Litter – a children’s story

Someone to whom I read this story suggested that it ought to be a children’s story, and so I rewrote it and added illustrations. It is set up to be on 5.5” by 8.5” paper with the appropriate illustrations facing the text. I couldn’t make this work on this blog and so the illustrations which ought to face the text follow it. I hope that this isn’t too confusing for bloggers. I invite my adult blog readers to offer suggestions on how to make it more attractive for a younger audience.

**********

Madi and Josiah were going on caravan holiday at a beach in west Scotland. It was a long drive from home. When they arrived at the Cameron farm where they planned to camp they got out of their car. They were tired, stiff, and excited. Their father asked them and their mother to stay beside the car while he crossed the farmyard to greet Mr. Cameron.

They stood and stretched and gazed at the farmyard. Presently Madi saw a black and grey cat which lay in the entrance to the barn feeding a litter of kittens. She pointed the cat out to her mother and to Josiah. They watched and listened to the cat purring and the gentle sound of the kittens sucking.

Soon the men shook hands and their father returned to them. He looked happy and asked them to get back into the car. While they were getting in he spoke,

“Our camping spot is in a field up here on the left.

During the week we will have the beach to ourselves. There will be day-trippers on the weekend but they will park in the field on the right. We can get water, fresh eggs and milk from the farm. It is idyllic!”

cat

How many kittens were in the litter?

**********

When they were back in the car he turned and smiled at his wife, and then leaned back to face his children. “This place is heaven,” he beamed, “and, oh yes, Mr. Cameron is most particular about litter. We must be careful not to leave any. The cove is beautiful, and he wants to keep it unspoiled. He says that the weekend day-trippers are a problem and asks that we help pick up after them. I told him that we didn’t mind having a holiday chore!”

After the caravan was parked and unhitched from their car their father carefully leveled it. It stood on springy marine shore grass a few feet from the beach. Then he took Madi and Josiah down to the shore to play. They paddled in the water. It was icy cold. Their mother stayed behind to prepare supper.

caavan

Can you count the birds in the air?

**********
After supper their father went outside and sat on the caravan steps. He breathed deeply and gazed at the view before him. It was close to sunset and the sun hung low in the sky as it approached the spot where it would dip into the waters of the horizon.

Madi, Josiah and their mother joined him. They sat on a blanket and ate Smarties as they watched the sun set. They breathed in clean salty air and savored the peace of nature and the happiness of their loving family.

sun2

Can you find the sun?

**********

Three days later the day-trippers arrived. Mr. Cameron spent most of the day standing at the gate into his field parking lot collecting fees. Although he had placed a barrel for rubbish, when the last visitor left the beach was strewn with trash. It ranged from coke bottles, to sandwich wrappers, and newspapers. Madi and Josiah and their parents saw Mr. Cameron sitting on a large rock where a family of five had picnicked. They walked over to him and their father said,

“No problem, I volunteered; my children and I will pick up the litter.”

Mr. Cameron looked relieved and nodded a quick, “Thank you.” He turned to face Madi and Josiah. He said, “Look carefully, for sometimes money falls out of people’s pockets and you may find it in the sand. I consider finders to be keepers!” He gave them a conspiratorial wink and left the beach. They watched him walk up the road to his farm.

litter beach

Can you find the red bottle?

**********

Madi and Josiah and their parents took bags and began their task. With all four at work it didn’t take long and soon they came to the big rock.

There, nestled under the worst irresponsible mess of abandoned bottles and bags was a new five pound note.  Five pounds was just enough money to be interesting but not so much that they might have worried about trying to return it. They decided to set it aside in case the family returned the next day and after that they recalled what Mr. Cameron had said,

“Finders are keepers.”

litter rock

Can you see the hidden money?

**********

The following day there were more day-trippers and after they left, the whole family eagerly collected trash. Their father even walked half a mile across the bay to investigate a small white object nestled in the far rocks. He explained that he thought that it might be more money but when he got close he saw that it was a white flower.

The following weekend was the same. The family was so diligent that Mr. Cameron gave them a special accolade when they departed the next Monday.

