Kick Ball

DSC02504“How did we manage to play kickball in 3rd grade without 45 pages of rules?” Katie had just tossed the bound book onto my desk and sunk into my side chair.

“Well, Maddie, according to Doris, the city league coordinator…”

“You are on first name basis with the coordinator?”

“Don’t interrupt me. And yes, she is a very nice lady with a hard job. Apparently, City League Kickball teams can be quite unmanageable. And they all think that they can play this simple children’s game without 45 pages of rules.” Kate picked up the fidget stick from my desk and played with it. “Doris said everything was fine and they didn’t need 45 pages of rules until last year.”

“Did someone get hurt and sue?” I figured that had to be it. The City Attorney, being who he was, would then say no one could play without 45 pages of rules and six various waivers.

“No, last year the District Attorney’s office fielded a team. And a group of defense attorneys did as well. Needless to say, if the district judges can’t keep them in line, you know that the high school aged umps that work there in the summers were toast.”

That would be something to see, Dale Lewis, the District attorney, arguing about some call at home, with Rick Delgado, arguing the other side of the call, and the poor 18 year old ump texting for help. Then it occurred to me that I would be witnessing the same types of arguments. “They aren’t playing in the same division as us, right? Randy said we would be rec league. They would all have to be A or B league, they are too competitive for rec.”

“All in our league. Doris said that she tried to talk them up a division, but they said that their admin assistants would be playing, and they weren’t as competitive.”

“Did you warn Doris?” I had my share of run ins with the District attorney’s office admin assistants. Meek doormats, they were not.

Katie put the fidget stick down and stood up. “Randy is feeling optimistic. He said we can place side bets – if we win, we get to cut down on visits…”

“He can get away with saying that, and I get labeled as sarcastic?”

Katie laughed, “Well, I can’t personally attest to this, but he has a penis, and you do not.”

“Tell that to the performance enhancement spammers that sent me 30 emails a day.”

“Anyway, first game is Thursday, 7pm. Randy wants us all there by 6 to warm up.”

I glanced at my calendar. “I’m in Austin for training. If they let us out at 4:30, I might be able to make 7:00.”

Katie shook her head.

“Hey, Randy isn’t my supervisor. I volunteered to play to get to know everyone here in the office. I will do my best to get here in time, but do I tell my supervisor in Austin I have to leave early to play kickball?” That wasn’t going to happen.

 

But, the good team player that I was, I spent the extra money on the toll roads (because you know the state of Texas won’t pay for me to use them) and hurried home with just enough time to change and get to the city park. Randy glanced at his watch as I jogged over to the field at 6:45, but said nothing. The team had to have at least 5 men and 5 women, and a quick count told me that I was needed, so Randy wasn’t going to run me off.

The other team was assembling on the other side of the field.

“We are playing White, Godfried and Sanchez,” Katie said. “One of the local law firms for rich people.”

“For rich people?”

“We won’t ever see these guys. They do wills and estates and business deals.” Katie was shaking her head. “Look, matching Under Armour shirts and shorts. I’m surprised they are not all wearing matching running shoes.”

I looked over. They were all wearing silver and black shirts, definitely more high-dollar than the tee shirts that we pulled out of the storage room from last year’s Adoption month. But none of the players looked comfortable in sports clothes. They looked like they would rather be wearing Armani, the men and the women. I shrugged. “Oh well. Maybe they are saving the matching shoes for the playoffs.”

Randy started shouting out instructions. We were “batting” first and I was number 2 in the line up. Randy was the first batter and he kicked the very first pitch in a gentle arc behind the third baseman. No one could catch it, and Randy sprinted to first base. Upon getting there, he put his hands on his knees to catch his breath. Randy’s idea of exercise before this fiasco was to walk to his car to go get fast food.

I was next. I walked out to the batter’s box of the softball field thinking that this was too much of an upgrade from playing kickball in the street in front of the neighbor’s house, or the rutty field at my elementary school. I looked up at the pitcher and said out loud, “Shit.”

“Need a moment?” the catcher asked.

“Uh, no, I’m fine,” I lied. Standing on the pitcher’s mound was Evan Segrest. My exe’s roommate from 4 years of college and two years of law school. Best man at the wedding. My exe’s choice for godfather of the first born child, if that had come to fruition.  And, the man who lent his apartment to my exe for his affairs. Plural.

The ball rolled past me and the ump yelled, Ball 1.

In the weird world of City league kick ball, I would only get three pitches total, no matter balls, strikes, fouls, whatever. I kicked the next two foul and headed back to the dugout.  I could hear Evan laughing to the short stop as I slunk back to the bench, and felt my face turn red.

“What happened?” Katie asked as I sat down.

“The pitcher, he was my exe’s best friend. I didn’t even know he lived here. I thought he would still be in Houston.”

“That’s Evan Segrest, some hot shot they got from Houston and he’s on the fast track to partner. He moved here because his wife’s job moved her here.” Jake sat down next to me. His partner worked in the DA’s office and he always had good lawyer information. “She works for one of those college religious groups, you know, God has a wonderful plan for your life?”

I knew exactly which group. I knew his wife and knew her before she was his wife. But she didn’t think I was good enough for my exe and was a bit put off I didn’t ask her to be a bride’s maid. But that was ten years ago. I took a deep breath.

The inning was over and we took the field, and I was lucky enough to be out in left field. I kept thinking about the song about the little kid picking flowers in the outfield and praying no one would kick the ball my way. So of course Evan kicked it over my head, so that I not only had to run thirty yards to get it, there was no way I could throw it back in time for anyone to get thrown out. Evan had a three run homer. I hated him more.

Did I mention we hadn’t scored at all yet? Randy came up to me before he went to bat.

“Just relax. Kick it just past the line so he has to run up for it and we can both run to bases.”

I looked at Randy, there was no time to tell him my tale of woe. He went to bat and once again found his way to first base. I walked up to the plate and took a deep breath. Randy pointed to the line and mouthed, Relax.

“That’s it, just relax,” the catcher said behind me. A lot of help he was.

I looked at Evan who started the ball rolling toward me, slower than he did for Randy. The condescending smirk on his face infuriated me. I took a step toward the ball and imagined it was his face.  I kicked it as hard as I could and there was the sound of my foot hitting the ball and then, a surprising splat. I ran to first as fast as I could then turned to see where the ball was. It was on the ground at Evan’s feet. He was surrounded by his teammates and then I saw blood pouring out of his face.

I was beginning to like this little game, especially with it’s litigation-proof 45 pages of rules.

 

Lessons learned at the Children’s Museum

 

 

329

 

The Children’s Museum was my idea, but I thought it was a good one because I could see how Colin and his son got along without being too obvious about it. Colin and I had only been dating for a month, and the fact that this was the first time I was meeting five year old Carter was a good sign. Too many of the mothers on my caseload introduced their children to new boyfriends within hours of meeting them, and the results were often disastrous.

While Colin paid our entry fees at the front counter, I followed Carter to the entrance of the giant play room. A two story rocket dominated the room, covered in Apollo space program decals. Children dressed in shiny silver astronaut coats and helmets were climbing into the rocket and to the side, a desk with a sign that said “Mission Control” had video screens displaying the children playing inside. Carter could not wait any longer and dashed to the Mission Control desk and started punching buttons. Nothing happened, but he kept pushing them all, just incase they rewarded persistence.

“Carter, you don’t just walk up to things and start pushing buttons,” Colin said as he walked up to us at Mission Control.

“Can I go in the rocket?” Carter asked, ignoring the scolding. Colin nodded and Carter ran off to the rocket.

“He’s really bad about pushing buttons. At my mother’s last week, he kept starting the microwave while it was empty.”

I nodded. “It’s safe here, that is what it’s all about.” I moved out of the way as a child in a bright purple tee shirt almost crashed into me.

“It’s one of the summer programs,” Colin said, pointing at the purple tee shirt. “Lady at the desk said they would be only be here another thirty minutes. Looks like a bunch of hellions.”

“Oh, they are just kids, and probably excited to have so much air conditioned space to run around in.” They were running around, and I could see some sand flying in the dinosaur digging pit, but all in all, the staff in the matching purple shirts seemed to be handling them. “There are worse things than running in a children’s museum.”

Colin rubbed his nose and walked over to the rocket, looking in the windows. Carter appeared in the window and they touched hands through the glass. It reminded me of last week, I had gone to the maximum security women’s prison and saw a child touching hands with her mom through the bullet proof glass of the visiting room. Children worship their parents, whatever they have done-  the line repeated throughout my training ran through my mind.

