I frequent a place where Shopping Is a Pleasure. Each time I check out, the bagger asks if I need assistance. I love this when I have a 50-pound bag of dog food or a few cases of beer. But most of the time, I politely say, I’ve got it today, with a smile. And today was not any different.
I wheel my items to the car. Fill my trunk. And trek back to the store with the cart. I must do this because, at my store, there are very few cart-return racks.
I (almost) always return my cart for a very simple reason. One day, someone said to me, that my actions could have a profound impact on someone’s day.
Yes, he said. Take for example a grocery cart. If someone does not put their cart away and the wind shifts, the cart could roll into a car and cause a dent.
Hmmm. I thought about the example and agreed, putting the cart away was something I could do to help someone else have a better day.
Since that conversation, I (almost) always return my cart. And today I did. I loaded the groceries into my car, closed the trunk, and wheeled the cart past four parked cars, across a wide thoroughfare, over the curb, and to the sidewalk in front of the store.
I then walked back to my car and opened the door only to turn around at the sound of a cart rumbling toward me. It was the same one I just put away. It had rolled off the curb, across the thoroughfare, and past the four parked cars. I watched in amazement at the trajectory and was unable to extract myself fast enough to save my bumper.
As it approached, a woman took a stride forward and exclaimed, I’ve got it! And she did. She pushed it back from whence it came. What had been an ordinary day almost wasn’t. But fortunately for me, someone else had altered the chain of events that stopped the wayward cart from ruining my day.
So, from now on, when the bagger asks if I need help to the car, I’m going to smile and politely say, Great. I’m the white Honda over there.
Good night stars/ Good night air/ Good night noises everywhere*
I kiss my sleeping boy on the forehead. The smell of baby lotion lingers on my lips as I tiptoe from the room. I stretch and yawn and decide it is time for me, too, to dress in my cozy pajamas and read myself to sleep.
Closing my book and turning off the light, I snuggle into the bed, surrounded by white fluffy pillows and a soft down comforter. I sink, slowly, into the mattress and let my thoughts gently float away.
I sigh and roll to my side. Moving slightly, the bottom of my PJs brush my foot. I lay still and review the day. Picnic on the beach. Baby laughing as salty waves chase him over hardened sand. Pulling at my cheeks with tiny hands, whispering, “I lub you, mama.”
I bend my knee to find the comfy spot. Arm under pillow, knee angled, light blocked. Only the sound of a distant car, driving down the public street.
My silky pant leg, again, brushes my foot. A string, frayed from its bottom, loose and dangling over my leg. The sea air drifts through the open window.
I adjust my foot again. Smile. Memories of baby swinging, bellowing laughter with each rise and fall.
The thread travels as my leg moves. It tickles, slightly; annoyingly.
I kick, try to grasp the offending twine with my other toe to remove it from the clothing. It shifts again. Away from my toe.
Annoyance gives way to frustration. Images of baby crying, waddling towards me, holding a hurt finger. I kiss it but it needs a Band-Aid.
I try again for the string, this time with my hand. It shifts again. I sit up and fling the covers from my bed, ready to pull, not caring about the hemline or seam.
My eyes adjust to the darkness. I see clearly. With the covers back, I move my leg only to watch a cockroach crawl, then jump from its nestled position inside the sheets towards my face. I scream and follow the miscreant out of bed. Skin tingling, itching, prickling.
I flip on the light and watch as the bug scurries from the room and through the gap in the window.
I slam shut the casement, tug at my clothing, flinging them haphazardly as I run to the shower. Heart pounding, palms sweating. Water splashing cold. I steady myself and wait.
I wait for the temperature to warm, for my unrest to calm. For now, my night must begin again.
*Lines from Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
“Oh,” my mom says as she claps her hands together. “Don’t you look just like an airplane pilot!”
“You really think so?” I asked, as I button the blue polyester blazer. In 1976, it was the in-thing.
“Now just remember, the Johnsons will meet you in Dallas. Don’t worry about a thing.”
“Okay.” My smile revealing my confidence.
