Wednesday, June 29, 2022



              Chapter 23

Nell and I had been a pair for a very long time, having made our way together through the highs and lows that marriage produces. Of course there had been occasional obstacles....detours that neither of us had enjoyed. Yet through it all we had moved ahead together, confident in our ability to deal with whatever came our way.

On that Sunday night, as I prepared to join her in bed, questions of that togetherness had captured my attention. Slipping under the covers it dawned on me that my last fifteen minutes, spent watching the end of a National Geographic special, were effectively a blank. The awful possibilities of Global Warming and the future of our planet had been swept aside by thoughts, both exhilarating and distressing, of my scheduled departure the next morning.

‘Exhilarating’ because my long-dreamed dream was about to become reality. ‘Distressing’ because Nell would not be with me. More than that, after weeks of loud and contentious debate, including her not-so-subtle talk of ‘open marriage,’ we had yet to determine what my leaving meant for our relationship.

For the first time in our shared history we faced the prospect of traveling different paths, if only for a while. From the perceived security of our individual defenses we had clashed over my wanderlust, and the likelihood of an approaching separation. Again and again we had retreated into our personal rationalizations, seldom pausing to imagine where our divergent ways might be taking us.

More than once I had explained what I called Plan going off on my own without Nell....a sad possibility that she herself had first suggested.

Yet try as I might those moments had never led us to a practical discussion of what my leaving would mean for her life, or mine. There I was, planning to leave the next morning, and still neither of us had proposed a serious conversation about the impact, profane and practical, of my absence. Time was running out. It had to be done now.

“We have to talk,” I said as I stretched out in bed, pulling the covers over me.

“About what?” Nell did not bother to look up from her book.


About then it seemed like my task would have been easier if she at least acknowledged my presence there beside her. “I’m leaving in the morning. You’ve seen me packing, getting stuff ready. I know you don’t want to talk about it. But there are things we need to sort out before I go?”

“Like what?”

“Just things, I guess. Like paying bills. Keeping the check register up to date. Stuff like that. Things I usually do.” 

It was a bit awkward, coming up with a list on the spur of the moment. There were other things I did in the course of my days, things she ought to know about. But how could I explain that to someone who was showing no interest in knowing? Then I remembered. “You’ll have to see that Delaney gets settled into school. That has to be done.”

“I suppose I can manage all that.” She closed her book and set it on the bedside night stand. Fluffing her pillow she rolled on to her side, facing away from me, then said over her shoulder, “I suppose an extra ten minutes a day ought to cover all that.”

A part of me wanted to end the matter right there. Why go any further when Nell could not get past the same old arguments and nasty little jabs? There were important things that needed to be addressed and there she was still fighting yesterday’s war. How could that help anything?

“Honey, we have to talk about this. It’s important. I can’t very well leave home until I know we’ve got it sorted out.”

Though I did not notice it at first, I had finally managed to get Nell’s attention. I took it to be a good sign when she rolled over to face me. For just a moment I thought I saw the hint of a smile, until I realized it was her hard, mocking grin.

“Did you say ‘home’?,” she asked. When she pushed herself up on her elbow, her sarcastic glare had me looking away. 

“You said you’re leaving ‘home.’ Didn’t you?” she asked in a most unfriendly voice. “Am I supposed to believe that you even know what the word means? Don’t you be pretending like that with me, because I know better. That’s the real problem, isn’t it? What I call ‘home’ is a foreign concept to you.”

It had taken only seconds, and a few hard edged words, for Nell to bring my stumbling entreaty to an abrupt halt. In a sentence or two she had turned my plea for understanding into a defensive retreat.

My God, I knew she was unhappy about my leaving. But how could she be doubting my allegiance to home and all that it meant to me?

Having made her point she again turned her back on me, apparently ready to end the matter. Although I was not ready for that, I had no idea how to continue. I pushed the covers back and swung my legs over the edge of the bed. There, with my head cradled in my hands, I revisited the wisdom of leaving while Nell remained so angry and uncompromising.

Finally, without turning back to her I asked over my shoulder, “How can you say I don’t know about ‘home’?”

It seemed to me a fair question. For the life of me I could not understand why she had chosen the notion of ‘home,’ the one thing I was sure we had always agreed on, as the centerpiece of her complaint....the high ground on which to make her stand? That was patently unfair.

“We’ve had lots of homes,” I continued, not sure if she was even listening. “And I’ve loved every one of them. Any place that’s included you and me together has always felt like home.”

There, in the soft light of my night-stand lamp, I was talking to myself, making my case for the home I had always valued. Meanwhile, it seemed that Nell had checked out, preferring sleep to my stumbling rationale. Or so I thought, until I heard her stern, startling and very unexpected response. 

“That’s exactly what I mean,” she grumbled. “You don’t understand at all. You just make up some warm and fuzzy idea that you call ‘home’ and expect me to be happy with that.”

I turned to face her, though she had not stirred at all. I was effectively talking to the back of her head when I asked, “What does that mean....that I’ve made up what I call home? Home is what it is. It’s not something I have to make up. It’s a place where I’ve always wanted to be. And I’ve always wanted to be there with you. Nothing about that has ever been ‘made up.’ Not a bit of it.”

