Monday, January 30, 2023



    CHAPTER 24

Back home from his day at the beach Hank Rolland was still processing his impressions of a long day with Angie. A hot shower would erase the last traces of beach sand and sunscreen, but it would take longer to deal with still-fresh questions and nagging reservations. At the very least those would be grist for a quiet debriefing session with Sarah.

Half an hour later, fresh from his shower and bolstered by a cup of warmed-over coffee he settled into his recliner and glanced up at Sarah’s Clabber Girl bookshelf perch, wondering how to tell her of his day at the beach with another woman. 

“Am I supposed to tell you how terrible it was?” Hank asked in a barely audible whisper. “Is that what you want to hear? I hope not. Because it wasn’t really all that least not until Angie went off on another one of her tangents. We spent some of the time with Jimmy and Gladys. That was fine. Seems like the two of them were hitting it off pretty well.”

Darkness was falling and occasional traffic noises drifted in through the open window while he waited in silence, hoping to decipher Sarah’s always-subtle reply. He was wide awake, not likely to doze off as sometimes happened when her response was slow to arrive. This time it took only a minute or two to sense the mental nudge he was waiting for.

“That ‘new tangent of hers,’ you ask? You mean the one Angie was talking about?” 

Chuckling to himself, he was not surprised to find Sarah turning to that bit of information. After all, that was her way....blunt and to the point. “I thought you might be asking about that. I guarantee it was enough to get my attention too. Let me try to explain. Then you can tell me what you think.

“First of all, you have to understand that Angie and remember Harold, her husband? Well anyway, they operated on a whole different level than we did, financially that is. They liked to travel. Took lots of trips, some of them overseas.

“I’ve never begrudged them all that. It’s what they wanted to do and they could afford it. How could that be wrong?”

Looking away from Sarah’s white canister his gaze settled on the panorama of tree tops silhouetted against the cloud-speckled sky beyond the window. That peaceful backdrop, however, was not enough to calm his mounting anxiety. It was one thing to introduce Angie’s history of travel and sightseeing, quite another to explain her latest suggestion.

“Here’s the deal, Babe,” he continued. “It’s the part I’m having a problem with.” It was time to say it out loud, he told himself. That would have to be done if he expected Sarah’s help.

“You see, Angie is talking about us, her and me, going off to see the she and Harold did. She thinks we should be ‘making memories.’ That’s what she called it....about places in Europe, with castles and gardens and all the other stuff she likes.”

Again Hank was talking directly to Sarah, ready to pose his question. “Can you see me doing that? With her? I sure can’t. It’s hard to imagine how she came up with that silly notion.”

Sitting there, waiting for Sarah’s reply, Hank knew he had yet to address the heart of the matter.... the most intimidating element of Angie’s altogether intimidating idea.

“But, here’s the cruncher. She’s saying that we could do that....see all those places and do all those things, on Harold’s money. Can you believe that? What kind of guy does she think I am?”

In truth Hank was struggling through new, utterly-foreign thoughts, looking for words to describe what he had never before tried to describe. Would his Sarah be able to accept his unlikely admission? 

“It sounded like she expected me to be a ‘kept’ man.” 

He paused, laughing to himself at the wonderful irony of a grown man blushing as he conversed with a tin canister. 

“I like to think I’m above being ‘kept', he added. "Though I suppose that’s what I was all those years with you. Except it was never your money that was 'keeping' me. It was how I felt about you. That’s a lot different.

“Besides, after the way you spoiled me you can bet that if I’m ever ‘kept’ again I’ll be holding out for someone better than Angie McDonald.”

Minutes later Hank was at the computer, just two or three steps from Sarah’s shelf. Logging on, he pulled up the email inbox before turning to end their dialogue. “Damn it, lady. If you’d have just hung around a while longer I wouldn’t be getting bogged down in all this nonsense. You could have ‘kept’ me as long as you wanted. Instead you had to go and run off.

“Anyway, I missed a whole day of blogs. I have to get to work.”


On Sunday morning before church Hank slipped through the side door, following the aroma of freshly brewed coffee to the church kitchen. Grace Carson was busy at the front counter, giving him cover to hurry down the back aisle to the large, restaurant-sized coffee maker. 

Already, he sensed it might be a two cup Sunday morning. Angie McDonald had a way of doing that, even before he saw her, before he could be sure that she had set her silly ‘travel plans’ aside. Hopefully he had made his case. But with Angie it was hard to know for sure.

Easing up to the front counter, he would have sworn Grace was looking the other way when he reached out to snag his morning cookie from the tray she had pushed to the side. Instead his petty theft was rewarded with a playful slap on the hand. A second later, dispensing with her routine scolding, Graces’s greeting had him wondering. 

“So,” she asked. “Did you bring me any taffy?”

“What are you talking about? What’s with taffy?”

“Salt water taffy, silly. You get it at the beach. Rumor has it you were there yesterday. When Angie came through here a few minutes ago she sounded as though your day together was a great success. She wasn’t giving many clues, but there was some vague talk about ‘making plans.’ She was certainly smiling when she mentioned that.”

“Are you kidding me?” Hank paused, asking himself if it was proper to be so blunt when talking about Angie. He was not into gossiping, or so he told himself. Yet how else could he counter her silly stories? 

“Look,” he continued. “I won’t say she’s lying. Maybe in her mind she’s not. But I have to tell you, the lady has an amazing imagination.”

“So ‘making plans’ wasn’t part of your day at the beach?”

For a moment Hank seemed to have left the scene. He leaned back against the counter, head bowed, kicking his heel against the baseboard. Without looking up he explained, “It may have been part of her day, but not mine. Look, she’s asking for something I can’t do. That’s all. 

"I was trying to explain that last night when I told Sarah....” At once he noted the mental alarm his near-confession was setting off. Again, he turned quiet.

Grace was bending low, trying to peer into his down-turned eyes. “There you go again,” she said. “You ‘told Sarah.’ You’ve talked like that before. You must realize that makes no sense. What’s going on? ”

Hank had been cornered and he knew it. The warm flush that bathed his face was proof of that. There had never before been a need to explain the unorthodox visits with his new Sarah. Except this time it was Grace who was asking. If anyone deserved an explanation it was her.

“I’ll tell you what,” he replied. “I’ll explain that someday. Mostly it’s a matter of staying close to her, because she knows me better than anyone. And she knows Angie doesn’t have a thing to offer me. I guess that’s blunt enough, isn’t it?”

