Try Writing

“Thousands of people who write believe they are better than thousands of others. They believe they will pen the next great American novel but their writing is dull and full of grammatical errors. Why do they write anything intended to be read by the public? Why do they write?”

I read those lines and was impelled to respond. The blogger’s entire post was arrogant and sarcastic, but those lines were the cherries on top. After I acknowledged that he can post what he likes on his own blog, I then asked if rather than squelch ambitions with a negative message about imperfection, he could instead applaud people for their attempts, for our attempts because I am one of the imperfect. But, we still try.

I don’t necessarily like being serious because, well, it’s not funny. I love a little arrogance and sarcasm as much as anyone, maybe more than anyone, but his post was nasty at its core, humorless and discouraging.

For me, playing with words to form sentences in an attempt to evoke anything from laughter to sadness in a reader is “magical”, and I rarely use that word. Writing is simply another way to make thoughts available to a reader. I don’t believe I will pen the next great American novel, “dull” writing is subjective, and I am certain I end up with grammatical errors in my writing. But, I still try.

I started blogging less than a year ago and up to that point had hardly read one, much less considered writing one. With encouragement from a good friend, I gave it a start. As an adult I’ve never taken a writing class and in high school English I was at best mediocre. So why do I write? Because I want to. That should be answer enough for the judgmental blogger.

When I have thoughts to express, nothing stops the freight train of desire to write them down. I imagine everyone who writes experiences the same at their own levels. If one’s writing could use some pep or have the grammar refined a bit, those things can be remedied. Writers can learn to amp up their styles and they can become more familiar with grammatical rules. Those things can be learned. What can’t be taught is desire. People who need to write come pre-loaded with the desire to try. And so we write.

I sent my comments to the blogger expecting to hear nothing back really. I simply felt the need to counter a little of his discouragement. That freight train of desire to write my response just couldn’t be stopped! In less than an hour he replied. I hesitated for a second to read what he’d written, but the optimist in me thought why not, it could be he’s given some of his overly critical attitude a second thought! I clicked on his response and read the one line from him:

“Your comments contained two grammatical errors.”

He didn’t even tell me what they were!

By then it didn’t matter than he’d paid no attention to the point I’d hoped to get across.

But, I tried.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Thirst Quencher

“I’m thirsty!” John said.

“Me too.” I agreed.

“I could use some Champagne.” Carol said.

“A keg.” Marvin chimed in as he joined us standing in the scant shade of a lone pine tree.

We had just finished a long mountain hike. Some days prior we had decided on a weekend camping trip together. Martin had tents and supplies, John and I were eager to go, and Carol and Rhonda agreed it could be fun.

“Anybody think Rhonda had success?” I laughed. She had stayed back at the campsite in hopes of seeing a “Squatch”.

“Not if it saw that face of hers without makeup.” Marvin joked.

“No really, I’m dying of thirst.” John interjected.

“Oh come on,” Carol began, “there is no Bigfoot in Virginia!”

“Big foot? Check out Rhonda’s hooves.” Marvin joked again as we made our way to John’s car.

“I’m seriously thirsty.” John said solemnly.

Being only semi-devoted to roughing it, we had taken the car in air-conditioned comfort to the start of the hiking trail and we were now ready for a cool ride back. Instead of unlocking the car, John walked to the trunk and began to dig through its contents. From deep within its recesses, back behind a spare tire and an old can of tennis balls, he pulled out a little red jug.

“Thank goodness.” John sighed.

“Wait.” I said. “That’s the jug you used months ago when we played tennis, right?”

“Yep,” John said as he eagerly flipped the top and stood poised to drink, “and it’s still half full.”

“Oh dear!” Carol gasped. “You’re going to drink liquid from a jug that’s been in your trunk for months? You don’t mean it!”

“I’m thirsty!” John repeated, and with that he turned up the little red jug and took several greedy gulps until there was no more.

“Wasn’t it hot?” I winced.

“Couldn’t you taste it?” Carol clutched her breast.

“He could probably chew it.” Marvin added.

We piled into the car and headed back. John said nothing, but his repetitive burps foreshadowed what was to come. Back at the campsite we found Rhonda frying bacon.

“Why on earth are you frying bacon in this dreadful heat?” Carol asked as she took off her designer hiking boots and reapplied her lipstick.

