I don’t recall exactly how we met. I’m pretty sure it was in the diner. I had started going there so that I could read while I waited for a meal. Eventually I became a Wednesday regular because of the meat loaf special of the day.

Each of us sat alone in our chosen booths reading. I just about always had a physical book. Ron preferred his iPad or newest tablet.

We were both the perfect stranger-readers at first. “What ya’ readin’?

Pertinent information was exchanged then each of us returned to the days read.

Before too long, there were more and longer discussions, but we always showed proper book reading etiquette by asking if conversation would continue or “do you want to read your book?”

Even when I really wanted to read, I could be cajoled to spend time with my friend.

Our paths crossed at another place in town, that shouldn’t be a big surprise. The county library. I was in charge of the library book sale and was scanning and classifying tens of thousands of books. With the weekend of the sale imminent, Ron asked if I needed help. Since the Friends , who sponsored the sale, were a mostly older female group, a person who could lift copy-paper-boxes filled with books from tall shelves was eagerly welcomed.

Ron never missed a sale once he started. And he paid his dues for the honor of working with us.

After I relinquished my chairperson of the sale duties, Ron continued to help the Friends for both the Spring and Fall sales.

Our “rendezvous” became exclusively at the diner. We’d still ask if it was okay to interrupt the reading. It always was.

We talked books. I’d let him know the latest Science Fiction titles I knew about. He sent me sites where I could find free e-books.

He sold his iPad mini to me and one of his tablets to my husband. I’m pretty sure my son, who worked the same place he did, bought a device from him. Ron liked to have the latest electronic gadget.

He is the only single person I know who purchased a 3-D printer. He was always coming into the diner with something new he’d made with the printer. The last one I saw was a toy-soldier-sized Hulk. Who was yellow.

“He’s not green.”

“Yeah, well…”

Then, last fall…

He shared with me that he had cancer. He had gone in to have something removed near his right temple, something he had been through before. This time the news was not good.

He had more invasive work done and the prognosis was worst than thought originally.

He asked me not to say anything to anybody. I honored his request – in the diner, at the Friends of the Library, and at my home.

Ron started getting his affairs in order. He asked me to write his obituary. He let the library know they would receive his 3-D printer. He didn’t want his wife, Sherry to have to worry about anything.

He started Chemo.

He let others know. At the diner and the library, people came to me to see if I knew. All were shocked.

Ron’s and my meetings at the diner were never maudlin or morose. Ron had a great attitude. Thirty years ago he had had a successful heart transplant and he looked at the next 30 years as a gift. Icing on the cake, if you will.

We looked out for each other at the diner. Especially if we didn’t run into each other for a few days.

In the last month, he contacted me for a lunch “date” that both of our spouses knew about and accepted. There was a new waitress at the diner that day. We all laughed when Sherry came in and I pointed out, “She’s the wife. I’m the girl friend.”

Two weeks ago, I was just getting ready to leave the diner when the owner told me to sit back down. “Ron’s on his way in.”

I sat.

He came to tell me things were going well. He was doing well on the Chemo, things were shrinking. He was very optimistic.

I didn’t see him last week. But I sure thought about him a lot.

Today I got two calls. One from the diner. One from the library where I work. I missed both calls. The diner owner called back. Sherry was trying to locate me.

Ron died this morning.

As soon as I heard, I drove to their house. Sherry and I hugged and hugged and hugged.

I said, “I thought he was doing better.”

“He was,” she said, “But then he got the flu and his body just couldn’t take it.”

Before I left, Sherry thanked me for writing Ron’s obituary. I told her, “I don’t want to say it was my pleasure.”

I’ve talked to her several more times today on the phone. At the end of the last call she said, “Thanks for being Ron’s friend.”

I told her, “Sherry, I’m your friend, too.”

She knew, but she appreciated that I was Ron’s friend.

All I could say, “Sherry, that was my pleasure.”

Ron

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A long time former neighbor was turning 90, so his children planned a big party. My entire family traveled from points near and far to Ohio to help with the celebration. My sister, Sue, drove from North Carolina and I made the two-hour trek.

I drove up on Friday. The day was sunny. The display in my car showed the ambient temperature as 75º. I wore a long sleeve shirt, to protect my window-side arm from the sun. My windbreaker was thrown on the passenger seat since the forecast was for a continuation of the weather roller coaster the Midwest has been experiencing this winter.

The constantly changing weather — in northwest Ohio, in south central Ohio and in central North Carolina — was a topic of conversation.

