Posts Tagged ‘parents’

‘Tis the Season

December 3, 2012


The thrift store seems more crowded than usual. I push the shopping cart toward house wares in the back. I need some vases for the nursing home. I can buy used ones for fifty-five cents. One of the local grocery stores has donated five cases of roses for our residents. It’s Christmas time and people want to do something nice for old people who don’t have family.

I turn down the children’s clothing aisle and five people have to move aside to let me by. Past that, shoppers line the perimeter of the space filled with larger items. An ugly chair upholstered in a black and brown patterned geometric fabric squats next to one of those wooden crate sofas, popular in the seventies. It has no cushions. A  pool table with a tear in its felt stands at a tilt, and a toddler’s red race car bed is missing its mattress. Three mismatched dining chairs, a kidney shape glass-topped coffee table, and a leaning brass floor lamp complete the sad ensemble.

A small bent man wearing white patent leather shoes, skinny jeans, a shiny silver belt, and a plaid button down dress shirt pulls the white tag off the naked sofa and turns toward the cashier, saying to himself, “I think I can find some cushions down the road.”

As I load the cart with glass bud vases, I hear three little girls vying for their mother’s attention with their questions:

“I like this one, can we get this one?”

“No Mommy, this one, it’s prettier.”

“I like the first one. It’s purple. I love purple. You love purple too Mommy, don’t you?”

“Quit arguing,” their mother says. “Or we won’t get any of them.”

The three little girls point out other things, asking if they can put this or that into the cart. If they can take things home to play with. “No.” Their mother says, her voice rising. “We’re not here to buy things for you.”

I find six green vases, three clear, one heart-shaped, and four white ones. I won’t pay over a dollar for any. The largest ones are ninety-five cents.  With the bottom of the cart covered, I turn toward the book shelves. I hit pay dirt finding two books on CD, James Patterson’s I Alex Cross, and Fanny Flagg’s Welcome to the World Baby Girl. They aren’t priced, so they cost only a dollar each.

Over in the holiday decorations, I can still hear the three little girls talking over top of one another, listing things they want for Christmas, asking their mother what she thinks Santa will bring.

The line to checkout stretches halfway down the aisle of women’s blouses.  The cashier calls for backup. A woman in a blue uniform comes from the ninety-five cent bin section, steps to the cash register opposite mine, and the line splits. When I reach my turn, I find myself across from the woman and her three little girls. They surround the cart as their mother places a box of purple Christmas ornaments, several pieces of clothing, a glass bowl, a basket, and some sort of game in a box on the counter.

“We can open it when we get home,” the smallest girl says to one of her sisters.

“God Dammit, I told you No three times already,” her mother yells. “It’s for your brother for Christmas.”

The little girls stop talking, all three look up to their mother. People around them stop talking. The store becomes still and quiet.

“That’ll be six twenty-four,” the cashier says.

The woman hands over the money, takes her bag, and the three little girls follow her out of the store.

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.”


January 23, 2011

Ben calls. It’s not unusual to get a call from him, they generally come mid-afternoon, when a good grade is handed back, or at dinner time to see what we’re all enjoying after he’s been to the “Caf” for a supper with no seasoning. What’s unusual about this call is how late it comes, and Ben’s demeanor. His ADHD now expresses itself in his over-focus on organization and cleaning, and in his verbiage. He has to get the words out, let them run, until his thoughts have emptied from his brain. We listen to all the news, weather, and sports, then it’s our turn to talk. Tonight is different.

“Hey Mama, whatcha up to?”

“Just getting ready for bed, what’s up with you?”

“Just checking in. I’ve been working on my Senior Thesis, rough draft is due tomorrow. Do you mind giving it a read for me?” Ben usually sends his final drafts to me to read for any glaring inconsistencies, repetition, grammar glitches, punctuation misfires. I highlight parts he needs to look at again, give my thoughts at the end and he decides on revision.

“It’s a rough draft, right? Just turn it in.”

“It’s my Senior Thesis though. I want it to at least make sense in a rough draft.”

“Ok, send it and I’ll do a read through.”