“Squatches love bacon.” Rhonda proclaimed as she slapped a second pound into the skillet. “The aroma will lure one outta the fahrest, then I can take a photo and send it to the Enquirah.”

Marvin took over the skillet, scrambled some eggs, and we had breakfast for dinner. Afterwards, we sat in a semi-circle of lawn chairs drinking fresh water and other beverages. Carol had packed a bottle of Champagne. As we began our after dinner chats, I looked at Rhonda.

“No Squatch?” I asked.

Before she could answer, we heard a loud WHUH! Conversations ceased as we looked around for the source of the strange call. We wondered if the smell of frying bacon had worked in Rhonda’s favor after all.

“Run fetch me mah Polaroid!” Rhonda yelled through a mouthful of bacon. “I just heard a Squatch!”

“Oh bless!” Carol said. “You don’t think that really was a…”

WHUH!

We heard it again, but identified the source.

John emerged from his tent where he had been lying down for quite some time. He hadn’t said he felt bad, but his normally boisterous personality was less so that evening. We attributed it to the long hike.

We should have attributed it to the liquid in the little red jug.

“WHUH!” John said again as he stepped from the tent. His normally ruddy complexion was replaced by the whitest white a human can become while still maintaining a detectable pulse. His face was drenched in sweat and he clutched his stomach. Luckily, experienced at roughing it as we were, we had pitched our tents very near Building A which housed the bathrooms. John headed that way, slowly.

“WHUH!” he said with every step. We learned later that with each step, the vile and evil contents of his digestive tract forced their way to the point of escape, violently and abruptly. Only the dark jogging pants he wore spared us the visual. We could only stare blankly as John shuffled past our semi-circle in the direction of Building A.

“Are you ill?” Carol asked.

“The jug.” I said under my breath.

Unaware that John had gulped bacteria laden liquid from the little red jug, Rhonda assumed his noise to be a tease about her search for Bigfoot. “Don’t diss the Squatch!” she yelled at him as he gingerly made his way through the thick brush that grew between our tents and Building A.

“Are you all aware,” Carol stated in a whisper, “that he is suffering a most heinous and foul intestinal woe from the liquid in that little red jug?”

“Alcohol would kill it.” Marvin said as he sipped a beer and watched John pick his way through the undergrowth. We heard another “WHUH!

“Why is he dissing the Squatch!” Rhonda said as she headed for her tent. “I’m going to bed to eat mah cheese and crackahs. That noise of his has skeered ‘em all off anyway.”

Unsure whether we should call a park ranger or try to find a doctor, we decided to do the next logical thing. We picked up our lawn chairs and faced them towards Building A to watch John two-step through the huckleberries.

WHUH!” we heard as he reached the screen door to Building A.

“I just can’t bear this for him!” Carol said sympathetically. “Champagne anyone?”

As John shuffled slowly through the screen door, we noticed a man approaching the bathroom from another trail. He held a toothbrush, stepped happily, and whistled a joyful tune. All that his pleasant mood lacked were cartoon bluebirds flying overhead holding ribbons and roses in their beaks.

The man neared Building A.

“Oh no.” Carol said. “Whatever should we do?”

“Have a beer.” Marvin said as he popped one open for himself and handed one to me.

“This is just awful!” Carol said as she poured more Champagne.

WHUH!” we heard echoed from inside the bathroom.

“He’s making fun of the Squatch!” Rhonda yelled angrily from inside her tent, still unaware that John was engaged in battle with the bucket of bacteria he had earlier chugged.

The man with the toothbrush paused momentarily at the strange sound he heard. Deciding it was nothing, he skipped gleefully through the screen door and out of sight. After the door slammed behind the man as he entered the room where John sat in regretful agony, there were only sounds of crickets and the soft chattering of blackbirds as they began to roost in the trees overhead.

Then… we heard it. The blood curdling and primal scream of a horrified soul who had just walked in on one of the most grotesque sights known to mankind – the aftermath of someone drinking a jug of old water. When he screamed, crickets ceased their chirping and great flocks of blackbirds left the treetops as one. It was the scream of a man in torment.

“I heard a Squaaatch!” Rhonda yelled excitedly from inside her tent.

WHUH!” we heard as if in response to the primal scream.

“It’s a mated pair!” Rhonda yelled again as she fumbled for her Polaroid.