“I guess so,” Grace nodded, apparently willing to settle for a short-form revelation. “But I’m sure you realize that Angie isn’t likely to give up so easily. She can be very persistent. And she’s much better at spreading her side of the story than old ‘Silent Hank.’ At some point you may have to change your tactics.”

She was grinning as she added, “Of course, if you’re not sure what to do, you can always ask Sarah for some new ideas.” A moment later she had started across the Fellowship Hall toward the Narthex, leaving Hank to wonder what she meant by that.


Kelly Rolland Hopper had grown up in the Tanner Southend Church, along with her brother Eric. As high schoolers the two of them had been part of the congregation’s active youth program. Though she was now twenty years removed from those Tanner days Kelly, twice divorced and firmly established in a successful Portland real estate practice, was an infrequent visitor at the congregation’s Sunday worship services. 

That morning, during the after-church Social Hour, she sat with her father Hank, Jimmy Brooder, and several other well-remembered friends, listening as Angie McDonald told of her day at the beach with Hank.

Leaning back to let a server warm her coffee, Kelly was suddenly aware that Angie had grown uncharacteristically silent. Glancing across the table she realized that the older woman was staring conspicuously in her direction.

“My heavens, Kelly. I can remember when you were confirmed.” It was a quiet Angie, speaking in soft, syrupy tones. Resting her head against Hank’s shoulder, she finished her thought. “You were such a sweet young thing. And look at you now, such a lovely woman. Isn’t she, Hank?”

“She certainly is.” Hank nodded, wanting to calm Kelly’s embarrassed anxiety and hoping to move beyond Angie’s pasty compliments. That, however, would be easier said than done.

“I can’t wait to see your brother again,” Angie continued. “It’s been ages since I’ve talked to him. I remember he was here for your mother’s memorial service, but we didn’t have a chance to visit.”

Without surrendering Hank’s shoulder Angie leaned closer to Kelly, perhaps seeking a more intimate space. “I heard Hank telling Grace Carson about the Rolland family picnic. That’s next weekend I believe. I’m looking forward to seeing Eric then.”

Angie McDonald at the family picnic? That surprising bit of news had Kelly squirming. In every way Angie’s manner suggested that she and Dad were a pair. Obviously the lady expected to be part of the family gathering. Why had her father not mentioned that?

The Rolland family picnic was a long-established summer fixture, reuniting the three Rolland brothers and their families. The current edition, scheduled for the following Saturday, would be held at a Beaverton park, hosted by Casey Rolland and his wife Ann.

“Isn’t that what you said, dear?” Angie asked, reaching over to pat Hank’s hand. “That the picnic is next weekend. If that’s right, I need to find out what I’m supposed  to bring.”

Kelly was on the edge of her seat, ready to end her part in their conversation. Who did that McDonald woman think she was, leaning on Dad’s shoulder like that, calling him “dear” and assuming that she was invited to the picnic?”

“That’s right. The picnic is Saturday,” Hank replied. Nodding to acknowledge Kelly’s leaving, he stood to gather paper plates and plastic cups to take to the kitchen trash receptacle. “Then on Sunday," he continued. "One of Casey’s grandkids has a soccer tournament in Portland. I suppose most everyone will be going to that.”

“And Saturday night?” Had he caught the not-so-subtle interest in Angie’s question? “What about that?”

“There’s certainly no reason to come all the way back here," he answered. "Not when the tournament is the next day.”

“You mean a motel,” she asked hopefully. “For the night?”

It took a moment for Hank to notice Angie's Cheshire-cat grin. And another second to decipher her message. Was the lady actually thinking of a motel, for them? Was that what had his stomach churning like that?

She was doing it again, he told himself. With no preliminaries, no statement of intent, Angie McDonald was on the verge of hijacking the Rolland picnic....inviting herself to be a part of it, wanting to make it her own. More than that, she wanted the friends seated around them to know she could do that. What had led her to that assumption? And how could he set her straight?

“There’s no need for a motel,” Hank replied calmly, searching her eyes for some hint that she was reading his intention. He watched her smile fade and her gaze harden as he added, “I’ll be staying at Eric’s.”

“You will? You mean, alone?”

“Not alone. I’ll be with Eric and his family.”

“But me? I’m not included. Is that what you’re saying?

By then Angie had straightened up in her chair, biting her lip. Apparently ‘warm and friendly’ was about to turn ‘cold and tense.’ Their confidential, almost intimate conversation had suddenly become a formal, arm’s length exchange. Around the table others fell silent, straining to hear Angie’s complaint. Her bold, in-charge look had faded when she paused to explain, 

“I suppose I thought, I mean, I expected......” She was stammering, left with no words to complete her thought.

Though he was willing to let her draw her own conclusions, Hank felt the need to explain.“Look, I don’t want to sound rude or insensitive, but our Rolland get-together is a rather close family thing. It’s always been that way.”

“You mean it’s too ‘close’ to include me? Is that what you’re saying?” At neighboring tables people were turning to see why Angie was suddenly so loud.

“Angie. It’s a family affair, not the kind of thing to include guests.”

“Guests?” She was even louder. “Is that what I’ve become? A guest.”

“Come on. It’s no big deal. It’s just a picnic. One weekend.”

“And I’m not good enough to be invited. Right?” Angie was on her feet, gathering her purse from under her chair.

“It’s got nothing to do with being ‘good enough.’ It’s about family, that’s all. That’s why we get together.”

“And because I wasn’t born a Rolland I can’t be there. Is that it? That makes me wonder how Sarah ever managed to get an invitation.”

Hank’s harsh glare was intense enough to have Angie turning away from it. “Don’t go there, Angie. Just don’t do it.”

Almost before he realized what was happening, Hank understood they had gone as far as they could go together. There was no avoiding that reality. Actually, he did not want to....not at the cost of telling her the truth. 

“You see,” he explained. “That’s one of the reasons it’s so special. We’ll be spending a lot of time remembering Sarah. That’s one of the things we’ll be doing. It might be uncomfortable for you, but it’s exactly what I want. It’s what I need.”

“Well, in that case....” Angie got that far and no further. She pushed her chair back, bumping against the fellow sitting behind her. With nothing more than an icy stare in Hank’s direction she turned and started toward the kitchen and out the side door.