Carter tired of the rocket and set his sights on the dinosaur sand pit next. Colin and I followed over. One of the boys in the purple shirt was kneeling in the middle of the sand pit, straddling a large fake dinosaur bone and tossing sand into the air by the handful. His black curly hair looked almost gray with the sand in it. He looked about three.

“Hey, no throwing sand, “ Colin said to the child. The boy paused, then picked up a handful of sand and hurled it at Colin. None reached him, but he started moving toward the entrance of the sand pit.

I held his arm to stop him. “He’s a little kid, and his teacher is coming.”

“He needs to learn to respect people.” Colin said.

“I am sure his family is working on it. You’re not in uniform, so you don’t get respect automatically in the real world.” I smiled and tried to keep it light.

Colin snorted. “That kid is going to end up as a frequent flyer in my squad car in ten years, you mark my words.”

“Jacob! You have lost your privilege to play in the sand!” A woman in a purple tee came over to the little boy in the sand pit. She knelt down to his level and I could hear her say that since he was not following the rules, he could not play in the sand any more today. He could try again the next time they came.

“Shouldn’t be a next time,” Colin said under his breath.

Meanwhile, Carter pushed one of the little girls in a purple shirt out of the life-sized model helicopter. Surely I misheard him shout, “N—rs can’t be pilots Stupid!”

I hurried over to the little girl who was sitting on the floor, bottom lip trembling. “Are you ok, sweetie?”

A teacher from her school arrived just as I got there. The little girl stood up and hugged her teacher. “That boy pushed me and called me a n—r!”

The teacher, a woman of color herself, had a look come over her face that I had seen before. She was going into full mother bear mode. “Excuse me, young man, but is this true?”

Colin got there at the same time. “What’s the trouble?”

“This young man called my student a derogatory racial name,” the teacher said.

“I am sure she misheard him,” Colin said. “Carter would never say something anything derogatory. And he has lots of black friends at his school.”

I could feel my eyebrows shoot up to my hairline. Did he really just say that? I get that he wanted to protect his son, but really? The teacher asked for an apology, but when she didn’t get one and saw that Colin wasn’t going to force Carter to admit he has said the n word, she took the girl off to another section of the museum.

Carter jumped back on to the helicopter and started mashing the buttons.  Colin smiled. “He’d make a good pilot, eh?”

I nodded.

“You know, that’s why they get shot, the blacks. They don’t listen, they don’t respect.”

I nodded.

The Children Museum was my idea. I would take families from my caseload here on family visits. The foster parents would bring the children and I would meet the mother and/or father to supervise the family time together. The neutral territory was good, sometimes the foster parents could talk to the biological family about how the children were doing, things that were not in court reports and child plans, like how Brittney learned to ride a two wheeler this week and Corey finally got over his fear of flushing down his poop in the potty.  I came to the children’s museum so my families could see how other families parented, I could point out how that mom over there didn’t shout across the room to her child, but corrected the behavior quietly and without the entire place knowing that she was in trouble.

I came to the children’s museum to see how my new boyfriend got along with his son. I don’t know if I would have suggested it if I knew I would learn he was a racist.

Serenity

The rumor was that Lucky Luke was once a bar tender at some tony hotel in Las Vegas, who ended up here in Crosby, Texas after losing it all and going to rehab three or four times. The other rumor was that he was running slot machines in the back room of the laundromat. The first thing I ever noticed about Lucky Lukes Laundry was the the sign over the the small change machine.

“God, give me grace to accept with serenity

the things that cannot be changed,

Courage to change the things

which should be changed,

and the Wisdom to distinguish

the one from the other.”

The change machine was a stainless steel box mounted on a squat metal pole. The dents on the front and sides of the box told me that not everyone was given the serenity to accept that their crumpled damp dollar bills simply could not be changed.

It’s a pithy verse, and I grabbed my phone to look up it’s history. It seemed like something my mother would recite, but I didn’t remember it distinctly. My phone let me know that it was written by theologian Reinhold Neibuhr. He used in in his sermons in the 30’s and 40’s, which made sense for the “greatest generation”, who seemed to be driven by pithy quotes.

It was also linked to Alcoholics Anonymous, and friends of Bill have been using the wisdom to recover since about that time. I could see Lucky Luke finding the metal sign, rusted on the edges, at some garage sale, or a going out of business sale from one of those chain restaurants that uses old signs on their wooden walls to make the food seem more home made.

My crisp dollar bills had no problem being changed into bright shine quarters. I was privileged, it seemed. I could have done my laundry at home, but I preferred to cart it out of the house. This laundry, this load, just screamed to be done at Lucky Luke’s. I could see the pink of the sheets spinning in the front load washer, seventy five cents a load did not seem like too high a price to pay to keep this load out of my nearly new Kenmore at home. Maybe I thought I needed luck more than the space of the front loaded.

Luck was not mine this month. Just three days ago, my mother had a heart attack on her way to mail a package to me. She survived and is alive and well and complaining to my brother about the nurses who keep making her walk. But the package arrived this morning. My mother, ever the child of the forties, mailed me a copy of “The Little Engine that Could.”

She believed in things, like trying hard, and if at first you don’t succeed, and rain rain go away. She believed in magical thinking. I shook my head, looking at the change machine. Mom wasn’t going to changed.

The sheets kept tumbling in front of my, foamy and pulsing, slowly turning white.

Who knew there would be so much blood with a miscarriage?

Tee Time

world-of-golf-18-holes-lunch-6-7398852-regular (1)

Josh and I were heading down the cart path towards Euless Country Club’s thirteenth hole when we stopped to let a golf cart pass. Except it didn’t pass. The course pro, Mr. Holland, stopped to chat.

“Hope you have good hunting today boys, my supplies are running low.” During the summer months, Mr. Holland let us come at dusk to look for lost balls in the creeks and lakes. He paid us a quarter for each ball. He sold them in the pro shop as experienced balls for a buck apiece. “Bruce Peterson bought a sleeve of those new Strata Tour Ultimates today before his round. Guys playing with him said he put all three balls into the creek at thirteen. I’ll bet the box is probably still in the trash can at the tee box.” Mr. Holland winked with the last bit of information. He climbed back into his golf cart. “Keep an eye out for my watch!” he yelled over his shoulder.

“His watch,” said Josh. “How many years have we been looking for that watch? Our dads couldn’t find it thirty years ago when he tossed it in the creek.” Josh picked up a rock and hurled it across the fairway. “Now those Stratas, my dad’s been talking about them for weeks. A sleeve of them would make a great present.”

“You can have them. My dad is stuck on Precept EV’s”. Our fathers hunted balls together growing up. Now they golfed together on Saturday mornings and any other time my dad could close his law office and Josh’s dad could leave the barber shop.

“Funny, Mr. Holland would bring up the watch today. He hasn’t mentioned it in months,” I said as we got to the tee box on number thirteen.

Josh dug through the trash. “Wouldn’t today be his wife’s birthday?”

“Yeah, that’s it.” My dad said when he was my age, Mr. Holland was supposed meet his wife at her mother’s house. They had dinner reservations in Fort Worth for her birthday. As usual, he got caught talking to someone about a golf tournament. Mrs. Holland, hating to be tardy, decided to walk to the golf course. The delivery truck that killed her was also running late. Sick with grief, he threw the pocket watch, an anniversary gift, into the creek at thirteen, where he had proposed to her.

Josh popped up from the trash can holding his prize – the shiny foil Strata box. “Now to fill it,” he said. We walked across the rough to the creek which ran along the entire thirteenth hole. On a normal day, we could find fifty or so errant golf balls. Weekends were bonus days – one Sunday night we found over one hundred and thirteen lost balls. We felt rich that week.

The course was quiet. Most of the golfers were gone and the only sounds came from bullfrogs along the creek bank. The sun was about gone and the shade of the oak trees made the greens look like velvety carpets. Rabbits started to appear in the fairway, catching a snack of well-irrigated Tif-way Bermuda. Now and then a squirrel, spoiled by golfers, would come scold us for not offering a tidbit his way. The water of the creek was still and clear. I could see straight down to the bottom. There were pebbles, sand, and there, a prize, a golf ball. I extended my ball retriever and scooped it up. I wiped it off on my jeans and added it to my Wal-Mart bag. It made a soft click as it hit the other balls in my bag.

“Got one!” Josh held up a golf ball.

“Strata?”

“Yeah, you find any yet?

“No, just a couple of Maxflis and a bunch of those American flag balls from the Memorial Day tournament.”

