To David

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My late husband and I knew a young boy, David, and his father. The words are true. And I wonder where he is today.

He sat on the steps
outside the church
a young boy of nine or ten
brown eyes sparkled and
dimples appeared in his
round face

A face framed by dark brown hair
so alive and full of mischief
this boy, this child
separated from his mother
and older brothers
by divorce

He lived for a few years
with an angry father
years he could ill-afford
with a bitter, vengeful man
who ripped David’s childhood
to shreds

Screaming and crying
replaced laughing and playing
day after day
year after year
until there was no sound
at all

David sits inside the church now
his head bowed
his face framed by the same dark hair
a boy-child growing up
soon to be a man

His eyes tell so much
yet to some would only
appear to reflect the world
and nothing more

I see the longing in his eyes
the emptiness where
childhood memories are supposed to live
David closes his eyes
as if to pray

Look closely
and you’ll see
the tears form and fall freely
as he hurts
where we cannot reach

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To find the sun

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Yes, my husband of 45 years passed away last year. And yes, we lost our youngest son when he was almost six months old in 1978. Yes, our oldest son has been missing since 2002.

But.

I’m still young inside of this 66-year-old body and mind. This poem, written in 1996, is a favorite of mine.

The fog came quietly
enveloping and sealing
all within its gray, damp cloud

Until the children came –
they laughed and played and lived
their lives, fueled by an inner sun
Fog was not allowed here
only warmth, and the purest delight

There came a day when the sun came out
brilliant, warm and precious
Looking to find a child to fill
with its gifts of laughter and love
only to find that child
consumed by an inner fog
of despair, neglect and loneliness

Are we too old?
Can the sun live here?
How can it enter this child
who is too tired to fight the fog?

 

Unconditional love

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I wrote this poem in 1990. Today, we still find that people are dumping their pets. It’s never the right thing to do.

 

Though there had been other trips
This one seemed not quite right
The pup scurried to a corner
In the car, in the black of night

His small, sturdy body
Lay trembling on the seat
The man scarcely glanced his way
His eyes looked old and beat

The daughter insisted on coming
On this highly suspicious trip
The young girl’s eyes were red
And her nose kept wanting to drip

“Please, Daddy,” she cried
“Don’t take him away!”
But her father refused to listen
And her fears he wouldn’t allay

The frightened pup grew still
As he crept closer to his friend
And he gave what comfort he could
Whatever love and warmth he could lend

Soon the two grew quieter still
The silence alarmed the man
He took a country road too fast
And barely missed a van

His heart was pounding, and
He thought he might be ill
To dump this tiny puppy
Was a very bitter pill

The silence from the back
Was deeper than the night
It accused him and disturbed him
What he was doing wasn’t right

He tried too hard to make it seem
The only thing to do
But a voice deep down inside him cried,
“No! That’s not true!”

A stirring from the two in back
Caused the man to tense
What would his daughter think of this?
To her, it made no sense

The time had come, he stopped the car
Yet he left the engine running
That which was left to do
Required very little cunning

The pup, on wobbly legs stood up
And with the softest bark
From the back seat of the car he jumped
Into the waiting, unfriendly dark

The girl reached out, she stifled a cry
Her eyes she hid with her hand
She tried to swallow and couldn’t—
Her mouth felt full of sand

“Oh, Daddy,” she whispered, her sobs began
As she climbed to the side of the man
He put his arms around the girl
And wiped the tears that ran

The pup sat on the road
And watched the taillights fade
A whimper from inside his heart
Sliced the air like a blade

One can only guess that in his heart
The pup felt the fault was his own
That if he’d been smaller, cuter, whatever…
He wouldn’t be here now, forever and ever alone

So, remember this, please
If your plan is like that above
A dog attaches itself to you
With unconditional love

Getting lost in that magical place

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My own small collection

 

Below is a 2011 column I wrote about a favorite King book. He still is my favorite author, though there are dozens more following closely. I’ve discovered a new and easy way to check out books from the library, and I’ve joined the “new” edition of Book of the Month Club. Someday, though, I have to put together all the books I started and make each one whole.

 

There are some books I can read in almost any setting. That includes a blaring television (or two), loud music, multiple conversations buzzing around McDonald’s, and even a giant Lab leaning heavily against my favorite chair.

Those stories are written by authors who zip through clues to mysterious murders, robberies, kidnappings and such, and it surprises me that I can follow said clues in the midst of chaos. But there you go.

There are other tales, though, that require a quiet and solitary place. No noise, no people, especially no dogs. I’m reading such a book now.

Lisey’s Story by Stephen King is an emotional rollercoaster of feeling, description and other-worldliness. It’s no wonder it’s taken me at least three tries to get through it. This last go-around had me showing up at the library to renew it for the second time, giving me a total of six weeks to read it.

I guess what I’m taking from this beautifully written work is that some folks tend to “check out” of this world when their best efforts to stay sane fail them. We see them as people, whether adult or child, with those thousand-yard stares. They’re here, yet they’re not.

Maybe some of us feel like going after them, and maybe we are afraid if we do, we won’t come back either. Lisey’s Story offers both types of characters (and their journeys to Boo’ya Moon) are the stuff dreams and nightmares are made of.

