Category: Flash Fiction

Sunshine and Lemon Balm

“Six twenty-three,” Lorna guessed rolling over to bring the clock on the bedside table into focus.  No matter the season, her internal clock never failed; six twenty-three on the nose.  Mid-summer sun, filtered by plantation blinds on the east-facing window, reflected the warm subtle glow Lorna felt in her heart as she visualized the day blossoming before her: a day of sunshine and lemon balm.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, twisting left then right; a deep breath in, arching her back; exhale, rounding her spine, chin to her chest; sitting tall, shoulders down, tummy tucked in, inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.

Feet glide into her slippers, or house shoes as her mother called them.  Lorna walked into the kitchen, put a kettle of water on the stove and opened the door to her condo balcony.  Scissors in hand, snip, snip, a couple of leaves for tea. lemon balm 8

 

Lorna’s daughter gave her the original lemon balm sprig.

“Plant it in the garden.  The leaves are great for brewing tea, flavoring fruit salad or green salad, and for seasoning fish. Add stems to bouquets of summer flowers from the farmer’s market.  Your whole house will smell lemony fresh.  You’ll love it.”

Lorna spent the next five summers trying to control lemon balm from taking over her garden.

“You said it’s not supposed to spread,” she said to her daughter.

“If you keep it cut back, the flowers won’t produce seeds that sprout new plants.  Trim the plant way back a few times each summer.  That’s what I do.”

“Now you tell me.  Who’s going to help me dig up some of the volunteer plants?  I like the scent of lemon, but enough is enough.”

 

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Before Lorna sold her house and moved into the condo, she transplanted fifteen lemon balm plants and delivered them to the Alzheimer’s unit of the assisted living facility where her father spent the last two years of his life.

“For the resident’s,” the card said.  “Lemon balm is good for digestion, headaches, Alzheimer’s restlessness, and insomnia.  If you plant them outside, cut them back often to keep them under control.  If you leave them in pots, place them around the facility and they will add a fresh scent to the rooms.”

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Sitting in her favorite rocker, Lorna inhaled the scent of lemon from the potted plant she kept for herself.  As the sun peeked over the balcony wall warming her toes, Lorna remembered her last volunteer assignment at the Alzheimer’s unit.  She was assigned to keep an eye on the residents in the fenced-in yard.

Edna, a new resident, wandered through the garden stopping at every lemon balm plant.  She picked a stem, held it to her nose, took a deep breath in and moved on to the next plant.

Edna made her way around to Lorna and held out a bouquet of lemon balm.

“Take this.  I think it smells like sunshine.  I guarantee it will brighten our day.”

Edna repeated her trip around the garden gathering sunshine as if it was her first trip.  She presented each new bouquet to the next person she saw.  By the end of the day, every visitor to the garden caught a glimpse of Edna’s world:  a place of unending sunshine and lemon balm.

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Treasure Hunt

Treasure Hunt

Emily surprised no one when she used her death to orchestrate one final treasure hunt.

“The prize at the end will taste sweeter for having worked for it,” she would tell to her grandchildren.

Emily beamed watching each child decipher clues and relished in exuberant expressions of joy when they figured out where the treat was hidden.

Whenever they visited, Emily handed each child a clue leading to another clue. Each clue took them closer to a treat, almost always round, pink candies or vanilla wafers. On hot summer days, the treat might be a popsicle.

Some days the prize was a quarter to be spent at the corner store. The first time a child found a quarter at the end of the trail sent them spinning and doing a happy dance. Your first quarter meant you were old enough to walk to the corner store on your own.

Upon entering the store, a glass counter to the right displayed all varieties of penny and nickel candy. Deciding how to spend twenty-five cents might take longer than eating the candy. Each time, the same internal dialogue: Hard candies last longer. Chocolate is better. Maybe a Tootsie Roll Pop. Mom doesn’t let us have candy bars, maybe a Snickers is the way to go.

Whatever the decision, the spoils from the treasure hunt went back to Grandma’s to be eaten on the front porch or under the big tree in the back yard.

* * *

cage-6At Emily’s funeral, the grandchildren sat in a circle sharing a favorite treasure-hunt memory. Nathan recalled the time he clambered up the big tree to find a clue.

“How did Grandma hide the clue up there?”

“I hid the clue in the tree.”

Mike revealed how as the oldest, he often assisted in placing clues around for the younger kids.

