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CHARMER UNVEILED




          Chuck was excited when he came home from school.
          “Wanda, someone broke into a locker today.  A pen knife, watch and money were taken,” he took a quick breath and continued, “It’s a really big deal at school.  The principal searched the lockers and talked to all the guys.” I hadn’t heard anything about the incident at school.  Chuck talked of nothing else at the supper table that evening.
          The following day I was standing in front of the mirror combing my hair in the girl’s bathroom.
          “Well, when are you due Gloria?”
          I turned towards the senior girl grooming her short, blond hair. “Due with what?” I asked.
          “Your brother Chuck has been spreading all over school that he thinks his sister is pregnant,” She answered slyly watching for my reaction.  She wasn’t disappointed: I was speechless!  I didn’t see Chuck between classes.  I was going to confront him after school but he wasn’t on the bus.  Then I remembered he was going home with a friend.
          I related to Mom what the senior girl had told me.  I waited for her to assure me that Chuck wouldn’t say anything like that about me, but instead I couldn’t believe my ears...
          “I wouldn’t be surprised if Chuck did say it,” Mom replied, “I’ve read some of his letters to Barb and he has been telling a lot of lies.”
             Barb’s letters to me had become far and few between and the ones I did receive were short and cold.  I had overlooked it but now the pieces began to fit together.
          “Chuck has done more than lie,” Mom continued. “I spent most of the afternoon at the school.  Remember the pen knife, watch and money Chuck told us were stolen from a locker?”
          I shook my head in the affirmative.
          “Well, I was putting some clean undershirts in his drawer this morning and I found those exact articles.  I returned them to the school.  The principal wants us to confront Chuck before he talks to him tomorrow.”
          For the second time that day I was speechless!
          I moved my food around the plate at the supper table.  I had no appetite and I dreaded what I knew was coming.  Everyone, but Chuck, was quieter than usual.  If he felt the tension he didn’t let on.  Even though I knew what he had done, I still felt loyal to Chuck.
          “Chuck,” Mom began when we had finished eating, “I found some things in your dresser drawer.”
          “What things?” he asked innocently.
          “A pen knife, watch and some money.”
          “That is my knife and watch.  I bought them.”
          “I took them to the school and they were identified as the pen knife and watch stolen from the locker,” Mom confronted.
          I searched Chuck’s face.  There was no way to discern what he was feeling.
          “I also know,” Mom continued, “that you have been writing lies about our family in your letters to Albuquerque.”
          Chucks facial expression never flinched, but there was a slight redness in his color.  I waited for him to deny the charges, but he remained silent.
          I fought back tears when Mom said, “Chuck, we took you into our home because we wanted to help you.  We wanted you to be part of our family.  Is this the way you treat family?”
          Chuck silently looked down at the table.
*****                    *****                    ****

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ENEMY RESURFACED






          I was on my third reading of Dave’s letters, when the smell of supper drifted upstairs into my room.  Something familiar seemed to be missing for that time of day.  It didn’t fully dawn on me, until I glanced out the window, overlooking the vacant driveway.  Deryl wasn’t home from work yet.

          I changed my school clothes and put on rolled up jeans and an oversized shirt.   I entered the kitchen. I took one look at Mom and I knew the potatoes weren’t the only ones stewing.

          “Is Deryl working late?” I asked innocently.

          “Not that I know of,” she answered through tight lips.

          “Maybe he had trouble with his pickup,” Chuck interjected from a kitchen chair.

          Mom, her brows knitted into a frown, didn’t answer as she turned the stove knob to low and walked to the open window.

          Supper simmered, the clock ticked away, tension built and we waited.

             Finally, the white vehicle raced onto the gravel driveway, and came to an abrupt stop.

          Mom looked relieved and then disgusted, as a flushed Deryl walked, with deliberate steps, to the back door.

          “You’ve got your nerve coming home like this!”

          “Ahhh...come on Baby, don’t start on me,” Deryl stammered.

          I retreated to the living room away from the barrage of angry words.  I could still hear them filtering through the walls.

          “Well.... If that’s the way...you feel...about it...you...you can...just go to *** for all I care!” Deryl bellowed.

          The back screen door slammed and I looked out the dining room window just in time to see the pickup back up and spin onto the road.  Deryl was driving but someone else was in the passenger seat.

