Friday, August 26, 2011

The Clover Patch: Chapter 3

That afternoon Auntie Mia was in excellent spirits, even for her. She had brought with her an old, beat-up looking ukulele that she had bought from an old mole last week.

Proudly, she held it up for Herbert and Matthew to see. “I’ve been practicing,” she announced, plucking on the strings and beginning a less-than-tuneful song. Matthew covered his ears and Herbert winced as Auntie Mia warbled along:

            Grandma got run over by a Reindeer
            Walking home from our house Christmas Eve.
            You can say there’s no such thing as Santa,
            But as for me and Grandpa, we believe.

“What’s a reindeer?” Herbert whispered to Matthew.

Matthew took his fingers out of his ears. “What?”

“What’s a reindeer?”

Matthew shook his head and put his fingers back in his ears. “I don’t know. Whatever it is, it can’t be good.”

She'd been drinkin' too much egg nog,
And we'd begged her not to go.
But she'd forgot her medication,
And she staggered out the door into the snow

Auntie Mia belted out in a voice so atrocious that only the very strongest of stomachs could stand to listen to it for long. 

“Auntie Mia,” called Herbert, but she was singly too loudly to hear him. “Auntie Mia!” Herbert yelled.

She jumped a little bit to hear Herbert yell, but turned to him and said in a voice as sweet as sugar, “Yes?”

“Do you think maybe we could do something else?”

Auntie Mia straightened out her dress and chewed on her bottom link as if she were taking very seriously his suggestion. “What did you have in mind?”

Until Mother returned home, Herbert, Matthew, and Auntie Mia played a dice game that Matthew won twice, a card game that Herbert won once and Auntie Mia won twice, and then hula-hooped.

Mother laughed as she entered the house. What a sight the three of them were! Shaking their hips back and forth, back and forth. They were having such a good time, they didn’t even hear her enter. “Hello!” she called out, putting a heavy paper bag down on the counter.

Herbert immediately dropped his hula-hoop and ran to her. “Mother!” he exclaimed, grabbing at her leg. “I had the best day at school!”

Mother leaned down and picked up Herbert. “Well, I can’t wait to hear about it at dinner. First, will you help me put these groceries away?”

Herbert and Matthew dug through the paper bag and put away different items that Mother had picked up that day while she and Auntie Mia talked quietly a few feet away.

“Lima beans,” said Matthew, making a face and holding out the bag of beans at arm’s length.

“Strawberries!” said Herbert.

“I’ll take those instead.” Matthew turned to where Mother and Auntie Mia were speaking. “Mother, is this the big errand you had to run?”

Mother glanced at Auntie Mia. “Part of it,” she said.

“What was the other part?” asked Herbert.

Mother sighed. “Oh, you know, lots of boring grown up stuff.”

“Like what?” Matthew pressed.

Mother sighed again and a look of worry crossed Auntie Mia’s face.

“Mother,” asked Herbert, “where’s the basket you left with this morning?”

“I had to drop some goodies off with an older lady who lives on the outskirts of town. I must have left it there.” She hastily finished putting the groceries away with her sons. “Now, really, I’d much rather hear about your day and, if you give me just a minute, I’ll have dinner heated up for you.”

“What is it?”

“It’s macaroni and cheese.”

“When did you have time to make that?” asked Matthew.

“I didn’t. The lady I brought the goodies to had made too much, so she sent me home with some. I figured you two wouldn’t complain.”

“No way!” exclaimed Herbert.  “Are there peas in it?” Mother nodded. “Onions?” Mother nodded again. “Alright!” Without even being asked, Herbert grabbed out dishes to set the table.

“Auntie Mia, will you stay for dinner?” Mother asked.

But Auntie Mia shook her head. “No, thank you, Bea. It’s getting dark and I’d best be headed home.”

Mother nodded as if she understood, though neither Herbert nor Matthew noticed. “Yes, you’d probably best. Come say goodbye to Auntie Mia.” Herbert and Matthew ran over to Auntie Mia to give her hugs and thank her for a fun afternoon. Mother walked her to the door while Herbert finished setting the table and Matthew stole small bites of macaroni and cheese.

“Be well,” said Auntie Mia, grabbing Mother’s hand.

“Be safe,” said Mother back, and watched as Auntie Mia walked into the almost-darkness, then bolted the door shut.

When the small family sat down to dinner, Mother seemed distracted as Herbert told her all about his class, what he’d done that day, his tablemates, Ron and Emma, and especially about his new friend, Lily. Herbert chattered on about all that he was going to learn this year and about how wonderful Mr. Honeywise was and about how fun Lily was and about how he couldn’t wait to go to school tomorrow, and Mother smiled, but barely responded.

“That’s nice,” she said, once in a while. Also, “I’m glad for you.”

At first Herbert didn’t notice as he was so wrapped up in the excitement of his day, but he began to wonder why Mother wasn’t more excited, why Mother wasn’t asking questions, why Mother hadn’t suggested that he bring Lily over to the house sometime. So, he asked, “Mother, can I invite Lily over afterschool?”

“Tomorrow?” asked Mother.

Herbert shrugged. “Or the next day.”

Mother nodded slowly. “Tomorrow is good.”

Herbert beamed from ear to ear. “I can’t wait to invite her! You’re going to like her a lot!”

Mother smiled. “I’m sure I will.”

That night, both Herbert and Matthew fell asleep quickly, and Mother sat up in her rocking chair, trying to read, but her mind was elsewhere.

It had been a long journey through the forest today and she was tired, but she couldn’t sleep. The conversation she’d had with the old lady kept playing in her head.

Hazel was a very old mouse with wrinkles around her eyes and her mouth, and a dark, wooden cane she used to help her walk. Hazel had lost her husband and two sons in the first war and seemed to know everything there was to know about any unrest in the forest.

“Is it true?” Mother had asked Hazel. They were sitting in old chairs that had lost most of their stuffing, drinking some tea and eating shortbread that Mother had made.

Hazel shrugged. “True or false is often an incorrect assessment.”

“What have you heard?”

Hazel looked around the room, checking to see that no one could see her and then leaned in closer to Mother. “Beatrice,” she said in a hushed tone, “I have heard so many things that I could fill pages and pages with nonsensical stories about deceit, war, famine, and any other horrible thing you can imagine. If you’re asking me if I believe any of the rumors, that’s a different question.”

