Thursday, February 27, 2014

Drawn to Reading!

If you read my personal blog, you might know that my little dude is not all that into crafts (unlike his big sissy and his mama). One place, though, where he is sure to get into making a craft project is at the library with Mrs. D! This week he made this fun dump truck that actually moves. So cool, right? This went along with the week's topic of -- you guessed it -- trucks, a fan favorite of all four-year-old boys. Naturally, he had a lot to say during the read-alouds.

The more exciting thing to me, however, is what's inside the cab of the truck... Take a look at his very first drawing of a person! It's a portrait of yours truly. He made sure to tell me that I have no hair. Your guess is as good as mine, but the point is that our library offers a wonderful program for preschool age children. It has inspired my little guy to do crafts and begin drawing, which is definitely a step toward literacy. (And just in case you are wondering, I am not bald, even though being the mama of a little boy can make me want to tear my hair out at times.)

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Cocoa, the Library Mascot

I love that we -- including our writers' group members -- are greeted so enthusiastically by Cocoa.  What a sweet mascot!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Marty Hedges' Unfinished Business: A Group Collaborative Story

Every morning it was the same thing for Marty Hedges. He’d put on a pot of coffee and got dressed as he waited for the coffee to brew. He pulled on the same dress pants as yesterday, then pulled his belt to the extra notch he punched through to accommodate his recent weight loss, and finally pulled his worn grey sweater over his head.  Every day the same, get up tired, have a pot of coffee, get dressed, go to work, come home, go to bed tired; he thought.  As he reached for the gun, he thought to himself, today, things would be different. Marty Hedges was sick of being pushed around.


I counted the cash I’d taken from the ATM and turned around. My next door neighbor, Marty, was standing before me with a gun in his hand.  "Whoa! Marty! What are you doing?"

Marty's forefinger trembled against the trigger, definitely wrapped far enough around it to pull the metal bar back, and certainly as ominous looking as if he'd already committed some dirty deed.  But then, very slowly, he lowered the gun to his side and released it from his grip.

The gun clattered to the sidewalk and came to rest next to a recently discarded cigarette butt, a single column of smoke curling upward.  My creative eye saw the perfect composition for a 1940s detective murder mystery book cover but logic told me to kick the gun as far away from Marty as possible.

Which I did.  That's when all hell really broke loose.

Constable Dick...I'd always thought that an appropriate name for the local cop, on so many different levels...had been watching the whole thing from across the street. Apparently too chicken to act when there had been a chance of a real threat, once Marty dropped the gun and I'd kicked it away, all of a sudden he sprung into action and dashed across the street and tackled Marty like some sort of movie hero.

"You have the right to remain silent..." he panted, all out of breath from the exertion of running across the street.

"C'mon, Dick." I said, putting my hand on his shoulder, "Take it easy. He's not resisting or anything. It's Marty for gosh sake. Just ask him what his problem is."

"Touch me again and I'll arrest you for interfering with a police officer!" Dick snapped. Armed as I was with $40 in twenties and my minister collar, I could see why he felt so threatened. Sheesh.

“Dick, seriously. You’ve known Marty your whole life. Calm down dude.” I said in my most soothing minister voice. I slowly reached for the gun from the street gutter where it fell. 

“Don’t you move another inch!  This is a crime scene!” Officer Dick shouted. “I am the officer in charge, Padre. You need to butt out.”  Marty wasn’t the only person in this town that woke up with a score to settle.  Officer Dick has some unfinished business with Marty.   

When I decided to withdraw my $40, I became either lucky or unlucky enough to come between these two, only time will tell.
Sighing, I pocketed the cash, and quietly stepped back. Glancing at my watch, I noted that it was only 9:12 am, though it felt much later than that. Perhaps because I was feeling more keyed up than I had in quite some time. I'd seen a lot of strange things during my 40 years in the priesthood, but this was the first time I'd had a gun drawn on me before. I couldn't help but wonder what had gotten into Marty.

Shaking my head, completely baffled by the recent chaos, I found myself at a loss for words. (It's bound to happen now and again, I suppose, even for a man who has made talking his life's work.) Silently, I began my usual half mile walk to St. Katherine's Church, nestled in the heart of small-town Chandler, Michigan. Arriving later than normal and slightly out of breath, I found the church secretary Jeanine frowning at me.

At first I thought she was concerned about my tardiness, perhaps thinking that I was ill. Truly, I cannot remember a time that had been late in my 12 years at St. Katherine's. But that wasn't the issue.

"What does it mean?!" she implored, eyes wide.

She handed me an envelope, which I noticed had been opened. There was no return address, and it didn't appear to have arrived in the mail since there wasn't any postage. Inside was a single sheet of lined paper with the words,

Father Thomas,
You'll be sorry.

I didn't recognize the handwriting. In fact, I couldn't recall the last time a handwritten note had come across my desk. Almost everything was by email these days. It made me tired just thinking about it, the way that things had changed.

Here I stood, three months away from my retirement, pondering what the note could possibly mean. Who had sent it? Did it have anything to do with Marty's erratic behavior? And what was going on between him and Dick? That whole exchange seemed quite personal.