          Mom was standing over the stove, angrily flicking the knobs off, as I reentered the kitchen.

          “Where’s Chuck?” I asked as I glanced around.

          “He left with Deryl!” she answered angrily.  She threw a hot pad onto the counter, stomped across the kitchen, entered her bedroom and slammed the door.

          The house was quiet except for Bronco pushing his toy cars across the dining room floor.  A rush of cool evening air touched me as I opened the front door and sat on the faded, top step of the porch. 

          The birds in the large trees rustled and sang to each other as they bedded for the night.  Crickets, under the porch, chirped for the coming darkness.  Dark hews of blue lengthened, as the setting sun caused the oak branches to cast their shadows on the house.  Everything had the feeling of peace… except me.

          I cupped my chin in my hands and relived the earlier scene.  Embarrassment brought heat in my cheeks when I thought of Chuck seeing Deryl drunk.  It was ironic.  I was the one who wanted Chuck to revel the secrets of his heart and past.  Now our family was the ones on display.  I longed for a privacy screen to hide us from view. 

          Why had Deryl started drinking again?  It had been a long time; and perhaps this was a one-time incident. But, even as I pondered it, I felt sadness.  Fear stole over me like a suffocating blanket; coming face to face with an old enemy.  I had hoped and prayed I would never encounter it again. Realizing, the adversary had been stalking all along; waiting for a weakness, an opportune moment when he could seize his victim.  This enemy would attack on occasion; gradually pulling into captivity, until he had such a hold, that life and purpose were drained, and all that mattered was that alcohol reigned. 

          How could I know, at such a young age, the battle and devastation that would ensue in the years to come?  Everyone, this enemy touched, would become sick, from its affect. Not only would alcoholic cause a pattern of self-destruction but also imprint a mark on each member of the family.

          Darkness fell and I changed my self-appointed sentry duty to the living room.  It was past 10 p.m. when lights shone up the road and into the driveway.

          Chuck was in high spirits when he entered the room.

          “You should have been with us Gloria.  Deryl is just a riot.  I never knew he could swear like that.  He could put a sailor to shame.”

          I glared at Chuck. “I’m glad you find it so amusing because I do not!”

          My outburst didn’t daunt Chuck.  He was still chuckling to himself when I left the living room in a huff.

          I didn’t know that within a month Chuck would be standing in a revealing light.  And even if I had known, I wouldn’t have wished it upon him.

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I'M A TAG ALONG




          The noon hour was moderately warm for late March.  Voices intermingled with the sound of singing robins, as the group of ninth grade girls, left the school ground for lunch on Main Street.  I tagged along, even though I hadn’t been invited.  Anything was better than being alone.
          “That was a rough test in English this morning,” I ventured.
          Agnes and Jennifer glanced at me but didn’t answer.  The rest of the girls never acknowledged that I had spoken.  My words hung in mid-air and then nose-dived.  If there had been a hole available I would have crawled in.       As we continued walking, I thought of Chuck.  He had been accepted right away because the boys weren’t as territorial as the girls. There were times when I felt deserted by Chuck.  When I passed him and his friends in the hallway at school, he ignored me.  He had a couple of friends who flirted with me, and when they came to the house, they gave me a lot of attention.  I had a feeling Chuck felt threatened by that somehow.
            Hotchkiss High School was a providence of nonacceptance as far as I was concerned. It seemed to me that the girls ran in a tightly knit pack.  How could I belong to this group of girls who had known each other all of their lives?  How could I squeeze through the walls that held me out? Would it ever be possible to break into this click that was so tightly bonded against outsiders?  And why should I care?  I wished I didn’t care...but unfortunately I did care...I wanted to belong.
          Late in the afternoon the school bus pulled into the driveway.  Chuck, Bronco and I walked toward the house.  Emotionally my chin was hanging to the ground.
          “You got some mail,” Mom announced as we entered the kitchen. “I put it on your bed.”
          My spirits lifted as I bounded the flight of stairs.  There on the lavender bedspread was the welcoming sight...three white envelopes, two from Dave and one from Barb.  The cares and rejection of the day melted as I stretched across the bed and caught up with news from Albuquerque.  There were  friends who actually acknowledged that I existed.  Friends who cared about me.