Mother sighed. Hazel was always like this: rarely clear and often puzzling. “What rumors do you believe?”

Maintaining her hushed tone, Hazel told Mother, “I’m fairly certain that there are rats advancing on the borders.” Mother sucked her breath in. “They’re not in yet, but rumors say our guards have spotted a handful scouting out the area.”

“Do you think they’re dangerous?” Mother asked, already knowing the answer to her question but hoping for a different one.

“All rats are dangerous,” hissed Hazel. “They’re treacherous vermin and not to be trusted.”

Now, the small fired warmed Mother’s hands and face and, although her mind was quite troubled, her body felt comfortable. She put her book down, closed her eyes, and drifted into a fitful sleep.

Helsinki Ferry Crashes Due to Captain Stuck in Bathroom

A Helsinki Ferry carrying 54 passengers crashed into a rock on the afternoon of Friday, August 19.  A crew member managed to slow the ship down, preventing any serious injuries.

The ferry's captain, it is reported, became stuck in the bathroom when the door's locked jammed. Although he yelled for help, he was not heard until too late.

"He was stuck in the toilet. As soon as the staff member got the door open, it was too late," said Jan Sundell, head of investigation.

Some passengers received a few scrapes and bruises and some dinnerware was broken during the impact, but there were no major incidents to report.

KY Jury Rules in Favor of Doctor in Penis Amputation Lawsuit

Deborah and Phillip Seaton
Kentucky doctor John Patterson received a quick jury ruling in his favor on Wednesday in a case as to whether or not he made an appropriate call amputating a potentially deadly cancerous part of patient Phillip Seaton's, 64, penis during a surgery expected to uncover a fungal infection in 2007.

While the Shelby County jury ruled 10-2 in agreement that Seaton had not authorized proper consent, that same jury ruled unanimously against a claim that Patterson had failed to exercise proper care.

While looking for the fungal infection, Patterson said he found the area underneath the foreskin to have the appearance of rotten cauliflower.

“What I saw was not a penis," Patterson testified. "What I saw was cancer.”

Patterson removed less than an inch during the surgery. After further tests, a different doctor later took the rest of Seaton's penis.

Seaton's lawyer, Kevin George, said that his client plans to appeal this ruling, and that "unless the patient's health is in immediate danger, unless he's in danger of dying immediately on the table" Patterson should have awakened Seaton to request his consent to remove the cancerous part of his penis. Medical experts testifying on both sides of the case were inconclusive in determining if Patterson was in the right or in the wrong. Experts arguing against Patterson stated that Seaton was not in any immediate danger and thus should have been consulted beforehand; experts arguing for Patterson disagreed, saying that removing the cancer (proven after, in fact, be malignant) might have saved Seaton's life.

Seaton, who has limited reading abilities, signed a consent form for the surgery, which Patterson's lawyer said his client the latitude to deal with unforeseen circumstances during the surgery.

“He was mutilated,” attorney Kevin George said during closing arguments that took about as long as the jury deliberations. “His manhood was taken.” Seaton and his wife of thirty-five years, Deborah, sued for $16 million in damages for “loss of service, love, and affection.”

Rogue Panda Rampage Strikes Northern AZ?

"Panda-monium" struck northern Arizona drivers Monday as a driver alert message board warned motorists of "Rogue Panda on Rampage."

Law enforcement officials assure the public that this is not a case of a rogue panda, but rather a rogue hacker. Officials assume that the hacker installed the message sometime late Sunday night, and concede that the hacker must have been terribly intelligent to know how to break in and change the message.

Says Arizona Department of Public Transportation spokeswoman, Mackenzie Kirby, of the hacking, "It's not easy."

Kirby says she has been sent several photoshopped images via email of pandas tooled up for trouble.
In one picture, a panda is holding a machete. In another, it is toting a rifle.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

NY State to Wed Long-Alleged Lovers Bert and Ernie?

After the ratification of gay marriage in NY, many gay rights advocates are pushing for NY to make honest Muppets out of Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie.

Forever-roommates who don't date girls, like to take bubble baths, and quarrel like married couples, Bert and Ernie's sexual orientation has long been up for debate, because foam puppets deserve happiness, too. This, according to comedienne Paula Poundstone, should not be as disturbing as the inter-species relationship between Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy. Advocates of Bert and Ernie's relationship cite the year-long story line of human members of Sesame Street, Luis and Maria, falling in love, getting married, and having a child (1998-1999). Opponents argue this: "Sexuality and love has already been introduced into Sesame Street, and it is implied that it's okay for children to understand these concepts as long as it doesn't involve homosexual love. It's perfectly fine to talk about straight love, but not gay."

Other opponents of the alleged puppet love state this it's not discussion of the social issues they're against: it's the idea that we have to assign sexuality to puppets. In response to this, many argue that Kermit and Miss Piggy's relationship has been affirmed and out in the open.

Sesame Street gently denies allegations of any homosexual relationship between Bert and Ernie, and claim that they were created to "demonstrate to children that despite their differences, they can be good friends." The combination of Bert's unibrow and Type A personality and Ernie's rooun stomach and much more lackadaisical attitude make them the Odd Couple of the puppet world. But is friendship really where Bert and Ernie's relationship ends?

Bert and Ernie's affinity for each other is salient and uncontested, but advocates want more. They want equal rights for the allegedly not-just-bffls, and have gone so far as to create a petition encouraging NY state to wed the pair. According to its creators, Lair Scott, Shane Cowart, Alex Maggs, and Mark Szabo, the petition, which received over 7,000 signatures, “would show children and their parents that not only is it acceptable but also teach children that homophobia is wrong, bullying is wrong and that Sesame Street should recognize that there are LGBT relationships, families, and include them in their show.”

Name Calling: A Kingergarten Lesson for Powerful Adults

For the past three days, President Obama has been touring mostly rural areas of the Midwest to discuss jobs and job creation. In what Fox News is calling the "Bad News Bus Tour," the Washington Post has named, "Bus Force One," and Jon Stewart labels, "Oh, the Places He'll Go," Obama has met with roughly equal amounts support and discontent, though perhaps the discontent has been voiced more loudly.

