The Digitally Winged Generation & The Quest For Deeper Roots
By Jed Cain
“There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots; the other wings.” -W. Hodding Carter, II.
Over the past year, our family embarked upon a new adventure. We traded in our suburban life in South Louisiana and moved to the country in North Louisiana.
We are no longer surrounded by Whole Foods, Starbucks and Barnes & Nobles. We now find ourselves nestled in the agricultural embrace of the Cane River National Heritage Area, surrounded by corn, cotton and coyotes.
Our move north brought with it an old house. A 19th century Creole cottage that my 11-year-old daughter sarcastically describes as “the oldest house in the world.” The simple luxuries of closets and modern shower configurations have been replaced with armoires and claw foot tubs.
It has been a year of change.
An Emerging Distance From Our Authentic Selves
Big life changes made beyond a certain age breed funny looks and lots of questions. At some point, life is just supposed to be settled. Decisions made to voluntarily disrupt a so-called settled life leave most of us scratching our heads.
Our decision to simultaneously move both forward and backward to our small hometown of Natchitoches, Louisiana came with its fair share of questions and head scratching from family, friends and colleagues.
Given that the decision came after years of thought and countless late night conversations, one would think that it would be easy for my wife, Holly, and I to articulate coherent answers to the legitimate questions of why we decided to make the move. One would be wrong.
Despite the clarity of our conviction, when asked about the move, the best answers we usually offer are some collection of cliché phrases like “being closer to family” or “wanting to slow down.” Sometimes we throw in a mysterious “something was just missing” or invoke buzzwords like “community” and “connection.”
While those fragmented words and phrases are true, they are not really the truth. The truth is harder to explain and has taken a year of us living in our new surroundings to fully understand.
In our mid 30’s, down in the trenches of career ambition and parenting small children, “something was just missing.” There was a growing sense of restlessness and discontent.
Self-determination theory holds that human beings need three basic things to be content: 1) they need to feel competent at what they do; 2) they need to feel authentic in their lives; and 3) they need to feel connected to others.
Our feelings of unease that precipitated our big life change would best be described as an emerging distance from our authentic selves.
au-then-tic: of undisputed origin. genuine.
We were changing. And the changes were venturing beyond the healthy growth and evolution of adulthood. The changes were creeping into our “undisputed origin.” And that gave us pause.
The Age of Acceleration
We live in an unprecedented time of change that some have come to call the Age of Acceleration.
As Thomas Friedman explains in his most recent book, Thank You For Being Late: An Optimists Guide To Surviving In The Age of Acceleration, “…we are living through one of the greatest inflection points in history – perhaps unequaled since Johannes Gensfleich zur Laden zum Gutenberg, a German blacksmith and printer, launched the printing revolution in Europe, paving the way for the Reformation.”
Ray Kurzweil, the director of engineering at Google, explains that “[b]ecause of the explosive power of exponential growth, the twenty-first century will be equivalent to 20,000 years of progress at today’s rate…”
The largest forces on the planet, including technology and globalization, are accelerating at unprecedented speeds. Why is this happening?
Friedman explains that the exponential increase in computing power defined by Moore’s law has a lot to do with it. Moore’s law, named after Intel co-founder, Gordon Moore, generally stands for the proposition that computing power tends to double every two years. As a result of this doubling, tripling and quadrupling of the power of our most influential modern tool – the computer – our world is changing rapidly as our use of that tool changes.
The year 2007 was a benchmark in the acceleration process: the release of the iPhone, along with advances in silicon chips, storage, software, and networking created a new technology platform. Friedman calls this platform “the supernova” because of its incredible release of energy that is reshaping everything from how we hail a taxi to our most intimate relationships to the fate of nations.
As a result of this acceleration in technology and globalization, Friedman explains that key realms of our society, including the community, the workplace, politics, and ethics, are being reshaped and redefined.
Many of us are left feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by the dizzying pace of change and uncertainty.
The Digitally Winged Generation
Holly and I had not yet heard of the Age of Acceleration as we talked (sometimes argued) through our feelings of restlessness. It was only after our move that Friedman’s book was published and seemed to give coherent voice to some of the things we were intuitively feeling.
Despite our growing feelings of discontent, if not for our children, we probably would not have made a significant change. Our kids seem to be the great catalyst in our lives that push us past complacency and towards deeper thought and wiser action.
Holly and I both grew up on the eve of the Internet explosion. We graduated high school without smart phones, email addresses or Google. Our parents’ primary challenge was to equip us with the intellectual, emotional and experiential wings that would afford us the opportunity to soar beyond the bounds of the physical location of our childhood.
We now find ourselves parenting children born with Digital Wings. Wings made out of iPhones, Wi-Fi networks, and cloud based “computing solutions.” These Digital Wings have the capacity to “connect” them to people all over the world and provide them with “answers” to all of their questions. Unlimited information on any given topic, at any given time, is only a tap of the screen away.
Their Digital Wings allow them to soar (or create the illusion of soaring) beyond the bounds of their physical location almost from birth. But the easy access and exposure to infinite information carries with it new parenting conundrums.
The Quest For Deeper Roots
Holly and I struggled with a growing fear that our kids, while armed with all of the ammunition of the Age of Acceleration, might grow up lacking the real life connectivity and community that proved pivotal in the development of our authentic selves.
We struggled with fears that while our children might know their family within the context of Face Time sessions, weekend trips, and Christmas holidays, that simply would not be enough in the Age of Acceleration. A closer relationship was necessary for them to more fully understand their “undisputed origin.”
In short, we wanted our kids to develop deeper roots. We hoped deeper roots would provide a better counter balance to the strength of their Digital Wings. We hoped those deeper roots would lead to a healthier development of their “authentic self.”
So Holly and I decided to disrupt our so-called settled life and change the trajectory of our family. We decided to make the great parenting gamble of our 30’s. We decided to “go all in” on the development of “authentic self” and “undisputed origin” as the great competitive advantage in the Age of Acceleration. And for us, that meant coming home and changing how we live.
With the one-year anniversary of our move home, we find ourselves looking back and reflecting.
The tools of our modern world enabled our move back home. A paperless law practice, Internet phones, Skype, and all sorts of other technology allow me to practice the office aspects of the law from a refurbished barn in Natchitoches Parish, while fully connected to a physical office in downtown New Orleans.
Amazon Prime, Blue Apron, and host of other e-businesses equip our modern family, now living in the “oldest house in the world” in the middle of a cornfield, with the same goods that we grew accustomed to using in our suburban life in South Louisiana.
Has it been easy? Nope. At times, our attempts to blend the old with the new (both physically and emotionally) has been tough. Each member of our family has gone through their own acclimation process. There have been bouts of short-term regret followed by continued long-term optimism.
Have Holly and I changed? Yeah. There has been a shifting of priorities that while necessary has been uncomfortable at times. We find ourselves “slowing down” in some of the less important areas of our life and speeding up in some of the more important ones. The result is a kind of emotional whiplash that we did not fully anticipate.
Have our kids changed? Yeah. They are immersed in family – a 93 year-old great grandmother, both sets of grandparents, aunt and uncles, great aunts and uncles, and multiple generations of cousins. A greater understanding of their “undisputed origin” is facilitating a different type of growth.
Have we found that sense of “community” that we were searching for? Yeah. A year after the move back home and our kids are still amazed that they see many of the same faces across the spectrum of their various activities – school, church, sports, summer camps, festivals, the grocery store, etc. The consistency and connectivity of a small town was something we grew up taking for granted. Our kids do not.
At over 300 years old, our new/old hometown of Natchitoches, Louisiana is the oldest permanent settlement west of the Mississippi River. It overcame historical obstacles that cratered thousands of other little communities along the way. There is a tangible grit and worldly wisdom that develops in a community that survives that long.
Natchitoches was built along the banks of a river and grew to prominence through the agricultural opportunities afforded its residents by the region’s fertile soil.
By 1790, Natchitoches planters grew over 700,000 pounds of tobacco and were the Spanish empire’s primary source of the profitable crop.
In the 1800’s, Natchitoches farmers were the first to cultivate cotton west of the Mississippi River. The region would come to be known by French settlers as Le Cote Joyeuse or “the joyous coast” because of its bountiful harvests.
Today, tourists flock to Natchitoches to stroll its brick paved streets and marvel at the 100, 200 and even 300-year-old live oaks that seem to grow on every corner.
Fertile ground to plant a family in the Age of Acceleration.
The Tooth Fairy Is Creepy (And Awesome)
By Laura Knoll
I know I’m not the only mother out there who cringes violently at the thought of a loose, wiggling, or detached tooth. Sometimes I have nightmares where I lose my own teeth, and they are among the most frightening ones I have (up there with tidal waves and realizing half-way through a college semester that I haven’t been to class and am going to fail). I have a certifiable phobia of teeth. And now my kids are losing theirs. And it’s gross.
There’s just something haunting and visceral about losing a part of your body – and a bone at that! Kind of akin to when a snake sheds its skin, it’s like a part of you that’s left behind, dead. I don’t know whether my phobia originated when I came across my own baby teeth hidden away in my mom’s jewelry box when I was a teenager. She thought they were cute and sentimental. I thought it looked like she had killed someone and was keeping a “trophy.”
Whatever your own sentiments on teeth and tooth loss, it’s inevitable when raising small children. By the end of my parenting career, I will have witnessed (or at least heard about, as I cower in another room, vomiting in my mouth) the loss of 60 baby teeth among my three children.
And yesterday, when my six-year-old daughter, Lyla, lost her fifth tooth (and her first top tooth), I started thinking about tooth loss and how it is truly a unique phase in our kids’ lives that I guess I need to start liking (?), or at least appreciating a little more.
For kids, losing teeth is the best experience ever. Lyla walks around like she’s 21, just beaming with pride, and I don’t have the heart to tell her that she now resembles a cross between a professional hockey player and that weird hyena from the Lion King.
It’s a source of pride and excitement. Her neighbor, another six year old girl, yanked her own top tooth out yesterday upon learning that Lyla had lost hers (I can’t even imagine the blood bath, because her tooth was not ready), presumably so that she could keep up with the ultimate tooth loss tally.
Why is tooth loss so enticing to children? In large part because of the Tooth Fairy, that mythical, mystical creature of childhood lore who likes baby teeth so much she breaks and enters kids’ houses in the middle of the night to steal them, leaving a small sum of money in exchange. Why does the tooth fairy want the teeth? Well, someone apparently told Lyla that the tooth fairy takes the teeth to make necklaces out of them.
I’m sorry, but can you say Silence of the Lambs? That is truly the stuff nightmares are made of.
So now my daughter, who will be part of our Nation’s voting electorate in less than twelve years, literally believes that a mystical fairy trespasses into inhabited dwellings, creeping up on sleeping children to steal their teeth to make jewelry out of them and sell them on the black market from her home in the sky. Lyla thinks her stolen baby teeth are hanging on a necklace somewhere that someone paid money for. She actually believes that.
Amazed by this phenomenon, and my own daughter’s blind excitement, I started researching the Tooth Fairy and how such a ridiculous fairytale came about. And I learned that the practice of honoring children’s lost baby teeth dates back to the Middle Ages. In early European times, people would bury their children’s baby teeth outside (talk about a modern-day crime scene). Early English culture suggested burning a child’s lost tooth as an effort to save the child from searching for them eternally in the afterlife (sounds more up my alley – get rid of those things!).
What’s even more mind-blowing is that not everyone perceives the Tooth Fairy to look like the quintessential fairy I always imagined. Children reportedly believe that the tooth fairy takes the form of a wide spectrum of figures, ranging from a pixie, to a dragon, to a flying ballerina, to two little old men, a dental hygienist, a potbellied flying man smoking a cigar, a bat, and others (horrific depictions italicized).
Um, I can count on one hand images more dreadful than a potbellied flying man smoking a cigar hovering over my child’s bed at night trying to reach under her pillow.
But again, children are just enraptured by the idea of the tooth fairy, in whatever form they perceive her (or him and his pot belly). And whatever the perception of the tooth fairy, she’s obviously here to stay as an emblem and iconic figure of early childhood.
There’s even data collected annually on how much American parents — I’m sorry, The Tooth Fairy—pay for dead baby teeth these days. Visa commissions an annual Tooth Fairy survey to track the average price of lost teeth in the U.S. (http://practicalmoneyskills.com/downloads/pdfs/ToothFairy_Survey_2015.pdf), helping inquisitive mothers like me who want to make sure they’re following the status quo.
In case you were wondering (I was) the going rate for the average lost American baby tooth was $3.19 in 2015, down 24 cents from 2014. 32 percent of responding parents left $1—the most popular amount. 20 percent of kids got 5 bucks per tooth. And…..wait for it…..5 percent of households responded that the tooth fairy left $20 or more per tooth. (Ok people, WHO ARE YOU? It’s a dead baby tooth and your kid is 6, let’s keep the expectations low! That would be $1,200.00 in baby teeth among my three kids.).
So after doing my due diligence and research, I decide to round up to $5, and I do that well-known Vietnam-crawl through Lyla’s room to make the famous dead-tooth/money swap without waking her up. And I go to throw her creepy little jagged tooth in the garbage and I can’t. I can’t do it. Even with my phobia of teeth, I can’t bring myself to throw it away.
And when I get back to bed, weird emotions hit me like a ton of bricks, as is often the case with parenting I’m coming to find out.
The fact that our small children believe so deeply and fearlessly in the ridiculous conception of a tooth fairy makes you realize how boundless their imaginations are, and how fleeting and ephemeral this adorable time is.
In just a few short years, Lyla’s now untethered imagination will be mired by cynicism and doubt. She won’t believe a gigantic bunny rabbit visits every house leaving eggs and chocolate. She won’t even believe in Santa. And she certainly won’t believe me when I tell her that her nose “literally grows” when she lies.
She will enter that preadolescent or adolescent phase where it’s more important to be part of the majority than to have an imagination that puts you in the minority. She will roll her eyes at me when I still leave cookies out for Santa and carrot sticks for his reindeer. She’ll turn beet red when I tell her all-important friends she used to scream and run and grab my leg when we would tell her that Pachafa (a mythical headless big foot type creature in Cajun folklore) was coming for her if she didn’t come inside off the trampoline.
The real-life heroes, princes and princesses in her life – her parents, and the other instrumental adults who help form her personality and ideals — she will realize that these people are fallible imperfect humans as well. Some will remain heroes, some won’t.
And although she will stop believing in fairies (winged, pot-bellied, cigar-toting or otherwise), hopefully, hopefully, she won’t stop believing in herself. Because right now, in her little mind, her potential is as vast and limitless as her imagination. She truly believes she can do anything she wants to do. Mermaid? Yep. One of those crazy psychos who swim with sharks on Shark Week? Sure! Crazed fairy who commits felonies for teeth? Absolutely. For her, it isn’t a question of limits – it’s a question of choice.
This time with our children – this beautiful limbo in between when they’re too little to carry interesting conversations, and when they’re too cool to even talk to us 90 percent of the time – it is truly irreplaceable. This precious time with our little jack-o-lantern, tooth-losing, freakish-looking kids will one day be gone. They’ll grow up, and we will long for the days when they would walk around losing these disgusting bony appendages, and we would have to come up with our own imaginative answers about what the tooth fairy does with them when she takes them.
So I retract my earlier comment about those crazy cash-happy tooth fairies who leave $20 or more per tooth. Go ahead, with your extravagant money-spending fairy selves, I’m serious.
Because these moments are nothing less than priceless.
Can’t Never Did Do Anything
By Anna Matejck
My Grandpa Jack was magic. Truly, he was. To a curious, head-in-the-clouds girl like myself, his abilities could be described as nothing but magic! Grandpa Jack could always get a campfir single match. It didn’t matter if the wood was damp or freshly cut from his forested property in the Missouri Ozarks; one match was all it took. A master “tinkerer” (as he called himself), he could rebuild or fix anything he got his leathery grease-stained hands on. His shop in the garage was overflowing with bits and pieces of machinery he’d salvaged, and everyone within a thirty-mile radius knew that if something wasn’t working, Jack would make it right again. He never charged for his services, and he completed every challenge with a smile on his face. I rarely saw him without that smile. The only time it disappeared was when he was bent over a project, his tanned brow furrowed in the deepest concentration. Though e somehow always smelled like summer rain, warm and fresh and revitalizing.
Grandpa Jack taught me how to whittle a stick into a miniature sculpture with nothing but a little pocket knifethe best places to hunt for wild morel mushrooms in the spring, and the best places to swim in the summer. The muddy banks of the Missouri River were his favorite. We would float and fish, and I would watch him water ski for hours, amazed at how easy he made it look. He promised me he’d teach me to water ski on the river when I was older. But the most amazing thing Grandpa Jack could do was tame wild animals. He’d stand on his deck, surrounded by forest, hold out his hand with a few sunflower seeds tucked inside, and wait patiently. It wasn’t long before the birds and squirrels came closer to investigate. He’d smile knowingly and coax them gently with his words. “Come here little birds. Come here,” he’d say, and I’d watch in astonishment as they complied. I was afraid to breathe, sure that if I moved the spell would be broken. Sure that it was a spell, for what else could explain it? The birds would land on his hand; the squirrels would settle at his feet, and they would let him pet them as they ate. If he sat still in the sun fence lizards would gather on his lap and sunbathe right along with him. A red fox den was nearby, and the kits would follow him with bright-eyed curiosity. They trusted him completely. It was pure magic.
I desperately wanted to be magic like Grandpa Jack, but I doubted myself. I my age to make many friends. And I was too strange. Too awkward. Too A.D.H.D. Too redheaded and freckled. Too learning disabled. Too gentle. Too easy of a target. As a result, I preferred the company of animals and trees. I spent most of my time climbing through the canopy, daydreaming about the adventures I would take someday when I had grown braver. Imagining myself as a fearless explorer who didn’t worry about things like not having anyone to sit with at lunch or play with at recess. I dreamed of freedom from close-minded, intolerant peers and strict, un-empathetic teachers. I dreamed the constant social anxiety that hung over me like an oppressive cloud would break. I wanted to be brave, strong, and resourceful like Grandpa Jack. Everyone liked him. Everyone wanted to be his friend. He made it look easy.
It wasn’t easy for me. But, Grandpa Jack didn’t let me give up on myself. If I said I couldn’t do something he’d insist, “Can’t never did do anything,” and he’d push me to try anyway. He taught me to embrace my quirks, brush off the cruel critiques of others, and move forward one step at a time. He taught me that the magic he possessed had been inside me all along, that I just had to believe.
I lost my Grandpa Jack when I was eleven years old. It felt far too soon for me to be without his guidance. There were so many things I still wanted to learn from him. There were so many things I still wanted him around for, like those promised water ski lessons, and my transformation into a young woman that he would be proud of. But I promised myself that I would be grateful for the time we had and that I would never forget everything he had taught me. I would carry the magic forward for us both now.
I never did learn to water ski; it never felt right without him, but I learned to do a lot of other things. His encouragement stayed with me, and I learned to face challenges with his resilience. I learned to be brave and strong and kind. I became a capable, hard-working, life-loving woman that I believe he would be proud of. These days injured or lost animals have a way of finding their way to me on a regular basis. It is as if they know I will help like Grandpa Jack told them to trust me, and so they do. Every time I encounter one of these trusting wild creatures I feel his remembered smile warm me with the sun… and every time I am grateful. Yes, magic is real. After all, can’t never did do anything.
By Emma Wright
Cold. Colder than normal, he says that’s what the saline does to you. You might still be holding his hand after your body froze and went numb from the needle, but you can’t tell. Dark red stains shout from the white and baby blues. The tears are an afterthought, but at least they’re warm.
Mom is on and off the phone. There’s a poor connection, and she can’t hear very well. The woman in white takes her voice out of the room to discuss.
Repeat 4 times in 4 months.
He has to leave, so goodbyes are said. Duty calls. Loneliness is felt but is not present. They take more of the dark red shortly after. Emptiness sits inside while weight sits on top, as if it is all the weight that has dissipated over the past few months coming back like a ghost with unfinished business.
The woman in white becomes a man as the hours tick on and shifts change. The monitor in the corner doesn’t do much good if there is no one to monitor it; the irony is unbearable as numbers tick up and down like staccato notes of toddler slamming it’s hands on plastic keys.
Repeat staccatos in intervals of several days at a time.
You have always been thin, but now you are skinny. Wasted away. You are tired, and wired. You can’t breathe correctly, and you couldn’t walk the length back to your room without heavy assistance. Every joint hurts and swells. Seeing a staircase causes panic and depersonalized visions of yourself bleeding at the bottom with no one around. Your eyes pour hot tears when he answers the phone because you thought something might have happened to him in the hour when he was on an emergency call. You can’t get enough sleep and can’t sleep enough. You are alone in this room without him or your family, although your phone buzzes with friends from far away. It doesn’t seem worth picking up.
Repeat for one year.
You wish for the Worst, because usually, people are familiar with what the Worst is and how to make it less so. People are sympathetic when you have the Worst. You pray for it with the remainder of your shriveled faith.
Repeat for one year.
“CT is negative, so is the chest X-Ray. All your blood work came back normal, no signs of a viral or bacterial infection. Try to eat a little more and sleep. But no more trips over here. Your first year away from home is always stressful.”
Repeat by 12 different doctors over the course of 8 months.
You shouldn’t bother worrying the friends now. You shouldn’t have bothered with the trip here. You shouldn’t have inconvenienced all these people and caused all this worry. This is your fault. You should have sucked it up and kept going; you’re weak. You should have stayed quiet.
Repeat to yourself whenever you are in pain.
Smiles and a bottle with little white squares of escape are given; one of these things is forced and unconvincing, which raises questions only later. The ride back to the temporary home is filled with the silence of strangers not willing to put in the energy of conversation. Not willing, or not able. The stairs to the second floor are a mountain, as is the ladder to what feels like the grave. Nothing is wrong with you. Get over it.
Repeat this feeling for one year.
It’s not the Worst, but it’s like a secret. Something new. Not many are familiar with it, and those that are are often ignorant or unbelievers. A rumor. So turn your back on the white coats with red stains and open your arms to the green growth in front of you. It can grow in you, and you can have life again.
Repeat for life.
A Change Of Heart
By Katie Davison
It is hard for some people to believe that this is the same person! Not two months ago she was the most self-centered and selfish person I knew. I would know! I was her maid. Now she is a kind and selfless young lady. Who am I referring to? Delaney Austin. Delaney was an up and coming animator living in the heart of Hollywood. She wasn’t a bad person, but she wasn’t the best at sharing. But all of this changed one “fateful” Friday afternoon.
Upon arriving home from work she tossed the keys to her car to her butler for him to park, then turned to go to her office to begin sorting through the large stack of mail on her desk. She sorted the mail putting bills in one stack, magazines in another, and dumped the large stack of ads from charity organizations, asking for donations, into the trash. She was just throwing another charity ad away when her butler walked in to return the keys.
“You know that someone as fortunate as you could really help some of these groups,” her butler said gesturing to the trashcan now full of the ads.
Delaney responded without looking up from sorting the mail, “I worked hard to earn the money I have, and deserve to do as I wish with it! And,” She added strictly, looking up at him, “It is not your place, Mr. Chalis, to correct your boss!”
Mr. Chalis simply nodded and turned to leave holding the door as I walked in with another stack of mail.
“Does it ever end!?” Delaney sighed irritably flipping through the new stack of mail. “Always people trying to get my money!” She added throwing the new stack of ads into the trash.
“Mrs. Austin has been waiting for you to come up to read with her. I wouldn’t make her wait much longer.” I suggested.
Rolling her eyes Delaney headed over to her bookshelf and selected a book she knew to be her mother’s favorite; hoping to avoid a lecture about being on time. Mrs. Austin was a wonderful woman when she was young, but as she grew older became more touchy and particular about having everything as she believed to be perfect.
As I walked in with Delaney, caring her afternoon tea, she began to look at her watch to see if we were on time. Before Mrs. Austin could say anything Delaney said, “Yes, Mother, we’re a bit late, and we apologize. But I have brought your favorite book for this afternoon.”
Mrs. Austin studied her for a moment, then raising one eyebrow she said, “Very well, apology accepted. And it is no longer afternoon!” She added sharply, “its evening!”
“Yes, Mother,” Delaney sighed as she settled into a chair and began to read.
The following morning as Delaney was finishing up her breakfast there was a knock on the door. And a second.
“Where is Mr. Chalis? He should have gotten it by now” Delaney said looking around.
“He has the day off, if you’ll recall,” I responded as I took her dishes.
Delaney sighed and rolled her eyes as she stood to answer the door herself. She paused to respond to her mother as to why she and not Mr. Chalis was answering the door. By this time the knock resounded a third time.
Upon answering the door she found a small church youth group standing on her doorstep. The teacher gently pushed a small redhead up to talk to her. Knowing what was going to be said, she crossed her arms and waited for the little girl to say something.
“Hi miss, my name is Samantha. We are looking to raise funds to give to the local orphanage. We are selling homemade cookies-”
“No! Thank you, I am not interested.” Delaney interrupted, promptly shutting the door.
But through the door she heard the girl turn sadly to her teacher, “I didn’t even get to finish,” she said with a sniff, “and I was doing good! Why did she do that?”
Delaney paused for a moment wondering how the teacher would respond. She put her ear to the door hoping to hear the response, as they walked away.
“Maybe she’s having a bad day. But, on the other hand, some people are just like that…”
Delaney turned around and leaned against the door, thinking about what had just happened. But only for a moment. She quickly straightened herself and headed back to her breakfast.
As she walked past the door to the sitting room, her mother called her, “Delaney did you just turn those lovely kids away?!”
Delaney rolled her eyes and continued to walk away, but stopped when her mother continued in a tone of voice she hadn’t heard for years.
“Delaney, please! Come sit down.” This was the most clear and thoughtful she had seen her mother since she had moved in with Delaney.
She obediently sat down in the chair opposite her mother.
“Delaney what happened to you? When you were those sweet little girls’ age, you were in that same youth group, probably selling those same cookies, for the same fund raiser! And that lovely teacher was your best friend! Now you’ve turned them away! What happened to that gracious little girl I raised?”
“She grew up!” Delaney responded stiffly, “I work hard for the money I’m earning! Why should I give it away?!”
“Because there are others who need it, and appreciate it. It is our job to help those less fortunate. Besides! If for nothing else, it feels good to help others!” Delaney saw her mother grow stiff once more, “Now chew on that for a while! Where is my tea?”
Delaney slowly walked out of the sitting room, nearly running into me as I carried the tea in to Mrs. Austin.
She went upstairs to her room, and sat down on her bed, and thought about what had just happened. This time she didn’t stop herself. Had she really become so selfish? She recalled when she was in youth group, she had loved spending hours making cookies, then walking door to door seeing people’s faces light up as they bought half a dozen.
Slowly she began to cry. What had happened? What had changed? When did she turn into this uncaring monster?! After sitting for a few moments, she sat up straight, wiped her face, and rushed over to her dresser for her wallet.
Going as fast as safe, she drove over to the church where the youth group had already returned. Most of the children had left, but the little redhead girl was still waiting with the teacher. She hurried up to them, and apologized for her response earlier, asking if there were any cookies left. The girl replied sadly that there were still a couple dozen that they had been unable to sell.
With a kind smile on her face Delaney pulled out a couple large bills, “Will this cover it? I have some coworkers who would die for these cookies!” She said handing her the money.
The little girl’s face lit up and gave Delaney a quick hug before running into the building to grab the cookies.
Once the girl was out of earshot Delaney apologized again to the teacher. “I am terribly sorry for shutting the door on you! I realize how rude that was, and how selfish I was being,” she admitted. She quickly added, “Is there any way I could help with the youth group? I remember now how much fun I had as a little girl, and would very much enjoy being a part of that for these kids.”
By this time the little girl had returned with the box of cookies. “These were on the bottom… so they’re a little smooshed,” she said with a little giggle.
“All the better!” Delaney responded, taking the box, “Pour a little milk over them and voila! Yummy cookie cereal!”
The little girl burst into a fit of giggles as the teacher responded to Delaney’s question, “I would love the help! Honestly this bunch is getting too big for me to handle by myself,” She added tousling the girl’s red hair. “Is next Sunday too soon?”
“Not at all! I’ll see you then.”
A Day in the Life of Emily With Bipolar Type 2
By Emily Davidow
I wake up, kind of groggy from a restless night, full of nightmares from my medications. I shake it off and plan my day. So far. So good. My little internal cheerleader saying, “I can do this.” I feel pretty good today.
Organizing my day is a little frustrating, should have done it last night! Mind is racing and overwhelmed, but again I hear my little voice “I can do this!”. Suddenly, my mind becomes cluttered and congested with racing thoughts and I try to override the increasing anxiety with deep breaths and calming thoughts. It is not working! Okay, finally I am ready to go. In the car, I check and double check to make sure I have everything I need for the day. Self-doubting and “intropunitive” thoughts start creeping in and I am trying desperately to make them stop. I learned that big word from my Therapist. It is handy because it sounds like the way it feels.
Beating myself up is a daily routine and what started out as a good morning, seems to be sliding quickly into just another day of trying not to have “just another day”. I have a 3-ring circus up there and cannot focus on any one single thing. “Shut up, somebody help me stop this madness!” As I race down the road, my mind finds a way to race even faster, always. I have no time. How do other people get all of this done? My cheerleader thoughts have now morphed into, “what is wrong with me? Why can’t I do this?”
Anxiety is now 8 out of 10, feels hard to swallow and my palms are sweaty, almost crying. While sitting in class, I am so distracted that I can hardly focus but I must, I must! I begin to decompress slowly, sort of feeling sad and very sleepy. I move in slow motion, feeling actually melancholy now. I just want to lie down and sleep. I want the outside world to leave me alone for a while. “Shut up everyone, shut up everything!”
Now thoughts are in slow motion, like thinking through oil. Overwhelmed by what should be the simplicity of making it through a normal day, I want to hide from the world and start over tomorrow. Not feeling normal is exhausting. Depression comes without notice and is uninvited. Missing out of normalcy makes me sad. Tomorrow will be better. And then I hear it again, “You can do this!”.
And you know what, I can, I can.
Let There be Love
By Jada Ford
It was impossible not to notice the slightest change in a town as small as mine. That time high school seniors moved up the speed limit sign, the day the grocery store repainted the parking lines, and the week the preacher forgot to close his curtains were all changes that sparked conversations and gossip. Maybe they shouldn’t be so big a deal, but it was ours so they were. People had settled here to keep change away. I liked the predictability, the schedule–I depended on the dependency. So of course, I didn’t know how to react to the deep darkness of the neighboring house, particularly the one window that had always faced mine.
I had gotten used to the glow that it gave off despite the fact it was an anomaly. To have the lights suddenly gone, however, felt stranger than when I’d first seen them. The queerness of them stabbed at me every time Molly, the girl next door, flipped them on. It didn’t seem possible she could simply turn them off now.
My sister collected elephants because she was obsessed with their ability to remember, which deeply contrasted with her five-second memory. I liked comic books because they were novels made awesome. But why would a ten year old girl suddenly develop an infatuation with light real enough to last seven more years? Molly had droves of electric candles, Christmas lights, lamps, book lights, and flashlights of all kind and color, a collection that only swelled. Granted, her brother Jax was weird too, but her brother was not female, and thus, vastly less interesting. I was no spy, ninja, or reincarnation of Sherlock Holmes, but too many comic books had convinced me that climbing up the tree against Molly’s window was a–if not brilliant–bright idea that would aide in the quest of why she invested in light.
I heard a hiss. Jax’s skinny and hideous cat had his arm wrapped around a branch rather lovingly. It seemed I had interrupted a love scene. Right after the thought I heard, “What kind of ninja wears yellow?”
I startled and met Molly’s eyes. She leaned out her window, an eyebrow and both corners of her lips raised. “I, um, wanted to blend in with your lights.” This sounded more legit than the simple fact I liked the color and owned ninety-nine percent yellow things.
“Then you’re a day late, Reinaldo.”
I ignored the use of my name. I liked to go by “Rein” because it’s less weird and people didn’t question it because it sounded cool. “I was on vacation,” I couldn’t help but reply in a whiny voice. She–Molly Anders Willowson–was the only human being besides my grandmother who used my real name. “And why am I late?” I continued.
“Go to the door before I answer any questions, weirdo. Don’t knock. I‘ll be there faster than you can climb down that tree.”
And she was. Before I had any time to question my masculinity, she was pulling me up the stairs to her room. Molly’s house was very green, not in the color sense but the environmental sense. I always believed the reason for that was so their light bill wouldn’t be a fortune each month. Molly’s room was like a second moon and all the stars. I wasn’t surprised when I saw it was no longer the case but scared.
“I’m never leaving this town again.” God, it’d only been a week. How could so much have changed?
Her spectacular collection of lights had been confined to four beat-up boxes, but she couldn’t be moving because her room was otherwise the same. Molly began to pick at her fingernail polish. For a couple seconds, I was fascinated by the falling specs of yellow. It was like she had pixie dust at the end of her fingertips. Was I Peter Pan, her guide and friend, or just one of the lost boys she had to contend with?
“Because, Molly, your lights are gone.”
“You know our state song?” she asked quickly. “‘You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy’, and all that other hoopla?”
I nodded. Secretly, I found the song depressing. “You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you” got me every time. There was absolutely nothing worse than not knowing and nothing better than love.
“Well,” she said, “I want to create some sunshine. Will you help me?”
I thought of Orlando and Disney World, of the week of jarring lights and the nonstop wail of sirens and cries of laughter. And I thought of this place, of its silence and shadows, and how when I was ten and afraid of the dark, my parents refused to buy me a nightlight. I thought of how Molly had become my nightlight. “What are you asking exactly?”
“I want to cover our park in light. Will you help me?”
All my frisbee friends were still on vacation, no one was at home currently, and I had no real curfew. Tests to study for? Not currently… Despite the “yes” reasons and “no” reasons and how they fared against each other, I had to help. I owed her and one of these days, I had to tell her why.
I picked up a box. “Sure. I’m all about artificial sunshine.”
She smiled and unconsciously tugged on one of her pigtails. “We need transportation and face paint and food.”
“I have a truck,” I offered. Everyone in my town did, indirectly.
“I have face paint–and I know just the person with food.”
Twenty minutes later, at six-thirty, Molly, her brother, and I piled in my truck with black stripes carelessly marked across our cheeks, boxes of light, and a family-sized bag of Cheetos. Molly sat shotgun and chose the country station, much to my chagrin, and while the man sang about dirt roads, I drove down one. I rolled the windows down and Jax whooped and we all thrust our arms into the evening air, feeling brave, feeling loved, feeling the now turn into then. It was the kind of magic our town made us feel frequently. When the stars came out early into a purpling sky during spring break and you drove with friends who’d seen most every stage of your life, it was hard not to wish you wouldn’t have to go off to a big city with your big dream and fight for your destiny.
I pulled to a stop in the parking lot. Before I had stopped completely, Molly jumped out with the longest extension cord known to man. I noticed Jax’s laughter when I shut off the truck.
“What?” I asked.
“Why did you agree to this?” he asked in answer. “Simply because she’s pretty and mysterious and your friend?”
That was a large part of it, but I shook my head. “The night we moved here, I was in my bed, shaking with fear of the darkness all around me for about fifteen minutes, when light all of a sudden poked a hole in the pitch black and all my fears crumbled like a gingerbread house made of graham crackers.” I took a deep breath and closed my eyes, remembering that moment of momentous relief. “I want to help Molly poke a hole in someone’s pitch black. Why did you agree to this?”
“We’re . . . we’re moving, Rein. Our parents are getting divorced and Mom wants to see California and Molly needs to leave something behind. I’m her brother; I love her. Why wouldn’t I agree?”
My mouth dried and I felt a lonely emptiness gather up in my chest. “I–what? When?”
Jax hopped out of the truck. “Let Molly tell you. For now, just pretend you don’t know, okay? Let’s try and give her this in the best of spirits.”
It must be soon then, my brain told me, but I pretended not to hear and helped him unload.
Molly plugged the extension cord behind a statue of the state bird. The plug was there for speakers, but that had only happened once when the park was opened. I don’t know how safe it was, but we began to clothe the trees with necklaces of light. As the sun disappeared behind the horizon, I saw the girl of light become darkness as she gave the trees the Christmas lights around her neck. Jax began to flick on the portable lamps that he had placed on places the pluggy lights couldn’t reach. When I plugged in the final night light, we were done. It would have been dark except for the stars, but we had arranged our own weird constellation on the earth.
I pretended not to see Molly cry and her brother hug himself tight. I pretended not to feel the sting behind my eyes and the questions in my throat. We drifted towards each other until we were side by side. Molly grabbed my hand then her brother’s and said, “God said let there be love.”
And there was.
A Tall Tale
By Madison Liquin
Trying to think of an interesting fact about me is always challenging because like many if told to respond to this would think they might not be interesting enough. It took some thinking, and I finally decided on the fact I wanted to share. Throughout my twelve years in school, I have never once tried any sort of drug or attended any parties with alcohol or just parties in general. When I tell my classmates this, they tend to think I am boring or uncool, but this year, my senior year, I have realized how awesome that really is, especially in today’s society. That interesting fact is what gave me my inspiration to write my tall tale.
The most interesting thing about my family is that I have two twin sisters which adds up to three girls, a million bobby pins, and one very stressed dad. Even though there are many families with all girls, the unique part about mine is that my sisters and I are best friends and always have been. We do everything together and always know how to make each other laugh. I live in Boise, Idaho and absolutely love it here. Something that I find so interesting about Boise is how diverse the cultures are, especially in the downtown area. I learn so much about different cultures and religions, and I live it.
Marley Jean was the cheer captain at Big Sky High School. She was nice to everybody she met and was known for her beautiful, warm smile. Marley was the most perfect girl in all the valley, but her classmates still made fun of her. Everyday she was called a goody-goody or boring because she hadn’t attended the huge party the weekend before. One day, the principal announced to the school that there was going to be a dance at the end of the month, and best of all, the prince of the next valley over was going to be there. Marley was so excited to go that she rushed home after school to start making her dress.
As the weeks went by, Marley was continually made fun of everyday for not going to the parties, but at this point, all she could think about was the dance. When the day finally came, Marley jumped out of bed and began to prepare for the dance. Her hair flowed so perfectly and her dress sparkled and shimmered in the sun. She made her way to the dance when a car drove up next to her with a lot of people on the inside.
“You should all have seat belts on,” said Marley, “You could get hurt.”
The car full of kids just laughed and drove off, shouting out the window rude names to Marley. She decided nothing was going to ruin this night for her, so she continued on towards the dance. When she arrived, she admired the wonderful decorations, dresses, and gentlemen that filled the gym. Music played and she danced like nobody was watching until she was tapped on the shoulder. When Marley turned around, she realized she was standing face to face with the prince.
“Can I have this dance?” Asked the handsome prince.
He took Marley’s hand, and together they danced. She was so shocked that such a charming boy like himself would have asked her since she was so used to being made fun of. Hours passed, and Marley instantly fell for the prince. When it was time to leave, Marley went to grab her bag and realized she had missed a call, so she decided to call the number.
“Marley, we have been in an accident and need help. Will you please come?” Pleaded the voice on the other line.
Marley instantly recognized the voice as the boy that had been driving the car that had pulled over to make fun of her earlier that night. In a panic Marley ran out of the dance leaving her prince and her favorite night of all behind. She drove the accident where her classmate sat of the side of the street helpless. Realizing that many were hurt, Marley loaded them carefully into her care and drove them to the hospital. After sitting in the waiting room for hours and feeling sad that her one night of feeling like a somebody had been taken away, Marley was greeted by the same person she had danced with just a short time earlier. She was overjoyed to see him but wondered if he was going to be mad at her for leaving him at the dance.
“Listen, I can explain,” began Marley, but the prince stopped her speaking with a kiss. Marley was shocked.
“You spent your night helping the people that have torn you apart over the years,” said the prince, “That makes you not only beautiful on the outside, but on the inside as well.”
The prince and Marley began to dance in the waiting room of the hospital where people gathered to watch, but they didn’t care. Marley realized that even though making the right decisions are not always easy, it will always pay off.
An Incredible Small Town
By Mia Barthel
In a town far, far away tucked into the mountains and carved into a valley lies a town called Walla Walla. It’s a place so nice they named it twice. Here you will find many people stomping on grapes and an abundance of smiles. The town is known for it’s friendliness, wine, and onions. I know the town for the way it completely changed my life.
So the story begins, I had moved from one small town to the next over my 18 years but when we stopped in Walla Walla something gave and we settled down. I came from a previous small town where there wasn’t much to do besides talk and making friends was based on your bad decisions. This place was dreary, a three-minute drive and you had gone completely through the town. College was never talked about or even considered an option but I had dreams that my parents could not fathom. So we set our sights to town with more opportunity.
Although we couldn’t afford much Walla Walla became our home. I enter the Walla Walla High School as a freshman and my life did a 360. I formed bonds with my teachers like I had never imagined, my support system grew by 110 percent. Along with that I was exposed to college prep classes and in them my friends actually had initiative which inspired me to excel. I got involved in my grades and made life long friends that have given me some of the best guidance I never thought I needed. Going to the high school alone changed my dream of going to college into a realistic goal.
Outside of school my life was blossoming. I began doing things I had never done before. My friends took me out constantly to go hiking or swimming in the rivers. They broke me out of my shell and showed me true friendship. If I was upset or having troubles they were always there to talk it out and support me. This really helped me begin to truly find myself. During this time, I also started working and I’ve had two great jobs here, a barista at a local coffee place and a candy girl at our trade mark candy store called Bright’s. I have worked all four years of my high school career and I wouldn’t change a thing. Through my working experience I learned responsibility, how to balance a busy schedule and the pay off of hard work. Working where I have has been an incredible experience because everyone sees the importance of shining positivity onto each other in these environments. Walla Walla is really just a big support system, no matter where you go someone is always willing to help.
My parents’ life’s also had dramatic changes. My mom moved into a higher position at work and my stepdad completed schooling and got a job at our local St. Mary’s hospital. Our income dramatically went up and noticeably lessened some stress on my parents which really made life at home a lot better. I also have two siblings but they are so young (5 & 7 years old) they weren’t affected much by this process besides the fact that their room doubled in size.
Meanwhile, I had fallen in love with Walla Walla because it had brought so many great things and opportunities into my life. Still the best hadn’t happened yet, I also met my best friend. His name is Mitchell and he changed my life forever. Coincidentally he is also now my boyfriend of 3 years. Mitch was my one true friend from the start. He showed me the ropes and made all of his friend’s mine. He also had a mind unlike mine at that time, he believed any dream was possible and that fear was a choice. This began to rub off on me and completely changed the way I approached my goals and challenges. He also saw the absolute best in me and up until that point I never felt like anyone else really had. Mitch inspired me to only go up and to never look back.
I wouldn’t trade my experience of living in a small town for anything because without it I know I wouldn’t be as confident, strong and purely happy as I am. My town made me into someone I love and has brought some of the most special people and lessons into my life. Walla Walla swallowed me up and showed me the things I needed. I have been loved, let down, surprised, embarrassed, pushed to my limits and completely mind blown in my short four years here. It isn’t just my home but where I became “me”. I will never stop coming back for visits and I will never stop cherishing the moments I was given. I will constantly love Walla Walla, Washington.
I’m A Gymnast
By Brooke Graham
With sweaty palms, shaky legs, and a nervous smile, I walked into my first ever job interview. I was greeted with a firm handshake and the usual smalltalk. She said I looked professional; if only she new just minutes before I had taken off the tags to my new and only button up shirt I picked out just for the occasion. In no time she explained, “now this interview is going to be a little different. Besides getting some basic background information later on, I am only going to ask you one question. Ready? How would you describe yourself in one word?” A million thoughts rushed through my head. How was I supposed to describe myself in one word? Years of experiences, accomplishments, and lessons could not possibly all be held in one word, or could they? I thought about every characteristic that made me who I am, and I tried to think about who or what was responsible for making them a part of me: gymnastics.
Gymnastics wasn’t only a sport, it was my first love and forever a part of me. It defined me my entire life, but even though I am not currently a gymnast, could it still define me now? Every single day I would walk into the gym and smile, because gymnastics made me feel alive. I dedicated my life to the sport for as many years as I can remember, the past eighteen to be exact. It all started when I was three years old and my mom introduced me to it; it was love at first sight. Eight years later I would find myself driving an hour each way for practice, an hour each way just to be the gymnast I so greatly desired to be. I would spend at least four hours a day, five days a week practicing, for the following nine years. It was hard not to love gymnastics after all I had been through. My gymnastics career was beautiful, but it was no where near perfect. I gave my time, blood, sweat, and tears day in and day out. When things got difficult, I gave more than I even thought I had to offer. I gave up time at home with family, with friends, and at school. I missed out on the typical childhood and teenage experiences, because the sport required so much of my time, but I was happy to give it; I probably would have given more if I needed to, because I got so much more in return.
Gymnastics made me feel alive as I was being flipped, twisted, and turned through the air. It made time stand still. The sport made me physically and mentally strong. It taught be how to be dedicated, passionate, hard working, and grateful all at once. Gymnastics taught me how to straighten my legs and point my toes. It taught me to get back up and try again no matter what, and not because I had to, but because I wanted to; it made me want to be the very best that I could be. It encouraged me to fight to achieve my goals, and find joy in the little successes along the way. In a sport that is based off of striving for perfection, gymnastics showed me that it is the persistence that yields rewards. Those rewards might not appear that day, but months, or even years down the road. It taught me how to defy gravity and feel weightless for a split second. It taught me to laugh at myself, stay positive, and keep going.
Gymnastics showed me how to be patient, to be kind to myself, and know that when I am trying my best that’s all I can do. It taught me to be respectful to others, supportive for others, and proud of others. The sport gave me amazing mentors and friends that will last a lifetime. It taught me how to flip and always land on my feet, to be successful in the classroom, and to get up every time I fell down. It gave me skills that I will carry to every aspect of my life forever. It taught me that with passion, anything is possible, and it is crucial to love what you do. Maybe most importantly, gymnastics made me the person that I am today and I am forever grateful for that. I gave it everything I had, but I got so much more in return. Gymnastics defined me for years; I was known as the gymnast. Gymnastics taught me more than I believe anyone or anything else ever could. Being a gymnast was difficult, long, and emotional, but it was always worth it, and if I could go back in time, I would choose gymnastics again in a heartbeat. I may no longer do gymnastics, but I will always be a gymnast at heart.
I slowly drifted out of my thoughts, and back into the present moment with the lady interviewing me eagerly awaiting my response. All I could do now was hope that she would see the sport and all it gave me in even a fraction of the light that I viewed it in. If only she would understand how much time, dedication, and passion I poured into gymnastics, and all of the lessons it gave me in return, I would feel at ease. However, if the sport had taught me anything, it taught me to follow my dreams and never loose myself in the process. I then looked up and stated confidently, “I’m a gymnast” and she instantly smiled back.
Brave New Steps
By Alexander Watt
Mile after mile, step after step, minute after minute, there I was walking on the same dirt road I had found myself countless times before. I must have been kicking the same rock for over a mile now. I had already passed the field where Germina, my favorite cow resided. I had offered the cow my usual greeting and continued walking and kicking the rock. Now, I was nearly halfway home and found that I continued to be amused by the movement of the rock. I was intrigued that it was always a mystery on whether or not the rock would decide to go right, left, jump up, or stay down. At times I would see a target, such as a Coca-Cola can lying ahead of me and would try and see if I could hit it. I found lots of things to keep me entertained on this dirt road that was bordered by acres of field as far as the eye could see. I did not mind it, it was just the way life was. I got used to this walk. I got used to life going rather slow in the small town of Henderson.
I started to back up three steps in preparation for my biggest kick yet. I readied myself. Clutched my fist. Just when I was about to charge the inanimate object, I noticed dust gathering down the road ahead. My attention quickly left the rock and focused on a mound of dust coming towards me. “Probably, Pastor Mike,” I told myself. Pastor Mike is usually the only one I see on this road. His house, is just one mile beyond my home. As the dust got closer and closer, I could make out a vehicle. It wasn’t Pastor Mike’s vehicle. As it got closer, I could see that it was a postal truck. “That’s odd,” I said quietly to myself. “Mail should have been delivered around noon while I was still at school.”
I could hear the postal truck roaming along the dirt road. As it got closer to me, it started to slow until it came to a stop. A short, curly haired lady hopped out with an envelope in hand. Things were getting even stranger. I had never seen this lady before. With a population of 167 people, you knew everybody in Henderson. With the exception of a newborn baby, nobody new ever came to this town. With the exception of death, nobody ever left. When an unknown visitor would come through town, the three single ladies could be seen nearby hiding behind a tree, glancing to see if this might be a single man. Mayor Reynolds was usually the first person to greet newcomers. The mayor was always the first person to ask them where they came from and what their business was. It was strange that this unknown mail lady would come down this dirt road to get to town. Normally, visitors came through main street.
As the lady got closer she said with a slightly shaky voice, “Are yyou D…Daniel Brown?” I replied, “Yes, ma’am.”
“I…I have something fffor you.”
“That is strange. Mail usually comes around noon.”
“Ah, bu…but, this is a special delivery.”
“Well okay, I’ll take it then.”
I reached out and grabbed the letter from her hand. “Thank you kindly, ma’am.” “You are mmost wwelcome dear.”
And that was that. She continued on her way down the dirt road.
I stared at the envelope. Sure enough, it was addressed to me. There was no return address though. I never received mail. I opened it slowly, cherishing the moment and the anticipation of learning what it was about. I did not know anybody that would have a need to mail me a letter. I knew of nobody that would write me. I had no close acquaintances outside of Henderson. At least that is what I thought.
I slowly and carefully opened the envelope. I reached my hand inside to grab what was inside. There was just one rectangular piece of paper. The paper was thicker than normal writing paper. I pulled it out. It had a crimson red decorative border with a shiny, silver header inside the border and small finely printed text just below the large header. The header was typed in cursive. The smaller words below it were not. Altogether it had a certain glow to it.
