Category Archives: family

Christmas Catalogs of the 60s

They came in the mail every November in the 1960’s. Particularly important was the Monkey Ward’s catalog because there was a Montgomery Ward Catalog Store in Belmond on Main Street. Mom and Dad could order, pay for, and pick up things there, particularly Christmas and birthday gifts. The four of us; my little brother, my two younger sisters, and I would argue about who would get to look at it next for hours at a time (the catalog, not the store… although the man who ran the store sold tropical fish in the back, so I could look at that for hours).

I, of course, dog-eared different pages than my sisters Nancy and Mary did. And David was eight years younger than me and was into baby toys, blocks, and books.

Nancy owned the three on the left.
I was nutty about model trains… and so was Dad.

I am amazed at how cheap things were back then compared to now. Of course, things were more easily destroyed because of the cheaper plastics and simpler ingredients and materials common in the 1960’s. So, it is truly amazing how many of those toys I still have. And how many survived me only to be destroyed by my own children.

And it often wasn’t enough to look at just the Monkey Ward’s catalog. (Grandpa Aldrich always called it “Monkey” instead of “Montgomery”, a pretty standard old-farmer joke in the 60’s). Grandpa and Grandma Aldrich always got a copy of the Sears catalog. And we would pour over that to find treasures that Monkey Ward’s didn’t have. That was inconvenient for Mom and Dad. The nearest Sears store was in Mason City, 50 miles northeast.

I was 10 years old in ’66.
Mary Poppins was a 60’s Disney hit.

Just the mention of Christmas catalogs of old when discussing with sisters flashes me back to the time when I was in grade school and Christmas time was all about being good for Santa because… well, toys.

And old Christmas catalogs still fascinate me. I love to look back through ten-year-old Mickey-eyes at a simpler, kinder time. Although, if I’m honest with myself, it probably wasn’t really any better than now. I just choose to believe that it was.

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Filed under autobiography, Barbie and Ken, birthdays, family, humor, nostalgia, playing with toys, strange and wonderful ideas about life

The Gingerbread Train

I had been promising my daughter for a while that we would build the gingerbread train. I was looking forward to it as an art project. She was impatient to eat it. So, on December 27th, I was finally feeling well enough to do the deed.

So, we prepared the work space on the kitchen table. We laid out the items that we could use for assembly. I made my daughter promise to stop eating elements of the train before we could actually put it together.

I started decorating the Christmas trees that go into the baggage car. My daughter ate several of the sugar-ball decorations.

The baggage car was assembled first. I call it the baggage car because even though it is in the tender position for a steam train if we called it that, that would mean that the engine burned Christmas trees instead of coal. My daughter snuck a few more decorations as we argued about that.

It was encouraging that the first part came together without looking too incredibly terrible.

My daughter decorated a majority of the engine and only ate a few more of the decorations while doing it. This was no small thing given how much she loves to eat gumdrops.

It ended up looking vaguely like the picture on the box. We had a great deal of fun making it. And the last time I checked, portions of it still were uneaten… something I am confident won’t be the case for much longer.

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Saturdays With Gingerbread

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This is the pen and ink start of an illustration of the novel I am working on, Recipes for Gingerbread Children.

I admit that my obsession with the benefits of gingerbread is mostly in my head.  Specifically, in my sinuses.  I find products with ginger in them, diet ginger ale, ginger teas, and especially gingerbread cookies, help reduce the tightness in my COPD-laced lungs, clear my sinuses, and make breathing mercifully easier.  Gingerbread cookies are also seasonally wonderful in that they are slightly Christmassy and help bring my family together.

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So, yesterday, a Saturday, my daughter the Princess and I executed a perfectly evil plan to commit evil acts of gingerbread and whip up some wicked little gingerbread men in a frenzy of deliciously evil bakery.

Okay, maybe not evil exactly…  but I have diabetes and the Princess desperately wants to lose some weight, neither condition being one that benefits by having the temptation of wicked little gingerbread men around.

