2008 09 Jul

Moving Mother Nightmares

Author: Shawn Categories: Story Shelter

I knew she wasn’t prepared. Now, to my horror, we sit in a dirty little hotel room and she’s left me laden with the stomach-whirling truth.

“You haven’t found a place to live, Mother?” I asked.

“Well, no. Not yet,” she replies, unconcerned. “I have a few places in mind but haven’t called anyone yet.”

My mind begins reeling. Why must she always do this? Personally, I prefer to have all my ducks in a pretty V shape when I’m moving.

“It’s Wednesday. I fly back Saturday. What if you haven’t found a place by then!” I retort, trying to impress some sort of reality check.

“I’m sure I’ll manage.” She smiles sarcastically.

“Yes, I’m sure you will,” I relent, meeting her resolute gaze with my defeated face. The hard part was over and I know it. I also know better than to worry about Mom’s unpredictable objectives. We’ve both moved over fifty times in our lives.

Her trifling of the larger matters, e.g., finding a new home, renting a truck, planning the trip, setting up utilities, and those sorts of details comes from her familiarity with the routine. For such, one could fill a passenger seat with her guidebooks.

I walk over to the sink and prepare to brush my teeth. The sink smells and the water is not draining.

“Mother, the sink is backing up,” I sigh.

“So, go to the office and get some Drano or something,” she replies.

As I stroll to the front desk, I contemplate the scourges of moving and how it could be so much worse. The big details are obvious. The little ones are the nefarious buggers that get you. Mother excels at moving. To my fortune, she taught by example and thank Goddess I paid attention.

I’ve helped more people move than I can remember. I have observed that loading the truck is when flaring tempers can burn down the realms of sanity. I have moved everything by myself more than once. It can be done and my name isn’t Billy Biceps. I’m not even related to him.

My mother works like a brain surgeon when it’s time to load the truck. On this particular trip, she used every accessible slot and gap in the truck, the car, and the car carrier. The night before we left, we were jamming mops, brooms, the vacuum, and other cleaning supplies up behind the bulging back door of the Ryder truck. It was a very small space that mom left just for those things.

The trick is to have a mental picture of all your stuff and the size of that truck. Mom and I sit in it, imagine all our things in it, and let them put themselves in order like a Jenga puzzle in our minds. Mother has been known to halt the whole loading process until she can find the perfect doohickey to fit right there. I’ve not met anyone who can rival her in this area.

The big details, well, some of us plan them and some of us don’t. I say, why leave too much to chance. So many other things can go wrong.

But mother likes living in the moment.

I shake my head as I open the door to the dingy hotel room with plunger in hand.
“No Drano,” I mutter, and we both proceed to the foul sink. I cover the bad drain with the rubber, mom backs away, and I deliver one swift plunge. A geyser of reeking rotting food bursts from the pipes blanketing everything within three feet.

I am frozen.

My face starts convulsing.

“Oh, Gross! YUCK!” I stand there holding the plunger and look up.

Mother is doubled over, hands over her nose, tears flowing down her bright red face looking as if she might pass out.

I am covered in the most repulsive stinking stuff I have ever encountered and she’s laughing. I glare at her.

Never–never a dull moment with my mother.

2008 30 May

Hang on Tight and Smile

Author: Shawn Categories: Story Shelter

I kept trying to go with some friends for a bit of water-skiing fun on Lake Burton in Georgia. The weather kept being uncooperative. It was a very rainy summer. The few times we tried, the storms would chase us away.

Finally, a blitz of sunny days graced us and I knew chances would be slim for another chance. Except I didn’t water ski. Nope. I’ve skied in the past. I love it. But when given the choice, I opted for something new. I tubed.

I heard how fun it was and I couldn’t wait to experience a different way of being whipped across the water. Why hang onto the rope like an upright skinny stick when I could be drug like a sack of potatoes?

