Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Mine, All Mine

February 14, 2015

An Oldie, but still true. xxxooo

Train's Whistle

We share a coffee cup. We never used to. At one time I drank my morning caffeine from the ceramic mug Bruce bought especially for me. I still have it. It’s white and decorated with pastel colored conversation hearts, those little valentine shaped candies that began speaking in text before texting came about,  “Luv U”, “4 ever”, “T-4-2”, “B Mine.”  He gave me that mug, not on Valentine’s Day, but for no reason at all. It sits far back in the dish cabinet now next to its mate.

His mug, the mate to mine, is also white, but with a larger handle to fit the width of Bruce’s hand when he holds it. The mug sports a blue oval with the Ford Motor Company logo across its middle. Bruce’s first truck, his first love, was a Ford.  The mug came from a box and contents he bought at a local auction sale…

View original post 524 more words


May 28, 2013

I have worked with institutionalized elders for over thirty years. I’ve seen first hand what a difference music makes in the lives of these people. Residents who never speak, sing. Residents who cannot remember their names or the faces of family members, can sing the words to favorite songs, from beginning to end.

My epiphany came on Mother’s Day. What do you give a woman who has everything and wants nothing? The answer came in an ipod shuffle with hundreds of her favorite songs, by her favorite artists. The look on her face when I turned on the ipod was priceless. Hands down, best gift ever!

Then, I envisioned every elder at my facility with an ipod. I imagined the looks on their faces. I imagined them humming, singing, and tapping their toes.

My imagination carries me to the elder I’ve seen often, the one suffering with advanced dementia, the one without family, without a history known to staff. She sits in a wheelchair at the nurses station, head bowed. She suffers from loneliness, helplessness, and boredom. She is fed, changed and kept physically warm.

I imagine myself placing earbuds on this woman, turning on an ipod with music from her younger years. She sings.

A visitor walking down the hall hears this resident’s voice and turns. He walks back to where the lyrics of Morning Has Broken lilt in a sweet soprano.

“Oh my gosh. It’s Mrs. Taylor.” the visitor says.

“Yes it is.”

“She was my music teacher in seventh grade. I haven’t heard that song since she taught it to us.”

I wait until Mrs. Taylor stops singing. I take the ear buds from her ears. Her eyes open, and I introduce her to her former student. He drops to a knee beside her and takes her hand in his. Mrs. Taylor smiles.

Maya Angelou said, “Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.”

I imagine that Maya Angelou is right.

How you can help:

Her Still, Perfect Form (part 1)

February 24, 2013


They liked to sleep in. Emma’s breathing was not the best, and it took her a while to gather energy. Jack just liked to laze in bed. Emma was usually the first one up, walking barefoot in her long flannel nightgown to the sink to wash her face and brush her teeth. She looked in the mirror, patted her hair into place and pinched her cheeks for color. Then, padding over to Jack’s bed, she leaned down and kissed him awake.

Opening his eyes, he reached up, touched her face and said, “there’s my morning sun.”

“Oh stop that foolishness Jack and get yourself up. Breakfast is coming,” she said.

They ate all three meals together in their room at the nursing home. The dining room was just too crowded and they would have to share a table with other people. Somehow, in their sixty-two years of marriage, they stayed selfish enough to be an exclusive pair. They didn’t plan to be childless, but when no babies came, it was alright.

Emma knew how to arrange a dining experience; she had lots of practice. Forty-three years before, she and Jack met at the cafeteria in town. She set tables.

“I knew she was the one for me the minute I looked at that sweet face,” Jack told everyone who met them. “Just look at her. Could you have resisted?”

“Don’t you believe his stories,” Emma said, smiling. “He didn’t really know until the second date.” Then, they both laughed.

Emma pushed their over-the-bed hospital tables together in the center of the room, covered them with a white linen cloth, and placed the vase with a silk rose in the middle. Jack had given her the flower for her birthday. When the stainless steel cart brought their meal trays down the hall, Emma assumed the role of waitress, placing the plates, glasses and utensils in perfect order on the couple’s make-shift dining table. She unfolded the napkin and tucked it under Jack’s chin. His button-up shirts never had a stain.

Jack didn’t have nice shirts until retirement. He was a hard worker, did manual labor, got his hands and clothes dirty. He and Emma lived in West Virginia. He dug coal from the age of ten. Emma had the education. She could read, Jack couldn’t.

The couple enjoyed a small mountain cabin with a garden spot out back. Electricity and running water came later on. Family was close by, and their church was just down the road. They lived in the same small town, in the same house, until Jack retired. That year, their minister died. His widow gave Jack all of the pastor’s clothes because the two men were the same size. Emma liked seeing Jack dressed up, so did Jack. Wearing those clothes made him feel a little closer to God. When he and Emma moved into the nursing home, Emma only packed Jack’s “preacher clothes.”

In the afternoon, when Emma napped, Jack drew. He used colored pencils, and though his artwork was not learned by formal training, he showed natural talent. “My Mama used to ‘oo’ and ‘ah’ over my pictures when I was a boy,” Jack said. “She would take me outside with my paper and pencils and point to trees, flowers, mountain ranges, creeks and animals for me to draw, then she’d tack the pictures up on the wall at home. She’d show them off to anyone who visited. Weren’t for her, it never would have amounted to much. Heck, didn’t really amount to much anyway, but people from as far away as town came up to the house for me to draw them. I even made a little money sometimes.”

Several of Jack’s pictures were framed and hung on the wall in his and Emma’s room. The one of Popeye was his favorite. “I always loved ‘ol Popeye. He’d pick up that can of spinach and get so strong, nothing could beat him or take his girl away,” Jack said.

Some of Jack’s projects took days, some only hours. He drew cars, trains, mountains, birds and houses. Sometimes he sketched staff members’ faces to give away as a thank you for being kind. A nursing assistant asked him once, “Where are your drawings of Emma, Jack?”

“I never drew Emma,” Jack said. “Oh I tried. Just couldn’t do her justice. Look at her. Only God could draw something so beautiful, so I drew love birds instead. That one’s her and this one’s me,” he said pointing to the pair of framed birds on the wall.

When people came to visit, Jack looked over to Emma for all the answers. His hearing was not so good anymore, and of the two, he considered her the smartest. He always had. She smiled graciously, and carried the conversation, while he smiled and nodded. Emma’s steadfastness reassured Jack.

