Sunday, December 13, 2009
For the choir really meant well when it embarked on the ferry to entertain its passengers. The dunk into the bay of sopranos, altos and tenors and the resulting confusion was never part of the plan.
Pic of the Day
The Charismatic, Catholic, Christmas Choir
It wasn’t the entire choir of Most Holy Blessed Sacrament that agreed to participate in the Christmas party at the Leonardtown Ferry terminal. Which is no matter because so far as the public in Warren county, Washington and locale of the Most Holy Blessed Sacrament Catholic church knew, it was the entirety of the Most Holy Blessed Sacrament choir that got all mixed up and ended up with five members-, an alto, two sopranos, a bass and one tenor, in the waters of the Monogasat Bay,- swimming for their very lives as the Leonardtown Ferry merrily sailed away unmindful of the desperate choir members struggling in the waters below.
This did not make Father George happy because, as he explained that night after the incident, the local newspapers referred to the choir members overboard as the choir of the Most Holy Blessed Sacrament and this incident did not reflect well on the parish of the Most Holy Blessed Sacrament. Father George was ever mindful of public relations in Warren county as he’d just had two spanking new buildings erected next to the Most Holy Blessed Sacrament church, a Parish life center and Religious Education Center. Father George promised Bishop Wright that he thought he could sign up maybe three thousand more parishioners at Most Holy Blessed Sacrament but now, what with the choir taking a dunk in the Monogasat Bay and the bizarre story behind it all he was not at all pleased for having to calm down Bishop Wright.
“I expect each and every one of you to sign up a new parishioner by the end of this month,” Father George told us through tight angry lips. “Maybe then I’ll forget that whole sad episode and the insanity of doing such a thing without the blessing of the church.”
Father George then gave Judd Turner a quick glance and walked off in a huff.
Actually it was Judd Turner, the music director of the Most Holy Blessed Sacrament church, who was responsible for all the confusion of the now infamous choral performance of the MHBS choir on the Leonardtown Ferry which was supposed to be at the Leonardtown Ferry TERMINAL, not on the actual Ferry and if Judd hadn’t messed up that little piece of information at the very least none of us would have fallen in the Monogasat Bay while singing “The First Noel/Pachebel’s Canon” on the rolling deck of the Leonardtown Ferry. Saddest of all, while Elsie, our flute player, didn’t fall into the Mongasat Bay, she lost her flute, just another victim of what has come to be known at MHBS as the Mongasat Bay Choir Massacre, dubbed so by a few wisenheimers on the pastoral council.
The whole thing began when Judd sent us all an email advising us that a parishioner heard us singing at the 7 am mass and inquired as to whether we might like to perform for the Leonardtown Ferry Christmas party scheduled in early December. I thought it was a great idea and returned the email telling Judd to count me in. The Ferry Christmas party was scheduled on a Wednesday night while our choir practice was on Thursday nights. At the next choir practice, Judd said he thought the Wednesday night date would interfere with our practice and with the Christmas program of MHBS so close to the date of the Ferry Christmas party he didn’t think the choir participation to be a good idea.
I was disappointed at Judd’s announcement but not surprised. Judd had been the music director of MHBS since the church was built, then some ten years, and Judd was not known far and wide for his vigor and enthusiasm to try anything new or expand his horizons.
“It’s too bad about the Ferry Christmas party,” Wendy, the choir’s song conductor and her words stopped me as I packed up my music to head home after practice. John Ryan, the choir’s best tenor, and Allen Markham, our most dependable bass, looked up.
“I don’t know why he won’t let the choir participate in some of these local events,” Nancy Ryan, John’s wife, said. “Last year we were asked to sing at Sunfest and Judd turned them down flat. Sunfest is in the Fall, hardly any busy time for our choir. Now Judd has the excuse of the church Christmas program being so close to the Ferry party but that’s all it is, an excuse.”
By now about ten members of our choir were standing around, grumping and complaining about Judd’s decision to not allow the choir to participate in the Ferry Christmas program. Seems I wasn’t the only one disgruntled by Judd’s iron hand and besides I had no idea he’d blocked us from singing at the big Sunfest event, a huge local event designed to bring tourists to our local beach areas after the summer season had passed.
Even now, a full five weeks after the unfortunate event it’s been difficult to compile, correlate and calculate just how the confusion came about but as best as I can tell, it was Nancy Ryan who began the email game of “gossip” that made an original email stating that Judd was thinking about relenting to her pleas to allow the choir to sing at the ferry terminal, that, if so, we should be there at 7:00 pm on Dec. 6, and we would probably be singing “Mary Did You Know?” and “Praise to the Newborn King” as we already knew these songs to turn into an email stipulating that Judd had definitely agreed to allow the choir to sing on the Leonardtown Ferry, that we should be there for take off at 7:30 pm, that we would be singing “The First Noel/Pachebel’s Canon”, a song we barely knew.
There were other factors that contributed to the big mix-up, not the least of which was the fact that Nancy did not have the correct email addresses of all the choir members so she sent out to those whose email she knew and asked us to forward the emails to those not included on the original email list. Jane Martin got an email from Bob Doyle that an email was being sent out about singing on the Ferry. Jane sent an email to Joe Tang asking about it and Jane got Joe’s email address wrong so it was returned to her. Jane saw Joe’s wife the next day at the grocery and asked what was going on with the Ferry. Joe’s wife didn’t know a thing about it so she emailed Barbara Wooden who said she couldn’t make it that night but she’d just talked to Allen Barker and he wanted to know what song the choir was singing so he could bring the right music. All of this email-go-round went on after our weekly Thursday choir practice on the week proceeding the Wednesday when we were scheduled to sing on the Ferry so Judd Turner was essentially, out of the loop.
And so on December 6, eight members of the choir of Most Holy Blessed Sacrament boarded the Leonardtown Ferry. We were surprised that we had to pay for the trip across Monogasat Bay but then again no one ever addressed the matter one way or the other. We were also surprised that only eight of us showed up what with all the email and excitement but we shrugged and said we’d carry on, that we made a commitment. A trip across the Monogasat Bay is not cheap, however, coming in at about $15.00 per passenger and we were all in a bit of a snit over having to put up our money when we were, essentially, providing the entertainment. At least as we saw it and no one knew the name of the parishioner who originally suggested we sing on the ferry at any rate, no one knew who had come up with the song choice, no one knew, for that matter, where the hell the other 15 members of the Most Holy Blessed Sacrament Choir were that night and, of course, it was windy and rainy and the ferry was rocking.
It did turn out that Santa Claus was to be on the ferry that night so we all figured we were in the right place. We went to the ferry’s lounge but there was no room anywhere for a choir what with the big Santa seat set up, the roped lines for the children to wait their turn to sit on Santa’s lap and goodness all the photography equipment.
John Ryan, the only tenor to show up that night, along with Alan Markham, the only bass, found someone who was in charge of the social activities on the ferry but she had no idea where the choir was to stand as it seemed, ahem, there was no room at the inn. She also did not know why we had to pay to get on the ferry so we dropped that issue and decided to deal with it later.
The ferry’s social director did find a roped off area out on the deck of the ferry and she directed us all to it. “When we get close to the Cape Jerome shore the ferry captain is going to summon all the passengers out to this area so we can see the pretty lights of the decorated Victorian homes as the ferry pulls into the Cape Jerome terminal. I’m thinking this is when the choir would be singing Christmas carols, to entertain the passengers as they watch the lights.” The ferry social director wiped her face and apologized for the awful weather but explained that this is the nature of planning activities so susceptible to unpredictable weather.
All eight of us began to grouse about having to sing in the pouring and blowing rain. We went on to moan about the fifteen bucks we had to pay then, now worked up to an angry rage, we all vowed to quit the Most Holy Blessed Sacrament Choir and we vowed to give that lazy Judd Turner some gigantic pieces of our minds.
Nancy Ryan finally shushed us all up and gave us a lecture on doing what we promised to do, that Christ the Savior would be born this month, that Mary gave birth in a cold manger in nasty weather herself and here all we had to do was sing. I found a little fold up umbrella in my purse that I’d forgotten I had and we all managed to get under it and in due course we got to laughing about our predicament but it was in the spirit of the season so we decided to brave on and deal with the problems later.
The fact that only two people even bothered to come out on the deck at the behest of the ferry’s pilot urging over the boat’s PA system was a bit disheartening but we all huddled under that little flimsy umbrella and decided we would entertain those two brave folk with the best rendition of “The First Noel/Pachebel’s Canon” they’d ever hear coming from the mouths of eight wet, cold and seasick people. We didn’t even let the fact that we didn’t know that song save the first two of ten pages stop us from our quest.
It was when the ferry let out a huge belch of smoke and rolled up over a huge wave that came out of nowhere that the real problems began. And there we were singing our anthem bravely and not doing half bad except for the roaring wind which drowned us out and a couple of us got to coughing when a wind gust swept a cupful of water into our mouths unexpectedly. This took alto Nancy Ryan out of the harmony along with our tenor and bass. The sopranos were able to continue on which is why we probably missed the ferry’s dip into the Monogasat Bay that sent five of us overboard plus Elsie’s flute.