And no one has voiced their discontent with Obama quite as loudly as Tea Party Members, who have attacked Obama's stance on everything from taxes to health care, particularly critiquing his push for a national health care system, similar to the one Republican Mitt Romney instituted in Massachusetts in 2006. Says Obama of the the Tea Party's and GOP's voracious refusal of national health care, "This used to be a republican idea. It's like they suddenly got amnesia." To Obama's credit, he has worked endlessly to find bi-partisan compromises - most highly unpopular amongst his Democratic and more liberal supporters - that the Tea Party continues to not just veto, but veto with gusto.

Obama with Ryan Rhodes and Amiga
Obama's three-day bus tour has been a comedy of errors, the pinnacle of which occurred in Decorah, IA. After addressing an audience regarding jobs and the economy, Ryan Rhodes, a Tea Party member, interrupted a Q & A session demanding to know why Vice President Biden had allegedly called Tea Party members terrorists.

Obama, in a way only Obama can, assured the man that Biden hadn't called Tea Party members terrorists, but rather referred to some of their acts as irresponsible, somewhat terrorist-esque. Granted, that's not much better, but Biden took into consideration one of the rules he had undoubtedly learned in kindergarten: do not name call.

Behind Rhodes, a woman defended her party's honor by retorting that "90% of domestic terrorists attacked are done by left-wing environmental extremists." Apparently tax breaks for wealthy corporations (hey, they're people too...), denying impoverished Americans affordable health care, refusing funding for Planned Parenthood and undermining womens' health care, and refusing to allow gay or transgendered people the same rights as straight people doesn't qualify as terrorism. (The Oxford English Dictionary: Terrorism - the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.)

Obama responded, "As someone who’s been called a socialist, not born here, taking away freedoms for providing health care, I’m all for lowering the rhetoric." He also apparently remembered the no name-calling rule from kindergarten. To his credit, Obama encourages a great deal of open dialogue, even with people whose views aren't the same as his. Recall George W. Bush blanketing dissenters in a cloak of "national security threats" and "evil doers."

Rhodes, however, refuses to believe that Biden didn't name-call: "[Obama] just denied it, he said the Vice President didn’t make any of those assertions. He doesn’t want to even admit what was on TV nationally." I urge Rhodes to rewatch the video on a source that isn't Fox News. Try this, and do your best to listen over Stars and Stripes: Terrorists? Or Just Plain Irresponsible?

Where once Obama rode the tails of the Audacity of Hope and the campaign phrase "Yes We Can," perhaps his new phrase, as Stewart suggests, may be better suited as: "I Thought We Could, But It Turns Out the Other Guys Are Assholes."

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

My Library Run, A Very Dramatic and Compelling Tell

On Wednesday, August 10, the librarian at the Montague Public Library gave me some devastating news: I had an overdue fine and was thus unable to check out anymore books.

"How could this be?" I thought to myself, clutching A Knight in Shining Armor and The Secret Life of Bees close to my chest. I pointed out to the librarian, "I have been an otherwise very reliable patron."

She looked at the computer monitor, but glaring out at her was the $14.95 fine for the CD I had borrowed and failed to return. "It's a rule," she said.

I scoured my brain, thinking about all the places I could have left it. My car, my hutch, my bureau - but I hadn't seen it. I truly hadn't seen in. In fact, I had a very vivid memory of thinking I hadn't returned it, but being unable to find it, I just reasoned that the returning of the CD had slipped my mind. I tried another attempt, "Could it have gotten lost in the mail?" Turns out, it probably couldn't have.

I was hesitant to leave the two books, although if she had tased me or threatened me with a broom I would have left the books more readily. Instead, I leaned on the checkout counter with my books and scratched my chin, looking utterly perplexed. "I'm really not supposed to do this," the librarian said, somewhat leering at me as she took the books from my grasp. "Your fines need to be under ten dollars in order to check out books," she continued, scanning my two selections. "I won't be doing this again."

Feeling like a sheepish elementary school student, I thanked her and headed on my way. That weekend, I pulled apart my closet and my car, moved my furniture, prayed a little, and then came to the realization that, in all likelihood, the CD I had borrowed from the library had been abducted by some more refined and intelligent life form that also appreciates blockbuster classical tunes. Not wanting to ruin my good reputation at the library, I set my sights on paying the fine.

Now, this wasn't as easy as you might think. You see, since I am resigned to a life of routine and time-ortiented scheduling, unless I am already in another town - as I was Saturday, Turners Falls Library: closed on Saturdays - I only got to the Montague Public Library. Unfortunately, they are only open eight hours per week: Mondays and Wednesdays 2:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.

Monday, August 14: must pay library fine, vet appointment for Samson at 6:15 on Bernardston Road in Greenfield. Arrive at vet: 6:13. Running ten minutes behind. Leave vet: 7:09. Arrive home: 7:23. I debated with myself about going to the library. Out my very bleak window, I could see grey, grey skies and I knew the rain was still pouring down. The light, already dim, was fading. I was certain that I would make it to the library with a bit of time to spare. The question was did I want to?

I put on my walking gear, put my library card, and checkbook in a plastic bag, and jogged up Route 63, over South Street, and to the end of Main Street, the 1.2 miles to 7 Center Street: the Montague Public Library. Stepping inside, I saw droplets forming from my saturated clothes and my shoes sounded like mud.

"I'm here to pay my fine!" I announced triumphantly, waiting for the sounding applause and the streamers.

Instead, I got this: "Where's your umbrella?"

I approached the check out desk, prepared to pay my fine. Suddenly a fear popped into my head. "Tell me my library jog wasn't in vain. You take checks, right?" The librarian nodded. I, dripping water on the counter and chilled in the air conditioned library, wrote the check for $14.95.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Some Dan Bern Wisdom

I realize a lot of you may not even have one iota of a clue who Dan Bern is, so I'll clue you in: he's this generation's Bob Dylan - less tuneful than poetic. Political, abstract, irreverent, and occasionally relevant. In honor of Dan Bern, I've constructed this blog post entirely from his song lyrics. 

Sometimes I walk and wish LA was some small town near Monterey.  I got a walkman on my head every step I take; put Thorazine in my morning coffee break. I lock all the doors, click click click bang bang.

