A Vintage Year — Book Review

Last week I received a free copy of A Vintage Year by Kate Preston, with the promise that I’d review it and give my honest opinion of this book. So here it is:

Through the main character, former tennis star Harris Tucker, the reader gets a look at the immoral, self-centered world of a celebrity athlete. He’s portrayed as a careless playboy pursuing the pleasures of the flesh— seemingly well indulged in this by many attractive women. But as the story opens he botches an important game and his politically-aspiring mother, disgraced by his fiasco on the tennis court, disowns him. Then his accountant and best friend shuts off his allowance until he learns to curb his wild spending.

In Laura Bollier the reader sees the struggles of a young divorcee tackling both the hard work and planning necessary to keep the family’s grape-growing business solvent and the parenting responsibilities of a single mother. On a dare she offers Harris a week of work, an action that gets her some flak from her family. He may be clueless, but he’s desperate enough to stick it out.

If you are familiar with vineyards, and especially wine production in CA, you will find those details more interesting than I did. I felt the book slowed down in the middle as the writer took time to describe regional vine culture and wine festivals.

I found the story is well told, the plot believable, the characters well fleshed out. Most of the story moved along well. However, the relationship between Harris and Laura is a long, drawn out affair more off than on. And I did feel Harris’s mother’s “Wicked Witch of the West” role was sometimes overplayed. It’s a totally secular story; there are no religious references in it at all.

It seems the editor and writer got tired partway through the book. It could use one more editorial polishing, especially the last third. Language got a little coarser in the tense spots toward the end, too. There are typos, missing words, wrong verb tenses and such that an editor should have caught.

In places the personal pronouns are confusing; in a few spots the POV switches abruptly from one character to another, sometimes in the middle of a paragraph, and the reader is left to guess where exactly the break comes. There were places where the writer “showed” us but then told us anyway — and places where we were just told. Over all it was an interesting story.

Susan, Lady of Leisure

HER LAST DAY

“Now don’t you be in here with sunstroke next week!” Lynn, the head nurse winked as she waggled her finger at Susan. She cut a piece of the celebratory cake, dropped it onto a paper plate, and handed it to Susan. “Here’s the biggest piece for our guest of honor.”

“Best of luck, girl. You’ll be a lady of leisure now,” said Ethel, another ward nurse. “I’m sure looking forward to joining you – but I’ve got ten more years to go,” she added with a sigh.

“Well, I’m cheating to retire at 55, but with the inheritance from my Uncle James adding a bit to my pension, why shouldn’t I?” Susan admired the neatly formed icing rose on her piece of cake and shoved it to the side of her plate to keep as a souvenir of this party.

Nurse Karen balanced her plate of cake in one hand and patted Susan’s shoulder with the other. “You just enjoy your retirement years. You’ve earned it. And just think: no cranky old ladies hollering ‘Nurse! I need a bedpan.’ Lucky you!”

“I prescribe sunny southern climates all winter for the next twenty years,” said one of the Residents as he shook Susan’s hand.

“That sounds great! But I probably can’t afford that lifestyle if I’m not working 8-5 every day.” Susan chuckled at the mental picture of herself basking in the sun at the Riviera. With her fair complexion, plus being rather pale from years of working indoors, she might look like a boiled lobster if she spent too much time in the sun right off the bat.

Susan’s daughter Rhoda, who had taken time off to join the celebration, told the group, “Mom may not be doing the South Seas every winter, but she’s bought a neat little bungalow in a small southern village right on the coast close to Bournemouth.”

“Good for her,” Nurse Amanda cheered. “When can I come for a visit.” Everyone laughed.

“Will you be renting out a spare room for guests?” Nurse Collin asked in a teasing tone. “My wife would love a weekend down at the coast. Stuck here in Aylesbury all our lives, never toured southern England yet.”

Susan looked around the staff’s lunch room at the coworkers, dear to her heart, who’d come to say farewell. She smiled at the “Happy Days Ahead!” banner someone had tacked on one wall. In spite of the joyful occasion, which marked the end of running back and forth along this ward, she felt tears prick her eyes.

Yes, she’d had her holidays and some hobbies that kept her busy, but the past twenty-five years of her life had been devoted to this place. She’d gone back to nursing to support herself and her two children after Harvey’s death and the work had been a lifeline for her in more ways than one. What would she do now?

