Tuesday, January 29, 2019

That Damn Hot Rod... by Bradly Ferguson

 Brad Ferguson and I went to the same school from start to finish, although he was...ahem...older than me, so I really only knew him as Cindy's older brother. After I'd graduated and was enjoying being single--maybe a little too much--I met Duane Flaherty and a few of the guys he played music with. One of them was Brad. He was funny, smart, and scary talented. Fifty years later, he's still all that. 
This is a short story he let me read and, when I begged, said I could use in the blog. It's in two parts--the other half will be here next Tuesday. I hope you enjoy it. I sure did.   
      ...from the perspective of John Yorg:
 It was 1958. My son Pete was a sophomore at Southside High School where I had been teaching history for 17 years. Teaching history isn't the most glamorous of jobs, but I enjoy it; it's my passion. I know I'm not gonna get rich teaching; so with a son, a car loan, and a mortgage, the wife had to take a job at Woolworth's to make ends meet more comfortably. 
Mamma―that's my pet name for the wife―would take the station wagon to work and I'd walk to the school, as it was only four blocks from the house. I didn't mind the walk. I would think about teaching the day's classes on the way there and unwind on the way back. Sometimes Pete would walk with me.
    Pete was a good boy―respectful, honest, and a hard worker. Since he was 10 he’d had a paper route and. He’d mowed yards in the summer ever since he was big enough to push the reel lawnmower. And save? Lordy, that boy wouldn't spend a penny…well, unless it was for a hot rod magazine. He would read those magazines from front to back, again and again. He was crazy about them Hot Rods.
    When Pete was around 14, I asked him what he was gonna do with all that money he had been saving. He looked up from the   magazine and replied, "Dad, I'm gonna buy a car when I get out of high school."
      Hmmmm... I thought he would need to be running that paper route and mowing yards every day and night for 10 years to save up enough money for a car.
    I wanted him to be saving for college to get a good education so he could land a decent paying job. That way he wouldn't have to struggle with money like Mamma and I had been doing for years. But college didn't interest Pete in the least. He hated history, hated government, and didn't care for English or economics, either, and those grades reflected that. Math was okay, but his passion at that time in his life was shop; he got straight As in shop. Lester Yoemans, the shop teacher, often told me how impressed he was with Pete's abilities and determination. My son had been practicing on welding in shop class and one day he brought home some of his samples. Now I had heard or read somewhere that a good weld should look like a row of coins and sure enough, Pete's welds looked like a stack of Mercury dimes all laid out.
    That summer, Pete started running around with Frank, who was a new kid in town. Frank was 19 and worked in his uncle's machine shop. He drove a 1940 Ford pickup that was louder’n hell. I swear I could hear him coming from two blocks away even from inside the house. Had those spinner hubcaps and was painted a light grey primer. A hot rod.
     I didn’t think much of Frank at first sight. He had greasy-looking hair combed back in a DA, a tee shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and was wearing sunglasses even though it was a cloudy day. Looked like a hoodlum. But I had second thoughts about him after Pete introduced him to me. Pete says, "Frank, this is my dad, John Yorg. Dad, this is Frank Kirkpatrick.” 
Frank took off his sunglasses, looked me straight in the eyes, shook my hand firmly, and said, "Pleased to meet you, Mr. Yorg.” It was always Yes, Sir or No, Sir with Frank. He showed respect and character and that was good enough in my book.
     Pete had a girlfriend now. Her name was Valerie, but Chickie is what everybody called her. He had taken her to a school sock hop last April and from then on they were going steady. Now, Chickie was a sweetie and she would come over when Pete wasn't busy. But that boy seemed to always have something going on.  That summer he was mowing yards, working a few evening hours at the Piggly Wiggly stocking shelves, and would go with Frank to the machine shop whenever he didn't have a yard to mow. Since he was so busy, he and Chickie agreed that Sunday was "her" day. They always spent it together. My wife just loved Chickie from the get-go; they got along just peachy.
     Now, I'll admit I am not mechanically inclined―I'm a history teacher, remember―so when Pete and Frank would talk about engine stuff and car modifications while going through hot rod magazines, I had no clue what they were talking about. But Pete was obviously learning a lot at the machine shop and from hanging around with Frank. Frank's uncle didn't pay Pete for any of the work that he did, and Pete never asked him to. He just wanted to learn. I think Frank's uncle was happy to be getting free labor. I didn't approve of that too much and told Pete so, but he would just say, "Ah, Dad."
     The school board had voted that summer to try out a couple of new state-approved classes for the next school year. They called them Auto Mechanics and Auto Repair. They had sent Yoemans to the local car dealerships in town to get up to speed with the auto world so he could teach the classes. And guess who was the first one in line to sign up for those new classes! To no surprise, Pete got straight As. 
Midway through the year, he was even helping Yoemans teach the younger students. One day ole Yo Yo and I were in the teachers’ lounge and he says, "Ya know, John, that boy of yours is smart as a whip in my auto class. People are always needing their cars worked on and a good hustling mechanic can make some decent money, ya know."
 I just grunted and said, "I wish he'd put that kind of effort into the rest of his studies," and walked out.
    The summer between his junior and senior year, Pete started giving my station wagon its tuneups, and he did real good, too; the wagon always ran great when he got done with it. It got better gas mileage, too, and with the price of gas at a ridiculous 30 cents a gallon…well, every bit helps. He changed my oil, too. When the brakes started squealing , we went to Western Auto together and bought brake shoes and he installed them on all four wheels. I just stood there and watched in amazement. How in the world he put all those parts back together right, I have no idea, but when he was done there were no extra parts left over and it stopped like it used to when it was new.  Saved me a pretty penny, too. That summer, he tuned up a couple of my friends’ cars and changed oil for them. They paid him fairly and he was happy to do it.
    Then Frank's little brother JD came over one day with Frank. JD was younger than Pete and combed his hair like Frank's and dressed just like Frank too. But JD was a little smartass. I figured JD stood for juvenile delinquent. I caught him in my junior high history class last year flipping rubber bands at a girl. As punishment, I made him write a 500-word essay on the history of rubber bands. After all, heh heh, I am a history teacher! The day he showed up at the house, Frank brought him over and introduced him to me. JD didn't shake my hand. He just said, ”Yeah, I know Mr. Yorg from school.” I had him pegged right: a juvenile delinquent.
    Time was flying by. Pete had his driver's license and I let him drive the wagon here and there and take Chickie out on dates. He was a senior and before I knew it the prom came up and, of course, Chickie was right there on his arm. I could tell she was crazy about him. They were good for each other.
   Then came graduation day. We had a little party for both Pete and Chickie at the house. Her parents and some high school friends came over and even Frank showed up. I was proud that my son graduated but was uneasy as to his future. It's a different world out there when you get out of school. Yes, I was uneasy.
    The very next day I was outside dusting my roses when I heard this car a spittin' and sputterin' and blowing blue smoke out the back. It pulled into the driveway. It was Pete. I pointed at what was left of an old car and said, "What's this?” 
Pete told me it was a 1932 Ford three-window coupe... that it was one of Frank's friends’ hot rods and he had lost patience with it because he couldn't get it running right. And then he dropped the bomb on me. "So I bought it. I'm gonna fix it up."

