Category Archives: My People My Stories

Dead Flowers

Weekly Writing Challenge: Traces

It was a cold gray January day on the Nebraska plains. A bitter cold wind swept undisturbed across the flat earth. David drove his car to small graveyard situated on the only rise in the landscape. He got out and trudged over the frozen ground and searched for the grave of who he believed to be his father.

There it was, the only grave with flowers, although dead and nearly decayed. The gravestone read Thomas Alfred Cooper, July 22, 1949 to October, 15, 1974. “Somebody cares,” David mumbled.

This desolate harsh land was a far cry from the vibrancy of Southern California where David was raised and lived, but without warning this place claimed me. David knew this was where it all started. This was my beginning. David felt it in his bones and heart and in the cold wind that seemed to penetrate his flesh and carry him away as its captive. David now belonged to the prairies of Nebraska.

It all stated two years ago when a friend said, “It must be tough knowing you were never adopted and not knowing where you came from or who you are.”

Never had it crossed his mind before in that way, but from that point onward it slowly scraped away in his brain until it could not be put aside. And on this day the two year search was over, but who put the flowers on the grave?

David had to squint to see the nearest house. He drove there. After knocking several time an old man greeted him at the door.

“Are you familiar with the graveyard down the way?” David said.

“I used to be its caretaker until two years ago,” he said. “Now my grandson does it.”

“There were flowers…”

The old man interrupted. “On the grave of Thomas Cooper.”

“Yes,” David said. “Do you know who puts them there?”

“Amanda Bromwell,” he said.

“Does she live around here?” David said.

“Not here,” he said.

“Do you know where she lives now?” David said.

“She lives in town, Albion” he said. “She’s a doctor and runs the clinic.”

“How old is she,” David ask

“Early fifties,” he said. “A smart looking woman. Can’t figure out way she leaves flowers on Cooper’s grave. She was married to Buford Martin, but she took back her maiden name. Just be a big mess. I wish the story would come out so people will stop making stuff up. You know how small towns are.”

David got in the car and drove back to Lincoln satisfied that there was a story there that would be best left alone. He was certain Thomas Cooper was his father and Amanda Bromwell his mother. That was good enough.

David got a room near the airport in Lincoln and planned to catch a morning flight back to LA. The clerk at the desk smiled at me as if David were somebody she knew. David got the same reaction at the motel’s restaurant from the hostess, waitress, and cahier.

It was a little before six when David got back to his room. David flipped on the TV to catch the local weather and see what the chances were of getting a flight the next day with no delays.

The news came on at six. It hit me like a cold prairie wind. The news anchor‘s name was Will Martin. He looked remarkably like David. Obviously that was the reason for all the strange looks David had been receiving. And then like some badly rehearsed and poorly timed surprise party the weather girl brings the anchor a birthday cake. David fell into the chair and stared. “It was my birthday also,” he muttered.

David stared at the rest of the newscast not hearing a word. A thousand thoughts exploded in his mind like a Forth of July fireworks. His brain was overloaded and it was impossible to connect one thought with another. Hundreds of random thoughts were going off in his head at the same time.

After the newscast David called the station.

“I’d like to speak to Will Bromwell,” David said. “It’s very important.”

“Who should I say is calling?”

“My name is David Zachary and it’s important I speak to him immediately.”

David waited for a few moments.

“Will Bromwell, can I help you?”

“Mr. Martin, my name is David Zachary. Could we meet some place. I need to talk to you. Since you don’t know me I understand you may be reluctant, but I could meet you at the station or anyplace in public, but this is really important.”

“Can you tell me what it’s about?” Will said.

“I could, but you wouldn’t believe me,” David said.

“There is a diner across from our studios, would that be okay?” Will said.

“Yes, that fine. I’m at an airport motel so give me time to get there.”

David was there in twenty minutes. The place was a nostalgic diner and given the time of night nearly empty. David walked in and toward the both where Will Bromwell sat in a booth stirring a coffee.

When his eyes met David’s he appeared startled.

“Sit down Mr. Zachary,” Will said.

“First of all,” David said. “I want nothing from you.”

“We could be twins,” Will said.