“Thanks Mom.” Silence on the other end. No “goodbye” or “I love you,” just a long quiet space. I wait. Finally, I think he’s hung up.


“I’m still here.” More silence.

Now I’m worried. “What is it? Are you alright?”

“I’m fine, just on RA probation.”

My thoughts turn party. He’s gotten caught partying with his buds, or worse, with the freshmen on his hall. “Probation? For what?”

“It’s been a damn rough week. I’ve had this Senior Thesis draft due, been on duty three days, had five hours of sleep in two days, and my RA programming was due. On top of that, one of my students was having a crisis last night and I was up most of the night dealing with that. I didn’t have time to write up the damn programming, so I turned in the form and wrote on it I didn’t have time to deal with it.”

“How did that get you on probation?”

“My boss called and said my attitude’s been different since I came back to school, said I have “Senioritis.” He said I wasn’t setting a very good example. So, I’m on probation. John, my boss, said my form was a “passive-aggressive FU.”

Now I know my boy. He usually sees one side of a situation, and that’s his own. I remember his senior year in high school. His last semester handed him the only Discipline referral he ever received. He got it for arguing with a teacher about dress code. Ben was wearing flip flops, and got called on it. The teacher was also wearing flip flops. Ben reminded her that teachers had a dress code too. He is a stickler for fairness, always has been.

I’ve heard rumblings of uneven workloads on RA’s, how training is repetitious and unnecessary, how RA’s are talked down to in meetings. Then, when Ben is called down for attitude, he doesn’t mince words. He tells his supervisors exactly what he thinks. Ben is growing and he’s stretching his big wings and he’s doing it with no finesse. He’s exactly like his Dad, and now it’s gotten him on probation.

“Was it a passive-aggressive FU, Ben?”

“I don’t think so. I was tired, worn out tired, and I didn’t have time to sit there and plan some stupid activity that no one would show up for anyway. You’d think I got caught at a party with my students. That’s what RA’s get probation for.”

“It might not be just from this incident. Maybe things have built up.”

More silence on the other end. He’s counting the times he’s said something that wasn’t filtered. “They ought to be in my shoes for just one week,” he says. “I have a good mind to quit.”

“Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face,” I caution. “Remember, this is a paid gig. You get a private room. You like your students, and being an RA. This will look good on your resume. You have three and a half months to go.”

“I know,” he says. “Let me know what you think of the paper. I think you’ll like the first part. I did that “hook” thing you were talking about.”

“Ok, I will. I love you. Get some sleep. Things will look better tomorrow.”

“Love you too. Bye.”

I hung up the phone with a sigh.

“What was that all about?” Bruce asks over his cup of coffee.

I tell him the story.

Bruce harrumphs, “He should have called his boss and said, “I’ve spent all week writing a fifteen page paper, on top of pulling duty and staying up all night helping one of my students with a crisis. Forget the passive-aggressive part, F. U.”

Yep, that’s why Bruce is in business for himself. Glad Ben caught me when he called instead of his Dad.

Sell Gold, Tuition’s Due

November 15, 2010

College tuition is coming due in December and I’m a good two thousand dollars short. We’ve done well for six and a half semesters, what with savings, extra jobs on the side, trips to the junkyard with scrap metal, and the occasional yard sale. The end of the year is always hard though. Real Estate taxes are due by the fifth, tuition is due on the twelfth, and of course there’s Christmas.

I’ve been saving this small one-eighth full plastic sandwich bag of gold for when the market reached peak. I waited until today. My mother called me in May. She had taken most of the gold she had to the Jefferson Coin Shop on Airport Road near the Greene County line. Her sandwich bag was about a quarter full and she garnered a little over a thousand dollars. Her insulin had doubled in price and no amount of gold she wore could bring down her blood sugars.

Jefferson coin shop has two locations. The one I went to is downtown, one block off the pedestrian mall, next to the main library. Parking downtown is awful, but the location is closer to home for me. I called the shop on Saturday and the man on the phone said they were downtown on Mondays. Most streets there are one way and the free two hour parking spaces are all parallel and filled most of the time. I was in luck. Someone pulled out, leaving a space open at the north end of the library.

