Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Haiti, The Challenger, and God's Perfect Grace

In December, 1985, my long-time friend Dr. Ron Wolf, shared that a short dental mission trip was being planned to Haiti in just a few weeks.  An independent missions group was organizing a cadre of dentists from Central Indiana through its headquarters in Sarasota, FL.  The group needed one additional dentist and an extra person to assist with cleaning instruments and other duties, which would provide support to the dentists that would be making the trip . This team of people would be ministering to the "poorest of the poor" in Haiti, the most poverty-stricken country in the Western Hemisphere.

It was a privilege to be asked to accompany the group as a non-medical support person and accompanying me, was another dear friend and personal dentist from Decatur, IN, Dr. Roger Thompson.

Over the next few weeks, we received instructions from the organizers which items could be brought into the country.  While very few personal items were allowed, several hundred pounds of dental supplies were packaged and made ready for our trip.  Our team, dosed with the prescribed amount of quinine tablets to guard against malaria, and given general instruction on what to expect in-country, was filled with anticipation as we prepared for our journey.

In the misty background of our preparations, there was trouble brewing for Haiti and its president Jean-Claude ("Baby Doc") Duvalier.  News reports of uprising throughout the country were down-played by our hosts as "happening in the South of Haiti, near Port Au Prince".  We were assured since our missions trip would be located near Cap Haitien, in the northernmost part of the country, our fears were ungrounded.

On Tuesday, January 28, 1986, Roger Thompson and I flew Republic Airlines out of Fort Wayne International Airport (then known as "Baer Field"), to Sarasota Florida.  Our flight was a few minutes out of Sarasota just before noon, when our pilot directed us to "look out the left side of the aircraft" and we could witness the vapor trail of the just launched Challenger on Florida's east coast.  My eyes were filled with wonder as they followed the white trail upwards into the heavens.  My wonder, however, was interrupted by thinking how odd the vapor-trail just seemed to stop abruptly and then...nothing...

Upon arriving in Sarasota, the airport was blanketed in an eerie silence.  The television screens throughout the terminal were carrying the fresh news that the Challenger had exploded in flight a short time ago.  Having witnessed just moments ago its brief, fiery path outside our plane, I was struck by the depth of loss our country was feeling at such a tragic end to those brave souls piloting the shuttle.

The weather in Florida was a frigid 28 degrees Fahrenheit as we loaded and prepared to board our chartered twin-engine Piper Comanche through Agape Air, which would transport us to Cap Haitien.  Hangared at the jet port in Sarasota, our pilot Norris Brown would have to de-ice the plane's wings before embarking on the next leg of our journey. I was unconsciously beginning to itemize those events that were beginning to portend our efforts to get to our mission's purpose...the reports of unrest in Haiti, the explosion of the shuttle Challenger, the unusually cold weather in a normally balmy part of Florida, ice on the wings of the aircraft transporting us to a foreign land...However, none of us were deterred, and, after successfully de-icing the aircraft, we flew 4 and a half hours on a southeast heading towards our final destination.

We descended into Cap Haitien airport under overcast skies and disagreeable humidity.  Our  cultural expectations of how a major airport should look were shocked to see a modest structure lacking the appointments one would find 5 hours northwest of here.  The terminal was merely a concrete block structure in the middle of a large field with a 2 mile paved strip that served as its only runway.  It was nestled between some large hills that were barren of any large trees or forests.

After a perfunctory inspection of those items we brought into the country, and having satisfied the questions of our purposes in-country, the Haitian customs officials cleared us for final passage into the country.  We met our host Henri Claude Beliard, a kind, gentle man who had arranged transportation for our group to Terrier Rouge, a village about one hour from Cap Haitien, where the dental team would be ministering to residents in the surrounding area.

Our pilot would be staying in country during our clinic making other supply drops around the country.We would rendezvous with him at the end of our clinic for the return flight back home.

Passing through the filth, squalor, and masses of humanity viewed from the cloudy windows in our bare-bones extended vans, we were struck by the depth of overwhelming needs obvious in this heart-wrenching country in the Caribbean...our efforts to travel to meet the stark needs of those suffering so dreadfully seemed tiny and insignificant.

The road we traveled was blacktopped for a short while, but the bulk of our journey was completed on a dirt road (path?) recently rutted by rains that reminded us we were not home any longer.  We encountered one military roadblock that we passed through without difficulty once they learned the purpose of our mission trip.  The countryside was filled with shacks built with any materials that were available (or handy).  Many were cinder-block having thatched roofs and dirt floors.  Most of the cooking appeared to be done outside and the huts were used primarily for sleeping.  Most of what I saw during the ride consisted of women carrying carefully balanced water jugs on their heads, sugar cane bundled and toted by humans, horseback, oxen, or by donkey.  Even though the rural conditions were dirty, they did not match the squalor witnessed earlier in the city.

Nearly fifty people were waiting for dental care when we arrived at Terrier Rouge just before noon.  Quickly changing into our scrubs and not really having an idea what we were in for, the team saw approximately 100 patients that afternoon between 1:00 and 5:00 p.m.  Routine dental care normally extended in the U.S. was discarded and replaced by extractions-only procedures on the open-air front porch of the City Hall where our makeshift clinic was quickly put together.  An assembly line of patients was formed where an interpreter would ask the patient to point to the problem tooth; an injection was made at the site where the patient pointed; the patient was moved forward to a holding area where he/she would wait for the novocaine to become effective; once the tooth was adequately numbed, the patient was then moved to one of the five available dentists who would then extract the tooth.  The patient then was given a packet containing antibiotics and a small amount of pain medication with instructions (again, from an interpreter) as to how to manage the medications.

And so it went.  Our makeshift dental clinic, interpreters, people lined up 40 and 50 deep, teeth extracted (sometimes as many as 10 at a time), and herculean efforts at trying to keep instruments as sterile as possible in a significantly un-sterile setting. Working from sunup until dusk, as there was no electricity in the village, we performed our mission work.  The people were so appreciative, patient, and oh-so kind.  It was a privilege serving them.

