Stephenville Empire-Tribune, April 2018
It’s the weekend. Yay…except it is laundry day, a day that occurs more often than normal for me since I only have three or four semi-cool Christian school-appropriate outfits. My worry this morning is a real one. I have secretly borrowed my mom’s robin’s egg blue mohair sweater to wear to school. A lunchtime food accident leaves me panic-stricken. This is only a big deal because it may be my mom’s only link to her youth and happier days before she had four demanding kids to ignore. I slip out of bed and turn to do a quick cover-straightening on my twin bed before tiptoeing past my sleeping sister, careful not to step on the landmine that is her side of the room.
Stumbling into the bathroom I stare at my face in the toothpaste splattered mirror. Not too bad. Clear skin. Thick long brown hair. Roundish face. I quickly brush my teeth, then my hair, parting it carefully down the center in the style so popular in 1978. I am not trying too hard since I am only going to be in the motel laundry room alone. No one to impress today. The maids won’t even arrive for a few hours.
The Royal House: brings up images of elegance, class, style. Not really the case; however, since the cheapskate owner went so far as to cancel the monthly pest control service to save money, which anyone living in Florida knows is the kiss of death for a business. Nothing worse than turning on the bathroom light at two o’clock in the morning to catch the tail end of a plethora of German cockroaches running for cover. But there are some good things about living with my family of six in the manager’s quarters of a roach-infested motel. At the age of 13 when my two brothers, my sister and I were swimming in the motel pool…located smack-dab in the center of the horseshoe-shaped complex…I met Chubby Checker. He and his band had obviously fallen upon some hard times staying at the Royal House and playing the 1975 Pensacola Interstate Fair venue. He even invited me to tag along, which was both weirdly flattering and sketchy at the same time. I declined of course but only because my dad said no, questioning the integrity of the band.
My thoughts come back to my laundry situation and my mom’s mohair sweater. How do I wash it and sneak it back into her dresser drawer, currently laden with threadbare panties and discolored nursing bras even though her baby is in elementary school? The absence of her prized possession will be glaring. I grab the sweater along with my Christian school appropriate separates and head toward the shabby motel lobby saying “See ya later alligator,” to my dad manning the switchboard. The covered walkway is 100 yards of exterior motel room doors on my way to the laundry room, which is located at the back of the property. Walking quickly, I keep my eyes averted from the guests’ doors. Seeing a beer-bellied nude traveling salesman is not on my bucket list. Not today. Not ever. Still single-mindedly making my way to the refuge of a quiet unoccupied space to get a break from the motel’s crowded living quarters; I hear a door open and then shut behind me. Not a concern. Probably just a guest getting another six-pack out of his car. Continuing on. Almost there. Forgot to get the key but it won’t matter since the doorknob lock is broken anyway. Just a quick jiggle left and right and the lock gives, allowing me to enter.
I immediately head to the back where the hand-wash sink agitator is located and start filling it with hot water and detergent. I think hot water will probably get the stain out of the sweater, especially if I turn the agitator on high and swish the daylights out of it. I leave the mohair to fend for itself, steaming and swishing while I toss the rest of my clothing in the top-load washer. Cool water for this. It isn’t nearly as stained and it makes sense that cotton is way less sturdy than the fur sheared off of a grazing animal. I stand at the sink, my back to the open space that is the drying and folding portion of the laundry room. I pull the precious garment out its hot bath to discover that it is now unstained. That would be exciting except for the fact that it is now toddler-size. Shrunken. Clean and shrunken. Even if I successfully get it back into the dresser drawer undetected, my crime will be discovered eventually. It’s curtains. Goodbye cruel world. Sayonara...
“LOCK THE DOOR!” a voice booms somewhere behind me. Or is it above me? It seems to reverberate from the walls. I drop the sweater and spin; the hair standing up on the back of my neck and goosebumps rising on my arms. Seeing no one, I detect the sound of stealthy footsteps heading my way from outside the double side doors—the unlocked double side doors. Moving quickly, I throw the slat of wood down into the barn-door-style brackets locking it and take a step back. A quick jiggle testing the door is followed by a light knock, then a heavy pound.
