DEJECTION

I’m really hurting, but nobody’s even looking for me. I know Shelby isn’t. I really trusted her. I don’t know what I’m going to do now.

The day started out real nice.  The weather was perfect, still is at five in the afternoon. Eighty degrees, those bright white fluffy clouds floating across the sky, the slight breeze keeping us comfortable…I was hoping to go home feeling like a million bucks.  Now I just feel like, I don’t know—insufficient funds.

I sure know all about getting a check back with nsf marked on it.

I was so hoping I’d win at least one of the competitions today—most accurate costume, for instance.  Not that the prizes paid much but they would have helped.

But no, here I sit here in the shade, feeling like yesterday’s newspaper.  Not worth much besides wrapping potato peelings in.  That’s another thing I thought I’d win—best ranch fried potatoes.  But when Shelby ran off I just lost my heart for cooking for the camp.

As I said, the day started out good.  Shelby was in a good mood and it showed. I probably spent too much on those ribbons but she sure seemed proud to wear them.

Shelby is beautiful and she knows it.  She struts around with her nose in the air, like, “Look at me, ain’t I just gorgeous?” She gets plenty of attention, too.

She usually knows how to behave when she needs to. I guess today just wasn’t her day, or maybe it was something I said. I don’t know.  I didn’t slap her or anything, but when they shot off those cannons she jumped as high as I’ve ever seen her jump, and dumped me in the dirt on my butt before running away. I sure hope nobody was watching.

It’s a heckuva deal when you can’t even trust your own horse.

 

IN THE SHADOWS

It was ridiculous that at the age of twelve I was still afraid of the dark, but there you have it.  We lived out in the country, and there was no reason to suppose there were bogeymen hiding around blind corners.  But there was just something creepy about the church and those big scraggly bushes growing up around it.

The church looked nice enough, not falling down or anything, but there was never anybody there.  It just sat there.  I overheard grownups whisper stories when they didn’t know I was listening—a church split, one story went, and another theory was about a pastor dying or maybe even murdered behind the pulpit one Sunday morning, so nobody wanted to go to church there anymore.

Of course such mysteries made it all the more attractive to my loutish older boy cousins and scarier for me.

Some Sunday afternoons, when our parents were busy in Grandpa’s old house drinking coffee and arguing about what somebody paid for a new combine, cousin Carvel helped himself to the keys of his dad’s pickup and piled us all in to go over to the church property, about a mile and a half from Grandpa’s place.

Mind you, there was nothing there but the church and those bushes, so what could we do?  Well, play hide and seek, of course, and I was never “it,” so I would have to muster up my courage to hide behind one of the bushes.

It was late in the day the last time we played there.  The combination of darkness and deepening shadows nearly paralyzed me.  I ran behind the bush farthest from the front of the church where cousin Marvin was counting to 100.

No moon at all tonight.  No stars, either.

Oh, it is so dark!

Maybe I went too far.

Now I can’t hear the others at all. When will he call ollie ollie oxen free?  Will I hear him?

It’s so quiet.

Should I yell?  I don’t really want anyone to find me.  Carvel once came to where I was hiding and said we could hide together.  I didn’t like that at all.

It’s so quiet.

I feel like crying, but I don’t want them to find me like that.

Oh, I’m really really going to die here.  You can die of being afraid, I just know you can.

I won’t cry.  I won’t!

“Sing, little one.” A sweet voice close beside me. “Sing with me – Jesus, Jesus, Jesus…”

I couldn’t help it.  I ran to her.  She laid her cheek next to mine.  She smelled like lilacs.

So we sang.  Jesus loves me, Jesus loves the little children, Heavenly Sunshine…I guess I fell asleep because the next thing I knew my Daddy picked me up and carried me home.

He had been crying, I could tell, but now he was furious. I’d never seen him so angry.

It seems the boys had come back to grandpa’s house, thinking it was quite the joke to leave me there and not tell anybody where I was.

Mama knew I was scared of the dark, and held me tight, telling me she prayed I wouldn’t be afraid.

“Oh, I was crazy afraid at first, but the lilac lady came and we rested until Daddy came.”