The blue and yellow tube was a triangle sort of shape with a cavity in the middle to sit on. Four handles hung around the front and back sides. I was told I could either sit in it or lie on it.

I thought about that for a few seconds. Have my legs smushed underneath me or hang them off the back. Hmmm. Considering the length of my legs, having them squished didn’t seem very appealing.

Besides, one good bump would send one of my knobby knees on a quick journey into my face. There would certainly be one good bump and definite dreadful pain. Decision made, I jumped into the water.

My accommodating captain pulled his speedy boat around and positioned the tube beside me. To say I was calm as a warm cucumber would be mighty misleading. Excited and nervous, yes, but dubious was my main emotion.

What if I couldn’t hang on? What if I fly up into the air, twist freakishly in the spray and end up in some bizzare excruciating position? What if I take flight into the trees, crumple into the branches and become the first mutilated human kite?

Strange things happen to me. I mean, how many people do you know who have run themselves over with their own car? Or who have been chased out of a park full of people by a giant psychotic goose? Well?

I have to prepare myself for the bizzare when trying something new. My smiling face appears confident and fearless. Inside, my mind carreens with scenes from some mutant circus causing paralyzing fear and resisting the urge to run away screaming with my arms flailing over my head.

I used to be fearless when I was young and fresh and hadn’t been subjected to countless anomalous accidents. Fortunately, I still have the child within and my love of adventure and admittedly, speed, wins out over my paranoia. I love things that go fast.

So, back to the story. After a few instructions and tips, I kind of awkwardly flung myself onto the tube, belly down, legs dangling behind me. Grabbing the two front handles, I wiggled around to get comfy. I looked up to my grinning friends, gave the thumbs up, and quickly grabbed onto the handle again before the jerk of the rope hit the tube.

Bang! Off we went. My chin rested on the front of the tube. Ripples of water bounced my head up and down. I felt like a life-size bobble head. As we picked up speed, I pulled myself up a bit so my eyeballs wouldn’t fall out and used my arms like shock absorbers. I forgot how much power surges through a rope behind a boat.

First turn and there grew a large beastly wave looming – giggling. Oh, this is it. I’m going to hit that toothy beast, be launched fifty feet into the air, spin around with my arms and legs spread like helicopter blades and land on the other side of town.

It could happen.

But, it didn’t. I caught some air, hanging on so tight I could see my knucklebones protruding through my skin, and landed with an ka-oomph. Bumpily I glided back and forth across the riffling water and boat wakes until I was nearly alongside the boat.

Suddenly, it was like the tube hit dry ground. My body uncontrollably slid forward and the lake swallowed me up. Until then, I’m proud to say, my hair was mostly dry.

I tread water until my friends returned with tube in tow. Was I okay, they asked. Dandy, I gurgled. Ready for more, they asked. More? Bring it on!

Apprehension retreated to its cave and I was a fearless child once again. Perma-smile was pasted on my face. My friends had them, too. I got braver, allowing myself to soar higher and higher as they turned the boat sharper and sharper. After my fourth watery dismount, my skinny little arms were shaky and begging for respite.

It was a blast. I recommend it if you haven’t tried it. No skill involved. Just hang on tight and smile. And if nothing weird happened to me – everyone else in the world is safe.

*First published in The Clayton Tribune

2008 30 May

My Singular Grandmother

Author: Shawn Categories: Story Shelter

We sit at her white foldout kitchen table playing cribbage, the family requisite.  The little apartment is permeated with a fresh blossomy smell that breathes Grandma.  Dark wood furniture boasts of style, function, and order.  Collectibles and plants are splashed amongst swirled soft pink and green walls and carpeting.


For the countless time I gaze at this slight delicate woman dressed in cadet blue slacks, a floral silk blouse, and narrow dun-colored slippers.  Her slate wire glasses sit on her nose, firmly in their place.  Blue-gray curls neatly surround her oval thought-lined face. Clicking fingernails echo across the table at me. 


