Friday, April 30, 2010

Short Story: Stoker's Gift

The Snowstorm

by C.J. Heck

Little Stoker had never felt so alone. He was freezing and he missed Mama.

It was dark where he was, and it was bouncing up and down so bad that it was hard to sit still.

There were huge tears in his big brown eyes. Tears were even overflowing his eyes and making trails down both cheeks, just like before. It was cold and he was glad he had his warm winter coat. The tear trails were freezing up and that made his face feel funny when he moved.

He didn’t like this place and he wanted to go home. He wanted Mama. All he could do was sit here and remember. Remembering was sad. Remembering hurt.

The snowstorm had begun right after dinner yesterday. It was the most frightening thing Stoker had ever seen. He had been afraid, so afraid that his fear was like a real thing that he could almost reach out and touch.

The wind had been terrible and loud and long. It didn’t even snow like any snow he had seen before. This snow had come at him sideways and when it touched him, it was like a thousand fingers burning him with fire.

He was thankful Mama was there. She had coaxed him down into the place where they hid from the storm. She held him tightly, and enveloped in her hug, he almost felt safe. When he remembered the warm secure feel of her love, new tears slid down his face.

During the long, scary night, the awful storm showed no signs of letting up. Even the friendly moon had hidden from the wind and snow. Usually he could see it peeking between the branches of the trees high above their home. The wind blew wildly. It had made such an awful sound, like a lot of someones screaming and moaning.

The Blizzard at Night
He had sat huddled with Mama that long night in what used to be their home. Now there was nothing. Home had buckled under the weight of the snow.

Here and there, he heard parts of it being thrown all around them by the screaming, blowing wind.

Above them, he remembered seeing one large part of home that had fallen. It was leaning, teetering against something, and right below that was where they sat huddled together in its shelter.

Each new time he thought about how frightened he was, more tears overflowed his eyes, following all of the others on their trip down to his chin.

“Mama, I’m so scared! Hold me tighter!” Stoker had cried. “When will it end?”

“I know, Stoker, I know. I‘m frightened, too.” His mother had answered with the wind carrying her words off in other directions. He had to listen closely to hear the rest of what she said. “I don’t know when it will stop, son. We’ll be all right if we just stay together. Don’t move from here, no matter what happens, little Stoker. Promise me.”

Although Stoker had no way of knowing why she would ask for his promise, he agreed. “Okay, Mama. I’ll stay right here, I promise.”

All through the night, the wind raged and the snow came at them sideways. Mama pulled Stoker tightly to her, wrapping her arms around him to keep him safe and warm. Whenever he cried out, she did her best to comfort him. “Hush now, little Stoker, try to sleep. Mama’s here, and I love you.”

Just before dawn, there had been an enormous crash. Stoker suddenly felt a heavy weight come down on him -- it had been so heavy he could hardly breathe. He called out to his mother, “Mama! Mama, where are you?” But all he could hear in return was the screaming of the wind. “Mama, what was that loud noise?” Again, the only sound he heard was the wind and the pounding of his own heart.

Stoker wanted to run, but he remembered his promise to Mama. He would not move from this spot, no matter what happened. He wanted to scream and yell and run as fast as the wind all around him, but Stoker kept his promise. He didn’t try to get out from under this heavy thing. He sat quietly, listening for Mama with fear in every part of his body making him wish he could run, but he stayed right where she made him promise to stay. Mama would be proud.

Stoker didn’t know how long he had waited -- maybe he even fell asleep for awhile. He did know he couldn’t feel the sideways snow any more and he was warm. All of a sudden, he was aware of voices. They were loud and he could hear them above the wind which had now died down to only whistle.

The voices frightened him and he remembered calling out to his mother again. “Mama! Mama! Please, Mama, I’m here! I’m here where you told me to stay, no matter what happened! Please, Mama!” He waited, listening for her answer. When it didn’t come, he started all over again, calling and pleading.

“Over here, Johnny! Here! It’s coming from under this fallen tree! Help me get this cable attached and we‘ll pull the tree off.”