The ferry quickly righted itself and the five of us swimming in those cold waters struggled to keep above water as Elsie screamed at us from the deck of the ferry to save her flute and none of us knew if help would come soon enough.
I was doing an okay doggie paddle and managed to quell my panic enough to notice that we weren’t far from the shore line. Nancy Ryan, however, is a somewhat large woman and she kept going down below the waves. Her husband John, not a small person himself, kept trying to get to her but Monogasat Bay was angry and roiling.
I decided to swim over to both of them with images of proud headlines about the Most Holy Blessed Sacrament’s choir member who managed to swim to the shores of Cape Jerome while pulling over four hundred pounds of human flesh to safety. Except on my second swim stroke my feet touched something odd and I realized it was something solid, not watery at all. I plunked my foot down and stood up and found I was only in water up to my knees at that point. In a few seconds I slipped again but my hands did a Braille type of maneuver and I realized I was on some rocks. I screamed over to John that he should grab Nancy and move forward a couple of feet, that there was a rock jetty right close.
All five of us managed to get atop the rock jetty and I don’t know, we thought maybe there would be a bastion of Coast Guard boats with blinking lights at the ready to pluck us from the cutting rocks and out of the chill air, to safety, perhaps a warm towel. Instead we heard the ferry horn blow hoarsely and watched Elsie as she continued to beg us to save her flute.
We were actually able to walk along the jetty to the ferry terminal at Cape Jerome where the ferry’s social director and a few other ferry personnel awaited us. They were getting ready to summon a rescue for us we were assured.
So it turned out that the Christmas party was at the ferry TERMINAL, on the Leonardtown side, alas, not on the actual ferry and, indeed, about twelve choir members of Most Holy Blessed Sacrament Church were, even as we shivered from the chill and fear, singing “Mary, Did You Know” after receiving a rollicking applause for a few other holiday tunes they’d sung earlier. Judd Turner was also at the Leonardtown ferry terminal and he’d been griping the whole time about where were we , his best alto, bass and tenor, when we’d been the ones complaining about wanting to attend the Christmas party at the very start.
A couple of local reporters happened to be on the ferry that night, one complete with a camera. St. Catherine’s, located across Monogasat Bay in Cape Jerome, is an ersatz rival of Most Holy Blessed Sacrament and the reporter was a St. Catherine’s parishioner. St. Catherine and MHBS are friendly rivals as these things go, to be sure, but given a chance one church will revel in the travails of the other. Which must be against some commandment as I lamented to John Ryan in the aftermath of our disaster. It was the stuff of mockery, the photo of five very wet, bedraggled members of the Most Holy Blessed Sacrament choir not to mention their absurd story to accompany the photo. Alongside the pictures of our five pathetic selves, of course, was a merry picture of the rest of our choir, all dressed festively, laughing, eating snacks, drinking punch, hair perfectly coiffed, enjoying their time at the Leonardtown Ferry terminal’s annual Christmas party.
I managed to coax a parishioner from St. Catherine’s to come join Most Holy Blessed Sacrament church in fulfillment of Father George’s “punishment” for our mess up. Nancy and John Ryan managed to convince the two reporters from Cape Jerome, also parishioners of St. Catherine’s, to sign up for MHBS. “I want to belong to a church which has such brave and audacious choir members,” one told Nancy. After the story of our mishaps was published in the Cape Jerome newspapers, we heard rumors that over fifty people called for information to sign up to be MHBS parishioners.
Judd Turner devised a special email listing, with an email address that would be used ONLY for choir issues. He’d enjoyed the Christmas party at the Leonardtown Ferry terminal so much and like John Ryan said, a little publicity goes a long way in attracting new parishioners.
Not that we made a big deal of it, but a few weeks after it all came down, weeks of mirthful publicity about the dunking taken by the MHBS choir, the pictures of the new buildings on the MHBS church campus, the publishing of a video on the MHBS web site of the concert given at the correct locale- the ferry TERMINAL- on that fateful night, attendance at the church has increased, inquiries about joining the MHBS parish family keep coming in, darn, Elsie was invited on TV for the local cable channel and was gifted with a brand new flute. The Leonardtown Ferry returned to each of us who showed up to sing for the passengers on the Leonardtown Ferry the $15.00 plus two free tickets for a future trip, date of our choice.
Father George has dubbed us the underwater members of the Most Holy Blessed Sacrament Choir and every once in a while has us step forward after the choir sings the anthem for proper introduction.
With a stern but bemused smile on his face, of course.
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Sunday, November 22, 2009
It had been in her oven for sure until a half hour before serving. Then her turkey turned up missing. She did the only thing she could do under the circumstances. She stole her neighbor’s turkey.
Which action landed her in jail and other hilarity that is a tale to repeat each Thanksgiving holiday.
Pic of the Day
The Case of the Missing Thanksgiving Turkey
“Tell us the story about the time the Thanksgiving turkey disappeared right out of the oven Grandma!”
I waved my hand to shush my granddaughter, Mary May. Everyone then gathered around my Thanksgiving table had heard the story a thousand times. Except, of course, a handsome young fellow named Edward, who was Mary May’s guest this holiday.
“I’d love to hear that story Mrs. Bobbit,” the handsome young Edward said to encourage me and I figured I could let the turkey rest a few more minutes while I regaled the ensemble gathered around my table to thank God for the bounty of the harvest, America, family, whatever each was thankful for. I do dearly love to recount the story of the Thanksgiving when our turkey had been blissfully roasting in my oven then suddenly turned up missing, boom, yes, completely gone.
Well it was just the strangest thing.
It was 1977. My daughter, Mary May’s mother, Genevieve, Ginny for short, was ten years old. Her older brother, George jr., was twelve years old. My beloved husband, now departed, was very much alive and was very excited that year in that he was up for promotion and his boss, the bosses’ wife, and their two children, were our guests that Thanksgiving. Of course George didn’t want to get me all worked up over the pressure that normally accompanies preparing a Thanksgiving meal, much less one to be consumed by my husband’s boss. George’s promotion to manager of the accounting department at the hospital where George was then employed was so very important to our family. George and I had been planning on finally buying our own home and we needed this promotion to continue on to that American dream. But worked up I was, goodness. I was a right sharp cook and Thanksgiving dinner had always been my favorite meal to prepare for my family. As best as I could, I kept myself calm and purposeful, writing lists for food, to-do’s for the big meal, orders for my own children as to proper behavior, essentially covering all the bases to make that meal a most successful endeavor that would have George head of Bon Secours accounting department within the week following Thanksgiving day.
For all my organizational skills, how could I possibly have anticipated that my turkey, beautifully browned, stuffed with sausage and chestnut dressing, basted to a perfect sheen, would totally disappear from my oven with no explanation for same?
I know the turkey had been in the oven at around 3 pm that Thanksgiving afternoon because I’d informed all then eagerly awaiting the turkey that so teased their noses that the meal would be on the table in about a half an hour. I’d moved the sweet potatoes around within the oven cavity to insure their proper doneness and it was an effort with that big turkey in the way and I even had to pull out that extra dish of dressing to make room for a quick heating of the rolls. All the while that turkey was in that oven, I swore on my children’s lives to George right after it went missing, such was my distress.
“You’ve been smelling it roasting all morning, George,” I said, half-sobbing , half-cursing the gods who managed to steal my perfectly roasted Thanksgiving turkey right out of my oven within a half hour before I was ready to serve it at my Thanksgiving dinner.
“You got to know I’m not nuts. This entire house smells like roasting turkey! You saw me prepping the thing this morning, dear Lord! But it’s not here George! Look for yourself.”
George had alternately been trying to keep my voice down to a hysterical stage whisper lest his boss hear and debating me whether there had ever been a turkey in that oven.
“I do smell the baking turkey smell, Rhonda,” George acquiesced this point to me during the hushed kitchen debate. “But I really didn’t see you prepping the turkey this morning. Rhonda you were up at 5 am this morning beginning the preparation for this dinner! I mean please, Rhonda, I believe you. It’s just that I can’t get my mind around how an entire turkey can just disappear from someone’s oven. Not a single one of us heard a thing, Rhonda. We’ve got a house full of people here, Rhonda. Somebody would have seen something.”
Of course George was right. We had kids running around all over the place, a house full of adults walking all around, goodness I’d been in the kitchen at least once every twenty minutes. Somebody would have seen a turkey thief taking off with a 23 pound almost fully cooked turkey one would think.
“Well we’ve got to do something, Rhonda. I think the Shop-A-Rama is open. They were selling fully cooked turkeys this week, maybe they’ve got some left. I’m going to tell everyone the very strange story of the missing turkey and then me and Rob will run down and see if we can’t scarf up a cooked turkey, maybe a roast chicken from Shop-A-Rama’s rotisserie if we have to.”
I saw our first real house fade from my happy dreams. We’d invited George’s boss for Thanksgiving dinner and somehow lost the damn turkey. I wouldn’t promote someone in charge of my company’s finances that was so pathetic as to lose the turkey on Thanksgiving Day. And yet, the thing was gone. I begged George not to tell his boss about the missing turkey, that I maybe could get a turkey.
