By Lisa Owens
Inspired by current events - 6/15/2020
A 2nd Place Winner in the WOW (Women on Writing) Q-4 2020 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest !
Clearwater and Pensacola, Florida 
It is a happy day in the manager’s living quarters at the Royal House Motel. Lois, one three recently hired maids, has given my dad an old car destined for the junkyard. His days of walking and hitchhiking to Liberty Bible College are over. Our days of bumming rides from anyone who happens to be "going your way," are over.
Dad, a former NASA aerospace engineer assisting in the design of the steering mechanisms for the original Apollo Space Missions in the early 1960's, is now the manager of a cockroach and rat-infested Florida motel...in a back-alley sort of area behind a Roses Five and Dime Store...as well as a full-time theology student at a tiny Pensacola, Florida Bible College.
My dad found Jesus in the early 1970's and realized from that point on, God had a plan for his life. He heard the Lord's voice giving him very specific instructions regarding everything from what to eat for breakfast to where to move his family of five for the next chosen career. The voice even told him which stocks to trade on the NYSE. I found it baffling that God would get so personally involved, down to the most minute detail with one person's life, but I was just thirteen, so what did I know?
"THE VOICE OF THE LORD" (the name we began to use to describe the voice) most recently told him to attend Bible College to become a pastor, so, in the summer of 1975, Dad quit his mechanical engineering job with Honeywell and sold the only house we'd ever owned. We prepared to leave Clearwater, Florida to make one final long road trip—450 miles—in the aged 1960 Volkswagen that, like the house, was the only car we'd ever owned. We were headed to the Royal House Motel in Pensacola, Florida, where a low paying management job that included housing awaited. Dad would begin his theological studies in early fall.
On moving day, we left before the sun came up, the six of us and our un-groomed miniature poodle, Fifi, squeezing into the tiny Beetle. The ride was going to be unbearable in the un-airconditioned car with my sister Julie, who was then eight-years-old, breathing into my hair from the "way-back" which is what we called the itchy wool luggage compartment that was her designated seat. Dad always said, "Get in the way-back," as he held the driver seat forward and his seat belt down for her to maneuver over and around on her short journey to the wool-lined hollow only meant for a small piece of luggage or a largish briefcase.
By now, she was too old and grown up to sit in such a claustrophobic space, but it was the only option until "THE VOICE OF THE LORD" got around to finding Dad a larger car. She complied, climbing in without complaining even though she immediately began to sound like she had a cold; but it was just the typical allergic reaction she had to the wool beginning to kick in.
"I need a tissue," she snuffled.
"Stop breathing on my head," I huffed and leaned forward only to be stopped short by the back of Dad's bright red hair and the comb-over, sparsely covering his bald spot.
"Scoot back! Now you are breathing on my head," Dad said. Mama looked back my way, briefly making eye contact. Her eyes brushed over the four of us kids, already sweating and irritable before we even made it out of our driveway. She rolled her window all the way down for maximum airflow, then fanning herself with the tri-folded Florida road map, turned away.
In such a small space, in order to make it work, we had a seating order. I sat behind Dad with Fifi in my lap. My brother Greg, who was ten, was directly behind Mama. Five-year-old Jeffrey was mashed in the middle while poor Julie seemed destined to live out her childhood in the "way-back" broken out in hives. They began to fidget and complain about the heat, so I tried to angle the tiny triangular back window to direct any poof of air our way, but that only blew dog breath in my face and I silently gagged. This was going to be another very long and cranky drive.
Months after we had gotten settled into the motel manager's living quarters, the Beetle's engine caught on fire, leaving us without transportation. I had mixed feelings every time I passed the parking spot, once occupied by the matte-sky-blue bug, now a graveyard for its charred and dull, skeletal remains. That little guy was part of the family and had taken us on some memorable rides for over fifteen years.
The thought of the donated car is exciting though because it is large enough for us. No more packing six people into a car really meant for two. It was humiliating to draw a crowd everywhere we went, the six of us a veritable clown show.