Our dorm facilities were spartan but clean.  Showers were provided by a suspended barrel of water heated by the Caribbean sun during the day.  We were advised to keep our mouths closed during showers to avoid any possibility of ingesting contaminated water from the barrels.  Meals and lodging were provided by the Catholic rectory in the village and were sumptuous by Haitian standards.  We were humbled by their kindness and hospitality.

Nights were filled with the thumping rhythms of voodoo drums and crowing roosters.  Never wandering from our compound at night, we could only imagine the rituals performed by those participants of what we were told was the country's major religion. The darkness seemed even more so as we witnessed those haunting sounds.

We had fallen into a somewhat predictable routine of processing those patients arriving for treatment.  In fact, it was almost efficient.  Our day began routinely enough at 5:30 a.m. on the Friday we received word that riots had begun in Cap Haitien sparked again by the despotism and oppression familiarly associated with the Duvalier regime.  We were instructed to abandon our duties in Terrier Rouge and return immediately to Cap Haitien where our chartered plane would take us back to the U.S. and out of harm's way that was erupting in Haiti. In a surreal 3 hours time, we had packed instruments, left medical supplies with the rectory, and heart-breakingly informed those 75 patients waiting for treatment that we had to flee the country. Many of those patients had walked great distances that morning for service only to be turned away by events in a country that had become all too commonplace to them: A tyrant's selfish whim to have his way with this torn land.

At 11:30 a.m. the vehicle  arrived in Terrier Rouge to carry our medical team and its gear to Cap Haitien.  We quickly loaded our belongings with urgent warnings to get back to the city immediately for departure out of the country. Our vehicle met another roadblock and, this time, it took a bit longer to explain why we were heading into Cap Haitien.  However, explanations accepted, we were allowed to pass the checkpoint without further issues.

We arrived in Cap Haitien around 1:30 p.m. finding, to our horror, that our pilot had been told, as we were enroute to our rendezvous point with him, to leave the country immediately.  Failure to do so would result in his plane being impounded. So, without ceremony and taking the threats very seriously, he flew his plane and our exit strategy back to Florida leaving us stranded in a country beginning a slow boil toward revolution.

"Abas Duvalier!" (Down with Duvalier!) graffiti was scrawled on several buildings as we arrived at the Imperial Hotel--the predetermined spot where our pilot would have met us and taken us home.  Our party was the hotel's only guests and a skeleton crew had remained there to presumably take care of us.  There was a great deal of confusion about the actual political climate from our vantage point.  However, internationally news reports were stating the country was indeed in revolt and people were "fleeing the country"...The State Department had erroneously reported that Baby Doc had left the country, but it was clear to us that he had not. He had closed the airports and imposed strong military sanctions to keep order in the country.

Back home our families were more than a little concerned about our safety and the status of our return trip to the U.S.  Conflicting reports from various state and federal government agencies added to the angst felt by all.  Our communication link was a single phone located in the lobby of the hotel where numerous calls were made and received trying to work out a reasonable solution to our plight.  All to no avail...

One visit from a State Department official suggested that we (somehow) travel to Port Au Prince and book a commercial flight back to the U.S.  The problem with that suggestion were the many miles that lay between us and that city where roads were being aggressively blocked by Baby Doc's thugs.  And, we learned later, that commercial flights out of Port Au Prince were backlogged for at least two weeks in the remote event that we could even get to Port Au Prince.

Adding to the despair, we learned that our pilot, when contacted by one of the Doctors' wives, had said, he "may never get into the country again"...

So, a constant vigil was posted by the single phone.  We had arranged to post a "watch" with each of us taking a turn by the phone, in the event that one of the many phone calls would produce the results we were eagerly awaiting--a flight out of Cap Haitian and home to our anxious and awaiting families.

In spite of the unrest in the country, our group felt we were in no immediate danger as a brief visit into town resulted in no unusual problems.  We spent a few hours wandering through the Iron Market where many had displayed their wares ranging from fruit to various and sundry woven baskets, carvings and the like.  Eager to learn if there had been any progress toward our departure, we returned to the hotel to find that no word had been received.

Again, our group had determined that we would post a watch by the phone that evening lest we miss a call.  Roger and I had noted that we would take the "Graveyard Watch"--from midnight to two a.m.--so, we retired to our room for a couple hours sleep before taking our turn.

Around 11:30 p.m. we were awakened abruptly by automatic weapon fire outside our bedroom window.  Simultaneously, Roger and I rolled to the floor from our separate twin beds and carefully made our way to the inner courtyard of the hotel.  We learned that the military was enforcing a curfew by firing shots into the air to intimidate people keeping them off the streets.  It worked for us.  We abandoned our plan to keep watch by the phone and returned to our rooms for a fitful night's sleep.

Each day thereafter a curfew was imposed and the city grew very quiet.  The eerie silence was broken only by a periodic gunshot and time stood still.  Our hopes for leaving Haiti were being dashed repeatedly and despair was palpable.

We learned that one missionary flight was allowed to leave the country, but there was no room on board for our group.  So, we remained.  And waited.  And prayed.

Our families, we knew, were praying for our safe return, but it was becoming increasingly difficult to put a pleasant face on our circumstances. My brother Phil had called on Sunday to see how we were doing.  He told me he had prayed for our safe return that morning at church and I wept.  I realized that our plight was completely out of our hands and God was the Person Who was going to have to make it all happen.  Phil was precisely the encouragement that I needed that day.

