‘Little Suzi’ and the Rotten Bananas

Highland & 16th Market_Rotten Bananas

Once upon a time long, long ago—in the 1960’s—a little girl named Suzi and a little boy named Denny played together behind his house atop Highland Avenue. Suzi’s mother often brought her over for a visit, because her mommy, Wilma, and Denny’s mommy, Nancy, had been best of friends since high school, and they lived only one block away from one another even to this day.

On a particularly nice Tuesday in June, Suzi and her mommy got up early in the morning to have breakfast before getting ready to go to Denny’s house. They decided to have pancakes and maple syrup, which Suzi called ‘maple surple’ because it was fun to say. (She learned that from her granddaddy.) When they had finished eating and then scraped their plates into the kitchen garbage can and washed and rinsed them in the sink, Suzi’s mother reminded her to go wash her face and brush her teeth to get ready to go to Denny’s house.

“May I take Albert upstairs with me? Or do you need him to stay here in the kitchen and help you?” Suzi asked her mother that morning.

Albert was Suzi’s imaginary friend. He was a little boy her own age who went with her everywhere—even to school—and sometimes got her in trouble. When she was little, before she grew big enough to go to school, Suzi often talked to Albert out loud. But after she started first grade and some of the kids at school teased her about it, Suzi whispered to Albert, unless she forgot.

“You can take Albert upstairs with you. I won’t miss him,” her mother replied with a slight smile. But then she added, “I don’t want to hear any more sob stories about how you can’t find your hairbrush because Albert used it on the neighbor’s dog or how you can’t clean your teeth because Albert lost your toothbrush…again. I found it between the towels in the linen closet this time, you know.”

“We had better get on upstairs, Albert,” Suzi whispered to her imaginary friend.

Okey dokey, dominokey, Albert replied to Little Suzi. That was one of Albert’s favorite sayings. He also liked ‘easy peazy, lemon squeezy,’ and so did Little Suzi. Continue reading

What Are You?

One day in May, a strange animal swam about in a pond.

He asked every animal he met the same question.

“What are you?” the animal asked a frog.

“I’m a frog, of course. Why do you ask?”

frog_frog3

“Am I a frog?” the strange animal asked.

“Well, you have webbed feet like a frog. Do you jump like a frog?”

“No, I do not jump,” the strange animal answered.

“Then you are not a frog,” said the frog.

So, the strange animal swam about in the pond.

He asked every animal he met the same question.

“What are you?” the animal asked a duck.

“I’m a duck, of course. Why do you ask?”

 CGDDC8

“Am I a duck?” the strange animal asked.

“Well, you have a long flat bill like a duck, and you have webbed feet like a duck.

Do you quack like a duck?”

“No, I do not quack,” the strange animal answered.

“Then you are not a duck,” said the duck.

So, the strange animal swam about in the pond. He asked every animal he met

the same question.

“What are you?” the animal asked a beaver.

“I’m a beaver, of course. Why do you ask?”

CG25D9

“Am I a beaver?” the animal asked the beaver.

“Well, you have a wide flat tail like a beaver, but do you have big sharp teeth

to cut down a tree?”

“No, I do not have big sharp teeth,” the strange animal answered.

“Then you are not a beaver,” said the beaver.

So, the strange animal swam about in the pond. He asked every animal he met

the same question.

“What are you?” the animal asked an otter.

“I’m an otter, of course. Why do you ask?”

CG8251

“Am I an otter?” the strange animal asked.

“Well, you have a slick furry coat like an otter, but do you have a long tail

to help you swim under water?”

“No, I do not have a long tail,” the strange animal answered.

“Then you are not an otter,” said the otter.

Finally, the strange animal stopped swimming about

and thought to himself: 

I am not a frog, but I have webbed feet.

I am not a duck, but I have a long flat bill.

I am not a beaver, but I have a wide flat tail.

I am not an otter, but I have a slick furry coat.

What kind of animal am I?

CGCFB7

“Why, you’re a platypus, of course. Why do you ask?”

