Mitzi

We were lying side-by-side on soft green moss in the shade of an old pine. Me on my back, hands cupped behind my head. She so close I could hear her breathing. I talked about things bothering me at the time as she stared into my eyes. Though young, I realized how lucky I was to have her. She blinked. Such long eyelashes. But I didn’t love her for the long eyelashes, or for the perfectly white teeth, not even for the way she adored me.

She was still looking into my eyes when she burped, wagged her tail twice, and continued chewing on a stick.

I loved her because she was my dog.

Mitzi was a collie. I was nine when we went as a family to meet the litter. I don’t remember whether we picked her or she picked us, but in short order we were on our way home. Mama and Daddy in the front seat while in the back seat my sisters and I fought over whose lap the fluffy puppy should ride home on.

It would take a long time to tell about her lifetime and anyone who’s loved a dog knows the telling doesn’t do it justice. You have to have felt it. As a puppy she was constantly hugged and kissed. As she grew up she became our best friend. And in her old age she earned the respect of family and friends as an intelligent, faithful old girl. We treated her like a member of the family.

Because that’s exactly what she was.

During her life Mitzi accompanied us kids on hundreds of trips to the pasture, ran countless miles behind our bikes, and joyfully ratted us out during games of hide-and-seek. She was a happy constant when we returned from school. Not only did her tail wag, her entire backside swayed vigorously when she saw us hop from the school bus. Many families have several dogs over the years. My family did too and we loved them all, but for me that collie puppy was the dog. Thirteen years into her life, I was then twenty-two, and that happy old collie was still the dog.

When she fell ill it happened fast. I went to work but called home to check on her. Mama hesitated, sniffled a few times, and told me Mitzi died. Back in those days, in spite of regular vet trips starting with her spaying and continuing with regular vaccinations, heartworm prevention was not what it is today and sadly Mitzi was a victim.

I hung up with Mama and went directly to tell my boss that I needed to go home. When she asked why, I said there had been a death in the family. My phrasing had nothing to do with dishonesty. It was the genuine reason. I’d heard she had a dog too so surely she would understand.

She expressed condolences and asked who died. When I said “my dog” there was a slight pause before she giggled and said she couldn’t let me go home for that. With no one to easily cover for me I’d have to stay. Undaunted, I left her office and immediately talked to my coworkers who agreed to cover for me, no problem they said. I returned to tell my boss I’d made arrangements for coverage but she repeated no, I had to stay.

I left.

There was nothing I could do when I got home. Daddy had already buried Mitzi at the edge of the same pasture she played in all her life. Nothing I could do, but to stay at work with that sense of grief would have been pointless. It was Friday, so on Monday I’d talk to my boss about it again. If I still had a job.

It was an emotional weekend. We cried, laughed, talked about Mitzi and talked to Mitzi. Family and friends called to say they were sorry. They treated her death as though she’d been a member of our family.

Because that’s exactly what she was.

Early Monday morning I learned from coworkers that my boss had been very unhappy about my leaving on Friday after she’d told me to stay. I started working and awaited my fate, but my boss didn’t come in that day. On Tuesday she was back.

I tried to read her face as she walked towards me. She said nothing as she handed me the envelope and walked away. I looked at it, puzzled she’d said nothing, and ripped it open expecting my dismissal letter. It contained nothing official, just a small card from her to me.

A sympathy card.

I learned later just why my boss missed work the day before. Sadly, her own dog had been hit by a car over the weekend and hadn’t made it. My boss was understandably upset and stayed home that Monday. She told upper management her absence was due to a death in the family.

Because that’s exactly what it was.

Stuart M. Perkins

 

 

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Hand in Hand

My grandmother, Nannie, died almost thirty years ago but I still tear up at her memory.

At the time she died I had never written much at all, and certainly not attempted poetry, but the urge to express what she meant to me kept surfacing. Her love of God and her insistence that we would all eventually be together again were on my mind as I thought about writing a poem.

Nannie was a second mother to all of her grandchildren, helping our mothers raise us, watch out for us, worry over us and pray for us.

Just after Nannie died I mentioned to a friend that I had a poem in mind, one that kept surfacing when I least expected it. I mentioned how I wished I’d written something for Nannie before she died so she could have read it. My friend had one response.

“Write it for her anyway.”