Dad, having put his free car plan into place shortly after we arrived at the motel, as the Beetle became more and more unreliable, is the master of getting things for free so even though a car is the most valuable thing he has ever elicited; it was not that unexpected.
Within earshot of anyone who would listen...usually when he was drenched with sweat from his long walk home after classes...he had been hinting about the "car situation" and "THE VOICE OF THE LORD" telling him that he would have a larger car soon. I have to wonder what else he said to finally convince Lois the motel maid and her husband Vern, to just give him the car. Dad's ploys are consistent so imagining the conversation is not the much of a stretch:
Dad: “It is a beautiful day, thank you, Jesus. A little hot though,” as he pulls out the folded hankie he keeps in his pocket, blotting forehead sweat.
Lois: “It sure is.”
Dad: “I noticed that you have been driving a different car the last few days. Is it a…hmm…third car for you and Vern?”
Dad: “What? Is that…erm…wood panel on the sides? Is it a Pontiac? Do you even have room in your driveway for a third car?”
Lois: “Yes. It's wood paneling. No. It's a Plymouth and our driveway is big.”
Dad: “I have been praying for a car. The Lord told me, ‘George, you won’t be walking to Bible College much longer. I have a car waiting for you.’ I am believing, in the name of Jesus, that there is a car out there with my name on it. I claim it. Hallelujah!”
Lois: “Okay. You look pretty hot, George. You should probably go inside.”
Coincidentally, Vern shows up two days later driving their old Impala. He extends his hand holding car keys toward my dad, “You can have this car.”
My dad shouts, “Glory!” Vern rides home with Lois, once her shift ends, in their new station wagon.
I guess I never really paid much attention to the car Lois was driving to work before because this thing is rough. Not safe to drive on the highway or really any road. It is big though and will easily accommodate the six of us with room to spare.
It is a sort of ecru color with some rust spots and those big church-pew-like bench seats front and back. The windshield has a long crack running diagonally across the entire width, but the scariest part about it is the front driver’s side door. It won’t close. In fact, anytime the car makes a left-hand turn, it flies open. All the way open. I am beginning to think my dad actually did Lois and Vern a favor by taking that car off their hands before one of them ended up falling out into the street.
The six of us stand around the car. Dad cocks his head to one side, and in an attempt to get it to shut, gives the driver’s side door a push with his foot. The bottom edge drops little rust deposits on the ground. Dad’s eyebrows shoot up. He opens the door all the way—as far open as it will go—then slams it hard. Metal clinks and a tiny piece of the door trim shoots out and bumps his shin. The door is still not fully closed.
The wheels are turning in Dad’s engineering mind and he heads to the janitorial closet, just off the motel lobby, and disappears for a while. When he returns, he is carrying a long piece of heavy-duty rope. He opens the driver's door again and slides in behind the wheel, the length of rope still in his hand. He gently pulls it shut behind him and wheels toward the inside door panel with a vengeance. His arms are moving furiously as he maneuvers the rope up and down and side to side as if weaving a macramé plant holder. I see his face redden and at one point, cranking down the window, he yells “Water!” When Dad says "Jump!" we ask "How high?" My brother turns and runs for the kitchen returning with a jelly jar of tap water thrusting it toward him. Dad grabs the glass, upends and guzzles, then hands it back empty. We nod in solidarity as Dad cranks up the window, exits, closes, and then out of habit, locks the door...The door isn't even closed, I think, rolling my eyes upward toward the heavens.
Dad strikes a carpool deal with his friend Ben, a fellow theology student. My dad will drive mornings, stopping to pick up Ben’s three kids and drop all seven of us off at Liberty Christian School, the school affiliated with the college, on his way to class. My poor mom would be abandoned to man the motel switchboard and check-in any guests crazy or brave enough to want to stay at the cockroach-infested Royal House. Ben would be the after-school ride home, which was a much better deal for him, since he was driving both ways before.
