Thursday, August 17, 2017


A grocery store in a foreign place is normally set up wrong.  At the very entrance of this one (in my new neighborhood, in this new state) squished into a nook on the right-hand side, is the floral department, complete with helium balloons.  This once annoying fact has now altered the fabric of our family history.  It was here that I bought five colored helium balloons for my youngest son's 11th birthday.

Entering the stupidly arranged store with determination and grit, list in hand, a fateful pause by the strawberries caused the espial of a pretty young girl standing among the mess of flowers, papers, ribbons...and balloons.  She expertly filled a gaudy metallic pillow with magical gas, tied a colored curling ribbon to it, and placed it, floatily, into a group of more sensible, solid-colored, regular balloons.  Well, regular except that they were filled with helium.

A bolt of lightning possibly sent down from heaven suddenly struck my brain and I was drawn, my cart floatily turning, to the girl and her menagerie.  A silly smirk must have been slapped across my face as I asked her the all-squelching question:

     "How much are those balloons?"

     "Two dollars," (for the ugly ones) "and one dollar for these." The lovely gal motioned lithely toward the red balon! (and its amis).

I nearly gasped.  I probably did.  I had never done anything this crazy, this extravagant before--okay, well maybe I have, but...It had never once occurred to me that instead of buying the cheapest balloons I could possibly find, I could actually, gloriously, easily afford to buy--these wonderful, colorful, helium-filled balloons, suspended so happily, with their dangling sparkling curling ribbons!  I must have looked drunk as I stammered,

   "Can I have three?"  I pointed clumsily to a grouping of blue, green, and orange.  As the girl started to nod, I wavered, "No--wait, can I have FIVE?!"

  "Sure, what colors?" she asked, patiently.

  "Um, anything but pink and purple," I blurted, afraid of ruining my chances.

  "Gotcha.  You can go do your shopping while I get them ready.  Here's a ticket so you can pay the cashier." She handed me a stub that said $5.00.

I wandered off nervously, knowing the real risk that I would forget to return for the balloons.  Yes, even after all that.  After passing through three aisles I returned to the balloon counter prematurely. 

   "I was afraid I'd forget," I apologized.

   "No problem," she smiled, "here you go."  She handed me the treasure: five bouncy, colorful, helium-filled balloons--red, orange, blue, green, yellow--wrapped under a huge, thin, translucent bag to keep the beauties from flying away.

I bumbled my way through the rest of the store, not being able to see much around the strange plastic cloud tethered to my cart.  I was not haughty, though, as I passed the aisle where the cheap, blow-'em-up yourself balloons were shelved.  I remembered where I came from, and smiled.  It was a sweet, sweet day at the alien grocery store.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

What Ever Happened to the Millers? Part Three

     "One, two, three..." Nora silently counted to eleven, filling her kettle with tap water.  She had calculated this to be the exact amount needed to brew a pot of tea.  She detested the amount of energy expended by her hated electric stove, so she had resorted to precision.  The whole process of making a pot of tea had been affected by this new concept.  Two measured tablespoons of English breakfast tea; the kettle heated for four minutes, then left to absorb the residual heat a minute or two; poured into the pot, tea basket set in for four minutes, then quickly removed... Very different from the old Nora, actually the younger Nora, who had loved to "wing it" in just about every aspect of life.

     It was good timing, becoming more attuned to detail at this point.  She needed the mental exercise, for one thing.  A woman she had met on a flight from Chicago to San Antonio had explained to her that it was good to be making such a great change in life (moving from where she had lived her whole life--so that she knew the streets, shops, stores, and stoplights all so well that she hardly had to think) at this age (just about ready for dementia to start setting in).  Anyway, such had been the case for her friend on the airplane, Veronica.  She was a little older than Nora and had moved to San Antonio from Houston about ten years prior.  It forced her to start using her mind again, she had said, instead of just floating along on the sea of familiarity while her brain turned to mush.

     Now, what to do with this free time, while Gary and the boys were out... Nora looked around her kitchen.  It was very different than when they had moved in.  Blue-green walls with white wainscoting and painted white cabinets brightened and widened the space where it had been drab beige and dirty brown.   They hadn't wanted a fixer-upper but the housing market had been crazy.  So there had been a lot to deal with that first year, physically as well as psychologically. But they were getting to the end of it, and not having anything pressing, she wondered what to do next.