One Saturday afternoon Jack came out of the room looking for Emma. He wandered the long hallways, knocking on doors, peering inside to see if she was there. That night, his usual sound sleep was interrupted. He got himself up in the wheelchair to check her bed. She was gone. He wondered where she was, what had happened to her. It wasn’t like her to be out after dark, gone in the middle of the night. He wheeled to the door of the room and asked a nursing assistant passing by if she had seen his wife.

Part 2 here:

The Ferris Wheel (Memoir)

January 4, 2013

Friday Fictioneers’ ( is hosted every week by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. It’s a pretty awesome idea that goes like this: A weekly photograph is posted and the writer is challenged to create a 100-word story or poem inspired by the photo. Post your work on your blog and link it to the Friday Fictioneers’ post where comments and feedback are shared. Give it a shot! This week’s photograph is by Lora Mitchell.

ferris wheel

Here’s my attempt this week:

The Ferris Wheel (Memoir)

I sat wedged between Mama and Ray. My feet dangled.

We’d come to Virginia Beach, like a family. It was nighttime, and the carnival lights had pulled me in. “Can we ride?”

Three tickets later, we soared in a salty wind. City lights were our magic carpet.

The carriage stopped at the very top. Ray leaned forward, tipping us, rocking us.

I inhaled, looking up to him, eyes wide.

Ray’s hand tightened on my shoulder. “Don’t be scared; I’ve got you.”

Off to our right, there was a whistle, then a loud boom, and a million sparkles lit up the night.

Autumn in Virginia

November 12, 2012










Truth Hurts: A Pumpkin Patch Horror Story

October 16, 2011

One day, a farmer climbed aboard his tractor and tilled the soil.  He walked the garden, picking up rocks and throwing dried bits of last year’s crop over the fence.  When he turned from the barbed wire, he noticed an odd sight.  What had been forgotten, something left behind and ignored, suddenly interested the farmer.  He bent down and dropped to one knee next to a pumpkin.

“Oh my gosh,” the farmer exclaimed, “where did you come from?”

He reached out and touched Jack’s skin, then picked him up and looked where the pumpkin had lain in the straw.  The farmer tested the stem and followed Jack’s vine to the roots near the edge of the garage.

 The farmer scratched his head and said, “Well I’ll be dogged, you lived through the winter.  You’re one strong pumpkin.”
The man hurried away and in a few minutes he came back with his wife puffing behind and trying to keep up.

“Can you believe this?” the farmer asked.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said, bending over the pumpkin. “We’ve had a few volunteer tomato vines and flowers come up, but those grew from last year’s seeds.  I’ve never seen a pumpkin plant live through the winter.”

She patted Jack and said, “You are one special pumpkin, aren’t you Jack?”  That’s when Jack got his name.

Other pumpkins grew in the patch, but Jack was different. Now he was the oldest, biggest, and wisest of the pumpkins.  He’d earned the distinction; he was a tough, hardened, second-year inhabitant of the patch.  And, he was the farmer’s darling.   When the farmer walked through the garden with other people, he stopped at Jack, pointed to him, or patted him, and said, “See Jack here?  He’s special.  I’ve never had a pumpkin like him. He’s destined for greatness.”  Even when the farmer was alone, he’d make his way over to Jack, rub him, check him for pests, and say, “How are you today, buddy?”  Jack shined a little brighter orange as he basked in the attention. However, life for Jack had not been without struggle.

The previous year, Jack had been a late bloomer.  When everyone else was harvested, Jack was only the size of a baseball, round, and green.  Somehow, his seed sprouted and his vine grew right along the garage wall, under the overhang, and out to the southern end of the garden.  Jack was a baby when the rest of the pumpkins were cut from their vines, loaded into wheelbarrows, and set in the wagon behind the garden tractor.

Jack had felt sad and unloved, left behind and alone.   When the soil was turned, the plow came within six inches of ripping his roots from the ground.  Jack watched and waited, holding his breath, shaking and feeling his insides tangle, until the farmer parked the tractor in the garage for the season.

Jack was relieved that he’d been spared.  At the time, it was lonely in the patch with no one to talk to, but a solitary life certainly beat death.  This he believed, until the weather changed and temperatures dropped.  He had felt frost on his skin once in a while, but not every night.  When the cold really set in, Jack sometimes wished he’d been turned over with the dirt and left to rot.  At least he would have a blanket of soil over his cold, decomposing body.  Jack’s vine lost most of its color and became brittle.  The smallest leaves froze and dropped to the ground.  The edges of the bigger leaves curled and dried. The pace of the garden slowed and its breath became shallow.

Living in the south saved him from a deep freeze, but Jack was hungry most of the time.  He felt life slipping a little more each day.  The sun that warmed him came up late and set early.  Nights were the worst, especially clear nights, when the stars were like sharp bits of ice that penetrated Jack to his core.

The farmer spent a good deal of time in and around the garage.  That’s what saved Jack. The garage was heated by a wood stove. Jack watched the man take the chainsaw into the forest beyond the garden.  He heard the whine and the crack of timber splintering. The man returned, carrying wood and stacked it near Jack’s vine.  Each day, the farmer came out to the stack, gathered an armload and walked back into the building.  After that, Jack heard the crack and pop of fire and felt a slight change in temperature, warming the soil around him.  He came to love the sound of the saw, the smell of sap from pine shavings, and the sight of the farmer gathering wood. All of this meant heat.

Jack’s growth slowed through Thanksgiving and stopped by Christmas.  When he didn’t think he could stand the cold one more minute, the days began getting a little longer and warmer. A subtle change came over the garden. It breathed a little deeper and sighed under the sun.

Activity picked up. The farmer turned rows for peas and potatoes, planted hills with squash seeds, ran wire for the beans and cucumbers, and planted more seeds around Jack in the pumpkin patch.  They sprouted and bloomed.  Bees buzzed and pollinated the flowers.  Small pumpkins began growing into baseball-size spheres, just like Jack had grown the year before.  Jack welcomed each one as it came to life.  He was already orange by this time, and about the size of a honeydew melon.

The smaller pumpkins looked up to Jack, respected his wisdom, and asked him questions about the garden and the farmer. They asked about birds and bugs, and about their purpose in the patch.