On the first day of the carpool, my stomach feels a little queasy worrying about the driver’s door and rope situation. Greg, Julie, Jeffrey, and I tentatively approach the car. Being the oldest earns automatic shotgun so I sit in the front. I notice that the dashboard is glistening with moisture and there is a light fog on the inside of the windows even though everything was buttoned up semi-tight (there was that one openish door) and locked when we left it the day before. I touch the glass to my right and pull my finger back wet. I quickly scribble “HELP" then look to my left.
Dad is behind the wheel tying the loose end of the rope, in what appears to be a granny knot, around his waist after carefully threading it up, under and around the steering wheel. The other end, the end he had previously used the macramé technique on, makes a figure-eight from the window crank—to the door handle—then up through the little armrest affixed to the inside door panel. He gives the door a flat-handed push and nods his satisfaction that the door remains fast. Even though I am fearful of him falling out while making a hard left-hand turn, my dad, having been a pilot in the air force as well as a rocket scientist, knows all about safety and tying fancy knots. Still I rotate away and add "SOS” to my window message. "THE VOICE OF THE LORD" doesn't seem to care very much about our comfort or safety.
“Why is everything so wet?” Jeffrey, always inquisitive, inquires from the backseat.
“It’s Florida. It's humid,” Dad says.
“But why is it wet inside the car?” Greg asks in a concerned voice from behind.
“Must be because of the crack in the windshield,” Dad says, pulling out the hankie and clearing a head-size spot on the glass in front of him, the rope somewhat hindering his movement.
Three voices in harmony shriek as fingers point skyward, “And WHAT is that?”
Wrapping my arms around my head for protection, I gaze up at the ceiling. It is covered with a slick, mossy green and black growth.
Dad glancing up then back down, chuckles, “Oh. It’s just a little fungus among us.” He snugs the rope a little tighter around his body, cranks the engine, and off we go.
By Lisa H. Owens
Inspired by true events - 1975 Clearwater and Pensacola, Florida
I am hungry. Did I eat?
I go to the kitchen.
I ask my daughter.
She said I'd had hard-boiled eggs with toast;
But if I was hungry, she would fix me a snack.
I nod and move to sit on the sofa, where I will wait.
I go to the kitchen.
A familiar lady is fixing cheddar cheese on crackers.
"That looks good," I say.
"It is for you," the lady answers.
"I like cheese on crackers. Cheddar is my favorite. How did you know?"
"I am your daughter. I know the things that are your favorite," she smiles sweetly.
"Your smile reminds me of George. Where is George? I will share my snack with him."
She doesn't answer, continuing to slice the cheddar thin, like George and I like.
I go to sit on the sofa to wait.
I go to the kitchen.
"It was so nice of you to come and visit me," I say to a lady making cheese and crackers.
"Mama, go wash your hands. Your snack is ready," the lady says as she carries the snack on a tray to the sofa, setting it down on the coffee table.
I go into the half bath just off the entry-way.
My tiny bag containing lipstick and George's wedding band lies partially open on the vanity. I wonder why George is not wearing his ring.
I unzip the bag and lay it back, fully open. I spy little squares of yellow paper just under George's ring.
I lift the one on top. It is a note in my handwriting.
George is in heaven now.
Then I remember as I unfold and read one note after the other. Little notes everywhere. My life becomes clear.
I go to sit on the sofa to wait.
I see a tray with cheese and crackers on the coffee table. I hope the cheese is cheddar. I will share my snack with George. Cheddar is our favorite.
By Lisa H. Owens
Inspired by her mother who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease
Published on https://www.beneaththesurfacenews.com/post/little-notes-everywhere
I pinch myself on the arm hard enough to say “Ouch!” I am awake...not dreaming as I first suspected...and have come to the realization that I am walking around Vanderbilt University looking for something. I don't know how I came to be walking around this stately campus, and more importantly, why I am here. Walking and walking and looking for a street name I can’t remember. Is there any money in my wallet? I don’t think so.