Finally Nell seemed ready to make her return. She rolled onto her back, looking not at me, but at the ceiling. “It’s the same old thing.” I could hear the weary exasperation in her words. “Your idea of home is so narrow. It’s about you and me, and nothing more.

“Of course that part is important,” she continued. “But that’s not all there is. There’s more. Home is about family, about Kathy and Delaney, and friends, and church. It’s about our house and our gardens. It’s about all the things we enjoy. When I talk about home, that’s what I’m thinking about.”

By then I was of two minds....glad she was still talking to me, yet wishing she had something new to say. We had covered that ground so many times before, that place where our individual life-views collided....where compromise seemed out of reach. I knew at once my reply was not likely to expand whatever ‘common ground’ there was, but it needed saying.

“Nell, what you’re talking about is your church and your gardens. You know that. What I’m talking about is us, you and me, and the things we do together. Actually in my mind it includes even more than that. I’d like it to include things we’ve never done before, and places we’ve never been. I can’t understand why that doesn’t excite you at least a little bit. Especially knowing that ‘home’ can be wherever we are.”

“But we could see those places you’re talking about without selling our home,” Nell countered. “Just to go living in a stupid box-on-wheels. Why couldn’t we just take our trips, be gone a few weeks, then come home, like other people do?”

“You just can’t understand, can you?” How many times had I voiced that same sad complaint? ”Why should we be tied down like that? It would be like dragging an anchor everywhere we went.”

Pulling the covers up under her chin Nell appeared to signal her surrender, as if there was no reason to carry on. “I suppose you’re right,” she said softly. “I guess that’s what I’ve anchor, holding you back. So you just go off and do your thing, in your own home, without having to drag that anchor, the one that looks like me, behind you.

“I guess that’s how it will have to be,” she concluded. “Me in my home, you in yours. It’s kind of sad to realize that one home isn’t enough anymore. So you go on. I can’t tell you exactly what I’ll be doing here, but this is where I’ll be.” 

Rolling back on her side, her terse parting marked the end of a most unproductive conversation. “If I’m not up when you leave in the morning, you have a nice trip.”

Monday, June 27, 2022



               Chapter 22

Minutes after Delaney’s emotional phone call I pulled up in front of the boxy two-story house where she was apparently waiting. Sure enough, the sleek black coupe was still parked at the intersection, blocking the crosswalk.

My first question was natural enough. How could a schoolboy afford a car like that? Then, pausing a moment to offer a silent thanks that my granddaughter had been fortunate enough to find a safe refuge, it was time to see if my hastily-conceived plan would be enough to impress young Marco. 

Taking the cell phone from my pocket, I poked in a few numbers, put it to my ear, and started talking as I walked down the sidewalk toward the young man who stood leaning defiantly against the car. He was bigger than I imagined and his smirky grin did not strike me as friendly.

I glanced back at the house to see Delaney parting the curtains in the front window. Was she really as worried as she appeared? I suppose she was expecting me to turn up the sidewalk to the house. When I continued walking toward the boy her empathic pantomime was pleading with me to turn back. That, of course, was not part of my plan. 

At the cross-street intersection I stopped long enough to glance carefully in both directions, then stepped off the curb into the street. Still speaking into my cell phone I moved forward. I nodded silently to Marco, noting his surprise when I walked past him to the front of the car. There I bent low to inspect the license plate, making an obvious production out of reading the numbers into the phone. 

“Get away from there, old man,” came Marco’s loud command. He pushed himself off the car and started toward me. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” 

I straightened up, doing my best to feign surprise at his angry interruption, while hoping the wave of knee-shaking distress that swept over me was not too obvious. Damn, he was an intimidating sight. 

I glanced back to the house to see Delaney looking on from a side window, with her hands covering her eyes, as if to avoid seeing what came next. 

Taking the phone from my ear, I looked back at Marco. “Are you talking to me, son?”

“Damn right I am. I want you the hell out of here.”

“I’ll bet you do,” I replied. Then, putting the phone back to my ear I continued my conversation, this time loud enough for Marco to hear. “Did you hear that, ma’am? You’re right. He does sound rather belligerent. I’d have to say Delaney had that part right.”

“Who the hell are you talking to, old man?”

Ignoring the boy’s question, I again bent low to answer the operator’s next question. “The last three numbers, you say? That would be five, eight, eight.” Then a second later, “That’s right, Ma’am. A black coupe. A ‘Chevrolet’ it says.”

Rolling my eyes in the boy’s direction I was hoping to show a hint of impatience before finally signing off. “Yes, ma’am. That should do it. I appreciate your help. I think you have all the information. Let’s just hope there’s no need to use of it. Thanks again.” Closing the phone, I slipped it back into my pocket.

“Now then,” I said. Hopefully my exaggerated grin was enough to have Marco wondering. “I was just having a nice chat with the nine-one-one operator.... explaining that my granddaughter felt she was being harassed. I wanted to be sure that if anything came of that, or if it happens again, the authorities would have the right information.

“It is Copeland....Martin Copeland? I got that right, didn’t I? That’s what Delaney told me.” With that I started back toward the house.