 The End

‘Little Suzi’ and the ‘Noculation

gaystreet3

Once upon a time long, long ago—in the 1960’s—a little girl named Suzi traveled downtown to see her doctor with her mommy, Wilma.  For this visit, they did not travel the several city blocks there on a bus or in a cab, as they usually did. Instead, they rode in a car that Suzi’s mommy borrowed from her friend Nancy (her best friend from high school days who now lived only one block away).

“We’re running a little late for Suzi’s pediatrician appointment,” Wilma had told her friend over the phone at noon on this beautiful but hot summer day. “Suzi isn’t back from helping her granddaddy tie stakes to his tomato plants next to his backyard shed. I need to borrow your car if we are going to make it to the doctor’s office on time.”

“Well, my little Denny is still taking his nap,” Nancy told her friend, “so why don’t you walk over here to my house and get the keys and drive yourself?”

“That’s wonderful of you,” Wilma replied gratefully. “I’ll be there in a jiffy.”

And so Suzi’s mommy put on her red lipstick, picked up her black clutch purse, put on her sunglasses, tied her new sky blue silk scarf around her hair—to block the wind from the rolled down car windows—and walked briskly up the block to Nancy’s house.

“Thanks so much, Nancy,” Wilma said on the front porch as her friend handed over the keys to the four-door Buick parked on the street outside. “You’re a life saver.”

It was just a week before school would start for Little Suzi in the first grade at the red and white brick schoolhouse only two blocks away from their small white frame house on Magnolia Avenue. And so Suzi’s mommy needed to get her child’s inoculation record up to date to show the school nurse on the first day of class.

“What’s a ‘noculation?” Suzi had asked her invisible friend Albert after hearing her mother talk about it to Miss Nancy on the phone earlier in the week.

I don’t know, Albert told his friend, but I think the nurse sticks medicine in your arm and then gives you a lollypop if you’re good. Can I have one too?

“A ‘noculation?”

No, a lollypop!

“Sure,” Suzi told Albert. “You can have mine if the nurse won’t give you one of your own.”

*** Continue reading

‘Little Suzi’ and the Silver Christmas Cross

sterling-silver-pendant

Once upon a time long, long ago—in the 1960’s—a little girl named Suzi often stayed overnight with her grandparents in their shoebox-size house on the lovely corner of Sheffield and Stockton roads. It wasn’t just because Little Suzi’s grandparents loved her so very much that they looked forward to frequent visits from their granddaughter, it was also because Suzi’s mommy Wilma needed a break now and then from working all day and caring for Suzi (and her invisible friend Albert) every evening of every week of every year!

This particular Friday in December, Little Suzi came straight to her grandparent’s house directly after school. It was the last day of school before Christmas, and the children were let out early, so Little Suzi’s mommy made arrangements for the girl to stay at her grandparents’ through the weekend. Suzi especially loved to visit around Christmas time because Granny cooked up delicious pies and cookies that perfumed the whole house with tasty scents of cinnamon, apples, nutmeg, walnuts, pecans, and cherries that she used in various delicious ways. The small house stayed warm and smelled wonderful all December from all the cooking going on in the kitchen.

1 Merry Christmas 2010

The kitchen alcove had a special table with two chairs just the right size for a little girl and her invisible friend, and so that’s where Little Suzi and Albert took their breakfast, lunch, and snacks whenever she stayed with Granny and Granddaddy Hood.

It was on this particular Saturday morning in the kitchen that Suzi looked at Albert across the table in a funny way while she continued eating her breakfast of oatmeal with brown sugar and toast with honey.

“I saw some boxes on the top shelf of Granny’s closet in her bathroom,” Suzi began.

What were you doing snooping in Granny’s closet? Albert challenged his friend. You’re not supposed to snoop at Christmas time, you know. Continue reading

‘Little Suzi’ and the Cat-tastrophe

Snowball
Snowball

Once upon a time long, long ago—in the 1960’s—a little girl named Suzi was sitting quietly on the back stairs of her house and reading a favorite book about a brave girl who had great adventures, met many odd people and creatures in strange places, and even fought a dragon once.

