Hero’s have blue hair, Dedicated to Angela Warden Pascale

My two and a half year old granddaughter had a busy weekend packed full of fun. She visited an amusement park for the first time. She was in route to our house to tell us all about it. As she walked down the side deck of our home, I saw her smile first and her purse second. A small toy animal head was poking out of her hard shell handbag.
“What do you have in there?” I asked. She proudly removed a blue pony with long locks of hair just a shade lighter than the plastic body.
“Did Mumma get you that prize?” I asked.
“Um hum!” She responded as she sat down on the deck to stroke the pony’s blue hair.
“Mom, we all played games at the park and combined the tickets to get her that pony! It took two hundred of them to get our hands on that thing! I could’ve bought that at the dollar store!” My daughter said as we all laughed but my laughter was quickly going to turn to silence. I would soon find myself whipped into a place of remembrance, sympathy and pain all because of a little blue pony with long curly hair.

We spend many hours on our back deck. Some of the best talks, some of the deepest discussions and many decisions have been made on the deck. It’s a getaway. From that spot, I can hear the sound of the fountain in our pool. I close my eyes and envision a vacation destination. Important discoveries are made out there on the deck.

“Mimi, Hewp!” She yells because she can’t say help.
“What’s wrong Jade?”
“Mimi, put it back peas!” She is beginning to panic. I freeze. I honestly cannot move as I watch her. I need a rescue from God. I’m beginning to shake. I feel anxiety run through my core. Jade is combing the curly blue locks of the pony’s mane with her fingers and the hair is falling out onto the deck. She’s picking it up and setting it back on top of the pony’s head. I’m spinning. My mind is rolling like an 8mm film. I can see all of my friends who have undergone chemo. I can see their hair falling out and the agony of wanting to “put it back”. I take the pony from Jade. Her face is distraught. I can’t tell her that Mimi can fix it. I’d be lying. Its pulled out from the roots.
“Jade, hair falls out sometimes.”
“No Mimi.”
“I know. It’s sad but your pony is still so pretty!”

As the evening came to a close, we picked up Jade’s toys and brought the dirty dishes inside. I put a few caps on markers that she’d taken out and I made one last glance. I noticed a large clump of blue hair rolling across the deck like a tumbleweed. I grabbed it and weighted it down with a flower pot. I wanted to keep the memory close for a little while.

Jade came back this evening. She didn’t have her purse and she didn’t bring her blue pony. She had Minnie mouse and The Foot Book. It was nearing bath time when she spotted the hair under the pot. She did not ask, she reached up and took the hair. She ran to her wagon which serves as her outdoor toy box. She grabbed her bag of shells and dumped them out. Jade then placed the blue hair in the bag. That bag went with her to the tub where she removed the curly locks and washed them with shampoo. The blue strands are still on the edge of the bath tub and they will remain until they either wash away or she doesn’t want them.

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Fourteen working at Burger King

My first job was at Burger King in Buzzards Bay Massachusetts. It was located just off a rotary on Cape Cod. I was fourteen and needed a work permit. I was excited to get my feet in the door to make just over four dollars an hour. Each shift I worked, yielded one free meal. It doesn’t take long to get sick of the food you work around.
I started off making the fries. It was an endless routine. I stood on the cushiony, slip free black mat and dropped basket after basket of fries. This was Cape Cod. It was July and the beach homes were occupied, school was out and people were on vacation. The local campsites were full. Burger King was beyond busy.
I was the fry master. I also had to cook onion rings but they weren’t as popular as fries. My burgundy polyester shirt was grease stained and my navy blue visor kept my hair out of my face. I wore a name tag and I thought I was the bomb. The name tag was ordered from a corporate office. I was a somebody. I was the fourteen year old fry and onion ring hustler and I was learning work ethic.

8 tracks

Being from cranberry country, I owned a pair of ice skates at a very young age. In the deep of winter, the cranberry bogs would freeze over and we’d dress warmly to venture out for a day of fun. Kids would show up with sleds and hockey gear. At any given time, there could be thirty children in a rainbow array of different colored hats, coats, scarves and mittens on the bogs. We would skate, sled, race and act like ballerinas and professional hockey players. My Auntie would call us in for a lunch of tuna sandwiches, soup, chips and a snack of jelly beans from a huge jar on her kitchen counter. We kept our stocking hats on as we ate. He house was warm and cozy with a fireplace blazing. Our cheeks were red from the cold. Thirty minutes inside and then we were right back out on the bog.