Now every spring, when lilacs perfume the air, I remember her, smile and sing, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, there’s something about that name…”

THE BLUE DOOR

This story, entirely fictional, was inspired by the story of Irena Sendler, a Polish Catholic social worker who saved 2500 Jewish children from the Nazis.

 

Grandfather DeVries was a dour old Dutchman, but he had an artistic heart.  He kept an immaculate English-style garden in a small plot of land. Surrounded by dahlias, evening primrose, foxglove and hollyhock, shorter flowers such as love-in-a-mist, columbine and tea rose, gave way to a groundcover of creeping carnations, hosta and lavender.

A tiny white wrought-iron bench served as theater for the actresses I made out of hollyhocks. I sometimes carried them, singing, as I skipped along the stones leading to the blue door.

I was a curious kid, and felt a bit hurt when I neared the door and was rebuked with a sharp, “stay away from there.”  Through dirty windows on each side, I could see hoes and rakes, gardening gloves and baskets Grandfather used when he picked spent blossoms or the occasional impertinent weed. Once I tiptoed around behind the wall and found there was no behind the wall there.  The wall backed up to a tall berm that gave way to a concrete wall along the Prinsengracht canal, one of the main canals in Amsterdam.

Yes, I was a curious little girl, but it never occurred to me to ask Grandfather anything more about my parents after he told me they were “Ze zijn met God in de hemel.” (They are with God in Heaven.)  Perhaps I was afraid to ask more, as Grandfather choked up when he told me.

Details are hazy, but when I was about 10 years old, I met a lady named Josiena Van Der Weele and was told to go with her. My very few belongs were in a cloth sack like one would take to the market.  In the darkest night, we slipped into a light canoe on the North Sea Canal (Noordzeekanal) which took us to the harbor where big ships were boarded. As I said, details are hazy and looking back, I believe Ms. Van Der Weele laced the warm cocoa she gave me with a little something to help me remain quiet.

Once aboard the ship, a sweet couple named Willem and Josephine Bakker took me under their wing and told me I would be living with them from now on.  And so I did, living my life in the United States as Sophia Bakker.

When I think back I marvel at my compliance.  None of my children or grandchildren ever showed such cooperation.

Everything changed in 1975.  I received, by registered courier, a packet from Grandfather Visser’s attorney, notifying me of Grandfather’s death.

In the packet, along with a rusty key, a round-trip ticket to Amsterdam and the deed to Grandfather’s property, I found a cryptic letter from Grandfather.  The letter instructed me to open the blue door, carefully lift the gardening gloves off the hook, and proceed.

Grandfather’s attorney met me at the airport and we water-taxied to the place I spent my first ten years. Nothing felt familiar.

I did remember the blue door.  The garden was in poor condition, and we had to tear vines away from the door. Fitting the key was one thing, turning it was another.  Finally it creaked open.

Wishing I had worn gloves to take hold of the gardening gloves, held together as they were by spider webs, I lifted them from the hook.

Noting clockwise arrows around the hook, I turned it and shrieked when a narrow space opened, just wide enough for me. I almost stepped through, but a string hit me in the face.  A light bulb? Yes! A low wattage bulb revealed before me a sharply pitched stairway.

Normally I’m afraid of the dark and scared of narrow spaces, but now my curiosity was in full flare.  Blessedly I could hang onto a railing as I descended.  Another string pulled and another light came on, revealing…a well-appointed room!

Solid wood beams, a stone floor and walls, and two beds fully made up.  They smelled a bit musty of course, but this was crazy.

I sat at a dusty desk and opened the drawer.  There I found several journals of people who had been sheltered here from 1938-1945. A heavy vellum envelope, with a red wax seal, addressed in Grandfather’s elegant script read simply, “to Sofia only.”

I slipped a shaky finger under the seal.

As it happens, Grandfather Visser was not my Grandfather after all.  He was a shopkeeper whose business was ruined by the Nazis. He witnessed my parents being taken away, and in a moment of reckless bravery, grabbed me and raised me as his own granddaughter.

