Sun Lakes Writers’ Group

Dinner by Five O’clock

Kris Szlauko

Louise looked at her watch. She only had almost two hours to feed her family, get kids ready and into the car, and drive to the soccer field before five-thirty. Her mind eased a little remembering that her husband would be home soon. He has always been super at getting the kids motivated and on track to arrive at the weekly games on time.

She took a quick inventory of the contents of the refrigerator and an equally brief glance in the pantry and decided that this night required an old standby meal. She grabbed the car keys, rustled up the kids, and headed out the door for a quick trip to the market for rotisserie chicken and potato wedges. She could pick up a little of that English pea salad that her husband likes so well and turn dinner into a gourmet meal.

One turn of the key and a dead sounding clunk of the engine foiled her easy fix to their evening meal.

With the kids unloaded and back inside the house, her attention turned to the fragments of meals she had stored in her pantry. Boxes of pasta, rice and noodles were front and center on the shelf. A jar of spaghetti sauce, several cans of soup and tuna were stacked on the right, along with some beans and corn. “Spaghetti sauce over noodles is quick,” she thought. She grabbed the jar of sauce and started back into the kitchen. Immediately, she remembered her husband’s digestive problems the last time she served that sauce. Spaghetti would be fine for the kids but he would suffer. “Scratch the spaghetti,” she decided, and returned the jar of sauce to the pantry shelf.

Louise started to invent another choice for a quick dinner when Sandy, her 10-year-old soccer champion, temporarily derailed her train of thought, “Mom I can’t find my other shin guard!”

“I saw it in a strange place honey,” Louise answered her daughter while eyeing the pantry contents and mentally searching for the lost shin guard. “Check on the floor in the front closet near the umbrellas,” she continued.

Sandy, not wanting to be tasked with the finding of her own lost equipment, stomped reluctantly out of sight.

Again, Louise’s attention returned to the evening meal. She investigated the soup varieties and found a cream of mushroom. “Tuna casserole works,” she affirmed. It is not the favorite of the kids but it will save peace with her husband and his sensitive stomach. She took out the big pot for the noodles, filled it with enough water and set it on the stove top to boil. She then set her attention to finding the can opener in the utensil drawer. “Ten minutes in preparation, then 20 in the oven, and her gourmet tuna casserole meal would be ready,” she mentally remembered the directions of her recipe.

“It’s not there!” Sandy, storming into the kitchen, was again demanding her mother’s assistance in the search for her shin guard. Unmercifully detached from her concentration on dinner Louise snapped at her frantic daughter, “Honey, the truth is that, if you would put them away when you get home from practice, we would not be having this conversation! You are paying the consequences of not taking care of your belongings! Think back to when you last saw it! Where was the one that you did find? It cannot be far from that one. You did take them off at the same time, didn’t you?” Louise questioned her stressed out daughter as she removed her casserole dish from the cupboard.

There was a quiet pause as Sandy reflected on the events of last Wednesday after practice. “Oh, it’s in the car! The strap broke! Oh no! I cannot suit up! My coach will be mad! We could forfeit! Oh, Mom, what am I going to do?” Sandy was as close to a meltdown as she could be. “Use your brother’s shin guard!” Louise offered a solution.

“No! They are too small!” Sandy cried back in response.

Louise instantly countered, “Honey, get your shin guard from the car and we will try to fix it. Hurry, we don’t have much time!”

With the temporary lull in the crisis Louise’s attention turned back to dinner. Baking a casserole in the oven was going to take too much time. The thought of a quick mushroom tuna on rice, came to mind. “The rice is instant and I will have more time to work on a broken shin guard,” she affirmed her decision silently to herself.

Louise called out to Bobby, her son, to go out into the garage to find Daddy’s big roll of duct tape. Bobby being thoroughly into a television show was unresponsive to her request. Louise made the trip to the garage herself remembering the booster cables for the car battery were in the same place. On the way back into the kitchen with tape and cables in hand, Louise received a phone call from her husband. He was running late and would meet them at the game.

With her head almost spinning, Louise does a quick “Rewind!” She dumps the water from the pot on the stove into the sink and places the unopened cans of soup and tuna back on the pantry shelf. Her attention must now turn to repairing the shin guard with duct tape and asking her neighbor for a boost for the dead battery parked in her driveway.