Terror-stricken, I dash to the wall phone grabbing it from its resting place and hear the buzz on the other end. “Come on switchboard. Come on switchboard,” thinking that at any minute the intruder will come bursting in through the front door with the broken lock. I hear a subtle “tap-tap-tap” from the window behind me and turn, a sense of dread invading my insides.
A handsome smiling face accompanied by a hand is pointing behind me mouthing, “Open the door.” He sees the phone in my hand…my dad’s voice asking, “What is it now?” on the other end.
“Hurry down here now. Someone is trying to get in here with me and I’m scared,” I breathlessly whisper, while glancing over my shoulder at the man who is no longer there. There is nothing but silence on the other end and I picture my dad trying to decide if he can spare a minute to leave the office unattended while he comes to investigate.
A sigh escapes him and he says, “Be right there.” A few minutes later the broken-lock door opens and my dad is standing there puzzled. “I didn’t see anybody outside. Are you sure?”
I chalk it up to nerves brought on by the sweater disaster. That warning voice, “LOCK THE DOOR!” is still in the back of my mind, but I put it on the back burner and focus on planning my funeral instead. I was going to need it when my mom finally got around to opening that drawer with the seriously jacked up undergarments and the tiny robin’s egg blue mohair sweater.
A few years later—my college years—I see a familiar smiling face on the news in passing. No time to stop and watch on my way to class.
Years after graduation, I am sitting on the flight attendant jump seat reading the first few chapters of a true-crime novel by Ann Rule. Interesting and intriguing, but it is forgotten; left neatly folded up in the seat when my crew and I deplane moving on to the next flight.
It is 1989 and I am watching the news with my sweet two-year-old daughter cuddled up under my arm and thinking of the second little baby now growing inside of me, my mind temporarily wandering from the news story at hand. My eyes widen in surprise as I begin to comprehend what I am seeing in front of me. A reality sets in…one I should have discovered years ago.
A handsome smiling face. A news story of young ladies murdered and Ted Bundy, a serial killer, executed. I am looking into the eyes of a killer. A killer’s face. The reality—a face belonging to the man that was “tap-tap-tapping” on that laundry room window 11 years ago and the BOOMING voice that saved my life.
By Lisa H. Owens
Published on My NZ Dream Blog June 8, 2021
Stephenville Empire-Tribune, May 2018
I’ve always loved to sing. I would find myself singing everywhere—the shower, the car, the laundry room—always harmonizing, a perfect alto to any soprano. It was my artistic contribution to my family of artistic siblings. My sister and I brought tears to many eyes with a harmony so pure; it seemed to vibrate in the air...before my fall.
I slipped on black ice a few years back. The sun blazing after an ice storm, camouflaged the icy patch in a shaded parking lot. I was knocked out, taken to the hospital by ambulance and suffered from true vertigo, not at all like what Jimmy Stewart portrayed in the Hitchcock film, Vertigo, for a year or so afterwards. As I began the slow road to recovery, it dawned on me that I could not “hear the music” anymore, a fact that was both devastating and perplexing.
Having nothing to contribute at rare family gatherings, guitars always coming out after a shared meal, I shrugged it off and awkwardly but joyfully watched our family’s newest generations of musical artists perform. So much talent—composers, musicians and singers—in our family; I feel like I have lost my way.
It has always been in the back of my mind to write a book comprised of stories, some funny—some sad, of my childhood memories and our numerous moves, usually living in sketchy areas and on food stamps at one point, brought on by my dad’s “a rolling stone gathers no moss” philosophy.
I started a few times, but the writing just never flowed until last month, when a miracle occurred. As recommended by my daughter, I took melatonin to help me sleep just before bed, forgetting about the vivid dreams and nightmares it previously induced in me. I slept soundly but just on the edge of waking had an emotional dream I tried to express to my husband but couldn’t get out as tears flowed.
He had to get up and shower for work immediately following my tearful explanation so, pulling out my phone; I opened a doc file and began to type. The words poured out of me in one continuous flow to the point that I later owed my husband an apology for the curt “sshh" I directed at him when he asked, “Do you want coffee?”
It was a lovely short story (Star of the Show) that I submitted to The New Yorker Magazine at the urging of my husband. “It was worth the sshh,” he said. My heart has been opened and I can’t stop the words from flowing. This will be my artistic contribution to my family, memorializing the events that made us the strong people we are today.