Sue mentioned her early blooming flowers. I seconded that by mentioning the shoots sprouting from the soil on the campus where I work. Cathy, the non traveler, commented that even Mr. Freeze had opened early (February?).

Mr. Freeze!

Mr. Freeze is the soft ice cream place in the suburb where I lived for 20 years, 21 years ago. Heck with the calendar, it was the opening of Mr. Freeze that designated the start of spring.

I lived less than a mile from the confectioner, so a walking-the-dog often turned into a stop for ice cream. That dog just pulled us in that direction. We never complained.

The lines, especially on a hot day, were long, stretching into the too small parking lot.

The amount of ice cream in a baby cone would satisfy a family of kids. On one occasion, I witnessed a man from Fostoria (about one-hour south) receiving his medium-sized ice cream and exclaiming, “Wow! If the place in Fostoria gave this amount of ice cream, they’d go broke!”

During the weekend, the temperature plummeted. My jacket was necessary and others commented that it would not be warm enough for the wind and snow that had developed.

Sunday morning, I decided to fill my gas tank before hopping on the expressway for the ride to my present home. Because of highway improvements, I could not get to the gas station the way I did previously. My detour took me right past Mr. Freeze.

I looked at the temperature. It was 32º. Freezing. I’d been hankering for ice cream since before “Mr. Freeze” had originally been mentioned. Why not? When would I be back again. A tin roof (vanilla ice cream topped with Spanish peanuts and chocolate syrup) would be a comforting companion for the long ride home.

Sunday morning, in February, 11 15 a.m., 32 degrees. And I still stood in line! Granted there was only one family in front of me, but there were two mini lines.

I approached the window, asked for a tin roof and was asked, “What size?”

Seeing my bafflement, she placed three styrofoam cups on the counter — small (6 oz.) regular (16 oz.) and large (I have NO idea). I chose the regular.

Ah! Memories of my grandmother making us tin roofs and the chocolate covered ice cream kept me company from Perrysburg to Cygnet — the length of Wood County.

Yep. It was worth it.

Every.

Single.

Calorie.

Today, February 21 is the 91st anniversary of my father’s birth. I have missed him more than I thought possible since he succumbed to a cerebral hemorrhage 15 years ago. I want to share one of the lessons he allowed me during our time together.

olds

My father was known through family, friends, and neighbors as a laconic gentleman. He was a man of few words but an observant eye, ready to help anyone in need, anytime.

My mother, to this day, is more impatient and quick to criticize.

With these credentials, my father became the de facto driving instructor for his six children.

My lessons started in the spring of 1967. I had turned sixteen the previous December, but mom acted as principal of the driving school and would not allow winter driving lessons.

In those olden days, the Sunday “blue laws” were in effect. Those laws meant that no stores were open on “the Lord’s day.”  So, Dad and I took advantage of the Miracle Mile Shopping Center, making it the track for my driving lessons.

The lessons started with dad driving the roads to the shopping center’s parking lot where he turned over the keys and steering wheel of the 1958 green Oldsmobile 98. That car was so big some of my siblings called it a boat. With its fashionable-in-the-late-fifties fins, I preferred calling it the green dragon.

Over time, my lessons progressed. I became the dragon driver, chauffeuring us both over the quiet streets to the shopping center to practice parallel parking between dad-made wooden poles.

My most cherished lesson came after a Sunday afternoon of parking practice followed by my confident drive back home. The journey ended with a left turn into our single car driveway.

It was a narrow drive past a side screened-in porch that ended in a much wider surface that always reminded me of a map of the United States. To leave we drove through “Florida” and to get to the house we walked through “California” and the Baja peninsula.

Almost home, I engaged the turn signal as I got to Metzger’s house, two doors up from ours. The indicator blinked past Crowley’s and the breadth of our house. Fortunately, no one was proximate to see me turn into the drive and continue turning until I was stopped on our front lawn, parallel to the driveway with the grill of the Olds a very few feet from the entrance to the side screened-porch.

I felt like a complete failure. How could I mess up such a simple maneuver? I must have been shaking—especially since my hero, my father saw my mistake. I could have injured him!

My dad’s reaction allowed one of the best lessons of my life.  He asked the perfect parental and instructional question, “Do you want me to move it or do you want to?”

My dad still trusted me? Wow!

I quickly deduced that I was not always going to have my father to get me out of trouble and that I was going to need to fend for myself. “I’ll do it.”

I not only said, “I’ll do it.” I did it.