 At breakfast on Monday morning, the gloom was overwhelming. No word had come during the night to indicate that permission had been obtained for our departure.  After breakfast, I returned to my room to read a devotional that Roger had brought on the trip.  I opened it to a passage and read the following:

Norman Harrison in "His in a Life of Prayer" tells how Charles Inglis, while making the voyage to America a number of years ago, learned from the devout and godly captain of an experience which he had had but recently with George Muller of Bristol.  It seems that they had encountered a very dense fog.  Because of it the captain had remained on the bridge continuously for twenty four hours, when Mr. Muller came to him and said, "Captain, I have come to tell you that I must be in Quebec on Saturday afternoon."  When informed that it was impossible, he replied:  "Very well.  If the ship cannot take me, God will find some other way.  I have never broken an engagement for fifty-seven years.  Let us go down into the chartroom and pray."
The captain continues his story thus:  "I looked at that man of God and thought to myself, 'What lunatic asylum could that man have come from? I have never heard such a thing as this!  Mr. Muller,' I said, 'do you know how dense this fog is?' 'No,' he replied, 'my eye is not on the density of the fog, but on the living God, who controls every circumstance of my life.'" (Italics mine) He knelt down and prayed one of those simple prayers, and when he had finished I was going to pray; but he put his hand on my shoulder and told me not to pray.  'Firstly,' he said, ' because you do not believe God will, and secondly, I believe God has, and there is no need whatever for you to pray about it.' I looked at him, and George Muller said, 'Captain, I have known my Lord for fifty-seven years, and there has never been a single day that I have failed to get an audience with the King.  Get up and open the door, and you will find that the fog has gone.' I got up and the fog was indeed gone.  George Muller was in Quebec Saturday afternoon for his engagement."
--From "I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes" by Glenn Clarke
After reading the passage, I boldly petitioned the LORD to take us home today...I left the room and as I was walking through the hotel lobby to be with the rest of the crew, the phone at the desk was ringing.  With no one else around to answer it, I picked it up.  The voice on the other end asked if I was part of the group who was awaiting permission to leave the country.  I answered, "yes", and he said to be at the airport at 5:00 that afternoon.  Our pilot had just received permission to come into the country and pick us up.

After sharing with the group the miracle I had just witnessed, we thanked God for His answer and began packing for our trip home.  We left the hotel at 1:00 p.m. to cautiously make our way to the airport carefully avoiding the military checkpoints that had been established around the city.  The runway, previously blocked with with debris to keep aircraft from entering or departing, had been cleared.  At precisely 5:00 p.m., the Piper Comanche from Agape Airlines with our pilot Norris Brown at the controls, touched down at Cap Haitien to extract the dental team from Baby Doc's madness.  We learned later that it would be another 3 weeks before Cap Haitien Airport would ever process another flight.


1 Peter 5:7 "Casting all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you."

To God be the glory.




Friday, March 20, 2015

Mom, Easter, and The Masters...


If you will indulge me a bit for the next few moments, I would like to reminisce about my Mom.

On March 25, 2011, my brothers and I witnessed our mother slipping quietly into eternity.  She missed her 92nd earthly birthday by 11 days. 

James 4:14 tells us, “…What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while, then vanishes”. Our lives are, indeed, a vapor. 

Mom had been a resident at Woodcrest Nursing Center in Decatur, Indiana, for a little over 2 and a half years.  She was a model resident, according to staff.  She always had a smile, rarely had a bad day, and was hard put to ask the staff for assistance because “they have other people that need help”.

She loved visitors, especially having her family visit.  She loved the carolers at Christmas time.  She loved “Pet Day” when AJ the Golden Retriever would visit her room.  She loved the chapel services that were held on Sunday and mid-week.  In fact, it was hard to find something that Mom didn’t like, except for an occasional menu item.  Woodcrest was where she completed her days, and we were privileged to watch her bloom there making friends and creating memories even at her advanced age.

On Friday morning, March 25, 2011, Mom and I shared sugar cookies and coffee (one of her favorite treats)in her room, and she commented on just how wonderful she was feeling—apart from the usual infirmities that accompany the elderly.  We shared some stories as well; she laughed, gave me her usual hug and peck on the cheek as I left, and said, “See you tomorrow”…

When I received a call from the nursing staff at 3:00 PM—roughly 5 hours later--telling me that Mom was unresponsive, her respirations were shallow, and we’d better come, I was stunned…Arriving shortly after the call, my brothers and I kept vigil at her bedside for a little over three hours while her heavenly room was being prepared. At 6:48 PM earth-time, she quietly went home.

Dying.  Death.  Finality.  Loss.  She was here, and then she was gone.  What are the trappings of this mysterious journey? 

Job 17:11, my days are past, my purposes are broken off, even the thoughts of my heart.

Mom was a product of the Great Depression.  She was born in 1919 and the impact of that dire economic event shaped her thinking all her life.  She was frugal to a fault; a loyal friend and wife to our Dad; suspicious of anyone who didn’t work hard for a living; and reared her three sons with ample assistance from a willow tree in our backyard. 

She loved to fish, to cook and bake, play Yahtzee and entertain guests in her home.  She was a unique combination of Mary AND Martha—the adoring sisters of Lazarus in the New Testament.  She loved listening to stories that people would share, but kept a wary eye on the table to ensure that there was always plenty to eat when company was there.

Her laugh was distinctive, spontaneous, and contagious.  But her tears were always just below the surface when there was pain, sorrow, or sadness.  She wore her emotions readily and unashamedly…

Now, as Job reminds us, her days are past, her purposes are broken off, even the thoughts of her heart…

God’s timing is perfect.  I’m sure that all of us can relate stories of how God, at a precise time, provided for us in a remarkable way or ways.  The fact that Mom went home to be with the LORD during this most precious season of the year has provided me with so much time for devotional thought.

I am fascinated with the Masters Golf Tournament.  I’m a duffer, of course, but, oh, to wear that Green Jacket!  My friends, and those that have seen me play golf, would tell me that is ludicrous fantasy.  There is no way that my feeble skills would ever get me close to that prize.  It would only be through someone else’s provisional grace that I could ever own that coveted blazer. But think of it: That piece of clothing would admit me among some of the most prestigious golfers in the world.  It would robe me with a mark of dignity that would set me apart from the rank and file golfers all over the planet.  It would define me and put me in a place of honor.

