One more year as camp counselor

 Two years ago my hubby declared himself too old to be a camp counselor. This year, the day our St. Louis grandchildren signed up to join their Little Rock cousins at church camp, he immediately said, “I’ll be a counselor this year.”

Before going, he filled his pill box with morning and evening medicines to keep his heart beating regularly. 

Do you want an extra pad for your camp bed?” I asked. He shook his head and grabbed a recently finished Minnie Mouse quilt, his toothbrush and Bible.

On Sunday he made up his bunk and welcomed two grandsons into his cabin of five boys. They settled in for a week of lessons, crafts, sports and fun.

Tuesday morning, he came home for an appointment with his heart specialist and a business meeting. He returned to camp in time for evening devotions. 

Wednesday, one grandson challenged him to play tether ball. Easy game, unless you are 79 and have a partial knee replacement. He turned too fast and wrenched his leg.

Thursday, camp ended. He limped into the house with the St. Louis grandchildren, Sophie and Sam, and dropped his suitcase. “I can not lift anything. I am so tired,” he coughed. The sun had not even set when he fell into bed. I gave him a pillow to prop his swollen knee and closed the bedroom door.

Friday morning, Sam and I left the house to check out a couple yard sales. Sam found small star shaped tins, “we can make star shaped chocolate chip cookies in these!” he decided.

Then we need chocolate chips,” I turned the car toward the grocery store.

Grandpa slept as Sophie mixed up cookie dough. He slept as I prepared hash and poured milk on cereal. 

At 11:30 he awoke to find the old fashion upright typewriter on the dining table and the treadle sewing machine open. 

Have you ever used a treadle?” I asked Sophie.

Well, I wasn’t supposed to…” she said.

Oh don’t worry about this one, you really can’t hurt it. They built these things to last.”

She and Sam treadled out rows of stitching, typed a bit on the manual typewriter and then switched to an electric sewing machine to make pillowcases. Sam looked at the hole in the knee of his jeans and said, “I used to like the holes, but now they are just annoying. Can you mend my jeans? You will have to hand sew a patch on it.” I studied his jeans. I have patched plenty of torn jeans with a machine.

Grandpa slumped in his chair watching Sam sort through Lego blocks. He listened to Sophie work her way through the first book for piano players. He tasted cookies, checked his email and went to the doctor for his cough and not as swollen leg. 

We went to the MAD playscape. He went to pick up pills for his cough. At bedtime the house looked like a wreck. My husband felt like one. His mind defies his age, but his body knows it’s 79 and counting.

Saturday morning, I tiptoed out of our bedroom, opened the sewing machine and sewed five patches on Sam’s jeans and fixed the hem before we left to meet his mom and brother. 

We had so much fun!” the campers declared. Their little brother Henry bragged about his week as an only child.

We swapped stories, ate lunch, transferred luggage, exchanged hugs good-bye and then hubby announced, “This was Sam’s first year at camp and my last year as camp counselor.” Today he thinks he needs to pass the job on to the next generation. Maybe he means it this time. Maybe.

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One boy’s story

He walked alongside the road, huddled beside his mother to ward off the air whipping around him hearing the swoosh of cars passing him as they walked to school. No car and no bus meant they walked from their tiny home and hoped to be offered a ride.

The daily walk ended the day their small school closed due to deficiencies.

“We will home school,” his parents declared, certain they knew enough to teach an elementary student. Perhaps they did. They did not, however, know how to deal with the daily grind of sitting down with a child and covering lessons every single. Too quickly excuses piled higher than unfinished homework. Too many days began, “Today let’s have a break” until a week, a month and and then two passed with no lessons.

Unexpectedly they had to leave their small house due to deficiencies. The boy’s family gathered up their meager belongings and rented a room by the day in an area where Stranger Danger lurked outside the door. A kid needs to run and play. There was no room. Not in the parking lot or on the sidewalk in front of the buildings all around him.

“No! You can’t go outside and play. It’s too dangerous,” his mother always said when he asked. “Go watch TV and be quiet.”

He watched and waited. Waited for something more than the television’s constant drone in the dim room. Despair set in and hope faded until a concerned friend made calls insisting that something be done, “Move to a bigger place with room for play and a school nearby.”

The bigger place did not have electricity for warming food or family.

“We can sleep on the floor in sleeping bags. We can fix it up. Lots of people have lived on less,” his parents said. Friends offered the child a bed while they fixed things.

