A Loving Proposal

I’m going to take my cue from one of Agatha Christie’s novels as my response to today’s Word Press daily prompt. She had such an interesting way with words. And I love her characters’ names!

Swindolthwarp’s Surprise

Amos stood in the hallway watching the young woman hurry down the staircase. Always bustling around, this young lady. Always seemed to know where she was going and why. He liked that. And she was a pretty young thing. His old ticker skipped a beat.

As she passed him in the hall he caught her arm with the hook of his cane. “You. Miss Whats-your name-again?”

“Arthur. Miss Vivian Arthur.”

“Arthur. Yes. Good English name.” Amos drew her closer and wrapped his fingers around her arm. Nice bit of flesh she had, too. Not like some of the scrawny old birds throwing themselves at him lately. “I’d like to have a word with you.”

“Certainly, Sir. Are you wanting your tea already? I should start with dinner preparations soon.”

She took a step backward and he gripped her arm even tighter. “Never mind the tea, girl. I have something important to discuss. Something very personal. Come with me.” He tenderly pulled her into his study. “I’ve been watching you ever since you showed up — has it been a month already? I’ve see what an industrious sort you are. And not a waster, either.”

“Thank you, Mr Swindolthwarp.”

He leered at her lovingly. “To you I may seem like a poor old man, but I assure you, there’s more to me than meets the eye. I’m a lot more robust than my sons think. I’m not about to drop dead and leave them every penny like they wish.”

“No, I’m sure not, Mr Swindolthwarp. You seem quite robust yet.” She looked down at the hand that was clutching her arm.

“I try not to let on, but I do have quite a bit saved up, actually. I could look after you very well. You wouldn’t have to be a char anymore and work so hard every day. Mind you, I wouldn’t hire another cook, since you’re so capable. Having you doing the meals has suited my digestion to a turn. Once we’re married…”

“Married!” Vivian’s eyes opened wide and she turned pale, but quickly regained her composure. “Well. I never expected…”

“Surprised you, did I?” Amos chuckled with delight. “I’ve grown quite fond of you, you know. My wife, may she rest in peace, was okay, but an insipid sort. Not a lively thing like you. I think you could add some real zest to my life.”

“Whatever would your sons say, Mr Swindolthwarp? I fear they would resent me if I…er…if they thought…”

“Who cares what they say? They can go climb the Himalayas for all I care.” He pounded his cane on the floor twice to emphasize his point. “Right now they’re waiting for me to die so they can get their hands on my money and waste it all. But I can see you’re sensible. You won’t be tossing my life savings to the four winds.”

There came a sudden sparkle in her eye. “So this means no honeymoon on the Riviera?”

“Riviera!” The word made Amos gasp and sputter.

Vivian, alarmed, patted his back. “Oh, dear! Are you all right, Sir?”

One last cough and Amos replied, “I’m fine. I’m fine. Don’t fuss. I hate it when people fuss. But, my word! The Riviera. Do you have any idea how much that would cost?”

“You’re quite right,” she replied, her eyes taking in the threadbare carpet, faded wallpaper and the draperies that must have hung on these study windows for thirty years at least. “The money would be far better put into home improvements.”

“I knew you were a practical girl! Think about what I’ve said. You and I could make a delightful match. And I’m not too old, you know…” He ogled her amorously. “There may be snow on the roof, but there’s still a fire in the hearth. We could have a nice little family.”

He saw the hint of a smile flicker on her lips and took it she was delighted at the prospect.

She pulled away from him. “This is all very sudden. I shall have to give this more thought, Mr Swindolthwarp.”

He reluctantly released his loving grip on her arm. “You do that, girl. Remember, if you’re willing to take care of me, I’m willing to take care of you.”

“Thank you, Sir. This is so kind of you. I must start the dinner.” And she dashed off to the kitchen.