Now that I’m almost finished with this book, I wish I wasn’t. When I do turn that last page, I’ll probably do so in my very own bat cave.

I used that term because I have no idea what to call my office anymore. For the past couple of weeks I’ve been moving almost as much stuff out as in. There are two work stations–one for newspaper duties, the other for the personal stuff like novels, short-stories, memoirs and other fun stuff. The two areas may be a mere six feet apart, but there’s a world of difference between them.

In this special place I’ve added bright covers and flowers and pictures. There’s an Indian motif going on in one corner, and wolves and lighthouses are everywhere. Norman Rockwell prints hang in frames on one side, while a stunning gray wolf gazes west on the wall behind me.

A dozen yellow silk tulips sit atop the bright tablecloth on the south side of the room, and a stuffed Bugs Bunny sits quietly in a corner next to a silent radio.

This is a good place to be, a sanctuary, really. No matter what it’s called, this is the perfect place to finish a story that takes its reader on a journey to a parallel place where time has no meaning.

And some days (and nights) we could all use a Boo’ya Moon like that.

There were a few things….

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Outside the courthouse in Cambridge, Illinois

I spent a lot of time convincing myself and others that I loved my job. And there were some parts of it that made it true, but I covered up and buried the things that frustrated, angered and humiliated me.

I covered felony cases at our county’s courthouse. On Mondays (or Tuesdays if Monday was a holiday) I covered preliminary hearings. That was my favorite part – new crimes, new defendants, a courtroom full of cops, attorneys and, sitting next to me, a fellow reporter (the competition) and my friend.

I was happy in either courtroom. Both judges were friends, but sometimes there were substitutes.

The prelims were held every Monday (or Tuesday) and the pretrial conferences were held every second and third Thursday. Some spilled over into the Wednesday before. I think the most I attended on any one day was 66.

Bench and jury trials made up the last week of each month. Those could be fascinating and/or confusing, but I always wanted to attend.

Now for the downside. It was frustrating to catch up with the state’s attorney to clarify a story. He either rushed out, was unavailable or did not return phone calls. I refused to write up something I couldn’t confirm and that could be a problem.

It angered me to read that someone thought I made stuff up. One family in town often had relatives in court and despite my putting in the facts, they would call my boss and tell him that I must have been on drugs that day. Another wrote that I had my nose stuck in a book and wasn’t paying attention. Even though I knew I would have the clerk’s transcript to back me up, I got angry that those opinions were out there.

Humiliation came one day when I asked for some copies in the circuit clerk’s office. If a defendant waived their prelim I often got a copy of the complaint and the newspaper was to be sent the bill. One clerk decided it would be just dandy to call out to me one day, “MARGI, WHY DOESN’T YOUR PAPER PAY ITS BILLS?” I could feel my face get hot, and to cut this short, I just decided to pay out of my own pocket.

I could have attempted to change any of those things but I didn’t. And now that I’m retired I can look back on my 13 years at the job and smile – at all the good memories.

Memories of Mom, lilacs and a beautiful pooch named Max

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Ah, Max. I miss you.

 

(This column, well, it’s special to me. Max was our oldest son’s dog. Clint brought him from Texas after he and his wife split up. Clint’s been missing for over 16 years and our one live tie to our son passed away on Mother’s Day.)

 

I think we sometimes set ourselves up on holidays, hoping for the best so we’ll have terrific memories. Now and then, something less than wonderful happens and our hearts are heavy, for a time anyway.

 

Kenny Chesney has a song whose first line goes, “sunny days seem to hurt the most” and when I first heard that I thought, finally, here’s someone who gets it.

It’s hard to be considered weird just because you prefer cloudy days. But there are more of us than I realized. We’ve discovered that part of the reason we feel this way is maybe because there are things going on in our lives that make it impossible to live up to what a sunny day expects of us.

Take this past Mother’s Day. I started celebrating a couple of weeks before when the lilacs bloomed. Their delicate scent always brings my mom to mind, and I never pass up a chance to find a way to get to a lilac bush every spring. Hubby bought me one a couple of years ago and it’s getting bigger, but it has a ways to go before it can match the one mom had.

That gorgeous bunch of lavender would swing and sway in the wild and windy spring storms we get in Illinois that would send a fragrance through our home that no one has ever been able to duplicate. Lilacs and mom, two beautiful creations that were here for too short a time.

I kept the small bouquet from our own plant until it withered, dried up and its petals dotted my kitchen table. I finally threw it away last Saturday.

The day before, our wolfpuppy Max started feeling a bit under the weather. She’s always had a touchy tummy, and we’d been through this before so we just kept an eye on her while we went about our business. She appreciated that because she needed her space, as most dogs do.

On Saturday I treated myself to a few hours at a bookstore. It was fun and relaxing, even if I didn’t get a lot of work done. Just being in a coffeeshop surrounded by books and magazines is enough for me. If you remember, and how could you help it, the weather over the weekend was perfectly lousy. It was cold, rainy, windy and generally unpleasant.

One would think that I would be happy with that, but that isn’t true. I really do prefer sunny days now. It’s fun to smile, laugh and enjoy life. It’s hard to do that with cold rain drizzling down your open collar.

