Lucky

We named the dog Lucky because the wife wouldn’t put up with what I wanted to call him: Road Kill. He was really lucky because when we found him laying by the side of the road (the wife made me stop) and took him to the vet, he managed to live even though he still has a limp and some scars.
And brain damage. Maybe not. Maybe he was always that stupid. Probly why he got hit with a car in the first place. I’ve had a lot of pets in my life and they all die on you, so I don’t let myself get personally involved any more. But the kids love him even if he can’t do a trick or obey any command except the call to dinner. He’s about four years old, they tell us, a golden cocker who’s going to fat because almost all he does is limp from one comfortable spot to another—unless he sees a plane.
I mean, he gets excited at planes, if you can believe it. He’ll follow one barking until he gets stopped at the fence. Then he keeps on barking until he can’t hear it anymore. Then he looks around with this satisfied look like he’s saved us all and finds a place to lay down. You can see him thinking he’s earned his living.
I mean, this big, dumb spaniel who’s always getting burrs in his ears thinks planes are buzzards, I guess. The kids always praise him a lot when he does it and the way that little stubby tail goes is real funny as he manages to look humble and proud at the same time. Must work. Nobody’s been snatched by a buzzard yet.
The other day, I had the gate open and old Lucky started following a plane. Right out into the road he went without looking to see if it was safe (I said he was dumb) and a motorcycle came barreling down the street so fast I thought sure the dog had had it. The cycle skidded and barely missed him.
Well, that old dog don’t mean nothing to me personally, but my heart was pounding . . . . I felt like slugging the guy for going so fast, but it was just a kid and his face was all white and scared. So I said, “Go ahead. Run over him. He’s used to it.”

Representation

 

Not being one to exercise unrighteous dominion, when Mother, Fawnelle, Raydawn, and Mahonri all wanted to paint the house green and only me, Nephi, and Janeen wanted it white, we got a green house. The three of us get outvoted regularly on one thing or another, up against Mother’s solid bloc of four.

In fairness, I have to say that I remember at least two times Raydawn and Mahonri voted with us. Once we even had a tie. It’s not so bad when we celebrate Pioneer Day their way by going to the parade instead of to the mountains. On Labor Day we go to Henrieville to visit Mother’s folks because that’s what they like to do. Even on vacation we go to some historical monument they want to see instead of fishing at Strawberry Reservoir, our choice.

And it’s getting worse. When the old pickup died for good, we went to Morris’s used car lot. They all liked the blue Ford, so we bought a Ford truck. It worked out all right—good enough—but the rest of us were ticked because we wanted the red Dodge.
I don’t mind being outvoted on the little things, but this time they’ve gone too far. This time the three of us want to build a new shed. The old one’s leaning heavily and come snow, she’s going to founder. But we’re up against Mother and the rest of them for a new stove, which we need sure enough, but the shed’s real urgent.

Uncle Jake says I ought to assert my authority, but he’s not married to Mother. It’s got to be a real problem. At first, after the other children died, it was touching the way Mother said they were part of our eternal family, so included them in our plans and projects. But the rest of us are getting damn tired of being outnumbered!

Deerstalker

moose_by_Dave_Spier

Eyes drawn by the screech of hawks, he watched a hunting pair swoop over the valley, tails glowing red in the dawnlight. Silently stepping on the grassy game trail he was following, he saw a large eared head come up. Unalarmed the deer moved away. His homemade backpack sat light. He’d rolled his woolen blankets in a canvas tarp/poncho. He’d slept cold, but he liked that, as he liked the feel of the rocks under his homemade elkskin moccasins.
He turned aside at rustling in a thicket above him, hoping to see the bears reportedly in this area, but the sound moved off too quickly. A squirrel skittered up a tree and fussed at his rudeness. Farther on, a loud splatting guided him to watch a beaver play, diving, then carving a v with his nose in a glassy pond . He’d stood in this place last fall to watch a young bull moose with ridiculous, hand sized antlers like false eyelashes browse in the rushes, scratching its neck with a long and gangly leg.
Later, near timberline, melting snowbanks sparkled in rivulets through bright green foliage, golden yellow buttercups and glacier lilies. Everywhere the sound of trickling water and the spongy feel of water charged earth. He caught a scent of rotting flesh and found in a pine copse the body of a young buck. Probably shot last fall and ran up here to die, he thought sorrowfully. Though it would do more good nourishing the trees than thrown away from plates of people who didn’t like the gamey flavor or just thrown away.
He turned back down, walking along a stream where clumps of larkspur shot purple blue through the grasses. An area reddened by hundreds of skyrocket gilia gladdened his eyes. He noted early columbine and bent over a hairy maroon vase plant.
Followed by the chain saw drone of a deerfly and the whine of mosquitos he moved down until the hills split apart and he could see over shimmering quakies into Liahona where large trees hid his own house. He hoped his mother wouldn’t find out about Jed’s not being able to make it. She’d have a fit if she knew he’d come alone. But alone meant silence. Alone meant not even the smoke of a cooking fire.
Far behind its noise, a jet’s contrail incised the sky. At his feet a beer can. He sighed. He would never forgive heaven for putting him on earth a hundred and fifty years too late!

