The Mail Order Bride

The farm. Well, it’s not a farm really. It’s where we live. My five children and I. My wife died a year ago when she was having Eleazar. We buried her over by the well house behind that small smattering of trees. Esther was twenty-four. We had been married ten years. I thought about leaving and moving to town, but this here farm is our livelihood and our life.

This farm which I inherited from Papa. Papa’s brother, my Uncle Elisha, said that I needed a new bride—a wife for me and a mother for the children, a woman to keep my loins warm.

I found this here Mail Order Bride Catalog at the General Store, looked through it, found myself a good woman—someone who looked like she could hold up through the winter—and I sent for her.

Tomorrow she arrives on the train from St. Louis. Me and the children and Uncle Elisha will hitch up the buggy and go into town and meet the noon train. That will give us enough time to get home before dark.

The Preacher will come and marry us next month. Me and my new wife and the kids and the neighbors will have ourselves a picnic to celebrate.

Next month is planting. She said in one of her letters she was raised on a farm. She knows all about farms. She is sixteen and seems plenty eager for a husband and children.

Before we leave for town, I visit Ruth’s grave as I do every Sunday. I thank her for the life she gave me in this here wilderness and tell her I miss her and tell her that she will never be replaced in my affections by another. She will always be my first love. I tell her of this new woman, how it was Uncle Elisha’s idea, how she will be my bride and the children’s other mother. I tell her that the children need a mother and hope she understands.

Then we hitch up the horse to the buggy and head on in to town.

The Santa Claus Caper

My old man was a hoot. Everybody in the neighborhood said, “Tom Pickering does have one heck of an imagination.” The thing was that his inventions seldom worked. His imagination seemed to be larger than his abilities.

There was the bicycle he believed would fly. He believed it so much that he rode it off the roof of our two story house. All the neighborhood saw it and there were those who shouted, “It’s a bird. It’s a plane.” When my Dad and the bike crashed through our neighbor’s first floor window, they were sure it wasn’t Superman.  Dad landed on Mr. Adams as he was trying to get some shut eye after a long night’s work. Needless to say Mr. Adams was not pleased and neither was the bicycle.

But Dad was no quitter. He had just the right thing he thought would get him into the Inventor’s Hall of Fame. An underwater car. It was a Saturday afternoon when he drove the Chevy off the pier. Little did Dad know that the water was deep. Very deep. So deep in fact it could have made the Challenger Deep look like a sinkhole. Down, down, down the car went as its engine stalled, then stopped. It had putted its last putt.

It was then that Dad realized he had forgotten one essential piece of equipment if you want to travel underwater. He forgot oxygen tanks. Fortunately there were three scuba divers who followed Dad into the water. It took several minutes for them to make the jailbreak out of the car. It’s a good thing that Dad was a deep breather.

Then there was the time Dad went about saving Christmas. At least for my kid brother, Jimmy. It was the year I told him there was definitely no Santa Claus. The whole thing was made up.

At first, Jimmy didn’t take my word for it. Then several of the the kids in his school  confirmed my testimony. They too told him there was no Santa. Jimmy did the math. He added and subtracted, multiplied and divided. He was nowhere near having an answer how Santa and his reindeer made it to every house in every country in the world on Christmas Eve.

When Dad saw Jimmy with qualms of disappointment on his face, he knew he had to come up with a solution to the Santa Claus issue. He remembered way back when he was young. A similar thing had happened to him. Only it wasn’t a kid. It was Old Mr. Creepers next door. He wanted to make Halloween the biggest holiday of the year. There was only one way that was possible. He had to take down Santa Claus.

That year Santa missed Dad’s house. All because he doubted Santa. Now Dad was determined that was not to happen to his kid. His solution: he would appear on our roof as Santa, then slide down the chimney with a bag of goodies.

Now Dad had the heft of a Santa and he carried it with grace. Six weeks before Christmas Eve, he began the preparations for what he called “the Santa’s Caper.” He went down to the local Santa store and bought his fake beard and his fake hair and his suit, which was not fake. And he did not cut corners. Only the best for his little Jimmy.

When Mom got a clue to what Dad was up to, she asked, “You fool, how are you going to get down that chimney?”