The header stated just three words: “OUT OF HERE.” The text below: “This ticket is valid for one person. To redeem and accept this ticket, please present it to the young boy with the top hat who will be waiting with Germina at 6:07 am tomorrow morning. If you do not wish to accept this ticket, you may continue kicking rocks at soda cans.”
I blinked and rubbed my eyes. Could this really be my ticket out of here?
I thought back to the 5th grade, when Bethany Peterson said boldly, “If I ever get my ticket out of here, I am taking it!” Other people had talked about how they wanted to go somewhere else and see what life was like. To see if there really was a such thing as lions, monkeys, and alligators. I admit, that I wondered if there really was a building as tall as the great Empire State Building that King Kong climbed in the movies. Was there really a New York City? With all of its people and paved streets? Everything I knew about the world outside of Henderson was from books, TV, and school. To me, everything but Henderson was fictional.
It seemed that hundreds of thoughts came to my imagination. Would anybody believe me if I told them that I got a ticket to leave Henderson? Did it matter? Did I really get this ticket? Maybe, I am dreaming? This can’t be real? What should I tell my parents? Would I get to come back? Ah, I am only 17! What if it is a prank? A lie? A thief! Calm down down Daniel!
I did not really know if I wanted to leave Henderson. I was comfortable here. Though it was sometimes a bit slow, I liked it. My family was here and so was our farm. But maybe it was not always best to stay comfortable. Sure I could live a happy life here, but what would I become if I chose to stay here until my hair was gone and I passed on?
Though, I loved Henderson, perhaps this opportunity will never come again. With sudden courage in my heart, I vowed to myself that I would try something uncomfortable. I will take this ticket “OUT OF HERE” and go on a great adventure to see for myself what lies beyond Henderson. And then I will bring the world and my experiences with me back home when the time comes for me to return.
The next day as I walked the dirt road that I had walked so many times before, everything that I had grown so accustomed to seeing somehow looked different. It all looked so much more beautiful than I had ever before noticed. So much clearer. I wanted to retain it all. The smell of dairy, the sound of cows mooing, and the sight of the fields and dirt road before me.
With some anxiousness and homesickness developing within, I took the brave steps into an unknown. The boy was there with Germina as promised. Uncertainty, was the only thing I knew for certain lied immediately ahead, but I believed in something extraordinary in the distance. I continued to step forward.
The Swanson River
By Madison Vershum
The Swanson River in Kenai, Alaska is a well kept secret; held by the locals that surround it. It’s long, winding, cold, occasionally shallow and a great place to take a canoe trip that lasts way past the promised “six hours”.
When I was a mere thirteen year old tomboy, with spaghetti noodle arms and bad eyesight, my parents told me and my two siblings that we were going to Alaska to visit dear old Poppa and Grandmama. I excitedly packed (unfortunately an excessive amount of pants), jumped in the car, and didn’t even realize I forgot my glasses until I was ten thousand feet in the air. Finally we made it to the promised land- the gray, mystical, untamable Alaska.
One of the first activities that we enthusiastically threw ourselves into was floating the Swanson River, i.e. canoeing a course on the river that my parents used to take all the time when they were younger. I was assured they had done this many times before; and even though floating it usually required an overnight stay on a marsh bank, we could absolutely manage it in six hours or less.
Bright and early we rose, waking up to a lukewarm sunrise and scrambled eggs. I got dressed with poor taste, deciding to wear a pair of uncomfortable jeans and ratty sweatshirt. At least I had my grandmothers fishing boots; that didn’t exactly fit my tiny child feet. We packed up our supplies, loaded the canoes in the truck, and headed off for adventure, promising to be back in time for supper. After what felt like the longest drive ever (reality only an hour), we had reached the Swanson.
We had two canoes, so we put my dad, older brother and younger sister in one, and my mom and I in the other. Getting into the canoe was challenge enough for me, but after some wobbling and minor panicking, I was sitting contentedly behind my mom and ready to paddle. The scenery had me gaping from the start. Clear, chilly water reflected rays of hard sunlight. Greenery sprawled down the sides of the banks, and trees swayed on either side of the river, giving us patches of shade. And every now and then, there would be clearings where the trees were all gone, and all that remained was soft marshes covered with ferns and clumps of cattails.
We glided along, enjoying the peace offered by the rushing water and gentle breeze. As we moseyed along, we came to cross paths with an Alaskan Native- a baby moose. It stood there, knobby knees peeking over the water, calmly chewing reeds with a lazy stare. This would’ve been a perfectly tranquil and movie-worthy moment, but we had company.
Mother moose was on the loose, and also right behind us. We had floated right between the mom and her baby. With wide eyes and frantic hand gestures, we paddled away as quickly and quietly as we could. Shortly after our brief encounter, we pulled against a bank to stretch our legs and have lunch. Unfortunately almost as soon as we started canoeing again, the rain came.
Down and down it poured, plastering the hair to our heads and soaking our through our shoes down to our socks. Feeling innovative, we made holes in the bottoms and sides of trash bags and turned them into fashionable ponchos. We pressed on; a little drizzle wasn’t going to hurt us! But has anyone ever been able to stay positive when they’re wearing wet jeans? I’m fairly confident the answer is no.
The sun had started dipping down, casting dusky shadows across the water. We were floating along when suddenly we heard a noise that sounded like a gunshot. I jumped in my seat, my sister ducked and my brother dropped his paddle. Everyone looked around anxiously, but we didn’t find the culprit until we had made it around a bend. A family of beavers were perched among some rocks; smacking their tails against the water repeatedly. We all let out a nervous chuckle, and traveled on.
By this time, my dad had grown sick of us kids asking how much longer this trip was going to take us. He started exclaiming “I recognize this turn” and “I remember this tree” just to make us start thinking we were getting really close to the end. Well, after six hours of false hope, we learned to stop asking. After it was well into the night, we had finally found our intended destination. Three sleepy children and two worn out adults had at long last reached land once again.
We were tested throughout our travels; yet we were made all the more stronger from our obstacles. It was an adventure made unforgettable; and its story is told over supper every time we go back to the unpredictable, vast and majestic Alaska.
The Creek At Council Park Point
By Megan Payter
The Creek at Council Park Point was as place teenagers commonly used as a quiet, offset hangout spot. The Creek had watched Alicia grow up and she had always seen the murky water as a safe place. The water had witnessed the first time she caught a fish, the anxiety fill moment when she learned how to ride her bike, and had shared butterflies with her when she was kissed by the boy she had been crushing on for ages. While some people might think it is weird to call a body of water a friend, Alicia couldn’t think of the creek as anything else.
One day, Alicia was sitting on the cement blocks that lined the Creek, just staring at the still water. A dark shadow moved through the water. The shadow was far too large to be any fish, and it was far too slow. Alicia had only caught the shadow through the corner of her eye, but it was enough to make her jump back. She stood up and took a few steps away, her eyes locked on the muddy surface. After a few moments of silence and no movement, she took a few brave steps towards the water. She leaned forward, looking to see if she could see the source of the shadow.
As soon as she could see the place where the water met the cement, something grabbed onto her leg and dragged her into the water. She kicked and screamed for help, but the thing only gripped her harder. She sank deeper into the water as she thrashed her arms around, fighting for release. Alicia had put all her strength into one kick and had finally managed to break free from the things grasp. She swam towards the shore, and climbed out as soon as she reached contact with the mud. After she was a safe distance away, she turned around to look at what had dragged her down.
Peering out of the water with a sinister smile, was a giant reptile. Four sets of claws were reaching for her as the thousands of eyes stared deep into her soul. Before shock could completely take over Alicia, she ran away from the creek without looking back.
Alicia ran into the police station, panic painted on her face. She spewed her story to the officer, but the officer just shook his head with disbelief. She begged the officer to believe her, but he turned away and left her to stand in the lobby.
Alicia had avoided the creek for weeks, despite her friends constant begging to go hang out at the spot. After the reaction she had gotten from the officer, she had decided to keep her experience to herself. Perhaps the occurrence had been a dream and everything was completely normal at the creek, but Alicia couldn’t take her chances.
Until her friend drove her and her friends to the creek without anyone’s knowledge. Fear traveled through Alicia’s body. She begged her friend to take her home, but she had already gotten out of the car. The other girls grabbed onto Alicia and dragged her across the grass towards the creek. Alicia had started a quiet chant of “No, no, no” under her breathe as they moved towards the water.
Once they got the cement block, Alicia’s friends shoved her towards the edge and smiled at her.
“See? There is nothing wrong. It’s just water.” Alicia looked at the water and nodded. Her struggle with the beast in the creek must have been a dream.
The girls sat around for a few hours talking and drinking soda. Just as Alicia had forgotten about the creature, a loud cracking noise rang out. The girls looked around, completely startled. In less the second, one of the girls flew into the water. Screams rang out but were quickly cut off as the owners were dragged into the murky water. Alicia slowly stepped back as the beast emerged from the water. Her screams were frozen in her throat as the beast grew in size. The creature towered over her as a mix of water, blood and drool dripped from its mouth. The creature leaned in as Alicia sunk to the ground. The hot breath burned her skin as she closed her eyes, accepting the fact the beast was about to inflict.
But the beast did not attack her. After taking in a quick sniff, it turned away from her and crawled back into the water. Alicia stared at the sky for a few minutes, thinking over the events that had just taken place.
By the end of the week, it was no longer a secret that Alicia’s friends were missing. The police had confronted her, but she could not tell the truth like last time. From then on, Alicia kept to herself. She visited the creek often, but she never saw her friends, nor the monster ever again.
Alicia, however, did not keep the story to herself. She wrote her tale in many different formats, and while others might see her story as a tale, to her, it was simple reality.
Moving To The United States
By Jessica Gallardo
When I was five-years-old, my parents and I moved to California from Mexico. Entering first grade and not able to speak the language was hard because I was not able to communicate with anyone besides my parents. I remember my classmates looked at me funny since I sounded different and could not understand what the teacher said. Being six-years-old, I felt judged by my classmates because I was different. On top of not being able to speak English, I got picked on for my height. I got lonely because I wanted friends to play jump rope and handball with during recess time. I already felt lonely because nobody would play with me and I could not even communicate with my classmates. All I knew was that I was in the first grade and I had a hard time adjusting to my new environment. Even though learning a new language was challenging, it was important to learn English in order to communicate with my peers.
Being a young child, I did not understand the reasons why my parents decided to leave Mexico and move to California. All of our family was in Mexico — my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and my cousins — and I was puzzled why we had to leave them behind. I remember everything in California seemed so scary. I had to remember U.S. currency and the names of the coins and bills, how the bus system worked, and remembering my way from school to my house. Vividly, I remember going to the beach for the first time since I left Mexico and smelling the salty ocean water that reminded me of home. In that moment I felt happy, the ocean water brought back memories of the adventures I had in Mexico, and it was comfortable and familiar. Despite the problems, the impact of moving to California affected me in a positive way as a result, I was able to learn about different cultures and the diversity that comes with it.
As time went by and with the help of teachers, I learned to speak English fluently and made new friends along the way. Things were going so well for me because I made friends and school was fun. I thought things were going great at home until my parents started arguing constantly, and my dad decided to leave. I was very depressed and blamed my dad for the decision he made. Things were not going to be the same anymore. Like most kids, I wanted a perfect family where the parents stay together. Now that I’m older, I understand that staying in a marriage where you are not happy may not always be good for the family.
It was difficult for my mom being a single parent. I saw the struggles she had gone through to have food on the table and a roof over our heads. My relationship with my mom grew and we were closer. I still spent time with my dad on the weekends but I got knots in my throat whenever I had to say bye to him. As a child I envied my friends because they all lived with both of their parents. Throughout the time, I wondered why my parents could not forgive each other and be a family again. Now that I am 21-years-old, I understand the reasons why parents decided to separate. I have learned to respect them both each individually.
Because of the life lessons I learned as a little girl I am more knowledgeable of understanding situations more better and seeing the bigger picture. A quote that I can relate to is from a best selling author Steve Maraboli is, “Happiness is not the absence of problems, it’s the ability to deal with them.” This quote reminds me when I was little and things were not going well at home, I still found something to be happy about whether it was going somewhere fun or hanging with my friends because deep down I knew things could of always been worse. I am proud of who I am and have become a persevere young woman because of the obstacles in life I have been through.
A Horse At A Stop Sign
By Ronni Perry
The name’s Ronni. I am in fact a female (with a guy’s name, yes) and ‘Ronni’ isn’t short for anything. It’s kind of crazy and weird, but my mom decided to give all 6 of my sisters and I boy’s names. I guess she was just wishing she had a boy!
Moving on… I am seventeen years of age and just recently came in contact with this great “social media” that everyone talks about. I have to admit, it is quite great; however, I am a die hard “let’s talk face-to-face”, “experience new things”, “let’s go outside” type of person. I absolutely love that rare moment when I meet someone who can actually say more than a sentence without checking their phone for that nonexistent notification. And it’s SO great (*heavy sarcasm) when I’m in the middle of talking to someone and then all of a sudden, that person looks at the wall next to us as if it were talking too. So, needless to say, I prefer the life before instagram.
I currently live in a small town where pulling up behind someone on a horse at a stop sign is normal. If I happen to see someone taking a picture of that situation, I’ll know they’re not from around here. Also, here in this little town, the word ‘DIET’ is just another four letter word and extra grease comes at no extra charge! There’s no such thing as gossip, because well, the town’s so small everyone already knows everything.
“Hidin’ something here is like a lady telling people she isn’t pregnant while her stomach is shaped like a watermelon,” my gramps used to tease in his oaky voice.
My parents are both very traditional and old fashion. They’re the type of parents that ask what ‘IDK’ means, and you answer them, “I don’t know,” and then they sigh in frustration and say, “Me either”. (*insert rolling eyes emoji here)
They may not know the ‘text slang’, nevertheless; they have taught me to set goals for myself, achieve them, and give God the glory. I can proudly say that I am living up to that: I recently received my acceptance letter to Boise State and am so extremely happy. I want others to know in the midst of their doubts that they CAN do it… they just have to put the phone down to do it.
By Steven Proudfoot
As I grew up, I have had a unique feeling of belonging to more than one place. I grew up in Michigan. The town I grew up in was relatively small one, a perfect little chunk of suburbia, but any time we could, we drove up north to visit my grandparents who lived on private property in the woods near Reed City. This left me feeling like some sort of city-boy and country-kid hybrid. I could have gotten into any number of activities in a number of different communities, be it in an urban or a rural community.
Instead of participating in the world around me, I kept my head down and kept my nose in my Gameboy. I am a little brother. I never cared about where we were going, I never had to know. I just knew we were going somewhere and that I had enough batteries to keep training my Pokemon. My parents made me play a sport when I was young, but soccer never kept my attention. As I got older, I never left this mindset. Even when I started to drive, I had a GPS to hold my hand and guide me everywhere without having to learn the layout of the streets.
Oddly enough, it took a massive city to teach me to appreciate my home town.
One day, when my grandpa learned I was taking a German class, he decided he would pay for me to go visit my relatives in Germany. So, with one semester of the language under my belt, I went to Germany for a month.
I started my month in Germany in the city of Berlin. On my second day, I went to an event in a different part of town alone. My favorite video game, League of Legends, has a professional scene called the League of Legends Championship Series or LCS for short. E-sports isn’t popular but League of Legends holds events every week during the season. The European center for the LCS is in Berlin, and I was ecstatic. I was so eager to go that I decided I would go before I had even learned how to use the train system that runs throughout the city of Berlin.
My relatives showed me the tram that went straight from the place I was staying to Aldershof, where the event took place. It was simple and I couldn’t possibly screw it up. All I had to do was get on the same tram line to get back. I wasn’t worried.
I felt comfortable with my ability to survive alone. I knew enough German to communicate and I was still on the adventure kick that comes with leaving the country for the first time. I spent the day in town, exploring the area. Like a good tourist, I took half a thousand pictures as I walked around gawking. I eventually tried and struggled to order food at the “Chicken Planet.” Eventually I found the building where they hosted the event and I waited with a few people in line. Everything went better than I could have imagined, I even made a friend I still talk to today. Being in the crowd watching that game of League of Legends was one of the most exciting events in my not-so-eventful life.
I was living a dream. That is, until I tried to leave. I left the game early, but it was still too late. As I walked out of the building, I realized it had already gotten dark. Despite the foreboding darkness, I stayed positive at first as I found my way to tram station. I used what little German I knew to read the sign with the scheduled times displayed. My stomach sank when I read that the last tram came by an hour ago. In a moment, my positive outlook wilted. I went from living a dream to finding myself in a nightmare.
The reality of the situation hit me. Without the adventure-kick keeping me optimistic anymore, I suddenly felt tiny. I was alone in a foreign country, I didn’t know the language well enough to read specific directions, and it was dark in a big city. I didn’t even have the phone number of my relatives and they didn’t have my number either. I had no way of reaching them.
I was alone.
My mind raced so quickly and chaotically that the phrase “train of thought” didn’t quite do it justice. I didn’t think so much as direct my panic in a constructive direction. I didn’t have a plan and had no clue what I was going to do. What I did know was that I saw the train station down the street. I speed-walked so quickly that I practically ran. I was terrified and suspicious of everything and anything. A teenager in a hoody looking at me was enough for me to start praying to a God I don’t believe in.
Luckily, that wasn’t where my story ended.
On the platform I found a map and a schedule. The trains were running for another hour. The only problem was that I was so new to the city that I hadn’t used the trains before. I lived my entire life nearly an hour away from Detroit, the Motor City. The city where the motor industry was so big that the closest thing to a subway was the People Mover, which only ran through a small part of the city. I had never been on a train in my life.
Now I had to figure out how to use one to get across the city Berlin. Alone. At night.
I found a map I could take with me and I found the place I was staying at: Rahnsdorf. It was half way across the city. The trains were still running but they wouldn’t be running long enough for me to screw up. If I took the wrong one, I wouldn’t have the time to get on another one before the trains stopped for the night. If I didn’t take the right trains in the right direction, I’d be stuck until they started again in the morning. Thinking about that scared me more than anything. Thinking about that wouldn’t help me though.
I got onto the train that was heading towards the station where I would have to switch trains. I listened for the names of the stations and tracked where I was going on the map to make sure that I had not taken the wrong train.
Twenty minutes and two train changes later, I arrived at Rahnsdorf. My relatives were still awake despite it almost being midnight. They were terrified and worried about where I was and why I didn’t come back. As I explained what happened, I realized that such a massive city wasn’t quite as enchanting as the media makes it out to be.
In the end, getting lost in a country I didn’t know made me realize how valuable something as simple as being in a familiar place where everyone speaks the same language is. The only thing that could have made me appreciate the community around me in my home town was feeling utterly disconnected from the world around me in a city an ocean away from home. It took me going to Germany to see what was around me here in Michigan.
I’ve never been so thankful that I live in a small town.
Stories From A Small Town
By Anne Mertens
The sun shone over the trees and sparkled on the river. Emily squinted and shaded her face.
“Come on, Emily!” Hannah exclaimed, tugging on Emily’s elbow, “Mrs. Harris says the tour’s about to start.”
Down the sloping riverbank road, a green dragon clattered and smoked towards the school group as Emily’s class gathered around Mrs. Harris and prepared to board. Well, it wasn’t really a dragon, but as the trolley lurched to a stop in front of Emily, she thought the diesel fumes and throaty engine were dragonish.
Emily mounted the tall trolley steps behind Ben and Hannah. The steps weren’t built for short legs, but Emily managed to struggle up. She followed Hannah past Mrs. Harris, who was perched on the front seat, and plopped down on a bench. The trolley shifted into motion, and a costumed girl stood up at the front, swaying and clutching papers in one hand and a handlebar in the other.
“Hello, my name is Elizabeth—” the girl’s next words were drowned out as the trolley struggled uphill and onto Front Street.
The girl smiled and spoke even louder, “Although we live in a small town, Natchitoches is brimming with 300 years of history and people, places, and stories which make it special, and I’m going to tell you about one particularly extraordinary person.
“Do you see the building on the right? At one time this was the art studio of Mary Belle deVargas. Miss deVargas was born without arms, yet she was extremely talented. Not only could she paint and draw, but she could also feed herself, type letters, play the piano, thread a needle, and embroider. Because Miss deVargas did all this with her feet and toes, she wore pumps so she could quickly slip her shoes off and use her toes like we use our fingers.
“As a child, Miss deVargas attended—”
Hannah nudged Emily and whispered, “I know a family whose last name is deVargas. Maybe they’re related.”
“Ssshh! I’m trying to listen.”
“—then earned a degree from Louisiana State Normal, which is now Northwestern State University. As an art teacher and as a person, Miss deVargas impacted everyone around her. Even those who didn’t know her personally remember her. One Natchitoches resident saw Miss deVargas at many concerts at the college and recalls observing Miss DeVargas retrieve money from her shoe.
“Throughout her life, Miss deVargas’ family cared for her, and it seems likely that family and community support helped her overcome her handicaps and become the inspiration she is today.”
Smiling, the speaker finished her story and handed Mrs. Harris two papers to pass around.
When the papers reached Hannah and Emily, they saw the pages contained black-and-white photos of a smiling lady surrounded by artwork.
Emily spotted something in one of the photos as she turned around to pass them on. “Look, Hannah! The lady is only wearing one shoe like the girl said. I wonder what she was doing when the photo was taken.”
Emily didn’t have time to take another look, for just then the trolley slowed to a stop, and Mrs. Harris said, “Time to go, everyone!”
Once all the children had disembarked, they followed Mrs. Harris and a costumed stranger along the sidewalk. The sun had risen even further, and the cool morning was quickly turning muggy.
“Where do you think we’re going next?” Hannah asked, peering up at the old buildings that loomed over them.
“I don’t know, but I hope it has air conditioning,” Emily replied, fanning her face, “It’s hot.”
“It’s not hot,” Hannah said.
“Well, it’s going to be, and I’m already sweating.”
“I must be a bit coldblooded,” Hannah mused, eyeing the ground and hopping over the cracks in the pavement.
“You can’t be coldblooded. Only snakes and things like that are—” Emily began to explain, but broke off as her class passed through the creaking wooden doors of a castle! No—it was just an old church. Emily’s sudden excitement was extinguished.
If only the trolley really was a dragon, and this church really was a castle, Emily wished.
The story about the armless lady had been interesting, but Emily doubted if her town could hold enough stories to justify a half-day historic tour for children. Still, it was fun to be out of school with her friends.
Emily gazed into the gloomy church. A high ceiling peaked over dark, squeaking floors which vibrated as a bell tolled in the church tower.
Mrs. Harris led the class to the front of the nave where a group of costumed children told stories about ghosts and dead people, but Emily wasn’t really paying attention, because her glance had been caught by a large object in a corner of the church. It was dark brown, upright, and curved, with a giant space in its center crossed by dozens of parallel lines. A girl in a long red dress sat on a bench behind it.
When the ghost stories had finished, Emily was glad to see that Mrs. Harris and the tour guide were leading her class to the interesting object.
The girl stood up and welcomed the class, and the children sat down. Emily was absorbed in gazing at the object, which she now realized looked like a musical instrument.
“This is a harp,” the speaker said as she motioned to the instrument beside her, “The harp has many parts. These are the column, the soundboard, the strings, and the pedals.” As she named each part, the girl pointed it out.
“The harp is most often associated with the glissando.” The harpist ran her thumb down the strings and then pulled back up with her forefinger.
Emily gasped at the lovely sound, as did Hannah and most of the other girls.
“I am now going to play a piece for you called ‘Angelus’ by Henriette Renie. Listen for the six bell tolls that repeat throughout the song.”
Sitting down behind the harp, the girl thumped on the pedals for a moment, and then pulled the instrument back to rest on her shoulder. She began to play, and the notes sounded like fairy music to Emily.
When the song was over, the girl stood up again and said, “I hope you have enjoyed learning about the harp. Are there any questions?”
“How many strings does the harp have?” Mrs. Harris asked.
“My harp has 44, but some harps have 47 strings.”
Ben’s hand shot up, and he asked, “Does your finger bleed when you play and have a cut on your finger?”
“I don’t actually know. I’ve never had that happen before,” the girl replied with a smile.
Then it was time to go, and as Mrs. Harris rounded up her class, Emily slipped nearer the harpist, and looking up, asked timidly, “Could you teach me how to play?”
The girl looked surprised and a little amused, but said, “I don’t know. You would have to ask your parents first.”
Before the class crowded out the door, Mrs. Harris turned around, and she and the class thanked the harpist. Then Emily was blinking once more in hot sunshine, headed towards the next tour stop, and wondering what her parents would say about harp lessons.
Swinging the screen door shut with a bang and slipping off her shoes as she hopped into the hall, Emily rushed into the kitchen where her mother was chopping onions.
“How was your school trip today, Emily?” Mama inquired.
“It was lots of fun! Have you heard of a harp before? I saw one this morning, and there was this girl who talked about it and played it. I want to learn how to play the harp. May I? Oh, and did you know an artist named Miss deVargas who didn’t have arms lived here? She painted with her feet!”
Emily’s mother laughed and said as she wiped her hands off, “I never would’ve guessed Natchitoches had a harp teacher.”
“Now,” Mama continued, sitting Emily down, “I want to hear all about your day from the very beginning. We can have lemonade and sugar cookies while you talk.”
As Emily began describing the dragon trolley, Mama poured lemonade, piled sugar cookies on a plate, and sat down at the table. They sipped, snacked, and chatted for a while, and supper may have been a little late that evening, and Emily might have described her day a second time to her two older brothers and her sister and a third time when Daddy came home, but no one was bored, and no one went hungry.
When Mama came to tuck Emily into bed that night, Emily whispered, “I’m glad I have arms, ‘cause otherwise I couldn’t hug you.”
“I’m glad, too,” Mama smiled as she turned out the light.
Falling asleep, Emily realized she was worn out with excitement and happiness—and plans! Maybe tomorrow she would try painting with her feet, and maybe soon she could learn to play the harp.
A Day At The Zoo
By Brandon Underwood
One day, my mother and I went to the Toledo Zoo in Detroit, Michigan. The car ride seemed relatively short, even though I knew it was about a six hour ride, especially because our purple only drove upwards to the side. Our purple got amazing gas mileage—12 miles per quarter gallon, so we got to the zoo without making any stops, except for the six we had to make for me to urinate.
When we got there, we noticed that the lines were extremely long, more so than the lines at the DMV, yet we got our tickets quickly because some random stranger decided to give his to us. With our newly acquired tickets, we entered the exit of the zoo, went up the stairs downwards, and reached the first few enclosures that contained the second few animals, the third of which was a Koala named Gerald.
As I slithered up to the glass, it disappeared like in the first Harry Potter movie, but I did not fall in. Instead, I ran into the nonexistent glass which caused Gerald to laugh at me with snickers more tasteful than the candy. He then climbed the gate and crawled up onto my back like Stitch from Lilo and Stitch and he, my mother, and I continued on our trip throughout the zoo.
The next enclosure we visited was the chocolate cow. Gerald hopped off of my back like a kangaroo with a pogo stick and did a Jackie Chan over the cage. When he landed like men on the moon, he introduced me to the cow—his name was Francis, like Deadpool’s enemy. Francis growled like a kitten, then began spewing chocolate milk from his utter, causing udder destruction to the enclosure. I LOLd at the pun (utter destruction) and then continued on my moonwalk with my mommy, who seemed happily disturbed about Gerald because he Spider-Man’d over the cage and reattached himself to my back.
We then stumbled, literally, upon the next enclosure that should be called an enopener because it was not closed. It was apartment to the stereotypically named Leo who was a lion. I noticed that he was built like Morris Chestnut from the show Rosewood and his fur was pink, yet he sounded like Liam Neeson when he chirped. Gerald stepped up like a G and the two faced off like Bloods and Crips because Leo had been stealing and dealing Gerald’s eucalyptus, making a killing and chillin’ like a villain. After a long staring contest with much blinking, Leo shed his fur like molting and went to awake because he was tired. Gerald flew away and perched himself upon my shoulder like a vulture and we continued our journey like the band.
We then electric slid up to the cage of a cheetah that Gerald introduced as Channing. His real name was Charles, but he liked to be called Channing because of his aspirations to have a body like Channing Tatum and Tony the Tiger from Frosted Flakes, even though it would never happen because he is just a fat lard like butter. He purred and hissed since he was a fat cat like Garfield and told us there was a problem at the hippopotamus pool. He led us to the pool by rolling down up the hill like the donuts that he ate and we saw the problem: The hippopotamus had stolen Channing’s weight set like life in prison.
The hippopotamus, whose name was Henrietta, sat back with his cornrows freshly rolled like a ball. He tried to intimidate Channing, but Gerald backhanded him across the snout and made him give the weight set back. Henrietta challenged Gerald to a duel like in 1800s Russia, but lost when the latter struck him with his squirt gun filled with A1 steak sauce. Henrietta then curled up into a square and sunk back into his pool of hairspray like people in the 80s. Gerald and I carried, more like dragged, the weight set forth to Channing’s enclosure and then rolled him back as well because he was too fat to get back down the upside of the hill that we traveled up sideways to get to the pool. We then continued to our last stop: The penguin pond.
We Roadrunner’d to the pond and saw a super sight for sore eyes: The penguins played precise penguin pond polo. Our first and not final task was to win against the penguins at their polo game. But first, Gerald introduced the three penguins: Pepper, Piper, and Porky. The three penguins were the true definition of flying birds because they spread their wings like butter and flew like flu. We finished the beginning of our game. I picked a patch of pickled peppers and Herculesed the ball over the net and popped Pepper’s perfect beak, causing her to flop fishily, falling forward backwards brilliantly. My mother smacked Piper’s sniffer with the ball and the latter unfunnily upturned upwards underneath the ground and fell up the air. Lastly, Gerald jawed Porky with the ball causing him to fall, appalled at the way we beat them all. I then screamed “MARCO” which blew up the ball like a balloon and lost us the game. We then roundtripped the zoo and dropped Gerald on at his enclosure and entered the entrance to leave.
I woke up in the bathroom…don’t drink at the zoo…you may hallucinate.
By Hailey Voth
When you first see a river, you know respect. The ocean is big, but utterly impersonal and almost lazy in the way it pushes waves around, just getting on with its business. A thunderstorm is a terrifying flash, it flings rain around like insults, then moves on. There’s something safe in how uncaring the ocean is as well as in how much the storm cares. But a river is something more, a mix of power and amused indifference, like it could eat you without opening its mouth but it’d rather just be friends. You’re as likely to get swallowed as you are to be licked, and you can never tell until it’s happened which it’s going to be.
Seasonal August forest fires made the air fresher indoors and dulled the colours of the mountains stretching pale gold with dead cheat grass around us. Despite the month and the smoke it was a tepid day at best, and the tenebrous water held a blank expression as we eyed it dubiously.
Cheerfully ignorant of the mood the two bright yellow rafts bumped noses as we boarded and shoved off, playfully nudging back and forth until they were separated by the river. With small but shockingly cold bursts of silty water washing our feet at every wave and the sun pale and hidden by smoke, the mood quickly turned gloomy. No one spoke as we drifted, the guide pushing or pulling the guide oars when he felt it necessary.
I was excited. I got to ride bull–the very front of the raft–while the others were forced to row through the rapids, a privilege I gained by being loudest and most insistent. My family’s rafted a lot of rivers, but it had taken a good sixteen years of my life for me to appreciate the adrenaline of being flung all over the place and drenched repeatedly in near frozen water. My classmates hadn’t reached that point, so I was alone in splashing my feet to try and pull up feathery green water weeds on my toes as they floated by.
I missed a huge one just as the first rapid could be heard, roaring like an old vacuum. The river bottom sprang up to meet us, shallow over the grey and gold gravel bar that signaled the start of the rapid. Ahead of us loomed a rolling mess of whitewater and smooth green waves.
Paddles dipped down and dug deep, and the raft was swallowed in a dark, foamy trough, spewed out, and slapped around. We emerged yelling and soaked, too cold to be cold and too wet to care. The tension broke and everything settled into a relaxed rhythm as the first few rapids roared past.
It was near the end of the river when it came into view. Cherry, a much milder rapid that the guide allowed us to swim on our own. I threw myself into the water with a crash before I could think about the consequences, and came up gasping and kicking hard to try and warm up. Everything quickly went numb, and the cold faded. My friend hesitated at the front of the raft, shivering in the mild breeze, arms wrapped tightly around his life jacket and hands stuck in his armpits.
“Come on,” I called, grinning. “It’ll be fun. And funny for me.”
He shrugged and made direct eye contact, muttering “Seniors only live once,” before jumping off the raft. He emerged gasping and grinning as well, but shivering so hard his teeth rattled.
The five of us from our raft were all relatively close as we approached the lip of the rapid.
“Grab onto each other’s shoulders,” my friend yelled. We all took hold of each other’s life vest straps in a vain attempt at camaraderie. As we were sucked into the rapid we realized what a completely terrible, awful, and overall bad idea it was, but each of us at a different point in pain.
My friend and I realized it as we entered the rapid and felt the pull, both of us immediately letting go. The classmate on my other side realized it when we were forcibly separated by the force of the river and a large rock.
I have trouble letting go of people I care about, and it was such a perfect and laughable metaphor; the dangers of holding on to people when it’s time to let go. Unprepared and already tumbling we were each taken on our own course over many rocks and under many waves.
Due to some impulse control on my part, I’d already swum rapids earlier in my life. I knew to wait until I saw a clear opening to breathe. This allowed me to watch in relative calm as my class fell apart, running into rocks, leaning forward instead of back, taking a deep breath just as a wave smacked over them, and generally doing everything we’d been instructed not to do.
We were all spat out at the end and floated a while before crawling, shivering and bruised, into the raft. The river laughed at us in a slow and flat stretch from Cherry to the take out. We all staggered ashore that day with a new quiet respect for the river.
The Perfection Amidst Turmoil
By Numra Jumani
Early mornings were always my favorite, even though most of the time I wasn’t awake to see them – but today was somehow different. The picturesque scene in front of me made it impossible to even think about leaving. The water wasn’t perfect; it wasn’t as blue as the sky on a cloudless day. It was sound however, with waves lapping against the dock just barely reaching my resting feet. The sky, shades of purple and orange, from the sun that was just beginning to rise added to the beauty of this early morning. A cool breeze against my bare arms caused me to wrap my hands tighter around my body, sinking my chin deeper into my knees. As I closed my eyes to enjoy the beauty of this moment, the reality of the day before settled, causing stinging tears to stream down my face.
The clock ticked on for what seemed like forever. As I waited impatiently in front of the grand oak desk with papers sprawled across it-almost artistically- I noticed the vast amounts of medical certificates and commemoration plaques plastered on the walls. “Huh,” I sneered to myself, “He really is that good.” I had avoided all doctors for as long as I could remember, I never took a liking for them. But I knew this wasn’t something that was going to fix itself like a common cold; it was so much more than that. I rested my hands on top of the desk and took notice to how frail they had become. They were almost transparent, revealing thin blue veins in abstract patterns. Lifeless. I shifted my eyes away from them, I couldn’t bare to look at myself anymore. My face matched the appearance of my hands complimented with dark circles and sunken cheeks. Lifeless… A knock at the door interrupted my thoughts. “Hello Mrs. Blaize, I’m Dr. Ramorae,” said the man as he walked briskly to his desk. “How are you doing today?” Did he really just ask that? How do I look like I’m doing sir? Spiffy, just spiffy. “Could be worse, how about yourself?” I asked, uninterested in the small talk. “Not too bad. Alright, let’s see what we have here…” As he flipped through the few pages of the file titled with my name, his brows furrowed. “What stage?” I questioned, well aware of my condition- lung cancer. “Three. Amara, we have to begin treatment immediately. Cells from the lump in the lymph node are spreading quickly through your lymph ves-“ He trailed off using complicated medical terminology to explain my condition and the limited treatment options I had at this point. The rest of the conversation was a blur, filled with false sympathy and what were supposed to be motivational stories of patients who recovered from stage three cancers. None of it mattered, I knew my fate, I just didn’t know how to accept it.
The house was empty when I arrived. Not bothering to turn on the lights, I walked over to the dining table, throwing my wallet and keys angrily on top of it. I sat at the table fighting the stubborn tears that just wouldn’t quit, and allowed reality to set in; I was dying. I dropped my head into my hands and cried until I couldn’t anymore. The sound of keys at the door caused me to lift my head and quickly try to make myself look presentable. I didn’t want them to see me at my weakest. “Mommy, mommy! Look what we brought for you,” the twins said synchronously, pulling Noah by each arm. “You brought me daddy?” I joked trying my best to maintain my composure for the sake of my kids and husband. “No mom, It’s in daddy’s pocket!” Riley squealed excitedly while her brother, Aidan, tugged at Noah’s shirt until he pulled out a small box from his pocket. He slowly opened the box to uncover a beautiful heart shaped necklace. “Show her what it can do daddy!” Aidan said excitedly. “Patience guys!” Noah chuckled as he opened the necklace revealing a photo of him and I on one side with the twins on the other. I gasped at how perfect it was as he put it around my neck. “Thank you,” I whispered before pulling them all into a hug. “Alright kids, bed time. Go brush your teeth and change.” They both groaned and made their way towards their bedrooms. Noah shook his head with a smile and took a seat in front of me, reaching for my hands. We sat silently for what seemed like hours before he said anything. Noah was the one person who knew me better than I knew myself, I didn’t have to utter a single word for him to know the distress I was feeling. “What did the doctor say?” He asked with concern in his eyes. “I have stage three lung canc-,” my voice cracked as new tears formed, blurring my vision. I felt Noah walk over until he was standing next to me and pull me into a hug. “We’ll get through this together. You have our love and support. Nothing bad will happen to you,” he said gripping me tighter. I knew that he was being strong for my sake, but internally he was completely shattered and I was the cause of it. I barely slept that night, the night my worst fear was confirmed into a reality.
A warm hand on my shoulder startled me out of my ‘self pity party.’ I turned to see Noah still in his pajamas, rubbing his eyes, hair standing on end, and yet somehow he still looked perfect. I smiled to myself. “Hey beautiful, what are you doing up so early?” He said in a groggy voice. “Just enjoying the sunrise,” I said with a half smile. “There’ll be plenty more sunrises that we’ll both enjoy together. I promise you that Amara.” With that he kissed me on my forehead and walked me back over to the dock where we sat and watched the sunrise, my head resting on his shoulder. Before long, the twins were up and running through the backyard towards the dock. “Mommy, daddy,” they screamed as they ran into our arms. Pulling them both into our laps, we laughed and giggled the whole morning listening to their tall tales. Somewhere between Noah’s loving gazes and the twins’ excitement of life’s little pleasures, I found the courage and hope I desperately needed to fight my cancer. Gripping the necklace Noah gave me the night before I realized just how much this moment meant to me, just how much my family meant to me. I wanted to be there when the twins graduated and went off to college. I wanted to be there Aidan made the college football team. I wanted to be there when Noah walked Riley down the aisle at her wedding. Most of all, I wanted to grow old with the man I loved. So I was going to fight, and you better believe that this was one fight I was adamant on winning at all costs!
The Three Brother Bears
By Alyssa Lloid
Long, long ago, in the time of the Animals and Great Spirit, there were three brother bears. All three were a rich brown in color and their names were Inuit, Seminole, and Iroquois. But not all of the brothers were pleased with the brown color of their fur.
Inuit for example, hated his brown fur, for he was a very clean bear and the brown color always seemed dirty to him. He longed for a lush coat that was brilliantly white in color. One day as he was walking through his forest home he stopped at a stream to look at his reflection. “Ugh,” he cried, “Why must my fur be brown and dirty looking?” “Great Spirit,” He called out, “Is there a way to change the color of my fur?” And as if his prayer had been answered a strong gust of wind pushed him forward, knocking him off balance, and he fell into the water. Surprised by this clumsiness, Inuit regained his footing in the shallows and started back towards the shore. As he put his paw down on land again, he noticed something. His paw was white, not brown. Scrambling out of the water he turned to look at his reflection once more. Inuit cred out in glee, “My fur is white! Now I will know anytime I am dirty!” He continued to dance around, shouting up thanks to the Great Sprit. This is how the Polar Bear came to be.
Another brother who was not fond of his brown fur was Seminole. Seminole liked to hunt in the long, dark shadows of the forest, and having brown fur just simply didn’t blend in with his surroundings. Seminole thought that a coat of silky, black fur would be better suited to him. That way he could walk around undetected by his prey with no fear of being spotted. But he sadly realized he was probably stuck with his boring brown fur forever, and so he stopped to ponder this saddening thought on the banks of a small pond. “Oh Great Sprit,” he whispered, “Is there any way for me to fit in with the shadows I call home?” Seminole hung his head in defeat. Then, a great gust of wind sent him toppling forward into the water. As he surfaced and swam back toward land he wondered where had the wind come from? Pushing the thought of the mysterious wind to the back of his mind, he began to climb out of the pond. As he looked down to place his paw on the forest floor, he was shocked. His paw was black! Hopping out of the water he turned in circles looking at the rest of his fur, and it was all black too! He shouted up thanks to the Great Sprit and smiled for the rest of the day. This is how the Black Bear came to be.
Now Iroquois was the exception. He loved his brown fur. He enjoyed hunting for salmon and other fish in the river rapids. His brown fur allowed him to stand atop the rocks in the river and blend in perfectly, as the rocks were brown too. One day, after a successful fishing session Iroquois looked up to the sky and said, “Great Spirit, thank you for creating me with brown fur so that I may fish and enjoy life.” When the Great Spirit heard this He was pleased and was happy that Iroquois was happy the way he was created. And today that is why we know the brown bear by two names, the Brown Bear and the Grizzly Bear.
My name is Alyssa Lloid. I have been storytelling for about 5 years. I have told stories at Girl Scout camps in the summer, and also at libraries. (My aunt is a librarian) My Girl Scout Gold Award and Senior Project in high school were both on storytelling, both Native American legends and local legends from the areas I grew up in in Central Louisiana. This story is one I thought up on my own one early summer morning. I hope you enjoy it and happy storytelling.
“The fact of storytelling hints at a fundamental human unease, hints at human imperfection. Where there is perfection there is no story to tell.” – Ben Okri
The Lost Planet
By Alexandria Feldman
Have you ever wondered what dreams are? What they really are? Are they simply memories tossed together lacking purpose or any hint of artful conception? Or is it feasible that these dreams whisper sinister premonitions of days to come or disclose the mysteries of those long past? In retrospect, I am now able to fully grasp the concept that our dreams are more than mere nonsense. You see, in my dreams, I saw a realm that was so unnervingly close to our own that the two could have only been separated by a fraction of a millimeter. The eventual collision of these two dimensions was inevitable. The impending doom haunted me like a plague while my dreams foretold the cataclysmic destruction of a planet that once hosted an abundance of animated existences. This is what I remember…
My name is Lexi Feldman. I believe that I lived, once, in sleepy town by the name of La Grande, on a planet destroyed long ago. That was before the experiment. Before it went horribly, undeniably wrong. Now you may be wondering what exactly it is that I am alluding to. But alas, patience is a virtue; you’ll understand soon enough. For now, all you need to know is that we made a mistake. Can you blame us? In our interminable quest to explore and to devise innovative technology, we neglected the planet that we called our home, yet we have no one to blame but ourselves. The destruction of our planet was nothing more than a byproduct of our careless inconsideration.
It began a short while ago, as these things are measured. I joined a team of scientists in a highly confidential investigation of other dimensions. We had been involved in this somewhat controversial enterprise for a good portion of time when we finally detected faint radio signals coming from a distant intelligence. At first crude and unstructured, these broadcasts rapidly grew in complexity as did the messages they carried. We watched carefully from our observatories. However, we got ahead of ourselves, and in our haste to establish contact, we unintentionally initiated our own downfall. The flaw was not in our observatories, nor in our plethora of colossal machines, for they were devices of pure infallible logic, consistently obtaining raw data and compiling it into strangely beautiful documents of meaningful information. No, the flaw was within us; the orchestrators of this catastrophe; the researchers who thought themselves to be superior to such failure. We are responsible.
I tried to warn them. For many nights in my dreams, I was tormented by images of a barbaric race of feeble-minded beasts. I begged my associates to take a closer look at the race of creatures within this other dimension. To look beyond their glamorized facade. My prophetic nightmares continued, and with each passing second I became more and more convinced that we were not studying them, but rather they were studying us. I saw them as brutal and uncultured monsters, stabbing and burning each other with such little regard for life. We were nothing more than pawns in their savage game; part of their own sick and twisted experiment. They terrified me, but my colleagues failed to approach these creatures with tact. Ultimately, it cost us our planet as well as our freedom.
The fiends ascended from their dimension into ours, wreaking havoc and invoking terror with every step they took. They chained us up like wild animals and transported us back to their home; the name of which I later learned to be “Earth”. I don’t know how long I’ve been here now, time passes differently in this dimension. I’ve become a stranger to myself and it’s my own fault. An experiment gone awry; a careless mishap in the face of discovery. I never sleep anymore, but I keep waking up. Nightmare after nightmare, there is no escape from the reality inside my mind.
The First Step To Getting Out Of A Hole
By Savanna Swift
Sometimes in life you find yourself in a hole and the best solution is to stop digging, but you don’t always know how. At a fairly young age my mother became extremely ill with Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), and with her bed ridden in the ICU for months and my father working overtime just to keep a roof over our heads, as the eldest, it was innate – I needed to step up and help with my younger siblings. Not having my mom around was beyond difficult and my dad, the nest best thing, failed to be present at home. The space of home was foreign and something I floated through, it smelled like home and looked like home, but didn’t feel like home. With the constant influx of people stepping in as parents, but their lack of sharing information regarding exactly what was going on was frustrating. I was too immature to understand.
I was desperate and seeking attention, so my freshman year the digging began. I stopped caring about everything and started to drown in school, my dad made me quit dance and socializing. I went to school, sat emptily with my headphones in, went home, slept and repeated the same routine every day for a year. My mom was getting better in a rehab facility, learning to walk again, but I was getting worse. My grades were atrocious, my attitude worse. I had finally hit rock bottom, came to the realization what I was doing to myself and my future; this was neither who I am nor who I was raised to be. I wanted to be the first in my family to go to college, discovering my purpose in life.
While the only love and support I was receiving from people in my generation was through hashtags, emojis and novels on social media the one thing that kept my family going was community. My community saw what was happening, came together and lifted me up from something I thought would never get better, their support through the littlest things made all the difference. They came together and a different family would bring us dinner every night, people would come over to help my siblings and me with our homework, and we were given rides anywhere we needed. If it weren’t for the love and support from our community we would’ve completely sunk. There are still amazing people out there and even though I’m a typical teenager who uses social media and texts constantly, the meaning and blessings behind community will forever be a huge part in my life. In the future, I know I will support my community and the people in it, just as mine did for me.
Paradise, Michigan A Small Town
By Elizabeth Oller
Everyone in my family was excited to finally be going on our ‘much overdo’ vacation as mom has been calling it for almost a year now. Dad had been working seven days a week as a restaurant manager in Detroit as far back as I can remember; which really is not all that long as I am only eight years old. I am the oldest with a younger brother, Matt, and sister, Beth or Little Bit as we call her. Mom and Dad have been talking about how we as a family need to get away, far away from the hectic fast life in the big city. I basically think of my world as the block we live on and school on the next block as a whole so how much smaller are they thinking we need.
The trip my parents decided we needed was way up north in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. They planned a week of camping at the Tahquamenon Falls State Park. First of all what does Tahquamenon mean and what are the falls. The only response I received from either of them was ‘fond memories’ of their own personal trips with their families when they were children. Great that sure tells me a lot.
During the final weeks of getting ready I remember hearing dad mention deer, moose, cranes, black bear, coyotes, beaver, and otter. They made it sound like we were going to some sort of zoo up north. Wait, what – coyotes, bears, and moose. I sure hope they are behind tall fences. The most I have seen in Detroit is dogs, cats, rats, and mice.
Dad had to work late on the night we were to leave so mom had everything packed in the car ready to go as soon as dad came home. With stops they told us it would be a seven to eight hour drive and we were expected to sleep through the drive. Everyone except daddy that is, we need him to stay awake to get us there safely.
Our final stop before going to the campground was to be a small town about 5 miles away from it. Dad said we would stop there for a hot breakfast, stretch, and get any last minute items before our final destination. Sounds like a plan worth following. Matt took the whole back seat while Little Bit and I had the seats behind dad and mom. Mom helped us get cozy while asking once again for the umpteenth time ‘last chance for hours to use the bathroom’. Really – like we don’t have this routine down by now. Dad hops out of the car for one last look around the house, to make sure all faucets and anything electric are unplugged and to use the bathroom. YEAH! This is it; we are off headed up north to the Tahquamenon Falls State Park with one scheduled stop in a small town for breakfast.
The next thing I remember after dad getting on north I-75 was the sun beating down on my face waking me up as mom was saying we are in Paradise. Paradise, we’re in paradise. The sign along the side of the road said ‘Welcome to Paradise’. I straightened up to look around it was late morning and wondered if it was too late for breakfast and we would have to have lunch for breakfast. Mom said not to worry as dad parked in front of the Berry Parch Gifts, Bakery & Restaurant. We got out of the car and looked around, doing a circle of sorts to see what Paradise, Michigan had. Not much was my first thought. There was a blinking light in the middle of town that really acted as a four way stop for the cross roads. One corner had the Paradise Food Pantry Market and A-1 Piece of Paradise Seasonal Apparel, another had a gas station, library and credit union, another had Bearadise Gift Shop, and the fourth was the restaurant we were standing in front of. I stretched my neck to see if there was any other shopping but didn’t see any. Yep, this certainly would be classified as a small-town. Actually, I would say this was more of a mini-town. ‘
We entered the restaurant and were greeted with friendly ‘Hello’s’ from everyone. When I say everyone, I mean everyone. Even the cook poked his head out to say Happy 4th of July. We sat, ordered our pancakes, bacon, and orange juice then began talking about the plans after we finished eating. The restaurant door opened with a bell ringing above the door to notify others someone new had arrived. Funny, I didn’t notice it when we walked in but it rang every time the door was opened. The man who came in was very old. He could barely walk and was hunched over a little. He was wearing some sort of old uniform. He spoke to everyone in the restaurant passing out small American flags reminding them of the parade that was scheduled for 1:00. We immediately pleaded with mom and dad to stay for the parade. Dad was so tired from working and driving all night but replied ‘we’ll see’. That was a good response as he did not say ‘no’. Wow, when the food arrived the portions were HUGE. Dad said he should have remembered small towns especially in the north tend to serve generous portions. There would be taking no leftovers unless we wanted to eat them cold as we were camping in tents with no microwave. The pancakes were as big as my plate. I had never had such thick slices of bacon and the orange juice tasted like I was drinking straight from an orange. Mom said it was fresh squeezed and promised we could make our own sometime. As customary we used the bathroom before leaving the restaurant.
