Tuesday, May 23, 2017

To Love or Love Not - Doris Gaines Rapp - Copyright 2017 Doris Gaines Rapp

Dr. Cherise Owens stood by her office window and surveyed the quad. It was a beautiful spring day. Violet irises bloomed in flower beds next to opening yellow and red tulips. The sweet aroma of freshly mowed grass drifted through the partially open casement. She inhaled deeply and hoped the light breeze would carry her through the busy day ahead. She would be interviewing new professors for one open position in the Sociology Department. Rats. She’d have to sit through a lunch with Department Chair candidate Dr. Jack Strand; the author of that awful book, When Adam was a Man.
“Dr. Owens,” her secretary said as she stuck her head into the University President’s office. “It’s 11:45. You wanted to walk over to the Oak Room.”
“Love the Oak Room. Dread this lunch,” Cherise moaned as she collected her keys and small cross-body purse.
“I know,” Dee Dee sympathized. “Focus on the food and less on the fool.”
“Dee Dee, you’re not calling our esteemed colleague and candidate for a faculty position, Dr. Jack Strand, a fool are you?”
“Me?” the secretary denied with her hand to her chest. “Never.”
“But, if you were,” the President smiled coyly, “I would agree.”
Cherise walked out the door and turned her chin upward, bathing her face in sunlight. It could not have been a more glorious day. Her heels clicked along the sidewalk, prompting a desire to dance, but she resisted the temptation. Strong willed, she never gave into silly immature thoughts that crossed her mind. Still, she was dancing in her head as she arrived at the University Restaurant door, side-stepping in rhythm to her internal music, and went in.
Alfred Newday, the Dean of Students, waved from a white cloth-covered table to the left. Alfred stood, pulling out the chair beside him. Cherise would sit next to a man who looked like the image on his book jacket. She was disappointed when she saw he was even more handsome than his picture. Rats. As Cherise got to the table, Jack Strand stood up.
Facing eye to eye, she came into contact with warmth that set her toes on fire. She couldn’t hide her attraction to him and more’s the pity, Dr. Strand noticed and smiled.
“You must be Jack Strand,” she said as she tried to play it lightly.
“Since no one else wanted the part, then, yes I must be he,” Strand continued to smile like a cat that just trapped the house mouse.
“A sense of humor,” she declared to the other three at the table. Besides the Dean, two professors from the Sociology Department joined them for lunch. “Humor will please the students.”
“Then . . . I’m hired?” Strand asked, still smiling, still teasing.
Assistant Professor Scrimshire looked at Strand with surprise. “Well then, if no one cares, I’d like to eat before we adjourn.”
“We’re not in that much of a hurry,” Dr. Owens announced with her hand held up to slow down the meeting.
“Would you like the usual Tuesday special?” the server asked the President.
Cherise looked up at the waitress and avoided Strand. “Yes, that’s fine. Thanks.”
Scrimshire and the other professor ordered the chicken salad plate; the Dean chose a spinach and ham quiche. Strand looked around the table and ordered BBQ pork with mashed potatoes and fresh corn.
As the waitress stepped away, Strand mused aloud, “Ah, another one who needs to control life. I’ll bet Mr. Cherise Owens has a hard time with that.”
“You have a dangerous interview style for someone applying for a job at an institution where people actually think before they speak,” Owens responded politely yet firmly.
Scrimshire glared. “Bob Owens died three years ago, from complications following his injuries at the Boston Marathon bombing. He was an accomplished runner.”
“I am so sorry,” Jack said, touching Cherise’s hand as it rested on the table. “Sometimes I forget and actually believe my reputation.”
“The young men who take your class need a strong male figure here at the university. That’s why we’re interviewing you,” Dr. Owens explained, still unable to look at Strand without exposing her attraction to him.
“Ah yes, the wussification of American men.”
“I happen to agree with you, Dr. Strand,” Dr. Owens agreed. “My husband was a real man. He was strong enough to stand in the gap between our home and the world, and gentle enough to make me feel loved every day of our marriage.”
“And, you miss that,” Jack whispered as the server brought a pot of coffee to the table. “Cherise means darling.”
Cherise didn’t respond. However, the warmth of his understanding filled her with a revived joy. “Have you never heard of sexual harassment, Dr. Strand?” she whispered back. As she poured coffee into her cup, she continued, including everyone in the conversation. “I think this committee wants to know something far more current than if Adam was a man or a wimp. Some young men know only two extremes – sissy and control freak. What do you have to add to their edification so they can hit a happy medium?”
Jack Strand sat back and grinned as the server placed a plate filled with BBQ pork and a mound of white potatoes in front of Cherise Owens. “You’re my kind of girl,” he said. “You appreciate real food.”
The sweet tangy smell of the BBQ sauce rose like a cloud over the table. When the server put Strand’s order down, Cherise smiled but chose to avert his eyes. “I guess you can make a few wise choices after all.”
“That’s fine,” the Dean added. “But, I’d still like an answer to Dr. Owens’ question.”
“What question is that?” Strand asked with a blank expression.
Cherise turned and looked Strand square in the eyes. “If you were hired as Chair of the Sociology Department, what would you teach your students, especially the young men, about being strong and yet not controlling?”
Jack Strand focused his gaze on Cherise, as if there were no others at the table. “I would teach them to be in control of themselves and not dominate others. They would learn that it’s the greatest joy to encourage others to be the very best ‘them’ they can be. They would know that control and love are mutually exclusive. One cannot control another and love them at the same time. True love is the only goal in life worth pursuing and when one finds it, it will define their life. That is the meaning of being a real man.”
Cherise groaned inside. “I fear we may have some challenging faculty meetings in the next few years . . . if we hire you, Dr. Strand.”
“But, they would be the most exciting meetings of your career,” Jack said as their eyes met.
             Rats! She whispered. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