“So much for the gourmet dinner!” Louise’s thoughts return to the dinner that did not get prepared.

“Now,” she forms a NEW plan, “If I get the kids ready and out the door in 10 minutes … the car starts … and we make it to the soccer field by five, there will be a half hour to buy and eat hot dogs for dinner, before the game starts!”

Spring Cleaning

Dorothy Long

Remember the ritual of spring cleaning. Living on a farm in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, as soon as winter broke, it was time to welcome spring. The whole house needed to be cleaned. The smell of wallpaper paste, paint, turpentine mingled with the aroma of the noon meal cooking slowly in the oven.

Mom measured and cut the paper, placed it on a board balanced over the backs of two chairs. I picked up the big brush and slapped on the paste. The wall covering was then hung, trimmed and seams were rolled for a smooth fit. Once finished with that project, the woodwork received a fresh coat of paint.

Windows and doors were stripped of storms and other covering. The puffy white criss cross curtains, a little dingy after winter, were removed, washed and hung on the line to blow in the breeze. Later to be starched and ironed.

Cleaning was necessary because of the coal fired furnace that kept us warm throughout the long Iowa winter. Windows were finally opened to let the soft breeze flow through the rooms. Next, floors were scrubbed and waxed. With the help of Purfex and Spic and Span, everything was squeaky clean. Once curtains were rehung, the change was amazing and almost worth all the effort. Finally furniture polish gave the old furniture a face lift.

The cleaning process might be interrupted by the arrival of new baby chicks.

Of course, the brooder house also had to be cleaned. Baby lambs were born and within a few days were romping and leaping in the sunshine. Planning the garden was also in the works.

The men had their own set of challenges. The barn and other buildings needed to be cleaned and it would soon be time to begin spring field work.

In our modern times, we do not do much spring cleaning. Our furnaces are more efficient and cleaning has become more of an ongoing process. Perhaps we rely on a cleaning service.

Spring could be a good time to spring clean our heart and mind. Sweep away cobwebs from our cluttered mind and spruce up our attitude. Open windows to contentment and forgiveness. Unlock doors to acceptance, kindness and generosity. Bring sunshine into our lives and air out our differences and selfishness. Then polish our hidden talents and make use of them.

After the cleaning, find time to go out and smell the flowers of spring and enjoy the beauty of nature.

Easter Story

Ellen Brittingham

My friend Ruth was a busy mother with three small girls when Nick, her father came to live with her family. He had recently had his second leg amputated following long-term diabetes and was considered too disabled to live alone. Ruth quickly discovered how disabled he wasn’t as he learned to move stools, chairs or whatever around and use his strong arms to hoist himself wherever he wanted to be. He didn’t like to go out of the house which is why he was left home alone when the family went to church Easter morning.

Ruth had an Easter morning plan to get everyone into the car to go to church and then pretend to have forgotten something in the house. She would go back into the house, hide the Easter eggs and then join the family. After mass, the children would discover that the Easter Bunny had hidden their eggs.

This morning, however, things did not go as planned and they were a little late starting to church. Easter eggs had skipped Ruth’s mind as she buckled the last seat belt.

Nick was reading the Sunday paper sometime later when he remembered Ruth’s plan. Thinking of how harried she was when she left he went to the refrigerator and sure enough, there was the basket of eggs. He reached them just as he heard the car in the driveway. Grabbing a broom on his way he scooted himself into the living room and using the broom handle started rolling eggs into hiding places from his spot on the middle of the floor.

Just as he rolled the last egg into place Kathy and Patty came through the front door. “Watch out, you kids!” Grandpa shouted. “Some blamed rabbit’s been here trying to steal those eggs you painted so pretty.”

“Oh no, Grandpa!” the girls shouted together. “It’s the Easter Bunny!” “You didn’t hurt him, did you?” asked Kathy.

“No, I didn’t hurt him, he was too fast for me.” Nick replied.

Just then Ruth and Harry walked in with the third daughter. “We weren’t too early after all, Mom!” Patty exclaimed. “The Easter Bunny did come.”

The Rite of Spring

Lee Murray

Who among us hasn’t thought back on their life and wondered how things might have been different had they chosen a different career path or pursued a dream?

