About Me

My photo
Celoron, NY, United States
And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. ~Sylvia Plath



Shelly slowed as they approached Yvonne’s room, expecting to remain in the hallway and allow the family their privacy. Travis looked back before walking through the threshold and, having noticed that Shelly was not following, made a quick about-face. Gordy had already gone in.
“Aren’t you comin’ in?” he took her hand, ready to pull her along.
“I don’t know, Travis,” Shelly pulled her hand away gently. “Somehow I think I’m the last person your mom would want to wake up and see here. I just wanted to be on hand for you, if you needed me.”
“I can’t thank you enough,” he said solemnly, taking both her hands in his. “To tell you the truth, I think I need you to go in there with me. I’m having a real hard time wrapping my head around this whole scene. My mother’s never been sick a day in my life. Now I have to see her hooked up to all this shit they have here, and I’m not sure I can handle it.”  He let go and sagged against the wall. Shelly went to him and smoothed his crazy hair.
“That’s all you had to say. Let’s go on in, then.”
Gordy was standing at Yvonne’s bedside, stroking her cheek. “You’re gonna be jus’ fine, Love,” he whispered. He didn’t notice them beside him. The ventilator bellowed measured breaths by way of a tube in Von’s mouth, which left space for her tongue to lay awkwardly between her lips on one side. There was no life in her face; no expression, and Travis thought he’d rather see her mad at him than like this. Shelly offered a brief tutorial of the various equipment in the room; the monitor, with Yvonne’s heartbeat, and breathing rate, and oxygen level, the IV pump with the many medications and fluids going in through a ‘central line’ in her neck, the respirator, and the pumps squeezing her legs to keep her from getting a blood clot. Travis pointed to a clear plastic bag hooked to the side of the bed. “That’s the catheter that’s draining her urine,” she explained. “They need an accurate count of the fluid that goes in and out. It helps them to manage her vital signs and the pressure in her brain.” When Travis went pale and leaned on the bedrail, Shelly quietly pulled up a chair and helped him into it.
“I’m sorry to sound so clinical, Travis. I just want you to understand what’s going on.”
Travis clasped his fingers behind his neck, and placed his elbows on his knees. “I’ve seen my soldiers in bad shape before; plenty of times. We’d do our best to carry them off the field and get them to help, but a lot of them were critically wounded, and many didn’t make it. I’d check on them as their commander, but the others in the platoon would stay nearby, night and day, until the injured was taken by helicopter or in a body bag. It would hit them hard, but I had to try not to let it in; it happened too often, and I had to stay in control if I had any hope of keeping the rest of them safe the next time out.”
Shelly bent down next to him, sliding an arm around his waist. “That must have been Hell for you.”
“It was,” he turned to look at her, “but it didn’t come close to this. Whatever happened over there, I had her to come back to if I could manage to stay alive. That’s what kept me going. I’ve been stateside for sixteen years, and only came back for holidays until I moved home for good this month. I thought we had lots of time to be together.”
“She knew you loved her,” Gordy said to Travis, but his eyes never left Yvonne’s face. “There ‘as never any doubt about that.”
A man with short-cropped, salt-and-pepper hair and a stethoscope around his neck stood at the foot of the bed. “I’m Kevin, Mrs. Richards’s nurse. I’m going to ask you all to step out for fifteen or twenty minutes while we turn and suction her. There’s a waiting room at the end of ‘B’ hall; we’ll call you on the phone out there when you can come back in.” He looked at his tech-y watch. “If you haven’t eaten, this might be a good time to run down to the cafeteria; it closes in an hour and there are only vending machines available after that.”
Gordy started to cry again, and Travis kissed his mother’s forehead before they left the room. Travis kept an arm around Gordy to keep him steady, and Shelly led them down to the basement. “There’s a guest cafĂ© on the first floor, but the employee cafeteria is the best place to go,” she told them. “It’s cheaper and has way better coffee.”
“Sounds good to me,” Travis said wearily. Gordy excused himself for a few minutes to use the bathroom and call his son, Jimmy, to give him an update.
Shelly told Travis to get them a table, and she went through the line for coffees, creamers, sugar packets and three slices of pizza for them. Ah, hospital food. If you weren’t already a patient, it would make you one.
They sipped their coffee in silence. No one was particularly interested in eating. Shelly felt that she should try to cheer them up.
“She looked pretty good!” she said brightly. “Her vital signs were stable, and she didn’t show any signs of having pain. Let’s hope she gets a good night’s rest, and they can try weaning her off the vent tomorrow.” Poor Gordy looked every bit of his seventy years. “You need to go home and get some rest yourself, Mister.” Travis nodded in agreement.
“I’m not goin’ anywhere,” Gordy stated resolutely. “The two of you can go home tonight, but I’m stayin’ right here with her. I already told Jimmy; he’s gonna let Biscuit out and take her home with him.” Biscuit was Gordy’s aging Golden Retriever.
Shelly gathered up their trash and carried it to the barrel. “I’ll go back up with you for an hour or so, and then I’d better call it a night. I have to work tomorrow. I wish I could get out of it, but I can’t.” She placed a hand on Travis’s shoulder. “Will you be alright here without me?” He reached up and laced his fingers through hers.
“I’m better when you’re here, but I understand. Gordy and I’ll camp out here tonight; in the room, in the waiting room, wherever they’ll let us stay. I can’t leave either until I know Von’s alright.”
As they made their way to the elevator, there was a call over the P.A.: “Code Blue, ICU. Code Blue, ICU.”
Shelly & Gordy jumped on the elevator. Not wanting to wait, Travis took the stairs, three at a time, to the third floor. He burst through the door and saw that his mother’s room was brightly lit, with the curtains closed around the windows. There was a crowd of hospital staff in the hallway, and he could see several pair of legs surrounding her bed. He started to go in, but an orderly held out his arm. “You don’t want to go in there right now, Dude,” he warned. “They’ll come out and let you know what’s going on as soon as they can.” Travis shook free of the young man’s hold and pushed past the curtain.
 Six or seven doctors and nurses turned to look at him as one of them said, “Call it. Time of death, seven thirty-one.”
In shock, Travis swept the wrappers, needles and tubing that littered his mother’s bed off with his arm. No one stopped him when he sat down on the edge and hugged her lifeless body. No tears came; it was too deeply ingrained in him to hold them in, but he felt more alone than he ever had.
An older man with a badge that read ‘Walter Parrish, MD’ patted his arm brusquely. “I’m sorry son,” he rasped. “We did everything we could. I think the hemorrhage in her brain extended. I can order an autopsy if you’d like.”
Travis shook his head. He couldn’t see the point. She was gone, wasn’t she? The reason why didn’t really matter. Shelly entered the room with Gordy in tow. She knew, with one glance around, what had happened. Gordy knew, too.
“Sweet Jesus Christ!” he cried. “Oh my God, what am I going to do?” Dr. Parrish guided him to the corner of the room and spoke softly to him in an effort to offer comfort. Travis stood up and hugged her tightly, so tightly.
And then he cried.



Here it is. I knew it was coming; my first birthday without my mom. As anyone who has been through this knows, and there have been many, MANY before me, for a year, every event will be a first. Susie had a wonderful sense of occasion, and our birthdays were a big deal.
Last year was another story. Bud was post-op, sick and confused; he actually went into the hospital with pneumonia the following day. If you've ever had a birthday where you just wanted to forget about it, that was the one. We started the morning at a medical appointment where a doctor pretty much laid some bad news on the line, and I sat in Falconer Park crying for an hour before I could get it together and go to work. I don't recount this for any kind of sympathy; it was what it was. Just putting it all in context.