     I flew off the handle. "Why in the hell are you wasting your hard-earned money on a piece of crap like that? I thought you knew better. The damn thing doesn't even have any fenders or a hood, and it smokes like a locomotive. If you were gonna buy a car, you should have bought Musselman's low-mileage '53 Plym―"
          I might as well have been talking to the wall. Pete didn't hear a word I said. He already had his tools out and was tinkering away on the carburetor. I took in a deep breath and let it out easy. "Well, don't block me in. You can park it on the side of the driveway over there.". I went back to finish dusting my roses to calm down. Within 10 minutes Pete had the piece of crap running smoothly, but it was still billowing out blue smoke. I thought, well, maybe there won't be as many mosquitoes around this summer.
      The little coupe was gone a week later. I figured the boy had finally came to his senses and gotten rid of the damn thing. I never said anything to him about it. I didn't want to come off with the ole  “I told you so” speech. Pete never said anything to me about it, either. Frank would pick up Pete every morning on his way to work and bring him home after 4:00, then Pete would ride his bike to the Piggly Wiggly and get home around 11:00 pm. The boy was burning the candle at both ends.
    About two weeks later I looked out the kitchen window and up pulled Pete in the '32 coupe hot rod. But this time it was a different story. The engine actually sounded great and was not blowing any smoke. Still a little loud for my taste but well, that's what kids like nowadays. The body was now in a black primer. Not only did it sound great; it wasn't an eyesore anymore. Looked pretty decent for a damn hot rod.
    I walked out the back door and said in a questioning tone, "I thought you had gotten rid of it.” Pete proceeded to tell me that he had taken it over to Frank's, taken the original flathead engine out, and put in a 1941 Lincoln flathead that he had rebuilt at the machine shop. Well, that came as no surprise to me―he was just being himself and doing what he loved to do. I had my passion and he had his. I was definitely impressed and I told him so. He looked at me and said "Gee, thanks, Dad."  He came in, cleaned himself up, and off he went to give Chickie her first ride in it.
    Pete and Frank were sitting at the kitchen table one evening. I heard them talking. I came from around the corner and asked them if they were playing cards. Pete looks at Frank and then Pete said," No, Dad,why?"
          I said, "Well, I heard you talking about three deuces and assumed tha―"  
          They both broke out in laughter.  "No, Dad. Three deuces is three carburetors. I'm going to put three deuces on my hot rod."
I just shook my head and let it go. Why anyone would want to put three carburetors on their car when one works perfectly fine is beyond me. Guess I'm just getting old.
To be continued...