If the boy’s first impulse to raise a fuss with an unimposing old geezer like me, he seemed to have reconsidered that option. Perhaps he had simply concluded the hoped-for rewards of his ‘driving-home detour’ no longer warranted the risks. In any case, as I watched from the sidewalk he got in the car, backed out into the main street, and started back toward town.

Minutes later, having seconded Delaney’s effusive thanks to the kindly woman who had offered her sanctuary, I led my humbled granddaughter out to the car, listening as she replayed her dilemma.

“I really didn’t know he was a bad guy,” she explained again. “I thought I could tell. But he fooled me.”

“I told you before,” I said, holding the door for her. “We have that kind of stuff, and those kind of guys, here in Tanner too. It may look like a harmless little village to you big-city girls, but they’re here and you need to be careful.”

I need to be careful?” Delaney was ready to make her own point. “How about you? I told you not to talk to him....that he was bad news. Instead you just walked right up to him. Not only that, it seemed like you spent most of your time talking on the phone. What was that about?”

“I was talking to the nine-one-one operator. Giving her his name and a description of his car, along with the license number. I wanted him to know if he did anything stupid they’d be looking for him.”

Delaney mulled that notion for a moment, grinning a bit as she responded. “That was darn clever of you, Grandpa. I didn’t even know nine-one-one would do something like that.”

Starting the engine, I winked as I offered my admission. “I’m pretty sure they don’t. Can’t say for sure though, because I never actually dialed their number. I spent the whole time talking to dead phone.”


I must admit, for a second or two I sensed that Delaney was actually impressed by her granddad’s resourcefulness. That lasted for as long as it took for her next question to surface. 

“What if he’d have figured that out, if he’d known that you....?”

“But he didn’t, did he?” 

I reached over and patted her leg. “Now, since your mom and grandma have taken the night off it looks like we’re on our own for dinner again. Why don’t we see what we can find. Shall we?”

“Grandma’s gone? Again? Is everything okay?”

“Everything is fine. The two of them are spending the evening with her Garden Club girls. That’s all. I thought your mom told you that.”


For the second time in a week Delaney and I were on our own for dinner, having settled for a fast-food Mexican dinner at the Southend Mall. There, with our burritos and mexi-fries spread before us, she repeated her thanks.

“That was a really good thing you did, Grandpa. I’m just glad you were home. I’m not sure what I’d have done if you hadn’t been.”

“I’m glad too.”

“But you shouldn’t have talked to him, you know. I warned you about that.” For an instant I watched her reliving those anxious moments, as she looked on from the window while I stood head to head with the strapping youngster. Finally she added, “You could have been hurt.”

I was laughing to myself as I crumpled my burrito wrapper. I was sixty-three years old and not once in all those years had I been in a proper fight, one where punches were thrown and someone was actually hit. 

Perhaps, at my advanced age, I had come closer than ever to that youthful silliness. Yet, just like when I was a kid, I had managed to talk my way out of it ....once again avoiding the physical elements of confrontation.

“Maybe it wasn’t too smart,” I nodded. “But I had to get you out of that house. And I wanted to give your young friend a reason to stay away for good. After all, I might not be around if it happened again.”

I suppose I was waiting for her response. But there seemed to be none. Delaney had suddenly turned quiet and uncommunicative. “Something on your mind, honey?” I finally asked. “You look a little down in the mouth.”

She was caught up in something....apparently something important. I could tell that much. Was it my place to push her where she would rather not go? “What is it?” I asked again.

“I was just thinking,” Delaney said softly. “That’s all.”

“About what?” 

“About you. Grandma says you’re probably going on your retirement trip, even though she doesn’t want you to.” 

By then I was the one who was wondering. Why was my granddaughter, of all people, addressing my travel plans? Had Nell been leaning on her?

“Just for a while,” I answered. “It’s nothing permanent, you know.”

“Yeah. I know. But that’s part of what has me wondering.”

“Come on. What are you ‘wondering’ about?”

“About things.” The girl was stumbling, looking for a way to say what she wanted to say. I waited, hoping she might give up on the whole idea.

Unfortunately she was not about to let me off the hook that easily. “I’m thinking about kids I knew back home," she continued. "You know, girls and boys who were getting to know each other, getting to like each other. And how complicated that can get sometimes.”

I was grinning as I nodded. “It works that way in Tanner too.”

“I’m sure it does. Maybe that’s the scary part, thinking that it might happen to me someday.”

“Why should that be ‘scary’? When it works out right it’s just about the best thing that can happen to a person.”

“That’s what everyone says. I’ve had friends who looked really happy in the beginning. But then, ......” Her words faded into quiet.

“But then what?”

Finishing her soda, Delaney set it aside, apparently ready to move from general, impersonal possibilities to more specific and very personal examples. “But then I see people I know, like Mom and Gary, who aren’t so happy any more....who don’t like the way things have worked out.” 

She stopped short, looking up at me to offer her most personal illustration. “And there’s you and Grandma. I know there must have been a time when you two loved each other. But when I hear you arguing, when you’re so loud and angry, it sounds like ....” 

“It sounds like what?” My God. Where was that child taking our quiet after-dinner small talk? “What does it sound like?”