That was not the last mistake of my life. It was not the last time my father supported me. It was and is a lesson that I’ve kept close to my heart for fifty years.

I hope I’ve been able to pass it down to my son.

A compilation of thoughts:

1.) A few hours ago, I saw a headline “Elderly couple dies after jumping from parking deck together.” Aw, I sadly thought, envisioning a sickly people in at least their eighties. I opened the link to learn where this tragedy took place. Las Vegas. 

I truly do not mean to make light of the couples situation, but I was stunned to learn the age of both people was sixty-three! Sixty-three! That’s younger than I am. Elderly?

Recently I did reflect about myself that I could not be “middle aged” because I most certainly was not going to live to be twice my “middle” or 132 years.

I know “everything is relative.” I might consider my mother to be elderly. I’m not sure she considers herself thus.

As to relativity (mine, not Einstein’s), I recall 40 years ago when I first was looked to purchase a house. I lived in a 12 foot x 65 foot mobile home with a 12′ x 15′ pull out that made the living room roughly 20′ x 20′. The real estate agent was showing me what I could afford, but all seemed to be “cracker boxes” to me. Where would I put my furniture and the “stuff” I had?

Later, after selling the mobile home and moving into an apartment with a 12′ x 15′ living room and one 9′ x 9′ bedroom, the same houses seemed to have turned into palaces.

2.) A few years ago, two friends from Urbana, where I now live, visited my birthplace, Toledo, with a friend of mine from there. I dubbed it the “seat of the pants” tour. We saw the highlights of Toledo in Ellen’s van.

Of the four of us, only the oldest, who I believe was 70, could walk for any distance or length of time. Ellen, the youngest, needed knee replacement that the surgeons would not perform because she was too young. (She needed to be 55.) Anne’s rheumatoid arthritis hindered her locomotion. And, I have used a cane since my back surgery thirteen years ago.

In October, Anne, now 70, had a knee replaced. She has progressed to walking with a cane. When I saw her last week, she with her cane, me with mine, I thought, “This is giving new definition to a three-legged race.”

3.) My parting shot is something that I’ve wondered for awhile. Since it deals with an intimate issue, I have not had the courage to express to anyone. Here goes…

I know that as I’ve aged, it takes longer to do things:  getting dressed, getting in and out of the car, going to the rest room to name a few. So…

Since it seems to take twice as long, is it now eight-play?

It has been an incredibly emotionally sad year – especially the last three months. That has kept me from sharing my writing because I usually write lighter fare.

I have been looking forward to today because I put in motion an act of kindness that should reach fruition today. That’s all I’m going to say. Christmas means a lot to me and this will be an example of it.

One of the miracles I have awed about is my marvelous son. When I went to the hospital to give birth, I took a book. Anyone who knows me won’t be surprised that I had a book. When don’t I have a book? The book I took was Pat Conroy’s Prince of Tides. It was 2 more years and a sprained ankle before I got that book read. The only reading I did in the hospital was the face and body of my son.

It’s been twenty-seven years and I still am amazed by this young man. I constantly wonder how he turned out so fine, giving, witty, intelligent, and hard-working.

To illustrate one of his fine qualities, I relate this conversation that took place this morning.
Son and Husband, downstairs, had a conversation while I was upstairs getting dressed.
Son came up a few minutes later and, as I passed his door, I asked, “What’s going on?”
He didn’t answer until I was in my bedroom in a far corner. There were absolutely no pauses in this exchange
Son: unintelligible
Mom: “Were you talking to me?”
Son: “Yes.”
Mom: “What did you say?”
Son: “I asked dad if the fish had been fed.”
Mom: “Why didn’t you just ask the fish?”
Son: “They lie!”
Hug those you love and tell them that you love them!
Merry Christmas.

Since I was leaving for New York on Thursday, I decided, on Tuesday, to double check my card account. I was going to need my card for at least four tanks of gas and two nights in hotels. I wasn’t worried, I just like to be prepared for any contingency.

I opened my laptop, enter my user name and password and peruse the recent transactions.

“Wait! What is this?”

A debit transaction for one cent. One penny. From a firm in London (and I don’t mean the near-by city in Ohio).

A few years ago, an employee of this same bank had notified me of suspicious activity because of a one cent transaction. It was explained to me at the time that the thief would test an account for a small amount to make sure it was active and had funds.

I immediately called the 1-800 bank number and was connected with Robert.

I explained my concern to Robert who, at first, in my mind, reacted too cautiously. “You did not make this transaction?”

