Saleena

It’s been several months since I’ve posted stories about my post apocalyptic cave dwellers. If you missed earlier stories and want to catch up, just click on “post apocalypse” or “Dissonance” in the word salad along the righthand side of this blog. This is an origins story and a bit of a cliff hanger. I think it stands alone quite well, or at least it will stand well alongside the second half once I publish it.

Public Domain

Public Domain

Saleena

(Origins of the Cave People)

During the Dissonance, the children of Saleena’s village learned to gather wild edibles for their families to eat. Cultivated gardens had failed, but things like lamb’s ear, edible mushrooms, tree nuts and even a few lichens could be found in outlying areas.

As difficult times wore on, shipments of provisions to the village became less reliable and more infrequent. Some of the villagers died after eating poisonous plants or the tainted meat of local animals that had been affected by fallout radiation. A few of the very old and some of the young died of malnutrition. If nothing changed, the village would soon be no more.

One day, while the children were gathering food, Saleena wandered farther from the village than anyone had gone in years. Near the base of a rocky structure, she found an opening. Hoping to find some worms or edible mosses, she crawled on her belly for a short distance and emerged in a wide cavern, dimly lit by phosphorescent growths along the walls and ceiling.

Public Domain

Public Domain

Saleena had heard stories of caves in the area and how they contained great underground lakes full of fish. If this cave contained such treasures, her village could be saved, but the sun had already begun to sink in the afternoon sky before Saleena had entered the cave. She wriggled back through the opening and made marks in the dirt to help her remember where the entrance was. Then she gathered a few handfuls of sour grass and some stray berries as she trotted back to the other children.

Over the next several days, Saleena returned frequently to the cave. It was hard to gather her share of wild edibles while exploring the cave, but she knew that if she found an underground lake, the sacrifice would be worthwhile.

In the cave, Saleena found several new forms of life—both plant and animal. Some she knew could be used for food. Others were questionable. She used a heat-powered flashlight that she borrowed (without her father’s knowledge) from the family storage unit in town. The heat from her hands produced a thin ray of light, enough to allow her to navigate through the tunnels that branched off the main cavern. Her compass, a gift from her grandfather, kept her from losing her sense of direction underground.

On her fifth trip to the cave, Saleena noticed moisture on the walls of the passage she was exploring. Soon, she heard a dripping sound. The passage narrowed, but she kept moving toward the sound. Finally, she had to proceed on hands and knees. Just as she thought she wouldn’t be able to go any farther, the passage opened abruptly. She almost fell into a second cavern. Below was a dark expanse. She dropped a pebble and began to count, “One . . . two . . . “ Splash! The surface of the water was close, she flashed her light around the room, searching for outcroppings or other ways down to the water. A few possibilities occurred to her, but she would need help. Now that she had found the water, she could tell the rest of the village. Maybe they could even move underground, into the little rooms and tunnels of the cave. Living here they would be protected from surface effects of the nuclear fallout as well as from air attacks, and the food and clean water would be sources of life for the struggling villagers.

Public Domain

Public Domain

Saleena carefully turned around and crawled back through the narrow passage. She ran through the main cavern, squeezed through the cave entrance and emerged on the surface where the sun had nearly sunk from view. She sprinted back to where she had left the other children, but they had all returned home.

Panic rose in Saleena’s throat as she headed toward the village. Her discovery wouldn’t be of help to anyone if she got stuck outside overnight. Her skills were in foraging, not hunting, and large, carnivorous mammals would eagerly pick her off if she stayed out in the open after sundown.

Melting

public domain image

public domain image

When she was little, Savannah’s mother would say she was wired for sound. Daddy used to say she had been vaccinated with a phonograph needle.

As Savannah grew older, she learned to listen before speaking. What she heard inspired her speech. Tenderhearted by nature, she became an advocate for those with no voice. While completing her law degree, she volunteered in a shelter for battered women and later became a prosecuting attorney specializing in domestic violence.

Four years after Savanah passed the bar exam, her parents were shot and killed in their home. First grief, then anger began to shape her sentences. Work consumed her as she sought justice for others and abandoned hope for herself. One morning, she met a former client for coffee.

Public Domain

public domain image

“How are you and the kids?” Savanah asked after they hugged hello.

“Great.” Gina was glowing with confidence.

“I hope that bastard gets an unhealthy dose of prison justice after what he did to you.” Savanah’s eyes glinted with hatred.