For an instant I thought she might turn away from where she was taking us. Instead, chewing on her lip, she plowed ahead. “It’s like you two must have drifted apart,” was her observation. “Like whatever kept you together for all those years has stopped working. Like maybe you’ve fallen out of love.”

Looking back, I don’t remember what I was expecting from our only grandchild, except I knew for sure it was not a critique on the state of my marriage. Was I willing to be sucked into that conversational quicksand? Probably not. Yet her questions deserved an answer. If nothing else, I needed to help her understand.

“Delaney, I can’t speak for your mother and Gary. Maybe they have some idea where their situation is taking them. Maybe they don’t. But I do know a thing or two about your grandma and me. To begin with, do you realize that it’s been forty-seven years since we first met in college? That is a very long time.”

“It sure is.”

“It’s long enough to guarantee that neither of us is the same person we were when we first met. We’ve changed, both of us, like everyone does. But we’ve changed together. 

"When that happens you don’t even notice it at the time. It’s the kind of thing you have to step away from, to remember who we were back then, and how we’re different now .”

I paused again, wondering how to make my point in a way a sixteen year old could relate to. It was true, change had been a constant in my relationship with Nell. We had both changed over the years. Yet in many important ways each of us was the same person we were on the day we met. 

“You see, some things haven’t changed at all,” I continued. “I suppose that’s part of what you’re seeing now. We still care about each other very much. If we didn’t, then all those other things wouldn’t matter. We could just go our own way and not worry about it. 

“But we can’t do that. We don’t want to. So instead, we have our little debates. That’s probably what makes you wonder if we’ve grown apart, like you’re afraid your mom and Gary have.”

The waitress arrived to clear our table, refilling Delaney’s soda drink and warming my coffee. In truth, I welcomed the momentary pause. In a most unexpected way my granddaughter’s self-conscious probing was forcing me to confront thoughts I usually found easier to set aside. There she was, nudging me toward an explanation, something I owed her....and myself.

“The thing is,” I began when we were alone again. “For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to be an see places I’ve only read about, to find out what they’re really like, and meet the people who live there. I guess it’s a matter of curiosity or adventure. Whatever it is, it’s always been there. 

“Your Grandma calls that my ‘wanderlust.’ For a long time I couldn’t go off and do those things. I couldn’t scratch that itch because I was tied down to my work. Then, when I retired, it seemed like my time had finally come.

“But for all that same time there had been something else at work....something I hadn’t been paying attention to. Not like I should have been. I was too caught up in what I wanted.” 

It was true, I reminded myself. How many times had I kicked myself for having overlooked what was so close at hand, for not knowing how Nell felt? 

“You see," I said, determined to carry on before I lost my nerve. "Your Grandma doesn’t have that same itch, the one that I have. It’s that difference you’ve heard us discussing from time to time.”

“Oh yeah. I’ve heard that," Delaney nodded. "Sometimes your ‘discussions’ get pretty loud.”

“I suppose they do. But remember, we’re not discussing how we feel about each other. That part hasn’t changed a bit. It’s about what we want. Just look at us. We have this nice home, with Grandma’s nice gardens. We’re in our home town, where we have friends, and our church.”

By then Delaney must have sensed a ‘however”’coming. My disclaimer would have been easier if I had something bad to say about our Tanner home. But I didn’t have that.

“The thing is," I explained. "We already have exactly what your Grandma wants. She loves those gardens, and her church stuff, her clubs, her Bingo. All that. And that’s fine. I want her to be happy. 

"But what about me? I’m not much help around the house. Lots of times I’m just in the way. And all those other things she does? Those are her things, not mine. When it’s all said and done, I’d rather be somewhere else.

“And that's when she tells me I need a hobby or that I ought to volunteer somewhere. If she’s mad enough she just tells me to ‘get over it.’ You can imagine how much that helps. When she gets on that kick it feels like I’m back to square one.”

“And where is that?” Delaney asked.

“I suppose that’s where I feel sorry for myself.... when I tell myself I’d rather do what I want, instead of settling for her idea of what’s good for me.”

Delaney was leaning over the table, perhaps hoping to keep my emotional monologue from being heard all over the restaurant. “But Grandpa,” she said in a loud whisper. “Leaving Grandma at home, while you go off doing your thing, is that fair?”

“Come on, girl," I countered. "You’ve heard me tell her over and over how much I want her to go with me. And you’ve seen how stubborn she is about that. I can’t order her to come with me, though there are times I wish I could. The truth is, she’d rather stay home, even if she’s alone. So I suppose that’s best.”

I was ready to end my depressing monologue. I had rambled far beyond where the girl’s original question was meant to take us. Perhaps she understood the point I was trying to make, perhaps she didn't. In either case, by then I understood that I had been speaking more to myself than her, repeating the logic I needed to be reminded of from time to time.

“Anyway,” I said. “Your grandma and I are still bumping into some of the ways we’ve changed. And I’m sure there are times when that looks a little crazy. But you can be absolutely certain the way we feel about each other hasn’t changed, not one bit. That’s the glue that holds us together....and it’s still there, strong as ever.”