The screen door on Building A slammed again and we turned to see  the man heading down the trail from which he’d come. He was running this time and there was no happy whistling.

WHUH!” we heard one last time, then silence. Shortly, John returned in near darkness and said nothing but went straight to his car to sleep, where luckily he kept a second pair of pants. By morning John had regained some color. In the trash bin next to his car were a pair of balled-up jogging pants and a little red jug. We all packed for the trip home and stopped by the camp store on the way out to pick up some snacks for the ride.

“Well,” Rhonda told the park ranger at the counter, “not a Squatch in the vicinity.”

“No,” the ranger laughed, “but several campers reported strange sounds and disgusting smells near Building A last night.”

“I knew it!” Rhonda said as she subconsciously reached for her Polaroid.

John feebly approached the counter where we stood talking to the park ranger.

“Excuse me.” John said weakly to the ranger. “I was told you sell something for upset stomachs here but I can’t find it. Can you tell me what it looks like?”

“Sure.” the park ranger said as he pointed. “On the next aisle. It’s a liquid in a little red jug.”

Stuart M. Perkins

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Granola and Bear It

According to its wrapper, the granola bar in my hand promised to help me “Start the Day in a Whole New Way”. I took one bite and immediately felt a sharp pain in one of the molars in my lower jaw.

The wrapper was right. I had certainly started the day in a whole new way.

My tongue told me the shape of my tooth was different now. A small part had broken away but it hurt for only a second. Without the motivation of pain, I decided to simply tell the dentist about it during my next visit. Frankly, once I became used to the different shape of my tooth, I forgot all about it.

Until three weeks later.

That night something felt a bit different around the tooth. There was the hint of an ache, some puffiness in my jaw, and my cheek felt slightly warm. I went to bed having decided I might need to call the dentist if I felt a little pain.

Around 2:00 in the morning I felt a little pain.

And by “a little pain” I mean I awoke to the sensation of a red-hot poker being plunged mercilessly into my jawbone, hammered in further by hydraulic machinery, and all the while being doused with gasoline and set on fire. Beneath my jaw, just below the obviously infected tooth, was a swollen area warm to the touch and very painful. One minute I was in agony, the next minute the pain disappeared, but it came and went often during the night. While having pain-free minutes I drifted to sleep only to be awakened by the evil flaming jack hammer attacking my inner tooth.

Thankfully, the dentist could see me first thing in the morning. The dental hygienist took an x-ray the minute I sat in the chair. As the dentist entered the room he glanced at the x-ray on the wall.

“You’re probably in pain.” he said as nonchalantly as if commenting on a lovely sparrow singing in the windowsill.

“You’re probably right.” I responded. “Can you just patch the tooth or whatever it is you do?”

For some reason he laughed.

I had never felt such pain. When there was no pain, there was the fear of pain. I couldn’t think of anything that could strike as much fear in me as awaiting the next onslaught of pain.

“You need a root canal.” he said.

Until I heard that.

My mind flooded with memories of horror stories related to me by friends about their own root canal experiences. At that moment, the demon pain in my tooth awakened and in seconds it felt as though I were being kicked in the jaw by an angry, and possibly rabid, mule.

“Just do it then. Do it now.” I said. “And hurry.” I was starting this day in a whole new way. I began to sweat.

He laughed again.

The dental hygienist set to work to prepare me for the procedure. She fastened a tiny useless paper bib around my neck, patted my shoulder, and wished me luck.

How comforting.

The dentist hovered over my open mouth and began to apply a numbing gel to the spots where he would then inject my gum with even more numbing drug to deaden the tooth.

“It tastes like bubble gum, doesn’t it?” he asked in a tone that indicated he was already sure of the answer.

“It tastes like potpourri and dirt.” I corrected.

He laughed, hopefully at my comment and not at his actions, because he then jabbed my gum with the first of several needles. After a few injections around the hateful tooth, he waited for the numbing drug to take effect. When the side of my face felt like a slab of liver hanging from my head, I knew I was ready. This would soon be over, I thought.

I thought incorrectly.

After two hours of his drilling, scraping, poking, and suctioning, and my gagging, drooling, coughing, and moaning, he suddenly sat very quietly with his hands still wedged in my mouth. I would have asked what he was waiting for but my jaws were held open by what felt like the tire chock of a Boeing 747. I stopped counting the hairs in his nose and gave a questioning grunt.