My Dad would arrive at about three in the afternoon to pick us up. I could hear his truck engine as he rumbled down the dirt road alongside of the cranberry bog. The wind was whipping and by then we were collectively exhausted.
“Hop in! Did you kids have fun? Nobody got hurt did they?” Dad asked.
“Nobody broke anything, bled or died Dad. Can we come back tomorrow?” I asked.
“Yup but this weekend we have to fill the A frame with wood so have fun over the next few days!” He said.
I hated that A frame although I shouldn’t have because it was built to shelter wood to heat our home. For a few months out of the year, the A frame was empty. My neighborhood friends and I would blast music from our boom boxes and practice our dance routines in there. My Dad got a kick out of that and he’d laugh and give us a hard time.
“You girls have all the fun you want but the logs are about to take the place of your stage!” He would say with a bright smile and a loud laugh. I knew in my heart he was glad that something he built was being used for fun when it wasn’t chock full of firewood.

Safe in Dad’s work truck that smelled like grease and pigpen combined.
“Dad, can I pick an eight track?”
“Pick a good one Sher!”

I feel so bad I got a worried mind, I’m so lonesome all the time, since I left my baby behind on Blue Bayou. Saving nickels saving dimes, working til the sun don’t shine, looking foreword to happier times on Blue Bayou.

“Dad, I love Linda Ronstadt. I’m so glad I found that case of eight tracks that day I rode with you to the big dump. Dad, who would throw away an entire case of good eight tracks?”
“Somebody who wanted you to find them Sher!” I kicked my skates to the side of the floorboard with my blue snow boot.
“Dad, do you have any snacks left in your lunch box?”
“I know there’s something in there.” He said. I pulled half of a bologna sandwich and a partial bag of store brand sour cream and onion potato chips from the black metal lunchbox. Dad turned up the volume. I looked out the window at the show piles as I enjoyed the snack. I sang between bites of food.

I’m going back someday come what may to Blue Bayou, where the folks are fine and the world is mine on Blue Bayou, where those fishing boats with their sails afloat, if I could only see. That familiar sunrise through sleepy eyes how happy I’d be.

“Sher, you are a real good singer!”
“Dad, don’t lie. I suck.”
“Don’t say that word Sher. And you are a very good singer. Find Crystal Gayle. Let’s sing her music next.”

 

Ripped

The nightmares began three weeks before the bra fitting.
“Hello Sherry, I’m calling to schedule your fitting. I’m sorry we cannot fit you in prior to Thanksgiving but we are booked eight weeks out. Are you going to mentally be ok to get through the holiday?” She asked. She was genuinely concerned.
“I’ll be fine Sandy but I have a question. Are you eight weeks out due to breast cancer? Are there that many women coming in?” I asked.
“Unfortunately yes. We allow two hours per patient for fittings. You will also be able to browse the store and make your selections. If you need a wig, we have them. If you need active wear, a bathing suit or compression items, we have those too.”
I hung up the phone and wept for all of the women that were lined up to go to that store. It was far from Victoria’s Secret. It was a boutique for the ill and I was one of them.

A normal October morning in 2015. I woke up for work. As I wiped the sleep and stale black eye liner away, I saw something I could not believe. My chest had been reconstructed after surgery but I was looking at a black spot on the bilateral scar of my left chest wall. I leaned into the mirror for a closer look. I felt my pulse rate increase. I was ripped open. My implant was exposed. No pain, no blood. I had no feeling at all. Just emotional damage.
“Ray, do you have a minute?” I asked when he picked up the phone.
“Yes, what’s up?”
“Ray, I can see my implant! I’m ripped open! I’m going to call a few of my doctors but I’ve got a full day at work. This is getting ridiculous. It’s complication upon complication Ray! I’m going to send you a picture. You are not going to believe this.”
My doctors were not available. I was advised to go straight to the emergency room. The nurses on the other end of the line demanded to know which hospital I was in route to. I didn’t give her an answer. I simply asked for the next appointment. It was twenty four hours out. I taped my chest closed. Wrapped up in gauze and went to work. I didn’t go to the ER. I had a full workday ahead of me.

Things were about to get crazy.

Deadbolts & Decisions

We all have those days where we seriously wake up on the wrong side of the bed. Mine took place a few months ago when I put one sock on inside out and didn’t realize it until about an hour into the workday. It felt uncomfortable but by then I decided I’d just deal with it. My indicator light came on, letting me know I had a low tire and about the same time, I remembered my car insurance was due that day. And then it started pouring rain. My work, for the most part is done outside. I was being forced to take a lunch break. The weather had backed me I a corner.