I was about to embark on the journey of a lifetime. A ten-year-old, on her own, flying half way across the country to visit her grandmother. I was so excited I could hardly stand it. And my new navy blue bell-bottomed pant suit with the big gold buttons was the classy garb to get me there.I’d made this journey before with my family. Fly from Philadelphia to Dallas, change planes at the airport, and arrive in Oklahoma City a few short minutes later. As a big girl, I knew I could do it on my own.
The first flight landed in Dallas right on time. A flight attendant sat next to me. We chatted about swimming and the fun I would have going to Branson, Missouri with my cousins. And, just as my mom promised, the Johnsons were at the gate to greet me.
The Johnsons were my parents’ friends. They participated in each other’s weddings. They had sons. Cute sons. This I knew. We strolled through DFW easily. Mr. Johnson flew for the airline and wore his uniform as he shook hands with everyone and was treated like royalty. I wondered if he thought I, too, looked like a pilot, but I didn’t ask.
After a leisurely lunch, they pointed me to my gate and waved as I stood in line for security. On the other side was the same flight attendant I’d met earlier, waiting for me.
I put my small tote onto the scanner belt and moved to the metal detector. The man on the other side motioned for me to walk through. I did.
A loud signal chimed. The man motioned for me to return through the security screen and try again.
He stopped and looked at me. He scowled. He studied me as heat crept from my belly, into my chest, and up my neck.
“Hold out your arms,” he said sternly.
I watched. Arms outstretched, feeling the heat rise to my cheeks as teardrops hovered over my eye lashes. I bit my lips. I sucked in my cheeks. I wiggled.
“Stand still, Miss.”
He grabbed his electric wand and waved it in front of my face. Tears, falling in earnest now, slid from my eyes and onto the floor. He moved his machine above my right arm and around my head and across to the left. Down my back. Over my torso. Buzz. He stopped.
He waved it again.
The sound was deafening, echoing in my ears, shouting at me. A sob was about to break loose. I couldn’t hold it back.
“It’s your buttons, Miss.” He smiled at me. “It’s fine, you can go now.”
I stood still, shocked. I ran my sleeve across my face and dried my eyes as best I could before walking slowly to the conveyer belt and snatching my Barbie bag, tucking my chin in shame.
I don’t remember the rest of the flight or if I ever wore that navy blue bell-bottom pant suit with the big gold buttons again, but to this day, I can’t walk through a security gate without a flinch. And if it buzzes, heat rises in my belly and flutters slowly towards my cheeks. So while other people complain about full-body scanners, I silently smile and think, at least they don’t beep.
Never be too lazy to change the toilet paper roll.
Why you ask? If you are too lazy to change the toilet paper roll, what else are you too lazy to do? I understand the philosophy of not changing it. Heck, I have even left it sitting on top of the empty roll myself. But I believe that this is a metaphor for life. It’s a short cut.
Short cuts are okay sometimes. Have you ever walked across the grass instead of following a windy path from the sidewalk to the front door? It might be quicker, but you might also ruin your shoes. Is the risk worth it the risk? Sneakers….maybe. Five inch heels…not a chance.
However, it’s not the quickness that counts. Bothering to take the windy path is respectful. If it’s your house, you are respecting your own property. If it’s someone else’s, you are respecting theirs. The path has a purpose and so does the toilet paper roll. The toilet paper roll deserves to be respected. Change it when necessary, even if it’s not your own…and always remember, the paper should fall to the front; it’s the right thing to do.
“Mom!” I shouted as I walked from the runway into the air conditioned building.
I had just stepped off a cramped 25 seat propeller plane at the Reading Regional Airport in Pennsylvania. The airport has a single terminal with a small restaurant, a few ticket takers, and virtually no security. I had flown in to and out of RDG many times with Allegany Commuter Airlines.
Reading is about 75 miles northwest of Philadelphia via the Schukylkill, otherwise known as the Sure-kill, Expressway. As the nickname intimates, it is a highway fraught with hills, turns, and lots of stop and go traffic. It was something we tried to avoid—so, we often flew in and out of Reading on itty-bitty airplanes.