“Two to go then.” Josh hunkered down. He loved the challenge of searching for special balls. “Look, here’s another. If Mr. Peterson is anything, he’s consistent.”

I concentrated on the water. The last Strata Pro Ultimate was here somewhere. There was something shiny poking out from the river bank. I climbed down the bank, put one foot in the cool water and one on the bank, reached in and pulled it out. “Josh!”

“Did you find the last Strata?” Josh ran over.

“No, better,” I held out the silver pocket watch. “Think it could be Mr. Holland’s?”

“Can’t be. Mr. Holland’s watch would’ve been covered with mud for thirty years. This isn’t rusty or tarnished or anything.” He opened it and read the engraving, “You’re always late, but our love is timeless.”

“Maybe we should show it to Mr. Holland anyway. I’ve got a funny feeling about this.” The breeze had picked up and there was a strange smell in the air. It was kind of the smell you get during a summer drought, kind of sweet, kind of sour.

Josh held the watch to his ear. “You know, it’s still ticking. Too weird.” He handed it back to me and we started walking towards the pro shop.

The course itself was different as we walked back. I noticed it first. “Hey, Josh. Do the trees look small to you?”

“Yeah, they must’ve been out pruning this week.”

“Since when do they prune in June?”

Josh studied a tree. “The trunks even look thinner.”

We started to run and didn’t say another word until we got to the pro shop. It looked different too, almost new. When we walked in, it had a new car smell, fresh paint and carpet.

The man at the counter leaned over to greet us, “Can I help you boys?” He looked like he was Mr. Holland’s son, but Mr. Holland never had a son.

Josh stood still like a ball on a tee. I took a breath, “We found a watch out by number thirteen. It might be Mr. Holland’s. Is he still here?”

The man felt his pocket and smiled. “Did I lose that thing again? My wife would die if she knew how often I lose that thing.” He took the watch from me, opened it and looked and the words inside. He closed it and set it on the counter. “Speaking of my wife, it’s time to go get her. It’s her birthday and we have dinner reservations.” He called over to a man working on some golf clubs in a back room, “Charlie, I’m leaving. Could you come out here and find a suitable reward for these young gentlemen?” He winked at us as he came around the counter towards the door. Josh and I both stared at him as he started out. He was met by a tall man in a suit.

“Holland, I want to talk to you about a charity tournament.” Mr. Holland turned around and followed the man back into the shop.

Josh and I looked at each other in a panic. What do we do? We both understood at the same moment, but Josh moved first, “Mr. Holland, No, your wife…”

“Oh, goodness, the boy’s right”, Mr. Holland said putting a hand on the gentleman’s back. “James, it’s my wife’s birthday. I can’t be late today. Can Charlie help you or would you like to come by tomorrow morning?”

“I’m sure Charlie can set me up,” James said, “Enjoy your dinner. Give my best to Ruthie.”

Mr. Holland winked at Josh and headed out the pro shop door. Josh whispered to me, “Is this some kind of weird dream?”

“I don’t know what this is.” Charlie and James leaned over a calendar spread out on the counter. I went to peek at the dates they were discussing when I was almost knocked backward by a gust a wind. The droughty smell returned for a moment. Josh felt the wind too; he was sitting on the ground holding the red foil Strata box. The counter was empty of calendar and men.

The shop smelled the way it was supposed to, mildew and sweat and old golf shoes. “What happened?” I asked Josh.

He just shook his head and waved the golf ball box at me.

The pro shop door opened and Mr. Holland walked in. Old Mr. Holland, the way he’s supposed to be. “Is something wrong boys? You’re in early tonight.”

Josh just stared at Mr. Holland. I looked at the counter. The watch was still there. “I think we found your watch.” I pointed to the counter, but I wasn’t touching the thing again.

Mr. Holland ambled to the counter and picked up the watch. He stroked the case, and then he opened it to read the inscription. He snapped it shut and smiled. “Thanks boys, Ruthie would die if she knew how often I’ve lost this.”

“Your … your wife?” Josh asked.

“Yes, she’ll be here in a few minutes. Today’s her birthday and we’re going to Fort Worth for a show. We figured out twenty-five years ago that if we want to be on time, Ruthie needs to drive. Let’s keep the lost watch thing a secret, just us guys, OK?”

It was a good thing we kept it a secret. Mr. Holland seemed to lose the watch almost weekly after that. It was two weeks later when Josh walked up from the creek between the thirteenth and fourteenth holes.

“Wesley! You won’t believe what I found!” He had a blue Wal-Mart bag full of wet golf balls in his right hand. In his left, he held something small and silver. “I’ve got at least thirty balls, and Mr. Holland’s watch. Think he’ll toss in a reward?” Josh pushed his tongue back and forth in the gap between his front teeth.

“He did last time. Five dollars. And I’ve got another thirty two balls. It’s Space Rangers time!” We were saving up for a new video game, Space Rangers VII.

Josh handed me the watch. I opened it to check the time. The hands read five ‘til seven, but I could hear the bells of St. Andrew’s ringing for the seven o’clock Mass. I pulled out the little knobby thing and started to move the hands.

“I don’t…” Josh stopped suddenly, his mouth hanging wide open. I turned to see what could shut Josh up so fast. Nothing looked weird or anything. I didn’t see Mr. Holland’s golf cart. Just a golfer teeing off at number fifteen.

Josh looked funny, almost as if he was frozen. “Shut your mouth, Josh, you look like a wide mouth bass,” I said, pushing the knob back in.

“…Think you should be messing with that,” Josh said.

“Messing with what?”

“The watch. You want to break it or something?”

“I only reset the time, see?” I pulled the knob out to show him. Josh froze again. I looked around. A golf cart stopped on the cart path, with its front tire hanging over a pot hole. A golf ball hung in the air in front of the guy who drove it. He was stuck in his follow though. “His follow through could use some work,” I thought. Then, it hit me. “I’m doing this. I can stop the world.” I pushed the knob in and out a bunch of times. The golf ball stopped at different points in the air, like a picture in a golf magazine.

Josh spit out one word at a time. This was cool.

“He’s got…” Click.

“…a…” Click.

“…really…” Click.

“…bad…” Click.

“…slice.” Josh didn’t even notice. Even cooler.

“Josh, this watch! We can stop time!”

“What? You’re crazy!”

“No really. Here take it and pull out the knobby thing.” I handed it to him. After a second or two, he handed it back.

“That is too weird,” he said. “The birds were just hanging in the air. Did you see?”

“No, not when you had the watch.”

“I guess you have to be holding it.” Josh couldn’t stand still. “Wes, think about this, think about what we have! What we can do! Do you realize we never have to fail a test again?” He was almost dancing.

“What are you talking about?”

“The watch. We could bring it to school. Taking a test? Don’t know the answer? Stop time and stroll up to the teacher’s desk to get the answer. Sit down, restart time and get back to work.”

“Josh, that’s cheating. We couldn’t do that. Besides, we should return the watch.”

“OK, Mr. Rodgers. What about baseball? Oops, that infielder dropped another fly ball!”

This started to sound good, in a way. On Monday we would play the Orioles to see who would go on to the district playoffs in Fort Worth. They were the best team in the league. Our team, the Marlins, was in second place. It would be great to beat the Orioles. “Maybe we could return the watch on Tuesday.”

Josh slapped me on the back. “Now you’re talking.” The trip to the district playoffs always included a day at Six Flags over Texas. We were dying to try the new roller coaster. “The Superman ride is going to be great!”

We spent the night that night at Josh’s house. We went out into the yard and dug up a couple of worms, then used the watch to plant them on his older sister’s toothbrush a few times while she brushed her teeth. Britney has the best scream I ever heard.

 

***

Monday night, we arrived at the Euless Little League field. We plotted every play we could think of. The stands were filled with parents, grandparents and friends, all there to see the two best teams in the league slug it out for the title. The Orioles catcher and pitcher made it a point to read the Six Flags map in front of our dugout. Josh poked me in the ribs and pointed. Mr. and Mrs. Holland sat in the stands, waving.

 

I waved back. I felt funny in my chest, like maybe it was wrong to do this. I would have returned the watch right then, but Josh had it in his pocket. So I focused on the game. We were the home team, so I headed out to my spot at third base.

By the ninth inning, the Orioles were leading 4-2. We needed three runs. Josh looked at me and smiled, his tongue stuck in his teeth. By time Josh was up to bat, there was one out and runners on first and third. He swung big and got all of it, a double. Two runs scored and Josh was the winning run at second.

