Old Man Lost

“Shh, old man,” Reggie mumbled to himself as he eyed the TV. “It’s not the end of the world yet.” He leaned closer to the television. “The end of the world hasn’t come yet, for we old soldiers still sit in purgatory uncalled. Surely that devil would call us if he knew we sat at ease.” The TV blared, for Reggie used the sound against the loneliness of his soul.
News reports troubled him: the president declaring war actions, kids dying, no one understanding why killing was so easy for the man, volunteers sent packing as democratic pigeon minders, told they got no business, old people dying and no one caring.

”Hush, Reggie, pray he doesn’t call you. You can barely keep time at a social dance with the old women down in the basement of the church. Not much of a social, all of us left by families that know our minds are going. Not much to be happy for, to care for, to do. Puzzles and number thingy squares. Old women knitting. Women ruminating like cows, no brains left. Young folks and nurses bugging folks to be active. Folks showing us computers, damned machines. Shh, damn it, man, don’t get so upset. Don’t call attention to your dark soul. You don’t want the attention of that type. They bury us with trumpets blowing and our service honored, but there is little honor in what we did. We killed, oh that we served as God willed. Oh, that peace was close, but it ain’t coming.”

The news flooded the room. Missiles launching from planes, children laying dead, yellow gas coating everything. Reggie looked down at his hands. His hands, beautiful hands, that had held a child when it was born, helped it learn to walk, paid with labor to send his child to school, and watched with pride at the start of the Great War III. Strong hands that had served him, that had held his wife as she sobbed at the telegram from the War Department, now sat idle in his lap. Sad hands that watched the news take his wife’s will to live, that buried her.

“Reggie, man, you have to keep quiet, man. Don’t say your thoughts too loudly, or they’ll have you out the door as a traitor. I’m you, you know, still you. I’m me. I was…I am, I get so confused these days.”

He moved the food on his plate around in circles. TV food, the folks next door brought TV food to him each night. They said it was okay he didn’t know them. He hated that. They told him names. They had no faces. The food was placed on his TV tray. One plate, one fork, one spoon, one glass of water. His teeth were worn and so his food was precut, mushed by him into the catsup. He took a bite, swallowed, and took another. Food had no real meaning, it just kept him alive. It all tasted the same.

“When’s it morning, old man, when’s morning coming? Not soon enough. Devils on the TV, devils in church, next it will be devils in my home.”

The door to the room he sat in opened and closed. Reggie didn’t bother looking around.

“What do you want now?” he asked. “You don’t normally come for the dishes. Got something for me?”

Whoever had entered the room hissed at him, “Good evening, Reggie.”

“Don’t know why you bother me every night. I’m an old man. Got a devil for president, a war to begin more wars, ain’t nothing going to ever be okay again.”

“Your pain, it seems worse tonight, Reggie. Shall I take it from you?” The stranger moved to the front of the couch. He pushed the plastic container of pills in front of Reggie.

“Pain means I’m alive. I’m an old man. Ain’t nothing going to matter ever again. Leave me alone. I don’t want nothing from you.” He watched the TV change to a game show. “See they roll that wheel and people guess words. Fools always take too long. You want to watch this show with me? I ain’t about to go out with all that fireworks on the news going on.”

“I can take your pain away, Reggie. I can ease the burden of your heart.” The stranger sat down and rested his hand on Reggie’s knee. “I’m worried about you, Reggie, you don’t do anything but watch that idiot tube. The news will make your heart stop, if you keep watching it.”

“Heart stopped years ago when the wife died.”

“Reggie, all you have to do is tell me that I can take your soul to a different plane. But you have to say it.”

“Hell, you think you’re the devil or something? Take my soul to a plane. A plane to a place where no-one gives a damn. Nah, you get out. I’m not going with no devil. I have my own devils inside me. I live my own hell, don’t need to go to one.”

“Heaven won’t come to you, Reggie, not ever. You’ll never find relief sitting here. Come with me, Reggie, you’ll be warm and with family.”

Reggie watched the wheel spin. “Hey, weirdo, you know that phrase right there? Daniel Webster said it.”

“Fine, Reggie, fine. What’s the phrase?”

Turning to the illusion beside him, Reggie laughed and said, “Get the hell out.” He leaned back in his couch and closed his eyes. “Devil wouldn’t want me, I’m too much of a grumpy old Gus. Close the door as you leave. Damn curmudgeon needs his rest.”