With New Eyes - Doris Gaines Rapp - Copyright 2017 Doris Gaines Rapp

Mama received her daily letter from Grandma one summer afternoon. I had gotten to the mailbox first. I’d skipped out to the edge of the road in front of the house and opened the oversized box the minute the mailman had cleared the end of the driveway. I knew it was from her before I even looked at the envelope. Along the edge was a row of tiny holes I could feel with my fingers. More important, Grandma could feel them. Grandma had cataracts when cataracts meant blindness. Doctors were doing that kind of surgery but it wasn’t always successful. She waited through a world of darkness before her operation.
“Mama, you have a letter,” I hollered as I banged in through the screen door and plopped myself down onto the chair near the floor-model TV set with doors that closed in the center.
My mother walked in from the kitchen carrying two hand-woven pot holders I made for her. It smelled like she had put a pot roast in the oven for supper. She was probably checking on it. I loved “pull-apart meat” with potatoes and carrots cooked until the flavor permeated the vegetables and all the air around it. “Let’s see,” she exhaled slowly as she took the letter and sat down.
I could see from the sheets of stationary that Grandma had filled two pages. There were pin holes down both sides.
Here’s what she’d do. Grandma would write a sentence on the paper, put a straight pin at the end of the line, remove the pin from the beginning of the sentence she had just written, reinsert the pin at the beginning of a new line, feel for the pin at the end of the sentence and repeat until she had filled the page. Sometimes the lines ran into each other or even crossed, but no one said anything to Grandma. She hadn’t said, “I can’t do it.” She found another way to write.
“What’s she doing?” I asked.
“Oh, you know, the usual,” Mama answered as she folded over the pieces of paper. “She sits by the window on school days and listens to the laughter of neighborhood children as they walk home from school.”
“Oh, yeah,” I said. “But this is summer vacation. What does she do now?”
“The ball games,” Mama said and smiled. “They air every home game of the Cincinnati Reds. She doesn’t miss one of them.”
“Mama . . . she can’t see the TV.” I remember rolling my eyes and now wish I hadn’t. Because, it’s what Mama said next that really told me how Grandma could see.
“Grandma can see in her own way,” Mama told me.
There’s only one way to see, I thought but didn’t sass back.
“Your grandmother has watched every baseball game since they started televising them. She knows every player by name. Two of her favorites are a catcher, Smoky Burgess, and one of the pitchers, Joe Nuxhall. He throws and bats left handed, like Grandpa is left handed. Since your grandmother is tall, she likes it that Nuxhall is 6 foot 3.”
“Grandpa isn’t tall. He’s pretty short, like me,” I thought out loud.
“Grandma wouldn’t want you to mention that.”
“Okay,” I agreed but didn’t see why that had to be a secret. Everyone could see how tall my grandfather was.
“Will you come help me set the table?” she asked as she got up and started through the dining room where we ate company dinner.
There was a breakfast nook off the kitchen where my chalk board hung for drawing on while Mama cooked and where the kitchen table sat. I opened the tall cabinet beside the table and took out the blue and white willow dishes we used for every day.
“Okay, Mama, finish. There has to be more. Grandma cannot see the baseball players even if she doesn’t miss any of the games. So, how does she see the games?”
“Well, like I knew that you would draw a picture of a rose bud on the board before you began setting the table. I also knew you would take the plates out first, then the cups and finally the saucers. How do I know all of that? Because . . . I know you. Grandma saw all the games while she could still see. Now, she listens to the play-by-play commentary and watches in her mind . . . because she knows the players and how they play.”
“Is that like God? He can see us because he knows us?”
“I’d say so,” Mama answered as she took a loaf of bread out of the red flowered bread box and put the loaf on the counter top. “Get out a saucer for the bread, please,” she said as she rinsed out the coffee pot before filling it again. “God knows what we think and do. And, he gives us the chance to change our mind and do something or think something even better, because He’s outside of time. He knows what we did; what we do; and what we decided to do over.”
“Wow, He really has new eyes.”
“We all have a new kind of eyes,” Mama said as she put some sweet smelling coffee in the pot, “when we see things God’s way.”