“I don’t.”

Savanah stared at her friend. Was this Stockholm Syndrome? She started to list the reasons why Gina’s ex deserved to suffer.

“Savanah, he can’t hurt me anymore. Why are you still letting him hurt you? He’s paying for his crimes. Bitterness would only cause me to suffer more.”

The attorney shook her head and took a sip of coffee. She couldn’t believe her ears. How could this woman forgive such an abuser? Without warning, the picture of her own parents’ bullet-riddled bodies popped into her head. Tears threatened to betray her.

“This isn’t about Michael, is it?” Gina placed a sympathetic hand over Savanah’s. “I’m here if you want to talk.”

The sound system in the coffee shop began to play a song from Disney’s Frozen. Tears rolled freely down Savanah’s face, and she realized the time had come to let it go.

***

My readers have recently shown an appreciation for videos. Frankly, I find this song a little overdone, but I have enjoyed seeing this version in person:

Sock Heaven

In 2014, I managed to take a nearly defunct blog and generate a modicum of interest among a small but growing circle of readers and writers. In 2015, my goal is to regularly post flash fiction stories twice a week. One of these posts will be related to the weekly Friday Fictioneers prompt. The other post will be crafted from inspiration that comes to me throughout the week. This week I am drawing from one of my favorite lyricists and one of my favorite historical characters. First, comes the music video for Steve Taylor’s song “Sock Heaven.” The story and a mural featuring Frida Kahlo follow. Finally comes the picture that started this entire foray into existential thought, a photo of two mismatched socks.

Until she read the biography of Frida Kahlo, Cassie didn’t believe in Sock Heaven. Afterward, she realized that Frida deserved some sort of paradise, and if a heaven for misfits existed, surely Cassie would be on the guest list as well.

Compared to Cassie, Frida seemed relatively normal. But the artist thought herself strange, and Cassie had likewise often thought how abnormal she herself was.

Cassie and Frida, despite being born nearly a century apart, had more than strangeness in common. Polio and a series of accidents rendered the artist a cripple. Cassie was born with club feet and often found walking difficult. Frida, undaunted by ambulatory challenges, participated in boxing and other sports. Cassie’s dream was to become a dancer. Artistic by nature, she spent her childhood writing and acting. As a young adult, she learned to dance. She fought demons with poetry, and, like Frida, experienced more than once the condemnation of conventional wisdom that had no place for strange women.

The two met half a century after Frida’s death on a day when Cassie stared into the gaping mouth of hell. She happened upon a quote from Frida Kahlo and began to think about other possibilities. She began to feel less lonely, less afraid, less strange. She read Frida’s biography, drank in the crippled woman’s self-portraits, made a friend from beyond the grave. In time, she began to see that both heaven and hell are exactly what one makes of them. It seemed to Cassie that she and Frida had both spent too much time in someone else’s hell. Why shouldn’t they find a place in Sock Heaven?

Frida's husband, Diego Rivera, painted this mural of her.

Frida’s husband, Diego Rivera, painted this mural of her.

Copyright 2014, Marie Gail Stratford

Copyright 2014, Marie Gail Stratford

Sugar Daddy

By Andreas Bohnenstengel [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Andreas Bohnenstengel  CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A woman I haven’t seen before walks up to me at the circulation desk of the public library where I work. I don’t recognize her, but she calls me by name.

“Hi, Sophie.”

My surprise must show on my face.

“I’m Delores, Charlie’s daughter.”

“Of course.” I smile. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you. It’s a blessing the tornado took only him—someone who’d had a chance to live.”

I can see through her brave façade but find it admirable. Her words ring true—the World War II veteran had lived a full life before being crushed by a pile of rubble.

“We found this at the house.” Delores hands me an envelope with my name scrawled across the front. “Dad talked about you incessantly. I wanted to deliver this in person.” She leaves. I stand, mouth gaping, and stare at the object in my hand.

“Boyfriend put you in his will?” My boss, Steve, has returned from lunch—an hour late—and is ribbing me about Charlie.

I give him a look and retrieve my purse from a cubby. “I’m going to catch a late lunch.” I raise my eyebrows for emphasis before escaping to the employee lounge. On the way, my mind wanders back to the previous fall.

