The worm – a short story

Tina’s father had business at Durham University and took Tina and her mother with him. While he was engaged with the University Tina, and her mother went sightseeing. Tina’s mother bravely drove a rented car and soon became an expert at navigating on the left side of the road. One day, they visited Penshaw Monument[1] with its commanding location at the top of a hill. They scrambled up the monument’s steep stairs enjoy the view and afterward walked in the surrounding park.

It was unusually dry that summer; the ground was parched and even the weeds looked distressed. When Tina saw an odd-looking, desiccated, worm lying upon the ground, she deduced it to be dehydrated and almost dead. She had always been interested in fauna, and so she picked it up. When she looked at it carefully she realized that it had a distinctive head with eyes and mouth and nine tiny holes on each side of its head. She had never seen anything like this before, and so she slipped it into her bottle of distilled water. The water appeared to revive the worm, and it wiggled around in the bottle and looked at her. Later, when she and her mother ate their picnic lunch, Tina pushed a few crumbs from her sandwich into the bottle. The worm devoured the crumbs, and it seemed to Tina that it was thanking her, by the way, that it shook its head and waved its tail. Her mother watched in disbelief,

“Tina dear, please dispose of that disgusting wriggling thing.”

“But Mama,” Tina pleaded, “I feel a rapport with Wormy. I think that he communicates with me. Poor thing he is all alone. I think that we need to find out more about his genus.”

Tina’s mother looked at her daughter; she had picked up on the fact that Tina had already given her ‘Wormy’ sex by referring to him, as ‘he’ rather than ‘it’. Later, back at their Bed and Breakfast, Tina found nothing similar to the worm on the Internet. She learnt a great deal about worms, eels, salamanders and lampreys. She read worms don’t have eyes, and now knew that her ‘Wormy’ was not a worm. The next day at lunch at a pub in Durham City a kindly gentleman, hugging a frothy pint of beer, laughed at Tina’s worm and suggested that it might be a descendent of the Lambton worm. He launched into a quick summary of this piece of folklore.

One Sunday morning young John Lampton, son of the local Earl of Lambton, skipped church and went fishing in the River Wear. On his way, an old personage warned that nothing good would come to him for his truancy. The only thing he snared was a slimy worm, which was so disgusted him that, on his way home, he threw it down a local well. Time went on, and John Lambton matured and left County Durham to join a crusade. He was gone seven years. When he returned he found his father’s estate in ruins. The entire countryside was being terrorized by an enormous worm which ate livestock, milked cows and even took the occasional child. John was deduced that this worm was the worm that he had thrown down the well. Many had unsuccessfully tried to kill it, for it appeared to have magical powers and could reconstruct itself when cut into pieces. John took counsel and commissioned armor with outward pointing knives. He met the Dragon in the River Wear. It attacked him by wrapping its body around him like a boa constrictor. The tighter it squeezed; the deeper the knives severed its body. As it was cut up, each piece was washed away by the river current before it could reconnect. The worm was dead. John had been warned that, after he dispatched the worm, he must kill the first living creature that greeted him. He had instructed his father that this should be his dog; unfortunately, his father was so excited that he forgot to release the dog and ran to hug his son. John did not kill his father, resulting in a curse that succeeding generations of Lamptons would not die in their beds.

Of course, everyone agreed that the tale of the Lambton worm was just a tale. They ordered more beer and joked to reinforce their collective belief in a carefully nurtured local legend. Tina was as convinced as everyone and was not about to kill her Wormy. She did entertain a modicum of fear tinged with foreboding meaning, and knew that she was not going to release it into a well or any other body of water in County Durham.

Tina decided to give Wormy a better name, because she knew that ‘Wormy’ was both inaccurate and conveyed the wrong connotation. As they walked back to their B and B from the pub, she hit upon calling him ‘LW’. ‘L’ as a reminder of Penshaw and the Lambton lands where he was found and ‘W’ for worm as a reminder that this is what everyone originally assumed him to be. When it was time to return home in Austin Texas Tina wrapped LW in wet towels and a Ziploc bag and carried him in her suitcase. When she got home, she placed him in her tropical fish tank.