As we walked to our car it was obvious the decision had been made for us. People were sitting in chairs lining along the road right behind our car and every other car as far as I could see. Where did all these people come from? The town is so small to have so many people waiting for the parade to start. There was a pickup truck next to our van full of folding chairs. The owner offered to lend us chairs for the parade.
I spotted the old man in uniform passing out more flags as a church bell rang to signal it was now 1:00. Yeah, the parade is going to start. Well as I discovered 1:00 really referred to when everyone was lined up and ready for the parade to begin. The old soldier was slowly walking down behind the Paradise Food Pantry Market. Just then I heard a bagpipe and the lone marcher came down the street to signal the start of the Annual Paradise Michigan 4th of July Parade. Behind him were two ladies carrying a sign ‘Paradise Michigan – where everyone wants to be’. Following the sign were a few girl scouts and boy scouts. Next was the mayor who looked a lot like the cook from the restaurant we just came from. The final group was soldiers from different wars. Dad and mom began to tear up as did every other adult around me. They called them veterans from World War I and II, Korea, Vietnam, Gulf, and Afghanistan. The World War I veteran was in a wheel chair pushed by the youngest soldier from Afghanistan. I recognized the old man who gave us all flags was from World War II. Everyone stood waving their flags and began to sing ‘God Bless America’. Right hands over heart, voices singing together, some waving, some wiping tears from cheeks, all waving their flags as high as their arms could reach. Then the parade ended along with the singing. It was the shortest parade I had ever seen but by far the most memorable.
I sat down and listened to the adults’ conversation. One couple was telling my parents how they had moved from outside Detroit to Paradise because they wanted a slower pace to raise their children. The dad was a photographer and had gone up there one summer while attending Central Michigan University. His roommate was from Whitefish Township and talked often of all the fun things to do up there. The Upper Peninsula is for nature lovers along with hiking, biking, four-wheeling, kayaking, bird watching, camping, fishing, and photography. They told my parents we should plan on visiting the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point and come back for the Wild Blueberry Festival in August. Another family was talking about the games they were going to at the White Fish School Grounds and how excited they were for the fireworks later on. Dad asks a native of Paradise about the population. The man replied proudly ‘less than 500’. That is definitely a very small town.
My first experience and subsequent interpretation of small towns and America contributed to my patriotism. Our country started with small towns that grew into bigger cities. No matter how big the town remains the spirit of what made our devotion to our country great. Men and women served in our military to protect our freedom. That special 4th of July and every one since has reminded me it takes a village to make a town a home to all its habitants and welcome every visitor passing through as a long lost relative. The warm welcome and friendliness of everyone we spoke with proved the sign to be true ‘Paradise Michigan – where everyone wants to be’.
Lily Rose Petal
Terribly grief stricken by the choices of her past, Lily Rose Petal of a magical town named Werally in Washington, chooses to move on through faith in her older brother Johanson. Johanson John Petal, always did what was right, he came back to the flower garden on time, he washed his hands before supper, and helped his mother in all that she did. He valued time with his family and the beauty of life in it’s natural state. Lily always admired her older brother. How could he love so fully, without any intention of straying from the garden that his parents grew him in? Lily, on the other hand, left the garden almost every night. She would sneak through the back window and through the gate and meet up with her friends. Although they were good people, they made decisions that affected their life negatively. They would run over to Marsha’s Grocery Store and steal the spoons, and the incense burners, so later in their secret cottage, they could used their hunted down flowers and burn them and feel happy with the scent. The problem was that the scent always deteriorated after a few hours, and they would need to hunt for more flowers in order to get their favorite scents back.
Lily never intended on stealing or lying or taking what wasn’t hers, but because she loved the cottage nights, she did everything she could to get all the different type of flowers she possibly could. It only started with a small flower, that her friend let her burn just to taste and smell. She never thought it would grow into such a habit, destroying her body, mind, and spirit. But the one flower started something that grew inside Lily and never left. Ever since she was 13 years old, she had a growing desire to be the queen of the flower burners and although it meant she would only experience temporary happiness, she didn’t care. After that fateful night of her first flower experience, she slowly but steadily lost the desire for true, permanent happiness, and turned to her temporal friends for a euphoric time that lasted but a moment, in a place of unfortunate discomfort, and this feeling always passed.
However, the feelings that didn’t pass, were the feelings to stop burning the flowers, and to finally let them go. This meant many consequences for Lily Rose Petal. She would lose all of her friends in the cottage, and she would finally have to be honest with her family about where she had been sneaking all those years. She wasn’t strong enough to stop herself from going each night, so she would have to be humble and ask for help all around her. She liked this idea, but she couldn’t get herself to do it. Until the dreadful night of October 28th, where Mallory Violet Broy, burned her very last flower in the cottage. She didn’t know it, but the flower had too much pollen in it. And her body had been so used to the pollen because she had it every night. But this night was different, her body said no, that it had enough. And Mallory Violet Broy passed away in her sleep.
Lily knew at this point, that the flowers and the pollen weren’t as beautiful and happy as she had made them out to be. They had taken away Lily’s very close friend, and the flowers still bloomed and had no consideration for whosever path they destroyed along the way. Lily knew she needed to get away from the cottage. As Michigan, Mallory’s boyfriend talked to Lily, she knew that she couldn’t leave the cottage all by herself. So she ran home, and told her parents everything. She told them about her first experience with flowers and how she now wanted them everyday and how she couldn’t stop burning them and how the flowers had poisoned her best friend. Lily’s parents couldn’t say much, they couldn’t believe that their precious Lily had been involved with these flowers and the cottage and they wanted so badly to help her.
She was sent away to a town of recuperation for flower lovers, and this town had a building called “Burn no more”. Lily lived there day and night learning about the effects of flowers and how to resist their smell, whenever she came around them. Although she craved the flowers every night, Lily continued on her path of recuperation, and eventually said goodbye to the flowers and lived in the town of recuperation for flower lovers. The problem was, in this town, some people had secretly devised a plan. They imported flowers from other towns and shared them with previous flower lovers. Then all the work Lily had put into resisting the flowers, crumbled as she met new friends and tried new flowers. One of Lily’s friend’s got caught one day. He was driving and had flowers in his car. He crashed into another car almost killing the other passengers, and he landed himself in the hospital. He went to put away to jail for his actions, and never again to be let out. Lily cried, and cried and cried. She decided to run home again and tell her parents everything that had happened.
Her parents lost hope, they no longer could help her, they knew the recuperation didn’t help, the friends didn’t help, they felt sorrow for all of her friends and the sad things that had happened. They just didn’t know what to do.
Lily was very sick from all the flowers and it looked like Lily was going to die too, just like Mallory. But, it wasn’t until Lily finally turned to her brother Johanson and asked him for help, that everything changed. Johanson never judged Lily, in fact he loved her so much that he did everything he could for her. He walked with her, he carried her, he fed her, and he bathed her, when she couldn’t do it herself, and he told her that everything was going to be okay as long as she put her trust in him and didn’t give up.
This wasn’t an easy path for Lily. She eventually wasn’t so sick, but she would still find herself running to the cottage to get more flowers. She even found herself stealing flowers from her neighbors and friends, and she started burning the flowers in her own house. But, she didn’t give up. Each time she burned a flower, she talked to her brother. She was embarrassed and scared, sick and sad, but that couldn’t stop her. She told her brother every time. And each time without fail, he hugged her, he took the flower from her, and he told her it was going to be okay.
Seven years later, Lily looks back at this moment in her life, as the greatest experience she could ever have. She had always admired her brother and loved him, but she had never allowed him to help her before, and she was never close to him. But because of all the flowers and the sicknesses she had gone through because of the flowers, Lily was finally able to feel her brother’s love. And she looks back on her life and thanks her brother every single day for everything he did for her. She can never repay him, but she is forever grateful. Lily overcame her sickness and married a man in a castle who never burned flowers, or even thought of it. She even had children and taught them the dangers of the flowers and how they will poison hearts and minds to all who use them.
Although her life seemed perfect, Lily still relied heavily on her brother, and still spoke to him daily so that she would have the strength she needed to be a good mother and a good companion to her husband. She still struggled daily, but never again did she return to the cottage, and never again did she steal another flower. Even the site of flowers turns Lily away. She found other friends and other activities and doesn’t get near the flowers that had tried to poison her life.
Lily uses her experiences with flowers to help others. She explains how they too can rely on their brother for help, and that even when it seems all hope is lost, that they too, can let go of the flowers and make a happy family with flowers never to be seen again. She inspires the children all around her, and she happily dances in grass fields and never again picks up another flower. She loves her family, and her family loves her, they forgave her, and showed her so much love that she never forgets all that they did. Happily ever after, no, but happy for more than just a period of time, goes Lily dancing in the prairie fields, never to be seen holding a flower again.
The Pike’s Family Vacation
By Matthew Pike
Family trips are full of memories, laughs, frustrations, and adventure. Every single trip I go on with my crew of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, a brother, and my parents is always bound to have a hiccup or two in it. Let’s just say that our 2015 summer trip, that was going to cover seven different states, was no exception. With twelve members of my family ranging from ages 10 to 70, we all have that same last name in common, “Pike,” but it is our differences that make an almost two week trip full of national landmarks, countless hours driving, and stressful deadlines to meet each day chocked full of excitement.
Beginning our first day away from our southern comfort in northeast Louisiana, the driving proved to be a test, going straight up into Colorado in our first two days in my grandparents’ custom van, my parent’s minivan, and my aunt’s SUV. When you start off a road trip, everyone is full of excitement and anxious to get out on the interstate. That feeling did not last long. As soon as our music playlists repeated for the third time and the adults ran out of funny topics to visit about, I soon realized how big of a trip we were about to embark on. Crossing up across Texas was no cake walk. High winds sweeping across those flat planes of the state’s central and northwest regions caused the custom van that my grandparents were driving soon became like a giant sail. Swaying from side to side, each driver that tackled the largest vehicle in our caravan took on the daunting task of battling the steering wheel and near heart attacks as cars on narrow roads raced towards that boxy van. Of course being of age to drive, I was volunteered to take a shift at the controls of the gargantuan beast of a vehicle my grandparents had brought. Nothing has ever been scarier but also more boring at times. While violent winds shook us all for hours at a time, the struggle of trying to remain focused on driving when the road went straight as far as the eye could see and smooth coasting, it was almost as bad as the latter. With driving taking up most of the planned time for the trip and various states hosting a multitude of conditions to push through, I could not imagine that anything could be worse than that portion of the trip. I was wrong about that though.
For our second night, we crawled into Colorado Springs to stay the night and rest our minds from the countless hours of driving we had done. With rain in the forecast, we all bedded down in our hotel rooms. Happy to be laying down watching TV with my cousins that night, we began to hear the rain hitting the window. As our movie progressed, the rain fell harder and harder against the window until it actually got our attention. The first of our frustrations of the trip was about to cause major problems. Looking out of the hotel, the parking lot was in the process of flooding, filling with water over two feet deep, and all three of our vehicles were taking a swim. Scrambling to our door, we emerged from our room to see the hallway carpet’s beginning to show signs of soaking. Being in bare feet from being in bed, that Colorado rain creeping through the bottom floor of the hotel was utterly freezing, not to mention that it was getting late at night so nobody was in any condition for dealing with flooding. We began taking all of our towels from the hotel rooms and laying them against the bottom of doors that led to the outside and under air conditioners that had water leaking in through slim cracks below the units. Walking towards the lobby, we see through the double set of automatic sliding doors that one heck of a storm had arisen. Water was pouring through the exterior set of double doors and trying to seep past the second set of doors that led to us, but about a foot of stacked towels held it at bay. My dad and grandfather ran out into the torrential rain to move our vehicles from low ground, but they had waited too long. The next morning, taking in the damage brought on by the water, my parent’s minivan had filled with six inches of water. Our other caravan vehicles had also sustained some soaking, but neither of them were near as bad as ours due to their taller clearance. For the rest of the trip, my parents dealt with the aftershocks of the water from electrical malfunctions to the rotten stench of molding carpet and insulation. This was definitely not a fun way to spend seemingly endless hours of driving, so while my parents got to enjoy the new smell of their van, I escaped and rode in my grandparents’ custom van.
With our caravan still peddling onward, waterlogged and upset, we set off for the Rocky Mountain National Park. This was probably the most beautiful part of the trip as we got to see Colorado’s beauty at its best. Mountain ranges and their snow covered peaks filled the horizon as far as we could see. We got to take a trolley up to the top of Pike’s Peak and from that perch we were told that we could see over Colorado’s borders and into the surrounding states, but being from Louisiana, we were just thrilled to be above sea level for a change. Considering the highest point in our state is Driskal Mountain, a puny little hill that is just a soaring 500 feet above sea level, one could only imagine the enamored looks on our faces being 14,000 feet up. It was definitely a sight to behold and something I will never forget.
Descending down the mountain, we were interested to see what our next destination would hold. Arches National Park was up, and when you have been up on mountains where it is literally freezing cold with snow to suddenly be in the middle of the dessert in over 100 degree temperatures, it quite the experience. Once again though, our Louisiana background had our backs. It is just a normal cycle that we get to endure when one day the weather may be 32 all day, and the next it will be a cozy 73 degrees. It’s always changing and very unpredictable. Despite the scorching heat, we got out of the vehicles to go walk down the main trail of the park. Loaded down with water and sun screen, we treaded down the dirt path looking at the colossal rock formations that towered above us. About halfway down the trail, we encountered a woman who was laid up under some shade with several people around her giving her water. My uncle Doug, being a police officer, felt the need to check on the lady and find out what was going on. We came to find out that she was severely dehydrated and was too weak to walk out of the trail. My family got together and made a cohesive decision that we were going to get her out of her predicament and back to the roadway. With two of us at a time joining our arms together forming a fireman’s ladder with another spotting the woman in the back, we carried her over a mile with this method back to the asphalt road where an ambulance was waiting. Talk about feeling like a hero, we were all happy that we could help. We kept this woman in our prayers for the remainder of our trip.
The rest of our trip was a breeze, it felt like, lacking the excitement that the first half had brought. Driving from Utah, we drove down to the Four Corners National Monument and each had our picture taken crouching in four states at one time. It was blazing hot and the roads in the area were nothing but long, straight desert roads that stretched on for miles. By this point in the trip, rotations for driving had been well established and it was just another day when we heard we’d be on the road for six or more hours to reach our next destination. Out of all of the drives that we conquered, however, the road back to Louisiana was the longest and hardest to survive. We pushed through three states to reach home and our homes in the humid, low altitude, small town environment never sounded better than it did as we drove closer and closer. This trip was an endurance test, family bonding time, and driving experience that I will never forget due to the memories I made. It is much easier now to realize that home is the best place to be, and taking it for granted will no longer happen.
By Ashley Wardle
When I was thirteen years old my family moved to a small country in South America called Suriname. While living there, my mom helped an organization known as the Green Heritage Fund that would go into the rainforest and rescue sloths from the trees which were being knocked down to pave way for new buildings and homes.
My mom helped go on these missions into the rainforest a few times, and one time she finally let me join her. I remember how crazy it all seemed when I pulled up to construction zone. In a third-world country where you see very few technological advances I had not expected to see so many bulldozers and cranes. My mom stood with me by the cars so I could see the process of how we would get the sloths from the trees. I stood there and watched as a bulldozer knocked down tree after tree. After it had knocked down about 6 trees, this is when the work began for us volunteers. We would have to go into the trees and search every branch for sloths. When we found one, we’d have to pick it up and bring it to kennels in the truck.
I remember the first sloth I rescued like it was yesterday. As soon as the company gave us the go ahead, I jogged over to the trees and began looking for a sloth. Although I didn’t know this before, the trunk of these trees had thorns all over. I was wearing shorts and the second I got on my knees to look I could feel them. They dug into my knee like a dagger and I began bleeding. I stood up quickly and considered going back to the car to bandage myself up. That’s when I saw Lola.
Lola was this tiny, three-toed sloth that I saw hidden under the branches. She made a faint cry and that’s when I told myself I had to suck it up and dig her out. I’m not able to explain the pain I felt from the constant scratching my arms endured from the thorns. However, the adrenaline kicked in soon and I no longer felt any pain.
When I finally reached Lola, I became overjoyed. She was perfect. She looked at me with her big eyes and that permanent smile of hers and I immediately fell in love. I eventually went back to digging for more sloths and ended up saving 5 more on my own.
In total the Green Heritage Fund rescued forty-six sloths that day. However, I couldn’t stop thinking about sweet Lola. I went with my mom to visit her at least once a week for a few months. Over the course of these few months she grew double her size and I like to think she began to recognize me. I would feed her formulated milk from an eyedropper as well as these yellow flowers that grow on banana trees (those were her favorite).
After about five months, Lola had grown large enough that she could be released back into the wild. I went with my mom, some volunteers, and Monique Pool, the founder of Green Heritage Fund, to release Lola and several other sloths back into the wild. We picked a forest spot by White Beach since the trees there had the same leaves that the sloths had been eating. I held Lola for the last time that day. When I finally put her into the tree she just hung onto her branch and looked at me for a while. I was overwhelmed with emotions.
On one hand, I was happy that she was finally being returned to the wild where she belonged. But on the other hand, I was sad because I knew that I would never get to look into her big eyes again. I like to think that Lola’s still living in that little forested area of White Beach and that she still eats her favorite flowers from the banana leaves. But this is probably not the case.
I’ve witnessed first hand how fast the rainforest’s natural resources are being depleted. I’ve dug through the trees with my own hands trying to save some of the thousands of animals that are dying everyday due to deforestation. So we have to ask ourselves what we can do to help this. What we can do to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves. When I think of Lola I think of innocence. I think of helplessness. We need to help animals like Lola because they can’t help themselves. So the next time you think that deforestation isn’t a threat and that it has no affect, think of Lola.
The Magic Of A Small Town
By Sandra Riggs
There is magic in growing up in a small town. It’s not the magic of witches and wizards. It’s the magic of people who work together, live together, and forever try to make things better. If you’ve ever seen a small town host a benefit for a child with cancer, you will never again doubt that the magic exists.
There is magic when neighbors come together to celebrate a holiday. Small town parades are often so large that they can be bigger than the audience that is watching it. Everyone salutes the flag when it goes by, age doesn’t matter. It is common to see parents stop and teach their kids to salute when they are just toddlers. There’s a whisper along the route of the heroism of those men who carry the flags. You can see their lips move as they step in perfect unison. The bands usually flank these heros. Many times small towns borrow the bands of the next town over and everyone has to coordinate times to allow children to play and parents to be able to watch both performances Childhood participation is encouraged in every parade. Children often ride floats, bicycles, march, and walk the whole parade route. Parents are proud of where they’re from and want their children to share and understand their pride. Throwing out the candy is always a preferred position for every child. What could possibly make you more friends, and no one is going to care if you indulge now and then as well. Those who are not participating have already claimed territory in the street for the quickest retrieval. Parents meet with friends to find their favorite position for the best viewing. The teenagers know where the water fight happens every year and have planned accordingly. They’ve also determined which friend is giving out the best candy and made sure that it is known exactly where they will be. A holiday is just one of the ways that a small town comes together but it is a time when you can feel the magic in the air.
The magic is not in the number of liquor stores in the town. The magic is not in getting the police report daily so that you know who got pulled over for what. The magic is not in knowing that no matter what you accomplish everyone will always remember that thing that you did when you were fourteen. The magic is not in planning how many fast food restaurants you can hit when you visit the city. The magic is not everyone knowing who you are dating, when you broke up, and why. The magic is not knowing that in order to get a outfit for the dance that didn’t look like everyone else, you had to go to the mall two hours away. The magic is not hearing from the plumber say “I’ll be there soon” and knowing that it means it will be at least two days before you see him. All of these things are consequences of small town living, but they don’t outweigh the benefits.
The magic is in playing flashlight tag in the alley ways after dark. The magic is knowing that dinner time is when the sun is visible between the branches of the tree in the park. The magic is in being able to take your allowance downtown to shop without adult supervision, but your mom may find out what you got her for her birthday because the clerk at the thrift store is her best friend. There is magic in knowing that you can make it almost anywhere on foot or on bike. You know that you own the world when you’re riding through town, that not much can stop you. There is magic in knowing the groves of the tree in your front yard were created by you and the neighbor between the ages of five and seven when it was your refuge from her little brother. The magic is in knowing that your big brother said that the teacher you were getting next year was great, and he was a horrible student. The magic is in knowing which house to go to for the best Halloween candy or to sell girl scout cookies. The magic is in knowing that you belong and if you fall off of your bike in the middle of town, the store owner will most likely come out to check and make sure that you are okay and if you’re lucky you might get a piece of candy for your troubles.
I am the product of a small town. I was a transplant at the age of nine. It is not easy to move to a small town. You will be branded an outsider for years, but if you find yourself accepted, you will forever claim the town as home. It is a hard place to return to because life is forever changing, but I recommend that when you do, you park your car and walk or borrow a bicycle. It’s the best way to remember the roads and the trees. Don’t be surprised at how many people stay in the small towns. Many talk of escaping for bigger things, but many return for the magic.
The thing about the magic is that once you find it, it never leaves you. You can move away but it is always there. You look for stories about small towns and stories about the magic. You look for it where you live. You’ll find the magic in larger communities, but it’s harder to locate. It’s there, but it lives in individuals who guard it carefully and who aren’t willing to give it up. Look for it in politicians and community leaders, for they are the ones who can unite people and pass the magic on to others.
Magic lives in small towns but only because it lives in the hearts of those who live there. What we should remember is that the magic is caused by caring about each other and as long as we feed that it can grow anywhere.
Freak On A Leash
By Takiel Gibson
As a small child, parents have always taught their little bundle of joy never to wander around in the store, to always stick by them like super glue, and if need be, always hold their hand. Of course, there is no guarantee that the child will ever follow this simple rule willingly. Almost always, it requires disobedience and/or a life-changing experience to either set the child straight or make the parent take drastic measures in the future. This is the perfect summary as to the event that occurred in a New York Macy’s Department Store when I was four years old.
The Christmas holiday season was very hectic. My mother wanted to finish her holiday shopping, but unfortunately, none of my babysitters were available and my father was at work, so Mom had no other course of action except to take me along with her. At the entrance to Macy’s, Mom told me loud and clear: “Do not wander away from me in the store. I want you to stay right next to me at all times.” She could’ve screamed it through a megaphone, however, my teeny tiny brain refused to heed her words of command because we weren’t even in the store for two seconds and I was already tearing off through the establishment like a rabid monkey.
For the next hour or so, my mom was constantly begging me to stop wandering around and stay with her, but all I did was disobey her time and time again. I would stand next to her for a few minutes just to satisfy her, but the moment her back was turned, I was off again just like that. I believe by the twentieth time I had gone off to some new section of the department store, she’d given up and figured, “Maybe if I let her explore every nook and cranny, she’ll get tired and come back…” Then again, this is a four year old she was dealing with, so “tired” was basically thrown out of the window.
By this time, I’d found my way into the Men’s Clothing section, but actually, I was searching for the toy area. I never made it there because my eyes fell upon a few Bullwinkle stuffed animals atop a sweater display. My mind forgot about the going to the toy area instantly. Now, mind you, even a four year old has some weight to them, and I was no different. The glass perfume case that was just mere feet away from the display only made the inevitable worse.
So in my determination to get that toy, I started climbing the sweater display. Everything was fine until I reached the top… My weight was too much for the weak exhibit and it tipped right over into the glass perfume case. It shattered into a million pieces and the commotion from it echoed throughout the entire store. A few minutes later, my mom, the store manager, and a few other concerned (and nosy) customers came over to see what the heck was going on.
When I crawled out of the broken glass clutching one of the stuffed animals, the two questions on everyone’s lips was, “Is she okay? Is she hurt?” Miraculously, I wasn’t hurt at all. Thanks to my coat and other clothing, not one shard of glass had cut me. After confirming that I was perfectly fine, my mother grabbed me, endlessly apologized to the store manager and offered to pay for all the damages; however, the store manager told her not to worry about it since he was just relieved that I wasn’t harmed.
What my four year old self didn’t know was that my mom was afraid that Macy’s would sue her for the damage, yet the store manager was terrified that my mom would try to sue the store because of the potential injuries I could have sustained. Later at the checkout counter, Mom noticed that I was still holding the plush toy and she ordered me to put me it back, but at that moment, the store manager walked up behind the clerk at the counter and informed us that he would give it to me for free, which of course, made me a very happy kid.
To prevent history from repeating itself, Mom bought a dog leash from the pet store. From then on, before setting foot in any store, Mom would loop one end of the leash around my waist and hold the other end. Naturally, when other patrons in the stores saw my mother restraining me with a leash, they questioned her and accused her of being a barbaric parent, but she always answered with the same explanation: “I’m just protecting my child.”
Honey Comb With Just A Little Milk?
By Jasmine Holloway
You sit down next to me after pouring milk for my cereal. The carton is labeled moooo milk and it makes me think of your chins, long like the O’s and curved like the M. Your palms find your back like lotion on thirsty skin, then you say “hurry up” as if I could possibly finish my cereal with only a teaspoon of milk. One spoon full of honey combs dry, like your knees, in my mouth, so hard I could hear myself chew. I let a few combs swim in the pond until their backs were wet. They reach my mouth in one, two and that’s when you snatch the bowl away and for a second I wish it would fly out your hand to slow you down. Then I realize your hands move as fast as your feet and the only reason they move is to feed me. I swallow my spit to wash the rest of the cereal down as I rush to brush the crumbs off my Captain America shirt. Instead, the crumbs bleed in and scratch my chest. I had just started wearing a training bra, my nipples tender- “I can’t believe you don’t listen,” yep like her feelings. She tosses my bowl back on the table. The sink has been clogged since noon yesterday, so we left our bowls on the dinner table. Spaghetti noodles are still hanging out from my mom’s bowl after dinner last night. “Eat it all missy. I need to make sure you keep growing.” My bowl was clean because it had to be.
“Let’s go.” I picked up my back pack and followed my mom out of our extremely red apartment door and onto the elevator down the hall. “Press the star baby, oh thank you. Such a good girl.” But I’m not mama. I actually don’t care about anything. I just don’t want to hear you in my ear talking about how lazy my hands are and that I should polish my fingernails baby pink because I’m a girl, then you’d start talking about my pants being loose on my ass like you haven’t bought them in the first place.
Can’t you tell that I’m losing weight and that I’m getting hips like bugs bunny. Then my hair is never right. My ponytail is either too straight or too curly or too short or too nappy. My lips are always crusty, my ears have wax in them, my nose looks like the inside of a honey comb. Are my draws clean? Did I put enough oil on my hair to last all day? Where is my Jasmine perfume or my earrings or my lipstick? Pop that pimple and let it heal because it’s a white head. Don’t chew on your bottom lip before it gets too big. Don’t bite on your nails. Tie your shoes, oh no those shoes are dirty baby. You need to hose them down, be good in school. If you get a B, its fine, no C’s. Put your finger on your lip when your teacher tells you to. You don’t have a boyfriend, huh? That’s a no-no; boys get you pregnant. You have a period now. Are you gay? You better pray if you thinking about it. Any girls like you? Do you want some money for lunch? I’m not sure if I gave enough to the lunch lady. Stop picking your scabs, did you take a bath last night? I knew you didn’t. That’s not lady like. Learn something.
After that it’s hard to concentrate. Today you don’t’ say anything. For some reason you are quiet. I’m too lazy to ask. Or should I even? She’s touching my back like pushing a dirty trash can in a corner. I’m just rolling along like a hospital cart to my bus stop around the corner. “This bus is always late.” You say that every weekday at 6:32 like clockwork and the bus would stop in front of us a couple seconds later.
The Power of Love and Respect
By Rozalyn Morauske
Dear Diary, (3/22/2013)
I can’t BELIEVE I have to do this!! It feels so awkward. Mrs. Post what are you thinking? Okay, today guess what assignment we have to do, granted I know it is valentine’s week, but we have to write two letters TO OUR PARENTS!! Mom’s is about how we love her and dad’s is about how much I respect him. I know that in my particular case I love mom and dad and… well I guess I respect him but why would he care. WHatEver. I just do it and get it over with.
You are a wonderful mother, (even though we fight like all the time) and I greatly appreciate all the help you have given me on projects (okay fine this is true) and the motherly wisdom you have given me over the years (much of which I either ignored or was actually useful… well… everything up until yesterday I guess ended up being much more true than I would like but her most recent advice is obviously ridiculous!) I love you so very much even when I do not always show it (just because this is true doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel like a fresh slice of mozzarella cheese, this is what I was worried about)
Love your daughter,
Well that was strange but I guess I did mean everything I said it just…
Okay, moving on to dad. I feel so bad for some of my friends, one guy has a dad he absolutely despises and from what I heard I don’t blame him. But, why respect, that sounds so guy to guy. Imagine MR. fancy suit with a finely pressed bow tie and dancing coat tails meeting, as far as I’m concerned, his twin brother. Why should a daughter need to say any such thing, in an ancient form of communication at that! I might as well get the quill and ink out.
You are an amazing dad and I greatly respect you for it. (this still feels weird and like I’m not saying anything) …(respect and thanks and more respect and more thanks and I’m starting to feel like I’m in dire need of an old English thesaurus, probably instead of a hard back a scroll back.)
Respectfully your daughter,
Dear Diary, (3/25/2013)
I carefully slipped those letters under my parent’s pillows. Hopefully I’m asleep by the time they find them so that I won’t have to deal with whatever they think. Wait I hear something…
Hmm, my parents actually came in to thank me for the letters. Mom’s eye even had little silver trails under her eyes. Even dad seemed touched. Maybe they are just being like any good parent and just saying it meant something when it really didn’t.
Dear Diary, (3/26/2013)
Today Mrs. Post told us a story about a girl in a previous class who did this same assignment. She came up to Mrs. Post and asked if she had to do it for her dad. He had been absent from her life for a while, why would she say she respected him when really she felt betrayed. He DIDn’t DESERVE to be respected. He is the adult and should make the first move when he was the cause of the hurt. The pain of a father just ditching his daughter is unimaginable. Mrs. Post insisted. So, since it was an assignment, the girl did it and sent the letter off to this worthless father. Sometime later, at the end of the school day. She was leaving the class room. There stood her dad. His hat in hand and wearing rugged clothing. She stopped, stunned, and as he walked toward her she saw a beautiful red rose in his hand. Tears started to slip free as she rushed to her dad and wrapped him in a huge bear hug. All from one silly letter.
Dear Diary, ( 3/22/2016)
I still remember this “silly” assignment my high school teacher made us do. Later I asked my parents if those letters actually meant anything and I discovered that safely tucked into my father’s gun safe where those same two letter’s. Those gangly words tripping from my pen onto a plain college rule paper were precious to my parents, a sparkle of appreciation in the midst of many a fight and consequence. In reality those words were just as impactful as the girl in my teacher’s story. I just already had my parents. But, the power was still there.
By Andrew Johnson
The Monster is stealthy, as the girl’s vulnerability is viciously exploited. Her responses are slow as she lazily drags herself off of the dampened cardboard her father calls a bed. She examines herself, the rich ebony skin she despises, now blanched. Inscriptions of red remind her of yesterday, the day before then, and so on. She then makes her way into the bathroom, although blurred vision hinders her momentarily as she scrubs away the morning’s adhesive from her eyes. Afterwards, she looks in the mirror, disgusted, as the Monster weaves itself into her mind to do its damage. The dingy gray dress, off-colored from years of wear, attempts to accompany her broad frame. Her reflection in the looking glass shows a beautiful girl in reality, although the monster manipulates her brain into thinking otherwise. Thick dark curls bounce off her neck, yet to her, the coarse untamed hair is unsightly.
Hysterical emotions emerge as if the mirror reflected more than just her warped image. Seconds later, glass shatters, tinkling delicately across the floor as if hundreds of wind chimes sang their enchanting lullaby. Following the motion is a smell she knows all too well as the dense aroma of blood encompasses the room. Her glass-pierced fist is messily wrapped by strips of the soiled dress as it shakes violently. The bathroom, an abstract working of Picasso, is continuously decorated as the bleeding persists, although her vision is dulling. Darkness overtaking her mind, the Monster reminds her of the constant teasing she receives at school. “No one likes dark-skinned girls,” as quoted by her former best friend, is a constant reminder of why she doubts her beauty. She utters something unintelligibly as the Monster lulls her away to unconsciousness.
She wakes to find the rust-colored bathroom just as she vaguely remembered it. She struggles to remember where her father is, until she recalls that he attended a conference with his fellow carpenters. She crawls her way out of the bathroom, in an attempt to regain her energy and consciousness. Fresh air rejuvenates her, as she walks to the garage. The air, saturated with sawdust, forces her squinty eyes to search frantically. The dim light offers minimal assistance; however, she obtained some items and made her way back to the room, although the Monster still lingers behind her. The Monster senses the hope building up inside her and again bull-rushes her with negativity.
Once again, she makes her way into the bathroom and is unaffected by the scenery of the recent affair. Eventually, she advances toward the sink, the blood-laced glass poking at her feet. She proceeds to remove the gown, as she picks up the largest fragment of glass on the floor. A young African American woman, only 16, finds hers body to be vile. She looks into the shard of glass and observes: a bulbous nose, plump lips, curly hair, and dark skin, traits she detests. Subsequently, the Monster pushes her into her room to get the supplies she gathered early. She took them into the bathroom and assembled a deadly device. The knife cut ruggedly until the length was perfect, she felt no remorse. Uplifting the knife and as a final act of defiance, she aggressively carved “Kala”, her name, into both her thighs.
Pain, blood, and sorrow were all coursing through her veins as tears scurried down her brown face. No letter is written, her absence of this world will be questioned by all. The Monster has drained her emotionally, sadistically pushed her past her limit. The garrote that she has created is suspended in position, aching to embrace her. She places her neck through the rough material of the rope, a chair underneath her as she gives in to the Monster. Consequently, the Monster summoned all his strength to push the chair from under her feet. The thick fibers were clawing at her neck, its choke-hold strong and unforgiving as her chocolate skin flushed red instantaneously. She kicked her feet desperately in hopes of recovering some grip on reality to undo this deed, but it was too late. Strange fruit is an appropriate description indeed, as her lifeless carcass hung, a life lost too soon. The Monster laughed at her knowing that his goal has been acquired, and proceeded to find another victim to torment.
By Hailey Johnston
I have 312 grandparents. I know each and every one of them by name, by their favorite drink, and their food allergies. I know that Lavelle loves butter pecan ice cream, even though he can’t eat pecans. Every Sunday during football season, I ask Lorraine, “Are the Seahawks going to win today?” She always responds, “Oh, of course!” I’ve grown to know and to care for each and every resident at the retirement home where I work, and I enjoy going to work to talk with them, but it wasn’t always that way.
I used to be so scared going to work. During my first shift, I made a million and one mistakes. I remember serving a resident mayonnaise with a baked potato, instead of the sour cream he asked for. I forgot to serve a resident her clam chowder, and I gave frequently gave residents sandwiches on white bread when they asked for wheat. Even though I made so many mistakes, the residents still told me that everything was okay. I felt awful, and I didn’t know if I was going to survive working there. I watched my coworkers in awe, and I thought that there was no way I was ever going to be able to perform like they did. After my first shift my head was swimming with information about what to do and what not to do from my coworkers. My job was way harder than I expected, and I knew that I had to step it up if I wanted to continue. When I got home, I wanted to quit. I didn’t believe that I was capable of working at a retirement home, I didn’t know what I was going to do.
It was eerie walking across the dining room the first weeks. All of the residents stared at me because they knew I was new. I could hear people talking about me, they were asking if “that girl” was capable of being a server. Everyone was wondering if I was going to make it. Those first few weeks were the hardest part of my job. No matter what I told myself that I was going to prove to everyone that I could be successful as a server. Over time, I got better at my job. During the first few months I eventually stopped forgetting people’s orders, and I became faster at my job. As I began to improve, I noticed that I enjoyed going to work, and that I loved talking to the residents. I’ve been at my job for over a year now, and I’m glad I continued working there. I’ve built relationships with people who I consider to be honorary grandparents.
I went into my first shift expecting to gain only a pay check at the end of the week, but instead, I gained life skills such as compassion, patience, and empathy. I’ve learned that everyone has a story to share, and if you take the time to listen, you gain a better understanding of others and the world around you. I met Larry, a decorated World War II veteran, who will talk to me about his days serving in the war, but would rather ask me what I’m doing in Girl Scouts. John and Betty also ask how my soccer team is doing, and they tease me about going professional someday. If someone were to ask me, today, “Why do you surround yourself with grumpy old folks?” I would correct them and say, “Just because they live in a retirement home, doesn’t mean that they’re boring and bitter.” I would tell them that I genuinely enjoy working at a retirement home because I’ve made connections with people that I never expected. My job taught me many life lessons, many that I didn’t expect to gain in a dining room. I’ve been blessed to have 312 grandparents, who else is that lucky?
Black Lives Matter
By Joseph Manuszak
Long before slaving blistered over seared plantations, my ancestors were the bedrock to humanity. They engaged tribal wars for the glory of deities. They hunted beasts without burden. My ancestors sang of adrenalized night skies and danced to the rhythmic drumming of oiled skins and Serengeti cries. They worked for each other reigning unabated autonomy as ancient bonfires blazed the fear of old-world shetani from the confines of their spiritual journey … and I exist in them.
Shipped like cargo to the new world, their southern songs reaped the autumn blood moon’s harvest; as property toiling on property itself, they sang of sweat and love and God above. The work ethic brought shadowing their independence secretly sought – innate as the southern Louisiana heat – seared a hellish waste of cotton fields they left … and they exist in me.
The past scratches old prison walls. The anger bleeds into today’s youth; the odium buried in shallow graves is unearthed as troubling cries – never forgotten were the auctions, the separations, the bloodlines lost. Blood born and blood gone; filial blood remembered as lucid dreams, as whip-lashed screams, reignited with vivid déjà vu moments when the mind clicks and the mouth mouths “Why them, why me?”
I am a product of several generations’ paranoia and exploitation. Not a day goes by when I don’t stream the voices of their haunt. Watching the trains wind through my neighborhood, I see their faces; and I wonder what I would’ve been and where I go from here.
In this fabric of space-time and reality, festering in a simple niche of low-class dope addicts, I was born in a back-alley tenement covered in chimney grease and remnants of dirty money crime. I was conceived in a parked car exhausted in a gutted parking garage where sunlight seeps only as far as sanity permits, found in a hell bound underworld of impatient drug deals and prostituting decadence. Here in Detroit’s lower east side lies an exploited black community galvanized from old-world bondage and branded into hardcore filaments of new-age gangsters.
Where their lives filtered decay, my life began with instant breath. A stream of visions was grasped as I gasped in the inbred prejudices and ignorance. I was bred into a society of social and economic marginality – curbed as hopeless urban wanderers – subjected to police derision and fed the scraps of low-class education. I was asphyxiated by its dense moral depression.
Felled from grace, how was I to achieve socio-political freedom as a cog, as a detriment, in the mechanism of a demographic wasteland? When the drums no longer beat an anthem to my existence, and my emotions turn cold and stale on winter mornings, in whom would I find asylum? I was caught in a perennial manifestation of urban crisis. I was conditioned for failure and the world knew it.
I grew up around drugs. I was conditioned as a little boy to catch the 8 a.m. bus every morning to sell. The graffiti on the sides suggested sex-themed gang life and emblems of rustbelt values, but the true representation was that of drug smuggling and child-soldiering. I was one of those child soldiers running errands on command from community-distinguished thugs.
I sported a Thomas the Train backpack to haul my cargo in. My mind remained melancholy sale after sale.
My old and wrinkled purchasers archived silent stories of oppression; though in their bloodshot eyes were painted of something injustice could never take: Ancestors danced across the slits of their eyes – visions more profound than their steadfast chemical romance. Within their eyes, fires licked the ancient night skies as plumes of embers spoke of celestial tales enriching the wisdom and spurring the dreams of long-ago elders. But their tales of tribal incubus bred a salient pain. Stolen and shipped like spoiled meat across a rocky ocean, maltreated and mocked like spurned animals, and auctioned to a new world of screeching bids and humid, scared nights formed a lump in their drug stained throats. The little warriors once naked and free were chained and bled, foreshadowing the fate of my community. But the drugs numbed that pain. I saw it in their eyes.
I stood at the bus stop on a Tuesday morning. It was spring.
My backpack stuffed with dope and the tears in my eyes juxtaposed the University across the street, a world away.
I watched the college kids talk exuberantly with words I’ve never heard and smiles I’ve never seen. The music of their pace taught me new insights to my existence; but my existence was battered and ignorant. My existence was the resin caked in my mother’s crack pipe – a treacherous existence scorched with demons across dark plains of lonely nights.
The ghosts I saw across the road were exactly that: phantoms across a veil, a veil I was never expected to cross. And I never knew why.
My drug peddling and incessant mental depression left me shaking at night. I listened to the hellish wailings from my withdrawaling mother. Her vessel was beyond repair, like her drug dependency reaching the end of a long guitar solo – a counterpoint of drums and notes concluding a premature culmination. The beat of her heart countered the wail of her pain, only to end in death. And I would be left to myself.
At the climax of my pain and ineptitude, I met Joey Galileo.
Standing on the corner that spring morning I met Joey Galileo, a half Italian, half black college kid always wearing a leather jacket, kindling a fire in his eyes far more insightful than any of my drawn-out customers. He looked so young, but the crow’s feet adjacent to his eyes subtracted from his seemingly inexperienced profile.
Numbed and left for the wolves, I met him. He walked across the street and stood next to me.
The first time he looked at me, a small and feeble drug smuggling inner city boy, my heart skipped beat and I farted loudly. He cracked a smile and laughed openly, which startled me. He looked again in my direction and I looked up at his eyes and swore I saw in its reflection the image of Jesus Christ scourged at the pillar – I was so broken. But looking into his eyes I found patience and ease – like freedom. My eyes watered and I looked down breathing heavily. Holding a fresh batch of newly minted chemicals, I threw my bag around to my chest and clutched it like clutching my sins refusing to let go.
I looked into the street. I watched a used syringe float in the dirty water towards the sewer drain.
My life was auctioned to the devil, and the drugs felt infinitely heavier in my arms. Memories of broken needles and bruised tracks, and my mother convulsing and crying in dirty bedrooms, and the smell of rot haunted my existence. Looking into the eyes of this beautiful soul, and his cocked head and confused squint, broke my spine. My mind snapped.
“The killer in me is the killer in you,” I thought, and with an unconscious decision I stepped into the street before a fast approaching city bus, the same bus I waited for every morning. With a defeated and capricious decision, and the life of mental slavery burning my mind, and all the souls lost – friends lost – my momentum pushed me into the contours of my fate.
The smells of burning rubber confused me as a hand jerked my backpack and self back onto the sidewalk pavement. The force of the redirection of momentum caused the pack to split and the dope to litter the pavement. Crying, I looked about bewildered, concussed, and half crazed, and I found myself face to face with the hurt I’ve experienced my entire life – the dope split and mocking my youth. I looked up and glimpsed the leathered college kid frantically kicking the drugs into the sewer. I felt so good. Watching him pick these little baggies into armfuls and rushing to the sewer was like watching a child search for eggs on an Easter hunt. His sweat sprinkled my forehead as he grabbed my upper-arms and held me to his chest. I wept.
My head was bleeding, but his hugs and the influx of breath pumped from his chest onto mine overshadowed any pain that I felt in that moment, as his love was unlike anything I have ever deserved. I didn’t know of any other embrace in my life of that caliber of protectiveness than his hysteria on that drug-ridden pavement.
My life flashed before my eyes; but it wasn’t of my past. It was of an ancient life, a static moment untouched by the cosmos defying all reason and reality, with men and women clothed in lion skins and plantation rags standing formidably looking at me in the arms of this stranger. They each brought out their beating incandescent hearts and placed them into the soil. Looking at me with universal expressions of love they faded away. Their hearts beat in the ground and sprouted.
I awoke from my vision suddenly feeling my heart beating like a supernova, and I found myself looking into the stranger’s beautiful eyes. He looked at me lovingly and spoke a sentence so delicate that I wept suddenly and laughed sweetly into his arms: “I’ll take care of you now.”
The Small Town Dream
By Madison Hukins
Once upon a time, there lived a little blonde headed girl named Madison. She grew up on the banks of Bayou Rouge in a small town named Cottonport. No red lights, no fast food restaurants, and no speed limit over 45 miles per hours are an indicator that you have entered Cottonport. Madison didn’t let this hinder her as you could usually find her cheering for her favorite team, the Panthers, or playing softball with her friends. As busy as she kept herself, something was missing. Madison wanted more. She always dreamed of working in the medical field. But how could this small town girl achieve such a big endeavor?
Feeling discouraged, Madison called her Fairy Aunt Meredith. Fairy Aunt Meredith worked as an emergency room doctor at a big hospital in New Orleans. The hospital was so big that they called it University. I guess that means it was the size of a college. Madison knew that Fairy Aunt would be able to help her with her dream. The two of them talked for hours and she told her all about the requirements and demands of working in the medical field. But she left her with these important words of wisdom – “The sky is the limit!”
Several months later, Madison was at school and saw a brochure to participate in something called AHEC. There was a picture of a shiny stethoscope on the brochure so this caught Madison’s attention. She had seen these before when she went to visit Fairy Aunt Meredith. The little blonde headed dreamer took a brochure and began reading the information listed on it. She saw the words: college credit, 4 weeks in a hospital setting and a day with a doctor, boldly printed on the front of the brochure. She went to her next class but she couldn’t stop thinking about the brochure. The next thing you know, she put the brochure under her textbook, and instead of working an algebra problem, she began to read the information more in depth.
AHEC stood for Area Health Education Center. It was located in Alexandria, Louisiana, and offered programs for high school juniors and seniors that are interested in a career in medicine. Now Madison had been to Alexandria before and knew it was a large city because she saw many red lights and even a McDonald’s sign blinking in the distance. So Madison wondered how a small town girl like herself would be able to participate in this program. After reading further, she saw this program was going to be offered at Bunkie General Hospital. She was so excited because that hospital was only 15 minutes from her house. Now Bunkie General is nothing like Fairy Aunt Meredith’s hospital. Although a much smaller building, it still provided medical services to the people of the area. Madison read the requirements to participate and quickly decided this is something she wanted to do. If selected she would spend four weeks at BGH working in each department from housekeeping to surgery. The thought of this excited Madison as she would be able to get a taste of her dream job.
One day after school, the letter arrived. Madison’s application had been accepted. She was so excited. She began dancing around and immediately called Fairy Aunt Meredith. Her mom was giggling in the next room as she heard Madison say, “I’m going to work in the hospital just like you!” This was a happy day.
Clad in purple scrubs and a stethoscope around her neck, Madison went to work each day with a new assignment. She served hot meals at lunch, filed charts, and aided in loading a patient into an Air Med helicopter. Each day the little hospital was set up to mirror a real-life workday. This small town future doctor loved her new endeavor. She woke up each day more excited than the day before. Her mom was in shock because she never woke up this excited for school so she knew Madison had found her niche.
But this was just the beginning. The little blonde headed girl was able to participate in two more programs than just added confirmation to what she already knew. Medicine was calling her name. Spending the day shadowing doctors at another big hospital in Shreveport and working with computerized mannequins was top on the list of the other two programs. After the day at the big hospital in Shreveport she called her mom and said, “Mom, I got to hold a human brain!” “I bet none of my friends will ever be able to say this.” Her mom could hear the excitement and determination from her little girl and knew that Madison would make her dreams come true.
Luckily for Madison, she hasn’t encountered any big bad wolves along her quest to work in the medical field. This isn’t to say that these wolves will not join her on her journey. She has been educated on their slyness, irrational thinking and negativity. In August, she will leave her small, cozy hometown and travel south to begin the next phase of her educational journey. She will be surrounded by purple and gold everywhere she turns. There will be those nervous days when she might think, “I don’t think I can.” But she will remember those words that have been etched in her brain, “I think I can, I think I can, I know I can!”
So the moral of the story is, don’t let the small town keep you from reaching for the stars and think the sky is falling. Instead remember the wise words of Fairy Aunt Meredith, “The sky is always the limit!”
Kanpai’s Adventures With Pancake
By Chellsei Hays
Kanpai sat in the middle of the forest, crisscross and with her eyes closed. She felt the breeze caress her skin, carrying with it the smell of the ocean. She inhaled deeply and a smile graced her lips as she heard the sounds of the forest, her mind taking her back to when she first met Akito and all the events that followed thereafter, a few tears touching her cheeks. It wasn’t easy to say goodbye to her friends, but she knew it had to be done even though she didn’t quite know why. She hadn’t had friends in a very long time, but now that she had tasted the beautiful thing that was friendship, she was abhorrent to let it go and she wouldn’t forget those who helped her through her small adventure. She giggled as she heard someone plop down next to her and she opened her eyes, glancing at the features of the attractive marine she had picked up after breaking a few of his bonesokay, not a few, she broke his hands and his ribs, that was definitely more than a few. She looked at him for a minute or two, her eyes taking in the strong jawline, the lean muscles that graced the marine’s body, and the bright eyes that spoke volumes to anyone who dared glance in their direction. Pancake turned to look at her and he smiled a halfsmile at the girl, his eyes dancing with mischief and challenge. Kanpai looked surprised for a moment before she grabbed her hammer from where it sat on the ground and stood. Pancake laughed heartily and hopped up, closing his hands into fists and standing in a manner that said “come get me, small fry.”