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NERVOUS...WHY HAD MOM PUT ME IN THIS SITUATION?




          The weather was mild for a late February morning.  I checked my peach dress for the third time: everything was fastened and the matching belt’s buckle was in line with the pearl buttons.
          Chuck strolled along the driveway towards the road.  He looked sharp in his new shirt and Levi’s that Deryl and Mom had bought him.  Chuck received the same as Bronco and I.  He was treated just like one of the family.
          I was concerned how to explain our relationship when we entered the new high school.
          “Just say that you are brother and sister, “Mom had said.
          “But, what will people think about us having different last names?”
          “Don’t worry, everything will work out fine,” Mom answered optimistically.
          I still had concerns.  It wouldn’t be hard to say that Chuck was my brother.  I was beginning to believe our own propaganda. He was becoming more a part of our family.  I felt a growing loyalty and fondness towards him, but I wasn’t sure what he felt towards me.
            Loneliness was my feeling these days, so I hung around Chuck.  I would chatter like a magpie or try to tease him, but I could see in his eyes that I was butting up against his wall of his seclusion.  His invisible sign read, “No Entrance”.  Perhaps he felt awkward having a sister his own age.  Or was he afraid I would discover who he really was behind his wall?  Whatever the reason, it didn’t matter, Chuck had been accepted.
          “Can you see it coming?” Bronco yelled as he ran from the house.
          “No, not yet,” Chuck answered.
          I wondered if either of them was as nervous as I was.  But they didn’t have newly permed hair and a couple of blemishes they were self conscious of. I pulled my bangs down over my forehead but the curls stubbornly sprung back to their original shape.
          I walked to the end of the driveway to take my turn as sentry.
          “Here it comes,” I yelled as the yellow roof topped the crest of the hill.
          Mom waved and three hands returned the gesture (without enthusiasm).  She and Deryl were busy working on the house.  The moving van, with our belongings, would be arriving today.  The decision had been made and carried though: the house on Childers Drive was for sale and we were now buyers, with installments, of a farmhouse and ten acres.
          The long, yellow bus drove into the driveway.  The hinged doors opened, the driver smiled pleasantly, and we entered single file up the black steps.  I was the first to board and I sat in the third seat from the front.  I had assumed that Bronco and Chuck would sit with me.  Chuck headed for the back and Bronco sat across the aisle.  I felt abandoned.
          The driver backed onto the road and the vibrating ride began.  The bus made its stops at farmhouses along the countryside.  Everyone boarding stared in my direction, but no one spoke.  I could feel the blood rushing to my cheeks. I was very aware of the empty space next to me.  Finally, a grade school girl, with long blond braids, sat down beside me.  Neither of us said a word.
          I turned my flushed face toward the window and fastened my attention on the fields, orchards, cattle and houses passing by.  The driver downshifted and the bus curved the steep hill leading into town.
            To a normal observer the scene would have been one of pleasant nostalgia...the corner Phillips Service Station was servicing one pickup at the gas pumps, and two men, dressed in overhauls and caps strolled up the sidewalk and entered the small cafe for their morning coffee.
           However, as I viewed this community I was tense with dread.  What would this little town hold for my life?  Would I be accepted or rejected?  That was my ultimate concern.  My stomach knotted as the bus rounded the last street corners and stopped in front of the school in Hotchkiss Colorado.