LW appeared to like the fish tank. Every day when Tina fed the fish, he came up to the surface and ate with them. The fish took their food with apparent indifference. LW ate his while looking directly into Tina’s eyes. She was sure that he was communicating with her. She watched him grow bigger, and wondered how large he was going to get. By December, LW was several inches long and began to eat the other fish. He started with the tetra and progressed to the larger fish finishing off with the algae eater. Tina tried giving more food fish food, but this did not appear to stem his appetite. Tina’s mother told her that the LW had to go. By now, Tina was convinced that she and LW could communicate and that when he winked at her; he was telling her that he needed a larger body of water.

Tina’s father suggested that they release LW into Tina’s grandparents’ decorative backyard fishpond. He would be fed when the fish were fed, and Tina could see him when she visited them. Tina discovered that if she stood at the edge of the pond and rubbed two rounded stones together, periodically tapping them, LW would come and lift his head out of the water and greet her. Tina took to placing her hand near him when he rose above the surface of the water, and he would put his head in her palm and rub against her skin. She understood this to be his expression of love. As time passed LW grew bigger. When he was a couple of feet long he slowly devoured the Koi in the pond, then he took to making nocturnal excursions from the water to consume frogs and any local domestic cats who came by. The neighborhood assumed that the cats were being attacked by coyotes, until they realized that the coyotes were also gone. Again LW communicated as he wiggled his head back and forth against her hand. He told her that he needed a larger body of water.

For several days, Tin worried about LW’s need for more space, and then she hit on a solution. She told him to leave the pond in the dead of night and to make his way across the Greenbelt behind her grand-parent’s house to a small stream. He was to follow the stream until it came to a much larger neighborhood lake. She told him to keep himself hidden at all times; explaining that if anyone saw him, they were bound to do him harm. She reassured him with the promise that she would meet him at the lake in three days.

When Tina arrived at the lake, it looked as it always looked, and she thought that she must have lost her friend. She followed the path around to a place where she was hidden from view by the other park users. She took out her stones and rubbed them together and tapped them. Immediately she saw a ripple in the water moving towards her. It was LW. He lifted his head out of the water and extended his red tongue to wrap it gently around her legs. She giggled, and lent down scratched the back of his head. Again, time passed, and as it did LW continued to grow. At first, no one noticed that the duck and geese population of the pond was decreasing. By the time that they, and all the fish and turtles had disappeared, LW was over twelve feet long and beginning to have trouble remaining concealed.

A string of emails flowed around the Travis Country neighborhood. Each offered a speculation on why the pond wildlife was disappearing. In response to their concerns, the neighborhood park committee called in an environmental expert to test the water. To everyone’s relief, the expert reported that the water was well within the normal range. The report advised that the depopulation must have another explanation and recommended that a close watch be given to the pond so that the true explanation could be uncovered.

Tina communicated their findings to LW. She told him that she feared for his safety, especially as he was obliged to go on nocturnal foraging trips. They both agreed on the need for a larger body of water. Tina told LW to leave the lake and to follow the stream that connected it to the Barton Creek Greenbelt, and from thence to follow Barton Creek to where it fed into Town Lake. Tina herself was about to enroll in the University of Texas to study biology and vowed to take an apartment on the south side of Town Lake close to the new South-side boardwalk so that she, and LW could commune daily.

A week later when the pink light of dawn was caressing the waters of the lake and illuminating the bridges against still dark waters Tina walked along the south bank. Then when no-one was around, she slipped underneath one of the support piers of the boardwalk. She squatted beside the waters and rubbed her stones together periodically tapping them. After a few minutes, LW appeared. He arose from the water and placed his head in her lap. She stroked his scaly skin and scratched his neck.

LW told Tina that it had taken him several days to travel down Barton Creek. The problem was that Barton Creek periodically went underground rushing through deep limestone caves too tight for LW to navigate. This had meant that he had had to follow the dry surface Creek bed with its limestone boulders. During the day, he hid among the lush foliage of the Creek’s ravine only able to take brief naps due to the large number of bicyclists and people walking along the Creek banks. He went on to tell her that he liked the Lake; it teamed with fish, and he was optimistic for this to be his final home.

Again, time passed and LW grew relentlessly.  He gradually ate all the fish, ducks, swans, herons and turtles (he told Tina back he didn’t like turtles much). He began taking foraging trips away from the lake. They both knew that it was time for another move. This time the only waters Tina could think of was the Gulf of Mexico. She explained to LW that if he slipped over the Town Lake dam he could follow the Colorado River all the way to the coast. She warned him that seawater is saline, and brought a sample from her university lab for him to taste. He told her that he was sure that he could survive in salt water. He confessed to her that he had begun to feel an urge to return to his place of birth.