Amos chuckled again. He’d bowled the girl right over. But she’d come round, he was sure. Maybe by his 73nd birthday he’d be a married man again. And his sons could go jump off the cliffs of Dover if they didn’t like it.

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

Caesar and the Sub

One of Life’s Little Lessons

As usual, George didn’t bother with the buzzer at the main entrance but walked around the corner or the building to knock at the window of his grandson’s ground-floor apartment. When he arrived he saw a huge dog staring at him through the sliding glass door. The great-whatever-it-was immediately announced his presence with resounding woofs.

Kyle rushed to the door and slid it open. “Hey, Grandpa! Good to see you. Quiet Caesar. This is a friend.”

“I sure wouldn’t want to be a burglar and be doing this,” George said as he stepped through the window. “So this is your new hound?”

“Yeah, this is Caesar.” Kyle ruffled the fur on the dog’s head and patted his back. “ Had him two weeks now and so far we’re getting along great. Really, his bark is worse than his bite.”

George chuckled. “I wouldn’t want to put that to the test. I won’t try entering when you’re not here.” He cautiously held out his hand to the dog and let Caesar sniff it. “Who sold you this monster?”

“A breeder south of town. His Great Dane had a litter, but some of the pups weren’t the purebreds he was expecting. Some other genetics got added to the mix somehow. So he gave me a deal.”

“I can see that. Fellow would be hard put to guess his breeding.”

“But, hey, I don’t mind. He’s going to be a faithful friend.”

Kyle walked into the kitchen and came back with a plate overflowing with a humongous submarine sandwich. “I was feeling hungry after our run through the park, so I was just fixing myself a sub. Do you want me to fix you one, too?”

“Sure,” George replied. “But make mine half that size. I don’t run through the park anymore like you do.”

Kyle laughed as he set his plate on the table. “Yeah, I guess this would be pretty big for a lot of people.”

He went back to the kitchen. “Ham, turkey, or both?”

“Just turkey,” George answered as he watched Caesar come and sit beside the table, his eyes focused on the sub. “You’d better hurry up there, Kyle, or you won’t have a sandwich to come back to.”

Kyle looked around and saw Caesar beside his chair, eying the sandwich hungrily. “Don’t worry. He’s well trained. We’ve been going to obedience classes.” Kyle opened the fridge door. “Do you want a drink with this, Grandpa? Cola or ginger ale, or iced tea?”

“Ginger ale would be fine. Obedience classes?”

“Yeah, we’ve had four lessons already.” Kyle pulled a can of pop from the fridge and shut the door. “He’s learned that he must not touch any food I set down until I say, ‘Eat it, Caesar.’ Then he knows he can have it.”

“Oh.” Suddenly George looked back at Caesar. He could hardly believe how fast the dog, hearing those magic words, grabbed the sub off the plate and devoured it.

“Uh, Kyle…I hope you still have enough fixings for another sandwich?”

Kyle whirled around and saw his empty plate. He smacked his head with his hand.

Caesar was looking up at him with eyes full of love and gratitude, his tail thump, thumping against the chair leg.

Kyle sighed. “Guess I can hardly blame him. I did say the magic words.”

George laughed. “It looks like he learned his lesson well. And now you have, too.”

“Yeah, I’ll remember this one,” Kyle said ruefully as he reached for another sub bun.

My First AMAZON Book Review!

History was made at this house yesterday when I wrote up and posted my very first AMAZON book review. I was so excited I promptly followed with another! (I’ll post that one on Tuesday.)

I’d like to know how you others feel about the reviews you read on AMAZON. I’ve been checking out some books listed that I’ve read lately — and some I haven’t — and reading the reviews. I’m getting the impression the majority of reviewers just want to complain. Several of Carol Higgins Clark books I’ve read and really liked were trashed right, left and center.