The sleeping bags never became beds. The friends emphatically insisted he live with them until the situation improved. There he had his own bed, a yard big enough for any boy to explore and a large school with the daily routine of lessons to study and recess with other kids. The seeping sadness once invading the child lifted. He began to glimpse the possibilities his parents had ignored.

Then he received a scholarship to a church camp far from the city with its one room habitat surrounded with Stranger Danger.

Driving into the camp he saw massive trees, acres of green grass, a basketball court and tether ball court. He could see forever. No walls broke his vision. No huge parking lot filled with cars forbade his presence. No tvs or electronics were allowed to distract campers. A circle of cabins, dining hall and activity buildings awaited him at the edge of the forest. He wanted to try everything: baseball, volleyball, swimming and horse riding.

Until time to leave he barely stopped for meetings and meals. He explored everything: the trees, the trails, the games. The adults sat and visited. He walked everywhere, played everything and smiled constantly. The first night in the the cabin, he joyfully declared, “I feel like I have gone to heaven.”

He had escaped the bleakness of days of sitting in front of a television set in a darkened room waiting for some action. At camp he discovered the world beyond his past. He found freedom to roam, play and learn. He heard again that the Son will set you free. He embraced the woods, the sunshine and the message of God’s love. He found hope and welcomed it completely.

He walked alongside the road, huddled beside his mother to ward off the air whipping around him hearing the swoosh of cars passing him as they walked to school. No car and no bus meant they walked from their tiny home and hoped to be offered a ride.

The daily walk ended the day their small school closed due to deficiencies.

“We will home school,” his parents declared, certain they knew enough to teach an elementary student. Perhaps they did. They did not, however, know how to deal with the daily grind of sitting down with a child and covering lessons every single. Too quickly excuses piled higher than unfinished homework. Too many days began, “Today let’s have a break” until a week, a month and and then two passed with no lessons.

Unexpectedly they had to leave their small house due to deficiencies. The boy’s family gathered up their meager belongings and rented a room by the day in an area where Stranger Danger lurked outside the door. A kid needs to run and play. There was no room. Not in the parking lot or on the sidewalk in front of the buildings all around him.

“No! You can’t go outside and play. It’s too dangerous,” his mother always said when he asked. “Go watch TV and be quiet.”

He watched and waited. Waited for something more than the television’s constant drone in the dim room. Despair set in and hope faded until a concerned friend made calls insisting that something be done, “Move to a bigger place with room for play and a school nearby.”

The bigger place did not have electricity for warming food or family.

“We can sleep on the floor in sleeping bags. We can fix it up. Lots of people have lived on less,” his parents said. Friends offered the child a bed while they fixed things.

The sleeping bags never became beds. The friends emphatically insisted he live with them until the situation improved. There he had his own bed, a yard big enough for any boy to explore and a large school with the daily routine of lessons to study and recess with other kids. The seeping sadness once invading the child lifted. He began to glimpse the possibilities his parents had ignored.

Then he received a scholarship to a church camp far from the city with its one room habitat surrounded with Stranger Danger.

Driving into the camp he saw massive trees, acres of green grass, a basketball court and tether ball court. He could see forever. No walls broke his vision. No huge parking lot filled with cars forbade his presence. No tvs or electronics were allowed to distract campers. A circle of cabins, dining hall and activity buildings awaited him at the edge of the forest. He wanted to try everything: baseball, volleyball, swimming and horse riding.

Until time to leave he barely stopped for meetings and meals. He explored everything: the trees, the trails, the games. The adults sat and visited. He walked everywhere, played everything and smiled constantly. The first night in the the cabin, he joyfully declared, “I feel like I have gone to heaven.”

He had escaped the bleakness of days of sitting in front of a television set in a darkened room waiting for some action. At camp he discovered the world beyond his past. He found freedom to roam, play and learn. He heard again that the Son will set you free. He embraced the woods, the sunshine and the message of God’s love. He found hope and welcomed it completely.

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Free pizza!

Last September, second grader Titus told his parents, “If I go to school every day, at the end of the month, I get a free pizza!” Titus likes pizza.

September, October, November and December, Titus ate pizza. His classroom celebrated nine weeks of everyone having perfect attendance. 

The flu hit. Kids in school one day stayed home the next. Titus could not avoid the germs. He got sick after school Friday. Monday morning he popped out of bed healthy and ready to chalk up another day toward pizza.

January and February, Titus ate free pizza.