By now, LW was over fifty feet long. He put his head on Tina’s lap and listened to her as she gave her instructions,

“The route down the Colorado River will be long and exhausting.  The river winds its way across the plane to the ocean; it has frequent turns and switch-backs, but if you persist, I assure you that it eventually empties into the ocean.’

LW wiggled with excitement and assured Tina that he would be patient.

“Now LW, you know that you will have to travel by night. I warn you that if you are spotted, we shall never see each other again. Indeed, I dread thinking what might happen. Either you will be killed outright and your body hauled off for scientific research, or you will be stunned and kept in a cage or small tank while you are being gawked at, prodded, and studied.”

LW flailed about, waving his tail in the water to indicate his understanding, and a light-hearted  mood.

“No LW, listen to me; this is not a laughing matter. You must always be discreet and unseen. When you get to the ocean, that’s when the water becomes salty. You will be confronted by a barrier island. Follow the island to the south and you will find an opening to the vast ocean beyond.”

Tina sighed and looked out over the calm waters of Town Lake. She scratched LW’s head and stroked his scales placing her finger gently on each of his nine holes on either side of his head. LW rolled his eyes in an indication of extreme pleasure.

“OK, once you are in the ocean; you will be free. Eat and go where you please. You may find companions in the ocean deeps. However, if you do decide to return to the coast near where I found you; and I assure you it’s a very long way; I’ll be there. I shall be there for three or four days on either side of next year’s summer solstice. Now listen carefully. The River Wear empties into the cold North Sea at a place called Sunderland. There are two breakwaters around the mouth of the river. North of the North Breakwater is a sandy beach. The beach is bracketed on the North by a cliff of rocks and to the south by the Breakwater. I shall wait on the beach.”

That morning Tina and LW remained together longer than usual while each wondered whether they would ever see each other again. When the pounding of joggers on the boardwalk overhead began to intrude upon their communion, Tina rose and looked at him with tears in her eyes,

“Good-bye, have a good Journey. I hope to see you next June; if not, I shall always treasure my memory of you. You’re the best. ”


The following June 19 Tina sat at dawn, as promised, on the County Durham beach. She rubbed her stones together and tapped them as hard as she could. A cold wind blew across the sands, and she shivered. All morning she waited but nothing arose out of the pounding surf. The following day she took a red balloon and rug with her. She wrapped herself in the rug, tied the balloon to her wrist and persistently rubbed and tapped her stones. When the beach began to fill up with other people, she left. It rained on June 21; Tina wrapped herself in a red Macintosh and sat upon the beach rubbing and tapping her stones. This time her persistence was rewarded, and she saw LW drifting towards the shore shrouded in a mantel of seaweed. She waded into the water and touched him. They both felt a thrill of reconnection. It didn’t take long for Tina to realize that LW was not himself. He told her that the saltwater was killing him. Tina cried. LW swirled his tail gently around her and reassured her that he was content. She came to understand that he was hermaphrodite and had produced a sack of eggs. He carried them in his mouth and opened that cavity and using his red tongue, gently pushed the sack into Tina’s hands.

“What do you want me to do with your eggs? I can’t take them back to Austin. It would be their death.’

LW waved his tail and then Tina understood. LW had an innate dream of deep clear waters somewhere to the North of the landmass on which they now stood. It was a place where his eggs could hatch and grow without human intervention. At first, Tina could not think where such a place should be, but as she stood there shivering in the cold water, she remembered the stories of the Loch Ness monster and knew where LW’s eggs had to go.

[1] The Penshaw Monument in County Durham is a half-sized size scale replica of the Temple of Hephaestus in Athens.  It is a folly built in 1844 in memory of John Lambton. It was given to the British nation in 1939.


The Chair – a short story

I apologize that this post is 2,576 words. I considered breaking it up into two posts  but decided against this as it breaks the flow. I hope that some of my readers can read it at one sitting. 