I pause to glance at a couple of girls giggling while watching a lone girl study her phone. One of the gigglers begins a woeful love song directed at the solo girl. Heartfelt and boisterous, tearful and tone-deaf, she continues to the end not mindful of the gathering crowd. When she finishes baring her soul, I applaud and say “Bravo!” then move on.
Where is that street? Why am I here? Still walking, I decide to find a place to stay, maybe take a cab, then spying a Gothic university hotel; I remember my cash-poor situation and continue on. Bet it won't be cheap. I pass two young ladies talking and laughing, the younger of the two, leaning on the other in a moment of hilarity. A cab pulls up. I look hopeful. Maybe I can...the leaning-girl motions me over.
“Are you lost?” she asks.
“Sort of and I need to get to a hotel,” I say, shifting my gaze downward.
“Want to share the cab? We can drop you wherever,” she offers, opening the back door.
We three pile into the back seat, squished together like sardines. The leaning-girl turns my way, face joyful and flushed, a small bead of sweat on her upper lip.
“I have a very important day. There will be a gathering like I’ve never seen before. All there just to see me. I’ll be the star of the show.”
Her companion, silent up to this point, smiles at me and nods, a tear forming in the corner of her left eye.
“That’s right. A special day. My sister is going to be the star. The one everyone is coming to see.” She is glowing with pride. “This is the moment we have all been waiting for and it could really change her life.”
I am stunned by the beauty of them; the older sister with her arm around the younger who is soon to be star of the day. Star of the show. The star is weak with anticipation. Is she a budding actress? Is this her big break, the one all actors dream of while slinging hash at demanding diners day-in and day-out only leaving to rush to the next audition?
The older sister reaches into her purse pulling out lipstick and a tissue, dabbing at the sweat mustache on the budding actress. Perfectly-Pink lipstick is gently applied next. “You’ll want to look your best for the team.”
The cab begins a right-hand turn into a parking lot. I reach for my bag ready to make my exit and leave these lovely sisters to continue on. Looking over, I see the older sister reach for the door handle as she hands the driver a wad of crumpled cash.
He glances my way, “We’re here.” I twist my head to see. Not a hotel. A hospital. No, a research center.
“I decided to drop them first. Okay with you?” I nod. They exit; the older sister is supporting the star. As they make their way, a medical team meeting them at the door is all smiles. The glowing star is ceremoniously seated...a plastic princess crown placed atop her curls.
Her team begins to push her wheelchair toward a new life. She looks back at me. Smiles. Waves. Mouths, “I’m ready for my show.”
I think how being the oldest of three siblings, I found myself playing the role of "Mama" at a young age. I was expected to make school lunches, clean house, babysit, and exist without emotional support of any kind. Never allowed to whine or cry; help, in any form, would have been truly life-changing.
My reason becomes clear. I reach into my wallet pulling out a mysterious ten, nonexistent up to this point. Thrusting it toward the driver; I exit the cab. “Wait up!” I shout, running to take the older sister’s hand.
By Lisa H. Owens
Her very first story, inspired by a dream (April 2018)
Published on https://www.beneaththesurfacenews.com/post/star-of-the-show 5/2020
Beginning Wednesday, March 26th, like so many other Americans, I was relegated to WFH (Work From Home) referring to employees doing their jobs from home in a self-quarantined attempt to not catch or spread the COVID-19 virus. On occasion, I would be driving the 30 miles to work when it was necessary for me to access certain files in order to create reports that were not possible to create at home. I knew it was bound to happen sooner or later. The virus was now officially in my county with multiple confirmed positive tests.
Tuesday, my last office day, I entered the building and was immediately handed an envelope with my initials “LHO” penciled in on the top right corner and the words "Essential Service Correspondence" typed in 48-point font...easy to read for anyone wearing hazmat gear, I guess. It contained a one-page letter explaining our business—environmental engineering—and how our scope of work is essential to the nation. If it ever became necessary to mandate martial law with checkpoints for people out and about, this letter would verify that I am commuting to a job vital to the country. The new addition to my business cards, in bright red letters enclosed in parentheses, read: (Essential Service Provider). I was instructed to keep this envelope along with the new business cards in my car glove compartment.