“You are pumpkins,” Jack told his patch mates with a deep voice of authority.  “You will grow to be orange, round and big—not as big as me—but big.  The farmer will nurture and water you, keep the bugs from biting you, and dust powdery mildew off your vine. He will bring his family, children, and grandchildren to admire you.”
Jack was a storyteller. The farmer’s family had talked as they worked the garden and harvested vegetables the year before. Jack listened and now he had tales to tell.  He sharpened his skill in the winter when he shivered under the dark, night sky.  His imagination became a comfort from the chill.  His storytelling grew bolder as he grew bigger and rounder.  Jack was quiet during the day, basking in the sun, keeping his thoughts to himself, but at night, he entertained the others.  The pumpkins’ excitement grew as they learned of their importance.

Depending on his mood, Jack could make the pumpkins feel happy with some stories, and sad with others. He even told a few scary stories. Most of these came from times in his past when he was afraid, cold, and alone. He liked to tell happy stories, the tales that brought him through the hardest situations in his life. What the other pumpkins did not know, there was time enough for scary stories. The pumpkins best days would draw to a close sooner than they knew.

“Hey Jack,” called Autumn Gold one night.  She was a beautiful pumpkin, more golden than orange, and she only had eyes for Jack.“Tell us a good story,” she asked in a sultry voice.

“Well, it’s almost Independence Day,” Jack said.  “The Fourth of July is a holiday for people.  They have picnics, they stay home from work, they attend carnivals, and at night, after dark, they watch fireworks.”

Jack explained what it would look like.  He told the others that the family would come to the garden and choose one pumpkin to take with them to the festivities.  The chosen one got to decorate the picnic table during the feast, ride the Ferris wheel at the carnival, and sit on the blanket under the stars watching the fireworks explode and sparkle in the night sky. Autumn Gold seemed to sparkle herself after listening to Jack’s story.

“Do you think they’ll choose me?” she asked him.

“You never know,” Jack answered.

On the Fourth of July, the farmer and his wife came to the garden and selected several ears of corn from the stalks, a basket of tomatoes, four onions, a handful of lettuce leaves, and a colander full of beets.  Pumpkins were not chosen.

“They didn’t choose any of us, Jack, not one,” Autumn Gold complained. “They even harvested those ugly beets and smelly onions.  How could you be so dishonest? I thought we meant more to each other than that,”  and she didn’t speak to Jack until the next month.

Jack wondered if he should just stop telling stories.

“Tell us a good one, Jack,” Baby Boo said one night.  Baby Boo was small and the only white pumpkin in the patch.  He was often teased by the other pumpkins because he was different.  Baby Boo was the only pumpkin his vine produced.  Jack felt for the little guy and tried to make him happy.

“The farmer and his family go on vacation to the beach each year,” Jack said.  “They come to the patch and choose a pumpkin to take with them on the trip.  That pumpkin gets to ride in the car, swim in the ocean, build sand castles, and lie in the sun on a beach towel watching the ocean waves ebb and flow on the sand.”

“Aah,” said the collection of pumpkins together, imagining all those things.

“Do you think they’ll pick me?” asked Baby Boo.

“You never know,” said Jack.

Vacation time arrived.  The farmer and his family came out to the garden to harvest some vegetables for their journey.  They chose squash, cucumbers, green beans, and tomatoes. They didn’t choose a pumpkin.  The family talked at length about their beach plans.  They asked a neighbor to water the garden and help themselves to anything ripe.  The farmer, his wife, and children, all walked out of the gate and were gone for a week.

“You said they’d take one of us,” said Baby Boo in disappointment.  “You lied Jack. How could you be so mean?”

Jack didn’t want to lie, but he liked happy stories best, ones with fun and warmth.  He didn’t like to think about the future.  He kept those stories to himself.

One night, the farmer came out and walked through the pumpkin patch. The garden breathed quickly and it captured Jack’s attention. Something was up. The farmer lifted some of the larger pumpkins a few inches off the ground, Jack being one of them.

“Jack, I love your size, but you’re a bit lopsided,” the farmer said,  “must have been that long winter lying on your side, like you did.  Too bad.  I think you’d win the ribbon.”

The farmer went back in the house after weighing and measuring several of the biggest pumpkins.

“Hey Jack,” called Big Max. Big Max was the biggest specimen in the garden, other than Jack.  The farmer had spent a long time with Big Max, lifting him onto a scale and winding a measuring tape around his girth, careful not to damage his vine.

“What’s going on with the farmer?  What’s all the fuss about?”

“Well,” Jack said, “every September there’s the County Fair down the road.  The farmer comes out to the garden and chooses one pumpkin to take to the fair.  That pumpkin is washed and polished and put on a wooden display rack in the vegetable tent for the people to come and see.  Other farmers bring their pumpkins, and the biggest, best looking pumpkin, gets a blue ribbon and their picture in the newspaper.”

“Yeah, sure it does, Jack,” Big Max groaned.  “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

All the other pumpkins agreed with Big Max. They turned their backs on Jack and stopped talking to him.  This made Jack mad.  He’d spent his whole summer sharing his wisdom, helping his patch mates understand how things work.  And he kept a secret. Jack saved them the heartbreak of finding out their future.  He sacrificed his own integrity to make them happy, and this was the thanks he got.  Well, he wouldn’t take their feelings into account again.  Jack’s heart turned to pulp.

A few weeks later, the farmer walked into the garden with several bushel baskets. The pulse of the garden seemed to change, its breath grew rapid. The farmer carefully went over every vine in the garden, selecting the very best ears of corn, heads of cabbage, beets, onions, green beans, butter beans, cucumbers, yellow squash, zucchini, and cantaloupe.  He loaded the baskets and put them on the back of the wagon.

“See,” Big Max said. “I told you, not one pumpkin.”

“Yeah,” said Autumn Gold and Baby Boo at the same time.

“You’re nothing but a liar, Jack,” said Funny Face, a bright orange pumpkin with a perfect shape.

Jack sighed.  “Just wait,” he said, “you’ll see.  I know more than you think I do.”

In about an hour, the farmer and his oldest son came out to the garden and carefully sliced Big Max’s vine from his stem.  Together, they hefted him up and carried him out of the garden.  He was placed in the wagon with the other vegetables.

Jack didn’t say, “I told you so.”  He didn’t offer an explanation.  He let the others stew in their own juices. Jack stayed quiet. He stayed quiet for over a week.

Big Max returned with a blue ribbon tied around his stem.  The farmer and his son brought Big Max back to the pumpkin patch and took his picture with a camera.