“I’m just draining the infection.” he explained. “Once I drill down far enough into the tooth it’s like popping the cork on a champagne bottle and it all flows right out!”

Nice, I thought. Cheers.

He finished his handiwork, the dental hygienist dove into my mouth up to her elbows to finish something, and they sat me up.

“There you go.” the dentist said.

“Hey,” I managed to say with a numb tongue, “that wasn’t so bad, but glad you’re finished.”

“Finished?” he began, “That was only the first part. You need to come back at the end of the week for me to do the second part.”

There was a part two. I would have to start the day in a whole new way yet again. I began to sweat.

“Before you come back for the second part, why don’t you come in for a routine cleaning.” the dentist asked as he signed something handed to him by a passing coworker.

I pointed to my mouth. “But you’re in mid-construction in there. Isn’t that like washing the car while you’re still finishing up the body work?”

He laughed loudly.

“Just come back at the end of the week then,” he said, “but don’t worry, the worst part is behind you.”

“No, the worst part is before me.” I said. “I still have to pay for this.”

He laughed loudly again.

I returned later in the week for part two. The dentist began the injections to make my tooth properly numb. After several shots, he said we would now wait until they took effect. Remembering the last time when I had to wait in the chair for almost twenty minutes in order to reach that point, I tapped the dentist on the arm as he walked away. He stopped and looked at me.

“You get paid by the hour, I suppose. Is that why there’s been no effort to make a numbing drug that works any faster?” I asked.

He laughed.

In time, my gum reached peak numbness. Once again I spent two hours on my head in the chair, a street lamp hanging inches from my face, and the dentist and dental hygienist performed their square dance in my mouth. When all was said and done, they wiped two hours worth of drool from my numb chin and sat me up.

“Well,” the dentist began as he sorted his tiny medieval tools, “you should be good now. Anything else we can do for you while you’re here?”

“Yes.” I said. “Could you go back in and drill deep enough to remove a kidney? I’ll need to sell it on eBAY to pay what my insurance won’t cover on this tooth.”

He laughed as he walked away and I heard him tell the girl at the front desk that he would “do this one differently”, but I paid little attention. I used the restroom and upon returning to the front desk I asked for the bill. I began to sweat.

The receptionist handed me the invoice and below the itemized column full of numbers and codes was a grand total. To the left of that printed amount was another total, hand written in ink. A significantly lower grand total.

“What does this mean?” I asked.

The receptionist explained that the dentist had given me the staff discount.

“Why?” I asked, still puzzled.

“He said he enjoyed your humor each time you came in.” she answered. “And that you had a point about how long it takes for the numbing injections to work?” She was clearly not sure what that meant, but she assumed I did.

I looked around for the dentist in order to thank him, but he had already crawled inside the next patient’s mouth.

“Tell him I really appreciate that.” I said.

“Sure will.” she responded. “He said to have a patient who actually joked through an entire root canal certainly did start his day in a whole new way.

I began to sweat.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Giving is for the Birds

I read the simple message while driving to work that morning. It was quite a few years ago but I remember the church’s sign: “Give To Others – Sacrifice” was its straightforward directive. As I pondered those words, I noticed another sign at a fast-food place across the street.

“Try Our Blueberry Biscuits”

Those words required no pondering.

I would indeed try them. Having ample time before work, I would even go inside to sit as I enjoyed their flaky goodness. I could smell the biscuits when I walked in to place my order. On a large rack behind the cashier, someone from the kitchen drizzled icing generously over a dozen or so freshly baked blueberry delights. I ordered two.

After all, the sign had clearly indicated plural.

My mouth watered as I sat at a table between a window and a row of potted palms. I spread my blueberry biscuits out before me, smelled their warm icing, and heard their plump blueberries calling to me. I noticed movement on the other side of the potted palms but my excitement over the biscuits kept me from looking up. Just as I was about to pick up the first biscuit, the movement stopped and I heard a woman’s voice.

“Are you Jesus?” she asked.

Not sure I had correctly heard such a question, I wiped the anticipatory biscuit drool from my mouth and waited for a second.

“Are you Jesus?” she asked again.

