Moms and Mom Stand-Ins

Miss Oneia Gahr, was as close to being my substitute mom as anyone.  My great-grandmother was her father’s sister.  She was mother’s best friend, attended the same college–earned a teaching degree.

Their personalities were exact opposites.  My mother was quiet and reserved, Oneia was outgoing and plain-spoken.  Mom taught fourth-grade elementary, Oneia, high school mathematics.  Miss Gahr was a strict disciplinarian at home, and no doubt, the same at school.

Several summers were spent working on Miss Gahr’s dairy farm.  As an adolescent, it seemed like pure drudgery.  Who knew dairy cows didn’t like their mornings interrupted?  “Talk to them gently, in a low voice, or they might kick you.”

That didn’t mean to act goofy and crazy, “Hey girls what’s happening this morning?” But, rather to be gentle, not boisterous.  It worked, and I never got kicked.  It did nothing, however, to stop swats from muddy cow’s tails.  To them, I was just another fly that needed swatting.

Whatever needed to be done–she worked as hard as any man around the farm.  She cut me no slack when it came to cleaning the dairy barn.  And, oh that cattle waste–tons of it, had to be hosed away.

Miss Oneia went at life full tilt.  Driving was no exception.  She liked flashy land yachts.  Had a slew of Pontiac Bonneville convertibles in the sixties.  Before that, she had a fifties-era, Ford hardtop convertible.

Riding with her in the old rattletrap Chevy pickup over farm roads was a neck-snapping thrill ride.  Nothing topped the day the wiring in the Ford two-ton grain truck  caught fire under the dashboard.  Acrid smoke filled the cab as the insulation burned.  Miss Oneia grabbed a hay bale hook, yanked out wires till the smoke subsided.

We always considered her part of the family, not just a distant relative.  All three of us boys raised bottle calves that she donated.  My sister raised a white pig.  She tutored me in Math and Geometry.  Happy Mom’s Day to both my mom, and my substitute mom!

 

 

 

Stone and Silk (Marvin & Janie)

My tarnished love story, written three years ago.  Because I believe none of us are perfect, and therefore, neither are our relationships.

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I was a dumb cluck from cornfield country.  She was a stone-cold beauty from the East Coast.  Now, there’s a pair for you.

Why he liked her so much was hard to figure.  She was mean–hard to get along with; demanded Marvin’s full attention, morning, noon, and night.  Marvin brought Janie flowers, pretty things, but, it never seemed to matter.  At work, Marv was always borrowing money; because he never had any.  Maybe he thought that was the way relationships were supposed to be?

God forbid Marvin ever looked at another woman–even, for  a casual glance.  When he did, Janie pummeled his arms and shoulders with flailing fists.  He had to have a high tolerance level.  Was Janie that insecure–jealous of other women?  There’s supposed to be someone for everyone.  What had Marvin done to deserve her?

When Marvin worked late, Janie was a nervous wreck until his car pulled into the driveway.  He always called home before leaving work.  They fought like cats and dogs, but when Janie was sick, Marv was always there by her side.  Nobody knew what went on behind closed doors.  Their private lives were kept private.

The Revelation:  Janie had been a former Vegas “showgirl”–if you could call it that.  “The Swan” was a seedy, obsequious dive bar–with obligatory flashing lights, plenty of cigarette smoke and loud music–hidden in the bowels of Las Vegas.  It was just close enough to the strip, to siphon off drifters from the mainstream and stay in business.  Christened, “The Swan,” because the managing partner’s name was Schwann, not because it had anything to do with Swan Lake–or anything cultural.

The Miracle:  Was, that they ever got together in the first place.  Janie danced at The Swan, because that was all she had.  The shame, less important than necessities of life, she desperately needed.  She lived a distorted, Machiavellian, nightmare of what life should be.

Through thick-bottomed drink glasses, Janie was every guy’s ideal woman–worthy of stuffed, sweaty, dollar bills, donated by countless, faceless, nameless men, ascending/descending from emotional highs and lows–in various stages of self-control.

Marvin nodded off into semi-consciousness that night, until his head hit the table.  Then, he became just another bottom-feeder, milked dry, tossed out and left for dead.  “Nighty night–sleep tight,” The bouncer mocked.

The next thing Marv remembered was waking up in the back alley.  “I know I heard “Jingle Bells’ playing somewhere,”  Marv said.  “Or, more likely, it was my throbbing head.”  That’s when Janie walked out the back door.  Marvin’s clothes were damp, dirty, and disgusting.  He was pitiful in a sad, floppy-eared puppy dog sort of way.

She took pity on me–bought me a cup of coffee at the diner across the street.  She told me right up front, it wasn’t going any further.  I asked the same question, she heard every night in the bar.  How’d a pretty girl like you, end up in a place like this?  She turned the question right around.  How had I ended up thrown out of a Vegas bar in an alley?

I answered, It was because I was a hopeless screw-up.  It was a moment of brutal truth–the first time I’d been honest with myself, or any one else, in my life.  The funniest part–we toasted, first to mutual failures, then to hopeless screw-ups.  I didn’t have a dime to my name, but I sure felt better.

We had a lot in common, as it turned out.  She was running away from abusive home life with an alcoholic father.  I’d been kicked out of the house, by my father, at nineteen to sink or swim.  At that moment, I knew I loved Janie.  If given the chance, some day I’d ask her to marry me.

From what Marvin told me, their courtship was a bit like a Hollywood movie script.  The bar’s owner didn’t want Janie to quit; had her followed–made life miserable.  I suspected there was more to that part of the story and he wished to keep it secret.  Love always found a way, so they met secretly at different locations; like underworld spies, or refugees from a war-torn world.