      Enjoying the quiet, she poured a cup of tea and wandered into the dining room, now painted a bright terra-cotta that nobody seemed to like.  Still, she didn't want to change it again.  She was tired.  She sat at the old round wooden claw-foot table, and opened her Bible to Psalm 71.  Nora realized she had benefited greatly from having to struggle through so much, not that she had been heroic, or even patient, or in any way sane (Poor Gary).  Also, she was fully aware that the obstacles she had faced were non-existent in comparison to what others around her were going through, and this just made matters worse.  She really had nothing to complain about.  So, she needed to stop complaining.  She knew one thing could help--Drinking in the words she felt deeply refreshed.


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

What Ever Happened to the Millers? Part Two

      Gary and Nora had been married for over thirty years.  They had met at a low point in each of their lives.  It was at the end of college, in a depressed economy--the previous four years of uproarious "fun" having slowly ground down as they saw their friends leaving, one by one, until hardly anyone was left.  The two became acquainted at the last, fortunately.  Otherwise they probably never would have  "settled down" together in that loose and hazy setting.

     That last year they both worked at the same pizza place on campus.  She had first been attracted to him because he smiled at her.  She thought this meant he liked her.  He did, but he smiled at almost everybody.  She had thought he was older than he was--maybe because he was so tall, or because he had long hair, which nobody their age did, or because he wore strange clothes kind of like an old hobo.  Upon learning his true age, she still thought it would be impossible for them to be together because of their difference in height.  This did not stop her from flirting with him; and within a year they were married.

     Nora kicked aside the pile of flip-flops in her way and went in the orange back door.  It was cool inside.  Back in Illinois she had gotten away without running the air conditioner much, but not here.   She was glad for the huge old oak trees which shaded the house.  Also there were lots of birds around, including her favorites from home--bluejays and cardinals.  Maybe it was worth living in a "Brady Bunch" house in exchange for such luxuries.

     Joe and Millie were just coming in the front door.
     "Hi Mom!" Joe bellowed happily. "What's for lunch?"
     "I was just about to figure that out."  Nora prided herself on her ability to scrounge up a pretty good meal with no forethought whatsoever, but right now she didn't feel like it.  "How about peanut butter on tortillas?"
     "How about burgers?"
     "We don't have any."
     "Let's go out!"
     "Well you can ask your dad."  She secretly hoped Gary would take the boys out for a while so she could have some time to herself.

Monday, June 5, 2017

What Ever Happened to the Millers? Part One


      Nora was the type of woman who liked to admire a job well done, especially when it was her own work.  She stood, crossing her arms, in the front yard of her 70's orange brick two-story Texas home, happily surveying the neat row of little bushes she and her husband had painstakingly planted.  Painfully, also, particularly for her husband, Gary, who had completed the task of digging the original thirty-seven-year-old hedges' tree-sized roots out from the bedrock they had clung to just below the soil.

     He did, however, get a new tool out of the job--a seven-foot long, heavy black metal pole, with a sharp point at one end, and a wedge shaped chisel at the other.  This type of tool had been unknown to the Millers before they moved to San Antonio, where the "digging bar," as it was called, was pretty much indispensable.

     "Gary!" Nora called across the scrubby lawn to her husband, a nearly six-and-a-half-foot tall, thin, tanned, but aging fifty-something-year-old.
     "What?" He turned his head in her direction, wiping dirt from his brow with his work-gloved hand.
     "It looks great, doesn't it?" she beamed, walking toward him.  Nora was a foot shorter than her husband, not as thin, not as tan, also aging.  It was, in fact, the most difficult age of her life so far.  Losing her 'looks,' whatever they had been, was the insult added to the injurious trial she was going through.  She hated that part almost as much as the anxiety, or maybe more, depending on the moment.

    "Yeah," agreed Gary.  "Much better."
     "And the door--what do you think?" Nora asked cautiously.
     "I love it."
     "You're just saying that so I won't paint it again."
     "No, I really do.  It looks good.  Cooler."  She had painted the front door a fairly bright grayish-blue.  Neither one of them had cared for the previous pumpkin color, which had matched the trim, painted by the previous owners.
     "It does look better, doesn't it--less orange," she stated truthfully.
     "Oh yeah," smiled Gary, and they hugged a brief sweaty hug.