“You got it, Mike!”

Stoker continued to call his mother. He could hear a lot of sounds coming from above. Some were sounds of someone moving, someone’s feet crunching in the snow. Some sounds were mechanical sounds, like big machines, and that made him call out louder. He was terrified, but he kept his promise to Mama. He stayed there.

“Okay, Johnny. Now, pull!” The winch screeched into gear and the heavy wire cable began to do its job.

Slowly, the huge weight was lifted from Stoker. His eyes were shut tight and he was too frightened to open them.

“What have you got there, Mike?” Johnny called. “Can you see what’s making the noise?”

“Aw, Johnny, get over here! You’ve got to see this. ” Mike answered, above Stoker‘s cries for his mother. “C’mere, and hurry!“

Johnny ran to where Mike stood looking down into the hollowed out area. Mike glanced over at Johnny. “Well, I’ll be ... never saw anything like it. We’d better call Frank up at the Ranger Station. You have a cell phone in the truck, don't you?”

Johnny said he had one right there in his pocket and he handed it over. He dialed the number for the Park Ranger. Like Mike, his eyes never left the hollowed out area where the tree had rested only minutes before.

Stoker continued to call for his mother. Where was she? Why didn’t she answer him? He was still too afraid to open his eyes.

With a series of beeps, Johnny got through on the cell phone. “Hello Frank. John here. Well, sir ... what we’ve got here is the dangedest thing. We have a mother bear and her cub. No, sir, the mother bear is dead -- crushed by a huge tree which we removed. No sir. Cub’s okay. She shielded the cub. He was safely tucked in under her. Frank, she still has her arms, er ... paws wrapped around him, and him bawling like that!  It’s like she knew.”

There was a pause, then Johnny continued. “Can you get the Animal Control people out here right away -- maybe make some arrangements for a new home for the little guy? Yeah, I agree. Thanks, Frank.” With that, Johnny pushed the button and ended the call.

“Johnny? What’d Frank say?” Mike asked, since he could only hear Johnny’s side of the conversation.

Johnny wiped at his eyes with his shirt sleeve. “He's going to make some calls, Mike, and get a truck up here with a cage to transport him.

This little guy will be sad for awhile, but he'll be okay. Frank said what you and I have been only thinkin' ... this bear cub received the ultimate gift of a mother‘s love.”

[From the book, "Bits and Pieces from a Writer's Soul", by CJ Heck]

"A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write." ~CJ Heck

Thursday, April 22, 2010

What's a Dad?

I woke up this morning thinking about my dad.  6:30 a.m. was way too early to call him. At his age, 83, he doesn't jump out of bed quite as easily as he did when I was a child and growing up amidst all my siblings on Elm Street in Coshocton, Ohio.

When I was a little girl, my dad was ten feet tall. He had all the answers for all of the questions you could ever think of. He could fix anything that broke.   If you got a bump, he would have you soak it in Epsom Salts and it got better -- if it was a cut, he painted it with "daddy's red paint" (Mercurochrome) and that got better, too. In this child's eyes, my dad was the smartest man in the world and he could do anything.

He was a quiet, reserved man.  It took a lot to make him even raise his voice, and believe me, with six children in the house, an assortment of foster children in and out over the years, and all of our friends, you would have thought anyone would blow, but he stayed calm, no matter how many kids were around.  He taught us with the patience of Job that there's always room for one more.

I remember one valuable lesson about life he taught me when I was about ten years-old.  I never forgot it.  In our home, dad was the one who did the grocery shopping.  Mama made her list and gave it to dad, and then he usually took one of us along to help him with the many grocery bags.  This particular day, it was my turn.  When we finally got to the cash register, the cashier announced that the bill was $122.56.  In 1959, that was a lot of money.  To me at ten years-old, that had to be at least the price of a new car.  I watched the expression on his face turn to a firm resolve as he reached into his wallet and handed her the money.

