Brown Paper Packages

taco picSo, Sean and I started our Saturday morning by walking down to Jo’s Coffee shop on South Congress as we often do.  We ordered our coffees and as I was feeling pretty hungry I ordered two Pappas, Egg and Cheese tacos to match Sean’s order.  We said hello to our new friend Nichole who was once again sporting her red silk kimono and joined her at the large community table to eat our breakfast.  After finishing my first taco, I decided I’d been overzealous in my ordering and wrapped up the remaining taco in a brown paper bag and shoved it down in my backpack to bring home to Al.

I read a little and did some writing warm-ups while Sean sketched various people from around the shop.  Jo’s has a different vibe on Saturdays.  The regulars are there, but there are more families and small children and impolite dogs who bark, bark, bark.  At first the energy is inspirational but eventually we feel the itch to move on and today we have errands to run anyway. So, we packed up our stuff and continued up the hill.

I wanted to make Mexican Wedding Cakes and forgot the vanilla last time I was at the grocery store so we headed to the Farm to Market store which is too expensive to go to on a regular basis but I was willing to splurge to save the time of dragging Al’s big truck out of the garage to go to the HEB.  I spent ten dollars on a bottle of organic vanilla and even the cashier double checked the outrageous price but I was being lazy and I paid for it.  The cashier asked if I wanted a bag. I considered just throwing the bottle in my purse but worried it might leak so I said yes and she wrapped the bottle in small brown paper sack.  I shoved the sack down in my purse not realizing that brown paper sacks would cause problems in my near future.

Sean needed to go to the bank so we walked further up the hill than usual.  Beyond the bank there is a middle school and some barber shops but the shops become more spread out and less appealing so the bank was to be our last stop before heading back to the apartment down the hill.  On our way to the bank, we approached an elderly man with a bushy gray beard in a wheelchair.  He had a cardboard sign in his lap and the words written in Sharpie marker said something about needing any kind of help anyone could offer.  I remembered my leftover taco and said hello to the man and his friend standing next to him.  I told him I didn’t have any cash, which I didn’t, but that I had a taco in my purse and would he like to have it.  He said he would, so I opened my purse and took out the brown paper sack and handed it to him.  We exchanged God Bless You with Have a Nice Day and Sean and I crossed the street to the bank.

As we left the bank, I noticed the man and his friend were gone.  I mentioned to Sean that this was the first time I had ever uttered the phrase, “I have a taco in my purse,” to anyone.  We laughed.

At home, I tidied up the kitchen and started chopping pecans for my cookie dough.  I followed the recipe until I got to the line that read, “Whip butter and sugar together and add vanilla.”  I went to my purse to retrieve the vanilla and dug around past the sunglasses and Kleenex and various pens and pencils. There was no brown bag.  A realization started to dawn and so I checked my backpack and there it was, wrapped in brown paper… the taco I thought I had given to the wheelchair bound man.  “Oh no!” I shouted to Sean with wide eyes while slapping both palms to my cheeks.  “I gave the vanilla to the homeless man!”  “What is he going to do with ten dollars’ worth of pure organic vanilla?” Then, I mimed tipping back a bottle and taking a drink and planted my face in my palm while Sean laughed.

Deconstructing a Good Hair Day

Remember the old Scared Straight program where men in incarceration told horror stories to troubled teens to try to scare them into taking a better path?   Well, I feel like I’ve been there, but instead of hardened convicted criminals, my mentor was of all people, the dentist.

My day started with a dentist appointment for my bi-annual cleaning.  Not a big deal, just a check up.  The hygienist was kind and actually complemented my hair color on the way to the chair.  I only see this woman twice a year and she noticed my hair was different; my husband could take a lesson from her in the powers of observation.

So there I am feeling all confident about my hair as she explains that before my cleaning there will be x-rays, gum mapping, and a cancer screening.  The x-rays go off without a hitch and then she proceeds with the gum mapping which consists of stabbing my gums with a sharp instrument and noting whether I bleed or not.  Fun!

This friendly dental hygienist smiles the whole time she explains to me in a very chatty, we are just the best of friends, kind of way that my flossing seems to have been under par and that “at my age” I’m going to have to step it up a bit.  She also notes that I probably should have gone ahead and had that filling the doctor ordered last year even though we had already maxed out my insurance because now it’s a crater that could require a root canal at any minute.  She continues to smile (I would too if I got free dental care) as she explains that by not getting that filling last year, bacteria was just running amuck in my mouth reeking havoc everywhere.