He lived a quiet life then. The journal wasn’t clear on how he supported himself and me.  During that time, and unbeknownst to me, he dug and fitted out this basement cavern and with Ms. Van Der Weele’s help, rescued hundreds of Jewish children, eventually creating an underground passageway to where canoes were secreted for this purpose.

My real name, he told me, is Hannah Deventer, and my parents were Isaac and Sarah. Jews.

I am forever grateful to the man who saved me and whom I will always remember as Grandfather, and to the Bakkers who raised me, and led me to the saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, my Messiah.

SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL

blacksmithMan, was I depressed the day I walked past the little church on the outskirts of town! It was an offshoot of what had been larger congregation in the church standing high on what was the old Martin property forty years ago.

I never did hear what kind of squabble they got into over at the Dutch church, as we all called First Reformed.

But anyway, this new church I walked by was made up of people who left the bigger church. They called themselves New Life. Kind of a Holy Roller church, from what I heard. And what with this being a nice spring day and all, they had the doors open and were singing up a storm. I could hear it out on the sidewalk. I confess I walked more slowly so I could understand.

“Shackled by a heavy burden…” they sang, starting over again. “Shackled,” that word caught my attention. You see, I’m a blacksmith, or am, at least, as long as I can hold out. The money for blacksmithing just isn’t there anymore. The ranchers do come in to get horseshoes, but most of them have the equipment to shoe the horses themselves. Some of the stuff I used to do for horses, like floating their teeth, owners have their vets do.

Back to “shackles.” We used to make those, back in the day. We’d get the right grade of iron, form it in a white-hot crucible, and send them to the prison system. I always hated making those things, whether they were to be used to hobble a horse or to shackle an inmate.

As I said earlier, business was off. I didn’t know how long I could keep the shop open, and when I walked past the singing church, something inside me rose up and almost made me cry.

“A crying blacksmith.” Now there you have a guy inspiring confidence in prospective customers!

I knew I looked a sight, but I was so choked up I couldn’t help myself. The door was wide open so I went inside, dirty overalls and raggedy shirt and all.

Funniest thing: Right near the back door there, a fancy, elegantly dressed lady,—I learned later she was the mother of one of the Deacons—extended her hand and kinda pulled me into her row of chairs.

You know how it goes. The deep blue funk I was in cleared up as soon as I asked Jesus into my heart.

Deacon Bakker and his wife had me over for dinner, and while I was at their house I noticed several pieces of iron fashioned into lovely shapes and designs.

They were—still are—a sweet couple, and the food was fabulous—meat and potatoes in a savory stew. In my opinion, perfect for Sunday after church. They didn’t have too many questions of course. It’s a small town and everybody knows everybody which is comforting…most of the time.
Iron art was all over the place. Wall hangings, sculptures, even a ferocious lion…I couldn’t take my eyes off them. Finally I asked where they found those beautiful pieces. That’s when Mrs. Bakker told me that her maiden name was Bogaard and her father was the first owner of my blacksmith shop. He kept very busy in those days, but when he had time, “He played,” she said, fashioning unique and lovely objects out of bits of iron around the shop.

Now I’m actually making quite good money for the items I make—little stick figures representing musicians out of iron nails, iron filigree wall hangings, coffee table sculptures—I’m not very good at those, yet–and intricate designs for garden gates.

Who would have supposed this washed-up blacksmith could morph into an artist?

The other day at church we sang another chorus with my name on it. “Something beautiful, something good…He made something beautiful out of my life.”

Castles in the Sand

sand-sculptorMama Edna worked hard around the house, and kept us clean and well taken-care of, so I can’t complain about that, but she’d like to drive us crazy with her hymn-singing, day and night, until we knew all the words to the songs she sang whether we wanted to or not.  I for sure did not want to.

First of all, Mama Edna wasn’t my real mother.  Daddy said my real mother died having me, and I should be thankful Mama Edna came along to be our new Mama.  Daniel and Raymond, my older brothers, said Daddy and Mama Edna had a wedding and everything, but I was too young to remember.  I just know I wanted the same Mama as Daniel and Raymond had.

Summers spent on the beach on Lake Michigan were a break from her constant singing.  We’d build castles with wet sand, using little pails, tin cups, and different colored aluminum water glasses. We dug moats around the castles, and it was fun watching the water come up into those moats.

