Everybody called her Grandma Scott, but Eliza Scott (nee Lingstad) was nobody’s grandmother. The Scotts didn’t have children. Eliza was the eldest of three sisters, and she treated her younger siblings’ offspring with grandmotherly affection. My mother fondly recalled spending several weeks each year at the Scott farm helping to tend and feed the animals and taking baskets of food and water to the fields for the threshing crews at harvest time. She and her older sister Nora helped Grandma Scott make the sandwiches for the noon meal for the workers. And every morning she and Nora were dispatched to the barn to search for eggs deposited in secret places by the Scott’s brood of laying hens. My mother said there was nothing like having fresh eggs for breakfast. Eliza’s sugar cookies, as big as dinner plates, were a special treat as well.
My barber, Frank, is the world’s most talkative human being. He is a tall, skinny man with straight blonde hair, big ears, almost no chin, and the bluest eyes you’ll ever see.
Frank is smart, forthright with opinions on an endless variety of subjects, and unburdened by the handicap of a formal education. When you sit down in a chair in his shop, you never know what else you are going to get in addition to a haircut. Last week it was a lecture on Intelligent Design.
“I get a kick out of these religious folks,” Frank offered after he had draped me with an apron and wet and combed my hair. “Trying to sneak God into the schools by the back door.”
Stew and Gus were discussing the forces of good and evil. The two men had been friends for years. They lived many miles apart, but they corresponded almost daily by e-mail.
Stew believed in heaven and hell, and Gus professed not to believe in anything. Gus would be the first to admit, however, that he was familiar with the dark side.
“I believe in gods, devils, demons–the whole shebang,” Stew wrote. “It’s the only thing that explains suffering. Good and Evil exist side by side, and you can’t blame Evil on God. Or use it as evidence that there is no God. He does what he can.”
Stewart couldn’t decide how he felt about the war in Iraq. He went back and forth. One day he was for it, the next day against. Meanwhile he monitored the news from the Middle East with a growing impatience. Was war a fait accompli, or was the buildup merely a bluff?
Stewart did not like to wait, and he did not like uncertainty. What bothered him most about the affair in the Middle East was that he couldn’t make up his mind about the proper course of action. He liked being right, and he could live with being wrong, but not knowing what to do or think was driving him crazy.
His friends were no help. Monday Stew had sent an e-mail to several dozen of his friends and relatives asking for their views. Wednesday morning he was more uncertain and confused than ever.
Getting old is no fun. The worst thing about it is that you hurt all the time. I’ve got a bum knee and a bad hip. Old war wounds. I don’t know what I would do without Advil. My cousin, who is younger than I am, says old age is not for sissies, and I agree.
When you get to be sixty, your friends start dropping like flies. I lost another one last year. An old college buddy died of cancer. It was his second go-round on the cancer front. He had colon cancer, but he survived that. A few years later, the disease showed up in his liver, and that got him. A few years ago another friend discovered that he had a tumor the size of a golf ball in one of his lungs. They took that out, and he’s still alive and kicking. Waiting for the other shoe to drop. You’re always looking over your shoulder when you’re old enough to keep an AARP card in your wallet.
I had a doctor’s appointment the day the passenger jet lost its tail and made an unscheduled stop in Queens. My wife called from work to tell me about it. Sick to my stomach, I searched the online news websites for details. Nobody had much information.
I went outside and smoked a cigarette. The sky above the hills to the east was a wash of pink and gold. To the west, behind the house, rain clouds the colors of ashes were bunched like fists.
Later it began to rain. The water pounded on the roof, sending the cats flying for the bedroom, where they huddled cheek to jowl beneath the bed.