The Wedding

Sister Kimball found the girl crying in the bride’s room. It was both more and less serious than bridal jitters: The dress she had borrowed from an aunt in Price before driving here didn’t fit at the top. No amount of zipping and pinching could get the girl’s shoulders and bust into it, though the bottom was all right.
Where was the girl’s mother? Where was a friend to have insisted she have a wedding dress that fit? But the pair was alone, come down here because she said that even though she had had no showers and would have no reception or open house, at least she could be married where she wanted to.
Of course, they found a top to cover the bodice and the gap in the bride’s dress.
The Kimballs conferred and made some phone calls. They enlisted some willing strangers as witnesses. before Brother Kimball sealed the couple.
Afterwards, Sister Kimball got out a veil that had for no reason been lingering in the closet and it was perfect. Brother Kimball took photos and videos of the bridal couple on the stairs and lawns and sent them to the groom’s e-mail. They waved the two of them off with hugs and kisses to a wedding breakfast for two they’d reserved at the inn at the bottom of the hill.
“I’m afraid it won’t last,” said Brother Kimball. “If they had strong LDS parents they’d just live together to rebel, but with the reverse, parents who don’t care, they rebel by eloping to the temple and marrying where their parents can’t go.”
“You may be right and I hope you’re wrong,” Sister Kimball smiled through her tears. “But every bride ought to have a fuss made over her.”

High Cards

HIGH CARDS

“But Daddy always gets his way when you buy a car!” Louise complained. “The politics of marriage! You would think this time you would have a right to say what kind of car you get. It isn’t as if you couldn’t afford just about any car you wanted. Besides, you’ll be doing most of the driving since you’ve got two more years before you retire!”
Anna laughed. “Well, I’d like to drive a little red sports car—Buick’s got an adorable Skyhawk—but your father really wants that Lincoln. Men seem to identify with their car more than women do.”
“Let him identify with the station wagon. I’m not saying you should turn that in. You need something to carry loads of peat or groceries in. So why does Daddy need another big car?”
“I don’t know, dear. We’re in the process of arguing about it daily, but since he can’t say it’s foreign or costs too much he’s going to lose this one. I’m not going to give in. I have just as much right to a little Buick sportscar as he does to the other. This time it’s my turn to choose.”
“Don’t let him argue you out of it, Mom! Stand by your choice! Strike a blow for women’s lib!” Anna was laughing, but something serious was in her mind. She was feeling her own sense of the inequities of marriage. Glen sat down to read the newspaper every night while she fixed dinner, though they worked the same number of hours. If she asked for help around the house, he said he didn’t know how, his tactical ineptitude enough to absolve him of labor because she was always too tired to teach him. Her mother was so much her model that if she could break their pattern, maybe Louisa could find permission to expect something different for herself.
But the next time her parents drove up, they were in a shiny new silver Lincoln. Anna could hardly wait to get her mother alone. “I thought you said you were going to stand by your guns!”
“Well, he came up with an unanswerable argument,” she laughed. Was she blushing? “He said the sports car was too small to make love in!”