I turned to see a frowning elderly woman staring through the potted palms. I assumed she might be homeless when I saw her. Her clothes were frayed and wrinkled, and although her hair was pulled neatly back and held in place by a clean red ribbon, she was otherwise very disheveled and dirty. She carried a soiled tote bag on her arm.

“Are you Jesus?” she asked me for the third time. She frowned a bit harder.

I admit that I slid my blueberry biscuits towards the window on the far side of the table before I responded.

“No Ma’am”. I said. “Definitely not.” I spread an extra concealing napkin over my biscuits.

I thought she might leave once I had cleared up that little misidentification, but she lingered. She stood quietly by the potted palms a little longer. I kept the biscuits covered and willed my salivary glands to cease working. She edged closer to my table. I pushed the biscuits closer to the window.

She sat down across from me.

My biscuits cooled, my mouth watered, and guilt crept over me as I remembered the first message I had read that morning. “Give to Others – Sacrifice”.

Well, great. Why did I have to see the church sign just before being shown the door to blueberry deliciousness! Oh well. I removed one biscuit from its hiding place and slid it towards the elderly woman.

“You can have this.” I said.

She said absolutely nothing but took the biscuit, wrapped it tightly in the napkin, and slipped it into her tote bag. She still frowned. Not even the slightest smile.

There. I had “given to others”. I felt better, she had eagerly taken the biscuit, and as soon as she got up I could still enjoy the one I had left. I could smell it there under the napkin.

She didn’t get up.

“You have a good day, Ma’am.” I said, thinking she might move along.

She still didn’t get up. She frowned at the lump under my napkin.

I had already checked my watch several times and knew I had to get to work soon. I just wanted to eat my blueberry biscuit! I had done what the church sign said. I had “given to others”!

Well, the sign had said a little more than that, I thought as the elderly woman frowned persistently.

I uncovered my second biscuit and handed it to her, saying nothing. She took the second as eagerly as the first. She wrapped it quickly, slipped it into her tote bag, and walked to the door to go outside. She frowned all the while.

No matter, I thought. I could simply pick up another biscuit, or two, on my way out.

“We stopped making blueberry biscuits twenty minutes ago.” the cashier said. “No more back there.”

My stomach growled. So did I. One of my biscuits handed to the elderly woman was “giving”. Both of my biscuits handed to her, now that was “sacrifice”! But, she would enjoy them I kept telling myself, as I imagined her biting into the icing covered blueberry treats.

As I headed to my car, I heard their wings flapping before I saw them. Pigeons. So many pigeons flying in that they blocked my view of what attracted them. Then, through an opening in the flock, I saw what they were after.

An elderly woman with a tote bag. She crumbled and tossed piece after piece of blueberry biscuit into the air as pigeons scrambled to eat them.

She was smiling.

Stuart M. Perkins

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A Load of Fun

Today I noticed that in spite of an unyielding winter determined to wear out its welcome, the local hardware store has taken a leap of faith by filling its storefront and walkway with a grand display of all things summer. I saw birdbaths, a gleaming row of new lawnmowers, and a stack of wading pools depicting smiling cartoon elephants spraying water on laughing cartoon hippos. Closest to the sidewalk was a row of huge, bright red wheelbarrows with glossy black wheels, price tags swinging in the still chilly breeze.

As I hurried past the hopeful display and on to the grocery store one building over, I passed a small boy waiting for his father who was busy admiring an array of shiny new grills. The father turned to catch up to his son who had stopped at the row of red wheelbarrows. With both of his little hands gripping the side of one wheelbarrow, the boy stood on his tiptoes to peer over the edge.

“It’s a toy?” he asked into the empty wheelbarrow.

“No.” the father said as he took the boy’s hand to lead him into the hardware store. “You only use that for work.”

“It’s a toy.” the boy said with conviction.

“No, it’s not.” the father repeated. “It’s only for work.”

“No, it’s not.” I thought to myself. “It’s not only for work.”

One of my earliest childhood memories is of my grandmother, Nannie, helping me and my cousin Jeff into her wheelbarrow for a ride. She pushed us to the pear trees in the pasture where we helped her pick up fallen fruit. Riding back to her farmhouse in a pile of pears, we held on to the sides of the wheelbarrow during the bumpy ride and pretended we were on a boat. That was no wheelbarrow only for work. It was a toy.