For an instant he considered going after her, but decided against that. Instead he sat down to drain his coffee cup. Ignoring a roomful of curious stares, he reminded himself it was time to let her go, to leave things well-enough alone. 

Glancing to his right he saw Jimmy Brooder shaking his head. Rolling his eyes, Hank offered a sheepish, unenthusiastic grin as he accepted his friend’s silent condolences.

Friday, January 27, 2023




    CHAPTER 23

“That was incredible.” Gladys Horner patted her purse again, as if to confirm the modest stack of bills that represented her winnings. “I started with forty dollars and ended up with two hundred. That’s a hundred and sixty dollars of their money. And you can bet they’re not going to get it back.”

She was seated beside Jimmy Brooder at an outdoor table on the casino patio. Nursing their drinks....a soda for her, a beer for him, they sat looking out over the oceanfront homes toward the steel-gray Pacific horizon. The afternoon had turned warm, lending a comfortable touch to their leisurely wait for Hank and Angie’s return from their walk on the beach.

“I must say,” Jimmy observed. “You do look rather pleased with yourself. Probably even smug. Most folks can’t walk away like that when they’re ahead. I’m proud of you. But don’t forget, when you talk about having ‘their’ money, fifty bucks of that was ‘my’ money. At least it used to be.”

Basking in the warmth of his off-hand praise Gladys picked an ice cube from her glass to suck on, then set the soda aside. She had taken a chance and he was ‘proud of her’ for that. For all his many virtues, she could not remember Lester ever saying he was proud of her. 

“I’m proud of myself,” she nodded. “I can’t remember the last time I did something that bold or silly. And I am sorry about your fifty dollars.”

“That’s okay. I’ve been around long enough to know that was going to happen. That’s why I don’t gamble much anymore. There was a time I did, but no more.” He paused, wanting to visit another piece of her Black Jack adventure. 

“I’m pretty sure it’s not the hundred and sixty dollars that has you feeling so good. I’ll bet you could have lost that much and not have been too upset.”

“I suppose you’re right. It wasn’t the money, though I’m not the kind to throw it away. That’s something Lester taught me. He was a stickler about knowing where every dollar went. So I was never much of a spender.”

With no prompting at all she was recalling those times....the frustration of trying to remember what an ATM withdrawal or a particular check was for. Lester had never been judgmental about her spending habits. He simply wanted to account for how their money was spent. That was the way he dealt with what Gladys had always considered ‘his’ money.

“Anyway,” she continued. “Today was about doing something on my own, letting my winnings ride on the next hand. It was exciting....and probably stupid. But I liked knowing I could do that, especially when it worked out so well.”

“That doesn’t happen very often, you know. Most times you’d end up losing it.”

“I know that.” Did he really think she was that naive? “But that’s not the point. I decided on my own to give it a try, what you called ‘doubling down.’ Winning wasn’t even the best part. It was knowing that I could do that if I wanted to.”

Fishing another ice cube from her glass, Gladys paused to consider another possibility. “When you were talking the other night about having fun, was that part of it? Knowing that you can take a chance, that winning or losing aren’t necessarily the most important things? Is that one way you would describe fun?”

There she was, returning to the conversation Jimmy had chosen to abort after their night at the concert. Was it time, he wondered, to return to that space? Was he ready to address the undeniable fact that he looked at life in a way she might find hard to comprehend? Would it help if she understood the person he was? Or would that knowing spell the end of a promising relationship?

For as long as he could remember, Jimmy Brooder had equated what he called ‘fun’ with life lived to the fullest....going beyond the ordinary, sometimes all the way to the edge. While others battled for their share of money and things, he had been just as serious about living the life he wanted to live. 

It was about being a participant rather than a spectator, about testing himself without fear of failure. He had lived for the trying, the exhilaration of pulling off what he was not sure he could his first bungee jump on his sixtieth birthday. It was that attitude which had driven him to succeed on the football field as a youngster. Yet once past his glory days on the gridiron he had continued to measure life in those terms, even when his usually modest accomplishment went unnoticed by others. 

Fortunately, Karen had been a willing partner in those endeavors. Since her passing those good times, the ones he called “fun,” had become increasingly rare. Now, in pursuit of a long-nurtured dream of winning Gladys Horner’s interest, he wondered if she could possibly be part of what he accepted as normal.

“I’ll tell you what,” Jimmy continued. “If we’re going to talk about fun, I need to know what kind of things you like to do....the things that break the monotony and help you feel good about yourself. How about you and Lester? What did the two of you do for fun?”

He glanced across the table, awaiting her reply. Behind her far-off gaze Gladys had retreated into her own thoughts....reminding herself there was no reason to feel guilty about the truth of Lester Horner and the person he had been. Perhaps there was a time in their early years together when ‘fun’ had been a part of Lester’s make-up....a part of their relationship, though it was hard to remember a time like that.

“You didn’t know Lester, did you?” she asked. “You see, he wasn’t really into fun. He had his insurance billing business to look after. He served on foundations and boards. And there were his investments to take care of. I’m afraid ‘having fun’ was never a priority for him. In fact, what you call ‘fun’ was probably his idea of time wasted. He could always find more worthwhile things to be doing.”

Jimmy pushed himself away from the table and leaned back, recalling the family photographs he had seen in the Horner entry hall. Never once, as near as he could remember, had Lester Horner offered even the hint of a smile. “He doesn’t look like a very happy fellow,” Jimmy had noted to himself at the time, knowing he had no right to be making such judgments.

Taking a moment to signal a passing waitress, Jimmy turned back to Gladys. “Let’s talk about you,” he suggested. “Aren’t there things you'd like to do? Things that would be fun for you.”

Gladys was shaking her head even before she tried to answer. “I told you, Lester wasn’t into those kind of things. He was very aware of what he called ‘appearances.’ It upset him to see people wasting time on ‘frivolous’ things. It would have bothered him to think that he, or I, was seen doing something just for the fun of it.”

A long gulp of his new beer did little to settle Jimmy’s confusion. Clearly Gladys had learned to take her cues from Lester? What made him think she would ever be satisfied with the life he lived? 

He leaned forward, and with an uncharacteristic bit of boldness reached for her hand. “The Gladys Stein I remember from high school struck me as someone who liked to have a good time. That bunch you ran around with had their share of laughs, didn’t they?”

“Of course we did.”