In March, Titus, according to his mother, “was trying to do something with his jacket at school and he fell out of his chair. He got up and fell again. He teacher said he was seizing for five seconds. She sent him to the nurse’s room. The nurse thought it might be that he stood up too fast after hitting his head and so fell again.” 

He went to the emergency room. The doctor said he had a concussion. “I don’t see any seizure activity. Stay home tomorrow and rest.”

Thinking of free pizza, Titus looked at the doctor, “I don’t want to stay home. I want to go to school.”

Well, you can go just don’t do any sports or gym. Stay indoor for recess,” the doctor advised.

I think he also wanted the bragging rights,” his mom said. “Everybody was telling him ‘you were passed on the floor.’”

His teacher looked at Titus with astonishment. “You came today?”

He nodded. “No sports or outside recess.”

Okay, and you also will not work on any computers or electronic screens today,” she decided.

Titus ate pizza in March.

He almost had earned another pizza in April when he fell off his bike and broke his arm. His screams pierced the neighborhood. His mom said, “I ran, got Titus and his bike off the road and back to the house. He calmed down and looked okay when he went to bed.” He woke up crying from pain.

An x-ray showed that two bones in his arm had broken.. He left the ER with a temporary cast and took Ibuprofen for the pain.

After that one pain pill, he declined any more. He insisted he wanted to go to school. He wanted pizza and he wanted his friends to sign his cast.

A week later he was back on his bike and on the trampoline,” his mom said. “It was his right arm so he had to learn to write left handed and how to dribble and shoot left handed.”

Titus ate pizza in April. The cast came off before school ended in May. 

The last day of school Titus attended an award ceremony recognizing the academic achievements of students who improved the most or scored the highest in a subject. One student in each class received the outstanding student award for a great attitude.

Finally the principal held up the sheaf of perfect attendance awards. Titus wiggled to the front of his seat. He knew his name would be called. He had gone to school the whole year and had feasted on pizza every month. Now he, and a few others, stood on the stage while everyone watched them receive a perfect attendance award for the past year.

To get on stage took determination, a love of pizza and the daily routine of crawling out of bed, boarding the bus and showing up at school even after a concussion and broken arm. Titus earned his perfect attendance certificate and every bite of his free pizza.

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The Jinx returns

Just when I thought it was safe to come in out of the cold and enjoy a quiet meal in a restaurant, The Jinx returned. 

I prefer eating at home. I like grocery shopping, making desserts, seasoning meats and chopping fresh fruits and vegetables. I like getting what I want when I want it. 

I knew exactly what I wanted before I entered a restaurant recently. I had a coupon for the day’s special. I just did not know The Jinx clung to that coupon. My husband and I went to eat a late lunch when the few cars in the parking lot and sparsely populated tables predicted little competition for server’s attention.

Before the hostess could motion the waitress over we said, “We want the special of the day.”

The waitress handed us a menu. We looked, folded it shut and repeated, “We want the special and water.”

She took the information, walked away and returned with water and forks wrapped in napkins. “Do you want anything else?”

A knife,” I stated.

You don’t really need one. The food is already cut up.”

I like to use a knife to slide food onto the fork.”

Oh,” she said and wandered away. We picked up the menus she had not taken and glanced through them again. The dish of the day still looked sufficient.

A couple other guests entered and ordered. 

The clock ticked. The waitress returned, “How are you doing?”

We looked at our empty table, “We’re fine.” 

She disappeared.

Meals arrived for other patrons. 

The clock crept forward another 10 minutes.

The befuddled server drifted back. “Are you doing okay? Do you need some more water?”

No. Just food,” we said. 

We waited. I mused, “Maybe we should have ordered an appetizer.” 

The server reappeared, pulled out the bill and laid it on the stack of menus topped with our coupon for the meal of the day. “’Was everything okay?” 

We don’t need the bill. We haven’t received any food. ”

Startled, she studied at our pristine table and clean forks. “It was the other table?” she mumbled as she wandered over to the computer to enter something.

I looked at the clock. Thirty minutes had passed in the dining room with its scattering of patrons.

The server returned. “ I’m sorry it is taking so long. It’s a new dish. Do you want any more water?”

We did not need any more water for our melting ice cubes. We watched other patrons leave.

The server place anther glass of water between us. “I’m sorry it’s taking so long. It will be here in 15 seconds.” 

She left. We chuckled, “It’s not going to be 15 seconds.”

