Near 500 words: Yin and Yang

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Chet looked into Tessa’s eyes. He saw the city reflected in her clear blue eyes. Her smile filled him with joy.

Tessa looked into Chet’s eyes. She saw the countryside. His smile filled her with joy.

Tessa wore city. Chet was clothed in country. Tessa spoke city. Chet spoke countryese. Chet was progressive. Tessa a conservative. Chet was into cats. Tessa had a German shepherd. It wasn’t an argument they had. It was a conversation.

It had been a blind date when they met. They had resisted. They had had blind dates before. Neither was up for another one. But their best friends insisted. They saw something of the other in each one. And they felt that Tessa and Chet would  make a great pair.

They met on neutral territory. A crowded restaurant. Immediately they liked each other. Though they had nothing in common, they had everything in common. They both were gentle, kind souls. They were both creative. Though Chet was an optimist, Tessa was a pessimist. They balanced each other out, and their glass as a couple always held a half glass of wine.


The Teacher

For all you teachers. Thank you for what you give us. It is priceless.

The neighborhood kids got together and built a snowman. When he was good and done, they gave him a hat and a pipe, two button eyes and a nose and a smile. Just as they finished him up, Miss Morgan called the kids into her house for hot chocolate and  treats. Miss Morgan always made the bestest of treats and her hot chocolate was heavenly. Marshmallows and pieces of chocolate melting in the hot milk.

Miss Morgan never had kids of her own. She had been a fifth grade teacher. One of the best at her school. She did fifty years there and then retired. When she retired, kids and parents and grandparents came to the ceremony. And the whole school turned out. There were so many that they moved the event to the town’s theater. It was packed.

Many of the attendees had tears in their eyes. She was so beloved. It was a two-hour ceremony.

First there was the choral society, singing several of her favorite songs. Then a fifth grader came up, gave her a hug and said a few words of praise. Then an eighth grader. Then a senior. Then a young woman in her twenties. Then a man in his thirties. Then a woman in her forties. Then one of her first students stepped up to the podium.

“I became a teacher,” Maggie Heller said. “And now I am finishing my thirty-fifth year. I’ve loved every minute of it. You may not remember me but I stole some money from your purse. Instead of punishing me, you told me that you brought the money just for me.” Maggie started to cry. The principal of the school went over to her and comforted her, then she continued. “That forgiveness has carried me through so many hard things. When I saw the look in your eyes, it wasn’t of disappointment. It was with love. If you could love me even though I did what I did, I could love myself. And your final hug that year. I will never ever forget that. Thank you, Miss Morgan. For teaching me how to be a good human being.”

Finally the superintendent of schools walked to the podium. “Miss Morgan….you know I don’t even know your first name. HR has kept it a state secret all these years.” Tears filled his eyes. He had been a Miss Morgan student too. Then he swiped them away and continued. “Your name is famous throughout the state. For your excellence in teaching and for the quality you have brought to our children. In your name, we have created a scholarship fund and now we have a special surprise. Miss Morgan, please step up here.”

The Teacher rose from her seat and walked to the podium. Standing beside the superintendent, she turned to the man who was once her student. He said, “As our gift to you, we have an all-expense around-the-world cruise. Thank you for all you have given us and will continue to give us.” He hugged her, then handed her a dozen roses and the envelope with the details for the trip.

Miss Morgan looked out at the filled auditorium. Tears were in her eyes too, but she held them back and gave her friends a smile. All she could get out was, “Thank you, And I love you all. Each and everyone of you.”

She spent a year seeing the world. Then she returned to her house on Green Street. Each afternoon one child or another dropped by for tutoring or a story or some advice. On the weekends, the neighborhood kids came to her house for treats. Her door was never closed to a child.

The neighborhood kids gathered in her dining room and consumed their treats. Miss Morgan looked at them all gathered around the dining room table, laughing and swapping jokes and jabbering away as children do. She poured a cup of hot chocolate, then she sneaked outside and went over to the snowman. His smile had fallen into a frown.

“Well, Irving,” she said as she sat the chocolate and cookies in front of him. “Your name is Irving, isn’t it? Of course, it is.”

The snowman stood there all silent.

Miss Morgan brushed some dirt from his shoulder. “You know, you’re a handsome fellow. If I was a snowgirl, I would date you. I bet you’re a good dancer. I love to dance.”

She stood there for fifteen or so minutes. Then she kissed him on the cheek and returned to the children.