I caught a cold and for two days straight my ears have been plugged up, as if my body's saying, "You don't need your ears. You don't use 'em anyway." I still smell tobacco on my fingers. My breath reeks of pot and wine and sex. I don't meditate. I don't pray. But I eat two samosas everyday. The heat seeps into my skin when I get too terribly giddy.

Someday I'd like to be on TV, dead in your lap beside a gun. And I guess we shoulda done like James Dean did, instead of putting on weight and sinking down, down, down. If we had just skidded straight to Souvenir City... Down midwest backseat bumpy streets you sang my Beatles songs with me; I sang your Broadway melodies. Bad harmonies. We were just in time, - just barely in time - for another interview. Now it's too late to crash, too late to burn, too late to die young.

He sits at a canvas with a Marlboro, in his mind, "VanGogh, VanGogh, VanGogh, VanGogh." VanGogh sits next to me with a bucket full of paste. He rips off my ears and says, "Glue this to my face." 7-Eleven's got so many bottles of juice - I love the colors, but I decided I wasn't ever gonna paint again. You saved me from a night of trying to scrape myself off the wall. You don't have to leave. You can stay here. After all this is a love song.

I'm glad the coffee shop wasn't busy at all.  No one sits around talking revolution anymore. They all get their Starbucks to go. Yeah, I was sitting there updating my list of enemies when this girl walked in and the Universe kind of stopped. She said, "Love, love, love is everything."

I said, "Okay, I guess, whatever."

She said, "What does that mean?"

I said, "Nothing. It's just good to have a back up plan."  You can't talk to her long unless you're drunk yourself then you can talk all night.

Sometimes I think I'm gunnin' for the big time, and that big odometer in the sky just turned over. Maybe I should get into a fight, look for someone's honor to protect? You know, most days I don't want to talk till 8 p.m.

Now I'm sitting in the church of the Holy McDonald's. Santa Maria, Gloria Padre, holy candy wrapper beneath the foot of Sierra Madre. If I peeled away your wrapping would you hold one of your grudges? When we said goodbye I thought was locked eyes for a minute. Was that just my imagination? We were particularly low and mean, but it sure beats sitting around here.

The Clover Patch: Chapter 2

Herbert very nearly jumped out of bed the next morning. He quickly pulled on his new grey corduroy pants, his new forest green t-shirt, and his new orange jacket, which he loved. Herbert raced downstairs to the kitchen where he found his mother dropping handfuls of fresh raspberries into a steaming pot of oatmeal.

“Where’s your brother?” she asked.

Herbert took a bowl from the cabinet and shrugged his shoulders. “Probably still sleeping,” said Herbert as his mother plopped a heaping scoop of oatmeal in his bowl. Mother went to go check on Matthew. Herbert sat down at the table and tried as hard as he could to sit still, but he was too excited! He was certain that he would make wonderful friends and learn wonderful things in school. Yet, he was also very nervous. What if he didn’t make friends? What if he couldn’t understand the things that his teacher put in front of him? What if everybody else already knew how to do arithmetic and he was the only one who couldn’t? All at once, Herbert slumped in his chair, no longer wanting to go to school. He clutched at his stomach, which, he was certain, was now grumbling in pain. He put his hand on his head and checked for a fever, which he was certain he had. He blinked his eyes rapidly, because he was certain he was losing his sight. No, no, Herbert reasoned. He was clearly much too ill to go to school. He told his mother this when she returned to the table with a still groggy Matthew.

But Mother shook her head. “Nonsense,” she said. “You’re probably just nervous.”

“But Mother!” Herbert insisted. “I’m burning up with fever, my stomach is doing flip-flops, and I’m losing sight out of this eye!” he pointed to his left eye.

Mother sighed, but pressed her hand to his forehead to check for fever. “Cool as a cucumber,” she said. She covered Herbert’s left eye gently with one hand and with the other held up three fingers. “How many fingers am I holding up?” she asked.

Herbert counted. “One, two, three,” he answered.

“Would you like some maple sugar on your oatmeal?” she asked, and Herbert nodded enthusiastically. “I think you’re well enough for school.” Herbert gave Mother a sheepish grin as she poured some maple sugar on his oatmeal.

“I, on the other hand, am truly not well enough to go to school,” said Matthew.

“Oh?” asked Mother. “What do you have, dear?”

“Don’t-want-to-go-to-school-itis,” Matthew responded matter-of-factly.

Mother put her paw to her heart and let out a small, playful gasp. “I’ve heard of this disease,” she said, shaking her head. “It’s taken even the strongest mice down.” Waving her paws in the air she cried, “Why? Why? Why my son?”

Matthew giggled. “Is there a cure?”

She walked behind Matthew and rested her paws on his small shoulders. “Yes, there is,” she said dramatically. “But, oh, dear, it pains me to say it.”

“What’s the cure, Mother?” asked Herbert enthusiastically.

“I’ll say it, but you mustn’t be too shocked, for the cure is sometimes thought of to be even worse than don’t-want-to-go-to-school-itis itself.”

“What is it?” Herbert and Matthew asked.

“Housework!” shrieked Mother, fanning herself rapidly.

“Housework? Gross!” said Matthew, sticking out his tongue. “I’ll take school any day.”

“I thought you would,” said Mother, resuming her normal routine. She looked at a small clock by the stove. “Matty, Herby, you two need to get a little wiggle in your step.” Both boys shook their bottoms on their chairs. “A couple of wise guys, I have,” Mother smiled.

Herbert and Matthew finished up their oatmeal and went to the bathroom to brush their teeth then to their rooms to get their school bags. When they returned, they found Mother waiting for them at the door, wearing a light pink cloak and carrying two large baskets. “Let’s go!” she said, and followed her sons out the door.

Herbert, who had only been outside once before, was still absolutely astounded by everything around him. They passed green plants, red plants, orange plants, and pink plants. Everything sounded and smelled new, and Herbert was glad he had decided he wasn’t sick after all.

“Who are all those mice?” Herbert asked, tugging on Mother’s cloak.

“I would guess they’re headed to the same place you are.”

Herbert’s eyes grew wide. “You think they’ll all be in my class?”

Mother laughed. “I suspect some of them will be in class with you, others with Matty, and some in grades higher than you both.”

