Virginia Living – I’m a “Wrap” Star!

Just a little announcement:

I’m excited to let you know I have an essay appearing in the current issue of Virginia Living magazine!

It was a thrill to work with the kind folks at the magazine again (my third essay for them now) and as a native Virginian, like my parents and theirs, it was especially fun to contribute to a publication I’ve had in my own home over the years.

Below is a link to my piece in the online version of Virginia Living.  Check it out and if you like, please comment on their site in the space just below the essay. I’d love to hear your feedback!

http://www.virginialiving.com/culture/wrap-star/

Thanks to all those who’ve asked what I’ve been up to lately. Blogging continues to be fun and has proven to be an exciting pathway to some great opportunities.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Near Miss

Wait! Frantically I chased the bus trying to catch the driver’s attention. Brakes screeched and exhaust puffed as he threw open the door and impatiently waved me in. Out of breath from my unexpected sprint, I leaped onto the bus which jerked roughly into motion. Why does everything seem so urgent?

Ear shattering noises blasting from my alarm clock that morning had startled me into reality. Abusing the snooze button meant ultimately springing from bed in a hasty rush. After a speedy shower I dressed in a hurry and dashed out of my front door to see the bus pulling away.

And from now on I should hurry! I nearly missed it!

Anxiety at work as constant emails popped up. Between fast-paced phone calls I zipped out for a quick lunch and realized in a panic that I was late to a meeting. Choking down a sandwich while running, I flew through the doors of the conference room just as the meeting began.

Frazzled and heading home, the congested commute included a hectic stop by the crowded market before charging off to meet others at a restaurant across town. The cab was late, I anxiously begged the driver to speed up, and barely made it before losing the reservation.

Busy Saturday’s numerous errands included a breakneck trip to the dry cleaners before stopping by the bank. Next, off to the post office. Back towards home to drop off the car for repairs before the mechanic closed. Heavy traffic and honking horns added to the stress of trying to make it in time.

And from now on I should hurry! I nearly missed it!

Breathe. Calmly, I began the next morning determined to take it easy. Though always much to do, this day would not suffer the angry push from an alarm clock. Lusciously aromatic steam billowed from my coffee cup as I eased into the cushioned chair on the patio outside. The fountain trickled peacefully in the background.

Beautifully, a cardinal sang from a branch in the maple as a nearby squirrel gave himself a lazy scratch behind the ear. Two small white butterflies danced and drifted as a pair across the garden. A fuzzy bumblebee covered in pollen took his time crawling over marigolds blooming under the crepe myrtle.

Gracefully, a sparrow floated down to land at the edge of the fountain. The little bird dipped its beak into the water, ruffled its feathers, and with eyes closed sat motionless in the early sunshine for several minutes. No sound. No movement. That tiny fellow had made a decision to find some peace in that moment. A valuable lesson.

And from now on I should slow down. I nearly missed it.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Grand Canyon Inspiration

I’m often asked whether my posts are fact or fiction. All true. The goal of my blog is to highlight meaningful or humorous stories behind everyday scenarios. I don’t always aim for the obvious but I do try to hit on themes we all relate to in some way. Sometimes I’m asked for photos to go along with my posts. Since I often find “inspiration” in little more than an overheard conversation during my work commute, I don’t always have a photo to go along with what I write. But sometimes I do!

My post “Cheesy Sunset” came after a visit to the Grand Canyon. https://storyshucker.wordpress.com/2016/11/22/cheesy-sunset/

We stayed at El Tovar, a hotel literally perched on the south rim of the Grand Canyon. It opened in 1905, is on the National Register of Historic Places, has been declared a National Historic Landmark, and served as a perfect spot from which to explore the area.

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Here are a few photos taken during the actual cheesy sunset, along with the ravens that “rode the winds”…GCsunset1

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And I have to include a few of the helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon. The most exciting, exhilarating, and terrifying thirty minutes of my life. I loved it. I will never do it again…

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You don’t have to see it from the air to be thrilled. Everyday hikes in the Grand Canyon are beyond beautiful.

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I have so many photos from that trip, all of them spectacular in my opinion. How could they not be? You can’t take a bad photograph there.

If you haven’t been to the Grand Canyon, you should go when you can. If you’ve already been, go again and take some cheese puffs.