“Oh, it will be a tight squeeze. But I have the perfect solution. Grease.”

Mom shook her head, knowing there was no changing his mind. “Just be careful and please don’t break the chimney.” But she gave him that worried look. With Dad, what would go wrong would go wrong. So much so that she had taken to calling him Murphy behind his back

Christmas Eve came. Jimmy and I were sent to bed early with a “Santa won’t come if you’re awake.”

Though we absolutely knew there was no Santa, still we were taking no chances. By ten p.m. we were in our beds, pretending we were zzz-ing off to Never Never Land. Despite our best efforts, we nodded off. Then we heard a noise on the roof.

It wasn’t a clatter we heard. It was more like a bomp. One thing was sure. Santa was making his rendezvous. It was a definite that he was on our roof. Clomp! Clomp! Clomp! went Santa’s boots.

We jumped out of bed and hurried to the window. No sleigh on the lawn. Rudolph must be on the roof. Along with Dasher and Dancer, Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid, Donner and Blitzen. We just knew it.

But it was not Santa. It was Dad. And he had spotted his target. The chimney.

All dressed up in his Santa suit, he lugged his bag over to the chimney. He sat down on the chimney’s side. With the bag lifted over his head, he gave himself a push. As he shoved off, he heard a giant ripping sound. His red pants had caught on a nail. The nail tore not only his pants but his bright red Santa underpants with white Rudolphs on the bottom as well.

That night gravity did its mighty work. Down the chimney went Dad and his bag. Until he didn’t. Like a balloon blowing up, Dad filled up the chimney, then stopped half way down.

Mom took out her flashlight and pointed it up the chimney. What she saw made her throw herself onto the floor, laughing uncontrollably.

In all the history of Santas, this must have been the first time Santa found himself unable to reach the cookies and milk. The grease had not worked.

Jimmy and I rushed into the living room. “Where’s Santa,” we screamed in unison.

“Boys, go back to bed,” Mom said. “Otherwise Santa won’t come out of that chimney. And there’ll be no presents. Right, Santa?”

From the chimney came a muffled voice that was half Santa and half Dad.”Ho, ho, ho. Listen to your mother. Moms are always right.”

“Okay, Mom,” we said, disappointment in our voices.

We left the room and closed the door, but we were not about to go back to bed. We’d be kicked out of the All American Kid Society if we did. We took turns peeping through the door.

Somehow Dad squeezed himself almost to the floor of the chimney. His black boots were about three feet in the air. If you’ve never heard a man cry, you would have heard a man cry that night. “What was I thinking.”

“You weren’t, as usual,” Mom gave him one of her what-fers.

“Well, can you give me a hand?”

Mom grabbed onto Dad’s boots and gave them a tug. “Ouch,” the chimney said. The boots dropped onto Mom’s foot..

“Do you still have those rockets you bought for the Fourth of July?” Mom asked.

“What are you going to do with them?”

“I’m going to stick them up your rear end and send you into the Great Beyond. Otherwise it will be the waste of a perfectly decent chimney. Why do you ask?”

“No.” The chimney was emphatic. “Absolutely not.”

“Do you have a better suggestion?”

For years afterward, my family called this horns of a dilemma The Horns of a Dilemma.

Behind the slightly open door, my brother turned to me. “Where’s Dad? He could get Santa free. He’s smart like that.”

I just didn’t have the heart to tell Jimmy where Dad was.

Then a thud. And not just any thud. It was The Thud.

Mom’s eyes and Jimmy’s eyes and my eyes shot to the ceiling and the footsteps. Could it be?

Of course, it was.

From above, we heard a deep bass voice. “Fool, get out of my way.”

Dad dropped to the chimney floor and crawled out, his suit all in tatters. Behind him were a pair of boots. They stepped over Dad and into the center of the living room. There was a glow about The Man. He wore a suit of the brightest red I’d ever seen. I swear the white beard shined.

Mom rushed over and grabbed the glass of milk and the plate of Oreos. She timidly handed them to The Man.

He looked at Mom and smiled and took the refreshments. He gulped them down, then headed for the work of the night. The Christmas tree.

Frozen in our places, the four of us watched. He set his bag on the floor, reached up and adjusted the star and several of the ornaments. Then he opened his bag. He looked over at Jimmy and nodded. “This one is for you.” He placed the large gift under the tree. “For believing.” Next came my gift, then Mom’s.