The chair was located in the entrance hall of an elegant single story home in Austin, Texas. He wasn’t sure if he stood or sat in his place; stood because he had four legs, but sat because that was his function. The dilemma constantly puzzled him for he had ample time to ruminate. From his location he could see the dining room with its long polished table and set of eight perfect matching chairs in a similar Chippendale style to his own.  How he envied those chairs with their table and how he hated to see them in use.  He creaked with sadness every time someone sat in the regal arm chair at the head of the table for he regarded this location as his rightful place. He was, after all, the oldest, most decorated, most elegant armchair in the home and yet the only person who sat upon him was his house mistress when she was putting on or removing her walking shoes. On other occasions, when the family had guests, he was reduced to clothes-horse and repository for discarded overcoats, purses, socks and shoes.

He wondered how long his boring life would drift on in this way and sometimes dreamed of Edward Lear and the chummy relationship between the table and chair of his poem The Table and the Chair.  He was particularly fond of the first two verses with the table’s suggestion “If we took a little walk, We might have a little talk! and tried to imagine what it might be like for him to go for a walk with a table at his side. His real fascination was his private dream that he might be able to use such an expedition to initiate a search for his lost family. Daily he repeated the verses to himself, letting the words tingle his ribbon back.

When it was first put in place the chair noticed that the elegant dining table of the next room didn’t have legs in the traditional sense it stood on two huge wheel mounted pedestals; it could roll, perhaps, but never walk. As for the chilblains mentioned in Lear’s poem, thankfully Austin, Texas, never got cold enough, but the heat, also mentioned in the poem, oh the heat and the often desert-like low humidity; they were a curse from which the chair did suffer. He could feel his wood dehydrating and becoming more brittle as the years rolled by. He took vicarious consolation that the same conditions were assailing the occupants of the dining room. He was sure that going for walks never occurred to those youthful chairs.

The chair was located opposite a tall stately grandfather clock with ancient dial and gently disintegrating veneered case. Initially the chair didn’t like the grandfather clock because the incessant ticking and hourly bouts of noisy chimes upset his dreary thoughts. In 2005 his attitude began to change when old grandfather announced that he intended to celebrate his 290th birthday with a set of twenty-nine chimes at mid-night. The chair gave his approval and unexpectedly, even for him, asked whether the celebration could include his 255th birthday.  This, of course, was a lie as the chair knew that he was only 140 years old. The moment that he said it he regretted his bravado and wondered why he needed to impress the friendly clock. The clock instantly agreed and seemed to give the chair’s purported age special credence by suggesting that he would give 25 chimes at midnight for the chair and add another 4 at 1:00 am for himself. Their celebration back-fired because the mistress of the house awoke and heard the chimes; she might have missed the  twenty-five at midnight, putting it down to her being partially asleep but the four at 1:00 am were unmistakable. The next day she called in a clock ‘doctor’ and the clock’s head was dismantled and hauled away to ‘The Clock Shop’. That was when the chair realized that he missed his companion, the old clock, and even longed for the return of ticking and regular chimes.

The clock was very chipper when he returned and smiled gently down upon the chair. At night he talked of his trip. He talked of the several dozen clocks whom he had met. He regaled about the joy of chiming is unison, and of the cacophony of sound. The chair responded by quoting Edward Lear sighing sadly that he had no-one to walk or talk to. The clock knew the poem and asked the chair whether he heeded the last three verse in which the table and chair get lost and employ a duck, mouse and beetle to guide them home. The time away had made the clock loquacious and he went on, “I abhor mice. First and foremost I because they are dirty creatures who are known to chew wood with their awful pointed teeth.” He paused to chime and then continued, “A nasty family once nested in my case; you can’t see it but I have a hole in my heel where they nibbled a door for themselves.” After an hour the clock chimed again, it was 1:00 am, he sighed and took up his dialogue where he had left off, “Yep, I hate ‘em because every kid imagines a mouse running up my case and quotes that trite nursery rhyme Hickory, dickory, dock. 

The chair tapped his four legs in approval when  the clock quoted the lyrics; then he continued his monologue, “I dislike that rhyme on many levels. It is older than I, not that age is particularly important.” At this point the chair wondered whether the clock’s comment was an indirect jab of the clock’s at his deceit in reporting his age. While the chair let his thoughts wander momentarily the clock continued, “The rhyme was originally coined in 1659 to ridicule Oliver Cromwell’s son Richard, or Hickory Dick who only ruled England for one year, hence the strike of one. Second verse is a little better because now Richard is a pig to be brought down by Charles 11. Few people know this verse.” said the clock gently hummed the words which go like this:

Dickory, dickory, dare,
The pig flew in the air.
The man in brown
Soon brought him down,
Dickory, dickory, dare.