I kind of mumbled something to George about getting my mother to fry up a turkey in her deep fryer but that was not a good idea. First, my mother’s deep fryer wouldn’t even hold a small chicken. Second, my mother lived fifty miles away. By the time she fried up some kind of edible bird and I could somehow get a hold of it some two to three hours would pass at the least. No I had another plan.
I am a devout Catholic and attend mass at least once a week. My plan to steal my neighbor Mrs. Martin’s turkey came from a desperation that was bottomless. I made a sign of the cross and promised God I would make it up to Mrs. Martin somehow, some way.
Mrs. Martin told me the week before that her eldest son, his wife and their two adult children would be coming by for Thanksgiving dinner this year. Mrs. Martin was so filled with joy as the two prior Thanksgivings Mrs. Martin’s children left the poor woman alone. George and I always invited her to have Thanksgiving dinner with us but I always wondered how her own sons could leave her alone on such a special day.
“Johnny, he has such a busy job, you know,” Mrs. Martin told me, the joy of knowing her son would be at her home for Thanksgiving quite obvious by the shine in her ageing blue eyes. “His oldest son is bringing a ham but I don’t believe Thanksgiving is Thanksgiving without a turkey. So I’m going to bake a turkey and goodness I don’t see why we can’t have both a ham and a turkey on Thanksgiving day.”
It was my memory of this conversation that prompted me to my plan to steal Mrs. Martin’s turkey. They’d have a ham after all and this way I could save my pride and dignity with George’s boss. Mrs. Martin, she was just the sweetest woman. But she was getting very forgetful and what with being in her mid-80’s she tended to be just a bit senile. I took to checking in on her a couple of times a week and I often wondered why any of those two sons she always talked about never came to check on her. George and I lived next door to Mrs. Martin by then almost three years and we’d never seen either of her two boys or her grandchildren come to visit.
It would be like taking candy from a baby, or goodness, a turkey from an elderly somewhat senile woman. I knew the layout of Mrs. Martin’s home and if I could somehow fool her son into thinking I was in his mother’s kitchen for some valid purpose other than to steal the turkey from her oven, I figured I could pull it off. I was sure Mrs. Martin would be dismissed as forgetful, as perhaps never having baked a turkey or as having somehow misplaced it. If my own husband had his doubts about my mental capacity as regards my missing turkey, and I was in my mid-30’s at the time and had yet to show any signs of senility as of that date, then I was sure Mrs. Martin’s family would eat the ham and laugh over their missing turkey.
The next few hours are all a blur to me. Even with the passing of these many years I mostly remember my terror when the handcuffs were placed upon me, the shock on my husband’s bosses’ face, the fear in my children’s eyes and the disappointment in George’s voice as he asked me over and over why I did such a thing.
I managed to get through Mrs. Martin’s sun porch to her kitchen with no problem. I heard the sound of voices, the tinkle of glasses, the shifting of chairs from Mrs. Martin’s living room. Mrs. Martin’s house was older and the rooms were a bit of a maze. To get to her kitchen from the living room required a walk through the dining room then a walk down a short hallway before making a left into the kitchen. Mrs. Martin’s stove was right by that back door and I figured it would only take me about fifteen seconds to pull that turkey out of the oven and rush out the door. I already had potholders in my hands to pull off my stealthy and dirty deed.
Mrs. Martin’s scream made me drop the turkey and of course the hot grease splattered on my legs and I too screamed. I slid on a piece of stuffing and fell and I looked up and saw five old ladies looking down at me, all of them screaming, one on the telephone calling the police.
“She’s trying to steal my turkey!” Mrs. Martin shouted to the first police officer to arrive at the scene. I spent the few minutes I had begging Mrs. Martin to forgive me but it seemed that Mrs. Martin didn’t know who the hell I was. I managed to get George’s attention by screaming his name from Mrs. Martin’s sun porch but any exit from same was blocked by little old ladies with blue hair. I thought I’d died and went to some sort of retirement home filled with elderly shock troops armed with canes and knitting needles to prevent escape from the justice they sought.
The police officer snapped the handcuffs on my turkey stealing self, ignoring my husband’s pleas for some slack on this Thanksgiving holiday but the blue-haired ladies were all sobbing and screaming with fear and rage, Mrs. Martin was denying she ever saw me before and my explanation that I lived right next door was unheard by a police officer himself missing a home-cooked turkey dinner no doubt and at odds with a holiday turkey thief such as myself.
I wasn’t actually thrown in jail but the interruption of my trip to the police station and the subsequent protocol of dealing with turkey thieves did require my husband to speak softly with his boss, sending him and his family home without a bite of turkey one but George did fry up a quick couple of steaks and served them along with the other Thanksgiving food frou-frou. George was full of apologies and a promise of a very sane explanation to come about all of this. George assured his boss that I was innocent.
“And it would turn out,” I said, folding the dish towel in my lap with a studied concentration and giving my granddaughter’s handsome young suitor a steady gaze, “that I was innocent.”
“It turned out that the turkey Grandmom was stealing was really her own turkey!” my granddaughter Mary May shouted, always unable to keep a secret. I carefully showed Mary May the palm of my hand to shush her. I quietly stood up for a nicely browned and stuffed turkey awaited serving as surely its juices were secure after sitting for so long as I told my story of the missing Thanksgiving turkey.
“Mrs. Martin had somehow got into my kitchen that Thanksgiving day and it was she who stole my turkey. Mrs. Martin, you will remember, was a bit senile but who knows? Perhaps she forgot to buy a turkey for Thanksgiving in her forgetfulness and actively engaged in turkey theft to serve her guests. Or maybe she got confused, thought my kitchen was her kitchen and, of course, thought the turkey in my oven was hers. Although that requires some explanation as to how my turkey got into HER oven but whatever the case, all ended well.”
I noted Edward’s bemused smile and hey, it always was amusing in the telling and re-telling.
“I knew it was my turkey because after I got home from the police station, there, at my door, was Mrs. Martin. She had a big tray of turkey and all the trimmings. She’d heard I had to leave suddenly and she wanted to give me and my family some food as she figured we maybe didn’t have a Thanksgiving meal.”
I explained to Edward that I couldn’t have made it up if I tried. I didn’t even try to hash it out with Mrs. Martin. I accepted her gracious gift and we all did, in fact, sit down and eat Mrs. Martin’s thoughtfully provided Thanksgiving leftovers. I took one bite of the stuffing and knew it was mine.
“I always put sausage in my stuffing and I don’t use just any sausage. I purchase a special sausage made upstate that has a pleasant combination of caraway seed and sage, a somewhat odd combination of sausage ingredients but perfect to accompany a nice roasted turkey. My chestnuts sealed the deal. While chestnuts aren’t all that unusual in turkey stuffing, combined with my unusual sausage I was convinced that Mrs. Martin had stolen my turkey.”
The sadder thing of this somewhat funny memory was it would turn out that Mrs. Martin’s sons would not, or could not, attend Thanksgiving dinner at her home so she invited a few of her elderly friends from her favorite Bingo parlor. In fact, I learned later that Mrs. Martin had no sons at all, she had no children in fact. At some point Mrs. Martin must have told the Bingo ladies that I was her neighbor but like I explained to the handsome Edward, to this day I don’t know when Mrs. Martin entered a senile moment from when she was just a plain old turkey thief.
But I must be honest. My attempt to take Mrs. Martin’s turkey was pure thievery and nothing less for I did not know, please understand, that the turkey I was stealing was the one I’d roasted and stuffed just that morning.
George managed to make well with his boss over the turkey incident and all had a good laugh over that strange Thanksgiving. George did get a promotion and we did manage to buy our first home.
I gave my beloved George a passing memory, thanking God for my years with him and hoping he was having a nice turkey in heaven. Maybe Mrs. Martin, who passed away the year after she’d stolen my turkey, was sharing a turkey with George up there with the angels.
I was sure Mrs. Martin was in heaven. After all, it was I who was the turkey thief. She was just a forgetful and lonely old lady.
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Sunday, October 25, 2009
"A Halloween Party for the Scribes"-a 300 Word Limit Seemed Impossible Yet the Winner Pulled it Off With Three Words
Impossible, the protagonist decides.
Yet the second place entry consisted of only three words and the winning entry only two!
Pic of the Day
A Halloween Party of the Scribes
The last time I signed up for a writing class, five people in the class ended up married, including myself. Here I am in yet another writing class and now assigned to write a non-fiction love story so there is no question that I should write about this love story.
It may sound like fiction but even so, it is true, albeit slightly hilarious and greatly coincidental. But this comes later.
My last writing class was two years ago. The course title was "Creative Writing: Creating Characters." There were some characters in this class all right. The biggest character being the instructor himself.
"This is crap!" Melvin Swann screamed, immediately after reading my essay aloud to the class. I ran out of the class in tears.
"He is the meanest sunovabitch on this planet is what he is," I alternately sobbed and screamed to my boyfriend, Jack. "He makes fun of all our writing, he calls us names, he tells us we are talentless hacks! I mean...Jesus....that's what we are there for...to learn how to write. Apparently he doesn't want to teach us."
"Maybe that's what he's doing," Jack said quietly.
"Explain this please. He is teaching us to write by telling us we can't write? If I want to teach you how to fly an airplane, I should tell you you can't fly a plane?" I swiveled from facing Jack to face my computer screen. I most needed to call up Word Perfect and spend my vitriol with the word processor.