***

Charlie had been a regular library patron since before I landed my job here. When his wife passed away, he started spending more time socializing at the checkout counter. He was old enough to be my grandfather, so it never dawned on me that he might be interested in romance when he asked if I’d like to have dinner. We scheduled two weeks later, and the ribbing from my boss started. I ignored it.

When Charlie showed up at the library in his dress blues from half a century ago, I realized Steve was right for once. Before we departed, he offered his commentary, “If Charlie tries any funny business, my money’s on you.”

Copyright Marie Gail Stratford, 2014

Copyright Marie Gail Stratford, 2014

We had dinner at a local Chinese place popular with the geriatric crowd.  Over moo goo gai pan, we exchanged pleasantries. Then Charlie began reminiscing. He told how he lied about his age to get into the navy during World War II. As he talked, it dawned on me that he must have fought in the same platoon as my grandfather. That became almost too much when he paused and said, “Golly, sweetheart, we better get going if we want to catch that movie tonight.”

Things became more awkward at the movies. Charlie tried to hold my hand as we approached the box office. He misunderstood what I wanted to see and bought tickets to a western that I couldn’t possibly have found less interesting. Fortunately, he bought me a Coke at the concession stand, so I had an excuse to keep the armrest between us throughout the show.

Like every western I’ve ever seen, the movie lasted an hour longer than necessary. Then Charlie returned me to the library where my car waited in the deserted lot. After I thanked him for the evening, a pair of wizened lips closed in on mine. At the last moment, I managed to turn my head so the kiss landed on my cheek. We were alone beneath a single street lamp. His frail body was too close for comfort. I backed away. He straightened himself in his now-rumpled uniform, politely opened my car door and closed it behind me.

For a few weeks, I avoided Charlie. I busied myself with returns when he came to checkout his books or excused myself to the restroom when I saw him entering the library. Eventually things returned to normal. I smiled at him occasionally, then ventured a conversation. He began to act less like a nervous adolescent when we spoke. Then the tornado came.

***

My mind snaps back to the present. I take a long draught of bottled water and dig into my salad before opening the envelope.

I draw out a piece of notebook paper and a type-written page of legal stationery. At a single glance, I note that the notebook paper contains a love letter and the stationery contains a copy of a final will and testament. Both bear my name. It dawns on me that Steve’s good-natured ribbing isn’t my biggest problem anymore.

The Evidence

Public Domain

Public Domain

 

The Evidence

Of all the reasons that I became a PI, few had much to do with the realities of investigation. As a child, I spent many Sunday afternoons watching film noir with my father. As an adult, I am the only leggy blonde that darkens the door of my office. The rumpled, cigar-smoking men are usually my clients—unless one of their lumpy, worn-out wives is coming to hire me to investigate a suspected affair. I try not to take those cases. Most likely, the husbands are spending Saturday afternoons on the golf course, Wednesday nights at the bowling alley, and happy hour most weeknights getting a round with the guys before going back to the nagging at home. Speaking of reasons, there are a few reasons I’m not married. Rumpled, balding men don’t do it for me, and I’ll never become one of those lumpy excuses for womanhood.

The part of real P.I. work I enjoy most is that point in an investigation when a piece of evidence changes everything. In my personal life, that evidence emerged two days after my father died.

The night before Dad’s funeral, his two youngest brothers, whom he had practically raised and who idolized him even before his premature death, were fondly reminiscing about him when my mother’s anger stage of the grief cycle kicked in. “Don’t try to canonize the man! My husband was an unfaithful S.O.B.”

Another reason that I’m a P.I. instead of a politician or a social worker is that I believe the majority of society’s ills should be prosecuted. My mother’s attitude toward my father has generally fallen into this category. When Mom stormed off to bed that night, I would have thought her outburst just another bipolar delusion had my sister-in-law not muttered, “She’s lucky it was just the one time.”

My jaw dropped. Michael, my twin brother, who was well on his way toward becoming one of those rumpled, middle-aged men, suggested we take a walk—just the two of us.

I learned a lot that night, although the details wouldn’t come until later. Sidney, my older sister by six years, and her husband had walked in on the argument when Mom first found out. Michael and I had left for college a month prior, so we hadn’t been privy to the initial upheaval. Michael found out a decade later. For years, Mom had hassled him about being just like Dad whenever his devil-may-care attitude annoyed her. During one of her rants, she let word of the affair slip, positing that Michael was unfaithful just like Dad.

