Archive for July, 2011

In Memory

July 30, 2011

All week I have not known what to do, so I’ve collected food and funds, run to the store and made telephone calls.  I can’t bear to think about what has happened to someone I know and am fearful of it happening to me, to my son. I don’t know how Yuhong bears the pain.

James’ memorial service was today at four o’clock.  My fifteen year old son Ryan and I attended.  He helped me prepare food for the reception, then went to put on his good khaki pants, blue striped dress shirt and one of his brother’s ties, the yellow one with tiny blue diamonds.

He knocked on my bedroom door, clothes in his hands.  “Do you mind ironing the pants and shirt for me?” he asked. He’s never done that before. Usually he puts on whatever is available, wrinkled or not and argues with me about having to take it off again because it’s not presentable.

We loaded the car and arrived at the high school early. Several friends met us at the front and we carried in the food purchased with donations from people at the nursing home where Yuhong and I work.  Ryan opened packages, arranged food on silver and crystal platters and didn’t seem to notice that he was the only teenage boy amongst the women and girls helping set up.

At four o’clock we gathered with others at the auditorium door, signed our sentiments in the guest book, took the program for the service and filed to our seats. The huge room was filled with students, teachers, members of the community and friends. Photographs of James came into focus and faded away as they changed in a slide show on the screen on stage, a smiling kindergartener with ABC’s taped across the blackboard behind him, a sixth grader on his first day of middle school, a nervous smile on his face, an excited boy with his father in a stream, holding a just-caught fish, a teenager with bangs swept to the side and a determined look as he perfected a trick on his skateboard, a serious musician strumming a guitar. Fifteen years of James’ life.

A minister lead us in prayer, someone read a poem, teachers spoke of a young man’s commitment to school, kindness to others, sense of humor, his smile, and how he honored those who knew him. James’ two best friends presented a power point slide show of their favorite pictures of James as the Beatles sang Strawberry Fields Forever in the background.  The last photograph was of a laughing James with the words: Rest in Peace Friend.

Ryan and I didn’t stay for refreshments. We couldn’t eat.  We walked to the car in silence and didn’t say much on the way home. After we pulled into the driveway, Ryan went to the garage to see how his Dad was coming along on the boat repairs. I walked to the backyard toward the garden, not wanting to go into the house, but not knowing what else to do.

As I stopped at the garden gate something pink caught my eye. My grandma’s resurrection lilies were blooming at the fence near the clothesline. Every year, they rise from the earth and bloom all in a single day.  I was glad they chose today. 

Jesus at Trilliman’s

July 27, 2011

I saw a man today who looked like the picture of Jesus on my grandmother’s living room wall.  At least the man’s head and shoulders looked like Jesus. The one in Grandma’s picture had on white robes and carried a staff.   This Jesus, the one at the shopping center, had on a Washington Redskins tee shirt and a pair of faded jeans.  He wasn’t wearing sandals.  He had on work boots.   This Jesus carried a backpack and smoked a cigarette. 

 The woman with him could have been an angel.  She was an older lady with solid white hair in tight frizzy curls all over her head, kind of like a halo.  She had nicotine stains between the index and second fingers on her right hand and her white cotton print dress was torn at the neckline.  Her black knee socks were rolled down to the tops of her hiking boots.  She sat with Jesus at one of the two tables in front of Trilliman’s, an upscale bakery and sandwich shop.  I overheard them talking about the hot weather as they shared the cigarette.

I was in my car at the curb, waiting for a prescription to be filled at the drug store.  I watched and listened to the couple.  Their presence reminded me of my childhood and the importance my grandparents placed on Jesus and going to church.  I had this sensation that I might hear the gospel, be lifted up in prayer, or feel the spirit rise in me.  It was one of those moments that made me feel like an epiphany was about to occur right before my eyes. This sighting was somehow important.  In my head, I heard my Grandma say, “Listen child, God speaks through angels.  Jesus walks among us.” 

I seemed to be the only one whose gut was reacting though.  People walked by, not paying attention to this vision.  Shoppers were busy with their errands and deadlines.  They hurried, shifting packages from one hand to another, children from one hip to another.  Mothers and daughters leaned together in conversation about summer styles and colors.  People gathered at the bus stop and looked at their watches. Even the dogs on leashes didn’t pay attention, and animals are supposed to have a special sense about these things.

Jesus and his angel sat for a time, quiet in their thoughts.  I got out of my car and spoke to the couple.

Jesus smiled and said, “Hi.”