Herbert wondered in astonishment at the sheer number of mice. He had never dreamed there were so many just like him, all white, and so many that looked a little different. “Mother?” he asked, again tugging on her cloak. “Why are those mice grey?” he pointed to a family just a little bit ahead of them.

Mother gently grabbed his pointed finger. “You know it’s not nice to point,” she reminded him. Herbert did, she had told him several times when Auntie Mia had come over.

“But why are they grey?” he asked.

“Because that is how they were born,” she said. “But they’re just like you and me and Matty.”

Herbert scrunched his nose in confusion. “No, they’re not.”

“You go on ahead,” she told Matthew, who had spotted Dillon and was pointing furiously at his new backpack. Mother knelt next to Herbert. “They may not look like us on the outside, but that’s not important. What’s important is what’s in here,” she lay a finger on Herbert’s head, “and in here,” she lay a finger on Herbert’s heart.

“Do you think maybe they like to draw like Matthew?” asked Herbert.

“Maybe,” said Mother. “Or maybe they like to read, like you. Maybe, just maybe they even like peanut butter pie.”

“Anybody who likes peanut butter pie can be my friend!” said Herbert. He took Mother’s hand and they kept walking. As they approached the school – several stories carved into large, sturdy oak tree – Herbert noticed that there weren’t just white and grey mice, there were also black and brown ones, and Herbert was determined to find all of the mice who liked peanut butter pie and invite them over for some one day.

Before they had quite reached the door, Mother gave Herbert’s hand a tight squeeze. “Here we are,” she said.

“You can’t come in?” he asked, feeling his heart sink a little.

Mother shook her head. “School is your place.” She, too, had a little sinking feeling in her heart. “Besides,” she said, “we’ll see each other at dinner.” Herbert thought about how long away dinner was from now and he felt suddenly overwhelmed. He wrapped his arms around his mother’s waist and clung to her. She soothed his head, his white, wispy hair sticking straight up. She picked him up and kissed him on his cheek. “I think,” she said, “that you ought to go inside and find some people who like reading and peanut butter pie.” Herbert looked at her warily. “And,” she continued, “I think that you should do one thing today that you’ve never done before and show it to me when I get home.”

At this, Herbert smiled. He wasn’t sure what he would do because he’d never done it before, but he was certain that he would come home and show his Mother and she would be happy. “Okay,” he agreed.

Mother put him down. “Remember, Auntie Mia is picking you and Matty up from school today.” Herbert nodded. Mother hugged him once more. “Have a good day, Herby.”

Herbert held back a sniffle. “Okay,” he said again. Reluctantly, he walked towards school, Mother watching until he got safe inside.

Once inside, Herbert realized that he didn’t have time to be sad. There was so much to do! The school year began with an assembly for everyone in the school. Herbert thought there must be a million mice in the assembly hall. He tried to find Matthew, but couldn’t spot him, so Herbert sat down by himself, a little bit scared.

Just a few seconds had passed before a small brown and white mouse wearing a purple dress with flowers, who looked just as scared as Herbert felt, stood beside him. “Is that seat taken?” she asked quietly. Herbert shook his head, and the brown and white mouse sat down. “I’m Lily,” she said. “It’s my first day.”

“It’s my first day, too!” Herbert nearly shouted with excitement.

“What’s your name?” Lily asked.

Herbert blushed. “I’m Herbert.”

They sat in silence for a couple of seconds. “What did your mom pack you for lunch?” Lily asked Herbert.

Herbert pulled out his lunch pail. “A tomato, some carrots, bread and butter,” Herbert next found something that delighted him greatly. “And a slice of leftover peanut butter pie!”

“Peanut butter pie!” Lily exclaimed jealously. “Peanut butter pie is my favorite!” And that is when Herbert knew that he and Lily would be very good friends.

At the assembly, all the students learned the names of their teachers and which classrooms they were to be in. The principal, a very skinny grey mouse called Mrs. Appleby, excused the first grade students first. They lined up at the door and their teacher led them to the classroom.

The first grade teacher turned out to be a wonderful man. He was jolly and round brown mouse with thick bottle-top glasses and thick black whiskers. He instructed all the students to sit in a circle on the rug. Herbert took a spot next to Lily. “Good morning, first grade,” said the teacher, whose name Herbert had forgot. “Are you all ready for a very fun year?” All around him, his classmates were nodding enthusiastically. “Good!” The teacher’s belly jiggled when he laughed. “What do you say we go around and learn something about everybody in here? What do you think are good things to know about someone?”

A very petite grey mouse, whose name, Herbert later found out, was Amelia, raised her paw. “If we have any brothers or sisters?”

“Very good idea,” the teacher wrote her suggestion on a large board he held. “What else?”

Lily popped her paw in the air. “What we like to do?”

The teacher nodded. “Yes, that is a very good thing to know about someone. One more.”

Herbert knew what he wanted to discover about his classmates. He wanted to know if anyone besides Lily and him liked peanut butter pie. He raised his paw. “If we like peanut butter pie,” he said.

His teacher smiled. “How about favorite food?” he suggested. Herbert nodded in agreement. “For the record, I like peanut butter pie.” Herbert and Lily smiled wide. “Alright, class. One at a time, we’ll take turns standing up, saying our names, and answering the three questions. I’ll demonstrate.” He stood up. “My name is Mr. Honeywise. I have a younger sister and an older brother. I like to read books about history, bake cookies with my two nephews, go for walks on sunny days, and play chess. My favorite food – besides peanut butter pie, of course –” he said, winking at Herbert, “is strawberries.” He sat down. “Who would like to go next?”

A boy wearing a bright blue shirt raised his hand. Mr. Honeywise nodded at him. “My name is Wenchell and I have a twin brother.” He pointed to his left. Sure enough, the mouse that sat next to Wenchell looked exactly like him, except he was wearing a yellow shirt. They had the same white paws and the same black spots on their noses. He paused. “What’s the next question?”

“What do you like to do, Wenchell?” asked Mr. Honeywise.

“Oh, right. I like to play any game with my brother, but I especially like Candy Land. And my favorite food is cucumbers with vinegar.”

Herbert wrinkled his nose. While he liked the watery crunch of cucumbers, he didn’t like vinegar very well.