Stuart M. Perkins

 

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Perfect Fit

“Hopefully I’ll have that again someday.” my son Evan said wistfully over the phone.

“You will!” I encouraged him. “Just give it a while.”

“Best that it’s over but there were still some fun times.” he went on.

“You’ll have that with someone new.” I said. “You’re only nineteen. Plenty of time.”

“Yeah.” he said solemnly. “Just not sure it will happen again or be as good.”

“It will only be better!” I said confidently.

“But how do you know it will be better?” he asked.

Oh no. He wanted an answer.

I’m absolutely no relationship expert. I’ve been in several and calculate I’d have done things differently in every case. I’m just no fountain of good advice. Still, my son’s lamenting after his unpleasant breakup triggered memories and I searched for words of wisdom to help him through this momentary setback.

That strong parental desire to offer profound guidance washed over me. I prepared to launch into weighty philosophical input that would surely embolden him to dismiss his temporary breakup regrets. I took a deep breath and began my lofty speech.

“Well, it’s like this…” I began.

With the spotlight squarely on me and my son listening intently, paying more attention to a parent than any nineteen year old ever has, I went into a panic. Ideas had flashed before me while Evan spoke. Where had they gone? What had I intended to say? What was that clever tidbit again? Gone. All gone. But Evan waited eagerly.

“Well, it’s like this…” I began again. “Relationships are like underwear.”

I had no clue where that came from even as I heard myself say it.

“Ok…?” Evan chuckled in anticipation.

That wasn’t enough? I had to say more?

“You put on a new pair of underwear and it’s great. Feels good, nice change, you like them, and soon find you prefer them over all others. How wonderful life is with this new pair of underwear.”

“Ok…?” Evan chuckled again.

He expected even more? He’s a nineteen year old boy. Time to break it down.

“Well, then one day you realize the new underwear is up your ass.”

Evan chuckled loudly this time. “Ok…?”

“So you say wow, didn’t expect that. You make a few adjustments and you try to move on. It happens again. A few more tries to make things right but it’s just not working. No matter how much you’d loved the new underwear and no matter how many adjustments were made there has now come the point when you realize you need to take them off for good.”

Silence.

“So, unfortunately you say goodbye to that pair but at some point you come across another new pair. You put them on and maybe something about them reminds you too much of the pair that hadn’t worked out so well in the past. You pretty quickly take this pair off having learned from the last just what works for you about underwear and what doesn’t.”

Silence.

“None of us know when or where we might ultimately find underwear with the right fit, but we keep trying with yet another new pair if an old pair fails. So, I know your next pair of underwear will be better than the last because you learn something each time you try one on. Never settle for the wrong fit. Remember, none of this means that you or any of the pairs of underwear were necessarily bad. It simply means the fit wasn’t right.”

Silence.

“One day you’ll put on that next new pair of underwear and they’ll feel pretty nice but  you may hesitate. Ignore the fact that any one pair of underwear, or maybe all underwear, has disappointed you in the past. If this newest pair feels good then enjoy it and see what happens. One day you’ll put on a new pair and the fit will be so nice, so perfect, that you’ll skip along every day for the rest of your life not even realizing you have on underwear at all.”

There, that was all I had. I knew I’d fallen short but I’m just not good with relationship advice. I waited for the dial tone I knew was coming…

That” Evan said through a hearty laugh, “was the dumbest, grossest, and best thing I’ve ever heard! That was awesome.”

Phew! I wiped the sweat from my upper lip.

Evan hadn’t necessarily asked for relationship advice nor had I been eager to give any. What do I know? His angst was serious and my response may not have been, but I recognized his feelings and let him know in the wacky way he probably expected of me that I understood.

Keep trying. The perfect fit is out there.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Goodbye, Friend. (A Year Later)

I first posted this a year ago after the funeral of one of my very best friends. It’s hard to believe a year has passed. Even after this amount of time I find myself picking up the phone to tell her something I thought she’d find funny. No one has ever been more willing to look for reasons to laugh than Mary Dell Grey. Now and then I’ll wonder why I haven’t heard from her. Then I remember why.

She’s gone, but is remembered daily by her family and many, many friends.