The devil stood and smiled. Reggie was one of his favorites. He could bide his time. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Reggie.”



Luck has waxen wings;
Flying through rays of glorious yellow
With a tail of radiant red.
Glaring and daring the sun
To deny it a future.

Luck has paper wings,
Sodden and ground-bound, stricken,
Laden with gravity, a leaden power,
Which pulls it kite-like
Through puddles of tears, betrayed.

Luck has feather wings,
Ignoring words of failure, mockery.
Moving in between tears.
Dropping lightly, butterfly like,
Starlike, super star, nova.

Luck has eternal wings,
Laughing at the crowds who flock
Like joyous crows before a feast,
Who beg her for a morsel. Teasing,
Recreating herself endlessly.

Luck has lunar moth  wings,
Dominating the nighttime, peeking
Into dreams bereft of reality.
Children's dreams, hopes, parent's prayers,
Planning a voyage into time.

Luck has nimble wings,
Speeding past the impossible,
Ringing the tones of celebration,
Paying out at pinball machines,
With paper strips and silver coins.

Luck has steam powered wings.
No misfortune, nor even tasks 
To pull one through for she is not idle
Hands search, alone in the dark. For her wings
Are gossamer ideals put to work.

copywrite 2017 Ann WJ White
All rights reserved

Birthday! Geburtstag!

Yesterday was my fifty-ninth birthday. It was also my happiest birthday, besides being born (thanks MOM).

My children decided that the best way to celebrate my birthday was to spend it with me. What mother could resist that? They have such busy adult lives that normally we have a brief conversation over the phone, a sandwich brought by so I don’t have to cook, or a pat on my head. Their lives are so busy that in past years they haven’t had time to affirm that I was getting grayer, or whiter, or that time was ticking past at a tremendous pace. But this year we had the hospital scare which mobilized both of my dears to become more involved in my life again. It was a lovely outcome to a scary time.

My day yesterday started with a breakfast wakeup call. My daughter and her husband had arrived with pancakes, eggs, hash browns, biscuits and bacon. They set the table and giving a cheer to bring us down the stairs, presented me with this feast. It took another call up the stairs to bring my husband down. My daughter used the “Dad, he’s poking me again” line which has become a family joke. My son came in and announced that his sister has surprised even him with the early morning roll call. He encouraged us all to eat and then to dress warmly because the day had just begun.

“Just begun?” Could it be that the day was just beginning? Normally weekends are days spent cleaning house, grocery shopping, and organizing for the next week. Taking time away from those things was unusual. Did they mean a game day? We have days when we invade each other’s territory to spend the day with unusual games that call out to us to play them. My son in law Chris was the one to encourage days like that, but this time, it was not what was intended.

I was ushered into the car, and we sped off after my daughter and Chris, at a respectable 35 miles an hour, strictly following the speed limit. There is a vendor of trees, each Christmas season, at the end of our neighborhood behind the Wawa convenience store and overlooking Neabsco Creek. Every year we wander to the vendor a day or two before Christmas and pick a tree that we hope will last into January. This year we were suddenly ahead of schedule. My son had given us a new TV for Christmas this year at Thanksgiving. Now the two kids had delivered a tree, an eight foot all Frazier Fir, and let me pick it out. We were twenty days ahead of schedule. Maybe, as Merlin thought in White’s A Once and Future King, we were moving backwards in time. No, we were moving forwards. The tree was placed in Chris’s truck as Derek opened his wallet exposing the tree fund to light and U.S. currency and homeward we went.

At this moment, door number two opened. Yes, we got the contents of door number one and two at the same time. Derek began pulling out the lights, not just for the tree, but for the entire house. Since he moved home, there has been a sense of normalization that he’s brought. Halloweens must be celebrated with decorations, and so too with Christmases. But as he set out to do the lights, Chris and my husband Eric set the tree into water, and Genevieve ushered me inside.