“Pancake, you know that I will just end up breaking you again, right? I don’t want to do that! We should find you a weapon!”
Pancake only chuckled as he rushed the small young woman, landing a punch to Kanpai’s right arm. Kanpai looked at him incredulously and a smile began to form on her features as she whipped her tail back, nailing the marine in the side as he made a dash to escape the oni and her hammer. She giggled when Pancake came to a standstill and smiled at her, allowing his face to soften the tiniest bit as he repositioned himself and waited for her counterattack, ignoring any pain he felt from the macelike tail hitting his side. Kanpai obliged as she dropped her hammer to the ground with a thud, deciding it was not a fair fight if he didn’t have a weaponbesides, she knew she was much stronger than him and could easily beat him in a fist fight. Pancake smiled widely at her and prepared himself for her attack, excited to see what she would do with only her fists. Kanpai darted forwards, chuckling a little when Pancake dashed backwards to escape. She lifted her fist and her tail whipped out, hitting his left leg as she went in for an uppercut to his jaw. The marine moved just in time to avoid being hit by the uppercut but cried out when he felt the tail jab into his leg, removing just as quickly with a little blood trailing after it. He heard Kanpai growl a bit in frustration from him moving and he took the chance to bonk her on the head, causing the girl to stumble and fall on her face, her tail darting out at hitting him in the knee before she allowed herself to fall completely. Kanpai jumped back up and smiled brightly at Pancake before she dashed forwards and hit him rather quickly and thoroughly in the kneecap, forcing him to take a knee. She giggled and went in to punch the marine’s face, her eyes dancing with thrill. Pancake only laughed a bit as he dodged her fist by rolling away, his eyes glancing at the aftermath of the ground as bits of rock and grass flew up around them. He frowned slightly and looked at Kanpai, who was beside him in an instant. She laughed at him as she took a seat on his stomach, planting him firmly to the ground.
“Oof! That’s not fair, shorty!”
Pancake let out his disapproval at this new tactic but laughed heartily when Kanpai turned and stuck her tongue out at him. He watched as the young woman laughed and smiled at him, her eyes crinkling at the sides and her smile as wide as could be. He smiled at her and tentatively raised his hand to stroke the black feather she wore in her hair, his eyes asking for permission to touch the keepsake. Kanpai nodded her head as her giggles died down and he gently stroked the feather and the soft hair underneath it, his mind racing with how beautiful the girl looked in the momentwith her long blue hair that held bits of red, the black feather that graced the long hair and the eyes that she stared at him with were just heavenly to gaze into. He gently traced his hand down her cheek and stroked his thumb over the flesh, smiling ever so slightly at the girl, who now had her eyes closed and was leaning into the touch. He thought back to when he first met her and how strong she washow she had easily broken his hands and ribs with a twinkle in her eye. He couldn’t believe she wanted to be his friend and yet here they were, on an adventure to meet the people who made Kanpai’s live worth while and train along the way. He was terrified of the pirates at first and yet the way Kanpai spoke about them made everything seem alrightas if they were people that were more sensitive about things and people than the marines themselves were. He was pulled out of his thoughts when Kanpai touched his hand with her own and smiled down at him, her small hand stroking his larger, more rough hand with her thumb. He chuckled as he removed his hand and put both his arms behind his head, looking up at the sky as Kanpai got off him and lay down next to him, mimicking his movements.
Kanpai felt herself shiver in delight when Pancake called her name and she looked over to him, noting the way he was gazing at the clouds as if there were no cares in the world. She smiled and responded with a small “mm?” her eyes never leaving the marine.
“I don’t regret leaving the marine life behind to go on an adventure with you. You know that, right?”
Pancake looked over to the young woman and smiled softly at the look of delight on Kanpai’s face.
“Good! Because I don’t regret keeping a marine!”
Kanpai laughed at the face Pancake made and scooted a bit closer to him, resting her head just on the crook of his arm. Pancake sighed in surprise but moved his arm so she would be more comfortable and he looked back up at the sky, watching the clouds dance before them in peace. He was content to sit there forever, but they still had a long way to go before they made it back to the island and they needed to find shelter for the evening. He chuckled when he looked back to see Kanpai breathing deeply and her eyes closed, sleep overwhelming her. He brought his hand up and lightly pushed some stray hair back behind her ear, smiling gently at the small smile the young woman gave him in her sleep. He leaned down and ever so lightly placed a small kiss at the side of her temple, whispering her name once before informing her he was going to pick her up and find somewhere to sleep. Kanpai didn’t respond and only smiled happily as Pancake lifted her and picked up her hammer, slinging it onto his back. He began the trek to a town and chuckled when Kanpai spoke about the Tombstones in her sleepsomething about Marlonsama needing to arm wrestle her again, about Cadencesama needing to stitch Pancake up because she accidentally may have brutally injured him with her tail, and about how Coldsan really needed to learn how to smile because she didn’t want people to run screaming when he smiled at them. Before she stopped speaking, she whimpered and spoke the name of the other Oni she had met, her whispered “Akito” almost breaking Pancake’s heart. The poor girl had lost her brother and now she had had to leave the man who had in a way replaced him and Pancake was at a loss for what to doall he could do was smile and encourage her in the way he knew best and train with her, helping to achieve the goal of traveling the world and becoming one of the strongest Oni to roam the earth. Pancake nuzzled Kanpai.
“I’ve gotcha, Kanpai.”
By Thalia Rivera
Finally arriving back home, from yet another awful visitation day spent with my father, I saw there lying in bed sick, my wonderful mother. I was so happy to be home, yet so sad to see my mother in her last days of life. I walked in gave her a hug and a kiss, and at that time did not think about her leaving this earth anytime soon. I ate food my aunt had made and began to play the Wii.
I’m into my game of tennis, when I hear the nurse calling for my grandma, aunt, and cousin. I was twelve at the time, thought nothing about it, until… I hear my aunt screaming in tears. She is saying “Se Fue” meaning “She is gone”. I stopped playing for a quick second, a lot is going through my mind, what do I think, is she really gone? I try to rush into the room, but my family members won’t let me in, they do not want me to see what had just happened. Although they pulled me away, I still managed to see my mother there lying in bed with her eyes closed looking so peaceful. At the moment I knew for sure that she was gone, but she left happily with no more pain, no more suffering. My cousin then pulled my sister and me aside to explain the situation. We were so young at the time, maybe she thought saying it a different way would help us understand. Although my family may have not known, I already knew my mother had cancer and was in her last months of life. See my family, they can’t be as quiet as they think they can. I heard them talking about my mother’s illness when they thought I was sound asleep in bed. I myself choose not to believe what they were saying. I was hoping it was all a lie, but then I saw her getting worse and worse and then I knew for sure one day she would leave me. And it was that Saturday, the day I came back home from visitation hours with my father. Sometimes I sit there and wonder, did she wait for me to get back home before leaving me for good. Was that Gods intentions? That I may never know, but it is something I keep in the back of my mind.
Within the past month after my mother left, a lot had been happening. From changing schools three times, trying to make new friends, adjusting to a new home, and wondering if I would stay at that home or if my father would win custody. That is a lot of strain for a twelve year old to go through. I did not fit in anywhere with anyone. My life was different; everyone seemed to have a normal happy life with both loving parents, while I had a dead mother and a father that was never there. I eventually fell into the wrong crowd of people. At that time gang bagging was just about it for kids like me. So that is what I got in to. I hung out with gang bangers… look at me. Claimed a gang so hard, it changed my life around. I put myself and family in danger and did not even think about the consequences. I remember one day getting off the bus from a long boring day in school. I was wearing the wrong colors at the wrong time. Someone from another gang started gang calling. I was so terrified I thought I was going to get jumped, maybe even killed. While that person was gang calling, I looked forward and did not try to find them. I walked as if I had no idea what was happening. Because in reality, I should have not known what gang calling was about. My mother raised a sweet innocent girl, harmless to the world. But once she passed away, my whole life just vanished; it left like it never existed.
After that day, my mind had changed a little bit, but not enough to change my mind completely around. I talked to older boys, especially those who lived the life like me; claiming in the same gang. We had so much in common I felt like those guys were family to me. But one day, my older cousin found out about what I have been getting myself into. She was a juvenile probation officer at the time, and as a consequence I had to go to court hearings with her to see what that “gangster” life was really about. And even more embarrassing, she had my teacher talk to me about talking to those older boys after school. After a couple of visits in court and after talking to teachers and counselors it just hit me. What I am doing? If my mother were still alive I would not been acting in this way. This is not who I really am. I a good person, a good student. There are actually people who care about me. Who care about my well-being. My mother may have left, but I’m still here in this world. I have to get back on track and get my life together. And so I did.
After about a year and a half of rebelling, I became the person who I once was. I left the streets and got my head back into school. High School wasn’t the best, I struggled, but I got through it. I graduated; something I never saw happening. I went further in education; I am now a junior at a great University. At times I think about my story and it gets to me. I am the first generation in my family to go to college. The first to let the past behind and continue with my life in the best ways possible. I may struggle financially to get through my days, but I do what is needed to accomplish my goals; to make a better future for myself. This is my story… my past will not determine who I become.
By Sydney Hatfield
I thought I was going to die. I had the taste of blood in my throat and every breath was tearing up my lungs. I wanted to quit. I wanted to fake an injury just so I didn’t have to run anymore, but for some reason I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Of course this was almost every race I ran, but something was different about this one. I learned something very valuable that cool, windy, November afternoon; something I would carry with me for the rest of my life. Failure can be your best accomplishment.
As the bus approached the stop my heart dropped to my stomach. The amount of fear I had was all- consuming. It’s the last race of the season, and last chance to beat my best time. Every practice that I worked hard at before this would now reflect in this last race. The pressure was building up inside me at a rapid pace. I was a balloon about to burst.
BOOM! As soon as I heard that shot I took off sprinting like gazelle with a lion trailing close behind. It was every girl for herself, and there was no sympathy for anyone who was left behind. They would just fall back as if they were a small child who wandered away from their parents in the grocery store.
I remember being in a crowded body of girls with dirt and grass flying everywhere. It was as if we were a wild pack of wolves, and all we cared about was being the first one to get the deer. As a tremendous amount of adrenaline flowed through my veins, I hadn’t even noticed the ground camouflaged with ankle twisting holes, just waiting for their next victim.
As the steep hill quickly approached, I fell further and further behind. I was no longer with the pack. I made it up the hill, but was now that stray child who lost their parents. The race had defeated me, and by this point I was mentally checked out. This would be my down fall, and would prevent me from ever beating my personal record.
I kept running but was no longer enthusiastic about it. It was as if it became a chore that I had to do or I would get in trouble. That was the last thing I ever wanted.
I was on my second lap of the course, and at this point even the slowest girls were passing me. It was time to run through the sand again and it was like a vast black hole waiting to consume me. Every stride felt like death. I swore I wasn’t going anywhere. I felt trapped.
After what felt like forever, I made it out of the vicious black hole. I was so close to finishing, and as I approached the last 100 meters I remember blurred faces on the side lines yelling at me to finish strong.
There it was, the last 100 meters of the race. As I quickly came upon the shoot I heard my coach yell, “Sydney this is YOUR race!” That’s when I realized it wasn’t about the race anymore. It was about me.
I crossed the finish line and felt like I was going to collapse. I was happy that I completed the race, but a part of me was disappointed that I didn’t beat my best time. It was over, it was the last race and I didn’t show any improvement in time.
Although I didn’t beat my personal time, I felt some sense of accomplishment deep down. I was proud of myself for finishing not only the race, but the cross country season that seemed to endlessly drag on.
It wasn’t until later that night that I realized something; failure can be your best accomplishment. This failure taught me to never give up. It taught me to work even harder for something that I want. And last, it taught me to believe in myself.
The Zombie Apocalypse
By Brady Yarbrough
My name is Brady Yarbrough, I’m 17 years old, I live in Santa Paula, California, I go to Buena High School and the zombie apocalypse. Scientists were working on a cure for terminal cancer patients. Although cancer was cured in the body, the cells began to rapidly break down and put the patient’s heart into a stasis. The person was still technically alive, but lacked any capability to speak or see. The patients were considered brain dead. After about three months, patient zero broke free from her holding cell using brute strength. She had no pulse and was faster and stronger than an average person. In about six months half the country was infected and now the walking dead. My family was fortunate to survive and some of my friends did, but instead of graduating high school and going away to college, my job is now protecting my family. We went down to the Big 5 store not that far from our house and loaded on weaponry to defend ourselves. It seemed like our neighbors had all been turned so we took the food from their houses and from the Vons that was in the same location as Big 5.
I have been keeping an eye on my high school and communicating with the people who went there. Almost everyone was at school when the announcement was made about patient zero. I home sick and so were my sisters. I told my mom that I would take care of them even though I didn’t feel good. Three weeks after the outbreak, six scientists discovered that some people were immune to bites of the exhumans. When an old man that lives down the street from our house was bitten, he came into our front yard. I attacked him with a baseball bat. There was an opening and he bit me, but I out him down. My mother was terrified she was going to lose one of her babies. We waited for hours for me to change, but nothing happened. Finally, it clicked that I was one of the 20% of the people who were immune to the serum. I was stitched up and continued to protect my family.
I got a call from my friend Adan that lives in the “fruit” neighborhood or “pie” neighborhood because all of the street names are pies or some kind of fruit. He and our friend marquis were being overwhelmed by zombies so I went to help them. It took us about half an hour to kill all of them, but we managed to hold on. I decided to go back to my house and check up on my family. After I made sure things were okay at home, I went to Buena to check up on the survivors. When I got there, a girl was fending of a zombie with a metal pole. I took my bat and cracked the zombie in the head. The girl was a friend of mine named Sam. She and I had a lot in common so we caught up and she brought me to the auditorium, because the school had been accessed by the national guard who set up booby traps (mines, pits, snipers), where there had to have been at least 400 people. I realized that while there were a lot of friends in there, I had lost some of them. People were surprised to see me, Brady Yarbrough, clad in ammo belts with a baseball bat, a machete, a shotgun, a sniper rifle, and two pistols. I think I scared people, but all I wanted to do was to protect them.
After I talked with some of my old classmates, I went back home. When I got there, my dad was cooking something up on the barbecue. He was making my favorite meal: bacon wrapped asparagus with rice, pineapple, green beans, and apple pie for dessert. My family means the world to me and I will always stand up for them. I always remembered that no matter how bad things get, as long as you can find one person that will always love you for who you are as a person, there will always be a reason to live and to fight until the last minute. I made a promise to myself that from then on, I will always fight for my family.
Life went on with me protecting our family. We had brought in more of our family members who lived out farther away. We constructed a wall around the neighborhood and our family members came to live in our houses. My dad and I, along with my uncle Trent, cousin Nick, my uncle Gavin, and my uncle Paul went on food runs because we had more people living in the area. No zombies ever came this way, but we were able to find a lot of trucks and cars that we used to make a wall. This was our new life and we were okay with it. I continued to check up on the high school and eventually brought some of the people with me. I was like a messiah to them because I was never scared. In actuality I was terrified of losing my family. There was an announcement on television used on the emergency broadcast network. A scientist had been collecting data on the current survivors and the world population was now at 800 million people. That number was the number of people that were still alive. The number of turned people was about 3 billion and although it was staying in that range, we still all feared for our lives. A tough decision came one day when a good friend of mine was bit on a supply run. He was turning and there was no saving him because we were too far from the camp. I made the choice to put him down so he wouldn’t have to wander the area like the other dead heads. I put one in his head and brought him back. We buried him and his mother cried for a 2 hours. I sat out by his grave and I cried for 8 hours because I had big water jug with me.
I will turn 18 in 13 days and I’m excited because I finally be considered an adult. My mom plans on making a chocolate cake for me and I can’t wait. The world has ended and we’re throwing a party. My sisters, Aby and Cassie, wanted to get me a present, but I said I have everything I could ever want. All of people in the world take things for granted, but when the world ends sometimes all you need is your loved ones.
Life Of An Immigrant Student
By Abida Khanom
I immigrated to the United States of America from Bangladesh with my family 6 years ago. This country has been quite unusual compared to where I came from. Everything has completely changed for me. I had difficulties adapting myself to the the environments, rules, regulations, and especially with speaking English on a daily basis. The country I came from is Bangladesh and we speak in a different language than English. The language we speak in Bangladesh is Bangla. The struggles I had to face on learning how to speak English when I started school as a new immigrant were inconvenient interactions, inability to cooperate in group discussions, and getting disheartening comments. Although speaking English as a second language was a challenging task, my efforts to find resources and practice using English helped me achieve proficiency.
When I started school in 7th grade, I had a hard time adjusting myself to the new school atmosphere because of inconvenient interactions caused by my communication skills. I was surrounded by new people, in a new place, by a new language, etc. I used to go to the classroom late because I couldn’t keep track of the location of the classrooms. I couldn’t even ask for help from other students or faculty members because of my shattered English. Also I couldn’t make any friends in school nor did I know anyone there to ask for help. One day, I was sitting in the lunch room with a group of students at a table. They started to throw food at each other for some reason. When the security guards came and asked them who started the food fight at the table, they pointed at me. At that moment, I started to cry inside of my head because I felt so helpless. I tried so hard to explain what actually happened there to the guards, but I failed once again. I had to accept the detention of cleaning the table after lunch. I kept repeating one thing to myself: how could people be so heartless and selfish? That’s when a student came from another table and explained everything to the guards.
Even though I like group discussion in my classes today, I never liked group discussion in 7th grade regarding anything we had to talk about because I couldn’t express my thoughts clearly in English. During one group discussion in my science class, when we were brainstorming about what topic we should select for our science fair project, I wanted to tell my group that we should pick a topic that has to do with momentum collision. But, I couldn’t clarify describe my idea to the group cause of shattered English. I still tried to explain the topic proposal to tell them. But, as you have always seen in a group discussion, there are few students who think themselves as a “Mr. Smarty,” but in actuality they are not. They are only there to discourage student who speaks in shattered English in school. Also, some of my classmates would offer advice if I asked for help with something, but as soon as I left they would begin talking to their friends, saying things like “People come from nowhere nowadays,” or using the word “border” in a nasty way. After getting disheartening comments like these regarding my ability to speak English from my fellow classmates used to give me second thoughts of doubt in my head. Nevertheless, I have always believed that if you want something from your heart, no matter how much you have to struggle, you eventually get there one day.
But nothing stopped me from starting to speak English on a daily basis at the end of my 7th grade. I had to put a little more effort into completing any assignments compared to other students in class. With the help of the teachers and YouTube videos, I started to communicate with other students. I started to do very well in the classes because of taking the initiative to speak English even when it was not perfect. Also, I started to to join extracurricular activities with a few of my friends. Now, communication has made everything so easy for me. Everything seems like it is working the way it should work.
I might not speak English perfectly, but now no one can just accuse me of something I haven’t actually done. I have obtained confidence in my proficiency of speaking English to stand up against any inaccuracies. The struggles that I had to experience on learning new language made me the stronger person I am today. Nowadays, I enjoy participating in group discussions a lot because I am able to share my thoughts, opinions, and perceptions to others. Now, I am confident in my English skills; I ask for help when I need it from others without any hesitations.
My Small Town Story
By Stephanie Hughes
Today, I would like to tell you a little about our small town of Glasgow in which we lived in for just short of two years. The only reason why we moved away was for the mere fact that it is a Railroad town or a Farmer town and my husband was furloughed from the Railroad. Anyhow, back to my small town.
For years, I wanted to hunt. I was a great shot and loved the thought of hunting. The only drawback was that our children were always younger and I never had anyone to watch them so I could join my husband in hunting. Well, this year was different. You see, in Montana and around our town of Glasgow, one has to drive around, spot a deer, then get out of your truck and stalk it. We had done this for right at two whole weeks. My husband had already gotten his eleven point or five by six as they say in the Northwest, two days earlier. I was ready to get mine. We had seen several bucks, just not what I personally wanted to shoot or one I could get to, to be able to shoot. You see, my whole family are hunters so I needed to kind of almost out-do them to a certain degree.
This particular Tuesday, was THE day. When I woke up this morning, I knew I was going to shoot my deer today. This was it. Well, we drove around to “the usual” spots and did not find a darn thing. Nothing, I mean nothing. Well, we drive back to our one spot and spot a group of deer and there appears to be a few bucks in the group. We drove back near our house to get a closer view of them to see if any were indeed bucks and were shooters. Well, we pulled up on them and boy was I delighted. There was one in particular that I told my husband I wanted and wanted to know how to get to him to shoot him. Mind you, I was going to have to do this on my own, he had out three year old in the truck and she could not make the half a mile walk out to the field to get to him, nor would I want her to. So, I got out of the truck, crawled under the fence (it is to keep cows in) and went out to the field to stalk my buck. Oh, and I also forgot to tell you that it was in the twenties today as well. So, I have my adrenaline rush going and I get out to the field. Only to find that this deer or “Bucky” as I nicknamed him has gone to the front portion of the field. I stalked him trying to call and everything. He decided to be lazy and laid down to rest. Well, my husband saw this and called me and told me to meet him back on the other side of the fence. I was there by the time he got there. It by no means is a quick walk either. But, again I had the adrenaline rush going. I hopped in the truck and away we went.
The whole time, I was praying that we make it there and he would still be there. Well, he was. Now, I had to come up with another game plan. My husband told me how to load the gun, I forgot to mention that I had not shot a gun and never shot this one, in nine years. I decided to hop over the fence and walk the fence line. Since there was a slight hill, he and the does with him would not be able to see me this way and definitely could not smell me. The wind was in my favor and blowing into my face. So, I walked the fence line, went in between two light poles and crouched down. He was still bedded down and looking right at me. Again, because of the wind he could not smell me. So, I decided to get a little closer by army crawling out to a small hill in front of him. I was about one hundred and thirty yards or so from him. I got him in my sites and began to control my breathing and nerves. Once I was ready, I thought to myself, “it is now or never. If he stands up, he is probably going to take off running.” Again, I checked my sites and steadied the gun. I was shooting directly into the brisket part of him. I loaded my three-hundred ultra Mag and took a deep breath and fired as best as I could.
Immediately, my ears began ringing and there was a black smoke cloud from the firing of the bullet. I watched as soon as the smoke cleared. There was a buck standing with a doe. Surely, I had not missed the buck I shot at. I was thinking there is no way. I am not going to hear the end of this. I suck at this! So, I tried to reload my gun. But, there was nothing. I expelled the used casing from the bullet that I fired and still nothing. My husband had said there were two bullets left. I was so mad. Clearly, there was only one. I put the safety on, threw my gun over my shoulder and headed back to the truck. He was already taking the fence down to drive through to pick up my deer. I was like what are you doing? I missed him. Did you not see that? He said no, you shot him I watched you. He said look at the white fluffy tail laying out there. I said knowing my luck it somehow hit a doe or something. I got back in the truck and we drove down a little ways and sure enough, I got him! My husband high-fived me out of joy. This was one of the coolest experiences I had ever had. We loaded my ten point, or five by five, deer up and drove home to field dress him.
Had we not lived in a small town, this moment may have never happened. It was, besides having my children one of the most memorable and exciting moments of my life. Surely, it will never be forgotten and neither will the small town of Glasgow. We hope to move back once the furlough is over.
Transition To Adulthood
By Seth Martin
If you ask my mother, or pretty much anyone in my family, they’d claim that I was an adult ready to take on the world by the time I was three. Moving around as much as I have, traveling the world, has only accelerated the maturity. Middle school nor high school held much if any interest to me by the time I got there. They’ve always made me feel railroaded and restricted. I’ve never got to really learn and practice the things I am most interested in. A chance to do my own thing. Not nearly to the extent I would have liked anyway. I have always just wanted to skip to the part where I get to learn every about what I want to do. Although, regardless of how mature my outlook and perspective may have been, I still had plenty of growing up to do.
That particular reality became all too apparent as my time in Australia came to a close. My family and I had realized for sometime that it probably wouldn’t be wise for me to finish out my high school there. Mostly because of the complications of being considered a foreign student and lack of scholarship opportunities that would be available to me by graduating as an international student. That and lack of any American high school experience likely would have made college more of difficult challenge. So it was decided that it was in my best interest to move back to the States for my last two years of high school.
After looking into available job assignments, my parents figured they would more than likely end up around either Houston or somewhere in southeast Texas. Houston was a long shot. We knew that the education opportunities where they would be working would consist of small schools with less options. Luckily both sets of grandparents happened to live an hour or so away from Natchitoches, LA where the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts was located. This is one of the best schools in the state. So the choice was pretty obvious as to where I would be going. I applied and was accepted.
At the time, it seemed like the simple, easy, logical decision to make. It would provide me with the best opportunities, right? I missed home, didn’t I? Besides, it would not be any different than all the other times I had moved, I was used to it. This was a no-brainer. So I thought. Turns out it was a lot more complicated than that. Despite myself, I had made a lot of friends in Australia, good friends. Some I had become very close to, like family, without even realizing. The reality of that, and moving to the other side of the world, slammed home soon enough. Suddenly, I had become much less certain about the decision I made without a second thought. Second guessing wasn’t really an option at that point though, too late for that. It was set. I did not realize just how hard it would be, how hard it still is.
Unfortunately, things were not about to get any easier. In retrospect I probably should have been more wary about enrolling in my first American high school. Especially one that was considered on level with introduction college classes, but in which I would also have to live, while my parents remained in Australia. I had enrolled without taking a tour, sitting in on a class, or even going to orientation. Wel,l it wasn’t as if I had the option anyway. Even still, I was in for an…interesting…awakening. After a final night that was sad, beautiful, wonderful, and heart- rending, I was off on the next leg of my journey, back to the U.S. The next great adventure.
In a week’s time I was moved into the dorm and once again the new kid from parts unknown at my tenth school to date. I have considered keeping score, but I figure most military kids still have me beat as far as number of new kid scenarios go. It is probably somewhat of an understatement to say that I wasn’t quite prepared for how big this change actually was. I was confident I could adapt easily just like everywhere else. In reality the massively increased workload and harder courses coupled with having left family and some of the best friends I’d ever had halfway across the world all piled up at once, and hit me harder than I thought it would . To be honest I’m slightly ashamed to say I stumbled, then faltered as it swept my legs out from under me. I was getting the lowest grades I had ever gotten on anything before and felt mentally burned out and exhausted for the first time in my life. It was a rough couple of months to say the least.
Then one day I decided to stop, I was on my own now, and it was time to step up. I had never let anything beat me down before and I was not about to start now. I was and always had been a fighter, and so I fought. I worked and worked, and after a lot focus, studying, and more than a few sleepless nights, I dragged my grades back up before the end of the semester. I stopped letting things hang over me. I focused on the small things that made a smile sneak onto my face despite everything else. I kept my thoughts positive, and managed to haul myself out of that rut. People are always either depressed about the past, or anxious about their future. I’ve decided that instead of that I will be enjoying the now that I have, and take on anything that comes my way.
The entire experience, probably the hardest thing I had ever done, showed me what it was like to be unsure, and to regret decisions. These are definitely lessons learned. It taught me how to keep going when things got tough and take matters into my own hands. It taught me how to operate on my own, to find happiness in the smallest of things. Most of all, it made me grow up.
The Oregon Trail
By Tracy Polega
If you are a certain age, a good deal of your childhood days were spent traversing the Oregon Trail. Not literally, of course, but figuratively: It was one of the most successful games played during the early age of computers. History teachers wrote The Oregon Trail as a way to get their students interested in the history of the United States. Surprisingly, it worked, and became one of the most popular games of its time.
I am a part of that group of children that spent a lot of my time traveling out West on the Oregon Trail. Not only figuratively, but also in a literal sense. The Oregon Trail is also an integral part of my history.
My maternal great grandfather Ervin Hamilton and his family had an experience of a lifetime crossing the rugged terrain of the Wild West. It is estimated that there are an average of ten graves for every mile of the trail. Considering those odds, it is a small miracle that Ervin and his family lived to tell their story.
Ervin was born in Kansas in 1842 to a banker and his wife. When Ervin was just ten years old, my great great grandfather Frank (Ervin’s father) made the decision to relocate his family to eastern Oregon. The American Dream was leading them and 500,000 fellow American’s out West. The whole family, including seven brothers and sisters, two school teachers and another family, packed up to move. This is their story.
My father Frank, was a banker, so we were more affluent than most fellow migrants. We had $2,200 of cash on hand. We loaded our covered wagon with food staples such as flour, lard, sugar, bacon and coffee. Mom added sacks of beans, rice and dried fruit to the wagon to augment the diet.
“What about drinking water, Pa?” I asked.
“We’re taking some ole jugs along and filling up whenever we come upon a creek.” He answered, matter-of-factly.
Pa added boxes of bullets, a rifle, hunting knife and spare parts to fix the wagon: tongues, axles, and extra wheels.
I remember mother screaming from the house at my brothers and sisters and I, “Go pick out two sets of clothes, each of ya!”
“What kind of clothes?” my brothers and sisters inquired.
“Well, we need two sets. One for the chilly nights, and one for when the sun is high and hot on our heads,” replied my mother, “We don’t have room for nothing else in that wagon except the essentials. Pa warned me that our Prairie Schooner can’t carry no more than 2,500 pounds. So, we can’t pack nothing except for essentials! Only two sets for each of ya, remember that! Now run along and gather up your clothes.”
Once our wagon was laden with supplies, pa declared, “Well, we are all ready to go, the wagon train leaves in the morning.”
We left Independence, Missouri in early April. The plan was to give ourselves enough time to make the 2,000 mile trek during good weather months. Before we even reached the Kansas River, the children spotted the first tombstone. I ran ahead to have a closer look. Here lies Stinky, it read. He Stinks.
“Frank! That’s not very nice,” my mother scolded.
“I bet Stinky does. Stink,” my brother said, “Now he does, anyway.”
The graves were endless: Avalon, Joelle, and Hairy. Here Lies a Father. I loved running ahead to see what the next tomb would read. Each one seemed to make me laugh harder than the last: Fletch Ulens. Diane Per, Missy Pants.
“Ha! Ha! Ha!”
Finally, just before we reached Fort Kearney I read a tomb that turned my mood somber. “Deff Cating: Died of Pooping,” I read, and asked solemnly, “How do you die of pooping?”
“It’s called dysentery,” mother explained to me. This terrified all of us that there was a possibility that too much poo could be deadly. Even so, the word sounded funny. Dysentery, we sniggered amongst ourselves, similarly to the way we used to whisper opossum back at home. It became a game to us. We poked and prodded each other in the ribs as we tried to sleep and hissed: Dysentery.
The journey would take four months or five, people had told us. You can’t leave too late or you won’t be able to make it over the mountains before winter. Unfortunately, that same fear caused us to leave to early. As we witnessed the white snows turn to heavy rain, our mistakes played out in real time in front of our eyes. The rivers were all running high due to the spring rains and The Big Blue wasn’t an exception. The ferry to cross the river cost 35$. Pa and mother agreed that it was money well spent.
Mary caught a bad case of typhoid just past The Big Blue. Pa tried anything he heard would possibly alleviate her pain: move slowly, eat more food, and stop to get some rest. Still, Mary wasn’t getting better. Mother suggested we get back on the trail and try and make it to Chimney Rock.
“Perhaps we can trade for medicine there? It can’t hurt to try!” mother pleaded.
Unfortunately, there was no medicine to buy. There was never any medicine. We didn’t have much choice but to continue on. When we reached the outskirts of the town, the trail steepened. Here was the beginning of the Rocky Mountains. At Fort Laramie, Mary could barely open her eyes and we knew she wouldn’t make it any further. We stopped to rest here for a few nights, to give her a proper burial. I won’t ever forget how difficult that was for our family.
As the spring months turned to summer, we made our way through the mountains. I remembered mother telling us we would need two pairs of clothes, one for when it was hot. I never imagined it would get this warm in the Rocky Mountains. Glad I listened to mother. It got so warm that the meat even seemed to cook in our mouths. Pa would fill up the jug of water, and I swore I could watch it start to boil.
Coming up to The Green River, we could see that the smoldering heat had drained it. We watched wagon after wagon ford it easily.
“We should have no problems crossing her,” Pa informed us.
As our schooner was crawling up the bank one of the oxen stumbled. The kerosene spilled onto the beans. Consequently, that night we choked down the kerosene flavored beans.
“Mother, I can barely eat these beans, can’t we just throw them away and get some more when we get to Fort Hall?”
“Absolutely not, food is way to scarce, we daren’t throw anything away. You will eat the beans tonight, or you will go hungry. Your choice.” Replied Mother.
It seemed that our cruel meal of kerosene soaked beans was an omen of what was to come. I was so hungry the next day that I ate some berries I found. Turns out, they were rotten, and I become violently ill. Pa decided it was a good idea to stop and rest for a few days, until I was better. A few days turned into weeks. As if rest would heal me.
“It’s the only thing that we can do.” Mother said tearfully.
We watched wagon after wagon pass us. “You’d best get on,” they said. “Winter’s coming.” The passers-by must have taken my illness with them. By some miracle, the next day I began to improve.
We had to travel as fast as we could to try and make up for lost time. Our pace was steady, although we didn’t make it to Oregon before the first blizzard befell us.
“Can’t the weather be nice for just a couple of days??” I whined as the sun peaked out at me.
“Hang in there kids, we’ll be there in a few days,” Pa informed us.
As we crossed the last river into Oregon City, I could see the tears of joy streaming down my mother’s face. “By George, we’ve made it,” she exhaled.
As our dilapidated Prairie Schooner groaned into town I heard a bystander proclaim, “Don’t yawl go feeling sorry for yourselves.” You made it,” He said. “You’ve won.”
We had, in fact, made it.
Three years later the whole family moved to Iowa, Louisiana to farm rice. After living there for five years, they moved again to Texas to strike oil.
Finally, in 1852 they moved from Texas to Pigeon, Michigan. They built a house made of red brick, bought land, and started to farm the rich loamy fields surrounding it. My mother ended up buying that house from her grandparents, and that is the house that I grew up in.
Traveling across the country in a covered wagon is something that I will never experience. However, I am proud to live vicariously through my ancestor’s personal journey of the Oregon Trail.
The Right Choice
By Devan Keys
“Chamomile” I told my mother. “Ask them if they have any chamomile tea.”
It was the day before the first day of the rest of my life, and my stomach was far more uneasy than it’d ever been before. I sat uneasily in the Hotel’s firm white cushion chair of the musty room my bridal party was staying in. Chamomile tea was a home remedy my mother always used for my sisters and I whenever we felt sick as little girls. “You’ll feel better before you can say onomatopoeia” she’d say. Which was almost always true, considering none of us could pronounce the word.
“They’re just pre-wedding jitters” said my older sister Evelyn. “She’s gonna be fine.”
“No she’s not. She shouldn’t be doing this.” My younger sister Sam argued.
My sisters never did really get along. I always played the role of the mediator between us 3, being the middle child. Their differences varied upon almost every matter, I always thought it had everything to do with their ages. Sam was 8 years Evelyn’s junior, only 4 years my junior.
Sam and Evelyn were real smart too, they both went to college on full ride scholarships. By the time Sam had graduated university, Evelyn had already finished medical school. Even though their senseless banter was expected, I’d hope they would put their dissimilarities aside. After all, it would be my wedding day in only a few hours.
Sam, Evelyn and & I were just 3 small town girls from Beaufoft, South Carolina. We never had much growing up, well, we never had much at all. My mother spent her every last dime to pay for my wedding, so there was a lot riding on this. For me, & my family.
Evelyn uncrossed her arms and came over to me to embrace me with a hug and back pat, “Vanessa, don’t worry. You’re doing the right, age appropriate, adult thing.” She said snarling at Sam. “Unlike this one who’s still finger painting.”
“You don’t even love Richard!” Sam retaliated. “And it’s called Acrylic, and it’s how I make a living thank you very much. Why must you always ruin a good time!” They continued bickering on, but I drowned them out and turned them into background noise as I fiddled with my poorly painted french tip nails. I had gotten them done earlier with the rest of the bridal party. As I fiddled, my mind took me to the place I had been avoiding all day.
I was marrying Richard. By the end of tomorrow, I was to be Mrs. Richard Carter. But for some reason, every time I closed my eyes, the only thing I could see was Thomas.
Thomas and I had been best friends ever since my 10th grade year of high school when he tracked me down in the library for a book he wanted to read. Together we sat at a table, reading “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison at the same time. Ever since then we’d been inseparable.
There weren’t a lot of boys like Thomas in my little town. Most of the guys at my school were jocks, and only wanted one thing. But not Thomas, he wanted to get out of Beaufort, and move to the big city. That was our dream, we were going to both get out. He did real well in school and encouraged me to do the same. We even went out a couple of times as boyfriend and girlfriend but for some reason, it always ended up just not working out. When I told him I was engaged to Richard, he didn’t speak to me for two months. When he finally did, it was to tell me that he would be in attendance to the wedding. The last words he spoke to me before he got off the phone were “I just hope you make the right decision Ness.” I knew he was angry.
He had always tried to warn me how he didn’t think Richard was the right guy for me. “I don’t like his hair.” He’d nitpick. “You can tell a person’s whole personality by the way they wear their hair”
I must admit, Richard’s hair could be considered quite unsightly. All black and slicked back with one silvery grey streak. My mother didn’t like it either. As for the grey streak, well it speaks for itself. Richard was older. 41 this year, meanwhile I was only 27. He came from old money and was fabulously rich.
There was the sensitive side of Richard. The side that nobody saw but me. The one who believed that love doesn’t have an age, and that we would be married for years.
I looked around the beige colored hotel room, the champagne stained carpet, at all my bridesmaids chatting about in thick southern belle accents, at my sisters still arguing, and suddenly I felt claustrophobic.
“Hey everyone,” I said. The chatter stopped. “Can I just have a moment alone for a second?” They looked at me bewildered. “Why don’t I meet you guys down at the bar in maybe 15 minutes?” We’d planned to go down all together anyway for the ceremony rehearsal. Everyone was already dressed. And just as they all congregated out, my mother returned with the tea. “Here honey, they had chamomile.” She said handing me a mug of hot water as she tore open the tea bag wrapper.
As she prepared it for me, I watched her. I knew that she would be able to give me good advice if I told her about the doubts I was having. “Mom,” I started, as she poured two sugar packets into the water. “Yes dear?” she said as she stirred in the sugar until it dissolved.
“I don’t wanna marry Richard.” I blabbed, like the words had been on the tip of my tongue the moment we arrived at the hotel. She stopped stirring the sugar and slowly looked up at me with a ghostly look on her face.
“Oh no.” she waved her hands and began to pace. “No no no Vanessa you are not doing this. I don’t even want to hear it.”
“I mean it mom, I truly mean it. I love Thomas.” I stood up and followed her. “I should be marrying Thom”— she cut me off.
“Now Vanessa, Richard is a good man. He can take care of you.”
“But mo”— I tried to intervene.
“Now I know you love Thomas, and you always will. But he is not”—
“Mom!” I tried one more time.
“Now I won’t tell you who to love, but somebody You will be getting married tomorrow, to somebody. You just better make sure when you get on that alter you are making a wise decision. Make the right choice.” She said sternly looking me in the eye before swiftly closing the door behind her, as if she didn’t want to tell me what her opinion on the matter was.
I sat on the hotel bed thinking, for a long time after she left. I didn’t love Richard as much as I’d thought I did. In the midst of all the wedding preparation stuff, maybe I thought I did, but I never really did. The words “Make the right choice” kept ringing out in my head. Now the more I thought about marrying Richard tomorrow, the more I felt sick to my stomach.
The next morning, I woke up to all my bridesmaids jumping on my bed in excitement that the day was finally here. They were far more excited than I was.
I got dressed and ready with them, just as a proper bride should. As I looked in the mirror at my perfectly powdered face one last time. “You’re beautiful.” My mother said standing behind me, as a tear rolled down her cheek.
When the time finally came to walk down the aisle, such doubt and apprehension had never been so heavy on my heart. I could hear it pounding out of my chest. “Show time” my dad said as we locked arms. While we walked, I put on a fake smile. Every eye in the room was on me, all dressed in my puffy white gown and veil.
It felt like an eternity had passed by the time the pastor had gotten around to saying the words
“Does anyone object to this marriage, speak now or forever hold your peace?”
I thought about objecting myself, but then out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a tall lengthy figure slide in through the church doors and take a seat in the last pew.
It was Thomas.
I gasped silently and nearly fainted, then returned my focus back to the ceremony.
“Richard Carter, do you take Vanessa Townsend to be your lawfully wedded wife?” said the pastor. Richard said that he did.
“Vanessa Townsend, do you take Richard”— but before he could finish, the words “No, I don’t” spilled off my tongue like water off a waterfall.
The entire church gasped with surprise. “What?” Richard whispered gripping my hands a little tighter. At that moment, Thomas stood up in the back. “Vanessa!” He shouted as he started to make his way towards me. I let go of Richards hands and walked towards him too.
“I’ve been in love with you since the first day I saw you and We’re the ones who should be getting married” he said, his pace faster now.
Our guests gasped a second time. A few of Richards groomsmen tried to hold Thomas back, but he fought past them all until I was in his arms.
“I love you Thomas. I wanna marry you!”
In the very first pews I noticed my sisters, Sam cheering and jumping up and down as Evelyn stomped and shook her head in disappointment. My mother standing up watching us, not gasping, not clapping, a relieved smirk on her face.
All Judy Needs Is Fifteen Minutes
By Lisha Southern
Judy has always been a looker, though walking down the streets of Wilderbee Trailer Park, it’s hard not to be. Her brown hair falls effortlessly across her freckled covered shoulders. It has a natural wave to it. Her eyes are deep and brown-green. Her skin is pale, like the color of milk with melted ice would be. Judy always wears red lipstick to contrast her pale skin. If she didn’t, you would mistake her for a mannequin. She is old-school Hollywood. Judy really wants is to meet a gorgeous man, become a star and move to the city.
Judy gets most of her looks from her father, or at least she assumes. Her father walked out on her mother when she was three, leaving her to wonder what she had done wrong. Later on, Judy realized that he too wanted more than just T.V dinners on tiny fold out tables that mother laid out in front of the television every night. Judy’s mother couldn’t bare to miss M.A.S.H. Judy’s overweight mother only left the couch when she was younger to push her into every beauty pageant in the county attempting to live vicariously through her only daughter. She won almost every time, even with hand me downs and drag queen make-up.
Judy and her mother’s trailer sits on the corner of Sunshine Lane and a “Dead End” sign. This pretty much sums up her life thus far. The beige paint of the single wide is peeling. It has an obnoxious bright yellow door which matches the dandelions that have taken over the tiny unfenced yard. Judy’s mother swears it gives the house character. It’s hard to match any furniture when the “set” at the Goodwill comes from a yard sale and a dying woman’s estate. The air-conditioning unit hangs in the window sill. Judy’s mother only bought the damn thing so they wouldn’t appear to by the poorest of trailer trash.
Some years ago, Judy’s mother decided to put an “addition” on the single wide. She basically took an old shed, removed one side, insulated it with cheap materials and had the boy from down the street weld it to the trailer thus becoming the “spare bedroom”.
Judy’s room is filled with rusted trophies and crowns from her pageant days. The bedding and wallpaper of her tiny eight by eight bedroom looks like the inside of a card board box. There are no pictures on the wall and her mother refuses to let her paint or put her own style into this lavish room.
Today is the day. Judy spent most of the day getting ready. She dyed her hair with a cheap take home kit of Herbal Essence, Dark Ash Brown. She wanted to enrich her beautiful brown hair but left it in ten minutes too long and now she is trying to convince herself that it’s highlighted, not two-toned. She bought a new shade of red lipstick, the generic brand because she can’t afford the Cover Girl she knows she deserves. Judy’s mother calls it “street walker red”, but it makes Judy’s lips really pop, contrasting against her pale white skin. The “new” used dress is nice and the neutral colors draw the focus back up to her mouth which is by far her best asset.
“Well, I am off,” Judy says.
“Don’t forget to pick up some Hungry Man Dinners”, mother demands.
“I won’t,” Judy sighs.
“And don’t be home late, there is an M.A.S.H marathon on tonight,” mother says with a huge smile on her face, adjusting her one size fits all M.A.S.H t-shirt. Judy hates when clothes say that. By the looks of her mother, this clearly isn’t so.
“I can’t wait,” Judy says under her breath. She shuts the door behind her, hoping the storm that the Channel Five news has been talking about will come earlier and wipe out the power to the place.
It is only a ten minute walk from Judy’s trailer to downtown. Mothers’ car has been broken down for two years and sits in the car port. Judy doesn’t have a car, but when she gets one, it will be a nice one, with a sunroof.
She takes the same route passing a few coffee shops, banks, restaurants and a high end beauty salon called FAME, where all the people with money get their hair done.
“When are you going to come in and let me fix that mess you call hair,” the salon owner asks. “I can’t wait to get my hands on that thick brown hair.”
“When I hit it big Vera”. That is Judy’s stock answer when anyone wants her to spend money she doesn’t have. She wants to leave this town, that trailer, have money, and she knows that if she plays her cards right, she will.
Judy makes her way down the street. It’s early and the sun is shining on her pale face, giving it the flushed look she can never get quite right with makeup. The streets are starting to fill with people getting ready to go to their real jobs. Between the sun on her face and everyone staring at her, Judy knows that it is going to be a good day. It has to be. This is her big chance. She has to make a memorable impression.
After a short walk from the trailer park to downtown, Judy finally arrives at her destination. She takes a long deep breathe, smiles and walks through the doors. This is it, she thinks to herself.
The deli is new and very quaint. The people that eat there are well dressed and talk about gatherings at the country club and how everyone should go and see the movie that just came out about a mother beating cancer. Deep topics that only people with money or at least an education would talk about while waiting in line for their Sushi. Not “Judy people” at all. At least, not yet.
Collin is waiting behind the deli counter looking bored. He is so beautiful. He has brownish blond hair that lies perfectly atop his head. The over use of Vidal Sassoon hair products would look stupid on any other guy, but it works for him. He rarely speaks to anyone around him, and Judy is certain that he thinks he is to too good to be here. Collin is smart but comes off as arrogant. When he does speak, he uses words that anyone with less than a Bachelor’s degree aren’t be able to understand, but anything that is coming from his perfect lips is ok by Judy. When Collin smiles, it seems genuine, but that doesn’t happen very often.
“How can I help you Miss,” Collin asks. He is always straight to the point.
“How much is the Sushi today,” Judy asks with a sensual voice. One day, Judy will be able to afford Sushi at a real Chinese Steak House. For now, the pre-made California rolls from the deli will have to do.
“They are half off today,” Collin says with an uninterested look on his face.
“Half off huh? I’ll take them all,” Judy says, pouting her glossy red lips and batting her over mascaraed eyes, attempting to get Collins attention.
“Did you get punched in the mouth or something,” asks Collin in a low voice. He only mentions this beneath his breath so that Judy stops being so dramatic.
“Well yes… Yes I did!” she bursts out, overly verbalizing her emotions, a delusion she creates on the spot. A skill all great actresses possess. “It was horrible. I was walking down the street and on my way here a man wearing a mask tried to mug me. He reached for my purse and the only thing I could do was hit him with my shoe, which is now broken and he didn’t even flinch! He held me down and slapped me in my mouth the whole world seemed to be going in slow motion and I thought I was going to die as I cried and screamed, my life flashing before my eyes,” Judy rants, doing her best impression of Sally Field.
The whole room got quite. Collin stared at her with a confused, almost frightened look.
“CUT,” the Director yells from behind the camera. “Judy, this is not a scene from Steel Magnolias. It’s just a Sushi commercial. Just read your lines as they are written.”
As the camera crew guys get back into position and the extras stagger to get ready for the next shot, the director yells, “Ok. Let’s take it from the top.”
Judy walks back through the deli with her head down so no one can see the smile that is on her face. She thinks she nailed it. She goes outside, regroups, takes a long deep breathe, smiles and walks through the deli doors. This is it!
Deceiving At Its Finest
By Halima Sarama
Should we thank those who deceive us? Forgiving someone who deceived you is quickly deemed as impossible. Trusting others will become more difficult and will leave you second guessing your words and actions. Loneliness consumes us and leads us to believing we did something wrong to be deceived, causing us to forgive the people who deceived us at times. But why does being deceived quickly cloud our emotions and respond with anger and hatred? Could being deceived be a positive things in our life instead of a negative one?
The scariest part about deception is that it arrives unexpected. Friendship is built from love, trust, and honesty. Betrayal is something we never want a friend to commit. It actually is one of the worst possible things a friend can do. So when I was aware that my best friend who I shared everything with betrayed me, it was life changing. It lead me to wonder if others were deceiving me as well. What sacred me the most was how even the people you think care about you the most could be deceiving you.
I have never felt so alone when I overheard my best friend talking about me terribly. My secrets were out and all my comments I ever made were let out for the whole school to judge. I felt foolish for even allowing myself to have so much trust in the first place. I was shattered because none of my actions could have led her to do that. Heartbroken at the fact that someone I trusted dearly carelessly threw me away with so much ease. When I confronted her about her actions she was quick to shrug it off and laugh at my anger. While she moved on with her life, I was still stuck in the past and never thought I could trust anyone ever again.
We never tend to notice how bad situations can have a positive effect on our lives. That is why I could not possibly think that betrayal was actually a positive thing for me. My friendship ending with my friend actually took a positive turn in my life. I talked to new people and started creating new friendships that I would not have created if I still was with my friend. Being able to speak anything that comes to my mind and not being judged for it was truly relieving. I am actually happy that my friendship ended from deception, it ended a friendship I would have continued for a long time. My time was not wasted any further with that person. It allowed me to realize that deception is something we will encounter throughout our lives. Being deceived by a friend allowed me to get through an experience that will help me in the future to deal with if it were to ever happen again.