Then there was silence only broken by the clock’s regular heart-beat ticking and the outside distant roar of night traffic. The chair continued to agonize over this deception and was beginning to formulate a way to tell the clock when the clock took up again,

‘Beetles!” he said, “Never, ever, let a beetle close to you,’ his ticking almost lost a beat in his excitement. He repeated, “Never, ever, let a beetle get close to you! What’s more,” he added with a loud creak, “What’s more the smallest ones are the worst, the most to be feared.”

“What’s so wrong with beetles?” inquired the chair, “after all, the beetle guided the table and chair home.”

“Maybe,’ came the reply, “but surely you know that wood worms are a type of beetle and so are termites. Beetles are our doom they eat our substance. Stay away from beetles! Don’t let them into your home and don’t fraternize with them. In Lear’s poem they dined on beans and bacon but I bet you that that loathsome beetle was eyeing his hosts with gluttonous desire!”


As time went on the friendship between grandfather and the chair strengthened. They often reminisced about the old country, for they were both made in the United Kingdom and had shared the same package container when they crossed the Atlantic. Grandfather invited the chair to closely scrutinize his face to observe his maker’s name proudly etched into the brass ‘Bradley, London’ He boasted that Bradley who was apprenticed in 1688 and member of the ‘Clock and Watchmaker’s Company’ 1695-1748 becoming well known for his turret clocks including St. Paul’s, London and St. Giles, Edinburgh. The grandfather’s pride and joy was the upper mechanism of his dial which depicted the faces of the moon synchronized for London so that his first owners knew when the tide was low and they could ford the Thames.

The chair admired the clock’s assets and gradually began to share his story, “I’m built from solid mahogany ‘in the style of Thomas Chippendale’ so they say.” At this juncture the chair saw the clock’s veneer tremble and so he continued to elaborate. “Thomas Chippendale, was baptized in 1718, and died in 1779. He was a successful London cabinet maker and furniture designer. He is best remembered for The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker’s Director which is a book of his designs published in 1754. There are many chair designs in the book, most with ball and claw feet. But I like my plain feet don’t you?” The clock looked down and nodded in approval. “You can see my exact back among the pages – it has been copied everywhere. Why even the youth at the dining table yonder boast a similar design probably taken from Tomas Chippendale’s book. The chair was pleased with himself for he hadn’t said that he was a Chippendale chair or made any remark which referred to his age.

The clock again quivered in approval and commented “I love the tasteful scrolls of your back and the fact that all that carving, I assume, was done by hand out of a single mahogany plank.”

“Right-on,’ responded the chair, “and don’t forget my hand needlepointed seat with its Chippendale style image of bird and flowers.”

Several days later the clock asked, “So, chair, I’ve thought and thought about Chippendale and your heritage and can’t understand why you are always so miserable. Surely your heritage should bring you pride and joy?”

“Maybe,” responded the chair,” but there is more to my story. You see I am part of a matched set or, I like to think, ‘family’ of ten. Yes, don’t shudder like that, ten is a nice number.” He sighed. “There was me, and the lady whom I regarded as my wife. We were the two arm chairs who commanded the table from either end. We are branded I and I. I am II, ladies first you know. Then there were our eight companions. I liked to think of them as our children, four girls, and four boys, branded I though VIII. They were always located on the long sides of the table. How I miss them.”

“I can’t imagine having a family.” said the clock. “We grandfather clocks are designed to be loners. I may have enjoyed the comradely of The Clock Shop but it is exhausting and only good for short periods. The worst part is making sure that you are true to yourself and don’t slip into ticking and chiming at the exact times as everyone else. Of course they did give me respect due to my age. I was the oldest there by a long shot. Now tell me more about your family, how did you come to be separated?”

“We were all together until about 1960 when our owners both died and we were inherited by their son and daughter. The both ‘loved’ us and wanted to keep us, so they did what so many heirs do – they split us up. It happens with silverware and dinnerware all the time. Even with us chairs it is quite common; it explains why full sets are so valuable. The son took my ‘wife’, the other arm chair, and the ‘children’ IV, VI, VII and VIII. The daughter took me and I, II, III and V. We were shipped to the north of England.”