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And, as with any evil plan, many things proceeded to go awry.  We did not have any actual flour available to make the gingerbread dough less butter-and-egg sticky.  All we had was some corn starch… which had bugs in it.  After struggling to craft sticky little bodies a few times, we decided to go ahead and use the tainted corn starch.  After all, a few little larvae that get overlooked and not picked out will only add a bit of extra protein, right?

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And we had the added bonus that you can make just as much mess with corn starch and margarine as you can with flour and butter!

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But we did get the corn-starchy little buggers baked.  (And they were probably literally buggers due to the potential for having bugs in them.  Oh well, it should fortify the old immune systems.)

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The only decoration we had was chocolate frosting, since someone ate all the sprinkles and sugar dots we bought last year for the gingerbread house.  (Don’t look at me.  I have diabetes.)  So we frosted them, prompting the Princess to begin calling them “little burnt souls blackened in hell”.

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So then the cookie cannibals could allow the eating to begin.

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Mmmm!  Good cookie!

Okay, I know it looks like the Princess did all the work, and all I did was eat them.  But somebody had to do the hard work of taking all the pictures, right?

 

 

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The Beyer Brand

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This is a logo-doodle…wouldn’t that make an excellent name for an alien science fiction character?   Logodoodle, Prince of the Black Hole Kingdom.

I have been so obsessed with all the terrible details of the new orange monkey that has taken over our government that I completely forgot about an idea I had for a logo using my family name.  That is, until I began doodling while binging on Penny Dreadful on Netflix.  (Gawd, I have to talk about that show in a post too… horribly wonderful stuff!)  Yes the name-plate art you see above, not inspired by Trump’s gold letter fetish, no, not at all, is merely a doodle.  No rulers were used.  I eyeballed everything and let it flow.  I do admit to going over the pencil drawing in ink and editing at that point.

My family name, you see, is a very old and common German name.  Beyer means “a man from Bavaria” or auf Deutsch, “ein Mann aus Bayern”.  We were originally peasant farmers, but achieved nobility and a coat of arms in the middle ages.  I know this because in 1990 I was invited the to world-wide Beyer family reunion in Munich due to the genealogical research Uncle Skip did into the family name.  They sent me a book and I paid for the book, but did not attend.  (On a teacher’s salary?  Are you kidding me?)

But I was thinking about my brand.  It does have a meaning, and it does stand for something.  I underlined the illuminated letters of the name with a broken sword.  My ancestors were once warlike.  My great uncle died in the US Navy during World War II.   My dad was in the Navy during the Korean Conflict.  But having been a school teacher for so many years, I am dedicated to the belief that conflict is best resolved through wit and negotiation.  I would sooner be killed than have to shoot at another human being.  Of course, that part of the Beyer brand only applies to me.  Both my son the Marine, and my brother the retired Texas prison guard, are gun nuts.  And they are both very good shots.  I don’t recommend getting into serious arguments with them.

My family name also stands for farming and farmer’s values.  We were once stewards of the land.  Both my mother and my father grew up on farms.  I was raised in a small farm town less than five miles from the Aldrich family farms of my grandparents and uncles.  I have worked on farms.  I have shoveled cow poop… a unique thing to look upon as a badge of honor.  My octogenarian parents are living now in my grandparents’ farm house on land that has been in my family for more than 100 years.

My family name also stands for service.  I am not the only teacher in the clan.  My mother and two of my cousins are long-time registered nurses and all have seen the craziness of the ER.  (And I don’t mean by watching the television show with Clooney in it.)  I have a brother who was a prison guard and a sister who is a county health inspector.  We put the welfare of others before our own.  Our success in life has been measured by the success of the communities we serve.

While it is true that I could never make money off the Beyer brand the way gold-letter-using Mr. Trump has, I think it is safe to say, “My brand is priceless.”

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Strawberry Fields

This foolish essay about berries that mean love to me is only partly inspired by the Beatles song, “Strawberry Fields Forever.” That’s because, of course, their song was only about meditating. In the lyrics they take you to the “Strawberry Fields where nothing is real… but it’s nothing to get hung up about…” They are talking about a blissful place of no worries where we all need to go. And then staying there forever.