“Deception is a state of the mind and the mind of the state.”-Angleton. Throughout our lives we will encounter people who will betray us. It is a blessing to end relations with those who deceive us so we can have positive relationships with others. It reminds us that people who deceived us actually did not gain anything after all. The real question is why should I be hurt for losing someone who was toxic to me, while they lost someone who cared for them?
A True Hero
By Amal Sarama
What makes a person a hero? Is it having supernatural powers or is it the act of bravery one does. Does everyone have the ability to be a hero? Is everyone a hero within themselves already or do you need a supernatural power in order to be called a hero?
One day Hailey and I were discussing our favorite superheroes and the many powers they have. I began asking Hailey various questions about superheroes. “Hailey, what does it take to be a hero? Is a hero defined from its supernatural powers or can anyone be a hero?” Hailey began telling me a story about when she felt as if she was a hero.
One day Hailey was walking in the hallway at school and saw a young girl getting bullied from her peers. The bullied girl’s peers were saying mean and nasty comments to her. The bullied girl was having a hard time to defend herself. Hailey felt saddened for her, since when she was younger she was also bullied. Not being able to stand still and do nothing Hailey jumped in action and stood in front of this girl.
Hailey began telling these bullies to leave the girl alone and that being a bully was not cool. The girl’s peers scattered away embarrassed that they were bullying someone. The young girl repeatedly thanked Hailey for her bravery and kindness. The young girl was so thankful that Hailey stood up for her. She told Hailey that she was a hero and that she wished that she was as courageous as her.
I learned from Hailey’s story that it is not superpowers that makes up a hero it is having the courage and bravery to help others. The act of bravery is what makes a hero not their supernatural powers. Superheroes have their supernatural powers and capes. But, Hailey that day had an invincible cape around her neck. Hailey was truly a hero. Anyone can be a hero if they have the bravery and courage to stand up for what is right.
By Keaton Wade
Story telling in a small town could be an extremely persuasive way for an elder to get a point across to the younger generations of children. In the modern world of America today we notice that not many children participate in story telling anymore. Many children of this generation use phones and computers as their main way of communication. Living in a small town; however you could see that children listen to stories that their grandparents enjoy telling, but without even noticing it the children all learned exemplary behavior from them. Personally story telling has had a very substantial impact on my life. Story telling from my family members has taught me many implicated morals and has attached me to the fixated ideas of being kind to others, being respectful, and not to under estimate the abilities of another person.
Well I suppose I should introduce myself, my name is Keaton. I live in a very small town of less than one hundred people or so. As a young child I can remember spending many hours at my grandfather’s house listening to the stories of how he was raised, and the things he has learned of the years. He would tell me one of the same old folk tales that almost every child has heard of at least once in their young lives. At the time when he would tell me about a talking rabbit racing a turtle I would always believe he was mental, but as I grew older that story still bounces around in my mind. I have come to connect that small fictional story with the implicated characters behind the scenes with the people of my everyday life. What I learned from that story was to never under estimate someone else.
I have never been one who is very creative, but today I will tell you a story. I hope that you will understand all of the meanings of which I have added behind it, and that you will use this new found knowledge in your life.
Imagine that you are in a time of long ago; forests are abundant with animals all around you. The air is crisp and clean as you take a deep breath. You notice a small boy, Nejji, wandering around the forest and he is all alone pulling behind him the carcass of a deer. Nejji continues to endure this great struggle for miles, until he finally makes it home to his enormous village. As he walks into his home his parents pay him no attention at all. It seems as if they did not even notice that he was gone; nor the fact that he had brought home with him enough meat to feed the family for days. His parents were so busy making sure the villagers were safe they paid no attention to their children. Outraged by this Nejji ran off into the woods. He was determined to live without his family and strive on his own. Nejji had a good start to this new voyage; he found many crops from the outskirts of the village to make food from. Being a child he knew very little about the terrain, and even less about the plants he could and could not eat. He went from day to day digging up rots and making stew from them on a small campfire. Every night he would think back to when the village was small a few years back, and of all the nights he sat around a fire listening to his grandpa’s stories of hunting and war. After a week of Nejji’s absence villagers noticed he was not home or anywhere in the village so they began looking for him. Meanwhile Nejji was making a nice hot meal of stew, and later on enjoyed it. Nejji began to feel sick, and was losing his strength drastically. After only two hours of his meal: Nejji collapsed, and was now unconscious and defenseless in the woods.
The villagers, along with Nejji’s parents, were all worried. They searched the entire village and discovered him nowhere nearby. They decided to create a search party and leave immediately to find him. Nejji’s parents had to remain home and tend to the children left behind while others searched for their son. The search party searched nonstop for two hours and just as they were going to give up one of the men spotted a clue to which direction Nejji had gone. They quickly pursued Nejji’s tracks, as thee dawns early light broke the horizon they found Nejji. He was completely limp, yet still alive. The group of men began doing anything they could do to help Nejji; they gave him water, food, and wrapped him in a warm blanket. As they reached the village with Nejji, his parents came running to meet the group of men with their son. They asked him why he ran away, and as his final words were said he began to cry, along with Nejji the parents wept too realizing the extent of their son’s sickness. He spoke to them saying he felt alone in that home, that they never paid him any attention or noticed him. He explained to them all the things they never did to make him feel wanted, he began to grow extremely cold. He muttered to his parents three final words as he passed away “I love you.”
People who grew up in a big city often miss out on stories such as this one. From this story there were so many implied morals, and not everyone will see them the same. A person from a small town who is accustomed to stories of this kind could possibly notice all hidden meanings to such a story, while on the other hand; A person from a big city might think of it as another sad story of a runaway child unable to fend for himself. Many people of this new generation would not notice all of these hidden secrets of a story, but to the hopes of many elders, they should at least understand one. You do not have to do anything alone.
Life Of The Freak
By Jordan Pierite
Started off when I was younger in elementary school a lot of people use to pick on me, The only people I had to listen to my problems was the closest people around me and that was my mama, daddy, and my brother. People always told me don’t let foolishness get to your head but after to much of it a lot of anger built up. After a while times got worst, I was in the middle the of my 5th grade school year then I lost my sister. Being that I was already going thru problems at school losing someone close to me didn’t make things any better. When I arrived back to school after 2 weeks off everything slipped away from me, behavior problems grades going down gave up on basketball. The next year I was back at my old school having more behavior problems, things had gotten so bad I ended up in a alternative school in Mansura, Louisiana. I’ve been to anger management classes but it seems nothing could’ve took away the pain that I was going thru. I had to serve 90 days in a alternative school (apas) which lead to my 6th grade year. Being that I grew up with strict parents who actually cared and stayed on my back my pain started slipping away and everything was back normal again.
Getting to the end of my 6th grade year I found the right thing for me and that was football. We were at school and one of my closest friends came tell me about the league in Alexandria, Louisiana, so our parents brought us to sign up and the coach looked and he said “no disrespect young fella but you’re a very large kid”. Then and there I knew things was going to work out well, The first day of practice was a success. They really liked me and my friends that played they called us “The Marksville squad”. Our first game of the season I had plenty tackles,sacks,fumble recoveries, etc. The coach told me after the game young man I got the perfect name for you and he looked at me and called me “The Freak”. I felt special it was more joy to me at that time then stress I was becoming the young man everybody wanted to see.
Once I got to Marksville high I was a new person, I had the opportunity to play more sports and learn new things. My grades wasn’t always the best but I was always a average student so they wasn’t the worst neither. I had the best feeling ever about basketball I was on the middle school team and I was a starter as a 7th grader. My older brother stayed on me hard about basketball because he played in high school so he wanted me to be good in it as well. One day the high school coach came up to me and asked me,” do you want to play on the junior varsity team?” my eyes grew big I can only imagine myself being on the junior varsity team as an 7th grader. I started working harder and harder grades started improving no problems in the classes with my teachers. My coach told me that he liked that I was a discipline young man and he hope I stick around for a long time. Our first game I came off the bench scoring to 3 pointers back to back the fans and my teammates were impressed.
My 8th grade year I thought I should stay focus and worry about my books and not play any sports but being that I was becoming an athlete I had no choice. I played football and had successful season with the guys, I really enjoyed the people that were around me because everyone was into sports. When basketball season came around everyone was happy that I was back, we took on Avoyelles in our first game and I dropped 22 points along with 10 rebounds. People were impressed how I could play sports so good being that I was a heavy set kid but I had people like my brothers,sisters, and parents to push me. I really appreciate them for pushing me in that time because I was going thru a few things. I had this one teacher my 8th grade year she loved me as if I was her own child and she had a big part in my school life and I thank her til this day.
People never really understood what I would go thru so I was having some rough times again in my freshman year. Those problems led to not playing sports as a freshman, I stayed home the whole year and did work online and all I could say was never again. My aunt helped me with everything that year and as soon as it ended she passed away, it was hard to lose her after all what she has done for me. Time went by I went back to school as a sophomore focused on basketball, me and my coach had a good conversation about how good the team was going to be that year and I was going to be a big part of it. We won the district title that year and loss in the first round of playoffs by one point. That was a big upset for the team that just had a successful season, but all I could do is work out and be ready for next year. Well the summer going into ,my junior year (this year) I loss my grandma worst feeling I ever had in my life but now that I’m older I understand better than from when my sister and aunt passed. I sit back and think to myself sometimes how would they want me to feel, I have conversations with my mama, daddy and especially grandpa to make things better. But even though it hurts everything I do, I do for my deceased family, my parents and my grandpa in the nursing home. That’s what make me strive for better because if you read this essay you would understand that I’ve been through more than a lot. But I had people there to help me stayed in the church house and I want to thank the man above for sending me blessings down here to stay strong.
The Come Up
By Towan Dailey
Growing up without a dad with him being in Angola State Prison was hard for a young boy like me to grow up with only a mom to raise me, I have never seen him before. Coming up with seven siblings and only a two bedroom house was not easy. Being the oldest was hard, I had no space no privacy no anything but then again I could not complain because I understood how hard my mom tried to raise one child alone having bills and food to put in the house. Now she’s married, she’s been married for 2 years now and I can honestly say she’s progressing more and more on raising seven kids, I am now 18 years old so I am a man of my own now.
My mom is my motivation I made her a promise to graduate school no matter what the circumstances are, my exact words were “I want to make you happy and proud one day”. It’s no way I could go back on my word now I’ve made it this far. Music and sports are the two things I want to be able to make it out by doing them both. They are interesting and fun I look at them as part of my life not just as hobbies to do when I get “bored”. I been playing sports and trying to rap since my 7th grade year, in basketball I played both power forward and shooting guard in football I played running back and the music was all because of my older cousin he raps and sometimes he’ll sit me down and tell me how to write lyrics and hooks to songs so over the years I’ve gotten better at it.
Being the older brother of six other siblings was a hard job because you then had to become a role model for them. They soon will not only be looking up to your parents but to you also so you have to set big goals and standards for yourself so when it’s their time they can know what to set their mind to. My siblings are a big part of my life also because without them I would not have anyone to argue with about materialistic things or I would not have any entertainment at all. Sad to say the house would be boring and dead.
I still have those dreams of just being able to take care of my people without no worries whatsoever. I just want to see those stress free faces on my families face and those beautiful smiles that mean so much more to me than money. Money can not buy neither happiness or love but I plan on showing my moms and my stepdad how much I love and appreciate everything they have done for me these past 18 years and Im sure my siblings want to show them the same love and respect I am. They even struggle to come through for us sometimes but some how, some way they managed to pull through and do what they have to for us.
It has been plenty of lessons I have learned in life, it is not about where you came up or how you came up it’s how you adjust your mind set to growing up and being something in life. A wise man always told me “ Aint no horse that can not be rode and aint no ride can not be thrown” so do not grow up thinking your the baddest thing walking this earth because believe me it’s someone out there that can take you down. I had a hard time coming up but i made through every drought life has thrown at me so far and i have made it this far to where’s im about to graduate out of school, get the career of my dreams and actually make my dreams come true of taking care of my family.
Things That Taught Me A Lesson
By Jordan Mayeaux
The things that taught me a lesson in life are really important to me. I appreciate them very much because I am a better person now than I was back then when I was not taught a lesson. The things that taught me a lesson are baseball, working, and hunting.
Baseball. The reason why baseball taught me a lesson in life is because it taught me to respect other people and my teammates. I learned the way of the game which is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical. It is a game of failure and I like it that way because you try harder the next game to succeed and not fail. Everybody fails in life but it is the amount of people that get back up and go at it again that determine the difference between a winner and a loser.
Working. The reason why working taught me a lesson is because it taught me to treat your customer’s right and not to cheat them out of nothing. My dad owns his own business and that taught me a lot of things to do if you want to own your own business. It taught me the struggle and fight it takes to run it. It also lets you meet a bunch more people which can become a great friend later on in life.
Hunting. Hunting has taught me a big lesson in life because it teaches you the importance of the wildlife and to respect the animals and other hunters that are out there. The big problem there is, is that people go hunting just to kill the animal and then go and just throw it away. By law that is a crime but they never get caught. If you want to just go out there and kill the animal and not eat it after you should just give it to someone that really wants it, and not just throw it away.
Life is about learning a lesson. And most likely when you have learned a lesson that means you have failed before and you were strong enough to get back up again and try it again and again and again until you succeeded. And that’s what baseball, working, and hunting has done for me. Which is it made me fail just to see if I could get back again and succeed in it, which I did.
All Because Of One Day
By Mariah Blanchard
The helicopter parent, this is a parent that is much like a helicopter always hovering overhead, constantly giving input on their child’s experiences, and never fully letting go. A lot of teens hate when their parents are like this, not Joi. Joi is an eighteen year old Caucasian boy, he is a senior at ShortsDalle High School. He is a regular guy trying to achieve his life goal of being a lawyer. Joi has dreamed of going to Harvard Law School since he was ten years old. The only problem is he cannot afford it. Knowing this he worked hard all through high school to achieve an academic scholarship. His hard work paid off he has the scholarship now he needs to get into Harvard.
His parents were not the most supportive of him. They were always working, obvious he hated them for this. They never had time for them and he wished they were just never in his life to begin with. One Tuesday morning he was getting ready for school, after his shower he went downstairs, noticing a letter on the counter top from Harvard. Opening the letter felt like the longest fifteen seconds of his life. His heart began to beat faster as he read the words “I am glad to inform you Joi Delarentez, that you have been accepted to Harvard Law School…” He cannot believe his own eyes, his name with the word accepted following it! The only thing he has ever wanted since he was ten years old, all his hard work paid off! He leaves for school earlier than usual to tell his beloved girlfriend Ida of five years the amazing news. Later that day in sixth period he gets called to the office.
His eyes filled with the greatest tears he had ever cried! The room was so quiet that you could hear a feather graze the ground. Joi’s heart was slowly disintegrating as the police informed him that his parents left the gas stove on and when his dad went to light his cigarette they both burned to death around one fifteen in the house. He has no family besides them, graduating in one month and thirteen days. All his stuff his clothes, shoes, photographs all of it gone. Most importantly his family, the ones he wished would be out of his life forever. He did not mean what he said, everyone says things they do not mean! “Why me,” he thinks “why now.” He stays with some friends until the day he has been awaiting for all his life, College move in day. The dream day has turned into a complete nightmare. The biggest day of his life with no parents to share it with. The heartache and despair is unbearable. He shuts himself out from the world. Some days he goes to class but most days he skips. His roommate Paul notices he is slumped and suggest he does some drugs to ease the pain. Joi starts taking and selling them all on campus. Failing and messed up he is on the wrong path.
Harvard threatens to expel him off campus, unless he straightens up his act. His whole life, everything he has ever worked for gone all because of one day. Depressed with nowhere to turn he takes some drugs and overdoses on the bathroom floor of a local corner store. Slowly dying he sees his parents at the gate of heaven. They tell him to go back it is not his time yet. Crying he begs them to tell them why they never had time for him. They say it is best if he let it alone, but he insist screaming at the top of his lings he needs answers! They explain to him that they never had time to be with him because they had to work extra all the time to pay the bills, his truck note, along with his graduation fee. Joi now realizes they never had any time to be with him because they were working hard to make sure he was well taken care of. He told them he was sorry and how much he loved them. They began to fade away as a bright light blinded him. Focusing his eyes he realizes he is in the hospital surrounded by Ida and the doctors. They tell him he is lucky to be alive, but will have to stay for a while till they know he is safe.
It is now the seventh anniversary of his parents’ death. He is a Harvard graduate with his bachelor’s degree in law. Joi now works for the New York Police Department. He is the top District Attorney they have. He and his wife Ida of three wonderful years now own their own house in the city. Thanks to his sweet angel Elliana of two years he is no longer called Joi, he is now called daddy. His whole life changed all because of one day.
Home Away From Home
By Seth Johnson
Moving from Dallas, a big city, to Louisiana, was a bit of a letdown. When I was born, in Alexandria, then later moved to Dallas for a better education and my dad’s job. Dallas is where I would say I grew up. I went to my first real school and had teenage responsibilities. When I was told that we were moving I was more than frustrated, but there was nothing I could do. It is not fair that most teenagers have no say in adult decisions, even though those decisions will affect them.
Life is not going to give you everything you want on a silver platter, you have to strive for what you want to achieve. And if my goal is to escape Marksville, and be where I want to be I will have to be an adult. A place as small as Marksville, will warm up on you after a while. Yea there’s not as much to do but there’s more freedom and open space, you just have to find it.
You have to find the best in things, even the small things. I have climbed trees 40 feet high and explored abandoned barns and swam in a pond, all things I could never do in the big city. If you try to like something you will. I just feel content with where I am and where I have been, but still look forward to going back an seeing the changes. But there will be plenty for that I have all the time in the world. To a degree, I am happy we moved. I got to see a huge perspective on country life and it made me a different person, the person I am today.
The biggest difference is the people, the humor is defiantly different and the camouflage jackets and big trucks seem to be a style here. Most people in Dallas wore snapback hats which was a very popular style, here it seems boots are the style. The food here is much more spicy and seasoned.
American Small Town
By Lucas Dantas
Being an Exchange student is leaving everything you know and everything you lived behind to open you heart for new experiences. It is leaving your safe zone, leaving your parents sight, to a whole new life started from scratch. It is a hard thing for any human being, drastically changing your life, being by yourself in a different country, learning how to deal with problems and adapt to different environments. Being an exchange student in a small town is a very amazing challenge.
Growing up in Brazil, in a city of 2.5 million people, 8,000 miles, and a very complex big city lifestyle, I decided to go on an exchange program in the USA. I ended up placed in a small town called Marksville, in the state of Louisiana. A town with a population of 6,000 people, at a rural area, on the country side. A wave of anxiety and worries got to my mind instantly. “How could I adapt to such a different place like that?”
Getting to Marksville, I struggled a lot. Everything was so different, the weather, how the people acted, how the food was seasoned, things to do for fun. I was not able to understand and get in the rhythm of this lifestyle. After a while, the situation started to change and it was not bad after all. The quietness that at first was odd and disturbing, became very peaceful and comforting, the food that at first I really disliked it, now became my favorite, the people that at first acted weird, now are the most wonderful people I have ever met and learned from.
In a small town I learned to value the little things in life, such as the smell of pancakes in the morning, spending time with your family, enjoying nature, a simple ride to the grocery store, and movie nights with your family can be very fun. People in small towns are very fun, not because of what they have, but really because of what they do. They are able to turn a simple fire into a party where everyone has a good time together, just enjoying each other’s company and making your own fun.
Now the time that I am spending in the US is almost over, and everything that I lived in here will soon become nothing but memories. The time spent here will never be forgotten, and I can say for sure that I am a whole different person. Living in a small town improved me and made the best version of myself that I could ever be.
If Heaven Had Visiting Hours
By Brooke Normand
“Have you ever lost someone you really loved?” Today I am going to tell you about a tragic time in my life when I was just eleven years old.
On October 5, 2010 my mom got a tragic phone call from the funeral home. At approximately one o’clock pm my grandparents came to pick me up from school. When I got home my mom was crying, I sat on my uncles lap, my mom looked at me and says “I have something to tell you.” I then asked her “what is it?” She then replies “I just got a phone call from the funeral home, your dad committed suicide last night at nine-thirty.” On October 4, 2010 I had lost my dad, the one man that meant everything to me. I then froze, looked at my mom and started crying, I held my uncle and continued to cry.
At that moment I was in shock, I was scared, worried, and hurt all in one. I could not believe my dad was gone. My mom then told me I would not be able to see him at the funeral, because he blew his head off. It was a very crucial death, I could not believe what I was hearing. All I could do was cry my eyes out. We then went to my dad’s funeral, it was the worst night of my entire life, and I still could not imagine he was gone.
Every day for the next three years I still could not believe it. One year ago from today I realized he was not coming back. All I had at that point was my mom and God. At that point in my life I knew it was time for me to grow up, I no longer had my dad there for me. I had to do everything for my mom and I, we had to make it on our own. My mom then had an addiction with alcohol for three years, she stayed in and out of jail, never really taking care of me. I had to tend to myself and do everything on my own.
In the past six years my life had changed tremendously and dramatically. It is now twenty-sixteen and my mom is over her addiction. My mom and I both have our lives back on track. I have realized that my dad is not coming back and all I will ever have is a mom. Knowing I will never see my dad again here on earth was hard for me, but now that I have grown up I know that one day I will see him in heaven. If heaven had visiting hours I would visit my dad every day.
Losing A Loved One
By Hope Dauzat
Do you ever wish that you could remember everything about a certain person in your childhood? Losing someone you love is probably one of the worst feelings in the world.
On Saturday February 9th, 2008 was probably one of the worst days of my life. I was a 10 year old having a good time at the zoo with a friend when the call came in. This call would change my life forever. I did not know why my friend’s mom was rushing us through the zoo.
On the way back home, we did not stop at my house; we went straight to the hospital. When we got there I saw my dad, Grand paw, Aunt Ray and the other family members standing outside of the emergency entrance. I seen that my dad was walking towards the car and I ran up to him.
When I got to him, I noticed that he had been crying. I asked him, “daddy what’s wrong? Why are you crying?” He got down on one knee and sat me on his leg and he told me, “My baby, I got something I need to tell you.” I said “what is it daddy?” He told me “your mom just died.” When I heard those words my heart dropped and my whole world came crashing down… I started crying and I couldn’t stop.
The funeral came around and the hardest thing that I ever had to do was say goodbye to my mom. I was so scared to walk up to the casket and seeing her lie there motionless, and breathless… Knowing that I would never see her or hear her voice again killed me inside. Time does not erase the pain, you only learn to continue living a different an adjusted life. Everyday there’s a song, a TV show, or even just a thought that brings all the memories rushing back. You never forget about a loved one, you just learn to live without them.
By Julie Egan
As the cool stream flowed gently across her bare feet, Emily stared wistfully at the stones fighting for position just beneath her toes. Summer had finally arrived and the warm sun placed its loving hand gently across the back of her neck.
She had just finished her first year of college and was happy to be home for the summer. The hustle and bustle of the busy college town had worn her out and she lavished in the soft grass and sweet scents that surrounded her.
“Hey Em” she heard a familiar voice behind her, but did not turn to look.
She just continued to stare into the stream as if in a trance, a smile creeping across her lips. Henry, her childhood friend just shook his head and quietly found his place next to her in the grass. Without a word, he slid off his running shoes and socks and dipped his pale, sock creased feet into the stream next to hers.
“How’s training?” she asked him, still smiling.
“Rigid, but you know I wouldn’t have it any other way” he replied.
She slid her arm around his neck pulling him to her and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. Henry grew up just across the street from her and she had known him since she was five years old. Henry was seven at the time and they had been like siblings ever since. He was two years into his running scholarship at a different university. Unlike Emily, Henry was always anxious to travel and see the world and chose a school hundreds of miles away from home so that he could “absorb the cultures” as he would put it.
His cheek tasted salty and Emily made a disgusted face and said “warn a girl would ya”.
Henry laughed and replied “sorry, I’m only half way into today’s run but I saw you and had to come and say hey”.
He stood and began shaking the excess water and dirt particles from his feet.
“Ok so how far is today’s run” she asked rolling her eyes.
“It’s a short one, only a ten miler” he replied deadpan.
For Henry, ten miles was nothing, for Emily, it was a death sentence. “Enjoy” she waved him off and returned to daydreaming into the stream again. He nudged the back of her head and took off in a half sprint before she could retaliate.
Later that evening, Emily found herself strolling through the familiar downtown near her own street. It was a single thoroughfare with shops on each side of the street and only spanned four blocks. The retail was very eclectic and ranged anywhere from coffee to candy to art store and even to a custom trophy shop. If anyone needed a specialty service, her town was the place to be.
As a young teen, she hated how limited and boring the town felt to her but after a year away at college, it took on a whole new life for her. She was seeing it through brand new eyes and loved the feeling of home that enveloped her as she strolled down its familiar street.
One shop in particular was always a favorite of hers and she ducked into the alley behind it in an effort to enter discreetly through its flimsy screened back door. The smell of butter, sugar and love greeted her as she slid in through a small crack in the door she made for herself. One of the large mixers was whirring away to her left and she grabbed a small ball of stray dough that lined its rim, rolled it into a tight ball and launched it hard through the kitchen where it landed perfectly into her mother’s upswept hair.
“Emily!” she cried laughing.
Emily could not contain herself either and began laughing hysterically. He mother wiped her hands off on her baker’s apron and stretched her arms out to receive her daughter’s hug.
“When did you get in sweetheart?” her mother asked.
“A few hours ago but nobody was home so I figured I would wander around and take in the sights” she replied.
“Well I’m glad you’re here, but we can catch up later, put on that apron over there and wash your hands please, I need you” her mother commanded.
Emily knew it was best not to argue and for once, she was actually happy to be helping her mom in the bakery, it just felt so good to be home.
They worked together quietly and seamlessly, almost as if Emily had never left for school and lined the racks with the final tray of sweets to cool for the night. Just as Emily was rounding the counter to lock up, Henry blew in as if being chased by a rabid dog. To some, this would cause panic, to Emily, this was just Henry being Henry.
“Thank goodness you haven’t closed up yet, I need one of your famous chocolate chip scones please” he whimpered pathetically to Emily.
“Need one eh?” Emily repeated as she grabbed a neatly cut square of parchment from the box and retrieved a scone for him.
He took a massive bite as usual and closed his eyes in ecstasy.
“Oh how I’ve missed these beauties” he exclaimed, crumbs flying out of his mouth.
Her mother laughed in the distance and called “go on and get out of here you two, I can take it from here”.
She didn’t have to tell them twice, Emily and Henry were out the door in a flash heading back towards her childhood home.
“Have you even eaten dinner?” Emily asked.
“Nope, I figured you and your mom would feed me when you were done at the bakery” he replied smiling, some chocolate chip residue still lining his teeth.
She reached up to wipe the chocolate away as if he were a child as he smiled wider to aid her in her efforts. Shaking her head she took a swipe with her thumb and he unexpectedly reached up and gently grabbed her wrist.
“I’ve missed you” he said to her with a serious look on his face.
Tingles shot from her wrist all the way to her toes and she knew immediately that something had changed between them.
“I missed you too” she replied softly, her voice nervously crackling.
He cleared his throat and without warning, took her hand, turned and continued walking her towards home. Her hand fit perfectly in his warm palm and felt better than she expected.
Back at home, she worked steadily about the kitchen putting dinner together as Henry carefully went about setting the table. Her mother walked in just as Emily was placing the food on the table and plopped into a dining chair with an exasperated sigh.
“What a day!” she exclaimed and began putting her dinner plate together.
Emily and Henry sat as well and just like that, it was as if no time had passed at all. It was no longer just the town that felt new again to Emily. She smiled across the table at Henry as he gave her a wink and they all began eating without a word. She was home again, in more ways than one.
The Hope and Determination
By Samantha Gardner
Once there was a boy named Koth. He lived in a time where magic was an unknown but compelling aspect of life. Some people feared magic, some people used it, either for good or for bad. Koth lived with his family who travelled caravan that performed and traveled for money. Many folks loved watching plays that had to do with myths and legends and this is why him and his family got paid and sponsored by many lords and dukes. One night this all changed. Changed the course of Koth’s life forever.
Koth’s father and mother were song and play writers. They often made their own acts and props which they played for town folk. Koth’s father was working on a special song about the ancient Chadrian. They were a myth that kept children from playing alone at night. Many villagers thought to never mention the names of the Chadrian’s because things were said to have happened when they did, but that was only a myth from superstitious towns’ people. Koth’s father had been working on this song for quite some time and kept it very secret as to not spoil the surprise that it would be when he finally played it for this family. The family was very excited to hear the song because whenever Koth’s father came up with something new it was always chilling and moving, it brought tears to their eyes and goose bumps to their skin. One night as the family was traveling in their caravan of wagons to the next show they would perform, Koth was told to gather wood for the fire while his father and mother talked about his current masterpiece in the making. It was a cold dark night, Koth often liked going off alone and exploring the woods around them. It often took him a long time to gather wood because he would find himself intrigued with nature, the leaves, the tree roots, the flowers and grass. Upon Koth’s return he stumbled onto a terrible sight. The wagons had been burned and the bodies of his loved once had been thrown around, killed. He dropped to tears and soon could not believe what his eyes were seeing. As he walked through the camp looking for some hope and wondering who could have done this he stumbled upon seven men. All were surrounding a camp fire that was a strangle color. He saw through his blurry, teared eyes that it was blue. A tall man, with white hair and dark eyes talked to the others around him as if they were lower than him. The rest of the men that he commanded he could not see, their faces hidden in the shadows. He commanded them to be swift. He must have been their leader. All of these followers had a magical feeling about them. Like Koth had known them before or heard of them before. Then he began thinking, the Chadrian. It was impossible. These people were just a myth. Could his father’s song have brought them here? Caused all of this? It was too much speculation. He knew he had to get out of there, so he ran. He ran as far and as fast as he could with tears in his eyes. Still he was stricken by what had happened to his family. He soon became exhausted and decided he should rest. He cried himself to sleep under a tree that night, no food, no water. And so the days continued as this. Near starving and exhausted he came upon a city. This city is where he would live homeless, for the next five years. Struggling for food and water, begging on the streets became an everyday thing. No family, no home, Koth lived in fear and always speculating, wondering what happened to his family. Had he imagined it?
One day Koth found a place, beneath a home in the city. He had heard on the streets that it was a safe place to go. He had nothing else to loose so he went. Down wet cobble stone stairs he entered the basement and found many children. Most were sick or others had something wrong with them. He say bread on the table. Food at last he though and he took a piece. He then saw a man walk into the room. Scared Koth ran for the door. Not knowing what to expect from the man and having no real human contact for years Koth was scared. The man called for him to stop and that there would be more food there whenever Koth needed it. So Koth continued to come back and began warming up to the man. Of course Koth never told the man of what had happened to his family, but the man told him of great things. There was a university of magic. Where one could discover his true potential, maybe even find answers to what had happened to his parents. Soon Koth began collecting his money, rationing food. He was planning on making a journey to this new place, where he had hope. He soon collected enough to get new clothes and make a deal with a trader who would give him passage to the next town in exchange for help with lifting his crates. Soon enough Koth was on his way. Getting closer and closer to his dream of finding out what happened to his parents, to finding out how he could become more than a homeless boy on the streets. He knew he had potential. He just had to unlock it with the right key.
Koth’s journey symbolizes that through anything, with the right determination and a little bit of hope, you can get anywhere. Nothing is in the way of stopping you from your dreams besides you. You can find the means to do whatever you can dream. You have to take baby steps, of course. Koth came from a horrible experience and now he is setting off in a new adventure. He is determined to find out what happened to his parents and become a greater person. He knows he can never bring his parents back but he can do what he can to make them proud his they were still alive. This story was inspired by The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.
By Maci Joy Horner
Sitting in the middle of my chaotic room with ideas floating in the air and frustration in the flawed strokes staring back at me, I am consumed. Swallowed yet swimming in wonder and reality; set free yet bound by every opportunity that presents itself to my mediums. I look up to find it all around me. It’s clear in that moment how I adore and despise the mess that is my creativity. While some days the mess is my joy, other days I lose myself in it. I was lost when he knocked on my door.
One Wednesday night when my dad came to pick me up from youth group, I slipped into the back seat and the complaint spilled out of my mouth, “I think I lost my favorite pink pen.”
“Do you know where you left it?”
“Oh there’s no telling. It’s fine.”
Although in the grand scheme of things it was fine, in the moment as ridiculous as it is I wasn’t “fine.” That pink pen gave a breath of life to black and white notes. There were definite moments when that pink pen gave color to the world around me. Losing it was like losing a small drop of hope. Somehow that pink pen snuck itself into my being. Losing it meant I also lost a piece of the perfection I crave. Every wrong detail added to the mess. It piled on and weighed on my heart with all of the other ridiculous little things that get in the way of glimpses at perfection.
A few days later I heard the knock on my bedroom door. There, sitting in the middle of piles of dirty laundry, last week’s homework, tomorrow’s project, empty ideas, and selfish ambition, I looked up at the door annoyed. In the moment I was aggravated by every wrong detail. I was consumed with the imperfect. Bitterness manifested into a spiteful comment I muttered under my breath as I shuffled through the junk to open the door. I looked up to see my dad on the other side. He handed me a pen, a pink pen. Confusion took the place of my frustrations until he said, “I saw this at the store today and remember you had said you lost yours.” It hit me and in one second my mind flipped from dark to light.
Life had cluttered all around me and I was losing sight of the floor when he knocked on my door. He brought me joy in the middle of my mess. Every day he looks at me with hope. I’ve seen that look over and over again but it took a desperate moment before I saw it. And I would have never felt the bliss and clarity in that moment without the fear and confusion from the moment before. Losing a piece of perfection gets me one step closer to finding myself. But I can’t do it alone. I can do it because of what he’s given me. I am incomplete without my pink pen, without the joy he instilled in me. Nor can I pursue anything without a mess. No matter where I go or what I do I bring every amazing and every terrifying moment with me.
Order and chaos. Light and dark. Good and evil. I am the joy in the mess.
By Megan Whiteley
He’s heard about it for forever and a day. The colors and lights bring a whirlwind of emotions. They dazzle even the most bad-mannered of men. Love is brought here to flourish and grow. Children laugh and play all through the night. The circus has arrived.
Josh knew the circus meant a day off of work. He had been working hard at the mill, and his hands seemed to be permanently black. All of his friends would be there. He knew that for sure. But all he could think about was the sweet taste of a candy apple. It was going to glorious.
It was a crisp Saturday night. The air smelled like grease, and candy. Josh could see the magnificent colors from the carnival in the distance. He had decided to drive to the carnival alone. Though his friends had wanted him to carpool, he needed some time to clear his head. He had no idea what he was doing with his life. It seemed as if every day was a constant battle of “What do I do?” His mind seemed to scream “What are you doing?” He honestly didn’t know. Josh was only 18. He was good looking with short blonde hair and blue eyes and he had the world in front of him. But it seemed like he could only see 10 feet in front of him. Nothing made sense. Josh felt like a part of him was missing. He hoped the carnival would make some of these feelings go away, even if only temporarily.
The world seemed to spin around him. He had rode so many rides, and ate so many things it was unbelievable. After he had seen all the “spectacles” there were to see, he spotted the booth for the psychic. Of course Josh didn’t believe in things like tarot cards, or magic. But it seemed like a fun thing to do, so he decided to give it a try.
Josh walked into the tent and was instantly in awe. The inside was filled with purple, blue and orange sashes. It was only lit by five candles, and seemed to give off a mysterious vibe. But it wasn’t the decorations that caught his attention. It was the marvelous creature sitting behind the table. She was young, with long black hair and tan skin. Her eyes seemed black and endless in the dimmed lighting. She was stunning. Josh realized he had stopped in the doorway, and she beckoned him inside. He immediately sat down and paid her the 75 cents for the palm reading. This strange enchantress seemed very interested in him, but he guessed it was part of the act.
“My name is Mystique. Have you ever had your palm read before?” she asked.
Josh shook his head no. If he had known she had been here, he would have definitely got one sooner.
“Unfortunate. I see many things on your hand,” she began, “and I see distress. A hard worker, you are. But your life is not what you would like it to be. But it seems a new opportunity will present itself soon.”
She looked confused for a minute. Mystique checked his palm once, and then twice.
Finally she said, “Love is very close for you. It could even happen on this very night.”
Josh perked up. Love. Maybe that’s what he’s been missing. He hadn’t thought about that. He worked hard, and by the time he got home he would fall asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. Love is the ache in his heart. The longing he’s been feeling, even now.
Josh thanked Mystique and stood up. He was ready to find his love no matter how long it took. But before he could leave Mystique stopped him.
“Josh?” Mystique asked.
Josh froze. He hadn’t told her his name. He turned and looked at this wondrous woman, wondering how and why he felt like he already knew her.
She took a deep breath and asked him, “Do you believe in love at first sight?”
The Story of My Future
By Dylan Flores
Hello, my name is Dylan Flores. I am currently in my second semester of a six semester Bachelor’s program at Boise State University.
A small business owner has hugely impacted me, so much so that it is how I came about choosing my major and my future career as a small business owner. My father is the one that influenced me to do this. He started his company RespXchange Inc. in Benicia, California (my hometown); this company repairs medical equipment in the respiratory field. Such as respirators, oxygen concentrators and CPAP machines. I worked with him at his business all throughout my high school life and even a couple years after that, until I transferred to Boise State. Because of my experience and love for working with these machines and the patients that use the machines, I chose my major to be Respiratory Therapy. I then applied and got accepted into the Respiratory Care Bachelors program here at Boise State. I could not be more happy with this path that I am on, I love the program here at Boise State, I love the job and I love helping patients through these hard times of their lives. Just knowing that I have had a positive impact on every patient that I see makes it all worth it, and makes me look forward to school the next day. I strongly believe that if my dad had never started his small business and allowed me to work for him, that I would have never come across this career path that I truly do love; and that I would have never known this life and the happiness that comes with it.
As I said before my father had started a small business in the same the field as my major. Once I graduate I plan on moving back to California and working with patients in hospitals for a while. Move out, get settled on my own, build up some savings and really just get stable by myself. Around that time my father will be about ready to retire and when he does, I plan on taking over his small business. Using my Bachelors Degree as well as my experience with patients in the field, I believe I can run a successful business. Not only that but I would like to grow the business, hire people with the same interest as me and give them a leg up to start a similar business as my dad’s. It may sound weird to try and create competition but I am not worried about that, because as of right now, my dad’s business is the only one in the North West that does what he does. So I believe the field could use couple more small family businesses to help us out. Especially with the Respiratory Care field growing as fast as it is.
I believe that our nation runs on small businesses and entrepreneurs. They are what keep our country advancing and always evolving into something better. They help create jobs for the local people as well as create an income for their city. Because my father was a small business owner for a big chunk of my childhood, I believe it is my job to take that business over and expand it. Give jobs to the people of the San Francisco, Bay Area; and maybe even give some the opportunity to start something great. The same way my father did.
By Oksana Larsen
It’s been a long time since I have been to this unusual place, a place so different from others, where time stands still and the modern world has no influence. It’s the place where my sweetest memories were born.
It’s twilight. Another beautiful autumn day is coming to an end. Foliage covers the ground like a warm golden blanket. It feels as though I stepped into a fairy tale and I can feel the magic, it’s all around me. I can’t resist running through the piles of leaves on the side of the road. They are like miniature mountains of gold, cherry red and deep yellow, and I make them crunch and fly under my feet, as I gush through them. The sun touches the roofs of the houses on the horizon, playing on the tree tops with its fiery orange light. It almost blinds me. I glimpse it shimmering on the water of the river Tabol running close by. I recognize every one of these houses. Every corner and every tree in this place is familiar to me. The people that live here are my neighbors, I know them all. We all have roots here, for more than one generation. Only a few of us will ever leave this place. Here is all most of us will know of the world and its wildness.
I walk down the dirt street to my home, by-passing cows making their way to theirs. Some of them are slowing down, stopping to enjoy the taste of the still fresh grass on the side of the road. They are in no hurry to get back to their barns. Some will wander off from their path and will be looked for by their families soon. Kids with dirty hands and smiling faces covered with dust and mud are running around, enjoying their last minutes outside. They are joyful and their laughter fills the evening air. It won’t be long before they are aware of the struggles their parents are facing in communist Russia. An old dog, running down the street, is looking for mates. They will build a pack and go on sniffing the grounds for delicious treats that might have been dropped or lost by villagers. The dogs and I, we all know each other; we were born and raised here. This is our home, and we are a family.
No sound of engines interrupts this evening stillness. Not very many of us have the funds for the luxury of a car. It is very peaceful. I am just around the corner from m y house now. The old, wooden fence around it lets me see through to the orchard in the back of our house. I see our big, aged apple trees. Only a few weeks ago, they were filled with the sweetest juicy, red apples I ever tasted. We used them to make jam for the winter to come. I can’t picture my life without those trees. My dog Tobik runs out to meet me. He greets me with his jumps and shows me his excitement to see me by wiggling his curly, short tail. He is my old, best friend. I can’t remember him ever not being there, waiting for me to come home.
As I walk through the gate of the front yard, an unusually sugary smell awakens my senses. It’s the smell of the mysterious, tiny flowers growing right by the gate. They are very unusual. When everything and everyone is ready to end their long day, they unwrap their miniature, purple blossoms and fill the air with their aroma. It is as if someone has covered the ground with a light purple carpet, which smells so syrupy, it makes me want to taste the sugariness of it. There is nothing sweeter than the memory of that scent; it is the scent of happiness and the scent of harmony.
I know, as I walk through the gate, that I don’t have much time to spare; it is early evening, and very soon I have to fulfill my chores and duties around the house and the farm for the night. I decide that it is enough and make a turn for the old barn behind the newer ones, which were built a couple of years ago. I love this place; it is my favorite, my hiding spot. Almost without noticing, my feet start to move faster as I am approaching the old structure. The barn is very old, rusty, and almost falling apart; nevertheless, it is my little heaven and I don’t see any faultiness in it. Here is where I get away from everyone and disappear from the world around me. Without the need of looking, I know where to set my foot and grab my hands to lift myself up into the hole in the roof. I know where to grip and push the heavy metal piece, which covers it, to the side. Only then do I pull myself up and emerge on top of the old roof. This is it! This is where I feel free! This is where I can be myself, no pretending. Away from the world’s challenges and troubles of a teenage girl. This is where I go into faraway places when reading books I get from our little library, or the ones I borrow from friends. Books let me fly away into the imaginary world with no limits.
I reach into the hidden compartment between two timeworn logs and take my treasure out. It’s the book I’ve read so many times before, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I know this book in and out. I know Jane as though she is one of my best friends. I have been with her in her darkest moments and in her happiest, too. I saw the school she went to and experienced the loss of her best friend. I was with her when she taught the little girl and when she fell in love with her master. I cried with her when her dreams were crushed, and when she decided to leave everything she learned to love. I was with her through it all. This book took me places I’ve never been and showed me feelings I never felt before.
Here I was, even if just for a few minutes, skimming through the lines and escaping this evening and this place. Once again I join my friend Jane, and forget about reality. I read a chapter and some before I know it is time to get back to life. The sun has almost disappeared behind the houses. I hurry to my chores of milking cows and feeding the animals for the night.
After my chores, I wash my face, hands, and feet in a little rusty tub of ice-cold water, right outside our house. The tasty, simple supper of boiled meat and baked potatoes, topped with homemade cheese from our cow Zorka, prepared by my beloved, elderly grandmother, fills the tiny house with delicious aroma. My grandma Vera-Mutja, as we call her-comes to visit us once in a while from the big city Rudny, and spoils us with her baked goodies, such as pierogi filled with cabbage, boiled eggs with chives, or chopped meat with special white sauce that only she knows how to make. Sometimes she makes one of my favorites, pishki, which are fried, thin strips of dough with a hole in the middle. One of those dipped in a mixture of homemade sour cream and homemade jam is one of the most delicious things I’ve ever had.
The smell of dinner reminds me that I am hungry. The delicious aroma doesn’t disappoint, and I fill my empty stomach. To my disappointment, there aren’t any baked goodies tonight, perhaps because my grandma arrived too late in the day for that. My mom takes out a black loaf of bread, cuts it carefully, spreads each piece with butter, and then sprinkles sugar over slices for me and my sister. Black tea is served to finish the supper. That’ll do for tonight. After washing the dishes and some play time, my parents tell me and my sister it’s time for bed, and shortly after all lights go off.
Lying in my squeaky, small bed, I listen to the sounds of the night. Crickets, some night birds, and the slightly whistling wind are like a lullaby, coming in through my bedroom window as I drift into the dream world.
Even now, as a grown woman, I still think of those times often. I go back in time in my memories to visit that strange place called Beregowoje and feel the harmony and excitement I experienced as a child. The emotions, hopes, and dreams it taught me have been an inspiration to me ever since. Sometimes, when times are tough, I drift into the world of books, just like I did when I was a child. I stick my nose in one and forget about reality, and at times I swear I can even smell the sweet, sugary scent of the mysterious flowers, the scent of childhood.
That Old Truck
By Abigail Moriarty
The school bell rings and the students hustle their way to a parking lot that holds more trucks than any other vehicle. These trucks aren’t just to look pretty these trucks are the life lines of these families. These are the trucks that haul hay out to the cattle or take them the hour drive to town. It’s the only vehicle that family has and they would not trade it for a BMW.
This truck has seen the Thompson’s oldest son Benny take Ms. Amy to prom. This truck has been backed up to that bonfire in the middle of that cattle pasture with all his friends coming from all over town and everyone knows to shut the gate and to watch out for the bull.
That truck took Amy from rodeo to rodeo across the state with a horse trailer hooked to the back and Buckshot, standing strong and powerful ready to run those barrels for that’s where his heart lies.
That truck that many would say is old and scrap medal has seen more heart breaks, more victories, and more sorrows than any other vehicle. That truck is a way of life for that small town family. That truck was dependable all those years and would always keep them safe.
One sorrowful morning when young Benny took a turn too fast and flipped that old truck, but the truck’s old metal stood strong and did not bend, for to this day Benny still drives that truck and today is taking his high school love for a ride across town and down to the river like he did the day he asked Mrs. Amy to marry him back in 1983.
A Trip to Uncle Mal’s
By Joseph VanBuhler
The sun had just broken over the crest of his unkempt bed of mountains, peeking his flaming head through his cloudy cumulonimbus blinds to gaze out over the Chicago skyline. The air was charged with the fresh scent of clean rain, and the pleasant ethereal mist that occasionally accompanies it. Spring was most certainly in the air, and on that otherworldly morn I sat contentedly outside a nice little java-joint, sipping on a well-blended Earl Grey and enjoying a “subtle use of vocal harmony” Pandora claimed I was listening to.
I’d arrived in town yesterday and traffic on I-96 was horrible. I hadn’t been to see my uncle since I was around five years old. When I’d arrived at Mal’s (short for Malachi – I know right, great name, very BCE) street-side apartment around five, no one was home – except for a bunch of guys in hazmat suits clearing the place out. When I angrily called my uncle to ask him what the heck was going on, he reluctantly informed me that he was having his apartment fumigated and was currently staying with my grandma… who lived a good hour away in the direction I had driven to get there. Hating to waste time and more gas, I fumed as I strode down the sidewalk, into my car, and back into traffic.
Slogging one’s way through rush-hour while irritated is a good way of guaranteeing that something bad will happen. So it wasn’t surprising that during my drive I cut someone off who had honked at me a few seconds before. Or that he then cut me off about a minute later. Or that we ended up side-by-side at a red light exchanging the sort of “pleasantries” that any self-important millennial would do in such a scenario. Or that said “pleasantries” cannot be re-printed here on the chance that they might cause blindness. Following the inevitable drag-race that made me wish my car had more than four cylinders, and the successive not-so-subtle attempts to ruin each other’s lives that made me wish I had rocket launchers strapped to the sides of my ’97 Geo Prizm, I got off the freeway wishing that I drove like my mother and the only thing I had to worry about was getting ticketed for driving too slowly.
But that wasn’t the end of it. After I had reentered suburbia, I looked back and realized that the nut-case was following me! The fact that he was tailgating let me get a real good look at his jerk-ish mug. What I saw was remarkably disappointing. I was hoping for some guy in a bloodied leather jacket who looked like he spent his days skinning squirrels and eating children. This guy looked to be a couple of years older than me, in nice (albeit a bit disheveled) business attire. His face actually sort of reminded me of my uncle Mal’s. That said, he was still seriously freaking me out. I circled through the neighborhood desperately trying to shake him, but the guy would not give up. Eventually I managed to lose him at a red light, and then I doubled back towards my grandmother’s.
I didn’t arrive until around eight, and by that point I was very much done with my day. I told my uncle and grandmother in no uncertain terms that I would be going to bed early and waking me would probably not be a good idea. Thankfully they respected my quest for quiet and I managed to get to sleep around nine after fretting and worrying about that crazy driver for an hour.
Not used to getting to bed so early I woke up the next morning before the crack of dawn and decided that I’d go for a jog and hit up that coffee place that I somehow managed to see while desperately weaving through the neighborhood. I left my grandmother a note on the table saying where I was going. As I came outside I noticed that the car parked across the street looked remarkably similar to the one that had tried running me off the road yesterday. Yup, a blue Civic, and little Martin the Martian hanging from the rearview mirror… then it hit me. It was the same freaking car. At that moment I decided that instead of having a needless panic attack I would write off the car as a figment of my imagination and enjoy my morning as I had originally intended too.
That’s how I ended up listening to Pandora and drinking tea. I was still kind of worried about the Civic, but I managed to forget it while I watched the sunrise. I probably would have forgotten about it completely had the car in question not pulled up a storefront away and its driver gotten out. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the same man’s face appear and look straight at me. I, of course, did what any sensible person would do under the circumstances: I dropped all of the cash in my pocket on the table to pay for my tea and started walking as fast as I reasonably could in the opposite direction.
Of course, the guy began following me.
“Joe, wait up!”