“I would have thought nothing about our resemblance other than the fact that today is my birthday also,” David said.

“Dear god in heaven,” Will said. “We have to be twins.”

“I don’t know where I came from,” David said. “A two year search brought me to a grave a hundred and twenty miles from here and the name of Thomas Alfred Cooper on it.”

“My dad was Buford Martin,” Will said. “After his death Mom and I took back her maiden name. I never asked why.”

“And I bet you don’t even look like Buford Martin,” David said.

“No, we don’t,” Will said.

“This is a mistake,” David said. “I’m sorry. I should have thought this out.” David raised to leave.

“Sit,” Will said. “Please. This is important.”

“Not to you,” David said.

“If you are indeed my twin,” Will said. “It is important to me because you are my brother and we have a father we never knew in a grave and perhaps a mother living with a secret and guilt.”

“I passed up a chance to visit a doctor who runs a clinic,” David said. “She places flowers on the grave of Thomas Cooper. I don’t want to open old wounds. Stirring sparks can start other fires.”

“Mom and Dad argued at times,” Will said. “David never knew why. It was after I went to bed. Mom was always in tears. I thought it had to do with Dad working to put Mom through med school and he had nothing in the way of a career. Dad tried a couple of things, but always failed. He spent most of his time at home. Mom made the living.”

“I got an idea,” David said. “Let’s give each other our life stories, I’ll fly out of here tomorrow. You know something and I know something and that will be the end of it. Come out to LA sometime and we’ll get together. How does that sound?”

“No,” Will said. “I’m calling in and taking tomorrow off. I’m visiting mom. I can do it alone or you along with me.”

“This may crush your mother,” David said.

“It’s our mother,” Will said. “And she’s tough as nails.”

It was an early ride. They wanted to arrive at her home before she left for the clinic.

It was a attractive two-story home on the outskirts Albion, Nebraska . Smoke slowly lifted from a chimney.

Will and David walked through the crinkle of snow that fell during the night. Will knocked at the door between the garage and house.

Amanda came to the door. “Hi, Will, what brings you here so early? And whose your friend? Come on in it’s cold out there. I’m not in until noon so we can spend…”

David removed his hat.

“Thomas,” she said. “And rushed to my arms.”

David held her as she sobbed.

They sat at the kitchen table. She held both of their hands as she listened to every detail of how David found her and Will.

David spared the details of his upbringing of foster homes and orphanages, but told her that was his life and there were no regrets.

“Do you want to know how it all came to be?” she said looking at Will and David.

“No,” David said.

“I think David is right, Mom,” Will said. “Let’s leave it there.”

“No,” she said. “I can’t live this anymore. I think you always knew something was wrong, Will, but you just never said anything. There was something terribly wrong.”

“If it makes you feel better,” David said. “Go ahead.”

“It will make us all feel better,” she said. “I was fifteen years old. I was in love with a handsome teacher named Thomas Cooper. It was wrong for both of us, but I became pregnant by him. If he stayed around he would have been charged and convicted of statutory rape. He joined the Army. Buford Martin agreed to marry me knowing I was pregnant with another man’s child. When I delivered there were two of you. Buford said he could only raise one bastard not two. I gave you up. Thomas came back from the Army and two years later died in a car crash. His insurance money was given to a college only if it was used for my education. Thomas never knew he had two sons, just the one. For some reason I always thought you would walk through the doors of my clinic someday. I never dreamed it would be at the back door of my house.”

“What happened to Buford?” David said.

She was quiet. It was as if the words were locked away.

“Suicide,” Will said.

“I’m sorry,” David said.

“We never loved,” she said. “I became pregnant on impulse and married on impulse, but Thomas was the only man I loved.”

After tears there was smiles and laughter. Love has no regrets or grudges. It lives and is nurtured by the present and future, not the past.

At noon they went to the clinic and Amanda introduced everyone to her new found son. Than it came time to part.

She walked David and Will to the car.

“Will you come back soon,” she said.

“How would you like it if I came back permanently?” David said.

“Sure,” she said. “I can put you up and find work for you. What would you like to do?”