“Hey, Jack,” the blue ribbon winner apologized,  “I’m sorry I doubted you.  I’ve been to the Fair and it happened just like you said. You were right. It was a beautiful week.”

“Congratulations, Big Max,” said Jack, “the ribbon looks good on you.”

“Thanks,” said Big Max. The farmer and his son hoisted Big Max again and said they were going to display him in the front yard for everyone to see.

“We’ll sell lots of pumpkins when people see we’ve won this ribbon,” the farmer said.

“Bye, Big Max,” Jack said.  “Hope we get to see you again sometime.”

It was late September, and the days were getting shorter.  Most of the pumpkins had grown into good sized orange rounds.  Jack was still the largest, and so large that some men who came to the patch attempted to lift him, but couldn’t.

The other pumpkins tried to get Jack to tell more stories, yet his heart wasn’t in it.  He gave excuses and encouraged others to take up the hobby of storytelling.  Trick or Treat, one of the tall pumpkins on the other side of the patch, tried, but couldn’t quite get the knack.  He told boring tales of arguments between the hybrid and heirloom pumpkins, or an incident where the farmer’s wife tripped with the clothes basket, fell in a heap, and stomped back into the house to re-wash the clothes after she wallowed around on them.  The stories would have been funny, except everyone had already witnessed them first hand.

“Please tell us another story, Jack,” Baby Boo begged one night.

Jack didn’t have any happy stories left.  He didn’t want to tell another story and he certainly didn’t want to tell the scary stories he knew.

“I don’t think so,” said Jack.

“We’re sorry we ignored you, Jack,” said Autumn Gold.

“It’s not that—” Jack trailed off.

“What is it then?” asked Funny Face.

“I only have scary stories left,” said Jack, “and you don’t want to hear those.”

“Yes we do, Jack.  We want to hear scary stories.  It’s been so long since you’ve told us a story.  Please Jack, please tell us a scary story—please,” pleaded Baby Boo.

“OK,” said Jack and he thought he heard a sharp breath from the garden. He ignored it.

“It’s almost Halloween,” he began, “and Halloween is the scariest time of year.  People lose all control during this holiday.  October begins soon, when the weather gets colder. After the first frost and during the harvest moon, the farmer will come with his sharp knife and cut your vine.”

“Cut our vines?” The others asked.

“Yes,” answered Jack, “one day, he will walk the patch with a long, sharp knife, hunting pumpkins for harvest.  He will come up from behind, and when you least expect it, he’ll sever you from your vine, leaving just a stump at your top, like he did with Big Max.  He will pick you up, load you onto the wagon, and prepare you for the night of terror.”

“Terror?  What do you mean terror?” Baby Boo asked.  “Big Max got to go to the Fair.  He got a blue ribbon.  He gets to be on display in the front yard.”

“Besides,” said Autumn Gold, “the farmer wouldn’t harm us. We’re special.”

“I told you, people lose control at Halloween.  I’ve been around a long time.  I’ve seen things, you know,” said Jack.

“We don’t believe you, Jack,” said Happy Face.  “You’ve told us lies before.”

Jack could hear the uncertainty in their voices.  They weren’t sure. Jack didn’t want to say anymore. As he watched their fear grow, he felt bad. He shouldn’t have gone this far. He shouldn’t have let Baby Boo sway his resolve. Jack grew very quiet.  The garden rustled with anxious leaves.  Jack wished he could turn back time.  He knew their curiosity would get the better of them.  He knew they wanted to know their future, no matter how horrible it sounded. They wanted to know the outcome.

“Where will he take us once he cuts us from the vine, Jack?” asked Baby Boo, with a shiver in his whisper.

Jack decided then that if he was in their place, he’d want to know the truth, too. He knew the horror and it wasn’t fair to hide it from them.  Jack had heard the farmer and his wife talk about it.

“He takes you to—the Farm Stand.”

“What’s the Farm Stand?” Autumn Gold gasped.

“It’s a place in front of the farmer’s house.  He will put you on display and sell you to people for Halloween.”

“Sell us to people—for Halloween?  Why?” Funny Face asked.

“It’s a holiday for people,” Jack said, his voice deepening with emotion. Then he paused, gathering his courage, “but not for pumpkins.”

“What do you mean?” asked the other pumpkins, the pitch of their voices rising.

Jack started, “Halloween is hideous.  Horrible things happen to pumpkins on Halloween.  Most do not survive.”  Then he stopped, afraid to continue.

These pumpkins were his friends, but they’d never understand.  They’d blame him for their fate. Jack felt the change in the seasons. Summer was gone.  He remembered it from the previous year.  The nights were colder now.

“Well don’t stop there,” Autumn Gold whispered.  “What horrible things?  We have a right to know.”

Last year, the farmer’s family members came to the garden for first choice of pumpkins, before the farmer harvested them to sell. The patch listened to the farmer’s tales in disbelief. The accounts were terrifying and left them all shaking in fear. Jack remembered, feeling the hairs rise on his vine.  He never knew for sure whether the stories were true, but the other pumpkins of the patch screamed in horror as they were taken. Jack had never known the farmer to lie, either.

“Come on Jack, you have to tell us. What will the people do with us on Halloween?  What will happen?” asked Baby Boo.

Jack took a deep breath and let it out slowly.  He felt the tendrils around his seeds curl and he thought he might be sick.

“Well,” he hesitated, feeling flushed even as the night grew cooler.

“Go on, go on,” Funny Face encouraged him.

“Well,” Jack began again, “some of you will be carved with knives.  People gut you, slice chunks out of you to make a scary face, then put a burning candle inside your hollowed out carcass.  You sit at the front of the house on Halloween night to scare children.”

There was a pause in the garden.

“Oh, how awful.  To be tortured and then made to scare children.  Who thought of this Halloween anyway?” The pumpkins began to speak together.

“People,” Jack said.

He didn’t tell the other pumpkins that he was special.  He didn’t tell them he’d be spared.  

“You said they’d do other things, Jack.  What other things?”

“Some of you will be peeled, your flesh cut into pieces, cooked, mashed and baked in an oven.  People will eat you.”

Some of the pumpkins began to cry.  Murmurs and moans erupted in the patch.  Jack even thought a few lost some of their color.  Jack took another breath, so he could finish.