The angel said, “I like your dress.  I used to have one like it.  Where did you get yours?”

I found myself afraid to admit I’d bought it at the second hand store.  I feared she’d think I was lying, but I confessed.  “At Goodwill,” I said.

“I love Goodwill,” she said.  “I got these boots there last week. They’re perfect for walking in the woods.”  

We talked for a few more minutes about mutual bargains we had found before I walked into the drug store to pick up my prescription.  I found a few other items I needed as well, AA batteries, vitamin C, a roll of wrapping paper and a Hershey bar, which I didn’t need, but wanted.  With all of that and my prescription, the total came to $13.13, an omen, I thought.

I went back to my car and looked toward Trilliman’s.  Jesus’ backpack and the angel were still there, but Jesus was gone.  The other table was occupied by a lanky man with a long pony tail.  He had a Boston Red Sox cap pulled down low over his eyes.  Every now and then he’d lift a paper bag to his mouth and drink.  The woman with him was old and had a Kroger shopping cart pulled up close to her.  It was filled with clothes, drink cans, an umbrella, a few plastic bags, tied tightly, and a ceramic flower pot with a small green plant growing in it.  She smiled a toothless grin at her companion as they laughed and talked. 

In a few minutes, Jesus came back with two orange sport drinks.  He loosened the top of one and handed it to the angel.  He sat down, and the four friends enjoyed their refreshments and each other’s company.

I was looking in my purse for my keys when the police car pulled into the space in front of me.  The officer got out and walked up to Jesus, the angel and their friends. 

“You all need to move along now.”

“We’re not bothering anybody,” Jesus said.

“We’re just sitting here,” the angel said.

“Unless you are a paying customer at this establishment,” the policeman said, pointing to Trilliman’s, “you have to move along.”

“Have you seen the prices in there?” Jesus asked.  “Nobody, including you, could afford to eat there.”

“Snooty people too,” the angel said, “turn their noses up when you walk in.”

“I can’t help any of that,” the policeman said. “I have to enforce the rules.  If you aren’t a paying customer, you have to leave.”

“I’m going to have a talk with the one in charge,” the lady with the shopping cart said. “He will take care of everything.  He won’t have any of this, you’ll see.”

 “Ok,” the officer said .  “But until I hear from him, I have to ask you to leave the premises.”

 The four trespassers gathered their belongings and walked south toward McLean Boulevard.   The old lady with the cart got some help from the angel when they had to maneuver the curb drops.

There’s another sidewalk café called Pop’s two blocks away.  It’s a bigger place with more tables.  Jesus led the way.


July 23, 2011

A child was hit and killed by a car a half mile from our house last Friday night. He was a rising Sophomore at the high school in our community. He was riding his skateboard from his subdivision, across the highway, to the grocery store.  A pizza delivery man hit him.

The newscaster announced the accident Saturday morning.  I woke Ryan to ask him if he knew the boy. They were the same age. Ryan came into the room rubbing his eyes. When he saw the picture of the dark haired young man wearing glasses, Ryan’s eyes opened wide. Then he said,  “He’s a freshman. We ride the same bus.”

I hugged my boy every opportunity I had over the weekend.  I hovered over him until he told me to stop. I regretted ever teasing him about walking to the store when he needed a ride. I cried for the loss of a child I didn’t know. Ryan was patient with me. His statement of “That’s enough, Mom,” came  late Sunday evening when he was trying to watch the sports highlights on television and I had my arms wrapped around him from behind as he sat in his video gaming chair.  

Monday morning I went to work. It was there that I was told that James, the teenager killed, was the son of one of our nursing assistants, Yuhong. Every day, this gentle woman goes about her work quietly, her eyes lowered. Her presence is felt, but not heard. She cares for the elders in her charge with a rare kindness not often seen, and she is the mother of James. He was her only child.

We took up a collection at work for Yuhong and her husband, gathered money, food, drink, a potted plant, and we all signed a card. We didn’t know what else to do. A friend and I stopped by Yuhong’s house Tuesday afternoon to pay our respects and deliver the items we collected. We didn’t know what to say. We just stood in her doorway with our arms wrapped around her and her husband, crying with them. They were gracious, inviting us in, allowing us to share in their grief.