Piling wrappers and cups on the plastic serving tray, I was ready to move on. “Why don’t we head on home. This ‘rescuing-a-damsel-in-distress’ business has me worn out.” 

Sunday, June 26, 2022

OCTOBER YEARS - can mean Going Poor

October Years - can mean Going Poor

Perhaps it is inborn in us….the way our culture operates. We love to keep score, and often worship our “winners.” Lately, in this challenging period of fiscal uncertainty, it seems that every newspaper, network, and news channel has been analyzing our national spending habits….who is spending how much on what, and which companies are likely to emerge as winners?

Fact is, of course, when you measure any human activity in dollar terms not everyone is going to win….whether at the spending game or anything else. It was that way when we were youngsters. It’s like that today, whether in the world of family or business. In just about every facet of life there are those we identify as winners, and those who seem not to win.

That too is true in the October world of late-life. Many of us have experienced our own age-appropriate forms of “not winning.” Our trials may have arrived in the guise of health, relational, career, or retirement challenges. Whatever the issue, the result was likely to come at a cost….financial or otherwise. It is that potential cost that may prompt our anxiety. Perhaps you have seen the television commercials offering their own dire October question….”Will your nest egg last as long as you?” 

And what place, you might ask, do those gloomy questions have in a blog which claims we can thrive in our 60s and 70s, and even promotes the relational possibilities of October and beyond? More to the point….how does the possibility of financial distress fit into a relational story? 

Without resorting to more complicated reasons, I am willing to settle for the obvious. October poverty, i.e. ‘not winning,’ is the stuff of real life….both the unpromising fact of it and the way it can fuel the urge to have a special someone at our side to help deal with it. With those obstacles in mind I created a story I call Going Poor, and I must admit it is one of my favorites.

I’ve made the point before….our October Years can be an intimidating time. When I started working on Going Poor, with its depiction of poverty’s impact on an October soul, I had already written about relationships impaired by divorce and death, Alzheimer’s and heart disease, stroke and decades of separation. So why not explore yet another all-too-frequent element of October life? Why not take a closer look at poverty? In particular what can happen to an October relationship when it bumps into the harsh realities of Going Poor?

I’m not sure what prompted the story. I suppose it’s a child of our times. We read every day about how many of us are unprepared for retirement, and facing an uncertain, even perilous financial future. Yet, by itself “poverty” is probably more depressing than interesting, not a likely subject for most storytellers. 

But what about the impact of poverty….its effect on the unfortunate October ones who are constrained by the fact of it and forced to live accordingly? Beyond our basic needs for food and shelter perhaps the most crushing impact of financial hardship is on the human psyche….the emotional price we pay for believing that in a culture like ours, where perceived worth is so often a function of dollars, we have not measured up in the ways that we and society expected. What happens to dreams of affirmation and success in the face of late-life poverty? How does it affect self-esteem and willingness to take relational chances? It seemed to me those questions could provide the ingredients for an interesting story. 

Can you imagine, or have you experienced the effects of poverty on a potential relationship? The more I thought about that the more it seemed to me that perhaps no one is more in need of a caring and committed partner than a truly needy person…. someone who seems not to be thriving.

But of course, thriving is a relative term. My “thriving” may strike you as very “unthrivinglike.” (I think I just invented a new word.) True, satisfying relationships can thrive in any home, no matter how modest. Yet poverty and homelessness are bound to threaten permanency, an important element of a safe and secure partnership. Add to that toxic mix doubts of self-worth and one's ability to be a provider, and the promise of a healing relationship moves even further out of reach.

What might that sad state of affairs look like? How must it feel? Of course every situation is different, a unique blend of circumstances. In the following excerpts from Going Poor I depict a nearly broken man’s efforts to deal with the sour hand that life and his own bad choices have dealt him….leaving him poor, with no apparent prospects.

        ~~~ Going Poor - #1 ~~~

Lane Tipton was sixty….tired, and broke….nearly at the end of his rope. Asking for sister Sally’s help was a last resort, but he seemed to have no other choice.

Lane flinched a bit, remembering how much he dreaded those moments when his sister’s questions turned to his unfortunate circumstances. 

“So how are you doing?” Sally asked again. “Have you been working at all? If I remember right the last time you called you were retrieving shopping carts for the Merchants’ Association, and living in someone’s garage.”

“Yeah, I worked myself out of that job.” He was laughing to himself as he switched the phone to his other ear, wondering why she would remember something like that. 

“A place like Medford only has so many shopping carts,” he continued. “It took  me about two weeks to round up the lost and stolen ones, at least the ones I could find. That earned me a few bucks, but then I was out of work again. As for the garage, that worked out pretty well….until I got evicted.”

“You got evicted from a garage? That sounds like a first.”

“I should have seen it coming,” Lane admitted. “Ron had been talking about getting a car for his wife. When he finally did that, there wasn’t room for me and the Honda in the garage. The Honda won out.”

“So where are you staying now? Have you come up with any new answers?”

Lane turned quiet, offering no hint of his normally upbeat banter. It took only seconds for Sally to put her own spin on his silence. For years her brother had endured bad luck and hard times without complaint, relying on his characteristic optimism and an exaggerated bravado to mask the hurt. But now, as his stubborn silence continued, she was inclined to believe there was something different at work this time. 