Four minutes later the steaming hot platters of food arrived. 

The rest of the food is coming,” she promised.

Another server brought the food, “do you need there anything else?”

Yes. I would like a knife and some extra napkins, please.”

Within seconds, she returned with knives wrapped in napkins.

We settled into eating a great meal and the server returned presented the bill and a to-go box.

We handed her the coupon.

She studied it, went to the cash register and returned, “I have to wait for the manager to enter that coupon.”

We stacked the empty dishes neatly and sipped more water until the server returned with a new bill and announced, “The manager adjusted the bill.” 

I figured a tip and signed.

An hour after we arrived for a quick, late lunch, we left the still nearly empty restaurant with another story about The Jinx.

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The Paxton Family remembers

Tomorrow, on Memorial Day we will remember the soldiers who fell in battle to protect our freedoms. One of those who remembers is Lester Paxton Jr. His uncles and father Lester Paxton Sr. fought in World War II. Paxton Jr. served as a gunner during the Berlin crisis. His grandchildren joined the Army Reserves.

His father served on the Phoenix in the Seventh Fleet in the Pacific. Worried about his brother on another ship, Paxton Sr. would run “After every exchange of fire, to see if his brother’s ship was hit. When the island had been secured, he found his brother and they had a picture in the Philippines,” Paxton Jr. said.

“He kept a diary through the war. (Years later) when he was reading about a kamikaze strike, he closed the diary and tossed it in the trash. He did not want to talk about it.”

Paxton Sr. told Jr. that during the battle for Corregidor Island he was on watch and saw a lot of paratroopers coming down. “When they were hit, they just folded up as they came down.”

In the heat of battle, gunners received sandwiches as they worked the guns, except for the time when a stateside strike delayed the delivery of supplies. Then Sr. had to eat rice for 13 days. “After the war, he refused to eat rice,” his son said.

Lester Paxton, Sr. did talk about the Japanese kamikaze planes. “Some of the men would get so scared that they would jump overboard. One Sunday, they were having services on the bow of the ship with orders to cease fire. One sailor saw the plane and just kept firing until he knocked the plane away from the ship. One of the wings landed on the deck. They chopped it up and handed out pieces as souvenirs.”

During his time in the Pacific, the chaplain came to tell Paxton Sr. that his brother Earl had been killed and buried in Europe. “Four brothers went in the service and three came home,” Paxton concluded. With that in mind Lester Paxton, Jr. says “I enlisted because I wanted to go Europe and Belgium to see the grave of my father’s baby brother Earl.”

Assigned to Company C of the 66th battalion at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas Paxton Jr. waited and, as a gunner, “fired tanks in demonstrations for officers from overseas.

Then the Berlin Crisis came. “We went over to Germany and out on the Autobahn about six miles from the Russian border. They sent the 2nd armored division to show the Russians we could put an armored division on their doorstep in 24 hours. We thought we would have to fight. We were there for seven months with operation ‘Big Lift.’”

“I did go to Belgium to Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery. There are at least 8,000 soldiers buried there. I took a picture of Earl’s marker with his name and serial number. He was in his 20s, a young boy. I gave the picture to my grandfather. My grandfather really thanked me a lot for that. I am the only family member that has ever been to his grave.”

While there, his wife had an appendectomy. “The Red Cross came and told me what was going on and suggested they get me home. My tank commander said, ‘You can forget about that.’ So just as soon as I got back from Germany, I got in my VW and went to see her.”

With the family history in mind (and with two grandchildren serving in the Army Reserves) this Memorial Day, Lester Paxton will again pause and remember, as should we all.

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John R. Rice Revival results in 50th anniversary

Posing for their golden wedding anniversary picture they knew they could never claim to have lived in perpetual wedded bliss. Still through thick and thin they had clocked 50 years except for one year that no one ever spoke about.

Meeting and marrying during the onset of the Great Depression, they labored to make a living as they welcomed babies, worked the farm and accrued a house of furniture rejects. No one wanted the old wood pieces except the little woman who stripped, sanded and refinished junk into valued antiques. He managed the farm until finances forced him to work in the factory.

And, perhaps there the problem began. No one says much about what happened, just that it did happen. This man from a strict religious family stepped out of the bounds of marriage with an unencumbered woman. She offered a life very different from his house full of children, stack of bills to pay and chores to be done. He fell and he fell hard.