That evening my mom made dinner, had cake, etc. but we were all a bit deflated. My wonderful Aunt Sarah was there. The two dear ladies did their best to be festive, and we went through the motions. Feeling on shaky emotional ground, I skimmed quickly over my mom's card; not wanting to succumb to the meltdown that threatened. She gave me a beautiful angel figurine and money; apologizing that she hadn't been able to shop. Of course it didn't matter; we vowed to make up for it next year!
Next year, as it turned out, was not to be. And I'm so glad I didn't know. As difficult as the events the year following a death can be, could you imagine knowing, the year before, that each event was a 'last'? I never would have made it, I can assure you. As Garth so eloquently sang,
"And now, I'm glad I didn't know,
the way it all would end, the way it all would go,
Our lives are better left to chance.
I could have missed the pain,
but I'd have had to miss the dance."
And so it was, this morning, that I tore through my drawer of cards past, opening them and looking for last year's birthday card from my mother. At last I found it, and for the first time really read it. We had been through a lot at the time, although not nearly all that awaited us. I know she chose it carefully, and I regret that I didn't acknowledge that at the time, because I couldn't. I know she understood. It reads:
For Our Daughter
A daughter is your heart's delight-
it starts when she's a tiny thing
Who charms you with her every smile
and sweetly makes your spirit sing.
Then as she grows, your love grows, too,
she seems to weave a magic spell
That fills your world with tenderness
and wonder, more than words can tell.
One day, you turn around to find
a lovely woman, fully grown.
She's graceful, strong, and confident,
with talents of her very own.
You smile and thank the stars above
for all she is and all she's done
And celebrate the depth of love
a daughter brings to everyone.
                 J. Hund
Inside it says
Dear Laura
You're a special gift
to the lives of so many people...
especially ours.
Happy Birthday
And in her familiar handwriting-
"The card just cannot say all the words that need to be said.
We Love You, and Thanks, Mom & Dad."

I love you too, Mom & Dad, and I have never for a second questioned your love for me. I have been so very lucky to have you both as my parents. We have a bond that can't be severed by hard times, even death. And a network of amazing family and friends. I wouldn't change a thing.
Happy Birthday to me.



Travis jogged through the Emergency Room entrance at City General, looking frantically for the reception area. A combat veteran, it took a lot to shake him up, but he'd never contemplated anything happening to his mother. Sure, she got on his last nerve sometimes, but she was also his number one supporter and best friend. He had taken her for granted. Someone laid a hand on Travis's back.
"Jesus, Gordy. You scared me. Where is she? Is she alright?"
"They took her to cat scan," he motioned for Travis to sit with him on a hard row of plastic chairs.
 "I wanted to go with her, but they wouldn't let me. They're lucky they had her drugged up, or Yvonne'd have given them hell."
Drugged up? "What happened, Gordy? She was fine this morning. Well, pissed off at me, but that's nothing new. I had only left her a few hours before you called."
The older man ran a calloused hand over his eyes.  Travis saw that he had engine grease under his nails, and still wore his coveralls. When he spoke, he was choked up.
"I was workin' on Jimmy's late model and I stopped to grab my coffee. I called her like I al'ays do, but she wadn't answerin'. Then I tried her cell phone and she didn't answer that, neither. I just knew somethin' wadn't right. I jumped in the jeep and ran over to the house, and I found her on the floor in the laundry room. The washer was open,  looked like she had started loadin' it. Her eyes was open, and she was makin' sounds, but couldn't talk. She reached for me; then she tried gettin' up, and I saw she wadn't movin' her right side. There was blood all over. I guess she cut the back of her head pretty bad when she fell..." he started to cry, and pulled a dirty rag from his pocket.
"I'm sorry, Buddy. I should have been there. What did you do?" Travis couldn't imagine.
"I called nine-eleven and laid down beside her 'til the volunteer rescue come. They were there pretty quick, but I'm tellin' you, it felt like forever before they got there. She got real frustrated because she couldn't talk, and I had to try and calm her down. They got her on a stretcher and headed here with lights n' sirens, and I followed behind. I don't even remember drivin' here."
Travis had always liked Gordy. The guy adored Yvonne and treated her like a queen. He'd been there for her while Travis was away; keeping up the house, fixing her car, making her laugh, and loving her.Tough as she was, Yvonne had a soft spot for Gordy. He and Travis were two of the only people to ever claim her heart in that way. The couple hadn't gotten married because they both had been there done that, and couldn't see any reason for it. Gordy liked to say  "I don't need no piece of paper to make you mine, Love," and Yvonne felt the same way.
The swinging doors opened and a tired-looking young woman in scrubs came out. She recognized Gordy and approached the two men. Gordy stood. "Dr. Brown, this here is Travis. He's Mrs. Richard's son. Travis, Dr. Brown. How is she? Can we see her?"
"She's heavily sedated right now. She ran into breathing problems in CT, and we had to place her on a respirator to breathe for her. You can see her, but she's not conscious. I'm sorry."
Travis was upset. "Life support? Don't you need to let someone know when that is happening? I thought you had to have consent!"
"That's not an issue in an emergency. Your mother was crashing, she couldn't give us consent, and the only other person here," she looked at Gordy, "was not a relative, or her Health Care Proxy. When we don't know how a person feels about life support, and there's nothing in writing, we have to treat. Again, I apologize, but I came to tell you as soon as I could."
Gordy looked down at his boots.  "Is she a vegetable, then?"
Travis gaped at him in shock.
"It's too early to tell," she said calmly. "Her CT showed a brain hemmorrhage. We won't know how much permanent damage is done until the bleeding stops and her condition stablizes.."
Travis couldn't sit any more. "How can you tell what her condition is if you've got her gorked on drugs?"
"At this point, it's more important to let her rest, and to keep her from struggling against the breathing machine. Being restless and frustrated right now could extend the bleed. We'll know more tomorrow, when we back off on the meds and let her lighten up a little bit. I wish I had something more reassuring for you, but we just don't know anything for sure tonight." She stood and checked her beeper. "I'm needed back in the ER," she told them. "Mrs. Richards is in ICU, on the third floor. You can take that elevator there."
"I'll take them up, Cheryl," Shelly offered. She'd been standing behind him, and Travis couldn't remember when he'd been happier to see anyone, ever. She took a hand from each man after she  pushed the "3" button.
 "This is my old stomping grounds," she reassured them. "Yvonne will be in good hands."



Shelly was harried and out of breath when she sat down for the afternoon care plan meeting.
“Somebody had a nooner!” accused Melanie, the Social Worker. “Look, she’s blushing!”
“Cut it out, Mel,” Shelly grinned, setting up her laptop. “You’re just jealous.”
Melanie stroked her very pregnant belly. “I tried to keep up with you. See where that got me? Berta Harrington’s daughter is coming in at 1:15. That’s the only one we have today. Who is he?”
“His name is Travis. We met at Eddie’s last night.” She gave a detailed account of the events of the past fifteen hours. There were no secrets between them.
“You are full of surprises,” Melanie marveled. “How do you get into these situations?”
“I’m still trying to take it all in myself,” Shelly said, shaking her head. “I think he might be a keeper though.”
“Like you’ve never said that before,”  Melanie ‘s voice was straining with the effort of bending down to pull a jar of peanut butter out of her briefcase.
“Yeah, well, we’ll see what happens. He’s invited me to help him move into his new apartment tonight. I’ll keep you posted. Now, if you don’t mind, I think we should try to review Berta's care plan before her daughter gets here. Have there been any problems with them?”
Melanie dipped into her jar before accessing the file. “Just a few,” she said wearily. “Not enough staffing, especially on the weekends. She lost a nightgown in laundry, hates our coffee. You know; the usual.”
“I hear you, believe me,” Shelly sighed. “Same shit different day. The staff works their butts off; there just aren’t enough of them.” She waved her hand at the empty chairs across the table. “Where are Stella and Tiffany? They’re supposed to be here.”
