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And if you’re looking for a great book to read, D.L. Finn has a couple of recommendations!
It’s like one of those stories you’d read about in Ripley’s Believe It or Not. I mean, whoever heard of anybody dying from a kiss? Seriously! But that’s what happened to me—well, except for the dying part. Two weeks in the hospital—that’s the souvenir I brought back from my spring break.
let me back up to the beginning.
parents’ hushed words pierce the wall that separates their bedroom from mine.
This particular conversation doesn’t warrant status as an argument, though. And
believe me, I know what their arguments sound like—lots of yelling, and
maybe an ashtray or a bowling trophy gets thrown by Mom. I guess I’d classify
this one as just another log of disappointment tossed on the bonfire that
engulfs our family—our collective lives.
is a dreamer. The problem is, dreamers make promises they’ll eventually have to
break. He’s also the sort of man who’ll spend his last five dollars on
scratch-off lottery tickets instead of household necessities, like food, or
gas—or our long-planned excursion to Disney World during spring break.
the one who sets it in stone over breakfast in our kitchen—Dad, because Mom
refuses to play the bad parent anymore.
kids,” he tells me and my sister, Amanda. “We just can’t afford Disney at this
being nearly two years older than me, carries a heavier burden of
disappointment than I do. She’s had more time to gather her own collection of
tales regarding broken promises, cancelled plans, and the jettisoned idea of
ever being a normal, well-adjusted family.
figured as much,” Amanda mumbles, dismissing herself from the table.
tries to be sincere in his attempt to save spring break. “But that doesn’t mean
we can’t go somewhere that’s almost
as fun and exciting.”
Dad speaks of somewhere, it’s usually
a state-park campground in some far-flung forest up north.
hollers from the living room, “Just so you know, Daddy, I hate camping.”
don’t hate camping—though it doesn’t exactly make my top-ten list of fun things
* * *
parents met at a Beatles concert back in 1964. Mom claims love at first sight.
well, he’s been known to dispute her recollections on the subject. He’s fond of
saying, “She had the hots for John Lennon, is all. I’m just the booby prize.”
they were—and still are, even though it’s 1979 now. They only just recently (as
in one year ago) got married—despite the fact that Amanda is almost fourteen
and I’m already twelve. And though they’d both been college students when they
met, neither has ever collected the degree they once intended to earn.
works at the IGA as a cashier—minimum wage, with practically zero opportunity
to advance into a higher tax bracket.
He’s dabbled in various occupations—sales, electronic repairs (TV’s mostly,
maybe a few stereos), welding, landscaping, auto repair. Nothing ever really
sticks for him, though. My grandfather (Mom’s dad) refers to my father as
professionally unemployable. Granddad still blames him for making a mess of
Mom’s life. They don’t speak, Dad and Grandpa.
a good guy, though. He means well. He’s just not one for responsibilities.
anyway, the folded map of Michigan comes out, spread across the kitchen table.
Mom eyes the places circled in red—those previous vacation spots. We’ve been
all over the state: Silver Lake Sand Dunes, Traverse City during the cherry
festival, Holland for Tulip Time. We even spent a few days on Mackinac Island
three summers ago—though we didn’t stay at the Grand Hotel.
Andrew’s turn to choose,” Mom says, dropping the big decision in my
National Forest had been my first choice the last time my turn came up. But Dad
broke his foot, which cancelled our vacation that spring.
Upper Peninsula, it is,” Dad says.
despises me in this moment. “I told you I hate
* * *
songs fill the van once we hit US 27 going north. The Bee Gees squawk about a tragedy
twice before we’re even on the road for forty minutes.
hate that song,” Amanda complains.
says, “Well, I like it.”
tries to lighten the mood. “I spy with my little eye—”
don’t!” Amanda begs. Without warning, she socks my shoulder, yells, “Slug bug
And just like that, it’s on. We’ll both of us be battered and bruised by the
time we spy the top of the Mackinac Bridge.
bug green!” Thwack!
bug blue!” Thwack!
bug—oh, never mind. That’s not a VW.” Thwack!
