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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Nannie’s Roses

Nannie would do it here, I think.

“Snip”

And probably right here.

“Snip”

This one could use it too.

“Snip”

With new clippers in hand I trimmed spent flower stems from sad looking rose bushes in the backyard. These were nothing like the ones my grandmother used to grow. When I was a child Nannie had dozens of healthy rose bushes vibrantly blooming in the yard around her farmhouse. I don’t think she had purchased a single one of them.

Some may have been given to her by friends, but most she had rooted herself. Usually people admire the gift of a flower arrangement for days until the flowers fade and are thrown away. Not Nannie. Almost upon arrival, flower arrangements of any kind and especially those containing roses were dismantled, clipped, stripped, dipped in rooting powder and plugged into her rooting bed. Some months later and voila! One more rose bush for her yard or to give to someone “down at church”.

As a child it seemed a miracle to me that short thorny sticks with a few wilted leaves could become anything at all. I said so to Nannie, remarking that I thought it a miracle and asking how she could be sure they would grow. She agreed it was a miracle and said she was never sure they would grow; she had faith they would grow.

Nannie’s faith was the backbone of her existence. I’ve never known a more faithful Christian than my grandmother. She didn’t preach about what should be done, she shared her faith showing what could be done. A true teacher by example. Oh sure, she often asked why I hadn’t been in Sunday School the week before, or said if I went to church the next Sunday she’d sit with me, and other guiding comments any grandmother would make but she had a way of weaving her suggestions and lessons into everyday conversations. We had many good and deep conversations while working in her rose beds, most of them about the importance faith and family played in her life.

I’ve never claimed to be a good Christian. Actually she never made that claim about herself either, being a modest woman, but to everyone else she certainly was. All who met her were struck by the love she had for her family and her endless solid faith in God.

Nannie died twenty five years ago. Only twice in my life have I attempted poetry and both pieces were written about her shortly after her death. I reread this poem after all these years and had to smile. Economy of words has never been my forte when writing but I had to get it out, I suppose. With few alterations I’ve included it below.

I’m solid in my own beliefs and thankful that a remarkable woman, who happened to be my own grandmother, was there to guide me in such a way that I learned early on about the power of faith and importance of family. But this poem isn’t about me and my beliefs or love of family as much as it is about Nannie and my respect for the lifelong commitment she showed to hers.

 

 

Nannie’s Roses

 

I loved helping Nannie

With her roses. One day

She tried telling me something

That went sort of this way:

 

“I like watching things bloom,

Not just flowers, you know.

With the right sort of touch

You make anything grow”.

 

People and roses,

She told me that day,

Both need some training

To grow the right way.

 

“Sometimes they ramble

To grow where they could,

But it’s for me to see

That they grow where they should”.

 

And I knew she meant us

For as everyone knows,

Each one in her family

She considered a rose.

 

She rooted us strongly.

We were tended and groomed.

Then she’d smile as she waited,

She knew we would bloom.

 

She said “Family and roses

Were trained by my hand.

The old ones grew tall

And learned how to stand.

 

My younger ones now

Are not quite so tame.

Their blooms may be different

But I love them the same.

 

And I know with some work

And the help of my hands

They’ll grow as the others

And with them they’ll stand”.

 

“But these older ones now,

Still need help today?”

I asked and she said,

“No I’ve shown them the way.

 

I’ve given them love

And plenty of room.

They’re on their own now

To grow and to bloom.

 

For both family and roses

There does come the time

To depend on their own strength

And let go of mine.”

 

Now we and the roses,

Alone we all stand.

Sadly she’s gone

With her strong guiding hand.

 

Each a rose in her garden,

We were guided with love.

Now she’s watching us bloom

From somewhere above.

 

As we bloomed in her garden,

We’re all sure somehow,

That she’s a rose blooming

In His garden now.

 

Stuart M. Perkins

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Raker Man

The tropical sun was intense but from the shade we sipped Pina Coladas and stared at the blue Caribbean. A vacation in the Dominican Republic! We staked claim to a favorite cabana and by afternoon were chatting with beachside neighbors. Diane in the next cabana knew a lot about the area and in the balmy breeze we compared notes on favorite restaurants as we enjoyed the beach.