Yup, he knew my name. I don’t exactly remember when I started running, but I’m pretty sure that my fear of being killed by a road-raging maniac who knew or guessed my name is a justifiable excuse for my lapse of memory. Since I’d jogged out there that morning I had to run back to my grandmother’s. It was a good mile run, and I think to this day it is still my fastest time ever.
I was sprinting up to the door when I saw it. The Civic. That madman had beaten me back to the neighborhood. And his car was empty. At this point I felt a stark raving terror that more or less pushed all remaining rationality out of my mind. I flew up the steps to my grandmother’s front door and started hammering on it as hard and as fast as my fear-shrouded mind would let me.
After about thirty seconds of hammering my uncle opened the door and I stumbled over the threshold into the living room. With my heart racing like a horse in the final stretch of the Kentucky Derby, I tore down the hall and spun into the kitchen where I was confronted by none other than…
You guessed it. The raving lunatic who’d tried to run me off the road the day before.
It was at this point that everything went black. When I came to, I was laying on my grandmother’s aged yellow couch with some ice to my head. After reassuring my grandmother that I felt alright and that I’d survived my “nasty fall,” Mal said, “Well, Joseph, I see you and Eddy have been reacquainted.”
Eddy? my befuddled brain wondered. Eddy who? Wait. Eddy. As in Edward. My older cousin. Who I haven’t seen since I was five and he was eight. I looked over at the other couch and lay eyes on the nutcase who’d tried to run me off the road yesterday. Dark brown eyes. My cousin Edward’s eyes.
“Well crap. Sorry I scared ya so bad cuz.” Edward said, grinning sheepishly.
I felt like I was in shock. As I slowly started to realize what had happened, my grandmother explained to me that Edward had showed up yesterday in a pseudo-surprise visit to her after I’d already gone to bed. They were going to surprise me this morning, but of course I had already left for my jog. Edward explained that they’d tried calling me but I’d left my phone at the house, and then when they got my note on the table he’d driven down to try and catch me before I left the coffee shop. He also apologized for his insane driving the other day and explained that he’d been in the same crappy traffic for at least as long as I had that day. He also told me that he originally wasn’t following me, but when he realized I was driving toward his grandmother’s house he wanted to make sure I didn’t stop there; when I did he called my grandmother to warn her and she told him who I was, then he stopped by a little later with his surprise visit no longer a surprise and me in bed. It was all a huge cinema-worthy misunderstanding.
After I apologized for my own deplorable driving, Edward, Mal, my grandmother and I all went out for lunch at a local Big Boy, and spent the rest of the day catching up. What started out as one of the scariest days of my life ended up being one of the most enjoyable, and my visit solo visit to my uncle Mal’s is a visit I shan’t soon forget.
Into The Woods: A Self Reflective Journey Of Who I Am
A young girl ambitious and naive knew about the state of the environment but did not understand what she could do about it. As part of a Human Ecology Capstone project, she was asked to study how humans connect with the natural world. She realized that in order to see how the whole human race interacts with nature, she first needed to understand how she connected with the woods. Her project ended up being a reflective journey to find herself, how she fits into the community around her, and how she saw herself in the natural world by writing everything in a journal. She challenged the way that her extroverted personality clashed with her desire to look inward to solve all the questions she had about her life. She had a burning need to discover all the secrets that trees and birds had to offer in order to grow into a strong, independent, and passionate individual. With a plan to forage for plants she previously researched and write about herself while living in a sustainable cabin in the woods, she was eager to start the trek through her mind. Though her sights were set high and her ambitions were strong, she still was not prepared for the struggles that were to lie ahead. A day and a half into her solitude she was overcome by anxiety and illness from some knotted wrack.
That anxious and naive girl was me half way into a journey of a lifetime. Ever since I was young I hated the fact that I was always dependent on others, but something about not having anyone was so painful that my envisioned trip could not become reality. That partnered with the fact that humans are so dependent on themselves hindered me because I had never been so secluded before. My anxiety attack and illness fought against my life altering reflection and forced me back to campus. I felt like a failure. The trip I had looked forward to for months and spent weeks of my life diligently planning had just crumbled to nothing but a few pages in a journal and an incomplete thought process of who I was. However, I realized the purpose of me being on this earth was to search for answers and act on what I believed to help educate others. With an incomplete process of questioning my whole being, I was in a metamorphosis of finding myself. After getting over my stress and nausea, I slept at home and planned on what I needed to do to change my failure into a success. I felt completely broken and thought that I should stop. I believed that there was no possible way this project could have succeeded like I originally intended it to.
After a difficult night of feeling like a failure and wallowing in self-disappointment, I decided I still wanted to be out in the woods by myself for an extended period of time. However, I did not want to be in total solitude for multiple days. I had a feeling that going out completely alone again would be counterproductive and if I wanted some good to come out of this, I needed to be realistic. I decided that for the last two days, I would go out into the woods right after breakfast for ten hours a day to complete my mental journey of finding out who I really am and how I am going to impact the world. This ended up being more beneficial because after a long day of learning about myself I could be who I wrote that I would be.
Going back out was difficult, but I was inspired and determined to be in the natural world that I had lost connection from. Over those two days, along with the thinking and learning I started before my initial failure, I had an “Ah Ha!” moment where I realized that my purpose on this earth is based on three simple words: learn, act, teach. Those three simple words have become my motto for the rest of my life. The simple and blindly optimistic girl who started on this pilgrimage through her mind, failed,and adjusted. She ended up coming out with a more adjusted and focused view of herself, her voice, and the world. I am not a different person, but instead someone who has grown into an independent, strong, and conscientious individual. I have become wise. I have become focused on creating a better world through failing and challenging myself to continue on.
By Alexis Bray
Why does time pass so quickly when we are enjoying ourselves, while it passes by so slowly when we are suffering of something such as boredom or pain? Why does the clock decide it is time to tick slower than faster? “I bet it’s a trick life plays on us to keep us on our toes”, my grandfather once told me. “Maybe it is a trick of the day the universe does revolve around you. It revolves around everyone! Everyone is caught up in their own little universes. So to pay the price, the time passes at different speeds in each of our own universes!”
My grandfather was a wise man. He died when I was seven but I still remember most of the things he told me. He helped me become the deep thinker I am today. I like to think that the time in my world passes at constant speed. Never getting slower…. never getting faster. Just staying the same. I would have equal pain and suffering, as I would have joy and excitement. It is only my belief though.
My grandfather was right, I still notice that time changes speeds, I just tell myself over and over that I miscounted. But it seems that when I am having a hard time, I am constantly checking the clock, so it goes by slower. Whenever I was with my grandfather, time seemed to fly past me and leave me to stumble in the wind trail it left behind. My seven years with him flew by too fast. I wish he were still here. But I know that in my universe, he is like father time. He is teaching me a lesson, like he always has.
The dang ol’ thang
By Todd Scott
“Fine, I’m up, you cocka-doodle-douchebag,” he says as he rubs the ‘tired’ from his eyes, “how’d I even end up on this God forsaken farm?” He stares at the ceiling of the single room while the ever punctual rooster does his daily routine from out behind the century old farmhouse. He was fully aware of why he was there, and of what he did to get himself there, he just wasn’t willing to admit it to himself. Nor was he willing to admit anything to some two bit Judge, in some half bit town. So when he got caught stealing horses from local stables, he wouldn’t plea to guilt. He had pleaded innocent, and said it with a sly grin painted all across his face, knowing full well no one within the sound of his voice believed a word he said. His sentence: three years of hard labor on the local prison-farm, owned by the very ‘just’ Judge of Talcum County. And that is how he ended here, on this pre Civil War farm, located about ten miles east of the Mississippi and about five miles from the nearest town.
He laid there in bed for a few minutes, as was his routine, while he waited for the guard to come in barking orders, which was not only the guard’s job, but his particular routine as well. He continued lying there, waiting to hear the horse come to a stop just a few feet outside of the front door, followed by the jingle-jangle of the guards boot spurs as he takes the five long-strided steps across the wooden porch. Then the inevitable swinging open of the door and barking of the previously said orders, getting things started for the day. But, this morning, there was no heavily-panted-neighing from the horse. There was no jingle-jangling. Or any orders. Besides the rooster, there weren’t any noises at all…
He stood up, threw on his raggedy prison numbered overalls and stepped into his boots. Fifteen minutes and no guard? he thinks to himself. He suddenly grew very conscious of a pit developing in his stomach, filling with uneasiness, and without admitting it to himself, filling with fear as well.
He walks over and pushes open the wooden shudders of the window. The slow creaking of the wood made him jump back a bit. He gulped, swallowing the fear back down to that ever expanding pit that was percolating in his stomach. He was scared for some reason, admittingly or not.
Out the window, he sees no other inmates in the field or any horse-backed guards hovering vigilantly over them. The Judges personal carriage was still out front next to the Oak tree. Be it either on the two hour ride to the court house that was clear on the other side of the county, or on the hour long ride to the local Church, the Judge and his carriage were never still there after the rooster had crowed and the inmates corralled. The young, panic stricken inmate had found it even harder to swallow now due to the added angst from the carriages presence.
He walks over and opens the door of his little shack. He sticks his head out, looks around and decides to step out. The sight of his lone shadow stretching across the porch without an adjacent shadow from a guard made the hairs stand up on the back of his neck. No inmate was ever on his own in this place, never. He looks down at his arm and notices goosebumps forming. As he feverishly tries rubbing them away he thinks to himself Goosebumps? Nah. He won’t admit to that either. Suddenly, from just behind the barn, he hears the galloping of a horse. He was relieved to hear the thundering hooves as they were getting closer and closer. He was relieved to hear anything at this point. But the sound also reminded him of what would happen if he was caught outside alone and unattended. So he turned around and hussled back inside, closing the door behind him.
Because of his back being turned, he didn’t notice the horse as it rounded the corner, with the lone stump of a foot, dangling from the stirrup. With the door being shut, he also doesn’t notice the chunks of flesh that look to have been bitten away from the horse’s hind quarters. And now, back inside of the single-inmate unit, he doesn’t notice as the horse collapses in the tall grass, just beyond the Oak tree. As the horse lies there, attempting in futility to grasp for air, the young prisoner who is now standing at full attention in the center of his dingy little room, also doesn’t notice that this horse has had its throat eaten away by what looks like human teeth.
He stood there panting; his heart was pounding in his ear and drowning out all other noises. But, surely, he thought, outside of the window is the horse, and any second ol’ jingle-jangle will burst through the door and spew forth the day’s list of work. Surely, he thought. Any second now.
His heart beat has slowed and his breathing is back to normal. Now, he’s all too aware of the absence of the galloping, returning things back to a state of utter silence. “Just what the hell is going on here?” The resounding silence offers no answer. From where he’s standing he can see out of the still opened window.
“Nothing.” he says in an attempt for his mouth to reaffirm his minds initial observation. He’s standing on the balls of his feet, leaning one side to the other, and craning his neck trying for a full view.
“Nothing? How the hell can there be nothing? There are seven guards and nineteen other prisoners that live on these grounds. Not to mention the occasional day worker who wanders in from back East in hopes of earning a day or two worth of wages. But, now there’s nothing; not a god… damned… thing…” He stood there having a full on conversation with himself just to fill the empty air.
“Where’d that god damn horse go…” he asks as he still cranes his neck and rocks back and forth on the tips of his toes.
“Ey there, Rooster, you still there?” he nervously asks. He tries to swallow but his mouth is dry, and hot. His tongue sticks to the back of his teeth. He tries again to swallow down that murky, pestering fear, but his throat being just as dry causes him to cough, and violently. Every cough forces out what feels like fire, which makes him only cough harder, and louder.
The loud hacking coughs are echoing on the inside of the tiny shack, and amplifying on the outside, nabbing some unwanted attention. As he is bent over desperately trying to regain control of his breathing, he doesn’t hear the low, rustling sounds of slow moving footsteps just outside of his window. He uses the back of his grimy hands to wipe away moisture that has accumulated around his eyes. Tears? Ah, bullshit.
Drawing in long, thought out breaths, he steadies himself. Lungs are still burning, eyes are still watering, but he dries his hands on his dusty pant leg and stands back up. As he does he hears a single step on the wooden porch, with its single jingle. He tries to regain his composure as best he can while in anticipation of the second step, with its accompanying jangle. This young inmate, who grew up rebelling against any and all authority, is now waiting for any kind of ‘badge’ to come bursting through the door. As he gives himself a quick once over of his appearance, he hears the second boot. But it’s not the routine step, followed by its jangle. This second step dragggs itself along the wood. The jangling spur hopping and skipping across the wooden planks as it sticks and unsticks itself. He looks down at the tiny crack of light pouring in from below the door and waits. Any second now, he thinks. Any second now.
***This is the beginning chapter of a Historical-Zombie Novel, featuring an antagonistic protagonist who encounters famed war heroes, turned either zombie-hunter or zombie, on his path to survival in a time when his nation is struggling to do the same.***
By Lindsey Hart
Walking out of the liquor store, a fresh pack of smokes in my pocket, I fumbled to put my striped gloves on. The wind whipped my face. I gritted my teeth and walked onward towards salvation, the warm building at the end of a snowy vortex. Ahead of me, I saw a hexagonal formation of traffic cones obstructing the quickly approaching sidewalk. No caution tape or signage denoted their purposeful placement in my path, so I walked through them despite the vague apprehension that made my stomach churn as I passed between the orange pillars.
As my boot crunched the gravel beneath my sole, the ground canoed ahead of me as if I’d split the red sea. Suddenly, my body plummeted into the depths of Detroit via what was assumedly a sinkhole. With a force that shook my whole body, my feet made contact with the soil beneath my toes. Snapping my head upwards, the street above me looked like a strange, celestial body shining light down upon me and me alone. My hands desperately searched my pockets as snow and gravel idly dropped on my head, falling from the edges of the crevasse. I finally retracted my hand to look down at my smart phone, fifty percent battery. That’s not so bad. No signal or any hotspots were within range from this far underground. That’s bad. I scratched my head, and pondered if anyone saw me slip from the surface without a sound.
Not a ladder in sight, I was beginning to panic. I yelled for help, not that anyone would bat an eye at my cries with the boundless apathy and clamor of urban America, and fruitlessly, I found myself sobbing on the ground, the spotlight shone down upon me, with no crowd or anyone to listen. The darkness laid heavy upon me as my eyes fixated into the distance, staring a thousand miles into the abyssal depths. I grabbed the lighter from my pocket, took off my glove and struck the flint, dimly illuminated the tunnel I now found myself in. I pursed a cigarette between my lips and lit it, at least it isn’t as blistering as smoking in the frigid wind. I paced and tried to collect myself for a moment; yelled for help as loudly as I can one more time, and listened to the reverberation of my own voice travelling down the tunnel at the speed of futility. Suddenly, I heard a scuffling ahead of me, my field of vision extended only to the end of my cigarette. Whatever was making that sound is now lumbering for me at full force, I can hear the great thudding created by mighty feet clashing with the ground, that accelerated towards me. I let out a wail that sent my cancer stick dashing towards the ground, and sent me dashing away from the great beast that approached me.
As I ran through my spotlight for the last time, I felt something grip my ankle, the bone fracturing under all the pressure. I struggled to stay in the light, but the almighty force pulled me with ease back into the depths. Watching the light recede, a single striped glove lay centerstage, with a still smoking cigarette withering away in the cascading light.
Net Price Calculator
By Kathryn Bryan
Just by inhaling your first breath, you open the book of life and discover what the Author has written on the first page, catching a glimpse of the people you have been chosen to be bound to through genes. Some feel shorthanded as the pages of this book continue to turn, with uncaring relatives, while others are overwhelmingly blessed.
Home is our mental and physical base, no matter the family, in which the outer workings of the world are revealed to us with each lesson, and from which we are sent forth to imprint the best piece of ourselves onto this ancient planet.
Our marks can be overshadowed by others and lose importance in time and wear; some only etchings, barely scratching the surface; but others are engraved deeply, penetrating the mantle and touching the inner core.
Foolishly, some harbor their hopes on their first page, believing that ancestry will give them a head-start with exclusive opportunities and will burrow and scrape into the surface for them. They think their advantages will do the hard, grueling work it takes to chisel a meaningful and lasting mark upon this world.
After you have satisfied yourself, drinking in the single page that set the stage of your life, establishing your surroundings and lifelong companions linked by likenesses, turning the pages eagerly you’ll see the blankness staring at you forebodingly, taunting you, and demanding what you will inscribe there.
Everyone desires to make a mark, so deep that no one can ignore and must recognize with a twinge of regret in their chest that they did not give such great significance to their common human life that blanches in comparison; however, only a few will truly succeed in their endeavor.
The first time I ever wished for money, really wanted money, was when I realized I was going to have to pay for college. Sure, everyone has those moments where you wish your fridge and pantry didn’t mainly advertise Great Value products and could stray from the mundane clearance racks at JCPenney; but, I’ve never felt the need for money until I got back my PSAT test scores.
Driving home after receiving my scores, I’m contemplating the likelihood of the ROTC accepting my scrawny butt, bulletproof abs, and Jello-like arm muscles. My fingers start tapping the steering wheel, and my hands shift to the 10-and-2 position.
My odds are not at all favorable in joining the army. That is more depressing than the test scores. Who gets rejected by the army? Well, Mother always says anything is possible, (but I don’t think she ever intended me to take her mantra in such a negative context).
By the time I reach the town limits, I’m racking my brain for any way of paying for my college career without incurring such a massive amount of debt that Dave Ramsey himself couldn’t pay it back. Then the sign I’ve seen every day for the past 17 years comes into view. It reads: “You are in the Village of Choudrant Now.” My hand stops tapping on the steering wheel and rests on the gear shift. I roll down the window and let the wind play with my hair.
It always struck me as odd that it didn’t say “Welcome” or express any joy that someone is entering the village. It’s depressing, really, because not even the sign can fake enthusiasm about its location. Some small towns are all about community; not ours. Of course we know everyone and their business, but we keep to ourselves mostly, except on the annual community obligation of attending the National Outhouse Races, the occasional church picnic, or the ubiquitous casserole in honor of a death. (Southern women believe a casserole and a reverent “Bless your heart” can fix anything.)
I attend a private school in the city of Ruston, 20 minutes away from the village. Every day on my way home from school, I pass 12 ducks, 11 horses, 3 longhorns, 2 geese, 2 buffalo, and 1 llama. Also, I encounter an area of woods with 3 doors set up in a staggered V-shape, 2 mailboxes constructed out of old plows, and 1 house with a Christmas tree that hangs upside down from the porch. Choudrant brims with a collection of odd people with odd habits, and though we are a village and not a town, we boast enough character and characters living here for the whole population of New York City.
Choudrant is nestled between Ruston and Monroe, so you’ll always have to leave the village to get somewhere, but you’ll never have to really leave the village to go anywhere else. Choudrant is abundant in livestock auctions and Dollar Generals, so if your wants cannot be satisfied by either of those, Ruston is the quickest place to meet simple necessities. You can even attend college in Ruston and commit to a daily 20-minute commute from the village to Louisiana Tech University and never have to brave the dorms.
While Monroe is farther than Ruston, more options lie there. You can choose a meal from varying ethnicities, and select a wardrobe from the Pecanland Mall. For entertainment, you can visit the Biedenharn Museum, drive through the Garden District, or picnic in Forsythe Park. You can attend the University of Louisiana at Monroe and brave a 40-minute commute from the village. It’s farther from home, and if that’s what you are looking for in a college, this is as far as you’ll get, especially if you were raised in Choudrant. No one ever really leaves the village. Three generations of my family graduating from Choudrant High School is proof of that.
Our local high school doesn’t offer the opportunity to join a football team or cheer squad. There isn’t even a proper place to eat here, unless you count Huddle House or Sonic; but then, if you look at it technically, those restaurants are across the street in Calhoun. We do have a police officer, a Christmas light competition, and a country club.
I’ve always felt it ironic that I call Choudrant home, because by the end of my school career, I’ll have spent more time in Ruston than the village. Ruston is where I hang out, go out, and eat out. Ruston is where I attend school currently and where I might pursue a bachelor’s degree. Yet, Ruston isn’t home; if only because it doesn’t have the yearly Outhouse Race, or the longhorns, buffalo, or llama. (I’m sure we could find the horses, ducks, and geese somewhere in that town. This is Louisiana after all.) Maybe, if I ever dare to leave the village, I won’t have to make the 20-minute commute and just live in Ruston.
The only thing is, I want to be a doctor. Ruston is lacking in medical schools, as is Monroe. These towns have finally failed in satisfying one of my needs, so I’ll have to leave the village soon. I’ve never lived anywhere but the village, and my world is small, extending only as far as Shreveport, 1 hour from Choudrant. Tulane and LSUS lie far beyond the village’s sign. New Orleans is 4 hours and 47 minutes from the village. From all I’ve ever known.
You can’t commute 5 hours every day. You’ll be hard pressed to come home on the weekends with 5 hours to drive on our horrible Louisiana roads, damaged by so many hurricanes we’ve forgotten half their names. I hit a pothole, jarring my elbow into the console as if to put emphasis on this thought.
So what do you do when you have the option to leave everything you are familiar with? And only for the promise of obtaining an education to prepare you for your life. Acquiring a job with that education is a whole other game. So what to do…is the struggle of commuting 4 hours and 47 minutes every other weekend, birthday, and holiday worth it? That means only getting to see your family for 48 hours, minus 4 hours 47 minutes, there and back to the university, and the 8 hours you’re asleep at night.
I am greeted by two massive brick columns as I enter my gravel driveway. I stop for a second, peering out my open window looking past the rolling hills of golden grass. The pond glitters in the sunlight, and I can see a dozen ducks and a couple of geese swimming and waddling around.
I am worried about the uncertainties the rest of my life holds; what I will inscribe on the next pages of my book, and the scribbling, crossing out, and rewriting I’m sure I will have to endure.
I take comfort in knowing I can take refuge here, in my village. The barn creaks in the wind, a tractor roars in the distance, the restless autumn leaves are thrown aimlessly by the breeze, and a familiar voice shouts from afar.
Welcome to the Village of Choudrant.
Poppy – Little Anglo
By Toni Orrill
John made his way down river to the clearing, his chest young and bare. He liked to play savage, his stick, a homemade weapon he whittled into a sharp point. He studied the birds in the tree, watching the bluebird flit in a nervous rapture, and he dreamed of killing that bird. It would be his first.
At his age, most boys had killed something. A deer, a squirrel or his preference, a bird. The one lesson that thrust a boy into manhood was that first bolt of power, adrenaline striking the adolescent frame like a match to fire starter, the feeling of man’s mighty force overcoming something lesser, or weaker. It was a passage and he wanted in.
For someone so trained in important things, like geometry and literature and world civilizations, proving yourself in the woods wasn’t that easy.
They called him Little Anglo because he wasn’t from the country. That was a stigma, as he said, because those River Road boys never understood him or what he said. When he spoke with seriousness, they just laughed with wide grins, the kind he swore could eat you if they had to.
Yep, they would not spare you, if push came to shove. In their parts, the deep country, that happened a lot. So John appeased them with compliments. Even though most were insincere, they worked. They fell for it every time.
When he said “Bubby, you know you’re pretty smart,” the big lute recoiled like a girl being asked to dance. When he said, “Jimmy, you’re really funny,” he was even stupider, as if he now had a license to be the clown he always was.
While Little Anglo was small, he had authority over people and ideas. He just possessed the atmosphere. When he spoke, they stopped smiling so much and looked quiet in the face. He thought of Shakespeare, as if a cloud had passed over their face, like no one had ever said a kind word and it just wasn’t something they were used to. Being nice caught them off guard.
So John tried to keep the game going at all times, tripping them up with the sharpest object he owned—his mind. Now, he just had to prove his stronger side.
He needed that bird for pride’s sake. It would beat inside his head trapped like in a cage, banging to be set free, the idea beginning to overtake his mind. He quickly threw his spear into the magnolia tree without thinking. It worked. The bird flew out and John’s eyes tracked its flight like radar on an enemy plane. He locked in, its bright blue reflection circling his sea-green eyes, the bird darting and moving before disappearing into the trees. He tried again, and nothing happened. It must be in there alone, he thought. One more try, he thought and again, not a leaf flinched.
He sat and waited because he was good at patience. It took a lot of it to read so much and study. By the time he was 11, all he knew how to do was sit and learn. For this kind of work, though, he had to be crafty.
Hours passed and he held his position, observing and counting the seconds in between its movements until he had formulated a pattern in his head that was almost accurate. But Lady kept interrupting his count. He shooed her away, and began again to count the seconds. It flew out and back in again. He thought of the rifle in the shed and hatched a plan.
Walking quietly as a man in high boots, he moved stealthily until he reached the leaning shed. It was raised on low stilts and sat crooked, its foundation broken from the rush of the river, looking like at any minute it could fall. But he knew Papa didn’t make anything weak, and if it had been weak, the rushing water would have pushed it all the way into town, so he grabbed its beam and pulled himself up onto the porch. Still sturdy. He thought of how Mama was so protective all the time, telling them not to go even near it, because it could tumble. Hysterical, he thought.
It was strange to be leaning though – how funny. He pretended to be talking and leaning and serious all at the same time. He wished Simon were there to see his act, but he would probably say no to gettin’ the gun, and he didn’t need any interference. Simon didn’t understand his frustration. When Simon turned eight, he had already gotten a deer trophy and a rodeo award in one year. No, he needed to do this alone and without any flack.
He pulled the door latch open and peered inside. It smelled of linseed oil and gasoline. The fumes made an intoxicating spell over his head, as if he were entering the gates of temptation. This is what a saloon must feel like. Like a place where you shouldn’t go. But you are there, and there’s so much to swallow the mind that it keeps shaking no, but it keeps going on its own, struggling with itself.
He was grappling with his eyes, they were still used to outside and it was night inside, so his senses were all jumbled up, and he couldn’t help but start thinking he was being tricked by his own self. He shook off the dust and began to walk into the dark, looking for a light but he couldn’t remember where Papa had put the stupid switch. He panicked for a moment because now he was in so much, it was too dark to walk back out, ahead, it was worse. He looked up and saw a chain dangling and jumped enough to loosen his boots from his legs and make the shed wobble. He swung on it like a wild un’, proud when the room lit up with energy.
He could now see a small picture on the wall Papa had pinned with a tack and he stopped for a moment, all of the world settling. For she was there, always there and when he saw her, he saw the love of a million hearts and the dreams of a million stars and a million reasons for a thing called hope. He calmed his racing heart and reasoned. This is ok. I can do this. She had put that in his heart—but he also knew she would be some steamed if she knew what he was up to. Growing up always came with pains he reckoned, so he bowed his head and murmured a half-hearted prayer—half because only one eye stayed shut and the other kept lookout for spiders, creatures or anything else that called darkness home. That one-eyed Jack focused on her, Momma, who owned his faith and sealed it with the blood of Jesus. He just hoped she remembered Jesus’ name when she found him in the shed with a gun and pile of explosives. That would have to worry for later. Now was ‘bout to be showtime and would be worth the tannin.’
He had no resistance and just stood silent in a moment absorbing the high-spirits of the shed. He leaned over and picked at a dead mouse. It was hard as his stick so he kicked it with his rubber boot. “Heck even a cat wouldn’t want you. You’ll be nothing but dirt soon, so you don’t scare me. Nothin’ but a big grey heap of ash.” He looked at the worktable and saw Papa’s tools, his saw and carvings, and drawings, and he felt a comfort, touched by what was real—wood and nails and someone who could build. He picked up the fat pencil and wrote his name and the year on the underside, just so when he would come back, when all was said and done today, he would remember the day—the precise time when he became a man.
Above, he saw all of the ammunition he could ever need. He saw his small rifle—a Daisy cricket—and he turned his face, scoffing, because no one ever shot something big with that sissy gun. Plus it was Anne’s gun first, and well, it just didn’t feel right to be shooting something with a girl gun. No, he needed manpower, and he saw his man above—the lever-action Browning and he knew that was shot that would take that bird down.
He took a crate from the floor and put it on top of the table, then got on top, standing and wobbling before he reached with all he had to the stars and he was still too short. He hurriedly glanced around, beginning to worry that someone would be coming, his nerves getting frayed and he saw an old garden chair, so he heaved it on the table and placed the crate at its center.
He grabbed one of the ropes hanging from the big hooks and hoisted it over the thick beam, something he learned in scouting, and looped it like a noose. He grabbed the rope and pulled himself hard with his arms, his legs making their way up first before his face, and his stomach the final piece in his maneuver. He was up, now just to be higher so he could reach its strap.
There was nothing above but a pitched roof so he grabbed the rake and began shimming it up into the holder until finally, like a fish on the line, he felt the heavy tug of a lot more weight and in the dark corner, blinded, he knew he had it. Careful, he thought, as he stood on his own house of cards and the more he concentrated on being still, the chair began rocking and he was straining to hold his balance. The gun was now in control, wagging back and forth on the rake until all came spiraling down into a hundredfold heap.
Papa heard the shot and began running to the shed. He knew, and he knew better, and he blamed himself a hundred times on that sandy path, for not locking it, for not keeping things straight, for not fixing it right. He had no idea what he would see, but he knew it was all his fault and he flew in to find his son dirty and composed sitting holding the gun, looking proud and strong, ready for the hunt.
John’s blue eyes looked of steel, “I know you’re mad and I’m in trouble, but its gonna haveta wait because I have business here.” So he looked up to Papa and walked past, the gun leading like a dark elephant, him following until they reached the hollow where he finally plopped down in exhaustion. He caught his breath and wondered if this was all worth it. The whipping he was gonna’ get when this was all over. The bird. The fall. The trouble. His eyes grew wild and fiery, and his tongue began confessing its mind.
Bird, I am gonna git you if I have to climb into every limb of that tree and snatch you with my raw hands. I am gonna git you if I have to cut down this tree and starve you. I am gonna git you, stupid bird, if I have to wait until Christmas, bird, and roast you for dinner. Because I got so much on the line for you and soon Mama’s gonna come running up here hollering and worried and you have just rubbed my lamp too hard for me to go back inside. No, we are gonna get things straight TODAY if it kills me—it’s gonna be you or me feeling that fire, and something tells me God’s on my side today. Heck, I shoulda been dead in there but there’s something bigger goin on here, a destiny and I am not leaving until its mine. This King’s—not some dodobird’s.
And just then, like a cuckoo striking twelve, it appeared and he aimed. He wasn’t prepared, talking to himself and everything, it took him off guard, but not again, because now his head was on straight and he knew what he had to do. He stared and counted under his breath because he didn’t want to make a sound, and for once all of nature seemed to be holding its breath, waiting too for that dodobird, because not even a squirrel rattled about. Nope, it was calm quiet and his count was almost up. That jay’s life was almost up. And he saw it and aimed at the blue of the sky, blue of wings and BOOOM, he fired. It shot up as if the hands of heaven held it on a string, yanking it into clear view and accepting the favor, BOOM he fired again, the sun torching his eyes until he heard a thump and he looked to see where it had fallen, searching, searching until Lady bolted out from the thicket and took off like a runaway train.
“NOOOOOOO,” he cried, knowing she was a bird dog and seeing the liver and white spots streakin’ down towards the river. Heck, he didn’t even know she knew what to do because he had never taken her huntin’, but of all days, she knew what to do, that stiff-necked, nevr-mindin’ stupid dog, I swear I have every mind to shoot her. He screamed, “LADDDYYYY”…and began running like his seat was afire, swiping branches and leaping like a madman and he was now a man but you ain’t a man unless you can prove it and he had no proof—yet.
He tore on until the clearing and began to feel that sinkin’ feeling, a tickling rising in that place in his ribs and he yelled harder because he remembered the traps and as if watchin’ in slow motion, Lady ran into the field like a fuse setting off fireworks for miles, snapping and biting until he just watched her tumble into the high grasses and lay still. He laid the gun on the side and crept slowly, careful not to cause any more commotion because by this time, he could hear a trail of wailing, and calling in the distance and he was pretty sure whose name he heard. “John William. Come here I say— NOOOWWW.” He heard them but didn’t answer, didn’t care, standing like a mute over Lady and the bird. A mute with dominion.
She released her jaw, proudly gifting her master with the winged prize and he stood right there, with bird in hand and plucked them feathers, counting aloud for all the world to hear, “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten,” just like when he was in the little schoolhouse, like blue rain falling from his hands, until its coat was bare, little bones rolling in his hands under the clear skin and he hollered back, “Mama, Stop yellin’, I’m comin’.”
Rainy Days, Big Pecans & Cardboard Boxes
By Claire Lemoine
My parents were the absolute antithesis of helicopter parents.
Coined in the 21st century, the term “helicopter parent” refers to a parent who pays extremely close attention to a child’s or children’s experiences and problems. Helicopter parents are so named because, like helicopters, they hover overhead, always constantly giving input on a child’s experiences, and never fully letting go.
I’m pretty sure that “helicopter parenting” did not even exist in Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana, in the small town where I grew up, in the 1970s and 1980s. There was no rescuing. There was no hovering. My two older brothers and I had to make our own fun. Chores were chores; playtime was playtime (and only occurred after chores were done); mistakes made were largely ours and ours alone. My family worked hard, and us kids were expected to work hard too. If you don’t believe me, here I am at age four, “edging” the driveway with my bare hands.
Now a mother of 18, 16, and 12 year old children, I cannot help but ruminate on my childhood with a mixture of nostalgia and fear for our society’s youngest inhabitants — for today’s youth, and for future generations. To think of how much our society and its children have changed in just a few short decades is almost overwhelming enough to make the mind close shut. How much childhood as a crucial and formative phase of a person’s life has indelibly changed.
My kids are good kids. They are blessed with good friends and good values. Yet, like virtually every other teenage or “tween” out there these days, a large percentage of their happiness and fun is derived from gadgets literally designed to be “smart” on their behalf. SMARTPHONES. SMART TABLETS. The object for them is often creating funny Snapchats, or employing the most perfectly awesome and dramatic filter on an Instagram picture. Phones or devices are indispensable, coveted possessions. They live in the same small Louisiana parish, yet, just a few short decades later, their lives are so vastly different than mine was growing up.
Looking back, some of my greatest and most durable childhood memories are of my brothers and I making our own fun. That ingenuity and IMAGINATION — the idea that we were making a game out of something completely commonplace and ordinary — was what made playtime so exhilarating to us.
Wednesday Afternoons and Cardboard Boxes
For me, Wednesday afternoons were filled with much anticipation as my brother and I watched for the delivery truck to pull up to my uncle’s furniture store. WHY? Because this meant the new shipment of refrigerators, washers, and dryers would be coming in and Rachal’s Furniture Store would soon resurrect new cardboard boxes. I can still smell the scent of a brand new cardboard box. You know the scent — the rough, dirty, dusty smell of cardboard–with the smooth inside walls and the unblemished writing on the outside labeling the box the item once held.
We knew it was going to be a great day when we would hear our uncle proudly exclaim to a customer “yes…we sure do have one for y’all!” because that box became ours. My brother and I would position ourselves at each end of the box and excitedly haul it to our home only a couple hundred yards from the store. We would usually set our box underneath the carport, and this is when the real fun started (of course ALL of this was only AFTER chores were done).
Little People, Big Decisions
The decisions made inside that box seemed monumental to us. Where would the door be cut out? Where would the windows go? And where would we sit when we were to eat lunch? These seemed like such important decisions to us. And rightfully so, at the ages of 11 & 8, what other decisions would be more important? How empowering this was to our young minds to be able to make these important decisions!
For hours, we would use the kitchen knives, serrated edges of course (remember, no helicopter parents in sight!), to give birth to our new home for the day…or two, if you had a really “good box.” The door was always tricky. Whether to cut the complete door knob out, or to leave a hinged piece of cardboard to use for your doorknob was about the biggest debate my brother and I had in building our cardboard home.
It was great fun. If we were thirsty, a few sips from the garden hose would do the trick. And once the construction was complete, we’d have a few hours left to play in our new home (and wow, what a home it was!). But ya’ know, thinking back now, I remember more details about the excitement of awaiting the great new and perfect box, bringing it home and PREPARING it to play in, than I do actually PLAYING in the cardboard domicile.
Cardboard boxes being dragged down broken sidewalks by two always-barefoot kids (whether during winter or summer), hopping over giant ant piles, racing to get our hands on some serrated-edged knives and drink water straight from the garden hose are great memories from growing up in my small town.
Rainy Days & Big, Fat Pecans
Anyone living in the South knows summer afternoon rains are frequent and often torrential. The Southern summer humidity alone always crushed the hopes and dreams of erecting a cardboard home, and would inevitably lead to cancelled ball games. Still, inclement weather was no match for small country town imagination and play possibilities.
In the midst or wake of a heavy storm, the small ditch that stretched from my father’s garden in the backyard to the front of our property flowing into the drainage system would swell and hold water, and it would flow faster than anything we had ever seen. So, finding the biggest, fattest pecan, aged and hidden under leaves buried in the mud from last season or knocked fresh off the tree still encased in its green thick protective covering, was the next mission…
Why was finding the fattest pecan on the property important?? That meant your BOAT was bigger and stronger…
My brother and I would sit on the rough edge of the driveway of our home and start rubbing away the hard outer shell of that big, fat pecan until we began to see the inside. With knuckles slightly shaved from scraping our fingers against the concrete, we would hollow those pecans like no shelling company could ever dream of doing. Once you had the perfectly hollow shell…that’s when the races started.
From one end of the ditch to the other, the chocolate-brown water flowing and burgeoning with leaves and debris would be soon transformed into the waterway of ultimate Pecan Boat Races! We would run along the ditch, cheering our hollowed pecan boats down the currents with a level of excited urgency that only accompanies an LSU-Alabama match-up. Sometimes a small tree branch or a piece of debris in the ditch would catch one of our tiny boats and delay its journey. When something like that happened, there we were, knee deep in water, rescuing the snagged pecan boat so the race could continue. And wow, what a finish! The winning pecan boat would reach the end of the water course, and hold the coveted title of “Pecan Boat Champion”…that is, of course, until the next big afternoon rain, which would again smother our dreams of sleeping in our cardboard home, and cancel our ball game…BUT which would awaken our excitement of building our miniature boats with bleeding knuckles.
A beautiful and memorable day was always had by all. We always rested well after cleaning the scrapes and cuts incurred during our unsupervised use of serrated-edged knives and the shaving of our pecans. We would drift off to sleep in hopes of waking up the next morning and having the opportunity to do it all over again. Small town fun and small town play, given to us by small town imagination. What a gift a small town was and still is….
To this day, these mini-experiences and colorful memories are an example — a microcosm — of the larger aspects of what makes me happy in life today. The ability to find the beautiful and hidden wonders of this world begins in childhood, grows during youth, and, if nurtured correctly, blossoms into invaluable ingenuity, originality and resourcefulness in adulthood. This type of imagination cannot be taught in schools — it is God-given and must be cultivated, encouraged and cherished. I am in no way pronouncing or forecasting the death of childhood imagination at the hands of smartphones and tablets. But I do fear that the imaginative spark so inherent in a small child to “seize the day” and make his or her own fun is being stifled and snuffed out slowly.
While I’ve never made my children edge my driveway with their bare hands (seriously, they would LOL at my suggestion and probably post it on Facebook), I do hope that I can impart to them and instill in them the importance of relishing the hidden treasures in our lives. Of tapping into that power, uniqueness, and ingenuity ingrained in all of us. The courage to actually laugh, not write LOL. The insight to realize that there is more to life than what is right in front of their faces, or on their screens. The imagination to take a rainy day and transform it into a Pecan Boat Race, or a cardboard box into a child’s dream mansion. And the wisdom to take advantage of the many opportunities that simply living on God’s green earth, in a small town, brings.
Lucky Me: A Girl With Four Brothers
By Crystal Guidry
I like to think my childhood was like many others, filled with a beautiful mixture of chaos, love, dysfunction and sometimes physical pain.
I am the second oldest of five children, and lucky me, the only girl. If I am being honest, growing up with four brothers could be an annoying pain in the you-know-what sometimes.
When my parents announced that my youngest sibling would be a boy, I must admit I cried – A LOT. I knew that was my last chance at having a sister and I would forever be outnumbered by dirty boys.
Our current ages span from 25-34 and sometimes I still think I am their mama. If they mess up I want to punish them. If they do well I like to think I contributed to that. I tell myself that I helped raise ‘em right.
I had ringside seats at some epic fights. At any given time, one brother would usually be fighting with another, if they weren’t all fighting with each other. Bickering, arguing, and sometimes physical confrontations, were commonplace amongst the boys.
One Christmas my parents just gave up their roles as referees and bought two sets of boxing gloves. “Y’all want to fight? Then go at it!” And although the boys tried to be serious in the beginning, the permitted boxing proved to be too much fun and ultimately melted away their grudges.
We lived in a large neighborhood with tons of kids and there was always something to do. I don’t know why, but trouble seemed to find its way to our crew. Sometimes people got the boys mixed up. One time Dallas got beat up because of something Steven said to a guy at school. Of course the rest of us thought it was funny and it still makes us laugh to this day. On another occasion, a big girl from the neighborhood sat on Sean and wouldn’t let him up. I was crying, “Get off of him, you are going to kill him!” Good times.
Sometimes I got offered up for fights I wanted nothing to do with. I have overheard statements like, “Oh yeah? Well my sister will beat you up!” on more than one occasion. Luckily, it usually was not necessary but I guess I was proud they had such faith in me.
Despite being volunteered for these cat fights, I have only been in one actual altercation. And I don’t consider it a fair fight either, since my brothers stood watch and made me “beat up” a neighborhood boy who ran me over with his bicycle. And I was especially motivated because I had to have the back of my head shaved like a little boy because of the gash from his bike tire. “Hit him Crystal, hit him again! Harder!” That’s the day they taught me to stand up for myself. I guess that boy made a mistake by running over their sister.
They often stole my girlfriends. After school we were to play outside until the streetlights came on (and your butt better be in when they came on!). Since we were from the generation that enjoyed being outdoors, this was exactly what we wanted to do anyway. When I wasn’t hanging out with my girlfriends from the neighborhood, I was typically with my brothers playing in ditches and riding bikes. But I didn’t have my girlfriends over too often, probably because my brothers were always trying to date them!
In their defense though, sometimes it was the other way around. I can recall a few “loyal” friends who would come over to “hang out with me” only to be found playing Donkey Kong in the next room barely acknowledging my existence.
I soon learned not to get too excited when my friends’ names flashed across the caller ID screen. “Is Sean there?” FRIENDSHIP OVER.
I was on permanent unpaid babysitting duty, with a few perks. As one could guess, my parents always had a babysitter on hand… me. Lucky Me. This is much of the reason I am still protective of my crew today. I was always looking after them growing up. And sure, I tried to keep them out of trouble, but what an order!
It reminds me of that Sunday evening at the bowling alley. My parents gave us one rule that night — to “stay inside these doors and do not leave this bowling alley!” I was so excited to have free reign of the entire place, from the arcade to the bowling area to the food court. Then I heard those dreaded words: “Your sister is in charge.” You see, being in charge meant being responsible for the outcome. I knew my night was blown. No time had passed before I saw them headed for the door. Outside, the forbidden fruit. It didn’t help that there was a McDonalds in the parking lot. I pleaded with them to stay inside, but who was I kidding. It was 4 against 1. So I employed my go-to tactic whenever they collectively tried to defy me: Grab the Youngest. As soon as I stepped out the door to retrieve my baby brother, my dad appeared out of nowhere like a ghost! “You had one rule: not to go beyond these doors,” he said to us all, before his focus landed squarely on me. “I expected more from you Crystal.” Needless to say the ride home was long and silent as we all anticipated the trouble we were going to be in once we got to the house. But Lucky me, they got in much more trouble because (1) after all, I was Daddy’s little girl, and (2) You Don’t Mess With the Babysitter.
Some of the sweltering hot summer days gave me a chance to exercise my special treatment of being the only girl. While the boys were told to stay outside until dinner was ready, I was allowed to stay in and help out. Most of the time, I hated that I had to help with the “womanly” chores of cleaning, washing and drying dishes, vacuuming and dusting, but on those days I used it to my advantage. I would sit inside like a queen while they sweated it out. Then would come a beautiful Saturday morning when I would be asked to clean inside the house and the boys got yard duty. I would longingly look out the window at them “cutting the grass” while throwing the football and talking with the other neighborhood kids.
Sometimes those boys just made it too easy to be the good one. Report card day was a repeat of events every nine weeks: “Don’t tell mom and dad you got your report card today. We will be so grounded.” But, I did. I always came out ahead on report card day!
It’s comical how a family can be at each other’s throats but the moment an outsider says anything negative about a member, the family bonds together like glue. That was definitely us. We could pick on each other all we wanted, but don’t you dare!
Although I would never let anything bad happen to them at the hands of anyone else, I have accidentally inflicted pain on each of them at some point. There was the incident of me swinging a golf club too close to Dallas’ face. The result was an eye swollen shut. Another time I may have pushed Nick in his Playschool swing right into Steven’s face, resulting in stitches above his eyebrow. Then there is that mishap when a Q-Tip was accidentally shoved into Sean’s ear causing his eardrum to bust. They always said those things are bad for the inner ear. Sometimes the boys accuse me of having ill intentions, but I maintain these were all accidents resulting from my clumsiness and not pay-back for all those years of aggravation.
The stories of the tattling, picking and aggravating are numerous, but I couldn’t picture life without my brothers. I have to give them credit for making me tough, giving me confidence and always defending me. Because of my four protectors, I learned that I deserve respect from all men and to never settle for less than that. When I reflect on my childhood with all brothers, I truly think, Lucky Me.
Congratulations, Christmas. You’ve Made Me A Psycho.
By Laura Knoll
It is two days before Christmas, and I cannot help but feel like Christmas has been warped, and like I am warping it for my children. Everywhere I turn, the emphasis has shifted to commercial concerns, and away from the true ideals and magic which Christmas used to embody for me as a child, growing up. The timeless Christmas spirit has been supplanted by acquiring more STUFF, giving presents that no one actually needs, and portraying wealth or happiness on social media. As a mother of small children, I feel like all I do during the month of December is try to incentivize good behavior for one month out of the year via tools like the elf on the shelf, or Santa Claus “apps”. I feel like I am not teaching my children what Christmas is actually supposed to feel like.
To quote Cindy Lou Who from the Grinch (the Jim Carrey version):
“Where are you Christmas? Why can’t I find you? Why have you gone away?”
I think one of the reasons that true Christmas spirit seems so elusive to today’s families is that the time honored Christmas rituals which emphasized family time, giving, generosity, and holiness, have been increasingly replaced by social media inspired commercial traditions and the Christmas “commercial enterprise” (Black Friday, Cyber Monday), all facilitated by modern day technology.
I would give up anything to be able to recreate some of my childhood Christmases growing up in New York City, the child of divorced, middle-class parents. My mom (a single mom from when I was 6 years old until I graduated from high school), did a fabulous job of making Christmas warmly memorable and inspirational. Our Christmas ritual started with the purchase of our family Christmas tree. My younger brother, my mom and I would walk about a half a mile to 110th Street and Broadway’s Christmas tree “lot”, where a completely toothless woman named Molly from Vermont wearing cut-off gloves and severely calloused hands would show us her Christmas trees and ultimately sell us one. These New York City Christmas tree “lots” look a lot like this:
Molly would wrap the tree in twine, and we would lay it on its side on the concrete sidewalk. Then each of us would stick a gloved hand through the branches to grasp the trunk. We would carry it the half-mile home, through the blinding freezing New York City wind, like this:
Our doorman would meet us at the steps of our walk-up apartment, and help us get it in the elevator, leaving a trail of Christmas tree needles in the elevator and the hallway to our third story apartment.
Once inside, we would decorate our tree to the sound of Christmas music playing on the record player and make Christmas cookies. We would read the Polar Express on the living room couch (long after we stopped believing in Santa). A few days later, we would go to a beautiful Christmas choral service at our local church, St. John the Divine Cathedral. As a child I remember feeling a lump in my throat as I was moved to tears by the beauty of the choir’s Christmas carols, and the excitement of the season.
On Christmas morning, we would open presents. And a few years, my mom basically dragged us to a nursing home to sing Christmas carols to the elderly residents. I never wanted to do it – seeing the older people always made me feel uncomfortable and sad, and I distinctly recall glancing over at my mom’s tear-stained face mid-caroling session, knowing that she felt the same way. Still, the elderly residents, even those with advanced Alzheimer’s disease, somehow knew all the words to many of the famous Christmas carols. I guess the brain always remembers those timeless songs, even when it can no longer recall the face or identity of loved ones.
Now 34 years old, and a mother of three small children myself, I can hardly recall a single present I received for Christmas as a child. Yet I remember the Christmas rituals like they were yesterday, and I remember with startling vividness the caroling – the feeling that Christmas was not just about presents and receiving rewards. These are memories that seem indelibly burned into my brain, leaving imprints on my inner soul. I guess in reality my mom instilled in me the real “reason for the season” – gratitude, family, love, prayer, generosity, and that indescribably “magic” feeling.
Why then, am I so hard on myself about Christmas now that I am a mother of three small children of my own? I don’t think I’m alone. I have these expectations and they seem like they’re never met. I cannot help but feel like I’m somehow falling short every Christmas.
Christmas is full of distractions now. Everything is broadcast via social media. Christmas is no longer a private special experience among immediate close family – it’s shared with the world. Wherever you live, whether it be a small rural town, a suburb, or a large city, Christmas is different. There is just so much more that’s expected of parents and families to make Christmas Christmas that’s acceptable these days.
I’m sure my Christmas rituals were markedly different from most, being that we lived in such a huge city. However, they were OUR rituals. Nobody knew about them but us. We couldn’t post pictures, alerting the world to what we were doing via social media, seeing how many “likes” we would get. We couldn’t show off our Christmas to others. In that sense, our Christmases were authentic and privately ours.
With the advent of social media and technology, the uniqueness and personal nature of these Christmas traditions has been undeniably altered. As a mother, I actually find it stressful. I find myself constantly feeling like I’m falling short of the ideal Christmas. One would think it would make it easier, but I actually feel more pressure. In short, CHRISTMAS IS MAKING ME PSYCHO. And believe me, with three small children ages 5, 3 and 9 months, I don’t need much help in the psycho department as it is.
