Monthly Archives: January 2015

Birds Of A Feather

My bus arrived on time in spite of the foul weather. I shook my umbrella, climbed the steps, and headed straight for the empty seat beside Marble Lady. I call her that now because last week she cleaned her purse during our morning commute and we discussed the small green marble she discovered in its zippered pocket. She’d found the marble in her yard, dropped it into her purse thinking it may have once belonged to her now adult son, and thought no more about it until she came across it that day on the bus. After we talked, she realized her sentimental feelings attached to it and instead of getting rid of the marble, she kept it.

This morning she faced the window when I boarded the bus. As I sat down she turned to give a “good morning” nod to whoever it was beside her. Seeing me, she broke into a smile. There was a question I’d been waiting to ask her but didn’t know my chance would come so soon.

“Have you lost your marbles?” I knew she’d remember last week’s conversation.

“No,” she laughed, “but I gave one away!”

Our bus stopped with traffic ahead of us, poor weather making it a slow commute. While we waited, she explained that she’d told her son about the small green marble. He agreed it was likely his because he remembered his set of marbles as a little boy. She’d told her son about our conversation and how a rush of sentimentality made her want the marble she initially disregarded. She had been affected by memories the marble sparked.

“I’ll never look at a marble the same way!” she insisted.

Marble Lady continued by saying she and her son had enjoyed a conversation of their own about sentimentality. They had laughed and remembered some good times but agreed that neither of them were usually prone to those feelings.

“Still, I’ll never look at a marble the same way.” she repeated. “Most things just don’t affect me like that.”

“Not me.” I confessed. “Not sure whether a blessing or a curse, but almost anything can make me sentimental.”

“Almost anything?” her tone begged me to seek professional help.

“Almost anything.” I confirmed with resignation.

The bus crawled forward and stopped again. While we waited, Marble Lady casually wiped moisture from the window to reveal a small bare tree by the street. A single blackbird flew onto a branch. In a moment it was joined by another, then three more, one more, two more, then many more, until suddenly the tree was peppered with blackbirds. They mingled, flapped wings, traded places, and made a ruckus we heard from inside the bus. I stared at the bustling blackbirds as the bus crawled forward a few more feet.

Marble Lady remarked how interesting it is that blackbirds spend most of their lives alone or with one or two more but at certain times of the year they gather from near and far to be together, say whatever it is they say to each other, then part ways knowing they’ll do it again next year. She stopped talking when she noticed me staring at the flock.

“Oh no.” she grinned, remembering how almost anything can make me sentimental. She leaned closer to get my attention. “Don’t tell me that flock of birds makes you feel sentimental?”

“Noooo. Not at all.” I answered. “It makes me feel nostalgic!”

Good manners prevented her eyes rolling.

I attempted an explanation. “I was just thinking how that flock of birds compares to my family.”

Her eyes still didn’t roll but she stifled a laugh. “It makes you feel nostalgic? Tell me how!”

This was a pop quiz, I thought. I could never pass a pop quiz when I was in school. Now here was another, just like the one I had in Chemistry decades ago when I’d only studied for History. My stomach lurched like our bus in the traffic as I pondered just how to articulate my nostalgia.

I explained that my immediate family is large and my extended family is absolutely sprawling. Between aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, spouses and children of all, we’re a lot like those blackbirds. We spend most of our lives alone or with one or two others, but once a year or so we flock together. Just like those birds, there are certain times of the year when we gather from near and far to be together, say whatever it is we say to each other, then part ways knowing we’ll do it all again next year.

I’m sure Marble Lady wanted to tell me it wasn’t she who might have lost her marbles. She stared blankly at me for a second then looked back at the flock of raucous birds. As if on cue their muffled chatter ceased and they emptied the tree in unison to disperse in various directions. Marble Lady turned to look at me again.

“Well, now I will never look at a bird the same way.” she said.

The bus moved on at regular speed, Marble Lady became a birdwatcher, and I wondered whether I’d lost marbles of my own or finally passed a pop quiz.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Small Green Marble

A massive purse sat propped open in her lap as I approached. From the seat beside her she moved a small pack of tissues, two pens, and a broken pencil to make room for me. I took my seat and gasped as something jabbed me in the left buttock.

“I think you forgot this.” I said, handing her the bristled end of a broken hair brush.

“Sorry!” she shook her head apologetically. “I wanted to clean out this old purse on the ride to work and I have thrown things everywhere.”

The bus continued its route while she continued her cleaning. She shuffled through hand-written notes, balled up scraps of paper, and checked and rechecked zippered compartments in the giant purse.