As older kids, cousins and I took turns pushing each other in the random wheelbarrow that always leaned against Nannie’s barn, maybe the chicken house, or was sometimes absentmindedly left under a tree. If lucky, we came across two wheelbarrows and races began. Those wheelbarrows were not only for work. They were cars or planes or motorcycles. They were toys.

My aunt Noody once gave me and my cousins a package of little plastic sailboats. Having nowhere to float them, we soon lost interest until Noody suddenly appeared with her old wheelbarrow. As we watched, puzzled, Noody unrolled her garden hose and filled the wheelbarrow with water. Instant lake! Her old wheelbarrow was not only for work. It was a toy.

Years passed and when my own two kids were small I spent as much time behind the wheelbarrow as I ever did inside the wheelbarrow. I pushed first one, then the other, but usually both at the same time. The wheelbarrow became a train, a rocket, and once it was a dinosaur they rode. The wheelbarrow was not only for work. It was a toy.

I was still thinking about these examples as I left the grocery store and headed back towards the summer display next door. As timing would have it, the little boy and his father were leaving the hardware store as I approached. As the father walked on ahead, the little boy lagged behind just a bit when he got to the wheelbarrow display. Once again, he gripped the side of a huge red wheelbarrow and craned his neck to peer over the edge.

The little boy looked up and grinned at me as I neared him. His little hands never let loose their grip on the edge, but one tiny finger rose up and pointed down into the wheelbarrow.

“It’s a toy?” he asked as I walked closer.

I leaned down just a bit as I reached where he stood.

“Yes, it’s a toy.” I said grinning as I walked past.

Stuart M. Perkins

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A Dog Wouldn’t Eat It

My family and I talked a lot over Christmas about Daddy’s fruit cakes. His yearly project meant we would hear many times just how he was going to make it, we would have to admire the ingredients as he laid them out on the counter, and when his edible work of art was complete we would have to sample it. And we did.

Reluctantly.

But Daddy was not the only cake baker in that house. Mama’s pound cakes are well-known to family and friends. Because of recent health issues she hasn’t made one in a while but she will and we’re waiting. Mama never needed a holiday to prompt her to make a pound cake, although production ramped up during special occasions. There always seemed to be a half eaten cake on the counter and another in the freezer, usually heavily wrapped and labeled “okra” to keep us from getting into it.

A few years ago I asked Mama for her pound cake recipe. I love those cakes and thought it might be a good idea to learn to make them. Mama gave me the recipe and admirably hid her shock that I would attempt to make a cake of all things. Just scrambling an egg presents me with a challenge.

“Follow the recipe and you can’t go wrong.” Mama said.

Daddy asked, “You never made a cake before?”

“No.” I said, “But I’ve eaten enough to consider myself a professional.”

“I bet a dog won’t eat that thing when you’re done!” Daddy laughed.

I listened to Mama’s baking advice, bought all necessary ingredients, went home, and began to follow the recipe.

No I didn’t.

I can’t remember exactly how I altered the recipe and I didn’t plan to, but those tiny details became so tedious. My first mistake was to say I even wanted to bake a cake. Many more mistakes followed.

I thought if a little sugar was good then a little more was better. Butter is nice so extra butter should be nicer. The notion of needing to add the eggs “one at a time” (which the recipe said and which Mama stressed the importance of) just seemed silly. In they all went together. I don’t recall how long the cake was to bake but I thought if I increased the temperature by just a little bit then it should cut down on the cooking time. I learned that there is a difference between baking powder and baking soda after all.

When the cake was done, or so I assumed, I took it out of the oven and realized immediately that it didn’t look just like Mama’s. I was sure it would still be delicious.

It wasn’t.

The few parts that didn’t stick to the pan slid onto the plate rather nicely. I eagerly tasted a piece of my first pound cake.

Once I stopped choking, I called Mama. Daddy answered the phone and I describe my results.

“I told you that thing wouldn’t be fit for a dog to eat!” He laughed again.

“Did you follow the recipe?” Mama asked when she got on the phone. I could hear Daddy still laughing in the background.

“Mostly.” I lied.

“Well bring it over here and let me look at it.” Mama said.

I pieced the cake back together in the pan to make it “pretty”. When I got to Mama’s, she and Daddy were sitting in the yard. I walked up to Mama and held the pan full of butchered cake out in front of her.

“Here it is.” I said in a tone that I hoped would make her believe I had faithfully followed the recipe but was still baffled by the finished product. “What could I have done wrong?”