I am reminded of the adage that rings true, “When God closes a door, He opens a window.”
By Lisa H. Owens
Read "Star of the Show."
Stephenville Empire-Tribune, June 2018
It is early, the sun barely rising above the rooftops of cookie-cutter homes in our Clearwater, Florida subdivision when I detect a noise coming from the kitchen and crack my bedroom door a sliver. Peeking out, my eyeballs rotate first left then right, trying to locate the source of the sound. I spy a shadowy figure…stealthy…opening a cabinet and then the refrigerator. The refrigerator interior beams bright, a stooped back with an arm reaching inside—almost visible, but then the door whispers shut as the figure begins a slow pirouette his face searching. Searching...
I close the door slightly as my brain begins to formulate a plan of attack aimed at the intruder. Cracking the door a hair wider, silently I tiptoe, barefooted on a mission. I freeze backing against a bare wall and then, dropping into an offensive stance, advance forward one tiny footstep at a time—baby steps now. Noiseless and empty, the living room seems endless, the kitchen miles away.
The intruder sensing a presence somewhere behind him, gently sets the object of his covert morning mission on the counter and whirls 180 degrees, hands raised in defense of the attack that he intuitively knows is coming.
Standing upright now and breaking the deafening silence with a “Keeeeeeeyaaaa,” I construct a series of “super slow-mo” Karate moves as I kick and spin at a snail-like pace toward the intruder...my dad, innocently fixing his daily breakfast, a bowl of Shredded Wheat Cereal with honey and milk.
He instantly counters with a series of defensive moves protective of the bowl—one hand guards as the other, in equal “slow-mo” fashion, lifts to block the clenched knife-like hand headed toward his unprotected shoulder.
“Keeeeeyaaa,” his voice answers, matching my own, as my hand finds purchase on his raised forearm. Dad grimaces and fakes a pitch backward into the kitchen counter, his hand still hovering above the precious now soggy wheat cereal.
We look at each other laughing. “Karate Chop!” we say simultaneously. He picks up the cereal and moves—at regular speed now—to the lonely dinette set, sits and raises the milk laden spoon toward his smiling mouth.
My father, now 85 years old and living a five-hour drive away, always comes to mind in a particularly fond way every June. June...the month we celebrate our Dads, remembering a special moment we shared. Just the two of us being silly.
(*Update: My father passed away on October 7, 2018, four months after this story was published. Read the story "Sing that Song" for more details.)
By Lisa H. Owens
Stephenville Empire-Tribune, July 2018
We have our arsenal ready. The wooden stand housing fireworks of every caliber, from glittery sparklers to atomic-bomb-like contraptions is reminiscent of a carnival booth only missing the oversize stuffed animal prizes hanging from rafters. “That will be $200.00,” the red, white and blue-clad salesman states, exuding indifference. Who knew fireworks for two elementary school children could be so expensive? My husband lays the money down and we head home with a sack overflowing with patriotism.
Living outside city limits on 12 acres has its perks every Fourth of July. We have an enviable display in the sky, fired off around dusk from our gravel driveway…as long as there isn’t a “burn ban” in effect. The morning of the Fourth my husband is shirtless on the Ford tractor; a multitasker, mowing while adding more color to his naturally brown Italian skin. “I always feel slimmer with a tan,” being his mantra, while I recuperate on our covered front porch, drinking sweet tea. Weed-eating with a gasoline-powered weed-eater is hot and thirsty work. I sip and daydream, watching my husband mow and our son and daughter hover around one of our ancient pear trees. A burst of laughter from the duo causes me to look over. I spy blue smoke wafting from the tree fork, two large branches merging at the trunk to form a cocoon-like space, perfect for housing a smoke bomb.
The laughter turns to “OH NO!" and then “MOM!" as little flames appear inside the hollow, turning blue smoke to black. I frantically wave at my mowing husband and we convene at the burning branch. The fire is tiny—still manageable—as my husband runs to get the hose coiled by the back door. He turns it on full force and sprints, holding the blast of water, in anticipation of the tree's location on the other side of the guest house, 60-feet away. He is moving fast as he rounds the corner, the fire slightly larger now. Almost there he stretches his arm, honing his aim at the blaze, when his body snaps to a stop and is pitched backward landing on the ground with a spray of water hitting him full in the face. The hose is short, the tree out of reach by a solid five feet.