BUYING A FARM ON INSTALLMENTS




           
FARM IN HOTCHKISS COLORADO



           The Grand Mesa set on the north, its colossal bluff, dark against the clear blue of the morning sky.  The narrow highway turned eastward, rolling with the hills.  As the miles passed, the countryside began to flatten, and to show its wares of agriculture.
          “Let’s turn off the main highway and maybe we’ll find something for sale among these farms,” Mom suggested.
          Deryl drove the car north on the paved side road.  We wound our way up and down the roads, passing bare orchards and golden brown fields, intermingled between sparsely placed farmhouses.
          “Deryl, stop the car!”
          The automobile came to a halt and we followed Mom’s stare.  Sitting back from the road was a large two-story farmhouse.  Its windows were bare and dingy in the sunlight.
          “It doesn’t look lived in,” Deryl commented, “But there’s no “For Sale” sign.”
          “We could enquire at the neighbors and see if they know anything about the house,” Mom suggested, as she nodded toward a modern bungalow up the road.
          Deryl drove the Ford into the driveway of the small house and went up to the entrance.  A short, gray-haired woman opened the door.  Behind her stood a tall older gentleman.  We watched as Deryl gestured toward the two-story.  The door opened wide and Deryl stepped inside.
          “It has definite possibilities,” Mom said as she eyed the vacant house, “Yes, it’s just what we’ve been looking for.”
          I studied Moms profile.  What enabled Mom to lead us to a vacant farm?  I knew her direction had come from an inward intuition.
          A few moments later, Mom rolled down the window, as Deryl returned to the passenger side of the Ford.
          “The farmhouse is their old homestead where they raised their children,” Deryl said as he leaned against the car door, “It was too much for them to care for so they’ve built this newer home.  The old house has been rented before, but now it is vacant.”
          “Are they willing to rent it again?” Mom asked.
          Deryl’s face displayed a sly grin, “Well, I asked them if they would consider selling it, and they said they have been pondering the idea.  There are ten acres with the house.  They want us to come in and discuss the matter further.”
          While Deryl and Mom entered the house to discuss business, Chuck, Bronco and I decided to go exploring.
          The yard of the homestead was huge, and had at one time been painstakingly landscaped.  The embankment of the front yard was walled with white and gray stones, and flowers had once flourished within a man made tiered garden, which was covered with over growth.  Large oak trees stretched their roots under dormant grass, while their long branches shaded the yard.  The siding of the house was faded white, revealing brown undertones.  Patches of light and dark gray shingles covered the roof.
          Extending from under the second story was a large encircling veranda.  On the south side, in the center of an enclosed porch, was a back door.  A large walnut tree spread its limbs over the entranceway.  Behind the house, towards the west, was a wired fence enclosing an empty chicken coop, three wooden sheds, and land as far as our eyes could see.
          Our investigation was disrupted by the honking horn of the Ford, as it drove on the graveled driveway.  Deryl and Mom were beaming as they left the car.
          “Guess what?” Mom asked excitedly, and then proceeded to tell us without our guessing, “They are willing to sell the house and the ten acres on installments.”
          I wasn’t sure what installments were, but from Deryl and Mom’s exuberance, I figured it must be a good deal.
          “Let’s take a look at the inside,” Deryl said, holding up a silver key loaned to him by the older couple.
          The wooden floor of the back porch squeaked as we entered the house.
          “What a good sized kitchen,” Mom exclaimed as she walked around the white room.  The echoing sound of our footsteps and voices bounced off the barren walls and high ceilings of the old homestead.  The rest of the down stairs consisted of a dining room, bedroom, living room and an adjacent chamber off the living room that was painted “dark green”.
          “This could be another bedroom,” Mom decided as she surveyed the area, “But that color would have to go.”
          We climbed the open staircase that faced the front entryway.  The stair steps were in need of a coat of varnish, as was the thick walnut banister.  The upstairs hallway revealed three bedrooms.
          “This is a big room,” Deryl remarked as we entered the east bedroom.
          “It has a nice view,” Mom said as we looked out the triple windows overlooking the gray veranda roof and the front yard.  A single window on the south wall overlooked the side yard.
          Deryl and Mom were discussing buying the house as we left the upstairs.
          “It would take a lot of work, although the inside is in better shape then the outside,” Mom said, “With a little labor it would make a nice home.”
          “If we buy it, we’ll have to sell the house in Albuquerque,” Deryl said.
          This last comment brought me up short.  My heart sank at the thought.  If we sold the house on Childers Drive it would be burning all the bridges behind us.  Dave’s prediction was becoming more and more impossible.
          (The house on Childers Drive, in Albuquerque, was paid off from Daddy Slim's insurance. Now it would be sold.)