“I want to be like Alice when I grow up,” Little Suzi told her imaginary friend Albert who was sitting beside the little girl (hoping that she would read to him out loud, which she very often did).

I want to be like Alice, too! Albert exclaimed to his friend.

“But, she’s a girl,” Little Suzi was careful to explain. “You’re a boy.”

Oh, replied Albert with disappointment. Well, read to me anyway.

Little Suzi had just started a new chapter when Denny, her play pal from up the street, came walking through the alley that ran behind and between their houses atop Highland Avenue. As usual, Denny was proudly wearing his Roy Rogers cowboy hat and shirt and his cowboy boots. The pant legs of his blue jeans were tucked inside the boot tops, the way a real cowboy would do.

Denny often came over to Suzi’s house on Saturdays to play ‘Cowboys and Indians’. Little Suzi would be Pocahontas (she had real Cherokee moccasins of her own) and Albert would be her papoose—whenever she could talk him into it.

But this particular morning, Denny carefully cradled an old shoe box in his arms, and from Suzi’s perch on the back stairs, she could see something furry and small moving about inside it, which interested her very much.

“Want a kitten?” Denny asked cheerfully as he reached the bottom of the stairs. “Mommy says I can’t keep it.” Continue reading

The Canary’s Song

No work tomorrow at Ky mine tote board

Deputy Sheriff Sam Garrison was finishing up his usual breakfast of cooked oats and black coffee a little before daylight Tuesday morning at the kitchen table with his wife, Ellie, when he was interrupted by an unwelcome telephone call. On the line was Superintendent John Daniels of the Pioneer Coal Company, put through from the switchboard operator at the Bell County courthouse.

“First crew found a miner alayin’ dead outside shaft number two up here at Kettle Island yesterd’y mornin’, Deputy. Appears the man was shot through the head, and we ain’t sure yet who he is nor who done the shootin’.”

Sam did not react to the news as the Superintendent continued.

“As always, we wanta cooperate with the Sheriff’s Office, but I need to get that mine back in operation soon as you can investigate and file your report. We done lost half a day’s production on account a this mess.”

Typical, Sam was thinking, Sheriff’s the last one you call and the first one you blame if the case ain’t solved by sunset so’s you can get back to business as usual. But to the mining boss, he simply replied, “I’ll be on up later this mornin’, soon’s I can,” and hung up.

Continue reading

‘Little Suzi’ and Tony the Pony

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Once upon a time long, long ago—in the 1960’s—a little girl named Suzi saved a small part of her lunch every day to feed it to her new friend, Tony, the pony who lived in a grassy lot between two tall houses on the city block between her school and her happy little house on Azalea Avenue.

In a lot surrounded completely by a farm fence exactly as tall as Little Suzi was a tiny grey barn. For a long time, Suzi thought it was an empty barn left over from the olden days of the town. She often imagined the pigs, goats, and chickens that must have lived there years ago. Little Suzi wished the animals were there still and that she could feed them and take care of them in the barnyard.

In her mind, Little Suzi saw pigs wallow, baby goats jump up on their mothers’ backs, and sheep dogs herd lambs back to the pen. All these things she had seen in books her mother read to her when she was even more little than now. All these things she saw in her imagination.

While she stood at the fence beside the sidewalk, Little Suzi absent-mindedly took a red apple from her lunch bag and began to take small bites. She hadn’t had time to finish her lunch at school because Albert, her invisible friend, wasted too much time putting up their paints and glue. Of course, Albert never actually ate any food. He kept Little Suzi company while she ate quickly so that she could sit up close in front of the teacher for story time. That’s why she often had an apple left over from her lunch. Apples take a long time to eat.

It was exactly the apple from her lunch on this particular day that Little Suzi was eating when she first met ‘Tony’ the pony. Of course, he did not introduce himself to Suzi and Albert when he came clip-clopping slowly out of the shadow of his small barn. Suzi and Albert waited excitedly by the fence.