Monday, January 21, 2019

Bitter pills by Terri Hall

       My friend Terri Hall joins us today. The story she tells is important because it's so sadly familiar. It ends a little abruptly because the situation is rife with abruptness and non-endings and time spent in limbo--by both people who need care and the ones who love them. The ones who give that care. 
On Saturday, December 22, 2018, my mom called. She was crying hard and in pain. Trust me, that is not at all like her. I knew she was having  terrible pain and had just a few days ago taken her to the doctor. Why he didn't do anything at the time, I have no idea. Anyway, her pain was now much more severe, so I took her to St. Vincent's in Kokomo. They found a compressed fracture in her lumbar area, gave her meds, and sent her home. 
The next evening, I took her back. This time, they had a bed available, so they kept her. (They didn't tell me that was the reason why they sent her home the previous evening.) On Tuesday, they performed surgery. I can't pronounce or spell it, but they squirted an epoxy cement in the disc to stabilize it. It's considered an outpatient surgery; however, because of the lateness of the hour, we were to take her home the following day. Usually, people feel instant relief and can go back to work the next day. Mom had complications and would have to wait till Thursday.
Complications. That is putting it mildly. Apparently, when a person is elderly and especially if they are in the beginning stages of dementia, anesthesia can affect their brain. For several days, my mom was in agony if not dosed with pain meds. The morphine made her hallucinate, so they put her on Advil- and Tylenol-type pills. Finally, the following week, she didn't sleep as much and her pain was tolerable. Her mind was more lucid as well.
At one point, she didn't know any of us. She told my daughter Pamela she looked familiar but didn't know her. Later, she my husband Tom was her own husband. She thought I was her mother, who had been dead for over 43 years. When she first thought I was her mom, I patted her hand and went out the door crying. At the end of the hall, I quietly sobbed. I had a small and bitter taste of what the families of Alzheimer’s patients go through.
Fifteen days after she was admitted, of which I was there for 14 of them, she was taken to a nursing / physical therapy facility to finish recovering. I had already spent several hours at the hospital that day, but had to go back and take her. It was after hours and the place didn't have a vehicle that ran at night; furthermore, the hospital needed the bed.
My sister came up from Tennessee to take turns with me and to visit with mom, but after the first day she was here, she became sick with whatever is going around and has only made it twice for short periods. Pamela and I took turns at the hospital several times, but she couldn't always make it, then she, too, became sick.
Mom is now at a facility in Kokomo. I've watched some of the PT, (mom calls it kindergarten stuff.) I explained it was necessary to gauge her progress and to build her strength. I'm not sure she completely believes me. I’m not sure I completely believe myself.
We are hoping that at the end of two months I'll be able to take her home again. In the meantime, if she transition herself from the bed to the wheelchair and back again can on her own, I'll be able to take her to church and on the occasional joy ride.
I'm praying to that end, but I can't help but wonder if she'll ever be able to come home. She's depressed, hurting, and a little scared. It breaks my heart to see her like this. After doing some of the PT, she's barely able to hold her head up. I can see the despair in her eyes. She believes she'll die there.
We continue to pray for her, visit and encourage her and ourselves. I hate seeing my mom like this. It breaks my heart a little more each day.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