And so it was for Giuseppe Crosanti, a 10-year-old Italian immigrant who arrived in the U.S. with his parents in 1922. After being processed through Ellis Island, his parents found a two-room flat in Brooklyn where they would all live. Young Joseph was then enrolled in grammar school where he took quite a liking to the game of baseball and in particular, the New York Yankees, who captivated the young boy’s imagination. He so loved listening to the Bronx Bombers on radio and hearing the antics of his heroes Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, number 3 and number 4, members of the feared Murderer’s Row lineup that catapulted the Yankees to the 1927 World Series championship.

Joseph had baseball cards and pictures of all the Yankees growing up and wanted so badly to play for the team when he got older. He fantasized about walking into Yankee Stadium wearing the famous pinstripes and playing alongside the players he idolized. One time his father took him to see the Yankees and though his dad couldn’t afford the best seats, Joseph took his scorecard and ran down to get as close to the field as he could before the game waving his scorecard at the players hoping to get an autograph. Babe Ruth walked by and Joseph said, “Babe will you sign my scorecard?” and though there were many other kids in the scrum, Babe grabbed his scorecard, scribbled his signature and said “Here ya go, kid,” then smiled and went on his way. Joseph was almost apoplectic. The great Babe Ruth had signed his scorecard. He would treasure it forever!

He was the envy of his friends at school who all liked the Babe, Gehrig and the Yankees as much as Joseph did. They all got together and played sandlot baseball after school, on weekends and pretty much anytime they could. As he got older Joseph developed quite a pitching arm and could throw a baseball harder and faster with more accuracy than any of the other kids. His velocity was so impressive that he was starting to be scouted by some of the major league teams including his beloved Yankees.

One day, Joseph turned in an amazing performance for his high school team. He struck out 20 batters on the opposing team enroute to a “no-no,” a sterling no-hitter. In the stands that particular day was a Yankees scout who stayed to talk with him after the game. The scout was interested in offering the 17-year-old Joseph a minor league contract with the Yankees farm system. He was told if he continued to develop in the minor leagues, he could someday pitch for the Yankees. He told the scout that he’d have to talk with his dad but he was walking on air all the way home.

Joseph couldn’t wait to tell his father the good news. He was not expecting the reaction he received. His father gave an unequivocal no to his son’s pleas to sign the contract with the Yankee organization. His dad’s rationale was that baseball was a kid’s game and young Joseph should get a real job and a career that could provide a living for him and any family he might have and “quit chasing this silly dream.” He tried pleading his case but his dad would not budge so the contract went unsigned and was never offered again.

Joseph was very angry at his father for ruining his once in a lifetime chance of playing for the Yankees and for years after that, he and his father barely spoke. Yet each spring, Joseph once again loved to tune in to the Yankees radio broadcast and the team he loved. He never did achieve his dream as a player, but did ultimately get hired by the New York Daily News as a sportswriter covering the Yankees beat.

He did get a chance to witness the great Lou Gehrig address the overflowing Yankee Stadium crowd of some 62,000 adoring fans on July 4, 1939. That day came to be known as Lou Gehrig Day in which the “Iron Horse” gave his final speech following his retirement at only 37. Gehrig had been diagnosed with ALS and was forced to quit the team after playing in 2,130 consecutive games.

Joseph went down to the clubhouse following the game to shake hands with his boyhood idols. Babe Ruth was also in attendance to honor his fellow teammate and friend. He told them both how much they meant to him as a kid who just arrived from Italy in 1922.

For Joseph, it wasn’t the dream he’d hoped for, but it was a good outcome nonetheless. And it turned out, dad really did want the best for him. Joseph had a fine career as a sportswriter for over 30 years and in the process, provided well for his wife and three sons.

Though he never got a chance to wear the Yankee pinstripes, he never tired of watching his cherished team take the field on opening day each spring for the rest of his life at The House That Ruth Built.

My Life Is Art

Lori Matsu

It is how I greet each morning.

The way I smile.

My shopping list.

The meals I serve at my table.

My letters in the mail.

The love notes I leave for my Sweetheart.

How I hold my babies close.

The words I say.

My delight in each little creature.

How I greet a perfect stranger.

The way I dance.

The flower in my hair.

My life is art.