Troy was up next. I watched Josh pat his pocket as he took a few steps away from the bag. Troy’s bat smacked the ball into a graceful arc. The ball gently thudded into the shortstop’s glove. That meant it was up to me. I could hear the coach’s voice, “Don’t get greedy, all you need is a base hit,” and tried to let it drown out the chatter. I knew the pitcher was good. The first pitch whizzed right past. Strike one. I took a breath and reset my feet. Ball one. Ball two. I looked at Josh and he tried to wink, but it looked more like he was wrinkling his nose. The pitch came and I watched the ball hit the bat. As soon as I felt the bat vibrate, I dropped it and ran for first. The ball sailed towards right field. The center fielder ran to back up the right fielder. In his zeal to help, he crashed smack into the right fielder. The ball landed ten yards in front of them. I turned from first base to see Josh crossing home plate. The catcher threw down his face mask in disgust. Our entire team emptied the dugout to dog pile on Josh.

Josh and I packed up our gear side by side. He looked both ways, to see if anyone was around. Our parents were waiting in the parking lot, talking to the Hollands. Josh reached in his pocket and pulled out the watch. I took it up and opened it. Broken glass spilled into my hand. The knob was missing. Josh reached in his pocket again. He held out his hand, palm up. He was holding the knob. “The knobby thing broke in the second inning, when I dove for the grounder,” he said, grinning.

Tuesday morning, we took the watch over to Mr. Campino’s repair shop. He took the watch and turned it over in his big hands. “This is Clyde Holland’s watch, isn’t it?”

“Yes, sir. We found it,” I said. Josh looked in the glass case at the other antique watches.

“I must fix this thing at least once a month,” said Mr. Campino. “You’d think he’d learn to take better care of it.”

“How much to fix it?” I asked.

“Oh, Ten, eleven dollars. I replace this knob all the time. It’s always falling off. I keep the parts in stock now.”

“Really? When will it be ready, so we can take it back to him?” We couldn’t wait to get the watch back. We had a small project we wanted to do before we returned it.

“Oh, Thursday, Friday,” Mr. Campino placed the watch into an envelope and wrote something on it. “And I have a tee time Saturday morning. I’ll bring it to him, save you boys the trouble.”

Josh and I glanced at each other.

“After all,” Mr. Campino winked, “this is a very special watch.”

 

A Purse Driven Life, part I

After a long three days in the Intensive Care Unit, it was good to be home. My cousin Jody and I sprawled out on the multiple sofas in the formal living room of my now late mother’s McMansion. Jody passed me a cranberry Mike’s Hard Lemonade.

“To our other cousin, Mike,” she said, tipping hers to her lips.

“To Mike.” The bubbles felt cool to my throat, a welcome change from hospital coffee. “Always there when you need him, that’s our Mike.”

“Speaking of there when you need him, where did your sister go?”

“Probably trying to find out what time the bank opens so she can raid the safety deposit box.” My sister had already been scoping Mom’s house and I noticed a few pieces of jewelry were already missing.

The phone rang, which startled us a bit. I for one, was not expecting a call after midnight. My mother’s friends, who had been checking up on her all day, were all in bed by 8:30.

“Hello, I am looking for Cara Turnbridge.” The voice on the phone was male and syrupy, like a used car salesmen sensing a sale.

I acknowledged that it was me and he continued. “This is Harold Mercer at Arbor Rest. I just wanted to let you know that your mother has gotten here safely.”

I just about bit my lip. Jody looked at me, concerned.

“Um, yeah, thanks for letting me know. Should I bring by the clothing tomorrow?”

“Yes, and we need to go over the arrangements. Come at your convenience, I know you have had a rough day, and just call about thirty minutes before you come and we can make sure you don’t have to wait.”

I hung up the phone. “That was the funeral home. Mom has arrived safely.” Jody spewed hard lemonade all over herself. I would have done the same if I had been drinking.

“Even in death, she has to let you know she got there.” Jody snorted when she laughed. That was why she was my favorite cousin.

“Me, I am surprised she didn’t need to call for directions.” This made Jody snort more. “I can hear her now, ‘Was it the Arbor Rest or Rest Ever funeral home? Should I have turned left on Airline Drive?”

Jody patted the throw pillows on the sofa she sat on. It was white leather, the leather being the only reason there wasn’t protective plastic on it, and the pillows were various shades of tasteful gray. “I don’t think I have ever sat in this room before.”

“I did once, when she first bought this furniture suite. But that was five minutes. But we are family and therefore we go immediately to the family room.”

“What will you do with all this?”

“There is a will, so there is a way.”

Jody laughed a got up with her empty Mike’s bottle. She reached for mine. “I see what you did there. You should call your brother and let him know she arrived safely.”

I handed Jody my empty and looked at the time on my iPhone. A couple of clicks and I knew it wasn’t quite time for my brother to get up. He was at The Hague where he worked as a human rights attorney, although we teased him mercilessly that he was secretly CIA and the attorney gig was just his cover. “Think I should wake him or wait until he is already in stressed attorney mode?”

“Wake him before we spend so much time with Mike that you are slurring your speech.”

“Good point.”

He didn’t seem quite awake when he answered. “Hmfroo?”

I told him it was over. After severe kidney failure, we followed the living will directive and let nature take it’s course.

“Cara, did you lock the valuables at the house? Brittney will clean it out…”

“She got the jewelry already.” I took a swig of the new bottle of Mike’s that Jody handed me. “But everything else should be okay. Brittney is too big to wear mom’s clothes or shoes, and other  than purses and china, not sure what else is of worth that Britt can fit in her carryon.” The good think about our little sister being a airline employee was that she always traveled light.

“Are you alone at mom’s?”

I could hear Trent cover the phone and talk to someone else. “He’s not alone!!” I mouthed to Jody. She snickered. “Jody is here, so just like you, I am not alone.”

“Say hello, Sophia,” Trent said to someone in the room with him. “Bonjour!” A sultry voice greeted me.

“She’s French,” I whispered to Jody.  “So, I guess the main reason I am calling, besides letting you know that your mother has passed, and that she has made it safely to the funeral home, is when can you get here for the funeral?”

I could hear him take a deep breath. Trent didn’t have the kind of job that was what you could call flexible. Not like my job as a medical transcriptionist and free lance writer and Jody’s job as a yoga studio owner. “Let me see what I can get flight-wise. Can it wait until next Tuesday?”

I counted days on my fingers, as the hard lemonade was starting to make me stupid. “That’s what, a week? Yea, today is Tuesday. I think we can make that work. I will see the funeral people tomorrow morning and then send you an email with the details.”

“She prepaid, didn’t she? You shouldn’t have much to do or decide. I went with her to set it up when dad died.”

“I will look for the papers…”

“I told her to put them in the safe deposit box,” Trent said. Such the lawyer.

“Since YOU told her to, she probably did.” Mom was old school regarding men and always assumed that men knew more than women. Especially since her only son was an attorney.

It didn’t matter to her at all that I won an award as a science writer. To her, I didn’t have a real career. That was my brother the international attorney and my sister, the Human Resources manager for Northeast Airlines.

Jody and I made our way to the funeral home (funeral parlor? That is what mom always called it. Since it was for her funeral, I decided to call it the parlor, in her honor. The least I could do. Mr. Mercer was there when we arrived, in a black suit, white shirt and gray striped tie. Very understated. He was a short man, probably wider than he was tall, with hair that had spent too many minutes with Just For Men Auburn. He twisted his wedding ring as he spoke to us.

“Well, as you are already aware, your mother had come to us shortly after your father’s funeral to make her own selections.”

I nodded. At the time, I thought it was rather morbid to plan your own funeral. My own take is, I’m not there, I really don’t care what those left behind do. Truth be told, I think they should rent out the local Irish Pub and drink all night.

Mr. Mercer pulled out a thick folder. He started laying out the contents, brightly colored pamphlets with high resolution photos of coffins of various wood construction. Another advertised the cement vaults that the coffin would be lowered into. I knew my mother would pick the heaviest vault available; she had quite the aversion to bugs.  Mercer picked up the coffin page. “I can show you the one she picked out, we have a demo here.” He stood up. I looked at Jody and nodded. I was glad she had come with me. My sister, who planned to come, said that she was just too upset to deal with decisions. My take was that she was hungover. We followed Mercer into a cool room with plush taupe carpeting. The entire decor of the building seemed to preclude sound of any kind. Mercer and even the receptionist, seemed to talk in a throaty whisper.

Mercer patted the top of a glossy walnut colored coffin. Mom’s favorite sundae topping was wet walnuts, which had to be the reason she chose it. “One of our most popular, the Regency in a polished walnut, with,” he paused to open the top, “gold satin interior.”