“First, I would not use my card for one cent. Secondly, I haven’t bought anything in London. Not even London, Ohio.”

The ending seemed to confuse Robert. Many times when I have talked to the bank through this toll-free number, the person on the other end of the phone has been in Cleveland. And although I realize not everyone in the Buckeye state might be aware of London, Ohio, something made me ask, “Where are you, Robert?”

“The Philippines.”

Okay.

Robert questions me repeatedly, “Are you sure you did not make this purchase?”

“For a penny? I would not do that with my card.”

Once I have assured him, he says to ensure there will be no more fraudulent transactions it will be necessary to cancel this card. They will send me a new one within “three to five business days.”

Quick mental calculations allow me to protest, “I’m leaving for a trip where I will need this card.” Three to five business days would be about the time I’d get home.

Robert offers, “We can expedite the cards. That will be only two to three days.”

Since I haven’t made any offerings to the gods recently, I know this means I will just miss having the cards for the trip.

Robert’s next question makes me feel uncomfortable, “Where are you going? We could send the card to where you are going to be.”

I manage to not answer that question but explain, “I will need the card for gasoline and hotels.” And again, the timing was too tight. Odds would be the card would arrive after I returned home.

“We could expedite the card.”

I notice he doesn’t mention anything about expediting costing me extra money. It’s still too tight to attempt and, “How will I pay for the gas and hotel to get where I’m going.”

“You could go to your local branch where they will make you an emergency card. However, that is only good at ATMs, not at businesses.”

I know ATMs have a limit that can be dispensed in a 24-hour period. My bank is not as local as I would like and I don’t have time to get there before I leave.

Robert puts me on hold. I assume it is to check with a supervisor to see if there are any other options.

He comes back to ask if there is anyone else on the account. Perhaps I could use that card.

“Yes, my husband. But we don’t have the same last names and I have no ID using his last name.” I’m thinking that I could make a copy of Husband’s driver license and one of our wedding pictures, but that does sound a tad far fetched.

By this point, Robert is insisting, over my protestations, that he needs to cancel this card to limit fraudulent transactions. I continue to protest. He is not going to let me off the phone without canceling my card.

I relent only to be presented with more surprises.

“There is a five dollar fee for the new card.” I knew if my card became unreadable, I had to pay the fee, but this wasn’t my fault, so why should I pay the fee? Robert continued, “I can waive that fee.” Good thing.

I’m still concerned just how I’m going to pay for gas and lodging, but I guess we’ll cross that bridge…

“Did you want to expedite the production of the card? That will cost $25.00”

“NO!”

“Okay. So I have cancelled your card and put you in for a new card that will be shipped between three and five days. Is there anything else I can do for you today, Miss Johnson?”

“Thank you, Robert.”

It took me another day before I had an idea for how I could pay for hotels. Gas wouldn’t really be a problem because, usually, I didn’t give the card to anyone. I just used self-serve pumps.

I made a second call to the bank on the 800 number. A friendly female listened to my problem and my potential solution (using my husband’s card) and said, “Yes, we can put a notice out that you are traveling. Where will you be going?”

I rattled off Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York. On second thought I added New Jersey. That ended up being smart since I refilled in New Jersey on the way home and New Jersey is not a self-fill state. (Even paying for the attendant, that was the cheapest gas on the trip.)

The long weekend presented no problems. As previously mentioned, most of the fueling stops were self-serve, no problem with the card. No hotel clerk seemed to look at the card. It went through. It was the same with the stop in New Jersey. (The bigger problem there was trying to get the “longer hose” to my fuel tank and allowing more than one dollar of gas.)

Now that I’m home, I feel as if I need to plan a vacation from planning a vacation.

 

For months, I planned a trip to New York City. I would leave after work on Thursday, October 20 drive 3 or 4 hours, spend the night in a hotel, finish the drive on Friday, to my cousin’s where I would bunk. On Saturday we’d go into the city, meet a group of friends and attend a book brunch.

Two years ago, I had won a ticket to the brunch and had a lot of fun. I joked that my free ticket only cost me four tanks of gas, two nights in hotels, my cousin’s ticket and meals. It was still worth it to me.

About six weeks before this trip, my supervisor asked me to plan a new event – Indie Authors Day. We couldn’t do it on the Saturday the Library Journal, the sponsor had designated for the nation to observe. We’ll do it on October 19.

Okay.

