Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Day story

“The Road to Tucumcari”

December 25, 2014

            Edna was still crying as they pulled out of the driveway and headed in the direction of Clear Lake where she and Don would spend a couple of days celebrating Christmas with their family.

            Trey did not stand in the driveway to see his parents off. In fact, he hadn’t moved from his seat at the edge of his bed, since the one-sided argument with his father. Trey was beyond arguing and that really steamed his dad. It took just about everything the man had to keep from driving his fist into his son’s face. What a mess. Everything was so wrong.

            Two hours after his parents left Trey headed north in the opposite direction his parents had taken. The plan was to drive until the snow stopped him. He envisioned himself leaving his Jeep Cherokee to walk through a wood and sit beneath a tree.

            Some pompous fool had assured others that freezing to death was a pleasant way to go. You just go sleep and don’t wake up. Trey had spent way too many hours sitting quietly in the deep snows on the side of the mountains and hills of Afghanistan to know that the moment of death might be relaxing, but the part about getting there was sheer torture.

            But he did love the silence. Loved it enough to want to experience it just one last time. Only this time he was prepared to skip right past the torture stage.

            Before leaving the house, Trey had scribbled a note to his Mom. He wrote: “Mama, I am so sorry that I mess things up for you and Dad. For everyone. And, I’m so sorry for always saying how sorry I am.  I know enough to know that I’m broken. To help me get fixed I’m taking a little drive to someplace not here. I’ll be back in a few days. Please, don’t be mad at Dad. He tried as long as he could. Thanks for always praying for me, Mama. I know your prayers go straight to heaven. I’ve given up on mine ever leaving the room.  – I love you, Mother. Always will.  T

            The snow began to fall around Amarillo. Trey pulled into a Valero to gas up. He had seen enough of Texas to realize that he needed to head west for a while. If not he’d likely end up in a snowdrift somewhere in the Oklahoma Panhandle. Not exactly where he wanted to join his friends. He wasn’t long into New Mexico before noticing a half buried post wearing a green highway sign which read: “Tucumcari 18.” He liked the sound of that. Remembered once hearing a song about the town.

            He soon realized that he would not likely reach town, so he pulled into the first inviting place he could find. It was an old Mom and Pop motel. He didn’t want a room, just some place might serve him a meal before taking his walk.
            The light was on in the motel office, but the door was locked. He banged loud and long until the door cracked open enough to reveal the face of an unshaved, gruff-looking, middle-aged guy. “Whatta ya want?” the man said.

            Trey asked him where the nearest café was, and the guy assured him that there wasn’t anything opened anywhere, including the place he was standing. “Would you consider throwing together a sandwich for me?” Trey said. “I’ll make it worth your while.”

            The man tried to shut the door, but Trey used a bit more force to push the door open. Immediately the man reached into his pants pocket. He studied Trey’s expressionless face for a second and then walked behind the counter for a room key. He checked the drawers and poked around under the counter. Trey said, “If you’re looking for a key, they’re hanging on the pegboard behind you.” The man reached back, grabbed “Key 11” and tossed it to Trey.

            “That’ll be $100 up front. Cash,” the man told him. Trey told him that he didn’t want a room, but he would pay $100 for something to eat. The man smiled as Trey pulled some bills out of his wallet.  Finding some new confidence the man said, “Oh, and you’re gonna need to throw in your car keys.”

            Trey turned to walk out the door, but the man warned him not to. Trey told him that he had to get a couple of things out of the Jeep. As he exited the office he felt fairly sure the man wouldn’t shoot him. And, the man apparently had the feeling that he shouldn’t shoot, ‘cause he didn’t. He did briskly shake his head in an attempt to make a creepy feeling go away. After which he said to no one, “What have I just stepped in?”

            Trey opened the passenger side-door and reached beneath the seat for his pistol, and placed it into the huge inside pocket of his woolen jacket. He then picked up the partially eaten bag of Fritos between the two seats and then walked back to the office.

            There he found the man standing behind the counter just as he had left him, but this time he was pointing a small caliber pistol at Trey. Trey discerned just a tad of nervousness from the man’s stance. Nothing in particular, just something he had picked up on over his short life.