"Jeanine," I replied, "I have absolutely no idea, but I do know that I am going to find out!"

                                *                              *                             *
Marty was quiet as Constable Dick hand-cuffed him and put him in the back of the police car.  Dick slid in the front seat and stared at Marty in his rear-view mirror.  Dick chuckled softly.  "So, Marty . . . got anything to tell me?"

Marty stared calmly out the side window when suddenly he began kicking the seat that Dick was sitting in, at the same time banging his head on the back of his own seat.  A full blown conniption fit. "Just keep it up," muttered Dick.  He started up the car and slowly moved into traffic.

Finally, exhausted, Marty stopped and sat there.  That was stupid.  I shouldn't have done that.  What I should have done was told Father Thomas. 

But in a way, I suppose I did. Dang, why did I have to make it so darn confusing like a riddle or something? Father Thomas is never going to know what that means.

·                                                                                                  *

“I've got a horrible headache, Jeanine,” I lied, “I shouldn't have come in in the first place. I’ve no meetings until Mrs. Philburn at the hospital tonight. I think I’m going to take a nice leisurely walk back home and lie down for the rest of the morning.” Jeanine gave me another frown, this one tinged with curiosity. I didn't care. I had some more thinking to do.

I consciously slowed my pace, thinking the lack of exertion and the fresh air might make things add up.  I remember one of my mentors at Seminary, Father Gore, seemed to take a special philosophical interest in me, beyond my religious studies. He said that understanding basic human nature was an aid to communicating God’s word. One of his theories was that there were no coincidences, only connections that we have yet to discern. The strangeness with Marty, Dick’s uncalled-for aggression and that cryptic note MUST be tied together. But how?

“Yoo Hoo, Father Thomas, Yoo Hoo”

It was Bev, Marty’s wife. Overdressed for housework, in a fifty’s “Leave it to Beaver” sort of way, she hurried down the porch steps. Why couldn't I have made it just one more house, I thought to myself, before remembering my duties in the next instant. I had to tell her what had happened with Marty an hour or two before. I had just started pondering how to bring it up…we certainly hadn't covered anything like that all those years ago at Seminary…but then Bev turned the other way where her front walk joined the main sidewalk from where I had just come. She was doing that odd waddle that older women do when they are in high heels and are trying to hurry, arms bent and hands up at shoulder height.

“You dropped this,” she called over her shoulder. “I was doing dishes and I saw you out the window.”

At the far corner of her yard, she bent and picked up the sheet of paper I’d just received. I don’t even know why I’d brought it with me. Those two lines were certainly etched into my brain. She approached me, slower now that she had my attention, but she stopped about five feet before she reached me. She held the unfolded note up to her face and an expression like she had just seen a ghost came over her. “Why, that’s Marty’s handwriting. What does it mean?”

I wish people would stop asking me that question.

“Bev…um…perhaps we should sit on your porch a minute. I have something I need to tell you”. After explaining all that had happened with Marty at the bank, and Dick’s overreaction, I ask, “Do you have any idea what might drive Marty to act like that?”

“I’m afraid I might,” she replied. “I’ll bet it goes back to when they were altar boys. They did everything together. You know, Father, Marty and Dick were good buddies back then.” She added pensively.

“The trouble came one Christmas Eve when they were serving as altar boys and the collection plate gifts came up short.  Dickie always had a squeaky clean reputation, but Marty was a bit of a bad boy.  That’s what I liked about Marty the most; every good girl likes a bad boy with a fast car and a leather coat.”

“But, Marty is nothing like that, Bev.” I interrupted.

“No, Marty isn’t like that anymore.” Bev agreed.  “Anyway, like I was saying, there was money missing from the collection plate.  Nobody knew exactly how much because it hadn’t been counted yet, but being one of the busiest Masses of the year, but it was a lot. Marty of course was Suspect Number One and there was no Suspect Number Two. Nobody ever suspected Dickie. In fact; Father O’Brien was the first to point the finger at Marty. Long story short, Marty got juvie, I thought I could ‘save’ him, and before he left I was in the family way and we were secretly married. Dickie got off scots free for the theft and ended up an upstanding member of community.  Poor Marty hasn’t been the same since.”

I sat and looked out over the neighborhood and thought about Bev’s revelations. “Why’d Marty send me that note?” I mused.

“Oh Father, Marty is a broken man.  He hasn’t stepped foot in a church since that night.  Plus, when Dick got named Officer of the Year last month, he’s lost weight, and he keeps muttering about being pushed around, the priest will pay, and today will be different. Now that you know the whole story, a burden has been lifted from my soul.” Bev confessed as she silently wept.

*                              *                             *

I silently prayed the same could be said for my soul. As I reflected about Marty; I thought about how the only prayer that Marty sent up this morning was that he wanted things to different. He definitely got that.  He assaulted a priest and a crooked cop. Everything will be different for him now.  All I could think was “be careful what you pray for, you just may get it.”

The Fowlerville District Library's Writer's Group

Currently meeting Wednesdays February 19-April 9.