This, of course, I could never do. Worrying about the future is tattooed on my behavioral imperatives in the dark part of my stupid old brain. And while I often found that place of no worries, and lingered there for a bit, I found you could never really get anything done if you stayed in that state of strawberry fields forever.

But don’t get me wrong, strawberries are a critical part of every healthy mental diet.

You see, my meditations on strawberries when I was a child of eight, nine, and ten centered on the strawberry patch at Great Grandma Hinckley’s place.

She was, as I incorrectly recall, slightly older than Jesus when I was that age. By that I mean, though she seemed museum-quality ancient to me, I had derived wisdom about life, love, and laughter from her before Sunday School taught me any of those things said in Jesus’s words.

And I was given the task of mowing her lawn in the little plot of land surrounding her little, tiny house in the Northern part of Rowan where I also lived and grew and celebrated Christmas and Halloween and Easter and the 4th of July. And though I was doing it because she was so old, I never even once thought she was too old and frail to do it herself. Grandma Hinckley’s willpower was a force of nature that could even quell tornados… well, I thought so anyway when I was eight. And she gave me a dollar every time I did the lawnmowing.

But there were other things she wanted done, and other things she wanted to teach me. There was the garden out back with the strawberry patch next to it. She wanted me to help with keeping the weeds and the saw grass and the creeping Charlie from overrunning the strawberries and choking them to death. (Creeping Charlie wasn’t an evil neighbor, by the way. He was a little round-leafed weed that grew so profusely that it prevented other plants from getting any sunlight on their own leaves, causing a withering, yellowing death by sunlight deprivation. I took my trowel to them and treated them like murderers. I showed them no mercy.)

And Grandma always reminded me not to be selfish and eat the very berries I was tending in the garden. She taught me that eating green strawberries (which are actually more yellow than green, but you know what I mean) was bad because they could give you a belly ache, a fact that that I proved to myself more than once (because eight-year-olds are stupid and learn slowly.) She also taught me that it is better to wait until you have enough strawberries to make a pie, or better yet, strawberry shortcake with whipped cream. She taught me that delayed gratification was more rewarding in the long run than being greedy in the short run and spoiling everything for everybody.

She always gave me a few of the ripe strawberries every time I helped her with them, even if I had eaten a few in the garden without permission. Strawberries were the fruit of true love. I know this because it says so in the strawberry picture. Even though I probably never figured out what true love really means.

My Great Grandma Nellie Hinckley was the foundation stone that my mother’s side of the family was built on. She was the rock that held us steadily in place during the thunderstorms, and the matriarch of the entire clan of Hinckleys and Aldriches and Beyers and other cousins by the dozens and grandchildren and great grandchildren and even great great grandchildren. I painted the picture of her in 1980 when she passed away. I gave it to my Grandma Aldrich, her second-eldest daughter. It spent three decades in Grandma’s upstairs closet because looking at it made Grandma too sad to be so long without her. The great grandchild in the picture with her is now a grandmother herself (though no one who has seen this picture knows who it is supposed to be because I painted her solely from memory and got it all wrong.) But Grandma Hinckley taught me what true love means. And true love has everything to do with how you go about taking care of the strawberry patch.

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Generations Gone Before

Of the people in the school picture from Rowan Rural School #4 (a one-room schoolhouse from Midwestern history and lore) all the ones who survive are octogenarians. Three of the survivors were at our family reunion for Great Grandma Hinckley’s descendants. My mother and uncle were there. Their cousin was also there. The school house stood on the Aldrich corner, near the house where my Grandpa and Grandma Aldrich lived, the farm house of a farm that’s been in the family for over a hundred years. My mother and Uncle Don and Uncle Larry could easily walk there. The rest came from country miles around by horse-drawn wagon.

This is not a school-bus wagon, but rather, an oat-seed spreader. So, almost the same.

Uncle Larry is now gone, but they have survived from the time of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the time of Criminal President Doofenschmertz Jehosephat Trumpennoodle. Things have changed. The house I now sit in was, back then, a place with a windmill and hand-pump for water, an outhouse for bathroom chores, and a radio for entertainment.

If they hadn’t endured through World War Two, and Joe McCarthy’s Red Scare, and the assassination of JFK, we wouldn’t even be here. We are the children of hardship, endurance, and conviction of the rightness of life on Earth.