Susan made up her mind right there: she would not become a lonely old widow. As she nibbled at her cake her mind started flipping through the possibilities — all the dreams she’d had, some of which she might now be able to fulfill. She chuckled. If she got too bored she could always enroll in university.

Stella, another nurse a few years younger than Susan, wrapped an arm around her and gave her a gentle squeeze. “We’ll miss you. You’ve been so good with the patients. You’ve definitely earned your day of rest, Susan. Put your feet up. Read some good books.”

Susan waved her hand upwards. “I sure will. The sky’s the limit!”

At the end of the party Susan circled around the lunch room one last time, gave everyone a hug and left them with a promise to follow the prescribed course of treatment: total rest. Together with her daughter she walked down the hall and pushed the elevator button, dabbing at a few lingering tears.

“This is so sweet,” she said to Rhoda. “Last time on this elevator. Freedom!” They got off by the staff exit and Susan walked out that door for the last time.

To Be Continued…

FULL HOUSE–Book Report

FULL HOUSE
© 2012 by Maeve Binchy

This book is classed as a “Quick Read” and it was. I picked it up at the library last week and read it in one evening. It was also a delightful tale, the story of Dee & Liam, whose adult children still live at home and are totally at ease in the old nest. The young folks are totally focused on their own personal problems and take it for granted Mom look after all their physical needs: the cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc.

Then Dee & Liam face a financial and emotional crash and Dee realizes this system can’t go on. But now, how to go about re-educating their offspring after years of “training” them to be careless and self-centered? A rebellion is in order here.

I think this story could be a great eye-opener for teenagers and young adults living at home as well as for parents of teens and young adults.

Back cover blurb:
Rosie moved out when she got married, but it didn’t work out, so now she is back with her parents. Helen is a teacher and doesn’t earn enough for a place of her own. Anthony writes songs and is just waiting for the day when someone will pay him for them. Until then, all three are happy at home. It doesn’t cost them anything and surely their parents like having a full house?

Then there is a crisis and Dee decides things have to change for the whole family…whether they like it or not.

Sometimes You Hit A Homer

Gord and I had just finished shooing a few last gawkers away from the crash site when a car pulled into the driveway and a young woman got out and walked toward us, an inquisitive look on her face.

Gord rolled his eyes heavenward. “Whenever there’s a crime everyone and his pup wants to see the blood,” he grumbled.

I winked at my fellow officer. “I don’t see any pup. Just a nice looking lady.”

“Well, you deal with her, Mike. Tell her, ‘Sorry. No bodies today’.” He turned to talk with the tow truck driver and the two of them walked away.

As I watched the woman coming toward me, I guessed her to be in her late-twenties. Not pretty, exactly, but neat. Sandy blond hair fastened behind her head with a clip. Her outfit, a soft green skirt and matching flowered top, coordinated nicely.

Amanda always liked color-coordinated outfits. A twinge of grief hit me. Poets probably call this feeling “bittersweet.” Sweet memory; bitter grief. Co-ordinated sentiments?

This lady didn’t look like your usual crime-scene spectator. Did she have some business here? Neighbors had told us the owners were away on vacation so perhaps this was some friend or relative checking up on things.

She watched the tow truck driver haul away the car the young hoods had totaled, then she turned to me. “What happened, Officer?”

“We’re still investigating, ma’am, but it appears a couple of teen boys held up a gas station and tore off when police tried to stop them. They lost control making a turn, spun out, and hit this garage.”

She frowned. “I hope they weren’t killed!”

“No, just stunned a bit. They ran when our officers got here, but they’re in custody now.”

“Well, I’m sorry they crashed, but at least they’ll get the chance to think it over.”

“Yeah. Probably for six months or so.” I noticed her different accent. Out of state. “And what brings you here this morning, ma’am?”

“My friend asked me to meet her here. I wonder if she knows about this? She didn’t say anything when I talked to her earlier.”

“Your friend?”

“Brianne Rancourt. She’s been house-sitting for these folks while they’re on holidays.”

“Ah. We’ll need to talk to her.”

“We planned to meet here, check on the place, then do lunch. Shall I call her, sir?” She turned her huge peepers on me — nice denim blue ones — and my pulse did a quick double blip.

I took a deep breath. “Uh… Just give me her number and I’ll get the investigating officer to contact her.” I grabbed my notebook and she rattled off the pertinent info, then waited as I relayed it to headquarters.

She eyed the damage. “Brianne will be so shocked. She’s been house-sitting here for the past two weeks and never had any trouble. I feel sorry for the owners, coming home to this.”