I sat at Yuhong’s kitchen table, looking at the photo album of her son from the time he was born until now.  She sat, tears running, unable to speak. Her husband, a very strong man, sat telling us stories of James, how he loved playing the saxophone and wanted to join the jazz band this fall, how tennis was such a passion that he played every day in the summer,  how James had made them so proud by getting all A’s in his honors classes at school.  The brave man choked back tears as he said, “I still go to my son’s room in the morning to wake him for breakfast. This does not feel real.”

 This couple is from China. They have lived in America for ten years. Their extended family lives in China. They sat together, there at the table, alone.

 We turned pages in the photo album. I remembered my own boys at each stage of development, my joy, and such a strong feeling of love as I held them or stood beside them.  I realized today that I’ve never contemplated a time when there would be no more photographs taken of my children. I still can’t.

The Skipper and His Little Buddy

July 16, 2011

The email Stated: Congratulations! You are High Bidder.  

Then in bold letters:

Note: Failure to pay for this item as agreed to in the terms and conditions will result in a server fee of 40% of your winning bid.  Promptly contact the seller to discuss terms and conditions, times and location for pickup/delivery options, etc.

The terms and conditions box was blank.

We waited two days to receive an email with instructions from the Seaside Heights, New Jersey Fire Department. Nothing.

“I’m sending an email tonight,” Bruce said. “We’re not asking them if it’s alright to come on Friday to pick up the boat. We’re telling them we’re coming for it.  If I have to stick the check under a door somewhere, we’re hitching to a boat trailer and hauling it away from there.”

He woke me at 2:22 Friday morning.  “You ready to go?”

I turned over to the smell of coffee brewing and could see the light from the kitchen across the hall. I’d taken the day off for a long weekend of travel to pick up our newly purchased boat. I was sure we’d get in some actual boating too.

I hadn’t planned to start the trip quite that early though. There is no going back to sleep once Bruce and the coffee are percolating. It was too late to coax him back to bed.  I groaned and pulled the covers over my head. 

“Can you go without me?” I mumbled from under the sheet.

He laughed and pulled the covers off me quick, like a band aid.

I grabbed for the sheet, but my reflexes were still asleep. Curling into a ball, I mumbled, “OK, OK, give me at least five minutes to wake up.”

He reached out, pulled me up to a sitting position and put the coffee cup in my hands. I sipped and watched him stuff clothes into his overnight bag.  I’d packed my things the night before and put them in the car along with all the stuff from the garage he’d already packed, the toolbox, spare parts, grease gun, shop towels, bungee cords, and other things I didn’t recognize.  I wondered why we needed so much stuff just to hook a trailer to the car and head to a water adventure.  I shrugged; Bruce always over-prepares.

We headed out of the driveway at 2:38 a.m. and traveled north. Bruce’s goal was to miss the rush-hour traffic in DC and Baltimore.  Once we got out of that area, he figured we would have, as he said smiling, “Smooth sailing.”

We set our compass on the computer generated directions, skirted the DC traffic at daybreak, and enjoyed the view from the interstate, including Baltimore harbor, the wide Susquehanna, and the Delaware River from the Memorial suspension bridge linking Delaware to New Jersey. As I peered over bridge railings to each body of water below, I imagined us in our boat, cruising along, stretched out in the sun, drinking something cold, and fishing.

We don’t leave Virginia often, so we’re used to a slower pace of navigation than what whizzes past north of us. The New Jersey turnpike turned out to be different from what we’re used to.  Where we come from, you pay tolls when you enter the highway. We sat confused over the ticket we received at the toll booth.  We couldn’t find an attendant to ask what to do with it.

We looked around for cops.

“Take off,” Bruce said, trying to read the fine print on the piece of paper.  “If they pull us over, we’ll plead southern ignorance.”

I peeled out and checked in the rearview mirror every few seconds, listened for a screaming siren behind me, expecting to be hauled off to some jail in New Jersey for going Bonnie and Clyde onto the toll road.

The lady at the booth who collected our $1.90 fee when we exited the turnpike laughed at our story. “Welcome to New Jersey,” she said. “Enjoy your weekend.”

We pulled into Seaside Heights under heavy fog.  It’s a small coastal town with cottages, ice cream parlors, a boardwalk, and sixties era motels with names like Sea Breeze, The Neptune, and Cloud 9 Inn. We smelled the salt in the air and the wind came from the east off the Atlantic.  For late June, the place looked deserted.  I glanced at my watch and realized it was still too early in the morning for vacationers to be up and about.   

Finding the firehouse was easy.  It butted up against the police station, and public works department on Sherman Avenue. A big statue of a Dalmatian guarded the two bay doors and the large American flag was snapping overhead in the wind.