Mama Edna loved the beach.  She’d look toward the horizon with her binoculars, and sometimes she’d see a merchant ship out there.  She’d call out grandly “They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; These see the works of the LORD, and his wonders in the deep.”

One time she came out to check on us, and she brought out little plastic flags and stuck them in the peaks of our castle. She stood up and started singing “Love is the flag flown high on the castle of my heart for the King is in residence there.”

I kicked the castle to pieces and stomped off. I was sure our real mother would let us play without pestering us. Of course I knew when the tide came in it would wash my castle away, but I didn’t mind.  In fact, the nice smooth sand called me to start over new.

The reason I just stomped off without kicking sand at Mama Edna and screaming at her was I had made the mistake of doing it once and Daddy saw it. He grabbed me by my arm and swung me over so he could beat my butt.  “That didn’t hurt,” I told him.  “I’m only crying because I’m mad.”  Not smart.  He bent me over his knee, “Now you’re going to cry until you’re sorry.”  Of course by then I was bawling and snot was running and I just wanted to go in the cottage and crawl in bed.  No such luck.

He picked me up—I was like five years old then—and handed me to Mama Edna with instructions.  “You rock this kid until he cries the fool out of himself and goes to sleep.”

Which she did. Singing! Talk about adding insult to injury.

Peace, peace, wonderful peace,
Coming down from the Father above!
Sweep over my spirit forever, I pray
In fathomless billows of love!

Now here I am, Captain of a cruise ship on the great waters of the Caribbean Sea, anywhere from 1200 to 4100 fathoms deep.  Consider those billows can rock this 60,000 ton vessel and then reflect on the fathomless billows of God’s love sweeping over my soul—yes, wonderful wonderful peace!

Mama Edna is in Heaven now, I’m sure of it.  Is she watching over me?  I’m not sure how Heaven works, but I like to think of the woman who gave me birth arm and arm with the woman who loved me all my life. They are at the feet of Jesus, and trust me, they are singing.

Elaine Soerens

October 2016

623 words

THE FULLER BRUSH MAN

Photo by Carl Soerens

It was a long time ago, and folks have varying versions of the story, and as all recitations of the story conclude, only the Fuller Brush man knows for sure.

Now Violet Wintersteen wasn’t especially pretty, and didn’t do much to enhance her few natural attributes.  Her eyes, which were a haunting shade of green, might have been an asset but for the fact they were too close together. Still, she kept a trim figure and her personality was unfailingly cheerful.

When asked why she never married—a rude question but people weren’t as politically correct in those days—she laughed it off with the usual “Just haven’t found the right man, I guess.”

She seemed content to teach grades one through eight at the country school.  She paid a trifling sum from her pitifully small salary for a room and two meals a day at Widow Martin’s house in walking distance from the school house. Her duties included, in addition to teaching all eight grades, keeping the school clean and sweeping the outdoor privies.

The story centers around money and the privy.  Specifically the girl’s privy. That’s where the Fuller Brush man comes in. How he happened on Violet while she was sweeping the little square building isn’t known, and neither is what happened after that.

What is known is when questions arose about Violet Wintersteen’s whereabouts,  the District officials investigated the school house and surrounding property. They found the outdoor toilet furnished with at least $200.00 worth of Fuller and Stanley products including  extra strength bowl cleaner, bowl brush and bowl brush holder, completely unnecessary in an outdoor pit toilet.

Widow Martin said she had not been aware of “anything funny” going on just because the Fuller Brush man often gave Violet a ride to her house after school.  The widow said she thought it was mighty kind, especially on snowy days.

She did say she worried some when the Fuller Brush man’s little brown van didn’t come around, but supposed it might be because it was a school holiday weekend.  Still, Violet had not let her know, nor did she take any of her belongings with her.

Not that Widow Martin snooped in people’s belongings usually; it was simply a matter of concern.  She was very fond of Violet.

When the Fuller Brush man showed up at the tavern on Monday after the holiday, he didn’t seem at all surprised when the local fellows hugging the horseshoe-shaped bar told him the scuttlebutt around town was that he and Violet must have gone off and eloped.  Yet here he was, and where was Violet?  Not in school, that’s for sure.