“I’m not sure the outfit we brought with blend with the gold,” Jody whispered in my ear. Now she was being a bad influence.

Mercer closed the lid carefully. “We don’t, unfortunately have a sample of the vault, but it is one of our best.”

Of course, I thought.

We went back to the small conference room, where the folder still sat on the round table. Mercer began to explain all of the decisions my mother had made, memory books, prayer cards, extended obituary to six different papers, vehicles, etc. I listened as politely as I could, nodding when appropriate.

Mercer then looked a bit uncomfortable. “I know that this is hard to speak about right now, but if there is a life insurance policy, we can work with them…”

“Mom said that she prepaid. Prearranged and prepaid.”

Mercer pulled out a bright white handkerchief. The room was cool, but there were small beads of sweat at the edge of his hairline. “Your mother did prearrange, and we set up the payment plan. Unfortunately, she neglected to make payments after the first one. “

Jody was biting her lip. She knew my mother as well as I did.

“Ok, well, there isn’t a life insurance policy, but she should have enough in her CD’s to pay for everything. How much do we need to get out?”

“18, 789.” Mercer looked a little relived.

“Eighteen thousand?” I took a deep breath. “I am going to have to go to the bank and get it together. When do you need it by?”

“The day of the service would be fine.” Mercer put his hanky away, looking relieved.

 

 

 

I was still shaking when I got home from the bank and called Trent. I didn’t even check the time difference or the weather, the two things I always do before calling him.

“$18,479. For her funeral.” I started speaking before Trent had finished yawning his hello.

“Uh, what, oh, wait, I thought she prepaid?” There was a reason Trent was a good attorney, he caught on to things fairly quickly.

“She made one payment, and then stopped. The good news is that she locked in the price. If she hadn’t, it would be over twenty three thousand.” I tried to take deep breaths, but it wasn’t helping.

“But isn’t there money in her bank accounts? You should have access to…”

“I did, but then Brittney,” I paused. But then Brittney was the refrain of our growing up years. Somehow, our youngest sister was always up to no good.

“What shenanigans is Brittney pulling now?” Trent sounded a bit exasperated, but maybe it was more because I probably woke him up, or interrupted his time with Sophia.

“When I went to the bank to get a cashier’s check, I was informed that I was no longer on the signature card. I said that couldn’t be right, and an hour later, the Vice President was explaining to me that Brittney and mom came in and were concerned that I was spending mom’s money.”

“Were you?” Trent asked. I chalked that up to his lawyer-ness and didn’t take it personally.

“Of course not, but that apparently didn’t matter. They couldn’t even tell me how the signature card looked now, except I am sure that Brittney’s name is now there. I can’t find out anything about the accounts until the will is probated and I am the executor, unless they changed that as well. “

“I am sure mom would have talked to me about changing her will.” Trent sounded fully awake now. “Call Joe Fournier, right now. I will text him and tell him you’re calling. He can handle the probate and get things going there.”

“Okay, but it won’t be done before the funeral. They need the money by the day of.”

“Christ. I can cover it until the probate. But if there is any way to do it cheaper…Eighteen thousand? Does she have a fucking gold crypt?”

“Premium vault, the cement box that the coffin sits in. We could cremate her and you can bring her home with you.” I try to be helpful.

“That works for me. See if you can change the plans. They will give you a guilt trip, but oh well.  Or you can call Brittney and see if she can write a check for that much.” Trent coughed.

“I am just so mad at Brittney, I don’t know what I will do when I see her.”

“Hide the sharp objects. I arranged my flight and I will be there late Monday afternoon.”

“Is Sophia coming?” Now I was curious.

“No, not now.”

Got it. She was there with him again. Now I did the math. It was midnight at The Hague. And I was sure the weather was, well, hot.

I dragged Jody with me back to the funeral home. She said she would, but only if I went to her noon hot yoga class. She thought I was stressed. Gee, go figure.

So Jody and I , in sweaty yoga pants and hoodies, showed up at the ultra dressy funeral parlor one more time. Luckily, Mr. Mercer was there.

“Well, we have some issues with the payment amount,” I said to him once we were in the tasteful and discreet small conference room. “It seems my mother made some changes to her bank account set up and I won’t have access to the funds until we probate the will.”

Mercer did not look phased at all. He probably dealt with this all the time. “I am not sure we will be able to serve your family then.”

“Well, we were wondering,” I looked at Jody for support, “if we could make some cost cutting to the plans, and then my brother will be able to wire me the money.”

Mercer’s right eyebrow arched slightly, “What changes would you propose?”

“Cremation,” Jody said. She knew I would hem and haw a few moments.

The funeral director sat up a bit. “Your mother had some definite desires about how she wanted her service to be conducted. She definitely did not want cremation.”

Then she should have made her payments and not put my greedy little sister on her joint account, I thought to myself.

“The family has discussed this and we think that this would be best. As Cara said, we can have the cash for a cremation for you by the end of the week.”

In the end, money talks. I texted Trent the amount to wire and that was that.

But I still needed to tell Brittney. And I still was too furious to speak to her.  Luckily, I didn’t have to. Joe Fournier, Esquire, was there to do that for me. He let me sit in the room and listen on speaker phone though.

“Ms. Conner? Joe Fournier here, I will be doing the probate of your mother’s will.”

“Oh, really? Who hired you? I thought her friend’s son Rick Parsons was going to do this.” Brittany sounded fairly annoyed but that was her usual state.

“I went to school with your brother Trent. So Cara and Trent had called me yesterday. And reading the will over, Cara is the exectutrice, so, she does get to pick the attorney.

“But Rick was her regular attorney, so he would know what she wanted.”

“I see, I can contact Rick. He is a criminal attorney, and doesn’t have much experience with wills, so he may be glad to pass this off. Plus he is running for judge and campaigns take time. “

“Well, I will call Cara and tell her that she really should be using Mom’s attorney,” Brittney said.

“Was this attorney the one who suggested she change the signature cards at the bank?”

There was silence on the other end.

“Ms. Conner?”

“That was what mom wanted to do. She didn’t want Cara in her business. Cara was a nag and wouldn’t let mom give me any financial help.”

Joe put a finger to his lips. I held my tongue. “Ms. Conner, do you happen to know if there is another account signer? There is a bill at the funeral home that needs to be paid.”

“She made me the co-signer.” Brittney said. “But she prepaid the funeral, so there shouldn’t need to be anything else to pay there.”

“Your mother only made one payment, so if you are the co-signer, we need you to write a check on her account for eighteen thousand, four hundred and seventy nine dollars, payable to the funeral home.”

There was more silence on the phone. “She didn’t have that kind of money. She won’t until the house is sold.”

“I see. Well, since there isn’t money to pay for the service your mother planned, there will be a few cost saving measures…”

“Yeah, whatever. I don’t care about the funeral. Trent and Cara can do what they want.”

There were no other pleasantries before Brittney hung up. Joe looked at me. “Do you have the last statement?”

“Her checking account had 5 or six thousand , but there was a savings account with forty five thousand that fed into it.”

Joe whistled softly.

To be continued….

Duck Duck Goose

“Tiffany, I’ve got to talk to you, can I close the door?” Penny swooped into my office and swung the door shut before I could answer. The pile of preschool applications on my desk blew off in the breeze of the door. Penny bent down and pushed them into a messy pile and dropped the whole mess back on my desk. She found my stapler and dropped it on top, then pulled a side chair closer to my desk. “It’s Sasha. In the Dolphins class.”

I knew the child. Her parents were from Romania, and her father was a PhD candidate in Petroleum Engineering. Her mother taught Russian as an adjunct lecturer. Sasha and her brother, Alexi, had been at the school since the beginning of the fall semester. Both seemed to have adjusted in the three months they had been here in Texas.

“I’m sure she isn’t involved in the Russian collusion investigation. “ I joked with Penny. Penny was the only teacher at the school that shared my liberal political leanings, and we frequently had lunch together to discuss our stress and fears of the current Administration.

Penny shook her head. “No, I am being serious. Sasha drew a picture of her friend Emma. But she drew the picture with Emma having short hair. Really short.”  Penny took a deep breath. “And now Emma’s hair is really short. Just like the drawing.”

I thought a moment. “So did Sasha cut Emma’s hair?” I was already dreading having to tell Emma’s mother about the hair. Emma had wavy blond hair that went mostly down her back. She had been at the Children’s Center since she was an infant. No, this was not a conversation I wanted to have. And yet, since the director was out of state at a conference and the assistant director was home with a sick child, it was going to be me.