Finally he looked over at Dad. Tears were in The Man’s eyes. “Thanks for the help.” Out of the bag came a very small package. He placed it under the tree, giving it a bit of extra care as he did.

In a flash, he was back at the chimney and up on the roof. But he wasn’t done. Back down the chimney he came. Standing before us in all his glory, he said in that deep deep voice of his, “I forgot.” Then he sent us a “Ho! Ho! Ho!”

From our toes to the tippy tip top of our heads, our bodies filled with joy and love and peace and hope.

“And one final thing. Merry Christmas and a very good night.”

On the roof, we heard, “Peace on  earth and goodwill toward men.” Then he disappeared into the night, heading onward to fulfill the mission he has been on for centuries.

And now, from Uncle Bardie, Merry Christmas to one and all. May you and your loved ones have a wonderful holiday this year. And one final thing. As Tiny Tim said, “God bless us everyone.”

Mac and Chess

So Mac and Chess got on the subway at noon. Chess was always coming up with great ideas. She had come up with this one at the snap of Mac’s fingers. He agreed they’d ride the subway it for twenty-four hours. Mac suggested they meet a new person once an hour.and that is what they did I.

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. 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. 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.

They were married fifty years. Last year Mac died from cancer. 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.

Their grandkids came to see Chess and urged her to come and live with one of them. But she couldn’t bear to leave their home. 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.

For the Birds

A couple sits on a balcony overlooking New York City. They are eating their breakfast. A pigeon is on the balcony’s ledge looking at the couple. The couple are looking at the pigeon.

Carla, the bird, says, “Okay, guys. Here’s your agenda for today.”

“Joe, I can’t believe we are taking orders from a bird.”

“Jill, this bird has made me a fortune. Before Carla here, I was bankrupt. Carla comes into my life. Within weeks I am rolling in dough.”

“Okay, guys. Here’s the plan.”

“I don’t know, Joe. Seems real stupid to me. Don’t you know your own mind?”

“Of course, I know my own mind.”

“Hey, guys. Listen up.”

“Joe, it don’t seem like you do.”

“Jill, I can make my own decisions. It’s just that Carla does a much better job. She doesn’t let things get in the way.”

“Guys, you want me to leave. I’ll do it, you know.”

“Jill, you got to quit doubting my decisions.”

Carla up and flaps away.

“And my decision is to follow Carla. By the way, have you seen Carla this morning?”

Mother, The Gift That Keeps On Giving

We, my two sisters and I, buried Mother yesterday. At least, what was left of her. Last night we shed our tears and got her out of our system. It wasn’t that hard since Mother had run roughshod around our lives from the day we were born.

There were so many things that drove us nuts about Mother. She had a neat fetish. After we left home, she would show up at our houses when we were not there. We never gave her the key. No matter the lock, she picked it. She could have given safe crackers lessons.

By the time we came home, the house would be cleaned spotless and everything put away. She loved playing hide-and-go-seek with our belongings.She never put things where they belonged. When asked where she put something we especially loved, she would not tell. “You didn’t need that old thing,” she answered. If there was something she didn’t like, out it went. I am still looking for that blue dress I bought at Neiman Marcus and wore to my college graduation. That’s been twenty years ago and I loved that dress.

It got to the point when we moved, we didn’t tell her where. Somehow she managed to find us. I once asked how. “I just stick my index finger in the air and it tells me where you’ve moved.”

At the end of each year, she’d show up at one of our homes and announce, “I am your Christmas gift this year.” Then she went about rearranging our decorations. She would insist on making Christmas dinner. But she would make the awfullest tasting stuff. I once asked her what was in it. “It’s my secret recipe,” she said.

There wasn’t a logical rotation to those Christmas visits. The same sister might get Mother five years in a row, then she would go on to her next victim. I mean, daughter. It might be eight or nine years before that sister saw her for the holidays again. Or it might be two.

That is just the stuff I can talk about. There were other things she did that none of us dare talk about. How Dad stuck with her for as long as he did we could never figure out.