“Didn’t I tell you? Stella’s out of work indefinitely; some kind of leg ulcer or something. Cal’s trying to contract out for food service. Tiffany called in sick today. She probably got a groin pull last night.” She pushed up her bangs with the heel of her hand before taking another spoonful of peanut butter.
“You are bad, Mel, though probably right on where Tiffany is concerned; like I have room to talk. Too bad about Stella, but maybe we’ll actually get some decent food around here.”
“That would be fine with me. I’d love to scratch it off my list of complaints. The food is the number one topic at Resident Council meetings; even above staffing!  I don’t think Stella realizes that old people have taste buds.”
“Who knew, right?” Shelly laughed. “Here comes Berta and Cynthia now.”
A well-kept, attractive woman came in, pushing her mother’s wheelchair. It was easy to see where she got her good looks; although frail, Berta was still lovely at ninety-three. Shelly jumped up and helped to make them comfortable. Cynthia sat close to her mother and held her hand. Melanie opened the discussion, leaning in to address the resident.
 “Hello Berta, we’re here today to discuss your care. Do you have any concerns?”
The elderly lady offered a wan smile. “I’m alright, Melanie. You’re always so good to me.”
It was Cynthia’s turn. “I have some concerns,” she began. “I’m here every evening to help Mom with her supper. She’s almost always wet when I arrive and I’m sorry but there’s no excuse for it. She’s not one to complain or ask for help, and I worry about her when I’m not here.”
Berta shifted restlessly in her chair. “Oh, it’s alright, Cindy. I know the girls are busy, and I hate to bother them. They get to me when they can. I don’t want to get anyone into trouble.”
Shelly moved her chair closer to Berta’s. “I’m sorry this is happening, Berta. I think it may be because Dr. Kelly increased your water pill. You take it three times a day now. Do you remember when you had all of the swelling in your legs, a few weeks ago? You needed more medication to help with that. The good news is that you’ve lost five pounds’ worth of fluid. The bad news is that you need to urinate more frequently; and that is new to the staff. I’ll start you on a toileting schedule and put it on the aides’ assignment sheet, so they’ll know. I should have done that already, and I apologize.” What she didn’t say was that the nurses knew about the medication change, and could have anticipated the problem. They hadn’t though, and she was responsible.  She tried to concentrate on signs of progress; hadn’t they noticed the edema and let her know? They didn’t have her clinical experience, and so it didn’t come easily to them, but they tried. Baby steps, she reminded herself. They would get there in time.
“Thank you, Shelly,” Berta said. “I’m afraid I have to get back to my room now. I have to go again. It’s such a nuisance. Then I’d like to lie down. I get so tired lately!”
“That’s alright. I’ll call the unit and let them know you’re on your way. Then, if you don’t mind, Melanie and I can finish the meeting with your daughter. Cynthia, are you able to come back? It shouldn’t take us too much longer.”
Cynthia indicated that she would return before escorting her mother out. Shelly closed the door and sat down. “I want to talk to her about Berta’s Advanced Directives, Mel. We need to get them in order.”
Melanie stood up. “Then I’m going to pee first. This family has had a hard time with this, and I’m not at my best with a baby bouncing on my bladder.”
Cynthia came back some ten minutes later with a sober expression on her face. She looked at Melanie. “Is there something wrong? It seemed the two of you wanted to speak to me alone.”
Shelly opened Berta’s chart. “We wanted to discuss your mother’s wishes related to her care going forward, Cynthia. I’m sure you have noticed, and I believe Dr. Kelly has spoken with you about this. Unfortunately, the state of her health is declining. The time is approaching to make some important decisions.”
Cynthia’s face fell. “I was afraid it would be something like this. Dr. Kelly told me that Mom’s kidneys were failing. I spoke to my brother in Florida on the phone last night, and we are considering dialysis treatments for her. How would we go about getting those started?”
“We can talk about that,” Shelly ventured, “but I’d like to review the medical record with you first. Here are the lab chemistry reports from this morning. Do you see this ‘BUN’? It reads critical at 90, and the ‘creatinine’ is 4.8. Those values indicate renal failure.  The ‘BNAT’ is 1300; that tells us that her congestive heart failure is not under control. This happens in late-stage chronic illness.”
“But wouldn’t the dialysis help?”  Cynthia rationalized. “It would bring the lab values down.”
“Let me show you another test,” Shelly said, flipping pages. “This is an echocardiogram that your mom had two months ago, before this latest bout with swelling. The ‘ejection fraction’ is a measurement of how efficiently her heart is pumping. It was ten percent; normal is sixty percent. Berta is receiving the maximum dose of diuretic- the ‘water pill’- and though it is helping for now, she won’t be able to tolerate it much longer because of her kidneys. Hemodialysis treatments are stressful on the heart, and have other side effects as well. Patients can have low blood pressure, fatigue and a metallic taste in their mouth that affects their appetite. They are usually placed on fluid restrictions, so they can’t drink more than four or five cups a day. If she began the treatments, Berta would be transported from the facility to the dialysis unit three days a week for approximately four hours; with transportation she’d be gone nearly six, and at this point she’s exhausted trying to sit up for a meal. Has your mother shared her feelings about the treatments with you?”
“The renal specialist was consulted the last time she was in the hospital. He tried to explain everything to her, but she wouldn’t hear it. ‘I’m too old’, she said. I don’t think she understood that, without the treatments, she could die!”
Melanie spoke quietly. “Cynthia, Berta has talked to me, and she was adamant that she did not want the treatments. She told me last week that she was ‘ready to go anytime the good Lord wanted to take her’.”
A tear rolled down Cynthia’s cheek, and Shelly handed her a Kleenex. “I just can’t let her go,” she cried. “She’s been an anchor for my family. We so looked forward to visiting her; I can close my eyes and smell the house. She would greet us at the door and spoil us for the duration. She was proud of our success, but we couldn’t wait to leave our new builds and go home for holidays. I loved getting up in the morning and putting my feet on the cold floor upstairs. There’d be frost inside the windows, but down in the kitchen Mom would be busy whipping up a delicious breakfast for everyone. We used to kid her about her stuffing; she would pack too much into the bird and it would be a little pasty. Do you know that last year, I tried to make mine turn out like that? It’s Thanksgiving to us. She’s been a wonderful, wonderful mother and friend to me.”
 “We are all very fond of Berta here,” Shelly responded. “Our main goal is that she spends the remainder of her life as she wants. There is no assurance that she would live longer on dialysis. The treatments are intended for patients who have sufficient baseline health and quality of life to benefit from them. Your mother is not a good candidate for the therapy, Cynthia. We can continue to care for her here, in her home, and keep her comfortable. You and your family would be welcomed to spend as much time with her as you wish; even overnight. When the end comes, she’ll be in a familiar place, surrounded by people who love her.”
Melanie touched Cynthia’s shoulder. “She’s comfortable with the decision. Her main concern is for you and your brother; she doesn’t want you to be upset with her.”
“She would think of us first, “Cynthia smiled and wiped her face. “It’s very hard for me to think about losing Mom, but above all I want her to be at peace. I’ll try to explain it to Gerald. Is there something I need to sign?”
“No,” Melanie answered. “Your mother has decisional capacity to make her choices, and actually has already signed for comfort care. She does not want to be readmitted to the hospital, and has declined any further aggressive intervention. She has agreed to continue with medication to relieve her symptoms, and is considering Hospice care. I’ll let you talk with her about that, and I can make a consult whenever you decide. I would also be happy to call your brother, to explain all of this and answer any questions that he has.”
Cynthia collected her purse and coat. “I would appreciate that. It looks like it’s settled, then. I’m going to go home for awhile; I can’t face her right now. I’m afraid I would fall apart, and that wouldn’t do either of us any good. Could you please tell her that I had to leave, but I’ll be back by supper time?”