Mama looked at the cake, made a horrible face, and asked, “Do you want a list?”

Daddy, in very colorful language, gave his opinion of my cake and laughed as he added, “I told you a dog wouldn’t eat that thing when you were done with it!”

Mama decided she didn’t want to taste it because it “didn’t look right”. Daddy, once again in very colorful language, told me just why he didn’t care to taste it either.

In spite of the mess in the now ruined cake pan, we all had a good laugh. I walked to the end of their yard and threw the cake out into the garden where I assumed birds, if desperate, might eat it. As I walked back to where they sat, Mama and Daddy were joking about whether or not birds might soon die by the flock.

“I told him even a dog wouldn’t eat that mess.” Daddy said to Mama as I sat down with them.

As we talked about anything other than cakes, my aunt Noody walked from her house next door to join us. On the way, she stopped to let her dog Maggie out for an evening run. As the four of us talked, I noticed Maggie making her way to the edge of the garden where I had dumped the cake.

“Well Daddy.” I said smugly. “Maggie is about to prove you wrong.” I pointed to the dog as she approached the cake pile and gave it a sniff. I bet a dog would eat my cake. I awaited my small victory.

They all turned to watch the dog. Maggie approached the cake pile and sniffed. She raised her head and paused, adding to the mounting tension. She lowered her head to sniff the cake again. That’s when it happened.

Maggie lowered her front end, leaned slightly to the side, and dropped to roll in the cake. Not just a light roll, but a full grinding-the-cake-into-the-shoulder roll. She stood, sniffed the cake again, and rolled on her other side. Adding insult to injury, she walked away from the cake pile, stopping just long enough to kick grass over it with her hind legs. She then trotted away never having taken a bite.

The wheezing sound I heard next was Daddy laughing. “You do know what dogs generally roll in, don’t you?” he asked through the laughter.

Mama made the horrible face again and looked at Noody. “You’ll never be able to get that smell off that dog.”

I laughed too and stood up to walk towards Maggie and the cake pile. I wasn’t going to let Daddy win this one!

“Come here Maggie!” I called as I picked through the cake pile to find a piece I thought she might find edible. It wasn’t easy.

Seeing something in my hand, Maggie came running. I leaned down and handed her the piece of cake as Daddy, Mama, and Noody watched from the other end of the yard. Maggie took it from my hand! I was about to declare a victory when Maggie backed up, raised her head slightly as if to sneeze, then threw her head forward spitting the cake onto the ground. She stared at it.

So did I. She still hadn’t eaten any of it.

Maggie looked at me, wagged her tail, and barked at the piece of cake.

I gave up and walked back to where the others were sitting. They were laughing and appeared to be looking past me. I turned around just in time to see Maggie getting back to her feet after a second roll in the cake.

Daddy was right. Even a dog wouldn’t eat that cake. But she certainly enjoyed it just the same.

Stuart M. Perkins

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I Had a Slice of Fruit Cake

Mama grinned when I brought up Daddy’s past fruit cake project to her a few days ago. She instantly recalled the many details he had described to us before, during, and after production of his masterpiece.

“My lands.” Mama said. “That fruit cake was all he talked about for a while.”

She also remembered my promise to Daddy that I would eat a piece of his fruit cake on Christmas day. The sight and smell of fruit cake are enough to make me retch, but Daddy had been so proud of his cake and so eager for me to taste it that I finally gave in and promised a Christmas day tasting. At the rate Daddy was already eating his culinary work of art, I was sure the thing would be gone by the holidays and I could then shake my head and tell him I was sorry to have missed it – while silently cheering.

When Daddy suddenly passed away a few months before Christmas, the fruit cake and all of our inside jokes associated with it were soon forgotten and replaced by the sad details of the loss. It was only a week or so ago that I remembered my insane promise to taste the awful thing and reminded Mama.

“Mama,” I began, “I know Daddy had some fruit cake left. Do you know where it is?”

“You don’t want it do you?” she asked. Her eyes widened as she looked at me and grinned just imagining my reaction to tasting the cake.

I reminded her that each time I visited them Daddy asked if I wanted a slice. He and I would joke about what I considered to be a downright awful cake. My answer to his question was always an emphatic “no” until I finally broke down and agreed to taste a piece on Christmas day. Daddy has been gone for four months now, but for what it was worth I intended to keep my promise.