As we put the groceries into the back of our station wagon and climbed into the front seat for the drive home, I thought about it.   I was thinking of ways I could help save money since he had spent so much at the store.  I remembered all the times I had heard mama or daddy tell us to turn off the TV or lights if we weren't using them, and I vowed to myself to do a better job.  I must have been uncharacteristically quiet, because right about then, daddy asked me if everything was all right.  I told him yes, but then asked, "Daddy, are we poor?"

Daddy only thought about it for a second and then said, "No, honey.  We're not poor.  We're not poor at all.  We just don't have a lot of money."

I've thought about that day many times in the years since.  His message is so clear.  Life doesn't have to be so serious.  Puddles are there for splashing and mud is for making mud pies and a hug will fix just about everything.    He  taught us that no matter what, love is what's important.  Love is measured in so many precious minutes -- it's important that we not miss them, for who knows, life might be metered in only hours.

To Daddy ...

Any man can be a father.
The good ones become dad.
There are papas, pops and pa's
and even my old man,
but only the very special ones
stay forever "daddy".

I love you, Daddy.

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Poem: "I Remember Mama"

Joanne Parrish - My Mama

I woke up this morning with Mama on my mind. She passed away years ago, but I still miss her.  It doesn't matter how old we get, our mothers remain in our hearts forever.

I Remember Mama

by CJ Heck

I remember Mama
blowing chewing gum bubbles
while she ironed.
I was too young for school,
Sesame Street wasn’t invented yet,
the rain was pouring outside
and I was awed.

I remember Mama
sewing at her machine into the night
when she had to get up early for work,
patching my favorite pair of cutoffs
'just one more time'
or putting pockets on pants
because my little brother adored them,
and I still hear her words,
"There’s all kinds of ways to say
I love you."

I remember Mama
teaching us that beauty on the inside
was more important than on the outside,
and "A kind word to someone
might be the only kind word
that person heard all day"
... and how good it felt
finding out she was right.

I remember Mama
telling us to hold onto our dreams,
make them happen, and never say "I can’t"
and how funny I thought it
when she said
the world was our watermelon
and all we had to do was
grab it and take a bite.

I remember Mama
who taught us best by example
with her unconditional love.
"Love isn’t love until it’s given away
and it’s in the giving that we know
it truly does come back ten-fold."

I remember, Mama ...

[from the book, Anatomy of a Poet]

"A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write." ~CJ Heck

Monday, April 5, 2010

Poems for a Monday

Anatomy of a Woman Poet, by CJ Heck

Go in through the eyes of a poet
deep into her alphabet mind.
Ideas like flotsam and jetsam
dodge poetry fragments and lines.

Beware the dark shadows of memory,
knife-sharp and bloodied by time,
or gentle, orgasmic and sensual,
swirling eddies, some without rhyme.

Softly notice the spirit in hiding.
Tiptoe past the bruised heart mending there,
knitting poems, pearls strung on a necklace,
unfinished jewels everywhere.

Take note on your tour of this poet
the outside no different you see,
but inside, my God, a passion abyss,
the poet, the woman, the me.

Changeling, by CJ Heck

Changeling: (noun): 1. One who, or that which, is left or taken in the place of another.

At dawn, I looked
with eyes wide open.
The color of his hair had
snow-stormed a wintery grey,
crowded out to who knows where
to join a master work
in perfect granite,
his finite features
raisined to roadways that buckled
into nose and cheek and brow.
Somehow spared by nature's cruelty
are steel blue eyes,
eyes that walk my dreams,
and lips that taunt and tease.
Where was I when all this happened,
here, a changeling, too,
and robbed as well?
Today when morning slipped inside
and kissed my eyelids,
I felt blessed it reached across
to touch his too.

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Saturday, April 3, 2010

Class Reunions: A Rant ...

"The more things change, the more they stay the same."

Note: I wrote the first part of this "Rant" a few years ago. Having vented my self-righteous sarcasm, it was then posted at Authors' Den and, until last night, I forgot all about it. The second part, I think the most surprising part, I wrote this morning. Open mouth, change feet ...