Her tone, soft and gentle now, reminded me of the folks at my wife’s funeral. They’d give me a hug or pat me on the shoulder as they filed past, murmuring, “I’m so sorry, Mike.” Or they’d look at my kids and say, “This is so sad!”

I jerked my mind back to the present. “How long have you known Ms Rancourt?”

“Only ten days, actually. My Aunt lives here in Houston. She had a bad fall and broke her hip, so I took time off work and drove down from Great Falls to help her out. I met Brianne at the hospital; her aunt’s on the same ward.”

“Great Falls, Montana? Ah! That explains your accent.”

Her eyes sparkled. “Actually, we don’t have an accent. It’s you Texans that talk funny.” I chuckled at the way she drawled this last sentence.

I flipped to a new page in my notebook. “I should take down your name and number as well, ma’am.”

Her eyebrows lifted. “Really? But it’s purely coincidence that I’m here now, sir.”

I put on my best stern-cop frown, avoiding those curious blue eyes. “Perhaps we’ll need to contact you for some reason.”

“Okay. I’m Shannon Ryan. As I said, I live in Great Falls. Age thirty-one — in case you need that, too.” I couldn’t miss the hint of teasing in her voice.

I grinned. “I admire your honesty, ma’am. Most women I know stop at twenty-nine.” That made her smile.

Amanda had always joked that she was going to quit counting birthdays when she hit thirty. I’d laughed and told her I’d just have to grow old all by myself then. Those words came back to haunt me now. We never dreamed she wouldn’t live to see thirty; we never foresaw a fatal aneurysm snatching her away from me and the kids.

I focused on my notebook. “Married or single?” Police records didn’t require that, but hey. We can do things different here in Texas, right?

“I’m a widow.”

That got my attention. “I’m sorry to hear that. For long?”

She sighed. “It’s been ten years for me. And Brianne was widowed two years ago. I guess that’s why we hit it off so well when we met. We can commiserate.”

My brain did the math. “You must have been married real young then?”

“Yeah. I was seventeen when we got married; Brad was eighteen. Young and foolish, folks said, but we were very much in love. He was killed in a car accident on his way home from work one night. Four sweet years — far too short.” She blinked back some tears.

I nodded sympathetically. “I hear you, ma’am. I lost my wife four months ago. Feels like our time together was far too short, too.”

“My condolences,” she murmured. “Those first few months alone are a long, hard walk.”

“You’ve never remarried? Not currently, uh, involved?” Man, you’re nervy, Mike, I chided myself. But I had to ask.

“No.” She hesitated a moment. “I was engaged briefly three years ago, but that really blew up in my face. I run a daycare and it turned out he had an agenda. An ‘unnatural interest’ in children. I’ll admit a few red flags did pop up, but I so much wanted a home and family of my own that I reasoned them away.”

“The snake!” I spat the word out, thinking of my own innocent kids.

“Yeah. How could I have not seen it? And the scandal when he was arrested really sank me. Headlines like: ‘Day care operator’s fiancé arrested for trafficking in kiddie porn’ and ‘Police investigate pedophile’s involvement with day care owner.’ I’d never left him alone with any of the kids in my care — I testified to that in court — but my business was toast. I had to sell my house and start up elsewhere.”

I gritted my teeth. “I know what I’d like to do with someone like that!”

“So I’m sure you can understand why I try not to think about marriage anymore. I’m scared to hope again for fear it’ll be ‘Three strikes, you’re out’.” She smiled then, but the tears made her eyes glisten.

She shook her head and fixed her eyes on the garage. “Anyway, this isn’t all about me, so I’d better get on my way.” She turned and walked toward her car.

Should I just let her go? Something about this lady impressed me. She’d been through the mill and could still smile. I could use someone like that in my life — someone who’d understand.

A nagging voice piped up. It’s too soon to get involved, Mike. Just drop it!

Yeah, too soon. Yet I was so lonely! The emptiness had set in as soon as the last relative left. Every day my house felt empty: the loving greetings, the noisy meals together, the hugs and kisses were all gone. Every night my bed felt lonelier.

What will people think? They’ll say you didn’t love Amanda much if you find someone else so soon.

Stuff it, I retorted. I need someone. The kids need a mother. I’ve prayed God would send me someone who’ll love my kids. And if this is my someone, I’m not letting her walk away.

“Shannon, wait…” I called. She stopped and turned around.