"Writing isn't like flying an airplane, Sher. Writing is a very creative activity. Conventional instruction methods won't work. Maybe this is how the creative juices are unleashed."
Jack said this to my spine.
I pounded the keys and watched my verbal rage march across the screen.
I started writing when I was five years old. I wrote a poem for my mother's birthday. She sent it in to our local newspaper. They published it! It's the last thing I have ever had published.
And that's not for want of trying by this, my twenty-eighth year of life. I had written poems that would make Byron blush. I had written essays that Buckley would envy. I had written short stories that would scare Stephen King. The editors did not agree nor did my Creative Writing instructor, apparently.
"The problem is...you tend to be wordy. You want to tell the reader everything. Sometimes I get exasperated that you'll never get to the point."
Jack was tossing a salad while reciting this lecture. As if he was even the slightest bit interested in my hopes and dreams. Guy was thirty years old, never married and showing no such inclination. He seemed content to drift along on life's river. I loved him with all my heart but had accepted that marriage would come, if at all, when Jack decided. Meanwhile, I was going to be a writer, mostly because, well, I like to write so much.
"I don't understand that, Jack Schneider. I don't understand that at all.
People that like to READ like to READ. So why mince on words? I'm not saying to get ridiculous, although some have accused James Michener of this. I'm just saying what the hell is this obsession with word count?"
Jack sighed, rested his salad weary arms at his side, and gazed at my indignant self.
"Everyone in the world is competing for the reader's eye. Brevity, as they say, is the soul of wit."
I turned from Jack's speech and fumed. Now he could go ahead and use a stupid cliche that I had learned to avoid in Writing 101. For myself, I was going to write and I was going to write my way. If I couldn't write my way, then why write at all?
"Mr. Swann has some interesting ideas for Halloween, I hear."
I pulled my sweater tight against me to ward off an early autumn chill. Taking a quick drag of my cigarette, I turned to the voice that brought me gossip.
Carey Albrecht loomed from the shadow to the light of the street light. As he appeared, he lit a cigarette and took a long drag.
What a dork, I thought. Always he wore those cardigan sweaters, the kinds with a V-neck to expose a conservative tie and an tiny alligator on the chest. His look shouted nerdy prep to anyone with vision.
"Okay, I'm game," I said to my smoking partner. "What'd you hear?"
"First I heard...on Halloween, all the students have to come to class in costume. Only we have to put our costume on in class and behind a screen. Then we have to read a list of adjectives that describes our costume. Only adjectives. Heard it counts as one test grade and the more people that guess your costume the higher your grade."
Okay, I thought, this was do-able. I knew adjectives. I blew a smoke ring in the air, signaling by smokers' agreement to continue.
"Then, I heard you have to write a story describing the costume you would wear that would be the exact opposite of your normal personality."
Again, I thought, this was do-able.
"Finally....and I heard all this from one of his last year students...he is going to have us all enter a writing contest. And he is going to be the judge! " Carey took another drag of his cigarette to leave me considering this revelation. After a ostentatious exhalation of smoke, Carey offered more.
"What we have to do....we have to write a poem, essay or short story. And it has to scare him. And I heard it can't be more than 300 words."
I took a long drag on my cigarette and looked up to the dark sky. 300 words? I couldn't write a sentence in less than 300 words. Yet I am supposed to write something that scares the scary Melvin Swann?
Within the next ten minutes, several more students came out to join us in a smoke. Within one minute of this, conversations of writing Halloween exercises designed to thrill, chill and embarrass punctuated the night air.
"I think a poem. I would try a short but scary poem." I couldn't believe these words from Buck Walinsky whose stature suits his name very well. The guy looked like he was a football fullback. Yet here he stood, deciding to write a short, terse poem that would scare Mr. Swann.
"Well, I wouldn't get myself too involved in any decision making here," Linda Devon said while simultaneously flossing her teeth with her long black fingernails. "We don't know Swann's going to do the same thing this year."
A swath of blonde hair blew into my face at the cusp of a wind gust. I swatted it away because it sure didn't belong to me.
"I think the ideas are wonderful and will definitely make better writers of us all."
We all turned to look at this insect with blonde hair to discover it was only Sharon Shelle, a real Valley Girl only now living clear across country in Baltimore, Md.
How 'bout you Wayne? Got any ideas?"
Wayne Gruen threw his cigarette to the ground and self-consciously chased it across the sidewalk for shoe-smashing. And just as he always did, he responded directly to the surface below his feet.
"I...I don't know. I will have to think about it."
I threw my own cigarette to the ground for smashing. Why this guy got it into his head that he should be a writer I would never know. I think a writer has to be a forceful person, a person not afraid to lie and vent his/her own spleen for the reader's consumption. Wayne couldn't look anyone straight in the eye.
"So Berthe, what you think? Think you can scare Swann?"
Berthe Myers leaned against the lamp pole and paused in thought. "I can only do the best I can. I don't expect to win, anyhow."
And now here again was another forceful personality that expected to be a writer.
"Three hundred stupid words. You know how few words that is?"
Jack shooed our cat Wilamena off the bed and prepared to rest his weary bones. He didn't seem to care at all about word counts.
"I have no idea how many words are 300. I guess that it is not many?"
"Jack, maybe a recipe is 300 words. How can I scare someone with the same amount of words as a recipe?"
"How many words are in 'The Raven'?"
I yanked my robe off angrily, then stopped to consider. Darn, I didn't think "The Raven" had all that many words now that I thought of it. But what the heck, did Jack think I was Edgar Sherry Poe?
I pulled the covers down and slid next to Jack. He pulled me in his arms.
"You worry so much about your writing, Sher," Jack whispered softly into my hair, "and I know it's important to you. But it can't be the focus of your entire life."
Writing wasn't the focus of my entire life. First, there was Jack right here and holding me tight, whom I loved dearly but I was not loved by him enough to discuss marriage. Then there was my job, which I didn't particularly like, but then who does? Then...then...then there was my writing.
I just wrote all the time and the truth is, I rarely submitted anything for publication. The truth is, I just didn't have time to work a full time job as Office Manager for a busy retail chain, write, and then market what I wrote. But I was only 28, I had often reasoned. Time to write and learn and learn while writing. Then, maybe I could finally start that book.
"Jack, in a few years, I'd really like to try writing as , and I'm serious here, a career. I mean like stay home and write and make enough money from writing to, you know, stay home and write. That's why I'm so serious about it. Some people go to night school to get a Master's Degree or a doctorate. I go to learn all I can about writing. You don't have to believe it will ever happen, but you have no right to denigrate this which happens to be very important to me. I mean, I don't know if I'll ever really do it...on a professional level I mean....but I don't want to walk away from it either. That's why I keep on writing and taking night courses and trying to learn. This is my...."
The sound of soft snores ended my soliloquy. Not only did Jack Schneider not want to marry me, he didn't want me to be a writer either.
"This instructor is so mean, Laura. He rants and raves and tells us to develop thicker skins. He says he's doing us a 'favor' by 'toughening' us to constant rejection. All he's doing to me is scaring me out of my mind. I'm not going to quit the class though, leastwise not until after Halloween. I hear he has some interesting writing exercises planned."
"Yeah? Like what?"
My best friend and confidante stuffed a french fry in her mouth after this short inquisition. I took the cue and recited the rumors about hiding behind screens, adjectives and scary writing tasks.
"An adjective? Ain't that like a describing word? Like 'bad'...that's an adjective?"
"Yes, Laura, 'bad' is an adjective. Only I can't imagine using the word 'bad' to describe your costume. It's supposed to be adjectives that are germane to the costume."
Just before stuffing another french fry into her mouth, Laura wisecracked, "Germane? Ain't that one of them red flowers?"
She was impossible. If sarcasm ever becomes a valuable commodity, Laura will be wealthy. We formed an unusual friendship, she and I who were almost twenty years apart in age. There are some that have accused my own self of considerable sarcasm. I bonded with Laura the night we met at a nearby disco and spent the evening making fun of all the men. Such activities as dancing were usually entered in with the intention of meeting a potential male partner, and generally for more than just dancing. But the night I met up with Laura, I was delighted to find a partner in the art of the nasty word. Laura was better at sarcasm than me, and mainly because she could usually do it in less than 300 words.
Laura Williams had been married four times. In addition, she boasted over five live-in boyfriends.
"Men are like a bus. You miss one, stick around, another one will come along."
Amazingly, this Laura witticism did hold true. At least for her.
She wasn't an especially pretty woman, although she was attractive, well-groomed and very witty. With all her marvelous wit, Laura had never written a word in her life and I doubted she had read all that many. And while she listened politely to my writing woes, she thought writing was a rather stupid occupation.
"Why sit behind a computer and type out your life? Why not go out and live it?" was how Laura use to phrase it.
"Are you seriously suggesting that no one in the world should write anything, Laura?" I would respond, serious at the moment but not too committed in converting Laura. If writers depended on Laura for their living, there would truly be no need for them.
"Nah. I guess not. There's a need for books and stuff, I guess. I read Cosmopolitan sometimes, but that's about it. I get antsy sitting around trying to read. I don't know how people do it."