Mom used to carefully scrutinize what we wore in public.  Her boys were always to look presentable and would suffer through her multi-point inspections before leaving the house.  Side note:  Do emergency room personnel really care what shape one’s underwear is in when they’re administering critical care?  Mom thought so.  One of her catch-phrases was, “that’s not fit to wear”, meaning we better find something more suitable in the wardrobe, because what we had on just wasn’t going to cut it.  Proper dress meant a pass from Mom.

Mom’s perishable body put on the imperishable on the March afternoon, a few years ago.  She was robed in elegance by the scarred hands of Jesus…The work and sacrifice that He offered on the Cross nearly 2000 years ago provided my mother with the precise clothing that she needed to enter his banquet room that Friday night.  She didn’t have to earn it, she didn’t have to write a check for it, all she had to do was accept His work on the Cross and believe who He said He was on this side of eternity.  March 25, 2011, she was awarded her Green Jacket. She didn't earn it, but it was offered to her provisionally through Someone else. She was admitted to eternity among a great cloud of witnesses and was immediately face-to-face with the Master Himself.

Easter’s event, the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, opened heaven for my mother.  Jesus met her at the door of her mansion.  Praise God for His grace and His mercy.  Praise God for Easter Sunday and our hope for eternity.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Thanks, Dad

It was spring, 1990. Life welcomed me to middle age and offered up the challenges and opportunities that one finds there when he arrives.

Our lives were immersed in home and career building. Our parents were aging, but not elderly, and our children were transitioning into their early high school years, discovering the joys and apprehensions that define those memorable times.

On a late spring day, Mom called to tell me that Dad was being admitted to Ball Memorial Hospital in Muncie. The diagnosis was vague, but he was having chest pain, something that he had experienced numerous times in the past. He was an early member of the "zipper club" having had open-heart by-pass surgery in 1978. His chest bore the scars of a surgeon's knife marking him as a survivor of a, then, relatively new procedure. His quality of life was adequate and he rose to the challenges that often accompany cardiac patients.

Dad was a quiet man. In his retirement he enjoyed pampering the rose bushes that graced their patio outside their apartment. He had a touch. Roses showed off in his presence doing everything they could do to dazzle the eye. Dad's conversations were usually brief. He was content to be a listener rather than a conversation starter. Kind, but reserved.

Dad was admitted to Ball for observation. We were confident that it would be a short stay and life would continue as we expected.

One week became two, two weeks became three and soon, it was mid-July. Dad's condition had deteriorated rapidly and he settled in as an acute care patient at BMH. Hopes of dismissal to his rose gardening activities dissolved. His heart was failing, a tumor was discovered, and he became beneficiary to sterile procedures, the hum of IV infusion pumps, and the anxious vigil of family as we watched our father slip away by inches.

Terminal illness reshapes a family. Questions change when the prognosis is obvious. Each of us mourned the anticipated loss of Dad in our own way. His sickness took away his welcoming smile and replaced it with a pallor visited upon the infirm and dying. Sleeping was his plan of the day. Conversation with him was not optional. He was a sick and dying man.

My middle age years were defined by graying temples. In an effort to hang on to my youth, I allowed my barber to "touch up" those areas with a color that closely matched the rest of my hair. Although he did an adequate job, I was self conscious. Having never considered myself a vain person, I had committed a vain act. A fa├žade; a cover-up; a faux tint to a natural event. My wife said forget it; no one would notice.

Our trip to Ball Memorial was uneventful. We rode the elevator to Dad's floor; a trip that we had made numerous times that summer. Lately the visits mostly involved us sitting by his bedside watching him sleep. He was unresponsive…sleeping death most days.

Other family was in the room when we arrived greeting us with hugs and sad smiles that accompany a death watch. No one noticed my changed hair color. Nothing was said. My deception was working.

I walked to Dad's bedside where he lay on his back sleeping. Oxygen tubes filled his nasal canals. His mouth drooped slightly as he slept. Leaning over his bedrail, I gently kissed him on his forehead.

"Hi, Dad," I said. "How are you doin' today?" not expecting a response.

His eyes flickered slightly and he opened them for the first time in days and he looked straight at me.

"David", he said, "what have you done to your hair?"

Dad died the following September and I still miss him 21 years later.

The last real conversation that I had with Dad convinced me that we accept what is handed to us. Gray hair, infirmity, difficult days, and warm sunny days are part of what shape us. My hair is gray today; the barber's dye disappeared with my next haircut the summer that Dad died.

Thanks, Dad, for setting me straight.



Thursday, June 24, 2010

Granny Camp


Jo's idea...the kids loved it.

In February this year, Jo began thinking of ways to have all of the grandchildren at our house for an extended period of time to do crafts, play games, sleep over, and energize me (I'm not sure that was one of the criteria, but it worked).

June 18 and 19 were set as camping days and plans were set in motion to have the children overnight to "do camp"...

Months of planning resulted in researching those activities and items that would hold the interest of children ranging in ages from 4 to 9--not an easy task. However, Jo is tenacious in her resolve. Notebooks were kept; favorite websites were saved in our browser; items ranging from crayons to scissors to acrylic paints to balloons to paper sacks to other items too numerous to mention began to pile up in our spare bedroom.

We met Mark and Carrie (son and daughter-in-law) near the Muncie exit on I-69 on June 18, collected Evan (4), Mariah (5), Caleb (8), and Lydia (9), and headed to Decatur. Luke (7) joined us in the lobby of the Adams Memorial Hospital where Jo conducted a kiddy tour for our little brood. One half hour of seeing where Grandma worked was sufficient for these five, and it was off to grandma's house where adventure awaited.

Sleeping bags were unloaded, hugs were shared with Grandpa, and the first order of business was a paper sack race outside. Five little souls were lined up, given a paper sack about the size of a lunch bag, and instructed on how the game worked. The idea was to start at the starting line, run to the finish line, blow up the paper sack and pop it, and then, run back to the starting line, completing the loop. The bags, although uniform in size, were perfect for the bigger kids, but the little ones appeared to be carrying duffle bags. However, spirits were high and the game worked perfectly. In fact, three more heats were completed, followed by three more Saturday morning.