“I’ve been thinking — since you’re down here alone and don’t know the city, perhaps you might, uh, like an unofficial police escort? Maybe for some shopping or sightseeing? And there are some really neat cruises in the Gulf you might want to take in while you’re here.”

She was quiet for a moment. Wrestling with her own nagging voices, most likely.

“Don’t give up on finding love,” I encouraged her. “After all, not everybody strikes out. Sometimes you hit a homer on the third swing.”

Something seemed to click and her face broke into a beautiful smile. “You know,” she said, “a police escort might not be such a bad idea. Might save me from some other slippery snakes. Yeah, I’d like to look around this town more, with a little help. Since you’re offering.”

Her smile seemed to bring the sunshine into my world again. I held out my hand. “My name’s Mike Andrews, by the way. And I have a five-year-old and a two-year-old who’d be glad to spend time with someone who likes children.”

She reached out and shook my hand. “Pleased to meet you, Mike. And I do like children. In fact I always wanted house full.”

I gave her my biggest smile. “I’m with you on that one.”

Troy’s Wake-Up Call

WHAM!

As a reward for our recent hard work, our sales team had chosen to spend a few days at a resort renowned for its golf greens. I was coming in with my small plane and everything was A-okay.  Visibility was great; the tarmac stretched out invitingly; my landing gear was unfolding as it should.

It would have been a perfect landing — if only those crazy birds had stayed put.

In my descent I could see the fairway on my left farther up. I also took note of the winding stream below as I brought my small plane down, focused on the strip of asphalt ahead. I never saw the two birds they say rose up from the river below. I only felt a violent jerk as something hit the prop and I lost control.

I vaguely recall a tumbling, falling sensation, the far-off wail of sirens. I remember thinking at one point, Guess my buddies will have to play without me, ‘cause I won’t be making it to the fairway today.

I woke up flat out on a bed, hearing blimps and bleeps from machines and soft voices. Definitely hospital sounds. I tried to open my eyes or turn my head, but my body was like stone. I couldn’t stay awake.

I came to later, hearing familiar voices right near my bed. My wife, Lacey, my mom and dad. They were murmuring, talking about the crash of a small plane, a bird in the prop. Bit by bit the memory came back to me.  I tried to make some noise. I tried moving my hand, my foot — anything to let them know I was awake — but my body wouldn’t co-operate. I couldn’t even tell that I even had arms or legs. Maybe I didn’t? That thought scared the living daylights out of me. But I couldn’t open my eyes to check.

HOW LONG?

“How long do you think it will be until he comes out of this, doctor?” I could hear the fear in Lacey’s voice.

Another voice, professional, yet kind. “We can never be sure. A lot of patients with similar injuries come to within a week or two. Some don’t.”

NO! I don’t want to lie here another week or two, I want to get up, move around. Then his last words buzzed around in my brain, torturing me. Some don’t. Ever.

“When he does come to again, what are the chances that Troy will live a normal life?” Dad’s voice. Always the optimist, he wouldn’t take ‘never’ for an answer.

“That’s impossible to determine until he wakes up and we assess how much neurological damage has been done.”

Hours passed — or was it days? I came to many times and tried to move, but it was like someone had set me in concrete. What I wouldn’t give to at least say a few words, find out what was going on! When the doctor was in the room I tried my hardest to scream, but not even a squeak came out.

I lived for the visits of my family. Lacey brought Kyle and Tianna. They were full of questions. Lacey explained, “Daddy’s in a coma. It’s like he’s asleep. But maybe he can hear us, so talk to him.”

Poor kids. They didn’t understand, but they tried. Kyle told me about school. Tianna told me about the new girl on our street. Their voices were like a lifesaver to a drowning sailor. If only I could communicate just how much those visits meant to me.

I made a vow. When I come out of this, I’m going to tell them every day how sweet their voices sound.

Even the medical people brightened my dark world. How I wish I could tell them that! I knew from the few comments the nurses made right by my bed that they were moving me, washing me, but I felt nothing. Much as I hated to be so helpless, their snatches of gossip as they worked with me reassured me that I was still in the land of the living.

SECOND CHANCES

Then came that marvelous day when my eyes opened.

If you only knew what it’s like to live in grey shadows for days — or was it even weeks? — and then one day be able to see light and color and people. Wonderful is far too small a word; it’s like saying the Grand Canyon is large. And to see the faces of Lacey, the kids, my parents, standing around me with great big grins. To see the hope shining in their eyes.

