Friday, December 30, 2022





Hank Rolland was thoroughly confused and more than a little conflicted....alternately pleased with himself, then bitterly disappointed. For an hour he had sat back in his recliner, asking himself the same questions over and over, without once finding a satisfying answer.

If all went well he could offer Jimmy Brooder an evening with Gladys Horner. He would count that as a win, if it happened. Yet helping the Scooter would come at a price....a Big Band Night spent with Angie McDonald in front of God and the whole world. To make matters worse, what Hank was referring to as a concert, Angie was calling adate’ as she spread the good news

The arrangements....inviting Angie to go with him, and then asking her to approach Gladys Horner as part of Hank’s Jimmy Brooder campaign, had been hatched in the course of a single after-church Coffee Hour. As uncomfortable as it had been, that ordeal was behind him.....if Jimmy and Gladys accepted his plans.

Now came the hardest part of all. For the last hour he had replayed his discussion with Angie, while focusing on a more immediate dilemma.... how to break that startling news to Sarah.

They had been together an hour....Hank in his chair, Sarah on her shelf. Sixty minutes, and still he had not spoken a word to her. How could he, until he found a way to explain the inexplicable? Unless, of course, those words and his explanation were not necessary. What if she already knew the truth? 

Moments later, taking the Clabber Girl tin from the shelf, he rested it in his lap to begin their intimately quiet conversation with his first question. “Do you remember the times I’ve asked if you could tell what I was thinking? Whether you could read my mind? 

“I’ve heard it said that people on the other side can do that. But I don’t recall that you ever answered me. It would help to know if you’ve already know what I have to tell you, so I wouldn’t be repeating myself. Because if you do I’d rather not have to explain it all over again.”

Did he actually expect an answer? So often he had asked his questions, certain that he knew in advance how she would respond. When that happened he could plow ahead, accepting her silence as validation that he had read her intentions properly. Unfortunately, his present dilemma was very different. 

Never before in the course of their years together had they discussed the presence of another woman in his life. How could he predict Sarah's response? Folding his hands across her lid, he closed his eyes and waited patiently, hoping for some hint, anything to confirm that she understood what he had done and why.

Minutes later Hank’s eyes popped open and he was asking a new, embarrassing question. Had he fallen asleep waiting for Sarah’s answers? What did that say about his serious intentions? It was time to move ahead, before that happened again.

“Honey,  there’s something I need to tell you.” He was looking directly at her colorful label. “You remember when I told you that Kelly said I needed to get a life? Actually she said that’s what you wanted me to do. I’ll admit I didn’t like hearing that. But now, just lately, things have started to get even more complicated.”

Wiping his sweating palms on the arms of the recliner, he wondered why it was so hard to talk to someone he could not see. For an instant he sensed a larger doubt flash through his thoughts, the wondering if she was even there at all. Pushing that ambiguity aside, he continued.

“I told you about Jimmy. How he’d like to get acquainted with Gladys Horner, to know her better. And you know all about Angie, and how persistent she’s been. Grace was kidding me about that this morning. She calls Angie 'The Super-Glue Lady,’ like there’s no getting rid of her. Grace thought that was pretty funny. I didn’t.

“Anyway, I think I’ve found a way to put all those things together....Jimmy, Gladys, and Angie. If it works out Jimmy and Gladys might be going to Big Band Night together.” He paused, wishing there was a way to avoid what came next. “With Angie and me.”

 There, Sarah had heard the words from his own mouth. What must she be thinking? Could she tell that a night out with Angie meant nothing to him? “Don’t you worry about me. You know very well she’s not my type. It just felt like something I should do....for Jimmy.”

For Jimmy,” he repeated to himself. Was that a cop out? Was he being truthful, with Sarah or himself? A few minutes later his wondering again ended in sleep.



  Gladys Stein had grown up in Tanner, the daughter of a prominent physician. Although hers might have appeared to be a privileged upbringing, even as a youngster she had accepted it as run-of-the-mill normal. While her classmates spent their summers toiling in the berry fields and canneries, Gladys had spent her mornings training for the country club swim team and her afternoons life-guarding at the club pool. “Tan Time,” she liked to call it.

There was, however, another side to young Miss Stein, an adventurous streak that sometimes landed her in trouble....and invariably drove her father to distraction. Like the time during the family’s Christmas in Mazatlan, Mexico, when seventeen year-old Gladys simply disappeared for an entire afternoon. 

Her parents’ understandable panic had turned to loud anger when local police finally located Gladys across town, at a dinghy neighborhood marketplace deep in the heart of a sprawling barrio. While her parents stewed frantically, she had been visiting with curious street-urchins....trying out her first-year Spanish and learning more about their obviously deprived lives.

Once back at the hotel her straight forward explanation, “I just wanted to see how they lived, how they could possibly get along on so little,” had only fanned Herman Stein’s upset. 

Though Gladys may have been surprised by her father’s livid complaints, she was not at all shocked to hear that his chief concern had not been for her well being, but instead about how her ‘irresponsible’ behavior must have looked to others. 

“What self-respecting young man would allow himself would be attracted to a woman who acts like that?," the doctor asked. "You must think of those things before you run off on your irrational adventures. You never know who will hear about your silly escapades.”

In time Herman Stein would be proven at least partially correct. Young Lester Horner was the kind who expected to see his wife on the society page, in the company of the ‘right’ people....not mixing with the masses in a backstreet slum. He was the son of a wealthy Portland family and for as long as Gladys had known him, since their sophomore year of college, he had made no secret of his political ambitions. 