During the summer of 1993, I packed up my suitcases, my two golden retrievers, and my apartment and returned to my family home in Shillington, a small suburb of a small city. I had just moved to Oceanside, California where the unemployment rate was over 9.5% and my military husband was sent on deployment.
The house I grew up in was affectionately known as Camp Brown. Life there was always an adventure and we learned to expect the unexpected. If we weren’t mowing grass or playing tennis, we would be chasing gophers from the yard or birds from inside the house. The last time the dogs visited, a swarm of bees stung them until they jumped into the pool.
The trip from San Diego to Pittsburgh was on a standard large plane with lots of people, several flight attendants, and plenty of peanuts. The flight from Pittsburgh to Reading was noisy, cramped, and bumpy.
Landing on the tarmac, the flight was greeted with stairs attached to a large golf cart. I made my way down and followed the line of passengers into the terminal. The stale air filled my lungs while the day’s heat was visible on blacktop.
Mom and I hugged and chatted while waiting for my bags and dogs. Rather than a conveyer belt, there was an open window where luggage was placed. My bags appeared but I wondered where I’d meet the dogs.
“Ma’am, your pups are ready to greet you in the front of the terminal,” the bagman said.
“Great, we’re ready to go,” Mom replied as she bounded off to get the car. She had a choice of three: a pickup truck, a roomy Cadillac, and a Mercedes coup. I assumed she brought the truck.
Excited to see the dogs, I raced to their crates where I was presented with problem number one. Flying didn’t agree with them. They didn’t seem to mind as tails wagged and they pranced with joy over feces and excrement.
I opened the crates and slip leashes over their heads while doing my best to not let them touch me. Glad to be free, they stretched and looked for a place to do business. Fortunately, a man tending flowers nearby had a hose and offered the dogs some water. They slurped and panted and rolled on the freshly cut grass.
As my mom pulled her tiny blue car forward, I noticed problem number two.
“Well this is interesting,” she said with a sigh. “I’ve got a roll of paper towels,” she added slyly as we both started to laugh.
We borrowed the hose and gave the dogs a good bath. The dogs, my mom, and I piled on top of one another leaving the crates to be picked up later. I wasn’t sure what Mom was thinking when she came to pick us up, but I knew I was about to have another adventure.
“That’s not fair!” I stomp my foot for added effect then turn and run up the stairs to my room. I slam the door but it bounces back. My home is old and well made, but the door only closes if you turn the knob and throw your hip into it. I am ten and I haven’t yet figured out this combination.
I climb into my closet and pull out my canvas Shillington Swim Team duffle bag. Rummaging through my drawers, I grab a shirt and shorts and a Barbie doll, carefully placing the last item into the sack. I wipe the salty tears from my face with my hands before heading back down the creaky steps.
“Where are you going?” Mom asks as she eyes my bag.
“I’m running away.”
“Where will you go?”
“Away, and you won’t be able to find me and you’ll be sad you wouldn’t let me visit my friend.” I cross my arms and stare, hard, into my mother’s eyes.
“You’re right, I’d be sad you were gone, but today’s your Grandma’s birthday and your cousins are coming to visit.”
“Then they will be sad you didn’t let me go to a friend’s, too.”
“Yup, you’re right again. What are you planning to take with you when you leave?”
Mom turns off the kitchen faucet and places my bag on the stainless steel countertop. The kitchen is cheery. The cabinets are painted sunshine yellow to match the yellow, brown, and green plaid vinyl wallpaper. The oval Formica table is lined with bright swivel chairs and right now, the smell of angel food cake is wafting from the oven. A golden retriever lounges against the backdoor.
“Are you planning to eat lunch first or are you in a hurry.”
“Mom, I’m running away. I don’t have time for lunch.”
“If you wait a minute, I’ll make you a sandwich.” She opens the avocado colored refrigerator and pulls out a jar of strawberry jelly and a loaf of Wonder bread. She sets two slices of bread on a paper towel. The kitchen timer buzzes and she removes the cake from the oven, carefully resting it upside down on a soda bottle.