Four more students went – Aiden, Wenchell’s twin brother, Hannah, Larry, and Rory – before Herbert raised his paw. He stood up timidly. “Hello,” he said. “My name is Herbert.”

“Herbert,” said Mr. Honeywise smiling. “You’re going to have to speak up, otherwise we won’t get a chance to learn all sorts of wonderful things about you.”

Herbert cleared his throat and tried again. “Hello, my name is Herbert. I have one older brother, Matthew. I like to go to the clover patch with him and watch the clouds. I also like to read with my mother. My favorite food is peanut butter pie.”

Lily went next. “My name is Lily,” she appeared to have gained a lot of confidence since the assembly, because her voice was loud and clear, and she was standing up very straight. “I am an only child. My grandmother lives in our house with me and my mom, though, because my father died a long time ago in the war.” At this, Herbert’s ears perked up. He was itching to tell someone his deepest secret, and he knew that Lily would understand. Lily continued, “She’s teaching me how to knit, which I like, but I also like to go berry picking. My favorite food is…” she scratched her chin. “It’s a tie between peanut butter pie, like Herbert, and blueberries.”

“Blueberries are a favorite of mine, too, Lily,” Mr. Honeywise agreed. “Next?”

The next mouse started sharing, but Herbert wasn’t listening. He had to talk to Lily. He poked her arm.

“What?” she whispered.

He motioned her closer and whispered in her ear, “I don’t have a father either.” 

Eight more mice shared, and then Mr. Honeywise divided them up into three groups of four and one group of three. “These will be your tablemates,” Mr. Honeywise announced. Herbert was excited to see that Lily was in his group. “I will have name stickers for your desks tomorrow. Each group please find your table.” Herbert and Lily scrambled for group two’s table, laughing. They were joined by two other mice, Ron and Emma.

“Your first work of first grade is to draw a self-portrait. Does anybody know what a self-portrait is?” The class shook their heads. “A self-portrait is a drawing of yourself.”

“Why would we want to draw ourselves?” asked Yoav, a black mouse with very big eyes.

Mr. Honeywise smiled. “So everybody knows us! I’m going to put all of your drawings with your names on them on the board outside of our classroom. The second, third, fourth, and fifth grade are doing this as well. We want to know who is in our community.”

Mr. Honeywise pulled some colored pencils from a shelf and brought them to the tables. “For future reference, class, any art supplies you need are over here.”

Herbert set to work drawing himself, which he discovered was harder than it sounded and certainly harder than Matthew made it look. He tried very hard to get the shape of his face right, but it always came out a little too round or a little too thin. Once he had finally gotten the shape right, he realized that he didn’t know how to color his white fur on the white piece of paper. He decided to leave it blank. Once in a while he glanced over at Lily’s.

Lily’s drawing was big and erratic. She had given herself a very, very long, pointy nose, long whiskers, big round ears, and big, thick eyelashes. Her drawing made Herbert laugh.

“That’s not really what you look like,” Herbert told her.

Lily took Herbert’s drawing and examined it. It was rather small, in her opinion, and very simple, not much detail. “This isn’t really what you look like, either,” she retorted.

“Oh, no?” Herbert challenged.

“Hold on,” said Lily. Using a black colored pencil she drew five wisps of hair sticking straight up on the top of Herbert’s head. “There,” she said. “Better.”

That day, Herbert did a lot of new things. He played hopscotch at snack time, sang a new song during music, learned to spell a new word – doubtful – during spelling, learned about rhyming words and sang the alphabet song during language arts, and started learning how to count by fives in math, which Herbert thought was very convenient, even though he didn’t know many numbers yet past thirty. By the end of the day Herbert felt very tired but very accomplished at all he had done that day.

He walked with Lily outside. “What happened to your father?” she asked him.

Just then, Herbert spotted Matthew standing by a portly mouse with a wide-brimmed bright red hat and large, clanking jewels. “I can’t stay and talk,” he apologized. “I have to go with my Auntie Mia now.”

“Your Auntie Mia?” Lily asked, confused, worry showing on her face. “What happened to your mother?”

Herbert laughed. “Nothing, she’s running some errands.”

Instantly, Lily looked relieved. “I am very glad to hear that,” she said. “Is that your Auntie Mia?” Lily asked, examining the eccentric mouse.

Herbert made a face. “Yes.”

“Well,” said Lily, “my mommy always says you can’t judge a book by its cover. So I guess you can’t judge a mouse by her hat either.” 

Herbert laughed. “I’ll see you tomorrow?”

Lily smiled, “Tomorrow.” She waved goodbye as Herbert joined Matthew and Auntie Mia and the trio began the walk home.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Clover Patch: Chapter 1

Dear readers,
The Clover Patch is my second or third attempt at a children's story. I appreciate any feedback - especially from parents - and am looking for an illustrator who loves this story (and Herbert) like I do and understands that there will likely never be any money in it.
Hillary (in Heels)

The Clover Patch

It was a sunny September day that Herbert first emerged from the Mouse Hole. He followed his older brother, Matthew, out of their candlelit underground home into a world much larger than he could ever have imagined.

“Herbert, come on!” urged Matthew, who was just one year his senior, but who felt greatly superior because of this fact. Herbert ran hard to keep up with his older, bigger brother, and he was breathing heavily by the time they reached a small patch of clover.

“This is my favorite place to go,” said Matthew, and Herbert could see why. The green clover grazed softly against his small body, and the air smelled sweet and purple.

“What do you do here?” Herbert asked.

Matthew shrugged. “Sometimes I play games with my friends. We really like to play Hide and Seek. Other times I like to look up a the sky.”

“That sounds fun,” said Herbert, who was immensely enjoying his newly found freedom. He settled onto his back and looked up at the almost perfectly blue sky. “Look, Matthew!” he said. “That cloud looks like Auntie Mia!” Quickly lying down beside his brother, Matthew followed Herbert’s pointing paw. Giggling, Matthew saw the fat body of the cloud and its round face and puffy cheeks. “Matthew, it even has the wide-brimmed hat Auntie Mia always wears on the top of her head!” Their giggles cut through the early autumn breeze like twinkling chimes.

Warmed by the sun, the brothers took turns pointing out clouds that looked like friends and family until they heard their mother calling them. “Matty! Herby!” her squeaky, but loving voice beckoned. Matthew rolled his eyes and reluctantly got up, but Herbert’s heart swelled to hear his mother’s voice and he eagerly began the run home.  