After putting my contact lenses in…I can only tolerate the mono-vision effect for short bursts of time without getting the feeling that my eyes are filled with sand and either over or under focusing…I sat down and completed everything stacked on my desk in about four hours. Before saying goodbye to stay home for an indefinite period, I grabbed a canister of Lysol wipes and proceeded to clean every surface in our building touched by human hands—light switches, doorknobs, refrigerator handles, the microwave handle and control pad, coffee maker buttons, computer keyboards and mouses (…or is it mice?), wall thermostats for temperature control, the security-code key-pad, copier/printer key-pads, the faucet handles and finally, toilet flushing levers. I wanted a clean, germ-free slate once everything got back to normal and our staff returned.
On day one of WFH and having completed the limited scope of work I could do without access to the files kept at the office, I decided to make the most of my downtime and do those handyman (handywoman in my case) projects that I had been putting off. My dad usually broke as well as a cheapskate, dubbed me his apprentice early on in life. He was a mechanical engineer and though he over-thought some things to the point of paralysis (over-analysis-paralysis) he was very skilled in doing most things that related to keeping a household up and running without paying a professional to come in. He had a small set of Sears Craftsman tools that I would pass to him as we did various projects, reminiscent of a surgical nurse passing scalpels and various instruments to a surgeon.
After he passed away in October of 2018, I kept what was left of those tools to remind me of those times we had shared.
I ran out to the garage to grab his set of socket wrenches, excited to use them for the first time since inheriting them. They were still in the original burnt-orange hinged box—now slightly dented and speckled with little rusted areas. Stuck to the lid was a peeling, discolored piece of masking tape that read “Top/Up” in his handwriting. Woe be it to you if you opened his set upside-down, spilling sockets, extenders, and the like all over the ground. I saw him do it once while we were working on a project and it was the only time I heard him curse. Unsnapping the two closures, making sure the “Top/Up” was on top, I was not at all surprised to see that each socket was in the groove marked with its respective size and polished to a bright fingerprint-less sheen. He was nothing if not organized.
I walked over to retrieve an adjustable wrench from my stash of tools housed in a bright red wheeled storage cabinet. “You can’t be over-prepared,” my dad’s words echoed in my head. He was usually right, even though I never liked to admit it.
Due to the current situation in my city as well as the entire world, I decided, as my first project, to install the handheld bidet that I had ordered a week earlier on Amazon Prime. When I noticed the empty shelves typically loaded with toilet paper and paper towels, I decided it was time for a "Plan B." Citizens of other countries have been using bidets since the dawn of indoor plumbing and we have all heard how antiquated and weird they think Americans are for not using them. Being unfamiliar with the bidet in general, I watched a "How To" installation tutorial on YouTube…twice…before scrunching down between a wall and the toilet, in an area even a toddler would have trouble fitting into. My guest bathroom setup consisted of an alcove with a wall 12 inches from either side of the toilet. I folded myself into a pretzel-like position with the bidet kit and my plethora of tools and did my best to copy the guy in the video even though he had all the room in the world...not a wall in sight… around the example toilet.
First, I removed the tank lid, then turned the shutoff valve, located on the wall near the base of the toilet tank, one half of a rotation to cut the water off.
Next, I flushed the toilet, holding the handle down, until the tank was empty and put a plastic tub…a recycled deli meat storage container… down to catch any dripping water. I unscrewed the water line located on the flush valve at the bottom corner of the tank, then carefully wrapped the threads with the plumber’s tape that came with the kit.
Then, I replaced it with the two-way water splitter, also in the kit, and attached the handheld sprayer to the flush valve on the front. I then hooked the stainless bracket used to hold the sprayer when it was not in use, under the tank lid, and hung the handle of the sprayer in it for safekeeping. So far so good.
