Posted in Stories

Notes from the lawn guy

I’ve had the same lawn service for over ten years. They spray stuff on my yard once a month to keep it green and free of bugs and weeds. For the most part they do a pretty good job. The lawn guy always leaves me an amusing report about his visit. Here are a few of their comments:

“I noticed some broadleaf weeds in your yard today.” Good. That’s what I pay you guys for.

“Don’t overwater your lawn.” Dude, we just had a hurricane blow through and dump twenty inches of rain. You’re talking to the wrong guy.

“I noticed your lawn needs water.” Trust me, I know. It hasn’t rained for about six weeks. And I am not about to pay the city for the amount of water it would take to keep the lawn green.

“I knocked on your door today.” Yeah, thanks. You woke up Cujo (our brown dog) who woke up our sleeping grandchild and wanted to break through the window and have you for lunch and dinner.

“I moved the toys off the lawn before treating.” How nice! I appreciate that!

“I made sure to close the gate.” You rock!

Seriously, they do a pretty good job. I am rarely home when they come. For the most part my lawn is green and weed free. Thanks!

Posted in Stories

Protection

So we leashed up the dogs, put on sunglasses, grabbed a couple of blue poop bags, and headed out to take the dogs for a long walk on a hot afternoon. Within minutes, we met our neighbors from a few houses up pushing a stroller containing a precious great-grandchild.

One neighbor was carrying a well-made, tapered, three-foot long rod. “What’s that?” I asked.

She replied, “I use it to beat off the animals who come at me.”

Oh. That’s interesting. A little disturbing, too. I’ve lived on this block for twenty-five years. I don’t think I’ve ever been threatened by any kind of animal. But she’s lived here longer than me. What has she encountered?

A stray dog? Could happen. Once in a while one gets out. I usually call them over, pet them, check their collar, put a leash on them, and walk them home.

A cat? They’re around. Usually sleeping under someone’s car. My dog is always interested. They never attack but run away when I yell, “Kittykittykittykittykitty.”

A rat? My neighbor says they live down by the drainage ditch. I’ve never seen one.

A bobcat? We all have stories about the time we saw a bobcat. They are rare, stealthy and usually run away.

A diving hawk? They perch on the telephone poles, watching for snakes in the grass. They’ve dived towards me.

Oh, a snake? Maybe. I see more dead ones than alive. Or a snake skin on the road.

A black bear? Some Florida neighborhoods have them. None around here that I know of.

Maybe I’m naive. Maybe I’m brave! Maybe I can run fast. Maybe the neighborhood wildlife fear me and my brown dog.

I do not own a protective stick.

Posted in Stories

Never too old, I guess.

“There’s one. Grab it.”

My two year old granddaughter bend down to pick up a small twig, adding it to a fistful she would add to the fire pit at our campsite.

As we wandered down the path, past trailers, fifth-wheels, RVs, and a few tents, we happened by a guy sitting on a stump, playing a banjo. Nothing recognizable, but his notes that made us stop and watch and listen for a moment.

He nodded, smiled, and asked, “Is that your daughter or granddaughter?”

I chuckled. “Granddaughter.”

“You never know. My brother’s sixty-three; he and his girl just had a baby.”

I chuckled again. (I’m sixty-three.) I wondered out loud, “Can you imagine starting out at that age?”

This time, he shook his head, smiled and said, “Y’all enjoy.”

“There’s one.” She grabbed it and we headed back to our campsite. Almost time to kindle our fire.

Posted in Stories

Dead or alive?

“If you ever see a dead possum on your front doorstep…”

Yeah, like that’s going to happen. I see them in the road, just a step too slow to avoid traffic. I’ve seen their eyes aglow on the side of the road, staring down my headlights. According to some, it’s a good omen. Others say it’s a threat.

There is no way this possum had a heart attack or succumbed to COVID-19 or cashed in his chips right here outside my office door. Is this some kind of joke? Is someone trying to send me a message?

A dead fish on your doorstep means you will be killed. In the Godfather, a dead horse’s head in the bed was an offer you couldn’t refuse. A dead squirrel means you need more balance in your life. A dead bird is a sign of change and renewal. If you dream about a dead mouse, supposedly someone close to you is experiencing difficulty.

Or maybe he’s “playing possum.” He should be good at it. Pretending to be dead. A defense strategy to deter a predator. He saw me coming. He panicked. Instinct kicked in. He keeled over. Dead.

I grabbed a broom and swept him into the yard. Never saw him again.

Dead. Or alive?

Posted in senses, Stories

Silence was here.

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

For a brief moment this morning, I felt her presence. Silence was in the room.

The sky just beginning to lighten. The air conditioner is off. No one else is awake yet. No ice is falling in the freezer. The birds have not yet begun their song. The air is still. No cars pass by.

She rarely stops by. She never stays long.

Caffeine rings in my ear. My neck crunches when I move my head. My stomach rumbles. Is it time for breakfast? My pen scratches the paper. I reach for my coffee mug; my shoulder pops.

The dog breathes. A bird sings. A car drives by. The thermostat clicks. The air conditioner blows.

Silence was here. Now she’s gone.

Posted in flash fiction, Stories

A very nice gift

“There’s more?” I wondered as I pulled yet another box of books off the closet shelf. “I’ll never get this all cleaned out.” I might be able to sell a few. I could give some away. I’ll probably just have to toss some.

“That’s strange.” I don’t remember ever buying this book. Hardcover. No slip cover. No title at all. Vol.1 stamped on the binding. Wait a minute, it doesn’t even open. It looks just like a book, but it’s solid, like a prop for a play or a decoration for a shelf. Not plastic, kind of leathery. Where did that come from?