He offered them one of the black kittens, from the cat’s litter as a reward for their collecting all the day-tripper’s litter. The children enjoyed petting it but their parents said that kitten was too young for their long drive home.

flowerkittten

 

Did you spot the flower on the hill on page 9?

What would you name the kitten?

**********

Two days after the family left Mr. Cameron entertained his neighbor, Mr. Morrison. He also had a coastal farm and also augmented his income by opening his beach to day-trippers and campers. As they stood looking over the beach before supper Mr. Morrison commented,

“Your beach is so clean. How do you do it?”

Mr. Cameron pointed to the big rock,

“Someone always picnics there and so I incentivize my campers.”

“You what?”

“I incentivize my campers! First I ask them to help to keep the beach pristine, and then, on the first day, I slip a fiver in the litter next to this rock. After they find that money nothing can stop them. It is the best investment ever!”

farmers

The beach is clean.

 What color is Mr. Cameron’s sweater?

Great-grandma’s Story – a short story

On Friday, June 13th 2012, Anna sat on a pillow on the floor in front of great-grandma Alma Hofer. She leaned back to rest gently against great-grandma’s shins. It was early afternoon on a hot Austin, Texas summer day, but the room was cool and dim with blinds pulled and air conditioning humming. Anna drew up her knees and relaxed. In her hands she clasped her favorite stuffed bunny; every so often she touched his silken ears to her lips. Quietly great-grandma began to give her a head massage. The massage was gentle, almost as though butterflies were wafting against her scalp. Great-grandma’s massages were always this way so soft that at first one doubted that it could be of any benefit, but as it continued one became lulled into a happy trance in which her touch gave exquisite pleasure. Anna relaxed and let the kind old fingers ease away her tensions and soothe her. She was glad to be old enough to be excused taking a nap like her younger sister, happy that her quiet time could be spent sitting here enjoying her great-grandma’s love.

“Tell me a story, grandma,” she asked. “Please, tell me a story about when you were a little girl.” Anna found it difficult to visualize her parents, grandparents and great-grandparents as children but she still enjoyed their childhood stories. She closed her eyes and tried to imagine great-grandma as the young girl in her photograph album rather than the eighty-nine-year-old great-grandma against whose shins she leant. She touched the bunny’s ears to her lips again as she waited in anticipation for her great-grandma’s gentle voice.

“When I was a little girl of about eight, as you are now, I had five brothers and sisters. The last two were yet to be born to bring the count to nine. We lived on a farm in South Dakota. We did all the same things that you do. We prayed, ate, slept, grew, went to school, played with the other children, and did our chores. Life was never dull, for our world was changing as fast as yours changes.

“At home we spoke German, the language that our great-grandparents had brought with them from their origins in Europe, before their century in Russia. School was conducted in English. This was hard for some like your great grand-pa who, after his first week at school, said to his mother (in German)

‘They keep pointing me and saying ‘sit down please’. What does that mean?’

“We prayed every day morning and night and at meals with a special trip to church on Sundays. When I was little we went to church with a horse and buggy and we put the horse in a special barn at the church while we prayed. Until I was five we used to stay at church all day. The families took turns in providing the lunch which was always home baked Zwieback, jam and coffee.”

“What is Zweiback?” murmured Anna.

“Zweiback is sweetened bread enriched with eggs that is baked and then sliced and toasted until dry and crisp. It is like the Nabisco teething biscuits that your mother gave you when you were a baby. The jam was whatever we had; my favorite was, and still is, ground-cherry jam. We gathered the wild ground-cherries where they grew in hedgerows and along the edges of the fields. By the time that I was six years old we had modernized and had cars and so we stopped staying at church all day.

“You like to play, little Anna, and so did I. We played hide and seek like you do; it was especially fun in the horse barns at school and at church. We played ‘Stealing sticks’. In this game there were two sides each with ten sticks. You had to steal your opponent’s sticks without getting caught. If you were caught, you became a prisoner with the opposing team’s sticks and hoped that you would be rescued by your team. We played bat and ball, a game similar to softball. We played Pump, Pump Pull-away. This game began with one catcher, and runners running from one side of the playground to the other. When anyone got caught they also became catchers, until it was impossible for the remaining runners to get across the space without being caught. In the winter we played fox and goose. In this game we drew a circle in the snow with an inner circle as the safe place for the geese. We usually had two catchers or foxes.