“As Grandma got older, the stairs to the attic or basement gave her trouble. I doubt Grandma ever climbed the tree. One year she promoted me to be her assistant and swore me to secrecy. Now you know. Whew! I’m glad to get that out in the open.”

At the reading of the will, each grandchild received an envelope with a clue to finding one last treasure.

“I have selected a something special for you. As you complete one more trek, remember, the joy is in the journey.”

All heads turned toward Mike.

“Don’t look at me. I had nothing to do with it.”

Everyone’s first clue led to the same place and included instructions to complete the quest together. Stacked with boxes of all sizes, Emily’s eight grandchildren each found a box with their name on it in the attic. The prize inside included a letter and photographs of the two of them together.

Tammy received antique broach she liked to wear when she visited Emily.

“I used to think I was sophisticated wearing Grandma’s fancy jewelry.”

Kathy found a crystal vase Emily brought from Ireland as a teenager.

“I used to pick wild flowers out of the field behind Grandma’s house. She always put them in this vase as if I presented her the most precious flowers on earth.”

Mike found his grandfather’s leather bomber jacket and a key to the antique motor cycle in the garage.

“I used to love hearing Grandpa tell me stories about riding with his brother.  I Can’t believe she gave me his bike.”

Roger opened his box to find Grandpa’s war medals and the flag used to adorn his grandfather’s casket at his funeral.  Overcome with emotion, tears in his eyes, Roger turned the flag over, smoothing out the corners.

Amanda started sobbing as she unfolded the quilt Emily made from aprons she’d worn over the years.

“Grandma used to let me bake cookies with her. I made such a mess, she always put one of her aprons on me.”

Nathan fell to his knees when he found his Grandfather’s baseball card collection.

“I spent hours poring over these with Grandpa. He came to every game I played from little league to high school state finals.”

Samantha showed off a hand-beaded clutch.

“Grandma let me carry her evening bag around when we played dress-up. I think that’s when I discovered my love for all things vintage.”

“Okay Cinda, last, but not least. We all know you were Grandma’s favorite. Look at the size of that box,” Roger teased.

All eyes on her, Cinda gingerly unwrapped an antique bird cage, fragile from the dry attic air. Detached from its hinges, the door lay on the bottom of the cage.

“What does it mean? I don’t remember Grandma ever having a bird,” Amanda asked.

“Grandma had scarlet fever as a child. Her father gave her this cage and a song bird to keep her company during her recovery. She told me she always felt bad for the bird, locked up in a cage all the time. The day the doctor said she could go outside, Grandma set the bird free. Let’s see what the note says.”

“Cinda,

You are my youngest grandchild, the one most like me, in spirit. My wish is that you see the world for both of us. I removed the door on this cage to remind you to remain open to all life offers. Be audacious in your pursuit of adventure. Fly, little bird, fly, and I will soar with you.

Grandma Emily”

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The Music Box

The Music Box

My Dearest Liz, 

If you are reading this, you found the secret compartment. My parents are sending me to Maine for the summer to spend time with my grandparents and cousins.  They say the country air will be good for me.  We both know it’s because our families want to keep us apart. You will always be in my heart, no matter how many miles are between us. 

All my love forever, Jacob S.  June 1, 1863.

The morning she turned eighteen, Elizabeth opened her eyes and zeroed in on the music box on her dresser. The family treasure originally belonged to her great-great grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Pembroke. Elizabeth’s grandfather bequeathed the music box to her when she was born. Every year on her birthday, Elizabeth wound the mechanism and listed to the love song, How Can I Leave Thee?

Elizabeth found the love letter from Jacob S. that morning when the music box fell from the dresser and broke into a dozen pieces. She tried to catch the precious box.  She tried to save it, but she wasn’t fast enough.

Heartsick, tears in her eyes, Elizabeth gathered the shattered keepsake, tenderly placing fragments into an old basket. Among the rubble, she found the note and a silver charm of half a heart threaded on a chain.

Elizabeth read the note. Who was Jacob S.? Her great, great-grandmother Liz married Henry Madison Pembroke.

Elizabeth tucked the note and the necklace into her pocket and took the music box to her father, Henry.  He could fix anything. Henry brushed the tears from his daughter’s eyes and assured her the music box would be as good as new when he finished.

“Dad, are you aware of anyone in the family named Jacob, someone from a long time ago perhaps?”

“No one comes to mind sweetie. You might want to talk to your Aunt Minnie. She’s the keeper of the family tree. If anyone knows about a Jacob, it would be her.”