I swallow a giggle, then burst into action dumping pool toys out of a nearby plastic tub and hand it over to my husband, now standing and mumbling a few choice swear words directed at the short hose. “Get water from the kitchen,” he breathlessly instructs our daughter and…tub in hand…begins running toward our kidney-shaped diving pool. I unlatch and open the narrow gate to allow him entry while our son searches for other vessels to fill with pool water.
It is a team effort now—a fireman's bucket brigade—as our son fills sand pails, storage tubs and a frog-shaped plastic planter with water from the pool; while I lift and carry meeting my husband halfway. Always a fast runner, my husband completes the chain, sprinting and dumping the water into the now blazing hollow of the pear tree. Our efforts seem fruitless as steamy smoke sizzles and new flames immediately reappear. Speeding up our brigade, our arms shaking from the weight of water-filled pails, frogs and tubs, the flames finally cease and we are left with a saturated tree spouting one last angry plume of blue smoke.
My husband and I are doubled over, hands on knees and heads low, sucking wind. A door slams. We straighten up and turn to see our daughter carrying a red solo cup filled to the brim with water. She is walking at a tortoise’s pace, determined not to spill a single drop.
“Do you still need water, Dad?” she asks, handing the cup over. We all laugh. “Thanks. I was feeling thirsty,” he says.
By Lisa H. Owens
Stephenville Empire-Tribune, August 2018
College kids are beginning to trickle back into town. The population seems to quadruple in Norman during the week leading up to registration and classes. I am glad I will be a senior this year and will soon be blowing this popsicle stand. Headed for greener pastures. Well, probably not greener. This suburban university community has more actual green pastures surrounding it than any other place I have lived. A lot of cows too…I let my mind wander as I am sitting in traffic, trying to keep my mind off of the heat.
My foot is hard on the brakes, as I stretch across the bench seat, fingertips just brushing the window crank. If...only...I...could…I give up, sitting straight up behind the wheel, and turn my face to the open window on my left. I am sweating and could sure use the cross breeze. I flop toward the far window again, foot still pressing the brakes. Not gripping but pushing, pushing, pushing (righty tighty; lefty loosey) coaxing the knob at the handle base up and to the left counterclockwise. Wrong way. The righty-lefty rhyme not window-handle appropriate. Pulling now clockwise and, aah, a tiny crack but enough to feel a poof of air.
I sit upright as a horn behind me honks. The car with engine revving, zips around me, the back of a hand with a middle finger extended, plastered against the passenger window. “Move that bucket,” wafts back through my open window. Still, I sit with my foot on the brakes, my leg beginning to twitch and cramp.
Summers. They're the worst. And me just trying to get to work—a tease as I am within walking distance now. I feel a trickle of sweat make its way down my spine, the heavily-starched long-sleeve polo shirt starting to dampen under my arms. I will be carrying my tray laden with cocktails low. Can’t expose sweaty pit stains to my customers.
Another honk, swerve and glare. How much longer will my cramping foot endure this strain? I feel my kitten-heel shoe slipping down on the pedal and increasing the tension, turn my face away from the steady stream of cars now passing—exuding angry looks and harsh comments; if looks could kill…
The sun blinds me as I look over to see a shadow figure, back-lit by the sun, moving toward my open window; “Do you need assistance?” from lips, smiling, as his face lowers into the shade of my crippled car. He is quite handsome. A God-send. An angel? It is possible, since he appeared out of nowhere.
“My car shut off and I can’t get it to shift into park. The parking brake is stuck,” I say, concentrating on keeping my car from rolling back into the growing line of cars, waiting to pass.
“Quite a traffic jam you’ve created,” he chuckles. “Let's get you off this road.”
I smile at the thought that I won't even be very late for work.
Thank you, stranger.
[Read more about Dino the Car]
By Lisa H. Owens
Stephenville Empire-Tribune and Glen Rose Reporter, September 2018
The day is unremarkable, having started like most of my workdays. I see my two children off to school, making sure they grab their lunches on their way out to meet the school bus. I feel the usual guilt of a working mom leaving her children, but still grab my suitcase, already packed for my three-day trip, then drive the hour to DFW airport. I park and ride the tram to Terminal E. Once there I head downstairs to the lounge and join the queue of flight attendants waiting to sign in for trip rotations.