The fire chief would certainly be in his office by 8:45 a.m.  Bruce walked up the steps and rang the doorbell. No one answered.  I shrugged and suggested we try the police department. We walked from the street into a small hallway with a door at the end.  Bruce tried to turn the knob, but the door was locked. There were two windows, one on each wall at eye level.  The girl behind the one on the right sat at her desk doing paperwork.  She looked up.

“Can I help you?”

“We’re looking for the Fire Chief,” Bruce said.

“Oh,” she said. “He’s probably not in.  Check across the hall at the Police Department. They can page him for you.”

 We peered into the thick glass window across the hall. In our town, you walk right into the police department, shake hands with the man on duty and fix yourself a cup of coffee. Here, people milled about on the other side of the glass, not paying attention to us.  I pressed the doorbell next to the window.  Still no one looked up.

“Must not work,” Bruce said.

“Try knocking on the glass,” I suggested.

He knocked on the thick glass, making a heavy dull sound, and still no one looked up.

“Do you think the glass is bullet proof?” I asked, excited at the prospect. I hadn’t seen anything bullet proof in my life.

“You think they’re deaf?” Bruce clipped out his frustration.

About that time, a girl moved into view from a hallway behind the window and Bruce frantically waved his arms to try to capture her attention.  She looked up, surprise on her face and came across the floor to us to ask what we needed over an intercom. Bruce explained about the boat.

“Oh yeah, the boat,” the girl said. “I’ll page Sammy for you.”

We stood for awhile and waited. Bruce kept looking at his watch, then up at the window. Finally, he went outside to smoke a cigarette and I walked to the car for some ibuprofen. The turn of events had upped my stress level.  

I had expected to pull right up to the boat at the fire station, endure Bruce’s usual inspection of the equipment, hook to the trailer and head to the water.  I hadn’t expected to wait.  I was leaning against the car, taking deep cleansing breaths of ocean breeze, when an older gentleman wearing a white helmet whizzed past me on a red moped. He stopped in front of Bruce who was leaning over the rail outside the police office.

“You here about the boat?” The man on the Moped asked.

“Yeah, are you the Chief?” Bruce answered.

The man laughed, “Nope, but if you follow me, I’ll take you to look at the boat.”

He waited for us to get in the car and pull out behind him. At the first stop light, I read “Old Guys Rule” on the back of his t-shirt.  Bruce and I looked at each other, smiled and shrugged.

“If this thing is in awful shape,” Bruce said, “we’re leaving it behind, sale or no sale.  They didn’t list anything about what shape it was in, didn’t return phone calls and didn’t list terms or conditions.  Seems like we have an out if we need one.  I hope the trailer’s not a bucket of rust or the wheels aren’t dry rotted.  It might be so rough we can’t pull it.”

Now I really did feel like Bonnie and Clyde.  Bruce would inspect, give the signal, jump into the car and I’d be the get-away driver.  I hate conflict and confrontation. I’m lost without a GPS, and with my luck, we’d end up right back at the Police station where we’d be arrested for non-payment. No one we know would make the trip to New Jersey to bail us out of the brig.   I prayed for an intact hull, and decent wheels with no rust on the trailer.

We crossed the bridge to Pelican Island and turned right into a neighborhood with neat yards and bay views.  A couple left turns later, I spotted the boat from the auction website photos. Its bright, spring green hull screamed “Far Out”, and suddenly I wanted to don bell bottoms, a peasant shirt and let my long straight hair loose again.  My index and middle fingers raised to form a peace symbol.

The “Old Guy” on the Moped, whose name coincidentally happened to be Guy, introduced himself as the treasurer of the fire department. My husband shook his hand, but didn’t stick around for pleasantries. He left the two of us standing in the street while he inspected the boat, motor and trailer.

Guy was a salesman.  He obviously hadn’t been informed of the done-deal sale because he kept touting the positives to me: “Sound hull, no cracks in the windshield, decent seats,” he said.  “Man offered me three hundred bucks just for the trailer not too long ago. The man who donated it said he’d put a new floor in and all the motor needs is a tune up, maybe a spark plug.”

Bruce is never so easily convinced and doesn’t take anybody’s word for condition. Guy finally got tired of watching Bruce pull aside carpet, poke around the dash, flip levers, and fiddle with the engine. He perched on the seat of his moped and gave me the skinny on the boat.