     Barreling out the newly painted door came Millie, the dog, along with Frankie, the youngest son--age 10, and his brother Joe, age 14.  Frankie was juggling a basketball and the dog's leash, while Joe scrambled after them, babbling something that Frankie was doing his best to ignore.

     "What are you guys up to?"  asked Nora.
     "We're gonna shoot some hoops with Millie,"declared Frankie.
     "Well, I was going to take her for a walk," protested Joe, "but then Frankie stole the leash."
     "All right guys," Gary interjected, "Frankie, you can't play ball and hold the dog.  Give the leash to Joe."
     "But he always gets her!" Frankie complained.
     "Well you can go for a walk with us," offered Joe, but Frankie stormed off toward the hoop, bouncing the ball, once again ignoring his brother.

     "See what I mean?" Nora looked up at her husband.  "They fight all the time.  I'm so tired of it."
     "I'll deal with it," Gary asserted.
     "Yeah, right," Nora rolled her eyes and stomped across the driveway toward the back yard.  Gary threw his gloves down and jogged over to the cul-de-sac where Frankie was dribbling the ball.
     "Pass it!" Gary called, and Frankie tossed the ball to his dad, who took a shot and missed.  Frankie got the rebound and went in for an easy layup.
     "Wanna play 'horse'?" he asked.

     In the backyard, Nora gazed into the large, blue, kidney-bean shaped pool.  They had recently had the pool re-plastered, and the work crew had destroyed at least half of the already struggling lawn.  Fences of string staked off geometric shaped areas where Gary had planted grass seed.  The pool water shimmered crystal clear and cool, veins of sunlight gently rocking in the soft breeze.

     Nora thought about how she had often dreamed of having her own in-ground swimming pool, thinking it an impossibility.  But then again, living in Texas was not something she'd ever considered as being possible, or desirable.  So here she was, once again, finding her life turning out to be nothing like she had expected. 

     House projects did not stop with the grass and bushes.  There were presently several more in process, as had been the case ever since the family had moved in, just one year before.  Currently the couple was working on a stone pathway from the back patio, around the house, through the fence gate, and into the front yard.  Previously it had been mostly mud and some ugly pre-cast shifting stepping stones.

     Plantings were going in here and there, in pots or along the foundation, around the pool and "the bean," a kidney-shaped pebblecrete patio, stuck strangely in the center of the sprawling, muddy, weedy, quarter-acre yard.  Several large trees had already been trimmed or removed, but it was still "woodsy."  Clumps of stumps protruded out of the ground in small groupings which were made into little islands with small shrubs, flowers, and boulders.

      In the far back corner of the wedge-shaped lot stood a large white shed that looked like a little house--with a pitched roof, windows, and a door.  It was nice, almost adorable, except that it was tipping pretty noticeably.  Whoever had gone to all the trouble of building it had not bothered to level the foundation. "They couldn't do anything right," thought Nora, looking at it.  But it did provide needed storage for pool supplies and yard maintenance equipment.

     A six-foot high wooden privacy fence enclosed the entire backyard, as was the case for every house in the neighborhood.  However, three other backyards bordered the Millers', some with fence-boards facing in, some facing out, each somewhat different in age, construction, or color.  So it was a bit of a fractured fairy-tale backyard, which didn't surprise Nora.  "We always seem to end up in quirky situations," she reasoned, though not knowing why.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Adventures of Joe, part 8

"Actually we do have to get going.  We only have the pod for three hours," Carl stated.  "You'll have to say your goodbyes now."  Suddenly Joe felt sad.  Although he had only been with them a few minutes, being with his older brothers was always very special--even his in-the-future brothers.  The bond was strong, and it would be hard to leave.

"Bye, Kim," Joe said as he shook his brother's hand.  Kim grasped him to his chest.  "I love you, Joe.  I have confidence in you."  Next was Leif.  "You sure have grown up, Leelee!" Joe hugged his "little" nephew and reached up to pat him on the head.  Then he turned to Boe, "I miss you," Joe was beginning to lose it as he clenched his brother tightly.  "Aw, I'll be seeing you real soon.  Take care, Kid," Boe sniffed.

As they walked back through the warehouse toward the craft, Joe asked Carl, "What is this place?  Where are we?"  "Can't tell you that," said Carl. "Loose lips sink ships."  And that was it.  They climbed back into the pod, a quick ride back, and next thing he knew Joe was home.  "Bye Carl," he shook his nephew's hand, climbed in the window of his room, looked back and Carl was gone.  Joe was once again at home in 2017.