His little wife of more than a decade felt her heart fall just as hard. She had promised to stick through sickness and health, through rich times and poor, but nowhere had she agreed to another woman. Quietly, with as much dignity as she could muster, she saw her marriage dissolve in the courtroom. They went their separate ways, their paths crossed for family events.

One week, the father of five heard that evangelist and author John R. Rice planned a local revival. Rice came, set up a tent and advertised a community wide revival. Dad took the older children to hear the famous preacher.

In his classic dark suit and tie, Rice preached a simple gospel, “Christ died for your sins. He wants you to choose the narrow way of righteousness that leads to Heaven.”

The wayward father of five felt God touch his heart, burning away the sin of adultery and pointing him in a different direction.

“Come and pray,” Rice urged at the end of the sermon. The struggle with pride and sin ended and the single father stood and walked the saw dust trail to the front, confessed his sin and that day made a decision to change. He had been wrong. He would make things right. He said good-bye to his mistress and said hello again to the mother of his children.

Once again he asked and she again said, “Yes.” They chose to remarry on the same date when they first took their vows. They picked up where they had left off, except this time he sincerely prayed, “Deliver me from evil,” and sought the way of escape when temptations came. He prayed it and he lived it. When temptation came, he changed what he was doing to avoid the temptation.

It wasn’t easy. Like every other couple, their marriage was built on hopefuln promises and tested through the daily routines of two humans. She still had five children to supervise, feed and train. He still had chores to tend and eight hours of work every day.

Years passed as they daily renewed their vows to be faithful through sickness and in health, in rich times and poverty. The children grew, went away to jobs, the military, college and marriage.

The 50th anniversary year drew near. The children planned a party, ordered the cake and decorated a hall. Everyone counted the years from the first time mom and dad took their vows. No one subtracted the months of separation and divorce. That time no longer mattered. With God’s guidance, forgiveness had healed the wounds and left behind a smiling family.

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From Trash to Kit Bash

My eyes crossed counting tiny plastic pieces from the tattered, dirty box holding an unfinished plastic model I had rescued it from the trash. I cautioned any Ebay bidder, “looks like all the pieces but no guarantees.”

One person made a bid. We worried, “What if I miscounted? The winner would be unhappy.”

My husband re-counted, “It is missing two unimportant pieces.”

I did not want an unhappy bidder. I sent a note, “the kit lacks these two pieces.”

Three viewers each offered a bid. The second place bidder from Illinois wrote, “Unfortunately I got ‘skunked’ at the last minute on this auction. I wonder if you would … email the winner and let them know I will pay (15 percent of the cost) for part no. 59, the ‘crane’ which is the only piece from that model I really need to complete my kit bash. If he is also using it for a kit bash project, he may be willing to part with one small piece in a way that helps defray the price he paid.”

I forwarded his message and added, “If you are willing to sell this, I will help the two of you connect.”

The Pennsylvania buyer responded, “I am certainly willing to consider that. I am not sure what the crane part is, but I am using it for kit bashing to finish my own project, so I may be able to help out.”

I found the tiny piece, took a picture and sent him a copy.

The Pennsylvania buyer understood, “It is a small, but very dedicated group of people, who build replicas of Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica models using the same parts as the folks at ILM did back in the 70s. [This] kit model has never been reissued. Rumor has it that the molds were damaged. It’s uncommon to find one.”

“He is a Y-Wing builder probably. You can send him that part for free with my compliments if you can figure out the postage.” He then listed his code name for an online kit bash group that made absolutely no sense to me.

I googled ‘kit bash’ and discovered a new hobby. Folks purchase plastic models for specific pieces to build a different scene, exotic creature or futuristic vehicle.

My husband found the crane, tucked it between two pieces of stiff cardboard, slid it in an envelope and sent it to Illinois.

From Arkansas I wrote, “The crane is coming to you. The buyer asked you contact him in case there is a part you might be able to send to him sometime.”

Such an evening of learning we had. My husband googled images of kit bash builds. Most looked like cars transformed into robots. The Illinois bidder sent me a picture of his space ship. Maybe it is like one in Star Wars. I have no clue. I never watched the movie.

I shook my head in disbelief. Such a fuss we made verifying all those pieces and neither bidder worried about it. They sought specific pieces and were willing to pay more than I would have ever considered paying for a hobby. Good information to know if I ever find another trash worthy model. Somebody might want one of the postage stamp sized pieces. Next time I find an incomplete plastic model I will count and photograph parts hoping a kit basher wants just one tiny piece for an absurd price.