“Hey! No fair!”
sings about her heart of glass and Amanda momentarily abandons our game—just
long enough to sing the few lines she actually knows.
hours later, I’m the one who spots the top of the Mighty Mack! “I see the
bridge,” I say, hoping it’ll irritate Amanda.
in truth, she doesn’t mind losing this game. It’s not a thing to her anymore.
She’ll leave us the day she turns eighteen—or even sooner, if she has her
way. Grandpa promised to pay for her college, knowing my parents will never be
able to afford it.
spikes the sky with an orange-pink sunset by the time we find a campground
inside Hiawatha. Dozens of tents and RV’s occupy the prime camping spots.
and I will set up the tent,” Dad says, parking our van on the last vacant lot
within sight. “You girls can get dinner ready.”
and rowdy, as Grandpa would say—run from lot to lot, chasing after somebody’s
collie, darting across the road without so much as a glance in either
stupid to last long in this world,” Amanda says.
gives her the eye. “They’re just kids, for crying out loud, Mandy.”
* * *
and Mandy,” the girl teases, laughing at our introductions. “That’s cute. Are
you two twins or something?”
something,” Amanda says.
name is Nora, this girl with short brown hair. Already fourteen—unlike Amanda,
who still has another month. The tents across the street are her family’s—it’s
their collie running wild.
kids,” Nora says, answering my mother. “I’m the oldest. Three younger brothers
and a baby sister.”
kind of crowded, that many people in just two small tents,” I observe.
looks right at me when I speak—like I’m really truly here, standing in front of
don’t know the half of it,” says Nora. “I asked if I could just stay home, sit out
this vacation. That’s not happening anytime soon.”
* * *
jean shorts and a red bikini top—that’s what Nora wears the following morning.
And a pocket full of salt water taffy—which she gladly shares.
not impressed. “Leaves little to the imagination,” she says, regarding Nora’s
you and Daddy used to skinny dip,” Amanda reminds her. “So how is that better?”
hard gaze issues silent threats. Her words aren’t quite as harsh. “Aren’t you
kids going boating?”
not really a boat, this thing we rent; it’s more like a canoe—but only plastic.
I sit in the rear, my paddle steering us toward the middle of the lake. Amanda
has the other paddle, though she’s not really doing anything with it.
sits in the middle—facing me!
think Amanda is intimidated, not being the oldest for a change.
talks—a lot. But I don’t mind. She tells us all about life back home in Detroit—well,
the suburbs, really, a place called Royal Oak. She used to have a boyfriend,
but he cheated on her. Her parents separated last year, intending to divorce,
but her mom ended up pregnant.
how an unborn baby can save a marriage,” Amanda says.
after we bring the canoe in that Nora says, “Wanna go for a walk?”
she’s not talking to Amanda. Amanda is already halfway back to our tent.
end up in a picnic area near the lake, just me and Nora. She tells me more
about herself, her family, what she intends for her future.
cute,” she says, sitting right beside me on a park bench.
cheeks get hot, probably bright pink.
she’s two years older than me, I think, as her lips
press against mine.
first kiss—well, first real kiss.
her tongue I taste salt water taffy and excitement and all things possible.
I don’t taste is the meningitis in her saliva.
intrudes, tells me lunch is being served at our tent.
* * *
strikes without warning, leaving me confused, nauseated. Words tumble from my
mouth, though I have no idea what I’m saying.
hand finds my forehead. “He’s burning up,” she says. “We need to get this boy
to a hospital.”
I don’t hear it that way. What I hear is, “We need to get this boy a pretzel.”
I don’t like pretzels,” I mumble.
* * *
weeks later, I’m back home. It’s a blur, but my parents say I nearly died.
that a Ripley’s story or what?
what a kiss—totally worth dying for!
Well, almost dying.
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Young or old, we are all children at heart. This truth
became apparent to me last December when I had neurosurgery.