“Now, where was I? Oh, this sandwich looks good. Would you mind if I made one for myself?”
“I guess it’s okay,” I huff.
“What else should we have for lunch? Maybe some carrot sticks?” Mom adds some then opens the blue and white striped tin of Good’s Potato Chips. She looks at me for approval.
“Yeah, that’s good.” No one can resist Good’s Potato Chips.
“Great, grab a paper bag and lunch will be ready in no time.”
“Why don’t you go get a blanket from the closet and you can have a picnic when you get to where you are going.”
Mom continues to pack my lunch bag then makes a second for herself.
“Here’s the blanket.”
Mom hands me the bag and squats down to look me in the eyes. “Why don’t you say we both have a picnic and then you can come home and help me spread the whipped cream on the cake.”
I smile. Angel food cake with whipped cream and sliced strawberries is my favorite.
“But Mom,” I reason without further explanation.
Mom looks at me and repeats “No.”
“I’m the only one, that’s not fair!”
“If everyone is going to jump off a bridge, would you jump?”
I hate that logic. It usually works. Not. This. Time
“Mom, mom, mom.”
She stops and flips open the corner of the folded sheet. Today is change-the-sheets Saturday.
I grab the fitted sheet and stretch it over her king sized bed. Mom then tosses me the end of the flat sheet. I tuck it under the mattress and pull it to the top.
“Thanks Alison,” Mom says as we bring up the bedspread and plop the pillows into place.
I follow her into the pink bathroom. It’s pink as in pink tile, pink tub, pink paint, and pink toilet. The house is ancient to my 9 year old sensibilities (my grandmother lived in it) and this room, like the living room and matching dining room, is pink.
“Mom, please!” I begged.
“I’ll make a deal with you. You get your nose pierced and then you can get your ears pierced.”
I cried in defeat. In 1976, the only people with their noses pierced were in National Geographic Magazine.
“Mom, that’s not fair!” I reason again. “Some girls even get their ears pierced when they are babies! They’re the lucky ones!”
“Honey, they are not lucky.”
I stomp through the pink dressing room to the kitchen where Dad is peacefully sipping on a cup of coffee.
“Hey Al, ready to rake leaves?”
We live on the edge of the woods. Above us stands acres of trees, forty feet high, heading steeper up the hill. Just to the right of the woods is a former blast site clearing we call the Tennis Court. One day the space will fulfill this prophecy, but right now, it’s stacked with leaves, fallen branches, and grass clippings. Every sunny fall day is rake-the-leaves day.
I roll my eyes but follow my dad outside and pick up a rake.
“So, Al? You’re going to hit the big 1-0, soon. What do you want for your birthday?”
“A ten-speed bike would be nice,” I shrug while I glance down the long sloped street wondering if I had enough power to peddle back up.
Weeks go by and two days after Christmas I pad through the house in some new clothes.
“Happy Birthday, Al,” Dad says as he climbs out of the kitchen chair. “This is your bid day, double digits, you’re no longer my little girl!”
I smile and sit on the countertop.
“You and I are going to the mall to get your present.”
As we head to the car, just the two of us, my dad looks at me and asks, “Would you rather get a bike or your ears pierced?”
Thirty-eight years later I’m blowing out a candle on a slice of key-lime pie.
“So, Al,” Dad asks as he, Mom, and my husband watch. “Out of all these years, what’s been your best present ever?”
“That’s easy,” I answer quickly as I push my hair behind my ears and smile.
It was a dark and stormy night, as I walked the halls of Club Nissen.
A scream rang out.
A man came.
Well, actually, it was a teenager, and I’m the one who screamed, and, truth be told, it wasn’t storming, but it was dark, and I was at home, and I did, in fact, scream. It wasn’t one of those blood curdling screams like in the movie Halloween, it was more like an, eww gross, what the heck is this, sort of holler. But I digress.
It was a dark night. The evening settled in and I flipped off the television and lights. Halfway towards my bedroom, I realized I wanted some water. I wandered back to the kitchen, keeping the lights off, and found a cup in the cupboard, stepped two paces to the left and plunged the glass under the water dispenser in the refrigerator. Leaning my right hand on the cool door, I noticed a gritty feeling; the surface had been cleaned with a dirty rag.