I processed the information rationally. Dad had cheated on Mom–once. I might think that after 20 years she’d let it go. Frankly, she’d always been out of his league. He’d been tall, muscular, handsome in the face. She was squat and toad-like even in her younger years, and all her nagging is probably what drove him away in the first place. Michael’s wife was right. Mom was lucky it only happened once.

***

Since Dad died, I’ve plunged headlong into my work. Long days make sleepless nights shorter. I miss him dreadfully—especially on Sundays. One morning, another leggy blonde walks through my office door. Her London Fog coat and dark glasses make her look like one of the actresses from those old movies Dad and I used to watch.

“I’m sorry to hear about your father,” she begins when I greet her. “I still work in human resources at James McHugh. That’s where I met him. We were . . . close.” As she slips off her coat and settles into the chair opposite my desk, I realize I am about to close a case.

The Unknown Hooker

bbq picnic crop

The Unknown Hooker

The late-summer sun languished in the yellow sky as six friends sat around a concrete picnic table in front of Shelby Singer’s apartment building. During a lull in the conversation, Shelby reached over to the built-in grill and rotated the ears of corn roasting there. Dave opened a cooler to retrieve some hamburger patties and placed them onto the small Smoky Joe.

As the food cooked, the group, all members of the same inner-city church, fell into conversation. “We should do this more often,” Dave’s girlfriend, Sue, commented. “It accommodates the grad school budget better than eating out.”

Amid the general agreement, Dave spoke up. “I think female seminary students strapped for cash should feel free to start turning tricks on Independence Avenue.”

“I don’t think prostitutes on Independence Avenue make much money,” Matt remarked. Trish, his fiancée, gave him a look, and he began to back pedal. “I mean, how could they? Have you seen them? I saw two on the sidewalk across from the church last Sunday, and neither of them had their front teeth.”

“Shelby.” As Ed addressed her, Shelby felt the blood rush to her face.  She knew what he was going to ask. “How much money do prostitutes on Independence Avenue make?”

Shelby swallowed to regain her composure. “I don’t know, Ed. You never paid me that night.”

“And you never put out.”

The other four fell silent. Ed and Shelby began to laugh. “I guess you better tell them the story, Ed.”

“Yeah, well, uh—“

“C’mon, Ed. This has to be a good story.” Dave began flipping burgers on the small grill.

“Okay, so, a couple months ago, when Pastor Bill was out of town, Shelby and I had to lock up the church on Wednesday night. We waited for everyone else to leave before getting into my car. Apparently that’s when the cops noticed us in the parking lot. They followed us and pulled us over, thinking she was a hooker.”

Shelby shook her head while the two couples shifted awkwardly in their seats. “Seriously, Ed? That’s the way you tell that story?” Ed rolled his eyes while Shelby continued. “The police car pulls into the church parking lot in time to see Ed let me, clad in Dockers and a t-shirt, into his car. We see the police, but this brainiac decides to head out the back way.

“We get about a block down the alley, and the officer pulls us over. He and his partner surround the car, and it dawns on me that they think I’m a prostitute—even with my hair in a bun and no makeup on. Ed just thinks the alarm went off in the church. He explains that he’s on the worship team and was locking up after a late rehearsal. Then the cops shine their flashlights on me, and one of them barks, ‘Who’s this, your daughter?’”

Laughter from the group interrupted Shelby’s narrative for a moment, and Dave began removing food from the two grills.

“In my defense, I figured out what they thought at that point.”

“Right,” Shelby continued. “Which is why he starts stuttering. I’d been dancing with the worship team that night to practice an interpretive worship piece we were preparing, and all I can think is, ‘Please don’t tell the officer I’m a dancer.’”

“Oh dear. What did Ed say?” Trish asked.

“Ed says, ‘This is Shelby and she’s a d—she’s a d—she worships with us too.’”

The Shelby’s guests dissolved into fits of laughter.

“So, the cops let us go, and there’s this awkward silence. Finally, Ed blurts out, ‘They thought you were a hooker.’ So much for being a good church girl. Apparently now I’m a hooker—even though I am ‘to a man as yet unknown.’”

The conversation moved on as the group savored the meal together. Shelby studied her circle of friends in the waning light, then jumped up suddenly, realizing that her gaze had lingered on Trish’s ample bosom. “I forgot—I have a cake in my apartment.” Her face reddened as she hurried inside to regain her composure.