1967 - 2007 ...
I’ve only attended two of my high school class reunions. I’ve gone to my tenth and the thirty-fifth. The main reason I’ve only attended two is that I’ve always lived too far away from my home state of Ohio. So, it was logistics and the fact that they most often held them at the end of August. That was right when my children had to return to school and it made all but those two reunions prohibitive.

Some may argue that two reunions aren’t enough to make a valid and unbiased comparison. Some may also argue that two reunions aren’t enough to base either like or dislike on and, okay, I can and do respect your opinions. Our experiences were different, I’m sure, but thank God I’ve only had to attend two ...

If I had to give it a name, the tenth reunion would be called:

The Reunion of "The I Haves" ...

I have this degree
I have this career
I have this position in my career
I have this salary

Man, do I have this salary ...

I have this wife/husband
She/he has this degree
She/he has this career
She/he has this position in her/his career
She/he has this salary

Man, does she/he have this salary ...

I have these children
I have this nanny
I have them in private schools
I have them in summer camp

I have this country club membership
I have lessons by a golf pro
I have this handicap in golf
I have children on the swim team
I have children at the tennis courts

I have this gym membership,
I have this trainer
I have six-pack abs, a tight tush, a weekly massage

I have this boat
I have this summer cottage
I have this time share/condo
I have this expensive car/Porsche
I have a collection of old cars

I have this house/estate
I live in this expensive suburb
I have this backyard spa/pool and a cabana

I have this plastic surgeon
I have a smaller nose, bigger boobs
thinner thighs, tighter waist, more prominent chin, et al

I have this phenomenal sex life
I have always had a crush on you ... want to fool around?
Does "no" really mean ... "no"?
Why the hell not?

The only reason I attended the second reunion, the thirty-fifth, was because of my three best friends from high school -- I love them dearly and I hadn’t seen them in years and I missed them. They convinced me that we owed it to each other to go to the damned thing. We could stay up all night remembering, giggling, and gossiping, just like old times.

Afterwards, I didn’t even have to think about what the title for the second reunion would be. That was easy:

The Reunion of the "I Still Have, But" ...

I still have this degree, but
I hate the field I chose and at my age,
I can’t change horses in the middle of the road

I still have this career, but
I’m worried, the company is downsizing
and at my age, yadda yadda yadda ...
I’m worried about having enough money
for retirement, social security, my pension

I still have my hair, but
it's from hair implants, transplants, a toupe, a wig

I still have my teeth, but
they’re false, they’re implants, they're caps

I still have my wife/husband, but
he/she is fat
he/she is an alcoholic, takes drugs, runs around

Or: this is wife/husband #2, #3, or (God forbid), #4, but
I’m tired of paying alimony to the first, second, et al
we have nothing in common because she/he is so much younger than I

I still have my children, but
they live far away, they’re in jail, they live with my wife,
they have kids of their own, they moved back home

I still have a country club membership, but
my arthritis keeps me from playing golf, tennis

I still have my boat, but
I’m saving for retirement and I can’t afford
the marina fees, the upkeep, et al
I am trying to sell it
Or: I’ve just given it to the kids

I still have a gym membership, but
I can’t keep up with the passage of time
I look too fat in my workout gear to go
my trainer is too busy chasing all the young hard bodies there

I still have my car, but
now it’s a sensible car.
I sold my Porsche and the antique cars

I still have my home, but
it needs a new roof, a new driveway,
my ex lives in it and I moved into the condo

I still have a plastic surgeon, but
now he’s on the “I Have” list --
my wives/husbands and I put him there

I still have my health, but
I have a new heart, a pacemaker, hip/knee implants, et al

I still have a sex life, but
Now it's only on the computer
Now I take Viagra
I still have a crush on you ... want to fool around?
But that’s what you said twenty-five years ago ...
But does "no" still mean ... "no"?
But why the hell not?

A couple of years ago in August, my high school held our 40th class reunion. Was I there? Negative. I was afraid of what name I might have had to attach to that one ...

Like clockwork, my best friends from high school called, but I suggested we meet somewhere along the seacoast, maybe at a cute little bed and breakfast near the water -- that was more my style. We had a great time and we did stay up half the night remembering and giggling and gossiping.