And so I did.

Some years later that same friend called to let me know her mother died. In discussing what the family intended to do for a service, my friend said she was going to write some things to say about her mother but wished she’d written them while her mother was still alive. I returned the obvious response.

“Write it for her anyway.”

My friend had long forgotten that she’d given me the same suggestion, one that would encourage me to write my first poem. Nannie wasn’t there to read it, but I wrote it for her anyway:

Hand in Hand

You held me tight in times I might
Not have wanted to stand.
A child so young, life just begun,
You there to hold my hand.

Your years flew past, painfully fast,
Sooner than I had planned.
Effort in talking, weakness in walking,
My turn to hold your hand.

But there’ll come a time, both yours and mine
To see wonderful things, so grand.
We’ll meet in that place, a smile on the face
And we’ll hold each other‘s hand.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Alexandria Living Magazine – Our Common Language

Just a little announcement:

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

It’s always a thrill to work with the kind folks at the magazine and as an Alexandria, Virginia resident it was especially fun to contribute.

Below is the link to my piece in the online version of Alexandria Living. Check it out, and if you like, please comment on the magazine website in the space they provide just below the essay.

We would love to hear your feedback!

https://alexandrialivingmagazine.com/lifestyle/our-common-language/

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

Stuart M. Perkins

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The Best Day

The wind was brisk as friends and I plodded through crunchy snow to the top of the hill. Heavy snowfall during the night ended and now in the morning light it appeared as though someone sprinkled glitter across the accumulation. We blew into cupped hands to warm them as we surveyed the glistening slope.

Snow doesn’t fall often in Richmond and if it does it’s rarely deep. Today a good snow had finally come, so we had headed to Forest Hill Park with sleds in tow. We hoped to get in several early rides before crowds reduced the snow to slush, but already we heard muffled voices approaching from across the park.

A group of excited kids, probably half our ages, led two men and a woman in our direction. The children dragged sleds and pulled eagerly at the adults who were stepping through the fresh snow at a painfully slow pace. They said nothing to the kids, just sipped slowly from travel mugs, oblivious of their children’s urgency.

Eventually stopping beside us, the kids immediately split off from the three adults, their youthful shouts and shrill cackles fading as they launched themselves downhill. The adults struggled to juggle discarded gloves and stocking caps tossed aside in the excitement. As the kids squealed in delight the adults stood by solemnly. Already impatiently checking watches, they were motionless except for the irritated shifting of feet. It was clear they were not thrilled to be there.

“Not staying long,” the first man said determinedly.

“Same here,” the second responded. “Anyway, it’s Richmond. Snow will be gone by noon.”

“It’s too windy!” the woman snipped as she pursed her lips and tightened her scarf.

The rosy-cheeked kids, having already taken several frosty rides, appeared back at the top of the hill for another. I moved aside as the woman in the scarf took a few hurried steps towards one little boy to get his attention.

“Just one more time!” she said sternly, tightening her scarf again.

In spite of the warning, the exuberant gang managed several more uninterrupted runs, laughing all the while. On one return trip the little boy yelled to the woman in the scarf. “Ride with us!”

She frowned a “no.” When the boy sailed down the hill she yelled after him, “Just one more time!”

Although my friends and I had arrived early hoping for a hill temporarily to ourselves, we were soon enjoying the frivolity of the young bunch. We challenged them to races and began to time our returns to the hilltop with theirs. At each return one child or another invited the adults to join. At first the grown-ups hardly noticed the invitations, so intent on being miserable, but one by one the kids’ laughter won them over.

I watched the adults finally begin to grin as sleds jetted down the slope—after one hilarious collision at the bottom the three actually howled. Finally, their reluctance was fading.

“They’re having fun,” the first man said. “We might stay a little longer.”

“Same here,” the second man responded. “It’s Richmond. They should enjoy the snow while it lasts.”

The woman casually touched her scarf. “It’s not so bad since the wind died down.”

Drawn in by the children’s joyful whoops, the three adults edged closer for a better view of the kids who now ran and belly-flopped onto their sleds to gain more speed in the already melting snow.

Minutes later as the sleds were being aimed downhill, one of the men, to the surprise of all, tossed aside his mug and rushed the kids. Hopping on the back of a sled, he startled one boy who shrieked with complete joy as the man’s momentum catapulted them both down the slope.