The next hot day while eating lusciously ripe strawberries I caught sight of the trio working in the sun. We’d noticed the daily routine of these three whose job it was, apparently, to clear the beach each day of seaweed washed up during the night. They were a motley band in ragged clothes. Locals in need of work I supposed, and hard work it was. Each day they scoured the beach, raking and hauling debris. An older worker lagged behind. The effort it took to push a loaded wheelbarrow through soft sand slowed him down. He usually raked alone, stopping often to wipe sandy sweat from his face. He has to be thirsty I thought, as I sipped cold coconut water.

On the following morning, just as I devoured a heaping bowl of chilled watermelon, I saw the old raker man diligently working over the beach. Mere yards from chattering sunbathers, clattering dishes filled with tropical delights, and Mimosas clanking toasts to vacations, this old barefoot man in torn pants worked silently. Unnoticed. Head down as he worked, I waited for him to look up.

He looked up. I waved.

Puzzled, he stared at me and returned to his work. He has to be hot I thought, as the waiter served our Pina Coladas.

I took a sip of mine. It tasted like guilt.

“How much do you think he’s paid?” I asked Francisco and nodded towards the raker. Before he could answer I heard a groan from the next cabana.

“Well, don’t you give him money.” Diane yelled. “He’ll get lazy. Anyway he’ll never even thank you.” With that, she told the waiter to hand her a magazine, brush away the sand stuck to her back, and bring lunch to the cabana so she wouldn’t have to get up.

Judging me over her magazine, Diane said nothing.

“That’s hard work he’s doing.” I continued with Francisco.

“Well, don’t tell him.” Diane yelled again. “He’ll whine about having to do it and he’ll never even thank you for noticing.” With that, she told us she was staying on vacation an extra week because she was sick and tired of the rigors of her job.

Staring at me over her calendar, Diane said nothing.

I watched the raker struggle with another load of seaweed. He sometimes tripped and fell as he shoved the heavy load down the beach. The ceviche and slices of fruit the waiter set down in front of me looked nice, but I couldn’t eat them.

Days passed and I continued to wave to the raker each morning. He eventually waved back and towards the end of our vacation he even waved first. I never saw interaction of any kind between him and anyone else on the beach. Was this man invisible?

“Is it ok to give him some money?” I asked Francisco. I’d hesitated to do so, less from Diane’s comments and more for fear I would offend the man.

“It could be a tip. How much would a little cash mean to him?” I continued.

“It would mean the world.” Francisco responded.

Diane yelled to us. “Well, he’ll become a beggar if you give him money. Like I said, he’d never even thank you!”

On the morning of our final day I saw the raker as usual, head down, combing the sand. For reasons I’m not even sure of I’d still not given him a tip and I was sorry about that. I mentioned my regret to Francisco, but it was our last day on the beach and I had no cash with me.

“I have cash.” Francisco said as he rifled through his bag. Happy, I think, to bring an end to my weeklong obsession on which I’d taken no action!

As the raker’s work brought him nearer the cabana, he and I waved. This time Francisco stood and waved too, then motioned the man to come over. Clearly perplexed by this new routine the raker slowly left his wheelbarrow and approached us. We quickly realized he spoke absolutely no English but in an awkward conversation consisting at various points of Spanish or French, we learned he was Haitian and had come to the Dominican Republic in search of work. He was in the middle of a rough and miserable time.

Francisco held cash towards the raker and pointed at me. “He wants to thank you for working so hard to keep the beach clean.”

The raker stared at the cash and I waited for him to smile. Instead, he stepped back and threw his hands over his head. Oh no. We’d insulted him.

He looked back and forth at us, his eyes filling with tears as he stepped forward to shake our hands. He shook our hands for several minutes before even touching the money which he very slowly took from Francisco’s hand. He spoke rapidly the entire time. I don’t know what his mouth said but his face said thank you. He wiped his tears and returned to the wheelbarrow. We sat back down fighting tears of our own.

“Well, now you’ve done it.” Diane yelled over the heaping plate of lobster on her lap. Butter dripped from her chin. “He’ll be back. He’ll be back ten times today begging for more! Did he even say thank you?”

I just shrugged my shoulders at her. I was sure the man was thankful but I had no idea what he said.

With a disapproving look, Diane said nothing.

Francisco and I returned to our Pina Coladas. I sipped mine, a bit tastier now, and watched for the raker. If he returned I hoped Diane wouldn’t notice. Silly me. Still, it was the end of the day before she got the chance to say she told us so.

“I knew it!” Diane yelled.