I never knew until I was older, how much I learned from setting the table with Mama.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Grandpa’s Shoes - Copyright 2017 Doris Gaines Rapp

One day, when I was nine, I noticed my grandpa’s shoes. They were black leather with wing-tipped toes and funny boot lace hooks to help fasten the shoes more tightly around his ankle. My daddy didn’t wear such high-top shoes as those.
Grandma and Grandpa came down every other Sunday and Daddy would take us up there on the alternate Sabbath. One Sunday afternoon, after lunch, Grandpa sat in the living room in the side-chair with the round red foot stool next to it with his feet propped up. Lounging on the floor in front of the TV, I was low enough to get a real good look at those shoes. Don’t misunderstand, Mamma didn’t allow television programs to drown out company conversation, so the sound was off. But, I could be entertained with the black and white pictures as they danced across the screen.
Grandpa was always very quiet, shy actually. Mostly, he sat and listened to Momma and Grandma talk about the ordinarily activities of their day. Daddy usually fell asleep on the couch with one leg plopped up over the sofa’s back.
The problem was I didn’t talk much either. So, I’d just watch Grandpa and think about his choice in foot wear. I guess we were both introverts. As an example, when I was really little, Grandma and Grandpa still lived on the farm.
Did you notice what I said? We always announced Grandma’s name first since she was the one Momma talked to. So, it was Grandma’s house, but Grandpa’s farm. I’d follow him out to the barn to check on Dolly, the old retired plow horse, but I don’t remember talking to him. I can’t even remember the sound of his voice, but he was Grandpa and I loved him.
It was those shoes I wondered about. If I had thought to actually ask him a question, now, I can think of many I may have asked.
-        “Grandpa, do your toes feel comfortable with your feet all bound up like that?”
-        “Tell me where you find shoes like that. I shop with Momma and I’ve never seen that kind anywhere. They must come from a farm store up near your house.”
-        “Did you wear those shoes because you twisted your ankle? I sprain mine real easy.”
-        “Those shoes remind me of Albert Swartz’s clodhoppers he wears to school. Teacher doesn’t like those shoes because the hooks scrape the desk chair when he sits on his feet in class.”
-        “Do you like the high-tops because they remind you of your work shoes? You’re a great farmer.” Then, I could get him to talk more by asking him about Dolly, how she’s doin’ and if she misses me.
Come to think about it, Grandpa did answer questions about the crops. You want to hear something amazing? Grandpa could drive by any field in the county and name the green shoots that were coming up, almost as soon as they pushed through the ground. I had no idea what was growing out there in all that dirt. Still, I could have gotten him to talk more, if I had thought to ask him about it. I had no idea that the green of field corn was different from that of soy beans, or that wheat can grow in the winter when it’s cold.
The point is if I had just asked him about those shoes, we may have talked about much more. As an adult I know—if you don’t know what an Extravert is thinking it’s because you haven’t been listening. And, if you don’t know what an Introvert is thinking, it’s because you haven’t asked them.”
Now, I think about Grandma and Grandpa often. After they moved into town off the farm, Grandpa drove out there almost every day. When Grandma was blind with cataracts, he would help her sweep the carpets and fix a hearty supper. One day I heard Grandma complain to Momma that Grandpa had started walking down the alley to a filling station and garage where he’d visit with the neighborhood men and drink a cola. She hoped he wouldn’t get into any trouble down there. Grandpa? I couldn’t imagine such a thing—not trouble—Grandpa talking.