We all laughed. Next time, both men joined the kids.

“Just one more time!” the woman with the scarf yelled when the entire group slid away leaving her alone. In spite of herself, she laughed as they zipped downhill. On their return she needed no invitation. She hopped onto a sled, pushed off and screamed all the way to the bottom. Adults and children, together, took several rides until they agreed that the best of the snow was gone.

When the exhausted children dropped to the snowy ground to rest, I watched as the adults looked at each other in agreement, grabbed sleds, and headed once more for the slope. The kids held on to discarded travel mugs and car keys as they watched the older folks slide down the now-slushy hill. When the exhausted adults returned, panting but smiling, one tired little boy stood up slowly from the snow. Worn out and sweating despite the cold, he called out to the woman in the scarf that he was ready to leave.

The woman looked at him, tightened her scarf, and yelled over her shoulder, “Just one more time!” And with that she sailed down the hill alone, scarf trailing behind in the chilly wind.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Wrap Star!

It was holiday time again. Back from shopping, my sisters raced to their rooms. The sound of hushed whispers mixed with the crinkling of bags stashed hurriedly into closets. Christmas presents. The only thing they enjoyed more than shopping for them was wrapping them.

Mama taught them well. Before Christmas she cleared a table and lined up with military precision her wrapping paper, tape, scissors and ribbon. Unrolling a length of paper over the gift on the table, Mama’s keen eye determined the amount needed for perfect coverage. Her scissors sliced a cut so exact any surgeon would be jealous.

Folds and seams were flawless. The tape was snipped neatly and applied invisibly. Mama was meticulous even to the bow, another step made magically simple. Using several strips of ribbon, she gripped each between her thumb and a blade of the scissors then jerked her hand down each of their lengths. Voila! A festive cluster created by some mysterious feat of wizardry. The perfect bow of curls.

For years Mama repeated her fascinating exactness in gift wrapping and my sisters learned well. Our tree was surrounded by magnificently concealed holiday surprises but I sometimes wondered why they bothered. With paper so tightly formed around each gift it was no mystery what was inside. A book looked like a book. A box was likely a shirt. My new Frisbee was clearly just that. What happened to shaking mysterious gifts and guessing the contents? That was half the fun!

But, their wrapping efforts were works of art. My sisters took pride in their skills and enjoyed the process.

I did not.

My uneven folds and botched tape jobs were the brunt of their jokes. Not that I didn’t care about the gift wrap, but wasn’t all of this going in the trash? My sisters encouraged my efforts though I knew mine would never look like theirs.

They giggled. “Keep trying, you’ll get there.”

I tried to imitate Mama’s keen eye yet ended up unrolling enough paper to wrap any one gift two and a half times. My scissors didn’t glide through the paper, so I was left with torn and jagged edges. Folding ragged bits to hide my blunders only resulted in lumps, wrinkles and ridges. It was bad.

My tape job was worse.

Instead of tidy strips I ripped foot-long pieces knowing it would take that much to rein in my mistakes. Once under control, each of my gifts was ready for a bow. Gripping the scissors, I tried to imitate Mama’s maneuver. During one noble attempt I yanked back hard, the ribbon snapped, and I stabbed my bedroom door. The gash is still visible today.

With wrapping eventually finished, my pitiful packages were made fun of instantly. “Did you just put a bow on a ball of trash?” “Wait, that is a bow, right?” I heard it all. I could never achieve the beauty crafted by my sisters.

They giggled again. “Keep trying. You’ll get there.”

As they wrapped theirs, they chuckled about mine. Enough was enough. If my gifts brought that much Christmas joy even before being opened, then I knew just what to do.

I taped wadded scraps of paper to each gift, forming odd-shaped masses, which I then wrapped in paper ripped from the roll. Who needed scissors? Pulling a length of tape from the dispenser, I wound it entirely around what became a wrinkled blob. No worrying with folds or seams. My gifts looked like distorted little mummies ready for bows.

I decided to forego the bows.

Finally finished, I hauled the gifts to the tree and stood beside the gleaming gift wrapping of the others aligned there in symmetrical perfection. I dumped my pile of Yuletide rubble.

There, let them make fun.