The Battle of Jericho

Author’s Note: This is a story I composed for a weekly challenge in which I often participate on LinkedIn. The prompt was, to my chagrin, the overused six-word story often credited to Hemmingway (not actually written by Hemmingway, but credited to him anyway). However, in the spirit of good sportsmanlike conduct, I found a way to compose a story that sidesteps the landmines of emotional manipulation that pack that story, and now I present it for your review.

Copyright Marie Gail Stratford, 2014

Copyright Marie Gail Stratford, 2014

“For Sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.”

“Seriously, Honey, don’t you think that’s a little dramatic?” Sarah jostled the three-month-old in her arms.

Hank shrugged. “I think it was a little insensitive of your friends to give newborn clothing to us in the first place.”

Sarah grinned as she looked up into her husband’s face. At six-foot tall, she wasn’t accustomed to looking up at anyone, but the seven-foot-six gentle giant had stolen her heart. “Good point.” She chose not to mention that her mother and younger sister were only slightly taller than average and genetics isn’t always an exact science. It would only hurt his feelings.

“Honestly, Hank, I think we can have the garage sale without putting up that sign.” Sarah handed the baby to her husband. “I need to get organized.”

The assortment of brand-new clothing and infant items the couple’s son had already outgrown was a little overwhelming to Sarah. Their friends and family members had been generous at the three baby showers thrown before Jericho was born. Unfortunately, many of them had vastly underestimated how big the baby would be. He weighed in at 13 pounds, six ounces and was 25 inches long. Hank joked that if Sarah had been an average-sized woman they would have named the boy “Ouch.”

As Sarah tackled the chore of organizing and pricing items for the sale, her cell phone rang.

“Hello.”

“Hi, Sarah. This is Jill from the parish office at Guardian Angels.”

“Oh, hi, Jill. What’s going on?”

“Well, we have a bit of an emergency,” Jill began. “One of the women who came to the Lighthouse last night has gone into labor. They don’t have any clothing or newborn supplies for her little boy at the shelter, so they called the church. I thought of you immediately. Aren’t you having that garage sale to get rid of some of Jericho’s things soon?”

“I would love not to have that garage sale. Can we drop the items by the church later today?”

“That sounds great. What types of things do you have?”

“Everything.” Sarah glanced around at the piles in her living room. “Sleepers, Onesies, diapers, receiving blankets, a bassinette. Oh, and shoes, two pairs of baby shoes.”

After disconnecting the call, Sarah turned to Hank, who was playing on the carpet with Jericho. “I’m going to take some stuff over to the church. Maybe we won’t have to have the sale after all.”

“Want us boys to come along?” Hank flashed his winning smile. “We can take the Beetle.”

Sarah rolled her eyes. “That Volkswagen barely has enough room for you in it, much less all three of us and the baby clothes.”

“Don’t forget the shoes.”

Sarah laughed. “Here, give Jericho to me and take this stuff to the van. Once we get rid of it, I’m sending you to the dealership where you can trade that ridiculous clown car in for something that will fit you.”

Suikawari

Creative Commons, CC 2.0

Creative Commons, CC 2.0

Author’s note: Suikawari is the Japanese word for “watermelon splitting.” This story is based on real events, but some artistic license has been taken and names have been changed.

Kids growing up in the farming communities of America’s heartland during the last quarter of the 20th century didn’t take much for granted. Our parents were the farmers that fed America; the steelworkers that kept farm equipment running; and the civil servants who educated us, delivered our mail, and kept the peace. We worked hard at home if not at school, and we lived for summertime shenanigans.

 Summer bounty was the one thing we did take for granted. Whether or not our parents farmed, midsummer meant plenty of fresh produce. In the community where I grew up, vegetable gardens in town grew nearly out of control. Different neighbors grew different produce. Everyone shared, and no one in a three-state area grew watermelons like Jack Schneider.

 The elderly man had four acres just outside town, and he planted two of them with watermelon every year. He sold some—enough to supplement his social security income—and gave away most. On the last Sunday of June, he would pile the bed of his white F150 high with watermelons and drive the mile and a half to the church on the corner where, after Sunday school, every church member—from toddlers to octogenarians—would feast on the sweet red flesh.

The abundance made everyone giddy. During watermelon feeds, seed-spitting contests amused everyone. Kids under 10 years old had the opportunity to attempt eating an entire watermelon on their own. This one time a year, waste wasn’t a vice. After all, we couldn’t can, freeze or otherwise preserve the watermelon. 