If You Woke Up Rich…

From Peru Indiana Today in February, 2018. I don't work at the library anymore, but it was a lovely job and a wonderful place to spend work hours. I miss it, but I'm glad to have the time to put into other places. 

There was this meme on Facebook today that said, basically, if you woke up with 500 million dollars in the bank, how would you quit your job? I've been thinking about it ever since I saw it. And I can't help but wonder about something.

Why would you want 500 million dollars? Why would anyone? I mean, I definitely get wanting or needing more money than you have. We raised a family in fear of emergencies, because we never had that nice cushion in the bank that was recommended. Eating out was a Big Deal because we couldn't afford to do it very often. Paying book rent at the first of the school year for three kids meant robbing Peter to pay Paul until things fell back into place along about November, just in time to shop for Christmas. More money would have been nice.

It still would, I guess. But, if you're not going to give it away or help someone who needs it, what is the point of having a lot of money? Maybe I have been luckier than many in that I've liked my jobs, both the one I retired from and the ones I have in retirement. There's nothing more fun than writing books, not much that's more fun (for me) than working in a library.

If I had 500 million dollars...no, even if I had five million dollars, how would life be any better? I suppose the house would be bigger and have more bathrooms. Maybe I wouldn't compare prices at the grocery store or book the cheapest flights or drive my car until its wheels threaten to fall off. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't clean my own house anymore and I know I've always said if I were rich, I'd sleep on clean sheets every single night. I might spend more on clothes. And closets. I'd give more.

But I'm not sure what I'd do once I was finished...you know...not doing what I do now. I don't think sunrises or sunsets would be any more beautiful, my cats more accepting, or my friends any better. I think relationships might change in crumbling, scratchy ways that would cause pain. I think there are people who would decide they liked me because I was rich, and...really, is that a good enough reason?

So, okay, if I wake up with that 500 million, you can have it (except for a little bit--I'm not entirely stupid) and I'll just keep the life I have. But I'd love to hear your answers to why you'd want that much money in the first place.

Thanks for reading. See you next week.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Cutting it in layers by Liz Flaherty

Every now and then, my two kinds of writing cross paths, and the columnist writes from the perspective of a romance author. I hope you don't mind.

I'm a storyteller. I write contemporary stories about people I know or I am or I want to be. I try to tell them in layers, so that the story’s residents are people and animals you care about and the events are ones you believe. When you reach the end of one of my books or columns, I hope you sigh with pleasure because you feel like you’ve been there. Then I hope you go on to the next book or column.

So this morning I was thinking—I do this (or say I am) when the words aren’t coming and I’ve only written like 12 of them in the last hour—about where those layers come from.