A short briefing with my crew and we are off to meet our first flight. We go through the motions...safety demo, set up beverage carts, serve passengers...all the while remembering to smile. The third and final day of our trip arrives and we are ecstatic to be nearing the home-stretch.
After a short night in Lexington Kentucky, our crew works a quick hop to Cincinnati, Ohio and lands ahead of schedule. The passenger load is light this morning so all of us…passengers and crew members alike…are standing around in first-class waiting for the gate agent to open the door so we can deplane. A first-class business man is having an animated cell phone conversation, and after hanging up, turns to the captain to explain that his friend informed him of what appeared to be a small airplane crashing into one of the World Trade Center Towers—just moments before we took off in Lexington.
I look around at the somber faces, reflecting what I feel. We stand in silence for a moment when suddenly, the door is whisked open by an apologetic gate agent and we all jump to action picking up bags and head out the door. I hear a voice saying, “That is weird,” as we all go our separate ways.
My two coworkers and I speak of the plane that had crashed in New York City, still under the assumption that it was a small private plane with perhaps a disoriented pilot. We notice a large TV in a bar airing a panoramic view of the Twin Towers. One of the towers has smoke pouring out of its side so we draw closer, entering the bar and surrounding the TV to hear what the newscaster is saying. We collectively gasp as events airing for the first time unfold before our very eyes. The second tower becomes the camera’s focal point and we watch as, what appears to be another small airplane, crashes straight into the side of the building.
The bar is eerily quiet until a sob starts somewhere in the back and tears stream down our faces as we come to the realization that we are under attack. Until this point, we didn’t really understand terrorism and the hate that some groups have toward Americans and our freedoms. Our world just changed in a way that we couldn’t even comprehend at that moment.
The thing most memorable to me is the silent sky. Void of airplanes and jets, the birds seem to have even stopped flying for days following the tragedy. I will never forget the events of 9/11 and the way our world changed in an instant.
By Lisa H. Owens
Stephenville Empire-Tribune and Glen Rose Reporter, October 2018
I pack my suitcase for a three-day trip. It’s my weekly routine to pack the morning of the trip—while the kids get ready for school—throwing in a sea of toiletries and undergarments, topped off by a clean uniform shirt for each day I am traveling. Serving drinks and meals on full flights from tiny beverage and meal carts is precarious at best, especially if there happens to be unexpected turbulence in route.
“Mom,” my daughter’s voice breaks my concentration, “it’s picture day tomorrow. Do you HAVE to go to work?” Her concern is warranted. We didn’t want a repeat of past picture day debacles that occurred coincidentally when I was out of town, working—which seemed to be most years.
My daughter and son had equally embarrassing experiences. They are two years apart in age and in school and it was weird that third grade was THE YEAR for both of them. I turned from my packing to see them standing behind me with anxious faces.
My daughter’s incident, her third grade year (1995), occurred because I forgot about picture day and went off to work without leaving specific instructions for my husband regarding picture-worthy outfits and hair styling tips. He always does his best to assist and does a passable job on regular school days. Picture day is not a “regular” school day though. The kids in our small Texas town pull out all of the stops with grooming and carefully choose only the coolest of outfits to wear. It is never good to stand out as the kid who forgot about picture day.
My daughter had a new haircut with bangs, which is not the best idea when you have inherited unmanageable wavy locks. Her barely-groomed bangs were parted in the middle displaying a perfect pointed widow’s peak and then curled inward at cheek-level, reminiscent of Dwight Schrute in “The Office." Top that off with a two-piece plaid ensemble (Bermuda shorts and vest) and you are creating the perfect scenario for being ridiculed. She survived the day but a blackmail worthy picture was created which we placed front and center in her scrapbook of school memories.
My son’s event spanned two years. The first year, he was in second grade (1996) and I set out a nice red shirt with shorts for him to wear before I left for my trip. My husband got him all fixed up, wearing the picture-day-outfit. No problem. He looked really nice. It was a win!
I was working once again the following year...his third grade year (1997), but remembered about pictures and called to remind them. My husband confidently said, “I’ve got this.” Our daughter was in fifth grade and she was presentable, but our son had a rough time. My husband took him to the barbershop to get his haircut the day before pictures and accidentally asked for a “GI” instead of the “High and Tight” that was his usual style. The results were disastrous with his head shaved close.