2017-Lincoln-Continental-

Pride

“This is a good place to show you,” Tom said as he pulled the car over on a very wide shoulder. The traffic lifted a fine mist from the wet pavement, and the car shook slightly as each passed. The windows began to steam. “We can’t see from in here. We’ll have to get out.”
Tommy and Beverly emerged, but Carrie complained, “I can’t get my hair wet or it will go all frizzy! Honestly, Grampa! I can see from inside.”
He pointed at the stream of cars sweeping around the curve, headlights making momentary beacons in the rain. “See that? Even fog won’t slow them down much. Look at the sloping. No hydroplaning. The water sheets off perfectly; the curve is safe at all speeds. This may be the most perfect piece of highway in the whole US of A!”
“You mean they gave you a medal or something for working on this highway?” Bev visibly shivered, inching towards shelter. He waved them into the car, opening the windows an inch or two to combat fogging.
Tommy said, “But Gramps, you weren’t the engineer on the project. You just followed the plans you were given.”
Tom countered, “Hey, somebody else writes the music, but when a rock star performs it, he gets the applause.”
“Did you get a raise?” Carrie’s voice showed some interest.
“No, it’s not about money.” He struggled to lay his thought as smoothly as he could lay concrete. “They opened it up with speeches in front of about 50 microphones. TV cameras going as the Governor cut the ribbon. Mine was one of the first cars to drive through.”
“Were you on TV?” Bev asked, stifling a yawn.
“They don’t put guys like me on TV, Doll. I just wanted you to see this highway. It’s real important to the city. It links the airport with the downtown interchange. People from out of town swoop right in.”
“Now can we go home?” Tommy’s hand went to his phone and the light went on.
Tom gave it one more try. “Look, you kids. I got to thinking about my grandpa, how, because I was one of the youngest, I thought of him as just a gardener and fix-it man. But he’d worked forty years for the railroad. Had a gold watch that said so! He’d tell me about the old days, but it was just stories to me.
“So I’m showing you. I went to work every day to build highways like this. Our crew got this highway in on budget and on time. I’ve walked every square foot of this road.”
“Yay, Grampa!” came a bored little voice from Carrie’s corner.
“Look at that sweep of concrete!” But they couldn’t see.

Double Drowning

classroom

“I hate that teacher!”
Mrs. Polemane sighed. “Daniel, she says you’re late every single day and it’s getting worse.”
“Well, every time I come in, she stops everything and makes fun of me in front of all the other kids!”
“You’re telling me you’re late because she embarrasses you so much you put off going in.”
His black hair didn’t stir at his nod.
“Well, what can we do? She doesn’t like your being late, so she tries to make it so unpleasant for you that you’ll come on time. On the other hand, instead of taking the hint, you just come later because you know you’re going to have a bad experience.” Was he getting all this? She wondered how Miss Mays would have treated a blue-eyed boy who was late.
“I hate her! She hates me back!”
“Oh, Daniel, she doesn’t hate you. It’s just that she gets annoyed because she has to make a special effort for one student every morning, just when she’s gotten everybody else at work. You can understand that, can’t you?”
“Yeah, but she’s mean. She got no call to make fun of my clothes and tell everybody I take charity lunch!”
So it was that bad. Mrs. Polemane sighed again wondering if she could communicate to Miss Mays the feeling that it was a miracle Daniel came to school at all, considering the mess at home. If she’d ever had his older brother or sisters, she’d give a cheer whenever he showed up. “Daniel, I can see to it that your teacher doesn’t make fun of you any more, but you’ve got to get to school on time. I’ll have a talk with your mother about helping you.” Lies. She knew his mother wouldn’t be conscious enough to help him. She knew the persecution would just get more subtle. All she could do was suppress some of the symptoms. Nothing she could do would cure bone deep anger pitted against unconscious prejudice.

 

GRIEF

It was the peaceful, painless death at home at age 87 we’d all like to have, but she wept large, noisy sobs at the closing of the casket.  Crying like that over the death of an old man, especially in a room near the chapel where everyone could hear, is just not done.  We may shed tears, but generally we conduct ourselves as if at a reception: quiet conversa­tion, pleasant faces, and an absence of black clothing except among the funeral staff.  Even the widow generally uses her handkerchief little, smiling and comforting others.  To wail and display so much grief was a breach of etiquette, an embarrassment to the family.

“Hush!  Be good, now!” the widow vainly whispered to her erring granddaugh­ter whose mother was blushing and hovering, offering pink tissues from her purse packet.

The eldest son waited at the just‑closed casket to lead the family prayer.  Receiving the line of viewers had taken them past the eleven o’clock starting time.  Her noise was too loud to pray over.

“Must be having PMS” muttered another son to his wife who passed over a purse packet of yellow tissue when the pink was used up.

The funeral director cleared his throat, clearly hinting that people were waiting.  Probably the organist was running out of prelude music.  Still the wails continued.

The eldest son spoke to the mother of the girl, suggesting that she lead her out so they could go on.  Then the unthinkable happened and the girl screamed, “No!  No!  You can’t have him! No!  I want to die too!” and threw herself over the casket, crushing a very expensive floral display of red roses, white carnations, and palm fronds.

Now the mother, herself weeping, was pulling at the daughter’s shoulders.  Someone muttered, “That girl must be on drugs,” foot tapping.

Now an aunt was on the other side of the granddaughter, the two women virtually carrying her out while she sobbed and sobbed.  Then it was silent and the family prayer and funeral went on decorously and predictably.