“Teenagers sometimes steal pumpkins from front porches on Halloween night and smash them to bits in the street—where cars run over what’s left.  And, for those who have been spared torture, once the season is over, pumpkins are rolled down the hill behind the house and left to rot under briers while mice and other scavengers gnaw at your flesh and nibble your seeds.”

“You can’t be serious, Jack,” said Autumn Gold.

Jack felt smaller than Baby Boo.  If only they hadn’t persisted.  If only he hadn’t known the truth.  He wished at that moment that he was as naïve as the rest of them.  For the first time in his life, he wished to be alone.  What had he done to his friends?

Jack watched Baby Boo. The small pumpkin looked even tinier than usual, sitting there, all alone on his own vine, with no one to comfort him.  Jack wanted to take it all back, to tell them it was all a lie.

He whispered, “It’s the truth.”

“Don’t believe him,” said a voice from the other side of the patch.  “You’ve believed him before, and he’s lied to you.”  It was Trick or Treat, one of the tall pumpkins.

“That’s right,” said Autumn Gold.  “He’s lied before.”

“It can’t be true,” came Baby Boo’s small voice.

“He’s just trying to scare us into thinking he knows more than we do,” said Funny Face.

All the pumpkins began talking at once, trying to convince themselves and each other that Jack was wrong.  Trick or Treat had planted the seed.

“What I think,” said Trick or Treat, “is that Halloween is the grand holiday just for pumpkins and Jack wants to scare us, keep us away from the festivities. Look around you.  All the other vegetables have been harvested.  We are the only ones left.  There must be a reason.  I bet the farmer’s saving us for the biggest party of the year.  Independence Day, Vacation, and the County Fair were just small change compared to our party.  I think the Farm Stand is a happy place. Why, I bet the farmer and his family harvest us, dress us in fine clothes, decorate their house in shades of orange, dance with us and treat us like kings and queens.  We’ve spent a long hot summer in this dirt for a reason, and it’s not to be carved up, eaten, smashed, or gnawed.”

“Yeah,” said Funny Face.  “He’s right—Trick or Treat is right.  Don’t believe what Jack says.  He thinks he’s the farmer’s favorite.  He just wants to leave us out of the fun.  He wants us to be afraid so we won’t go to the party.  He believes he’s the king, but he’s not.”

Jack didn’t defend his honor.  He didn’t want to take away their dreams.  He longed for a fancy party, where his compatriots dressed in fine clothes.  He wanted all of them to be crowned in a grand coronation, like in the stories of the farmer’s granddaughter.  He knew better though, and sat quietly as his friends shunned him.  Jack fell asleep, a dejected and lopsided pumpkin.

That very night, the sky was clear and the weather turned dreadfully cold.  At first light, a sheen of frost coated each pumpkin.  They all shivered under its sparkle.  The pumpkins whispered among themselves.

A sudden breath from the garden awakened Jack. The farmer and his wife opened the gate and the hinges screeched. The couple held sharp knives. They began harvesting the pumpkins, one after another.  The couple moved each one carefully in the wheelbarrow and then lifted it onto the wagon behind the tractor.  Some of the pumpkins talked about the party they might attend, while others were quiet.  A few cried and screamed. The farmer and his wife talked in low voices and pointed here and there. When the harvest was complete, the only pumpkins left on their vines were Jack, Autumn Gold, Baby Boo, Happy Face, and Trick or Treat.

“Why do you think he left us here?” Autumn Gold asked Trick or Treat.  She had stopped talking to Jack.

“Because we’re the best of the bunch,” answered Trick or Treat.

“Do you really think so?” asked Baby Boo.

“I know so, Boo,” said Trick or Treat.

“What happened to the others?” Happy Face asked.

“They’re helping to decorate the party,” said Trick or Treat.  “Planning and creating the biggest party of the year takes some time.”

Three long weeks passed while the remaining pumpkins wondered about their fate. Why were they still in the patch? And who was telling the truth? The farmer still came out to the garden and checked on them like he always had. Autumn Gold, Baby Boo, Happy Face, and Trick or Treat formed a tight bond, talking well into the night, supporting one another, and uplifting each other’s spirits.  If the farmer was still protecting them from harm, maybe it was to keep them.  The group ignored Jack, who waited on their fate in silence. Halloween was yet to come.

One crisp morning, the farmer and his wife came out to the garden.

“This one here’s for carving,” the farmer said, pointing to Happy Face.

“That little white one can sit next to him on the porch tonight,” the farmer said, motioning to Baby Boo.  The farmer took out his sharp knife and came toward the two pumpkins.

“No, no, please don’t!” screamed Happy Face.

“No, not me, not me,” cried Baby Boo, “I’m too little.”

Jack, Autumn Gold, and Trick or Treat watched in horror as the farmer and his wife cut the two pumpkins off their vine and carried them into the house. The three pumpkins remaining in the patch listened as Happy Face begged, pleaded, and wailed until, some minutes later, he fell silent.

They could still hear Baby Boo sobbing, repeating in his tiny voice, “No, no, no. Why did you do it, why? He was my friend. Why were you so mean?”

Jack cried right along with Baby Boo.  He no longer wanted to be the farmer’s darling.  He wanted his friends back.  He wanted summer again.  Even the stark cold of winter was better than this.

The screen door squeaked as the farmer’s wife came out of the house with a knife in one hand and a large metal bowl in the other. She walked slowly toward the pumpkin patch.  Her hair hung loose from the scarf on her head and gray strands covered her face.  She blew them away from her narrowed eyes. Her face was smeared with pumpkin juice. Her hands and dress were stained with pulp, seeds, and what could only be the entrails of Happy Face. She set down the bowl and unchained the gate. The garden held its breath.

Jack and the others tried to glance into the bowl. They couldn’t see over the rim.  The farmer’s wife picked up the bowl and stepped into the garden. She walked over to the compost pile and emptied parts and pieces of Happy Face into the rotting leaves, and egg shells, and peelings.  All that was left of their friend were some seeds, a few jagged chunks of flesh and stringy innards. They felt their own insides turn and tangle. Their vines constricted and they felt dizzy.  All three shivered, waiting as the woman slowly turned toward them.  She walked to Autumn Gold and bent over.

Autumn Gold screamed in terror.  She wailed and yelled, and never stopped screaming until she, too, was silenced once inside the house. An hour later, Jack and Trick or Treat smelled cooked pumpkin flesh as it simmered on the stove then baked in the oven.

Neither of the two pumpkins said anything.  There were no more stories to tell.  They each awaited their fate.