“My older brother Paul was a big boy for eleven, so he and one of the siblings sometimes did the hay mowing. It was fun to sit up high on the hay mower and to guide the horses as they pulled the sharp sickle over the ground, leaving a trail of sweet smelling cut grass behind. We were always careful to keep out of the path of the sickle because we knew that it was heavy and sharp.  The blades could easily cut off a limb or the heavy machinery crush anyone in its path. One summer day Paul was mowing the top field with his sister when she noticed that one of the horse’s lines was caught on the horse’s bridle bit. The horses were very gentle but as you probably know, they don’t like surprises, especially surprises from the side. It is best to approach them from the front so that they can see you coming.

“Paul could see that the caught line was a problem and that it would hinder the horses when he turned, so when he got to the end of the line he asked his sister to get down and untangle it. She was comfortable up top and didn’t want to climb down and go around the horses. She looked at the tongue of the mower which went between the two horses. She knew that she was agile and proud of it. She was so agile that she sometimes showed off walking along a beam or the top of a wall with ease. She decided to walk down the tongue between the horses and to reach up and untangle the line. She was on the tongue before Paul realized what she was doing or could think about the danger. Once she was there he couldn’t say anything for fear of spooking the horses. If she were to fall and the horses moved, he knew that the mower would go over her and that the weight of the machine would crush her even if the sickle gear lever was raised.

“When she got to the tangled line she gave it a gentle pull and it came loose. She was about to edge her way back up the tongue when a bird flew overhead and squawked. One of the horses turned his head and saw the girl standing on the tongue. He panicked and began to move, which spooked the second horse, who also moved. In the next split second much happened: the girl fell between the horses into the path of the mower, and the horses took off pulling the mower behind them. Paul, still on top of the mower, hung on for dear life.

“Horses generally go for home, and this is what the frightened team did. They raced towards the barn, their hooves pounding the ground and leaving a cloud of dust behind them. The noise frightened them further, and they picked up speed. When they came to the farmyard they tried to run between two small buildings. Here, the sickle bar got caught and stopped them. The noise brought mother and father into the yard. Paul screamed,

‘My sister, my sister, the mower went over my sister.’

“Mother began to cry and ran up towards the hay field. Father and Paul followed her. They all knew in their hearts that there was little hope and dreaded the scene that awaited them. I sat up just as they arrived – for I was that little girl. I had bumped my head on the tongue when I fell but was otherwise unhurt.

“There was no easy explanation for the miracle of my escape. Mother speculated that a large stone next to where I fell had made the mower jerk into the air and thus miss me. She also said that I should take it as a lesson that showing off mars good judgment.”

Late Home – a short story

The sisters enjoyed their drive home. They thrived in each other’s company and had much to be happy about. As they exchanged dreams they agreed that prospects were good that New Year’s day. The party in Edinburg had been a success with a classic Scottish celebration. During their hundred-mile drive home they had plenty of time to make plans’ only regretting that they had started off late and would not be home until 3pm.

The red Volkswagen which they drove was their mother’s. She had lent it to them accompanied by the strict provision that they return it by 2 pm. They knew that they had promised, but didn’t consider an hour to be so critical; the worst, they reassured each other, would be one of her dramatic tongue-lashings. They expected that she would give them half an hour of berating. It would be half-an-hour in which she told them how irresponsible they were, how disappointed she was, et cetera, et cetera. They knew the routine and looked forward to the aftermath when they would apologize and kiss and make-up and their transgression would be forgiven and, more important, forgotten.

They were still giggling and happy when they parked the car in the garage next to their father’s Rover. They were a little surprised to see it parked there as he generally returned from his clinic later in the day. They accepted this break in his routine as a good sign, giving an additional boost to their joyous stance. They walked down the drive to their home with happy raised voices. Their father met them at the door, his normally calm face, which generally cracked a faint smile when he greeted them, was bathed in disappointment.