The same lady as always smiles and says, “Just one today?”
“Yes Mam.” I respond and she leads me to a little table in the middle of a crowd of people. I’m at the local Chinese buffet and it’s a full house as usual. People are hustling and bustling to get their first, second and third plates. People go crazy at buffet’s sometimes. It’s like they think it’s it’s their last meal. Now I’m not saying everyone does this but quite a few do. Ok, let me fess up. I’ve done it too. Especially if they are serving crawdad’s. I’ve in fact actually wiped out an entire silver tray of them.

I make my rounds. A few sushi rolls, egg foo young, an egg roll and this amazing seafood casserole with a cheese sauce. I always try to choose one new item at the buffet. That day it was coleslaw. I took my seat. My soda and silverware rolled in a napkin awaited me. I sat at my tiny table surrounded by eight additional tables full of people. I said nothing, just started eating my food. Sushi down the hatch. Those little things will get you if you let them. They are a gift to the earth in my opinion. I scooped a large helping of the coleslaw onto my fork and placed it in my mouth. In a matter of seconds, I was pulling napkin after napkin from the dispenser. I did not have coleslaw in my mouth. Whatever it was, my taste buds were burning off of my tongue. I felt like I could breathe fire. I discretely rid the food from my face. I’d Google search that hot mess later only to find out it’s something called kimchi. Basically I learned that it’s a cabbage base with hot stuff in it. I’d write that one off my bucket list not knowing it was even on there to begin with.

As I took sips of my egg drop soup, I was thinking about life. Bills, breast cancer, my inside out sock, the rain that was ruining my day along with a few other issues to include one of my toilets at home that needed a new pump. It was randomly making a loud squealing noise at night that was scaring me half to death. It was then that I observed a woman sit down with her family at the next table over. She had two plates. One contained a real meal and the other had desserts. She was joining five other people at the table. I looked at her personal food selections and saw that she had chosen the coleslaw. I wondered if she knew it was about to burn a layer off of the inside of her cheeks. I kept an eye on her. She’d also chosen a dessert that I’d never let get anywhere near my plate. It was banana slices smothered in a red sauce. I assume it’s some kind of sweet strawberry syrup. And then she had the dreaded orange jello. No, no, no. I cannot do the blocks of wiggling orange jello. It reminds me of being in the hospital and how my body has screamed for a double cheeseburger and onion rings but the writing on the white board calls for a liquid diet for two days. This lady’s choices were way out in left field so I kept watching her. We were two totally different people. I stand up and leave my table. I want fried rice.

“We need to figure this out and it has to happen fast.” The woman says as she takes a bite of the five alarm fire coleslaw. She doesn’t even flinch! She licks her lips and loads her fork with another heaping scoop! She’s a beast! She’s my hero and doesn’t even know it.
“Jim, I know you’ve done your best and we thank you but it’s time.” She continues. “We can’t lift Dad anymore on our own, he’s just too fragile. And with Mom’s memory gone, we cant take our chances that she won’t walk out the front door one night while someone is sleeping.”
“Sarah, I can continue living with them! I can do it. I can add a few deadbolts to the doors!” Jim says.
“Jim, no man. You’ve done enough. Sarah is right, it’s time.” A gentleman says as he places his hand on Jim’s back.
“Jim, we all understand where you are coming from but I agree with Sarah and Phillip, they need to go into a nursing home. We will all split the bill. It’s not going to be easy on any of us.” The slim woman with a gray bob haircut said.
“I prayed this day would never come.” Jim said as he pushed his plate away and put his face in his hands to cry. “Mom doesn’t know any of us anymore. Not a single damn one of us.”

Six adult children around a table at a buffet discussing a heart wrenching decision. Six people with problems and emotions just like you and I. Jim appeared to be the youngest son. Sounds like he took one for the team and lived with his folks for as long as he could. I sat there thinking about my inside out sock and the fact that I still hadn’t paid my car insurance. I thought about those yucky little orange jello cubes and the fact that the lady, whose name was Sarah, did not get any sushi rolls or egg foo young. Sarah liked kimchi.

We are all different but the same. Our problems will vary person to person. You will go through some stuff in your life that be terrifying. You may find yourself awake at three in the morning wondering how you are going to afford food for the following week. You will attend funerals, you will battle illness and there may possibly be job loss. However, there will be births of babies, the sun will shine on your face so bright that you’ll need to squint. There will be Saturday morning pancake breakfasts and Sunday movie matinees. There will be ninety percent off sales at Kohl’s. There will be an extra scarf laying in a closest one day for a snowman that you’ll build with your grandchildren. You might get two extra chicken nuggets in your pack and just maybe, you’ll only get a warning rather than a speeding ticket. No matter what, you are not alone. We all have problems and we all have choices. Do the best you can with what you have and always remember, if you choose the kimchi, have extra water on hand.