By the time he and Gladys left college Lester was already fleshing out vivid mind-pictures of his successful career path, often using a young John Kennedy as his inspiration. He was determined to make his mark as a leader of the people. That was, after all, his destiny....a future befitting someone with his capabilities and social station. Not long after their wedding the Horners set up housekeeping in Tanner, the state capital, the better to facilitate Lester’s dreams. 

Lester Horner was an unquestionably bright and insightful young man. By almost any measure his political possibilities appeared encouraging. Before long he was meeting the right people and making himself at home among the Capital’s movers and shakers. 

Yet in spite of his apparent qualifications he had never been able to win an election, not once in six primary contests. More to the point, when called on to demonstrate his connection with the average voter Lester never failed to fail. The reality of his dilemma was not hard to understand. His many capabilities came wrapped in a bland, often grating package, capped by an irritating habit of talking down to everyone, including his own wife.

Unable to win office and unwilling to accept the ignominy of a run-of-the-mill state bureaucratic position, Lester had spent his entire working career managing a medical-billing service, financed and sponsored by his father-in-law, who regularly channeled clients to the business. For his part, Lester continued his life long practice of being seen in the right places with the right people, basking in their reflected glory.

For forty-two years Gladys Horner had played the loyal wife....loving her husband, though never completely comfortable in the lifestyle he had chosen for them. She had raised their only son, David, largely on her own and spent the best years of her life in pursuit of what she personally considered constraining and largely superficial results. 

In that light, it was perhaps not surprising that when the opportunity finally arose she had wasted little time in changing course. Within months of Lester’s passing Gladys had returned to the liberating possibilities of a long postponed teenage dream, this time in an updated, age-appropriate form. 

She began volunteering in the church’s English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) program. Before long her involvement, which would never have earned her late husband’s approval, had become an important part of her post-Lester life.

In was a challenging routine she had settled on, tutoring ESL classes three nights a week during the school year. In addition she spent two hours each Saturday morning with Estella, one of her advanced students, who had been hired to help Gladys improve her own long-dormant Spanish language skills. There in Estella’s apartment, where she tended her grandson on weekends, the student taught the teacher. 

To her way of thinking Gladys had settled into a comfortable and satisfying widowhood. There were no money worries. Her ESL classes, working with half a dozen Hispanic women who had become her friends, kept her occupied. Though not as active as some she remained involved in church activities, helping out from time to time, enough to maintain contact with her congregational sisters, like Angie McDonald.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022




    CHAPTER 10

Perhaps there had been a time, early on, when Angie McDonald considered waiting the customary one year after Sarah’s passing to make her interest in Hank Rolland known. If so, that resolve had lasted no more than ten days. It had been the eleventh day when she first made her pursuit known, at the reception following Sarah’s Memorial Service. 

After that, in the closely-connected universe of congregational society, it had taken only a week or two for the underground telegraph to spread the word that Angie ‘had set her cap’ on the unsuspecting Mr. Rolland.

Beyond the startling fact of her hand resting on his leg that afternoon, Hank had also heard the first of several dinner invitations, each one requiring a new, more-creative level of excuse-making on his part. For weeks Angie had managed to sit beside him during the after-service Coffee Hours. With each of those visits came a renewal of her spirited offense clashing quietly with Hank’s determined defense.

It was shortly after the six month mark when Mrs. McDonald stepped forward with a new strategy....her first non-dinner invitation, something she hoped would be interesting enough to win his consideration.

“I know you’ve been to the Big Band concert before,” she explained, seeking to aim her sales pitch towards Hank’s comfort zone. “I remember seeing you and Sarah there.”

He could scarcely deny that. The Tanner Pops Big Band Night was an annual affair, one he and Sarah had always looked forward to attending. The gala charity event had never failed to provide an enjoyable evening of nostalgic tunes, both vocal and instrumental, from a well remembered era.

“Oh yes. That was always fun. We didn’t get social very often, but that was one ‘doings’ we never missed.”

There in the Fellowship Hall, over the last of their Coffee Hour coffee, in the presence of half a dozen church friends, Angie had won Hank’s unequivocal endorsement of past Big Band Nights and how much he had enjoyed them. Not surprisingly, that was enough to lift her spirits. Could it be the normally hesitant Mr. Rolland was finally coming around?

“It would be fun to do that again, don’t you think? Is that something we could do, the two of us?”

Had she had misread Hank’s initial interest by  offering her not-so-subtle suggestion that they attend the concert together? It seemed he was ready with his predictable excuse, “I don’t know. It just seems like it’s too soon.” 

Yet a second later he had turned quiet, overtaken by a pair of new, yet-pertinent considerations. It was true....he had always looked forward to the Big Band event and would undoubtedly be attending again, on his own or perhaps with Jimmy Brooder.

Moreover, there was the uncomfortable realization that Angie had made a point of broaching the subject in front of their friends, making a suitable reason to turn her down harder to find. In all likelihood he would see most of those same people at the concert, no matter whom he was with. That alone seemed to negate some of the excuses he could think of. 

Without once appearing pushy or overbearing, it seemed that the lady had managed to maneuver Hank into a corner, while at the same time closing off his most apparent escape routes. Glancing across the table he caught her impish, almost gloating grin. Clearly the lady was relishing the prospect of a hard won success.

For his part, Hank was looking for a way to make the most of an unfortunate situation. In a matter of seconds he had settled on an idea that might help neutralize the unwelcome prospect of an evening spent in Angie’s smothering company. More than that, if what he had in mind produced the desired result, it might even extend a lifeline to a dejected friend.