Elizabeth spoke to her Aunt Minnie that night after everyone at her party sang Happy Birthday and the candles were blown out.

“I have some questions about our family history. I’m looking for a Jacob S. He would have been a teenager in the 1860’s.  He may have been a friend of Grandma Liz.  Ever heard of him?”

“I’ve never found a Jacob in my research. Why do you ask?”

Elizabeth read the letter to Minnie but kept the necklace to herself. Curiosity piqued, Minnie raised her eyebrows,

“Want to go on a road trip to Maine this summer?  I love a good mystery.”

Always up for an adventure, Elizabeth asked,

“When do we leave?”

* * *

Aunt and niece checked into a bed and breakfast, their home-base in Ellsworth, Maine. They spent days meeting distant relatives, searched through antique stores for old family bibles and looked up marriage, birth, and death records at the county seat. Their search uncovered a Jacob Stein, but found no connection between Jacob and anyone named Liz.

Frustrated and exhausted, the women visited the last antique shop on their list before returning to the Ellsworth Inn to plan the next day’s excursion.

The shop owner looked up as the bells on the door announced new customers.

“Anything specific I can help you find?”

Elizabeth introduced herself, using her full name,

“Elizabeth Madison Pembroke. This is my Aunt Minnie. We’re looking for information about our ancestors.”

Elizabeth set the music box on the counter and unfolded the letter.

“I found a letter in a secret compartment of this box that belonged to my great-great grandmother. We’re hoping you might be able to identify the author.”

The shop owner walked over to a cabinet and set a wooden box next to the one on the counter.  It was an exact match.

Unable to speak, Elizabeth’s eyes nearly popped out of her face and her jaw dropped.

“My brother and I are restoring an old family home built by our great-great grandparents. They were married sixty years. Grandma Sarah died first and grandpa followed two months later. Everyone said he died of a broken heart.”

“During the renovation, my brother and I found this box hidden under the floorboards in Grandpa Jacob’s office. It’s filled with love letters from Liz M. to Jacob during the summer of 1863. This charm was also in the box.”

He held up half a heart.  The young man threaded his charm on Elizabeth’s necklace. The two pieces fit perfectly. Smiling  ear to ear he said,

“My great, great grandfather’s broken heart is healed at last. I’m Jacob Stein, may I call you Liz?”

Age is Only a Number

Age is Only a Number

Mother was always on the go.  She lived at home by herself and did her own cooking and cleaning.  Once a week I would pick her up then collect my two sisters who lived nearby.  None of them drove.  Thursday was our day to shop, pay bills and go out for lunch.

Mother spent four days a week at the church hall making sandwiches for the homeless, working on a quilt, knitting prayer shawls, cooking funeral lunches and whatever else needed doing.

On the seventh day, Mother was in the front row for mass and served coffee for the meet and greet after the service.  Sunday afternoon was reserved for family visits.  My sisters, brothers and I dropped by with our spouses and kids.  Weather permitting, the kids could be found outside climbing trees, playing hopscotch or a rousing game of statue.

The adults sat around Mother discussing family matters and solving the world’s problems.    Once the grandchildren went off to college, I would pick my Mother up after Sunday mass and take her to breakfast.

Recently I noticed Mother slowing down.  She started moving a little slower and walking with a cane on our shopping trips.   Her eyesight, hearing and memory never failed.  Now and then she would skip a day working at the church  proclaiming,

“It’s about time some of the younger women get involved.  I’m one of the oldest to show up.”

As designated driver, I took Mother to her annual physical.  On the short walk from the car to the office door she said in a shallow voice,

“I feel like I’m one hundred.”

I laughed and said, “You are ninety-nine you know.”

The part about feeling 100 came from a friend’s story about her mother.  The rest is a compilation of memories of my Grandma, my Mother and various Aunts.

Remnants

Remnants

“I’m putting this basket of fabric and yarn scraps in the donate pile grandma.”

Veronica looked up and shook her head from side to side and managed a “No.”

The after-affects of a stroke paired with the onset of dementia held Veronica captive in silence, lost in the past. Ronnie, her oldest granddaughter and namesake, set the basket of remnants next to Veronica’s chair.

Veronica reached into the remnants with her good arm and picked up a ball of delicate white baby yarn. Her wrinkled hand lifted the plush yarn to her cheek. Her face lit up with a sweet smile and tears welled in her eyes as she remembered the hours of love spent knitting a baptism dress for her first child.