“I wonder what his name is?” Little Suzi said to Albert. Continue reading

My Best Day Fishin’…Ever

Tellico Reservoir

I looked forward to retirement more than many, I think, because I longed for a day of leisurely fishing not rushed by weekend chores and family commitments. And it’s not like I don’t live close enough to good fishing holes to make it easy for me to get out there. A number of man-made lakes and outstanding fishing creeks are located less than an hour from my home in East Tennessee.

Crappie run well here in the spring, so one Saturday morning a fishing buddy from across the street and I hooked up my 17-foot skiff just after daybreak and took off for Clear Creek cove on Tellico Lake. The ‘creek’ runs as a current about 30 feet below the surface off the main reservoir built by the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1979.

After our drive across the Fort Loudon Dam bridge that morning and our arrival at the Clear Creek boat ramp, the boat engine started right up on the second crank after sitting idle through the whole winter. In just a few minutes, we were off the trailer, through the highway overpass, and on our fishing hole for a promising day.

Continue reading

‘Little Suzi’ and the Piano Lesson

0f6dbde239fdf1b91b526dca2a8e5cd9[1]

Once upon a time long, long ago—in the 1960’s—a little girl named Suzi learned to play the piano by taking lessons from the very same teacher who taught her mother, Wilma, to play beautifully when she was a little girl. Wilma learned to play piano so skillfully and so beautifully that she and her teacher often played duets during recitals. Sometimes they even played “Rhapsody in Blue” on two different pianos at the same time!

“Don’t forget to use the bathroom here before you leave for Miss Virginia’s house, Suzi,” her mother told her every Tuesday afternoon before her lesson. “Remember, you can’t stop in the middle of a lesson or Miss Virginia will just send you back home!”

As if that weren’t scary enough, Little Suzi had to walk a whole block down Magnolia Avenue along a crooked old sidewalk shaded by giant magnolia and maple trees all the way to Miss Virginia Lee’s tall, dark old house perched on a low hill surrounded by a black wrought iron fence, like the ones you see around graveyards in the city.

To keep her company on the way, Suzi always brought along her imaginary friend Albert. As Little Suzi clutched her thin “Piano for Beginners” book under her little girl arm, she and Albert walked the long block from her house to Miss Virginia Lee’s house. There weren’t many other houses on the block in those days, so Suzi was glad for Albert’s company.

Suzi held Albert’s hand (or was he holding her hand?) so that she could be brave and not scared to walk all the way to the tall house on the corner, up the tall steps from the street to the iron fence, and then up four more high stairs to the front porch of the grey and white house. Continue reading

‘Little Suzi’ and the Halloween Candy Bones

Candy bones story mast 001

Once upon a time long, long ago—in the 1960’s—a little girl named Suzi loved Halloween night almost as much as she loved Christmas morning. Little Suzi and her invisible friend Albert every year started thinking about their Halloween costumes long before the leaves on the oak and maple trees turned bright red and orange in the fall, long before farmers brought their yellow pumpkins in from the fields, and long before her granny would ask “What do you want to be this year?”

Every Halloween since she had been old enough to go trick-or-treating on her own, Suzi’s grandmother, whom she called ‘Granny Dear’, made her a new hand-measured, hand-sewn Halloween costume. But to Suzi’s dismay, Granny Dear didn’t believe in scary costumes.

“It’s not polite to scare folks,” she said every year. So until now, Suzi had to dress up in only cute, sweet costumes: a Dalmatian puppy one year, a floppy-eared rabbit the next, a Raggedy Ann doll after that, then a Cherokee Indian princess, and, last year, an angel with a halo and wings made of wire coat hangers and wrapping paper.

And, of course, Albert teased her every year by saying, When are you going to stop wearing those ‘baby’ Halloween costumes and dress up like a real ghost or goblin so we can scare somebody for once?

Albert was lucky. He could dress up in any scary costume he wanted. All he and Suzi had to do was imagine his outfit and, poof, there it was! And Granny Dear didn’t complain about how scary Albert’s costume might be, because only he and Suzi could see it.

