An Unexpected Present

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Growing up, Christmas was a big deal in our house. My dad believed in going all out with gifts at this time of year. He grew up in a large family during the Depression.  He always remembered not getting what he wanted because money was always tight. The story goes that he vowed that his children would not have the same experience as he did.

Needless to say, the living room in our small ranch house was overflowing with gifts for my brother, mother and me.  As I am writing this, I can still picture all the gifts we received over the years. Barbies, kitchen sets, drum sets, guitars, games, clothes, toy guns and helmets (Vietnam loomed large then), bikes ( I actually rode mine in the kitchen while mom was putting the turkey in the oven!).  My dad was a huge believer in Santa Claus and insisted that he existed well into our teenage years.

But even though we were spoiled at Christmas, my brother and I never asked for anything outrageous. We were always overjoyed and appreciative of the gifts we received. One year-maybe 1975-my dad asked me if there was something that I wanted for Christmas but probably would not get.  I replied that I really wanted a stereo system but knew that they could not afford one. Rock and Roll music and FM radio were in their heyday and it seemed like everyone was listening to their stereos full blast and buying albums that featured the Stones, Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith, among others.

On December 23rd of that year, we were at my Nana and Grandpa’s apartment enjoying our annual roast pork dinner. Nana always made a special meal or shared a Christmas tradition with each of her five children.  Our time was always on this date. After dinner, my father asked me to go into the bedroom because Santa had delivered  a present to the apartment for my brother and me. Apparently, it was hidden under the bed. I pulled out a long, wrapped and somewhat heavy box. On the tag it said: “To Kim and David From Santa. Do not open until December 25th.”  My brother and I were puzzled as to what it could be. Like I said, we had no expectations at all for any big gifts.

When family and friends gathered at our house on Christmas Eve, I told my uncle about the gift.  “Don’t open it first,” he said.  “Save it for last.” He knew that my dad would be dying to see our faces right away.

We did as he suggested. Together the two of us opened the gift last on Christmas morning.  And WOW!  We were dumbfounded! An Am/FM stereo system with a turntable and two speakers!  Of course, my dad persisted in saying that he and my mother did not purchase it-Santa did.

That stereo stayed with me for many years. In high school, I listened to many of rock’s best albums on it. All of  Fleetwood Mac, Jackson Browne, Elton John, The Eagles, Billy Joel, Chicago.  I brought it with me to college and blasted Bruce and U2 ( the early 80’s albums-OMG!) and The Clash.

For me the gift symbolizes many things: Rock music at its best, memories of my teenage and college years, but most of all my father’s unconditional love.

 

This post is brought to you by the venerable Kellie Elmore and her Free Write Friday prompt:

#FWF Free Write Friday: Childhood Gift

Write about your most memorable childhood gift. Was is a Christmas gift? A Birthday gift? Was is something you really wanted or was it a surprise that ended up holding a sentimental place in your heart? What do you remember? How did it make you feel?

free write friday kellie elmore

Meeting the Master

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For those of you who are newer here, this story is another installment of my ‘Lola’ series which has its birth in a FWF from Kellie Elmore. The installments are below in reverse order if you care to read or reread them.

Reunion  

Subjugation and Subordination

Ephemeral Relinquishment

Inspection

Captive

The Scout

Lola nearly laughed at the absurdity of this next chapter in her captivity. Yet she knew all three of them would need to play along if they were to survive. Adrienne and her companions were leading them in rapid fashion through a white-washed maze of hallways. The only sounds were the rustle of the white habits against their legs. Lola, Tess and Grace were dressed in flowing but modest gowns and Lola bristled at the confines of it. She was used to more rugged and useful clothing that allowed for freedom of movement.

Abruptly, the maze ended. The long wall parted and the women entered a cavernous room that exuded masculinity. Fine wood grained walls and floors, heavy leather furniture. At its center was a long, dark table with seven armed and throne-like chairs around it. Art objects depicted hunting, war and other forms of conquest.  A concrete representation of power and control.

A wooshing sound startled Lola out of her observation. Six dark suited and well groomed men emerged from six side doors disguised in the walls. Slick and Smarmy thought Lola. They glided to the chairs at the side of the table. Then another WOOSH. At the center panel stood a man of great height and strength. Dashingly handsome and with eyes the color of turquoise. A face of forcefulness. He ignored the escorts (who by then were on their knees) and strode over to the trio. He had no compunction whatsoever as he removed their gowns one by one and closely examined their bodies using more than his eyes. The experience left Lola with a urgent need to violently lash out against the degradation. But she knew it meant punishment or death if  she moved an inch or  showed any emotion. Then the Master spoke. “Councilmen. You may examine them as well.” Then we will decide who is best suited to marry my eldest son and provide us with the progeny for our new nation.”

The procedure was wretched in its ritual. With each stroke, pat and rub, the women felt less and less human and more like goods to be sold to the highest bidder. When it was finally done, the men moved to the table to cast their votes.  “Well, gentlemen. We certainly have found ourselves a treasure trove of perfect helpmates. I see we all agree on the two that will go to my second and third sons.” The Master then rose from his seat and strode over to Lola. “But you, my lovely, are the perfect match for Gabriel.”