However, though Angie had made use of their audience to deliver her invitation, Hank was not interested in making his response part of a public conversation. Certainly not in the presence of so many important cogs in the congregational gossip-mill. Instead he surprised an already buoyant Mrs. McDonald by offering to walk her to her car.

Strolling through the parking lot Angie accepted Hank’s company for what it appeared to be....a friendly parting. At her car she opened the door and tossed her purse across to the passenger seat. For a moment it looked like she was ready to slip inside behind the steering wheel. Then, turning back to face him, she asked her question one last time.

“I’m still waiting for an answer, you know. Could we go to the concert together? Would you feel comfortable doing that? Might it feel like it’s finally not too soon?”

There was no reason to be too direct. Not if he was hoping for her likely-reluctant cooperation. Take it slow, he told himself. Given the appropriate incentive, Angie might actually be willing to help him out.

“I’ve told you before,” Hank said. “In some ways, it does feel like it’s too soon. I don’t want to be rushing things. It’s important to keep everything respectful.”

“You think I’m not being respectful?” She was not smiling. “Is that it? That doesn’t sound too complimentary, does it?”

“Come on, Angie. It’s not about you. I just don’t want to start tongues wagging again. You know how those other ladies can be.” He paused, letting her absorb what he hoped she would accept as second thoughts on his part.

“So you don’t think it’s a good idea?” Her tight lipped frown had the look of defeat. “I was hoping you’d like it.”

Leaning back against the car, Hank was ready to offer his compromise. “Big Band Night is a good idea. And if we did it right maybe it would work for us. If, that is, you’d be willing to help me out a bit.”

“Help you out? How?” She was offering no commitment, only wondering skepticism.

“What if we went with another couple? You know, a double date.”

Stepping away from the car, Angie closed the door behind her and turned back to Hank, making no effort to hide her questions. For the first time ever he appeared ready to say “Yes.” 

He had actually smiled as he spoke of the possibility. She had waited months for that moment. But his acceptance seemed to come with an unexpected, and very surprising caveat. A double date of all things. Where had that silly teenage notion come from?

“Do we need chaperones?” she finally asked. Her jaw was set and her squint-eyed stare signaled her irritation. “Is that what you think?”

“Angie, there’s no need to get bent out of shape. I’m just looking to take this slow. I’ve told you that before. I want it to feel right, not rushed.”

“Do you have a couple in mind....someone to help ‘slow’ things down? If so, is it someone I know?”

They paused to wave at the passing sedan. By the time Angie turned back to him Hank had escaped to the back of the car, drumming his fingers on the truck lid, composing an answer to questions he had been afraid to ask himself. Though he had not consulted Jimmy Brooder on the matter, he was planning to do his friend a favor. Hopefully, if he could pull it off, Jimmy would accept it as that.

“Yeah,” he nodded. “I do have a couple in mind. Except they don’t know they’re a couple. At least not yet.”

“What are you talking about? Will you stop with the riddles and just tell me.”

Another deep breath and he plowed ahead. “You know Gladys pretty well, don’t you? Gladys Horner. She strikes me as the kind who would enjoy Big Band Night. I’m sure she’s been there before.”

Angie walked the length of the car to Hank’s side. She had no idea where his cryptic double-date talk was taking them, but the mere mention of Gladys Horner’s name was enough to make his logic suspect. 

“I’m sure she’s been there,” Angie nodded. “And I’m just as sure she’s not part of any couple. Hasn’t been since Lester passed away. That must have been six or seven years ago. I don’t understand what you’re driving at. Are you saying Gladys has to go with us, or you won’t go?”

Her incredulous question was enough to end Hank’s resistance and halt his embarrassed retreat. Like it or not, he and Angie were going to the concert together. That had become a given. He had already said he would. There was no conscionable way to make their attendance conditional on Gladys’ participation in his crazy plan.

“Angie. We’re going to the concert. Okay? Unless you decide you don’t want to. But at the same time I’m trying to help out a give him a hand. And it would take Gladys’ cooperation to do that.”

“Hank Rolland, you’re still talking in circles. Will you just spit it out?”

He was laughing at her exaggerated frustration, but only a little. He needed her help. There was no sense upsetting her. “It’s Jimmy. Jimmy Brooder. He’d like to spend some time with Gladys, to help them get acquainted. He’s sure she’d never agree to that if he asked her. 

"So I’m wondering what would happen if we gave them a little nudge, something like a non-threatening, perfectly harmless double date for the Big Band concert. Do you think Gladys would go for that, the four of us? More to the point, do you think you could talk her into going with Jimmy?”

“Me? You want me to do that old fool’s work? How could I possibly do that?”

Angie McDonald’s wondering frown mirrored her mounting confusion. For months she had done her best to convince Hank that they ought to know each other better. Her altogether obvious interest in his company had become a topic of lighthearted gossip among her congregational friends. 

She understood that. She knew too that there were others among her church ‘sisters’ who entertained the same idea, though they had not been willing to go public so soon after Sarah’s passing.

From the beginning Angie had decided against the ‘wait and see’ approach others had chosen. While her sisters dallied, she had stepped out to make her case. Yet for months, in spite of her most determined efforts, Hank had resisted. Then suddenly, on that very morning, with no forewarning, he had apparently changed his mind. Without knowing why, it seemed that she had finally won him over. 

Now she was learning that his interest came with strings attached, raising more questions than ever. A double date? That was for kids. And Gladys Horner? What was that about? She was a good friend, one of her favorites. But their visits had always been confined to new recipes, gardens, and grandchildren. Never once had they shared anything about the men who were, or were not, a part of their lives.