All he had done was lead an honest, hardworking life in which he was instrumental in rearing two daughters and two sons.  His life history contained no unexpected events or outstanding achievements except, perhaps, that bootlegged tribute sobbed out as the granddaughter was hustled to the door, “He’s my best friend!”

 

 

 

 

 

TREE TALK

 

                       

 

Manuel was listening to his tree so hard that he didn’t hear his teacher call.  He was looking so intently at the terrain of its trunk that he didn’t see the other children go.  His tree’s leaves backlighted against the morning glowed so green, he didn’t leave.

Mr. Larsen, the balding, red‑faced, reading program volunteer sent to find him, walked heavily into the thicket where the tree lived.  His calling voice was obscured by the trees’ voices, drawn out by a brisk and billowing wind.  He half resented being sent on the errand, ready to chew the kid out. Then he saw Manuel, listening now to a scrub jay noisily protesting the invasion of its territory.

Mr. Larson had attended this school.  He had often played in this thicket with other boys and girls.  The trees were still familiar to him.  Now he too listened.  From the school border came the low, surflike roar of huge blue spruce.  The sycamores shading the play area cheered to the clanging of metal swivel hooks on the tetherball poles.

A lull.  Bells clanged for grades 3 to 6 recess.

Manuel startled, turned to run, and bumped into a large knee. He looked up and   smiled when he recognized the man. He patted the trunk nearest him.  “This is my tree.  His name is Woody.”

Mr. Larsen knew about the second‑grade program.  “I’m pleased to meet him. Manuel, why did you adopt Woody out of all the other trees?”

The boy looked at the diagonally growing trunk, all inner branches broken off with the passage of many years and children, and he patted it affectionately again.  “He’s had some hard times.  See those scars?” His hand touched a knot. Then his face tensed as he expressed another thought: “He’s kind of little.  He’s littler than the other trees and grows in his own way.  Maybe somebody walked on him when he was a baby.  But look.”  He pointed to a higher branch. “He’s got good, big leaves.  He’s growing bigger.”  The grin was as brilliant as the light that patterned his face.

Mr. Larsen saw the tree bend in a new gust and whisper something to the boy who patted it once more before he turned to go in.

 

 


 

 

FIDELITY

The package said his new shears with the stainless steel blades could cut a branch three‑quarters of an inch in diameter.  He found one about that large and cut it cleanly at the trunk.  Soon twigs and suckers puddled under the tree as he created a bowl shape that sun and insect spray could fall into.

He stepped into the tree from the ladder, reaching with the lopping shears for a small limb that was growing at a bad angle.  His leg wobbled with the elastic sway of his foothold. He dropped the loppers in clutching to sapplesteady himself, then had to climb down after them.  He moved the ladder in closer.

So many years he’d pruned this apple tree.  It bore the scars of major surgery as well as the nodules of removal of countless suckers that always grew back with undiminished enthusiasm.  In the apple’s biennial cycle, he could expect a bumper crop this year.

He felt a pact with the tree he had never broken:  When he fertilized, pruned, and sprayed, the tree gave huge, burgundy red apples.  These he plucked and placed bruiselessly in boxes, his offering of love to friends and family.

Upon the ladder again, he reached for the highest shoots, cutting them just above a bud that would sprout in the right direction, the judgment made without hesitation through years of practice.

One shoot he had to lean for escaped his first grab.  He leaned farther and felt himself overset, losing his balance, the ladder tipping.  He somehow steadied himself on a limb, trembling.  That had been close.  He knew that he would be sore and limping from wrenched muscles tomorrow.

He had moved the ladder in as close to the trunk as it would go.  He looked at the limbs, trying to find a safe path to the upstarts and saw only danger.  If he fell and broke something . . . .  Better safe than sorry, he told himself, his muscles twitching as he climbed down again.  After all, when the tree was leaved out, it would look okay. Yet, he hated to leave those unpruned shoots like an unmowed swath in a hayfield—a broken promise.

He put the ladder, loppers, gloves and shears away in the shed as usual, but this year he didn’t stand back and admire his work.  He told himself that no one would notice, but the failure continued to bother him.  Two possibili­ties occurred to him: hire a young person to prune or have the whole tree cut down.  Either course seemed a betrayal, somehow.

Then he remembered he had bought a tool at the gardening supply.   He found it in the shed and poked the new, pole-mounted lopper towards the high branches he hadn’t been able to reach. He pulled the rope that closed the blade. He grinned at the old tree as the shoot tumbled to the ground, waving the pole in salute to his old friend.