Mama said what remained of the fruit cake had been put in the freezer. My sister Vicki soon presented me with a large chunk of Daddy’s masterpiece, still wrapped in wax paper and aluminum foil, and tucked inside a fruit cake tin.

My feelings were mixed. The sight of the fruit cake reminded me of the crazy conversations and silly jokes that Daddy and I shared about his making the thing. The sight of the fruit cake also struck me with shivers of disgust. But, I had promised to taste it, so taste it I would.

But maybe later…

We all knew Christmas would be odd, sad, and definitely not the same without Daddy. Unfortunately it turned out to be all of those things. Although Mama knew I was going to taste the fruit cake, I didn’t want it to become a big production so I didn’t mention it to anyone else. I would just discreetly fulfill my promise before the day was through. Admittedly, I planned to put it off as long as possible. Fruit cake is not fun.

Mama’s house filled with more and more family members as the day wore on. Periodically, she grinned and asked me, “Have a slice of fruit cake?”

“Later.” was my standard response, usually accompanied by a dry heave.

The first holiday after someone passes away is hard on any family. Each of us had to again process losing Daddy when faced with his absence. We missed the jokes he would have told, the snappy one-liners he would have had ready, and the simple sight of his empty chair was enough to upset some. In spite of the void, everyone tried to make it as normal a Christmas as possible, especially for Mama who is still struggling with major complications from her knee replacement surgery earlier this year.

I was afraid that memories stirred up by my fruit cake tasting might upset Mama, but she seemed fine. In fact, she found humor in knowing that the last thing in the world I wanted to taste, regardless of the day of the year, was fruit cake.

As the day wound down I summoned the necessary courage to remove the lid from the fruit cake tin. I began unwrapping the cake and wondered how I might be able to cut a tiny slice without actually having to look at it. The sight of those unnatural neon colored fruits was not appealing. A particularly ugly red one fell out just as I finished unwrapping.

I took a deep breath and tried to cut a paper-thin slice, not easy to do with a heavy cake chock full of bizarre fruits and too many nuts. For fear the smell alone would cause me to lose my courage, I quickly popped a piece of the cake into my mouth and chewed as rapidly as possible. Just as I finished swallowing the hateful concoction, I heard Mama call my name.

“Have a slice of fruit cake?” she asked, laughing when she saw the look on my face. She continued grinning as I washed the cake down with several gulps of water.

“I had a slice of fruit cake.” I confirmed as I exhaled and wiped the vile crumbs from my face.

I have never mixed turpentine, cake batter, and a splash of Drano together, but I believe it would taste exactly the same as fruit cake.

Daddy would have enjoyed the look of misery on my face and would have compared my rapid chewing to “a possum eating briars”. Mama got a good laugh out of the tasting in spite of the emotional reminders. I felt good that I had fulfilled my promise to Daddy and was glad that Mama had not gotten upset.

That came next.

The family made it through the day with only a few spoken comments about Daddy’s absence. Even Mama had been able to talk about him some without completely losing control – until my sister Donna gave her a gift.

A few months ago Donna asked Mama if she could take some of the flannel shirts Daddy had always worn. Donna planned to make a quilt from the material. Even though Mama knew the plan, she hadn’t expected it would be her Christmas gift.

Mama opened the box Donna handed her and saw the quilt. Naturally, she was instantly upset. It was a beautiful quilt in its own right, but as Mama examined patch after patch that came from shirts she had seen Daddy wear on a daily basis, it was more than she could handle. She cried heavily as she held the quilt, occasionally touching one patch or another and softly saying words most of us couldn’t understand.

“I love it.” Mama said through her tears, “But I can’t look at it anymore right now.”

Everyone understood and after a few silent minutes the conversations slowly began to flow again. A grandchild or two gave Mama a hug and we all continued opening presents.

I can usually manage to make Mama laugh, or at least smile, regardless of the situation. In this case I knew there was nothing I could say that would give her any relief or distraction from her upset, so I thought I’d try being practical rather than comical for a change.

“Mama, do you want some water?” I asked. “Is there anything that’ll help?”

Her eyes were still teary and her face was still red but a partial grin showed itself when she responded.

“Have a slice of fruit cake?” she said.

Stuart M. Perkins

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