Short Stories by Barbara Laughlin
One Enchanted Evening
When Harold came around the corner, he was looking at his calculator and I was pushing my rollator with a shopping basket on the seat. He had an old fashioned calculator in his hands. Being absorbed in the numbers he was adding up, he bumps into me, sending my basket, cans and apples to the floor. He was so embarrassed!
Putting my basket back on the seat, he checked each can for dents while putting them back in the basket. Cradling my four apples that also ended up on the floor, he said he was going to exchange them for those we knew weren’t bruised. Ignoring my protests, he even checked the little stickers on them, matching the numbers so he knew the replacements were the same kind. Returning my new apples to my basket he said, “This is so embarrassing!”
I reassured him that this could happen to anyone.
He replied with, “Running into you wasn’t the most embarrassing part. Having you see me with my 1982 calculator was!”
He continued with the explanation that, of course he has a cell phone with a calculator, but the darn thing is so sensitive it just seems to add up numbers just by breathing on it. He said one day it told him his grocery bill will be $400!
I agreed that $400 was a little steep, and I know the feeling because my iPad has the same sensitivity.
There was a little awkward silence between us when he finally said, “I imagine your husband is most likely going to wonder how the groceries got beat up so bad.”
I told him I was a widow, to which he said he was sorry. I thanked him, telling him it has been a long time. Instead of saying our goodbyes, we both seemed to want to continue this grocery store meeting. Finally, he said, “I hope I’m not sounding too forward but, would you have dinner with me? Tonight, if you are free, or another night if you’re not?
Frankly, I was stunned. I felt like a sixteen year old being asked on her first date. Letting the lump in my throat disappear before speaking, I said, “Are you sure?” The minute it came out of my mouth, I regretted it. Are you sure? What kind of response is that? I tried to rescue myself by saying, “My schedule is mostly free. Tonight, this weekend. Something that works for you. Oh, and by the way, my name is Linda.”
Harold grinned and said, “My schedule looks free, too, Linda. How about tonight?” We agreed he would pick me up at seven o’clock.
The restaurant had a nice mellow atmosphere with a piano bar. It was strange being out with a man, especially in a setting I never thought I’d find myself in again. Strangely relaxed, we devoted most of our dinner conversation catching each other up on what has been going on in our previous seventy years. He had been a chemical engineer in Seattle, raising a family with three children. I told him how our family of four remained our whole lives in the town we were in now, my husband building his own company over thirty five years.
It was getting close to 10pm. Time to head home. Harold paid attention to things that would make it easier for me with a rollator, but he didn’t hover over me, making my compromised mobility seem an issue.
Parking in my driveway, Harold opened my door for me, saying he will be right back. By the time he returned from the back of the SUV with my rollator, I had closed my door and was standing, waiting for him.
“Your house looks nice. It has a New England flair, doesn’t it? It’s charming, would love to see it in the daylight.” Suddenly looking away, he said, “I didn’t mean to be forward. I’m sorry.”
“I know what you meant. Houses look different in the daylight. Please don’t be embarrassed. Me too. I mean, I’m hoping that some things I say don’t sound forward, backwards or just plain dopey.”
With that, Harold quickly leaned toward me and kissed me on the cheek. He said, “I’d really like to see you again, Linda. If you don’t feel the same way, maybe I’ll have the pleasure of running into you again at the supermarket.”
Wanna Have Some Fun?
“Wanna have some real fun this year at the community picnic?” Judy asks Carol. They are sitting in Carol’s kitchen gossiping about the neighborhood and the fact that Judy is in charge of this year’s picnic.
“All depends,” Carol replies, “doing what?”
Judy explains how she has reserved a spot at the nearby community park this year.
“It could be nice to go somewhere a little more spacious, but when does the fun part come in?” Carol asks. “I can see it in the crinkles around your eyes. You are always up to something when you have crinkles around your eyes, and this time it’s something big. Spill it.”
“Okay, you are going to think I’m nuts, I know…BUT we are going to have a water balloon fight,” Judy tells Carol. “I can hear it all now. These people are old. They can’t run. They can’t throw. Blah, blah, and more blah. But you know what? Lots of ‘em can. Sit on your porch and watch some of them break into a run while walking their dog. Others are out fitness walking. You name it, it’s out there. There are those with canes, walkers, rollators…Golden Meadow just wants to have fun. Those that can’t or don’t want to be in the fight will be our very important cheering section and also the decision makers.”
“What about food?” Carol asks. “The word picnic implies we are going to eat something. You think a bunch of wet folks are going to want to sit down and enjoy food after a balloon fight?”
“Thought of that too, of course,” Judy says. “I ask everyone to bring cold sandwiches. Creative sandwiches are welcome. I do this thing with cottage cheese and chopped veggies that goes over well. Chips, cheese puffs, you get the idea. And for dessert, finger fun. You know, cookies, cupcakes, stuff like that. I’m sure there will be enough that we can put out half before the grand event, and half after. ”
“What about the balloons filled with water? Who is in charge of that?” asks Carol.