As if choreographed in advance, the dentist walks in at this moment and asks to see my x-rays.  The scene plays out underscored by Bad Company from the overhead speakers which the sweet little dental assistant notes, “has been playing ‘the oldies’ all day.”

Turns out I need about $4000.00 worth of dental work which the dentist assures me is not my fault.  He pats me on the shoulder and in a very soothing voice tells me, “it’s just what happens as we get older.”

The bright-eyed hygienist polishes up my dull aging teeth, then gives me a serious look over her mask as she explains how important it is to take care of these dental problems as soon as possible to avoid more damage.  She shows me literature about a loan program for mortgaging my mouth and sends me on my way with a new toothbrush and a mini-pack of floss.  I pass the dentist on my way out and he gives me the little pointing-a-gun gesture as he winks.  “See you soon,” he says.  And I realize, it doesn’t matter how good my hair looks when apparently my teeth are rotting out of my head.  Excuse me, I need to go floss.

Just Whistle

Just when life seems to be humming along and we start to believe in the myth that we’ve got it all under control, a gap opens up in the veil between reality and our perception of our world. I’m starting to get the feeling that God is trying to tell me something lately because, I’ve been spotting the gaps a lot more frequently.  It appears that I don’t always get a choice about which direction the road is going to go.

It’s a warm Spring Sunday.  By mid-day, the morning breeze has revved up to a 40 mph gust, blowing winter’s waste all over the yard.  After planting a tray of purple and yellow pansies and getting an eye-full of vermiculite in the process, thanks to the wind, I head to the potting shed to put away my favorite shovel.  I notice as I step over the threshold in my black rubber boots that the shed seems pressurized.  An absent window pane on the west wall is letting the gale blow through.  I step in, toss my kid-sized shovel into the barrel full of sand, and bend down to pick up the tin pail I use to feed the chickens.  Bang!  The door slams shut and the shed feels full of pressure again.

I fill the tin pail with ground corn, scratch grain (seeds), and a sprinkling of oyster shells then cross the room to open the potting shed door.  It won’t open.  The door frame, outside the shed has a swing-latch for a pad lock bolted to the side.  The shed door has an eye bolted there to receive the latch.  The harsh wind that blew the door shut with such force has caused the latch to engage.  I am locked in the shed. 

Now it’s Sunday, my family is home, so my first act is to bang on the door and yell, “Hey, somebody help me, I’m locked in the shed.”  The wind is still gusting at over 40 mph, no one can hear me.  I remember, my oldest son is in his room working on a painting for his senior concentration.  My youngest is in the living room watching cartoons and writing an essay on his laptop with his iPod plugged into his ears.  I’m pretty sure my husband is in the yard somewhere so I give a little prayer of thanks that it’s not Monday when the kids would be in school, my husband at work and I would be home alone.

 I grab the chipped, black ceramic doorknob and rattle the door long and hard enough that a box of seed packets falls off the adjacent shelf and packets scatter all across the floor.  “Ok, this is getting me nowhere,” I think to myself.  The wind is whipping through the ancient Silver Maples in our yard, and any sound I make will surely get lost in the roar.  So I put my fingers to my tongue and make the loudest sound I know how to make.  I whistle.  Again and again until I’m out of breath I blow a screech across my teeth like I’ve heard my Dad do a million times when he calls his hunting dogs home.  I rattle the door a few more times and yell out, “Hey!” until my voice cracks and then I whistle again.  It’s clear and piercing and accidentally timed to a lull in the wind.  “I hear ya!” my husband hollers from across the drive, “I’m coming!”  I rattle the door one more time for good measure and my hero saves the day.  I’m free, and he’s laughing at me.

 Boy, it’s a good thing for Sara G. who sat next to me in 7th grade during a middle-school volleyball game.  She taught me how to whistle through my fingers during that game and I’ve used the skill many times to call kids back from the creek or my husband in for dinner.  Little did we know back then, I’d need to whistle for my freedom one day.  But apparently, God and my husband have the same sense of humor and I’m not really in control of much at all.