Below is my post from a year ago and the words I said when asked to be one of the speakers at her funeral:

 

One of my best friends passed away.

Over the years I’ve experienced the passing of people related to me and have attended quite a few funerals. I’m from a large family with an even larger extended family so deaths and funerals are part of that reality. Not until now have I lost a friend. The loss isn’t any more or any less, but it’s different.

With family, you love them all but treat only a few as friends.

With friends, you love them all but treat only a few as family.

Mary Dell Grey was family.

Mary Dell suffered a stroke several months ago and sadly things went steadily downhill. During those awful months she was watched over and cared for by her son Greg Eversole (my friend since fourth grade), her sister Brenda Taylor (my friend for years now), with help from their family and friends. When Mary Dell passed away everyone was understandably devastated.

A small group of friends and I knew Mary Dell for nearly forty years. In all of that time we remained close, bound by the glue of her loyal friendship with each of us. It was an honor when Mary Dell’s family asked if we, along with others, would speak at her service.

There was little prior discussion between those of us asked to speak. There was no planning, coordinating, or comparing notes, yet it was amazing to hear each of us in turn highlight the same great qualities of this remarkable friend of ours. Over the years she moved from being our second mother to being our best friend. She was forever smiling and always laughing – especially at herself. Those and other heartfelt comments were common themes when each of us spoke.

I’d never spoken at a funeral service and it was difficult for many reasons but she would have done the same for me without hesitation. More difficult than speaking was the process of picking just a very few things to say about our many years of friendship. I hope I did her and her family justice as I tried to recognize her loyalty, sense of humor, and devotion to God. I asked Greg and Brenda before writing this blog post about Mary Dell and I thank them for instantly agreeing. Mary Dell pushed me to blog and was a constant source of encouragement. I wanted more people to know what a friend she was. She was an incredible friend to so many.

Below is what I said at the service.

It’s hard to sum up thirty-eight years of friendship in just a few minutes. I’ve known Mary Dell since I was just fifteen. I’ve known Greg and Billy since fourth grade and I still remember Mary Dell’s very first words to me: “Why on earth do you have your feet on my sofa?”

I was at her house because she’d allowed Greg to invite Billy and me to the beach with them for the week. We, and other friends along the way, repeated that beach trip every summer for over a decade. Mary Dell’s generosity provided Greg, Billy, and me with some of the happiest memories we’ll ever have.

During those early years Mary Dell was mother not just to Greg but to me and Billy too. She watched us grow from kids to young adults. She advised us, guided us, laughed and cried with us and soon became the person we called when we needed to work through problems. At a moment’s notice one of us might call her to a “meeting”, which is how we referred to our coffee talks at Aunt Sarah’s. No matter which one of us called her she’d say “Of course I’ll be there!” and in she’d walk, high heels and a smile, “Hello boys!”

Years passed and she morphed from parental figure to friend. Our best friend. She grew older and we grew up and many times it was she who called a meeting about problems of her own and off we three went to meet her. Some of the deepest, silliest, and funniest conversations I’ve ever had were with those three. The four of us were inseparable for a time.

When life got busier we didn’t hang out quite as much but she was only a phone call away. Whether I called her or she called me I could count on a good hour of laughing. She was always smiling and laughing. She loved to laugh, especially at herself, and loved it if you laughed at her too!

One day she called and started the conversation in typical hilarious Mary Dell fashion:

“Save us all, you will not believe the hideousness I have just been through!”

Of course I laughed knowing a good one was coming. “What happened?”

“Well, I was reading in bed when something on the leg of my pants caught my eye!”

“What was it?” I asked.

“Something hideous!”

“What was it?” I asked again.

“I couldn’t tell! I didn’t have my contacts in and I didn’t dare move for fear the loathsome creature would bite me!”

“Was it a spider?” I asked.

“Ohhh Stuart, it appeared to be the mother of all tarantulas so I screamed and jumped out of bed and stomped my feet to dislodge the beast!”

“Did it fall off?” I asked.

“No! I shrieked and flailed and it didn’t budge so I ran outside and stripped off my pants right there on the deck! Call the law!”

“Did you kill it?” I asked.

“Well, I dropped my pants on the deck and stomped them. Stuart, I nearly stomped a hole in the deck making sure I killed the evil thing!”