We saw progress through the creation of Disneyland, landing the first man on the surface of the moon, Bugs Bunny cartoons, Scooby Doo, and the Pink Panther… Nixon and his Watergate break-in, Hee Haw and Lawrence Welk, Laugh-in… President Ford falling down stairs, Saturday Night Live, the Peanut-farmer President, Reaganomics… the Iranian hostage crisis… Saved by the Bell, Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones… The invasion of Panama… Operation Desert Storm… the second war in Iraq… the downfall of Saddam Hussein… Thundercats, Jerry Seinfeld, Friends, the Wonder Years…

I am especially impressed that they lived through all those Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethons. And Leisure Suits… Aagh!

Mother’s entryway table with pictures of Grandpa and Grandma Aldrich in the back

And their time is not completely up. Mother and Dad and Uncle Don still move on and go to reunions and bury loved ones… and tend to the needs of grandkids and great-grandkids… And pass on the good things to the next generation… and the next. So it goes, towards times not yet dreamed of.

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Naked Opinions, Hot Answers

Twitter is a place where trolls live. It is a bull-puckie paradise where trolls can poop on things to their hearts’ content. It is toxic. Not a safe place to go naked. But many trolls do. They tell you exactly how ugly they are, not just in their skin, but all the way down to their bones.

I am not a troll myself. I am a nudist at heart, like the girl in the picture. I think it would be nice to walk in nature nude. But like the girl whose parents are hippies, but law-abiding hippies who would never send their daughter to school without clothing as long as that is an illegal act, I myself don’t put naked pictures of myself on Twitter. Some nudists do that. But trolls throw poo and links to porn if you do that. And being publicly naked physically is not my goal. Only naked ideas publicly.

But I put a lot of opinions on Twitter that are totally naked. They have no clothes on to cover up how I really feel underneath, the way a lot of so-called conservatives do to get their racist points across without being accused of having racist opinions. They dress them up nice.

I have a naked opinion about the impending repeal of Roe Vs Wade beginning the roll-back of safe abortion-services and the right for women to control what happens to their own bodies. I am not pro-abortion. I am pro-choice. And that is how I will vote. But I also believe it is the wrong approach to have this issue before considering some other very important things.

You need to be providing a better life for the majority of children brought into this world than you do now. Not just the Republican answer to abortion being adoption. You need to do something about all the unloved and disadvantaged children that already exist. Too many die of starvation. Too many die of abuse. And far too many are abused by the adults in their lives to the point that they grow up into monsters, abusing their own children, the children of others, and sometimes becoming sexual predators.

Why don’t we make a law where all parents must undergo intensive training and get a license to be a parent? You need to earn a license to drive a car. Why don’t we pass a law that corporations have to make certain that all children in their assigned districts are well-fed before they can do stock buy-backs to increase their value? If they want a healthier, more-capable work-force, they should invest in one. Why are we not passing laws to ensure that the planet’s environment is protected and children’s future is guaranteed? And all of these things should come before we worry about all people who are conceived actually getting born.

And why are we putting up with places like Florida punishing teachers for teaching tolerance to people who are different, not only by color of skin and culture, but by the sexual preferences and gender identity God made them with? If you truly want to do away with the need for abortion services, then you need more and better sex education rather than gag-orders against teachers to be punished by parents suing to get them fired and pilloried.

There will be less abortions needed if you teach kids what they need to know about how babies are made, how to use contraceptives safely, and how to talk to others about the facts of life so that everyone can know more about it and proceed with procreation properly, according to whatever version of God’s plan (including science-based secular beliefs) that you choose to believe in.

These are naked opinions. Saying flat out what I believe. Open to the poo-flinging of trolls and those conservatives who are easily offended if an opinion contradicts their self-proclaimed truths wearing the clothing of rather twisted and misrepresented Christian beliefs.

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Filed under angry rant, education, family, Liberal ideas, Paffooney

NPC’s (Non-Player Characters)

In Dungeons and Dragons games you are trying to bring characters to imaginary life by getting into their deformed, powerful, or magic-filled heads and walking around in a very dangerous imaginary world.  You have to be them.  You have to think like them and talk like them.  You have to love what they love, decide what they do, and live and die for them.  They become real people to you.  Well… as real as imaginary people can ever become.