Shortly after Alice and Marge left after last visiting with me October the First, the FedEx man delivered an unexpected cardboard box to me. It was twenty-four inches by twenty-four inches by six feet long. Attached to it was an unsigned note. “Your mother wanted you to have this.”

This was not good. Mother was eccentric. And there was no telling what was in that box. At least it didn’t smell.

I picked it up. The Box was surprisingly light. I shoved it into the hall closet. It wanted to put up a fight but I shut the door before it could protest much.

I took out my cell and punched in Alice’s number. Before I finished punching, I stopped myself. Maybe I had better not. Mother might not have given her anything. Mother was like that. From time to time, she would give one daughter something but not the other two. It was just another way for he to get under our nails.

So I decided to keep the Box a secret. No reason to rile things up. Especially when I wasn’t about to open the darn thing anyway.

With the Box safely tucked away, I went about my rest-of-the-day doing rest-of-the-day things. But Mother was not the kind of woman who would let a person get her off their mind. God help me but I had tried enough times. Just as I was about to bed myself down for the night, I got this call. “Did you open the package?” said a voice.

“No, I didn’t,” I gave the Voice. “And I don’t intend to.”

“But you have to.”

“Do not.”

“Do to.”

“Now hold on,” I said, just about shouting.

Then the Voice, “I would advise you to open the Box. Otherwise.” The Voice hung up.

“Otherwise WHAT?” The buzzing of a dead phone line was the phone’s answer. Mother always made me want to throw something. Even dead, she was doing it to me.

I went to bed earlier than normal. Sometime later, a large crashing sound came from the hall closet. I turned over and covered my ears with a pillow. The sound grew louder and louder. I pulled myself out of bed, wiped the sleep from my eyes, slipped my feet into a pair of slippers and tottered toward the closet, bumping into the bedroom doorframe. I steadied myself, switched on the hall light and continued.

Inside the closet, there was a heck of a ruckus. I looked at the door and shouted, “Will you just stop it.”

It didn’t stop the noise.

“I’m warning you.”

The noise kept getting louder. To shut it up, I said, “Okay, you win. If you stop it, I will open the door.”

The noise stopped, and the house went quiet. Very quiet.

I stood in front of the door in my night gown and didn’t move for several minutes. Shaking, my hand turned the knob and pulled. Out fell the Box, crashing onto the hall floor, opening when it hit the carpet. A broom jumped out of it and into my hand.

“What?”

I got no answer. The broom rotated in the air and swept me onto its long red handle. With me on its back, it headed for the front door. Just as we were about to hit the door, it swung open. We flew out into the night, made a right, and headed toward a large, bright full moon. I closed my eyes and held on for dear life, afraid that I would fall at any moment. Each time I opened my eyes to peek, the landscape below changed from city streets to green pastures and country roads and onward over a large lake. Finally the broom slowed as it flew through a dark forest. Strange beastly sounds emitted from the forest. Even the breeze sweeping across my face moaned.

The broom came to a complete stop and dropped me onto the ground. I recovered my feet and stood. Before me was a black stone, glowing in the dark, providing enough light for me to see two other figures. They were Alice and Marge. Even in the dim light, I recognized them. Like me, each wore a night gown and slippers.

We ran to each other and hugged, partially to quench our fear, partially glad that we were not alone. The brooms at our back stood at attention.

It was then that a soft cackle came from deep inside the stone. We three stepped back, wanting no part of what we heard. A soft red light rose out of the stone. The cackle louder and louder. An apparition like a fog ascended.

Looking down on us, it said, “Well, if it isn’t my three daughters. Lucy, the youngest, the spoiled one. Marge, the middle girl, always pouting about this or that. The not-very-smart Alice, the oldest. Do you not recognize your mother?”

We nodded yes.

“You may be wondering why I brought you here. I have a mission for you, and I want it done immediately. You are to get my slippers back, you hear?”

“B-b-but how?” we daughters all spoke at once.

“You can figure that out for yourselves. The brooms will help you.”

I spoke up. “What if we refuse?”

“Refuse. Never.” A lightning bolt shot from the fog and almost hit us.

“I want my ruby red slippers. You understand?” Then she was gone.

Recovering, I said, “Guess you know what that means.”

No, the other two shook their heads.

“We have to go to Kansas.”

Happy Halloween!