The only thing that it was the day I took my first step. It was the first step of my new life as a husband, a father, a son. Thank God for second chances!

The House that Tom & Susie Built

“Oh, to be more patient!” Susie sighed as she got ready for bed that night. If only Tom could see my point! I don’t want to be a nag but he needs to make some changes — for the good of our home.

For one thing, he could say ‘No’ to some of these pleas for help. Like this morning when Uncle Jim called. Could Tom do a few repairs for Grandma?

“Yes, we love Grandma,” Susie had countered, “but any of your cousins could help her. They just say they’re too busy; well, we’re busy, too! We’ll never get our own house finished if you’re always helping this one and that one. Say ‘No’ this time!”

And had he listened? No. Then he wasn’t home in time for dinner, either, and the children became whiny and hard to manage. Irked, Susie grumbled at him after he did get home until he snapped back at her and stomped out to mow the lawn. The girls stood looking at her in wide-eyed silence until she shooed them outside to play. And Javon started to fuss.

Susie warmed up a bottle for him. “I guess I should apologize,” she told Javon as she fed him his bottle. “But maybe your daddy will think about this, too, and see that charity begins at home.” She brushed away the feelings of guilt.

Javon fell asleep and she started to vacuum, but she found resentment a bitter companion and was very thankful when Tom came in to say he was sorry. She apologized, too, and they both agreed that they wanted a happy home.

That night Susie whispered a prayer into her pillow. “I do want to be a good helpmeet for him, Lord. But there’s so much to do around here and the children need their Dad and… Well, You know it all. Please help us.” Then weariness overcame her and she fell asleep.

Next thing Susie knew, she and Tom were walking down a long road that stretched out ahead of them, then started to curve.

As they walked along, she had a sense of years passing. She glanced at Tom and saw with surprise that he had a cane in his other hand and was leaning on it a lot. She saw the grey in his hair and knew that hers was turning white, too.

Suddenly from around the bend in the road a man came toward them. With a spring in his step and a cheerful hello, he beckoned them.

“You must be the Reeds. I’ve come to show you your new house.”

She and Tom looked at each other in surprise and delight. The man, who seemed to be a real estate agent, led them around the next bend. Beside the road they saw a lovely new cottage.

Susie gasped. “Is this ours?”

“No,” the agent replied, “this is the home of John and Linda Thomas.”

Right then an elderly couple opened the door and waved at them. It was indeed a couple they knew from their congregation, but they were both very old now.

“Well, they certainly do deserve that neat home,” said Susie. “They’ve been so faithful in the church and such a good example to us all.”

The man smiled. “Yes, they’ve been building well all these years.”

They walked along farther and passed other houses, some looking very good and some rather ramshackle. One place wasn’t much more than a heap of crooked boards tossed together. The couple outside were bickering with each other.

The agent shook his head. “Even in old age some folks are still trying to decide whose fault it is.”

“I hope we don’t have them for neighbours,” Susie said curtly.

A few miles later the agent stopped beside another house. “And here we are, folks. This one is yours!”

Tom and Susie walked over to the house and eyed it dubiously. The siding had some jagged edges, a few boards were put on at odd angles. The door frame wasn’t quite straight.

“This is ours?” Tom sounded puzzled. He studied it up and down, and wandered around to the back, leaving Susie alone with the agent.

Susie examined the house and said to herself, “Somebody sure made a mess of things!”
The man seemed to read her thoughts. “It has been fairly well built. A few flaws here and there, but most of it is quite sound.”

He opened the door and Susie followed him into the cottage. Floor tiles were missing here and there. The fireplace stones stuck out at odd angles; amazing they didn’t tumble down!

“Oh, there must be some mistake,” she protested. “This can’t be ours!”

“Madam, I assure you, there’s no mistake,” he answered politely. “This is the house you and Tom have been building all these years. And you’ve done a halfway decent job, too. Some really good materials here.” He rapped on the wall. “Most of the subfloor is good wood. Most of the studs are in place, though some are a bit warped. Most of the roof is intact.”

“But…we would never build a place like this!”

“This is indeed your work, Mrs. Reed. What you have here is what you’ve put into your marriage all these years. You reap what you sow, you know.”