“I remember you looked happy enough at the noon dances, out there with that week’s boyfriend. Of course, I was usually moping around the sidelines, wishing I had the guts to ask you myself.”

Before Gladys could take issue with his ‘boyfriend of the week’ remark she was sidetracked by the incredulous word picture of him ‘moping around the sidelines.’ 

Stabbing a finger at his shoulder she went on the offensive. “Moping around, my foot,” she laughed. “You were the best athlete in school. Heavens, you were famous all over the state. There were lots of girls who wanted to dance with you. All you had to do was ask. So don’t be giving me that ‘moping around’ talk.”

Jimmy’s response was seconds in arriving, long enough to have her wondering if she had run him off or if he had simply checked out. He was looking away, carefully avoiding her eyes. When he finally responded his words were quiet and resigned.  “I don’t suppose someone like you could ever understand.

“It wasn’t like I was tongue-tied or anything. But when I wanted to make a good impression, I didn’t know how. I didn’t have a thing to add to any conversation. If a girl wasn’t impressed because I was a jock, I had nothing else going for me. And I remember very well that wasn’t enough to impress you.

“Anyway," he continued. "I may have been wild and crazy in some ways. But when it came to a girl like you, it was like I’d run into a brick wall. That would have been enough to make anyone mope.”

“And I’m supposed to feel sorry for you?”

She was still smiling, which he took to be a good sign. Hopefully she was ready to return to the business at hand? “Look,” he said. “Let’s not get hung up on my social deficiencies. That would take way too long to sort out. Why don’t we get back to what I was asking about.”

“Which was?”

“Which was, do you know how to have fun, or do you even want to?” He was recalling that high school girl again. “Going back to those noon dances and stuff like that, I’m pretty sure you were having fun then. Weren’t you? Didn’t you and Lester enjoy things like that?”

“Heavens no. He’d have never done that, at least not in public. I told you before, he didn’t think in those terms. Except for his foundations we didn’t belong to any clubs or things like that. Nothing except the church. And even that was just me, never Lester. 

"I couldn’t get him there for a wedding, a funeral, or anything else. Our friends used to nag us about joining the country club, but he’d have never done that. He couldn’t understand the logic of spending so much money on something that was purely social.”

Jimmy had her hand again, pulling her from her chair and leading them to the long railing at the edge of the patio. “I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but I’m really not interested in Lester, and what worked for him. It’s Gladys I’m wanting to know about. What do you like to do. What does ‘fun’ mean to you?”

“There you go, with that word again.”

“What word?”

“Fun,” she laughed. “I’ve always thought that was a kid’s word. Most adults I know, especially the ones our age, don’t talk about having fun. When I think of fun I think of humor or laughing. What I hear you describing is ‘enjoyment.’ There are things I enjoy that I don’t necessarily call fun.”

“Enjoyment?," Jimmy repeated. "I remember you talking about that the other night, after the concert. I guess maybe I’ve been hung up on semantics. There’s no need for us to be bumping heads over definitions. Is there? Let’s see if I can learn to think in terms of enjoyment instead of fun. That might be a step in the right direction, wouldn’t it?”

Indeed, the more they talked the more he sensed a side of Gladys he had not seen before. As she peeled away layer after layer of ‘Lester wrap’ Jimmy was seeing hints of a kindred spirit. In all likelihood she was not prepared to go ‘all in’ with his bold impulsiveness, but perhaps she might dip her toe in that water. Coincidentally, he just happened to have a particular bit of silliness in mind, a suitable test. Would she be willing to take the chance?

“So what do you think. Has today been as good as you hoped?” he asked. “Has it earned an ‘enjoyable’ rating?”

Before Gladys could respond her concentration was diverted by the soft pressure of Jimmy’s arm around her shoulder, pulling her toward him. His finger was tilting her face up to his. His kiss was brief and respectful. But it was a kiss, that left them with matching, somewhat embarrassed smiles.

“So tell me,” he asked. “Are we still enjoying?”

“I believe we are.”

With his arm still draped over her shoulder Jimmy was ready to spend some of his newly-won good will. “Did you see the poster in the lobby.... about the big show they’re having here at the end of the month?”

“You mean Frankie Avalon?”

“That’s the one.” He was reading her response as positive, hopefully a good sign. So he continued. “Do you suppose you’d enjoy that?”

Was he serious? They were seventy-plus years old for heaven sakes, and there he was asking if she wanted to revisit an aging teen idol with him. What would people think? 

“You mean for us?” Gladys asked.

Her timid question had him laughing. “Yes, us. You and me.”

He stepped back to gauge her reaction. “I’m talking about Frankie Avalon, one of those crooning pretty-boys you said you liked. My question is, do you think you’d enjoy seeing that show with me, just the two of us. If you would I’ll buy a pair of tickets before we leave.”

His question was as bold and brash as he claimed to be, asking her to make a choice unlike any she had been asked to make in a lifetime of being Lester’s wife. Choosing anything simply because it would be enjoyable, or even fun, was a slightly-foreign concept. But he was right. She had always liked Frankie Avalon. And in the company of Jimmy Brooder, whom she was growing to like, why not?

“Why don’t you do that,” she nodded. “I think it would be a lot of fun.”


“Yes, fun.”

Wednesday, January 25, 2023




The two of them were standing in front of a Black Jack table, in a casino, where they made a business of taking your money. For a moment Gladys Horner felt like pinching herself. What would Lester think? The notion of putting his dollars at risk, in any amount, on something as fickle as the turn of a playing card had been an anathema to her late husband. To take that same gamble in the tempter’s den, where the odds were all in the house’s favor, would have been beyond his comprehension.

Yet there she was, climbing onto a high stool, sitting next to Jimmy Brooder at the half-circular gaming table, waiting anxiously for the young dealer to deal her first hand. 

Gladys had spent five minutes in the lobby reviewing the notes Jimmy had scribbled on the back of his buffet napkin. Now, try as she might, she was certain she would never remember all his cryptic instructions of when to ‘hit’ and when to ‘stay,’ of ‘doubling down,’ and ‘splitting pairs.’ It was all so confusing. Her only comfort came in knowing he was there with her to lend a hand when necessary.

From the first time she heard of Jimmy’s interest in knowing her, from Angie McDonald of all people, Gladys had sensed herself being nudged in a new, unfamiliar direction....toward places and situations she had never experienced before. After only a few brief hours spent with him she had realized that wherever Mr. Brooder might lead them, it would not be boring. 