“Shawn, honey,” Grandma’s sweet grainy voice warns, “the game.”


I lay my hand and count, “Fifteen two, fifteen four, and his heels is five, not much,” I grumble.


She nimbly shuffles the cards and deals the next hand.  Her soft mouth sets and resets as she decides which cards to throw into her crib.  She always plays to win.


Everyone in our family considers it a great feat to beat Grandma, and we all are admonished if we don’t keep the game going at a brisk pace. 

Her eyes twinkle, like deep pools in the ocean, as she wins yet another hand. 

Your crib, dear,” she announces as she slowly rises.  I collect the cards and start shuffling.  Her hands grip the table baring bulbed joints and bulging light blue veins wandering amidst the spattering of age spots that paint her smooth skin.   

As she straightens her slender frame, she swallows an involuntary groan caused by arthritic pain.  Swiftly steadying herself, she pushes off the table and waddles across the kitchen, her arms rising to meet the cupboard.  Her movements are deliberate and flowing. A smoky blue glass emerges and she places it on the speckled counter. 

“Do you want a glass?” she inquires.

“No, the can is fine with me.”  I reply.  She glances at me with that ‘are you sure’ look; her eyes probing for certainty.  

“The cards are waiting for you Gramma,” I say, smiling. 


She shrugs, reaches into the fridge retrieving a 7-up™, and pours half of it into the glass.  A shadow of a smirk appears on her lips.  Probably wondering why a can is preferable to a glass, I muse.

 Returning, she plops the drinks on the table as I deal.  As she grasps the table, her rounded bottom makes its descent into the chair.  Picking up the cards so I can’t see them, she deftly determines which cards to throw to my crib.  She would rather lose points than give her opponent any. 


Again, I find myself watching this ninety-two year old dynamic rarity.  I recall her eighty-third birthday when I had the opportunity to ask, “Gramma, what does it feel like to be eighty-three?”


She smiled and softly said, “Well, I don’t really feel that different,” she paused, reflecting, “I guess I realize how much I don’t know.”  I still remember the awe I felt at that moment.  That bit of profound wisdom is so characteristic of her transcendent humility and wonder.


Shawn!”  Grandma barks, “Mind the game!”  She clicks the table with her fingernails.


Oh yeah, the game,” I smile and discard.  Can’t keep Grandma waiting.

2008 30 May

Biking in the Georgia Mountains

Author: Shawn Categories: Story Shelter

My Journey With Three Rabun County Coaches

To make one fact incontrovertible, I am not a morning person. If it’s before 9 a.m., it is simply too early. Some of us just aren’t made for mornings. I once had a poster that said, “If God wanted us to see the sunrise, He would have scheduled later in the day”. Come 9 p.m., however, my second wind kicks in and I’m good until at least 2 a.m.

So all this talk about mornings is about doing something I wouldn’t normally do. In fact, when my alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. one Wednesday morning in June, I was sure I was deranged.

Why did I decide to do this? For an opportunity to go out and mountain bike. I joined three heavy-duty athletes who were also Rabun County coaches. These guys went out every morning to run, bike, or swim, or something. Their meet time is 6 a.m. At the end of the summer, they have their own iron man competition.

I wanted to go out with them to see what they do, maybe learn something, and mostly, see if I could keep up. What I didn’t bank on was doing it at an hour I was normally in a deep sleep.

Coach James invited me to their Stonewall Falls run and said I could ride along if I wanted. Ride while they run. Shouldn’t be too bad, I thought. Of course, they are super athletes and I, a sporadic recreationalist.

Bleary-eyed, I drove to meet them. I was barely conscious. How in the world was I going to pull off strenuous demands to my sleeping body?

I arrived at the trail head, parked my truck and took my mountain bike off its rack. Coach James checked it over and gave me some tips. Keep the front wheel light, hunch down over the seat with your posterior behind it on steep descents to prevent tumbling head first over your handlebars. I heeded his words, though I already knew them. At that hour, I needed to hear them.