All I can say is, “To each his own.” Some readers like salt, some like sugar, some like lemon and some like bland and some prefer a steady diet of junk food. I have my own likes and dislikes. I read Wuthering Heights because it’s considered a great classic; I considered it a great waste of time–unless you want to read a book that shows you how NOT to be. I’ll admit, it portrays the futility of being a greedy, miserable tyrant. Charles Dickens did much the same thing with Scrooge, but Scrooge got the picture and changed before it was too late, so I found A Christmas Carol very inspiring.

Fellow writer Joel Canfield is a real fan of Raymond Chandler’s Private Eye Marlowe. I like Joel’s protagonist for all the ways he’s NOT like Phillip Marlowe. If you are into mysteries, you may want to check this one out.

Here’s my unabridged review of A LONG HARD LOOK by Joel Canfield:

While I’m not really a mystery reader — and I abhor horror! — I found this book a compelling, fast-paced read and relatively easy on my poor nerves.

This tale echoes Chandler’s writing in that the protagonist is giving you a play-by-play account with only subtle hints of back-story. But in my opinion Canfield’s protagonist is more like “Phillip Marlowe meets Joe-Hardy.” He’s human; he has feelings; he’s rash at times. Unlike Marlowe, who relates cold details — I went here; found this body; shot that guy; too bad — Phil Brennan shares his motives and feelings as he gives the reader a first-hand account of events.

The story starts as Phil, an on-the-wagon not-really-private-eye, to do a small favor for Gil, a sobbing computer technician with a guilty conscience. Or so it seems. Will Phil correct an error on Gil’s computer at work?

Sure. Why not? The task seems simple enough — and the pay is good.

Thus Phil is dragged into involvement with a dysfunctional family by helping Gil — who’s found dead the next day. Phil is soon called on the carpet by Gil’s employer-dad for that favor and threatened with fates worse than death  — IF he doesn’t find Gil’s murderer.

Phil meets Gil’s sisters one by one and he falls for one of them. The focus shifts to family dynamics: a long-lost brother (or potential brother-in-law, in this case) meets four “sisters” and finds them spinning in a crazy situation. One is older and more level-headed. One has been a pawn in a strange game. One is a suspect. Did she murder Gil? If not, who did? How can they fix what’s broken here.

As sisters will, they all hen-peck him – one with a stiletto even — and he bears it patiently. But then, in spite of their wise counsel, he tries rattling another bush to see what he can flush out.

He shouldn’t have.

The story has a few spots that could be polished. There’s a lot of dialogue in this book; a few times I had to go back and work my way down to figure out who was talking. Daddy makes a brief appearance in Phil’s office soon after his computer-tech son, an incident that’s never touched on again. For all that his life has been threatened he isn’t too concerned about keeping his door locked.

However, the story is well written. Phil Brennan makes you care about him. When the story’s done you wish him well and would like to know what happens to him next.

Blog Renovation

Hear Ye, Hear Ye:

I’ve done a major renovation on my Christine Goodnough blog. I’ve decided to  use this address as my online journal, and as a note to friends telling about some of the happenings in my everyday life. I also want to post occasional quotes that strike me as particularly inspiring.

Drop by and check out the new look.
christinegoodnough.wordpress.com

Calamity or Blessing?

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

There’s an old Chinese legend about a farmer who had one son and one horse. One day while the two men were away the 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 came back up with a dozen 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 prince came through the village and ordered all the able-bodied young men to come with him to help fight his war, but the farmer’s son was left behind because of his broken leg. The other young men were never seen again. The farmer and his son rejoiced over the “bad luck” that kept him from being conscripted, too.

What we see as a disaster sometimes proves to be one of our biggest blessings.

Fool’s Gold

Part One

“Where are we now, Skipper?” asked Will, an old prospector on his way back to the gold rush in the West. Right then he felt like talking to someone and was glad to see the boat’s skipper standing alone on deck.

“See those two piles of stones up on the hillside and the big cross beside them?” Skipper pointed toward the left riverbank. “They mark a cemetery and when we see those, we’re close to the Louisiana border. Have you never been down the Mississippi before?”