I was smiling in muse at the hopeless Laura when the very real sound of her voice intruded my thoughts.
"So what's got you all worked up? So...you have to use some adjectives. Don't writers always use adjectives? Ain't adjectives a regular tool of the trade, so to speak?"
I had to chuckle at the question as Laura phrased. And actually the adjectives did not concern me. It was that darn 300 word thing. I explained my worry to Laura.
"Gee. 300 words sounds like a book to me. You telling me that ain't enough words?"
I finished off my coffee, wiped my lips, and regarded this Laura person who would think 300 words was a book.
"I bet I could scare your teacher in less than 300 words."
I looked again, this time in a squint at the Laura across from me and my current lunch companion. You know, I bet she could scare Swann in less than 300 words. If Swann thought we were a bunch of illiterates, he ought to meet up with Laura who had such disdain of his craft. I'm sure that would scare him.
"Oh Laura. You just don't understand. It's a writing thing. I shouldn't expect you to get it."
Laura threw a half-eaten french fry to her plate.
"I'm not an idiot, Sherry Bellmain. I respect that you're trying to be a writer. It's just that I will never be one of your customers, if you get my drift. I bet I'm smarter than most of those would-be writers in your class too. Sometimes I wonder that people become writers as substitute for a real life."
Now I was getting annoyed. I really hated that people thought nothing of making fun of writers. Not that the same people would make fun of Stephen King or Alex Hailey or Leon Uris or just anyone that's making a lot of bucks for people with no real life. But a fledgling writer? Even though we may someday be the ones making the dough, we are free
sport for the mocking predators.
"I think I have a real life, thank you Laura. I have a job and a boyfriend...."
"Speaking of boyfriends....has Jack asked you to marry him yet?"
Laura's sudden change of subject shocked me to comfort. Now we were on a more familiar area of our friendship. Laura and I both often discussed the men in our lives and I greatly valued her input.
"We don't discuss it, Laura. We just do not discuss it."
"Do you want to get married?" Laura asked, taking a bite of hamburger now that her french fries were gone.
"By the time I'm thirty, I would like to be in some sort of relationship that would be heading toward a permanent commitment, yes," I intelligently responded.
Laura opened her eyes wide as if a mental lightbulb were switched to "On". Being that she had a wad of food in her mouth, she had to wave her hamburger in the air to indicate I should wait until said food was swallowed to hear the brainstorm.
"No wonder you're so worried about 300 words. Like I said, I don't know how many words this is but I know you just said a whole bunch of unnecessary words to tell me that you want to get married. Jesus, Sherry, do you write as long as you talk sometimes?"
Not that Laura would ever know, but she was right. I guess I did write as long as I talked.
We had both finished our lunches, and I was ready for some fresh air and a much needed cigarette. After paying the bill and gathering our parcels, Laura and I took a nicotine stroll around the block.
"Are any of these writers in your class married?"
"God, Laura. There are 28 students in the class. The only ones I know even a little are the smokers. And then because it's only civil to talk when in someone's company and sharing a smoke."
"So tell me about the ones you know."
This request allowed me to launch into an interesting narrative about Carey Albrecht, the pompous prep person and Wayne Gruen who spoke to the ground and Buck Walinsky who played football and wrote poetry. Then I had to describe the females. There was Berthe Myers who was half french and half jewish and with no self-confidence. And Linda Devon who painted her nails black, rode a Harley-Davidson and wrote beautiful poetry. And I couldn't forget Sharon Shell, blonde, vapid and an aspiring romance writer.
We had gone through three cigarettes by the time I finished my narration. I also further described the Halloween writing exercises as rumored to me by Carey Albrecht. Besides the 300 word scary thing, there was the screen thing and also the costume in opposition to our real personalities. Laura and I had walked around the block three times before the class characters were described and the writing exercises re-visited with appropriate angst. I also informed Laura that none of my scribe smoking buddies were married, such important information having already been gleaned at the smoking pole.
"You know what you need?" Laura asked as we walked toward our cars to end our lunch date. "You all need me to join that class."
I didn't quite guffaw at this notion, but I had to stifle a giggle.
"Sure, Laura, we all need you in our writing class. You who has never written a word and read only several more than this."
"I'm serious. I listened to you describe these people and it's like...instantaneous....I got this flash. These people need me! Plus, I think I could help with those writing exercises. Is it too late for me to sign up?"
I just smiled and sighed at this thought. I told Laura I had no idea if it was too late and that she was a nut.
It was only two days later that I realized just what a nut she was. I was standing by the lamp post for one last smoke before class begun. Immediately behind me I heard the screech of tires and jumped to avoid pedestrian death. Before my heart could recover, Laura's Trans Am pulled up to my side.
"Hey, I signed up for that writers' class today. They told me I could if the teacher agreed. I called Mr. Swann myself and he said he would love for me to come along."
After shouting this to me from her car's passenger window, she pulled her Trans-Am away from the curb to swing into a nearby and more permanent parking spot. I watched her, mouth agape, as she rushed across the parking lot, complete with a briefcase!
Before I could ask the million questions rolling around in my mind, several of the other students joined us under the lamp post and for one pre-class smoke.
"Christ I got my period today and I'm crampy and grouchy as hell. Did you get that story outline done?"
Linda Devon had rode in on her Harley, parked the thing with great roaring, and loped across the lot, lighting her cigarette while en route.
Before I could respond to Linda regarding my outline, I was distracted with greetings and introductions of Carey, Berthe, Sharon, Buck and Wayne to Laura and they to her. Conversation then focused on our short story project.
"I'm writing a love story that takes place in ancient Greece. My protagonist is thought to be Greek goddess by everyone around her. She is so lovely and soft but also very mortal. You'll have to read the story to find out how it all turns out."
Sharon the Valley Girl described her story thus while both Laura and myself avoided any wisecracks. My arched eyebrows sent a body message that would roughly be interpreted as "fat chance I will read the story."
"I'm writing a story about an attorney that starts out very poor but is so successful that he becomes very wealthy and very busy. He has everything but can't find a woman to love him just for himself."
I sent another arched eyebrow to Laura at this story line by Carey Albrecht, tiny alligator man.
Carey, the perpetual prep, then slapped Buck Walinsky on the back and asked him what his story was about.
"I got an idea that takes place in medieval times. The protag is a court jester. Only the jester learns to read, a practice forbidden by his sort, and wishes to become a wise man, the kind that decide the fates," Buck said, then his voice faded. "I don't know...I'm still working on it."
"How about you, Sherry?" Sharon of greek mythology asked. "Got any ideas yet?"
I was afraid someone would ask this. The assignment was to write a short story with a strong protagonist. We were learning character building after all.
"I'm thinking about a story with a female protag who loves this guy but can't get the guy to commit. So she leaves him because she just gives up. Only the guy decides he really loves her and tries to get her back."
I was pretty vague about my story line and in the description it sounded pretty lame. I had, in fact, spent the better part of the prior evening outlining a plot that involved three protagonists that end up being their own antagonists. There was also several sub-plots that would all lead to a surprising end.
Laura responded by raising her eyebrows to me to say "*I* will definitely read this story. Is the antagonist named Jack Schneider?'
I ignored her eyebrow talk. She had no clue that my story was complex and sub-plotted enough to amaze even the skeptical Melvin Swann.
"Well, they say 'write what you know', so I'm thinking about a story of a little girl raised by a band of outlaw bikers." All eyes turned, understandably, in amazement, to Linda Devon who just described possibly the most unbelievable of plots.
"So, Wayne, what about you?"
Somebody at the lamp post asked this question of the reticent Wayne who responded by looking at the ground below him.
"I thinking of a story about a guy who sends in a novel manuscript to a publisher over the Internet. The publisher loves it but the writer is too shy to have it published. I think....well, I can think of some good tension in this....," Wayne's voice trailed off as at least I wondered about a publisher chasing after an unknown writer.
"My story's a little like that!" the unconfident Berthe exclaimed to Wayne who continued to regard the earth.
"Only in my story, the writer gets published and is excited until she realizes all the public speaking she has to do. She begs the publisher to return her manuscript, but she has already signed over the rights and it gets published. So the writer decides not to promote the book, but it is a big success and...," Berthe blew a hair from her lip with a billow of smoke and stopped her talk. Suddenly, it appeared, Berthe realized that she was, well, sort of speaking in public.
"Well, since this is my first night here, looks like I've got some catching up to do. Goodness, I guess I better think of my plot," Laura said while snuffing her cigarette with a vengeance. Of all of the group, only I could realize the humor in this statement.
"Two minutes to class, guys," Carey Albrecht called out to his rear as he headed inside. Smoking group individuals gathered their materials and took last puffs. Before I could begin my trek to the building, Laura grabbed my sweater.
"Sher," she stage whispered as she pulled my best cardigan hopelessly from its original shape. "Come here."
"Laura, I don't have time to come here. Class starts in a minute and besides I'm royally miffed at this little joke."
"Sherry, listen to me a minute! I was right!" Laura's whispering held so many exclamation points that I had to tune in.
"These people. They need my help. There's three couples here alone that ought to be in love and planning marriage. Plus...you and Jack, I think I could help you and Jack."
