Sammi’s Weekender – Flash Story: The Little White Lie


The young man stood straight as the teacher’s loud, angry voice bristled. She berated his atrocious spelling and wretched grammar. He held back tears of shame and anger as she publicly humiliated him. She declared his entire family abysmal failures as human beings destined for an eternity in hell.

He found abysmal in the dictionary. When his mother later asked how he had done on the school paper he worked on so diligently, he reported that the teacher said it was very deep and that the entire family was destined for infinite success.


Look both ways. They may forgive, but they’ll not forget.
Mind the gaps. No memory is flawless.

Essay: I Wear Lorry’s Ring

I think my aunt Lorry loved me a lot more than I realized. I remember how each week she’d cut the latest Dennis the Menace gag comic, single-panel cartoon from her newspaper along with a word of the day snippet, and she would mail them to me accompanied by a little note. My behavior reminded her of the cartoon protagonist, or vice versa. While I never saw the connection (the cartoon being more innocently contrived), it was the only mail I recall getting from anyone, particularly from an adult when it was not my birthday or Christmas. Lorry and what she did for me are among many things I failed to adequately appreciate in my childhood. But I do now.

When I graduated from Texas A&M, my mother’s older sister also paid for my class ring. Aggie class rings are a big deal to alumni (aka former students), as they are for grads of many other schools. I still wear the ring today, almost 50 years later.

Her real name was Dolores. My sister and I, along with our cousin, called her Lorry, but I never asked why. For most of my life, Lorry lived and worked in Washington, D.C., about a four-hour drive from Wilks-Barre today with light traffic, but almost twice that by bus in the 1950s. So, I didn’t see her often. She also never married and was considered old fashioned and a very traditional, staunch Catholic, even back in the day. She was not difficult, but would criticize wrongdoing when she saw it, explaining her labored relationship with my father.

I suspect Lorry was quite bright. Had it not been for the negative antifeminist influences of her early 20th Century culture and her family, she would have achieved more, not that she did poorly for one who entered the female workforce early in the Great Depression. But then, I’d not have a famous cartoon character as a childhood alter ego, my vocabulary might be less sufficient, and my word-love less geeky had she been different.

Unlike me and little Jackie Paper, Dennis (the menace) Mitchell is still five-and-a-half years old. The cartoon dates to 1951, and it is still in world-wide syndication. Can you imagine Dennis in his late 60s? (I smiled when I wrote that question.) I can. I imagine him in his early 70s, still with the persona of a five-year-old troublemaker.

For the record, Puff the Magic Dragon and Jackie Paper are in their late fifties. I try not to mentally associate them with AC-47 Spooky gunships through that song, but that’s part of me too. There is a certain sadness to all that 1960s and ‘70s stuff that my Irish nature seems to nostalgically understand, but few others get.

But I wonder. What would the Lorry I knew think of me today? As always, there are some aspects of me with which she would undoubtedly find fault. I’m sure she would explain where I could improve. Fair enough. But would she get my ironic sense of humor? What about my vocabulary? I’d probably get a dictionary or world atlas for my birthday (again). And what of her opinion of my writing? My poems (the clean ones)?

Do you have a troublesome young family member? Do you think he or she will remember you and write about you 40 years after you die? Lorry would not have thought so either. But she’d a been wrong. And she might have corrected my spelling and grammar. And I would change it – for her.

What we see as we look both ways changes with life and times,
but not really who we are.
Mind the gaps, but cherish the memories.

Poetry: Put it on our bill

A Starbucks in a grocery store,
it’s still a place to shop
for food, and in this state,
wine and beer—a super market—
what my mother would call
the Acme (pronounced ack-a-me
in the vernacular of “The Valley”
where I grew up)—

those early places that put
the small Mom and Pop, corner
stores with personal
one-on-one service and where I,
even as a kid, could say,
“put it on our bill,” out of business.

No receipt. No stolen identity fears,
just trust. A time and place where everybody
knew my name and who my
family was, and knew more about all
of us than any one of us did. And
the cash register had a crank handle,

and I could walk there
in five minutes and nobody
had a credit card and Starbucks
and my first child were still
then, 15 years from now.

That Mom and Pop stuff
is all gone now.
But there’s $14.65 left
on my Starbucks gift card.

Look both ways, there is no time limit on gift cards,
and I will think of you every time I use it.
Mind the gaps, they have limits and must be used.

Poetry: Cowtown Sacramento

Checked in on a Saturday afternoon
to a cheap downtown Sacramento motel.
Got a room away from the others,
but the place was deserted at three.

Cowtown Marathon showtime
was at six in the morning. I had to be
up and dressed, ready to drive
with all my stuff to the meetup place
for coffee, food, and start line directions.

At two in the morning I learned why
the motel was empty and the desk clerk
was already apologizing when
the party moved in, filled every room,
with loud voices, the distinct click clack
of hard, high stiletto heels and reveling

drunks having a wild noisy time.
Up and out at four AM, everyone was
gone when I returned at noon. None too happy
with my neighbors of the night, another
greater challenge run finished alive,
but tired and sore with a medal in my hand.

Look both ways and remember the idiom
about sleeping with dogs in cheap downtown motels.
Mind the gaps and the ladies in stilettos, tap-tap-tap.

Poetry: In the Stacks

Circa 1890

Some things I’ve always known,
like where the Library was,
especially the one with a funny name,
the Osterhout Free Library,
in my hometown, which to me
was and is The Library.

Looking like the Presbyterian church
it first was in 1849,
with (now gone) ivy covered walls,
hinting of mysteries, adventures,
and the wisdom within;
a mile to walk was nothing
for a keen young lad to go
for a book or two.

