Miracle Trees

Photo by Benjamin Lizardo on Unsplash

‘The National Forest Service declared the small patch of unburnt trees in a fire ravaged section of the BWCA a miracle. There’s been many theories, but none seem plausible. Scientist will take samples and examine the area for clues as to what spared these trees from destruction.’ The reporter quickly moved on to the next headline.

Rubbing the stubble on my chin, I turned to Mom. “What do you make of that?”

I had to repeat myself three times before she understood. I wish she’d get her hearing checked. That was reason I spent the last three days at her home. As the fire had crept closer, she refused to temporarily stay with me two hours straight south. She might not hear someone telling her to evacuate. If she did hear them, she might stay out of sheer stubbornness.

“Don’t know. We live in weird times. Maybe aliens put a dome over those suckers. Bet they find nothing. Waste of our tax money tromping around in there.”

These days she moved a bit slower and was more cynical, but one thing hadn’t changed. Her eighty-year-old mind was still crystal clear. She laid her head against the pilled afghan on the back of the couch and closed her eyes. I stood up and quietly took two steps towards the kitchen.

“You hungry, Mikey,” she said without opening her eyes.

How does she do that? “I was going to call an old classmate who works with the forest service. Now that the fire has been contained several miles from here, I’m antsy to get out. Maybe he would take me to see the ‘miracle’ trees.”

Election Day

Photo by J K Metz

Why does my first Presidential election have to be in 2020? For months, the news outlets have pumped out conflicting info on an hourly basis. The noise from social media has been deafening. One of those bits of info – the possibility of mailed ballots not making it in time to be counted.

Because of this, I waited to vote in person. That nearly proved disastrous. The bakery I work at closed a week ago last Sunday because of an outbreak. I immediately went into quarantine and took my first nasal swab test that day. The anger I felt towards myself for screwing up my chances to have my voice heard made my anxiety worse. I should have risked voting by mail.

Then yesterday morning I got a call that my second test was also negative. I was cleared to go back to work. Yes! I will get to vote after all.

I took a sip of coffee as I turned into the very full parking lot. This is not what I expected. There was so much talk about most people had already voted as absentee and by mail. Most in my district must have decide to vote in person. I finally found a parking spot in a far corner.

As I shut the car off, I noticed my sweaty palms and sour stomach. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath knowing I’d feel better once my ballot is cast. I tucked a small tube of hand sanitizer in one pocket of my light jacket. Then put my cell phone and AirPods in the other. I double checked that my utility bills and license were in the inner pocket of the jacket. I took another sip of coffee and then put a piece of gum in my mouth before securing my mask.

Tree Top Lookout

Photo by Michael Held on Unsplash

“Go out and play in the backyard,” Mom said to me and my younger sister Daria. “Stay in the yard and no neighbor kids – just you two.”

“Yes, Mom,” we said in unison. It was almost time for her Zoom meeting and Dad was already on the phone making sales calls to customers. If either of them had to interrupt their workday to check on us, we’d be in so much trouble.

Parents always find ways to mess up something fun. Zander, a neighbor boy one year older than Daria, says his Moms do the same thing to him. As soon as you get a fun idea, they read your mind, and tell you ‘no’. You don’t even get a chance to ask. If you do the fun thing without asking, you get into trouble because you should have known better.

Daria had run out to the big tree in our backyard. We were banned from climbing any of our trees because we were told it damages them. We had been all summer and hadn’t been caught yet. I shimmied up behind her and sat down on a nearby limb.

“Let’s see what the neighbors are up to today,” I said, pulling a pair of binoculars from a hole in the trunk. Dad hadn’t used them since people were no longer allowed to attend basketball or football games. It seemed a waste not to put them to good use.

“I want to look at the Olsen’s house,” Daria said.

Hugging the binoculars close, I taunted. “Ooh, you just want to spy Zander.” I took great joy in watching her turn red every time I mentioned his name. My seven-year old sister had such a crush on him.

“First, I want to check on the McRae’s remodeling project.” Without waiting for her to protest, I raised them to my eyes and brought their baby blue house into focus.