With less than forty-five seconds left till class, I tried to understand this woman who has had four husbands and many would-be's all of a sudden becoming a professional matchmaker.
"Listen, Sher. I know I'm no winner. But this past year alone, I matched up two people on my job and my brother-in-law who is an unemployed bum. I tell you, I got the touch. I thought of it the other day when you were describing those guys. Now I know I was right."
There were about a thousand questions on my mind re Laura's mind, but I pulled my sweater loose and rushed to class.
"Okay, we've been in this class three weeks. We have a new student tonight. Folks, meet Mrs. Laura Williams." Mr. Swann opened with this and the class greeted Mrs. Laura Williams politely.
"While we have a little talent in this class, Mrs. Williams, we could always use more. Since you seemed so determined to join this class, I hope that foretells the writing we will read from your own mind."
Laura flashed her famous smile and wiggled in her seat.
"I'm very good at adjectives, Mr. Swann....and thank you."
Even mean Mr. Swann had no response to this Laura who excelled at adjectives.
"Okay scribes. Listen up! In three weeks, it will be Halloween. And I have planned some excellent writing exercises that will challenge even the best of you."
I wiggled in my seat along with Laura, who I could have spit upon for having the audacity to come to my writing class to play some kind of match-maker. Still I couldn't help but wonder how she could help with my Jack situation.
"Ten adjectives! That's it! So pick ten good adjectives and hope they're good enough to have the class guess your costume."
The loud voice of Melvin Swann pierced my ears and tore my thoughts away from my Jack boyfriend who avoided matrimony.
Oh boy, I thought, more word limits. And only ten. But with good enough adjectives, I could probably do it.
Laura was smiling in joy over the request for adjectives.
"So, Mrs. Williams, you can finally get to use all your adjectives," Mr. Swann said to Laura as he walked around her desk as if examining a bug.
"How about asshole, Mr. Swann? Is asshole an adjective?"
Swann stopped at this strange question and answered quite seriously. "No, Mrs. Williams, asshole is not an adjective."
"Well, that's too bad, because that's the only word you'd need behind that screen and everybody would know it was you."
The whole class hooted at this. Mr. Swann surprised us all and laughed along.
The rest of the session went like this, with Laura openly bantering and Mr. Swann rejoindering with zeal. The class served as audience and provided appropriate laughter.
"I just can't believe she joined my writing class. You know how I love Laura, but she can't write. What...does everyone in the world think writing is so stupid that just anyone can waltz into a writing class?"
Jack and I were sitting on the porch and listening to crickets while I ranted about the word-obsessed Melvin Swann and the outrageous Laura Williams. As the conversation often did, it came round to the 300 word problem.
"I sat down and wrote a paragraph. It was an honest to God paragraph that I would use to start a scary story. Only the opening paragraph was 343 words and I had only described the scenery!"
Jack chuckled at this. He did think my 300 word problem was a joke didn't he?
Perhaps it was just the sound of Jack's chuckle that set me off. The chuckle sounded like a cackle. Or maybe it was the sudden sense of peacefulness that overcame me as we sat together on the porch of the tiny rented house. It seemed so perfect and yet there was no permanence.
The man didn't want to marry me and he thought writing a joke. I knew then that we had no future and strings would have to be broken.
I didn't yell or scream or in any way indicate my anger. I simply got up from the porch swing, went into our bedroom, and began packing my clothes. It was time for this writer to go out and get a real life.
"Sherry what are you doing? Why are you packing?" Jack followed me into the bedroom to ascertain my miff. He pulled away from my packing chore and pulled me into his arms.
"Aw, come on, Sherry, I'm sorry I laughed," Jack said into my hair. I held my body stiff as a board.
Jack gave up on affection and dropped his arms from around me. He ran his fingers distractedly through his hair and paced the room. I returned to my packing.
"It's just this 300 word thing has you so upset. I can't imagine anyone getting upset over such a thing. When I went to school, everyone loved it when the teacher limited the page count. But I tell you what, Sherry. If you calm down, I will help you write a REAL scary story. In fact, since you've been talking about it so much, I sat down and tried to come up with something scary in a few words and I had some great ideas. I was afraid to mention it because you might be insulted that me, a mere stock clerk, would dare to help you write. But now you tell me about Laura and it doesn't seem so stupid any more."
I continued to pack with dogged determination. It wasn't about the 300 words but I couldn't explain that to Jack. I was afraid to mention the words yet I didn't want to continue on this way. How weird that I, who could vomit verbally as well as almost anyone, could find no words to approach this unapproachable subject. My fear was no doubt predicated upon the fact that when I first met Jack, he was just emerging from a relationship that didn't last because, to hear Jack tell it, she wanted a commitment and he wasn't ready. For myself, I had just broken up with a boyfriend of over three years because he headed out of town when I mentioned marriage. This entire relationship of Jack and Sherry had a foundation formed from fear of marriage.
So I couldn't say what I wanted to say to Jack. But, then again, I considered, let me get this bag packed.
Just before I walked out the door, I turned and looked at the perplexed Jack.
"Jack, I can finally say what I was so afraid to say because it doesn't matter any more. I can't lose you because of what I am going to say because I have already lost you."
I had set my suitcase down for this narrative, but still paused from fear. After a deep sigh, I plowed on.
"I can't live forever like this. I want to get married yet I could never say this because I was too afraid I would lose you. Now I've decided to take your cliche bull by the horns, do the saying, and leave."
I picked up my suitcase at the end of this speech, turned with purpose, walked to my car and drove away. I headed directly to Laura's house.
Even before my knuckles first hit the door I could hear the laughter.
"Sherry! Goodness, this is a surprise. Come in."
I tentatively walked into Laura's small rancher, afraid of the laughing sources. I was as surprised to see Buck, Linda, Carey, Berthe , Wayne and Sharon all in Laura's living room, as Laura was to see me.
"Come on, have a seat," Laura commanded as she took my coat.
I was really in no mood for a crowd tonight, but then I couldn't turn around and return to Jack either.
"We were all just practicing our skits for the Halloween exercises. I never knew there were so many adjectives in this world. We talked a bit about our buddy Swanson, too," Laura updated me as the smoking crowd laughed at the reference to Swanson.
"I already have my essay ready. Had to cut off about 200 words to get it within word limit, but I thought it was scary."
Sharon of the Valley offered this and scared the hell out of me who hadn't even started the thing.
For the next half hour the group discussed, laughed, whined and complained about Halloween writing exercises, word counts and weird writing instructors. I tried to join in with enthusiasm, but Jack was on my mind. Laura sensed my distance and shooed off the crowd.
"Before you tell me about what happened between you and Jack, I just want to tell you that I fixed them up and you have to admit it was perfect."
"Fixed who up?"
"The couples. Linda and Buck. Both of them looking like something they ain't. What do you writers call that?"
"Illusion, " I answered mechanically.
"Yeah...that. Anyways, Sharon and Carey...come on, they're perfect. Valley Girl meets Izod Man. Sounds like...what do you writers call weird stuff that ain't true?"
"Science Fiction," I answered more mechanically.
"Yeah...that. And Berthe and Wayne. He stares at the ground and she apologizes for being on it. You writers got a name for that?"
I was now quite tired of the match-making and shifted in discomfort.
"Okay, Sherry. Let me get you a cognac and you tell me about Jack."
It was the same old story and I re-iterated to Laura.
"You two are too different," Laura stated at one conversation pause. "You need someone more like you...someone with the same interests. See how I matched those people up and it was always based on their personality similarities. Now, I know you love Jack, honey, and I don't mean to make light of it."
Laura patted my thigh and pulled me up from the couch. As she led me into her spare bedroom, she made a promise.
"Just as soon as I can, honey, I am going to find you a man. You think a woman that had all the boyfriends and husband as I've had ain't learned a thing or two? I always marry men opposite of me! Next guy I meet, gonna be just like me. And I'm gonna look for the same for you."
I was now quite sleepy from crying and talking. I had no time to ponder a man just like me. Then neither one of us could make it in under 300 words and I didn't know how that would help matters.
The night of the Halloween Party for the Scribes, as it had come to be called, had finally arrived. I was living with Laura while making arrangements to find my own place. My conversations with Jack were brief and mostly concerned our mutual finance concerns. Jack never mentioned my parting speech and I knew I had been right. Laura went about her business of finding a man for me.
I did managed to write something scary in under 300 words but I thought it sounded stupid. It didn't matter because I wasn't going to do any better than a C in this course anyway. Not only would I never be married, I decided I would never be a writer either.
The writing exercises were creative, and even fun. Rory Martin got behind the screen and donned a sheep outfit. One of his ten adjectives was "ewe-like" which caused Mr. Swann to go into a tirade about the questionability of this being an adjective and did he know how stupid that sounded when spoken rather than being read?
The class was about falling out of their chairs with laughter at this.
Then Carey Albrecht said the character he would be that was the exact opposite of his REAL personality would be a Nerd, with a capital N. The class was silent to ponder just what Carey thought he was.
The Mr. Swann announced that he had read the scary submissions and was ready to announce a winner.
"There were no Pulitzers in the submissions," Mr. Swann said as he sat on the edge of his desk with a sheaf of papers in his hand.