“Of course,” Shelly reassured her, offering a hug that Cynthia gratefully accepted. “And please call me or Melanie if you think of anything else that we can help you with.”
 Melanie took Cynthia’s arm and walked with her to the front door.
“It doesn’t get any easier, does it?” Shelly sighed when she returned. “Thank you for being here with me.”
Melanie wasn’t listening. She was looking at the man standing in the doorway.
“They told me you’d be here,” Travis said. “I’m sorry to bother you at work, but I had to let you know that we can’t get together tonight.”
Here we go, Shelly thought. He’s blowing me off already. “What’s the problem?”
“I’m on my way to the hospital. I was moving stuff into the apartment and my mom’s boyfriend called. They think Von’s had a stroke.”



For the Wives
By Laura McCollough Moss

She parks the car and trudges inside
for her daily visit
hoping that the new rouge hides
the old tears.
Five years now she has been coming
to see him
He looks nothing like the pictures to
anyone but her.
They say she should go home
and rest, relax
She doesn't know how without him there.
She's had to learn to fix things
she mows grass
and does his laundry at home
She likes it when he smells nice
like he used to.
They don't care like she does
They feed and water him
turn him over
clean up his messes
while they talk about their weekend.
They think she doesn't see them
roll their eyes
when she asks for news of him.
He's fine they say.
If he was fine would he be here?
She cares.
So when they're short with her she cries.
That upsets him
and makes her feel guilty added to sad.
How to make them understand
that he is more than what they see?
He's a father and a fisherman
a foreman and fun at parties
He likes to feel that he's earned
his rest and food
But now they come too easily
and time crawls.
He hurts and misses his dog.
His life in the moving kodak frame
so far away.
The only thing that makes it bearable
is her faithfulness.
He loves her.



I got to thinking, tonight, about the funniest moments that I can recall. I've been through some hysterical situations; as we all have. Replaying them in your mind can be a real pick-me-up- and keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously; I mean, why?
Driving through the beautiful fall landscape today, I couldn't help but marvel at the fact that, while we are being born, and living, and working, and dying and having any number of human difficulties and miracles, the universe is unimpressed. The year after we die, the trees will bud, the sun will shine, the leaves will turn color and the snow will fall;  just like they did before we were born. Nothing that we do upsets this rhythm, and that is a humbling realization.  On the day of your wedding, somebody washed their car, and performed other mundane chores. Someone will stroll past the funeral home as you lie inside; taking a bit of fresh air. Life, as they say, goes on. That's why it's so important to see the humor in it all.
Here's a sampling:
~ In, I think, 6th grade, my best friend Mary & I were late for math class. The teacher didn't take too kindly to tardiness, so we tried to sneak in without interrupting the lecture. We passed quickly across the front of the room toward our seats before an amused prepubescent audience. In her haste Mary,  ahead of me, dropped a notebook. It slapped the floor, & a few titters erupted from the crowd. She bent down to get it as I kept right on going, tripping over her in a most ungainly fashion. To make matters worse, the exertion caused my body to emit , to my horror, a brief but loud flatulence. I collected myself and attempted to appear unscathed, certain that with all the calamity, the offense had gone unnoticed. I lived happily with that assumption until, years later, Mary began to ask if I remembered that time...(helpless laughter)... when we ran into Morgan's class and I fell over her and farted?! The jig was up. I can only imagine the teacher's lounge that day, as the incident was relayed to the full faculty.
~ Probably one or two years after that, on Halloween, my cousin , another friend and I were eager to try a prank we'd learned of, in which you put animal droppings into a paper bag, and set it ablaze on someone's doorstep. The unsuspecting stomper would get a big surprise!!! We snuck into my Dad's chicken coop and got some poop from whatever animal he had at the time; a pig, a calf, rabbits, it escapes me now but anyway, we got a bagful. Under cover of darkness and scolding one another to suppress our giggles, we snuck into the yard of a family of boys we knew (and you know, liked but acted like we didn't like). We had the bag, and a lighter. All systems were go. Suddenly, the boys ran out and scared us- they'd seen us coming! They surrounded us and one said, "Take their candy!" At which point another one grabbed the bag from me and thrust his hand inside. We girls fell to the ground in hysterics. Fate had intervened and far surpassed our original plan! On the not-so-good side, I never could get 'him' to like me after that. The price you pay for a great moment!
~ My cousin was going to stay overnight at my house. We were probably fifteen or so. We were in my room, changing, when my two younger brothers burst in. Completely naked, the girl threw herself onto my bed and covered her head with the bedspread. Everything else was OUT THERE! With eyes as big as saucers, the boys took a quick look before taking off. Mind you, there were two of us in the room, and I was in plain sight.  "Why did you just cover your head, Dummy?" I asked. "I thought they wouldn't know who I was," was her logic. Did I mention that her hair was kinda blonde?
~ I was working as a nurse in ICU, and an elderly gentleman came in with respiratory distress. A local doctor, known for his sober demeanor and exacting standards (read-we were terrified of him)- was consulted to evaluate the man. One of my co-workers went in to assist with the assessment. The physician gravely asked the patient what medications he was taking, and as so often happened, the report was vague. He was pretty sure he took a "puffer" and said he kept it in his shirt pocket. The doctor was becoming  frustrated at the length of the interview and its fruitless findings, so the RN, eager to impress, was stricken with an idea. "Let me just check his shirt, Doctor. We'll see what type of inhaler Mr. ____ is using. " She reached for the flannel shirt and felt for a round object in one of the chest pockets. With a flourish, she pulled forth a small, battery-operated penis and held it inches from the doctor's nose. The patient stammered a flimsy explanation, Dr. Sourpuss looked down his nose in disgust, and  the nurse had a minor nervous breakdown. Oh, to hear her re-tell it later! She had us in stitches. Each of us, in turn, had to 'check' on the man at some point during the night, and take a sneak peak at his peter (the fake one).
~ My kids make me tell this one at least once a year, just so they can watch me convulse with laughter, which I NEVER fail to do. Again, in ICU, I cared for a distinguished gentleman from out of town, who was visiting Chautauqua Institution one summer. Unfortunately, he suffered a heart attack, but with my expert care (his opinion), he was doing much better. He had moved down to Phase II telemetry when he called me in to meet his wife; a lovely, cultured woman. She asked me polite questions; had I grown up in the area, how long had I been a nurse, that kind of thing, and I was doing my best to provide intelligent answers. Then she said, "Do you have any children?" "Yes," I replied, "my daughter's a girl, and my son's a boy." She blushed a little and covered her mouth with her hand to hide her smile, embarrassed for me. I remember she said "Oh!" There was nothing I could do but turn and leave the room.
~ I was sitting at the nurse's desk doing some work on the computer. It was later in the afternoon, and nothing much was going on. There were some elderly ladies seated near the desk. Out of nowhere, one of them broke the silence. "I think I just pissed my slacks." One of her companions chuckled and said, "Aren't you a little old for that, ____?"
~ My husband & I were driving to the Buffalo area to pick up some chairs we'd bought on ebay. We asked my Dad if he'd like to come along. Because of the obscure address, we used our Garmin gps. Bud and Mike joked that, thanks to the mechanized feminine voice on the machine, it was now possible to "have another woman bitching at them while they drive". As we got close to our destination, we were straining to see the place, and traffic was heavy. Tensions were running higher, and the Garmin was mum. Bud quipped "talk to me Lady, don't clam up now!"
That's all I can think of for now, but I know there are many more. It's fun to think of them again. Laughter makes life worth living for me, and I try to see the humor in the direst of circumstances.
Can you remember any of your funniest moments? If so, please share.