Through church doors that open
into the vast, once Calvinistic,
nave with colorless unstained leaded glass,
now with desks and shelves filled
with books and things,
one finds it all.
Hush! Whisper please.
People are reading.

Off to the left dim dark stacks
beckoned like a secret
church transept and silent choir loft.

The true spirits of the library’s haunted
dark and dingy, yet welcoming,
old book-scented stacks, silent
dust and maybe mischief,
with muffled giggles of children
or lovers, each playing with
resident hushing ghosts.

Long ago—a place of prayer,
now a sanctuary
of human wisdom and happiness.

***

Comb the dark stacks of old libraries looking both ways for dusty old history.
Mind the gaps and giggles of the ghosts.


Note: Because this was my first community library during my formative years, it was what I expected all others to look like. Not a bad standard.

Click the image to link to library information.

 

Poetry Report: December 2019

Happy New Year, y’all!

My Confession

It was not so many years ago that I wrote my first poem; an exercise in rhyming couplets about Abilene, Texas. I wrote and posted it for the first day of the A to Z blogging and the National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo) online challenges, both of which started on April (first) Fools’ Day. Each poem worked dual duty for both challenges in alphabetical order, cuz that is what A to Z is about.

By the first of May of that year, I’d written twenty-nine more poems. I felt a certain amount of pride (yay, I did it) mixed with relief, and some embarrassment about my ignorance of poetry, poets, and verse in general. The next year I wrote separately for each challenge, using the NaPoWriMo prompts each day and I have done so since.

Almost immediately, I loved poetry and embarked on a self-directed program of adventure to learn all I could about the craft and art of poetry. What is it they say about when the pupil is ready?

Since that experience, with one surgical exception in 2018, every day I have thought about, read about, written, edited, and/or read some poetry. Although, I probably did think or talk about it on surgery day.

I’ve bought, read, and reread books about poetry by the likes of Packard, Oliver, Hoagland, and other masters. I have often devoted entire days to a somewhat tireless pursuit of forms and styles; to the art and craft of poetry writing. I learned about poets, which ones I liked and those I’m not yet ready for. I’ve read biographies of poets, and I know many histories and life experiences from the Bard (or Omar or more ancient versifiers) to contemporary characters and personal poet friends.

One day while discussing poetry with a friend we decided we could refer to ourselves as poets after we had written one hundred poems. I claim it now, however, it’s still a forced thing for me to say even after so many poems and, in her case, a published book of poetry. I’m working on a book, too. No promises. I still suffer from imposter syndrome sometimes.

How It Started

About this time last year, I committed to writing at least one poem each day. I call them daily poems (I’m so creative) to differentiate from others. They average slightly more than 100 words each, although some poems are much longer and a few are shorter, like those for Sammi’s weekender prompts which have specific word count requirements. Most are handwritten into one of three medium sized notebooks. Others live in my laptop.

I work on (edit, revise, correct, review) every poem I have written before I post it. Dailies are first drafts and nothing more until I go back and work them.

The experience of writing 365+ poems has taught me much more than I expected. Sometimes (rarely) the first draft is not so bad, but every poem needs work.

I like to think I am a better writer, and if I may claim it, an improved poet for it.

Finally (drum roll)

December’s poem titles were:

  1. Closer
  2. When You Go
  3. Making My Bed
  4. Trudy’s
  5. Happy Days
  6. The True Void
  7. Barricade
  8. Finding My Way
  9. What I Miss
  10. Poetry Comes
  11. My Library
  12. Dream Library
  13. Friday 13th Fears
  14. How I Want It
  15. Cleaning Crew
  16. Electric Romantic
  17. Taste of Love
  18. How Difficult the Challenge
  19. Erect Buck
  20. Twelve Ways to Twenty
  21. The Desert Call
  22. Hubris
  23. Average Joe
  24. Why Do They Die?
  25. The Gentleman I Wished to Be
  26. The Sled
  27. Matters Matter
  28. Old School Casual
  29. Complex
  30. What if it isn’t perfect?
  31. Clinical VA

So, this is it. A year of poetry and 11 other end of month reports like this one. It’s a new year, new decade, and new poems yet to write, but 2019 and my 365-poems project are fait accompli.

Always look all ways. Seek the gaps and mind them well,
wherever you find them time will tell.

Oh, go ahead and click it. It’s only 11 seconds…

Poetry: Risk & Danger = Life

The mature doctor who would begin residency
for Psychiatry in the morning
after 25 years as a surgeon,
a guy I liked but only saw
one time, turned to look at me
as he was walking out the door,
after I told him about me owning
a motorcycle and he said,
“Well, don’t ride it.”

Too dangerous? This,
after we had discussed
my heart disease with six stents,
and a severely wonky-donkey
heart valve, my high-grade,
lingering dangerous
sarcoma cancer, and my head
to toe clogged arteries holding
three more stents—strokesville?

oh,
and my good old age,
bad high blood pressure,
and the pending possibility of
dangerous surgery and
risky hospital stay.

Risk and danger have been
my companions
since childhood (we have
an understanding). A
motorcycle accident might kill me
faster than a mistake
by a doctor—a surgeon,
maybe.

He was giving up surgery
to be a shrink, so he “could
help people.”

Kind a makes ya wonder,
don’t it?

Look at risk and danger both ways,
but gamble not with the welfare of others.
How well we walk through the fire depends on the width of the gaps.


“Too often the people complain that they have done nothing with their lives and then they wait for somebody to tell them that this isn’t so.” ― Charles Bukowski, What Matters Most is How Well You Walk Through the Fire