In his company she would find exhilaration and affirmation in equal measures, always wrapped in the unexpected. There had been a Big Band double date and now a day at the beach, complete with an introduction to Black Jack. It was so far removed from the staid and predictable life she had shared with Lester Horner.

On the other hand, Jimmy’s return to the gaming tables for the first time in years had raised his own, more practical questions. What ever happened to the one and two dollar Black Jack tables he remembered from years past? The casino’s five-dollar minimum was a little rich for his blood, increasing the likelihood that the fifty dollars he had set aside for the occasion would not last long. But what choice did he have? He wanted Gladys to at least experience the game, the tingling rush of having a stake at risk. If she was going to be there, he ought to be on hand to help.

It took only minute or two for an already jittery Mrs. Horner to learn lesson number one. Black Jack might be a game to her, but it was business, serious business, to the grim-faced young dealer. Gladys learned that when she took an extra few seconds deciding whether to take another card. Her questioning glance had Jimmy mouthing, “Stay”.

Her indecision was enough to elicit the dealer’s curt, “Come on, lady. We don’t have all day.”

Though Jimmy understood the casino’s need to keep the action moving....“Keep the chips rolling” was one way he had heard it described, he was prepared to take issue with the dealer’s unpleasant tone. “Come on, son. Why don’t you cut the lady a little slack,” he suggested. “She’s just learning the game. You’ll get her money soon enough.”

Fifteen minutes later Jimmy’s last chip was riding on the hand in play. When the dealer turned a nine to make twenty-one the Scooter was out of wisecracks and chips. The surly dealer acknowledged his surrender with a pasty grin and undisguised sarcasm. “You folks have a really good afternoon.”

Jimmy’s icy glare was not meant to win friends. “Not so fast, son,” he said. “You can see the lady’s still in the game.”

He was standing behind her when Gladys looked back to ask. “Would you rather be going, I’m ready any time. We don’t have to stay.”

“Hey. The game’s not over. There’s time on the clock. Do your thing, then we’ll go.”

“These are ten dollars each, aren’t they?” Gladys held her two remaining chips for him to see. He nodded, leaving her with a choice to make. “I could play four five-dollar hands, or two ten-dollar. Right?”

“Come on, lady,” the dealer grumbled, earning another nasty look from Jimmy, along with Gladys’ embarrassed smile. “Are you in or not? I have to keep this game going.”

“Okay,” she sighed. “Let’s get this over with right now.” With that she slid both her chips out on the table.

“Are you sure?” Jimmy whispered.

“I’m sure.”

For the next three minutes Jimmy watched from his station behind Gladys. Three minutes and three hands for Gladys and the other player, a young man sitting at the end of the table. Her nineteen was enough to win the first hand, and her twenty dollars had become forty. “I’m going to leave it all there,” she said over her shoulder, deliberately stacking her four chips in the betting circle.

Seconds later she tilted her cards to let Jimmy see a king and a five. Glancing at the dealer’s ‘up’ card, a three, Jimmy was whispering, “Stay right there. He has to draw.”

The fellow at the end of the table had his last chips riding on his hand. When he drew a queen and broke twenty-one he slipped off his stool and started off down the aisle. 

Suddenly it was a two-handed game. The dealer peeked at his hole card, then turned a Jack to go with his three. As Jimmy had said, he would have to draw again. Pulling the top card from the draw box, the dealer slammed it brusquely on the table. It was another Jack and Gladys forty dollars had grown to eighty.

This time Jimmy’s advice was straight forward. “I think you’ve about used up your good luck. Why don’t we go while you’re ahead?”

Gladys was almost laughing as she shook her head. “Let’s do it once more,” she said softly. “It’s kind of fun to see him get so upset.”

“Are you sure?”

“Just one more.”

She pushed her chips, all eight of them, into the circle. By then Jimmy’s palms were sweating and butterflies churned in his stomach. For an instant he remembered the adrenaline rush he once felt settling into his halfback stance, preparing for a big play. 

Meanwhile Gladys appeared totally at ease, as loose as could be. A part of him wanted to look away when she picked up her cards to show him. The dealer was showing a nine as she uncovered first a ten, then an ace. It was a Black Jack, that would pay one and a half times her bet. She had a one hundred and twenty dollar winner. In a matter of three hands her twenty dollars had become two hundred.

Would she take Jimmy's advice and go back to five dollar bets? Her lucky streak was bound to run out. He knew how seductive it could be, believing that Lady Luck had become a permanent companion. Hopefully she would listen to the voice of reason.

It took a few seconds for him to realize he had no reason to be offering advice. Gladys was on her feet, raking her stack of twenty chips into her purse. Then, with her widest smile, she looked across at the still-scowling dealer. “Thank you for being so helpful," she said. "I certainly appreciate your generosity.” Then, turning to Jimmy, “Where do we cash these in?”

Monday, January 23, 2023





From the casino Hank and Angie followed the access path leading between a pair of oceanfront homes and down a long flight of stairs to the beach. On a smooth, gray driftwood log at the foot of the stairs they sat down long enough to take off their shoes and socks. From there, with shoes in hand, it was a short hike through warm, soft sand to the hard-packed surface that paralleled the surf.

“Isn’t this nice,” Angie grinned. Reaching for Hank’s hand she pulled him toward the distant headland that marked the end of the sandy strand. “The tide’s not all the way out yet. But there are lots of rocks and shells along here. And hopefully some agates.”

It was nice, Hank told himself, at least compared to the commercial madness of the outlet mall. For a few minutes they strolled along the wave line, walking to the unhurried rhythm of the surf.... dodging an occasional wave, scanning the sand for shells and agates. Then, just as Hank settled comfortably into the pleasant pace of their trek, Angie’s unexpected question sent them off in a very different direction.

“Have you ever been to Cabo San Lucas, in Baja Mexico?” she asked. “It’s a lot like this, in a warmer, more touristy way.”

“Never been there.”

“There are so many wonderful spots like that, all over the world, places to see and visit.” Angie was warming to her subject, swept along by pleasant visions of what might be. “I miss the trips Harold and I used to take. He always had a way of finding the most interesting, out-of-the-way places.”

A few steps later she paused, frowning as she offered her unexpected apology. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be going on like that about him.”