“What is it grandma?”

“Baby Tim,” she managed.

You made dad a sweater with this yarn?”

“Dress,” Veronica uttered.

After a few moments of reflection Ronnie asked, “Is this the yarn from the baptismal dress you made for daddy? The same dress my sisters and I wore?”

Veronica nodded yes.

Ronnie labeled the basket of remnants ‘Memories’ and made sure the collection of treasures went to assisted living. Ronnie visited her grandmother every weekend. For months they went through all the small balls of yarn and fabric swatches. Ronnie created a journal with a snippet from each remnant and details her grandma shared during her more lucid moments. Ronnie included a picture of the person who received the finished product and a memory they wanted to share with Veronica.

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One Sunday, Ronnie overheard a nurse asking Veronica about different entries in the journal. Veronica beamed and pointed to pictures of her children and grandchildren holding the gifts she crafted for them with love.

“You created quite a legacy Veronica. You must be pleased to know your family treasures your gifts.”

Ronnie walked into her grandmother’s room, gave her a big hug and kissed her on the cheek.

“How are you today grandma?”

Veronica squeezed Ronnie’s hand.

“Only one piece of fabric left. It looks like white satin. I thought it might be from you wedding dress so I brought a picture of you a Papa on the church steps. Did I guess right?”

Veronica reached for the picture. She placed the photograph on her lap and touched the image of her husband with longing and tenderness.

“I miss grandpa too.”

Ronnie created a journal and attached the photo and fabric. She handed the journal to her grandmother who cradled it next to her heart.

Ronnie said goodbye, kissing her grandmother on both cheeks, “Till next week grandma, I love you.”

The next morning the nurse on-call found Veronica’s lifeless form sitting in her bed, journal open to her wedding photo, a peaceful look on her face. The remnants in her journal telling the story of a life well lived and full of love.

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The Bus Stop

The Bus Stop

May was rocking back and forth at the bus stop.  The butterflies in her stomach smoothed out for a few seconds when one of the other girls admired her new, pink, canvas shoes with blue laces.  May loved how her shoes matched her dress and the ribbons in her hair.

No matter how bus 4many times she changed schools, the first day didn’t get any easier.  May was hoping she would be at Sterling Elementary for more than a few months.  May’s father moved her and her mother around when neighbors were too friendly or too nosy.  “It’s time for a change,” he would say.  She counted the schools on her fingers; five schools in two years.

May’s eyes welled up with tears as she climbed onto the bus, her head spinning with questions.  Would anyone sit next to her?  Would she find any friends at school?  Would the teacher be nice?  Would she be smart enough to keep up?  Turning back, looking at her mother, May pleaded with her eyes, Please don’t make me go.  Her mother, Ellen, waved and blew May a kiss.

As the bus pulled away, three mothers crossed the street, headed for home.  Kim suggested they get together for coffee since they lived so close to one another.

Nora said, “I have to get home.  My husband is watching the baby and waiting for me to get back so he can go to work.”
Ellen thanked Kim, and said in a voice, barely above a whisper, “My husband is waiting for his breakfast.” Ellen looked at her watch and started home.

* * *

Ellen was allowed outside the apartment, unescorted, twice a day.  She walked May to and from the bus stop.  Nick, Ellen’s husband, knew down to the minute how long the journey took.  If she was gone a minute longer, there would be hell to pay.

Those few minutes in the morning and afternoon were the only time Ellen was alone with May.  After school, May did her homework while Ellen prepared dinner.  After dinner, Ellen would check May’s work, give her a bath then read to May before tucking her in for the night.  With Ellen’s sleeves rolled up during bath time, May could tell when new bruises appeared.  The two never talked about the bruises or the shouting when her father thought May was asleep.

One day, on the way to the bus stop May said wistfully, “Momma, maybe someday we can both get on the bus and never come back.”

“We have nowhere to go honey, no one to stay with,” Ellen said in a small voice.  But May’s suggestion started Ellen thinking.

That evening, Ellen ripped a sheet of paper from May’s notebook when they were going over homework.  The next morning she walked onto the bus and slipped the driver a note whispering, “Please read this later.”

* * *

The next day, the bus driver motioned for Ellen to come onto the bus. He slipped her a piece of paper.  Ellen read the note, looked into the bus driver’s warm eyes. With the smallest of movements she nodded her head.  The driver put another note in her hand.  Ellen stepped off the bus and waved to May as usual.