“How could you girls break your word?” he asked. “She had to leave your brother next door with neighbors and call me to come home. Then she had to walk to Dr. Shaw’s office. You know what a long hike up hill that is. How could you girls do that? How could you?”

“We didn’t know. It was only an hour,” hazarded the oldest, although, even as she spoke, her heart sank for she knew that her father was a stickler for honesty and for keeping one’s word. The younger knew that such an excuse wouldn’t appease him. She thought of Rudyard Kipling’s poem If framed on his wall and the maxim of honesty and perfect reliability which formed the foundation of his code.

“It doesn’t matter what you knew, you broke your word. You failed. This is not the behavior that I expect from my daughters.” His accusation carried sadness and disappointment tinged with anger. They shuffled uneasily from foot to foot, knowing how much his approval meant to them and how miserable they were, standing before him, having failed. They both wondered what they could say.

The elder volunteered, “Can we go and pick her up?”

But, just then the telephone rang. Their father answered it, “Durham 43068, Dr. Stevens speaking.” The sisters couldn’t hear the other end of the line, but, from his pallor they both sensed that something critical had happened. “I’ll leave at once,” he said. “I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”

When he placed the telephone back on its cradle he sighed, “That was Dr. Shaw.” he said. His voice quivered; something his daughters had never witnessed before. From his face they both thought that he looked as though he was going to cry.

“What’s wrong? Is it Mom? Is she alright?” the elder asked.

Their father seemed to be taking his time in answering as the sisters watched the grandfather clock behind him ticking second by second. When he spoke, his voice was quiet with no anger in it, just an intense sadness.

“Dr. Shaw says that he suspects that it is an advanced colon cancer. Your poor mother, she had to walk to the appointment alone.” He paused and put his hand up to his face, shielding his eyes from their view. His voice rasped out, barely a whisper and yet full of intensity, “We all, and I do mean all, let her down, both you girls and me. I should have been with her.” Again he paused and now his voice was a little louder, almost a gentle wail, “She is my wife and she received this prognosis without me. I should have been with her.”

Taking their cue from him his daughters immediately wanted to cry; their mother had always seemed so full of life. What did this mean? How should they react to this change in the year’s prospects?

The following is advice, which no one gave the sisters. It is advanced to all those in similar circumstances:

“When you hear the news, act immediately. Don’t deny this event in trivia for it will change your life forever. Accept the inevitable, and take instant action. Quit your pressing education, career, and normal obligations; leave them behind and go home. In less than a year you can reassume your life with ease: right now your dying mother needs your love.”

“Sit beside her in the garden room among your father’s red fuchsia; enjoy the last whiff of her Fleurs De Rocaille. Talk to her about her beliefs, love her. Of course you love her, but does she know it? Did you show her instead of telling her? Show her when you cook her favorite foods. Let the house teem with the sweet aroma. Coax her to eat. Read with her, listen to her voice and ask her about her life. Immerse yourself in her precious last days. For this short interlude of time savor her life, by forgetting yours.”

© July 2015 Jane Stansfeld

Ecstasy – a poem

 We have all had a moment,
Hoarded, savored in memory,
A brief passage of extreme joy.
We treasure the happening
Cling to it throughout life.
It’s euphoria induced by;
An achievement, award
Victory, recognition, love.
Mine haunt to this day,
The high after the birth.
I held her in my arms
I floated in ecstasy,
A feeling so intense that,
When the second child was born
I remembered and cried out,
“Where is my high?”
I was happy, but
A re-occurrence never came.
So I save that singular moment
Retain it as my life’s apex.  

© Copyright, July 2015, Jane Stansfeld

 

Vision – A poem

I lie abed and look up,
Into viscous moonlit air,
I see sinuous shapes
The space teems with them
They whirl and twist
Approach and retreat.
No recognizable form, except
One group of pearl droplets.
Dancing on outstretched hand.
My skin feels nothing.
Gently they roll off.
Can these be spirits?
It’s a vision I must keep
As I drift into sleep.