“Got it covered. I’ll be supplying two big tubs of water balloons, one for the north and one for the south.
“Um….north and south what?” Carol asks skeptically.
“Sides of the community, what else!” Judy tells her with a tone of disbelief in her voice. “Our Golden Meadow is laid out just perfect for creating teams.” This time Judy has a tone of satisfaction in her voice.
“Well, you go girl,” Carol says. “I mean that both as encouragement, and literally. You may be the one who actually goes to this picnic.”
Two weeks seem to fly by for Judy, as she called, asked, begged and bribed the residents of Golden Meadow to come to the summer picnic. Judy worried that her neighbors were just humoring her when most of them confirmed the date and other information she had left in their newspaper section below their mailbox, saying they will be there. They all sounded so enthusiastic!
The morning of the event dawned bright and sunny with promises of record high temperatures. Perfect weather to have a water balloon fight, Judy thought to herself. She called Carol, asking her to ride with her and her husband to the park. “Are you sure there is room with your tubs of water balloons?” Carol wanted to know.
“Yep, we are going to take the older van. Lots of extra room in that thing.”
Arriving at the park, it surprised the trio to find cars everywhere. Judy offered the explanation that there might be one or two other picnics going on. Getting out of the van, it surprised all to find that this crowd was here for the Golden Meadow picnic!
“Never have I seen a turn out to one of our events like this,” Jerry said as he approached the car to see if he could help in carrying things.
Carol didn’t say a word, she just exchanged glances with Judy’s husband.
Judy had planned the day out, hoping it would accommodate everyone. One hour for socialization, one hour for the balloon fight, the rest of the day for socialization. Food will be available during the entire event. It wasn’t even time for the picnic to begin, and there were already those munching chips and other goodies.
Being the only group picnicking that day, they had their choice of picnic tables and, besides these, they set up the two folding tables they brought. Food quickly appeared on all, and after getting everyone’s attention, Judy asked them to figure it out among themselves so there will be food put out after the fight, too. Fight…that term sounds like we are all a bunch of hoodlums in our sweet community.
The main buzz in conversation was the water balloon fight. Judy had announced that it would begin in an hour. The serious competitors were already showing their colors with warm-ups. As the time passed, the warriors were growing restless, as was the cheering section that would also decide the winners. The team that looks the wettest loses. Seems a reasonable way to decide the winner of water balloons being hurled at each other in a competition.
“Can I have your attention, please?” Judy announces. “Every fight needs rules, and here are the rules for this one. Actually, one rule. Boys throw with their left hand. If your left hand is your dominant hand…..eh, you get the idea. We placed the tubs of balloons on the playing field. If you can carry more than one at a time, go for it. The tubs should define two areas, with a suitable distance between them. You know if you live on the north or south side of Golden Meadow, please stay with your appropriate team. Neighbors, please form your teams!"
This took a little bit of time because there were a couple with canes and one with a walker. Everyone’s welcome as long as they stay safe.
"One more thing," Judy says. "When the balloons are gone, the fight is over. That’s when you will really wish you had been nicer to your neighbor! They are going to determine which team wins by how wet you all are. The driest team wins, which, as we all know, can be open to interpretation." This brought a lot of laughter.
The south team was all in a circle, hands piled on top of each other, with shouts of “one for one, and one for all"! Suddenly, water balloons are flying everywhere. They are the little ones that will burst on light contact. All ready, there are some pretty good hits going on. The fight went on for about an hour. The fast neighbors helped the slower ones to get a fresh supply of balloons. Laughing hysterically, there were occasionally drop outs that preferred to join the cheering section.
In the end, the cheering section decided on the winners. After some more food, and conversation of the wild and wet summer picnic, all went home with fun memories from the day.
I hope you like the short stories. Would love to hear from you!
Thank you for reading 'Wanna Have Some Fun'.
Emelia's Story follows.
This story is loosely based on my own grandmother, Emelia Isaccson, who left Sweden at age 20 for the United States.
I just don’t see any future for me here that would include my hopes and dreams. Family, a home of my own, these are constantly in my mind and my heart. My father struggles with the farm, each year getting worse. But everything I’ve known all my life is here! Birds must leave the nest, but in this current environment, this bird will plummet to the ground, unable to pick herself up and fly off. Looking at my sisters, I see the same questions in their eyes while they are looking out the window at our father working the field. Toiling brings in less and less as the years go by. Less for our own family to eat, less to sell to sustain the farm and animals. Work stays just as hard, with just as many seeds sown, the fields yielding less and less. We don’t have an answer yet. Village farmers know there must be a way to help the land stay productive, but our education and science just aren’t that advanced. Maybe this will all happen someday.