Sincerely,
Sherry

 

 

The Radical Decision

Have you ever had a feeling like you knew something was going to happen? For example, you take a right instead of a left because you have an instinct? I’m thinking that most of you are saying yes. So what do you do when you start getting a feeling many years before something is coming. Do you keep it a secret or do you share it? At twenty eight, I shared something and it was going to be like a ticking time bomb.
“Family meeting tonight guys.” I yelled. It was common for me to call meetings when my children were young so they were not alarmed. They were also familiar with my gut feelings.
“This is going to sound very scary but I’m telling you because we need to make the most of our time together. I’m going to get sick. It’s quite a few years from now but in the meantime, let’s make the most of our lives ok?” I smiled at them. They were fifteen, fourteen and eleven when this conversation took place.
“I love you kids. I’m going to get cancer and won’t make it past forty two. Mommy is twenty eight right now so we have fourteen good years.
“Momma Bear, make it change somehow! Do something!” My oldest daughter Monica begged.
“I am doing something, I’m sharing with you because we are going to have so much fun! We are going to talk and play games and live for the day!”
That was the summer of 2002. From that day on, we smiled more.
May, 2014
How long do you think it’ll take today?” Ray asked as he wiped the streaks of shaving cream from his face. I looked at him from the bed and then rolled on my back to stare at the ceiling.
“They said it’ll be about an hour. I’ll call you when I’m done. No worries.” I said with complete sincerity.
“I love you. Call me.” He said and he left for work. Without a care in the world, I reset the clock to go off one hour later. I pulled the covers over my head and fell back asleep.
“Is this your first mammogram?” The nurse asked.
“Yes Mam.”
“Ok, please follow me. Remove everything from the waist up and put this on with the opening in the front. Choose a locker for your personal belongings and keep the key with you.”
I went into the dressing room and quickly changed into the teal blue top. I snapped a selfie, making sure to produce the biggest smile possible. I sent it to Ray with the following text: I’m here, It’s going to be alright.
I made my way to the private waiting area designated for all of the women awaiting the “smash”. We all matched in our medicinal tops. The majority of the chairs in the room were full. A few women sat together on a tiny sofa. I chose a seat between an older lady and a fake plant. I had a great view of the snack bar and all the amenities offered to the guests who passed through. I was a guest and I was surely going to check out the snacks. Lorna Doone’s, Fudge Strips, Oreos, Nutter Butters and plenty of crackers lined wicker baskets. All were inviting and made me feel right at home. I grabbed a bottled water and some cheddar on wheat crackers.
“Mrs. Holmes.” The nurse said as her eyes searched the waiting room. An elderly lady in a wheel chair raised her hand. She appeared to have a caregiver with her.
“Mrs. Holmes, You get to go home! You got a good report!” The nurse said. Several people started to clap for the lady. I placed my crackers into the vase of the fake floor plant so I could clap for Mrs. Holmes too. This went on about every five minutes. It sounded like a beauty pageant for healthy boobs. Names got called out, we clapped and one by one,IMG_3833 ladies got to go home. It was wonderful. I’d never seen anything like it. My thoughts were interrupted when my own name got called. It was my turn to go back.
“Please step right up to the machine. Closer. As close as you can get please” The technician requested. I was locked in. She said nothing as she took pictures. It was a bit uncomfortable both to my body and my personality. I would’ve liked to discuss the weather or something but we did not speak.
“Ok, if you’ll just take a seat in the waiting room here I came to get you, I’ll have the radiologist take a look. Once in awhile they want a few more pictures.” She said.
My seat had been taken. Round two of snacks. This time I made a coffee using the Keurig and I grabbed some Oreos. I was going to make this a celebration! Not much longer and I’d get to hear my name called and people would clap! I couldn’t wait to tell Ray how nice of an experience I’d had.
Five minutes turned into twenty minutes. I watched the entire waiting room leave and a new batch of women enter. It was amazing how quickly they could take care of everyone. I knew what the hold up was for me. They were probably discussing my cyst. I figured they were trying to decide which doctor to send me to next.