Late that night, Jack heard the rumble of a car on the street.  The moon was high and the hour was close to midnight. The car stopped in front of the farmer’s house. Then Jack heard young voices—teenagers.

“There’s two pumpkins on the porch right there,” a voice said.

“Yeah, I’ll keep watch, you go grab ‘em,” another said.

“Not me, Earl. You go do it,” the first one said.

“Ya’ll ain’t got no guts,” another voice said. “Give ol’ Earl a job, and it gets done,” it said.

Jack listened to someone grunt and pick up what was left of Happy Face and all of Baby Boo.

Baby Boo was crying and hollering again, “No, no, no, please don’t do it.  Don’t throw me. Noooo!”
Baby Boo’s voice arced through the air and then Jack heard two distinct smacks as pumpkins hit pavement.  The voices laughed. Car doors slammed and a vehicle roared off.  Jack heard the thump of pumpkin rind hit the curb and land with a crunch in the ditch. He imagined the tires mashing parts and scattering bits of his friends.

The rest of Jack’s night stretched long and dark.

The farmer wasn’t finished. The next morning he and his wife came to the garden.  They sliced through Trick or Treat’s vine and lifted him into the wheelbarrow. Then they came over to Jack.

“Gosh,” the farmer said, “I hate to harvest him.  He’s lasted two seasons and he’s still going strong.  No way he’ll last through winter this year.  He’s too big and his vine’s too brittle.  We’ll collect his seeds, though.  You’re one hearty pumpkin, Jack old boy. I wish you could have won that blue ribbon. You deserve it for all you’ve been through.”

With that, the farmer took out his knife and sliced through Jack’s vine, leaving a stem bleeding a trickle of sap.

The farmer and his wife hefted Jack into the wheelbarrow and the two of them wrestled him into the house and onto the kitchen table. The farmer’s wife brought Trick or Treat in a few minutes later and laid him beside Jack.

Trick or Treat was quiet, but Jack could sense his fear as they sat on the table.

Jack wasn’t frightened anymore. He knew his fate and rested.  His friends had suffered and it wasn’t fair to their memory for Jack to worry over his own life.

Jack looked around.  He’d always wondered what the inside of the house was like. The temperature was warm, like summer, but Jack felt a chill. He recognized some of the odors that wafted out to the garden. The smells were stronger here—no vegetables that he could discern, but definitely cantaloupe and egg, and maybe a trace of pig. Mid-day and night time smells were different, each with their own aroma.  Jack recognized a hint of Autumn Gold lingering in the air.

“Did you see how good the pie turned out?”  The woman asked the farmer, holding up a dark, orange disk. She brought it over and placed it close to Jack.

“Yep, looks good,” the farmer said, “believe I’ll try me a slice after I get the seeds out of these two.”

“I know why you want Jack’s seeds,” said the wife, “but why the other one?”

“That’s full of seed passed down from my Granddaddy’s pumpkin.  I’m choosing this tall one to carry on the family tradition.”
The farmer had the knife in his hand, running it over a gray stone. Every so often, he would stop and run his thumb over the blade. Then he’d go back to scratching the knife against the stone.  Jack watched, fascinated by the sound and movement, wondering how the blade would feel, slicing into his rind.

Trick or Treat finally spoke up.  “Jack?”

“Yeah?” Jack said.

“I’m really sorry I doubted you—and turned the others against you.”

“It’s OK,” Jack said. “I’m glad you gave them some hope.  It’s more than I did.  I’ll never forgive myself for that.”

“Hey, you were just trying to be truthful. I was the one who lied to them,” said Trick or Treat.

“If I had it to do over again, I’d have lied, too. Besides, you didn’t know any better,” said Jack.

“Yes I did,” Trick or Treat said. “I knew you were telling the truth, but I wanted to tell stories just like you.  I want you to know, it has been a real privilege knowing you, Jack.”

“You too, Trick or Treat.  Maybe our vines will meet up in the garden next season and get to know each other. That would be nice.”

“Yeah, it would,” Trick or Treat said.

The farmer laid down the knife and reached into a bowl.

“These toasted pumpkin seeds are right good,” he said, tossing back a handful.

Suddenly, the farmer sputtered, turned red in the face, and clenched his neck. His arm swept across the table in front of Jack, knocking the bowl of seeds and the pie onto the floor with a clatter.  He stamped his feet and looked toward his wife. The farmer was turning purple and his eyes rolled back in his head.

The woman came running across the room, but when she reached the farmer, she slipped on the pie and seeds.  Her feet shot out from under her and with her mouth opened wide, she let out a screech.  Her hands grasped, but found nothing to hold.  Her head came down hard on the corner of the table, and she crumpled to the floor.

The farmer began to topple backwards into the glass cabinet against the wall.  He crashed, breaking the glass, splintering the shelves, and landed on the floor with dishes and cabinetry piling on top.
Jack and Trick or Treat sat on the table surveying the mayhem. They waited for the farmer and his wife to get up.  They did not.  The two pumpkins waited, and waited, and waited. Still, the couple never recovered. Their son walked into the house later that night and found the two people deceased.  Police and rescue people arrived, loaded the farmer and his wife onto gurneys, then drove them away in wagons with sirens. A man in uniform said the farmer and his wife were dead.  Jack and his friend continued to sit on the table, waiting.

“Hey Jack, what do you make of this?” asked Trick or Treat.

“I guess Halloween is over,” said Jack.

“What holiday do we celebrate next?”

“Thanksgiving, Trick or Treat. Let me tell you about Thanksgiving—” Jack began.

Outside, the garden sighed and began a winter’s sleep.

Caveat Emptor

August 3, 2011

So much for my long romantic weekend of boating. I found out on the way back home, you cannot put a boat in Virginia waters without a valid title.

“I thought not having a title didn’t matter,” I accused, staring at the side of my husband’s face in the dark car.  He’d spent the day rewiring the boat trailer, repacking the wheel bearings, adjusting the motor mount on the Evinrude and swatting the biting flies and blood sucking mosquitoes of Seaside Heights, New Jersey.  It was now twenty-three hours into the trip and I was testy.

Bruce shrugged. “I didn’t think it would be a problem. I still don’t.  How hard can it be to get a boat title?”

“Well according to that man at the rest stop back there, he’s glad he’s not in your shoes. He mentioned something about to Hell and back.”