The hose I had originally detached from the flush valve, which provided water to fill the tank after each flush, was then reattached to the backside of the two-way splitter. All said and done, it took about 15 minutes.
I turned the water back on to check for leaks. Finding none, voila, we were back in business...prepared if the world ran out of toilet paper. If that time should come, I will have to watch a "How To" video on using that handheld sprayer without soaking the entire bathroom in the process.
Americans and bidets. We are so out of touch. Updates to soon follow!
By Lisa H. Owens
Inspired by true events
Published on https://www.beneaththesurfacenews.com/post/installing-my-first-bidet
On my second day of WFH (work from home), having completed my work, I couldn’t think of a project to begin that wouldn’t require a trip to my local hardware store. That would kind of defeat the purpose of work from home's concept of actually staying home. I decided to take a walk before it got too hot and humid, having already gained five-pounds-and-counting since the gyms closed. I quickly showered, put on sunscreen, my largest and brightest pair of yoga pants and a sleeveless tank top, then stepped into a stretchy lycra fanny-pack of sorts, hiking it up and around my waist. I dropped my phone into one of its many expandable pockets then as an afterthought, in separate pouches, added a tiny bottle of water, two tissues, and a ten-dollar bill. I felt prepared for any mini-emergency that might arise.
Buddy, the only one of our three rescue dogs physically able to walk long distances, was prancing around my legs as I tried to scoot him out the side door without the other two guys getting out. Dingo has trouble walking as he is over 15 years old with doggy vestibular disease, and Fred is so small that my normal pace has him sprinting the entire way. A survivor of heartworms, any distance over a mile is more than his little heart can handle.
We finally wiggled out the side door, while hemming Dingo and Fred in the living room, and off we went. I glanced over my shoulder to see Fred's tall schnauzer ears, pug underbite, and chihuahua eyes...he is a designer breed gone horribly awry...peeking over the lower edge of the windowed door. Keeping the social distancing standards, I blew him a kiss as we began our walk, heading down the driveway and into the street.
It was trash day and I noticed that each home had more than the normal amount of trash piled on curbs alongside their driveways. I began to take an interest in the boxes, stacked neatly at some homes, and haphazardly scattered at others. People were preparing to hunker down if and when a shelter in place order was mandated.
As I neared one house, I heard the sounds of grunts and dull thuds echoing from an open garage. I was immediately concerned as my finger hovered over the “9” on my phone keypad, preparing to dial 911. Was there a violent spousal disagreement going on at that very moment? I thought back to times when my husband and I had gotten riled up over the most minor of things. Control of the television remote, not putting a dish in the dishwasher, forgetting to fill the dogs’ water bowls, who ate the last piece of cheese. Take this irritation and magnify it by one-thousand as people, already trapped indoors with one another for days and weeks, began to melt-down over life-changing situations.
Unemployment, money to pay the bills, the ongoing threat of being infected by a virus no one yet understood, separation from loved ones and more, had tempers flaring. It was plausible that I was hearing a murder in progress.
Just at that moment a physically fit man, covered in sweat and wearing boxing gloves, stepped out of the garage. I looked toward his trash pile and there was a large box labeled “Everlast” followed by a long explanation of the “Benefits of a Heavy-Bag Workout” including how it would increase tricep and bicep strength, sculpt deltoids, sculpt the entire leg and define abdominals—burning up to 281 calories in a 20-minute workout. I was sold.
I whirled around…Buddy falling over his own feet at the abrupt change of direction…and speed-walked back toward the house. A brand new heavy-bag and a pair of boxing gloves were in my future. Look out, five-pounds-and-counting, you are about to be eliminated.
Just as I turned into my cul-de-sac, something in my neighbor’s trash caught my eye. The always recognizable Amazon box…in the midst of the uncharted water we cross with this pandemic…still smiling.
By Lisa H. Owens
Inspired by true events - 4/1/2020