He wrapped his arms around his mother the minute he returned to their warm den. She kissed his sunny cheeks, her dress catching the air as she spun him in a circle. “What’s for dinner mom?” he asked, his eyes large and curious.

“Yes, mom, what’s for dinner?” Matthew chirped. “I’m hungry.”

Mother put her paws on her hips in mock-anger. “No dinner for you, Matty, until you come give your mother a hug.” Matthew groaned, but warmly embraced his mother, who smelled like cinnamon, chives, and freshly dug dirt. She held tightly to him, laughing as he tried to break free, and even Matthew couldn’t hold back a mischievous smile. “You’re getting cheekier everyday,” she said affectionately. “Just like your father.”

When Matthew finally broke free, he smoothed down his fur. “What’s for dinner?” he asked again.

“Go wash up,” Mother instructed, shooing them gently off.

Matthew and Herbert scrubbed their paws and white faces free of dirt and anxiously returned to the table. In the brief few minutes they were gone, Mother had laid out steaming hot bowls filled with carrots, spinach, squash, peppers, tomatoes, and radishes. The smell of fresh, warm bread made Herbert and Matthew’s hungry mouths water. “And for dessert,” Mother said, smiling, “a special treat.” She winked at Herbert.

“Peanut butter pie?” Herbert asked, his sparkling eyes growing wide.

Mother smiled a knowing smile. “Maybe,” was all she said.

During dinner, Mother playfully reminded Herbert that he needed to be ready to leave early tomorrow. “It’s your first day of school, remember?”

“How could I forget?!” Herbert exclaimed, wriggling his little feet excitedly underneath the table. Herbert was counting down the days until school started. He couldn’t wait to have new books to read and make new friends. For weeks before, Herbert had been trying to choose what he would wear for his first day of school. He had tried on his corduroy overalls with the big pockets, his black dress pants and a crisp, red shirt, his worn out jeans and a t-shirt, and even his pajamas, but none of them seemed quite right. His whiskers twitched thinking that he would have to make a decision about this by tomorrow morning.

“Are you ready for your first day of second grade, Matty?” Mother asked.

Matthew shrugged. “I guess so.”

“I packed all of my school things in my backpack already!” Herbert announced. His mother and Matthew smiled.

“You would,” teased Matthew.

“Good for you,” said Mother.

Herbert slurped down the last of his stew. “I’m ready for the special dessert!” He clapped his hands together.

Mother laughed, but shook her head. “Wait for your brother and me to finish, please.” Herbert did wait, but, in anticipation, his right foot shook under the table.

It was ages before Mother and Matthew had finished their bread and stew, and Herbert was practically bursting at the seams to get a taste of what he knew was a big, creamy peanut butter pie. Herbert raced to clear the dishes from the table, dropping them with a loud crash in the sink.

“Herbert,” Mother warned, looking into the sink to happily discover that none of the plates and bowls had broken.

Herbert ducked his head and blushed. Mother only called him “Herbert” when he’d done something wrong. “Sorry, Mother,” he said quietly. “Next time I’ll be more careful.”

Mother leaned down and kissed the top of his head softly. “I know you will,” she whispered. An impish grin crossed her face. “If the two of your aren’t sitting at the table in five seconds, we’re going to give our special dessert to the neighbors. One…” Herbert didn’t have to hear the next four numbers. He darted to his seat at the table, a windy blur as he sped by his brother. By the count of four, Herbert and Matthew were seated at the table, their eyes wide and their tummies rumbling, despite being quite full from dinner. Both Matthew and Herbert always had an appetite for a delicious dessert, which they inherited from Mother who had an affinity for baking delectable morsels to pack in lunchboxes, to give to the neighbors, or just for fun. Their father had never been overly fond of sweets, but always loved when Mother baked sugar cookies in the shape of flowers.

The minute mother entered the dining room, the overwhelmingly delightful smell consumed Herbert. Fresh peanut butter, cream, a buttery crust, and – was it? yes, it was – the tangy sweet scent of shiny, green apples. Herbert licked his lips. He was certain he could eat the whole pie himself. She cut three big slices of pie, each overflowing with peanut butter and chunks of apple. Matthew practically stuck his whole face in his piece, but Herbert didn’t want the experience to be over so fast. He lifted a heaping spoonful to his mouth and, very slowly, ate it, letting the smooth peanut butter slide down his throat. He hadn’t had peanut butter pie since his last birthday in March, six months prior. Although Matthew asked for different treats – three layer chocolate cake with buttercream frosting, ice cream sandwiches, fruit tarts, doughnuts, or bags of candy – Herbert always asked for peanut butter pie. Mother knew just the right amount of every ingredient so that they swirled together on Herbert’s tongue like a sugary symphony.

“So, you like the pie?” Mother asked smiling, although she already knew the answer. Herbert sighed happily, still tasting each morsel slowly. Matthew, his face engulfed in pie, muttered something that sounded like yes. “I hope you like these as well.” She handed one package, wrapped in blue paper, to Matthew and another package, wrapped in green paper, to Herbert.

Matthew tore into his and pulled out a brand new, brick red backpack with lots of different pockets. “Dillon’s mom got him this bag back in June!” Matthew said happily. “I wanted one so much! Thank you, thank you, thank you!” He jumped up and down, hugging his mother.

Mother laughed. “Look in the small pocket.”

Excitedly, Matthew unzipped the small pocket and found a new set of colored pencils and a handwritten note. He unfolded it. “My dear, Matthew,” he read aloud. “I know that you are going to do very well in the second grade. I cannot wait to hear more of your stories and to see more of your drawings. I hope the pencils will help your artwork. Love always, Mother.”

“My drawings will finally be better than Dillon’s!” Matthew declared.

“They always have been,” reasoned Mother.

“Yes, but before I only had red, blue, and yellow pencils. Now look!” He waived his new box of colored pencils. “Look, Herbert. There’s purple, two shades of green,” with each color Matthew grew more and more excited, “orange, three shades of blue, pink, brown! There’s every color in the world in this box!”

“Orange,” said Herbert, knowingly pointing at the orange pencil. “That’s my favorite.”

“What did you get, Herbert?” Matthew asked, nudging his brother in the side.