All day I wait for night.
I take to my bed.
I search for my nocturnal vision
I see nothing,
Only dark imprecise forms,
Objects that I recognize by day.
I arise, take out my Magic Eye Book,
Stare at colorful meaningless images.
Put my nose upon the page,
And draw back until they pop.
Three dimensional forms
Clear, luminous, clean.
The air, in their case,
As limpid as my spirit’s place.

Again I lie abed and watch.
I wish the scene to open,
Reveal its secrecies to me
Oh spirits come again
Pop like a Magic Eye picture,
Unveil hidden mysteries
Oh where are you?
Was your visit a one-time revelation?
Nothing, no presence revealed
My eye’s image is fuzzy.
A dark pointillist painting
No clear shape or form
Bewildered, I watch until
I drift  off to sleep.

© Copyright, July 2015, Jane Stansfeld

 

Frog’s Night – a poem

Last night it rained.
Tonight a caressing moon
Casts eerie luminosity,
But it is noise which eclipses.
For this night is frog’s night
The bulls circle my pond,
Singing, calling to their froggies.
Some rill, their throats blown up,
Others croak, ribbit, ribbit,
Invitations to a mating dance.

I lie abed, harken to the refrain.
Wonder, will the neighbors complain?
I try to differentiate voices.
I rise and step outside
To flash brightness over the waters.
Instant silence, only insects continue
Their leg rubbing buzz aloft.
I turn off the blinding light.
The cacophony renews its might
Takes up where it left off.

I muse about men,
Theirs a complex dance.
Wouldn’t many love
To take a stand and call
A man’s mating cry,
“I’m virile and sexy
Come to me”. And then,
Wait for girls to respond
So, without further ado
They could do what all do.

For yes the frogs mated.
This night they copulated.
Now in the pink dawn
The pond teams with spawn.

© Copyright, June 2015 Jane Stansfeld

The Location Variance Board – a parable

By 2025 the City was stifled by its own success; as evidenced by seemingly unsolvable traffic congestion. It had freeways and mass transit, in the form of trains and busses; it had travel restrictions, and mandated work schedules; yet bumper-to-bumper ‘rush hours’ persisted. The name ‘rush hour’ was a misnomer on two counts. First because there was no element of ‘rush’ in the crawl of the traffic. Second because no one, in their right mind, could use the term ‘hour’ to describe the congestion in which the morning commuters’ slow movement mingled into the snarl of homebound evening travelers. This meant that, if asked, no driver could pin-point when the proverbial ‘rush hour’ began or ended. All agreed that, in 2025, traffic was a problem and, shaking their heads, announced,

“Something has to be done about it”.

In the 1980s and 1990s the City’s phenomenal growth had been a source of pride. Residents bragged to their out-of-town friends and relatives quoting the daily influx of new residents as proof of the desirability of their urban home. They waxed lyrical, and talked about the green belts and protected environmental features carefully blended into the urban fabric. The City Council managed to skillfully blend environmental protection with their invitations to new industries and employers so that the influx of new residents had meaningful jobs. They kept unemployment at less than 5%. The happy residents declared,

 “It’s the quiet blend of nature and City which makes our City quintessentially our City. It’s what we love about it. Some say that it is also weird, to which we reply, keep it weird!”

It is hard to imagine how the happy City of the twentieth century could have let itself evolve into the congested nightmare of the twenty-first. Outsiders asked why the elected City leaders hadn’t invested in more mass transit, more freeways, and more corridors for movement, of times called roads. The answer is, unfortunately, a criticism of the way the City functioned. It is an answer which, even in 2025, no resident wanted to accept. The answer is that the City had allowed itself to become compartmentalized into neighborhood groups.  Each group operated a small fiefdom and savagely protected, what they viewed as, their ’rights’. They objected to: the widening of roads, to the increase of density, to the loss of green space, to anything which, they felt, took away from their comfortable immediate environment. If challenged, by an outsider; we note here that only an outsider would dare to do this, no elected City official wanted to risk their electoral support. If challenged, each neighborhood group would have answered that they didn’t see why they had to give up their hard-won rights; they would say,

“Why can’t someone step in and solve the problems of the overall community; perhaps those fat-cats in the elite neighborhoods?”