I closed my computer, content and bemused that from Arkansas I crossed paths with kit bashers in Illinois and Pennsylvania and, as one kit basher said, “ … made two people happy.”

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Everyone loves a winner


The lady pushing a full grocery cart grinned at me, “Did you text for the discount?”

My daughter made me do it. I got $5.”

I got $25!” she announced triumphantly. “There’s a lady loading up on landscaping. She got $500 off! She thought it was a scam, but once in the store she tried and she won a $500 discount.”

We both smiled, happy to know someone had won the big one in the free game of chance.

These days, the luck of the draw determines winners. Decades ago, winners wrote short jingles, hoping to catch the judges’ attention. In the 1950s and 60s Evelyn Ryan supplemented her family income with her catchy slogans. Her daughter Terry Ryan relates winning in the biography: “The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 kids on 25 Words or Less.”

Evelyn submitted numerous jingles to each contest using variations of her name, her children’s names and address. One memorable win provided the family with a deep freeze and a five minute run through the grocery store with a limit of one of any product. She kept anything that stayed in the cart. Before the event, Evelyn and the store manager plotted out the best path and the most expensive items to grab. He had the butcher cut large slabs of meat to wall in the cart to hold more. She plotted exactly what she wanted and where to go. The day of the five minute shopping spree, she ran, grabbed, loaded and then triumphantly took it all home to put in the new freezer. The family ate well for several months.

Evelyn kept meticulous records of which jingle she sent and under which name and address variation. It entertained her and even small wins made a big difference to the family of 12. The book became the basis for a movie with the same name. In the midst of the daily plodding along to survive: going to work, paying the bills and fixing meals, winning gives life a sparkle when we see someone win.

For Jacob Schulte, who participates in triathalons and half-marathons, winning began before signing up for races. Sure, he rises early to train swim, run and bike, but registration for the events costs money as does the equipment and clothing. He wanted to participate, but his family’s needs came first. He could not justify the cost for transportation, meals and hotel rooms the night before the race. Like Evelyn, Jacob researched ways to stretch the family dollar and racing. Instead of flipping through magazines and watching for ads, he went to the Internet.

Six years ago, he found the Chocolate Milk promoters quest for athletes to join the Chocolate Milk Team. Like Evelyn, he had to write an essay. Unlike her, he then had to get votes from supporters. The rules limited voters to one vote per day. The person’s essay with the most votes would gain the privilege of wearing the orange t-shirt with the logo as a member of the Chocolate Milk Team at triathalons, marathons and half marathons.

“Hey, would you please vote for me every day on the website,” Jacob asked everyone he knew, barely knew or met in passing. Every day relatives and friends voted. He won, and everyone smiled with him. Now he wears the Chocolate Milk shirt and cap and videos himself drinking chocolate milk after a race to replace his energy and electrolytes. He smiles a tad more when he places in his racing group as does everyone who knows him, because everyone loves a winner who works hard to achieve their goal.

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Fancy Shmancy SUV

One grinning husband stepped out of the silver SUV. He had found a vehicle big enough to carry everything we once had in the back of our now wrecked van. SUV looked fine to me. I wanted to load up and leave.

First, he insisted, “Look! leather seats, very clean, CD player, no DVD and for its age, low mileage.” He opened the passenger door for me to test the seat and pointed at the name stamped on the door sill. He had found a 12 year-old high end model vehicle in great condition for a great price.

I slid into the seat. “I get about the same amount of space as I did in all the vans we have ever had,” I shrugged and turned. “The back looks a bit small. Will it carry everything we have?”

“No problem,” he said. He bought the fancy shmancy vehicle, packed it full and we went home. I couldn’t tell the difference between his usual brand and “Oh Wow! You have a …!” He discovered the difference at the gas station. “Only use premium gas,” the tank sign warned the man who has driven 20 miles out of the way to save a nickel on regular.

The SUV only had one key. He researched where to get an inexpensive second key. Short answer: nowhere. Not from the local key duplicators. Not from the Internet. Only official dealers could duplicate the key and then only if he had proof of ownership, his driver’s license, birth certificate, passport, blood type … Okay, I might have lied about the blood type.

It cost three to four times the price of any other key we had ever duplicated.

We drove hours to the closest dealer. A huge door of windows slowly raised to welcome us onto the tiled garage floor. No dirt, no grease, no grime anywhere.