From the past. My grandparents had a fire in the big brick house where they lived. My grandmother, skinny as a rail except for her advanced stage of pregnancy, picked up the treadle sewing machine and carried it downstairs and outside. I don’t know what else they lost, but no one was hurt and Grandma had her sewing machine. This was over 100 years ago, but the story hasn’t changed by so much as a syllable in my lifetime. I don’t know how she did it—I have one of those treadle machines and I can barely move it to clean under it—but she did.

I model my heroines on that one incident. The women I write about will never be extraordinary in looks or intelligence or accomplishment, but if life demands it, they will be able to carry the sewing machine down the steps.

From experience. If not our own, ones that are close to us. An accident happened in my bookEvery Time We Say Goodbye, the result of which is that entire families’ lives are changed forever. Two accidents much like the one I wrote about have happened locally. One of them was nearly 50 years ago, another 25 years ago. Our community still feels the ripples.

From listening. My nephew Kory and his wife Amy have seven children between them, so when they go as a family, they usually take two cars. In December, they went to a family gathering several hours away. The three teenage girls rode with Kory. He listened, laughed, learned, and was scared, and he knew all the girls better when they got there.

From airports. I don’t know a single writer who doesn’t love airports. We sit with our Starbucks cups and watch people and write their stories in our heads or even on our laptops if we haven’t already run our batteries down. We hear accents and close our eyes to try and remember them. We feel the emotions of people saying Goodbye. Of others saying Hello.

From music. Although I write in silence, I hear music in my stories. I see my people dancing in the kitchen—they all do—and there is joy in Writerville.

Where do you find your layers?

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

The best of things... Liz Flaherty

When I can't think of things to write about--or, more likely, when I'm in danger of writing about the same things too often--I make lists. My favorite this or that or the other. Since I've complained fairly incessantly about the last couple of years, which haven't been my favorite anything, I thought I'd make a list of things about 2018 that were good things. Happy things. I'd love it if you'd offer up some things in the comments, too.

1. Best movie. I don't watch all that many, but I loved Mary Poppins Returns. The cast was so wonderful I don't know how they got so much goodness onto one screen. Seeing Dick Van Dyke dance and Angela Lansbury sing would have had me in tears if I hadn't been smiling so hard.

2. Best time. Thanksgiving weekend, when most of our immediate family was in one place. I remember when our oldest was born, thinking I'd never again be able to love anyone like I did that little baby, but then finding out with his sister and brother how love just grows and multiplies and gets stronger because it's braided instead of single-strand. There are a lot of braids when family gets together.

3. Best bittersweet moment. At my brother's funeral, when one of his best friends related a certain streaking story that relieved and delighted everyone who was there. Thank you, Jim Conley. There was much light offered by friends on that sad day, but yours was the brightest.

4. Best play. Ole Olsen Memorial Theatre, under the direction of Jayne Kesler, presented The Diary of Anne Frank. Kurt Schindler, who's been making me laugh since the day I met him, made me cry. Carsten Loe as Anne was...I don't have the words for how good she was. Sarah Luginbill's magic turned Ole's small stage into an attic so convincing you forgot it had ever been anything else.

5. Best song. When Duane sings "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

6. Best new place. There are many contenders for this--you only have to look at the buildings in downtown Peru--but Black Dog Coffee in Logansport is my favorite. Scott Johnson has done as much for art and artists of all media as anyone I've ever known, and he's still doing it.

7. Best TV show. Murphy Brown. It's not for everyone, I know, but it is perfect for me. No, better yet, it's less than perfect. Its characters are flawed and so are its stories.

8. Best book. Too many to choose from. My friend Nan Reinhardt's A Small Town Christmas is right up there. So are 2018 releases by Kathleen Gilles Seidel, Laura Drake, Mary Balogh...

9. Best day. Today.

So, Happy New Year. I hope you share your bests--or worsts. Mostly, I hope 2019 is wonderful.