Finally there was the most unexpected piece of Hank’s puzzling puzzle....Jimmy Brooder. Of course Angie knew who he was. He was in church every Sunday. But she had not grown up in Tanner. She knew nothing of Scooter Brooder, the schoolboy phenom, whose confidence on the playing field had been matched by his stumbling ineptness in all matters relating to the feminine gender.

She had seen Jimmy working in the church kitchen during the Men’s Club breakfasts. There, in the company of his peers he was loud and joking, everyone’s friend. Around the ladies of the church his interaction was normally limited to a timid nod in passing. 

What made Hank think that Gladys, who had avoided any hint of a new alliance since Lester’s passing, would suddenly consider the likes of Jimmy Brooder to be a suitable date, double or otherwise?

“So what do you think?” Having waited patiently for Angie’s response, Hank was asking again. “Would you be willing to talk to Gladys? If she’s game it would be a fun way for us to do the Big Band Night and get better acquainted. Don’t you think that would work?”

How could something she wanted so badly have turned out to be so complicated? Hank had already made his point. They were going to the concert, whether or not Gladys agreed to join them. That was the best of good news. 

But if that first date was to be the start of something with a future, it seemed she ought to make him as comfortable as possible. If that meant giving his ‘Gladys’ idea a try, so be it. First, however, she needed one last assurance.

“Are you sure your friend Jimmy even knows how to act with a lady like Gladys? If I talked her into your idea, and he turns out to be some kind of monster, she’d never forgive me. You’re asking me to vouch for him. Should I really be doing that?”

“I know that he really wants to make a good impression. He wants her to like him.” In truth, that was the extent of Hank’s knowing. Jimmy wanted to meet Gladys. Hank wanted the two of them along for his evening with Angie. What more did he need to know? “He’ll know how to act.”

“Let me call you tomorrow,” Angie said. “I’ll test the waters and see what she says. In the meantime don’t be making any promises to Mr. Brooder.”

Monday, December 26, 2022



It had been one of Sarah’s favorite sayings. Where others might have declared a situation to be ‘easy as pie,’ or ‘a piece of cake,’ she relied on her own "A walk in the park.’ Hank liked to think her reference was to well-remembered times the two of them had shared in their early years.

On that late summer afternoon, however, Hank was thinking beyond a walk in the park. What he had in mind was a picnic in the park. He and Sarah needed a break from the stifling confines of the computer room, where his determined attempts at dialogue so often dried up when he dozed off. Beyond that, they had new and confusing things to be talking about. It was time for a walk and a picnic in the park.

River Park, the county’s green and inviting showpiece, was on the banks of the river a few miles north of Tanner. For generations couples had retreated to the quiet seclusion of the park to address questions and seek answers. Decades before, as young lovers, Hank and Sarah had made River Park a part of their tentative search for common ground. Now he was hoping it could serve that purpose once more.

Of course, a return to Riverside Park in Sarah’s company would be different than those earlier visits. Still, with a bit of imagination he could manage to include a few reminders of the times they had shared there. 

From the garage, high on a seldom-visited shelf, Hank retrieved Sarah’s wicker picnic basket.... dusty, but serviceable. It took a little longer to locate the old Pendleton blanket, plaid and colorful, now sporting two or three moth holes. In a matter of minutes those basic elements had been assembled on the kitchen table, cleaned up a bit, and pronounced fit for yet another round of picnic duty.

The meal he had in mind would be a pedestrian affair, nothing at all like Sarah’s extravagant picnic offerings. Relying on his own favorite ingredients ....cheese slices, turkey-breast lunch meat, and onions, Hank created a single semi-gourmet sandwich. Along with a can of soda and a small sack of chips, he had the basics of a proper picnic meal. Finally, with Sarah’s bulky Clabber Girl canister stowed carefully between the plaid blanket and his meal, the wicker basket had become a snug, well-balanced package.

From the parking lot at River Park Hank carried his basket along the winding asphalt path, past the gleaming white bandstand on the oak-covered hillside to his left, and on to the upstream corner of the park. It was a quiet, uncrowded space, where forty years before he and Sarah had found the seclusion they were seeking. 

There, out of the sun on the grassy hillside he spread his blanket. Sarah’s gleaming white tin was placed carefully in an upper corner, next to the basket. Everything was ready, but it was too soon for sandwiches. Instead he stretched out on the blanket, his hands folded under his head, preparing to ask his questions. 

In the months since Sarah’s Clabber Girl return Hank had come to accept the subtle input he received as coming from her. After all, in the course of their years together he had heard her speak those same truths and make those same claims. What she seemed to ‘say’ nowadays was so like her. 

“There’s a reason for everything that happens,” she liked to say. “There’s always a purpose. There are no accidents. That’s the way life is.”

If that assurance seemed insufficient to earn his confidence, Sarah had usually been prepared with more. “You don’t have to understand what’s happening,” she would insist. “Just keep moving ahead and know that everything will work out the way it’s intended to be You don’t have to figure it out or try to control it. It’s when we try to be in charge that we get in trouble.”

Rolling over to his stomach, Hank wedged a fist under his chin and looked up at her Clabber-Girl tin, knowing there was a  particular reason he had brought them to that quiet corner of River Park. After weeks of carefully avoiding the subject in Sarah’s company, Jimmy Brooder’s surprising ‘double date’ request seemed to have signaled it was time to bring his thoughts, and where they were leading him, into the open. It was time to take a chance.