One summer, a friend of Jack’s who taught history at the local high school hosted a group of Japanese exchange students. Arrangements were made for the students to spend time with the kids who attended Jack’s church. We took them shopping at the local mall—a novelty to us as well as to them at that time. We took them on excursions to western Kansas to see Dodge City and the Dalton Gang hideout. We spent a few Wednesday evenings teaching them games we liked to play and learning about their culture as well. Eventually, we learned that most of our visitors came from wealthy families. We stared in amazement when one boy purchased three pairs of Air Jordans because the $120 shoes were so cheap. Then we learned that only a couple of them had ever tasted watermelon because it was so expensive in Japan. Someone called Jack.

The night before the Japanese kids were scheduled to return home, we all gathered at the history teacher’s house for a goodbye party. When Jack pulled into the driveway, the bed of his truck piled high with watermelon, our visitors gasped in amazement. We shared an American-style cookout with our new friends that night, but the watermelons were the highlight of the evening. After their first tentative bites, our guests began to devour the fruit as eagerly as the rest of us. 

Someone recommended a seed-spitting contest. The Japanese kids hesitated. It seemed barbaric to them, but the high spirits of the evening overcame their reservations. By the time the sun sank below the horizon, the celebrating had grown reckless. Several watermelons remained unfinished, and a few kids started a food fight with the remaining fruit. The history teacher, feeling the revelry had gone too far, asked them to stop.

Just then, the Japanese boy who had purchased three pairs of Air Jordans grabbed a handful of ruby-colored watermelon flesh and let it fly at me. Nimbly, I jumped out of the way, and the crimson chunk hit Jack on the shoulder. The boy’s face froze in terror. Silence rang out across the moonlit backyard. Jack looked at the boy, smiled, then reached down to grab a hunk of watermelon from a nearby plate. The entire crowd dissolved into laughter as the watermelon caught the boy square in the chest, and the food fight was on once again.

Soda Fountain Wishes

cc by 2.0, photo by Darin House

cc by 2.0, photo by Darin House

 

For Wilbur “Spanky” Wright and each granddaughter that has him wrapped around her finger

“Sit by me, Grandpa!” Burton Samuelson’s five-year-old granddaughter patted the stool next to her as she perched at the lunch counter, eagerly awaiting the coming treat.

Burton quickly dabbed his eyes with his handkerchief before returning his attention to the child and taking his seat. “Of course, baby doll. I wouldn’t miss the opportunity to sit next to such a beautiful young lady.”

The little girl giggled, then noticed the tears forming in her grandfather’s eyes. “What’s wrong, Grandpa. Are you sad?”

“A little.” Burton wondered how to explain his conflicting emotions to such a young child. “You know, I met your grandma here. I was about to order lunch when she walked in wearing the prettiest yellow dress I’d ever seen.”

“I thought you met at the fountain.” Confusion clouded the child’s eyes.

“That’s right—the soda fountain. That’s what we used to call places like this because they serve the most delicious ice cream sodas in the world.”

Burton’s eyes sparkled as he used hyperbole to amuse his granddaughter. “Ice cream sodas?” The girl’s eyes grew wide with excitement.

“That’s right. In all kinds of flavors—strawberry, pineapple, even chocolate. We can share one today.”

“Did you buy Grandma an ice cream soda when you met her?”

“I sure tried. She wouldn’t give me the time of day, so I just kept coming back, every afternoon. One day, she finally let me buy her a root beer float, and the rest, as they say, is history.” Burton playfully tweaked one of his granddaughter’s pigtails.

The girl thought for a moment. “Did you and grandma sit next to each other here—at the soda fountain?” She pronounced the new phrase carefully, trying it out.

“No. Black people couldn’t sit at the counter back then.”

“Oh.” The girl paused. “Did you make wishes like we make at our fountain?”

“Oh, we made wishes for sure. Wishes that someday we could come and sit and drink sodas at the fountain with you.”

“Really? Then your wish came true!”

Burton nodded. As the waitress came to take their order, he prayed that his granddaughter wouldn’t understand the rude comments from across the room, aimed at the black man sitting at the counter with a biracial child. Even wishes that come true can’t fix everything.