As he melted later in the month, Irving remembered Miss Morgan’s final words. “Oh,” she whispered, her whisper so quiet no one else in the whole wide world could hear her. “Just between you and me. My name is Roberta.”

Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight Movie: Italy in the Spring

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. This week’s Spotlight Movie is “Enchanted April” (1992):

Remember “Gilligan’s Island”. “Enchanted April” (1992) is not a three-hour tour. It is not a shipwreck. It is not “Gilligan’s Island”. It isn’t even “Survivor”. It could pass for “Under the Tuscan Sun”. Like that movie, it is a leisurely stroll through an Italian landscape that only be described as paradise.

How did four English women find themselves in Italy? A small ad in the newspaper. The newspaper was the 1920s version of the internet. For a small price, a person could see the world laid out before them.

Adapted from Elizabeth von Armin’s novel, the movie begins with two married women, Lottie Wilkins (Josie Lawrence) and Rose Arbuthnot (Miranda Richardson). They are stuck in England with some really lousy Spring weather. They see an advertisement offer to stay in medieval castle for the month of April. Not only do they get a castle, they get Italy on the Mediterranean.

When they see the ad, they say, “What fun.” At least, Lottie does. After some persistence, Rose is persuaded. Each has their own reason to get away from her husband for a month. Alfred Molina (of “Frida” fame) and Jim Broadbent (from “Topsy Turvy”) are the husbands Lottie and Rose leave behind.

Since it’s a bit expensive, the two of them ask two more to come along. Mrs. Fisher (Joan Plowright) is an older woman with her nose stuck in the air. Then she breaths in the Italian air and she is changed along with her three companions. Lady Caroline Dester (Polly Walker) is an attractive young aristocrat who is searching for direction.

Unfortunately, the Italian weather isn’t cooperating when Lottie and Rose arrive. But the next morning everything has changed. April is April and Italy is Italy. “Were you ever so happy?” Lottie asks Rose. Then the two come across Mrs. Fisher who speaks an “an ancient Italian, the Italian of Dante” and Lady Caroline who speaks “the kind of Italian the cooks understand”. I would say that this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. But you’ll have to find out for yourself.

And what happens when the men show up.

If you are partial to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, this one is for you.

Charlie’s Hobby

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone.

June loved Charlie, and June knew Charlie loved her. But June believed Charlie loved the beach more. Early every Sunday morning for the last ten years or so, he picked up his paints, his easel and his canvas and took off for the beach. Five days a week he traded stocks with a large brokerage. Saturday he spent with June and the boys. Sunday was his.

After doing that for almost a year, June became suspicious of her husband. His disappearance on Sunday bothered her. From time to time, she thought Charlie might be having an affair.

June hired a detective. The detective watched Charlie from sun up to sundown and more. For a month he did this.

“Nothing,” he told June. “Your Charlie is one the best husbands I’ve ever seen. He loves you as much as George loved Gracie and Rickie loved Lucy” So June went back to trusting.

For five more years, Charlie did his Sundays. The completed canvases were backing up in the garage. There were over a thousand.

Then one Sunday morning, June woke up late and there was Charlie beside her. Usually by the time she woke, he was gone. She woke him up and asked, “Are you sick?”

“No,” Charlie answered.

June worried about this all week long. She figured it was a one-time thing, so she let it alone. But he stayed at home the next Sunday, and the Sunday after that. All those years of Charlie going to the beach. She had gotten used to it. It had become such a routine. And now it was over.

This went on for two months and it was driving June crazy. Not the concern about Charlie and the beach kind of crazy. The kind of crazy from worry that something bad was getting ready to happen. That kind of crazy.

Everything was the same as it had been for years. Charlie went off to his job every Monday through Friday. Sunday nights and Wednesday nights he took out the garbage. Thursdays were poker night. Fridays were their date night, then sex afterward. All day Saturday, Charlie was helping out at the house or going with June to do this or that or the other. Nothing had changed. Except Sundays.

Finally June suggested Charlie go to see a therapist. Her friend, Ellen, suggested a Dr. Reid. Ellen knew everything about therapists. There wasn’t a mental illness she had not had over the years. Some woman on tv had depression, Ellen had depression. Some man had schizophrenia, Ellen had schizophrenia. Then she’d go to Dr. Reid, and he’d perform a miracle. They’d cure her. It was her hobby.