While the men talked keys, I went to the waiting room and whispered, “Oh, this is ‘why’ it costs so much more.” No cracked and worn chairs, no ancient magazines or sad looking coffee machine. A pristine popcorn maker and new, comfortable leather chairs welcomed me. A well-dressed young woman asked, “Would you like something to drink?”

I thought a goblet of the good stuff, but said, “Water would be great, thanks.”

Emerging from the office Hubby said, “They will have the key ready in a few days. They can mail it or anyone we designate can pick it up.” Such a nonchalant solution after such a fuss.

A week later a package came in the mail, “Here’s the key for the fancy-shmancy SUV.”

We only lacked the state issued title to settle into life as owners of a “Wow! You have that kind of vehicle?!”

Then flooding rains came. Errands still needed to be tended by the proud owner of a vehicle that used the most expensive gas and would not consider an off-brand key-fob in its ignition. He encountered a couple other vehicles on a water covered street. A fast moving, smaller car sent the wake of a high tidal wave of water over the SUV. The engine faltered and stalled. The mechanic said the engine had to be replaced.

The insurance adjuster totaled the SUV and ended six weeks of luxury car ownership.

Tomorrow he finalizes the purchase of another van just like all the others we have had for the last 25 years, The price for a second key fob and regular gas will have Hubby grinning in no time. And, I will be sitting on the passenger side with exactly the same amount of space as always.

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Stay-cation in St. Louis

 Sweets, sights and service in St. Louis inspired Sam’s parents to stay home and vacation during spring break this year. 

Inside the Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate factory a sign cautioned, “Shhh. The Oompah Loompahs are sleeping.” Sam, 8, sniffed the rich aroma of natural chocolate and watched the white clad workers bend over conveyor belts arranging rows of caramel cubes for their immersion in chocolate. As each piece exited the chocolate, a gloved hand carefully pinched enough chocolate at the back of each cube to drag a distinctive line across each block. Since she did not look like an Oompah Loompah, Sam figured the real ones slept behind the doors labeled “Employees Only.” 

The tour guide held a platter of chocolate samples. No one can eat just one piece of chocolate in a room permeated with the smell of rich chocolate and the only exit being through the candy shop. Shopping followed. “I want the ones with raspberry and honey filling. And one with nuts and one with peanut butter. I love chocolate!” Sam rubbed his hands. He really loved the chocolate tasting feast at home around the table with jugs of water and tiny square plates holding samples. Chocolate with peanuts. Chocolate with pecans. Chocolate with raspberry filling. Chocolate with soft chocolate filling and, of course, the Elvis Presley specialty: Chocolate with bananas and peanut butter. 

Once I wanted to test what the difference between half a dozen very similar flavors,” the tour guide had said. “So I tried a bite of each and felt awful.” Sam tasted. He did not feel awful, he felt wonderfully full of chocolate. 

The family ended the day with a trip down memory lane at Game Haven STL with flower covered couches and plenty of original Nintendo, Atari and Play Station games. 

The Mario was really pixelated,” Sam observed. He knows today’s more familiar high definition, detailed pictures. Still for $3 an hour per person, he experienced a glimpse of his dad’s childhood games. 

So many free or historical things to see and do close to home including the city’s landmark The Arch soaring over the skyline. Sam had not been to the top of the Arch. Friday the family went. First, each placed belts, jackets and loose change in bins for the metal detectors. The past may have had pixelated digital games, but it never had such security checks. Sam and his dad studied the museum portraying the history of this ancient crossroads of North America until the time came to take the slow tram to the top of The Arch.

Sometimes the children dictated the activities: Do you want to play UNO?” Henry, Sam’s kindergarten brother, asked as he held a stack of cards hopefully. He lost. His dad won. The next day he asked, “Do you want to play Candy Land?” The kids only added a few extra rules to insure Henry won. 

Sandwiches at the park. Pizza in the car. Lunch at the cloth covered table with real dishes and napkins and the last supper at the church feeding the homeless coming in out of the cold for the night. Big sister Sophie helped hand out filled backpacks. Henry quickly found a new friend with a smartphone. Sam greeted people and talked with a young man lacking shoes. 

Sam pulled out the dollar he had found on the ground. “Here, you can buy shoes.” 

The man shook his head. 

No, you can have it,” Sam insisted. The man relented, allowing Sam to give a little back after a week of taking – a great ending for any vacation away or at home. 

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