After dining on spaghetti, cheese bread, and breadsticks (all eaten with gusto), craft time was spent completing a Father's Day gift for the little ones' daddies. A Ball jar filled with Goldfish crackers and Gummy Worms was decorated with stick-on fish stickers and seashells. A popsicle stick with a piece of yarn and an artificial hook was attached along with a note saying, "Dad, I'm hooked on you!"

The finished gifts were placed safely inside the tote bags that each of the children were given that would hold their other camp treasures as well.

The troop headed back outside after crafts where Grandpa had set up several yard games to test their skills. We were off to a good start when rogue thunderstorms forced us inside. However, our efforts were not dampened...

After bath time and jammies, Walt Disney showed up with "Lady and the Tramp", and the children were content to munch popcorn, view the movie, and prepare to bed down for the night. Teeth were brushed and no complaints were voiced as five little ones snuggled into their beds...

The basement floor provided a perfect "campsite" for five little sleeping bags. The boys were placed in one section of the room, and the girls were tucked cozily into another section where their privacy was ensured. There is something intoxicating about giving final squeezes and kisses goodnight to five sweet-smelling grandbabies. Lights were turned off (except for the hall night light pointing the way to the bathroom, if needed), and soon, little campers drifted off to sleep.

Saturday morning came at 7:00 for Lydia, Mariah, Evan, and Luke. Caleb was the last one up around 8 and breakfast was boisterous and fun. Scrambled eggs, donuts, juice, and string cheese (yep, Granny was prepared to provide a full menu) filled little tummies.

Outside Grandpa had begun secretly filling water balloons. The morning sun was already hot by 9; a perfect day for chucking balloons at each other. No encouragement was needed when Grandma suggested the children put on their bathing suits to play outside.

Grandma organized a nerf-ball game and invited two neighbor children to join as well. The game was at fever pitch when Grandpa invited each of the children to come and select five balloons each from the arsenal he had created. Pandemonium ensued.

For the next two hours, there was not a dry spot on anyone. The original rule was that Grandpa was not to get wet. That rule was broken approximately 10 minutes into the game and it was open season.

Liam, our 8 year old neighbor boy, was running across the yard still dripping from the contact of the last balloon that found its way to his person. He's a cute little guy with two sisters and lots of female cousins. In fact, his mother said that he is the only boy in the family. His reaction to the water balloon battle was the best summary of all...

"Dave", he called, "this is the best day of my life!!"

"Why is that, Liam?" I asked.

"Because", he said, "I'm playin' with the boys!!!"

Priceless.















Next: Wrap up and Awards Day--stay tuned...

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Almost a millionaire…

Jim was a lottery ticket junkie. Every day for the last 35 years, he had bought a cup of Sumatra Blend, a breakfast sandwich, and a scratch off ticket from the Drop-On-In convenience store at the corner of Elm and Main on his way to work. He had never won any serious money; twenty-five here, twenty-five there, just enough to keep him buying one every day of the week.

Janet, Jim's wife of 35 years, had resignedly accepted Jim's routine and had given up admonishing him years ago about the uselessness of purchasing the tickets. Jim's argument was that it was "just a couple of bucks" ignoring the fact that his cumulative spending over the years had become quite significant. He just knew that he was going to be the "lucky one" some day; he could feel it in his bones.

Saturday morning Janet was working on bills and Jim was mowing the yard. For Janet, there just never seemed to be enough money to go around. Every month she performed her own little lottery to see which bills would be paid. She had become adept at fielding the phone calls from the credit card companies, the utilities companies, and the bank seeking payment on delinquent accounts. Although Jim and Janet had never faced foreclosure on their 40-year-old three bedroom ranch, there had been many tense moments over the years. Their old car needed replaced badly and Jim had been advocating that they purchase a new mini-van.

"Zero down and sixty months to pay!" he had stated. "We can make the payments out of the overtime that I'm sure to get this year…C'mon, Babe, be a sport! All of our neighbors have new cars."

Janet had been adamant. There was absolutely no room in the household budget for another payment—even if it was interest free. They would just have to make do as they had managed to do the last 30 plus years.

Arising from her chair after writing the last check for the minimum amount on their credit card bill, Janet gathered up the checkbook, put the remaining unpaid bills that would be dealt with next pay cycle into her well-worn accordion organizer, and thought about what to fix for lunch.

She heard the mower shut off signaling that Jim would soon be inside asking for something to eat. She grabbed a couple of cheese slices from the fridge and four slices of bread. Grilled cheese sandwiches would have to do today. She would shop Wednesday at Aldi's and clip coupons from the Sunday paper tomorrow to replenish the meager supplies that rested on her pantry shelf.

Coming inside, Jim headed straight for the bedroom to change clothes and get ready to watch the afternoon game on TV.

"Be there in a second, Hon. Get me a beer, will ya?"

Janet turned the sandwiches in the skillet and poured two glasses of water—Jim had consumed the last of the beer last night with his bowl of buttered microwave popcorn. She dropped a couple of ice cubes in the water and placed them on the table that she had set for their lunch.

Returning to the kitchen, Jim was carrying the scratch-off ticket he had purchased this morning at the Drop-On-In when he bought his morning paper and his first cup of Sumatra. He always made a ritual of scratching off his Saturday ticket at lunch. That way, he could prove to Janet, when his winning ticket was purchased, that his diligence in buying tickets all of those years had paid off.

The scratch-off numbers held a special attraction to Jim. Three matching numbers would change their lives. Three matching numbers would fulfill all their dreams. Three matching numbers would make him a hero at work and to the boys he played cards with at Freddie's once a month. Three matching numbers would…well, would make him a millionaire!

That had a nice ring to it.

Using a coin from his pocket, Jim scratched the first number revealing a six.

"Jim, eat your sandwich. It's getting cold," sighed Janet.