During bath time, Ellen told May to pick a toy to take to school for show and tell the next day.  May started listing her stuffed animals.  “Which one should I take Momma?”

“Which is your favorite?” Ellen asked.

May smiled, “Bunny.”  Her smile was quickly replaced with a frown.  In a small, sad voice May asked her mother, “Is dad moving us again?”

“No Mbus 5ay, dad is not moving us again.”  Ellen didn’t want to lie to May, but she was afraid to tell her about the plan for the next day.  Nick might overhear them.  May might say something to give it away.

* * *

In the morning, Ellen left the note the bus driver had given her on the kitchen counter as she and May left for the bus stop.  The note was from May’s teacher “reminding” her to come to school the next day to help in the classroom.

Ellen and May hung back as all of the other kids hopped on the bus.  It was a different bus driver than usual.  Holding on to May’s shoulders to keep her hands from shaking, Ellen looked at him, pleading with her eyes.  Gesturing toward the first row, he said “Come.  Sit behind me.”

Heart racing, Ellen kept looking over her shoulder as the bus pulled away.  What if Nick read the note before she was expected back?  He would pull her and May off the bus.  They would be moved out of the apartment by dinner time.  Nick was always planning two moves ahead.

As the bus drove off, Nora and Kim looked at one another.  “I wonder what that’s all about,” Kim said.

“I don’t know,” Nora replied, “but don’t you think it’s odd that May had a stuffed animal, and they both looked like they had on too many clothes for such a nice day.”

“Wasn’t that a substitute bus driver?  I have never seen that man before,” Kim added.

* * *

The bus made a few more stops to pick up kids.  When the driver pulled into the bus lane at May’s school, he told Ellen and May to wait for the others to leave.  Once everyone else was gone, he said, “Slouch down so no one can see you.”

May knew that something was happening.  She also knew not ask any questions.  She held tight to her mother’s hand clutching Bunny in the other.

“Remember how you wanted to get on the bus together and go away?  The bus driver is going to take us to a special place.  Somewhere safe,” Ellen whispered, trying to keep May from getting upset.  Several blocks away from the school, the driver let them know it was okay to sit up again.  bus 7

After a twenty minute ride from May’s school, the bus pulled into the parking lot of a plain looking building.  The driver turned to Ellen and May.  “My name is Dan.  I volunteer at The Haven.  It just so happens I used to drive a bus and I still have my license.  Once inside you will meet with an advocate who will ask you a lot of questions.  If anyone can help you, this is the place, these are the people.”

Hanging tightly onto May’s hand, Ellen entered the shelter.  “Welcome, my name is Tina; let’s go talk about how to make sure you two ladies are safe.”

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Gone Fishing

Gone Fishing

Seven-year old James opened the door on the bungalow-style home, a teddy bear with one eye dangling from his hand.  “Granny, a lady’s here for you,” he shouted.

A tall, stately woman, shoulders heavy with the burden she carried, walked toward the open door, “Can I help you miss?”

“Hello.  Mrs. Singer?  My name is Honor Williams, the Hospice volunteer you asked for.”

“Come in.  James, go play in your room.  Granny’s  got a visitor.”

Honor followed Mrs. Singer into the living room and sat on the sofa next to a mound of laundry waiting to be folded and put away.

“Why are you here?” Mrs. Singer asked impatiently.  Dark circles framed her eyes.  Heartbreak and sadness hung heavy in the dimly lit room.

“My Hospice supervisor, Sister Anne, asked me to visit you.  She said you requested a volunteer.  I thought she told you I would be here today.”

“What you can do?” Mrs. Singer sighed.  “So many people been coming and going, I can’t keep straight who does what.”

“I can help in a number of ways depending on what’s need.  I can visit with the patient, read to her and keep her company.  I can stay with her while you go out to shop, run errands, take care of James, or whatever you want to do.  I can grocery shop for you, do laundry, cook, anything to help out.”

“I didn’t ask for help.  Maybe Etta did.  She’s the one who’s sick.”

Steadying herself on the arm of the chair, Mrs. Singer stood up and gestured, “Follow me.”  She opened a bedroom door at the back of the house and stood to the side while Honor entered, “Etta, your visitor is here.”

The temperature in the small room registered ten degrees higher than the hallway. Etta sat propped up in bed, eyes closed, waif-like body barely visible beneath the sheet.

Etta waited for the door to close and the sound of her mother’s footsteps to fade away before opening her eyes to speak.  “Sit,” she said, pointing to the straight back chair across from the hospital bed.