“I was kind of hoping for a work at your clinic,” David said.

She had a painful smile.

“You see,” David said. “You passed on the doctor gene. I’ve been in practice for seven years. We can work together.”

She smiled and pressed a tear. “That will be lovely,” she said. “One thing, David, you seem to be so sure of my love in spite of all things, why?”

“The flowers on the grave,” David said. “I knew they were as much for me as they were my father.”

“May I call you Thomas?” she said.

“Yes, please do.”

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New Blog, My Old Green Sweater

There is actually an old green sweater and it is mine.

A few weeks ago I started a new blog. It is call My Old Green Sweater. It can be linked by clicking the image on the side bar or the links in this post.

The Jittery Goat is whimsical. It is an exploration of ideas and subjects, some are serious, most are not.

My Old Green Sweater will be devoted strictly to my short stories. It is what I really like to do.

The first story is called Pete’s Diner. Pete’s diner is one of those places that all the locals love, but don’t know why. The service is bad, the coffee is bitter, the burgers are terrible, and the buns are stale. I hope you stop by, but don’t try the burgers and do ask to inspect the cup before the coffee is added.

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A Place Called Serenity; The Oracle of Serenity (Part 2)

(Continued from last week.)

It sizzled and hissed as it past over head.

“That’s the spirits,” Tom said. “They lookin’ for souls. Hope Doc and Chuck ain’t sleepin’ with their shoes on. I‘d check on ‘em now, but it‘s done too late; either they‘re there or they‘re gone.”

“There’s another thing,” Tom said. “Spirits don’t like ta be trifled with. So if a dead body has shoes on the spirits come along to take him and he’s already dead that makes ‘em mad so they come lookin’ for someone with their shoes off. That’s why some people are dead in the morning with their shoes off. People at funeral parlors always make sure the shoes are off the dead. If shoes are on the dead person and they’s already dead the funeral parlor owners are the first ones the spirits come lookin’ for. Spirits hang around funeral parlors. That‘s a fact.”

Dickie looked into the sky. He wanted to leave the subject of spirits and the dead. “Do you think there are Martians?”

“Of course there’s Martians,” Tom said. “They’re fixin’ to attack the earth at any time.”

“Why?” Dickie said.

With no hesitation Tom said, “They are running out of workers up there. They are going to come down here and take a couple of million people to build their palaces and more space ships and flying saucers. The earth is being attacked all the time. The government just don’t say anything about it because it will make people go crazy and kill themselves. I can see why; I‘d rather be dead than work for the Martians.”

“I don’t think that’s so,” Becky said. “The only Martians you’ve seen is at a movie.”

“Stop it,” Charlene said. “You’re makin’ it hard for us want to sleep tonight.”

“On nights like this,” Tom said, “Its best ya stay awake all night. We don’t know if down at the funeral parlor the shoes are on or off the dead people. If they come back this way and find ya asleep they may just take you with them.”

“This is stupid talk,” Becky said. “You’re making this all up.”

“Swear ta god cross my heart and hope to die,” Tom said. “Ask Betty if I didn’t see and Ogre eatin’ garbage out of the dump the other night.”

“That’s the truth,” Betty said. “He seen it with his own two eyes.”

“They’ll eat children if given half a chance,” Tom said. “And as god is my witness and swear on a stack of Bibles I saw a Martian lookin’ through the windows the other night. I flashed a hex sign and went off.”

Suddenly something quite unexplainable happened. From the southern sky a red glowing ball whirled aflame. It passed overhead and made a sizzling and hissing sound. It continued until out of sight. Becky, Charlene, and Dickie stood in awe. They heard pounding feet run away into the night. It was the Martins running in fear to their home.

It turned cold. Dickie stood between his sisters and put his arms around them. They said nothing as they drew close to one another. They were cold and alone as they continued to gaze into the night sky, but they weren’t afraid.

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A Place Called Serenity; The Oracle of Serenity (Part 1)

Serenity had an aracle every bit as good as the Greek’s Trophonius.