Herbert carefully unwrapped his package, making a decided effort not to rip any of the beautiful paper. He first pulled out the note from his mother. “I may need help reading it,” he said quietly.

But Mother disagreed. “Give it a try, Herby,” she urged. “You’ve been practicing so hard all summer.”

Herbert unfolded the note and started at it a good while. “My little Herby,” he read. “I am so very, very proud of you.” He had to sound out the next word: “T-t-to-mah-tomah-row, tomorrow is your first day of school and I know you will be,” he stared at the next word, before he finally turned to his mother. “What does this say?”

“Brilliant,” she smiled.

“Oh.” He continued. “Tomorrow is your first day of school and I know you will be brilliant. Do your best and you will do wonders. Love always, Mother.” Herbert smiled as he gently placed the note on the table. He continued unwrapping his present. When he saw what was inside, his eyes lit up like the brightest stars. “Mother,” he exclaimed, “I love it!” He held in his small paws a dark orange jacket with big, chocolate brown buttons. He rubbed the soft fabric against his cheeks.

“Look further,” said Mother.

“There’s more?” Mother nodded. But Herbert did not want to put down his new jacket, so he put it on over his clothes, even though it was very warm in the house, before he found the two remaining parts of his present: grey corduroy pants and a forest green t-shirt with a lighter green clover on the front. “Can I wear these tomorrow for my first day?” Herbert eagerly asked.

“Of course,” said Mother. “On one condition.”

“What?” asked Herbert.

She smiled. “That you come give me a hug right now and let me walk with you to school tomorrow.”

Herbert ran around the table and jumped into his mother’s lap, resting his head on her shoulder. “You can always walk me to school,” he told her. Mother wrapped her arms around her smallest son and made a silent wish to always hold onto this memory, for soon Herbert would be older and would not need her to walk her to school and not want to sit on her lap.

“Are you picking us up tomorrow?” asked Matthew.

Mother shook her head. “Sorry, but I can’t. I have some very important errands to run tomorrow and I won’t be home until dinnertime.”

“How will we get home then?” Herbert asked, his brimming with worry.

“Do you think I’d leave you alone to get home by yourselves?” Mother asked, tickling Herbert’s sides.

He laughed a big laugh. “No!”

“No! No!” said Mother, still tickling him. “Are you certain?”

“Yes! Yes!” Herbert wiggled around on his mother’s lap, laughing so hard he could barely catch his breath. This, in turn, made Matthew laugh and soon the room was loud with roaring happiness.

Mother stopped tickling Herbert. “Good, because I wouldn’t.”

“Who’s picking us up then?” asked Matthew.

“Auntie Mia.” Matthew and Herbert exchanged knowing glances and both quietly groaned. It wasn’t that Auntie Mia wasn’t nice or that she made them eat gross food or do lots of chores, she was actually very pleasant and kind. She was just a bit weird.

Mother sighed. “I know she’s not your favorite, but she’s family.” Auntie Mia was their father’s twin sister. Unlike their father, who played soccer, liked checkers, and sang Christmas carols only on Christmas, Auntie Mia played loud, funny songs on the piano, liked to paint with her fingers, and always loved to be outside, even in the pouring rain. “Besides, it’ll only be for a few hours. And who knows? I might come home to some more lovely paintings on your dressers.”

“Mom,” said Matthew, “it won’t be exactly like last time.” The last time Auntie Mia had babysat Matthew and Herbert, she had encouraged them to paint their dressers as they saw fit. She brought with her big and small paintbrushes and many different colors of paint. Matthew had made the front of his dresser a beautiful work of art, a detailed painting of the clover patch, and Herbert had dipped his hands in various colors and put handprints on the top of his dresser. At first, Mother had been none too pleased with to discover this, because Grampa Arnold, her father, had handmade the dressers from light, knotted pine, but she decided that the new decorations were not the worst possible outcome. Her walls were clean, as were her floors, and Matthew’s dresser had transformed into a lovely work of art, while Herbert’s dresser was so delightfully Herbert.

“You know the rules, right?” she asked her sons, thinking that they might remember better than Auntie Mia.

In a dull tone, Matthew and Herbert recited the rules: “No mess on the floor, no mess on the walls, no chopping legs off the furniture, no fire, nothing that explodes, no cutting up your sheets, or your brother’s sheets, or my sheets, and absolutely no sticky food in hard to reach places.”

Mother nodded approvingly when they had finished. “Whose turn is it to help me with the dishes?”

Matthew groaned. “It’s my turn.”

“Could I help, too?” Herbert asked softly.

Mother laughed. “Of course you can.”

That night, the dishes were done in no time. Mother washed them, Herbert dried them, and Matthew put them away. Mother thanked them for their help and suggested that they go play for a little while before it was time for bed.

Matthew was very excited to use his new colored pencils, so he decided to spend his time drawing. He drew pictures of his mother, of Herbert and him in the clover patch, of Grampa Arnold and Gramma Rose, of his new backpack, and of his father. Herbert, on the other hand, wanted to do something else entirely.

“Would you come read with me?” he asked his mother, who happily nodded. Herbert went to his room to pick out a few books.

“Let’s start with this one,” he suggested, holding up a well-loved copy of Tea with an Old Dragon. Herbert followed along as his mother read. He loved the beautiful pictures in the book and like the way the words flowed together. Herbert loved words and often thought he might be able to invent some very useful ones, if he only knew more of the ones that were already available. Herbert and Mother read three more books before Herbert felt his eyes dropping. “One more story?” he asked.

“Brush your teeth and settle into bed and I will read you one more story.” Herbert went to brush his teeth while Matthew picked up his colored pencils and Mother taped Matthew’s drawings on the wall. “Bedtime in fifteen minutes,” she told Matthew.

By the time Mother got to Herbert’s room, he had already picked out a book, The Giving Tree. “Read me this one, please.”

Mother smiled, but inside this book made her sad, though it was a favorite book that she and Herbert shared. Mother read to Herbert in a soft voice and did not stop until she had turned the last page, even though Herbert had fallen asleep somewhere in the middle. She put the book back on the shelf, kissed Herbert’s forehead, and turned off the light. “Goodnight, my love,” she said to her sleeping son. “Big day tomorrow.”