“Why not? He was your husband. That’s certainly allowed. It’s not surprising that you’d want to remember the good times you had with him. I do that all the time, about Sarah that is.”

With that opening, Angie plowed ahead. “What were the favorite places you remember from your trips with Sarah?”

Why was she nudging him toward that ‘Sarah’ space, he wondered. Once there, he was apt to spend the rest of the day. “To begin with, we didn’t travel all that much. What I remember about the few trips we took isn’t so much about the places we went. It’s more about the things we did together, by ourselves or with the kids.”

“So where were the best places you ever went? The really special ones. Places you might want to see again.” Angie had pulled them to a stop. Standing barefoot on the hard sand, facing each other, she had set aside thoughts of agates and sea shells. “There has to be someplace that stands out.”

“That’s hard to say,” Hank answered, sifting through half-faded recollections he had not visited in a very long time. “We really liked Yellowstone. That was with the kids. We saw the geysers, and bears, and buffalo. All the tourist stuff. That was fun. And of course, there was Disneyland. We did that a couple times. I still have one of those silly mouse ear hats. Sarah found it in the garage, just a few weeks before.....” He turned away, looking off toward the surf, where hazy sunlight reflected off splashing waves, creating shiny rainbow-tinted spray.

Angie waited a moment, giving him time to return to the present. “Have you been to Europe?” she asked. “It is very nice. Especially England? That’s my favorite place. Everything about it was green and picturesque, and so historic. You couldn’t turn around without bumping into some place where something had happened, usually a long time ago.”

Surprisingly it was Angie who turned quiet, letting those well-remembered good times wash over her....recalling how special it had been. “Harold always promised we’d go back. But we never had the chance.”

Starting off again, she reached for his hand. This time he did not resist. Then, stopping to poke at a half buried shell with her toe, she looked up to say, “We could do that, you know.”

“We could do what? I didn’t hear what you were talking about.”

Her response was little more than a whisper, as though she wanted him to hear, but feared his reaction. “I was saying that we could see England or Europe. You and I. We could go wherever we wanted to go, and see whatever we wanted to see.”

Without a reply Hank started off down the beach, leaving Angie standing alone. What was he running from? Was it her simple statement, her declaration of what they could do together, or was it the assumptions she was making? Stopping at the upper wave line, where the wet, hard-packed surface gave way to soft sand, he was gazing down the beach when he felt her hand on his arm.

“I’m not sure what you’re driving at,” he said, turning to face her. “I sure as hell can’t afford to go running off to Europe or someplace like that, even if I wanted to.” His grim grin was not meant to inspire her confidence. “You see, I’m not a world traveler. Sarah and I thought in terms of a week at the coast, not doing Europe.”

About then Angie was trying for a calm and reasoned approach. “I hope you realize,” she began. “This isn’t about money or what you can afford. It’s about seeing some of the most amazing places in the world....about seeing them together. Wouldn’t that be nice?”

“Maybe you didn’t hear me.” She flushed at the intensity of his icy glare. “I said I don’t have that kind of money.”

Apparently it was time to make her point in a different, more direct manner. Tugging on his arm, Angie pulled herself up against his shoulder. “You don’t have to have the money,” she said calmly. “I do.”

Shrugging away her grip Hank was on the move again, with Angie in pursuit. What was the lady thinking? Did she honestly believe he was the kind who would live off a woman? Not a chance, even if he craved her attention, which he certainly did not. That kind of crazy talk had to be nipped in the bud.

He pulled up short and turned to face her approach, stopping so quickly that the shoes she was carrying swung against his hip. Recovering her balance, she felt his grip tightening on her shoulder. Looking up to face him, the sight of his darkly earnest stare had her turning away.

“Angie, we have to talk.” There was no anger in his words, only hard, serious intent. “Actually, I need to talk. You need to listen.”

For months, in the course of her open and obvious quest for his attention, Angie had seen Hank Rolland when he was frustrated, and frightened, and befuddled. Never once had she witnessed the stern, unyielding determination she was seeing in his eyes. There was nothing to suggest that he would be put off.

“What is it?” she asked timidly, afraid that she already knew his answer.

“It’s about us. About your talk of traveling, and the plans you’d like to make for us.” 

Taking her arm Hank led them away from the surf, toward a sandstone outcropping at the upper edge of the beach. Trudging barefoot through the deep sand he was asking himself why Sarah’s calm advice seemed out of reach just when he needed it most.

Steering them to the lowest part of a wide boulder, Hank motioned for her to sit down. Then, planting himself directly in front of her, he went looking for the words to explain his dilemma. “There is no way I could do something like that," he began. "Taking off with someone I hardly know, living on her money. Actually, her husband’s money.”

 Bold and brash Angie McDonald had suddenly turned red eyed, sad, and vulnerable. Her nose wrinkled and she was squinting to hold back the tears.“Maybe I’m going too fast,” she murmured. “Is that it?”

“I suppose that’s it. At least part of it. I’m just not ready to be thinking in those terms.”

“I understand.” There was a hint of relief in her voice as she sought to soothe his reluctance. “Why don’t we forget about such things for now and enjoy our day at the beach? That would work, wouldn’t it?”

“Yeah, it would.” There was more to be said. But it was not the time for that. Instead he would settle for a quiet afternoon, just the two of them.... comparing agates gleaned from the sand and watching noisy youngsters splashing in the waves. With unconvincing smiles disguising unspoken words they would limit their conversation to light and airy observations and an occasional lame joke. 

For the rest of their time on the beach, and during the long drive home, Angie took care not to incite another of Hank’s defensive retreats. On her doorstep she was happy enough to settle for a brief, but close embrace as they parted.

Friday, January 20, 2023



To the casual observer it might have looked like any other late-summer morning on the Oregon coast. At Lincoln City, midway down the state’s long coastline, the prospect of a sunny afternoon was tempered by the bank of low clouds that stretched across the blue-gray Pacific horizon. That was normal enough, given the coast’s unpredictable weather patterns.

Yet on that Wednesday morning, as he drove through the wooded coast-range mountains Hank Rolland sensed nothing normal about the day ahead. The Oregon coast had been a favored destination for young couples long before he and Sarah began visiting there during their college years. Whether on long stretches of sandy beaches or in the hidden nooks and crannies of the towering Pacific City sand dunes, ‘the coast had always been a special place for special times with special people. 