He held the black box, shivering slightly.  "Joe!  Where the heck have you been?!!"  Ray came barrelling into the room.  "I, uh--" "Dude, I was actually worried about you!  Ha! Anyway, Mom wasn't!" Ray gave Joe kind of a mean look and threw a nerf dart at him."What's in the box?" Ray asked.  "Nothin', just some old box I found," Joe said casually.  "Wanna go outside?" asked Ray.  "All right.  I gotta change first,"  Joe pushed Ray out the door and locked it.  After hiding the box in a safe place, he headed downstairs.

Pickles greeted Joe eagerly, jumping up on his chest.  She whimpered as she licked his face.  She seemed to know that he had been gone and was happy to have him back.  "Aw, hey girl!  Good dog," Joe scratched Pickles' ears and hugged her.  She trotted alongside him as he headed through the kitchen.  "Where are you going?" demanded his mom.  "Oh, hi Mom!" Joe was actually happy to see her. "We're gonna go shoot hoops--Hey, can I have a snack?"


The Adventures of Joe, part 7

"Joe! It's okay--Dad's still alive," Boe knew where Joe's thoughts had gone. "But we can't talk to him about this.  I can't tell you anymore than that.  Trust me, it's for everyone's good." Joe sighed, greatly relieved. Kim motioned to Leif, "Bring him the package."  Leif stepped toward Joe quietly and handed him a small black box.  "Here Joe, I made it myself," Leif smiled.  Joe opened it and found what looked like a thumb drive.  Carl explained, "All you have to do is take this, plug it into your dad's computer, and it'll do the rest."

 "So, I take this, plug it into Dad's computer...and then what do I do with it?" asked Joe.  "Bury it," answered Carl. "Just make sure it is sealed back in the box."  "Bury it where?" queried Joe.  "Under the shed, at the center of the back wall," Boe answered.  "The shed in my backyard?" asked Joe, incredulously.  "That's the one," asserted Boe.  "Bury it at least six inches deep, though," added Leif.  "Don't worry, we'll find it there," said Carl.  "You guys are all crazy," Joe said, shaking his head. "Anyway I must be dreaming."

"This is no dream," Kim spoke sharply.  "The future of our country is at stake.  You must follow our instructions exactly.  It's a serious task."  "Then why didn't you get Ray?! He's the serious one!" Joe was getting uncomfortable with all this responsibility.  "Because Ray can't keep his mouth shut," reasoned Carl, "You know he can't." "Argghhh!" cried Joe, "So I guess I don't have any choice." "Not really," Boe smiled, "I know you can do it, Buddy."  He patted Joe on the arm.   "Whatever," muttered Joe.  "Can I go now?  I'm hungry, and if I try to eat something I know I'll wake up--especially if it looks delicious."

The Adventures of Joe, part 6

"I'm getting to that," continued Boe, "There's going to be a war--a bad one.  From the future they tell us the enemy will devise a way to cut off our fuel supply by sabotaging our oil refineries.  You don't need to know all the details--Actually it's better if you don't." Joe interrupted, "So what does that have to do with me? How can I help? I'm just a kid." "Well, it's not so much you--as it is Dad," admitted Boe.

"Dad? If this has to do with Dad then why didn't you just get him? And anyway what can he do about it?" Joe puzzled out loud.  Now Kim spoke, pacing the room, "It has to do with Dad because he has invented a process that can correct the problem with the refineries.  The data is on his computer right now, that is, in 2016.  The very process we will need is within your grasp."  "Well, I sure as heck don't know what it is. I still don't get why you're dragging me into this!" exclaimed Joe.

Boe stepped in, "Joe, we need you precisely because you are a kid and you don't know anything.  If our side has time travel capabilities in the future, then so will the enemy.  They might send someone to try to stop Dad." "But nobody would suspect me," concluded Joe.  "Right," Kim interjected, "Our contact from the future is not only involved in the military, but he is also our descendant.  He found some of Dad's data in an old family album.  He realized what it was, but that it was incomplete."  Boe added, "Apparently the project was scrapped back then because at the time as it wasn't considered useful. Our contact enabled us to travel back in time so we could reach out to you.  He figured you would be more likely to help if it was for your brothers."

Suddenly Joe grew pale.  "So, so....if it's 2037, then where is Dad now?"