Ned and Carla, were not the handiest of people. Yet, they bought the oldest and most poorly built house in the neighborhood. Dad had said, ‘It should have been torn down and something better built in its place’. The governor’s safer-at-home order gave them an opportunity to hone their carpentry skills. It gave me something besides replaying the same five boring shows on Mom’s safe list.

Watching them build a shed this spring was painful. It took them two weekends and multiple tries to put it together. Three weeks later, it collapsed.

There was another time they made me laugh so hard I nearly peed myself. They were assembling a picnic table and had cut a board. It appeared to be too short. They cut it again and tried to put it in the same spot as before. Even at ten-years old I knew cutting a board doesn’t make it longer!

“Gimme!” shouted Daria as she tugged at my shirt sleeve.

“Fine.” I pulled them away and held them out her. “You just want to spy on your boyfriend.” She stuck her tongue out as she jerked them from my hand. While she scanned the Olsen’s house top to bottom, I returned my attention to the McRae’s house.

Before handing the binoculars to Daria, Ned and Carla were at the kitchen window. That’s where they would normally sit and drink coffee in the morning. The light was on in the room, but the table and chairs were gone.

“No! Oh, no!” Ned shouted as he ran around the house from the backdoor. I could see Carla in the window with her hands raised as if surprised.

“Hey, Daria, give those back for a minute.”

“No, I’m not done yet.”

I had only looked away for a moment to ask my sister for the binoculars. Crashing, banging, and yelling came from the McRae’s house. When I looked back, a plume of dust was swirling around the kitchen side of their house. Ned was shouting and flailing his arms. Carla was still in the same spot as before, but there was no longer a wall between her and the outdoors.

Daria had already turned the binoculars in the direction of the mayhem. She gasped, “It’s gone.”

“Let me look,” I said. She promptly handed them over. As I surveyed damage, Mom came running out of our house.

“Daria! Cyrus! Where are you?” She must have noticed the commotion at the McRae’s before she could spot us. “How the…?”

Daria shouted down from the tree. “Mommy, they took too many nails out of the wall. Now, they have a people-sized dollhouse.”

Lucky Stroke

“I’m feeling okay. It was a mild stroke. I can take care me and Taynisha,” Ebony said into the phone. She scratched an itch on her forehead before abruptly yanking it away. Then vigorously rubbed her hand on her jeans. “Momma, you are not coming over here. It isn’t safe. There’s that virus everyone is talking about.”

Twelve-year old Taynisha bounded into the room, tilted her head, and pointed at her tablet. When Ebony motioned for her to go back to her room, she stomped her foot and anchored a hand on her hip. “Momma,” she whispered loudly, “you need to see this.”

Ebony shook her head and waggled her finger at her daughter. Then gave her a look that said, ‘just you wait until I get off this phone’. Taynisha folded her arms, stuck her tongue out, and then stomped out of the room. “Ooh, that child,” grumbled Ebony. She put her hand on her face again before yanking it away and rubbed it on her jeans.

“Yeah, I know. She’s behaves like I did at her age. Look Momma, I really need to get off the phone.” Ebony put the phone on speaker laid it on the kitchen counter. She turned the water to hot and began washing her hands.

“Let me come over and help. You need to take more time off from work…what’s that noise? Are you doing dishes?” her mother’s voice chirped from the phone.

“No. I’ve already touched my face at least twice. I’ve got to quit doing that. And no, I can’t stay home.” Ebony wiped her hands on a frayed, stained towel. She grabbed a sanitizing wipe and scrubbed her phone and the counter where it had been.

“You know I can’t take more time off from work. I’ve got hospital bills to pay. And those rooms at the home aren’t going to clean themselves. There’s lots of fragile people there counting on me. That place has to be kept extra clean so the residents don’t get sick. I want to be there. Those old people are like extended family.”

Taynisha bounded into the kitchen and shoved her tablet in her mother’s face. Ebony pushed it away. She stomped her foot and shoved it at her again. “You’ve got to look at this now,” she barked and stomped her foot.

“Love ya, Momma. My daughter needs me and I’m fine. Bye.” She set her phone down hard on the counter.

“Young lady, you are not too big to give a whoopin’ to.” Ebony yanked the tablet from her. “What is so important that you interrupted?”