“Fella who donated it never did bring us the title to it.  I’ve got his name, address, phone number and last registration for the boat and the trailer.  He kept promising to bring the titles by the station, but never did.  What’s the fire department gonna do with a ’72 tri-hull?” He asked.

The tires on the trailer had lost pressure and the boat had been sitting for so long, the tires had sunk into the sand. Bruce kicked the rubber, then bent down and rubbed the sides. “No dry rot,” he said. He picked up the tongue of the trailer and rolled it backward.

Guy was in awe. “That thing’s heavy,” he said. “Hey want to use my compressor to pump the tires?”

“Brought my own pump,” Bruce said, extricating the bicycle hand pump from the car.

“Whew, you got more stamina than me,” Guy said, watching Bruce pump the handle while the tires inched fatter with air.  Both held. Bruce’s look made me think I’d be leaving with a boat. I let out a breath just like the valve stem under the tire gauge.  Things were looking up.

Bruce reached into his front shirt pocket and handed Guy the cashier’s check for seven hundred fifty-two dollars. 

We were on our way now.  I could feel the rock of the boat on the waves.

Guy wrote his phone number on the paperwork and said he’d be at work for awhile, but if we needed anything just to give him a call, he’d help us out anyway he could.  He got in his truck and waved goodbye.

“Look,” I said. “We have a boat.”

“Yep, needs work, but nothing I can’t do myself,” Bruce said.

“Do you think we can go home via Chincoteague?” I asked.

Bruce laughed. “Not hardly,” he said. “We’re not nearly finished here.”

“Oh,” I said, disappointed.

It seemed the trailer had passed Bruce’s initial inspection, but would need its wheel bearings repacked, and its lights re-wired before we could even pull it out of Guy’s driveway. I had a sinking feeling about my weekend float. Friday was waning, we still didn’t have a road worthy boat trailer.  Bruce hadn’t even begun to determine the sea worthiness of the boat.

“Let’s get to work,” Bruce said, lifting the tool box from the car.

I followed him to the tongue of the trailer where bare wires awaited his attention.  “Aye, aye Skipper,” I said.

Going, Going, Gone

July 9, 2011

I’m sound asleep under a light cotton blanket. The air conditioner blows a sweet sixty-five degrees over the bed. Bruce pulls my big toe.

“Come on, there’s less than ten minutes to the end of the auction.  Your boat’s on the line.”

I slide out from under the cover, walk to the kitchen, and lean over Bruce’s shoulder as he stares at the Mac, his finger pressing the refresh button every few seconds.  The boat has been at six-hundred-one dollars for the last three hours.

“What’s your highest bid,” he asks.

“I don’t know. What’s it worth?”

“Good question. The listing says: ‘Boat with motor and trailer, no title’. I’ve had to guess at the condition from the pictures, no mention of the kind of motor it has. I think it’s a Johnson.  If we get it, we’ll probably get there and find the tires on the trailer dry rotted. Who knows whether the motor even runs and exactly what condition the boat’s in.”

“Well should we even be looking at it,” I ask, watching the clock tick down to four minutes and twenty-two seconds.

“Doesn’t cost anything to look,” Bruce says in that helpful way of his.

“Did Ralph ever call you back?” I ask. Ralph was the only non-answering machine voice we found when we called to get information about the boat.  He was in shipping, didn’t even know that they had a boat up for auction. He was going to see if he could ‘investigate’, and get back to us.

“Nope, never heard from Ralph.”

The clock is at a little over two minutes now.  “Do you think it’s worth a thousand?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never owned a boat before.”

“We used to go out on the river in a Jon boat and I remember a canoe,” I say.

“Jon boat belonged to my daddy. Canoe belonged to the neighbor.”

“Oh,” I say.

The clock is now at one minute fifty-four seconds.

“You paying half?” Bruce asks.

“Sure,” I say.

“You got five hundred?”

“Yep, a little over.”

The clock has ticked down to twenty-seven seconds and the price of the boat is now at seven-hundred- twenty-two dollars.

“You up for a trip to New Jersey next week?”

“I’ve got three personal days and two weeks vacation left.”

Ten seconds.

Bruce types in $1000.00 and presses the ‘I agree to terms and conditions’ button.  We are high bidder with three seconds left.  Bruce pushes the refresh button. The screen goes blank.

“Did we win?”

“I don’t know, never had that happen before.” 

He refreshes the screen again and grins.

“I think I’ll  call Ralph,” he says, laughing. “Wonder if  our winning bid of seven-hundred-fifty-two dollars includes shipping?”