I looked in the direction of the half-eaten drumstick she pointed at the beach and saw the raker running towards our cabana.

“He’s going to ask for more and never even say thanks. Not once.” Diane said smugly.

The raker stopped in front of us and leaned down. Knowing he knew no English we waited for him to say something, anything. From the next cabana, Diane waited too.

The raker leaned a bit closer. “Thank you.” he said in English.

Before we could respond, he smiled and ran back down the beach.

Diane said nothing.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Thanks Alice

I sipped the watery coffee and unwrapped my egg biscuit. Hitting the highway early and with another hour ahead of me, I’d pulled off to go through the drive-thru window of a lone fast-food place surrounded by woods. Nice, I thought. I’ve always found eating in my car preferable to the noisy interiors of those restaurants. It was quiet and peaceful with no kids screaming.

“Mommy!” the kid screamed.

It was a little girl. She and two other kids stood with their backs flat against an old beat up car parked a few spaces away.

“Mommy!” she screamed again. A little more panic in her voice this time. All three kids looked around in different directions but never moved from their spots. Puzzled, I stopped eating and watched for a minute as I tried to understand. That’s when Mommy appeared from the woods with a baby on her hip and a long thin stick in her hand.

“But where’s Daddy?” the screaming little girl asked, still in a panic.

Daddy appeared from the woods holding a toddler’s hand. He, too, carried a long thin stick.

When Daddy fumbled around the edges of the driver’s side window I realized they were locked out of their car. Mommy and kids stood by while Daddy tried with first one long stick and then the other to get into the window. The first stick was too thick and the second broke just as he seemed on the verge of success.

They need to find someone with a coat hanger, I thought. I’ve seen people get into locked cars using those. But it was so early in the morning and with no one else in the parking lot I wasn’t sure who might have one.

Oh wait. I did.

I popped my trunk from inside and got out of the car. It only took seconds to go into my luggage and grab the one wire coat hanger I had among several plastic ones. I heard an odd rattle, but in a hurry I paid no attention and shut the trunk. Daddy’s eyes lit up as I approached with the coat hanger and Mommy herded the kids aside so he could try again. The screaming little girl was now crying. Mommy had her hands full with the other four so I squatted down beside the little girl.

“Don’t worry. It will be ok.” I said, patting her on the arm. She seemed to be taking this whole incident very seriously!

“My name is Alice.” she said, voice cracking.

“Well Alice, don’t worry. It will be ok.” Her Daddy contorted himself in attempts to maneuver the coat hanger into the window. I hoped it would work quickly so Alice wouldn’t give up and panic again.

Pop!

“And there you go!” I said to her when we heard the door unlock.

Sighs of relief from Mommy and Daddy who thanked me profusely as they packed the five kids back into the old beat up car. Daddy joked saying the worst thing of all was that his coffee was now cold. We laughed and I waved as they drove off.

Bang! Bang! As they left, their old car backfired twice, maybe in celebration. Heading back to my own car I reached for the keys in my pocket.

They weren’t in my pocket.

They were in the trunk.

I’d dropped them into the trunk while getting the coat hanger. That was the odd rattle I’d heard. I could pop the trunk from inside of the car though, simple enough.

The car was locked.

I looked around. It was still very early, dead quiet, and I was the only car in the lot. Not sure how long it would take to get into my car, or have someone get into my car there in the middle of nowhere, I just leaned against the door with my head in my hands.

Bang! Bang!

From around the fast-food place came the old beat up car. As it turned out, Daddy just couldn’t keep driving with cold coffee and he’d circled back for more. By the look on his face when he saw me standing there I could tell he knew exactly what had happened. He pulled up beside my car, coat hanger in hand, and set to work.

I watched him struggle a bit. It didn’t seem to be working as easily with my car as it had with his. He bent the coat hanger several ways, trying each new bend to see if it was the right one. His family watched eagerly but everyone stayed in the car.

Everyone, apparently, except Alice. I looked down to see what was tugging at my shirt.

“It will be ok.” she said.

I smiled at her but I wasn’t so sure. Daddy seemed to be struggling with the coat hanger and had worked up a slight sweat. He tried to unlock it, I tried to unlock it, and he was trying again when I decided to stop wasting their time and call someone to get into my car. I guessed it was time to give up but Daddy kept at it.

“It will be ok.” Alice said again as she patted my arm.

Pop!

And there you go!

Stuart M. Perkins

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Filed under positive, Uncategorized