Troy approached the podium and cleared his throat. "My wife, Wilhelmina, and I wish to thank you all for attending the dedication of the Steele Center for Childhood Cancer Research this evening. We are delighted to contribute to our community in this manner, and to continue the legacy begun by my grandfather in 1970. The center for Adult Cancer Research has been a tremendous success, and we look forward to making similar advances in honor of the innocent children stricken with this terrible disease. Your support and generosity have made this dream a reality. Together we will improve treatments, increase survival rates, and perhaps put an end to devastating childhood cancers within our lifetime.  As has often been said, our children are our greatest natural resource. They depend on us, and our nation's future is dependent on their good health and wellbeing. We rely on private donations rather than those from pharmaceutical and medical supply companies in an effort to ensure that there is no conflict of interest within the organization. Our mission is to provide the highest standard of care, recommended by pioneers in cancer treatment, without bias or ethical constraints. Please enjoy the refreshments, tour the facilities, and make any contribution you can so that we can continue to serve the children. Once again I want to thank you all for being here, and have a wonderful evening."
Troy smiled broadly and strode to Wilhelmina’s chair, taking both her hands and kissing them as cameras flashed, and the crowd erupted into applause. She was so proud of him at moments like this. He was a very busy man and his responsibilities weighed heavily on him. She knew this was why he could be distracted and withdrawn at times, even irritable. But on nights like tonight, when he showed such caring and compassion, and used his good fortune and influence to reach out to others, she remembered why she'd fallen in love with him. Troy was mingling with a table of the more distinguished guests, when Senator Schultz asked if he might make a toast. As Troy assumed a humble pose, the Senator said, "To Wilhelmina, whose tireless efforts have made this Center a reality. Heaven knows, she wore a path in the carpet to my office! She has stopped at nothing to promote this magnificent achievement, and I want to extend my personal congratulations to her. " There was another warm round of applause, but Wilhelmina’s stomach tightened. Everyone else saw Troy smiling adoringly at her. Only she recognized the subtle clenching of his jaw that she knew all too well.
It had clenched in the same way when she'd told him that morning that her mother was coming for Thanksgiving. "You know we're going to Aunt Clara's for dinner," he seethed. "Your mother doesn't exactly fit in with my family. I thought we agreed to keep our holiday celebrations separate." Wilhelmina had apologized, "I know, Honey, but she doesn't want to stay home without Daddy there. I couldn't tell her not to come!" Wilhelmina’s father had died in January, and Troy had not only attended the funeral but delivered the eulogy, expertly disguising his distaste for her home, and her relatives.
 "You have to tell her she cannot call you 'Willie'. It makes her sound ignorant. In fact, it's probably best if she doesn't say much at all. I'm sure you remember the time she told everyone at the table that she received Medicaid for you when you were young? That was priceless."
 Wilhelmina swallowed her sadness and disappointment. "I'll talk to her," she said. "She means well; she just doesn't know enough not to tell the truth." Unlike your family, she thought. They had no problem overlooking the truth. There was the 'premature' baby born fat and healthy seven months after Troy's cousin Madeline’s wedding, and his brother Mitch's 'roommate', Brian. And what was the problem calling someone by a shortened version of their given name? Their circle included a “Buffy”, a “Ladybird” and a “Trixie”. Ridiculous nicknames were chic and accepted. She’d stopped trying to make sense of it long ago.  Contrary to popular opinion, maintaining the veneer of a perfect family was hard work. Wilhelmina was thankful to have come from nothing.
Troy was quiet on the drive home from the dedication ceremony. Wilhelmina stared out the window into the darkness. How was it that an occasion that should have brought her so much joy only left her feeling hollow? They came near to a Wal-mart, and she asked Troy to stop. "You're kidding me, right? I mean, it's ten o'clock, we're all dressed up, and I'm exhausted. You know I hate that place."
 Wilhelmina stroked his hand. "I'm going to the grade school in the morning, to read to the kids for Veteran's Day. I want to bring them some candy, and I'd rather pick it up tonight. We're going right past, and I'd have to go out of my way tomorrow. Please?" Troy steered their Lexus coupe harshly into the store lot; griping under his breath. "It'll only take me a few minutes," she promised.
 He got out and reluctantly escorted her inside. "Let's make this quick, please. I don't want to run into anyone."
A cheerful, bearded man stood near a kettle at the entrance to the store, ringing a bell. "We appreciate your support this holiday season," he called. Troy waited impatiently at the door while Wilhelmina dug for a few dollars. "Thank you Sweetheart," the man smiled, and received a genuine smile back from her. She hurried to catch up to her husband. He wasn't smiling.
"Let's find the candy and get out of here. Now what are you doing?" Wilhelmina stood looking at a Christmas tree that had been placed on the service desk.
"Look, Troy, it's a Mitten Tree! I've heard of these. Each mitten has the name of a needy child on it, and a list of what they want for Christmas. Wouldn't that be fun, to give a few kids a nice Christmas?" It was a recurrent source of tension in their lives; Wilhelmina’s love of children. She was so taken with them, but Troy considered them a nuisance. As a compromise until he came around (and she was certain he would), she visited the sick in hospitals, volunteered at the elementary school, helped to organize fundraisers and sponsored summer camps. She’d made the best of the situation until her time for motherhood could come along, but she’d begun to despair that it was not to be.
“Earth to Wilhelmina,” Troy stood firm and crossed his arms in front of him. "Don't you think we do enough without playing Santa Claus? These people get a free ride for everything, I swear. How will they learn to work for what they have if we keep giving it to them?" This was the opinion of a man who got his first job, as Vice President of his grandfather's company, right out of an ivy-league college. He hadn't so much as worked at an ice cream stand before that. Wilhelmina couldn't blame him, it was all he knew. But she wouldn't stop trying to make him understand.
"Just two,” she pleaded. “I’m taking two; a boy and a girl. Oh, look! Sierra and Jeremy! How cute! Look at what they want for Christmas, Troy: a coat, jeans size 6, coloring books, and crayons. He wants plastic army men. Your niece wants a laptop for Christmas, and she's eight! We have so much; it makes me feel guilty that there are innocent little kids who don't understand why Santa doesn't visit their houses. Even if we do this, they're getting gifts from strangers who shopped in a discount store! We have to make them feel special. Give me fifteen minutes, and I can gather everything we need."
 Troy sighed and trudged behind her. There was no talking to her when she'd made up her mind, and he didn't want to make a scene. Besides, he had to watch her to make sure she didn't go overboard.
Wilhelmina chose a lavender parka for Sierra, and a navy down jacket with a dump truck stamped on the chest for Jeremy. She got the jeans, and the coloring supplies, and action figures. As she made her selections, she felt her bond to the children strengthen; she felt as if she knew them. She was sure that Sierra would like a box set of Beverly Cleary books, and a musical keyboard; and every boy needed a big metal truck that he could sit on, and a few Berenstein Bears titles. She was headed for the shoe department when Troy put his foot down. 
"That's it, Wilhelmina. You're getting ridiculous here. They'll probably ruin the stuff anyway, the way they live. I can't let you spend anymore. We have our own families to think about."
Wilhelmina looked at him with the closest expression to defiance that she could muster. "But they have to have warm boots," she declared. "You know how the winters are here. I have the sizes!" Troy took her arm and pulled her toward the registers.
 "You're finished. We've bought everything else. Their parents can buy their boots. Enough already, for God's sake! Do you even remember what you actually came here for?"                             
 "That's right! I need candy," she said. "Thanks for reminding me."                          
  Troy flopped himself onto a nearby bench and waited, fuming.