He pointed to the floor tiles. “Most of the time you and Tom have spoken to each other with respect — but not always.” Then he indicated several holes in the ceiling. “You and Tom have patched up most of your quarrels, but not all of them.” He waved at the gaps between the wall and the ceiling. “Times when each of you insisted on getting your own way. A bit was lost in your building. Selfishness is such a thief!”

Susie examined the fireplace with its stones askew and he explained. “These are the times you’ve accepted each other’s faults charitably — or complained angrily. They’re all here, just as you’ve stacked them.”

Susie cringed. What he was saying was too true. Sick at heart, she walked into the kitchen. The cabinets looked attractive, except that some of the doors were warped.
She didn’t dare ask, but he told her anyway. “Most of the time you’ve been honest with each other, but not always.”

Susie blushed, remembering a few of those times. “If only we’d known it would all show up like this,” she wailed. “How can we ever live here?”

The agent drew himself up in a huff. “That’s not my problem, Mrs. Reed. I’m only the agent of Time. My job was to bring you here and I have. All these years you and Tom have been building your old age. And may I remind you that when you were young you thought these things were good enough. ‘About like other couples,’ I believe you said then.”

He walked over to the entrance. “If you’d wanted something better now, you should have started years ago. Remember the old proverb: A wise woman buildeth her house, but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands.”

Susie hung her head in shame. “If I’d only known I was building I’d someday have to live with…”

“Perhaps you could still make a few repairs,” he suggested cheerfully as he opened the door. “And now, good day, Mrs. Reed. I have others to bring to their houses, too, including your children. They’re married now and are building their own homes.”

“My children! What kind of houses will they have? If only they could see…”

“No doubt they will be following the example you’ve left them, so their houses will be half-ways decent, too,” he assured her. Then he stepped out the door into a whoosh of wind and was gone, leaving Susie standing there contemplating his last words.

She turned around to look over the house again and a wave of despair overcame her. How many repairs could they make at this late date? She sat down in a chair and began to sob.
Then Tom was beside her and his arm was around her. “It’s all right, Susie. Don’t cry. We’ll do what we can.”

Suddenly she was sitting up in bed, with Tom’s arm around her. “It’s all right, Susie. Don’t cry,” he was saying. “You must have had a bad dream.”

Susie nodded, then thought again. “No, I’ve had a very good dream. and I hope I’ll remember it for a long time. She leaned on his shoulder. “Oh, Tom, I’ve been fussing so much about getting this earthly house finished and I’ve been neglecting the most important one!”

Mrs. Lot Muses

My conjectures of what Mrs Lot might have thought and felt. Based on the Biblical account given in Genesis 19:1-26

Mrs. Lot Muses

He’s a good man, my Lot. He’s always been a good husband and father; I have no complaints about that. He treats our servants well, pays them fair wages. He’s donated to various charities over the years; offers beggars a handout ever so often; never kicks stray dogs. And he’s always been kind to strangers coming into Sodom. (Which is what has gotten us into the mess we’re in now.)

He’s well respected in town, too, I’ll have you know. Every day he sits in the gate with the other elders and his advice is appreciated. Whenever a difficult situation arises in regard to our city, the town fathers will seek Lot’s counsel. They say they can expect Lot to come up with viable solutions because he has a good understanding.

So I really shouldn’t complain, but tomorrow morning I’m definitely putting my foot down. I don’t want to risk ever having this happen again. Never again will I spend a wild night like this one!

As I said, Lot has always been kind to strangers. Sometimes he brings home company on short notice and I try to go along with it and not complain. Well, this morning, he tells me, he was sitting in the gate with the other ‘grey beards’ and in walks these two young fellows, looking around like they have obviously never been here before.

Something about them appealed to Lot – and I have to admit they seem to be very fine young men – so apparently Lot jumped up and invited them home for supper. He said they were talking of just sleeping in the street tonight and, as I said, Lot has a good understanding of the way things work around here. He was afraid they’d get mugged – or worse. (I must admit, there are some really strange people in this city.) So rather than see them sleep in the park, he told them they can spend the night with us.

Anyway, Lot comes into the house this afternoon and tells me about these two men he’s asked home, wondering if we could treat them to our hospitality and good cooking for supper and could they stay the night? I must confess I was rather flattered and didn’t mind sharing our space. Innocent as I was, I didn’t foresee any problems. In fact, such handsome young men might even make good sons-in-law some day, should they decide to settle down here.

So Lot brings them into the house and shows them to the guest room where they can stretch out for awhile if they wish. Then Lot instructs the servants to get them anything they need. After this Lot comes to me and he whispers in my ear, “I think these fellows are angels.”