Oh, the things I wish I had asked him when I was nine, “Tell me about . . .“ questions. About his parents; the home he grew up in; would he describe his room; what he liked to read when I saw him with a book in his hand; what was the name of his dog when he was ten; did he like chocolate as much as I did; and . . . where on earth did he get those shoes.

Friday, May 5, 2017

The Rhubarb Patch - Copyright 2017 Doris Gaines Rapp

Doris Gaines Rapp

“Yes, Mom,” Charity said, pretending frustration. “I’m getting plenty of sunshine. In fact, I was just getting ready to go out and work in my garden plot.”
“Good,” her mother sighed. “The doctor said you need more sunlight. Sitting at a computer all day isn’t good for anyone. The glowing light from your devices doesn’t count.”
“Mother, I’m a writer. I write at a computer,” she snapped back.
“I know what you do, but it cannot be all you do.” Sandy Couchman argued gently. Then she laughed and added, “I thought only men defined themselves by their occupation.”
“Mother,” Charity moaned, “don’t be archaic. Women have important careers too.”
“I know they do . . . we do. Remember, I am the most successful realtor in Overlook. But, I consider myself smarter than to think I’m only a realtor. I’m a wife, mother, sister, daughter, and friend. Each of those roles requires time and effort. I don’t sell houses eighteen hours a day.”
“And I don’t—” Charity began and stopped, “well . . . maybe I do.” She quickly took a breath and began again. “But . . . I have deadlines.”
“Well then, I’ll let you get back to the few minutes you have allocated for sunshine.” Sandy stopped and thought back. “Wait, what garden plot?”
“My building has an old parking lot across the street. They bought the property for future expansion but they aren’t going to begin for a few years. They brought in a guy with a plow, a couple loads of topsoil and plotted off the ground for residents who want to plant a garden. I got my name in early for a plot.”
“Honey, that’s great. What are you planting?” her mother asked.
“The first thing I put in was rhubarb, then some other vegetables,” Charity said.
“Now, don’t make fun of me, Mom. Just because you and Dad don’t like it, doesn’t mean I don’t.” As she stood by the front window talking on the phone, she saw the man from apartment 4C going across the street to the new garden. “Mom, gotta run. I’ll call you another time.”
Charity gathered up her door key from the desk and slipped it into her pocket. With her foot up on the desk chair, she finished tying her shoes. Then, she grabbed the hoe she had stuck into the umbrella stand in the entry hall, hurried out and locked the door quickly before heading to the elevator. “Hope he’s gone,” she whispered to herself. Thank goodness the elevator was empty except for Charity. She didn’t want to be caught talking to herself, especially since she wasn’t talking much to anyone lately.
When the doors opened on the first floor Charity started to move forward but caught the long handle of the hoe in the door. She checked the lobby for anyone who might have seen the mishap and then berated herself for caring what other thought about her.
Outside, she would never have admitted it, but the morning sun felt wonderful. Bright ribbons of light danced through the trees and cast their life-giving energy on each plot, carefully marked off by white field paint. One man said it looked like stripes on a football field. Charity believed it was a city-man’s way of validating gardening.
Looking around, she didn’t see Mr. 4C so she quickly forgot about him. At the end of garden plot 4A, marked with a small sign at the end of the strip, she dug her hoe into the soil and loosened the few weeds that had invaded in spotty patches.
“Good morning,” a deep voice hummed from the next space.