“Lane. You’ve got to tell me. Does it feel like you’ve run out of options? Is that it?” She paused, wondering how to pry the truth from him. “Come on. I know exactly how that feels. I’ve been there. Remember?”

His reply arrived in a hushed near-whisper, tinged with a hesitant resignation that was unlike him. “Yeah,” he finally admitted. “It kind of feels like I’ve hit the wall. There’s not much work to be had around here. There are a couple dozen guys going after every job that comes up. Truth is, an old fossil like me doesn’t stand much of a chance. 

“The only ones who are hiring are the orchards. They’re pruning this time of year, and looking for young bucks who can run up and down a ladder a hundred miles an hour. I just can’t do that anymore.” He paused, scolding himself for sounding so down in the dumps. Still, he owed her the truth. 

“The thing is,” he continued. “The few shelters in town are turning guys away. They don’t have any more room. There aren’t enough beds to go around. Winter’s coming on and I’m fresh out of ideas.

“So?” Sally voiced her one word question and waited.

“So?” He asked. “What does that mean?”

“It means ‘What are you going to do’? You can’t do nothing, can you?”

Though neither wanted to be the first to put the truth of it into words, each of them understood where their sparse dialogue was leading. Sally understood her brother’s reluctance to admit he was giving up. Yet, if he could not force himself to say what needed saying, she would have to do that herself.

“Listen to me, brother. How many times have I told you that you ought to come back here, back to Tanner. Why not do that now? Stay with me until you get things sorted out. I’ve got room for that. It’s not fancy, but it beats the heck out of staying in some homeless camp out on the Bluffs.”

“Sal, don’t you kid me. You don’t have room for that. You’re still in the same single wide, aren’t you….the one you had at the other park?”

“That’s right.” 

“Which means you don’t have room for another body bouncing around in your trailer. I can’t be imposing on you like that.”

Brother Lane was raising his predictable objections. That was not so surprising. Sally's challenge was to make him listen to reason. “Don’t be silly. You wouldn’t be imposing at all. In fact, I think I’d appreciate some company for a change. I’d probably feel more comfortable having a man around the place. Who knows what kind of guys are poking around here at night?”

“And you expect me to scare them off?” The thought of that had him laughing. “That’s not too likely. Besides, how are you ever going to get acquainted with any of those guys with little brother hanging around.? I might end up scaring off the wrong one.”

“Don’t you fret about that. You won’t find any fellows buzzing around this old girl….at least none that I’d be interested in meeting. That doesn’t bother me at all. Don’t forget. I know very well what the real thing is like. I’ve been there. Why would I ever settle for second best?”

                          ~~~ Going Poor - #2 ~~~

Lane had finally returned to Tanner, moving in with Sally. There, on a cold, drizzly morning he made his way to the downtown Job Market, where eager, strong-backed young men from the neighboring homeless shelters and hillside camps gathered….waiting for the trucks and buses that came from the region's farms and nurseries, looking to hire day-workers. 

“So tell me,” Lane said, turning to the only other fellow waiting in what appeared to be the senior section of the Job Market waiting area. “What are the odds of making a connection here? Is there any work out there for us mature types? I’m standing here in the rain, hoping to make a few bucks before the day is over. I need to do that. It’s been way too long between paychecks.”

“You can see how it works,” the ill-dressed man replied, rubbing his gray-stubbled face and tugging his cap over his ears. “Most of the outfits that come in here are looking for young guys, like that bunch down on the corner.

“Those farms have crops to get in, or plants to tend. They need help and they’re not fussy about age discrimination issues and stuff like that. Those young kids, especially the Mexicans, are hard workers. That’s who they’re looking for. Hell, I’d hire them in a minute if I had work to get done.”

The rain was picking up again, sending the two of them down the wall to the wider overhead awning in front of the fitness center. 

“During the summer,” the fellow continued. “There’s plenty of work for everyone, even us old farts. But now, in the fall, it gets harder. The work has slowed down. The only thing in our favor is a lot of the Hispanics have headed south to California, where there’s more work. Another month or so there won’t be much call for extra help up here. Except for the Christmas tree farms, everyone will be going with a skeleton crew.”

“Does that mean you’ll be going south, like the others?,” Lane asked.

“I don’t know,” his new friend answered. “I’ve done that the last couple years. Mostly because it’s warmer. But the truth is, I’m at the point where my body can’t take that kind of beating year round. I turned sixty-one this summer. Been dealing with bad knees for years. And they’re sure as hell not getting any better.”

“You got a place to stay?” Lane asked. “If you decide to winter here?”