Taking a bite, Jim scratched off the second number, revealing another six…

Jim's heart rate increased. His palms dampened and he felt light headed.

He let the ticket lay on the table for a moment before scratching off the last number thinking that, somehow, by waiting, his dreams would come true.

So close now. One more six would get them the new car they needed. One more six would pay off their mortgage. One more six would take care of those nasty phone calls from the credit card companies. One more six would make Jim respectable.

Scratching off the last bit of latex ink on the last number revealed another six…

Three in a row; Jim was a millionaire. His wishes were reality.

The kitchen chair banged to the floor as Jim leapt to his feet screaming that he had won.

Quietly, Janet looked at the ticket to confirm Jim's outburst. Yes, it appeared that he was correct. There seemed to be three sixes in a row; however, the last six looked smudged. Perhaps Jim had altered it in his zeal to uncover the winning number.

Jim grabbed the ticket and headed for the door.

"I'm going to the Drop-On-In to claim my winnings!" he shouted, and was out the door.

Entering the convenience store, Jim shouted at Carl the day manager that he "had a winner". With trembling fingers, Jim pulled the ticket from his shirt pocket and placed it on the counter.

Carl looked at the ticket and began completing the paperwork the state required for submission. Carl knew that his store would gain also in the prize and congratulated Jim on his good fortune. The last six appeared a little fuzzy, but Carl wasn't going to challenge Jim. After all, this guy had spent a fortune at his place over the last thirty five years.

Jim pulled into the driveway around 6 p.m. It had been a busy afternoon. After he had submitted the ticket, he stopped by the car dealership and test drove that new mini-van promising that he would be in next week to close the deal in cash, of course. He stopped by the hardware store and ordered that new set of tools that he had been longing for; his buddies were going to be so envious of his new found wealth. Next stop was the sporting goods store where he made an appointment to be fitted for a new set of custom clubs next week. He told the guy at the store to be thinking about accessories, too. In fact, he thought he might even look into his own electric cart that he could keep at the course. He made a mental note of that and headed for home.

The rest of the evening was spent by Jim making list after list of things that they were going to do over the next few months with his winnings. They had arrived…in a few days, they would be millionaires. That had a nice ring to it. They were almost millionaires!

Jim wasn't shy about telling his buddies of his luck Monday at the shop. In fact, he told his foreman that he wasn't sure he was really going to need this job, but he would "hang in there for awhile" until he decided what he was going to do. Jim loved the independence that money afforded.

Jim and Janet were at work on Tuesday when the call came from the state lottery office and they retrieved the following message from the answering machine just before supper:

"Hi, Jim. This is Sally Jenkins from the state lottery office. We have received your ticket submitted by the Drop-On-In convenience store. I wanted to let you know that the ink smudged during the printing process on this batch of lottery tickets. The last number is actually a '26' rather than a '6'. So, your ticket is not a winning ticket. We're sorry for the inconvenience. We will gladly reimburse you for the replacement cost for a new ticket. We will be sending you an official letter in the next few days noting what I have told you in this message. Thanks for playing! Have a nice day."

At the end of the month, Janet wrote the next set of checks to meet the household bills that always came due too soon. The last check that she wrote every month was in the amount of $150.00, payable to the same company. Writing this check had been as regular as clockwork for the last thirty five years. Every day Janet would set $5 aside, calling it her "rainy day fund". She had opened an IRA account the first year that Jim and she were married and had faithfully set aside five bucks a day for it since opening it. At the time she had asked Jim about opening an account for himself as well. He wasn't interested and had long forgotten their conversation about saving for the future. Her meager earnings at the day care center provided enough earned income for her to build her account.

Janet picked up the phone and called Mr. Sullivan, her investment advisor.

"Hi, Mr. Sullivan. I just wanted to let you know that I'm getting ready to send another check to you for you to deposit for me."

"Great, Janet. I'll be looking for it. Thank you."

"By the way, Mr. Sullivan, I'm curious. Could you tell me the approximate value of my account?"

"Indeed I can, Janet. It looks like year-to-date, you have almost $750,000 accumulated. You're almost a millionaire."

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What if the slipper didn’t fit?


Cinderella had attended the ball, lost track of time, and narrowly escaped to her enchanted coach waiting outside the castle. As we know, in her haste to flee the Prince before the stroke of midnight, one of her glass slippers was left lying by accident on the castle steps.

Our story begins with the Prince, having found the tiny slipper, and his desperate search for its owner. The night before was magical for him. He had danced with the girl of his dreams. Now, the only solid evidence of that magical evening was the fragile slipper he held in his hands. Who was its owner? How could he recapture all of the joy he had received in that four hours with her at the Ball? His quest was to find her if he had to visit every house in the kingdom. Whomever the slipper fit perfectly would claim his heart (and fortune) living happily ever after. The search was on.

Sitting among the cinders, Cinderella relived the prior evening's events. What a wonderfully magical time it had been. Fairy Godmother had been so generous in her accouterments. Not a detail had been overlooked. Cinderella had been transformed into the Belle of the Ball and had danced the night away with the charming Prince.

Now, however, the garish light of the morning shone on reality. Her tiny feet were swollen from all of the dancing and she gingerly placed them in the basin of cool water that she had prepared hoping for a good soak before being required to do the house chores that lay before her. There was laundry to do, floors to mop and wax, and today was dusting day throughout the household she shared with her stepmom Lady Tremaine and two nasty stepsisters Anastasia and Drusilla.

"Better get to work," she thought, "or I'll catch it, for sure."

So, grabbing her mop, bucket, cleaning cloths, polishes, and cleansers, Cinderella began her day.

After she had finished drying the last dish from the large lunch she had prepared for her stepmother and sisters (they left the table without even thanking her), she heard pounding at the front door. Drying her hands on the towel, she passed through the large living room to greet whoever was visiting. She wasn't prepared for who was standing at the door when she opened it.

A page, dressed in the royal colors of the court, began reading a decree prepared just that morning by the Prince. It was heralding notice that every female in the kingdom was "hereby ordered to try on the glass slipper" which the page was holding on a satin pillow. Cinderella's heart skipped! That was her slipper!