            “I need you to slowly hand over the gun you got from your Jeep,” the man said.  Trey reached into his pocket, pulled out his keys, removed the Jeep key from the ring, and laid it on the counter. “Okay, now the gun,” the man said. Trey kept looking deep into the man’s eyes. Didn’t even drop his stare while in one fluid motion, he pulled the 1911 45 Colt from inside his coat. The man did not react, other than to shake. “What the— No need for that,” he said.” I was just trying to protect myself. I get held up a lot here.” 

            Without diverting his stare away from the man’s eyes, Trey said, “I want you to hand over the 22, and then tell me where the guy is who really owns this place.”

            The man placed his pistol on top of the counter and then assured Trey that the old couple was okay, that he hadn’t harmed them. “I just threatened to shoot you if they made a sound.”

            At that very moment, an old man peeked from behind a doorway. “I’m okay, sir. My wife and I are fine.”

            Trey told the robber that he would let him keep the $100 he had given him, but he insisted he return the money he had stolen from the couple. The man told him that he had actually not gotten around to that, and the old man standing in the doorway backed his story.
            Trey swung his hand out as if introducing the man to the door. The man took his cue and left with no hesitation. He climbed into the Jeep and headed east.

            After hugs and a thousand thanks, Sid and Janet Taylor escorted Trey to the kitchen. “I heard you tell him you were hungry, she said. 

            Trey didn’t know what he enjoyed more, the feast of leftovers or the company of strangers. He did little talking, but listened to the life and times of Janet and Sid. They were so pleasant to be around. Trey could actually play the part of himself. No need for a mask.

            He didn’t recall actually seating himself in the cushy chair in the living area, but that’s where he was when his dream became too real. He woke in a fright and found Sid practically lying across him while Janet calmly assured him that he was all right.
            After about a minute, Trey calmed a bit, and then began to cry.  Between sobs Trey apologized to Sid. “I’m so sorry. Mr. Taylor? Did I hurt you?” Sid assured him he had not. After a couple more minutes Trey assured his hosts that he was much better. “I need to, uh, go outside for a little while,” he said. “That’s what I do when I get like this. Y’all please go back to sleep. I’m fine. I’m so sorry. I didn’t think I would fall asleep.”

            Janet took Trey’s hand and led him to the couch, and instructed him to lie down. Sid brought in a quilt and laid it across the boy. “No, please don’t do this,” Trey said.

            “Shhh. Close your eyes, son,” the old woman told him. Trey didn’t argue. The next sound he heard was a prayer. Janet prayed for God to remove the pain from his mind and to send it away forever, and to let the boy sleep. She then began singing “Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling; calling for you and for me…” Trey only managed to hear the first part of the song before falling asleep. There would be no thrashing around, no dreams… just the sleep of the blessed.

            Trey called home the day after Christmas. His mom cried upon hearing his voice. Trey shared a bit of his story with his mother, but mostly chose to listen as she told him how much the family had missed him. Everyone asked about him. Daddy even mentioned him in the Christmas prayer.

            Trey told his mother that he was going to stay with the Taylors for little while. That there was a VA hospital in Albuquerque and he planned to add his name to the waiting list for counseling. Before hanging up, he asked his mother to thank his dad for mentioned him in the prayer.

            The Oklahoma Highway Patrol found Trey’s Jeep in the panhandle of Oklahoma just south of Liberal, Kansas. Clarence Stang was identified by his prints which were found all over the interior of the Jeep. Mr. Stang was never located, though. Trey hoped that the man was all right. He even whispered a short prayer for him. The saying of the words didn’t feel natural, but for the first in too long he actually imagined getting better. Mrs. Taylor told him that he was their Christmas miracle.

            The real miracle for Trey was that he would have many more opportunities to sit in the wood and listen for the silence that can found in falling snow.

                Merry Christmas to your family, from the Hayters.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Thanksgiving review

“Collin and Maggie”

ROOFTOP – Didn’t I tell you those acorns pack a wallop when they hit the roof? That is one loud pop. I hope at least one of you gets hit on the noggin, so we can find out how painful it is. You did sign a waiver before climbing up, didn't you? I’m pretty sure you did.
Just be glad they’re not pecans. Kay’s brother, Tracy, has a pecan tree in his backyard, and that thing is loaded. If one of those bubbas lands on your head, it’ll stun you.