Days just seem to run into each other. Every day is exactly the same. I wake up, I help Ma clean the cottage. Then, I get ready and walk to our neighbor Bengt and his family's home. I then spend my day watching children, cooking meals and cleaning their home so his wife can help in the field and on the farm. These are the things I want to do for my own family. Not a family someday, but now!
I’ve shared my desires to go to America with my five sisters. Four of them want the same things as Anna, my oldest sister. Married with a baby coming soon, Anna and all of them want to look forward to a future with fewer worries.
I’ve seen posters up in Råda center. A British company has built the largest ship in the world and it sails routinely from Southampton, England, to New York City in America. I’m sure it costs a lot of money. Can I undertake such a large mission all alone? I know instinctively that the answer is ‘what is my other option’? Saving most of what I’ve made working at the Bengt home, I don’t know what it will actually cost. There is so much talk about leaving Sweden for America. I plan to stop in for a cup of coffee and a pastry at Gunvor’s Pastry Shop. Word travels fast around Råda, and I’m sure to learn something. What if Ma and Pa hear of what I’m thinking? I just keep coming back to the fact that my options for a brighter future seem pretty limited if I do nothing.
Next in this series, we will follow Emelia as she makes her decision, makes preparation and travels to England to board, along with twenty-three hundred people, what is then currently the largest ship in the world in 1912, the Olympic.
Emelia's Story (part 2)
I showed my sister, Elin, the letter I had written to Ma and Pa. I had confided to her yesterday that I had written it. I often feel most comfortable writing my thoughts and feelings than trying to verbalize them.
After they said nothing for a couple of days and I thought it had upset them, last night they called me into their room and closed the door. Ma had tears in her eyes and Pa couldn’t look at me. I was ready for some harsh words but what I got was very soft voices telling me what a wonderful daughter I am and they understand I needed to take this step in my life. It made them happy knowing that my brother, Johan, will no longer be alone in the United States. Begin making preparations for your trip to Jamestown, New York, in the United States, were Ma’s last words before opening the door again.
Immediately after that conversation, I went to the room Elin and I shared. Elin had already started helping me prepare for the journey. I wondered how she knew what the outcome of my conversation with Ma and Papa would be. Already, she had put two blankets out for me to take with. On board, they will provide one blanket for the ship’s journey from Gothenburg to Hull, England.
I had written the next dates that the Calypso will leave for England. I will leave on September 13, in three more days. So much to do to get ready. It seems like so little to do in order to leave a life I’ve known for twenty years. The journey will be just a matter of days aboard the ‘feeder ship’, the Calypso, to Hull, England. Then I will board the largest ship in the world, the Olympic, to New York City.
My next steps would be to inform Ma and Pa of my departure date. Pa is the only one that will travel to Gothenburg with me. Ma and the girls will stay behind to keep the farm functioning. I am limited to the number of bags I can carry on board the Calypso to two. This was a bit of the scant information that was noted on the bulletin board in Roda.
The trip will be short from Gothenburg. The journey from England to New York City in the United States will be long aboard the Olympic which is the largest ship in the world in 1912. I must plan. My finances need to be structured. I have saved money while working with Bengt and his family but, of course, except for passage aboard the two ships, I do not know what this will cost.
Telling Bengt was easy. He seemed to support my decision about leaving Sweden. He also seemed very welcoming for Elin to help him in his home after I’m gone. Those words… after I’m gone… send chills throughout my body. I do not know what pleasures or obstacles I’m going to find on such a trip.
Choosing possessions carefully, I was ready to travel with Papa to Gothenburg. Choosing what to take was fraught with memories of family. Family is all I have ever known here in Sodra Roda.
September 13 came all too soon. My goodbyes were very difficult, not knowing if I will ever see my family again. Not knowing what this adventure will bring was difficult. I had never imagined myself traveling so far, so alone.
The trip on the train to Gothenburg was too short. I expected to see more people than I have ever seen before gathered in one place, but this was startling. I know that these short journeys to England aboard the Calypso, called a feeder ship, would be full of many people, but this was unimaginative. They geared all of Gothenburg to getting passengers ready for boarding. Docked and waiting, the Calypso stood. I struggled to imagine that in three hours, I would board that ship with 2300 other people sailing for Hull, England. Organized in my preparations, this enabled me to secure my position on the ship easily. I entered the line that could board immediately. I wanted to linger, but Papa directed me to take my place to wait. First, though, he reached for my hand and folded twenty-five dollars into my palm.
Not allowed to stand in line with me, Papa had to join the throngs of loved ones of other passengers on the dock. Certainly I’ve been alone before, but never so alone as I was right now.
Next, we will follow Emelia aboard the Calypso on the first leg of her journey. Arriving in England, she will board the largest ship in the world, the Olympic for the five days at sea.