“Yeah, sort of. Another old-timer and I have what we call our Penthouse. We’ve set up a tent, using plastic sheets, against the end of one of the warehouses on the bluff. It’s not pretty, and sure as hell doesn’t meet code. But we stay dry, even half-warm most of the time. That, along with the Mission House shelter, keeps us going when there’s no work.”

~~~~ Going Poor - #3 ~~~

It would have been hard to overestimate Lane’s relief when he found the day job he was hoping for. Perhaps his luck was changing. But what might that newly-minted ‘good luck’ look and feel like?

Climbing the front steps of Sally’s trailer, Lane was home from his first day of Job Market employment. His clothes were soaked, he could not stop shivering, and his back felt like it was on fire. If he actually believed he could hide his distress as he came through the front door, it took about two seconds for his sister to shatter that illusion.

“Are you out of your mind?” she was asking even before he closed the door behind him. “You’ll catch your death of cold. More likely pneumonia. What were you thinking, working out in the rain on a day like this?” 

In no time at all Lane’s jacket, shirt, and tee shirt were deposited in a soggy pile just inside the door. When Sally turned on the stove-top burner to warm some water for instant coffee, he was there beside her, holding his hands over the propane flame. 

Then, from deep in his pants pocket he produced four twenty-dollar bills, a bit damp, but none the worse for wear. “This is what I was doing, Sis,” he said as he carefully spread the bills across the counter top. “I’m getting back in the game. Paying my own way for a change. At least part of it.”

“And for that you’re willing to ruin your health? What kind of deal is that? Where is your good sense?”

“I’m not ‘ruining’ anything. I’m just fine. After a hot, soaky shower I’ll be good as new.” 

Sally had gathered his wet clothes and carried them down the hallway, where the stacked washer and dryer units were wedged into a narrow cubicle.

“Now get your shoes and pants off.” She was resorting to her command mode. “And get in the shower before I use all the hot water washing your things.”

She looked up to find Lane still standing beside the stove, making no effort to remove his shoes. Before she could prod him into action, he was asking for a favor.

“Do you suppose you could pull my shoes off?” he asked timidly. “I don’t think I can reach them. Even if I got down there, I probably couldn’t straighten up again.”

Why had she not noticed sooner? Seconds later, on her knees, Sally was still in a scolding mood as she untied his shoes and pulled off his wet socks. “You are out of your mind. When will you realize that you’re not a kid any more? It makes no sense at all, wrecking yourself like this for a few dollars.”

Taking her arm, Lane helped her to her feet. “Sis, I told you before….I need to do my part. That means bringing home some dollars. It’s not that much, but at least it’s something.”

“But, you don’t have to.......” Before she could finish her complaint Lane’s hand was clamped firmly over her mouth.

“Don’t you give me that,” he growled. “I got wet and cold today, because I wasn’t dressed for the weather. That’s what made my back tighten up on me. And it’s still messed up. But once I get a hot shower and a little rest I’ll be fine. Then I need to round up some rain gear for tomorrow. I’ll do that after.......”

Tomorrow?” It was Sally’s turn to interrupt. “Are you crazy? I’ll bet you won’t be able to get out of bed in the morning.”

“Yes I will. I have to.” He unbuckled his belt and lifted his foot to let her pull off his pants. “By then I’ll be good as new.”

I must admit, it was an interesting process, creating a relational story, actually two of them, from such unpromising fabric. Fact is, stories like that….sad reflections of the times we live in….are being played out all around us every day. The challenge was to focus on the inconspicuous possibilities hidden among the makings of a potential tragedy. I hope you’ll take time to check it out.


Saturday, June 25, 2022



Chapter 21

Her grandparents’ home was a quick five minute drive from The Mac Skateboard Park. Though she appreciated Marco’s offer of a ride home, Delaney saw no reason for extended conversation. In fact, for the first minute or two she said nothing at all until, at the first stop light, he unexpectedly turned left instead to continuing up the hill toward Tanner Heights.

“Where are you going?” she asked, scooting to the edge of her seat. “This isn’t the way to the Heights.”

“I thought we’d take the scenic route.” He reached over to pat her leg. “Just relax. You’ll like it, I promise.”

Pushing his hand aside, Delaney was suddenly in a command mode. “You turn around right now. Do you hear me? This was supposed to be a ride home, nothing else.”

They were moving deeper into the south-end residential area, past places she had never seen before. Ahead wooded hills, marking the edge of Tanner proper, were silhouetted against the skyline. Once there they would be beyond the crowded suburbs. And still Marco showed no signs of heeding her demands.

“Are you going to stop?” she asked firmly.

“Will you calm down?” 

Pointing to the glove compartment in front of Delaney the boy explained, “Check out the stuff in there. I guarantee you’ll like that. It’s some of that ‘good grass’ you were talking about. That should help you relax. Maybe then we can enjoy ourselves. Doesn’t that sound like a plan?”

“I said turn around.”

Clearly his California friend was not buying Marco’s ‘relax and enjoy’ line. This time, however, his answer was nothing more than a head shaking grin. Ahead, they were approaching what appeared to be the last traffic signal before they started into the countryside.

The light was two blocks ahead, shining a bright green. A block later it was yellow, and as they approached the intersection the light turned red. By then Delaney had decided on her course of action.

As the car rolled to a stop her door swung open. Before the startled boy realized what had happened she was out of the car, making for the sidewalk. Her walk home would be longer than expected, she told herself, but at least she knew the way.