One sister approached the Christmas tree and stared at my heap of colorful debris. As she reached down and grabbed one of the holiday blobs, she called to the others. I waited for their good-hearted ribbing.

“What are these?” she asked as she handed each of them a wrinkled mass.

Eyes began to widen. “Shake it!” “Shake this one!” “What could it be?” they squealed with excitement as they poked and prodded.

For days leading up to Christmas they investigated my oddball gifts. They pondered, guessed and took visiting cousins to the living room to show off the crazy presents. They found humor, not in my mistakes, but in my new style of wrapping. By Christmas Eve they admitted what fun it had already been.

My fancy designs had caused quite the stir.

“How did you decide the shapes?” “How did you make them lumpy?” They agreed that next year instead of forming smooth and perfectly wrapped gifts topped with beautiful bows they would attempt my oddly unique method.

“We’ve wrapped ours the same way for so long. Not sure we could pull this off!” they said.

I giggled. “Keep trying. You’ll get there.”

Stuart M. Perkins

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1. magic marker

“No, no, no!”

That reprimanding tone 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 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. I felt for him.

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. Home alone, I slid a kitchen chair to the stove, climbed up, and 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, and 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!

My heart beat a little faster as I reached in and plucked the marker from the mug. 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, determined to be quiet as I secretly drew with that marvelous thing. I’d return it to the mug when done and no one would know. No one could be as stealthy.

Except for 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 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, 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 one thing only.

  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 seemed like it would never come.

But it did, and when that morning came, 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 about 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 held the precious thing high in the air. 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 of scrubbing. I know, because when she wasn’t looking that Christmas morning I’d scribbled a test patch across my knee.

Stuart M. Perkins

 

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Dumb Little Dish

The dumb little dish meant nothing to me. I threw it in the trash.

Fall had come, temperatures dropped, and I thought it best to bring plants back inside after their summer spent on the sunny side porch. The dumb little dish covered in dirt and crusty old plant fertilizer had been under a Christmas cactus to catch the draining water.

It was an ugly dish too. The last remaining piece of an awful looking partial set of hand-me-down dishes given to me years and years ago when I moved into a new place and had nothing for the kitchen. Each plate, saucer, and cup had a nonsense design of white geese, blue ribbons, and an occasional flower. Or maybe the thing was a sickly butterfly. Altogether hideous.

Over the years, various pieces were broken and thrown away. I began to use the last few dishes as trays under my paltry collection of houseplants. Time and accidents had whittled the set down to this one lone worthless dish. It was filthy. I bought shiny new plastic trays to catch draining water from the plants, so the dumb little dish really meant nothing anymore.

It had two big chips on the edge anyway. One chip happened when my son Evan, only four at the time, turned it upside down to use as a ramp for his MatchBox cars. The second mishap occurred when Greer, only six then, decided it would make a nice boat for Barbie. In a stormy capsizing incident, the boat was chipped a second time. A few chips but so what, I still used the dishes. They were all I had.

In summer we’d sit on the screened porch and Evan would eat sliced hot dogs from those dishes. I’d watch his tiny hands pick up one piece at a time and smile as he popped each into his mouth. Greer would ask for one helping, no now she wanted two, of macaroni and cheese on those dishes and being the fickle little girl she was decided never mind. She wanted pizza.

Evan continued to use a dish or two as car ramps, flying saucers, or to hold his crayons as he colored. Greer’s Barbie often used the dishes as wading pools, boats, or stages from which to sing to imaginary audiences. One Christmas, Greer and Evan got watercolor paint sets from Santa Claus. Every remaining dish in the decrepit old set was called on for use in mixing those paints. The three of us had a grand time!

Those dishes held soups and sandwiches, marbles and doll shoes, eggs and bacon, army men and princess stickers. That ragged old set of dishes was there every evening at the dinner table, every lunch on the porch, and every time one of the kids needed a spaceship or a place to save acorns they found during our walks in the woods together.

The dumb little dish with two chips that meant nothing to me was the last of its set. It had somehow survived Matchbox cars, Barbies and countless meals with my children and me. Many years, and a thousand happy memories later, it was still here.

The dumb little dish meant everything to me. I took it out of the trash.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Alexandria Living – Life is Like a Loaf of Bread

Just a little announcement:

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

It’s always a thrill to work with the kind folks at the magazine and as an Alexandria, Virginia resident it was especially fun to contribute.