There were times the kids of Serenity gathered in early evening and looked into the skies. They wondered, speculated, and spun strange tales often about god, demons, angels, ghosts, hags, ghouls, and Martians. All were told with conviction and clarity. Details were available on the spot. Seldom, if a question was asked about a tale, did anyone say ‘I don’t know.’ Plausible explanations and answers were supplied as if already known and established fact.

“Why are Martians green?”

“The lack of sunlight.”

“Why can’t we see God?”

“Because he’s on the other side of the Moon.”

“Why do stars twinkle?”

“They are either exploding or sending code messages to aliens already on earth.”

“Why do ghosts come out at night?”

“The sun burns their souls.”

One crisp Fall evening Dickie, Becky, Char, and the Martins gathered in the yard next to Dickie’s home. They were looking through a clearing in the branches into the infinite star lit night. The earth was dark. Shades at the homes were drawn tight and scant light escaped from the minute gaps where the sill and blind met. An occasional lonely set of headlights appeared from the highway in the distance and over the bridge they would go and disappear as if they dropped of the earth. The night time was full of mystery and wondering.

“Sometimes, for no reason at all, holes open in the ground and swallow people up,” Tom Martin said. “It happens at night. It’s the Devils work. He’s lookin’ for people to help him keep the fires of hell burning. A family could be driving along and suddenly the earth opens and they fall straight to hell and never heard of again. It’s happened to trains and ships in the ocean. They just sink to the bottom and it opens and the Devil goes inside to collect the souls.”

“What do you do to keep that from happening? Charlene said.

“As soon as you step out of the house everyday you spit on the ground and say ‘I spit on the Devil.’ That will keep him away from you.

“But I’ve never done that before,” Becky said. “And I’m not about to start.”

“Than I hafta do it for ya,” Tom said. “Cause I don’t want anything to happen to ya.”

Tom Martin had all the stories and explanations for every phenomena. He was the smartest kid in Serenity. He would likely be President someday.

That night he had a captive audience open to his yarns. The night was perfect for such tales.

“Ya never want ta go ta bed with yer shoes on?” Tom said.

“Why? Dickie said.

“Because the dead spirits are looking for the dead at night and they take everyone who wears shoes, because they figure they’re ready ta go. That‘s a fact. We had an ole man down in Kentucky who went ta bed every night with his boots off and one night he was too tired ta take ‘em off and the spirits done got his soul that night. The next morning he was as dead and cold as stone, but his boots were on.”

A sudden cool breeze rustled the leaves on the ground and swept them down a path that led to Doc’s and Chuck’s Cabins.

“Ya’ll know what that was?”

Nobody said anything.

Tom cleared his throat and everybody waited for his explanation.

Continued next week.

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Il Vecchio Detto Chico (The Old Man Named Chico) Part 3

Continued from last week.

Chico used a cart to sell vegetables during the summer and to pick up scrap metal and sell it to a scarp metal dealer during the winter.

In time Chico was able to worked in the garden again. He smiled more and cursed less.

“Da people day so gooda to me,” he said.

The sound of cicadas signaled the coming end to the growing season. The sun cast a different shadow. The pace of summer was passing. It is a signal to human and animal alike that fall is approaching and winter beyond that.

The last crop of the year was pumpkins. Chico placed them in his cart and pushed it to his spot and sold them. He and Doc turned down the garden for the winter.

Chico’s custom was to hitch his horse, a gray mare, to his wagon and move it to the city. His vegetable cart became a junk cart to pick up scrap metal along the city streets and sell it a scrap metal dealer. That was Chico’s winter job.

Chico took a day to inspect his wagon to ready it for the trip in town. His horse was kept in and adjacent field. He crawled between the fence and inspected her by running his hands over the shoulders and rump.

Early the next morning Chico hitched his grey mare to the wagon and with a snap of the rains and a few clicks of his cheek the wagon creaked and eased from its resting place. It was a crisp morning and snorts from the mare’s nostrils were like steam from a locomotive. Slowly it made its way past Doc’s.

Doc appeared on the front porch of his cabin in long-johns waving.

“Ciao, mio amigos, Ciao, mio amigos” Chico said to all. The wagon slowly rolled onto the lane that led from Serenity and then on the highway. As it passed by on the overpass the clip clop of the Chico’s horse was slow and lonely.