“Look,” he began. “I’ve been talking all around this for a while, because I really don’t know how to bring it up. But now it feels like I have to. I talked to Kelly again a few days ago. As you might expect, she was on her ‘You’ve to be moving on, Dad’ kick. Then along came Jimmy Brooder to drop a bomb on me. All that makes it more important than ever for me to understand what’s going on.”

He planted his elbows on the blanket and cradled his chin in his hands. “Maybe I misinterpreted what you were telling me. But your daughter thinks she heard the same thing. So I’m hoping you can straighten it out for us. Okay?

“Here’s the deal.” Pausing, Hank wet his lips, aware that he was taking them into unexplored territory, a place he and Sarah had never visited together. With no guideposts to help interpret her input, would he be able to translate her answers?

“That last morning, right at the end, just before you left, you said I should get on with my life. Actually, you said I should ‘move on.’ You remember that, don’t you? You even made me promise.” 

He was sitting up now, making eye contact with the lithe young girl printed on the side of Sarah’s container. “Well, Kelly heard that too. And she thought you were telling me it’s okay for me to feel that way again, about someone else. The way I feel about you.”

There, he had said it out loud. That was a relief, knowing that she had heard his concerns. There was no longer any need to tip-toe around that uncomfortable topic. 

“Of course,” he continued, “At the time I wasn’t thinking about that. I’m not sure I was even paying attention to what you were saying. I suppose I was in shock. There I was, trying to deal with the fact that you were leaving, and all of a sudden you were talking to me, about something like ‘moving on.’

“Now, after all these months of hibernating in my little cave,  I suppose it’s not surprising that I get kind of lonely sometimes. Still, it’s not too bad. I see the kids from time to time. And Jimmy Brooder and I get together every once in a while.” 

He paused, perhaps surprised by how little evidence he had to offer in his own defense. A second later he hurried on, lest she think he had forgotten. “Of course, you’re always there talk to and visit with. In fact, that’s what I depend on most of all. When I stop to think about it, I wonder if that ought to be enough to keep me going. But.....

“I’m sorry. I’m not sure how to talk about this. I wish I could do it better. I probably assumed that by seventy-three all these silly questions about what to do with the rest of my life would have been answered, or that I wouldn’t care about that anymore. 

"Maybe I thought that whatever there was for me to do I’d have done by now. I’m sure I thought that seventy-three was a good time to settle back and coast home on all those good memories we’d made together.

“But now I’m thinking back on what you said, how you always claimed there’s a ‘plan’ for everything. You were so sure there’s a reason for what happens and what comes next. The thing is, it’s more confusing than I expected. 

“It always seemed like the future I saw for you and me was good enough. And it would have been, except that you left too soon. Just think how much better it would have been if only you’d have stayed around, so we could have that future together. If you had, I wouldn’t be here pestering you with questions about a future of my own.”

Sitting up, Hank sat hugging his knees, preparing to move them beyond his own relational dilemmas to an even more confusing landscape. “Anyway, Jimmy has come up with a whole new possibility for me to consider. A part of his idea is totally crazy. I’ll tell you about that in a minute. But this scheme of his also brings me right back to that ‘future of my own,’ and all those questions of how I’m supposed to deal with that.”

Reaching out to pat Sarah’s lid he offered his altogether obvious observation. “I need help. Tell me what you think.”

By then he was looking away from her, willing himself to say his piece before he lost his courage. His distressing recital took only a minute or two....a hurried explanation of Jimmy’s ‘double-date’ plan, complete with the name he found so hard to say out loud.

Then, after an awkward moment of silence, he looked back at her canister, ready to bring Sarah into the conversation..

“So there you are. You’ve heard what Jimmy has in mind. Aside from his ridiculous notion of including Angie, I’d be interested in hearing what you think of his asking Gladys. You knew her pretty well. What would she make of Jimmy’s interest? He’s pretty sure she wouldn’t be too flattered.”

A moment later he moved on to more personal concerns. “But you know, Jimmy may be on the right track. If he wants to give it a try it seems like he should. But why include me? I’m sure as heck not interested in a double date, especially with Angie?”

    Reaching out he patted the lid of her canister. “I don’t need any kind of date, honey. Not double or otherwise.” 

Friday, December 23, 2022


       CHAPTER 8

Leaning back as the waitress refilled his coffee cup, Jimmy Brooder was unsure what came next. He had invited Hank to lunch, hoping to learn how his friend had managed to cope with the loss of his wife. Yet it seemed that Hank was shrugging off, even downplaying, that process. Perhaps it was time for a more specific prompt, enough to nudge Hank toward a productive explanation.

“I’m guessing you’ve found that a little company makes things easier, eh?” 

Jimmy’s apparently serious observation was enough to have Hank wondering. How could his friend possibly know about Sarah and the comfort she provided? He would have to ask. “A ‘little company’ you say. I’m not sure what you mean.”

“Don’t you kid me.” Jimmy was grinning at his friend’s bemused evasion. “I’ve seen how Angie sticks to you like glue, and how you pretend to be annoyed. I have to wonder what you’ve got going there.”

“What kind of talk is that?”

“You tell me. What is it that has her so worked up?”

“Look, the lady just won’t go away.” By then Hank’s embarrassment was punctuated by his blushing cheeks. Except for Sarah and Grace, he had never spoken to anyone of his ‘Angie’ dilemma. He would rather not go there with Jimmy, but there seemed to be little choice. “To begin with, Angie lost Harold a few years back. So she’s all alone, just like you say we are.” 

 Suddenly Hank’s impish grin was aimed squarely at Jimmy. “In fact we just might be on to something here. You tell me that you’re lonely. And Angie says she is too. Maybe I ought to let her know that you’re available. Maybe she’s the one you’re looking for?”