Let’s look at some of the things we, as parents, are now expected to do:
Pictures with Santa:
Oh my God. For some reason, I feel like a failure as a mom if I don’t take my kids to the mall to sit on Santa’s lap and get a picture of them. There is this ideal now also that kids have to actually meet Santa in person to believe that he’s real. Kids these days need to see things for themselves; technology has made it much harder for modern kids to just believe in the unbelievable.
I have taken my kids to sit on Santa’s lap at the mall every year since my oldest daughter was born – she is almost 6 years old, so that’s 6 straight years of standing in line at a hot mall, corralling my rambunctious children. Every year I have had to cajole them to smile or sit on the big guy’s lap via friendly incentives, angry whispering (“you better go sit on his lap or he will put you on the naughty list.”) to downright acting like a fool trying to get them to “SMILE FOR SANTA AND YOU’LL GET A SUCKER!” Inevitably, the pictures have generally fallen into one of these two categories:
Also known as (a/k/a) the small child gripped by separation anxiety who is utterly traumatized by being placed on the lap of a complete stranger with a white beard, and shrieked at to “smile” by workers creepily dressed as Christmas elves. Said child screams bloody murder and appears tortured in the picture regardless of bribes, and is typically carried off of Santa’s lap whimpering with fear.
Here is my middle daughter enduring this horror for the first time at age 11 months:
And here is my 9 month old son similarly experiencing this terrorizing event for the first time despite my best efforts to dress him in a festive Christmas-colored Chevron tie purchased on Etsy.
Still Worse, The Parent Picture:
Also known as (a/k/a) the undesirable event where your children quietly (or unquietly) refuse to sit anywhere near Santa (or his demonic Frosty the Snowman helper), without you in the picture as well.
Thankfully I was wearing a red shirt and, for the record, I too was haunted by Frosty’s evil-appearing smile and striking similarity to the clown in Stephen King’s It.
This Christmas ritual is now posted all over social media sites like Facebook and Instagram, leaving some mothers who lack time and patience to torture their children like this feeling “less than.”
The Elf on the Shelf:
I don’t know about you, but our Elf, Belle, is pretty uncreative. Lazy may be a better word for it. Or maybe I’m just lazy and uncreative.
Founded in 2005, the Elf on the Shelf has been delighting children near and far, with the premise that the Elf spies on children and reports back to Santa every night as to the child’s behavior – good or bad.
Implied in the title is that the elf sits on the Shelf. Nowhere does it mention that the elf will sit on a toilet seat and be seen pooping red and white Hershey’s kisses. The elf is supposed to sit on the damn shelf.
While some elves are toilet-papering Christmas trees and zip-lining through living rooms, our elf prefers a more cautious and subdued approach, hopping around to different house plants, wreaths, or (old faithful) the Christmas tree. How many times have I awoken at 1:00 a.m. in a cold sweat with a racing heart realizing I had forgotten to move the elf.
I know I’m not alone. The Elf on the Shelf is just another thing that makes moms like me psycho.
This Christmas tradition was kind of forced on me. My oldest daughter came home from daycare one day a few years ago asking why no elf cared about her enough to come watch her when all of her friends at daycare had elves. Worried I was emotionally scarring her with a feeling of low self-worth, I made the walk of shame to the nearest Target to buy the overpriced book and accompanying felt elf.
At first, most elves were as uncreative as our elf (remember, it’s supposed to be an elf on a shelf, not an elf on a toilet seat pooping Hershey’s kisses). Recently, however, elf positions and ideas have exploded on Pinterest and Facebook and similar social media sites. As if the pressure of Christmas wasn’t enough already, moms now have to worry about creatively displaying a little felt elf for approximately 25 straight days?!
I personally don’t even agree with the elf’s premise. I know I’m not the only mother who hopes beyond hope that her children might just want to be genuinely good – not just good one month out of the year because they greedily hope for presents. Prominent psychologists and researchers have expressly dismissed the idea that the elf on the shelf provides any lasting change in behavior amongst children. This has proven true for me. Year after year, I have watched in horror as my children display abhorrent behavior on Christmas day and the days directly following Christmas because the elf is no longer watching. And I know I’m not the only parent who has desperately threatened her children with the possibility that Santa’s sleigh will turn back around to reclaim presents wrongly given to now misbehaving children.
There are now even smartphone apps like Portable North Pole, which generate a unique video designed specifically for your child. The video features a real Santa Claus, ostensibly at the North Pole with real elves, who identifies the child, speaks to them by name, discloses personal details about them (age, where they go to school), and ultimately decrees in a very suspenseful manner whether the child is on the “nice,” “almost nice”, or “naughty” list. My children both received portable north pole videos this year. They were delighted to find out that they were currently on the “nice list” (seriously I don’t think I could have brought myself to put them on the naughty list).
My point is that Christmas is being slowly and steadily usurped by commercial behavior-modification products which attempt to incentivize good behavior among children with the promise of presents. We never had those distractions when I was growing up. Christmas was Christmas. I was never told that I was going to get a lump of coal. I was given a Sears Wishbook Catalogue and told to circle two toys. I would usually get one of those toys. That’s it. Maybe that’s why I have such fond and mystical memories of Christmas – the focus was so much less on presents and more on the magical feeling.
Personalized online Christmas and holiday photo cards is another thing that’s creating psycho-ness and pressure these days. When I was growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, this pressure simply was not there. As far as I can remember, pictures weren’t digitally stored and available – let alone accessible from handheld devices and laptops and easily uploaded to card sites like TinyPrints. The smartphone with a built-in camera was still more than a decade away. Shutterfly (the idea of which originated in 1999, but which was not made public until 2006), was not even a distant thought. There may have been a year or two when my mom was on top of her game enough to buy a pack of holiday cards from the neighborhood drug store, develop some film at said drug store, and shove a picture or two of us in the card to send out to her nearest and dearest. But that’s it. It just was not expected.
I don’t know when it happened, but Christmas photo cards are just expected now. In my small Cajun Louisiana town of Marksville, Louisiana, population of approximately 5,000, I know many mothers who have stressed out about having appropriate holiday outfits – the smocked dresses and big bows; the holiday vests and charming collared shirts. And who have stressed out about Christmas cards.
I’ve talked to moms who have expressed dismay at their inability to find time to do Christmas cards because they worried that people would think something sinister was going on with their family – like maybe they were going through a hard time, an illness, a divorce, or something like that. How about they just don’t want to spend $150 or so on some cards at Tiny Prints or Shutterfly?! Or how about they don’t want to suffer through the ridiculous endeavor of dressing their children in festive holiday attire, dragging them outside to a special spot, and screaming at them for an hour to “SMILE AND YOU WILL GET ICE CREAM!”
“We didn’t even have time to do Christmas cards this year!” is a common mantra among exasperated moms as an example of how busy a family may have been in any given year.
I am in no way decrying Christmas cards as a beautiful way to spread Christmas cheer to loved ones. Despite having way too much to do, I’ve done Christmas cards for the past 4 years. I love to collect them – I love seeing pictures of other peoples’ children. And I think it is a great ritual and way of spreading good cheer. My point is more that there is already a lot of pressure on mothers to arrange for these things, and if that is the true reason and motivation for sending — to fulfill some sort of societal pressure on moms to portray a beautifully holiday-clad family, devoid of problems – then the spirit of Christmas is being lost. As a child, my Christmases were made magical by a mother who was always present emotionally – not stressed out and harried, screaming at us to smile because she was trying to get everyone in perfect poses for a flawless Christmas card.
What’s The Point?
The point is that we are slowly losing Christmas. If I could have one Christmas wish, it would be to teleport my own children back to the 1980s to experience what I experienced.
At the risk of sounding cheesy and cliché, history has proven time and time again that memorable Christmas experiences are more along the lines of the intangible – the moments that are magical simply because they embody the good cheer and familial love of our fellow man, and a recognition of the actual reason for Christmas – the birth of Jesus. There are a lot of distractions out there. And if a mom succumbs to taking these societal pressures and new norms too seriously, it may detract from her ability to be physically and emotionally present for the Christmas holidays. What children want most on Christmas is love; love and to feel a part of something greater; something Holy. That’s what Christmas is – it is a holy day which is supposed to be spent doing God’s will, loving our fellow mankind, and showing children that Christmas far exceeds tangible gifts, good behavior, or the naughty/nice list.
With the commercial turn that Christmas has taken in the past two decades or so, it is incumbent upon moms to try to save the spirit of Christmas. Take your kids to a local Christmas tradition festival. In Louisiana, Natchitoces has a historic Christmas festival which still embodies the spirit of old-time, small-town community Christmas tradition. My town, Marksville, has an annual “lighting of the Courthouse Square” where families gather to watch the local courthouse be lit for the first time in the season. Children need to see that local communities keep these traditions alive to promote a community spirit of conviviality and unity in a season that has become increasingly about individual gain.
Or even better, show your kids that their problems are, for lack of a better phrase, #firstworldproblems. Find a local family in need and give anonymously. We did that this year – my sisters in law and I got gifts together and a Christmas dinner and brought them to a local needy family. We brought our kids. It was a memorable experience and I can only hope that my kids saw on some sort of level just how blessed they are, and how little the “commercial” and “receiving” aspect of Christmas means as compared to the spirit of giving. Take your kids caroling at a nursing home. Take them, because if you don’t, they won’t know to pass these experiences on to the next generation.
Sing with them, even if you feel stupid singing with them. Let them decorate your Christmas tree even if it looks more like a tree that a clown decorated, and not one you decorated by the folks at Frontgate or Pottery Barn. Get them involved in the intangible goodness and excitement of the season. All children really want is your time.
My five year old daughter has been hounding me for an iPod since Thanksgiving. For the record, she will NOT be getting one – I told her she needs to save her money (and since she only has $29, it will be a while before she gets that). But I recently spent the day with her taking her to a local “Christmas Fete” in Alexandria, Louisiana. And what she said to me after we spent the day playing in fake snow and watching ice skaters brought tears to my eyes. She said “what I really want is for you to play with me like this.” Her innocent little voice was so powerful, and nothing could be more of the truth.
This Christmas season has seemed warped, and controlled by commercial concerns, threats and bribes for good behavior, and the promise of presents. It is probably always going to be a little bit about sending cards and keeping up with the Joneses. But I am making a pledge to my children (though they don’t know it yet), that in the future, Christmas will be different.
Why Kids Still Need The Cubs
By Jed Cain
I’m a child of WGN. The 1980’s version. I grew up 890 miles away from Chicago. But the wonders of cable television transported me to Wrigley Field.
My Sandlot-like summers were filled with bicycles, baseballs, and swimming pools. Afternoon Cubs games were consumed during mom-mandated breaks from the Louisiana heat. Harry Carey narrated my childhood between Budweiser commercials.
Looking back on it now, I should have been a Braves fan. The Braves were televised on TBS and actually won. My adolescence would have been more pleasant if managed by the steady hand of Bobby Cox.
But that’s not how love works. Falling in love is often quite painful. Those of us that fell for the Cubs are no strangers to pain. In my 3 decades of fandom, I have known my fair share. The 1989 loss to the Giants in the NLCS. The 1998 steroid induced mirage of greatness that was Sammy Sosa. A 2003 Alex Gonzales error and an 8 run inning that left me curled up in the fetal position.
Down 3-0 to the New York Mets, the 2015 Cubs are once again teetering on the brink of playoff elimination. Joe Maddon and his hard-hitting youngsters have given us one hell of a ride. I don’t know how it will end. But should it end tonight with a Mets sweep, it will have been a good one.
This Cubs season has been a little different for me. I’m now raising 3 little Cubs fans. My little fans have grown beyond the ages of simply sporting the cute gear. They are starting to enjoy the game. And like me, they are learning to love baseball from the beautifully cursed Cubs.
As a father, it has been fun to watch. My kids need baseball. They are part of the emerging “Over Stimulated Generation.” They are the first generation that will be raised entirely in the age of the smart phone and tablet. They will have no memory of a time before emails, texts, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Their little brains will be shaped in fundamentally new ways by a lifetime of the endogenous opioids produced by the habitual checking of apps, email, Twitter feeds, and Facebook statuses. (Why The Modern World Is Bad For Your Brain).
Baseball is the antitheses of this over stimulated time. It is a slow developing game of nuance and delayed gratification. It requires a certain degree of cultivated patience to properly appreciate.
Baseball used to be our national past time. But these days, football is king. In 2014, 35 percent of sports fans identified the NFL as their favorite sport, followed by Major League Baseball (14 percent), and college football (11 percent). In many ways, football is the epitome of our over stimulated, kinetic world.
College aged kids are drafted into the NFL and rushed onto the field. There is no minor league for long-term development. Kids are declared “busts” if they do not immediately excel. The NFL season is made up of only 16 games. During a game, the offense has 40 seconds to complete a play. On a given play, 22 massive men are set in motion. Players block, run, throw, catch, and tackle all at the same time. Football is a game of orchestrated aggression and chaos.
If football is cable news, baseball is print journalism. Baseball is calmness and patience. Baseball is nuance and subtlety. Major league baseball players spend years developing in the minor leagues before making it to “The Show.” The MLB season consists of 162 games. A given game lasts 3 to 4 hours. The majority of that time is spent with only the pitcher, catcher, and batter participating in the action. Everyone else is more or less just standing around. Occasionally a ball is hit and a runner advances to a base. But the best hitters on the planet only muster a batting average of around .300. They fail to get a hit 7 out of the 10 times they step up to the plate.
With the Cubs resurgence in 2015, we are reminded of their special place in our sports culture. They are our “lovable losers.” But they are so much more.
For decades, the Cubs have defied the logic of the free market. Despite continually fielding an inferior baseball product, fans flocked to ballparks to cheer for the Cubs.
The Cubs taught generations of Americans how to unconditionally love and appreciate the game of baseball. Our devotion to the team is not tied to tangible measures of on field success. We don’t love the Cubs for their World Series wins. There haven’t been any in over 100 years. Instead, their perpetual failure has taught us to simply love the beauty of the game. The ivy on the wall. The organ music. The fluidity of Mark Grace’s swing. The 2 out RBI. The 3-2 change up. The hit and run. The bunt. The sac fly. The stolen base.
Over the years, the Cubs have become baseball in its purest form. And baseball remains a window into a more patient and focused time.
As a father, the constant connectivity of the modern age scares me. Maybe I’ll live to see the day when the “Over Stimulated Generation” rebels against the instruments of their connectivity.
Until then, I hope my 3 little Cubs fans continue to press their faces up against the great window into our past that is baseball. I hope they value what they see.
Louisiana: Broke But Not ‘Breaking Bad’
By Jed Cain
It’s fashionable to be down on Louisiana these days.
We’re in a tough spot. A budget deficit of $1.6 billion. The contraction of the oil and gas industry. LSU’s plunging credit rating.
Amidst such problems, our Governor awkwardly flirts with presidential primary voters in far off places. His preoccupation with the Republican presidential nomination drags Louisiana into distracting debates ranging from alleged Muslim “no-go” zones in Europe to legalized bigotry in the name of Jesus Christ.
The gravity of our economic problems, coupled with our most visible leader’s propensity for distraction, might lead some to believe that Louisiana is “breaking bad.”
We’re undoubtedly broke. But maybe we’re not as bad as we seem. If you look in the right places and apply the proper context, there are a lot of little reasons to be optimistic about the future. Here are few that you might have missed:
Louisiana Is Still Growing Stuff
In 2014, Louisiana agriculture contributed $12.7 billion to the state’s economy. The record setting 2014 figure marked a 7.6 percent, or $900 million, increase from 2013.
The 2014 figures capped off 5 consecutive years of agricultural growth – from $9.9 billion in 2010 to the record setting figure of 2014.
The largest contributors to the 2014 increase were soybeans, beef, and forestry.
Soybean values increased from 2013 to 2014 by 28 percent, or $252 million, totaling $1.16 billion. The cattle business grew by $231 million, or 35 percent, totaling $895 million. The forestry sector increased by $981 million and totaled $3.86 billion in 2014.
Louisiana Is Getting Healthier
In September 2014, it was announced that Louisiana finally lost its distinction as the state with the highest adult obesity rate. Louisiana’s obesity rate fell from 34.7 percent to 33.1 percent. The percentage decline translated into 56,000 fewer obese residents in the state.
In January 2015, New Orleans – “The Big Easy” and “The City That Care Forgot” – adopted a city-wide smoking ban with very little controversy or fanfare.
In our bright red state, smoking is routinely banned in both public and private establishments without any real dissent or complaints about a loss of personal liberty.
In a political climate ripe with conflict, where our leaders often manufacture debates about even the most basic scientific facts, we have collectively decided that smoking is bad for us and we ought to do something about it. That kind of consensus is refreshing.
Louisiana Is Getting Smarter
In 2014, 75 percent of Louisiana’s public high school students graduated on time. That figure marked an increase over 2013 and set a record for the state. It was the fourth consecutive year the graduation rate increased in Louisiana and capped an 8 percent increase since the 2006-2007 school year.
Louisiana high school students with disabilities showed the largest gains. The graduation rate for those students shot up 6 percentage points in 2014.
The graduation rate among African-American students increased by 2 percent while their white peers improved by .01 percent serving as evidence that Louisiana’s efforts to close the achievement gap are working.
Louisiana Is Preserving The Past
In 1742, Marie Therese Coincoin was a born a slave into the household of Louis St. Denis, the founder of Natchitoches. At the age of 26, Marie was leased as a housekeeper to a young French merchant named Claude Metoyer. Marie and Metoyer entered into a 19-year relationship that resulted in 10 children. Eventually, Metoyer purchased the freedom of Marie and several of their children.
Upon securing her freedom and a parcel of land from Metoyer, Marie began raising cattle and tobacco. Her fortunes grew as she and her sons received land grants and purchased slaves. They became pillars of a community called Isle Brevelle, populated by “gens de couleur libre,” free people of color who thrived as business people, plantation owners, and slave owners.
In 1796, one of Marie’s sons, Louis Metoyer was deeded 911 acres of land. In the 1820’s, Metoyer, a free person of color, commissioned his enslaved workers to build the Melrose Plantation in Natchitoches. On the grounds of the plantation was built the African House.
The African House is a two-story hut-like building that reflects the style and traditional architecture of houses in Africa. It is one of the single most unique historical architectural structures still standing in the United States.
On March 16, 2015, the National Trust for Historic Preservation designated the African House as a national treasure. The designation is currently bestowed upon only 61 sites around the country. It is the first such designation of a site in Louisiana.
Louisiana Is Embracing The Future
Tennessee Williams was famously quoted as saying:
“America only has three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.”
New Orleans was founded in 1718 and has enjoyed a rich and textured history. Each year, thousands of visitors flock to the city to soak up its magic and step back in time. The ancient architecture of the French Quarter. The Street Car on St. Charles Avenue. Mardi Gras Indians.
In many ways, New Orleans’ history has been both its greatest asset and biggest burden. Over the years, the city’s stubborn unwillingness to change has preserved one of America’s great cultural treasures. That stubbornness has also facilitated growth-killing poverty and crime.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans experienced an entrepreneurial boom. Droves of young, educated, optimistic professionals flocked to the Crescent City and opened businesses. The entrepreneurial boom in the tech sector led industry insiders to create a new nickname for New Orleans – Silicon Bayou.
This year, almost 300 years after it was first founded, New Orleans is getting solar powered trash cans. That’s right. Solar powered trash cans.
In April 2015, Waste Management began installing 246 solar powered trash compactors in the business sections of the French Quarter as well as Poydras Street, Frenchmen Street, and Convention Center Boulevard.
The modern cans use energy from solar panels to compact garbage, reducing overflow and the frequency with which they need to be emptied. They even include software that alerts the city when the can is empty, nearly full, or full.
Tourists will now stroll down Royal Street marveling at some of America’s oldest architecture, looking into windows of antique shops that house treasures dating back to the 1700’s. Those same tourists will quietly toss their garbage into solar powered trash cans.
There is no better image of where Louisiana could be headed. A truly unique and functional blend of both the very old and very new. A new South that blends aggressive cultural conservation with smart evolution.
Louisiana Does Resurrection Well
Louisiana seems to possess an innate ability to resurrect itself from the dead. From the Great Flood of 1927, to Hurricane Katrina, to the BP Oil Spill, time and time again we have been declared dead. Each declaration of our death has been followed by a period of rebirth. Maybe it has something to do with our Catholic origins.
These days, Theo Shaw is my favorite story of Louisiana resurrection.
In 2007, protestors from around the country converged upon the tiny town of Jena, Louisiana as it was thrust into our ongoing national debate about race and the allegedly disproportionately harsh punishments levied against young African American males.
Theo Shaw and 5 of his African American classmates at Jena High School were charged with the attempted second-degree murder of a white classmate following a schoolyard fight. The fight occurred against the backdrop of alleged wide spread racial tension at the high school. The widely criticized attempted murder charge was levied against the African American students despite the fact that the white victim was able to attend a school function the same night.
Shaw, who was unable to post bail, sat in jail for 7 months before he was eventually released. Though Shaw insists that he played no role in the fight, he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor simple battery.
Eight years after the national controversy surrounding Jena, Theo Shaw is heading to law school at the University of Washington with a full scholarship. Shaw graduated from the University of Louisiana at Monroe with a BA in political science and went on to work at the Southern Poverty Law Center counseling juvenile offenders. He is 1 of only 5 students in his incoming law school class to be awarded the prestigious William H. Gates Public Service Law Scholarship.
“Breaking bad” – To go wrong. To go downhill.
Louisiana is going through a tough time right now. A $1.6 billion budget deficit is certainly proof that we’re broke. But when you find yourself becoming overly pessimistic about Louisiana’s future, remember these little symbols of what our future could hold:
Solar powered trash cans and Theo Shaw.
A Prelude To Steel Magnolias: Natchitoches Christmas Belles
By Jed Cain
Small towns breed great stories. Stories filled with facts and sprinkled with flavor. Most of these stories are told at parties or family gatherings. But every now and then, there’s a story that’s just too good not to write down.
The story of Natchitoches’ Miss Merry Christmas and the Christmas Belles is one of those stories. The beauty and virtue that these titles represent deserve to be viewed in the proper context as our cultural attitudes about gender continue to evolve. In many ways they represent small town, Southern traditions that have become increasingly misunderstood.
I married a Natchitoches Christmas Belle. A Christmas Belle in the absolute fullest sense of the words. I now raise a daughter with that Christmas Belle in a world in which women excel at every imaginable social and professional level. But it wasn’t always that way.
Over the course of 58 years, Miss Merry Christmas and the Christmas Belles have helped create generations of confident young women that have gone on to tackle life’s challenges with an intellect, wit, and charm that is uniquely Natchitoches.
As we prepare for a Natchitoches Christmas Festival in which we will celebrate the 25th anniversary of “Steel Magnolias,” it’s worth reflecting on the role of Miss Merry Christmas and the Christmas Belles as a prelude to the legendary film that has come to symbolize the strength and beauty of Southern women.
The Natchitoches Christmas Festival
For nearly 90 years, the tiny town of Natchitoches, Louisiana has spent the first Saturday of just about every December hosting its annual Christmas Festival. Over 150,000 festivalgoers flock to the little city each year to enjoy 300,000 brightly colored Christmas lights that illuminate the scenic Cane River Lake. The day is filled with food, parades, and fireworks.
For locals, the Festival is a source of great pride. Like one of their children, they’ve watched it grow over the years. Amidst the ever-changing landscape of the world around them, the first Saturday in December has remained constant.
The Festival is a time for local families to reunite. Children and grandchildren return home from far off places to soak up the magic of the little old town. Parents and grandparents look on as another generation of youngsters marvel at the lights.
Miss Merry Christmas And The Christmas Belles
In 1956, the Natchitoches Christmas Festival Committee came up with what proved to be a remarkably bright idea. The committee decided that the Festival needed a face (or faces). But not just any faces. Pretty faces. Faces that would serve as ambassadors for the city and help draw crowds to its Festival.
In true “Mad Men” fashion, the 1950’s committee decided that the Festival needed a “beauty” contest. And from that point forward, a pageant has been held each fall to crown Miss Merry Christmas (the winner) and her Christmas Belles (the runner ups).
The contest is open to any high school senior girl who lives in Natchitoches Parish. Importantly, it’s not merely a match of superficial beauty. It’s a contest in which participants are judged on their intellect, wit, and charm.
Contestants are administered a written test on their knowledge of Natchitoches’ unique history and culture. Test questions range from the year of Natchitoches’ founding (1714) to the number of Christmas lights that illuminate downtown during the holiday season. The test is scored and used to determine which girls make the final cut.
Interviews are conducted of the girls to test their attitude and disposition. An on onstage questioning session is used to test the girls’ wit and ability to think on their feet.
Upon being crowned, Miss Merry Christmas and the Christmas Belles instantly become ambassadors for the city and the hostesses of that year’s Festival. Decked out in their signature red (Miss Merry Christmas) and green (Christmas Belles) velvet dresses, Miss Merry Christmas and the Belles travel around the state promoting Natchitoches and the Festival. They march in small town parades. They visit rural elementary schools. They appear on radio and television shows. On the day of the Festival, they perform ceremonial duties, ride in the parade, and mingle with dignitaries from around the state.
A Portrait Of A Natchitoches Christmas Belle
My wife was a Natchitoches Christmas Belle. Her tenure in the green velvet dress almost seemed predetermined at birth.
She was born during the Natchitoches Christmas Festival on Saturday, December 1, 1979.
As if her birth story didn’t give her enough Christmas Festival street credibility, her parents named her – Holly.
At the age of 5, while sitting downtown watching the Festival fireworks with her family, there was literally a sign from Santa. A firework malfunctioned and landed within 3 feet of her, fully engulfed in flames. It was like Moses and the burning bush. To this day, her father keeps the firework shell in his office.
For my wife, representing Natchitoches as a Christmas Belle was a wonderful experience. It gave her confidence at a critical time. It taught her grace. It taught her charm. It taught her the value of community.
Over the years, I’ve watched Holly masterfully use her inner Natchitoches Christmas Belleness to the benefit of our family. I’ve watched her use it to advance herself professionally. I’ve watched her use it to help advance me professionally. I’ve watched her use it to raise our 3 kids. I simply cannot imagine what life would be like for our family without the strong and soothing tones of a Natchitoches Christmas Belle guiding us along the way.
And therein lies the absolute, unequivocal (perhaps accidental) genius of a 1950’s Natchitoches Christmas Festival Committee.
The Genius Of The Christmas Belles
Before the cultural revolution of the 1960’s.
Before women began outpacing men in college enrollment.
Before there were 24 female CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies.
Before there were 172 female billionaires.
Before Margaret Thatcher.
Before Hillary Clinton.
Before Oprah Winfrey.
Before all of those things, in 1956, little old Natchitoches doubled down on its investment in women and made a group of young ladies the face of its most valuable franchise. That’s pretty cool when you stop and think about it.
For 58 years, Natchitoches has churned out Miss Merry Christmases and Christmas Belles that have gone on to become wildly successful in their chosen professions. Their success is no accident. It came in part from a community that recognized their talent, encouraged their ambition, and taught them how to lead.
The Miss Merry Christmases and Christmas Belles who once served as the teenage ambassadors of the Festival have now grown up to become powerful women. Decades of Miss Merry Christmases and Christmas Belles have created a formidable army of the best and brightest women who are passionately devoted to promoting and protecting the Festival. Many of these women married, had children, and created new generations of Festival lovers. And so, Natchitoches and its Festival live on for future generations to enjoy, guarded by legions of Miss Merry Christmases and Christmas Belles.
This year’s Festival is more special than most. Natchitoches is celebrating its 300th birthday. You want to know how a little community survives for 300 years, overcoming the historical odds that cratered thousands of other little communities along the way?
I can give you at least 2 reasons:
Christmas Belles & Steel Magnolias
Happy Birthday Holly!
Blue Thursday vs. Black Friday: The Fight For Thanksgiving
By Jed Cain
Time magazine reported that 12% of Black Friday shoppers will be shopping drunk. I’m not exactly sure how Time came up with that statistic. But the image of drunk bargain shoppers charging through Bed Bath & Beyond snatching up massage chairs and single serving coffee machines just makes me smile.
In less amusing, but perhaps more important news, Time also reported that 70% of Americans believe that stores should be closed on Thanksgiving to allow workers to spend time with their families.
Getting 70% of Americans to agree on just about anything these days is pretty impressive. Nevertheless, despite our consensus, many large retailers will remain open on Thursday. Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, Macy’s, Sears, and Toys R Us will all welcome Thanksgiving shoppers in an attempt to cash in early on the frenzied shopping season.
In an era when holiday commerce is king, can we preserve the simple sanctity of Thanksgiving?
“Blue Law” Thursday
In 3 states, decades old “blue laws” ban certain stores from opening on Thanksgiving. Rhode Island, Maine, and Massachusetts prohibit large supermarkets, big box stores, and department stores from opening on Thanksgiving.
In Maine, a violation of the Thanksgiving closing law is punishable by up to 6 months in prison and a fine of $1,000. In 2005, the Massachusetts Attorney General fired off a warning letter to the Whole Foods grocery chain when he learned that it was planning to open on Thanksgiving.
These modern day “blue laws” are not without controversy. Business groups argue that such laws are unnecessarily restrictive in this era of 24-hour online shopping.
But “blue laws” have been a part of our history since the colonial period. In 1781, Rev. Samuel Peters published “A General History of Connecticut” in which he used the term “blue laws” to describe a set of laws that the Puritans enacted to control morality. Historians have speculated that the description of such laws as “blue” came from an association with the term “bluenose,” which was a slang term for a prudish, rigidly moral person.
As Puritanism declined, many state and local governments began passing “blue laws” that forbid merchants and laborers from working on Sundays. As the Temperance Movement gained steam after the Civil War, governments used “blue laws” to forbid the sale of alcohol and tobacco on Sundays.
During the early 20th century many “blue laws” were amended to provide exemptions. Such exemptions produced a hodge podge of arbitrary rules whereby, as an example, a hardware store could remain open on Sundays and sell nails but not hammers. With the post World War II expansion of the consumer culture, many Sunday closing laws were either repealed all together or simply unenforced.
The Constitutional Fight Over “Blue Laws”
Between 1859 and 1900 the U.S. Supreme Court heard 8 cases involving “blue laws.” Finally, in 1961, the constitutionality of “blue laws” was definitely resolved in the case of McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U.S. 420, 81 S.Ct. 1101, 6 L.Ed.2d 393 (1961).
In McGowan, the Supreme Court wrestled with Maryland’s “blue laws” that forbid the sale of certain products on Sundays. McGowan and several of her co-workers at a department store were fined under these laws for selling forbidden items on Sunday. The items sold included a notebook, a can of floor wax, a stapler and staples, and a toy submarine. Following their conviction under Maryland’s “blue law,” the co-workers appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that that the law violated the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the 14th Amendment and the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment.
The Supreme Court rejected McGowan’s argument and upheld Maryland’s “blue laws.” In reaching its conclusion, the Court acknowledged that while such laws had originally been enacted for religious purposes, they had evolved to serve more secular purposes and thus did not violate the Establishment Clause. The Court pointed to secular arguments for “blue laws” such as the idea that it was good for government to encourage people to take the day off from work and relax.
Since McGowan, the U.S. Supreme Court has not revisited the issue of “blue laws.” As long as such laws can be supported by a secular purpose, separate and apart from any religious purpose, “blue laws” will likely be upheld as constitutional. However, in the 50 plus years since McGowan most states have either repealed such laws or stopped enforcing them.
Harry’s Hardware And Louisiana’s “Blue Laws”
Louisiana once had its own set of “blue laws” that mandated that certain businesses remain closed on Sundays. In 1982, a little locally owned hardware store in New Orleans challenged the constitutionality of Louisiana’s “blue laws” and ended up litigating the issue all the way to the Louisiana Supreme Court. Harry’s Hardware, Inc. v. Parsons, 410 So.2d 735 (La. 1982).
Harry’s Hardware originally filed suit in Orleans Parish to stop the enforcement of Louisiana’s Sunday closing law. The little hardware store argued that Louisiana’s “blue law” was arbitrary in so much as it required the hardware store to close on Sunday while allowing other businesses such as drug stores to remain open.
Following a trial on the merits, the district court dismissed Harry’s Hardware’s suit and ruled that Louisiana’s “blue laws” were constitutional. The hardware store appealed and the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal struck down the law as unconstitutional.
Upon arriving at the Louisiana Supreme Court for final adjudication, the law was finally declared constitutional. In reaching its decision, the Court determined that the exemptions created to Louisiana’s Sunday closing law for drug stores and other related businesses were “those that the legislature deemed necessary to safely provide for the welfare of the public while mandating a forced closing of most businesses.” As a result, Louisiana’s “blue law” and its myriad of exemptions was deemed constitutional.
Gobble Gobble On Thursday – Shop On Friday
Our tradition of celebrating a post-harvest holiday on Thursday dates back to the 17th Century Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies.
In 1941, only two weeks before the U.S. would enter World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law a bill that established the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day.
This year, as we’re bombarded by retailers luring us into their stores on Thanksgiving Day, let’s take a page from our New England neighbors to the north. We don’t have “blue laws” down here to keep big box retailers closed on Thursday. But let’s just stay home anyway. Gobble gobble on Thursday. Shop on Friday.
But remember on Friday – watch out for the drunk folks trying out the massage chairs at Bed Bath & Beyond.
Mediating Louisiana Personal Injury Cases
By Jed Cain
Lawyers and courtrooms have always been popular fodder for television shows and movies. Overly dramatic cross-examinations and closing arguments have romanticized the concept of the jury trial.
Many personal injury litigants who have seen Hollywood’s spin on our legal system, expect their case to be resolved in the courtroom by way of a dramatic jury trial. A trial can be an intimidating exercise for litigants situated on either side of a personal injury lawsuit. Most clients are surprised to learn that the vast majority of cases are settled before a trial actually takes place.
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is a broad category of practices and procedures used by lawyers and judges to resolve lawsuits without the necessity of a full-blown trial. Mediation and arbitration are two of the most common types of ADR. However, personal injury clients often misunderstand the distinction between mediation and arbitration.
What Is Mediation?
Mediation is an informal process whereby a neutral person called a “mediator” attempts to help the parties to a lawsuit settle the case prior to trial.
The parties to the lawsuit mutually agree upon a specific mediator. Mediators are typically lawyers or retired judges. The mediator is generally paid by the hour for the time that he/she spends assisting the parties. The parties usually share in the expense of the mediator equally unless an alternative agreement is reached at the mediation.
Mediation typically takes place at a lawyer or mediator’s office. The lawyers, parties, and mediator spend substantial time meeting both together and separately to discuss a potential resolution. The goal of the mediator is to guide the parties to an agreeable settlement. Mediators use different techniques to facilitate settlement. But generally, most mediators attempt to highlight the underlying strengths and weaknesses of each party’s case so as to bring to light the inherent risk both parties face in proceeding to trial.
Mediation is an entirely voluntary process. However, some judges will order the parties to a lawsuit to participate in mediation prior to trial. Nevertheless, the mediator does not have the power to force a party to settle against their will. A settlement achieved at mediation is simply an agreement between the parties, much like any other contract.
Mediation is typically a good option for litigating parties that are amendable to compromise in an effort to avoid their case being decided by a judge or jury.
What Is Arbitration?
Arbitration is procedures whereby the parties to a dispute agree to have a third- party called an “arbitrator” resolve their dispute for them in private – rather than within the public court system. Arbitrators, like mediators, are usually lawyers or retired judges.
Arbitration is typically a more-simplified version of a trial involving a different set of evidentiary and procedural rules. Prior to arbitration, the parties agree to follow a particular arbitral institution’s existing rules, such as the American Arbitration Association.
After each party to the dispute is provided with the opportunity to present their side of the story, in accordance with the agreed upon rules, the arbitrator decides who wins the dispute and what if any damages will be awarded.
Most arbitration is binding. In other words, an arbitrator’s award is enforceable in a court of law if the losing party fails to comply with the terms of award. Unlike, the public court system, arbitration typically provides for very limited rights of appeal after an arbitrator’s award.
The inclusion of arbitration agreements in many consumer agreements has come under fire. Often, consumers unknowingly sign contracts that contain arbitration agreements and in so doing waive their constitutional right to access the courts.
Feral Hogs, Nutria Rats, and Nick Saban
By Jed Cain
After watching LSU lose another heartbreaker to Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide, it got me thinking about feral hogs and nutria rats. That’s right – feral hogs and nutria rats.
What do feral hogs, nutria rats, and Nick Saban have in common? They drive the people of Louisiana absolutely crazy. Try as we might, those varmints just seem to stay one-step ahead of us.
Did you know that there are believed to be over 500,000 feral hogs running around Louisiana tearing up valuable farmland? Wild hogs do more than $1 billion worth of damage to farms nationwide.
The problem with feral hogs is that they rapidly reproduce. Sows can have up to 10 piglets per litter and reach sexual maturity at 6 months of age. They can produce up to 2 litters per year and with no natural predators, the piglet survival rate is nearly 100%.
Louisiana’s feral hog problem got so bad that over the summer the legislature tried to pass a law that would have allowed for around-the-clock hog hunting as a means to try to control the overwhelming population growth.
Wild hogs even plague New Orleans. In speaking at the hearing on around-the-clock hog hunting, Senator J.P. Morrell commented: “In Orleans Parish, hogs are a big problem. If we had the money, we would put bounties on them.”
Doesn’t our feral hog problem sound a lot like our struggle with Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide? Year after year, the Saban Sow gives birth to liters of talented Alabama piglets. Graduate Mark Ingram? Enter Trent Richardson. Graduate Trent Richardson? Enter T.J. Yeldon. Graduate Julio Jones? Enter Amari Cooper. They just seem to pop up everywhere. And Nick Saban seems to have no consistent predator in the Southeastern Conference.
Nutria rats are no better. The nutria rat is a nasty little swamp critter that has webbed feet, shaggy brown fur, and big orange teeth. Nutria, originally from South America, were brought to Louisiana in the early 19th century and farmed for their fur. As the fur declined in popularity, nutria farms were shut down and the rats released into the wild.
In the 1950’s there were believed to be over 20 million nutria rats running around Louisiana. Nutria are known for their hearty appetite and feed on root systems. Without the root systems, the land becomes more vulnerable to erosion and flooding. For over 50 years, these little rats devastated the Louisiana coastline by eating through the wetland vegetation that was necessary to prevent the marshes from turning into open water. Experts believe that nutria rats impacted over 80,000 acres of Louisiana’s vulnerable coastline.
In 2002, Louisiana implemented measures to try to control the overpopulation of nutria rats, including a $4 bounty on each rodent killed.
One of my favorite Louisiana stories involves the pick-up truck posse of the colorful former sheriff of Jefferson Parish, Harry Lee. Sherriff Lee’s posse roamed Jefferson Parish at night blasting nutria rats from the back of pick up trucks as they attempted to eat through the levees that protected the parish from flooding.
Doesn’t our nutria rat problem sound a lot like our struggle against Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide? Weren’t we the ones that introduced Coach Saban to the Southeastern Conference? Weren’t we the ones that introduced him to our fertile Louisiana high school football programs? Now, year after year, we watch as Saban and his teams chew through yards of the football field both on the ground and through the air as they compete for national titles. Our colorful Coach Miles and his pick-up truck posse chase these varmints away and snag Louisiana blue chip prospects like Leonard Fournette and Malachi Dupre. But Coach Saban always seems to sneak back in and start chewing on our levees.
So as we watch Coach Saban and his Crimson Tide continue to compete for a coveted spot in the College Football Playoff, smile just a little at the similarities between feral hogs, nutria rats, and Nick Saban.
Geaux Vote – Even If You Don’t Want To Encourage Them.
By Jed Cain
I had a political science professor in college who claimed that he no longer voted. It was kind of sad. But when asked why, his response was simple – “It only encourages them.”
For those of us that have lived through the 2014 election cycle in Louisiana, we can sympathize with the sentiment of not wanting to encourage them. Millions of dollars have been dumped into our state in an effort to reduce our two major U.S. Senate candidates to little more than WrestleMania characters. If you believe the crap that you see on TV being peddled by these outside groups, we’re essentially choosing between Hulk Hogan and Hack Saw Jim Duggan.
In reality, we’re choosing between Senator Mary Landrieu, an incumbent senator who chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Dr. Bill Cassidy, a two-term congressman who also happens to be a well-respected physician, and Col. Rob Maness, a retired Air Force veteran who now operates a 225-acre farm.
We’ve come a long way since the 1991 gubernatorial election between Edwin Edwards and David Duke. Regardless of our political ideology, surely we can all come together over an Abita Amber and agree that the state of Louisiana is fielding much better candidates on both sides of the aisle these days. We should be proud of that. (Ignore the fact that 87 year-old Edwin Edwards will likely make the run off for the 6th Congressional District. Every dieter needs an occasional Twinkie. They just taste so good.)
We’re a state on the move. We’ve got a lot to be excited about.
- The oil and gas boom.
- The dominance of our maritime industry.
- Our students’ steadily rising test scores.
- The energy of Hollywood South.
- The emergence of the new entrepreneurial class known as “Silicon Bayou.”
- And year after year, both the Saints and Tigers are competitive enough to keep us entertained throughout an entire season.
It’s a good time to be living in Louisiana. Even more reason why we should stay engaged.
So as you are bombarded with robo calls and commercials from candidates and outside groups, resist the temptation to sit this one out. Instead, quietly download a little Louisiana app that should give you reason to be optimistic about our future.
You may not know it, but Louisiana actually has a voting app. This little app can be downloaded to your mobile device with a touch of a button. It allows you to access a sample ballot for your given district. It also allows you to track the returns in given contests as the polls close. It is a cool little app that allows us all to stay more engaged in the process.
But more importantly, our little voting app is a quiet reminder that Louisiana is on the move. We’re modernizing. We’re becoming a smarter state. We’re competing with our neighbors in Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama. And guess what? We’re winning.
Go see if you can find the voting app for Texas, Mississippi, or Alabama. You won’t find it. Because it doesn’t exist. (Or at least I can’t find it)
We’re on the move. Let’s stay engaged. Geaux vote.
5 Reasons Why Our Kids Are Cooler Than Us
By Jed Cain
My wife and I have come to the realization that our kids are cooler than us. It’s painful to admit. We expected it to happen much later in life. But they just seemed to come out that way. We had very little to do with it.
So here’s a game we accidentally developed when I flippantly said one night, “Man, I wish I were as cool as our kids.” My wife and I have found great joy in this little game. You can play it if you want. The next time your kids do something that makes you smile and just shake your head, say this out loud – “Man, I wish I were as cool as (insert kid’s name).”
It’s great. You can play it anywhere. Amidst the hustle and bustle of modern parenting, it helps to slow down just a little and acknowledge the innate coolness of our kids. After all, we spend most of our time worrying that we’re just messing them up.
Here’s my list of 5 reasons why my kids (and probably all kids) are cooler than me. I bet you’ve got a pretty great list too.
1. They Don’t Meet Strangers.
Our family recently attended a Halloween themed birthday party at the home of a relative. In true Louisiana fashion, there was a bar at the party. (If you’re not from Louisiana, don’t judge. We do things a little different.)
The bar tender at the party was in her mid to late 20’s and came dressed in full costume. From a distance, I watched and listened as my 4-year old son, decked out in his Transformer costume, walked up to the bar alone and ordered himself a Sprite.
I didn’t hear the entire conversation between he and the bartender. But I heard him introduce himself as “Jake Cain.” I heard him ask for the Sprite. I heard him ask what something was on the bar (chopped up limes in a bowl). I watched her pop one of the limes in his Sprite. I heard him ask her what she was dressed as. I heard him explain that he was dressed as Optimus Prime. I watched him show her the imaginary guns on his shirtsleeves that allowed him to blast the bad guys.
As an introverted dad watching that moment, I can emphatically say…
“Man, I wish I were as cool as Jake.”
2. They Dress Cool.
When my daughter was little, my wife told her go to her room and change into an “outfit” that had been placed on her bed. A few minutes later she emerged from her room decked out in pieces of various “outfits” that she had assembled on her own in lieu of the clothes her mother picked out. Boots. Skirt. Shirt. Scarf. Jacket. Headband. Purse. Sunglasses.
Before we had time to jump into this great power struggle between parents and child, we just kind of looked at each other. We had been knocked off of our parenting game. We were prepared to defeat this great fashion rebellion at all costs. But you know what? She looked pretty cool. Way cooler than she would have looked in what my wife had picked out for her.
Later that night, as we were reflecting on the day, my wife admitted that in that moment, she wished she had my daughter’s sense of style.
“Man, I wish I were as cool as Emerson.”
3. They Don’t Easily Conform.
The featured picture on this post is my son, Jake, decked out in a red sweatshirt and his University of Georgia cap. This picture was snapped on a Saturday morning during the college football season as we were running errands around town.
We live about an hour away from Baton Rouge. Jake’s mother graduated from LSU’s nursing school. As those of us that hail from the great state of Louisiana know, it is customary to wear purple and gold (not red) on a Saturday during the football season. Typically, our family abides by this tradition.
But on this particular morning, Jake decided that he would be wearing his Bulldog paraphernalia. Jake’s grandmother graduated from the University of Georgia and purchased him the gear. He’s proud of it. He even knows the Georgia cheers. I guess it could be worse. At least Georgia is in the SEC East.
I love this picture because I can only imagine what Jake might tell an LSU fan at this particular moment were they to give him a hard time about the Georgia gear his Nanny gave him. I know what he’s told me when I’ve given him a hard time about his Georgia gear. It would not have been pretty. I would probably have had to do some “show parenting.” You know the obligatory “calm down Jake” and the “that’s not how we talk to grown ups Jake.” But what would I really be thinking?
“Man, I wish I were as cool as Jake?”
4. They Laugh Really Loud.
My kids seem to do everything a little too loud. They talk a little too loud. They play a little too loud. Sometimes they even sleep a little too loud. Most of the time it just drives me crazy.
With 3 young kids, we’ve spent a lot of time having at least one baby in the house that we’re trying to either get to sleep or keep asleep. Loud siblings aren’t very conducive to babies sleeping.
But genuine, child like, loud laughter is kind of awesome. There is something innately cool about watching someone being genuinely and loudly happy. It’s kind of refreshing to hear in a world in which so many of us lead very guarded lives.
All of our kids have been loud laughers. But our youngest, Moss, seems to have mastered the art. He literally came out of the womb laughing. As tired and run down as I may be on any given day, when Moss belts out one of his genuinely loud laughs, I pause just for a minute and think…
“Man, I wish I were as cool as Moss.”
5. They Wake Up Early To Go Swing.
When my kids go back to Natchitoches to visit their grandparents, they inevitably wake up earlier than I would like. They don’t wake up early to get ready for school. They don’t wake up early because we’re rushing them out the door to get to work. They wake up early to go swing.
My wife’s parents live on Cane River. And if you were to ask my kids, they would tell you that their MawMaw and PawPaw have the single greatest swing on the planet. I’m sure they have great swings in China and India. But nothing like this. It’s tied to the tallest tree you’ve ever seen and it sends its occupants sailing high into the air towards the river.
I’m not sure how many generations have experienced that swing. It’s been there as long as I have been around the family. It services all ages. It’s big enough for adults. Secure enough for kids. And there is even an interchangeable baby swing seat for when our kids and their cousins were younger.
I’ve spent countless hours pushing our kids and nieces back and forth on that swing. I must admit that my mind often wanders to the various tasks that I have to complete when I return back home after a weekend in Natchitoches. As my wife would say, I’m not truly “present” in those moments.
But not my kids. As they swing back and forth out over the river, they are totally present. They are totally consumed in the simple joy of swinging (when not fighting about whose turn it is to swing). The wind in their hair. The sensation of flying. The echo down the river when they scream. They’re present for all of it.
And as I watch them find great pleasure in the simple act of swinging, I think…
“Man, I wish I were as cool as my kids.”
Louisiana Oil Spill Culprit No Stranger To Problems On Pipeline
By Jed Cain
One of the unfortunate legacies of the BP oil spill is that big oil spills just don’t seem that big anymore. When viewed within the context of BP, just about every spill seems small. That’s unfortunate.
Four years after residents of south Louisiana watched BP’s oil wash up along the coast, their neighbors to the north now face similar problems. Last week, an estimated 4,000 barrels (168,000 gallons) of crude oil spilled from the Mid-Valley Pipeline into a 4-mile stretch of the Tete Bayou in rural Caddo Parish. The 65-year-old pipeline, owned by Sunoco Logistics, carries up to 280,000 barrels of crude oil per day, approximately 1,000 miles from Longview, Texas to Samaria, Michigan.
At least 250 cleanup workers, donning fire retardant clothing, hard hats, safety goggles, and respirators, were dispatched to northwest Louisiana to begin clean up efforts. Sunoco officials remain adamant that none of the oil migrated into Caddo Lake, a major source of drinking water. But the environmental impact of the spill on this rural area is undeniable. As of October 20th, Sunoco acknowledged that 139 dead animals had been recovered by clean up teams working in the area. “I would call it a significant size spill,” said Bill Rhotenberry of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Residents around the spill report the pungent odor of crude oil fills the air. Both Sunoco and the EPA are monitoring the air quality. Crude oil is made up of many chemicals, including benzene. Exposure to benzene can increase the risk of cancer, and is known to cause bone marrow failure. Benzene, which targets the liver, kidney, lungs, heart, and brain, has also been linked to aplastic anemia, leukemia, DNA strand breaks, chromosomal damage, and birth defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly.
Jeffrey Shields, Sunoco’s communications manager, acknowledged that it could take months to clean up the mess. Shields attempted to ease public concerns by reinforcing that Sunoco “understands its obligations well and understands it’s liable for the cost.” “We want everyone to be sure that we’re going to be here until this cleanup is done,” said Shields.
While the cause of the failure in the pipeline is still under investigation, Sunoco is no stranger to oil spills. Sunoco’s Mid-Valley Pipeline has been the source of 40 oil spill incidents since 2006. Property damage and clean up costs associated with these spills and leaks reportedly total nearly $20 million.