It was while they all were sitting there, polishing off beer after beer that the sheriff marched in and pointed at the Fuller Brush man.

“Where’s Violet Wintersteen?” He demanded of the Fuller Brush man who faced them with a friendly demeanor.

“She’s where she wants to be, I reckon.”

“Where does she usually want to be?” Sheriff’s voice showed some aggravation.

“She likes old abandoned buildings.  She says she can hear voices from the past if she sits still and listens.  Those tall old cylindrical silos for sure. She says they speak to her.”

Sheriff stilled.  “Didn’t Jonas Weber just have his silo filled the other day?”

There were murmured responses all around.

“Who was the last person to talk to her?” He looked around but the Fuller Brush man was gone.

As time went on, the Fuller Brush man could not be found.  His little brown van stayed on Widow Martin’s house, filled with valuable cleaning supplies.

If Jonas found Violet Wintersteen as he gradually emptied the silo to feed his cattle, he’s not saying.

Only the Fuller Brush man knows for sure.

 

Learning to Drive

 

Hitler and Stalin, I called them–the vehicles Dad used as my first driving experiences. I hated the beasts almost as much as I hated Grampa’s mangy cur he called Hitler.  Grampa said his mean dog was part wolf and I believed him.   I guess you could say I named the truck after a mean dog.  When my uncles hung around the yard they’d talk about Stalin and he seemed like a bad person, too, so the other truck got that name.

Both trucks were ’41 Fords that had seen better days. They were loud, stinky and didn’t have much power.  Power wasn’t a big deal when we were in the field alongside the silage chopper, but when we had to take a load of chopped corn up Boese’s steep hill—well, if I had known real curse words I would have used them then—if I could breathe, that is.  That old truck lugged so slow—I was never sure it wouldn’t stop and roll backwards down the hill.

What I had to do was to drive whatever truck I was in alongside the big silage chopper and make sure the spout blew the freshly chopped corn into the truck bed.  No air conditioning in those days, of course, so the trucks didn’t have doors on them, a fact that punished severely when I didn’t keep up and the chopped corn hit my legs instead of the truck bed.

Yes, I hated every minute.  Still, I was actually driving, and that made a ten year old girl feel pretty important. I had driven Dad’s John Deere tractor before, of course, but all the farm kids did that.  A truck was definitely a step up.

Another thing made me feel important and it was the other driver. Marvin was a guy Dad picked up near the tavern in town.  Said he was a nice fellow who was down on his luck and was willing to drive one of the trucks for low wages.  Marvin was real nice to me—brought me candy bars from town and told me I was real pretty.  Nobody ever told me that before.

One time Dad caught him tickling me.  He said, “Marvin, I believe we can handle cutting the rest of the corn by ourselves now.”  I couldn’t figure it out—we didn’t even have half of the fields cut and layered in the silo.

Dad always let Marvin take Hitler back to town, to the room over the tavern where he stayed, so he left with the agreement that Mom and Dad would get the truck later, when they went for groceries.

Shortly after Marvin left, Mom and Dad took our old ’49 Mercury into town for groceries. When they came back without Hitler I asked Dad why.

“Somebody said they saw the old truck flying off Apple Tree road, clearing the bluff and sinking into the Missouri River, “ he said. “And that’s the end of it, you hear?”

We never spoke of Hitler or Marvin again.

OBSERVATIONS OF A MAN ON THE STREET

Some days I almost can’t believe my eyes!  The way people dress to go out in public—and I’m not talking about Wal*Mart.  I suppose I might get beat up if I asked that woman over there—the one wearing sheer panty-hose over bikini underwear—did she have a mirror in her house?

And girl, you over there—Wanda Widebody–if you are going to wear booty shorts you need to consider spending a year or three at the gym. I like girl-butts as well as the next guy, but in moderation.

Here’s a picture for you:  A big man, I mean, weight-lifter big, with a tiny Chihuahua on a leash.  I thought that was funny until this skinny little girl strolls by with two black Newfoundlands.  Beautiful beasts, but mercy, they must be hot with all that fur!