***

The following are photos of the family who inspired my story. Wilbur “Spanky” Wright, who as a child attended the “colored” school in Topeka, KS, made famous by the Brown v. Board of Education decision, is the proud grandfather of so many grandchildren that I’ve lost count, although I’m sure he hasn’t. Four of them are my biracial nieces. The following photos were taken by Joy Wright, Spanky’s daughter-in-law and my sister. She retains all rights.

Dolores "Pookie" Wright with two of her granddaughters

Dolores “Pookie” Wright with two of her granddaughters

Wilbur "Spanky" Wright on the right with son Steve and two granddaughters

Wilbur “Spanky” Wright on the right with son Steve and two granddaughters

My nieces at a dive meet

My nieces at a dive meet

Blind Rescue

Author’s Note: This is a story I composed for a weekly contest on LinkedIn. This week’s prompt was BLIND, and I immediately thought of the blind hymn writer Fanny Crosby. The following is loosely based on real events.

Blind Rescue

My grandmother came of age during the 1930s when there was a Depression going on and church was Facebook. For her, however, church functioned as more than a social medium. She loved Jesus and her neighbor, knew every hymn by heart, and repeated the old stories often—first to her children, then to her grandchildren.

Grandma introduced me to the hymn writer Fanny Crosby when I was in third grade. At the time, I had a particular fascination with blindness and would wander around wearing a blindfold in an attempt to comprehend the disability. Grandma’s story about the blind hymn writer captured my imagination. I soaked in the details and learned many of her hymns by heart.

Fanny Crosby  in 1972 at age 52

Fanny Crosby in 1972 at age 52

Fanny Crosby’s gospel hymns had been standard fare in tent meetings and church services throughout Grandma’s youth. Grandma’s college friend Billy Graham seldom had a crusade that didn’t feature several of them. At one time, you didn’t have to be a pastor’s kid to be familiar with the blind poet’s hymns. By the dawn of the 1990s, you did.

In the fall of 1993, my extended family descended on Grandma and Grandpa’s house for our annual Thanksgiving celebration. We filled the old Victorian home with storytelling and laughter for three days. On Sunday, the fourth day, we piled into our cars and drove 45 miles to the little country church where my grandparents attended.

On the way, Grandpa shared with the occupants of his car his displeasure with the new pastor. Apparently, the young man was new to Christianity and unfamiliar with the older hymns. Instead, he favored newer musical trends that were unfamiliar to Grandpa and the other church members.

Minutes into the morning service, the problem became clear. Every song the pastor chose was unfamiliar to the pianist as well as to most of the congregation. Sound quality plummeted further when we sang a couple of hymns led by a pastor who didn’t know them.

After the service, my family welcomed the new pastor and made plans for the evening’s singspiration because we all knew that practice would make perfect. Noting the younger members of the family, the pastor seemed to take heart. He even mentioned, “Maybe tonight we can break away from the funeral music and enjoy ourselves a little.”

Plans for a song service seemed unwise to me, but the event appeared inevitable. On the way home, my proper, New Englander grandmother quietly laid out her solution. “Everyone knows Fanny Crosby songs,” she asserted. Throughout the afternoon, she made sure everyone in the family had a chance to look through her hymnal and choose their favorites.

That evening my uncle stepped up to lead the singing and asked for requests. First, an aunt requested “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior.” Next, my Dad requested “Praise Him! Praise Him!” followed by another aunt’s request of “Blessed Assurance.” Grandma, who couldn’t see the pastor’s bewildered face from her place in the pew, simply beamed, certain that she had found a solution to the church’s musical conundrum.

A couple of special numbers came next, followed by more requests, all songs written by Fanny Crosby. I could see the pastor’s frustration rising. After two more special numbers, the uncle leading the singing announced that we had time for one more request. Unable to find anything in the hymnal that the pastor was likely to know, I breathed a sigh of relief that the evening was coming to a close. Just then, my grandmother raised her hand and smiled. “Number 325, ‘Rescue the Perishing.’”

The pastor’s shoulders slump forward. I, personally, wanted to escape the room before having to hear that tiny congregation butcher a tune that I’d never particularly liked. To make matters worse, my uncle smiled and turned to the pastor. “Come on over and lead with me, Son. You know this one. We sang it this morning.”

As my uncle pressed the microphone into the pastor’s hand, I realized that we had indeed sung this song during the morning service. The pianist pounded out a couple chords, and the congregation slid into the first note of the hymn that had preempted the morning’s comment about funeral music.