By the time I drove home in the monsoon, I was a bit discouraged. It was an odd feeling, kind of like when you know something isn’t quite right but you don’t know what it is.

Max was not eating, only drinking, and she slept a lot. Usually she is up in our faces, getting tidbits and the last bite.

Sunday came and we went to breakfast. We came home and Max greeted us, her tail wagging a little less than usual. I was finishing the Sunday paper when she got really sick, so we headed for outside. Once there, she went into a seizure and hubby and I went a little crazy.

Surprisingly, Max popped up from the step and waited for us to bring her inside. We did that, but headed straight for the veterinarian. Suddenly it didn’t matter if it was Sunday or Mother’s Day; all that mattered was Max.

A preliminary outward check showed that things looked okay. We agreed to bloodwork, and left our Max to stay the night so she would get the proper care.

It had to be awfully painful for the doctor to make that call on Sunday evening. Max had passed away, he said, and he was sorry. I sat, stunned, and wondered two things: How could such a gentle man, who loves animals as much as he obviously does, deal with this type of work? And, how would I tell hubby that his little buddy was gone?

These last few days have been unforgettable, though I pray that will change. Funny, laugh-out-loud memories are inside of all of us who knew Max and someday we’ll bring those out to share. For now, though, we’ll try to get through each day until the pain subsides a little.

Gary Allan has a song, too, that I can relate to. It’s called, Life Ain’t Always Beautifuland the ending goes something like this:  Life ain’t always beautiful, but it’s a beautiful ride.

I’m going to remember that. Well, that, my mom, lilacs and Max. Three beautiful, unforgettable pieces of my life that were here for too brief a time.

Finally, Mom’s turn to learn love

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Mom and me

 

This one is a favorite of mine, for obvious reasons.

Prejudice has been a touchy subject with me for as long as I can remember. The worst part is, mom tried to teach us bigotry with her words and by example. Sis and I never understood it and have fought it all our lives. Mom finally did get the message though, and she learned from the only one who could have taught her.

            As a parent, it’s been my heart’s deepest prayer that our children would follow only the best examples of my life and never, ever emulate my shortcomings. I tried doing that with my mom but I’m not yet sure if the effort has been successful.

I don’t swear like mom did, nor do I smoke. I laugh – a lot, something she rarely did. Mom could cook like no one’s business and I’m not too far behind her there, yet there is more to learn.

Mom could juggle the bills with little money and I can do that, too. I think that sis and I handle stress better because we learned what works and what doesn’t. We consider that a major accomplishment.

There is one lesson, though, that mom unwittingly tried to teach early on that I never accepted. It’s a touchy subject with me, always has been.

At the young age of about seven or eight years old, mom tried to teach me to be prejudiced against anyone who wasn’t white. Sis and I were raised in a tiny town that had only one Hispanic family; the rest of the place was white. Mom told me in no uncertain terms that I was not to hang around with the daughter. The only reason she could give was that the girl had brown skin. She was different and that somehow made her inferior to us.

What a complete bunch of hooey. I knew it in my child’s heart then and I know it now. Mere words cannot express how thankful I am that I never bought into that mind-set.

I believed mom for a lot of things, important things, but this is one trait that completely confused and infuriated me. No one told me that mom was wrong; I just felt it. Instead of shunning this girl, I sought her out. She taught me how to ride a bicycle – her bicycle. We laughed together, played together, told each other little-girl secrets. She was my friend.

When we moved to Kewanee, sis saw for the first time in her life that there were people other than white. It freaked her out and it took quite a little while to get her to accept the obvious. She should have never had to experience her introduction to normal life like this, but it happened because our mom thought it best to raise us that way.

My guess is, and it’s probably right on the money, that mom’s parents passed on their racial ignorance to their children who in turn tried to pass it on to their children. Sadly, in many cases, the prejudice legacy is a success.

Sis and I learned first-hand how it feels to be looked down upon and humiliated, not because of skin color but because of social status. Wearing hand-me-downs, being raised by a single mother, using food stamps, living on welfare – all of these were reasons why we were shunned. We could identify and it was heart-breaking.

Mom got a lesson she never forgot when she became ill. On a two-week stay in Chicago’s Research Hospital, our mother shared a room with a lady who was not white. We found out later that mom did not have enough money to buy the extras, like snacks and such, and she got terribly hungry. Her roommate offered her some fruit that her family had left for her. Out of sheer hunger, mom accepted the apple.

At 2 a.m., mom’s roommate found her in the bathroom scrubbing the fruit until the skin almost came off. She waited until the water was turned off. Her soft voice reached inside mom’s heart like nothing else had. “You won’t get any black germs from the apple, Tony,” she said. Then she smiled and turned away.

Mom changed in a big way that day and she never looked back. What sis and I find precious is that she shared that experience with us repeatedly. We think she told us about it often to try and undo the years of wrong-headed thinking that never took hold in her daughters’ hearts.

It was only an apple, but mom learned what sis and I already knew. We were so happy she found out that love comes in all colors, a lesson every parent should hope to pass on to their children and grandchildren.