“Don't you even think about that.” Jimmy had suddenly turned serious, looking beyond their joking dialogue to offer his quiet, almost whispered admission. “The truth is I’ve already been thinking about someone else. Someone I’d like to know a little better.”

“And who might that be?," Hank asked. "Is it anyone I know?”

From the beginning Jimmy had vowed he would not leave without saying his piece, and asking the favor he had come to ask. He had reached the moment of truth, the time to speak her name out loud. “It’s Gladys,” he said softly. “Gladys Horner.”

“Gladys Horner?”

“Yeah,” Jimmy nodded. “Kind of far out, eh?” Leaning forward, elbows on the table, he continued, “You probably wouldn’t know about it, but back in high school, when she was one of the country-club queens, she didn’t have much use for me. In fact, the one time I asked her for a date she laughed in my face. As you might guess, I never tried that again.”

“And you’re wondering if she’d do that again?” 

Jimmy was looking away, perhaps questioning the wisdom of having shared his unlikely daydream. 

“I know Gladys a bit,” Hank continued. “She and Sarah were good friends. She’s been on her own for a long time. I don’t recall ever seeing her with anyone. But she doesn’t strike me as the kind who’d laugh in anyone’s face.”

With that Hank slid out of the booth, heading for the rest room. Alone and pensive, Jimmy fussed with his empty cup, asking himself again if he had the will to finish what he had started. As near as he could tell Hank was still listening. But how would his friend react to step two of Jimmy’s hopeful plan? Rubbing his half-bald head he reminded himself how intimidating it was, considering a replay of the deflating rejection he had endured more than fifty years before....the one he had never forgotten.

Returning to his bench seat, Hank was prepared to ask his own questions about Jimmy’s ‘Gladys Horner’ revelation. Before he had a chance to do that, the Scooter had stepped forward with his own unexpected and very surprising question.

“Do you remember double dating, back in school? Did you ever do that?”

That had Hank wondering where his friend was leading them. Of course he remembered double dating. There had been a time when that seemed to be his only chance of getting a date. But that was schoolboy stuff. Why was Jimmy bringing it up now?

“I’m not sure I follow you,” Hank said. “What about a double date?”

Again Jimmy Brooder had reached the point of no return....the time to speak the words out loud. “The thing is, I’ve been thinking that Gladys might be more comfortable being with me if there was more than just the two of us.”


“And I thought that if you and .....” He paused, preparing himself for Hank’s almost certain displeasure. “If you and Angie were there too, Gladys might feel better about it. What do you think, would that work?” An audible sigh of relief punctuated his uneasy presentation. 

By then Hank was asking himself why had he not seen that coming. For the last half hour he had tried to make sense of Jimmy’s rambling conversation. Now he had his answer....a double date of all things. 

That was surprising enough. But a date that included Angie McDonald? What was Jimmy thinking? Having spent months dodging the lady’s unwelcome attention, his friend was asking him to consider an absolute one-hundred and eighty degree change of course.

“Look, Jimmy. I suppose I ought to be flattered that you thought of me to take part in your great experiment. But there’s no one out there that I’m even remotely interested in ‘dating,’ if that’s a word that even fits old fossils like us. And if I ever find that person you can bet it won’t be Angie. So I think you’d better be looking for another candidate.”

     Seconds later their suddenly-strained conversation had returned to a safe and comfortable middle ground, with no further mention of loneliness and double dating. After weeks of unsettling indecision Jimmy had finally found the nerve to ask his embarrassing questions. He had taken a chance. Now, having run headlong into a verbal brick wall, he was not prepared to venture into that daunting dialogue again. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2022





They were something of an odd couple....Hank Rolland and Jimmy Brooder....different in almost every way, thrown together by circumstances more than anything, and the fact they had shared a Sunday morning church pew for months. 

Their growing friendship was a recent thing, born of common loss. Although they had been acquainted since high school, and each of them had spent his entire life in Tanner, until the last few months they had always traveled in different circles.

That had changed just two months after Sarah’s passing when Karen Brooder, Jimmy’s wife, collapsed and died at a local bowling alley. A few weeks later a normally confident, always outgoing Jimmy Brooder approached Hank following the Sunday morning church service. After decades of impersonal nods, offered in passing, Jimmy was in need of something more. 

There, in a corner of the narthex, it had taken several awkward seconds for Jimmy to give voice to his embarrassed plea. He was looking for a sounding board....a broad shoulder and caring soul to help him deal with his loss. It had seemed to him that Hank, of all the men he knew, was the most likely to understand the disorienting emptiness that accompanied Karen’s passing.

In the months that followed, over after-church coffee, parking-lot visits, and an occasional phone conversation, Hank had played that role. For the most part it was a matter of listening, giving Jimmy an opportunity to speak of his hurt and ask questions he could ask no one else. Hank was glad to lend a hand. More than that, he appreciated the chance to share his own burdens with someone who had experienced the same loss he lived with. 

So when Jimmy Brooder had called a few days earlier to suggest they meet for lunch at Black’s Restaurant, Hank accepted without hesitation. There, in a side-wall booth, having given their orders to the waitress, Jimmy turned their small-talk conversation toward the recent passing of one of their high-school classmates.

“He was absolutely the best damn blocker we had,” Jimmy explained. His enthusiastic endorsement was clearly intended to assign a special meaning to that claim. “He wasn’t all that big or fast. And he wasn’t exactly the brightest card in the deck. But he sure could open a hole. Every time we ran a play on his side of the line there was room to run.” 