In my humble opinion, this should be a requirement for attending all class reunions: Put a box with a sign outside the door going into the building -- “Drop your "I Haves" and your "I Still Have, But" in the box before entering.”

I wish I could trust a class reunion enough to go willingly. I would love to talk about the good old days with those I thought of as my second family -- God knows, we spent more time together than with our own families during those high school years. To me, reliving the multitude of happy memories -- the football and basketball games, cruising the Tastee Freeze and Main Street, the difficult teachers we shared, and the myriad of other invaluable coming of age stories would be priceless. Sadly, those aren’t the things people want to talk about.

I only hope that I wasn’t as shallow as those that I now want to avoid ...

(Update: April 3, 2010:) This past September 2009, I went to one last reunion. Yes, I know I said I wouldn't ... anyway, it was to be the first ever multi-class five-year reunion and would include the graduating classes of two of my siblings. I did see the merit to this, in theory anyway. What fun it would be, getting to see classmates that I wouldn't otherwise get to see ... kids from other classes that I routinely passed in the halls, kids I sat next to at football and basketball games, or passed notes with in study halls. Some would even be the neighborhood kids who had hung out at my house with my younger sibs.

I have to admit, this class reunion was different. It was as different as black and white or night and day, in many ways. After forty-something years, everyone who attended was just happy to be there. Gone were the pretenses, as well as the old cliques, and the most surprising of all -- the "haves" and "still haves, but" just weren't important topics any more. Those things had all but faded away and, in their place, were new discussions about which classmates or children or family members had passed on ... and there were many.

There was something else that was different. There was an air of magic surrounding the whole reunion, all five classes of it, and everyone who was there seemed to sense it, as well. No one cared any more about anything other than rekindling long ago friendships and sharing how important we all still were to one another with hugs and yes, even tears. There were even a few of us that were lucky enough to fall in love ...

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Friday, April 2, 2010

Yours, Mine, Ours ...

I have to admit, this is a reprint of an article I wrote sometime ago and first printed elsewhere ... but please indulge me, I've had a miserable cold the past few days.

Yours, Mine, Ours ...

With all of the blended families around these days, what a blessing it is for the children and grandchildren when all of the individual parts get along after a divorce.

In my own family's case, I can't see where any one person can actually take credit for the harmony we have. Somewhere along the way, it just happened.

Jointly, we went through the tumultuous teens with three daughters: the heartaches, the excitements, the meetings with teachers, soccer, ice skating, tennis and softball games, then high school proms, the ups and downs of dating, graduations and then college graduations.

We later planned three weddings together, enjoyed the births of nine grandchildren, their christenings, birthday parties, holidays and school and sporting events.

Something which has evolved over the years, something especially nice is the number of grandparents our remarriages have produced. Just ask my five-year-old grandson, Liam. I did.

"Liam, how many grandmas and grampas do you have?"

Liam smiled out loud. "Ohhhh, Grammy! Sooo many! (his little arms outstretched to the max).

"I have my Grammy and Papa, Nanny and Papa Num-Num (so-named because he always brings ice cream or donuts when he visits), Mimi, Nana, Great Papa and Gramma Rosemary who live in Ohio -- that's far, FAR away, Grammy -- I have so many grampas and grandmas that I can hardly even count all of them!"

Then I asked him, "Liam, how many people do you suppose love you?"

He replied, "Grammy, EVERYbody loves me." (giving me a big hug, along with his answer).

Just try and tell our little Liam that Nanny's, Papa's, or Gramma Rosemary's blood isn't actually coursing through his veins. I'll guarantee you, even if he understood what you were talking about, it wouldn't matter a whit to him. The only thing that does matter to Liam (and all of the other grandchildren) is the wonderful love those grandparents do show him.

After all is said and done, after all of us are a part of his past, it's the wonderful memories we've created together which are most important. These are what will live on forever in his heart.

(First published by Useless Knowledge Webzine, May 13, 2004.)

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