Charlie, being an agreeable man, acquiesced to the suggestion. If therapy would make his wife happy, he would go to therapy. She made an appointment for him the next Wednesday. It would give him a break from the tedium of his job. Besides a little therapy couldn’t hurt.

He walked into Dr. Reid’s office. The therapist pointed to the couch. “So why are you here, Charlie?” Dr. Reid asked.

Charlie explained that he came at June’s urging. Then he went on to tell the therapist about her concerns.

“So why did you make the change? Stop going to the beach and painting? Why didn’t you change to another location?”

“Doc,” Charlie called the therapist Doc, “I love my wife. She is the only woman I’ve ever loved. I am a routine kind of guy. I like my routines. After a year of marriage, I noticed June getting antsy. Bored, you know. She needed some variety in her life. And I am not Mr. Variety. After giving it some thought, I came up with a solution. I would give her something to worry about. So I went off to the beach. The painting gave me something to do.”

“So why did you quit going to the beach?”

“Same reason. To keep my wife interested. For years, she had this hobby. Why does Charlie go to the beach and paint? Now she has a new hobby. Why did Charlie quit going to the beach? Just about the time she starts getting real bored with this hobby, I’ll have a new one. Let’s just say it brings some sparkle to our marriage.”

Mac and Chess

Prompted by this photograph.

So Mac and Chess got on the subway at noon. They agreed they were to ride it for twenty-four hours. Once an hour they decided they wanted to meet a new person, and that is what they did. They approached a stranger and said, “Hey, I’m Mac, and this is Chess.” Or they said, “I’m Chess, and this is Mac.” The first person they met was Sabian. He was from South Africa. He was here on a visa and Columbia. He was on his way to meet his new girlfriend, Cassandra. He talked a lot about Cassandra. How beautiful she was. How smart.

Mac said, “I know what you mean. Chess is so beautiful and so smart. I’m a lucky man that she even likes me. And she likes me a lot.”

Chess said, “I do not. You’re just making that up.” She laughed that laugh of hers that Mac loved. Then she hugged him. “No, I love you, you goose.”

Each person they met they found something they had in common. Sara talked about her granddaughter. Chess talked about her sister. They were both blind.

“She’s never seen a day in her life. I can’t imagine. But she sure can play music.” Sara was proud of her granddaughter.

Late in the night around midnight, the car was empty. Chess started this game. “Mac,” she said. “Tell me something about yourself you have never told anyone.”

“Something I’ve never told anyone.” Mac thought, a little bit scared, afraid Chess wouldn’t love him anymore. Then he decided to take a chance, walk out on the tightrope and not worry about the net that wasn’t below him.

“I lost my friend, Charlie, to drugs. I was there when he od’ed.” Tears formed in Mac’s eyes. “I called emergency, then took off. I didn’t stay to keep him company until someone arrived. I was scared.”

Chess squeezed his hand. She didn’t ask all the questions you might expect. She was pretty sure that Mac didn’t use drugs. But curiosity could have driven her to ask anyway.

Mac swiped away his tears. “Now it’s your turn.”

“I stole five dollars from my mother’s purse once. My brother got blamed for it. I wanted this lipstick and I didn’t have the money for it. So I stole it. I’ve never stolen anything before or since. I don’t know what made me do it. I bought the lipstick, but I was so guilty I couldn’t use it.”

Mac saw the guilt in her face, and the pain. He didn’t say anything. He just listened to Chess tell her tale. Only it wasn’t a tale. It was the truth.

Knights used to test their courage in a joust. They did it to see if they had the stuff it took to be a knight. Mac and Chess tested their courage by trusting each other with their deepest, darkest secrets. It started out as a game, then it became deadly serious. And that twenty-four hours they spent on the train, meeting new friends and telling each other their secrets, was the beginning of their long romance.

Last year Mac died from cancer. They were married fifty years. Chess waited for the Man to come and take her as well. She spent much of her time alone in her apartment with the things she and Mac loved. The paintings they collected. The works of famous artists decorated their walls. They were not famous when Mac and Chess bought them.

Chess’ grandkids came to see her and urged her to come and live with one of them. But she couldn’t bear to leave their home of forty years. Every afternoon she sat by the window. From her second floor vantage, she looked out hoping Mac would walk up the sidewalk the way he used to when he was alive.

Soon Chess would walk down that sidewalk and meet him in the park nearby. Then they would catch the subway and ride, meeting new friends and telling each other their secrets.