“Sherry, if you’d follow me.” She was holding a clipboard. It was the same woman.
“What happened?” I asked.
“The radiologist wants a few more pictures. We are all set on the left side but the pictures from the right were not clear enough for him. Please stay very still.”
I didn’t even breathe. I stared at the wall like I was in time out. This was really starting to hurt.
“It’s extremely rare for them to request a third round of photos but I’m going to ask you to sit in the waiting room one more time.” She said. I looked her straight in the eyes and said, “I’m feeling like this is my lucky day. I’ll see you for round three in a few minutes.”
I squinted my eyes and smiled at her. I was completely one hundred percent sure that they were really interested in this squishy cyst. Maybe they hadn’t seen one in awhile. More snacks. This time it was another coffee and Nutter Butter cookies. I felt like I was a roommate in the hospital. I turned to get comfortable to watch a talk show and…..
“Sherry, you were correct. One more round.” She smiled gently. I beat her to the room, ripped off the teal top and threw it to the floor. I stood up to the machine and said, “Please, let’s get this done. I think I’m bruising.”
By the fourth round in the waiting room, I ate nothing. I was stuffed and had to use the restroom. Next would be the sonogram. I glanced at the clock. It was now two hours later. My cellphone was in locker number thirteen along with my clothes. Ray had probably called by now, along with my boss, my Mother and some friends. I’d be glad to get a move on. This was a lot of concern over a minor thing.
“Hello there! I’m Amber. I’m going to provide your sonogram today!” She explained. “I’ll need you to relax. This will take about thirty minutes.” I was shocked. I needed to get out of this place. A one hour visit had turned into three. I tried to remain calm. I was not worried in the least about my health. Web MD was sure this was nothing to be concerned with. My OBGYN was not going to believe all of these pictures!
“How’s the weather outside? Do you have children? What do you do for a living? Do you have hobbies?” She asked. I loved this lady. She made time fly and I didn’t have to lay so still that I couldn’t talk to her. I just knew it. I was almost done.
“Mam, sometimes we have the doctor come into the room. Don’t be alarmed, I just need to go get him.” She smiled, pushed her long dark hair behind her ears and turned and walked out. I had no view of the screen she’d been looking at. I laid still in the dim room looking at the pictures of babies and trees on the wall. I reflected on my life as I absorbed the images. I thought back to breast feeding my own babies as I laid there half naked waiting on a doctor I’d never met. I was proud of who I’d become in those moments alone in that room.
“Hello, I’m Doctor Riley.” He turned the flat screen my way as he spoke. It was lit up brightly like a Christmas tree. Quite a few pretty white lights in clusters. I smiled at him.
“Sherry, do you have anyone in the waiting room that can drive you home?”
“No Sir but it’s ok. I have God.”
“Sherry, do you see all of this white?”
“Yes.”
“I’m sorry to inform you but with 99.9% certainty, you have breast cancer. You’ve got a long uphill battle in front of you. Get ready to fight.” He was firm and he meant what he said. I was still. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t speak and I couldn’t cry. I looked at the trees and the babies on the wall and flashed back to 1989 when I was a fifteen year old Mother breast feeding my baby girl at three in the morning. I thought about losing my hair. I thought about how this was going to devastate our budget. The doctor and the technician said nothing. They waited for me to speak.
“How long do I have to live?” I asked in a whisper.
“We don’t talk like that around here. You are going to need biopsies to determine what stage this cancer is and it will be taken from there. Have a good day and I’m very sorry about this.” He turned and left. The tech helped me sit up. I placed my black Nike’s with the pink swoosh of all colors on the floor. I wrapped my gown around my healthy breast and my diseased one and decided in that moment to become a survivor.
My phone had forty three missed calls. I removed the teal top, dressed and made my way to the restroom one more time. The phone rang as I was drying my hands.
“What took so long?” Ray asked.
“I need you to be very brave Ray. I have breast cancer.”
“No way!!”
“Yes but it’s going to be ok.” I said. He was silent. I dialed my oldest daughter Monica.
“Hi Momma Bear! Is it over?” She asked.
“It’s here. The fight starts now.”
“Momma Bear! No! Please fight! Please.” And she burst into a frenzy of tears.

