Saturday, April 30, 2022

A Guest For Supper

 Lucille stepped from her apartment for the first time in over a year. Groceries and necessities were always delivered. What led to her self-imposed isolation had little to do with COVID. That came along as a convenience.

Indeed nervousness and anxiety made her quiver inside, however, she was determined to reacquaint herself with old friends. She wanted to see the old neighborhood. The friends she acquired over the years and the young folks who kept her thinking young and challenged her wit danced in her mind like a grand ball.

In fact, on this first day she planned to do something she had not done in quite some time; have a guest for supper.

Her first stop was no more than two doors away from her apartment building, Benson’s Grocery.

She grabbed a small cart and started down one of the aisles of the small store. She placed a number of items in the cart. The feeling of actually shopping excited her; seeing, examining, and choosing.

Closer to the far end of the store the white refrigerated meat counter stretchered the entire width of the store. She pushed towards it excited to see Mr. Benson. “I shall invite him and his wife,” she thought and smiled.

Next please!” Benson said.

Hello, Mr. Benson,” Lucille said. “If you had to pick something to eat tonight what would it be?”

Look, lady,” Benson said, “I don’t have time for twenty questions. I got work to do. What is it you want? I got chicken on sale.”

Lucille forced a smile. “Yes, I can see you are busy; I’ll take a rump roast.”

He wrapped it, weighed it, marked it, and handed it to her over the counter.

He’s a busy man,” she thought and smiled to herself making her way to the cashier.

Margie, the cashier,” Lucille thought and smiled. “I’ll invite her.”

Lucille placed the items on the counter. Without looking up, Margie scanned and placed them in bags.

Can you have these delivered, Margie?” Lucille said.

Sure, Lucy,” Margie said. “where?”

Lucille, Lucille Martin, two doors east, two ten.”

Sure, will have them there in thirty minutes,” Margie said.

That will be forty-five twenty, Lucy,” Margie said looking out the front window.”

Lucille removed the billfold from her purse and said to herself, “She’s not even sure of my first name. She wouldn’t make a good supper guest. She’d be embarrassed to know my name is Lucille.”

Lucille paid and left. She strolled and stopped to window shop. “Wanda! At the dry cleaners,” she thought. “She’s such a delight. I should have brought some dry cleaning. Never the mind, I’ll stop and invite her.”

Lucille walked into the dry cleaners. Behind the counter stood Wanda, the cheerful bundle of smiles and joy that brightened up the gloomiest of days.

Hi, Wanda,” Lucille said.

Hi, Lucille,” Wanda said not cracking a smile. “Where have you been, Petersen’s around the corner? He raised his prices; now ya comin’ back ta us. Ya know when he opened up they cut my hours.”

I had no idea,” Lucille said. “I’ve been staying inside a lot lately.”

You could have sent out, ya know,” Wanda said.

I just saw no use in sending out when I wasn’t using anything that needed to be dry cleaned.”

For two years?” Wanda said.

Lucille forced a smile. “It’s been just a little over a year.”

Seems like two,” Wanda scowled.

Well,” Lucille said, “I just came by to say hi and cheer you up.”

Thanks,” Wanda said and smiled with her mouth only. Her eyes could have melted steel. “Goodbye.”

Goodbye, I’ll bring some dry cleaning soon,” Lucille said and left the store.”

My,” Lucille said meandering along the sidewalk, “I don’t think Wanda is in the mood for supper, at least with me.”

Oh my goodness,” Lucille thought. Her chest felt free and relaxed. “My sweet sweet Melinda. We’ve been friends since grade school. I was her bride’s maid. She named her daughter after me. She and Robert for a meal; oh my, just like old times. She can catch me up on the ole gang. Those wonderful bridge nights. And the book club. Oh yes, the book club; hours of talk. We never wanted to leave. And Melinda was such a gifted reader. I think she could have been an actress. Robert’s, Robert’s Florist Shop. I loved going there; curious little gifts. My apartment is full of their little knickknacks and gifts; even when there was no need. I always found a place for them or they made such wonderful gifts. I can’t wait to hug her. And Robert, his warm smile and a full mustache, so manly and warm. They are such great fun.”

Lucille opened the door the Robert’s Florist Shop. The tiny little bell above the door tinkled. Familiar odors greeted like a warm fire on a chilly damp evening.

Melinda sat behind the counter. She smiled and sprung to her feet. “Can I help you?”

Melinda, it’s me, Lucille.”

Melinda reached for her glasses hanging from her neck. She squinted until they firmly rested on her nose.

Can I help you?” Melinda said.

It’s Lucille,” Lucille said. “I’ve come to visit.”

Visit!” Melinda said. “You could have visited when Robert died.”