I think I’ll be a pirate with an eye patch and black beard this year! Albert excitedly told his friend one Friday in September right after school. The teacher had shown the class a picture of a harvest moon, and it reminded Albert of Halloween right away—he was smart like that.

After school, as they walked home from the red and white brick schoolhouse on Laurel Street to Suzi’s small white frame house on Magnolia Avenue, Suzi and Albert imagined scary Halloween costumes: ghouls, goblins, werewolves, vampires, devils and witches!

“But Granny Dear won’t sew me one of those costumes,” Little Suzi told her friend disappointedly. “She says it’s not ‘propriate for little girls to try to scare the neighbors and their little children. She says it might give them nightmares.”

I wanna have a nightmare! Albert offered enthusiastically. Can we have one for Halloween night? You could get a scary book from the library. Maybe the one we read last year about Sleepy Hollow and the headless horseman?! We had some really good nightmares after that one! Continue reading

Turtles at the Beach

DSCN0835

A ‘Kylie Anne’ poem

A little girl turtle swam in the sea
Alongside her mother and father.
They took her on swims in the swirling surf,
And they fed her whatever she wanted.

At night is when they liked to swim most
(like little kayaks, but rounder than boats).
At morning light, when the air was soft,
They would climb out and go about crawling.
All that swimming, you see, was tiring for three
Turtles with tummies empty and gnawing.

Out on the beach, there’s not much to eat
For turtles all weary and hungry.
So what might they like? What might be tasty?
Could it be strawberries and pastry?

If it’s not what the pelicans swoop down and dive for
Or what the seagulls hover and cry for,
What would you think might light up their eyes
When they stop at their ‘seaside diner’?

Like blueberry pancakes for granddaughters like you,
What makes these turtles so happy?
Do you have a guess? Do you have a clue?
If not, let me help you think it through…

If you had a beak, and not your teeth,
You might like things that are crunchy.
Not spaghetti, not cheese,
Not honey from bees,
Not biscuits and blackberry jelly,
Not hot dogs and beans,
Not cake with ice cream,
No, not even cotton candy.

For turtles big and small,
Just so you will know,
Their favorites are…
Seaweed and jellies!

‘Reservations Knot Required’: Locking through with the Tennessee River Boys

Squatter, M&M, Montana, Skipper
Squatter, M&M, Montana, Skipper

 “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”—Benjamin Franklin (attrib.)

If ever you’ve been on a quiet lake in summer, late in the day when the sun is low on the horizon and your body and mind are at peace with the world, you might be privileged to witness the spectacle of thousands of shimmering diamonds of reflected sunlight dancing across ripples of waves on the surface. It’s a soul-mending suspension in time like a liquid dream. But let me stop you right there, because my dream of a trip down the Tennessee River began with a discussion about bologna and beer, not a crock of wimpy poetic stuff.

I had only contemplated the idea—just the possibility, really—of taking a long-range river trip before I got too old or too lazy. I started thinking about it after I discovered through my lovely, dear wife (she may be reading this over my shoulder right now) introduced me to Jack, the spouse of a former teacher colleague of hers. The introduction was well-intended as our wives knew we had a love of boating in common, but they later regretted it, because at every opportunity from that point on, we discussed boats and taking a boating trip ad nauseam. Jack and I had our first serious phone conversation about a trip down river several months after our first meeting. It occurred at the very end of winter at the height of our cabin fever and went something like this:

“How many days would it take to go from here all the way down the Tennessee and back, do you think?” Continue reading

‘Little Suzi’ and the Queen’s Cat

small-door-amazing-garden-14769054 (160x160)

Once upon a time long, long ago—in the 1960’s—a little girl named Suzi lived in a cozy house on Magnolia Avenue with her mommy and daddy. Most days, Little Suzi was happy, but on one particular Saturday in March, while the little girl was reading a book to her dolls and stuffed animals, her mommy stopped by her room to tell her to ‘clean it up’: “Your room is very messy; you need to clean it up.”