Except....Martin Copeland was not the kind to give up so easily. Before Delaney had covered the first block leading back toward town he had turned around and started after her. Seconds later he pulled up on the street beside her, driving in the direction she was walking, and slowing to a pace that matched hers.

“Come on, L.A. Girl,” Marco called through the open window. “You can’t walk all the way back. You’ll just get lost.”

With her eyes riveted on the sidewalk ahead of her Delaney was shaking her head, telling herself there was no reason to be debating with that jerk. She knew the way home. Besides, the walk might help burn off the growing disappointment in herself. She had clearly misread young Marco and his intentions. She ought to have known better than that. 

With that in mind she quickened her pace, until she looked up to see the black coupe stopped in the middle of the next crosswalk, blocking her path. Unless she turned the corner and walked up the side street leading to who-knew-where, there was no way around him.

About then the car door opened and he stepped out to yell, “Come on, girl. Don’t be stupid. Get the hell in here.”

“No thanks. I’ll just walk. I know the way home. I don’t need any side trips.”

Standing in the middle of the side street, Marco was laughing. “Hey, I told you I’d take you home. And I will. There’s just no reason to be in such a hurry. After all, I know a little something about you. I saw how you went for the weed. I’ll bet you’d enjoy a little detour too.” There was a sinister edge to his words when he added, “I know I would.”

By then, still chiding herself for underestimating the threat he represented, Delaney was in an emergency response mode, looking for a way out....anything other than getting back in the car with Marco. For an instant they stood rooted in place, perhaps a hundred feet apart, each of them waiting for the other to make a move. Then, almost in unison, they both stepped forward.

The boy was coming towards her, but Delaney had chosen an alternative route, up the narrow sidewalk to the front porch of the last house on the block. There, with a quick glance over her shoulder, she pushed the doorbell and silently prayed there was someone home.

“What’s that about?” Marco called from the sidewalk. “You think someone’s going to bail you out? Why don’t you just get your ass down here and we’ll be on our way.” With that he started toward the porch and the now-shaken girl.

It was not Delaney who halted the boy’s determined approach. Instead it was the sight of the elderly, unimposing woman who inched the front door open to see who was there. For an instant the girl’s spirits sagged. She had been hoping there might be a big, burly fellow standing in the doorway. And what did she get, a shriveled little old lady? Still, she had to ask her question.

“Could I borrow your phone, ma’am?”

“My phone?”

“Yes,” she said, nodding over her shoulder to where Marco waited, hands on hips, watching her apparently-futile charade play out. “You see,” the girl continued. “I have kind of a problem. I’d like to call someone to come get me.”

Though she was old and definitely ‘unimposing,’ the stooped lady standing just inside the screen door was quick to size up the situation. She pause for an instant to considered the possible downside. 

Perhaps the young lady was playing a role, wanting to get inside the house, to ease the way for her male companion to join her. But the fear she read in Delaney’s eyes argued against that. Stepping aside, the woman pushed the screen door and motioned the girl inside.

As the door closed behind them they heard Marco’s defiant warning. “I’ll be waiting, L.A. Girl. I’m not going anywhere.”


For the first couple of rings I ignored the phone, waiting for Nell to answer, until I remembered that she and Kathy were off at the Garden Club’s monthly doings. I finally pushed myself out of the recliner and walked across the family room to retrieve the cordless handset, wishing whoever it was would finally give up.

“You are home.” I heard the relief in Delaney’s hopeful greeting. “It’s me, Grandpa. I was afraid you were gone”

“My goodness,” I laughed. “This is something new and different, isn’t it? You’re usually the one who hides from me. Remember? What is it that has you so anxious to talk to your old Granddad?”

“Don’t be silly. I always like to talk to you.” She paused at that point, leaving me to wonder what had prompted her call and her suddenly amiable tone. “The thing is, Grandpa. I’ve got this problem. I’m hoping you can help me out.”

It took only a few seconds for her to elaborate on what she called ‘this problem.’ It took me a bit longer to calm down. By then I was certain that her Marco friend needed to hear some straight talk about what was acceptable behavior....and what was not. 

In fact I was composing my not-so-subtle diatribe as we talked. Meanwhile, Delaney was doing her best to convince me that a confrontational scolding was probably not the best way to deal with her situation.

“Grandpa, I don’t know this guy very well,” she explained. Her normally confident bluster was nowhere to be heard. “He has a mean streak in him that I didn’t notice at first. But I’ve seen it now. You really don’t want to mess with him. There’s no telling what he might do, especially if he thinks you’re trying to make him look bad.”

“All the more reason he needs a good talking to," I answered. "What kind of young man preys on innocent girls? It has nothing to do with me making him look bad. He’s already done that.”

For a moment I heard nothing. Perhaps Delaney was replaying my ‘innocent girl’ description, maybe even laughing at that. 

When she returned to the conversation she was offering her own pointed warning. “Please Grandpa. Don’t even talk to him. There’s no reason to get him worked up. Besides, he’s pretty big, and probably used to having his way.”

I suppose that was enough to get my attention. For all my righteous indignation I have always considered myself a realist, with some idea of what I could do and not do. 

With that in mind I jotted down the address Delaney gave me and set off on my unlikely rescue mission, still processing her ‘problem’ and piecing together a scheme I hoped would encourage her roguish new acquaintance to keep his distance, then and in the future.