A couple of weeks went by. Dickie went into town with his Mother. They went to the Western Auto store. Dickie stayed outside and sat on a bench in front of the store. An old man slowly traversed the street pushing a junk cart. It was Chico.

Dickie stood at the curb waiting for him.

“Chico, Chico,” Dickie said. “It’s me.”

“Bambino Dickie,” Chico said. “Howa you doin’?”

“Good, Chico,” Dickie said. “How are you doin?”

“It’s a rough, Dickie,” Chico said. “I gotta geta go. Thees eez a tougha beeznesss. Lotsa competition.” He pushed by and smiled. “Seea you nexta Spring.”

“I’ll help you in the garden,” Dickie said.

“No can pay you,” Chico cautioned.

“That’s okay,” Dickie said.

Chico slowly moved down the street and flung his arm and waved.

It was a crisp winter morning. Snow hung lazily from branches. There was a knock at the back door of Dickie’s home. His Mother answered. It was Doc holding a newspaper.

“Look here,” Doc said.

It was a picture of Chico’s wagon. A story accompanied the picture. The story read Chico had been discovered dead in his wagon.

Later that day all the children of Serenity gathered at the pond that Chico fetched his water from for his garden. The pond was frozen and a day of ice skating was planned. A fire was built on shore. There was little ice skating, but there was a lot of talk around the fire of Chico, his wagon, and garden.

One Spring morning Dickie watched Doc walk to the spot of Chico’s garden. He had a brown jar. From it he poured ashes.

“What is that?” Dickie asked.

“Fertilizer,” Doc said. “I’m planting my garden here this year.”

Dickie looked into Doc’s eyes. “Are you crying?”

“Yes,” Doc said. “I’m going to miss that old man.”

“But he used to cuss at you all the time,” Dickie said.

“Sometimes ya need somebody around ta keep ya in yer place,” Doc said.

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A Place Called Serenity; Il Vecchio Detto Chico (The Old Man Named Chico) Part 2

Chico made a living from his garden.

(Continued from last week.)

“He was there, Doc,” Dickie said. “He was right there.” Dickie pointed to a spot where the hoe laid.

Doc’s head turned to the wagon. The door was open. “You wait here,” Doc said and he moved quickly up the steps and looked inside. “Chico. It’s Doc. Ya okay?”

“Vattene, Vattene, mio vecchio amico,” Chico said weakly.

“I don’t know what he said,” Doc said. “But run ta yer place and call for a doctor.”

Fifteen minutes passed when a black Chevy station wagon sped down the road that led to serenity, a huge plum of dust behind it.

Doc Siders, a round man with thinning hair and perspiration under the armpits of his white shirt emerged frantically from the car with a black leather bag.

He was inside the wagon for nearly and hour as a large crowd gathered in the lane that curled in front of Chico’s wagon.

Doc Siders finally emerged from the wagon. He was surprised to see a crowd of nearly twenty people, mostly children. “He won’t go to the hospital. Is there anybody who can look in on him?”

Doc stepped forward, “I’m a Doc, I can take care of ‘im.”

“You a doctor?” Doc Siders asked.

“That’s my name from the hollars,” Doc said. “Where I’m from I’s the only one people had. I learned from my momma. If it’s his heart I’ll give him spoon full of a mixture apple cider vinegar and honey three times a day.”

Doc Siders mouth curled down and he nodded approvingly. “Sure do that, but give him two aspirin at night.” Doc Siders reached inside his bag and handed a bottle of pills to Doc. “If he has chest pain slip one of these under his tongue.”

“You can depend on me,” Doc said.

“I’ll help ya Doc,” Dickie said.

“He’s going to need some help,” Doc Siders said. “Maybe fix some meals for him and help him around. Is there somebody that can do that?”

Everyone stepped forward with their hands raised.

“That’s good,” Doc Siders said. “Just one at a time though.”

“Do we owe you anything?” Doc said.

He smiled. “No, no, that’s okay.”

The wagon rocked from side to side. “Veini qui, veini qui, Doc” Chico said from inside.