“So what was it?” I asked again. I’d been laughing hysterically all along.

“Well bless, I’d gotten so out of breath from all of the stomping that it took me a minute before I could shake my pants out.”

“And what was it?” I asked.

“Well, I unfurled my stomped pants and there it was. It fell out right onto the deck!”

“A spider?” I asked.

“Lordddd no, it was one of my false eyelashes that had gotten stuck to the back of my leg.

Mary Dell was always poised, always looked perfect, but never, ever, took herself too seriously.

A few years ago she asked if I would help her make a cottage garden in her yard. I jumped at the chance and we spent an entire summer making it happen. There were days we intended to work but instead sat on her deck talking. It was over the course of those months working outside together that she and I had a lot of deep conversations. She spoke openly, always smiling, about how much her faith and love of God meant to her.

She had watched me grow but I watched her grow too. She confessed regrets about things she had or hadn’t done in life, just like the rest of us. She wondered if she’d been a good person and hoped to become a “decent Christian” as she would say. I saw a calmness come over her that I hadn’t seen before and I think it was directly related to her faith. She credited her sister Brenda with guiding her in the right direction. Mary Dell often mentioned that she knew in the end she was going home to heaven.

One morning during that gardening summer I called to let her know I was on my way. No answer. I tried several times and still no answer. Knowing she lived alone I worried a little and called Greg. No answer. I just thought ok, she’s busy, she’ll call later. And she did. She’d been out of town and laughed at the anxiety in my voice in all of the voicemails I’d left.

It was no big deal. She said she and Greg had gone up home to see Mamaw, that was all. Since I’d worried, she said she’d let me know ahead of time from then on . She kept her word. From then on she left the same voicemail for me before every trip, “Hey kiddo, if you’re looking for me, don’t worry, I’ve gone up home.” After each trip she’d call and we’d catch up and laugh. She was one of those people you could actually hear smile over the telephone.

During all of these past thirty-eight years, when schedules aligned, Mary Dell, Greg, Billy, and I would meet up. Regardless of the amount of time that had passed in the interim, we’d fall right back to where we’d left off, just like we’d done for decades. Just the four of us.

I saw Mary Dell for the last time this past Christmas Eve.

I went to her house and Greg walked with me to her bed to tell her I was there. She had her eyes closed but when Greg said “Hey Mom, look who’s here.” she looked up. In spite of the stroke, in spite of the awful things it had done to her, she looked at me and smiled. She was incredibly weak but she lifted her hand towards me. In all the years I knew Mary Dell I had never held her hand until that night.

Greg and I spent some time with her and soon Billy arrived.  Mary Dell mostly slept but we made sure we joked and laughed and I’m sure she heard us and was glad. Later on that evening at one point she opened her eyes and looked at us. In that quiet room with her were only Greg, Billy, and me, like a thousand evenings before. I’ll never forget that few minutes.

And I will never forget Mary Dell or her influence on me. I will miss her. She was unique, funny, and always one of my best friends.

But Greg and Brenda, when we look for her and can’t find her, we can use her own words for a little comfort:

“Hey kiddo, if you’re looking for me, don’t worry, I’ve gone up home.”

Stuart M. Perkins

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1. magic marker

“No, no, no!”

That tone of reprimand rang a bell for some reason. Behind me in the check-out line, a young mother wrestled something from her toddler’s tight grip.

“No, no, no!” she repeated. The little boy had grabbed a ball point pen from a display rack near the cash register. Having swiftly removed the cap, he was about to demonstrate his unique brand of artwork across a stack of Washington Posts. He clenched his little fist when his mother tried to take the pen. What child doesn’t like to draw?

I drew constantly as a child. Pens and pencils were my implements of choice and when I could sneak it away I’d use my oldest sister’s fountain pen until it emptied. She always wondered why her ink ran out so quickly and unless she reads this it will remain a decades-old secret. Of course I had a box of Crayola crayons, 64 count with a built-in sharpener. I lived large. One thing I’d never used, but craved greatly, was a magic marker. I didn’t have one, but Mama did.