“That’s the thing,” Penny said, “I didn’t have scissors out. There is no hair in the trash. There should be so much hair.”

“Maybe Sasha flushed it down the toilet?” I could think of several ways to get rid of cut hair. When I cut my own bangs, which my hairdresser hates, I usually flush the wisps of hair.

“I think it was the picture.” Penny was a bit pale.

“You think that a five year old child drew a picture and then the picture came to be true? Like some kind of magic? This isn’t Hogwarts.” I knew that Penny was a huge Harry Potter fan.

I got up and walked to the door. “Let’s go see.”

We went down the hall to the Dolphins Classroom and I followed Penny in. The children were sitting in a circle while the teaching assistant was reading a story. “Blueberries for Sal.” A Classic. I looked at the back of the children’s heads, looking for hair that had been chopped by a five year old. And I didn’t see any bad haircuts. I looked at Penny. “Is she in the bathroom?”

Penny pointed at what I thought was a little boy with a neat, almost military haircut. “Right there.”

My heart nearly stopped. Emma looked like a marine recruit. There should be 12 inch strands of hair somewhere. Penny pulled me over to her teaching table and picked up a child’s drawing. There were two little girls in the drawing, one with short blonde hair and a blue dress and one with curly brown hair and a red dress. I looked at the children, and Emma was wearing a blue dress and Sasha was indeed wearing red. “Do we have any more of Sasha’s drawings?” I wasn’t sure I wanted the answer.

“This is the first time I have noticed something like this happening.” Penny said.

“Well, you could always ask Sasha to draw a picture with Emma’s hair long again.” Which I knew was a dumb idea, but Penny brightened up immediately.

“That’s why I came to you. I knew you would know what to do!”

“Um, Penny, you really don’t think that …”

It was too late. The assistant was done with the story and the children were going over to their centers. Penny had squatted next to Sasha and seemed to be having a deep conversation with her.

All I could do was go back to my office and try to get ahold of the assistant director and ask if she could contact the parents instead of me. Although since she wasn’t physically here, I would still get the brunt of the anger.

 

I called Keira, the assistant director. “Just a head’s up, Sasha gave Emma a haircut.”

“Please god, no. Of all the little girls to pick on, she picked Emma?”

“Penney said that Emma said that she asked for it, she liked it short.” I didn’t tell Keira that Emma said that Sasha didn’t cut it with scissors, that she used crayons. I was still wondering how two five year olds would know to get their stories straight.

Penney came rushing into the room, holding a sheet of manilla paper as I was hanging up the phone. “Look, long red hair!”  She held up a child drawn picture of the same two little girls, except now the one with the short brown hair had long curly red hair. Penny guided the real little girl into my office. “Come see Miss Tiffany, Emma, let her see your hair.”

The little girl walked cautiously to my desk. “I told Sasha I wanted hair like Ariel.”

I reached out and touched her hair and looked up at Penny. “This is not funny. I really don’t have time for your jokes today.”

Penny took Emma by the hand. “Come on, Emma, let’s go back to the classroom. We need to ask Sasha to make your hair yellow before your mommy gets here.”

I wasn’t sure what to do. Surely this was some kind of joke that Penny was pulling on me. Emma’s red hair felt real, and didn’t feel like a wig, but on the other hand there is no way that the short blond hair I saw a while ago was a wig either. I really wished that Keira or Trish was here to deal with this. I looked at the pile of applications on my desk and started to try to put them back in order.

“What the actual hell, Tiff?”

Trish was back and standing in my doorway.

“I’m gone for two weeks and you install a swimming pool on the play ground? We can’t have a fucking pool on the play ground, we will lose our license!”

I stared at Trish. “I have no idea what you are talking about.” I got up and followed her to her office, where the window overlooked the preschool playground, which now featured an in-ground swimming pool, complete with water slide. It looked frightening similar to the pool at a local park. My knees started to shake and I sat down on the sofa in her office. “There is no way I would or could install a pool like that, on our budget, in only two weeks.”

“There is a pool outside my window.” Trish was at least using preschool appropriate language again.

“I have an idea, but you are not going to like it.” I told her about last week, when Sasha kept changing Emma’s hair.

“That has to be Penny jerking your chain. She knows you are stressed out this time of year with the waitlist and new enrollments.”

I stood up and said, “let’s go to the Dolphins classroom.”

Trish stared at me. “You are seriously trying to make me believe a five year old child drew this and it appeared.”

“It’s a pool. We have to get her to fix the drawing and get rid of the pool.”

“You are pranking me, aren’t you? You and Penny?”

“Did you look at that pool? You think that is a prank? If I had the money to put in a pool like that, I would put it in my yard, or better, I would be driving a car manufactured in this century.”

Trish followed me to the classroom. The children were off in another building having their active time, since they could not use the playground with the pool right there. Everyone saw the pool and wondered what Trish was thinking when it first appeared two days ago.

Penny and I had already looked for a drawing of the pool the day it appeared, but had no luck. But we did find a picture drawn by a five year old of a herd of horses.

I woke up in a sweat. I was in my apartment bedroom. Did I dream the pool? Did I dream the hair cut? Lord I sure hoped so. I glanced at the clock, I was supposed to be at work in an hour and a half, but no time like the present. I pulled on a pair of chinos and my maroon logo polo shirt (the 2000’s equivalent of the mechanic shirt with the name Bob embroidered on it) and made the ten minute drive to the children’s center. After throwing the old Honda into park, I went straight to the playground. Never in my life had I ben so happy to not see a swimming pool. I took a couple of deep breaths, then went to the break room to get some coffee before going to my office. Trish was already in there, pouring multiple individual French Vanilla creamers into her stainless steel travel mug.

“Hi Trish, you’re back. How was the trip?”

“Pretty non-eventful, and I like it that way. Things here okay?”

“Wonderful.” I walked over to the coffee pot, thankful for some caffeine to put that bad dream out of my mind. I picked up a white blur out the window with my peripheral vision, and walked over to the window. It was just one of the ducks in the duck pond.

Duck pond. Oh shit.

Friend of Bill

I came to this campus, with a couple hundred of my brothers and sisters. We stood, our bright yellow frames reflecting the bright March sunshine. It wasn’t this warm in the factory where we were just seven days ago. But here we are, sitting together in a bike rack. Bill put us out there, lining us up neatly in the bike rack, then taking a photo with his phone, letting all of the campus social media know that we were finally here and ready to go riding.

A potential rider approaches. He his holding his phone over my sister, 907933’s fender and we hear the snap as her rear tire is unlocked. The rider swings his leg over, puts his bag in the basket, and I wonder if I will ever see 907933 again. There are so many of us. I am parked next to a non OFO bike. The poor thing. Dirty, with a slight speckle of rust across the handle bars. My black enamel handle bars will never see that kind of rust. Even is there was a chip in the pain, Bill would look us over and fix us up as soon as we are less than perfect.

A group of six male students comes up to our bike rack. They laugh at the bright yellow paint, and say that we are girls’ bikes, what ever that means. I really don’t care who I carry, I just want to see as much of the world as I can. Still laughing, they hold their phones over some of our fenders. I feel the jolt of the metal bar locking my back wheel springing away, and I am now free. The rider adjusts my seat higher and gets on. He is the leader, I can tell. He pedals away from the others and then turns around.

“Last one to Northgate is buying!”

We started moving quickly down the sidewalk, then onto the road, in the marked bike lanes. This, this was what I was built to do, speed down the road, my fellow OFOs trying the keep up. Some riders took short cuts over medians and sidewalks. Some of us stayed in the bike lanes and were able to maintain high speeds. It seemed in no time, were are at the destination, Northgate, and I am proud to say, my rider was NOT buying. Whatever that meant. There were no bike racks that I could see, but that didn’t stop our team of crack riders. They lined us up along the wall next to the road and all hit the locks, so we wouldn’t leave without them.

The weren’t gone long when a few other boys came out of the shop.

“Look, it’s an OOFU!” one of them said pointing.

“Yeah they are free this week. Hey, we can take them home, it’s cheaper than the Uber.”

His friend seemed to think that was a good idea. From the way they were stumbling about, I wasn’t sure they could ride. But they unlocked the wheels of two of us, and off I went on a new adventure. We didn’t go toward campus and I could hear the soft beep of my GPS telling me I was out of bounds.

 

His name is Bill. That is what someone called him the day we were all dropped off on campus. Bill and his gleaming white pickup with graphics of OFO bikes on the side. He must have made fifty trips those first days dropping us all off. Sometimes I look forward to being left on the side of the road in town, my GPS letting Bill know where I am. Then he comes, driving around in his truck, retrieving us wayward OFOs.