We always spend Christmas eve cleaning the family room of a year’s worth of crafting and lack of energy on my part by cleaning and getting the area ready for a tree. It can be a daunting task. Once we lacked the funds for a tree, and my kids went out into the backyard and brought back a bough from a white pine, with the perfect curl to it that would have fit in Jack Skeleton’s setting or Charlie Brown’s Christmas. They wrapped the bottom of the tree with a blue Linus blanket, and set one ornament on the tree at the pointy end of the only branch the tree had. Our dear friend Ana arrived on Christmas Day and added one additional ornament to the tree, a Charlie Brown Christmas ornament celebrating the simplicity of the season which is often overwhelming for me. Another time, the cleaning was finished at midnight, and the tree remained undecorated, but well loved. Christmas always arrived expected, but never quite prepared for, just like babies.

So I was convinced that my duty was to let people help me. Chris, Eric, Genevieve and I sorted, moved furniture, ran up and down stairs (I only handed things that needed to be relocated) and we achieved a new landmark. We had a clean tidy organized Christmas room early. We also had a ficus in the corner that now bears handmade ornaments that look like the ones that Grandma Boonie had on her tree. (Just a sign perhaps, but this Thanksgiving Genevieve, my mother, Laura and I created the ornaments to help us celebrate her life. My mother had also created ornaments using the same techniques that had decorated my parent’s trees. We never lacked for a love of Christmas, even when there was no money to be found.) So we used the ornaments we had made at Thanksgiving to decorate the ficus.

Off went Genevieve, Chris and Eric they soon had the tree in the stand. Derek and Eric brought the tree in the house lifting it over all of the things that hop out into the way when you want to transport something, successfully missing all of the obstacles, and the tree was placed along the west wall of the family room. Then began a call for directions to straighten the tree, which was amazingly close this year to true from the beginning, and we ran a relay of water so that the tree wouldn’t dry out.

Then we fell over, and Derek arrived with the ingredients for fancy grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. He had four types of cheese, including the American cheese that I get teased for my infatuation with, two types of sausages to be sliced and added to the cheese and Campbell’s Tomato soup. He whipped up dinner for us all, taking orders like the short order line cook at a good deli. By this time we had listened to Hamilton, the original soundtrack, Christmas swing music by the Glen Miller Orchestra, and we were ready for something to go with a quick meal. So out came The Grinch, which has my father in law in it, just check the section of the first singalong where the Who wearing the glasses and the trimmed beard is shown, followed by Charlie Brown’s Christmas. That gave us enough to time recover our blood sugar levels and the lights arrived for the tree.

Genevieve has taken over that job. Her dad used to do it, but with his schedule giving him less time to do it in, he had to pass that tradition on. Derek has done it several times, but he was still finishing the outside of the house. We run a string or two of lights up the middle of the tree, generally using the largest bulbs we can find, and cabling several light strings together until we have fully lighted strings to use. Then we swirl small lights around the tree. Each year we put together the leftovers of the years before until we arrive at the tree lights we think of as perfection. The pineapple ornament, the symbol of hospitality, goes on the very top, and this year has two 9 inch ornamental angels in full gold and white dress, holding candles (fake candles, the ones using electricity) are directly underneath the pineapple. It almost looks like the beginning of an angelic chorus. As we added ornaments, the tree opened up beautifully. I decorate the inside of the tree as much as the outside. It’s always amazing to me how many ornaments a tree can hold.

We put in twelve hours of getting ready for Christmas on my birthday. It’s not many people who can say they have been given Christmas as a birthday present, but I can say that. I was exhausted but really happy by evening. When my daughter and Chris had left for home, and Derek had gone to get ready for bed, Eric and I sat and watched the tree. He remarked that we “have some great kids”, and I added “and they are remarkable adults.” He asked if I was happy and I am. I’m also really proud that they recognize that time with them is the most important gift I could have been given. Christmas as a present gave them a way to show how much they cared and let us share a lot of memories. And, it’s not even Christmas yet.


As a little girl,
She read a book where whitewashing was done on walls and fences.
She pretended to be Tom
Swishing and brushing to put a shine
Where the fence was between
The neighbors.
Swish, splash, she turned her head
Looking for missed spots in the surface.

As a woman,
She worked long hours for a firm
That asked her to clean up
After their long day of dealings,
So she bent over her computer
Editing the to and from
The up and down
She washed the pages clean of color
Transposed them into a harmless key.

As an ancient one,
She sat and snipped her luscious
Thread, using the rainbow
Stitching and splicing
Ribbons created of long colored
Memories that never
Were just as they were remembered.
She thought of her paint brushes,
Dry and gone, from when she ran out of white paint.