Taynisha had hurried across the room and was now sitting sat at the kitchen table. She looked at her with seriousness no twelve-year-old should know. “Do you have the virus?”

Ebony expression softened and then pinched into a scowl as she looked at the tablet. The headline read ‘Micro Blood Clots Might Be Linked to the Virus’. The subtitle read ‘Increase of strokes seen in virus patients’. She leaned against the counter as she continued reading.

Her stroke had been mild and caught very early. She had tested negative for the flu, but hadn’t been tested for the new virus. She had a cold, but hadn’t felt all that sick. It isn’t unusual to have a little something in February. There wasn’t a year that hadn’t gone by that she didn’t catch a cold or flu going around at work.

“Is that why you had a stroke? Are you going to get sick and go back to the hospital?” Taynisha’s eyes were watery and her bottom lip quivered. Seeing her so upset broke Ebony’s heart.

She walked over, laid the tablet on the table, and gently hugged her daughter. “I don’t know, baby.” She kissed the top of her head. “I don’t think the doctors would have sent me back to work if I was still sick.” She held her daughter until the tears forming in her own eyes subsided.

The Chase

Photo by Jason Hogan on Unsplash

A hard day’s work on the retail floor had exhausted Deanna. It felt so good to slide behind the wheel of her old Toyota. “Come on, Lucille. Take me home.”

Lucille was old enough to legally drink by herself, if she were human. The original glossy, red paint had weathered to a flat, dull pink, and had a few dings and rust spots that added character. Deanna had never bothered to remove the peace symbol the former owner painted on the trunk lid, because it seemed to fit both their personalities.

Two stoplights away from the store parking lot she noticed a blue car with a grill full of led lights configured to look like shark teeth. It seemed to stalking her. Fear gripped her throat. Her ex had a car with programmable grill lights. It was difficult to see the driver in the dim twilight. What was it he said to her on that last phone message? ‘If I can’t have you, ain’t nobody gonna have you!’

Deanna goosed the gas pedal a little more and turned on to a busy highway. “Don’t let me down, girl. We gotta lose him.” She patted the dashboard as she glanced in the rear view mirror again. It was still back there.

She pushed the pedal closer to the floorboard. Lucille’s engine grumbled a complaint, but complied with the new demand. Steering in and out of the rush-hour traffic, Deanna hoped to lose the blue car.

A quick check of the mirror – still there. She pushed the pedal firmly into the floor. Lucille gave it her all – fifteen miles over the speed limit. The blue car still kept pace.

Outrunning them wasn’t possible, but maybe she could outsmart the driver. At full speed she steered on to the shoulder before slamming the brakes and slapping on the flashers. Whoosh! The blue car zoomed by.

At the next median break, it slowed and turned back the other direction. “He’s coming back for us, Lucille. Let’s get out of here!” Deanna punched the gas and rode the shoulder at full speed until traffic allowed her back onto the freeway.

She periodically glanced into the rear view mirror. After not seeing him for a few miles, she convinced herself that the ruse worked. Her racing heart returned to a more normal rhythm. “I knew you could do it, Lucille,” she said, patting the dashboard.

Left Behind

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

I chewed on my lower lip as I watched my oldest sister, Jackie, heave the last of her moving boxes off the floor. She was leaving today for some place far away and not coming back. Sure, she said she’d visit, but Mom said it would take a whole day just to drive from her new place to here. She won’t be back. I want her to take me, too.

“Aren’t you going to help?” asked Jackie.

“I’m too little. Your stuff is too heavy,” I said. I’m only five, the oops baby they didn’t expect. Before me the family was perfect – Mom and Dad had two boys and two girls.

“I mean with the door.” Jackie’s tone had a sarcastic edge.

“Oh.” I released the balled up edge of my summer nightgown, scooted backwards into the door, and slowly pressed my butt against it until it opened. I had learned the door didn’t creak so badly if you opened it slowly. The cool morning air prickled my naked arms and legs; the sidewalk damp and gritty against my bare feet. Jackie wedged that last box into the only empty spot left in the trunk of her old Dodge sedan before slamming the lid.