He talks to us like we are alive:

“Whatcha doin’ all the way out here? Some people just think that the rules don’t apply to them, that they can just leave you all just anywhere. C’mon feller, lets get you loaded back up and home to yer brothers.”

Bill would pick me up and ever so gently place me in the back of the truck with the others. When he put us on the bike racks back on campus, he would pull out a soft cloth and wipe us all down so the yellow paint would shine in the sunlight. If there were any chips in the paint, he would pull out his paint jar and just the right size brush (he had a whole box of paint brushes.) he would make the necessary corrections. If our chains needed oil or any other mechanical need, Bill would be there. Part mechanic, part doctor, and part shepherd, truth be told.

There was one day where some college boys decided that they would decorate a tree with several of us OFOs. Since it was on campus, our GPS could not call Bill directly, but someone must have, or he just saw us when he was bringing other OFOs home.

“Whatcha all doing up there now?” he exclaimed. He  was barely able to reach our tires, but he would lift us up out of the branches and gently set us on the ground, one by one. He looked every OFO over carefully to make sure there were no scratches. “Dem boys, I’m tellin ya!” he muttered as he lifted us all into the truck to take us to some bike racks.

Not every trip ended with Bill coming to my rescue. Most were rather basic, boring even after the first few weeks, when the novelty wore off.

But I learned a lot. About people mostly, which I have not known before. I learned the most though about Bill.

Bill getting us out of trees and traffic, and always making sure we were clean and in appropriate bike racks. Bill never leaving us “out of the box” all night.

I could imagine Bill watching TV at night, with his tablet on his lap. Trying to pay attention to the reality show about tiny homes, but really paying more attention to the app on his tablet, with little blinking yellow dots to let him know where his herd of OFOs are. When there are five or more OFOS out of the campus box that he can rescue, he dashes to his truck to go find them. Because this little herd of yellow bicycles is his life right now. His life used to be visiting his grandchildren, but when his drinking was daily and out of control, his children would not let him in their homes again. So he went to AA and they told him to get a house plant, and if he could keep a house plant alive for a year, to get a pet and then keep that alive for a year, and then he was ready for humans again. Even when he tried to apologize and make amends with his kids, they still did not want him to come see the grandkids. Bill wondered if they told the little ones that he was dead. Or maybe his ex-wife was there telling the little ones that he didn’t care anymore. Gifts, cards, all came back to him, unopened. It made him want to drink again, the loneliness, the rejections. But, as his sponsor reminded him during their daily phone calls, it was the drinking that caused the pain, so it cannot fix the pain.

But the Ofo’s. Maybe if he could keep the little herd of happy yellow bicycles all in excellent shape, maybe if the Ofos could be okay, it would help his family be okay again. That was Bill’s dream. And he reminded us of that every time he shined a fender or oiled a chain.

Cal Lewis

So for the letter C, I have to talk about Cal Lewis. He is almost a bad guy, besides the Germans and the Japanese. This is Cal.

 

He is a ginger, with freckles and all. And he had a gambling issue. That was his thing always. That was how he met his wife, to be honest. He was at the track, trying to decied what horse would make him rich, when a beautiful young women suggested that Lincoln’s Mosey would be the best horse to bet on. He bet on the horse, who won the race, and ended up dating the daughter of the owner. Because that is how those things worked. Then, her family realized that Cal came with debts. That was not quite what was planed for their princess. But then she was pregnnat and it was no longer a question. Cal would marry her, and take his place in the family business. And if he was lucky, he could help wih the real family business, race horses, whic he always had an eye for anyway.

But marrying this girl and her having a baby within weeks of the wedding (oops?) was the big thing. and so Cal ended up finding a way to enlist in the Marines and enroll in the pilot training program, lying about the fact that he was married with a family, and getting into the fighter pilot program. this would help him both financially and in real lift, truth be told.

C…Cal Lewis

So for the letter C, I have to talk about Cal Lewis. He is almost a bad guy, besides the Germans and the Japanese. This is Cal.

 

He is a ginger, with freckles and all. And he had a gambling issue. That was his thing always. That was how he met his wife, to be honest. He was at the track, trying to decide what horse would make him rich, when a beautiful young women suggested that Lincoln’s Mosey would be the best horse to bet on. He bet on the horse, who won the race, and ended up dating the daughter of the owner. Because that is how those things worked. Then, her family realized that Cal came with debts. That was not quite what was planed for their princess. But then she was pregnant and it was no longer a question. Cal would marry her, and take his place in the family business. And if he was lucky, he could help with the real family business, race horses, which he always had an eye for anyway.

 

B…Meet Bob

B would have to be for Bob Guisewhite. Bob is the hero we all needed in 1945.

 

Bob was a graduate of Texas A&M College with a degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1939 and promptly did what his ROTC friends did and join the armed services. Bob, a good southern boy, decided on the Marine Corps. He was then selected to be a pilot and ended up in Quantico, Virginia one fateful night in December 1942.

 

The sargeant on duty came running up to Bob, who had the Officer of the Day duty.

“Lieutenant, you won’t believe this. But we just had twelve Jenny’s land on our strip.”

Bob looked up from the novel he was reading. “Jennys?”

“Yes sir, it seems that the Army Air Corps was moving them from New York to North Carolina, but the snow made them land here.” Nick’s voice had a quiver he didn’t normally have.

“Ok, Nick, so put the pilots up in quarters and get on with your life.” Bob wanted to get back to his book.

“Sir, it’s the pilots. They are girls, I  mean women, sir.”

“What? Women flying Navy planes?”

Nick shook his head, “Sir, as I said, they are Army Air Corps. The pilots are girls, they say that they are the Women’s Air Ferry Division.”

Bob thought a moment. “Sargeant, don’t we have the quarters for the new women marines? Let’s just quarter the pilots there.” The fact that the Army Air Corps trusted women with combat planes, or even training planes, was not his concern. But he wasn’t going to be the one who commanded that Army Air Corps pilots were mistreated, male or female. “And Sargeant, invite the pilots to the Officers’ Club once they are settled.”

***

I wasn’t sure what the red brick factory used to manufacture, but now, it was dedicated to FDR’s war machine. This one was sold to Piper, and they were making the plane used to teach almost every combat and bomber pilot how to fly.

The six yellow Piper J-3 Cubs sat on the edge of the airstrip. Rain dripped off the wide, rounded wings. Sarah  and I stood in the hangar and tried to stay warm and dry. The windsock at the end of the air strip was horizontal to the ground, in spite of the downpour. “It’s surprising they haven’t gone up by themselves in this wind,” I said to Sarah.

“We have donkeys at our farm in Iowa, just as pets, and when it rains, they stick their ears out to the side to keep the water out. Now whenever I see them, I’m going to think about these little Cubs,” Sarah said. She stuck her hand out to feel the rain. “It’s not the rain that bothers me, but the cold. I’m afraid of icing.”

I thought it looked clearer to the south. “It looks better in the direction we’re going, I’m sure we’ll be fine. Nancy wouldn’t let us take risks, it would make the program look bad.”

Sarah winked, “And you ought to know about that.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Just if there’s ever a time where something that could hurt the program is happening, you manage to be right there. Like the flight to Texas, when we had to land on that ranch.”

“It’s not my fault the maps blew out of the plane, I thought I had them tied to my leg better. Now, I have all the maps memorized.” I wasn’t going to get lost again, that I was sure of. “Besides, didn’t you get a date with one of the pilots who led us to the air base after we got there?”

Well, I’m not saying I don’t try to make good out of a bad situation. Lemonade, you know?”

Footsteps. Madge, the squadron leader walked up and put a hand on each of our shoulders. “You girls ready? I talked to Nancy and told her we’d be fine.” She turned to me, “And I know you’ve got the alternative fields marked on your maps.”

I tapped the top of my head, “And here, too.”

“Good, I’d hate to have to get lost in a Cub. It’s worse than falling off a tricycle.” Madge turned to go, then stopped, “Better get you some hot coffee, we leave in ten.”

I thought the wool-lined flight suit would be enough, but the cold air went right though the cabin of the plane and I could feel the cold dampness in my bones. As we took off, the planes formed a loose formation, close enough for us to see each other, but far away enough to avoid colliding in a wind gust. And there were plenty of gusts. It felt more like I was riding a bronco in the Sausalito Rodeo arena than flying a plane over New Jersey. I glanced over to the left and saw Ruth in her plane, studying the weather. Madge assigned Ruth the task of calling the flight down if the weather was too bad. I wished there were radios in the planes, some way to talk, not that trying to keep the light plane on course was boring in any way.