HOMESICK FOR CHILDERS DR AND FRIENDS



      A glimmer of light peered through the side panel of the motel draperies.  I lay on the roll away bed next to the window.  My eyes were open but all I could see were outlines in the darkened room.  Bronco groaned in his sleep and turned toward Chuck.  Deryl and Mom were asleep in the second double bed.
          The day after we arrived in Delta, Colorado, Mom and Deryl went to the real-estate office.  None of the properties for sale appealed to them or to their pocket 
book.  They had also searched the ads in the local newspaper, but with no success.  They were still optimistic however, assuring us that they would find what they were looking for.  Mom voiced her desire, “A large farm house with a few acres of land."
          I was anxious to get a mailing address so I could begin receiving letters from Dave and my friends.
          I fluffed my pillow and turned toward the wall.  My eyes were moist, and I felt overwhelmed with homesickness.  To the forefront of my mind was my parting conversation with Dave.
          “You’ll be back Gloria,”
          “Mom says we’ll be back to visit,” I replied sadly.
          “No, I mean you’ll be moving back.  I just know you will.”
          Logically, Dave’s proclamation wasn’t possible, but I decided to plant my hope in the soil of the impossible. With a small measure of comfort, I
slept.

PERMANENT COMPANY





                                                          RED MOUNTAIN PASS




          Sage and dry gullies covered the earth tone terrain.  The reddish brown, rock formations, with hues of purple, reached up to touch the blue of the heavens, while low hanging clouds drifted overhead.  The highway, resembling a black ribbon, curved and wrapped through the desolate land.  It was the only proof that a civilized world existed.  The miles of northern New Mexico sped by as our new Ford traveled the pavement toward the state border.

          Bronco knelt on the floorboard between Chuck and me.  His menagerie was spread on the seat.

          “This one is a Marine,” he said to Chuck as he held up the small figure.

          “Do you have any Air force men? Chuck asked.

          “Sure, I have lots of them,” Bronco replied with a satisfied expression.  Here at last, was someone who could appreciate his shoebox full of plastic, green soldiers.

          If Chuck felt awkward, it wasn’t noticeable.  Unless, perhaps he was too cordial.  Our family was also on our best behavior.  We behaved the way we did when we entertained company.

           Although I was unhappy about leaving Albuquerque, I couldn’t sulk in front of Chuck and have him think I was a brat.  Deryl and Mom used their  knack of putting others at ease.  Deryl displayed his sense of humor and Mom utilized small talk.

           As I listened to them converse with Chuck, I realized, with thankfulness, the long season of abstinence we had enjoyed.  Ever since we left Socorro there had been no drinking.  I often wondered if our move from Socorro had been caused from a crises related to alcohol.  Even if my suspicions were true, I would never have them confirmed by Mom or Deryl.  Alcohol and its consequences were secrets never to be exposed.  I pushed all wondering to a back burner of my mind, along with the nagging fear that the drinking might start again.

          “Have you been to Colorado before, Chuck?” Deryl asked.

          “No, I never have,”

          “Really?” I asked in surprise, suddenly appreciating the advantage of traveling.

          “I have been to California,” Chuck interjected, as if he wanted to give the impression he was a man of the world.

          I quenched the desire to ask him why he had run away and where his father was.  Perhaps someday he would feel free to share his past.

          “We’ll be going over Red Mountain Pass,” Mom was saying, “It is beautiful.  As far as I am concerned, Colorado is God’s country.”

          The car snuggled close to the side of the mountain as the highway began to elevate.  Miners had used the path to reach the rich ore and silver hidden deep in the Colorado Mountains.  The narrow way had been chiseled into the rock formation and broadened for modern travelers. 

          The land opened toward the east to reveal the old mining town of Silverton.  The blue-gray buildings, on the plateau, silhouetted against the distant mountain range.  The road began to spiral upward as a curved staircase.  The car strained and puffed in the heightening elevation.  A summit was reached and then, in low gear, with brakes warming, came the descent from the heights.  Then the engine exhilarated to climb again.

          The blue-green of the all season spruces covered the mountains.  I imagined a herd of deer, tiptoeing through the snow in the thicket, watching timidly as we entered their solitude.  From the rocks on the mountainside were trickles of water that had frozen in the cold.  A month earlier, we wouldn’t have been able to travel over the pass.  It had been closed because of the snow.

          Red Mountain loomed above us.  Its livid color, shone like copper, in the bright sun.  A long abandoned mineshaft jetted from the bluff below.  The view was spectacular (If one dared to look down.)  Far below, in the snow-covered valley the partially frozen river wound its way.

          “Scenic View” was the road sign by the side of the highway.

          Deryl steered onto the pullover and we scrambled from the car.  Everyone stretched from the ride and breathed deeply.