Hank took a moment to drain his coffee, wondering at his friend’s sense of history. The classmate in question had lived his whole life in Tanner, run a successful small business, even spent a couple terms on the City Council. By any measure he had lived a productive life. Yet what did Jimmy remember most of all? “He was the best damn blocker.”

“You’ll have to excuse me,” Hank said between bites. “I was never Mr. Touchdown, like you. So I never cared much whether a guy could block or not.”

As high-school youngsters Jimmy Brooder and Hank had passed each other in the halls of Tanner Southside High. More than once they sat through the same classes, though in all likelihood their reasons for being there were quite different. While Hank was working hard to earn grades that might win him a college scholarship, Jimmy’s academic goals were limited to a more immediate consideration....retaining his athletic eligibility.

Jimmy Brooder had been a jock, one of the state’s best. As a sophomore he had been nicknamed “Scooter” Brooder by the Tanner Times. That label would follow him throughout his abbreviated athletic career. Before he graduated he would be an all-state halfback, a four year starter on the basketball team, and a standout on the track team. 

That the “Scooter” had become a local legend was not surprising....any more than the extent to which he had reveled in the glow of that seductive spotlight. Naturally there was a promising college career in his future, and beyond that the tantalizing possibility of professional success.

Right on cue the prestigious university, a noted football power, had come calling with a scholarship offer Jimmy could not refuse. With it came the promise of playing in high profile games, and the opportunity to be seen and appreciated across the country in an era when televised college football was still in its infancy. 

The resulting adulation was likely to match his Tanner success....times ten, or even one hundred. It was everything that Jimmy Brooder had ever dreamed of. True to form, though he did not start during his freshman college season, he played significant minutes in two nationally televised games, scoring three touchdowns. By season’s end he was being touted for bigger and better things in his sophomore year.

Those lofty dreams might have come true.... except that somewhere between the football field and the classroom Jimmy the Scooter had dropped the ball. High school academics had been hard and boring, but at least most of the teachers understood the importance of Mr. Touchdown retaining his eligibility. 

In contrast, college classes were twice as hard and three times more boring. Moreover, to his surprise and distress, the instructors seemed not to care who he was. To make matters worse his fellow students, especially the normally-excitable coeds, were not particularly impressed by the presence of Scooter Brooder in their midst.

In sum, three touchdowns and a few minutes of playing time were not enough to offset the dreary class time and virtual anonymity of life in the big time. That December, with the season ended and finals week approaching, Jimmy had paused to weigh his options. 

To take their ridiculous exams would mean certain failure. He had skipped too many classes, taken no notes, and read none of the required material. More to the point, he had no interest in exposing those deficiencies to the coaching staff or a world that apparently cared little about his plight. 

Instead, Jimmy the Scooter had packed his bags a week early and returned to the comfortable familiarity of Tanner. A few days after Christmas he approached his uncle about a job in the window plant he managed. Reporting for work after the new year, Jimmy knew at once he had made the right choice. 

He was home, where people knew him, and being ‘The Scooter’ meant something special. Over the years the window business changed hands, but he stayed on. By the time he retired he was shift foreman in the shipping department, where a handful of old timers still remembered the exploits of Scooter Brooder.

Now, in their restaurant booth, Jimmy finished his sandwich and pushed his plate aside. The obvious confidence with which he critiqued his late friend’s blocking prowess had faded. In its place Jimmy was wearing a timid, almost embarrassed grin. He had something to say, but perhaps not the will to speak the words.

Finally it was Hank who stepped up to ask his friend, “Is there something on your mind? I’m still not sure why you suggested we do lunch.”

“Hey, I appreciate you joining me," Jimmy replied. "It’s been a while since I last ate out, other than a church potluck. It’s awfully easy to let yourself get isolated. You know what I mean?”

Becoming isolated may have been easy. But now, as often happened, Jimmy was having a hard time finding the words to explain what he had in mind. Even as a schoolboy he had always found it easier to run over a linebacker than probe a deeply-personal question, like the one he had faced the last few weeks. 

More to the point, he had never overcome his teenage dread of having a personal failing exposed. The overriding desire to be seen as strong and in charge had been a constant. Even now, as an adult, he was inclined to deny a perceived weakness. What would Hank Rolland think when the truth of the Scooter’s failure was laid bare? It was time to find out.

“I’ll tell you what,” Jimmy continued. “I’m not sure I’ve ever dealt with anything like this. I had no idea how tough it could be.”

“How tough what can be? What the hell are you talking about?” 

“I’m talking about being alone....being lonely. Not just sometimes, but all the time.” 

There, he had said it. Let Hank think what he wanted. No matter how silly or trivial it sounded, Jimmy had laid it out on the table. Having gone that far, why not complete his thought? “How long does it take to get over that? That’s what I’d like to know. I guess I’m wondering if that’s something you’ve run into. And if so, how did you deal with it?”

“Being lonely, you mean?” Where was Jimmy taking their casual conversation, bouncing around from schoolboy football to late-life loneliness? 

“Oh yeah, I know about that,” Hank continued. Giving voice to thoughts like that, the ones he had kept to himself for so long, had him a bit embarrassed. “And I’m afraid I haven’t dealt with it very well. At least not so far. It’s damn hard. It gets even worse when your kids start pushing you to do something about it. Mine keep telling me to ‘get a life’ and stuff like that.”