They discussed our route and decided first to head for the falls. There we would evaluate. They were very considerate but didn’t pamper me. For that, I was extremely grateful. I detest being patronized.

Down the gravel road we went, three bulging men and skinny me on my bike. It was still dark. A few chirps broke the early morning silence along with the crunch-crunch of foot strikes and the steady crackle beneath my fat tires.

We hit the first steep hill as the sun started shooing the shadows away. I got about halfway and my legs could pump no more. The coaches disappeared up the road as I pushed my bike up the rest of the way. Well, this is just great, I thought. I’m going to feel like an idiot. What was I thinking?

I quickly caught up on the other side as I floated down the hill and felt better about myself. That’s the best thing about biking. Catching some speed, air whizzing through your body hairs, sounds blurring past. It’s freedom. Pure and simple exhilaration.

We finally reached the refreshing falls. Funnels of water bustled down the inky rock face inbetween the dark green foliage. The area was a half circle of dirt and rock surrounding a pond with a few picnic tables dotting the fringes. Large droplets of water rushed down from above into a misty flurry where they mingled together to form the pond.

The coaches inquired about me. I was good, I said. But honestly, I still wasn’t awake enough to know what I was. Here and pedaling. Excited to be with some of the best athletes in the county. Trying to absorb something, anything, of the experience, but still under the spell of Morpheus.

They decided to take the short trail. Stay on the trail, when it splits go to the left, they said. Don’t forget to keep your front wheel light. Again, they were caring, considerate, but still no coddling.

The trail was about a half a foot wide and dove straight down. At first, I had to ride my brakes. I didn’t want to run over the muscle-bound men in front of me. Down and down and up, zigging and zagging, ducking under branches, down and up some more. The trees huddled around the rusty red trail casting shadows. Small streams traipsed across the trail and fun was found splashing through them.

The coaches edged out ahead of me and disappeared. I couldn’t catch up this time with sharp narrow turns to negotiate. I felt like I hadn’t seen my coaches for hours. The ups had now become relentless and I was positive I had gone the wrong way somewhere.

I stopped to let my gasping lungs suck in some air and allow my heart to slow down a bit. Sweat poured over my face and my legs felt like cooked pasta. I heard rustling and cracking branches. A small flash of alarm washed over me thinking I might run into something wild and cantankerous.

The bears here are fairly harmless. Small black bears. There were coyotes and mountain lions about, but I wasn’t too worried about them, either. It was the wild boars and the weasels that concerned me. And snakes.

I’d rather not face off with some animal’s mama, so I and my pumping chest pushed on, continuing up. Suddenly, I glimpsed some white above me. Heart jumping into my throat, I stopped. Two coaches were there. Wild and cantankerous indeed.

All right? They asked. Yes, did I go the wrong way? I asked. No, you’re doing fine. Almost to the top. Deep sigh of relief. I wasn’t an idiot after all. They jogged off and I continued to push. Coach Grimmett caught my eye through the trees. Almost there, Shawn, all downhill from here, he said. Oh, there is goddess, I whispered.

They way down was wonderful. Nice tight turns, dirt popping and crunching under my rolling weight, leaves brushing over my arms and legs, more streamlets splashing over my tires. Rays of sunlight shot through the thick trees creating spotlights on the trail and the surrounding trees.

I rode back down the road to our trucks beside coach James. We finished at about 7:15 a.m. Coach James said I did well. From him, that was a compliment.

Looking back, I believe I was less than 10 minutes behind them rather than the hours it felt like. Remember, part of me was still asleep. All in all, it was a blast, though it does feel more like a dream. I rose to the challenge, but then I rarely back down. The coaches were terrific, patient, and made me feel good about all of it.

Thanks you burly three. And if you really meant it, yes, I’ll go again. Someday.

*First published in The Clayton Tribune