Charity said nothing but smacked the garden tool down on the dirt harder than before. Somehow, Mr. 4C, tall and muscular, had managed to block out the song of the birds high up in the trees with the expression of only two words.
“It’s a great day, isn’t it?” he repeated.
“If I had wanted to talk to you, I would have said something when you spoke the first time,” she sassed back without looking up.
“I see you’ve planted rhubarb,” he observed, ignoring her comment. “I like it too, even if it is kinda tart.”
Again, she said nothing and continued to weed her garden plot.
“Tartness can be overcome with some sugar, or other sweetness like honey,” he added.
“Are you trying to be annoying or does it naturally flow out of you with no effort on your part?” she asked as she stopped and leaned with folded hands on the top of her hoe.
“You look tired already,” he observed. “Can I help you?”
“Stick to your own garden, Mr. 4C.,” she snapped back.
“Miss . . . 4A,” he began, “you don’t know me, so I know your anger cannot be directed at me. I don’t have to react or dish anger back at you; because, it isn’t about me. Charity, your vindictiveness is about you.”
“How do you know my name? Have you been stalking me?” she demanded.
“Stalking? I live across the hall from you. And, by the way, your name is on your mailbox down in the lobby,” he answered calmly.
“You aren’t supposed to notice other people’s names,” she sputtered; unable to come up with another argument fast enough to satisfy her need to put him in his place.
“Okay . . . I’m going back up to my apartment and put on the coffee pot. When you’re ready to talk about what’s bothering you, I’ll be there.”
“Not likely,” she mumbled without looking up from her rhubarb patch. She stopped and put one hand on her hip, “I thought you came down to work in your garden.”
“I have been cultivating something for several weeks, if you haven’t noticed,” he answered and smiled warmly.
Charity didn’t respond. What could she say? As 4C walked away, she whispered to herself, “Okay, so you have a way with words. Is that supposed to impress me?”
Later, Charity slumped at her desk for another hour, staring aimlessly at her computer. She got up and went over to the open kitchen. Reaching for the coffee pot, she tipped it up over her cup. Nothing. The pot was empty.
            Slamming the pot on the counter, she shuddered, dreading to check for glass breakage. Noting that the carafe was intact, she placed it carefully in the sink.
“Coffee . . .” she moaned. “I need coffee. I’m tired. I have brain drain. I can’t concentrate and I have an impending deadline.” She drifted around her apartment grumbling, “The only coffee in Overlook cannot possibly be just across the hall.”
She checked her pocket for her key; slowly went out into the hall and knocked on 4C’s door. Housekeeping was running the sweeper a few doors down. The smell of carpet dust hung in the air.
When the door opened she bristled and darted inside. “It smells dusty out there,” she announced as she pushed past him. “I’m not going to call you, Mr. 4C any longer,” she grumbled. “What’s your name?”
“J.D. Stone,” he said, watching her take over his space.
Charity determined the walls, covered in posters of football player and other sports luminaries, looked like a well decorated frat room.  “Another little boy who never grew up, I see.”
“Actually, they’re my clients. I’m a sports agent. These,” he gestured toward the wall hangings, “are my clients. I’ve only been in the business for a few years but . . . I’m doing well.”
“Jared Stone?” she asked in amazement.
“Now, how do you know the name of an athletes’ agent?” he asked, his eyes twinkling. He went over to the counter and poured a mug full of coffee. “I’m guessing this is what you came for. And, I repeat, are you a sports fan?”
“No,” she drug out, “I’m a writer.”