“Well look at this.” she said as she held up a small green marble. “I found it in the yard one day when I left the house and forgot I’d put it in here. My son is grown but he had a set of green marbles he played with all the time. I’m sure it was one of his.”

“You should hold on to it then.” I said. She stared at the marble she held in the air.

“I’m too sentimental as it is.” she said and handed me the marble. “Here, if someone says you’ve lost your marbles, now you have proof you haven’t!” We both laughed and I took the small green marble she pressed into my hand.

“It’s crazy to hold on to it just because it reminds me that my son was a tiny boy.” she stared through the bus window.

“Not really.” I said. “I have boxes of things like that marble”.

She turned around and tossed the last few items back into her purse that had been scattered in her seat as we’d talked. She looked at me expecting, I assumed, to hear what I had in the boxes I’d mentioned.

“You wouldn’t keep something as silly as a marble, would you?” she asked.

“Ohhh yes.” I said as I thought of my sentimental trinkets. “From the time I was a kid I’ve kept a puppy tooth our collie lost, a feather from a quail I hatched in an incubator, and a heart-shaped rock I found in the pasture.”

“I just might keep those too.” she smiled out of courtesy.

On a roll, I continued. “I have the cracker tin my grandmother used in her kitchen, a tiny basket my son carved from a peach pit, and a pocket knife my uncle gave me for helping him one day.”

“I just might keep those too!” she smiled again and seemed to give thought to the relevance of everyday trinkets.

I told her more about various items I have in boxes and drawers, any one of which could look like meaningless trash to others. To me, each has a story.

Who could know the number of times my grandmother’s caring hands opened the cracker tin? The sharp little puppy tooth is a reminder of my collie’s first year as my best friend. The peach pit basket was carved by my son with the help of my father who passed away just over a year ago.

Every tiny silly trinket I keep is accompanied by a wonderful story. All I need to do is pick one up to go back in time for a minute or two. Good reminders of great times. At the mention of each of my keepsakes the woman beside me agreed she just might keep that one too.

I felt I’d bored her with too much nostalgia when I saw her turn away and stare straight ahead. She had a slight smile on her face, though, when she turned to me and pointed at my coat.

One step ahead of her, I had already reached for the small green marble in my pocket. I pressed it into her hand.

“I just might keep that.” she said.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Look For Sprinkles

Today had been a cabbage of a day. Now I needed sprinkles.

It was a harried, unpleasant day at work. Nothing extraordinarily gruesome, just the sort of day we all have now and then which we’re glad to see come to a close. A hectic day full of irritable people and I resigned myself to endure it to the end. Yes, it was a cabbage of a day but once the cabbage was gone I could have my sprinkles.

As a kid growing up in Richmond, Virginia, I sometimes accompanied Mama on shopping trips to Southside Plaza, the local shopping center in its day. For me, eating at the S&W cafeteria there at the Plaza was the highlight of the trip. Mama picked our lunch items but allowed me the dessert of my choice. I always asked for pudding with sprinkles.

Sprinkles made me smile.

Desserts waited for me in neat rows behind glass at the end of the line where Mama paid for lunch. As she did, I looked over pudding options searching for those with sprinkles on top. There were many desserts but not all were sprinkled with happiness and I became frustrated if I could find none. Mama waited patiently for me to discover them, knowing I’d just not seen them yet.

“Sometimes you really have to look for sprinkles.” Mama said. “Just keep looking.”

She was right, of course, they were there all along but sometimes it took skill to see them. I chose my pudding, enjoyed my sprinkles, and smiled all the while.

I’m sure Mama picked a variety of things for each lunch, but of all the items she chose for me during all of the lunches we had at the S&W, I can recall only one. Cabbage. It was disgusting. Mama’s rule was hard though – eat my lunch first, and then I could have my dessert. I learned to endure the cabbage knowing that sprinkles awaited me on the other side. Then I would smile.

I thought about that on the bus ride home from work today. What a cabbage of a day I’d endured and how ready I was for sprinkles. As I sighed in relief at the day being through I overheard an elderly man in the seat ahead of mine telling jokes to his friend. I smiled at each of his punch lines. Were those my sprinkles?

When I stepped from the bus to walk home I saw two young boys carrying a fat black puppy. Not knowing which one it wanted more, the puppy rapidly licked first one boy and then the other, back and forth. The boys’ uncontrollable giggles made me smile. Were those my sprinkles?

I didn’t know what I expected my sprinkles to be today but surely jokes and a puppy didn’t qualify. Or did they? I had smiled, after all.

We all have cabbage days and as sappy as it sounds we all need to look for sprinkles. It’s imperative. We might find them in a stranger’s jokes, the comical antics of a puppy, or a million other places. As Mama taught me, it sometimes takes skill to see the sprinkles and the more cabbage of a day you have, the harder your sprinkles might be to find, but they’re out there.