I didn’t think too much about the outfit my husband had picked out until I got the envelope with the photo proofs and he was wearing the same shirt he had worn in second grade. Exactly the same except he was a little bigger and had less hair. This haircut scarred him for life, but the photo still went front and center in his school memories scrapbook.
Back to the present, I continue to look at my children’s anxious faces and I notice the car keys dangling from my daughter's hand. She is getting ready to drive to high school, only stopping to drop her brother at the junior high. They are so grown up. I am flattered that they think they still need my help on picture day. “You’ve got this,” I tell them with confidence.
By Lisa H. Owens
Stephenville Empire-Tribune and Glenn Rose Reporter, November 2018
When I was 11 years old, I wrote a song. It was a Jesus loving, rapture-end-of-days song inspired by the movie “A Thief in the Night." I also made up a guitar rhythm to accompany the song. It was childishly simple and consisted of the keys G, C and D since those were the only ones I knew. Somehow, we had possession of an inexpensive guitar. The details are vague. Somehow I learned how to play a few chords. Probably at one of the three-times-a-week church meetings we attended, my dad having recently found Jesus around that time in the 1970's.
I quickly completed the lyrics and went into the living room, guitar in hand. I embarrassingly and shyly...rare for me...played the song with my three chords while crooning along in my low alto. I read the words off of a scrap of notebook paper but kept losing my place as I glanced toward my left hand to ensure the finger placement was truly in position for a G, C or D. By the time I was finished, my face was red and I was a little sweaty. Could have been mortification at thinking I could write and sing a song. Could have been the intensity of the Florida summer heat. I may never know.
But what I do know is that my Daddy looked at me with an incredulous look on his face and then burst into applause. “Did you just write that?”
“Yes,” I mumbled.
“That is amazing. Inspired by the Lord.”
Over the next 45 years of my life, he would ask me at family gatherings to “sing that song that you wrote.” I would always decline stating things like, “I have a sore throat.” or “I think I hear Mama calling me.” or “It's stupid.” or more recently, “You know I can't sing anymore since I fell.”
After falling on black ice years ago and ending up with a concussion and vertigo off and on for over a year, I lost my ability to hear and sing the music. He was always disappointed and I pretended not to notice.
Last night my Daddy passed away. He had a major heart attack and was on life support for 24 hours, time enough for the family to come together to say our goodbyes. We had all life support measures removed while we were gathered around his bedside. There were nine of us grieving in our own ways. We held his hands, rubbed his forehead and my mama kept tapping his cheeks and lips with little hand kisses.
It was quiet as his breathing stopped. Our eyes were glued to the monitor as his damaged heart continued to beat. It would slow, and at one point, it stopped but then continued on its steady pace. It was miraculous that it sustained for over 20 minutes with no breath entering his lungs.
My sister began to sing “Hallelujah,” a church hymn that he always loved in her pure and lovely soprano. We all joined in. I sang it in a whisper. His heart still held true. It seemed as if he was waiting for something.
It came to mind, “Sing that song that you wrote.”
Ignoring the thought, “Maybe someone should say a prayer,” I offered. My sister said a prayer asking for grace and mercy. His heart beat on.
“Sing that song!” shouted in my mind.
“What else can we sing that he liked?” my sister inquired. I cleared my throat and hesitantly said, “I could sing that song that I wrote that he always liked.” All eyes turned my way for a moment and then back to the heart monitor. Still steady.
I spoke the first words hesitantly. I said them wrong then started again. I didn't think I could remember. Then the words came and I began to sing. Just as the first words left my mouth in the warble that is now my norm, the music came back to me and it came out on key. His heart came to a halt as the family all joined in on the chorus. He was at rest. He had finally convinced me to sing that song.
By Lisa H. Owens
Stephenville Empire-Tribune and Glenn Rose Reporter, December 2018
It is almost December and most of my Christmas gifts are already ordered, thanks to Cyber Monday and the unlimited bargains to be had. All morning the texts have been coming to my cell phone informing me that various packages will be delivered today. I pace as I peek out of the kitchen window in hopes that I can grab them off of the porch before I leave for work. Although we have not had a problem with theft of unattended packages in our neighborhood (I am knocking on wood as I say this) you can never be too careful. On one of many trips through the kitchen to glance down the hill for a delivery truck, I spy something unusual and alarming. There is a man just lying in the street on his back…right smack in front of the steep steps leading down from our front door to our mailbox. He is clad in orange.