But there are actually two distinct types of characters.

These, remember, are the Player Characters.  My two sons and my daughter provide them with their persona, personality, and personhood.   They are the primary actors in the stage play in the theater of the mind which is D & D.

But there are other characters too.  In fact, a whole complex magical world full of other characters.  And as the Dungeon Master, I am the one who steps into their weird and wacky imaginary skins to walk around and be them at least until the Player Characters decide to fireball them, abandon them to hungry trolls, or bonk them on the top of their little horned heads.  I get to inhabit an entire zoo of strange and wonderful creatures and people.

Besides the fact that these Non-Player Characters can easily lead you to develop multiple personality disorder, they are useful in telling the story in many different ways.  Some are friendly characters that may even become trusted travel companions for the Player Characters.

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D & D has a battle system based on controlling the outcomes of the roll of the dice with complex math and gained experience.  In simpler terms, there is a lot of bloody whacking with swords and axes that has to take place.  You need characters like that both to help you whack your enemies and to be the enemies you get to whack.  There is a certain joy to solving your problems with mindless whacking with a sword.  And yet, the story is helped when the sword-whackers begin to develop personalities.

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Crazy Mervin, for example, began life as a whackable monster that could easily have been murdered by the Player Characters in passing while they were battling the evil shape-changing Emerald Claw leader, Brother Garrow.

But Gandy befriended him and turned him from the evil side by feeding him and sparing him when it really counted.  He became a massively powerful ax-whacker for good because Gandy got on his good side.  And stupid creatures like Mervin possess simple loyalties.  He helped the players escape the Dark Continent of Xendrick with their lives and is now relied upon heavily to help with combat.  He was one of the leaders of the charge on the gate when the Players conquered the enthralled Castle Evernight.

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Not every NPC is a whackable monster, however.  In the early stages of the campaign the Players needed a magic-user who could read magic writing, use detection spells and shielding spells and magic missiles, and eventually lob fireballs on the bigger problems… like dragons.

Druaelia was the wizard I chose to give the group of heroes to fulfill these magical tasks.  Every D & D campaign requires wizarding somewhere along the way.  And Dru was a complex character from the start.  Her fire spells often went awry.  When Fate used a magic flaming crossbow bolt to sink a ship he was defending, killing the good guys right along with the bad guys, it was with a magic crossbow bolt crafted by Druaelia.  Her fire spells went nuclear-bad more than once.  She had to learn along the way that her magical abilities tended more towards ice and snow than fire.  She learned to become a powerful wielder of cold powers.  And while she was comfortable in a bikini-like dress that drove the boys wild because she grew to love the cold, she didn’t particularly like the attentions of men and male creatures that went along with that.  More than one random bandit or bad guy learned the hard way not leer at Dru.  There are just certain parts of the anatomy you really don’t want frozen.

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The Player Characters will need all sorts of help along the way, through travels and adventures and dangerous situations.  They will meet and need to make use of many different people and creatures.  And as Dungeon Master I try hard to make the stories lean more towards solving the problems of the story with means other than mere whacking with swords.   Sometimes that need for help from others can even lead you into more trouble.

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But as I am now nearing the 800 word mark on a 500 word essay, I  will have to draw it all to a close.  There is a lot more to say about NPC’s from our game.  They are all me and probably are proof of impending insanity.  But maybe I will tell you about that the next time we sit down together at the D & D table.

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He Rose on a Golden Wing… Canto 8

Chopin – Heroic Polonaise (Op. 53 in A Flat Major)

After school Valerie was still in Uncle Rance’s Freshmen English Classroom, not because she was re-taking his Freshmen English Class, but because he had asked her to stay and not ride the bus.  He was her Uncle.  Married to her father’s only sister.  And he was one of those adults she had to listen to no matter what.

“Your grades are going down again, Val.  You used to make A’s, especially in Science.”

“I know.  I just don’t get Mr. Walther’s Physics Class.”