In 2000, 63,000 gallons of oil spilled into Campit Lake in Claiborne Parish, Louisiana, due to corrosion on Sunoco’s pipeline.
In 2005, about 260,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the Kentucky River due to a rupture caused by girth weld failure in a pipe originally laid in 1950.
In 2008, construction crews struck the pipeline in Burlington, Kentucky, causing 115,000 gallons to spill, 80 homes to be evacuated, and oil contamination in the sewer system and a creek.
As recently as March 2014, approximately 20,000 gallons of crude oil leaked into a nature reserve near Cincinnati through a bottom-side dent that contained a five-inch through-wall crack in Sunoco’s pipeline. The spill was only discovered when public complaints came in about the odor. Remediation efforts in Cincinnati are still underway 7 months later.
Sunoco faces potential liability under both Louisiana and federal law for its recent failures to maintain its pipeline in Caddo Parish. In addition to civil liability claims made by individual landowners, businesses, and residents impacted by the spill, Sunoco faces governmental fines.
Following the 2000 spill in Claiborne Parish, Sunoco agreed to pay fines totaling $300,000. The fines were in addition to $2.2 million spent to remediate the contaminated environment.
After the 2005 spill in Kentucky, Sunoco paid fines totaling $2.57 million to the federal government and the state of Kentucky. Those fines were in addition to $9.5 million spent to clean up the mess.
Louisiana is blessed with oil. Our state has an estimated land based reserve of 417 million barrels. That makes us the 10th most oil rich state in the U.S. And that doesn’t even take into consideration the oil reserves off our coast in the Gulf of Mexico. In 2011 alone, the outer continental shelf offshore of Louisiana produced 422 million barrels.
In terms of refining capacity, Louisiana trails only Texas. Louisiana is the home of 19 oil refineries. Those refineries have the capacity to process 3.27 million barrels of oil – per day.
Louisiana knows oil. Unfortunately, we know oil spills too. Over the years, we’ve learned that sometimes the oil companies that we host make big promises after they mess up and spill their product.
Here’s to hoping that Sunoco lives up to the promises that it is making to the people of northwest Louisiana . . .
Snot Marks On Suit Pants – A Gift Our Kids Give Us
By Jed Cain
Two little dried snot marks on my suit pants. Just above the right knee. That’s what I noticed in the seconds before the judge read the jury’s verdict aloud. I grinned inside at the thought of my toddler son tootling around the kitchen. I couldn’t pin point the exact moment when I let my guard down long enough for his snotty little nose to swipe my pants. But I was sure that he was the culprit.
I make it a habit to cross my legs and fold my hands in my lap as I wait. I don’t know why. Maybe I’m a little superstitious. I usually look down at my shoes in the final grueling seconds before the verdict is read. I’m always surprised by the details I notice. A scuffmark that looks like a dinosaur. Two slightly different shades of black socks. But up until that trial, I had never noticed snot marks on my suit pants. I could only hope that the jury hadn’t noticed them either.
It’s hard to explain the flood of thoughts that flow through a trial lawyer’s mind in the moments before a jury’s verdict is read aloud. Win or lose – the verdict is the culmination of years of hard work. Boxes of documents have been reviewed. Depositions have been analyzed. Thousands of facts have been committed to memory and meticulously woven together to form the fabric of the case. An injured client’s future often hangs in the balance.
The seriousness of the situation does not typically lend itself to thoughts of my son’s runny nose. But this time it did. And I’m glad. Those little snot marks taught me a valuable lesson that I hope I’m smart enough to remember, and brave enough to embrace, over the next 35 years of my career.
Our humanity – that ability to understand, connect, and empathize with people at a basic human level – is our most valuable professional asset. That simple little truth can become so blurred and distorted by the day-to-day realities of our professional lives.
We live in a world of constant connectivity. Smart phones, tablets, text messages, and emails allow – no require – us to remain in the trenches of our professional lives at virtually all times. We live in the worlds of our Inboxes and Outlook calendars. Microsoft and Apple products are the oxygen in these parallel professional worlds. We live in these worlds while we grocery shop. We live in them while we play with our kids. We live in them while we lay in bed at night with our spouses.
The Inbox and Outlook calendar worlds in which we live often remind me of the children’s movie, Wreck It Ralph. The entire movie is set inside of video games at an arcade. While the video game characters duke it out inside the games, children in the arcade file past the games and peer inside the screens. Despite the great struggle going on inside of the screens by the characters, life goes on for the “real” people on the outside. Sound familiar?
The problem with the parallel professional worlds in which we spend so much time, is that many are consumed by things, that if not properly checked, slowly eat away at our humanity. Conflict. Deadlines. Reports. Money. Bottom lines.
Every profession has their own jargon to describe the tasks and concepts that fill up our Inboxes and consume our lives. As we dive deeper into these worlds, we often lose perspective. We begin to confuse those things with the “real” things that are going on all around us. And worst of all, we can become so entrenched in those worlds, that we slowly begin to lose our humanity – that ability to understand, connect, and empathize with the “real” people all around us.
So my story ends where it began. The jury’s verdict came back in my client’s favor despite the snot marks on my suit pants. It was a win that provided my client with the relief that he desperately needed. I spent years and countless hours away from my family preparing that case for trial. Most of it was necessary. But I also wasted a lot of time in my own Inbox and Outlook calendar worlds. My presence in those worlds had no impact on the final outcome of that case. In fact, in many ways, the time I spent in those worlds actually worked against the eventual outcome.
In the end, after all of the hours were logged, and my preparation complete, the case came down to the connection between “real” people. The case was tried in the “real” world, not inside the Inbox and Outlook calendar worlds. Twelve “real” people decided that case.
Our families are our bridges back to humanity. I’ve found that the closer that I stay to humanity, the better off I am both personally and professionally. It has taken more time than it should, but I’ve come to understand that it’s okay to put my phone away and just be present. My simple presence in those important moments allows me to soak up little lessons in humanity that I can use to better represent my clients.
For me, the memory of my son’s snot marks on my suit pants serves as a reminder that our humanity is our most valuable professional asset. And when I’m smart enough and brave enough to put the gadgets away, buck the conventional wisdom, and embrace that fundamental truth, good things happen for my clients and my family.
What Do Hospitals Owe Nurses That Contract Ebola?
By Jed Cain
For those of us that are married to nurses, this week’s announcement that two of our own tested positive for Ebola was alarming. Our loved ones stand at the forefront of the fight against a growing epidemic and reports indicate that many hospitals may be unequipped to protect them.
While specific details about how the Texas nurses contracted the virus have not been released, Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, blamed a “breach of protocol” at the Dallas based hospital for the first cases of person-to-person transmission of the virus in the U.S.
The results of an online survey recently commissioned by National Nurses United reveal that many such alleged Ebola “protocols” either do not exist or are not being properly communicated to nurses. Out of over 1,900 nurses in 46 states who participated in the survey, a staggering 76 percent said their hospital had not communicated to them an official policy regarding the admission of potential patients with Ebola. Even more disturbing, 85 percent of those nurses surveyed said their hospital had not provided training sessions on Ebola protocols in which they could interact and ask questions.
The results of this survey confirm that many hospitals are sending their nurses into the fight against Ebola without the proper training. This lack of training increases the risks to nurses caring for Ebola patients.
While this week’s news has focused on the spread of the virus to nurses, little has been said about the legal remedies available to the nurses who contract this disease as a result of their hospitals’ failures.
In even the best-case scenario, nurses that contract Ebola may be left severely ill and unable to work for long periods of time. In the worst-case scenario, the virus is fatal. In either case, the children and spouses of nurses that contract Ebola may be left with overwhelming emotional and financial hardships. What responsibility do hospitals have to care for health care workers (and their families) that they put at risk?
Understanding The Limitations Of Workers’ Compensation For Nurses
Unfortunately, in most states, workers’ compensation is a nurse’s only legal remedy against an employing hospital that fails to properly protect him/her from Ebola. While there are benefits to workers’ compensation, it is important for nurses to understand that the system will not fully compensate them for their loss.
Workers’ compensation systems vary from state to state. However, in general, workers’ compensation is a state-regulated “no-fault” insurance program. The term “no-fault” means that a qualifying injured employee can recover workers’ compensation benefits without having to prove that the negligence of their employer caused their injuries. Under the “no fault” scheme, an employee can recover such benefits even if their injuries were caused solely by their own negligence.
But there is a price to pay for this “no fault” protection. In exchange for such protection, the benefits owed by employers to employees are significantly less than might otherwise be owed in a traditional tort claim. Generally, most workers’ compensation systems provide qualifying employees with only medical, some wage, and limited death benefits. There are typically strict administrative requirements that must be complied with in order to maximize these benefits. There are often a series of hurdles in place that restrict the total amount and duration of such benefits. Importantly, workers’ compensation does not provide benefits for legitimate tort damages such as physical pain and suffering, mental anguish, and loss of enjoyment of life.
Hospitals Use Workers’ Compensation To Limit Benefits Owed To Injured Nurses
In most states, the workers’ compensation benefits mandated by law are the exclusive remedy of an injured employee against an employer. In other words, even if an accident was caused solely by the negligence of an employer, an injured employee is stuck with the limited benefits and increased bureaucracy of the workers’ compensation system. The injured worker (or their family) cannot sue their employer to recover the total damages caused by the employer’s negligence.
Hospitals around the country have attempted to use the exclusivity of the workers’ compensation system to limit the benefits owed to nurses and other health care professionals who are injured while performing their duties at a hospital.
In Texas, a group of nurses filed suit against their hospital after repeated complaints of sexual harassment by a particular doctor went unaddressed. The nurses alleged that the hospital failed to provide them with a safe work environment and negligently hired and credentialed the offending doctor despite their repeated complaints. The hospital sought to have the tort case dismissed because it claimed that workers’ compensation was the nurses’ only remedy under the law. Ultimately, the Texas Supreme Court sided with the hospital and the nurses were precluded from pursuing tort damages. Walls Regional Hosp. v. Bomar, 9 S.W.3d 805 (Tex. 1999).
In Louisiana, an employee and his wife filed suit against his employing hospital after he was exposed to HIV while trying to subdue an unruly patient at the request of his supervisor. During the exchange, the patient bled on the hospital employee. Unfortunately, prior to requesting the assistance of the employee, the hospital supervisor did not inform him that the patient had AIDS. As a result, the employee did not don gloves or other protective garments prior to attempting to restrain the patient and was exposed to HIV. After suit was filed, the hospital sought to have the tort case dismissed because it claimed that workers’ compensation was the employee’s only remedy under the law. The Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal eventually sided with the hospital and ruled that the employee’s only remedy for HIV exposure was workers’ compensation. Vallery v. Southern Baptist Hosp., 630 So.2d 861 (La. App. 4th Cir. 1993).
Limited Exceptions To The Exclusivity Of Workers’ Compensation For Nurses
Importantly, some states recognize limited exceptions to the general rule regarding the exclusivity of workers’ compensation for employees. For example, in Louisiana an employee may sue his employer in tort if he/she can prove that their injury was caused by an “intentional act” of their employer.
To satisfy this burden of proving an “intentional act,” the injured employee must prove that the employer “either desired to bring about the physical results of his act or believed they were substantially certain to follow from what he did.” Bazley v. Tortorich, 397 So.2d 475, 482 (La. 1981).
This is typically a difficult burden to overcome. In Louisiana, mere knowledge and appreciation of a risk does not constitute intent. Reckless or wanton conduct by an employer does not typically constitute intentional wrongdoing. Gross negligence, disregard of safety regulations, or the failure to use proper safety equipment, does not even constitute intentional wrongdoing. Williams v. Gervais F. Favrot Company, Inc., 573 So.2d 533 (La. App. 4th Cir.), writ denied 576 So.2d 49 (La. 1991).
Given the differences in workers’ compensation laws from state to state, and the possibility of limited exceptions to general rules, it is always advisable for nurses to consult an attorney after being injured at a hospital. Typically, it is in the best interest of the hospital to have a nurse’s claim for damages fall under workers’ compensation. However, it may not be in the best interest of the injured nurse or her family. Consultation with an attorney can help nurses better understand what is in their best interest.
Nurses stand at the forefront of the fight against the growing Ebola epidemic. The news this week reminds us all how dangerous their jobs can be. Hospitals owe their nurses the implementation of policies, practices, and procedures that reduce the risks associated with treating Ebola patients. When hospitals fail to satisfy that duty, and nurses contract Ebola, those nurses deserve to be fully compensated for their injuries. Unfortunately, workers’ compensations benefits may be all they’re entitled to by law.
From Leprosy To Ebola: Louisiana & The Law Of Quarantine.
By Jed Cain
The American news media is currently enthralled in all things Ebola.
The Ebola obsession comes on the heels of last week’s announcement by the CDC that the first United States’ case of Ebola was diagnosed in Dallas, Texas. Thomas Duncan, a native of West Africa, traveled from Liberia to Dallas on September 20, 2014 and fell ill on September 24th. Upon developing symptoms consistent with Ebola, Mr. Duncan sought treatment from Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital on September 26th and was admitted to the hospital on September 28th. After completing the necessary diagnostic tests, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced on September 30th, that Mr. Duncan was the first confirmed diagnosis of Ebola in the U.S. On October 4th officials at Texas Presbyterian announced that Mr. Duncan was in critical condition. On October 8th, Mr. Duncan tragically lost his fight with the disease.
Since the diagnosis, health officials at both the state and federal level have scrambled to identify individuals that may have been exposed to the virus. Officials have identified Mr. Duncan’s partner, Louise Troh, and her son and two nephews, as potentially at a high risk of developing the virus. As a result, the four have been quarantined to the apartment where they live. The family has been ordered not to leave or host any visitors until the 21-day incubation period for the virus has expired. During this quarantine period, police remain on the scene of the apartment complex while food and other necessities are delivered to the family.
What Is A Quarantine?
A quarantine is essentially a state enforced period of isolation designed to prevent the spread of a communicable disease.
The practice of quarantine began as early as the 14th century in Italy as a means of protecting coastal cities from the plague. Ships arriving from infected areas were required to sit at anchor for 40 days before landing in port. The word “quarantine” was taken from the Italian words “quaranta giorni,” which mean 40 days.
For a century in the U.S., protection against the spread of imported diseases fell under local and state jurisdictions. However, in 1878 Congress passed federal quarantine legislation in an attempt to control ongoing outbreaks of yellow fever. A cholera epidemic brought about in 1892 by passenger ships arriving from Europe, prompted a reinterpretation of the law and increased the authority of the federal government in imposing quarantines.
In 1944, with the passage of the Public Health Service Act, the federal government’s quarantine authority was clearly established. The act vested responsibility for the prevention of the transmission of communicable diseases from foreign countries with the Public Health Service (PHS).
In 1967, the PHS was transferred to the agency now known as the CDC. When the CDC assumed the PHS, there were 55 quarantine stations and over 500 staff members. There were quarantine stations located at every port, international airport, and major border crossing.
In the 1970’s the CDC reduced the scale of the quarantine program and changed its focus from routine inspection to program management and intervention. By 1995, all U.S. ports of entry were covered by only 7 quarantine stations. After the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) epidemic in 2003, the CDC reorganized the quarantine system and expanded to 18 stations with over 90 field employees.
Louisiana’s History Of Quarantine In Carville.
Louisiana Governor, Bobby Jindal, stepped into the national Ebola debate last week when he called upon the Obama administration to impose a travel ban on flights to the U.S. from countries with Ebola outbreaks. Jindal, a likely 2016 presidential candidate, is one of the most prominent elected officials to call for the travel ban that the CDC claims is impractical.
Governor Jindal is not the first Louisiana elected official to wade into the politics of quarantine. Over 100 years ago, the Louisiana legislature wrestled with the issue of quarantine within the context of Hansen’s disease, commonly known as leprosy.
In the 1800’s, leprosy was thought to be both highly contagious and the wrath of God. Biblical references suggested that lesions and other skin deformities like those caused by leprosy, reflected God’s judgment of the infirmed. While scientists proved that bacteria caused the disfigurement and that it was no more contagious than other common diseases, the stigma associated with leprosy remained.
In the early 1890’s, an expose was published in the daily New Orleans’ newspaper about leprosy in the city. The news coverage created an outcry amongst the public that “pest houses” in New Orleans that housed leprosy patients should be moved outside of the city limits.
In 1892, the Louisiana legislature passed a law mandating that all person’s diagnosed with leprosy in the state be quarantined to a selected location. In 1894, the first leprosy patients were transported from New Orleans by river barge to a deserted sugar plantation in Carville, Louisiana known as Indian Camp. The main plantation home was in such disrepair that the first patients were housed in former slave cabins. In 1896, a group of Catholic nuns from Maryland arrived at the plantation to help care for the patients of what would come to be called the Louisiana Leper Home.
In 1905 the state of Louisiana purchased the plantation and assumed custodial care of the patients after public outcry prevented the Louisiana Leper Home from relocating to the New Orleans area.
In 1916, John Early, a patient from the Louisiana Leper Home, escaped from the facility and went on to testify before the U.S. Congress about the need for a U.S. hospital for leprosy. In 1917, the U.S. Senate passed an act establishing a National Leprosarium in Carville, Louisiana. In 1920, the Louisiana Leper Home was sold by Louisiana to the federal government for $35,000.
In 1921, the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) took over control of the Home and it became U.S. Marine Hospital No. 66…The National Leprosarium of the United States. Between 1940 and 1947, doctors at the hospital pioneered the use of sulfone drug therapy in the treatment of Hansen’s disease. In the 1970’s, doctors at the hospital defined the role of thalidomide in leprosy and introduced Rifampin as part of the multi-drug therapy.
In 1986, the facility at Carville was renamed the “Gillis W. Long Hansen’s Disease Center” after the U.S. Congressman who successfully lobbied to keep the facility open for leprosy patients when other Public Health Service hospitals in the U.S. were closed.
In 1998, the U.S. Congress passed a bill to relocate the renamed facility to Baton Rouge. Patients who voluntarily remained at the facility were given the choice of a lifetime medical stipend, remaining on site as an ambulatory care patient, or relocating with he hospital to Baton Rouge.
The Federal Law Of Quarantine.
In our modern fight against Ebola and other communicable diseases, the Executive Branch of the federal government possesses significant power.
The Surgeon General, with the approval of the Secretary of Health and Human Services, is authorized by law to make and enforce regulations that are deemed “necessary” to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of communicable diseases from foreign countries into the United States. 42 U.S.C.A § 264 (a).
The Surgeon General is specifically authorized to implement regulations that provide for the apprehension and examination of individuals with communicable diseases that travel to the U.S. from a foreign country. 42 U.S.C.A § 264 (c).
The Surgeon General is also authorized to implement regulations that provide for the apprehension and examination of individuals that are already within the U.S. Such regulations are authorized if:
- The individual is reasonably believed to be infected with a communicable disease in a “qualifying stage;”
- The individual is moving or about to move from one State to another State;
- The individual is a probable source of infection to other individuals who will be moving from one State to another State.
42 U.S.C.A § 264 (d).
In other words, the Executive Branch has the power, through the Surgeon General, to promulgate regulations that provide for the detainment of U.S. citizens in the name of public health so long as such regulations are deemed “necessary” to prevent the spread of communicable diseases. That is extraordinary power.
In addition to apprehending and examining individuals in the name of public health, the Surgeon General may also implement regulations that specifically prohibit persons or property from other parts of the world from entering the U.S. so as to avert the danger of a communicable disease for a certain period of time. 42 U.S.C.A § 265.
The Surgeon General is also responsible for controlling U.S. quarantine stations and promulgating air navigation and aircraft regulations to prevent the introduction and spread of communicable diseases. 42 U.S.C.A § 267.
The violation of federal regulations pertaining to quarantine may be a punished by a fine of not more than $1,000, imprisonment for not more than one year, or both. 42 U.S.C.A § 271.
The Louisiana Law Of Quarantine.
Much like federal law, Louisiana law provides the Executive Branch with significant power when it comes to quarantines and public health. Specifically, the Executive Branch is granted “exclusive jurisdiction, control, and authority to isolate or quarantine for the care and control of communicable disease within the state.” La. R.S. 40 § 5.
In the event that a Louisiana parish or municipality becomes infected with a disease to such an extent as to threaten the spread of the disease to other parts of the state, the Executive Branch may issue an order declaring the parish or municipality quarantined. The state may then establish rules and regulations that govern how other parts of the state must interact with the quarantined area. La. R.S. 40 § 7.
Louisiana law does provide some judicial oversight when dealing with issues of quarantine and public health. Neither parish nor state officials can force an individual to undergo a medical examination or confine him/her to a medical institution unless directed or authorized to do so by a judge in the parish where the individual is located. However judicial authorization is not required if the individual is infected or suspected of infection with smallpox, cholera, yellow fever, bubonic plague, or tuberculosis. La. R.S. 40 § 17.
The violation of Louisiana regulations pertaining to quarantine may be punished by a fine of not less than $50 and not more than $100, imprisonment for not more than two years, or both. La. R.S. 40 § 18.
Remembering Carville In The Age Of Ebola.
Approximately 100 years after the Louisiana Leper Home was opened as a place to discard those considered plagued, the Carville National Leprosarium closed its doors as an internationally acclaimed facility of healing. I guess sometimes good things spring up despite our own bad intentions.
Our ancestors kind of got it wrong with leprosy. Really wrong. It ended up not being the wrath of God. It ended up not being as contagious as the media of the day led folks to believe. A group of Catholic nuns, quietly working in a deserted sugar plantation, began our slow slog back toward science and rational thought when it came to leprosy.
History has a way of providing us with some degree of perspective when we take the time to turn down the volume on all of the noise and just listen.
Louisiana’s Rising Tide Of Bayou Millennials
By Jed Cain
Born in the fourth quarter of 1979, my wife and I barely made the cut as Gen Xers. We were almost part of the much talked about Millennial generation. Generational date markers are inherently loose and subjective. Maybe we are Millennials. These days we seem to live, love, and parent with one foot in each generation.
Generation X is commonly defined as those born between 1965 and 1979. We were the first generation of “latch key” kids. We came of age in the first real era of 2 income families. We watched as many families worked through the growing pains of this new dynamic. We watched our parents divorce at higher rates. We grew up in an age of rapid technology growth and a declining trust in institutional power. As a result, we are often characterized as entrepreneurial, resourceful, and self-sufficient. We loathe micro-management. We invented the flexible work schedule.
From a historical perspective, Generation X will likely be remembered as the demographic bridge between two behemoth generations – the Baby Boomers (1946-1964) and the Millennials (1980-1999). Today, Millennials account for 25% of the population, virtually equal to the Baby Boomers at 25.4%. By virtue of their sheer size and strategic location in the life cycle, intellectuals predict that the Boomers and Millennials are headed towards a looming generational show down.
The Millennials’ First Big Punch.
The 2008 presidential election is routinely cited as the best example of the collective purchasing power of the Millennial generation. The Millennials are largely credited with the unprecedented election of Barack Obama. In a country with a complex history of race relations, and during a time in which it was engulfed in a war on multiple fronts against radical Islamic extremists, an unknown African-American senator named Barack Hussein Obama was elected President. Regardless of one’s political ideology, we must all concede that the 2008 election was unprecedented in both process and outcome.
The Millennials supported Barack Obama over John McCain by a margin of 66% to 32%, while voters’ ages 30 and older divided their votes almost evenly (Obama 50%; McCain 48%). This was the largest disparity between younger and older voters recorded in 4 decades of modern exit polling. Perhaps most importantly, after decades of low voter turn out by the young, the turnout gap in 2008 between voters under and over the age of 30 was the smallest it had been in any election since 18-20 year olds were given the right to vote in 1972.
Since the 2008 presidential election, marketing firms, businesses, and political organizations have scrambled to analyze this unique generation in hopes of harnessing its power.
Who Are The Millennials?
Millennials are the younger siblings of the Gen Xers. The Millennial generation is commonly defined as those born between 1980 and 2000. They have transitioned into adulthood at the start of a new millennium.
The Millennials are the first “constantly connected” generation. Engulfed in digital technology and social media, their cell phones and tablets are indispensable lifestyle tools. 75% of Millennials have created a profile on a social networking site. 20% of Millennials have uploaded a video of themselves online.
Millennials are self-expressive within limits. Nearly 40% of Millennials have a tattoo. 70% of Millennials with tattoos say it is hidden beneath their clothing. Nearly, 25% of Millennials have a piercing in some place other than an earlobe. A majority of Millennials have privacy settings on their social media profiles.
Diverse and Single
Millennials are more ethnically and racially diverse than their parents’ and older siblings’ generations. Only about 60% of Millennials were raised by both parents. Perhaps as a result, Millennials are not rushing to the altar. Only about 21% are married now, half the share of their parents’ generation at the same stage in life.
Comfortable With The “Nontraditional”
Millennials are not as religious as older generations at the same stage in life. The traditional “boogeymen” social issues do not tend to resonate. Millennials do not fear homosexuality. 54% of Millennials say they have a close friend or family member who is gay. Millennials are the only generation to favor the legalization of gay marriage – they do so by a 50% to 36% margin, with the rest undecided. Support of the legalization of gay marriage declines fairly rapidly with the older generations: 43% of Gen Xers and 32% of Baby Boomers favor legalizing gay marriage.
Millennials place parenthood and marriage far above career and financial success when asked about their priorities. 52% of those surveyed said, “being a good parent” is “one of the most important things in their lives.” 30% responded with “having a successful marriage.” Only 15% of Millennials responded, “having a high paying career” was “one of the most important things in their lives.”
Despite their tolerance for a wide range of “nontraditional” behaviors related to marriage and parenting, Millennials strongly embrace other more traditional family values. When it comes to the trend of more single women having children, they voice strong disapproval. Nearly 60% of Millennials say it is bad for society, compared with just 6% who say it is good and 34% who say it is neither bad nor good.
Perhaps the Millennials’ recognition of the benefits of a strong family stems from the necessity of relying on their own families longer than their predecessors. Millennials are on track to become the most educated generation in American history. However, the Great Recession has uniquely shaped their attitudes about career, family, and finances. Despite their unprecedented levels of education, many have struggled to find jobs in the midst of a deep recession.
Many Millennials have been forced to move back home and/or rely upon post graduation financial support from their parents. About 1 in 8 older Millennials (22 and older) report that they’ve “boomeranged” back to their parent’s home because of the recession. More than a third of all Millennials (36%) depend on financial assistance from their families, including 14% of all young adults who are working full-time. In contrast, only 6% of Gen Xers under 40 say they rely on financial help from loved ones.
Politically Liberal. But Not As Liberal As We May Think.
Politically, Millennials remain significantly more liberal than older generations. However, their love affair with President Obama has cooled dramatically. In a 2010 survey, 57% of Millennials approved of the way Obama was handling the presidency, down from 73% in February 2009.
The Millennial generation is more Democratic in their party affiliation than Gen Xers were when they were young. But Millennials are not substantially more Democratic than Baby Boomers were at comparable points in time.
In 2008, at the height of the Democratic Party’s advantage, 41% of Millennial voters identified themselves as Democrats while only 22% identified with the GOP. By comparison, in 1994, a strong Republican year, 34% of Gen X voters said they were Republican and 30% said they were Democrats.
More than half of Millennials (53%) say government should do more to solve problems, while 42% say government is doing too many things that should be left to businesses and individuals.
Views of the role of government are not the same across all Millennials. 64% of Hispanics and 61% of African-Americans say government should do more to solve problems. Only 47% of white Millennials agree. Young women are more likely than young men to agree that government should do more – 59% v. 46%.
While inherently less skeptical of government than older generations, Millennials are not necessarily supportive of an expanded governmental social safety net. In a 2009 survey, those under 30 were no more likely than Baby Boomers to favor an activist role for government in helping the poor.
Despite the Great Recession, Millennials are no more likely than other generations to say that big companies have too much power, and Millennials are nearly as likely as other generations to agree that the country’s strength is mostly attributable to American business.
The Rise Of Bayou Millennials In Louisiana.
A 2014 study by Governing Magazine ranked Louisiana as 7th in the nation for the prevalence of the Millennial generation. Millennials are now the majority generation in the state, representing 29% of the population. They recently surpassed the Baby Boomers who currently make up 25% of Louisiana’s population.
While no one can predict exactly how this demographic shift will affect the state, those businesses and/or political leaders that dismiss or ignore this dramatic change, do so at their own peril.
The LSU Reilly Center For Media & Public Affairs recently released The 2014 Louisiana Survey. The purpose of the Louisiana Survey is to “establish benchmarks and assess progress and regression in residents’ assessments of state government services.” The survey has been conducted every year since 2002. The 2014 survey provides a glimpse into the potential future impact of the Millennial generation in Louisiana.
In the short-term, the Millennials’ impact on social issues in Louisiana seems easiest to predict. As it relates to gay marriage, 42% of Louisiana residents surveyed in 2014 expressed support for the legalization of gay marriage. That number climbed 3% from 2013. However, a staggering 60% of 18-24 year old Louisiana residents surveyed supported same-sex marriage. Even those that oppose gay marriage acknowledge its eventual reality. 67% of Louisiana residents believe that same-sex marriage will eventually be legal in the state.
Support for the legalization of marijuana for personal use also continues to rise in the state and currently stands at 44%. Support for legalizing marijuana for limited medical purposes is much stronger at 79%. Younger Louisiana residents are most supportive of legalization with 63% of those in the 25-34 age group and 50% of those in the 18-24 age group expressing support for full legalization of marijuana. Again, regardless of their opinion of legalization, 65% of Louisiana residents believe that marijuana will eventually be legal for personal use in the state.
The Millennials’ impact on other economic and political issues remains harder to predict. Only 41% of Louisiana residents believe the state is headed in the right direction. Only 36% of residents have confidence that state government will effectively address the most important problems facing the state.
While Louisiana remains a solidly Republican state, the 2014 survey reveals overwhelming statewide support for a number of issues traditionally associated with the Democratic party.
For example, 74% of Louisiana residents (including 55% of Republicans) support increasing the minimum wage to $8.50 per hour. Significant majorities of Louisiana residents also support more government spending in a number of areas:
- 80% support increased primary and secondary education spending.
- 74% support increased higher education spending.
- 69% support increased road and infrastructure spending.
- 68% support increased economic development spending.
- 57% support increased health care spending.
Taxes do not seem to be as much of an issue with Louisiana residents. A majority of Louisiana residents do not feel that taxes need to be cut. Only 43% of residents believe that state sales taxes are too high and need to be reduced. Only 38% believe that state income taxes are too high and need to be reduced.
Whether the strong majority support for issues traditionally associated with the Democratic party is attributable to the rise in the Millennial population remains unclear. It also remains to be seen whether Millennials currently have any will to translate their positions into actual change in political leadership and/or public policy in Louisiana. However, with the 2014 senate and 2015 gubernatorial elections quickly approaching, we won’t have to wait long to find out.
Louisiana’s Embrace Of The Past And Future.
For those that may be a little apprehensive about the rise of this tattooed, pierced, highly educated, family oriented, demographic, our history tells us that we can rest easy. Things may change. We may be pushed beyond our traditional comfort zone. But we’ll be OK. Louisiana has always managed to embrace the future while holding on to its past.
We need look no further than my hometown – Natchitoches. This year Natchitoches will celebrate its 300th birthday. It is the quintessential small southern town. Big oak trees. Beautiful old architecture. A farmer’s market every Saturday. And a festival for every occasion. But if you scratch the surface, you find a little old town that has stuck around for a long time by holding on to its history while leaning into its future.
Natchitoches: Before There Was “Hollywood South.”
Since launching an aggressive tax credit program in 2002, Louisiana has been dubbed “Hollywood South” as it surged past California in 2013 for the number of feature films produced in the state. However, in 1989, little old Natchitoches launched the career of one of America’s darlings of cinema, Julia Roberts, with the filming of the Southern classic “Steel Magnolias.” In 1991, Natchitoches remained a lucky start for American actresses as it launched the career of Reese Witherspoon with the filming of “The Man In The Moon.” Not a bad little stretch of foresight for Natchitoches.
Natchitoches: An Incubator For Louisiana’s Brightest Teenagers.
Nestled deep in the protective cocoon of Natchitoches is the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts (commonly called the “Louisiana School”). Established by the Louisiana legislature in 1982, the Louisiana School is the preeminent state supported residential high school with competitive admissions. Students across the state apply during their freshmen or sophomore year to attend the Louisiana School during their final 2 or 3 years of high school. Admissions are highly competitive and graduates go on to routinely attend the best universities in the country. The annual merit based scholarships for graduating seniors exceed $10 million. For over 30 years, little old Natchitoches has nurtured some the state’s brightest high school students – purple hair, piercings, and all.
Natchitoches: A $23 Million Museum At The End Of A Brick Road.
The heart of Natchitoches is Front Street. Front Street, built with bricks in the early 1900’s, is lined with historic buildings, shops, and restaurants and overlooks Cane River. In 2008, Front Street was renovated. Rather than tearing up the bricks and replacing them with concrete or asphalt, each brick was individually removed, cleaned, and repositioned to form a smoother surface while preserving the historical integrity of the street.
In 2013, a dazzling, 28,000 square foot, $23 million, state of the art complex was built at the foot of Front Street to house the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Museum. The museum was named the top architecture project in the world by Azure Magazine, a Toronto based design publication.
The lessons of Natchitoches remind us how well our past and future can compliment each other. We can reminisce about yesterday without obstructing tomorrow. Louisiana need not fear the rising tide of its Bayou Millennials. But we all might want to start thinking about how best to ride it into a more prosperous future.
“You Got No Fear Of The Underdog. That’s Why You Will Not Survive.”
By Jed Cain
I’ve always been an avid sports fan. But never really a big sports memorabilia guy – with one important exception. Above my son’s bed hangs an autographed painting that depicts the single greatest sports moment of my lifetime.
On September 25, 2006, an undersized, no-name, special teamer broke through the Atlanta Falcons’ line and blocked a punt that led to the New Orleans’ Saints’ first touchdown in the Louisiana Superdome following Hurricane Katrina.
For those of us that lived through Hurricane Katrina, it’s hard to overstate the importance of that blocked punt in the story of the recovery of southeast Louisiana. It didn’t rebuild any homes. It didn’t make families come home sooner. But it did something. We all felt it – even if we couldn’t explain it.
In the years thereafter, Steve Gleason has been transformed into an immortal symbol of the power of the underdog. His immortality comes not from his play on the football field, but through the grit and grace he has displayed in his epic fight against ALS.
The Story Of The Underdog Is Our Story.
Much like the racehorse is bred to run, we have been bred to value the story of the underdog. It is our story. It is at the core of who we are as a people.
In 2011, 80 percent of those surveyed in a Gallup poll responded that they believed Judeo-Christian values constituted the foundation of American culture. Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, we know historically that for centuries the Israelites were the epitome of the underdog society. Christianity grew out of the Jewish tradition and was built around a 30 something year old carpenter that so threatened the Roman Empire that it sentenced him to death by crucifixion.
The United States sprang forth from a long shot revolution. While history is littered with nations torn apart by civil war, we beat the odds and remained a union. In the thralls of the Great Depression, we fought a World War and liberated Europe. In the 1960’s a civil rights movement led by an unknown Baptist preacher forced us to confront the hypocrisy of our democracy. Forty something years later, we elected an unknown Senator as our first African American president. The underdog story is our story.
The underdog story is so rooted in our nation’s religious and political culture, that some believe that our current problems stem from our inability to come to terms with the modern reality that we are no longer an underdog. Million dollar mega churches wrestle with how to remain true to their founding principles. Our political leaders wrestle with what it means for the United States to be the only remaining superpower. What happens when David grows into Goliath? Can he maintain the characteristics that made him David?
The Power Of The Underdog.
One of my favorite songs these days is “The Underdog” by Spoon. When it comes to music, I’m a melody and rhythm person. For some reason, my consciousness focuses on the music over the lyrics. I can listen to a song a hundred times and never really “hear” the lyrics. Interestingly, I’ve found that when I do finally “hear” the lyrics, they often tell a story that I relate to at a given time in my life.
“The Underdog” was apparently one of those songs for me. The melody and rhythm attracted me to the song. But when I finally “heard” the lyrics, this is what I found:
You got no time for the messenger,
Got no regard for the thing that you don’t understand,
You got no fear of the underdog, That’s why you will not survive.
Spoon sings of the great tension of the underdog. On the one hand, the term “underdog” is typically used to describe an anticipated “loser.” The Webster dictionary defines “underdog” as: 1) A loser or predicted loser in a struggle or conflict; and 2) A victim of injustice or persecution.
On the other hand, for centuries underdogs have emerged victorious and altered the course of history with their unexpected wins. The underdog’s power lies not in a single tangible victory, but in the ability to demonstrate the vulnerability of those who are perceived to be most powerful. In so doing, the underdog inspires others who are perceived as weak to continue striving forward. The battlefield of history is littered with the carcasses of nations and leaders that fell because they had “no fear of the underdog.”
The best selling author, Malcolm Gladwell, analyzes the power of the underdog in his recent bestseller, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and The Art of Battling Giants. Through a series of stories, Gladwell challenges how we think about obstacles and disadvantages and reveals how much of what we consider beautiful and important in the world sprang up from what looks like suffering and adversity. Gladwell writes as follows:
David and Goliath is a book about what happens when ordinary people confront giants. By ‘giants,” I mean powerful opponents of all kinds – from armies and mighty warriors to disability, misfortune, and oppression. Each chapter tells the story of a different person – famous or unknown, ordinary or brilliant – who has faced an outsize challenge and been forced to respond. Should I play by the rules or follow my own instincts? Shall I persevere or give up? Should I strike back or forgive?
Through these stories, I want to explore two ideas. The first is that much of what we consider valuable in our world arises out of these kinds of lopsided conflicts, because the act of facing overwhelming odds produces greatness and beauty. And second, that we consistently get these kinds of conflicts wrong. We misread them. We misinterpret them. Giants are not what we think they are. The same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of great weakness. And the fact of being an underdog can change people in ways that we often fail to appreciate: it can open doors and create opportunities and educate and enlighten and make possible what might otherwise have seemed unthinkable.
The Underdogs Of Our Civil Justice System
Perhaps my own personal fascination with the “underdog” as personified by Steve Gleason and explained through the lyrics of Spoon and the writing of Malcolm Gladwell, stems from my work as a trial lawyer.
Despite the negative media campaign to the contrary, trial lawyers often represent the underdogs of our society. Severely maimed workers. Women widowed by industrial accidents. Children orphaned by corporate negligence.
Dealing with the aftermath of such tragedy can be overwhelming. Many families must tap into savings and retirement accounts to pay for necessary medical care. A family’s income may be drastically reduced if a father or mother is unable to work as a result of an injury.
During this time, when families are wounded and weary, it can be easier to simply hope and pray that the responsible party will “do the right thing,” accept responsibility, and compensate the family for the injuries it caused. Unfortunately, that does not occur often enough. Most often, the civil justice system is the only recourse that injury victims have against negligent corporations and profit motivated insurance companies.
Corporations and insurance companies that put profits ahead of public safety often refuse to acknowledge their mistakes and accept responsibility. These companies deny legitimate personal injury claims for as long as possible in hopes that weary families will eventually give up and settle for less than they deserve. Insurance companies attempt to manipulate the court system to prolong the process and protect their profits at the expense of personal injury victims.
Unfortunately, special interest groups have spent millions of dollars attacking personal injury victims and the lawyers that represent them in their fight against corporate negligence. Injury victims who file suit are often portrayed as greedy opportunists who are attempting to take advantage of their own misfortune in hopes of getting rich quick. Corporations and insurance companies have funded this myth in hopes of influencing potential jurors that may eventually be called upon to judge their acts and/or omissions at trial.
We as trial lawyers, often make this myth too easy to believe. Over the years, the cheesy lawyers on television commercials replaced Atticus Finch as the symbol of our profession. I must admit that I have been fooled by alleged personal injury victims that turn out to be nothing more than two bit scam artists. Nothing makes me madder.
Because over 99 percent of my clients are the underdogs of the civil justice system that we should all pull for. They are not greedy opportunists. I have had the privilege of representing brave families, who when faced with tremendous adversity, have had the courage to fight back to secure the resources they need to reclaim their lives. In fighting back, these underdogs have forced negligent corporations and profit motivated insurance companies to “do the right thing” for both themselves and sometimes for all of us. Because many underdogs have dared to use our civil justice system to fight back, we enjoy safe drinking water, cars with seat belts, and products with warning labels.
On the 8-year anniversary of Steve Gleason’s blocked punt, we remember one of our finest underdogs. An underdog that helped renew the spirit of a region in a single physical feat. An underdog that inspires us all to keep slinging rocks at even the mightiest of giants.
Why Is There A Tortilla In The Middle Of The Living Room Floor?
By Jed Cain
The answer is obvious if I tell you that the owners of that living room have 3 kids.
It’s even more obvious if I tell you that the dad was left in charge of those kids for the day.
A “no brainer” if I tell you that it was the opening Saturday of the college football season.
Given those facts, it was inevitable that a tortilla would end up in the middle of the living room floor. In reality, how could it not? It was almost predetermined. But for some reason, it was hard to articulate the appropriate response to that question when posed by my wife upon her early return home one Saturday.
Tortilla Frisbee? Nope. That wouldn’t go over well.
Tortilla art project? Nah. She’ll never go for it.
Wait. I’ve got it. It’s part of the new Common Core curriculum. Using tortillas to teach our 3rd grade daughter multiplication? That might actually work.
The Metaphorical Tortillas – Strange And Unexpected Events
We all experience our own metaphorical tortillas in the middle of the living room floor. Those strange and unexpected events that seem to come out of nowhere. They creep into our personal lives. They infiltrate our professional lives. External forces cause some. Others are caused by our own mistakes and miscalculations. Some are just funny. But some are incredibly painful. Many of us work hard to minimize the occurrence of these unanticipated events. But tortillas inevitably end up in the middle of the living room floor.
Teaching Our Kids To Deal With Unexpected Events
As parents, we’re charged with the task of teaching our children how to excel amidst the tortillas. There is arguably no greater skill to impart upon our kids than the ability to intellectually and emotionally navigate through life’s unexpected events. It’s impossible to anticipate the path they’ll chose. We cannot predict the individual challenges they’ll face. But we know the tortillas will come. So we prepare them as best we can.
Have you ever watched 4 year olds play “organized” soccer? Our family is on our second round. First it was my daughter. Now it’s my son. Everything about the game is a metaphorical tortilla in the middle of the floor for these young all stars. Every single second is a little lesson in navigating through a maze of unexpected events.
Cleats. Shin guards. Long socks. Wet grass. The lines on the field. The absence of hands. The roaming herd of little bodies. Bumping into each other. Bodies falling down. Taking the ball away. Crying. Coming out of the game. Sitting on the bench. Making water come out of a water bottle. Coming back into the game. It’s all new and unexpected to them.
We, the parents, are confined to our pop up chairs on the sideline. We shout instructions from afar in hopes of helping. We stand ready to swoop in should anything go terribly wrong. But we understand the importance of providing these little ones with the opportunity to navigate through this maze of unexpected events on their own.
So each Saturday we fill up the water bottle. We put on the shin guards. And we make sure they go pee before we release them onto the soccer field. We pop up our chairs and we bake in the sun. We cheer. We cheer for the act of getting on the field. We cheer for the simple execution of getting water out of a water bottle. We cheer for the rumbling, stumbling, break away goals, not with visions of World Cup appearances in our head. But because when thrown into a maze of unexpected events, our kids figured it out and excelled.
And we, as their parents, know how well that skill will serve them.
Jake Harner Cain – U4 Pirates – Fall 2014 – “Got the water out of the water bottle and scored a few goals. Nice job Jakey.”
Everybody Dies Famous In A Small Town – Especially My Barber
By Jed Cain
For those of us that had the pleasure of growing up in a small town, we understand the truth of Miranda Lambert’s hit song – “Everybody Dies Famous In A Small Town.”
She tells the tale of a small town life that lacks anonymity and values what some may mistakenly dismiss as the “little things.”
They say that life is so much sweeter
Through the telephoto lens of fame
Around here you get just as much attention
Cheerin’ at the high school football game
I dreamed of going to Nashville
Put my money down and placed my bet
But I just got the first buck of the season
I made the front page of the Turner Town Gazette
Whether you’re late for church
Or you’re stuck in jail
Hey, word’s going to get around
Everybody dies famous in a small town
The genius of the song is that it captures the tension of every little town. Community often beats out anonymity. People live up close and personal. Secrets are harder to keep secret. Our neighbors know our stories.
Our kindergarten graduations. The big hit at the ball game. The marriage to our high school sweetheart. The birth of our child. The weekend we bailed that child out of jail. The problems in our marriage. Our battles with substance abuse. The loss of a job. The unexpected death of a child. The birth of our grandchildren. The death of our high school sweetheart.
Our collective stories make up the narrative of our small communities. And because neighbors know each other stories, the absence of every life leaves a tangible void in the community’s collective narrative.
I once tried a case with a great lawyer and close friend who hailed from the small town of Marksville, Louisiana. It was a sad case wherein a young woman was widowed when her husband was killed in a preventable workplace accident. The case was to be tried to a jury in the tiny community of Napoleonville, Louisiana.
As we prepared for trial, it was decided that I would handle the closing argument and my friend would handle the opening statement. The day of the trial arrived and my friend delivered a poignant opening statement. In speaking about the loss of this husband and father, he told the jury about the words painted on the big water tower that overlooks his little community of Marksville – “Welcome to Marksville – Where Everbody Is Somebody.” He went on to beautifully tell the jury about how this husband and father was indeed “somebody.”
I couldn’t help but think of that water tower when I learned of the unexpected death of my childhood barber in Natchitoches – Mr. Thad. Mr. Thad passed away over the summer at the age of 82 as a result of tragic plane crash.
For many years of my life, I saw Mr. Thad just about every three weeks. God blessed the men in my family with thick, unruly hair. While we’ve never feared baldness, we’ve always known that our hair was best kept short and under control. For years, Mr. Thad tamed it with the tools of his trade.
Despite seeing Mr. Thad on a pretty regular basis, I’m not sure if he actually knew my name. He knew my face. He knew my hair. But I don’t know if he knew my name. I was usually greeted with a smile, a kind nod of the head, and a “Hey Bub.” I’m not sure how many young guys in our town were named “Bub” to Mr. Thad. But I’d venture to guess that there were a lot of us.
The shop was minimalist before it was cool to be minimalist. A couple of barber chairs. A few more chairs for folks to wait in while Mr. Thad worked on others. Everyone’s excess hair was strewn about the floor. It stayed that way until it slowed down enough for Mr. Thad to sweep it up. Sweep. Not vacuum. I’ve noticed that my current barber has a vacuum contraption that sucks up the hair. Technology is everywhere I guess.
As I’d wait for my turn in his chair, men and boys from throughout our community would come and go. I’d listen to conversations that ran the gambit – family, farming, food, rodeoing, politics, trucks, boats, weather, fishing, hunting, religion, women, and sports. Mr. Thad had the gift of keeping a conversation alive with the fewest of words. I’m not sure if he ever truly offered an opinion on any of the topics discussed. Thinking back on it, he didn’t really participate that much in the conversation. He was busy cutting our hair. But he always seemed to be the passive moderator of these talks.
As an introverted high school boy, I never dreamed of actually participating. An occasional “yes sir” or “no sir” to a direct question was just about all I contributed. I was completely satisfied with just listening and learning.
High school graduation came and went. I moved off to Arkansas for college. I’m sure I got haircuts in Arkansas. I don’t exactly remember where. But when I’d return home to visit my family, I’d always try and stop by the barbershop to get a quick cut from Mr. Thad.
The introverted high school boy had grown into an introverted college boy and I was still content to quietly listen and learn from the conversations that flowed through the shop. But I noticed that with each trip home, I began to listen a little more closely and analyze the conversation with a more discerning ear. I started to flirt with the idea of actually participating in one of these talks.
I remember the day when it finally happened. I came home on a Thursday night for a long weekend. I went to see Mr. Thad the next morning for a quick haircut. As a sat waiting for my turn, another customer steered the morning talk towards politics.
As my fellow customer railed against a particular political issue, I toyed with the idea of actually speaking up and offering the opposing view. I didn’t know the other customer. There weren’t too many folks in the shop that morning. Would I be speaking out of turn? Probably. Would I be dismissed as just another naïve young college kid? Definitely. After all, I was.
Despite these concerns, I went for it. I spoke up. I offered the opposing view. The fellow customer and I went back and forth a couple of times. I don’t really remember what was said. But he obviously was not persuaded by my argument.
I don’t remember if Mr. Thad said anything. He probably was not persuaded by my argument either. But I do remember this. For a split second, Mr. Thad looked up from the customer whose hair he was cutting and flashed me a quick grin. It could be interpreted many ways. Maybe it was a sympathy grin – an acknowledgment that I had waded into an argument that I had no shot of winning in his shop. But maybe it was something else. I guess I’ll never know.
Mr. Thad continued cutting my hair whenever I’d come home to visit my family. I ventured off to law school, got married, and slowly started my own family. Trips back home became less frequent and eventually Mr. Thad stopped cutting my hair. Prior to his death, I probably had not seen him in at least five years. But Mr. Thad and his barbershop stayed with me over the years.
Many times in my professional career, I have called upon the lessons I learned in that little barbershop.
-The power possessed by a seemingly passive moderator in an important conversation.
-The value of truly listening to a witness as they offer their testimony.
-The realization that some of the brightest folks around opt for Wrangler jeans over flashy suits.
-The fundamental truth that sometimes you’ve just got to be brave enough to speak up and offer the opposing view.
Trial after trial, I have found myself preparing and presenting my case as if the jury consisted of the men and women that filtered through Mr. Thad’s barbershop.
Folks in Natchitoches live up close and personal. Their lives bump up against each other. Their stories mix and mash. I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to know Mr. Thad and experience his shop.
Miranda Lambert is right. Everybody dies famous in a small town. But especially my barber.