“Hello Etta, my name is Honor, a volunteer with Hospice.  What can I do for you today?”

“Can you read to me?  My vision seems to be going,” Etta mumbled.

“Sure, anything in particular you want me to read?”

“You’ll find some prayer books on the dresser. Bring em to me.”  Etta picked out a favorite.  The book fell open to a well-worn page, stained finger prints on the ragged corners.  “Start here.  Read real slow, the sound of the words gives me some peace.”

As Hope read, Etta’s breathing took on an easier rhythm, her body relaxed and she closed her eyes.  Hope sensed Etta was listening to the words as her head nodded and the corners of her mouth turned up. Fifteen minutes later Etta fell asleep, one hand over her heart.

Hope found Mrs. Singer in the kitchen.  “Etta’s sleeping and seems to be resting peacefully.  Anything I can do for you while I’m here?”

“No.  When do you think you’ll be back?”

“That’s up to you and Etta. How about I visit again in a couple of days.”

“Fine. I have to take James to a doctor’s appointment on Thursday.  Can you be here by nine thirty?”

“Nine thirty on Thursday it is.  See you then.”

* * *

Hope visited Etta three times a week.  As they got used to one another, the two talked about places they had been, movies they had seen, favorite hymns and former boyfriends.  With each visit Hope watched Etta slip away, weak from lying in bed, her appetite all but disappeared, her skin ashen, and her breathing labored.

Conversation became too much for Etta. Hope went back to reading from prayer books.  One Friday Etta reached out placing a hand on Hope’s arm, her eyes watering, expressing emotions too deep to put into words.

“You’re welcome,” Hope whispered and kissed Etta on the forehead.

As Etta drifted off to sleep, Hope tip-toed from the room to find Mrs. Singer.  “She’s resting now, so I’m going to leave.  Call me if you need anything.  I’ll be back Monday.”

“I think shfishing 5e will pass soon,” Etta’s mother said, hands grasping the kitchen counter, her knuckles white.  “Last night I dreamt Etta’s daddy came for her.  She loved that man.  He spoiled her something awful.  They would go fishing before dawn and come back after dark.  Not once did they bring any fish home.  Never could figure out what they did all day.  He passed five years ago.  I think he misses his fishing buddy.”

Sister Anne called Hope that evening to tell her Etta died in her sleep clutching a picture of her and her father fishing off the pier on her seventh birthday.

“Mrs. Singer wanted me to tell you Etta’s ‘gone fishing’.  She said you would understand.”

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Red Red Robin

Red Red Robin

“Good morning Zelda.  How are you feeling today?”

“Blue skies and sunshine.  Today is going to be a good day Marcie.”  Zelda gazed over the memory garden outside her window.

“Six American Robins are in the garden, or as I like to say, eating off the breakfast buffet.  Earthworms are on the menu, as usual.  Later they will be all over the berry bushes.  I wish I had half their appetite.”

“If it’s worms you want, I can ask the gardener dig some up for you,” Marcie said as she adjusted the pillows propping Zelda in her day-chair.  “Anything you want, name it.”

“A cup of tea is all for now,” Zelda uttered.

Marcie straightened the sheets on Zelda’s bed, cleaned the nightstand and poured fresh water in Zelda’s cup, no ice.

Marcie touched Zelda on the arm to pull her attention back to the present moment.  “I’ll prepare your tea now; you sure I can’t tempt you with a biscuit or some fruit?”

Zelda moved her head from side to side.  “I might try some fruit later, when the robins come back for their afternoon meal.”

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Marcie set the delicate china teacup on the table next to Zelda.  “I brought you a couple of crackers if your appetite returns .  They’re probably not as tasty as earthworms, but I wish you would put a little something in you tummy.  Why the fascination with robins?” Marcie asked scanning the room.

“I was born in 1926, the year Al Jolson recorded When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along.  My momma said I acted like a baby robin from the very beginning.  My head would bob up and down any time someone payed me any attention.  One time momma told me she wished she had named me Robin instead of Zelda for her grandmother.  Momma called me Robin until day she passed.  I knew I was in trouble or something important was happening if she called me Zelda.”

Marcie sat in the visitors’ chair and placed her hands on Zelda’s face, “I like the name Zelda.  It suits you.   Zelda comes from the Yiddish name Selig, meaning blessed or happy.  You light up the room with your smile.   Anyone who visits knows how blessed you are.  Look at all the family photos around the room.  And so many pictures of robins.  Where did they all come from?”