"What I think you will find really surprising, was the first place submission was only two words."
Heads turned and whispers buzzed. Two words? What two words could scare Melvin Swann and have him announce them first place.
"What's even more surprising," Mr. Swann went on in spite of the turmoil, "is the second place prize was for a submission containing only three words."
Of course, the class was abuzz with this. I just held my chin with my open palm and placed my elbow on the desk. I knew for sure that I hadn't won with my fake letter from the IRS and a proposed audit. My submission was exactly 300 words and then I had to use every contraction I knew. Still, two words and three words? I was most interested in this.
"The second place winner was submitted by Sherry Bellmaine," Mr. Swann soberly announced and I almost didn't realize that he meant me. My chin fell off my hand when dawn broke.
Mr. Swann rattled a paper importantly and proceeded to read my alleged submission and second-place winner:
"I Saw You" Mr. Swann read with an ominous pause on each word.
The class remained quiet for five seconds after the reading, then sent whispers into the air. All around me were soft congratulations at this genius of mine. I didn't know whether to deny or accept, so I remained mute. I didn't write those words, although, I thought them quite effective in their ability to convey fear in their vagueness. Brevity could also be the soul of fear, I thought with Jack's cliche.
"And first place," Mr. Swann then announced importantly. He rattled the paper , cleared his throat, and pushed his glasses up his nose.
"The words that scared me the most...a submission of only two words. And the author is none other than our latecomer, Laura Williams!"
If my chin had fallen from its hand-holder at my winning entry, it was now on the floor with this revelation. Laura wrote the winning entry? And it was only two words?
"Marry Me," Mr. Swann read aloud, the lowered his glasses to regard the class over their frames. "It is signed, Laura Williams."
The class laughed for a full five minutes. Even I had to smile. Woman was a dingbat, that was sure. Yet, hey, those two words did seem to scare quite a few men including my own estranged Jack.
"Now here's two words that are going to scare you, Mrs. Williams," Mr. Swann said in his loudest tenor. He walked around Laura's desk as if looking at the same bug of Laura's first night in the class. After several revolutions, he bent over and shouted into Laura's ear:
Here is where the pandemonium began, because persons named Berthe, Linda, Carey, Wayne, Buck and Sharon all jumped up to announce recent or not-to-distant engagements. There were even some happy dances going on, with Laura leading the pack.
"See, Sherry, I told you I was a match-maker. I even picked a husband for myself!" Laura shouted to the writing class, then gave Mr. Swann such a long kiss that even the most obtuse knew their little charade was NOT a joke.
There was more going on in my head than had a right to be there. Where on earth had my three word entry come from? And what is with Laura the matchmaker marrying this writing teacher who had to be her exact opposite when she expressed adherence to the "like-as-like" principle of mating? And why on earth was everyone in this class getting married except me?
And before I could sort any of it out, what with the dancing and kissing and flashing of engagement rings, Jack ran into the class.
"Sherry, I'm sorry I'm late...but I had a flat tire." Jack ran across the room and knelt down before me and amidst all the revelers.
"Did you win?" he asked.
"Did I win? Oh...you mean you wrote the three words...'I Saw You'?"
"Sher, I didn't want to make you mad, but I wanted to show how much I loved you and how much I cared about your writing. So I stuck my thing in the envelope before you came over to pick it up. I'd thought you'd win so you wouldn't be mad. You didn't win?"
Jack bowed his head at the admission. I couldn't believe any of this night and still the class danced and hooted.
Jack reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of paper.
"I was saving this as a surprise. It's another wonderful piece of writing in just a few words so I knew you would like it."
I was unfolding the paper, when Jack stopped my actions.
"Sherry," he said softly, "before you read this, I just want to say that I guarantee that it will make you happier than any two words you will ever read. At least I think it will."
I opened the paper and read the words: "Marry Me". The note was signed 'Jack Schneider'.
I laughed and cried and danced a few dances myself. If Laura followed her own advice, she'd be marrying this Jack Schneider who had the same two words as she.
Only she was too busy kissing the weird Melvin Swann so I just smiled at the coincidence and kissed my own Jack Schneider, husband-to-be.
It's been two years now and everyone that got so strangely engaged is still married, even Laura and Melvin. So this is my submission of a love story for "Creative Writing: Plot Development" only I didn't have to develop a plot. And I bought the thing in at a little under 7000 words!
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Saturday, August 1, 2009
The Surprise Party Was For His Priestly Twin Brother; Birthday Parties Go Awry in this Fiction "Father Beachem's Birthday Party"
Pic of the Day
Father Beachem’s Birthday Party
While my twin brother Joey and I weren’t quite as different as Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzeneggar in the movie “Twins”, there are very few occasions when we are mistaken for one another.
Of course we are not, to state an understatement, identical twins, thus any physical resemblance we have to each other is the same as any brother would have with another. And, indeed, Joey and I do look enough alike to be identified as the Beachem brothers. Beyond that, in terms of our habits, likes, dislikes, temperaments and that sort of thing, Joey and I are as different as Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzeneggar.
To begin with, Joey is a priest. I, while a devout Catholic as was my upbringing and as my parents raised both me, Joey, and our sister Christine, could never be a priest. And I mean that in the nicest way possible.
In fact, though, most folks would, without making previous acquaintance with either I or Joey, would likely point to me as the priest while he would be considered the party boy, the guy constantly telling the jokes, the fellow surrounded by admirers and sought out by all for his sparkling company. Yet there you have it. Joey is known to most of the world as Father Beachem while I am called, simply, Jeffie.
“Let me get this straight,” I said with a simmering seethe to my sister that day in early April after her suggestion that we throw a surprise birthday party for brother Joey. “You want to throw a surprise birthday party for my twin brother? I mean, come on Chris, I know Joey and I are not much alike what with being twins and everything, but we were born on the same day. Did it occur to you that it would also be my birthday too?”
“Aw Jeffie…I’m sorry,” my sister said, giving me a hug of reconciliation. “I thought you would understand.” With this Christine walked over to a corner stool in my apartment, only one of two places to sit in my humble and barely furnished apartment.
“This year your birthday also falls on the day Joey takes his final vows for the priesthood. I thought it would be a great thing to throw him a combination of a surprise party as well as a celebration of his final vows. I knew it was also your birthday, Jeffie,” with this Christine stopped and grabbed a curl of her head hair and began twisting on it with an intensity. “But the last time we threw both you and Joey a surprise party you totally freaked out. You screamed and cried and made me and Mom swear to never do such a thing again. It’s strange that now you are complaining because I did promise never to throw a surprise party for you again, Jeffie, if you remember. But I never made such a promise to Joey and somehow it doesn’t seem fair that just because you don’t like surprise parties that Joey should never have another one. And I wouldn’t even be doing this but it’s also the day he takes those final vows.”
Christine had by then twisted that hank of hair around so tight that I figured it had to be hurting her.
Everything Christine said was true enough. She and my Mom threw a surprise birthday party for me and Joey’s 14th birthday and it was just awful. See, whereas Joey is outgoing and loves a crowd, I like to sit in the background and watch the action. I tend to get tongue-tied when confronted by strangers and for sure females scare the bejabbers out of me. At the tender and scary age of 14 it was all I could do to keep from passing out from fear the day of me and Joey’s surprise birthday party and add to this Christine invited about twelve girls from our school and talk about terror.
“I was hoping you would cook for the event, Jeffie,” Christine said in a small, very timid voice.
Suddenly I became animated. Wow. Cooking for a party, preparing various but classy appetizers, making up a tasty and fine main dish. My mind wrapped around the concept and soon I was making up mental lists of groceries and preparation techniques.
For as shy as I am around people and all that being in the company of strangers entails, I am exactly the opposite in my enthusiasm level for preparing food for those same strangers. Since I was a toddler, so my Mom tells me, I’ve always liked the stove, food, and cooking. In fact, I just recently got promoted to head Chef at Amour De Mer, the restaurant of my current employ. I loved cooking for the restaurant patrons indeed but it’s always been my dream to have my own catering firm where I can bring joy and celebration to life’s major events via my own carefully chosen and prepared foods. I began to mentally compile the menu.
“I can tell you like the idea, Jeffie,” Christine said, interrupting my reverie.
I let out a quiet chuckle. “You want me to cater my twin brother’s birthday party,” I said, bemused. “And yet,” I continued, looking to the air for the sentiment I wanted to express, “I want to do it. Let’s put the emphasis on Joey’s priesthood vows and downplay the birthday thing. I don’t want the fact that it’s my birthday to detract from Joey’s celebration.” Christine nodded affirmative to my requirements. I considered a brothy minestrone would be a fine soup course. I’d make the pasta myself.
Christine came over and gave me a kiss on the cheek. “I really don’t want to hurt your feelings, Jeffie. I love you as much as I do Joey. And if I thought you wouldn’t get all upset, I’d be planning and throwing a surprise party for both of my twin brothers.” Christine walked over to the door and stopped before turning the handle for exit. “It’s about time you got over Marianne, Jeffie. Maybe there will be a special female at the party.”
I threw my dishtowel across the room at my sister. “Don’t even THINK of trying to set me up, Christine. I’m doing just fine with the females and I hardly remember Marianne.”