I was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer at forty one years old. Seven confirmed areas of cancer in the right breast lead me to request that the doctor to remove both breasts. She called the decision radical. The only thing was, she wasn’t at the family meeting in 2002. I needed her to take the healthy breast as well. I wasn’t taking any chances.

The Build Up

“Call the doctor tomorrow.” My husband demanded. He didn’t say hello, didn’t ask how my workday was. Nothing.
“I’ll get around to it.” I said as I threw my keys on the table and pried my sweaty work shoes from my feet using the opposite foot for each. It was late May but felt more like August. Exterminators sleep with one eye open during the hot months. Ants, bees and roaches keep the phones busy and the workload heavy.
“No. Something is not right. Call tomorrow.” He said as he watched me fumble to redo my sweaty ponytail. I understood his concern but through all of the reading I’d done, the lump in my right breast was a cyst. I could move it and it was squishy. It had not changed shape in months nor did it hurt.
“Fine. I’ll call tomorrow. But I’m telling you Ray, this can wait. This is more of a nuisance.” I said as I opened the fridge and grabbed a lemonade. Damn, why was he all over me? Now I’d have to call the doctor, take time out of a busy day simply to hear that my Google searches had proved me right. I had a cyst in my breast. No big deal.

“And the reason for your call today Mam?” She asked.
“I have a cyst in my right breast.”
“How long have you had a lump?” She sounded concerned.
“Oh no, no, I don’t have a lump Robin. That is what you said your name was, right? Robin? I have a squishy mass the size of a nickel. It’s been there for six months.” I explained. She was silent for a second as I heard her quickly shuffle papers. I could hear additional office staff in the background. It sounded like a happy place and I envisioned vases full of flowers and professional photographs of babies on the walls.
“Sherry, is there anyway you can be here at 11:00 tomorrow?”
“I’ll make it work.” I said and I thanked her. The sooner the better. We’d just get this out of the way and move on.

Thirteen years at the same job and you tend to call those people your second family. You share information, you support each other.
“Good morning Chad!” I yelled to my boss as I went through the notes in my mailbox.
“Hey Sherry, there are water bottles in the refrigerator. Take a few, its going to be another hot day.” I made my way to his office.
“Chad, I need to run to the doctor today. Nothing serious but please block the window of eleven to twelve noon. I’ll resume my day when I’m done.” I said.

I stood in the lobby of the building looking at the directory on the wall. Third floor, suite 310. I pushed the button on the elevator. I grabbed a lollipop from the bowl on the desk of the security officers and thanked them for keeping the building safe. The door opened and I allowed the wave of people flood the lobby before I stepped in. Just me and my green lollipop and my insurance card all riding together to the third floor.

Right on time and exactly what I expected. Vases full of fresh flowers, a flat screen television and professional photographs of babies and inspirational quotes hung neatly on the walls. Pamphlets filled with information on breast feeding and STD’s sat neatly in the little clear holder by my seat. I grabbed a People magazine and tried to drown out the noise of crying babies as I read an article about The Real House Wives of Atlanta.

“Please remove your top and bra and put this on with the opening in the front. The doctor will be right with you.” The nurse instructed. I had enough time to snap a selfie in the pink cape and send it to Ray before the doctor entered the room. The text attached to the picture read: Are you happy? I’m at the doctor!
“You say this has been here for six months?” The doctor asked.
“Yes Dr. Trembly. What do you think?”
“Sherry, I feel confident this is a cyst but because it’s been there so long, I’m going to order a mammogram and a sonogram. Let’s just rule out anything serious so you can move on with your life.” She said. “Sit here, I’m going to see if they can fit you in tomorrow.” I slid off of the table and looked out the window at the parking lot. The sun was baking the rainbow array of cars and trucks.
“They were able to squeeze you in. Please be there tomorrow at noon.” She said. “I’ll be in touch with you as soon as we get the results.”

I dialed my boss.
“Everything ok Sherry?”
“All set Chad, I’m back in the field. Listen, I hate to be a bother but they are sending me for a few scans tomorrow. I’ll need about an hour and a half blocked off.”
“No problem. I bet you’ll be glad to have this behind you!” He said.
“You got it! Have a great rest of your day Chad.”

 

Cranberry Highway

By the time I was six, I was used to the smell of a pigpen. Leaning over the edge of the wall to watch them grunt and fight for a meal was a life lesson.
“Dad, the little one only got a scrap of Italian bread and some coleslaw. Help him Dad!”
“No Sher, he needs to be a tough guy and help himself.” It broke my heart. That piggy was smaller.
Just look at that piggy in the pigpen, the one with the skinny little tummy..
Look at that piggy in the pigpen, I sure hope
he gets something yummy.

I was raised to survive. It was normal to come home from school and see a split hog’s head in the refrigerator. It wouldn’t be there for long. The guy in town with the little store would buy them from my Dad.  He used them to make head cheese. Head cheese just sounded terrible. I couldn’t imagine a bologna sandwich with a slice of head cheese. But nothing went to waste. Our family couldn’t afford it.

Friday and Saturday nights were important to my Dad, the pigs and myself. My Dad would line the empty steel drum barrels in the back of his pickup truck. He’d drive down to a restaurant on Cranberry highway in Wareham Massachusetts. The owner of the seafood establishment would keep the food scraps separate from the paper and plastic trash. My Dad would load the garbage into the steel drum barrels using a shovel.
“Sherry, do you know the difference between trash and garbage?”
“No Dad.”
“Trash is stuff like napkins, plastic cups and broken silverware. Garbage is all of the food that the pigs can eat. Get it?”
“Yes Dad.” I knew what happened to all of the pigs when they got fat. They got loaded into the back of the truck and went to the slaughter house in New Bedford. They’d come back home wrapped in white deli paper labeled pork chops and bacon. I was thankful for the pigs both alive and in the freezer. I knew we would eat because of all the hard work.