The page entered the household and required Cinderella to be seated. He held the glass slipper as Cinderella moved her foot toward the moment of truth. But, alas, her poor feet were still so swollen and sore from all of the previous night's dancing, and the grueling work forced upon her this morning, that the slipper wouldn't accommodate her size 5 foot. She tried again. Nothing. Again. Still nothing. She began to feel a sense of dread. Her fortune was passing her by. Her happiness, tied to the proper fit of this cursed shoe, was melting away. Her heart sunk.

"Are there other females in the household?" inquired the page.

"Yes. I'll summon them for you," said Cinderella as she left the room tearfully.

The large room was soon full of giddy, giggling females each confident that her foot was the one that was going to launch them into a life of royalty and riches.

Lady Tremaine was first to try on the prized glass slipper, but found the little article much too small for her plump appendage.

Drusilla was seated next and extended her foot for the prize. Close, but no cigar.

At last, Anastasia was asked to place her foot into the shoe. Since her dance card had remained virtually empty at the Ball, her feet were fine. Remarkably, the slipper fit.

Pandemonium broke out! The three ladies of the Tremaine household shouted and clapped and hugged each other tearfully as the page carefully noted the results of the fitting on the bottom of the royal decree. The slipper's owner had been found! There was going to be a royal wedding! Anastasia was going to be an inheritor of the throne!

Sadly, Cinderella slipped away to her chimney quarters and silently sobbed as the celebration continued elsewhere in the large house. Life was cruel.

The next few weeks found Cinderella busily packing personal belongings for her stepmom and her cruel daughters. The royal wedding was to be held on Saturday and preparations to move the three women's personal items to the castle must be completed today.

Last minute orders were screamed at her by each of the three and poor Cinderella had no time to feel remorse for herself. She was destined to be a servant. Her ship had left the port. She must bear the strain of her low station and not complain. She must do as commanded.

Prince Romanov was confused. The last few weeks had been a blur. The lady selected by the slipper didn't seem as enchanting in the daylight as she had that evening at the ball. She was domineering and demanding. She was not at all what he had envisioned his princess to be. However, the slipper made its choice. He had written the royal decree himself. His fate was sealed. He was reminded painfully that one had better be careful for what one wishes.

The wedding was the biggest the kingdom had seen in years. Royalty from neighboring realms added to the pageantry. Parades were held in the royal couple's honor. Gifts of inestimable value were lavished upon the couple and wishes for long life and reign were shouted by the attending throng. Feasts were prepared to sate even the largest appetites and all remarked at how even the smallest details had the mark of royalty stamped upon them. It was a memorable celebration and the Prince Romanov and Princess Anastasia were soon off on their honeymoon.

Lady Tremaine and Drusilla were appointed as part of Anastasia's court and found the royal castle's quarters much to their liking. Each need was met. Each order was followed precisely. They were made for this lifestyle. Ahhhhh.

Cinderella was left to care for the property abandoned by her pitiless step-family. Lady Tremaine, seeing the treasure and the royal lifestyle beckoning to her family, legally assigned the house and grounds back to Cinderella knowing that there wasn't much there for the girl. It was actually Cinderella's father's place to begin with. Lady Tremaine had grabbed it for herself and daughters after his death. So what? The Tremaine's had given her shelter, hadn't they? They had given her a place to live, hadn't they? They could have put her out on the street where she belonged. Well, she was used to the place anyway, so, why not let her have it back? They were tired of it anyway. Too small. Its fifteen rooms were not nearly spacious enough to provide a venue for the future social functions they would be expected to host. Let the little cleaning girl have it. Good riddance to it; and to her.

***

The uprising in the Kingdom had been festering since Prince Romanov and Princess Anastasia were elevated to the throne seven years ago. The Prince's father and mother had died mysteriously in their sleep and the Prince and Princess were appointed immediate successors to the throne. Their cruel tyranny and disregard for their subjects had resulted in higher taxes and restrictive edicts placing the masses in wretched bondage to the throne.

The Prince, now King Romanov, was rarely seen in public. Queen Anastasia was the architect for all of the schemes designed in creating new taxes levied against the realm and her enforcement squads to collect those taxes from the populace were cruel and heartless. The royal coffers had grown fat. Royal parties were frequent and extravagant. The populace was hungry and destitute, but the throne was deaf and blind to its needs.

Cinderella was fearful. She had never heard such bitter and dangerous language from people in the village. Each day she would overhear someone at the market talking about the oppressive King Romanov and Queen Anastasia. Angry words punctuated citizen's demands to seize the throne and take the kingdom back restoring it to its glory days! Friends and neighbors previously docile and content to live their lives were becoming militant in their demands for action. Calls for militia action against the throne were becoming more frequent.

The kingdom's citizenry had had enough.

***

Cindy opened the morning paper and began her leisurely review of the news while sipping her latte as she had done for the past 4 years.

Her routine was to arrive at the office early, review the schedules for the day, and review the growing client list her company had been blessed with since opening her business 5 years ago.

Cindy's Cleaning and Restoration, Inc. was among the fastest growing service companies in America. Its fleet of 50 distinct and recognizable vans could be seen throughout the region providing residential and commercial cleaning services to an expanding and grateful clientele. The company's service was second to none, paying close attention to detail and providing complete customer satisfaction.

Cindy had immigrated to America 5 years ago having sold her property and meager belongings to exit a country poised for civil war. She had been fortunate to find a buyer for her father's estate. After arriving in America, she posted the proceeds from the sale into a company that would do the only thing that she knew how to do: clean. She found the American lifestyle a perfect niche for what her company offered and an empire was born.

Now, as she read her paper, a small article on page 24 caught her eye. It seemed that a coup had occurred in her homeland. A group of radicals had stormed the castle and its royal occupants had fled fearing for their lives. One of the leaders of the coup had noted that the oppression extended by the former King Romanov's and Queen Anastasia's court had finally reached a crescendo and prompted the militant bloodless takeover.