Robert died!” Lucille said. “I didn’t know. I’m so sorry. But you see, I’ve been ill. It’s hard for me to explain but I’ve just been sick.”

Sick, ha!” Melinda scoffed. “The least would have been a card or phone call. Some friend. Are you in for the friend-to-friend discount we always gave you?”

Lucille’s eyes fell to the counter. To the side, a small hoya plant sat with wilted leaves. In a strange sort of way it immediately reminded Lucille of herself.

How much for the hoya?” Lucille said. “No friend to friend discount. I think it will make a wonderful house plant.”

Just take it and leave,” Melinda said.

Thank you, my dear Melinda,” Lucille said. Her smile was not forced but as sincere as she felt in a long time. She clutched the plant and left through the door with the little tinkling bell.

Walking back to her apartment building she cradled it in her arm next to her chest.

You look only a little neglected. You will make a wonderful guest for supper this evening; just a little water and some conversation, that’s all you need, and you’ll spring back to life.”

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Learning to Play Guitar

 My name is Jake Smithers. When I was eleven or twelve years old there was this guy next door who sat on the front porch with an electric guitar and small amplifier. He played hillbilly music every Wednesday night. Folks in the neighborhood showed up in his front yard every time he’d start playing.

His name was Dexter Turley. He was a skinny guy, not too tall, and hands with long thin fingers. He had a milk route and played in a hillbilly band on the weekends.

Folks gathered and listened for a spell. It wasn’t like there was a big crowd; maybe twenty-five at the most. Some folks brought lawn chairs, a wooden crate, or sit on the grass. When he’d play something familiar, folks might join in.

It was the poor side of town but for an hour or so on Wednesday nights, everybody had a pocket full of twenties.

Down the street lived this old lady (she was a lot younger than I am now). She wore a long housedress, three/quarter heels, and a bonnet. She was a widow and too religious to have a good time.

Every time Dexter started playing. she’d come marching down the street like she was about to barge into a salon and bust open every keg of beer and smash every bottle of whiskey. The closer she got to the music you could almost see the righteous indignation strip off her like boys shedding their clothes heading for the swimming hole on a hot summer. She’d get up on the wooden porch and do some barnyard clogging that angles tapped to.

She’d do two or three songs and smile like a man ‘on the wagon’ who just had a nip. She departed the same manner in which she arrived. Clothing herself with righteous indignation the further she got from the music.

The Wilson girls would get up on the porch and sing a couple of songs. They were hefty gals. They always said we don’t overeat, we overcook. The honest truth is neither girl was much to look at. Most generally you can say a person has pretty eyes when nothing else looks right. They didn’t even have good smiles or teeth. But when they sang together they were the most beautiful girls in town. It’s funny what music does to the person who sings it and those who listen. However, you can’t sing all day long, and ugly is a permanent fixture.

Lester Crowly lived in a little house in the alley. He worked at a local laundry. Usually, he’d mouth the songs, never singing out loud.

One night Dexter cleared his throat and started singing an old standard, In The Pines. He hardly got through the first verse before Lester stood up. He grabbed the wooden kitchen chair he brought with him and sat it on the porch. Dexter stopped playing. Everyone stirred around and uncomfortably cleared their throats.

Ya got a good voice,” Lester said, “but it’s never lived the song your singin’.”

Touched you deeply, didn’t it?” Dexter said to Lester.

In places men can’t talk easily about,” Lester said, “so ya got to sing about it.”

Lester,” Dexter said, “I’ll start playin’ and you start whenever ya feel it.”

Lester sung. At times his voice sounded like a wounded dog near death. Everyone listened without a twitch but there were a lot of hard swallows and a few sniffs.

When Lester was done he nodded politely to Dexter and returned to his seat.

I don’t know if I can go on,” Dexter said.

Lester smiled. “Sure ya can. How ‘bout The Wabash Cannonball?”

That’s a good one,” Dexter said and began to play and sing.

Seems as if I was always the first there and the last to leave.

One night when everybody left and Dexter played his last song, he unplugged his guitar and asked me to carry the amplifier inside. I sat it down next to a chair.

Sit down, boy,” he said.

I sat in the chair.

Would you like to learn how to play guitar?” he said.

Yeah,” I said.

My heart was about to burst out of my chest I was so excited but I tried to hold back my exuberance.

Reach around the chair, boy,” he said, “and bring me that guitar.”

So I did. 

I handed him the guitar. 

He tapped it on the floor and dust kicked up from it. He tuned it. "There, she's ready."

He held the guitar and said, “Watch where I put the fingers on my left hand.”

So I did.

Finger here and the other finger there,” he said. “And then you strum.”

That’s called E minor,” he said. “Sit down.” He handed me the guitar.