I didn’t take this very seriously at first. “They’d better be,” I whispered right back. “Remember we have two beautiful daughters at home and we don’t want any hanky-panky.”

(Mind you, it might almost serve him right if something did happen and one of these fellows ran off with Beth or Sue. Our poor daughters are getting teased constantly these days by all their friends because they are still so innocent.)

You know how smart young folks can be once they get wise to the facts of life. The other girls torment our daughters, telling them they’ll grow old and wrinkled and still be single because their prude of a father won’t ever let them out of his sight. I remind them that their other sisters found good husbands and they will, too, but teenagers are so eager to experience everything. It’s hard for them to wait for someone that suits their Dad.

Back to my story. These young men settled down in the guest room for a couple of hours and then we called them for supper. At the table they seemed nice enough, and I tried to make a few suggestions as to how they might spend the evening.

I told them the Gomorrah Generation Singers are going to be performing tonight and they might want to take it in. (Gomorrah being a city just down the plain from ours an we have a lot to do with each other.) “This group is world-famous for their talent and harmony. You won’t hear any better.”

The one young man looked at me and said, “I have already heard music infinitely more beautiful.”

“Oh,” says I, somewhat taken aback. “Do you have some really good singers where you come from, too?”

“The music is heavenly, an angelic choir,” he answered. Then he sighed, seemed almost as if he were homesick. “Compared to them your singing groups are like clashing cymbals.”

I’ll confess I was a little miffed at his dismissal of our local talent. After all, I myself have heard some beautiful sounds come from this choir – and the musical arrangements are out of this world. Incredible talent, I’d say! He didn’t have to brag up his own country so much.

To be continued tomorrow…

 

Not Such Bad Luck

Once upon a time in far-off China, there lived a farmer who had only one son — one precious heir to whom he would leave his small property. The farmer also had one horse. One day this horse managed to get out of his corral and ran off.

“Such bad luck!” the neighbors said to the man.

“Don’t speak too soon,” said the farmer. “How can you know if this is really bad luck?”

The neighbors were really surprised the next evening when the horse showed up with a dozen other wild horses following him. He led them into the corral and the farmer’s son quickly ran and shut the gate.

When they saw that he now had thirteen horses the neighbors congratulated the farmer. “This is such good luck for you!”

“Don’t speak too soon,” said the wise farmer. “How do you know this is going to be a good thing for us?”

Some days later the son attempted to break one of the wild horses, but the wild stallion would have none of it. He bucked frantically and the young man fell off, breaking his leg.

Neighbors shook their heads when they saw the injured son. “You were right, old man. This has been very bad luck.”

“Don’t speak too soon,” the old man calmly repeated. “How can you be sure of that?”

A few days later a local warlord came through the village and ordered all the able-bodied young men to come with him to help fight in his war. But when he saw the farmer’s son hobbling along, he shook his head. “This boys is of no use to me.”

So the farmer’s son was left behind because of his broken leg. The other young men who were forced to accompany the warlord in his conflict were never seen again. The farmer and his son rejoiced over the “bad luck” that turned out to be their biggest blessing.

There are times in everyone’s life when something constructive is born out of adversity.  – Lee Iaccoacca

Part of the Family

Part II

Tyler ran into the park, avoiding the playground where other boys would be having fun with their dads. Instead he followed the path that led down to the creek, to watch the ducks and swans swimming.

Suddenly he stopped. There on the path ahead was the Canada goose. He had never been able to get this close to it before!

He watched as it pulled at strands of grass and ate them. I’m going to chase it into the water and watch it swim, he thought. In the water the goose was really neat; it looked like a sleek grey boat with a long black flagpole.

But the goose would not be chased. It waddled over to the edge of the creek, right in front of a duck family that was swimming around in the water gobbling up bugs, and there it stood, calmly watching Tyler with his tiny black eyes.

Tyler stepped closer and waved his arms to shoo it into the water. But the goose just raised its wings, stretched out its long neck, and honked a warning.

“Silly goose!” he shouted at it. “Get in the water and swim.”

The goose stood its ground at the edge of the creek, eyeing him warily.

Maybe if I had a stick, Tyler thought. He looked around beside a nearby bush and found a long one. But when he waved the stick at the goose, it stretched out its neck again, hissed and flapped its wings as if to say, “Look out, kid!”