“Nope. Grew up in Ohio and headed west by wagon train. Gold fever hit me somewhere along the way and I’ve spent most of my life panning the small streams in the Sierra mountains. Now that I’ve spent the winter visiting my family in St Louis, I’m headed back to California. Thought I’d try going by Panama this time but I likely won’t ever see these waters again.”

“Had much success gold panning?” Skipper asked. He glanced at another passenger who wandered by right then and paused to lean against the railing nearby. Will glanced at him, too; the fellow seemed to be studying the swirling waters.

Then he turned back to the skipper and looked him in the eye. “I’ve found my share of gold – and spent most of it, too. I still have enough with me to pay my fare and buy another stake when I get to California. I hope to find a lot more yet before I die. From what I gather a lot of the fellows here are in the same straits: enough left to pay their fare home, maybe enough to buy provisions when they arrive. And big dreams.”

Skipper tugged at his ear. “Well, I wish you all luck. It’s good for the shipping business if this gold rush pays off.”

His eyes twinkled as he added, “Sometimes I get a touch of gold fever myself. But my wife threatens to dose me good and proper with sulphur and molasses whenever I bring up the subject. You know how a woman is: feet planted in her own garden. My Pearl won’t be parted from her home and family to sit for months in a lonely log cabin somewhere.”

Will contemplated the drifting clouds overhead, thinking of the family he was leaving behind, faces he may never see again. “Well, you know, that’s not such a bad thing, neither. Being near your kinfolk is worth something – maybe worth even more than gold.” He watched a pair of gulls swoop down over the water. “To each his own, I guess.”

Skipper laughed heartily and slapped Will on the back. “You’re right there. Now I’d better go join our pilot in the wheelhouse. Sun’s going down now; the mist is starting to rise on the river. There are a few rocks and a wreck or two lurking in the waters ahead and we want to miss ’em all.” The Skipper turned and headed across the deck.

Will was going to say a few words to the fellow nearby, but he had slipped away, too. Will had taken note of him before and wondered why the man wasn’t more sociable – but then, some folks weren’t. And that was their privilege. To each his own. Will sat down on the deck, his back propped against a wall, to ponder life, love, and this mad pursuit of gold.

Fifteen minutes later there was a jolt and some scraping. A splintering sound came from the bowels of the boat. The paddle-wheeler had struck something. The ship’s horn sounded an alert and men poured out onto the deck from every quarter.

As Will jumped to his feet he felt the boat list to one side. She seemed to settle lower in the water. Crew members dashed over to the lifeboats and started lowering them. Well, I’ll be hog-tied, he thought. Now we’re in hot water.

A booming voice came over the bullhorn. “This is your Skipper. We’ve hit a wreck and it’s torn a hole in our hull. Into the life boats, all those who can’t swim. Those who can, dive in and swim for shore. Leave everything behind but your skin or you won’t make it.”

To be concluded tomorrow

(This tale is based on an actual riverboat incident.)

Tailor in Residence

A young girl had a mishap at school one day and cut her chin severely. Her mother took her to the Emergency Department and soon one of the resident doctors was busy putting stitches in her chin.

At one point during this painful process the little girl looked up at him through her tears and asked him, “Do you make your own clothes?

Dear Grandma: How I Wish…

On Wednesday I went along into the city with my daughter and her youngest two children and counted my blessings again for the relationship I have with my grandchildren. When they hopped out of the van, they wanted to “hold Grandma’s hand”; in the stores they wanted to walk with me while Mom shopped.

Whenever we’re together my grandchildren want me to do puzzles with them or read to them; even jump on the trampoline with them – which I have declined due to my advanced years. ☺ We talk about all kinds of things, go exploring together and just enjoy each other — making precious memories!

My grandmother never realized what she was missing. Or if she did, she didn’t know how to go about bridging the gap.