We arrived home exactly twenty-four hours and twenty minutes after we left. I was so tired I didn’t care about being mad anymore. I could be mad tomorrow.  I fell into bed and slept twelve hours straight.

When I woke, Bruce was gone.

I dragged myself into the kitchen and poured cold coffee into my mug. I looked out the window into the backyard. There was my husband. He had pulled the boat trailer into the grass and was stripping the inside, tossing parts and pieces into the yard.  Boat seats, strips of carpet, plywood flooring, vinyl covered bumpers, a fire extinguisher, three bright orange life preservers and a long handled fishing net littered the ground.  Bruce’s shirt was off. He was embroiled in serious business.

I turned away from the window, poured myself a bowl of cereal, and sat at the table, drowning my disappointment in the sweetness of Cap’n Crunch. Fatigue, hours spent in a car, not in a boat, and the realization that not having a title might mean we’d be sailing no further than the yard or driveway, put me in a rare funk.  I’m not touching that boat until I’m sure we’ll be able to use it, I thought.

Bruce came in a little while later. “You want to ride with me to Ace Marine in Stuarts Draft?” He asked. “I need to look about a new bilge pump, and some other things.”

On the way over the mountain to the boat dealership, Bruce talked non-stop about flooring, fiberglass, repair and patch kits, marine grade vinyl and indoor/outdoor carpeting.  The boat needed two new car batteries, the bilge pump, some half inch pressure treated plywood, a few two by fours, and new stringers.  I recognized some items, but was clueless about others.  I remembered his comment about this being the only boat he’d ever owned.  He sure seemed to know a whole lot more about the Larson Shark than I did.  It seemed he’d given up online auctions for boating websites now.  

We browsed the aisles and shelves of the boating store. The salespeople were outside showing brand new vessels, so we were able to pick up items, compare prices and talk without interruption. As we looked at various types of anchors, a miniature dachshund came wagging his tail in our direction. His toenails clipped along the floor and he walked right up to Bruce for a head pat.  “Well aren’t you the cutest one,” Bruce said, reaching down to rub the little brown dog.

“Charlie, where are you?” A woman’s voice called from the back room. She stuck her head out the door and whistled.  The little dog left us, running in the direction of his master.  She picked him up and noticed us alone in the showroom.

“Hi, didn’t realize anyone was in here. Anything I can help you folks with?”

“You don’t happen to know anything about titling a boat in the state of Virginia do you?” Bruce asked.

She laughed. “Do it all the time here. That’s my job. I complete the paperwork for the boat sales,  get the registrations, titles, all that stuff.”

“We bought a boat in New Jersey in an online auction,” Bruce said. “How hard is it to get a title in Virginia?”

“Not hard at all. You just take the New Jersey title to the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and have it transferred to your name.”

“We didn’t get a title with it,” I said.

The woman frowned. “No title, huh?  Well that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms.  If it was in Virginia, I’d know what to do, but since it’s from New Jersey, I’m not sure.  Tell you what, if you can give me a few minutes, I can make a phone call for you and find out.”

Bruce thanked her as she walked back to her office, then he turned to me and grinned, as if to say, “See, no big deal, she’s gonna fix everything for us.”

I rolled my eyes.

“You got the hull number with you?” She called from the other room.

Bruce pulled the information from his pocket and took it to her. We stood just outside the door, petting Charlie, who’d come back out to visit us.

I listened as the woman began the quest on our behalf. She was transferred from one person to the next, then to someone else and again to someone else. She was put on hold and transferred again, and again. She was more patient than I would have been. If it was me, I’d have handed the phone to Bruce so he was the one pushing buttons, and repeating information over and over again.

After a good ten minutes, she hung up the phone and handed us a piece of paper.  “You have to go on the New Jersey DMV website and get the D-21 form, print it off, fill it out, attach the information you have and send it to them with fifteen dollars.  They will check to see if there’s a lien on the boat. If you’re lucky and there isn’t one, you get to go on to the next step. The website explains it all.”

“Wow,” Bruce said. “I never thought about liens.”

“All I can say is good luck. Glad I’m not in your shoes,” she said. “You may get the boat in the water by next summer.  Sorry it’s not better news. Sounds like a lot of red tape.”

I thanked her for her time and for the information. She was the second person in two days who was glad not to be in my husband’s shoes.  Bruce put down the anchor he’d picked out and we walked back to the car empty handed. “Damn,” he said.

I patted his back. “Let’s go home, look up this website and print off the form. It’s not like we stole the boat.  We’ll just take this mess one step at a time.”

Bruce dropped his head. If he had been a little boy, he would have kicked the dirt with the toe of his boot. “I wanted to get her into the water on our next trip to Chincoteague,” he grumbled.

“We’ll get it straight,” I reassured him. “I’ll take care of the forms and you can concentrate of fixing up the boat. Just think, the extra time will give us a chance to do it up nice.  She’ll be the prettiest ’71 Larson Shark out there when we get her into the water.”

“If we get her in the water,” he muttered.

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?”

Left at T’s Corner, Ten Miles Due East

June 25, 2011

It’s the first time I’ve been excited about an online auction.  Bruce trolls the site like an online dater of heavy equipment.

You get the idea, junk. I have dragged myself up into the dump truck on more than one occasion to ride along for the inspection of some rusted hulk, dying in the weeds at the back of a city yard in a distant town, and rolled my eyes at Bruce’s taste in scrap.

I’ll be honest, though.  He’s never bought a piece of equipment that didn’t return an investment, or that he couldn’t fix and resell for a profit.  He finds what he’s looking for, researches the make and model, looks for a better deal somewhere else, calls for information and more pictures, then sets his limit and bids only to that amount.

 I really can’t complain, except that the GovDeals auctions on his Mac seem to be his entertainment of choice lately.

After our last trip to Chincoteague, we decided we want a boat.  I know, when you think about the shore and a boat, you think of a sixty-five foot sailboat with crisp white triangles of canvas snapping in the wind, or a fishing troller with big nets hoisted on booms, or even a speed boat with swivel captain’s chairs and a sporty little windshield.  You don’t think of a glorified Jon boat. That’s what we’re looking for.

I’m not much of a sailor.  I get motion sickness, but I can handle being on the bay or an inlet when the water and weather are calm. Besides, I’ve been informed by my husband that puke makes good chum for fish.  