Below is the link to my piece in the online version of Alexandria Living.  Check it out, and if you like, please comment on the magazine website in the space just below the essay. We would love to hear your feedback!

https://alexandrialivingmagazine.com/lifestyle/life-is-like-a-loaf-of-bread/

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

Stuart M. Perkins

58 Comments

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Alexandria Living Magazine – Something Small Is Big Enough

Just a little announcement:

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

It was a thrill to work with the kind folks at the magazine and as an Alexandria, Virginia resident it was especially fun to contribute.

Below is the link to my piece in the online version of Alexandria Living.  Check it out, and if you like, please comment on the magazine website in the space just below the essay. We would love to hear your feedback!

https://alexandrialivingmagazine.com/stuart-perkins-something-small-is-big-enough/

Thanks to all those who’ve asked what I’ve been up to lately. Blogging continues to be great fun and has proven to be an exciting pathway to opportunities like this. As their newest columnist I’ll be writing a piece for each issue of Alexandria Living. Exciting!

Stuart M. Perkins

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Nadine

There was a chilly mist in the March air, but I love my early morning walks and this gray gloom wasn’t going to keep me from today’s. I stopped midway on a bridge over the creek to watch a pair of mallards silently pick and poke along the muddy bank. Nothing could ruin this perfect serenity.

“Hey!” the shrill voice called. “Beautiful, right?” The spry old woman pointed towards the ducks as she marched enthusiastically onto the bridge to stand beside me. She twirled her arms in several rapid circles, stretched her back, then leaned on the railing and began doing standing push-ups. Dressed in sweat pants and jacket, baseball cap and sneakers, she had all the markings of devoted walker.

“Hi.” I said tentatively, unsure of what was happening.

“You’re from the South, aren’t you? Hiiiii. That’s how you said it. Hiiiii.” She spoke with her back to me as she stretched her calves. “I’m betting from the South. Keep talking until I say stop and I’ll know if I’m right, but I bet from the South?”

“Yes Ma’am.” I answered.

Her head whirled around towards me.

“No need to say more.” She laughed and raised her arms over her head to bend from side to side, counting slowly to herself. “Hiiiii” She said again. “I won’t forget that!”

She stood straight and adjusted her cap. “I’m from Wisconsin.”

Introductions seemed in order. “My name is Stuart and…”.

“Oh, I won’t remember your name.” She stopped me. “But I won’t ever forget what you said.”

A quick set of jumping jacks, a couple of leg kicks, and she stopped to stretch again. “Walk much?” She asked as she jogged in place.

“Most days. And I always see something interesting.” I nodded towards the two ducks now swimming in the creek.

“Love them.” She said. “I see a lot of birds out here.”

The old woman told me about her own morning walks and rituals. Each day she got up and tried to find ways to keep herself busy. She retired thirty years ago, bought a home in the area, but now at age ninety-three had watched all her friends “move away or pass away”.  She looked down at the creek.

“Old age was ok for the first twenty years!” She giggled slightly. “I used to wonder what the point was because nothing new ever happened.”

“I understand.” I said in my most empathetic tone. “I’m fifty-six and getting older can be rough.” I awaited her sympathy.

“Fifty-six?” She adjusted her cap again. “Why, you’re just a little squirt!”

Forced to defend my comment I agreed with her that I wasn’t elderly, but she herself said the older she got the more she wondered why. She couldn’t see the point.

“I said I used to wonder.” She corrected.

“But it dawned on me.” She continued. “I can walk and move and see and enjoy. I shouldn’t start the day just waiting for good things to come and find me. That’s the wrong approach.”

She took off her jacket. I held it as she finished a final set of standing push-ups.

“It’s like this.” She took back her jacket and stared me in the face. “I woke up this morning and that’s more than some people did. The rest is up to me.”

At ninety-three years of age this little whirlwind of a woman had the perfect attitude. I was impressed at the start by her jumping jacks and push-ups, but now she had captivated me with her words. I wanted to hear more. I listened for the next nugget of advice but she clearly had places to go. She put her jacket back on and zipped it up.

“My name is Nadine and…”

“Oh, I won’t remember your name.” I smiled as I interrupted. “But I won’t ever forget what you said.”

Stuart M. Perkins

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