The article further stated that most of the personal items had been collected by the former royal family and taken with them in their hasty flight from the castle to points unknown. Oddly, however, only one item remained, apparently dropped as the royalty fled…

A tiny glass slipper was discovered on the castle steps.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

She seemed like such a sweet old lady…

Lucy Davis’ alarm screamed for attention at 5:10 a.m.

Lucy’s groping fingers silenced the intruder. Her feet found the fuzzy beige slippers next to the bed and shuffled to her dressing room 10 feet away. Another day in the life to make a difference.

Half an hour later, having gotten dressed, she styled her hair into its familiar bun shape, placed the pearls that Hubert, her late husband, had given her around her neck, and checked details of her modest ensemble in the mirror. The high lace collar on her blouse held in place by a cameo brooch, the A-line skirt’s hem at mid-calf, and her Oxford orthopedic shoes completed the look that had been a familiar sight around the office since the 50’s. Taking her shawl from its resting place in the chintz chair next to the bed, Lucy was ready for the day.

In the kitchen, she took her medicine, sipped her first cup of coffee drawn from the automatic brewer on the counter, set out Meow Mix for Fluffy, grabbed a container of yogurt and her cane, and left her apartment picking up the morning paper placed strategically at her front door. Bobby, the building concierge, made sure the paper was there every morning. His attention to Lucy’s routine needs earned him a nice Christmas bonus every year.

Lucy passed through the stile at the station and took the 6:00 a.m. train downtown. Her thirty minute ride gave her time to finish her yogurt, read the morning news, and outline her day’s activities. She was generally the first one in the office which gave her the leverage she required to make the day run smoothly. Lucy was fussy about details. Predictability and routine were her friends. Surprises were not an option.

“Good morning, Lou”, stated Lucy, as she approached the door of the Stanley Building.

Like Lucy, Lou had been a regular fixture every weekday morning at this spot called the Stanley Building on 38th Avenue.

Upstairs Lucy removed her shawl, re-arranged the doilies placed throughout her office, straightened the magazines in the waiting room, started the coffee in the breakroom, and turned on the lights in the 26th floor suite of offices. She laid the morning dailies on Mr. Biff’s desk and took his appointment book back to her receptionist area. Uncovering her IBM Selectric, she was ready for business. The fight game was Lucy’s income and life. She was the front line for all those wanna-be’s wishing to make a name for themselves in the WWF. Lucy the receptionist. This was her town. This was her domain.

On the south side of town, Hacksaw Harrigan finished his protein drink and stood admiring himself in his full length mirror held by wire to his dilapidated door in his shabby apartment. Hacksaw’s meeting with his parole officer yesterday went as well as could be expected, and Hacksaw was ready for work. Fifteen years in the state penitentiary for assault and battery (the dame had it coming!) had served as a useful platform in developing his trade. His daily workouts in the yard had paid off. He was destined, in his mind, to make it big in the WWF. He had the looks, the brawn, and the savvy to hand it to anyone who crossed him. He was on his way.

All he needed was a break. He was desperate for a spot on a card.

He was going to the Stanley Building today and would demand to see William “Bulldog” Bivens-“Biff” to friends-the best fight promoter in the game. Hacksaw would not take “no” for an answer. Today was the day the world would discover Hacksaw. Today was the day that the fight game would welcome him with open arms.

He stood admiring his body art one last time. The artist’s ink that began at his wrists snaked its way up both arms terminating just below his earlobes. He fastened a gold hoop into his right lobe, and brushed his hand across his freshly shaved head. There was enough prison pallor remaining giving his skin a parchment look and his eyes mimicked a caged animal that had accidentally been set free. Pulling a jacket over his stained wife-beater tee and adjusting his cheap sunglasses on the bridge of his nose, Hacksaw left his room.

Kicking the little kid aside playing on the front stoop of the building, Hacksaw hailed a cab. He had just enough fare for a ride downtown. Why take the bus? In a few short hours, he was sure he would be offered the limo services that all the WWF guys demanded. It was time to start living large.

By mid afternoon, Lucy had accomplished all that she had set out to do. Mr. Biff’s appointments had gone well that morning earning her high praise from his corner office. She had a few promos to finish for the upcoming matches and had just started to call the printer when the double-doors to the office suite burst open.

Standing 10 feet from Lucy’s reception desk was a man about 6 feet tall, two hundred twenty pounds, or so, making heads in the office turn with his belligerent and annoying demands to “see the person in charge!”

Three steps brought him face to face with Lucy.

“Hey, you ol’ biddy!”, screamed Hacksaw. “I wanna see Biff!”

Lucy waited.

“Hey, Grandma! You deef??? I said, I demand to see Biff Bivens!!!---NOW!!!”

Lucy opened her appointment book.

“What don’t you understand, you old Coot? Get me in there to see Bivens immediately!!!”

“May I ask who is calling?” inquired Lucy in her most endearing tone.

“WHO DO YOU THINK IS CALLING, YOU ANCIENT WEASEL? I AM HACKSAW HERRIGAN!”

Lucy flipped over three pages in her appointment book.

“Mr. Bivens will see you 5 weeks from today at 4:30 p.m. I’ll write that down for you.”

Hacksaw’s face became an intriguing color of puce nearly masking the ink tattoos on his neck. His mouth twisted horribly as he reached across for the lace collar the receptionist was wearing. He was an expert at battering women; taking out this old fossil would be a cinch.

Hacksaw screamed with pain as his forearm broke in two pieces. The hoop came easily out of its earlobe location and rested in the corner with small pieces of flesh still attached to it. His right eye swelled immediately as the large stapler on Lucy’s desk found its mark. Hacksaw’s continuing screams were silenced with a strategic blow to his windpipe with the back of Lucy’s dainty left hand.

He fell with a thud.

Lucy erased his name from the register, called 911 for EMS services, and began to clear her desk to go home.

It was time for Fluffy’s milk.