“I taught second grade for thirty years.  My granddaughter put something on Facebook about my being in Hospice.  Seems she asked anyone who passed through my classroom to send a note or something to cheer me up.  My class put on a skit and sang When the Red Red Robin Comes Bob Bob Bobin’ Along for the school talent show every year.  We painted bird houses for art class and observed baby robins hatch and learn to fly.  Anyway, ever since, not a day goes by without picture or something in the mail from one of my students.”

* * *

“Up for some visitors Zelda?”

Marcie ushered in a dozen second graders and a teacher from the elementary school down the street.

“Hello Mrs. Schmidt.  I’m Sue Thompson, I teach second grade at Pierson Elementary.  I don’t know if you remember me.  You were my second grade teacher.  I wanted to grow up to be just like you.  I got my love of nature and birds from you.  My students would like to perform their piece for the school talent show if that’s alright with you.”

Happy tears streamed down Zelda’s cheeks as the students sang When the Red Red Robin Comes Bob Bob Bobin’ Along.  Mrs. Thompson set out a tray of fruit for the kids to share with Zelda and Hospice staff.

Zelda turned her gaze to the window.   She smiled, watching the robin family chowing down at the berry buffet in the garden.  Zelda picked up a piece of watermelon and took a bite.


Two versions of When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along for your pleasure

Al Jolson – When the Red red Robn Comes Bob Bob Bobin’ Along

Children’s Chorus – When the Red Red Robin Comes Bob Bob Bobin’ Along


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For those interested in learning a little about robins, here you go…

Source:  https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/American_Robin

The quintessential early bird, American Robins are common sights on lawns across North America, where you often see them tugging earthworms out of the ground. Robins are popular birds for their warm orange breast, cheery song, and early appearance at the end of winter. Though they’re familiar town and city birds, American Robins are at home in wilder areas, too, including mountain forests and Alaskan wilderness.

American Robins are fairly large songbirds with a large, round body, long legs, and fairly long tail. Robins are the largest North American thrushes, and their profile offers a good chance to learn the basic shape of most thrushes.

American Robins are industrious and authoritarian birds that bound across lawns or stand erect, beak tilted upward, to survey their environs. When alighting they habitually flick their tails downward several times. In fall and winter they form large flocks and gather in trees to roost or eat berries.

American Robins are common across the continent in gardens, parks, yards, golf courses, fields, pastures, tundra, as well as deciduous woodlands, pine forests, shrublands, and forests regenerating after fires or logging.

Look for American Robins running across lawns or stalking earthworms in your yard or a nearby park. Since robins sing frequently, you can find them by listening for their clear, lilting musical whistles. In winter they may disappear from your lawn but could still be around. Look for flocks of them in treetops and around fruiting trees, and listen for their low cuck notes.

Cool Facts

An American Robin can produce three successful broods in one year. On average, though, only 40 percent of nests successfully produce young. Only 25 percent of those fledged young survive to November. From that point on, about half of the robins alive in any year will make it to the next. Despite the fact that a lucky robin can live to be 14 years old, the entire population turns over on average every six years.

Although robins are considered harbingers of spring, many American Robins spend the whole winter in their breeding range. But because they spend more time roosting in trees and less time in your yard, you’re much less likely to see them. The number of robins present in the northern parts of the range varies each year with the local conditions.

Robins eat a lot of fruit in fall and winter. When they eat honeysuckle berries exclusively, they sometimes become intoxicated.

Robin roosts can be huge, sometimes including a quarter-million birds during winter. In summer, females sleep at their nests and males gather at roosts. As young robins become independent, they join the males. Female adults go to the roosts only after they have finished nesting.

Nana’s Magic Canning Jars

Nana’s Magic Canning Jars

After a brisk opening day at The Magic Canning Jar Diner, I barely felt my tired feet and achy back when I turned the sign on the door to Closed.  A reporter from the local paper remained in a booth at the back waiting for an interview. I poured us both a cup of coffee and let out a long sigh as I sat down.

“Are you sure you want to do this now?  I can come back later in the week,” the reporter said.

Let’s do this now. I don’t think business is going to slow down anytime soon, at least I hope not.

The reporter began the interview by turning on her recorder and asked permission to tape our conversation.

“Start with how you came up with the name of the restaurant and the unusual menu.”