One spring morning in early April 2020 the residents’ attention was grabbed by a twofold disaster. A fire in a semi-suburban apartment complex burned out of control because the fire engines from the nearest fire station were trapped inside by stalled traffic, while other nearby stations, which ought to have been able to send equipment to help, were unable to respond for the same reason.  The entire complex of several hundred apartments was burned to the ground. Fortunately there were only four fatalities as most of the residents were out in their cars in the traffic. The second disaster was equally sad; a City Council member fell on the City Hall steps and died before an ambulance could get to her aid, again because traffic was at a standstill.

After a time of mourning and fruitless soul-searching, which did nothing to solve the neighborhood stand-offs, Mary was elected to take the seat of the deceased council woman. Mary, a native of the City, now lived in one of the new high-rise condominiums in downtown and could walk to City Hall. Isolated, as she was, from the daily immediacy of the traffic congestion, she might have chosen to ignore the problem; however, the opposite was true, she was acutely aware that the boa constrictor of traffic was suffocating her beloved City.

Mary’s first proposal was a suggestion that the City mandate a four ten-hour day week. This passed quickly as many welcomed the idea of an extra day off. However, it had no impact because everyone merely added Friday to their weekends. Next Mary persuaded City Council to mandate that the extra day off rotate between employers. A complex set of rules were developed. Traffic got better. People complained, but were happy to spend less time on the roads. Their pleasure was short lived and, in a few years, traffic was as bad as ever. Mary stepped in again with the suggestion that the City mandate rotating business hours. This initiative received endorsement as it was what many were already doing in an attempt to circumvent the worst traffic; as a result it had moderate success.

Mass transit, you readers are mumbling, mass transit is the answer, and I, the writer, agree. But, and of course, there is a ’but’; but, you see, the neighborhoods were still looking out for themselves and wouldn’t allow transit intrusion into their sanctified confines. City Council launched mass transit initiatives at every election. Each time the proposal was defeated in deference to full-out attack by whichever neighborhoods felt threatened. Residents quoted the sanctity of their homes and environmental protection while each privately thought,

“Yes they should use mass transit. It’s the answer. They should use it. Yes indeed, they should, but, no, not me, not near my house. I need my private car. Always have, my needs are quite unique; not me!”

Mary’s initiatives had delayed the inevitable by almost ten years, but by 2030 the City traffic was unbearable and our lovely City was beginning to experience a modest population decline. This had never happened before. City Council worried about loss in revenue and the neighborhoods hated the ‘for sale’ signs along their streets. By now our enterprising Mary was mayor, and as the senior City leader she proposed a new initiative. She proposed that the City be divided into wards, which followed the neighborhood boundaries and that residents be mandated to work no more than a certain distance from their homes. She managed to get this initiative passed by giving it a sugar-coating. Those who complied with the rules paid slightly reduced property taxes, those who didn’t, paid on increasingly high percentages. To address the populaces’ objection to the, what they considered, privileged ‘fat cats, in expensive close-in neighborhoods, these residences were offered no tax breaks while being heavily penalized for travel. Workers in fields which demanded location changes, such as maintenance and construction were given automatic exemption.

The caveat, which Mary offered vociferous objectors, was that the City was to set up a ‘Location Variance Board, (LVB)” whose sole job was to evaluate resident’s requests for variances from the location mandate. Given this seeming loophole the neighborhoods accepted the new ordinance. All thought that they knew how to handle City Boards, for, hadn’t they ruled the Board of Adjustments (BOA) for years? They speculated that they would come behind any non-compliant resident and prevail over the LVB while penalizing those in rival neighborhoods. They were in for a big surprise for the LVB, true to its mandate, only cared about traffic, and evaluated each application on its own merit. Commentary from supporters was politely heard and summarily dismissed.

Slowly, over the next decades, the once powerful neighborhoods changed focus. The citizenry came to realize that they were part of a bigger whole in which the good of their individual domain was inextricably woven into the collective good of the entire city. They championed the neighborhoods to allow densities to increase, transit ways to be built and watched with satisfaction as their City, once again, became mobile and an exemplary beacon for others. Eventually there came a time, long after Mary had retired, when the LVB could be disbanded.