A little girl came skipping along the path with her mom and dad following behind her. “Why are you trying to hit that goose?” she asked.

“I just want it to get in the water. I want to watch it swim, but it won’t go.”

“Do you see that duck family?” the man asked. “That’s why it won’t go in the water.”

Tyler looked at him, puzzled.

“This is a father goose–a gander,” he explained. “He has no family of his own, so he’s adopted this duck family. He always stays near them, watching that nothing hurts them. He’s put himself in between so you can’t get near them.”

“But where’s the ducks’ dad?” Tyler asked.

“We don’t know,” the lady answered. “He just went away–or maybe he got sick and died.”

Tyler nodded, feeling a lump in his throat. He knew all about dads getting hurt and dying. He studied the gander until the lump went away.

“But why does he stick around when he’s not their real dad?”

“Maybe he’s just lonesome and wants to be part of the family,” the man replied. “Maybe he sees that the mother duck needs his help to take care of all those busy babies. What do you think?”

For a minute they watched the many duck babies zipping this way and that to snap up water bugs. Yes, she might need help to watch over them all.

“This gander will fight anything that tries to get near his family,” said the dad. “When he flaps his wings and hisses at you, he means, ‘Look out! One more step and you’re in for it!’ His wings are strong and could give you a few good bruises and if he grabbed your leg with his beak, you’d feel it!”

“But if you want to watch him swim, go sit down a bit,” he suggested. “Once he knows the ducks are safe, he might get back in the water and join them.”

The people walked away. Tyler threw away his stick and sat down to watch; pretty soon the gander did waddle into the creek and swim over to the ducks.

As he watched the unusual family, a thought came to him. What if one of the ducklings decided he didn’t like the gander and tried to chase him away? Tyler smiled as he pictured a tiny duckling chasing a big goose.

“Like you’re doing to Paul?” The words popped into his mind, surprising him, but he realized this was the truth. By refusing to like Paul, by being crabby to him, he was trying to make Paul give up and go away.

So why did Paul stick around? Was he lonely, too? Tyler knew about lonely, about the ache inside that never went away since Dad died. Many times he wanted to cry and there was nowhere to go with his loneliness. If he told Mom how he felt, she might cry, too, and that was worse. Did Paul sometimes feel like that? Did he want to be part of their family so he would not be alone anymore?

Did Mom really need Paul’s help to raise her family? He thought of one little duck trying to look after the whole family. Silly! The gander obviously could do a much better job. He was big and brave enough to stand up for them.

Maybe Paul feels like that, too, Tyler thought. Maybe he thinks we need him. He sat and pondered the idea. And maybe we really do, he finally decided.

Tyler jumped up and started for home. Paul would be there now and might play ball with them. Maybe they could be friends. Paul wasn’t Dad, but having him there might not be so bad after all.

The End

Part of the Family

Tyler tried to slip away unnoticed. No luck! Cassie looked up when she heard the gate open. “Where are you going, Tyler?”

“To the park.” Tyler scowled at the squeaky hinge.

She came over to the fence. “You should stay here. You know Mom said Paul’s coming over.”

“Paul might play ball with us,” five-year-old Tisha added. “That’ll be so much fun!”

“I don’t like Paul!” Tyler kicked angrily at a tuft of grass.

Tisha’s eyes opened wide. “Why don’t you, Tyler? He’s nice.”

“I don’t like him!” Tyler repeated. “He’s not my dad and he can quit acting like it.

“Our Dad is gone, Tyler,” Cassie reminded him quietly. “Mom says we need accept it.”

Angrily Tyler shoved his hands in his pockets. Maybe they could accept it, but he never would! They should have their own dad like other families did. There never should have been an accident. Or Dad should have gotten better after. He never should have died and left them alone. It wasn’t fair!

And now Paul was coming over, talking with Mom, smiling at her. They said they’re going to get married. Mom would forget all about Dad! Paul was so friendly to them, too, trying to win them over. Tisha was totally on his side already. She would never even remember Dad. Everybody would forget Dad.

“He thinks he can take Dad’s place,” Tyler grumbled, “but he never will. I wish he’d just go away and leave us alone!”

He turned and ran for the park, ignoring Cassie’s call to come back. She thought because she was twelve now that she could tell him and Tisha what to do. That wasn’t fair, either. He could look after himself; he was almost ten. He could help look after the family, too. They didn’t need Paul. Why didn’t he just beat it?

Conclusion tomorrow….