I set it aside and boxed up everything else to stuff into the library donation box. They can deal with it. One more done; so many more to go. I’m talking a break.

I turned the book over and over in my hands. The cover was a raised pattern of overlapping silver, gold and copper crosses. No particular pattern, yet pleasing to the eye.

I’ll work on this some more tomorrow. I picked up the box of donation books and reached for my keys. That’s why that fake book seemed familiar. The small cross on my keychain looked like those on the cover. I usually don’t have anything extra on my keyring, but this was a special gift I had added. I dropped the box and held the cross up the cover of the book. A perfect match.

I felt a small vibration, like a cell phone haptic. I felt the spine of the book shift ever so slightly open in my hand. Opening it like a small door, I looked inside and pulled out a stack of hundred dollar bills, wrapped in a $10,000 band. I riffled the stack. All hundreds.

This can’t be real. Who’s is this? Where did this come from? What should I do with this? I put the stack back in and closed the spine. I couldn’t even tell that it had opened. I held the cross against the book and opened it up again. I pulled out the stack. They looked real. Very real.

The spine closed back up. I held the cross to the cover to open it back up. I don’t know what to do. Opening the book, I couldn’t slide the stack back in. What’s wrong? It looks like there’s another stack in there. No way. Pulled it out. It looked real.

Okay, let’s try this one more time. I shut the spine, placed the cross, and opened it up. Another stack. Quickly closing it up, I placed the book and the two stacks in my briefcase. Pulling out a piece of paper, I uncapped a fountain pen and began to write a better thank you note for the very nice gift.

Posted in Stories

We’re in good hands

So I’m preaching. And the sermon is going well. My points are on point, my stories are connecting and my attempts at humor coax a hint of a smile from the most staid and serious congregants. So far, so good.

Suddenly, there’s a groan. Then a gasp. Then out of the corner of my eye, I see him go down. A few folks rush to see what’s wrong. Someone is already on the phone. Still another is out front waiting to direct the EMTs.

Now what? Bring everything to a halt? Just keep going? When in doubt, pray. Make the ultimate call for help. Done.

Now what? Sit there an do nothing? The silence is overwhelming, so we’ll sing. I call out a number of a familiar hymn. The organist introduces it and we work through the verses as the EMTs arrive to assess the situation. Before you know it, before the song is over, they’ve wheeled him out on the stretcher and pulled away in the rescue truck.

Now what? Well, where was I? As I reenter my sermon, I know that what we’ve just experienced is the point. This is the story. This is what should put a smile on our faces.

We’re in good hands, both human and divine.

Posted in memories, Stories

We made a friend

“Where are we going?” my son asked.

“We’re going to deliver a gift.”

I saw our neighbor drive off. This was our chance. We looked both ways, hurried across the street, and left the brightly wrapped box on the doorstep. Who knew how much time we had? We hurried back home like nothing ever happened.

We knew we were taking a big risk. No one, absolutely no one dared step into this man’s yard, much less approach his door. If your ball rolled up on his lawn, you just left it there. If you were playing in the street and saw his front door open, you ran home. We didn’t even know his name, but we feared him nonetheless.

“We’re going to deliver a gift.” A Christmas ornament and cookies. Guaranteed to thaw a soul, right? At least we tried.

Every neighborhood has one. The one you fear. The one you avoid. The one you taunt. The one you watch from a distance. Where I grew up it was Old Man Somebody.” We didn’t know his name. We didn’t know anything about him. But we perpetuated the legend of the grouchiest, grumpiest, craziest elderly neighbor you could imagine. We would try to taunt him by shouting, “Hey, old man!” and running away. For some reason, when you are eight years old this is great fun. I never even saw the man, yet I was deathly afraid of him.

We got a thank you note. We got a thank you note from Mr. Critchfield, our across-the-street neighbor. From that moment on he waved when we were coming or going. He smiled when he saw us. We smiled at him.

We made a friend.

Posted in Stories

The day we discovered the United States Pipe Organ Company

I grew up in the southwest corner of Ridley Park, Pennsylvania, and in throughout my elementary years, my friends and I would frequent a creek about a quarter-mile down Chester Pike from my house. It’s official name was the Little Crum Creek through which Ridley Park Lake emptied into Crum Creek and out into the Delaware River. We simply called it the “creek.”

I remember spending amazing amounts of time catching minnows, building dams using all kinds of rocks in and around the creek, and tossing the biggest rocks we could find off the bridge to see how big of a splash we could make. Every once in a while we would explore a little further down the creek which ran alongside an old Boeing plant.

One exploration took us through a fence to an abandoned building that was littered with old wood and metal organ pipes. We blew through some of them and made all kinds of sounds. We didn’t take any of the pipes and didn’t stay very long, which is good because we were probably trespassing. I didn’t realize then what we had stumbled upon. Later when I went to churches that had actual pipe organs, and saw all the ranks, I had a better idea of what we found.

Every once in a while that memory pops back in my head, and I wondered who had left a bunch of organ pipes in an old building somewhere near Ridley Park. The Organ Historical Society has a database of pipe organ companies, and sure enough, the United States Pipe Organ Company had a theater organ fabrication plant in Crum Lynne, a tiny town and a train stop adjacent to Ridley Park. They build about 200 theater pipe organs, then spent time maintaining them till about 1970. We had stumbled upon what was left of that company.

I’m not sure why we never went back there. We either forgot about it or got interested in something else. I kind of wish I had brought home a few relics from our very cool discovery that day.