I discovered the impact of a pecan while celebrating Thanksgiving this year at Tracy’s house in Pasadena.  We went to Tracy’s because the Hayters chose not to have a gathering this year. I think we were all waiting for someone to volunteer to host the festivities this year, but no one did. Traditions take a kick in the teeth sometimes.

     There was a small group at Tracy’s house. Just Tracy’s friends, Ed and Brenda, and a couple of their kids and grandkids.  I don’t believe I’ve ever introduced you to Ed. That guy is so much like Kay’s dad (Uncle Ray) that I just smile every time I see him. Things just start looking better when Ed walks up.

Thanksgiving went well. Good eats, plenty of sharing, no fights, no football outside, no roughhousing. I had trouble believing it was Thanksgiving. My most memorable time was with Collin, one of the grandkids. I’d never met the kid. He’s in Kindergarten, and has a better vocabulary than I had in the fourth grade. He’d say stuff like, “No, thank you. I don’t really like the corn. It’s not normal.”

Collin was right, by the way. The corn was a casserole with sour cream and cream cheese and some other stuff in it. It’s my favorite corn product, but there is no question about its lack of normalness.

After the meal, I was relaxing in the backyard all alone except for Collin who was standing three feet away from me trying to get the attention of Tracy’s dog. Maggie was across the yard barking at something on the other side of the redwood fence. May have been a lizard or a leaf. You can never tell with Maggie.
     Instead of running over and getting Maggie’s attention, Collin stood there right next to me and began yelling. “Maggie! Maggie! Hey, Maggie! Over here, Maggie…”

One might surmise that a dog that will not pay attention to you when you keep yelling at him, is either deaf or not into chasing stuff. As smart as Collins is, he couldn't figure that out. He just kept yelling.

The Mark of a decade or two back, would’ve picked up Collin and Maggie and chunked ‘em over the fence. It was the only cure for my eye twitches and shaking. I chose not to do that this time. I inhaled slowly and deeply while saying a short prayer. All the while --

“Maggie! Here, Maggie! Maggie! Come here, girl. Maggie!” I calmly said, “Collin, how do you like your Kindergarten teacher?” he stopped yelling and looked over at me as if I had just told him to take off his left shoe and throw it on the roof. He said, “She’s nice. I like her fine.”

Then he turned to yell, but quickly looked back at me and said, “What’s the dog’s name?” I foolishly said, “Maggie.” That kid reminded me of me.

He said, “Right. -- Maggie! Maggie! Over here, Maggie…” Before our time in the backyard was over, Collin and I let Maggie chase the ball all over the place. We would even throw the ball on the roof and Maggie would catch it before it hit the ground.

All the while, Collin kept warning me not to step in the dog “poop.” A couple of times he saved my life. He could really spot dog stuff. Unfortunately, he was so worried about me that he ended up with stuff on both shoes. I took ‘em off and cleaned ‘em with the hose, then with a bucket of soapy water, and finally with Tracy’s toothbrush. (At least that’s what I told him.)

Before we knew it, the day was over. It caught my attention after Tracy said, “Are y’all still here?” The end of any gathering is the pits, ‘cause you’ve got to clean up and then load up. After that, I usually have to chase Kay down and drag her to the car. Kay is not one to go gentle into that good night.

     Before we managed to leave, Collen walked up to Kay to give her a hug and then he said, “Where’s Mark? I need to tell him goodbye.”

     About that time I came in the front door after making my last trip to the car. Collin walked up to me and held out his arms, so I stooped down and hugged him. In the middle of the hug, he caught me off guard by saying, “I love you. Do you think we can have Thanksgiving together again next year?”

     It is such a blessing when a youngster enjoys the company of an old guy like me. I didn’t even give him anything, he just enjoyed being around me. Maybe I would’ve made a good grandfather. A dad? Not so sure. I know Kay would’ve been a great Mom. A lot of patience that girl.

     Oh, and she’s a great cook. Makes the best corn casserole in the world. And, at this very moment she’s in the kitchen doing something with asparagus. – I guess that means, it’s time for me to say, “Are y’all still here?” – Next time.

end  and              

Friday, December 12, 2014

Emotionally a woman? Me?