I set the glass on the counter and picked up a bottle of Windex and rag while flipping on the lights. Looking for the offending grime, I noticed, almost imperceptibly, it moved. I screamed—or shouted—or swore in some sort of breathtaking manner.
My sixteen year old appeared. “What?” he asked in that sleepy but irritated tone in which all uninterested teenagers respond to their mothers.
“Is that dirt moving?”
“What? I don’t see anything.”
“There. See it? Look.” I pressed the button on the fridge door and the area illuminated.
Hundreds, no thousands, of little minuscule creatures lined the outside of the stainless steel door.
The kitchen, now bright, became a combat zone. Every safe-for-stainless product lay on the counter next to rolls of paper towels.
The bugs would not defeat me.
Little did I know, however, their force would be stronger than my midnight resolve. For two hours I sprayed and wiped and sprayed until I realized I must retreat.
I consulted Google: tiny kitchen bugs; tiny white bugs in kitchen; kitchen door crawling with white bugs. Finally I got a hit. Flour mites. “Very tiny little creatures…soft white body…eight legs, except in the larval stage when it has only six legs.”
These practically invisible creepy-crawlies don’t live long but females lay 800 eggs a day. By morning, my refrigerator was swimming in a swarm of flea cousins.
I called the bug guy. He could be there in the afternoon. Once he arrived, he had no advice. Any chemical he could use would ruin my stainless steel and, he added, “I’ve been doing this for over twenty year and I’ve never seen these guys before.”
My day just went from bad to worse.
Wikipedia told me to starve them to death. I gathered all my food from the kitchen and tossed it into the garage freezer or the trash. Then I discovered the solution to my problem. The little guys with pinkish-brown legs couldn’t crawl through WD-40. It didn’t kill them, but who would have thought a little lubricant would make reproducing so difficult.
Life in the desert is unique. The sunsets turn the mountains to a perfect plum. There are more stars than anyone could count. Coyotes stroll through the back yard at dawn; black widow spiders spin webs in doorways, and rattlesnakes are seen crossing sidewalks. This rough region is an fun place to raise adventurous children.
Our street is a quarter mile long cul-de-sac and filled with young kids. My oldest son is five and he and the other boys love to play in the sand and on jungle gyms. Someone in the neighborhood recently had a birthday and the guests received creepy-crawly things as party favors—perfect for all our critter-loving kids.
“I’ve got this end,” I say as I lift the front of the crib while my friend grabs a Ziplock bag filled with hardware and picks up the back. We are moving it across the street from her house to mine. The wind shifts and a spray of dust lifts to the air.
“Lookout Mom!” my son shouts as he tosses a rubber snake in front of me.
“Oh no,” I feign as I hop away from the rubber object.
We begin to carry the crib but stop mid street when her son steps towards her holding a plastic grasshopper. “Oh my,” she exclaims and puts her hand over her chest in mock fear.
The boys run away giggling.
“Okay, go.” We start to move again.
We climb up the slightly sloped driveway and begin to angle towards the side wall of the garage when my two year old runs up to me and tugs at my shorts. “Arrgg,” he screams as he holds out his hand to display a black spider ring.
“Oh, honey, don’t scare me like that!”
He laughs and runs down the driveway towards the other kids.
My garage is used for storage and has never seen a car. There are boxes of papers and photos, bikes and strollers, and lots of toys. I look down to step around some GI Joes and happy meal toys.
“That’s fake. Right?” I ask as we are about to set the crib down.
“There,” I point to the concrete.
Doubt flutters across my face as my friend bends down to pick up the translucent plastic arachnid sitting in the cleared area. The baggie, still in her hand, brushes the top of the scorpion and it comes to life, arching its back and snapping its pincers. Its eight legs propel it quickly as it races towards us.
We drop the crib and run, our screams mixed with fits of giggles. Life in the desert is unique and I now realize how life-like those party favors really are.