The holiday season came and went, with its usual flurry of social obligations and family gatherings. They bought Troy's mother a cashmere shawl that she tossed back into the box and pushed under her chair. Wilhelmina knew the gift would never see the light of day. As for her mother, she got her a programmable slow cooker, and you'd have thought the thing was a Mercedes. "Oh, Willie!" she cried. "You shouldn't have gotten me something so expensive. I can take it back. Should I take it back? Mine still works if I put a plate over it; Sissy borrowed it and broke my lid. Why are you crying, Willie? I'll keep it. I just worry about you kids spending your money." Troy had rolled his eyes at the ceiling, but he accepted her thankful hug. "You were so lucky to find this guy," her mother said, patting his back.
At a New Years' party, one of the wives brought up the subject of the Mitten Trees. She was saying that they were a lovely idea. Troy heartily agreed. "We took two mittens," he boasted. "We hooked those kids up pretty well! It was great." Wilhelmina helped herself to another glass of wine, and said nothing.
Later that week, they were making their way across town one afternoon. It was snowing heavily, and the cars were crawling along at a snail's pace. The snowplows had left huge, icy piles along the sides of the road and over the sidewalks, making walking very difficult. Children returning home from school had to climb through the deep and treacherous mounds. Wilhelmina spotted a familiar lavender parka and shrieked "Sierra! Troy, that's Sierra right over there! She's wearing the coat, and the jeans! Isn't she darling?" Troy, frustrated by the slow progress of the traffic, was grouchy.
 "Look at the jacket, Wilhelmina. It's filthy. She doesn't look 'darling' to me."
 "That's unkind, Troy. They may not have a washing machine. You take so much for granted." Wilhelmina continued to watch Sierra, concerned about her walking so close to the road. "Look, Troy. She's wearing sneakers with no socks, the poor thing!" She should have had boots, she wanted to say. Just then, Sierra's foot caught in a dirty pile of snow. She struggled to pull her foot free, and her sneaker became stuck. "She's barefoot!" Wilhelmina screamed, suddenly enraged. Why had she let him talk her out of buying those boots? Was she that spineless? A child was suffering because she'd submitted to a pompous asshole.
 "Stop the car!" she yelled. "I'm going after her!" All of the suppressed anger and resentment was creating a tidal wave of adrenaline in Wilhelmina, and something like hysteria.
 "Take it easy, Mother Teresa," Troy chided her.
 That was the last straw. "I said let me out of this car you son of a bitch!"
 He stared at her, incredulous, and stopped the car. "What are you planning to do? She doesn't even know you. She'll think you're a weirdo! Frankly, you're acting like one. You're embarrassing me."                                                                                                                                                                         "That's interesting," she said bitterly. "You often embarrass me. There's something we have in common."
 Troy's temple throbbed, but his voice had a level, measured tone, as though speaking to a lunatic. "I need you to understand that if you get out of this car, in a blizzard in the middle of town in front of probably everyone we know, I'm going to keep right on going."
"You do that," she said, getting out and slamming the door. He hated it when she slammed the door. "This is a luxury automobile!" he'd whine. "You just have to close it, not slam it like a lummox." Thinking about that made her angrier, and she quickly opened and slammed the door again, just to piss him off. She could see the people in their cars snickering at the calamity, and felt strangely satisfied. Troy was stuck in traffic and humiliated. There was a God, after all.
Wilhelmina leaped across the snow bank and made her way to the hopping young girl. "Can I help you?" she asked, pulling the little shoe out of the snow. "It's all wet, but you'll have to put it on until you get home." She couldn't indicate that she already knew her. "What's your name?" 
"Sierra," the girl said shyly. "I'm not supposed to talk to strangers, but thank you for helping me." Wilhelmina was delighted to spot a copy of Beezus and Ramona peeking from her backpack.
"I'd like to walk you home, to make sure you get there safely. I know you don't know me, but you can trust me, Sierra. I promise."
The child kicked a toe in the snow, and pushed her purple glasses up on her nose with a finger.  "If you told me your name, you wouldn't be a stranger, right?"
"You have to be careful about that, but in this case, you're right. My name is Willie."
"That's a funny name," Sierra smiled, "for a girl."
"It is, but it's what my mom always called me, so I like it.”
“My mom calls me Sweet pea.” Sierra took Willie's hand, and they made their way home.



“Well, aren’t you the cutest thing?”
Shelly looked around for the source of the line and one of the better looking bar flies met her gaze. He wore a faded t-shirt with a swoosh graphic that read ‘Just Do Me‘. True to its mystical nature, her indefatigable heart skipped a beat. She poked Jim next to her and cracked, “I think he’s talking to you.” That broke up everyone at the bar, and Shelly couldn’t suppress a smile as she sipped her Bud Light. The new guy left his stool and walked her way. “I’ve always been a sucker for a smart ass”, he drawled in a deep, smoky tone that caused the blood to leave her legs. “I’m Travis.”
“Save it, Travis,” she said wearily. “I’m not your girl.”
“You might be,” he winked. “Of course it would be nice to know your name.”
“What’s the holdup, Shelly?” someone in the crowd called out. “You’ve usually left with them by now!”
“Is that right?“ Travis slid in next to her and called to the bartender, “Ed, give us two of what Shelly here is drinking.”
Shelly sized him up. “I haven’t seen you here before.”
“I retired from the Army six months ago and came back to town. I grew up here, went to the High School. I’m sorry I didn’t stick around, now that I see what I’ve been missing.”
They were on their third round when Ed said, “Last call, folks. I’m closing the place in fifteen.”
Travis pulled out his wallet and handed Ed a bill. “Keep the change, Eddie. It’s great to see you again. We’ll have to get together.” Ed nodded. Travis stood and held out a hand to Shelly. “You’re coming home with me, aren’t you?”
“I should really go,” she said shyly. “I have to work tomorrow.” “That shouldn’t be a problem, Darlin’. I’ve got a few miles on me. We’ll be finished with whatever we end up doing well before seven AM.”
“I don’t have to be there until eight,” she smiled as she threw on her jacket. “I’ll follow you.”
As it turned out, Travis only lived about two blocks from the bar. Shelly was pleased to see that the house was well kept and quaint. He was a gentleman, showing her to the bathroom and offering her something to wear before leading her to the queen sized bed. Travis put her completely at ease, and although they finished all that they did well before seven AM, Shelly was very satisfied.
Where has this guy been all my life? She couldn’t help but wonder. Don’t ask questions, she thought drowsily as she drifted off to sleep. Just thank the Lord that he finally came through.
Sometime in the early morning, Shelly was awakened by something licking her face. Feeling somewhat hung-over, she looked up to see a ratty looking, one-eyed little wirehaired terrier standing over her. “Christ, Travis!” she shrieked. “What is that?”
“That,” he said, rolling onto one elbow, “is Pretty Boy. Good morning, Buddy!”
“He is the nastiest looking dog I have ever seen!”
“Yeah, well, I fought in Desert Storm,” Travis pulled on his boxers and sat up on the edge of the bed. “I’ve got a lot of banged up friends. Come on, Pretty Boy, you need to go outside. We’ll be back in a minute.”
Shelly sat up and looked around. She was dying for a cup of coffee and wondered if Travis kept any in the house. Everybody in the Army drank coffee, right? She yawned, stretched and decided to go out and explore. She looked down at the t-shirt he’d given her to wear. “Soldiers Love Hummers,” she read. “Nice.” She made her way down the hall and into the clean, sunlit kitchen. She had the coffee brewing within minutes, and was pulling two mugs out of the cupboard when she heard footsteps coming down the hall. “I’m in here Travis,” she called. “I hope you don’t mind me helping myself!”
“I’d say my son is what you’ve helped yourself to,” sniped a sixty-something woman with jet black hair and bright red lips. She wore skintight jeans that were less than flattering and her fluorescent pink tank top read “Cougar.”
“I’m Yvonne Richards. Who are you?”