I’d seen her use it once then toss it into something in the back of the high cabinet above the stove. I was too short then to know the secrets of that cabinet, but one day as Mama backed out of the driveway to go to the grocery store I seized the opportunity to learn. Although home alone, I quietly slid a kitchen chair to the stove, quietly climbed up, and quietly eased open the cabinet door. I saw spices, aspirin, glue, rubber bands, and a deck of playing cards. That was it. Disappointed, I started to close the cabinet, but that’s when I saw it. There, from inside an old coffee mug, wedged between broken pencils and a pair of scissors, it called to me. A black magic marker!

Quietly I reached in and quietly I plucked the marker from the mug. Just as quietly I removed the cap, catching a whiff of that distinct and what I considered beautiful aroma. In slow motion I turned to hop from the chair. I’d been quiet and I’d be quiet as I drew with this marvelous thing. I’d return it to the mug when done and no one would know. Nothing and no one could be as quiet as me and that marker. Except Mama.

“No, no, no!” Mama said, coming in the back door with an armload of groceries.

“You can’t use that. It’ll get everywhere and it will never wash off.” she continued.

Even when I drew with generic pens, pencils, and crayons Mama made it clear I was to sit at the kitchen table, draw only on the paper, and never get near the walls. No surprise that the notion of me with a magic marker made her a bit nervous. I handed Mama the marker, she returned it to the coffee mug, and I headed to my sister’s room to take out my disappointment on the fountain pen.

With Christmas right around the corner at that point, my sisters and I started making our lists for Santa Claus. I noticed that their extensive lists included things like dolls, dresses, games, and make up. I had written down only one thing.

  1. magic marker

Oh, everyone laughed but to me it was serious. I had to know what it was like to draw with a magic marker. Pens and pencils were great, crayons were fun, and fountain pens were nice while the ink lasted, but I had to have a magic marker!

Christmas morning came and in my spot near the tree was the mountain of gifts Santa Claus generously left every year. As my sisters hugged new dolls and compared games and make up, I marveled at my remote control helicopter and a book on dinosaurs. To the left of a new pair of slippers was a small, plain box. There were no words or pictures to provide a clue, but as I lifted the lid the distinct and beautiful aroma gave it away. A brand new magic marker.

Merry Christmas to me!

I stood in a rush. I had to draw immediately! I ran to the kitchen table where I knew it was safe, grabbed my drawing pad and sat down. Mama, on my heels the entire time, pulled me and the entire kitchen table three feet from the wall. She instantly spread a layer of newspaper beneath my drawing pad, handed me several wet paper towels, and reminded me that magic marker ink would never wash off. Daddy stood by calmly, grinning at Mama’s panic. I think I know which half of Santa Claus was behind that particular gift. I happily drew as the distinct and beautiful aroma filled the kitchen.

For a kid who finally got his magic marker, it really was the most wonderful time of the year.

And Mama was incorrect. Magic marker ink will come off, it just takes rubbing alcohol and three good days. When she wasn’t looking that Christmas morning I’d scribbled a test patch across my knee.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Cheesy Sunset

Despite numerous hairpin curves, the small bus moved easily along the winding road. The driver expertly negotiated each twist and turn while juggling a small microphone into which he promised wonderful views on the way to our final destination, an overlook where we would stop to watch the sunset. Through speakers in our cozy seats we learned interesting facts about the formation, geology, and wildlife of the Grand Canyon.

With his presentation finished, the driver put away his microphone to concentrate on the last few hills before our stop. We passengers peered through the huge windows of the bus and anticipating the wondrous awe of it all, waited quietly.

“Crunch!”

Silence was broken.

“Cruuuunch, crunchcrunchcrunch.”

“Hand me a few, Marion.” the man said as he held out his hand.

“Hold the tub, Stanley.” the woman responded. She handed him a large plastic tub. I craned my neck to see what made the obnoxious sound.

Cheese puffs.

The couple’s synchronized crunching was the only sound in the bus.

Several heads jerked around with mine to identify the noise, but as the driver’s voice came again through the speakers we turned back to the windows. We had arrived at our final stop and the sun would soon go down. We were told to hop off, enjoy the view, and prepare for a beautiful sunset.

We filed slowly from the bus and parted ways as we drifted towards a railed edge of the canyon. In the waning light there was a reverent beauty to the place and each of us carefully picked our way over rocks towards private spots from which to soak up the natural grandeur in peace. We had come from all over, various cities and countries, to enjoy this place each in our own way.