I don’t really mind not being able to afford a TV.  I have all the entertainment I need here on the street.

Some stuff I don’t much enjoy.  Like mothers dragging their little kids through this crowd.  The kids are obviously tired and hungry and about half asleep on their feet, what with the lateness of the hour and the heavy herbal presence wherever you go.

I’d offer to take them on my lap and let them rest, but if you want to see a cop, that would draw them from where ever they are hiding.

The other day I saw something, and I’m still wondering if I should have reported it.  This guy is out here with his kid in one of those elaborate wheelchairs—the kind you have for quadriplegics or cerebral palsy. The kid was fascinated with a jazz ensemble on the street, and he reached toward it, but his hand flopped like a fish. His dad grabbed the hand, pushed it under a strap on the wheelchair, and then slapped the kid.

What caregivers have to go through!  I’m sure it must drive them to distraction sometimes, but still, if he does that in public, what does he do at home?  Guess I’ll never know.

One thing I do know.  Next time I see someone in trouble I will try to help.

Like that lady over there, the one coming out of Benny’s Quick Stop.  Looks like she can hardly walk, and she just tripped on a crack in the sidewalk, her groceries flying everywhere. A can of salmon rolled over to me, and I stopped it with my foot. I also picked up a couple of oranges after they rolled into the gutter.

“Let me help.  I’ll put these back in the bag.  Where is your bag?”

“You leave me alone, you dirty hippy! Don’t you touch my food.”

Fine. I threw them back on the sidewalk and they rolled out into the street just as a bicycle cop showed up.

“Why are you throwing fruit on the street?”

“I was just trying to help this woman—she tripped and dropped her groceries. She doesn’t want my help.”

The cop chuckled. “I’m sure she doesn’t.  That’s Marge.  She swiped those oranges and a few other things from over there, pointing at the convenience store. He reached behind himself, grabbed handcuffs and tried to handcuff her, but not before she swung her big purse—heavy with more contraband, bricks, from the weight of it—and whacked me on the back of the head.

By this time we have drawn a bit of a crowd.  Glad I could entertain them.

So we’re both getting a ride to our night’s lodging.  Marge is going to the pokey and I’m going to the ER to get stitches on my head.

 

A DAY IN THE PARK

Hang on Mom

The stooped-over old woman is staring at us and it is giving me the willies. I’m always wary of old men ogling Samara, but this is creepy. What is a woman as old as she is doing in an amusement park, anyway? Carrying a purse!  Seriously!

I have this eerie sense I’ve been here before. Along with a prickling on the back of my neck, I feel afraid, somehow. Maybe it’s just the old lady, the way she watches Samara.

My little girl is awfully cute, I get that. She has my mouth and my tawny skin, and her hair is thick and bushy like mine.  I asked Mama if I looked like her when I was her age, but she said no, and seemed annoyed with me for asking for baby pictures of me.   Even when I went through her things after she passed, I didn’t find old pictures.  My dad died in the service before I was born, but there were no pictures of him, either.

Now what? The old lady is crying and pointing to Samara.  A younger guy—maybe my age is trying to calm her down, but he’s staring at me.

We’re getting out of here.

Oh no, she’s crying harder and the young man, probably her son, is heading our way.

“Ma’am, I’m sorry, I know this must seem odd to you, but would you please talk to my mother for just a minute?  She insists she knows you. Mother hasn’t been well and sometimes she’s a bit delusional.”

“I don’t want her to scare my daughter,” I tell him.

“Don’t worry.  She will quiet down and speak gently to both of you.  Please?”

I don’t know what to say, but Samara pulls on my arm and says, “It’s okay, Mama.  I like grandmas.”

“Come, mother, this nice lady will introduce you to her little girl.”

Up close, the woman doesn’t seem as old as I thought she was. Her son did say she had been sick, and now I can see she’s quite weak and unsteady on her feet. Tears pooled in her eyes.

Samara runs right up to her and gives her a hug.  “Hi, Grandma,” she chirps, “How are you today?  Do you like coming to the park?”

“What’s your name, honey?”

“I’m Samara.  What is your name?”