Travis entered the kitchen and grabbed one of the mugs from Shelly’s hand as she stood, motionless and speechless, wondering how she had managed to get screwed by Cupid’s fucked-up stepbrother yet again. Pretty Boy lapped water from his bowl on the floor.
“This is Shelly, Von. She’s a new friend of mine. I didn’t plan for the two of you to meet this way. I thought you stayed at Gordy’s last night.”
Yvonne's blue eyes, crepe-draped but bright, surveyed the situation. She nodded to Shelly. "I suppose he told you this was his house."
"He didn't say it wasn't," Shelly realized. She had her eyes focused sharply on Travis, who stood with arms crossed, staring at the floor. Honestly, did a man ever say or do what you hoped they would, or needed them to, in a situation like that? Just stood there like the lying jackass that he was. While she stood there in an extra-large t-shirt and a thong that seemed like a good idea when she got ready to go out last night, but now allowed the frosty breeze of Yvonne's disapproval to blow up her ass.
Travis crossed the room and put an arm around his mother. "We hadn't gotten around to discussing real estate, Von." Yvonne chuckled and swatted at him. "Damn it, Travis! Don't you make me laugh. I can't have you dragging every tramp you meet back here! I mean it; I am too old for this shit, Mister."
Shelly set her cup into the sink and turned to face Yvonne. "Don't fight on my account. This tramp is late for work."
Shelly sped down Main Street, racing to work. She’d have to show up in jeans; there was no time to run home and change. She turned on the radio and Bonnie Raitt belted through the speakers, "Let's give 'em somethin' to talk about!" Shelly shut Bonnie up with one slap of the button. That's all I need this morning, she thought.  Oh, great, caught behind a school bus. She picked up her cell and dialed the nursing home.
"Thank you for calling Lakeside Care Facility, this is Nichole speaking. How may I help you?"
"Well for starters Nic," Shelly said, "please put some coffee on. I haven't had a drop yet this morning. Long story, but anyway I'm running late. What’s going on?"
"Nothing, it's quiet. Barney tried to get out again last night, but Seth from Maintenance got him to come back in. Cal came down looking for you. He wants to know what you plan to do about Barney's 'wandering behaviors'. Your interview for 10 o'clock is canceled.  Heather and I are trying to decide if we want to order out for lunch today. Are you in?"
"To tell the truth, I'm not feeling the greatest. I'll pass on lunch. Is the weekend schedule ready?"
"It's ready, but you won’t like it. It's shaping up to be another short one. We've called all of the part-times, full-times, and per diems; nobody will come in.  Cal looked at it, and said you might have to supervise on Saturday."
Shelly took a slow, deep breath. This new administrator was going to be the death of her. DON's and administrators were rarely bosom buddies, but this guy was a walking anus.  Twenty-eight years old, and thought he knew every-damn-thing, including how to occupy her weekends. "All hands on deck!” he loved to say. His were usually in his pockets.
"Don't worry," she told Nichole. "I'll get Norton to do it. He’ll cave for me. You'll have to come up with another day off for him later this week, though. He won't do overtime. Can you get Tracy to come in Monday maybe? It's a holiday, so she won't have school."
"Will do," Nichole laughed. "Thanks for solving that problem!” "I just hope it works out. I need to hang up now, before I get a ticket to add to my already delightful day. See you soon, Nic." She stashed the phone and focused on the road.
The bus braked to pick up a motley looking crew of kids. A pale, skinny boy flicked a cigarette butt and stomped on it before climbing on. That brought back memories! Shelly remembered sharing a smoke with her brothers at the bus stop, back in the day. Her mother never knew, because she was already an hour into her shift at the factory. Shelly, Mark and Matt would roll out of bed about ten minutes before the bus pulled up, throw on clothes, brush their teeth and pat down their hair before running to the corner. No breakfast, no lunch. Other kids got on the bus smelling like bacon and eggs; the Davis kids smelled like Newports. They'd go to the office and borrow money for lunch tickets, and then their report cards would be held until their mother went to school and paid off the loans. Poor Mom. Shelly missed her. "Not going to do this now," she said to no one, fighting back tears. Her mother had raised three children on her own, and had worked hard to give them a better life than she'd had. Matt was a lawyer and lived in Chicago. Shelly graduated with honors from nursing school, and worked as a staff RN in ICU at the hospital until the position of Director of Nursing opened up at Lakeside Care. What could she say; it had seemed like a good idea at the time. Mark, the youngest, trained as an electrician and made more money than any of them. Sarah Davis died four years ago; two months after she was forced to retire "due to ill health." Years of smoking and hardship had taken their toll, and she was gypped of her golden years. How ironic was it that her wayward daughter now devoted her life to caring for the elderly? It gave Shelly the opportunity to give others the love and attention that she would never get the chance to share with her own mother.
"It would surprise you, Momma," she whispered as she pulled into her parking space at Lakeside. "But I try to make you proud. I do. I just can't seem to stop fucking up."
That Travis was cute, though. She couldn't help but giggle as she punched in.
Travis looked across the kitchen table at his mother. Yvonne sipped her coffee and took an occasional drag on the plastic cigarette she'd been using, trying to quit a forty-year habit. Maybe that's why she was such a bitch this morning, he mused. Of course she'd put up with quite a bit from him. He’d married his high school sweetheart, Dinean, who Von could never stand (she'd been right about that one, he had to admit) at eighteen. Moved to California without a pot to piss in and joined the Army at nineteen, and, later, was deployed to the Persian Gulf. That worried her to death. He was, after all, her only child. Got a divorce from Dinean after Yvonne paid her a surprise visit, in an attempt to bond and show support while he was in the Gulf War, only to find her shacked up with a musician and dealing drugs. At least they hadn't had any kids. It was bad enough she ended up with Bruiser, the couple's Chihuahua. That almost broke his heart, but the dog was pretty near all Dinean ended up with. Yvonne went after her like an angry grizzly whose cub had been threatened, and Travis came home to an intact bank account and all of his property in storage. Von always had his back. She might get frustrated with him, but let anyone else do him wrong, and she let them have it. Her forceful temperament had chased his father off years ago. She’d raised Travis on her commissions selling Mary Kay, and he never wanted for a thing. Now, as a retired U.S. government employee, he was back under her roof, which meant living by Yvonne's rules. It didn't matter if he was forty-six, or sixteen. She was the boss. Travis wondered how he was going to go about setting this morning's debacle right.
"What say, Von, should we go out to breakfast? I'll buy. I'm starved."
"I'll bet you are," she smiled bitterly. "I'm sure you had a busy night." She picked up the newspaper and held it high in front of her.
"It wasn't like that, Mother. This girl was different. I really liked her, and you and I behaved like such assholes, she couldn't get away fast enough. You could have been decent. You don't even know her."
"All I needed to know I could judge with one look. Trash is what she is, Travis. She's the Davis girl; didn't you remember her from school? She's lived with half the eligible men in this town, and slept with the other half. Everybody knows it. Runs that Lakeside dump that I wouldn't put my worst enemy into. Not even your ex-wife."
"Low blow, Von. I seem to recall spending many an evening here alone after Dad left. I didn't know any better at the time, but now I can figure out that you weren't going to book club. Nobody's perfect. You least of all." Yvonne tossed the paper down, cheeks blazing. Travis met her eyes with a level stare.
"Fine," she snapped. "You're a big boy now. Have it your way. But if you think you're going to conduct your affairs under my roof, you are sadly mistaken! And for the record, you don't have the first clue what it was like to raise a child alone. I got lonely sometimes, but I was discreet." So she thought. He'd never told her about the fights on the bus, or the trash talking he'd endured on the football field. Yvonne Richards was no angel, and her liaisons had been no secret; especially the one with Coach Maxwell. She never knew that, for several years, her son had had her back. She'd be devastated if she knew, and for some reason he still wanted to protect her. It was muddy, stinking water under the bridge. He'd left town as soon as he could, and only twenty-seven years of life experience could bring him back. He didn't give a damn what anyone here thought of her, or of him.