It was awkward.

Hold it like dancing with the prettiest girl in school,” he said and smiled. “Well, you’ll know what I mean someday and when that day comes and you're dancing with the prettiest girl in the school, hold her like you’re holdin’ your favorite guitar.”

I had no idea what he was talking about but I knew I was going to get there someday.

He helped me place my fingers and I strummed. It sounded as dead as beating the bottom of a washtub. He had me strum real slow until each string sounded clean.

Now I’m gonna show you one more chord,” he said and this time he placed three of my finger on the strings. “That’s called C.”

I strummed a couple of dozen times. Eventually, it sounded like it might be music.

Let’s go back to E minor,” he said.

And it was like I forgot all he taught me. He patiently helped me.

You’re doin’ good,” he smiled. “Now take this guitar home with ya and practice those two chords for a week. Each time you strum make sure it’s better than the last. And next week I’ll show ya another.”

After a year of lessons, Dexter invited me up to sing a couple of songs with him. I was nervous. My voice cracked a couple of times. “Keep a gone,” Dexter said. 

So I did.

That night I helped him put away his amplifier and we sat down for a lesson.

Have you ever written any songs yourself?” I asked.

Nah, not really,” Dexter said, “I’ve written a couple—that’s it. It doesn’t come to me but it has a couple of times. I’m a player. I play other people’s songs. Just can’t come up with anything on my own.”

He showed me a couple of cord changes. I heard his voice but didn’t understand the words. It was like riding on a bus; houses blur by without recognizing any of them but you know they are there.

What’s wrong, boy,” Dexter said.

Just thinking,” I said.

How to write a song?” Dexter said.

Yeah,” I said.

Someday you’ll be strumming some cords. Suddenly you’ll try something different,” Dexter said. “It will touch you in a way you never thought. From those thoughts will come the words. On another day you’ll hear some words or think of some words. They’ll be words full of emotion. And you’ll find some cords to go with it.”

I nodded and smiled uncertainly.

You got some cords, don’t ya, boy,” Dexter said.

Yes, sir,” I said. “I got some.”

Let’s hear ‘em. Start playin’, son,” Dexter said.

And so I

That’s how it all started.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Innocent Bystanders? Thursday Morning at the Jittery Goat Café

 “Coffee,” Wilbur said.

Newt poured a coffee. “What’s new?”

Same ole same ole,” Wilbur said. “What about you?”

Just saw in the news six people were shot up in some bar in LA or New York or Detroit or it might have been Chicago,” Newt said.

Any survivors?” Wilbur said.

Nah,” Newt said. “They said the shooters were aiming to shoot only two guys; terrible, four innocent bystanders.”

When did it happen?” Wilbur said.

Midnight,” Newt said.

Innocent bystanders?” Wilbur said.

Yeah,” Newt said, “just customers, the wrong place at the wrong time.”

They were in the wrong bar at the wrong time? Nobody’s innocent being in a bar at midnight,” Wilbur said. “Ya can’t be thirsty at that time ‘cause ya already have had a couple of hours of drinkin’ behind ya. The only thing left is lookin’ for loose women or trouble. By midnight you’re so buzzed you’re susceptible to any sort of human degradation that walks into the place or enters your pickled brain. Never seen a guy come into a place at midnight and say I’m lookin’ to do some good. Anybody know some clean jokes? Hey, what’s your favorite Bible verse. What usually happens is some guy thinks, I think I’m gonna flirt with the babe sitting next to the biker dude. What is this a gay bar? Everybody looks queer. Or sometimes a guy just might say to the guy next to him that he looks like the guy he chased out of a bar last week—a real jerk. Are you that jerk? You sure remind me of him. He may say he’s lookin’ for a good time but he’s not lookin’ for good. Good walked by the place hours ago and didn’t even look in.”

You tellin’ me everybody who’s out at midnight ‘s guilty of something?” Newt said.

Sooner or later,” Wilbur said. “Anybody going out that time of night is likely gonna find trouble. They always say nothing good happens after bedtime. Nobody’s innocent that time of night.”

What’s bedtime?” Newt said.

At least two hours before those guys got shot,” Wilbur said.

Friday, April 1, 2022

When Trees Were Tall

They were days of the tall trees

they swayed in the summer breeze

sunny days

running barefoot on stones

swimming in mud bottom creeks

days of frosty mornings

bright-colored leaves, burning leaves

cold nights around a bonfire

toasting marshmallows,

stars shoot across the sky

days of knee-high snow

frosty windows

chilly mornings

runny noses, mittens

warming hands over a gas kitchen stove

days of soggy ground

croaking frogs

muddy shoes


pussy willows

hoot owls

and jumping puddles.

They were days of the tall trees