“Crunch!”

“Here.” Marion said, her voice muffled by a full mouth. She handed the cheese puffs to Stanley who took the tub in one arm and locked the other around Marion’s. They helped each other onto a rocky ledge next to me and cradled the plastic tub between them, their hands alternately reaching inside for another puff.

I slowly moved away, along with several others who were standing near Stanley and Marion. I like cheese puffs as much as anyone, but we were there to witness the spectacular sunset in silence. The glow from the lowering sun hit the opposite wall of the canyon and lit up ancient colored layers. Breathtaking, and I was lost in the sight.

Hues of blues and stripes of whites with sun’s rays shining straight onto slate-grays in glorious ways were amazing. From the canyon’s brink the pink and delicate greens were seen and further down the browns and taupes melted into rocky slopes…

“Crunch!”

“That’s a long way down, Marion.” Stanley reported as he casually wiped his mouth.

“The Gram Camyom is bootiful.” Marion replied, pushing two more cheese puffs into her already full mouth.

I moved away, again joined by several others. Some shook their heads at Marion and Stanley as we sought quieter vantage points. We were here to enjoy this experience in peace. I focused again on the massive canyon lit by the setting sun and stared into its vastness.

Ravens rode the winds and the river’s bends cut through rocks and blocks of ancientness. Sand and lime and water and time allow erosion’s explosions of color sublime…

“Crunch!”

“There’s a river down there.” Stanley pointed and nudged Marion with his elbow.

“The Cororaro Rirrer.” Marion clarified, as she plugged a few more cheese puffs into her mouth.

Irritated, I moved further away from the couple with several others right behind me. We had the right to enjoy this special sight as we wished and the disturbing nuisance of this couple was unacceptable. Several near me grumbled that those two could not possibly enjoy all that was before them if they were going to stand there and eat. I agreed. This was a magical display and it was doubtful those two noticed. We walked even further away from the couple.

“Marion!” Stanley shouted. “There’s orange everywhere!”

I stopped. So did others in the group. We could hardly believe the excitement in Stanley’s voice. Could it be that the wonder of it all finally hit him. And her?

The history and mystery and arid display of scraggly shrubs clinging and bringing life to ledges with wedges of color was a wonder. Colors the couple finally noticed?

We turned towards them seeking their source of excitement, expecting maybe, a glorious glow of tangerine bluffs illuminated by the final seconds of the setting apricot sun? No.

Stanley was wiping orange cheese puff dust from Marion’s face.

Exquisite scenery and wonder of the place aside, we laughed.

They laughed too and as Stanley continued to brush away dusty crumbs, Marion held out the plastic tub towards our group. With orange fingertips she pointed at the puffs, offering some to us all.

Laughter and giggles continued as Marion and Stanley insisted on sharing. Some accepted, so then did a few more, and soon orange finger tips pointed out rock formations and layers of various deposits. More orange fingertips pointed at one last raven making its way to roost. Orange fingers scrambled for the last few puffs at the bottom of the tub as the sun made its exit and orange hands applauded the golden orb as it disappeared from sight.

Riding back on the bus in the dark I pondered the Grand Canyon. Truly a wonder of the world, I’d eagerly anticipated my trip to see it. Though the experience may not have been the quiet spiritual one I’d imagined, thanks to Marion and Stanley, who was I to begrudge them having the experience in their own way?

Could be they enjoyed the canyon more than the group of teenagers who will only remember it as a backdrop for their selfies. Or maybe they enjoyed it more than the men who remained huddled smoking cigarettes beside the bus. And they may have enjoyed it more than the groups of kids who never left the branches of the crooked pine tree they climbed several times. Still, in this world full of millions of people, we were the only ones there at that time in that place, enjoying it together. And that was how I was supposed to experience it.

But, it might be nice to have a little more serenity during my next visit. I was surprised when the others who followed me away from the distraction of the couple then actually chose to join them, laughing, eating, and forgetting their desire for a peaceful sunset. Had they given up and given in? I was amazed by the sight of the canyon. It’s surely something to behold and I’ll never get the stunning formations and colors out of my mind.

Or the cheese puff dust from under my fingernails.

Stuart M. Perkins

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