"That you were, Mother Dear. Why don't you hand me the classified section. I need to start looking for a place to rent."
Hannah Martenson sat on the edge of her bed in 204A, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue. Shelly took a seat next to her, placing an arm around the resident's bony shoulders. She'd lost more weight, Shelly registered. Something was going on with her. "Hey, Miss Hannah," Shelly soothed. "I stopped at the nurse's desk on my rounds, and Becky told me you didn't touch your breakfast this morning; or your supper last night. Are you feeling alright?"
"I'm just fine," Hannah's voice was a watery chirp. "I wish everyone would just leave me alone. I told the dietitian that I've never eaten much, and I hate to say it but the food here is nothing to write home about."
Shelly pulled a notepad from her pocket. "I'll have Sarah come back up and talk to you about what you'd prefer to have for breakfast. I'm sure she would do her best to order what you liked, if you let her know."
"Well, I did let her know, six months ago, that I wouldn't mind a hardboiled egg and a piece of toast, but heavens, I had no idea that I'd get it every day from then on!" Hannah sniffed. "That's one problem you have here, Shelly. No variety. Same foods and nothing to do, day in and day out."
She was right about that, Shelly thought to herself. She would bring it up at the next department head meeting, just as she'd done every month for ten years. Stella, the food service director, had been at the facility for over thirty years, and was past her prime. She wore ace wraps around her legs, for crying out loud; looked like she needed to crawl right into a resident bed and stay there. Although there had been some major changes in the field of institutional dining in recent years, Stella continued to rely mostly on pre-packaged, processed foods, and a menu with a four-week rotation that hadn't changed since Shelly’ d been there, and probably not for years before that. And as for things to do, if a resident didn't like Bingo they were pretty much screwed. Tiffany, the activities director, was twenty-one years old. Her previous job had been in retail, at an Abercrombie & Fitch store in the mall. Tiffany was a nice enough kid, sweet, but she didn't have a clue about therapeutic activity, or the needs and interests of the elderly. One time Shelly asked her to have a movie night for the residents, and the kid brought in The Matrix! Cal wouldn't get rid of her though; he said because they needed to give her a chance and follow proper disciplinary procedure, but Shelly suspected it had more to do with the way Tiffany looked in her Lakeside polo.
Mindy, the CNA, emerged from Hannah's bathroom wiping out a bath basin with a paper towel. She tossed the basin into the bedside stand before walking over and kneeling in front of Hannah, gently resting a hand on her knee. "Hannah, can you tell Miss Davis what you told me while we were getting you washed up this morning?" Mindy smiled up at her and Hannah began to cry in earnest. Shelly shot an inquisitive glance at Mindy, who only nodded. "Go ahead now, you can trust Miss Davis," she encouraged. Hannah straightened, shrugging off Shelly's arm.
"I thought Mildred was my friend, but last week she took my seat in the dining room! Just rolled her walker right up to the table and sat down before I could get there. She knows I have to go to the bathroom before I eat!"
Shelly knew that the residents liked to keep to their routines, but crying over a place at the table? "I'll look at the seating chart, Miss Hannah. Maybe we can sit you at another seat at that table. Would that be alright?" She noticed that Mindy was staring at her as though she was clueless. What could she be missing?
"I liked the seat I had," Hannah's voice faltered. "Mr. Philips was nice to talk to, and I always helped him open his milk. We enjoyed our meals together, until Millie Johnson decided to plant herself beside him!" Now you get the picture, Mindy's eyes said.
Millie Johnson was a pain in the ass, Shelly knew, and she liked the men. She already kept company with Olaf Franken in the chapel, and Doug Chapman in the activity room. Leaving poor Lionel Philips to Miss Hannah shouldn't be too much to ask. Hadn't Millie been coughing a bit after she drank her liquids? Shelly could send a Speech Therapy referral. A screening evaluation would identify the problem, and Millie would be moved to an assist table. Call it geriatric justice.
"Give me a day or two, Miss Hannah," Shelly smiled reassuringly. "These things have a way of working themselves out, you wait and see. Mindy, would you please give Karen a call in the beauty shop? I think Hannah's going to want to look pretty tomorrow."
 Shelly's pager sounded." I have to run. I'll see you ladies later."  She hurried to the desk and grabbed a phone. Sandy, the receptionist, sounded exasperated. "It's an outside call, Shelly. Some guy's called here three times this morning. I tried to tell him you were busy."
Probably a sales rep., Shelly sighed. "I'll take it."
"I'll bet you will, Sunshine," Travis teased, and her body went numb.
"What are you doing for lunch? I owe you a cup of coffee."
Shelly nosed her Ford Ranger pickup into the parking lot at Uncle Joe's Diner on Main. The place was packed; why had she agreed to meet him here? She'd be lucky to get back to work in two hours, let alone one, which was all she could spare. She took a quick look at her hair in the rearview and looked up to see Travis leaning near the diner entrance. He noticed her at the same time, and walked over to greet her with a smile that made her dizzy. What was it about this guy? Shelly smiled back and waved, doing her best to appear nonchalant. That lasted about two seconds, until she closed the belt of her jacket into the locked door of the truck. She pulled at it helplessly as Travis gently took the keys from her hand, opened the door and set her free.
 "Don't worry, Hon," he said. "You make me nervous too. You hungry?”
"I didn't think I was, but I always have an appetite for Joe's barbecue. It's awesome."
They stepped inside, allowing their eyes to adjust to the dim interior. Shelly scanned the room for an empty table.
"Travis Richards! Is that you?" squealed Tonya, Joe's waitress. "I haven't seen you in ages!" Her smile faded when she noticed Shelly.
"Oh. Hi Shell. You and Travis know each other?"
Shelly forced a smile. "We do, Tonya. And I need to get lunch and get back to work. Have you got a table?" Travis watched the exchange with amusement. Tonya showed them to a small booth in the corner and disappeared.
"That was pleasant," he smirked, picking up a menu. "Bet she spits in your food."
"Let her try. I take it you two have a history?" Shelly sipped her water and waited for an answer.
"I took Tonya to the prom, back in '82.  She was a fox back then. Unfortunately, her hair's the only thing that still looks the same. I'd rather talk about you. How's your day going?"
"Better than it started out," she blushed. "Thanks for warning me that you lived with your mother."
"Sorry about that. I would've told you eventually. Besides, it's only temporary. As a matter of fact, I rented a place this morning. It's on Chase Street, 529. I hope you like it."
"Whoa. Isn’t that rushing things? We’ve only gone out once.”
Tonya returned and stood ready to take their order.
"'Gone out'? Is that what we're calling it? I thought it was more than that." Travis leaned back, crossing his arms. Tonya listened for Shelly's reply.
"I'll have the pulled pork sandwich, with onion rings and a Coke," she said, handing back her menu. Travis ordered the same before Tonya retreated, reluctantly, to the kitchen.
“As I was saying, I thought we had something going,” Travis challenged.
"What do you want me to say, Travis? I like you, but I barely know you."
“You know where I came from. That tells you a lot about who I am. I’m sitting here telling you I want to be with you. There’s something special between us, Shelly. It's just a feeling I get."
"That 'feeling' is a hard-on. It doesn't last,” she snorted. “Sorry. I'm afraid I'm not used to sincerity."
"And I’m new to being sincere," Travis winked up at Tonya as she set down their plates. "The hard-on's the easy part." Tonya stared at him with her mouth open as Coke poured over her shoes.
Shelly shook salt over her onion rings and knew she was in love.