“He’s the same teacher you had for Chemistry last year, and you aced that.  You were his best student.”

“Yeah.  But Danny was in that class too.  He flunked it as a Junior.  And he’s the only one that can explain some of Mr. Walther’s jokes to me.”

“You don’t need to understand jokes to get the science.  It is precise and mathematical, provable by experiment.”

“I know that.  But somehow Mr. Walther’s teaching style works better when I understand his jokes.”

Uncle Rance walked over to his desk and sat down behind a huge pile of Freshman writing folders.

“Your Uncle Dash is coming to take you home this evening.”

“What?  Why?”

“You have to ask after the fiasco at the dance?”

“Oh, please.  He doesn’t need to get mad at me over that.  The same thing would’ve happened to me if you had gone with me instead of Uncle Dash.  It wasn’t about him.”

“I think he knows that.  But we’re worried about you.”

“That’s it exactly,” Uncle Dash said from the classroom doorway.

“Hi, I could’ve gone home on the bus.”

“No, you couldn’t.  I needed to talk to you.”

“Come in and take a seat, Dash,” Uncle Rance said.  “Or do you need to talk to her in private.”

“No, you can help with this too.  Valerie needs to know that she can rely on the men in this family when it comes to things her father can’t do for her anymore.”

“So, you do understand why I couldn’t handle being at that dance, huh?”

“Of course.  You told me flat out.  It was a father/daughter dance.  And I’m not Kyle.”

A sharp sob escaped Valerie’s lips, and then she was back to her usual composure.  “It’s so much more than that.  More than I could ever talk about with either of you.”

“The school guidance counselor?  He’s overworked with college-readiness seminars and whatnot.  But he’s willing to do what he can.”

“No.”

“What can we do to help, then?” Uncle Rance asked.

“I don’t know.  Nothing, I guess.  My head is wrapped in darkness.  And I have to find my own way out.”

“But you know you can talk to either of us,” said Uncle Rance.

“Or your Aunt Jen.  Or Aunt Patty,” said Uncle Dash, naming his sister and his wife.

“No.”

“What do you mean, no, Val?”  Uncle Dash’s eyes betrayed the stinging in his heart.  Val’s words at the dance had hurt him deeply.  And he was the kind of man who always had to have the solution to every problem.

“Just no.  I mean, I appreciate that you want to help.  But it won’t work.  I have to find my own way out.”

“Stacy had to find her own way out too, and she ran away.  Promise me you won’t run away too!”  Dash’s face was grim and stiff, betraying what he feared she really would do.  And Valerie understood why.  Her cousin had run away to be with the man she loved.  But Uncle Dash could never approve of the restless and reckless Toad.  He still didn’t after all the intervening years.  The men in her life were too tightly wound, too strictly self-disciplined to know when to admit they were wrong and try to go down another pathway.

“Maybe we just need to have confidence in Valerie, Dash,” Uncle Rance said.  “Sometimes the right thing to do is trust that the other person will choose to do the right thing.”

“I still need to hear you say you won’t run away, Val.  Not like Stacy did.”

“I promise.  There are things ahead you’re probably not gonna like.  But running away is not on my list.”

Her two Uncles accepted that then.  And what followed was a long, quiet pickup-ride home courtesy of Dash Clarke.

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He Rose on a Golden Wing… Canto 6