What we’re looking for is a Carolina Skiff.  It’s a fifteen foot, flat bottom tri-hull with bench seats and a stow away compartment for fishing equipment.  The Evinrude motor on the back is a hundred-fifty horsepower. My Honda  is big enough to pull the trailer. It’s the perfect size boat for Big Glade Creek.

Bruce found it on  It belongs to the fire department in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. The boat is even a pretty color green. Puke is green.  There’s no title, but that doesn’t seem to raise any red flags for Bruce, so I’m OK with it too.  The price is right at three-hundred-fifty-one dollars with a little over a day to go.

I’ve made up my mind. I can ride along to New Jersey to pick up the boat if we win it without complaining.  New Jersey is six hours north of us. I’ve mapped the route back. After we pay for the skiff, and hook the trailer to my car, we head due west from Seaside Heights to a place called Manchester Township. I-295 South will take us into Dover, Delaware. There, we pick up Rt. 13 South. That highway takes us right to T’s Corner; and  I know exactly how to get to Chincoteague from T’s Corner.

A Swarm in May

May 21, 2011

Bruce’s cell phone rang. He usually looks at the display and sends the call to voicemail when we’re at the dinner table. Instead, he flipped the phone open and said, “What’s up?”  It could only be his mama. 

 His parents are seventy-seven and eighty-four. They are both active and fairly healthy for their age, but Bruce’s daddy had a heart attack ten years ago, triple bypass surgery soon after, and most recently, he’s had a pacemaker implant.  We used to worry when the phone rang in the middle of the night. Now, we hold our breath even if it rings during the day.

 He breathed out audibly. “I don’t even know if I have a decent box,” he said.  “OK, I’ll see what I can put together and I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

 “You want to go with me?” He asked.

 “Not really. I’ve got a lot to do,” I said, as I gathered up the dirty dishes.

 “You might want to bring your camera. My daddy’s found a swarm of honey bees. It could be interesting. The last time he was stung by a bee, he swelled up and had trouble breathing, remember?” Bruce said.

 The men in Bruce’s family are farmers and bee keepers.  They don’t do either for a living, but as hobbyists, they’re serious. Over the past few years, mites have invaded honeybee hives and populations have declined. When the last of Bruce’s parent’s bees died out, they didn’t replace them. We breathed a sigh of relief since his allergic reaction scared us.

 My worry set in. Swelling and closed airways don’t frighten my father-in-law away from honey.  I grabbed some Benedryl, and an epi-pen, along with my camera. We headed to the truck.

 Bruce’s parents live on a nine acre farm that sits at the foothill of Ragged Mountain.  Even in later retirement they continue to grow a big garden every summer, keep several head of beef cattle and work part time doing odd jobs for neighbors. Two weeks ago, Bruce’s daddy was cutting twelve foot pine logs and loading them onto a wagon without help.

 We pulled up, and parked. Bruce and his daddy went to work building a bee box from the scraps Bruce had collected and put on the back of the truck.  They sawed a board into fifteen inch lengths, replaced rotten pieces, tacked edges, and in twenty minutes had a hive box ready for the swarm.

 The bees had collected into a buzzing clot on one small low branch in the dogwood tree to the side of the garden. Bruce’s mama and I had scoped out the swarm to make sure it was still there while the box was being assembled. The branch still hung with their weight. Other honey bees flew back and forth like scouts, collecting and disseminating information to the mass.

 The two men came toward the tree with the box, a burlap sack, and a pair of clippers.  Bruce’s mama frowned.  “You don’t have your bonnet,” she said to his father.

 The bonnet is a hat with mesh attached. It covers the face and cinches under the collar at the neck.

 “I’m not using that. I don’t need it,” he said.

 Having been married to the man for sixty years, she didn’t argue, just shrugged.

 I’m brazen. “Are you sure? You know the last time you got stung, you had difficulty breathing.”

 He looked at me and smiled. “They won’t sting me,” he said.

 I lacked his confidence, standing there with an antidote in my pocket.  If he wasn’t going to listen, at least I’d be prepared.

 Three of us stood a good distance back from the tree.  Bruce’s Daddy walked right up to the branch of bees, held it in his hand close to the limb, and clipped it.  He was left holding the swarm at the end of a stick.  The buzzing mass started a mere two inches from his fingers.

 The bees didn’t fly off, they stuck tight, like they were glued onto the dogwood branch and to each other. The ones that were airborne continued coming to the place where the branch had been and others began surrounding my father-in-law, landing on his shirt, pants, shoes, hat and exposed skin. They lit, crawled on him, and flew again. He didn’t flinch.

  He bent down, holding the branch in front of the opening in the box, and lightly tapped the top of the bee box with his clippers.  He held the branch there for a full minute before he gently shook it, causing a layer of bees to drop onto the burlap at the front of the box. He continued to tap the top making a hollow, echoing sound. Every now and then, he’d shake off another layer of bees. They began crawling into the opening.

 “We’ve got to watch for the queen. She’s somewhere in the middle of the swarm,” he said.  “If she doesn’t go in, the rest won’t go either.  If she flies away, there goes the hive.”

 Bruce moved up closer to the box and watched as layer after layer of bees slid from branch to burlap and then crawled into the box opening.  “There she is,” he said pointing. 

 His daddy bent closer to the humming knot on the branch and pointed to the same bee, a little longer than the rest.  They both watched as she marched into the bee box.  Not long afterward, the rest of the bees disappeared after her.  Bruce’s daddy brushed the remaining bees from his shirt, pants and hat, and smiled.

 “Guess I’ll have to move the bed down here tonight so he can keep an eye on them,” my mother-in-law  said with a laugh, “and maybe the kitchen table. He’ll be down on this hill every extra minute.”

 He walked over to us, storing his clippers in a back pocket. Not a drop of sweat  moistened his brow. “Should be a good hive of bees,” he said. “My Daddy always told us, ‘A hive of bees in May is worth a load of hay.’  He was right you know. We’ve found some in June, but they’re more likely to take off on you and go somewhere else.”

 “How did you know those bees weren’t going to sting you?” I asked, fingering the epi-pen in my pocket.

 “Swarming bees don’t sting.  They’re tired, and more interested in staying close to their queen and finding a place to keep her safe than worrying about attacking someone.”

 “So you gave them a place to rest, and a home for their queen. What more could they ask?” I said.

 “Yep,” he said, turning and walking back up the hill to put his tools away.  “and maybe they’ll repay me with some honey later.”