Although I’d held it in my hand twenty minutes earlier when I left home, I dug around in my purse to make sure the bag of rings, bracelets, and miss-matched earrings was still there. I walked the half block to the old white brick building, read the sign to make sure the coin shop was among the tenants and pulled the door open. The business was to my left on the other side of a glass door with gold writing. A bell tinkled when I walked in. The shop was tiny, no bigger than a walk-in closet with two glass display cases. A woman and man behind the cases welcomed me.

“My mother sent me to you,” I said. “She told me you buy gold.”

“She’s right,” the man said. “Let’s see what you have.”

I took my plastic bag of treasures out and emptied it on top of the glass case. He took out a magnifying loop, one similar to the one my mother had when she was in the antique business. He picked up the first piece, a ring, held the loop to his eye and turned the ring around and around. “This one’s fourteen karat,” he said. He picked up another ring and was turning it when the door tinkled again. He looked up and excused himself, handing the loop to the woman. I turned and saw the Charlottesville police officer who’d come into the shop.

As the woman picked up each piece and looked at it, sorted the pieces in piles, I heard the conversation between the owner of the shop and the policeman.

“Here’s one of the counterfeit fives we’ve seen lately. They change the face on the bill, pretty smart.  If you’re not paying attention, you’re stuck with them.”

“People don’t usually look at the small bills.”

“Nope, just wanted to give you a heads up. Have a nice day folks.” The bell tinkled again as he left the shop.

“This one’s worn here, see, tarnished, the woman said, showing me the side on an earring. “Gold doesn’t’ do that.” She put the imposter in a separate place off to the side.

“I questioned whether this one was gold or not,” I said, holding up a huge gaudy Smoky Topaz set in yellow gold. I bought it at a yard sale for a dollar. As a matter of fact most of these were bought at yard sales over the years.” I don’t know why I felt it necessary to let her know they weren’t family heirlooms I was hocking for a few dollars, but I did.

“You can find some real bargains at yard sales if you’re willing to dig,” she said, as she continued to search for marks and sort in piles. “How about that?” She said holding up the Topaz ring. “This one is fourteen karat, and it’s heavy too.” When she finished sorting there were four groups, fourteen karat, ten karat, no mark, and junk.

The man came back over and took the unmarked pieces, scratching them on a stone. He then took a little plastic bottle of acid marked 14K and put a drop on each mark. If the mark disappeared, the item was not gold. If the mark faded, the piece was ten karat. If it stayed shiny, the piece was fourteen karat. He said I was in the lucky group today, mine were mostly of the fourteen karat variety.

He weighed and calculated, determining the value of my gold to be $791.20. He still needed to check four rings for karat weight, but wanted to make sure I was willing to sell at that price before he did more testing. I was fairly jumping up and down in the floor. My investment in the lot was well under one hundred dollars. He took the four rings left, scratched the inside bands with a knife and put a drop of the solution onto the scratch. If the rings were gold filled, the solution would bubble up green. All were real gold. I was disappointed by not seeing a reaction. I guess I should have been glad. 

“Tuition is coming due for my son,” I said.

“Tell me about it,” the woman said. “We have two in college right now and another to start in two years.”

The man shook his head. “We didn’t think about college when we were planning them. We wanted our children to be able to keep each other company, play together.”

“We thought having so many in diapers at one time was expensive,” she said. “We didn’t know expensive. I talked myself out of trying for the girl once I got home with the third boy. I didn’t have enough hands.”

“As parents, I guess we do what we have to do,” I said. “Somehow we find the time, the hands and the money to get done what needs to get done.”

As we talked, I felt like I was in the company of like-minded friends who understood and appreciated someone searching the nooks and crannies for a way to educate a child. It was easier for me to let go of the jewelry I hadn’t worn in years and collect the money to send to Ferrum for Ben’s last semester.

The man counted out seven, one hundred dollar bills, one fifty, four tens, a one and he pulled a quarter from his pocket.

“Didn’t you say twenty cents?” I asked.

“Yeah, but we don’t have change here,” he said.

“Wow, a coin shop without change,” I said.

“That’s what everybody says,” his wife said laughing.