Marvin sat at a table near the entrance of one pre-determined location.  Janie came in a few moments later; sat at an adjoining table.  “You know–I once sprained my elbow,” Was Marv’s opening line.  It was finest cloak-and-dagger, old-time movie dialogue.  “Daffodils bloom in the springtime,”  Janie answered.  To which Marvin asked, “Did you know bats slept upside down?”  Janie opened her purse, took out a white handkerchief.  They walked out together, laughing at their private jokes–played out to perfection.

Their Escape:  Janie and Marvin’s escape from “Sin City” was, no less intriguing.  Highlighted by a two-day exile in an abandoned basement; hiding from some unsavory characters.  It ended with a four-day bus ride to middle Tennessee.  They didn’t know a soul there.  Marvin hoped to land a job at a nearby auto assembly plant.  Janie was hired to wait tables at a local mom and pop eatery.

Marvin and I started work the same day, working swing shifts as janitors, for a starting wage of 2.35 per hour–extra for nights and weekends.  It was good money for a couple of young guys with no experience.  What I learned about Marv and Janie, came from working together at Chrysler for 38 years.  There were occasional encounters with Janie at the supermarket.  They stayed pretty much close to home.

Both of them are gone now.  I feel their presence every day–especially when I see young couples in love, laughing at private little jokes.  Soul mates, lovers–whatever you choose to call them; neither, could have survived without the other.

My first impressions were very wrong.  Janie went first–passed away in Marvin’s arms.  Marv passed away nine years later.  I was there to bid my friend goodbye.  When death knocked at the door–theirs was the only way to go; surrounded by those that loved them most.

 

 

 

Where Has This Day Gone?

It’s already 11:30 AM.  What are we going to have for dinner?  What am I going to write about?

Rush, rush, my morning routine to meet an early doctor’s appointment.  Then, the usual hurry up and wait at the doctor’s office.  By then it was mid-morning.  I’m not on a schedule, so why did it matter?

My wife suggested late breakfast.  Since we skipped it earlier, I was famished by then.  A chain restaurant known for pancakes was the answer.

Our daughter is moving today.  We’re too far away to help.  It’s true, moving is a true test of friendship.  We’re with her in spirit.

CONVERSATION WITH A FRIEND

“There seems to be a general decline in the “effimacaciousness” of this blog,” Floyd observed–stroking his chin.

“How you figure?”  I answered his question with a question.

“He who answers a question with a question is a fool,”  Floyd replied.

“Will you get to the point and knock off the pseudo-intellectual shtick.”

“You’re first and foremost, an imaginary character that exists only in my mind.  If it wasn’t for me you wouldn’t be here.”

“Did I hurt your feelings?  Don’t get your shorts in a bunch.  Just listen.”

Floyd was attired for summer–bib overalls and slouchy railroad engineer’s cap.  At least this time he had on a t-shirt.  Customary brown chewing tobacco spittle stained the corners of his mouth.  He expounded homespun philosophy with one foot on the front bumper of his light blue Ford pickup.

“All I was trying to say–is you need to lighten things up a bit,” Floyd answered.  “Most people get &^*$%# tired of hearing the same negative @#%!&^ day after day.”  I failed to mention that Floyd’s vocabulary would make longshoremen blush.

“I glad to see you turned out smarter than your buddy Larry.  He’s “purt near” broke with three ex-wives.  Hasn’t got a pot to (*#$@ in.  He should have had enough &^*%$#%@ sense to quit after wife number two.”

I hadn’t thought about Floyd for a long time.  Something about unshaven, sweaty men in bibs I’d rather avoid–as a general rule.  He was a memorable character.  If one looked past the disheveled, gruff exterior–he always gave good advice.

WHEN THE BIG EASY WASN’T SO EASY

streetcar

Conditions could not have been worse–torrential rains, with thunder and lightning, didn’t let up the entire day.

Interstate highway lane markers were barely visible.  At times, barely creeping along, rooster tails of water from passing trucks engulfed my car.

There were rivulets of water flowing across the parking lot.  What an introduction to the French Quarter and New Orleans, for my visiting friends.  Recently purchased yellow rain ponchos were immediately employed.  After a quick jog across the parking lot splashing through standing water; we reconnoitered inside a nearby mall.

Making day trip plans in advance is a gamble.  It became a day of exploring neighborhoods–people watching, via streetcars and public transportation.  Near the end of the St. Charles line, an inebriated woman, with a bottle of her favorite adult beverage in a paper bag, engaged passers-by in unsolicited, spirited conversations.  A young woman with an umbrella tried to ignore her.

At the same stop was another young lady with a device strapped to her ankle.  My imagination went to work.  She was under house arrest?  Her ankle monitor could was about to go off?  Would the NOPD show up–take her into custody?  My friend, suggested it was probably a physical therapy device.  I was more suspicious–something clandestine had to be going on.

Driving through the French Quarter wasn’t the same as walking through it.  I felt sorry for the homeless people taking shelter in vacant storefronts.  A couple of them were amused by our bright yellow rain ponchos.   We looked like four yellow ducks.  The street performers weren’t out, neither were the colorful mule-drawn carriages.

We met some nice visitors from the New England area.  We joked about parts of the Big Easy being under sea level.  They got off at the Harrah’s casino stop.

Decisions had been influenced by weather conditions the entire day.  The restaurant, near the parking lot, was a pleasant surprise.  The waiter, in my opinion, had a passing resemblance to the actor that portrays the “David Lee” character on “The Good Wife”–minus the cynicism.

Weather conditions weren’t the least bit kind.  The Big Easy, whetted my appetite for another visit; to taste more of what this wonderful city has to offer.  And, the barbecued shrimp entree, (which I’d never tried before), was delightful.