          The air was exhilarating with clean, pure freshness and the strong scent of pine.  The cool mountain breeze carried a light mist in our direction, as we lined up beside the chain-linked barrier, and watched the roaring waterfall gush from the rugged mountainside.  The winter had endeavored to freeze the water flow but the force of the water had broken free from its icy prison.

          Mom turned to Chuck with a big grin, “See, I told you this is God’s country!”

          

THE CONCEIVED IDEA



            Barb and I walked together after school.  An air of heaviness hung over our conversation.
          “Gloria, what if they send him to Springer?”
          “Don’t worry Barb, I don’t think that will happen,” I said reassuringly, “He’s been in trouble before and he has gotten out of it.”
          “But, the judge said the next time...” Barb’s voice broke and tears filled her eyes.
          Chuck had been in another scrape with the law.  This time it was for stealing.
          Barb turned her corner towards home and I continued up Constitution Avenue.  I felt sad as I thought of Chuck.  Not only was I concerned for him but for Barb.  I knew it would tear her apart if he was sent to Springer.
          I opened the front door and entered the living room.  My books sank into the chair as I laid them down.  Mom and Deryl were at the kitchen table and they were in deep discussion.
          “I may have no other choice, with jobs as scarce as they are around here.  From the size of that road job in Colorado, it might take a couple of years to finish.  That would be steady work,” Deryl was saying, as he held his cup of coffee.
          “If the kids weren’t in school, we’d go with you.”
          “I’ll just have to come home as often as possible”.
          I stood fidgeting by the table, only half listening to their conversation. I could be quiet no longer...
          “Chuck got caught stealing and he might be sent to Springer!”
          “When did this happen?” Deryl asked.
          “Just yesterday.  Barb told me at school.”
          “That’s a shame,” Mom said sadly, “I still think what that boy needs is a family to care for him.”
          The conception of the idea took place that evening as Deryl and Mom discussed Chuck’s situation.
          “Deryl, we could take that boy.  We could move him away from Albuquerque!”
          “Well, I suppose we could...but ...we’d have to get custody of him.  That would be hard to do.”
          “Let's see...I suppose the first place to begin would be with Chuck’s mother...and then we would have to go before the judge at his hearing,” Mom’s mind was beginning to click.
          “But, then we’d need a place to move to,” Deryl said.
          “We’ve thought of buying a farm in Colorado, maybe this is the time to do it!” I could hear the excitement building in Mom’s voice.
          My emotions were stirring.  I dreaded another move.  I had adjusted to our last move from Socorro to Albuquerque, because at Andrew Jackson, I was able to make many new friends.  All schools weren’t like Andrew Jackson.  I felt emotional discomfort as I thought back to some of the rejection I had experienced.  As the concern began to rise, I calmed it down and reassured myself.  This was just another dream.  Don’t get uptight.  It won’t happen.
          Instead of vanishing in the air, the dream began to take shape.  The conception of an idea was having birth pains.  Deryl and Mom visited with Chuck’s mother and it was decided they would attend the hearing with her and Chuck.  If the judge consented, Chuck’s mother was more then willing to have Chuck put in their custody.
          “Gloria, this is so wonderful of you and your family to help Chuck,” Barb exclaimed.
          Dave nodded his head in agreement.  To all of my friends I was a hero.  I smiled, basking in the picture of sainthood, but inside I was scared!             I was afraid to tell Mom. She would say I was selfish and my friends would probably think so too.  If it came to pass there would be many changes...another move...another school...I’d have to leave Dave ...my friends...Childers Drive.
           I really did care what happened to Chuck.  I decided the best way was to wait and see what happened.  The chances were good that it would all blow over and never come to pass.
          “It will be just like having an older brother,” Mom announced to Bronco and me when they came home from the hearing.
          “Yippee!  An older brother!” Bronco yelled.
          “Yippee indeed!  I felt sure I would awaken any minute, the dream would be over, and I would sigh in relief!  Mom’s chatter combined with Bronco’s jumping around proved it was reality.
          Later in the day, Barb came to the house.
          “Oh Gloria, I just can’t believe it!” she exclaimed jubilantly “Your family is wonderful!” 
          I smiled in shock.  I couldn’t believe it either.  The idea conceived, had given birth.
              I did not know that this was the last time we would live on Childers Drive.