I give my grandmother credit for the name and the menu.  Friday was always Nana Day.  She would pick me up from school for an afternoon of no rules and special treats ending in a sleep over.

Mom would say watching the two of us giggle, heads together, “I can’t tell the adult from the child.”

Nana lined the top shelf in her pantry with canning jars filled with everything from homemade jam to pickled eggs.  All the jars were numbered and Nana moved the numbers around every few weeks.

I had two favorite jars.  Nana kept one filled with chocolate.  She liked to buy candy on sale so you might find Easter candy in October and Halloween candy in April.  The wrapper didn’t matter; the treat inside delighted no matter the season.

My other favorite jar we filled with activities to do together. We each wrote ideas on slips of paper and put them in the jar. On a cold, rainy Friday in November, I reached into the activity jar and pulled out a slip in Nana’s handwriting.

“Camp-in. Don’t you mean camp-out Nana?”

“No, a Camp-in is perfect for a day like today, follow me,” Nana said with a tilt of her head.

Nana opened the linen closet in the hallway and started pulling down blankets and sheets.  We hauled them into the living room to build a fort over the furniture. We filled our fort with pillows, stuffed animals, flashlights, games and my favorite books.

After a couple of hours reading, singing and playing games I asked Nana, “What’s for dinner?”

With a lift her eyebrows and a twinkle in her eyes she asked, “How about a canning jar mystery meal?”

I’m sure I made my pickle-puss face, “Oh no.  Remember what happened last time Nana?  We ate those nasty beets, sauerkraut and pickles.”

Nana smiled, “Pick three numbers between one and thirty.  I’ll go to the pantry and bring back our feast.”

I crossed my fingers, trying to remember the number on the chocolate jar.  “Sixteen, twenty seven and thirty.”

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Nana went to the pantry and came back with the jars I selected.

“Pizza sauce, brussel sprouts and banana peppers,” I groaned.

Nana always made the best of things. That night we made pizza bagels and used the brussel sprouts and banana peppers as toppings.

Nana days and the magic canning jars taught me to eat all kinds of food.  I learned how to combine foods that don’t seem like they belong together.  And that’s how the diner got its name.

Grinning, I added, “If you select three magic numbers I’ll whip up something memorable.”

A Room with a View

A Room with a View

Karen took in the view from her spot at the front of the room. Brighlty flowerd curtains, rows of chairs split by an aisle, dim lighting, and fresh flowers were scattered around.  The scent of roses and gardenias overpowered a hint of incense clinging to the walls.

Aunt Mini, matriarch of the family, was first to arrive. Cane in one hand and supported by her son’s arm, took her usual place in the first row.

Cousin Candace with her brood, ranging from three to thirteen, sat in the back. A quick exit might be necessary if one of her kids started acting up.

Friends arrived in two’s and three’s.  Some from work and others from her high school days.

More people arrived; the noise level rose.  Lots of hugging and hand-shaking among old friends and long-lost relatives warmed the room.

“I can’t believe how big you are.  So grown up!” out-of-town relatives exclaimed, seeing one another for the first time in years.

Karen counted 52 people in all:  34 relatives, 17 friends, and one stranger who wandered in.

* * *

Tim walked to the front of the room.  Conversations wrapped-up and all attention focused on him.

“Thank you for coming,” he said, looking out at the friendly faces.

After a glance at Karen in her place of honor, Tim looked down at the notes in his hand.

“As you know, we are here to celebrate Karen.”

Tim droned on about his sister.  He recalled childhood escapades, divulging which one of them came up with the idea of digging up their mother’s garden.

“What can I say?  We were looking for buried treasure.”

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Karen tuned out his words and surveyed the crowd.  She memorized the expressions on faces.  She took note of who laughed at Tim’s jokes, who dabbed tears from eyes welling up with emotion, and who yawned in boredom.

Tim gestured with both hands, palms up lifting them toward heaven. “Let’s stand and sing to Karen on this special occasion.”

Karen wanted to cover her ears. The well-intentioned singing reminded her of the choir in the old country church she attended when at her summer home.  No two people sang in the same key.  One enthusiastic singer rushed the words while another sang a beat behind, creating an echo.  It was all she could do to keep from giggling.

“Again, thank you everyone for coming.  After you share your personal thoughts with Karen, join us in the next room for refreshments.”

Tim escorted Karen to the reception. One thought ran through her mind.

I wonder where I will go from hereI hope whoever wins custody of my urn places me in a room with a good view of the outdoors.

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