But that was then, Hank reminded himself. Those had been the confident days of young love. At that moment he was confident of only one thing. The day he envisioned with Angie McDonald was sure to be a different sort of normal. 

It was just after ten o’clock when they pulled into the nearly-empty casino parking lot on the north edge of Lincoln City. The day was young and the four of them were anxious to be on their way.... though each of them stepped from the car armed with their own very personal expectations of what the day might hold. 

Angie McDonald had left home that morning intent on nurturing her growing connection with Hank. For her, their day together would hopefully bring them a step closer to something more permanent. 

Hank, on the other hand, would be dealing with a very different set of priorities, beginning with the most elemental of all his unresolved questions. Was it right to even consider someone else taking Sarah’s place? Was that what she had intended? And if so, could that someone possibly be Angie McDonald?

While Hank mulled the unlikely possibility of fitting Sarah and Angie into the same answer, Jimmy Brooder was in the back seat with Gladys, facing his own stubborn questions. Based on their Big Band Night together she seemed comfortable enough in his company. Yet, in one sense it seemed to him that they might never be alone,  just the two of them. 

No matter where they were or what they were doing, Jimmy could not shake the intimidating presence of Lester Horner, Gladys’ late husband, lurking in the shadows. It was a hard thing for a competitor like Scooter Brooder....facing off with the specter of someone he could not see, who had been for Gladys what he could never be.

There in the parking lot the four of them stretched their legs and considered the day ahead. By then Angie and Gladys had already decided the couples would be going different directions. The plan was to meet again at the casino for a one-o’clock buffet lunch.

While Hank stood quietly to the side, reminding himself how different his morning would be if he was with Sarah, Angie had turned upbeat, hoping to generate some enthusiasm in her obviously unenthusiastic partner. 

“Don’t be such a sour puss,” she chided, picking up on his dour hesitation. Motioning past the row of ocean front homes toward the Pacific horizon she said, “We’re at the beach, for heaven sakes. It’s a beautiful morning and we’re going to have such a good time. The outlet mall is bound to be fun. There are so many shops, so much to see. And I know you’ll like the used-book store. Maybe you’ll find a treasure or two there.”

By then Hank had her arm, steering her around to the shady side of the car. Wearing the resigned half-smile of someone who had little say in the morning’s itinerary, he nodded his apparent acceptance of Angie’s ambitious schedule, still wondering why Sarah had not warned him this was a bad idea.

Leaning against the back fender, Gladys was quietly assembling her own version of a morning’s outing for herself and Jimmy, absolutely confident that it would be different than the serious shopping excursion Angie had in mind. 

“If I remember correctly,” she explained. “Mr. Brooder likes to walk. He told me that he walks an hour or so every day. But he’s not a fan of walks in the sand. So instead of a leisurely stroll on the beach I think we’ll stretch our legs with a walk downtown. There are lots of interesting shops and a couple galleries. If it’s open, there’s even a nice museum.”

Jimmy Brooder’s first response was a broad smile and affirming nod. A quiet walk with Gladys, just the two of them, was all he wanted and more. So what if touristy souvenir shops and stuffy art galleries were not his favorite venues? He could cope with those distractions if that earned him two or three hours of her company.

“Let’s get on with this. Shall we?” Jimmy suggested. “Let’s see if Lincoln City is ready to deal with four old musketeers.”


The Lincoln City Outlet Mall was a quick five minute drive south of the casino, though on a normal summer weekend it might have taken thirty minutes to negotiate the bumper to bumper traffic. Spread over four square blocks of what had been a sand dune only five years before, the forty-plus shops offered a bit of everything, and Angie expected to see them all. 

For his part Hank wanted nothing more than to have their mind-numbing shopping excursion behind them. For two and a half hours he traipsed from store to store, tagging after Angie like a patient puppy dog, while she poked and handled one item after another, driving harried sales girls crazy with endless questions about merchandise she had no intention of buying. 

When at last they returned to the car Hank carried her single purchase....a pair of gaudy ‘designer’ sneakers, with varicolored laces. Although Angie was absolutely certain that her treasure, at a ‘super-discounted’ sixty-nine dollars, would have cost twice as much in Tanner, Hank found that hard to believe.

Locking her package in the trunk he slipped behind the steering wheel, muttering his silent thanks that the morning’s shopping was finally behind them. He was exhausted, short of patience, and ready for a leisurely lunch. Except......Angie had other ideas.

“Wasn’t that fun,” she gushed as he pulled out on the highway. “And because we hurried along like that, we still have time to stop at the glassblower’s shop before we start back.”

“Are you sure?” Where did she find the energy, he asked himself? For a glassblower of all things. 

The craftsman’s studio was only a short drive from the mall. Once there Hank was surprised to find that Angie had stumbled onto something that actually interested him. The glassblower, a shriveled old fellow with more lung power than Hank would have imagined, was blowing multicolored glass balls....similar to the Japanese fishing-net floats that occasionally washed up on Lincoln City beaches. 

It was a fascinating thing to see, better by far than watching Angie haggle with an overmatched sales clerk. By the time they left the old man’s studio she had captured a special memento of their day at the beach....a single package tucked carefully in her purse.


By one-fifteen Jimmy and Gladys had made their way back to the casino. Seated on a bench just outside the second-floor Lucky Dollar buffet restaurant they waited for Hank and Angie. Their friends were late, but that seemed not to bother them at all. After their long morning walk a comfortable wait on the padded bench suited them just fine.

“A walk like that didn’t used to wear me out,” Jimmy observed as he leaned back against the wall. “Look at me now. A couple hours, a few miles, and I’m bushed.”

“I’ll bet it was good for both of us,” Gladys said. Her sandals were off and she was rubbing her feet. “Next time I’ll remember to bring some walking shoes. There’s no need to worry about being stylish around here.”

Though he was not expert on footwear, stylish or otherwise, Jimmy’s spirits were buoyed by her disclaimer. “I’m not sure about your shoes," he replied. "But I am glad to hear you talking about a ‘next time.’ That’s definitely a step in the right direction.”

Gladys could not remember the last time she had allowed her teasing grin and mischievous wink to see the light of day. Displays like that had always bothered Lester. He would have called it “flirtatious,” unseemly for a woman of her age and station. Without stopping to consider the why of it, Gladys realized she rather enjoyed the liberating liberty of being flirty, even at her age. Besides, there was no sign that Jimmy Brooder objected in the least. 