As we got over Maryland, the light rain started getting thicker, more of a sleet mixed with some snow flakes. I looked over at Ruth again. If she was going to make us land, there were a few places close by. Andrews in Washington was close. Ruth was still staring in the air. Madge was on the other side of Ruth, maybe they were thinking about it. The snow started to get heavier, then stopped. I wondered what the weather would be like in Durham where we were to land. I didn’t think it would be snowing that far south.

A sudden wind gust reminded me I was flying the mechanical equivalent of a butterfly. I steadied the plane and looked over to see the other girls adjusting to the stronger wind too. The snow started falling again. I could barely see down, but I could make out the Potomac River. Over to my left, Ruth waved and pointed down. I started looking for the next air field. Quantico should be next. Great, a night with the Marines. A quick look at the map confirmed my plan, so I dropped altitude to get a better look for the air field. Five minutes later, the lights shone through the snow and fog. An empty sky surrounded the strip; obviously, the Marines were smart enough not to fly in the snow. I  started into a landing pattern and looked at the tower. A green light signaled clear. I turned the plane into the strip and raised the flaps. The little plane bobbed in the wind, as if it decided it wasn’t going to believe in gravity today. After a small eternity, the wheels hit the ground. A grounds crewman  pointed the way and I  taxied towards a small clearing, away from a line of fighters and dive bombers.

The rest of the Cubs landed easily and parked next to me in a neat bee line. In the gray white snow, the yellow Cubs were almost the only things visible, the fighters’ blue and gray colors blended into the clouds and snow. A private came over to  me as I  walked around my plane.

“I don’t suppose you know of a hotel around here, do you private?” I asked.

The private stopped in a snowy skid as he realized the Cubs were all flown by women. “What is the world coming to?” he asked, whistling.

Madge trudged over and took charge. “We’re ferrying theses plane to Durham and the weather seems to think we need to stay here awhile.”

The private nodded and led the us over to the mechanics’ hangar, where a group of mechanics were warming themselves by a small fire. “Hey, Sarge, we’ve got some company, ladies!” he announced as they approached the fire.

The sergeant stood up and took a step towards us. “Jed, go get the OD out of the ready room.” A private jumped up and ran out of the hangar. I edged a little closer to the fire, it was good to get out of the cold. Piper ought to think about heating those little birds, I thought as I held my hands over the flames.

The sergeant chatted with Madge a moment, then elbowed a buddy. “So, when you ladies find out where you’ll be staying this evening, let me know and I can recommend some entertainment options.”

“That won’t be necessary, Nick,” a tall lieutenant said as he came into the hangar. “These ladies are pilots, which means officers. Sorry.” He strolled over the sergeant, who explained the situation.

Nick shrugged. His olive skin and day-old growth of dark beard made his teeth glow in the fire light.  “Can’t blame a guy for trying, right?” He winked at me. I honestly tried to stop blushing, but I couldn’t.

“I’m Lieutenant Guisewhite.” The tall Marine officer walked over to us. “I’m supposed to get you ladies some quarters.” He spoke with a slow drawl, like he had no place better to be.

Madge looked up at him. “That would be wonderful, Lieutenant, any local hotel will be fine.”

“No, ma’am. We have some empty barracks, so we’ll get you fixed up.” He had a slightly crooked smile, like one side of his mouth was heavier than the other. “This is a Marine base, we don’t make do, we do it right.” He stood straight, a living poster for Marine pride.

I marveled at the whole Marine thing. We landed only fifteen minutes ago, but the base had a different atmosphere than the army bases I had been on. I wondered  what made the difference.

The barracks were not only empty, they were brand new, so they didn’t have the sweaty man smell that most barracks had. The smell of fresh paint overpowered any perfume the women could put on. The walls were a light green, the floors a dark wood. In the all the years I had lived on Army bases, I had never seen the inside of a barracks before. So this is how the enlisted live.

Lieutenant Guisewhite arranged for an MP to come by in after an hour to escort us to the officers’ chow and then to the officers’ club. It was more of a welcome than any of the army bases had ever mustered. We  took hot showers and changed into clean, dry uniforms, and set our flight suits out to dry near the radiators.

Ruth and I were the last of the group get to the officers’ club. Several clusters of men were engrossed in card games, others hovered around a radio. The rest were eating and drinking, some came over to meet the girls as they came in. We walked to the bar and ordered two scotches. Ruth chatted with the bartender. I noticed Guisewhite at a table in the corner with another Marine. He waved, so I took Ruth by the arm and we went over to join the lieutenant.

“What an incredible place,” Ruth said as she sat down next to Guisewhite.

“We like it, but it’s only temporary for most of us. This is where Marines come to wait. Like a giant doctors’ office.” He looked around. “Most of these guys are casual company, hanging out waiting for orders to the South Pacific or training school. Of course, some are back already from the South Pacific and waiting for new orders.”

“The operative word here is waiting,” the other Marine lieutenant said, “I’m Mike Braille, since my rude friend Bob here isn’t going to introduce me.”

Ruth nodded at me, “See, you wouldn’t make it as a Marine either, you don’t have any patience.”

“That’s ok, I don’t see any lady Marines around here.” Which probably wasn’t a bad thing. I liked the male attention with minimal competition, I had to admit.

“Actually, we don’t have a women’s auxiliary yet, but it’s coming soon, I heard the colonel say that the barracks y’all are staying in will be the women’s barracks.”

“Nice of you to let us break it in for you.” Ruth said. She leaned over the table, “Now do all Marines say ‘y’all’?”

“Just the one’s from Texas, ma’am.” Bob blushed a bit. “Just graduated from Texas A&M with my engineering degree.”

Mike shook his head, “One of those Aggies. We met in OCS and now we’re waiting together to go to Pensacola for flight school.”

“Oh, so you aren’t pilots yet?” Ruth asked.

“Well, we’ve had the ten hours in the Cub. So they know we don’t get airsick. But the real flight school starts in Pensacola. That’s where we learn to fly the Navy way. And get some gold wings so we can give those Japs hell.”

“I didn’t realize the Navy flew differently than the Army,” Ruth said. “I would think a plane is a plane.”

“Actually, the Navy has a thing against nice smooth landings and using the whole runway,” I watched  Bob’s reaction as I said it. “That’s where Army pilots go to fly if they can’t land without bouncing. The carriers have hooks to catch the planes.”

“Now wait a minute,” Bob said, “Remember who’s putting a roof over your heads tonight. And who’s buying your drinks.”

“I was kidding,” I said, “I’ve heard about the circle landings, I don’t think I could do them.”

Ruth stared a moment. “I think I’ve had too much to drink, did I just hear Frankie McConnell say there was something she couldn’t do in an airplane?” She fanned herself as if fainting from the shook.

“Circle landings?” asked Mike, “We haven’t talked about those yet.”

“You land a plane ten times in, what, a fifty foot circle?” Bob explained. “It’s one of the check flights. You get to practice it, so it can’t be too hard.”

“What does the Navy care if you can land a plane in a fifty foot circle?” Ruth asked.

“Carrier pilots, they want to see who has what it takes to be carrier pilots,” Bob said. “I wouldn’t mind being a carrier pilot. I just hope I make fighter pilot. I don’t think I could be a bomber pilot.”

“No, you do seem too independent to have to have a co-pilot,” I said.

“Independent? That must be an Army word. At OCS, they used the word headstrong, right Bob?” Mike punched Bob in the arm as he teased him.

The next day, the weather cleared up enough for Madge to get her squadron up in the air. As I loaded my gear into the plane, I looked over at the fighter flight line. I  recognized the Grumman Wildcats, those I had seen before, but the plane with inverted wings intrigued me.

“Corsair F4U,” Nick said as he helped me get the Cub ready. “I hear the thing can out dive and out climb anything the Japs have. Only problem is that the Navy can’t land them on carriers. So no one knows what to do with them. ”

“For the Navy, that could be a problem, alright. Still, it’s a fascinating looking plane.” Immediately, all I could think about was how the gull wings would affect the aerodynamics. One of the dangers of engineering school.

“Well, stop in sometime when the weather is better, maybe you could watch one in the air.”

I didn’t notice Madge standing behind me untill she spoke. “Sorry Sarge, but knowing Frankie, here, she’d want to fly it herself.”

I  looked at the plane one last time as I got into the Cub. I felt some kinship with the strange looking plane; no one knew what to do with me either.