“Cheer up. Before you can miss me, I’ll be back,” she said. A button fell off her shirt, making a tapping sound as it hit the sidewalk. She didn’t notice and instead ruffled my sleep tangled hair as she passed by me. Easy for her to say. She sounded happy about leaving me for college. Jackie will get to do whatever she wants. I rescued the little white button from the sidewalk as I followed her back into the house.

She hugged Mom and Dad. Then she hugged our twelve year old brother; he reluctantly allowed it. Our other brother and sister had said goodbye last night because they had to work this morning. She turned to me, but before she could hug me, I ran to my room and slammed the door.

With tears stinging my eyes, I slid down the door as I continued to clutch my souvenir. I pulled the edge of my nightgown up over my face and cried. Maybe if she can’t say goodbye to me she won’t leave.

The door muffled the conversation on the other side, but I could make out a few of Mom’s words, “she’ll . . . okay . . . forgive”. Then the backdoor creaked open and closed with a thump. A moment later, the old Dodge cranked. I ran to the window in time to see its back end disappear around the corner and out of sight.

She left me anyway.


Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

“Dotty?” John searched room by room for his wife of fifty years. “Dotty where are you?”

I was sleeping too soundly. I never heard her get up. His heart raced and steps quickened as he flipped the lights on in every room in the house. She wasn’t in any of them. What if she went out the back door? I’ll never find her.”

John’s stomach grew more nauseous. “Dotty, please answer me.”

A muffled sound from inside the walk-in-closet drew his attention. He pulled the door open. “Duck and cover,” Dotty whispered from the floor. “Get in and close the door before the bombs hit.” She tugged hard at his pajama pant leg.

Reclaiming Her Power

Photo by Janko Ferlic on Unsplash

On a wet spring day in 1991, I waited for my old beast to be repaired. I had been there for twenty minutes when a mechanic walked into the waiting area with parts in each hand. His expression was a mixture of amusement and disbelief. “Found your problem. This motor runs, well used to run, your wipers. It fell apart as I took it out. There’s no saving it.” He chuckled. “The good news despite it being a ‘74 we can get the part, but it won’t arrive for several hours. We’ll get you back on the road before closing time.” He turned back towards the garage shaking his head as he walked away.

Since it was only ten in the morning and they closed at six, this wasn’t the best news. Eight hours was a huge window. There was no restaurant or even fast food within walking distance. I will likely be very hungry by the time my car is ready.

“Man that sucks. Glad I’m just here for an oil change,” said a guy sitting two seats over.

You Want It Too

Photo by Valentin Salja on Unsplash

It was the summer of 1985 and I waiting in the kitchen of my classmate Gaby. Her brother, Jerry, was home from college. He was shirtless and washing his car in the backyard. Gaby introduced us when I stayed for a sleep over during our freshman year. He had come home after playing a football game. My heart skipped a beat. For the past three years, my crush on him had grown and each year he looked better yet.

He must have felt me watching because he looked my way. I dashed from the window, hoping he didn’t see me. I tried to calm my heart while I waited for Gaby to come down from her room. We were going to the mall with some girlfriends. We were going preview the new clothes for fall. If we banded together, we might keep our moms from making us look like total dweebs or worse dress us in prairie girl fashion that was on the way out. Unfortunately, some of our mothers had fallen in love with the look.

Be A Good Girl

Photo by Tim Doerfler on Unsplash

It was mid December 1973. My older sister, Mae, and I were confined to a smoky hospital waiting room with Daddy. There was nowhere to get away from it. Even the vinyl covered chairs stunk. The smell was giving me a headache.

Daddy watched us while Nana Taylor visited with Mommy and our newborn sister. Then they would switch places after awhile. I wanted to go see the baby, but hospital rules don’t allow it. No one under twelve could visit the nursery or Mommy’s room. That’s not fair. Sarah, our newborn sister gets to go to her room. She’s younger than me.

I crept to the doorway and took one step into the hallway for a gulp of fresh air. Daddy noticed and said, “Amelia Rose, get back in here.” My first name is Nana Taylor’s middle name and my middle name is Nana Franklin’s first name. I hated it when I was called my by my first name. Kids at school made fun of my first name. They call me ‘oatmeal’ so I started going by my middle name. “If I have to get up and bring you back in here, you won’t like it.”