free.

 

But sometimes on a Saturday afternoon in winter, when it got dark at 4:30 p.m. and we hadn’t locked the doors til 6pm, I think it was good for me to be with my mother so she wouldn’t have to make the 20 minute drive alone.

 

But she wasn’t alone – not really.

 

“Niner, niner, are you there, Patsy?” the CB speaker would squawk, and she would look over at me, a big smile on her face.  It was my father, calling out to her.

 

“Niner, niner, a big howdy do to you, Patsy here” she would reply in her best truckereeze and wink at me.

 

I would roll my eyes. 

 

“You just left each other!”  I would moan, not understanding what the big deal was.

 

“Is that the whiner in the front seat I’m hearing, ten four?” he would reply and I would groan all the louder.

 

“YOU GUYS ARE SO WEIRD!” I would scream back to the speaker, still clutched in my mother’s hand, while she commandeered the steering wheel with her left.

 

“That would be our oldest, the big mouth, niner-niner, ten four” and she would laugh, sticking her tongue out at me, and amused at her own creativity.  

 

By this time I had been bored to tears, and closed my sixteen year old eyes to see if it would make the drive home go any quicker.  It didn’t.

 

But I could listen to them as they would joke back and forth, his green army jeep in front of us, while we trailed behind in the old blue station wagon, passing the street lights as we got closer to the Long Island Expressway.  

 

Talking about what they wanted for dinner, and what they were going to do the next day, I can hear those conversations in the back of my mind. 

 

Realizing it was how they said they loved each other, I smile guiltily now as I have my own CB conversations in my own car, these many years later.

 

“So I’ll see you home then, Sweetie?”  he asks as I am readying to turn on to the highway, he having made sure the roads were safe and we would be home together once again.

 

“That’s a big ten four niner, niner” and I laugh as I explain my memory of them, always ending their conversations the same way.

 

“That’s a big ten-four, niner niner.  Over and out.”

 

Never over –never out.