The Familiar

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One last sleep before my journey

We lie with just a sheet

and the whir of the fan

lulling us to dreamland

Our bodies take turns finding ways

to stay tangled, twined and touched

Fingers, legs, torsos, arms

tug, pull, envelop, whisper, graze

Nearness, breath, a sigh

until morning’s deep solitude awakens us

attempting to shed night’s imprinted stirrings

Phone Call at Midnight

credit: www.flickr.com

Tessa had her suspicions but could never put her finger on any exact proof. Her connections in the high rolling corporate world provided her with ample opportunities to work and play with powerful men. Normally, she kept them at arm’s length, both literally and figuratively. Staying objective while covering the news of the latest takeover or insider scandal was the code by which she lived and breathed. Because of this, she earned the trust of her readers as well as the editors at the paper. It was no accident that she was the recipient of many awards for journalistic excellence. Her non-confrontational style broke down barriers and got many of her sources to confess their dirty deeds.

Tessa worked hard to keep her private life out of plain sight. Covering investigative stories sapped her mental energy and often brought her instant recognition when out in public. Shopping for herself was challenging and dating nearly impossible as many dinners were often interrupted by the ringing of her phone or her “fans”. One gray Sunday afternoon, she saw an ad on the Internet for the sale of a little cottage in Bucks County. Just what I need she thought. A place that will allow for escape from the dregs of the city and the narcissistic qualities of the people I cover. She call the number and made an appointment for the following Saturday afternoon.

It was love at first sight.  The little yellow bungalow with white shutters and a fertile flower garden exuded cheer and warmth. It had just one bedroom and bath (with a claw footed tub), a working fireplace and an open living and kitchen area. The remote setting was serene with its small sloping lawn and tiny pond stocked with fish. She also took an instant like to the real estate agent showing her the property. Jared was polite and knowledgeable- having grown up in the area as a boy. He, too, had taken to the fast paced city life for a bit but then found himself burned out after years of chasing nothing (as he put it). Now, he dabbled in house selling and renovations throughout the western part of the state. This way he could keep his hair long and his skin brown as a berry.

After the purchase, Tessa took some much needed time off from work to move into the house and do some touch-ups on the inside. She often found herself in the company of Jared during her antiquing and hardware excursions. He was delightful and they usually ended their days with dinner in her kitchen or drinks by the pond.  As the weather turned colder, she made use of the fireplace. Tessa arrived late one Friday evening to a stack of firewood on her front porch. She knew immediately that Jared had split it for her. When she called to thank him, she found herself inviting him over.

So their year long affair began. Tessa found Jared so easy to talk to-unlike so many of the men she had dated and even interviewed. He was relaxed and generous with his time and encouraged her to open up. She even told him about her latest piece-investigating a drug lord’s ties to a well known investment firm. She felt like she was getting close but was challenged by some of her sources as well as her own desire to go all out in getting answers. For the first time in years, Tessa didn’t have the zealous urge to go after a story. All she wanted by Thursday night was to head down the 101 and fall into Jared’s embrace.

And it was after one lovely interlude that Tessa found herself awakened by the sound of Jared’s voice on the phone. His side of the bed was empty. The clock on her night stand just turned over to a brand new day. Wrapping herself in a sheet, Tessa crept out of bed towards the kitchen. Jared’s voice became clear. “Don’t worry, she’ll be dead by Sunday.”

Kellie’s at her best with this week’s prompt. We got to write a story based on a list of titles she gave us!  This was fun and very different!  Go to:

#FWF Free Write Friday: Pick a Title

Reunion

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“Arise chosen ones. Prepare for your future.” The booming voice came from a rather small old man dressed in a white suit. In fact, he was completely white with the exception of his piercing blue eyes.   “What is it with these blue eyes?” thought Lola. The old man led them from their room to another chamber.  Three women, cloaked in white habits awaited them.  “Dress them appropriately sisters.”

Lola attempted to make eye contact with them-to see their faces. But the trio’s eyes were riveted to the floor. They appeared to be a silent cloud of nothingness blending into the colorless surroundings of the chamber. At once, they lifted their arms to reveal three white gowns. They held them out to Lola, Tasha and Grace as if they were gifts. In unison, they moved behind them and began to remove their thin slips from their bodies. Then, just as swiftly, the elaborate dresses were erected onto their frames. At least that is what Lola was thinking. She was no more than a mannequin awaiting display in the window of  a department store.

But she had to think fast. Find a way to communicate SOMETHING to these mute maids.  “ACHOO!” Lola sneezed so loudly and with such drama that the three could not help but look up and reply with the standard “Bless you.”

And in that instant, Lola locked eyes with her missing mother, Adrienne. A woman of prominent stature, full of vigor and light in the days before, during and after the Revolution, Adrienne was not even a shadow of her former self.  Her spirit was erased by the abuse she suffered as a prisoner of the Restoration Party. But upon seeing her daughter, she began to feel a bit of hope. For what, she was not sure. Pulling the secret language from the recesses of her brain, she told her daughter snippets of information in the smallest of gestures. Her companions joined with Tasha and Grace.