Which was not true at all except for that bit about forbidding my sister from setting me up with some girl. It’d been almost a year since Marianne and I broke up but I still ached like the dickens for her. Alas, it was not meant to be. Marianne left to attend graduate school late last summer and she never came back. She sent me a “dear Jeff” letter and hey, I deal with it. Broken hearts heal but they take time.
Joey is a wonderful priest. Although I didn’t suppose he’d be officially a priest until those final vows but if one were to choose out of the two of us who would end up the priest, most would pick me. I am shy, withdrawn, quiet, and with an “almost holy” air about me, as Marianne once phrased it. I thought it was a compliment at the time but I guess not.
Joey’s sermons always keep the congregation alert, he enjoys meeting many new people, he tells jokes and makes humorous observations and he is beloved immediately as soon as one should meet him. He is devoted to the Catholic faith although many might not think so. “If I have a personality that draws people to the church Jeffie,” he would tell me, “then I consider that God gave me that talent for a reason.”
Although I’ve heard often enough through the years that it would seem I was more priestly, common sense would dictate, if one thought about it, that a shy, quiet and withdrawn priest is hardly an asset to the church.
“Jeffie, you’ve positively outdid yourself,” Christine told me the night of the intended surprise party. I watched my sister chew on a bacon-wrapped shrimp thoughtfully and I beamed. I’d worked for almost three weeks planning, preparing and purchasing all foodstuffs for this party and in less than an hour my twin brother would arrive. Joey will love having a surprise party. Earlier in the afternoon Christine and my folks had a little party for me with a small cake and gifts. It was perfect for me and now I would shine with the food spread I’d prepared and that was okay with me. One of the better things about the party is that I would not have to stand around all wooden and awkward. I could busy myself with the food and my interaction with the guests would be so much more comfortable in my role as caterer than as one of the subjects of the party. My brother the priest would do so much better as the focus of the festivities.
“Christine I don’t know how you found all of our high school friends but Joey will love it,” I told my sister as I stirred the minestrone and tested the tenderloins for temperature. “I must admit it’s been great for me to see them again as well.”
My sister beamed in pride at my compliments. I checked my watch and noted that my priestly brother would be arriving in ten minutes. It was time to get the gang all hidden away. My brother thought he was meeting me at a hotel room where I was allegedly staying for the fumigation of my apartment. Instead I would meet him in the lobby and guide him to this hotel meeting room now decorated for his special day.
“What?” I said to my brother’s voice then coming through on my cell phone. “Joey, I’ve been looking forward to this all week. I can’t have a birthday party without my twin brother!”
“I’ll be there, Jeffie. It’s just that I’ve got some things to tend to here. Don’t get so upset. It’s just our family. They’ll understand.”
Of course I couldn’t tell Jeffie that a bevy of our friends and family awaited his arrival so they could shout “SURPRISE” as he walked into the room because the event was, duh, a surprise. But Joey didn’t know this and he had a delay of some sort and he figured it was just a quiet get-together with our family so he phoned me up to casually tell me about the delay. Inside I was freaking out.
The guests were by now getting restless. And hungry. I told the guests that Joey would be late but that he gave his blessing for all to begin eating and hopefully he would arrive in time to open the gifts. Besides, my tenderloin on crispy toast points was beginning to dry out so I was anxious to get the folks eating my creations.
An hour passed by before I even knew it and oddly, no one even asked about Joey. I spent the time checking and adjusting my smorgasbord and I did quite enjoy the many compliments and the sheer joy of seeing so many enjoying my food.
All party attendees filled their plates, many two and three times, and laughter could be heard filling the room. I circulated amongst the guests, checking their food, answering questions, promising recipes, assuring many that soon enough I would have my own catering service. It was great to see so many of our friends from school, including Linda Halpern, former cheerleader and once the object of my unknown-to-her affections.
“How have you been doing, Jeffie?” she said once I got free of another group of high school chums to pay her some singular attention. “I just can’t tell you how wonderful this food is. You’ve always been a good cook. I remember that time you prepared all the food for our senior football banquet and what a great time we all had.”
I promised Linda the recipe for my crusted tilapia and she handed me her business card so I could call her with it. Linda cautioned me not to email it as she often let her email pile up. I asked Linda how she was doing with Martin, our high school’s star quarterback who she married right after graduation and she told me they’d been divorced three years now. It crossed my mind that the tilapia recipe might give me another chance to meet Linda. I quickly pushed such a notion out of my head as I noted that my priestly brother was still nowhere to be found and the guests were again getting restless.
“You want me to do what?” I struggled to keep my voice down as I finally reached Joey and he told me to open up his gifts for him.
“The Bishop is here, Jeffie. I can’t just walk out. It’s family, Jeff. They’ll understand. Tell Mom that as soon as I get there I promise to spend the whole evening with them. We’ll catch up. Have Mom and Dad hold their gifts till I get there but I understand Aunt Gertrude and Uncle Bill need to leave. Open YOUR gift from them and mine will probably be the same.”
It was all starting to get so complicated. Joey was still laboring, wherever he and the Bishop were, under the assumption that his birthday party as scheduled was a simple gathering of our close family and I was at a point where I might have to tell him the truth. It wasn’t as if I’d be opening gifts from Aunt Gertrude and Uncle Bill and it simply would not do for me to open up all the gifts from our family and friends at Joey’s surprise party. They brought gifts for Joey and he should be the one opening them. I got my sister Christine and put her on the phone with Joey. I figured I was the chef, let her figure out how to handle this.
“Jeffie, we’ve got a web cam hookup,” Christine told me after speaking with Joey for five minutes. Chris pointed to some object over in the far corner which I could not see but I guess it was supposed to be a web cam. “I’m going to explain to the guests that Joey’s been tied up doing priest stuff and he is watching on the web cam. You will open his gifts in his place. Be sure to hold them up in front of the web cam. We told the guests this was a surprise for Joey’s final vows of the priesthood. I don’t even think they know it’s either you or Joey’s birthday. I feel bad about you having to open Joey’s gifts but you insisted that there never be another surprise party…”
I waved off Christine’s concerns in the confusion and oddity of the situation. Before I knew it gifts were piled up in front of me and the whole absurdity of it all faded away. I opened the boxes and held up the shirts and socks and gift certificates to something over in the corner, hoping my brother was seeing these gifts and pondering if my cake icing was holding up in the kitchen.
After the gift weirdness, I got the cake and did have to touch up my fine buttercream icing a bit. I put 28 candles on the cake and asked my sister Christine if Joey was still on the web cam so we could sing Happy Birthday to him.
“Let me take this, Jeffie,” Christine said, taking the cake from my arms. “You worked hard enough baking the thing and making all the food. You’ve been a real gem, Jeffie. You go out and sit with the guests. Yes, Joey’s still on the web cam so he’ll see us singing Happy Birthday to him.”
I blew an exasperated breath wind up my face. This was certainly turning out quite unexpectedly what with Joey not here for his own surprise birthday party. I did, as I thought in muse before handing over my exquisite cake to my sister, having a good time in spite of the guest of honor’s non-arrival. I supposed he’d get here sooner or later and at least our immediate family could have a small party and spend time with him.
I managed to get a seat next to Linda Halpern, just by accident, and was surprised to see a big Movie screen come down from the ceiling. My brother, bigger than life and garbed in his priestly vestments, appeared on the screen. At the same time my sister came in with the cake, all 28 candles lit and burning brightly.
“SURPRISE!” both my sister with the burning cake and my brother on the TV screen shouted and I looked around as to just who was being surprised.
“Surprise, Jeffie. This was the most difficult thing to pull off. I told Christine it would never work but she managed to do it.” After these words my mother gave me a peck on the cheek and my Dad bashfully held out his hand for a shake.
“Happy Birthday, Jeffie,” my brother’s voice boomed from the movie screen. The guests were all murmuring amongst themselves at this sudden turn of events. I was numb from trying to figure it out.
“Let’s all sing Happy Birthday to Jeffie,” my sister said, holding up that cake with the 28 lit candles. “This is the only way we could give him any kind of birthday party, much less a surprise party. We knew any gift you would bring for Joey would suit Jeffie for the most part. Jeffie, I hated to do this but I watched you. You had a good time at your birthday party…which your twin brother deliberately missed just so we could surprise you. I know you did.” Christine then leaned over and whispered in my ear: “I also knew you wouldn’t hear of me setting you and Linda Halpern up but I see it worked out too.”
Everyone in the room was laughing and singing Happy Birthday to ME. I looked around at all my high school chums, my family, my Aunt Gertrude and Uncle Bill, and Linda Halpern. In fact I did have a great time.
It’s been five years now since that famous 28th birthday party. My brother finally did take his final vows and I learned such a thing is not the sort of activity that takes one afternoon. Linda and I are married and we jointly own J&J’s catering firm. My brother the priest is a silent partner. We have one son, Joseph, named after his beloved Uncle, and Linda expects our daughter, Jane Christine, in three months.
It was the surprise birthday party of a lifetime. If my sister had listened to me, I’d probably still be cooking for Amour de Mer, still be a lonely single guy, still be….
Ah, but Christine didn’t listen to me, now did she?
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