It was not unusual at all for her mother to say this. In fact, she said it almost every Saturday, unless they both were busy with Campfire Girls or family bowling.

“You have such a nice room with your own bed, your own closet, and lots of toys and stuffed animals,” Suzi’s mommy often reminded her. “You should keep it nice so that when your friends come over, you can be proud of your room.”

And, normally, Little Suzi would reply to her mommy in the customary way, such as “OK, in a minute,” or “In a little while, when I finish this chapter of my book,” or “As soon as Albert finishes using the potty, so that he can clean up his mess too.”

Albert was Suzi’s invisible friend who most often helped her do her chores. With Albert’s help, she found it easier to get started and to finish things like putting her toys and books away, folding sheets and pillow cases for her mommy, and washing and drying dishes at the kitchen sink (while standing on stools so they both could reach).

But on this particular day, Little Suzi surprised her mother!

“I don’t want to clean up my room,” Little Suzi replied with her hands on her hips and in a stinky voice. “And, as you can see, I’m very busy right now reading this book about ‘Alice’ to Albert and these other children.”

Little Suzi immediately knew she had gone too far when her imaginary friend Albert said nothing, suddenly sat up stiffly beside her from where he had been looking at the pictures in the storybook as she read, and stared up at her with eyes wide and mouth open. And at that same moment, the little girl also knew it was too late to take it back now.

Stopping in her tracks, one step beyond her daughter’s door, Little Suzi’s mother wasn’t sure at first if she had heard what she thought she had heard.

“I beg your pardon, miss?” Suzi’s mommy pronounced as she stepped back in front of the open door to the room. Continue reading

‘Little Suzi’ and the Bear’s Picnic

Photo by Phil Nickell
Photo by Phil Nickell

Photo by Phil Nickell

Once upon a time long, long ago—in the 1960’s—a little girl named Suzi, her mother Wilma, and her grandparents decided to go for a Sunday afternoon picnic in the mountains of East Tennessee. It was late summer in the city near the mountains where Suzi’s grandparents lived in a small, square house with only a noisy electric fan in the window to help them through the hot and humid days.

Suzi’s granny, Eileen, made special-recipe fried chicken and her grandaddy, Manly, packed the car with the picnic basket, picnic blanket, and heavy fold-up wooden chairs. He put all these things in the trunk of the car so that Suzi, her mommy, and her granny had lots of room to sit inside. They needed lots of room because Suzi always brought her ‘friends’ with her on picnics: a tall baby doll with yellow hair, a monkey sewn from old socks, and a boy named Albert, whom no one else could see but who took up the whole middle seat in the rear of the car.

Continue reading

Living in the Shadow of the Nuclear Warhead – A ‘Glow in the Dark’ Memoir

Oak Ridge

During the nation’s historic period of the Cold War, I was busy growing up in a small town—a Secret City—wholly and specifically constructed by the federal government during World War II to develop and produce the world’s first atomic warhead. The Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, made components for nuclear weapons, and the K-25 plant made highly enriched uranium for the same purpose. As a direct result, my civic duty as a five-year-old boy moving to the town with his parents in 1957 was to attend school during weekdays and otherwise stay out of the house, because when my father was off shift from the Y-12 plant, he needed sleep. The facility operated around the clock, and my father’s rotating ‘shift work’ schedule meant that he must sleep during the daylight hours some weeks, midday hours some weeks, and at night other weeks. Life for me became complicated.

My days were taken up with school and my afternoons with play. I spent the remainder of my time reading or sleeping. On weekends, I stayed at friends’ homes or Mother took me out for almost any activity at all, including something as mundane as seeing some kid’s new puppy in a box or as crushingly boring as a ‘pasting party’ for S&H Green Stamps. Imagine two or three mothers and their hostile kids—having been pressed into service—arrayed around a kitchen table sponging stamps and filling the pages of those onerous, wrinkled trading books (although my mom did trade them in for a nice set of TV dinner trays once). To be fair, we kids usually got our fill of sugar cookies and milk in the bargain.

Continue reading