The forecast was calling for a big snow storm to hit Cape Cod. It would hit us hard the weatherman said.
“Sher, I’m going to The Lobster Bowl to get the garbage (prounounced gahbij). Are you coming with me?” The wind was whipping and I was already in my pajamas. It was twenty two degrees outside and pushing eleven on a Friday night.
“I’ll be right there Dad.” I ran downstairs to put on more clothes and hustled to jump in the passenger seat of the old green Chevy.

Here you come again, just when I’ve begun to get myself together, you waltz right in the door, just like you’ve done before and wrap your heart around my little finger.

“This is good music huh Sher?”
“Yes Dad. It’s one of my favorites.” We sang in unison as we rumbled along down Cranberry highway. The snow began to shower shapes of beauty on the windshield and before long, the highway was coated.
“Just keep singing Sher and stay in the truck. I’ll get these barrels full and we will bring the pigs their dinner.” The wind was blowing at speeds strong enough to cut through Wrangler jeans. I took my seatbelt off and turned around to watch my Dad out the back window of the truck. On my knees with my chin in my palms, I watched hard labor. The snow spit in his face and from time to time he’d wipe his nose on the sleeve of his shirt. He was moving as fast as he could. The ball cap he wore was embroidered with the construction company he worked for but you couldn’t see it because the snow was piling up on the brim. I felt bad for him. I wanted to jump out and shovel the gahbij with my own arms but I was only six. I started to cry. I spun back around and put my seatbelt on. I picked at the rip in the vinyl seat and moved my Dad’s black metal lunchbox that was laying o the floorboard with my foot.

Whenever I chance to meet, some old friends on the street, they wonder how does a man get to be this way . I’ve always got a smiling face, anytime and any place, and every time they ask me why I just smile and say. You’ve got to, kiss an angel good morning, and let her know you think about her when you’re gone. Kiss an angel good morning and love her like the devil when you get back home.

Buckle up. We’ve got to slop these pigs and get home Sher. The snow is moving in much quicker than expected.” He said as wiped the snow from his face and shook of his cap. He turned the radio down and put the truck in drive.
“I gotta get home and take a showah. I stink! I smell like that pigpen Sher!” And he laughed.
“No Dad, you just smell like love. I love you Dad.” I said. He turned towards the driver’s side window and covered his mouth. He only did that when his eyes started to make tears.
“You are the hardest worker I know Dad.”

Fire wood and spaghetti

Is bravery a choice? Is it an instilled trait? Do we earn it, gain it, learn it or get forced into it? Is it possible that we fake it sometimes to appear strong for another human being? I’m sitting here with my hands folded as I stare at my computer screen. I’m racking my brain for my own answers.
Fall, 1980 something. Our home had electric base board heaters but you could line all of your stuffed animals stadium seating style against the heaters with no fear of the house burning to the ground. Those heaters never got hot. Nope. Not even warm because my Dad had other means of heating the house. We had a woodstove in the basement that would push plenty of heat through our rambler.
“Do you see that tissue?” My Dad asked of us kids. We all shook our heads as we stared at the thin sheath of paper attached to the hook in the ceiling. It swirled in a frantic fashion. The tissue looked like it was dancing.
“If you see that stop, I need you to tell me. If there’s no movement, the woodstove has gone out and we don’t want that to happen.” Dad said. We’d worked all summer to stock the basement with wood. I got so used to hearing my Dad swing an axe, I could make up song lyrics to the rhythm. Our job as the children under the roof was to toss the split wood into the basement. We were not finished until the pile met the bulkhead doors. I loved the sound of those heavy doors closing. Boom, click, lock. We were done but it was momentary. For now we could wash our hands and assume our seats at the dinner table. Spaghetti was a wonderful meal after working so hard. We were strong kids but we were hungry and that meant we were expensive. Those electric base board heaters would stay off. We’d watch that tissue all winter long.
“Sher, my snake got out.” My brother said as he walked into my room. My Dad had built two side by side bedrooms in the basement. One for my brother and one for myself. The other side of the basement was unfinished. It housed the woodstove, the massive pile of wood, tools, the washer and dryer and an area when rabbits where skinned and prepared to eat. It had enough scary stuff going on out there that I chose to keep my door closed most of the time.
“Wait. What do you mean your snake got out?” I shrieked as I dropped the shirt I was folding to the floor.
“It got out of the aquarium! The lid was lifted up just a little bit and he is not in there anymore!” He said. His eyes were wide. He was a brave little boy but I could see that he was shaken. He was my little brother, my only sibling. My parents had divorced years prior and we were being raised in a blended family. I took on the role as stand in Mom for my brother. I did that Monday through Friday because on Saturday and Sunday we saw our real Mom. She could have the job on weekends but I’d take care of him when she couldn’t.
“You cannot be serious. How do you expect me to sleep tonight?” I asked.
“How do you expect me to sleep?” He asked. I felt terrible for him but I was terrified. I’m certain I was cussing him out in Portuguese in my head.
“Do you want to sleep on my top bunk tonight?” I asked him.
“Yes please.” He smiled as he ran to his room to go get his pillow.
“Ok, you can sleep in my room until we find him. Now climb up and cover up. I’ll pray for a bubble of protection for us when you are ready.” I said.
“I’m ready Sher.”
“Dear Lord, I’m doing the best I can. I don’t know how to pray like our Pastor or my Grandmother but I think you get all prayers. Lord, there is a snake in this basement and I am asking that you not allow it to come anywhere near us Lord especially me because Jesus as you can see, I sleep on the bottom bunk. I’m asking for an invisible bubble of protection for my little brother and I. We need sleep. We have to go to school. Please don’t let anyone or anything touch us. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.”
“Amen.” I heard him say from the top bunk. I prayed and prayed night after night for a bubble of protection. My brother stayed in my room for many nights. I thought I’d never get to play with my Smurfs in peace and quite ever again until I heard my Father’s voice one evening as the wood pile got low enough to see the concrete floor.
“Mike, I found your snake.”