J.D. pointed to a grouping of chairs around a small sofa. He tossed a pillow to the end of the couch and motioned for her to sit down.
She slowly kicked off her shoes, sat down and crossed her legs in front of her. “I wrote a novel last year and did some research on all aspects of sports. It’s about a country girl and a baseball player—A Diamond . . .”
“From the Diamond,” J.D. finished for her.
Charity sipped her coffee and smiled. “How did you . . .?”
“My sister wanted the book for Christmas,” he said with a sheepish grin.
“She has good taste,” Charity offered.
“And me? My taste?” he asked.
“You have good taste in sisters,” she said with a laugh.
“And . . . friends,” he eyed her carefully over his coffee cup.
“I’d hardly call us friends,” she said as she straightened. “We just met.”
“You’re right, of course. But, I hope we can build a fast friendship. And, to that end, I meant it when I told you I’d be happy to listen to what is bothering you.”
“I . . . I’m sorry, I seem to begin every sentence with ‘I.’ Wow . . . what is bothering me?” She unfolded her legs and winced in pain. “I’m stiff,” she admitted. J.D. said nothing but listened intently. “My doctor calls it SAD,” she opened up.
“What are you sad about?” he asked softly.
“Not sad . . . seasonal affective disorder, with capital letters, S.A.D. The symptoms include depression, stiff muscles, with extreme fatigue.  Also, something that frustrates me completely . . . fuzzy thinking with an inability to concentrate,” she explained as tears willed up in her eyes. “J.D., I’m a writer. I’m at my computer all day. I can’t just sit in a near-stupor every day.”
“Did your doctor suggest any treatment?”
“She recommended medication if I wanted to take it, moderate exercise and sunshine every day,” she said with a mocking snicker. “How do I make the sun shine every day?”
“On days when the sun does shine . . .  you spend some time in your garden,” J.D. concluded. “And . . . when the sun doesn’t shine?” he asked.
“I wait, sometimes weeks for the sun to come out again.” Her voice, edged with anger, cut into the conversation.
“Well, if waiting works . . .” he began.
“I know . . . if it works, keep it up. If it doesn’t, stop it,” she sighed deeply. “I’ve listen to all the guru tapes, too.”
“So . . . do you stop it?” His expression was different from others. Rather than laughing at her, he seemed to understand.
“No, I keep on keeping on, trying to write, hoping to clear my head.”
“According to some pretty big athletes I represent, there are high potency vitamins, lamps with bright bulbs, exercises, even a few days in Florida during the dreary times of the year would help,” he suggested.
“My parents spend the winter in Florida,” she admitted reluctantly.
“You could spend a few weeks with them,” he offered.
She sipped her coffee and remained silent for a minute. “Then, I’d have to admit that Mom is right.”
“Would that be so bad?” he whispered.
“Yes,” Charity spit out. “No,” she said as she changed her mind. “I guess not.”
“Which is worse, your mother being right or SAD?”
“Okay . . . okay,” she agreed with a new positive lilt to her voice.
“Your garden plot does look nice,” he quickly changed the subject from surrender to accomplishment. “It’s easy to see you take good care of it.”
“So far, the rhubarb has started to come up,” she sighed. “My parents don’t like it. I planted a little.”
“Rhubarb is very tart but some sweetness makes it wonderful.” J.D. smiled broadly. “Just like people.”
Charity blushed. “I haven’t had the energy to include other people in my life . . . men in particular. I may be willing to try again.”
“You can start with one close by . . . no energy wasted getting there,” he said and laughed.

 “Thank you, J.D.” she agreed as her expression softened. “When the rhubarb is ripe, I’ll make us a pie,” she offered. “It should be sweet by harvest time.”