It was all the six of them could do to control themselves. They had struck gold in terms of moving the plan forward. Lola and her friends discovered Adrienne and her two colleagues were to accompany them to meet the Master. They also discovered that these women had access to all parts of the center because of their status as maids. When they weren’t preparing females for their fate, they could be seen cleaning the Master’s quarters and cooking meals in the vast kitchen. The Master and his councilmen often held elaborate feasts to celebrate any new births that occurred in the Breeding Center or within their own families.  These three women were indispensable as chefs for such occasions. It was the only time in their captivity that they could actually speak or give orders.  Only females worked in the kitchen and the entire staff was under constant pressure to present a perfect menu. The kitchen was also a training school for women as they were not considered worthy unless they knew how to cook and serve their future husbands.

The kitchen-the place where women belonged of course! But also an epicenter of untapped power. If Lola remembered anything that her mother taught her it was this:  Never underestimate the inner strength and tenacity of women. Adrienne’s spiritual core may have been corrupted; but Lola’s arrival was the route to its resurrection.

 

Just a little reminder that this story is a continuation in my “Lola” series.

Last week’s story was entitled Subjugation and Subordination

Marking Time

walmart man

photo courtesy of Kellie Elmore

Born through the grace and mercy of the Lord

Workin’ on Papa’s farm since my feet taught me to walk

Mama called me shy, her worried little boy

Happy to plow them fields sunrise to sunset

Got called up at eighteen to kill the commies in ‘Nam

Found myself knee deep in rice paddies

or in jungles lined with mines and leeches

Saw friends lose their limbs and lives

Lost my mind

Drownin’ in the blood left on those hills and in those huts

Red the common color in comrades, babies and women

Numbed my soul in the arms of yellow girls and in bottles of hooch

Got myself hooked on smack when the demons ruled my dreams

When the killin’ was done, they brought me home

Leavin’ me with nothin’ but the ghosts carried home in bags or draped in flags

Papa died while I was gone and Mama sold the farm

Found myself on the streets lookin’ for the next fix

‘Til the shelter took me in and cleaned me up

Spend my days workin’ the soup line and waitin’ for the clinic to open up

Livin’ and dyin’ through the grace and mercy of the Lord

Another great one from Kellie Elmore this week We wrote a story from this image that she posted on Instagram. His name is John. Check others’ out at:

#FWF Free Write Friday: Image Prompt

Subjugation and Subordination

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This is a continuation of last week’s installment Ephemeral Relinquishment

She felt like she had been dropped into a time machine. Gender roles were clearly defined. Women and girls were only allowed to do domestic chores while men and boys performed all types of manual labor. In fact, they lived decidedly separate existences except for those who were “married”. Even then, husbands and wives only shared space in the bedroom.  Education for girls consisted of preparing them for cooking and cleaning of their future domiciles. They were allowed to grow vegetable and flower gardens and to occasionally roam the fields and woods (escorted) in search of wildflowers or truffles to be used for meals. Religious study was allowed if only to help them better understand that their submissive role was “divinely” ordained.

Lola was appalled at the conditions for females. Often, she would be witness to a young woman’s final preparation for “spiritual marriage.”  All females had to be pure in order to marry.  Those that were deemed not pure enough were often relegated to working in the Saddle Club as entertainers for the “47”-a term for the men who did the Restoration Party’s dirty work. These men were not allowed to marry or breed. They were “rewarded” for catching Restoration Party outlaws with meals and women and were free to do with them what they pleased.  There seemed to be no exact standard for purity and many women were often shocked when they received news of their status. Many attempted to kill themselves in order to avoid their fate and others tried to run away only to be shot by the very men for whom they were to be sexual slaves. Still others were deemed to be good breeders (Lola discovered that these women were already mothers but too “old” to marry). They were sent to housing where their cycles were closely monitored. When they were fertile, they were “visited” by high-ranking members of the Restoration Party. The Breeding House was used as a means to further populate the Restoration Party’s members with the goal of regaining power.

Lola already knew that her role was going to be different. Over these last few weeks, she had learned that the Master had chosen someone to marry his eldest son by his first wife.  In fact, he had chosen three. The one he picked as the most “qualified” was to marry the eldest while the  other two were slated to marry son #2 and son #3.  So here she was. Sharing space in The Prenuptial cottage with two of her peers. They were as petrified as she was confident. Better still, she knew these girls.  And they seemed to know her. Their families were key members of the Renewal Party and she had heard about their disappearance shortly before she was sent on her scouting mission. Wherever Lola had ended up that day in the field, she had now concluded that this was not a holding center but the heart and soul of the Restoration Party’s operations.

She just needed to find a way to communicate with Tasha and Grace. Because all of their movements were recorded, speaking openly was out of the question. During the upheaval, Jack had taught Lola and many other Renewal Party members a secret sign language. It proved to be useful now.

“Don’t worry my friends, ” Lola signaled.  “We are going to hatch a plan that will free all of us.”