A diary with a key

“How do you want your eggs cooked honey?” The waitress asked. I flashed that look of embarrassment and concern to my Auntie who sat directly across the table from me. My Auntie wasn’t my real Aunt. She was my Godmother. She had no children of her own. I was the closest thing to a child she was ever going to have.
“What type of eggs do you want sweet pea?” My Aunt asked again. I knew she knew how I wanted to answer the question. We had the ability to talk without speaking. She knew I wanted to tell the waitress that I wanted eggs like my Mom made but that wasn’t an appropriate answer. How was the thirty something year old Friendly’s waitress supposed to know how my Mom made eggs? She wasn’t a mind reader but even as a young girl, I suspected the order taker had kids and she probably made them special eggs. As a child, I liked omelets. In my heart I wanted an omelet with onions, cheese and green peppers but I couldn’t have that. As the waitress looked around at the table’s of her other guests, I knew she was concerned that their coffee cups and Tab sodas were getting low. Under pressure, I blurted out, “Scrambled please.” She scribbled on her pad and made a mad dash to tend to an elderly couple who were ready to order.
“Talk to me about this list. Tell me exactly what your choices are for your eighth birthday. What are we shopping for today?” My Auntie asked as she smiled. I was glad we were seated in the corner. I needed time to tell her things privately. There was enough chaos in Friendly’s that Saturday morning, I knew I would have the opportunity.
“I want an umbrella, a keychain and a diary with a key lock.” I said. She looked puzzled.
“Are these special items to you Sherry?”
“Yes. I need them.”
She dumped two sugars into her freshly poured cup of coffee and swirled it slowly with the spoon. Her dark brown eyes searched the restaurant and before I knew it, her eyes were locked with mine. She was from Sicily. It was like her Italian blood had this ability to get people to tell the truth. Even without hurting them! I broke her stare. Nobody was allowed to read my soul. Not even my Godmother. I would only tell her so much.
“Auntie, I don’t have an umbrella and I have to walk down the street to wait for the bus. I want a keychain because now that my Step Mom is back to work, all of us kids have a house key. And I just want a diary.”
“Talk to me about this diary.” She said. She didn’t ask, she semi sweetly demanded.
“I want to be a writer. I want to store my secrets in my diary with the key. I will keep it until I get to be a grown up and then I’ll look back and write about when I was a kid.” I said. And I was lying. And she knew it.

We were saved by the waitress whose paper hat had now tilted because she’d lost a hair comb. Several strands of frosted blonde hair fell across her lips. She blew the hair out of the way. It made its way to her cheek and she seemed satisfied with that.
“Anything else ladies?” She asked.
“Get my princess a cone head sundae. It’s her eighth birthday!” Auntie said.

These words would play over and over through my head at age eleven when I opened up the wood stove and tossed my diary inside. I watched it burn into a raging inferno for three solid minutes. We were forbidden to go anywhere near the woodstove but at two in the morning, nobody is awake but little kids with nightmares and ghosts.

Parts two, three, eight, twelve, forty and six hundred to follow. I’m proud to say, I’ve overcome all of the obstacles in my past.