‘Ah yes, I arrived in 1965. I stood in the hall. I’m always in the hall.”

“So you were; I heard you but we were always in the dining room which, I suppose, is why we never officially met. It was a cold draughty house wasn’t it? That’s where I learnt about chilblains. In those days we never suffered from the heat. Temperature wise it was a cold place but in other respects it was warm. We were sat upon every evening when the family dined; oh the conversations, oh the food!”

Grandfather interrupted with a chime of 3:00 am and an apology. “Please go on.” he urged.

“The good times ended slowly as the family of five disintegrated, the children left home, the mother died. The best thing that happened during those years was the father’s undertaking to needlepoint seat covers for us all. He finished the covers before he died in 1998. Then there was another split up when one of the daughters took me and I, II, III and V went to Oxford with the son. I often dream of them and try to imagine what happened to them and how they are doing.”


Another day the clock inquired about the chair’s experiences prior to the owners who died in 1960. It might have been an opportunity for the chair to come straight over his age but he didn’t, he responded,

“That part is loud and hectic. We were table four in a regimental mess hall. Look closely at my legs you can see the chips and scars where sabers hung from the men’s Sam Browne belts cut into the wood. We were happy to leave that place for the calm of a private residence with quiet family meals and a lovely elegant dining room looking out upon a fine rose garden.”

In 2015 the chair and clock shared two exciting events. Grandfather planned to celebrate his 300th birthday and the chair overheard talk of a reunion with I, II, III and V. Festivities were dampened when tattered shipping boxes arrived and I, II, III and V fell out in what looked like a pile of mahogany kindling. The mistress of the house set up a chair workshop or hospital in the garage and began the arduous task of piecing together pieces to resuscitate the four chairs. The chair in the hall waited in silence for his longed for reunion. Daily he agonized over the activities in the garage; every bang of a hammer made him shudder. The moans of chairs in vices made him flinch and the stench of finish remover made him queasy.

The clock told the chair that he planned a special chiming to celebrate his 300th birthday and offered to include the chair’s reunion in the celebration. He suggested that they perform the ritual when the mistress was on vacation and the house empty. He asked the chair, “How do you and I, II, III and V wish to celebrate your 265th?”

Chair responded, “We will celebrate our reunion by listening to your chimes. As for our birthday, I have to confess that I lied about my age. I don’t know why I did it – to impress you I suppose, but now I have other things to impress with and confess that we are only 150 years old. We are in the style of Chippendale not made by Chippendale!”

The clock chuckled, “Of course I knew. I’m glad that you are now content enough to tell me.”

“You knew, how did you know?”

“I’m a clock. We clocks always know. Time is our business!”

“You went along with my deceit?”

“Yes, after all who cares about a few hundred years?”

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.”

Marriage – a poem

‘The Wind’ by C Dale Young is a haunting poem. In this poem I plagiarize by taking the first line of each stanza of ‘The Wind’ (at times modified slightly) and work it into my own interpretation called ‘Marriage’. I wanted to post a link to C Dale Young’s poem that you could read it but I couldn’t find one, so if any of my readers requests it I’ll post it here. I refrain from doing so now as I don’t want to be compared with a master like C Dale Young.

But I was afraid then. I remember still
menacing water on my face,
my anguish, as I lost my grip on the shore.
Where were you, partner, when I stepped in
alone, to brave the salty deeps,
abandoned, to my frigid fear?

Unlike you I was lit by panic then,
waves sucked me into their embrace,
Could I yell for help?
Many were there immobile, impassive
but you mouthed ‘I love you’.
Then, you told me that

there shall be no fear. But I was afraid.
Yesterday I watched my friend
walk the same path to the vows altar.
I heard her dismayed cry as
her craft swirled on wild waters.
The current spun her fast, she

who has only just learned to be carried by it.
Do not shrug, I need you beside
to brave life’s treacherous eddies
Together we sail swirling seas to eternity.
I need you to buoy me up,
To save me; you, who keep my heart

in your rooms. Now, the old man says
we must face life together,
what God joined no man shall
put asunder. The lifeboat of union
needs two at the oars.
You and I together, for a third.

But this, this final step … Do not laugh.
when a child joins us in the
waxing and waning of life. We are bound,
watertight, as a deft dry family
rowing serenely over the expanse,
hereafter, to never dive alone.