One day my granddaughter said something about whether my mom was mean to me.  I told her, “No, my Mom wasn’t mean to me. My grandmother was mean, but not my mom.”

“Oh, no,” she said. “Grandmas are NEVER mean.”

I’m so glad she has that perspective. And perhaps if I could have looked at the whole situation through Grandma’s eyes I might have understood a little better why she was so distant from us.

I grew up with my aunt and uncle, my aunt being the sister of my birth father (Dad V). Thus my grandma was doubly present in my life: at times she’d come and stay a few weeks with my aunt; at times I’d be spending a couple of weeks with my birth family and she’d be visiting right then. None of us Vance children looked forward to having her around.

I don’t remember my grandma ever taking me –or any of us– on her knee, reading to us, or showing any real interest in us. She probably thought we were a bunch of wild rip-and-tears who needed discipline in the worst way, because one day when we scrapped and got it from Dad V, Grandma seemed so gleeful.

Mom F (my aunt) told me that when she was young and did something wrong, Grandma would send her up to her room, she’d miss supper, have to stay there until the children were in bed for the night, then Grandma would come up and spank her. That sounded pretty mean to me. Mom told me how it hurt when her mom “boxed their ears” with the hand that wore her heavy wedding ring, something she did regularly.

But Grandma was a widow who taught school for a living, or kept house for bachelors, and she had to cope with raising her children alone. So maybe life made her bitter. A relative who knew grandma as adult to adult thought she was quite nice.

I’m sure she didn’t like my Mom V, either. Mom F told me Grandma opposed the idea of our dad marrying our mom, so maybe she didn’t care much for us, either. When she’d visit she tell us about how smart our cousin “little Laurie Anne” was. Perhaps she thought she’d inspire us, but you can imagine it didn’t go over too well. Mom F would console us later: “Grandma probably tells Laurie Anne and her brothers how smart you are, too.” (She didn’t, I found out years later.)

Being she thought so highly of those cousins, I thought she’d be nice to them, but “little Laurie Anne” told me years later that Grandma just didn’t seem to like children. “You’d be walking by her and she’d stick out her foot on purpose to make you trip.” (I avoided her whenever I could, so never had that experience.)

As a teen I concluded my grandma was kind of sadistic. It seemed to give her pleasure when she saw us being punished or our mother being beaten. What made this impression of her so much more confusing was that Grandma was devoutly religious (Reorganized Latter Day Saints). I used to tell people with some sarcasm, “There isn’t a one in the family who followed her in that. We all knew Grandma better than we knew her religion and none of us wanted to be like her.” Looking back after I became a Christian, I wish I could have talked with her about some of this, but she was gone by then.

I remember Grandma singing in her crackly voice early in the morning, “Six o’clock and time to get up,” when I was trying to sleep. She’d get after me to come and do this or that, but never did she sit down and ask, “How are you?”

Grandma probably didn’t have much money for gifts for the grands, but I don’t remember one gift, card, or even a “Happy Birthday” from her. (Mind you, we were never a card-giving bunch.) Times have changed; today we wouldn’t think of letting a birthday go by uncelebrated.

I sometimes think of my Grandma as my own grandchildren reach out to take my hand or bring stories for me to read. Maybe she was the product of an extremely harsh home or simply a child of her times, but I’m thankful for the great relationship I can enjoy with the little folks in my life. I’m glad they’ll have fonder memories of me when I’m gone.

BROKEN

Sweetness: whipped cream heaped
high in glass bowl. Gentle
clink against another dish;
ominous crack. In an instant
undetected fault line splits dish.
Sweetness, laced with splinters,
oozes onto counter. Lost.
I grieve for the waste.

Thus may life be broken
in a moment: a squeal of brakes;
the shatter of a windshield;
a whole irreparably divided.
Sweetness, laced with splinters,
oozes onto pavement. Lost,
we grieve for the waste.

Buckle up.
Slow Down.
Drive safely.