“Of course, I’d have to be asked,” she reminded him. “But if I am, I’m sure there will be a next time.”

“In that case you can bet on it. I’m just hoping that means the two of us can be on our own for a change. I think we’re past the chaperone stage, don’t you?” He was preparing to expand on that idea when the sight of Hank and Angie coming down the corridor toward them brought him up short.

“Sorry we’re late,” Hank said. He nodded in Angie’s direction as he explained, “My friend had some serious shopping to take care of. Lucky for her, she had me along to lend a hand.”

Angie’s reply was directed at Gladys. “Don’t let him kid you. It was not nearly as bad as he makes it sound. Besides, some things just take time. You know that.” Then to Jimmy, “Are you two ready for lunch?”

The mid-week luncheon clientele had moved on, leaving the Lucky Dollar Buffet nearly empty. Though it offered a comfortable, unhurried setting, where the tired travelers could report on their Lincoln City morning, in at least one respect the Lucky Dollar would prove unlucky. Each of the half-dozen Keno tickets Jimmy played during the course of their lunch was a bona fide unlucky loser.

After a quick trip through the buffet line, they returned to their table. There, while the others busied themselves with their meals, Angie turned instead to a not-so-concise account of her morning’s shopping. Though the fancy sneakers had been left in the car, she was eager to show off her most prized purchase....a small set of wind chimes in the form of a clustered mobile, constructed of colorful rippled-glass slats, interesting to look at and presumably a delight to hear.

“Isn’t it beautiful,” she gushed as she carefully spread the delicate treasure out on the table. “Every set he makes is absolutely unique. No two are alike.” Not surprisingly, the eighty-nine dollar price tag was there for everyone to see.

Jimmy took a moment to handle one of the thin slats. “You wouldn’t dare put this out in the wind. A twenty mile-an-hour breeze would break it to pieces.”

“Well, of course you wouldn’t,” Angie explained. “It’s meant to be hung inside, in front of a window, where the sun can shine through the colored glass. You should see it, the way the colors keep changing. It’s really very effective.”

“How practical is a wind chime that can’t be left out in the wind?” Jimmy had more to say, until he felt Gladys’ grip on his arm. Her tight-lipped frown needed no translation.

“For heaven sakes,” Angie continued, reaching for Hank’s hand. “It’s not about being ‘practical.’ It’s to look at....and be my souvenir of a very special day at the coast. It’s my remembrance.”  Then, glancing first at Gladys, then Jimmy, she asked, “So tell us, what do you two have to show for your morning on the town?”

“You mean besides sore feet?” Jimmy teased. “I have to tell you, it takes some doing to keep up with this lady. She was going a mile-a-minute.”

Gladys was not about to let his exaggeration go unchallenged. “Oh please. It wasn’t that bad at all. We had a very nice time. And Jimmy was very helpful.”

“You mean I stayed out of the way?”

“You know exactly what I mean.” She reached over to jab his shoulder. “You helped make it a very nice morning.”

For an instant Hank was aware of his own wonderment, watching Gladys’ casual display of affection. Clearly she was at home in the company of their unpolished, sometimes gruff friend. A moment later Jimmy’s own embarrassed blush was punctuating that reality. 

But Angie was still looking for an answer to her own question. “What kind of treasures did you find downtown? What do you have to remind you of your day at Lincoln City?”

By then Jimmy was ready to accept Angie’s register his thoughts on a morning with Gladys. “Truth is," he began. "I didn’t need to buy anything to remind me of that. We were only gone a couple hours, but I have a whole bunch of good memories about the time we had and the company I was keeping.

“And we had some good laughs too,” he continued. “Actually, quite a few of them. Especially at the second art gallery.” A sideways glance at Gladys caught her with her hand clamped over her mouth, holding back her own laughter. 

”Have you ever seen a whole wall of paintings done on black velvet,” Jimmy asked. “Every one of them of Elvis Presley, in some of the most unlikely poses you’ve ever seen? That’s all there was. Just Elvis. There were a couple dozen pictures and every one of them was different. We had some laughs there, I’ll tell you.”

 Jimmy turned away from Gladys, biting his lip, determined to keep a straight face. A second later they each lost that battle at the very same time. While Hank and Angie looked on, Gladys slumped against Jimmy’s shoulder and the two of them were lost in laughter. Across the aisle a dour-faced couple glared their apparent displeasure at the raucous intrusion.

“I guess you had to be there,” Jimmy finally stammered, straining to regain his composure. “The whole Elvis thing was so bad. If you took it seriously, you’d have probably cried. We just broke up. The lady at the counter was staring daggers at us, but we couldn’t help it.” 

Retreating to his half-cold coffee Jimmy added, “Anyway, that’s what we did this morning. Those are the memories I’ll be taking home.”

Angie had waited patiently through Jimmy’s disjointed account and still she had not heard an answer to her question. She was not above trying again. “But what did you buy?”

Jimmy turned to Gladys. “We did buy something, didn’t we?”

“We certainly did,” she replied. “You bought me a cotton candy. It was the first I’d had in ages. I’d forgotten how good it was. Probably not too healthy, but very good.”

“That’s all?” Angie was not ready to accept that. “All that time, and all you got was cotton candy?”

“Jimmy already told you, we had lots of silly laughs. What he didn’t tell you was how dumb some of his jokes are.” Gladys was grinning again, apparently remembering one of his weaker offerings. “All in all, it was the best morning I’ve had since I can’t remember when.”

By then Gladys had recalled the rest of her story. “And he says he’s going to teach me to play Black Jack this afternoon. Can you believe that? Cotton candy and Black Jack in the same day.”

“Black Jack?” Hank was finally joining the conversation. “I am impressed. I was hoping to talk Angie into a few minutes at the slot machines. But it sounds like she has other plans.”

“We can do that,” Angie offered. “But first I’d like to have our walk on the beach. According to the tide tables, low tide is at three-thirty. We don’t want to miss that. They say the beach from here to Road’s End is the best agate hunting around. Let’s take our walk, then we can come back to the casino. They’ll have their chance to take our money, I promise.”

       After a round of desserts and a second cup of coffee both couples were ready to be on their way. Arrangements were made to meet in the casino lobby at five o’clock for their return to Tanner. With that decided, Hank and Angie started down the outside stairs toward the beach path, while Jimmy and Gladys took the escalator to the main casino floor.