“Really?” For long seconds Jimmy Brooder sat staring into his empty cup, perhaps digesting Hank’s quiet disclosure, or maybe wondering why his experience had been so different. “I’ve only got Sandy, our daughter, to deal with. But she’s a hard-headed one. She’d probably disown me if she caught me looking at someone else. As far as she’s concerned, once is forever.”

“It’s gets pretty complicated, doesn’t it?” Hank nodded. “When we were kids, in the ‘looking for the right girl’ mode, no one told us about the stuff we’d be feeling at this stage of the game. If you were like me, you never even thought about being old and alone.  It never crossed your mind. Now we know it’s a hard thing, and frustrating as hell.”

About then Hank’s ‘lonely’ lament turned to silent thoughts of gratitude. For most of the time since Sarah’s leaving, during the hardest of that transition from loved to lonely, she had been his constant companion. Though he was not prepared to share that bit of news with Jimmy, he knew very well that his Clabber Girl had managed to ward off much of the loneliness his friend was describing.

“You’re right,” Jimmy nodded. “It takes some getting used to. So far that hasn’t happened. I guess its just a matter of time.”

Tuesday, December 20, 2022


I will begin this bit of fluff with a tip of the hat to Tom Utley, the Daily Mail columnist whose recent post set me thinking about possibilities I normally choose to ignore.

Most of us October/November folks, though we make no claim to expertise, have personally experienced the sometimes intimidating world of medical science. We know something about new and powerful wonder drugs and improved diagnostic procedures, meant to keep us healthy and extend our lives.


There was a time, you know, when the road leading to the end of life was viewed through the lens of fate or Kismet. In those eyes death was a God-decreed event, the natural conclusion to life. 

But in some ways those times have changed. Today’s experts seem to be telling us that a balky heart, clogged arteries, even invasive cancer cells should be viewed as technical problems, for which there ought to be a technical solution. 

In that case is mortality, rather than being part of a divine plan, simply a failure to provide the appropriate ‘solutions’…….if, of course, you can afford to pay for them? Does that mean if our pockets are deep enough we can live far beyond the four score years now assigned to us?

Still, chances are that even those of us with depressingly shallow pockets are caught up in our own personal war on mortality. I for one generally take pride in my prudent eating habits. I rely on an oatmeal, toast, and decaf-coffee breakfast to start my day. No sugary confections or greasy fried foods for me. Yet, in the name of truthful reporting, I ought to at least mention the pharmaceutical smorgasbord I consume each morning before I ever touch my oatmeal. 

I begin with three tiny pills I am told will fend off high blood pressure, dangerous cholesterol, and aggravating antacid for another day. Beyond that, though I don’t recall exactly what the Fish Oil, Vitamins B-12 and D-3 are meant to combat, I take them just to be sure. Finally, a single multi-vitamin capsule will insure there are no exposed gaps in my chemical armor. With that I am ready for my oatmeal.

Lest I leave the impression that my medical defenses are complete at the that point, let me add that the curcumin and turmeric capsules are taken before dinner, and the baby aspirin and hemp oil extract just before bedtime. With that I will be ready for a fitful night’s sleep, which will probably be interrupted by a middle-of-the-night trek down the darkened hallway to the bathroom. Come the next morning, with another infusion of medications, I will be ready for another day.

Is it possible that my reliance on those preventative steps suggests a more pertinent question? Even if I could, do I really want to live for as long as I can be kept alive….… perhaps extending my November and December to one hundred and beyond? 

At first blush that sounds like a tall order, given that our present health-care system, the most expensive and expansive in the world, delivers no more than the 31st longest life span on the globe. Besides, in a world of ever-rising health-care costs how could I possibly afford those extra years?

In any event, how many of us want to live to one hundred or more? Why can’t we simply accept that aging is part of the natural order and accept the status quo? After all, if we did live longer would we know what to do with all that additional time? At eighty-six I manage to keep myself reasonably occupied….even productive some of the time. Could I do that at ninety-six?

More to the point, is the length of our earthly stay a valid measure of either a nation’s health care system or an individual’s life? That seems to me a fair question to ask, even in the most age-resistant society the world ha ever seen….where old age is mourned as proof that we have lost our youthful vitality, and billions are spent to avoid that dreaded result.

It’s a conundrum, isn’t it? Should our ultimate goal be to live as long as possible? Just think about that for a moment. I have been in a few assisted-living facilities and nursing homes. So have you. Though they do their best with the limited staff and resources available, they do not strike me as an attractive destination. Still, for an ever-growing number of us, absent the care of an extended family, one of those overpopulated, yet isolated ‘holding pens’ may well be in our future. 

Whether or not that possibility appeals to me there is a larger question to be answered. Will the already stretched late-life care industry be prepared to deal with a tidal wave of aging Boomers? Will they have the facilities and caregivers to do the job? Truth to tell, I don’t want to find out for myself. That is not the way I dream of spending whatever additional years modern science promises me.

Still, I suppose I will keep popping those pills every day, hoping to remain as healthy and active as possible for the years I am granted. I’m not sure that makes a lot of sense, given my many reservations. But what choice do I have? In the meantime I have a hunch that in the future new ways of coping with us old-timers will be required .......driven by increased social pressure and/or political intervention. 

Fortunately, however, the answers I seek may have arrived in my mailbox this very morning… the form a book by William H Thomas, MD, titled “What Are Old People For?” I will admit there are times I’ve wondered about that myself. So I am definitely looking forward to reading what Dr. Thomas has to say on the subject.. 

For now, however, how do I feel about living to one hundred and beyond? Rather than offering my own answer, I believe I will let the aforementioned Mr. Utley have the last word.

“I hate to sound morbid, but I pray to God I will be gone by then.”