In the beginning
Speaking of femininity…

    Last week I was looking around the study trying to find an excuse not to have to work on a project.  At one point, I noticed that the phone line was unplugged. That seemed odd, ‘cause I had been talking on the phone earlier.

    So, I did what I normally do when something seems odd. I yelled down to Kay, “Hey, why is the phone in the study unplugged? And, how is it that it still works?” – Get this—Kay yelled back, “Because we’ve got Voip!”

    Stuff like that makes me want to just scream. She does it on purpose, you know? I sat staring at the computer for about, oh, a whole minute. Any more contemplation time than that, and I might come unglued.  -- That’s what my Daddy used to say.

    I marched downstairs and said, “Kay, darling, sweetheart… don’t ever aim a word like ‘voip’ to me and let it just hang there. What do is give me the meaning without saying the actual word.”

She could say “rabid unicycle” and it’d make more sense to me than voip. She just does stuff like that to show that the point difference in our IQs should be in her favor not mine. After my brief vent, Kay calmly said, “Oh, VOIP?” That’s when it hit me that the word was actually an acronym. I lived with her long enough to notice voice inflection for acronyms. I hate acronyms. It’s why I never joined the navy.

Kay listened to my aggravation spiel and then said, “VOIP stands for Voice Over Internet Protocol.” That’s what she said, and in doing so aggravated me even more. This time I handled it well. I said, “Ah. Voice over international… something with a P?” Then I went back to the study.
Had this happened two years into our marriage, it would’ve probably led to divorce. But as of last week, we’ve spent 43 years together. I thought our anniversary in 2013 was our 43rd, but Kay told me to do the math. Can you believe that? I thought I’d never need to know subtraction again
So, no way am I letting Internet Protocol mess up this marriage. In the words of some female singer, “I’m goin’ down with this ship.” But keeping the marriage afloat is easy for me. You wanna know why? It’s because of a recent on-line test that I failed. Failed it big. Really big.

Jill sends me an on-line test practically every day. These test help you determine stuff like which Tombstone character you’re most like, or Star Wars character, or what kind of flower you would be if you were flora instead of fauna, or what pastry you’d be. The last test I took was the one that showed how much of a woman I am… mentally, not physically? If it were physical it’d be a no-brainer. I probably wouldn’t have to even take a test.

What I did discover was that I’m Virgil Earp on Tombstone, C3PO in Star Wars, a daisy, a crème horn, and 98 percent a woman. I’m not joking. C3PO! – What? Oh, yeah, the woman thing.

Yes, that surprised me a bit, too. I don’t know if that means I’ve got a female brain, or effeminate emotions or sissified interests. Don’t forget, though, the test does not measure physicality. I’m as male as you can get. You hear me? Okay, then.

    Even at that, I’m not all that worried because the test was one-sided. It had questions like – “Which of these would you rather do?  A) skin a moose    B) shoot a moose    C) ride a moose     D) paint a flowerpot.

    Which would you rather do? A) jump out of helicopter   B) climb Kilimanjaro     C) compete at Daytona   D) wear a bra in public .

 It’s still hard to believe that I’m 98 percent in touch with my feminine side. If I were that womanly, I’d at least know what Kay might want for an anniversary gift. I haven’t gotten her a gift she appreciated since the invention of Teflon.

    Last week I went to Sam’s and got her a hardbound book that she’d already read and some flowers, a flower pot, and green stuff to arrange the flowers. The Sam’s flower lady told me how to arrange the greenery, but she wouldn’t do it for me even if I paid her. She said they only arrange flowers for Valentines.

    So, I came home and stuck a recycled bow on the Jan Karon novel; then I set about to arrange the flowers. I spent a long time on those flowers. They were mint roses. Roses with red tips, but the lady called ‘em mint. Women and their flower names. 

I did the flowers exactly the way I remembered the lady telling me. Unfortunately, I remembered only about 17 percent of what she told me. I’m good with percentages. Even while I was at the checkout with the flowers, a lady in line at the next register pantomimed to me how I should arrange the flowers. She didn’t realize that I was 98% woman. It doesn’t matter. I loused up the arrangement.

Kay was sweet about it, but she’s always been good at hiding disappointment. Me? Since taking the test, I find myself crying at the first sign of disappointment. I’m beginning to think that I’m more like Princess Leah than C3PO. Remember, that’s just between you and me.