“Me or you,” Doc Siders said. “It must be me. He’d never talk that way to a real doctor.”

Doc and Doc Siders went to the door of the wagon. Chico handed a hand basket to Doc. “Thanka you docta. I hava no mon ta pay, but you a can picka some a tomata. You watcha him Doc that he sticka none in a his pocket.”

Within a few days Chico was able to leave his wagon. He sat in a chair next to the wagon and supervised Doc and Dickie tending to his garden. He was hard to work for. On a couple of occasions Doc called for a work stoppage if he didn’t stop cursing at him and Dickie in Italian.

“Howa you know I curse ata you, Doc,” Chico said. “You a so smarta you understand Italian. Only smarta people know Italian.”

“If it were good you was a callin’ down on us you’d say it in plain English,” Doc said.

“Italian eez such a beautifula language, ita would not a sounda the same ina English,” Chico said.

Continued nexta weeka.

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A Place Called Serenity; Il Vecchio Detto Chico (An Old Man Named Chico) Part 1

This was home to Chico.

These are the stories of days of tall trees, Summer breezes, bright sunny days, running barefoot on stones, and swimming in mud bottom creeks. They were days of frosty mornings, bright-colored leaves, burning leaves, cold nights around a bonfire toasting marshmallows, and watching stars shoot across the sky. They were days of knee-high snow, frosty windows, cold mornings, runny noses, mittens, and warming hands over a gas kitchen stove. They were days of soggy ground, croaking frogs, muddy shoes, tadpoles, pussy willows, hoot owls, and jumping puddles. It was a place of security, solemnity, a benign sort of secrecy, and serenity. For that reason it is called “Serenity.”

Doc’s and Chuck’s was the last cabin down a lane. The lane curled around and headed back towards the exit of Serenity, but just where it curved was another structure that can be best described as a Gypsy’s wagon. It had sloped roof and a small chimney. Steps led out the back and harness attached to the front.

The owner was a man simply known as Chico. Chico spoke with a heavy Italian accent which the children applied some effort to understand. He didn’t speak often and the children conjured all sorts of methods to force him to talk just to listen to the strange sounds that came form his lips. Sometimes he said nothing and only snarled  and mumbled something in Italian.

Chico wore a bright green beret that had a red tassel on the top. He removed it only when wiping perspiration from his brow. His pants were baggy and had huge front pockets. He wore a loose shirt that only buttoned to the middle of his chest.

Chico planted a garden that he took particular delight, working long hours and carrying water by bucket from a small pond some distance away.

Chico had a two-wheel cart that he used to haul his produce to a busy intersection where he sold it.

He and Doc had long conversations about the garden. Doc had one also but much smaller. It was only for him and Chuck. It seemed like they competed for the best looking and largest produce, but at the same time exchanged tips on better gardening. Sometimes there conversations on gardening erupted into arguments. Of course the children always took Doc’s side. He was the only one that could be understood. Yet no matter how advanced and heated the argument seem to become the next morning it was as if nothing had been said the day before except for the most complementary of comments. Doc was even seen brining water from the pond to Chico’s garden.

No matter how far apart their cultures seemed they understood one thing; they were both growing old.

One day Dickie walked to his wagon. Chico chopped at the soil in his garden down a row of tomatoes with a hoe. He stopped before getting to the end of the row and leaned on the hoe. He wiped the perspiration from his brow and struggled to catch his breath. He eased into a sitting position on the ground.

Dickie ran to him, “Chico, Chico, are you okay?”

Chico looked scornfully at Dickie as if he didn’t understand a word. Dickie held out his hand. When Chico realized Dickie was there to help and not to hear his funny accent his eyes softened and he said in Italian flinging his hand at him, “Vattene, Vattene, bambino.”

Dickie ran to Doc’s cabin. “Doc, Doc, Chico is sick. He’s down on the ground.”

“Whataya talkin’ about boy?” Doc said poking his head outside the screen door.

“Chico just sat on the ground and he don’t look good,” Dickie said. “Ya better come quick.”

Dickie ran ahead of Doc who was trying to keep up. Dickie got to the garden. Chico was not there.

(Continued next week.)

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