I know he is not dead because I can see his thumbs moving even from a great distance and realize he is lying in the road texting. To his right, I catch a glimpse of what could be a work truck of some kind but most of the vehicle is obscured by 45-year-old hedges, in need of serious pruning. A prisoner on a work detail filling in potholes is my first thought—based on the orange garb. Maybe he is on a break or maybe he has killed the guard and is now leisurely texting through his contact list asking for a ride across a border. Canada? Mexico? Oklahoma?
I cautiously crack my front door to make sure a box is not sitting there just waiting to be stolen and skirted across a border by this desperate criminal. His ride is probably en route with dynamite and guns and other tools they might need on their Thelma and Louise like trek across Texas. No package awaits me, but the orange-clad man looks up making brief eye contact and nods at me as I slam the door. I gulp and engage the deadbolt.
My phone rings and I jump out of my skin. It is my mother-in-law and I debate letting the call go to voice-mail but then decide to answer. I may need her to call 911, after all.
“Hello,” I whisper. “Why are you whispering?” she shouts. I softly explained to her that I am probably going to get murdered and all of my Christmas gifts will be stolen by a criminal who is lying in the street. She is instantly intrigued so I let her in on the unfolding drama.
“What is he doing now?” blasts into my ear, so I crouch and creep to the window peering just above the sink. “He is still there,” I whisper “but he is wearing jeans with an orange hoodie. Not a jumpsuit and I don’t see any stripes. I think he might be a hobo. He looks a little dirty and scruffy,” I say as I see the man briefly stop his texting to flick grass out of his hair. As I am hanging up, I promise to call her and update her on the outcome.
As a safety precaution, I decided to let my three dogs out in the fenced portion of the yard. They are a combined 125-pounds of barking fury and unless he notices their wagging tails, they will possibly make this hardened criminal think twice before making his way to our front door.
It is just then that I hear a lawnmower start up close by and remember that today is Wednesday...mowing day…a chore that is necessary well into early winter in Texas. I swing the door wide and see the hardened criminal sitting upon a zero-turn-radius lawn tractor...mowing. He is our yardman. I see an orange hoodie, half of an uneaten sandwich, and a cell phone on our front steps and conclude that it was him simply taking a lunch break. I give him an embarrassed little wave. He raises his eyebrows, smirks, and then gives me another head nod. We are good.
By Lisa H. Owens
Stephenville Empire-Tribune and Glen Rose Reporter, January 2019
It is cold, the threat of snow a remote possibility. The Weather Channel…always a backdrop in our household…is spouting off random facts related to barometric pressure and cold fronts and rain mixing then changing to snow in our area. I hear the joking camaraderie that is part of the charm of this group of meteorologists, as one of them launches into the history of weather patterns and record-breaking highs and lows in Texas and then, for some odd reason, compares our highs and lows with Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan’s. Weird and not really relevant, but typical.
My sense of urgency increases as I hear the theme song from “The Game of Thrones” swell in the forecast’s background and I think, “Winter is coming.”
I rush to dig my dusty hat, scarf, gloves, and a down coat rated for sub-zero temperatures out of the back of the closet. Then, walking through the kitchen, stash two bottles of water and a granola bar in my overnight bag to place in the backseat of my SUV, just in case...
"The list” lies front and center on the kitchen counter and is almost forgotten as I maneuver around my dogs, who are anxiously watching me approach the door to the garage. Three dog faces look toward leashes willing me to include them, but as I reach for car keys, they know I am leaving solo and begrudgingly go three separate ways to sulk and sleep.
Opening the kitchen door leading to the garage, I anticipate a blast of frigid air swirling into the kitchen and clutch my coat close around my chest and throat. I slam the door shut, jog two feet to my car, and toss the overnight bag in the backseat. Dropping into the driver's seat, I crank the engine and start to back up only to discover the garage door is still shut tight—possibly the reason that I never felt that blast of anticipated frigid air. The garage door rises at the touch of a button on the opener attached to my visor and I begin the short journey.