Find the sprinkles. Tomorrow could hold another serving of cabbage and the next day could hold even more, so find the sprinkles where you can. It’s not always easy.

“Sometimes you really have to look for sprinkles.” Mama said. “Just keep looking.”

Stuart M. Perkins

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Why Do This To Myself?

Working in D.C. is an experience. It’s a vibrant, dynamic city full of people rushing to and from work by bus, metro, bike, or car. Maintaining the hectic pace keeps me on my toes. I love it, but everyone needs the occasional break. A few years ago I made the decision to spend a weekend alone at my uncle’s cottage on the Chesapeake Bay.

I love the old cottage that sits surrounded by bay, pine trees, and marsh, but before that weekend I’d only spent time there with family. There are usually so many of us that between kids squealing, television blaring, and dishes clanking, it’s no quieter than Pennsylvania Avenue during rush hour. I’d never experienced the place alone and my plan was to leave behind work, phone, and television for a long weekend of solitude. I was excited to abandon “civilization”. Or was I? Spend a weekend alone with no one and no technology?

Why do this to myself?

Unpacking was easy. I threw one small bag onto the bed, turned off my cell phone, vowed not to use the television, and sat to watch waves roll on the bay. Minutes later I reached for my phone. Surely someone had called, emailed, or sent a text. No, I wasn’t to check, I remembered. I put down the phone and reached for the television remote. Surely there was something in the news I needed to hear. No, I wasn’t to check that either.

I swatted mosquitoes on the way to my car. I’d decided to lock my phone and the remote in the glove compartment so as to avoid temptation. Once back inside I looked around the little cottage where usually kids laughed, television blared, and someone chatted on a phone. Now – dead silence. I twiddled my thumbs and wondered whether there might be a radio around. I resisted the urge to search and continued to twiddle and stare at the room.

Why do this to myself?

Bored, I went to bed early and braced myself for a dull morning – but it dawned beautifully. Without an alarm clock to shock me into awareness I slept until pink rays of diluted sunrise streamed into the bedroom. I sat up and looked towards the water. A smattering of clouds along the horizon gave the light something to play with, making the sight all the more spectacular.

Unable to check my phone, I walked to the beach to see a startled heron poke at small fish just out of reach. Knowing I couldn’t watch the morning news, I walked a bit further and witnessed an osprey snatching a silvery fish from the salt water. Further on my walk two bald eagles watched me from high in a dead pine at the edge of the marsh. Sun bleached driftwood, tiny shells, and horseshoe crabs were here and there along the way.

That evening, unable to check email, I walked down the sandy road leading from the cottage. Deer hidden in cattails along the swampy ditch grunted before they disappeared with graceful leaps. A fox paused while crossing the road and sunset hitting its reddish coat made it the color of fire. As it bolted towards the marsh, a bluebird swooped down from a nearby tree to pick up a cricket for dinner. That evening I again went to bed early, not from boredom, but with the satisfaction of a good day and the expectation of another.

Over the next few days I fell effortlessly into the cycle of sunrise and sunset. Changes on the bay were hourly as wind molded the waves and sunlight gave them glitter. When there were no waves at all the bay was majestically peaceful. A thunderstorm on the second evening made for an unbelievable show over the water and I’d never truly listened to rain until that night. What a magical few days I’d had.

At the end of the weekend I packed reluctantly and realized I’d not thought about my phone anymore. What had I done with it? And where was the remote that was usually on the table? Ah, yes, now I remembered. As I checked drawers to make sure I’d packed everything I’d brought I saw a radio. I laughed as I tossed it back. Who would need one of those?

I left the cozy cottage and drove down the sandy road heading home. Along the way, half hidden by a blanket of trumpet vines heavy with orange flowers, a deer stared at me for a moment. She flicked her ears to shoo mosquitoes then turned and melted easily into the woods. Her fawn followed but looked at me over its speckled shoulder before melting away just as easily as its mother. They were lucky, I thought, being parts of the rhythm and peace that was this place.

Once on the paved road I turned on my phone and it buzzed incessantly with incoming messages. The car radio had been on when I’d arrived and it now blasted bad songs and bad news. I remembered things at work I needed to handle, deadlines were now closer, and there would be meetings to attend. Tomorrow I would make a tedious work commute before the sunrise I would miss, then battle emails and phone calls and not be home before the sunset I would also miss.

Somewhere back there by the water a fawn would follow its mother, an osprey would watch for fish, and sun sparkling on the waves of the bay would go unseen because I would be back at work surrounded by schedules and technology.

Why do this to myself?

Stuart M. Perkins

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