Chopin – Polonaise in G Minor
 
Needless to say, Valerie missed school again on Friday.  Everybody, even Mom, talked to her like she was an unexploded bomb all that day.  Except for Dilsey Murphy when she called.
“Val?  Do I need to get somebody else as a sitter?”
“Well…”
“You know you already told me you would.  I’m sorry you had a bad night last night, but this is too short of a notice.  I don’t think I can get anybody else.  You wouldn’t want to mess up Tim’s whole love life, would you?”
Well, she had to seriously think about that one for a second.  But then it made her laugh.
“No.  I seriously want you to tame the wild beast for me.  And besides, I was looking forward to playing games with Troy Zeffer and reading books to him and stuff.”
“Thank you.  I owe you a big one after this.”
“Well, wait and see how you feel about it after an evening with Tim.  You may curse me after that.”
It was Dilsey’s turn to laugh.  “Thanks, Val.  You’re the best.”
“I know.”
Her life was basically destroyed and she would have to live with having a nervous breakdown in front of her worst enemy.  And she had destroyed Uncle Dash too.  How was she ever going to make things up to him?   But talking with Dilsey had definitely been helpful.  It was good that Dils had not let her get away with anything, just because of a little old world-ending meltdown and depression.
The next day she showed up right on time at the Zeffer house.
Pat Zeffer met her at the door before she even knocked.
“Ah, hello, Valerie.  I’m so glad you could make it tonight… in spite of…”
“Oh, you heard about it?”
“I’m sorry, dear.  I know you probably don’t want to talk about it.  In fact, are you sure you are up for this tonight?”
“Actually, I need this.”
“Well, please come on in.  You know, Troy was excited when he learned you would be his sitter for tonight.  You know how much he loves you.”
“Well, I love him too.  Very much.  He looks so much like Ray.”
“Oh, you think so too?”
“Of course.  He has Ray’s dark-chocolate eyes and adorable dimples.”
The comment made Pat smile and draw in a deep breath before letting out a small sigh.
“It makes me ache in my heart to look at him sometimes,” the doting grandmother said.  They both moved into the compact little living room and seated themselves together on the couch.
“It seems like forever since Ray’s been missing,” Valerie said carefully.
“Ah, yes.  That…”
“Has anybody ever found a clue to…?”
“No.  Never.  He has disappeared as completely as if he was never born.”
Valerie swallowed what might’ve come out as a sob.  This old woman knew how she felt about Ray, but she did not want to add to any burdens.  Ray had simply vanished shortly after Troy was born.  No ransom or suicide notes.  No goodbyes.  He didn’t take the car.  Or any money.  Or anything that Pat or the police could determine.
His mother had always said, “An angel must have took him straight to Heaven, like Elijah.”
But the truth was probably far more sinister than that.
Anyway, little Troy came waddling in with his toy tiger in hand.  On seeing Valerie, he dropped the toy and gave her a big hug.  She then pulled him onto her lap and cuddled him a little.
“Valerie, I know what happened at the father/daughter dance.  I would understand if you need me to cancel my plans with Roy Withers in Clarion tonight.  In fact, I’m available to talk to if you need a friend to talk to about losing loved ones.”
“Honestly, Pat, I’m all right to stay with this little guy tonight.  I wouldn’t have come if I thought I couldn’t handle it.”
“If you’re absolutely sure.  But, you know, starting the sentence with Honestly is how someone starts telling a half-truth.  Or, a whole untruth.”
“You deserve to spend some time with Roy.  He’s a widower, and he probably needs you to make him laugh as much as you need to tell him some funny things.”
“Okay.  If you’re sure you’ll be all right.”
“We’ll be fine, Troy and me.  I need him to make me laugh as much as he probably needs to do something funny.”
“Okay.  Bedtime at 8:00. And get him at least a little damp in the bathtub if you possibly can.”
“Sure.”
Mrs. Zeffer jingled her keys goodbye at Troy and was off to Clarion for whatever kind of romantic adventure lonely old grandparents could have.
“So, I do someting funny now?” Troy asked.
“Sure.”
“Deet-da-deet dah-diddly-waaaagh!” he sang.  His puckered little face had Ray’s dark brown eyes and Ray’s dimples.  And as she stared at his chuckling face while he cracked himself up, She suddenly remembered how much she missed sweet, gentle Ray Zeffer.  He and Carla Sears of Belle City had made this little boy while they were still young and in high school.  Carla’s parents hated Ray for it.  They forbid the two young lovers from getting married.  But they were against abortion.  And they made the young couple miserable.  Up until Ray suddenly disappeared.  Then they took over the lives of both Carla and her baby son.
“Va-ahl-urrr-eee. I canst breathe!” complained Troy.
Realizing her error, she released him from the bone-crushing hug she had put on him.
“Vaaahluuurrreee?  Why is you sad?”  He was still trying to make her laugh.
She gently pulled him back into a more comfortable hug.  And then she cried.  It would last for an hour more.

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