This became an all consuming event trying to round up self-published authors, sending information to attendees, press releases to the media, making and updating a Facebook post, purchasing and assembling gift bags, formulating the agenda, write up purchase orders where necessary, and anything else that might arise – such as questions from the authors including “How do I get to Urbana University?”

Then, an e-mail from the Friends of the County Library. Could I assist at the Halloween party to be held on Saturday October 22.

“Um, well, no! It’s going to be a heck of a commute.” I replied in a return e-mail.

Then the good Catholic girl’s guilt  kicked in.

I sent another e-mail stating that I could buy some candy if they needed and drop it off before I leave for my trip.

The reply, “We need three dozen cookies. Each cookie has to be individually wrapped in a zip-lock sandwich bag to keep crumbs off the library carpet.”

“Okay, I could do that.”

In my original thoughts,  I would bake cookies. That idea went the way of the eight-track tape player quickly as I realized I did not have that much time between items already on my calendar.

I can adapt.

My first un-baked idea was to find Keebler Vienna Fingers cookies and decorate them as ghosts (a little vanilla frosting and maybe mini chocolate chips as eyes). I had not been able to find Vienna Fingers (my personal favorite) in a long time, so I started on the internet. I found a site where inserting a zip code resulted in finding out where these delectable morsels could be purchased.

I put in Urbana’s zip code. No results.

I tried Springfield’s. Again, no stores selling the cookies.

How about Columbus. Nada.

Toledo? (I could meet a sibling half way between them and me) Zilch.

Back to the cutting board.

Monday, October 17 was Husband’s day off. I told him what I needed to do and suggested we go to Kroger’s to pick up what I needed to make witch’s hat treats. This would be a Keebler (again) Fudge Stripe Cookie. The bottom of this cookie is chocolate coated. By applying a thin layer of chocolate frosting, I could put a large Hershey’s kiss in the center, to make the point of the hat and embellish it with a contrasting color frosting at the base of the kiss like a crown ribbon.

At Kroger’s we found the cookies, the chocolate frosting, orange spray frosting and zip-lock bags. The only thing we needed were larger than normal chocolate kisses.

Not in the candy aisle. Not in the baking aisle. Not in the seasonal aisle.

Next we tried the local Amish cheese and meat shop since they have an array of candies. No kisses for us.

Now, we are both slamming life in a small town while trying to follow a pattern that was probably imagined in a much larger city where product diversity is better.

Our last stop is my least favorite store – Walmart.

No giant Hershey’s kisses there either. We surmise they must be a Christmas item.

We did find a Walmart brand cookie that was a smaller version of the Fudge Stripe cookie. Maybe we could make a smaller version of the witch’s hat with normal-sized kisses.

Before we leave the cookie aisle, I notice Nutter Butter cookies. I think they could be covered in white frosting to make a ghost cookie. We grab two packages of the small fudge stripe cookie and two of the Nutter Butter and head to the frosting aisle. We gathered vanilla frosting, black spray frosting, (Husband had trouble believing that existed) and regular Hershey’s kisses in our cart.

We head toward the check-outs, until I’m distracted by a large package in a center aisle. It is pumpkin cookies with faces and covered with orange sprinkles made at the in-house bakery. A package of 18 cookies was $3.99. SOLD!

We were considerate shoppers, replacing the cookies and frostings to the proper places in the proper aisles. We bought pumpkin cookies.

This took most of Monday morning. I had had enough of Halloween already.

Tuesday night I came home and found my darling Husband with the card table set up in the living room. Pumpkin cookies were laid out in front of him. Some had spray frosting tracing the face. Others had a spider added. Others I couldn’t distinguish the extra frosting’s decoration.

“Do you want to help decorate cookies?”he asked me.

“No-o! Why are you doing that?”

“Well, we had the spray frosting and I thought, we should use it.”

“Well, have fun.”

He not only decorated the cookies but put each in the required zip-lock bag.

On Thursday, after the successful Wednesday event, I took the cookies to the library before I went to work.

After my trip to New York, I stopped and asked the library staff how the Halloween Party went. They thought between 175 and 200 children attended. Wow! That must be a record.They agreed that that was a higher number than past events.

Tonight, the Friends of the Library had their monthly meeting. Among the information shared was that they had too many cookies. Some were taken home by one of the members to put in her freezer until the next event.

Maybe I’ll finally stop giving in to my Catholic guilt and not volunteer when I’m already stressed.

But, we have the soup and bread tasting coming up in January. My hand automatically shot up when the president asked for a coordinator.

Another action/reaction learned in Catholic School.