“My name is Alice, and I am so happy to meet you, Samara.  I love how you call me Grandma!  You look just like your mama, you know.”

She seems harmless enough, but I still have goose bumps on the back of my neck.

By this time her son—he introduced himself as Stephen—brought her wheelchair.  She sits down in it and turns her attention to me.

“How are you, Stacy?”

“I’m fine, but my name isn’t Stacy, it is Jennifer.”

“Mother,” Stephen warns.

“It’s all right, dear.” She takes my hand and turns my arm slightly. “It’s still there,” she says, pointing to a heart-shaped birthmark on the inside of my arm.  “See that, Stephen?”

He pales.  Wordlessly he holds out his arm and shows an identical birthmark.

Okay, now I am officially freaking out.

Alice, with trembling fingers, snaps open her purse and pulls out a yellowed newspaper clipping.

Parents enjoying Walker Park on opening day are horrified as one of their twins is abducted.  Police say the mother was changing the diaper of the 22-month-old boy when an unknown person snatched his twin sister from the stroller. Police urge anyone at the park that afternoon call police with any information whether it seems pertinent or not.  Call 555-2912 and tell the operator you are calling about the Walker Park kidnapping.

As you may imagine, I can only stare.  At Alice, at Stephen—who has the same tawny skin and bushy hair, like Samara and me.

“Mama?” Samara watches as I sink to the ground. “Mama, what’s the matter?”

My ears ring and my head is buzzing with old questions and odd memories.  No baby pictures.  No daddy pictures. Not even a birth certificate. No history!

This will take some getting used to.

photo by Carl W. Soerens

NEVER MIND

pearl bluegrass-3

Photo by Carl Soerens

Doc Blanchard always was a surly old goat.  He was a good doctor, so people tended to massage his massive ego and he leaned up into all the praise like a stray tomcat to whoever was eating fried chicken.

It used to bug me the way he would saunter into church at the last minute, practically preening in his Armani suits.  He had his usual pew, well away from us old farmers in our clean Wranglers. Then, if the sermon went a little long, his beeper would go off and he’d have to leave, which he took his good-natured time doing, a smug half-smile on his face, looking straight ahead as if he’d been called by Gabriel’s trumpet. I still think he set the thing to go off at a certain time.

Speaking of musical instruments, he knew some of us got together of a Saturday and played bluegrass.  We invited him to join us—he’d let us know he was a skilled classical guitar player—but he declined loftily. “Hillbilly music is not my genre,” he said.

One of the mandolin players looked up “genre” and told us it just meant what kind of music.  I don’t think any of us wished we could play his genre. We were having too much fun jamming on what we were sure was pure D American music.

I hear bluegrass actually came in with immigrants.  None of us trace our ancestry to Ireland, Scotland or England, but ever since television came on the scene, we heard of these guys Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt.

Bill Monroe and his “Blue Grass Boys” first came on the Grand Old Opry the same year I was born.  As soon as I could sit up by myself,  my Dad parked me in front of our pitiful little black and white—more white snow than black anything—and handed me a banjo.  Before I could get the hang of the banjo—never did master the three finger pickin’ style of Earl Scruggs—I learned to sing that high, lonesome solo like Bill Monroe.

Several of us guys, and sometimes a woman or two, get together and just jam!  We all know the patterns and we take turns with the lead. We have a great time.  Usually there will be Frito pie and a couple pans of brownies in the break room.

Imagine our surprise—shock, really, when ol’ Doc Blanchard saunters in one day, his guitar slung over his shoulder.

I need to back up a little bit.  It had been all over the county ol’ Doc wasn’t practicing any more.  I’m not proud of how when I heard he had Alzheimer’s I thought it could not happen to a more deserving fellow.

So in he comes, in a white shirt, of course, and doesn’t say a thing.  He just sits down right across from me, and watches my fingers.  One song ended and he starts strumming his guitar and and singing “Wayfaring Stranger!” He started with one of the parts and nodded to me to sing Monroe’s high lead.  I tell you folks, it was a moment.

Now he shows up every Saturday.  Never says a word.  His wife Evelyn drives him there.  She says he comes alive on those days he plays with us.