There seems to be a small traffic jam at the stop sign down the hill from our home and I wonder if all of my neighbors have the same destination in mind. They all turn right—but I turn left to bob and weave through back streets in the hopes of cutting them off at the pass. It is crucial to get there early before the crowds arrive.
The parking lot is full and I join the queue of cars circling like vultures waiting for a parking spot to open up. Luck is with me, as I spy reverse lights just in front of me and wait while they back out, then neatly swoop into the vacated spot. I feel loathing from still circling motorists but this only urges me on with renewed passion.
I walk with purpose and step up to the automatic doors. They swoosh open and my worst nightmare is realized. Laden shopping carts are pushed by panic-stricken Texans and the grocery shelves are depleted of staples necessary to ride out this cold spell.
Pulling "the list” out of my purse, I look at it with a more rational point of view and notice four gallons of milk is the first hastily scrawled item, followed by six loaves of bread. What was I thinking?
In a household of three—with one of us lactose intolerant—this seems excessive by any standards, especially when you factor in that we never use milk for any reason, unless we run out of coffee creamer. As for the bread, we often find unopened moldy loaves stashed at the back of our bread-box.
It is only then that I notice sweat pooling on my body beneath the cover of wool and down. I am hot. The temperature is well above freezing and as I turn to leave the store I notice, there is not a cloud in sight. I remember the new loaf of bread in the freezer and the full pint of creamer in the refrigerator and, ripping off my arctic outerwear; I step out into the warm winter Texas sun.
By Lisa H. Owens
“I’m trying to concentrate over here!” Without fail, it occurred when I was deeply embedded in a story—the lines flowing like river-rapids—lines I could never recoup with my post-menopausal brain: the phone rang, the dogs barked, or there was insistent knocking at the front door. This particular day, it began with a knock.
I felt certain this month’s column would be a homerun if I could just get five minutes of peace and quiet. I was dotting that last “i” and crossing that last “t” when I was jolted by unrelenting pounds on the front door. My three dogs leap-frogged-it to the entry-hall, barking ferociously. My irritation built, as I tiptoed to glance through the peephole. The bubble-lens distorted everything. A disheveled cowboy hat above a grizzled rippled face, and in the distance, a panel van with—from what I could tell—one word stenciled on its side. “MEAT!” Wow, those meat-people are persistent. I thought back to the last time a meat-man knocked on the door and how it prompted me to finally install the peephole.
It was mid-morning on a weekday, a popular time for door-to-door sales calls, when the knock came. I opened the door to find a handsome young man standing there. He immediately launched into his sales pitch:
“Good morning! I was in the area delivering meat to your neighbor and had extra steaks in the truck. My boss will probably fire me for this; but just between you and me, I can sell you some steaks at cost.”
I looked down the hill to see a white panel van, void of graphics, parked alongside the mailbox. I was suspicious.
He continued, “Your neighbor just got out of the hospital. This vacuum-sealed meat is great for people wanting a quick and easy-to-prepare meal.”
“Which neighbor?” I was concerned I’d missed some of the neighborhood gossip. He pointed in a vague direction. The vagueness of his pointing was suspect. The vague-pointing must be the gold standard of salesmen. They all used it. It must be incorporated into initial training classes, Meat-Sales 101 & Four Keys to Success:
He was confused how his sales-pitch went so wrong—so fast. I walked around to the kitchen window to watch him shuffle down the hill to his meat-van. He looked so dejected that I felt a little sorry for him.
They changed their routine this time around. They added “MEAT!” to the van to deter suspicion related to buying curbside steaks. They also sent a seasoned salesman. At least, thanks to the peephole, I avoided the irritation and never opened the door. I tried to imagine any scenario that would entice me to purchase meat from an unknown source out of the back of a windowless panel van. Not picturing any, I tiptoed back to the sofa, knowing my concentration was hopelessly bungled, and attempted to get back into The Writing Zone. Sheesh! Interruptions! Eventually, the knocking fizzled and peace was restored...until next time.
Later, I headed out to check the mail and found a flyer hanging on the doorknob. Just one word “MEAT!” followed by, “Sorry we missed you."
By Lisa H. Owens
Inspired by true events in the life of a writer just trying to concentrate.
Recreated for the 5-Minute Memoir series on Writer's Digest
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