Prior to the operation, a clerk handed me a stack of
documents to sign—billing forms for the hospital and the doctors and several medical
release forms that included a list of potential risks. My apprehension grew as
I fingered through the papers and provided my signature. It was then that I wished
that my mom could be with me. Like any child, I thought she could make it all
better. But sadly, she had passed away nine months prior.
My mom was a person of prayer, and when I was young, she’d gather
her seven children, tell us to get on our knees, and then proceed to pray. We’d
follow her lead—usually protesting—and pray for family members, friends, and
the unknown masses. Often, she led us in saying the rosary. Prayer was my mom’s
response to any challenge or difficulty, and we had plenty of both on our farm.
Mom’s most common expression was, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!”
While some of us might curse or yell in frustration, Mom would say this phrase
instead. So, when one of my brothers
sent a golf ball through the picture window, Mom called out “Jesus, Mary, and
Joseph!” before scolding him. When we siblings squabbled with one another, Mom
would mutter, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!” before sending us to our bedrooms.
Without exception, we grew up knowing that when Mom said “Jesus, Mary, and
Joseph,” we were in trouble.
I can’t remember a time when Mom wasn’t praying. Whether
washing the dishes, hanging the wash on the clothesline, working in the garden,
or driving us to a sporting event or a 4-H meeting, Mom quietly prayed. I asked
her about this once, and her response left an indelible impression.
“Life is short,” she began, “and we must use every moment to
the fullest. People need our prayers, and some don’t have a family to pray for
them like we do.”
I didn’t understand
her comment about using every moment to the fullest until I grew older. But her
explanation helped me grasp why she rarely watched television and why she
rushed from one room to another throughout the day.
When Mom passed at ninety-two years of age, she left a
legacy of beliefs and practices that had found a place in the heart of each of her
children. We may have complained about kneeling on the hard floor, but even as little
tykes, prayer became part of our lives because of our mother.
At her passing, we were bereft. Mom was our strength, our compass.
She was the one we called about concerns, both large and small; she was the one
we talked with about our hopes and dreams. Her passing left a huge emptiness
that still echoes in our memories. When we sorted through her belongings, not
so surprisingly, we discovered she had a dozen or so rosaries. I received two
When I checked into Cedars Sinai hospital in Los Angeles, I
took my mom’s wooden rosary with me. I felt her near when I held it, and this sensation
gave me comfort. I held the beads
tightly and imagined Mom with me.
After the surgery, I was rolled into a room on the Pain
Floor where all neurosurgery patients were housed. Next to me was an adjustable
overbed table, and when I awakened, I realized that my mom’s rosary rested on
My nurse, Lucy, regularly came in to check on me, and each
time she walked through the door, she sang a refrain which included the words, our lady of the rosary. I was surprised
by this, because Cedars Sinai is a Jewish hospital. After Lucy left, an aide
visited, and she explained that her sister was a nun, and my rosary reminded
her of this sister. Later, the night nurse came in and told me about
immigrating to the US and how she loved the rosary.
During my hospital stay, one staff person after another visited
me and shared family stories and photos—all evoked by the rosary that rested on
the overbed table. As I was preparing to leave, Lucy came in to say her
goodbyes. She pulled a photo from her pocket.
“This is my mom,” she proudly stated. “I thought you’d like
to see her.”
The image was of a petite woman, hunched over by time,
smiling broadly at the camera. She stood next to her much-larger daughter,
Lucy. I was stunned; she looked like my mom.
As the hospital staff came to say goodbye and wish me well, I suddenly realized that Mom had been with me the whole while. I had been loved and cared for by many at the hospital, but it was Mom who drew them near with her rosary.
Thank you for supporting this member along the WATCH “RWISA” WRITE Showcase Tour today! We ask that if you have enjoyed this member’s writing, please visit their Author Page on the RWISA site, where you can find more of their writing, along with their contact and social media links, if they’ve turned you into a fan.
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