The unquenchable Okie spirit

When my friend Holly puts a flute to her lips, she transports people from the cares of daily life to realms of joy, spirit, peace. I met Holly in San Francisco in the late 1970s. She was in a little band that played in coffeehouses. I wrote songs in my room, rarely performing them in public. But when Holly brought her harmonies and counterpoints to my melodies and chords, the effect was magical. Fond memories of our collaborations always brighten my spirits.

Holly also hails from Oklahoma. In May, when the state was struck by tornados, she posted some of her thoughts about the devastation on her Facebook page. I asked her whether she could expand her post a bit so I could share it on my blog. She kindly obliged.

The Unquenchable Okie Spirit
By Holly Whitman

8806182886_537573b2b1In the wake of the terrible tornados that struck Moore and the surrounding area on May 19 and 20, 2013, I have to admit I am so proud of the Oklahoma can-do spirit in cleaning up and rebuilding. It was stunning to learn yet another, even more terrible twister struck again less than two weeks later, on May 31; some folks had to endure the terror all over again and still they carry on.

There is an amazing resilience in Okies born of challenges like the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, tornados year in and year out, wind storms, ice storms, floods, and even earthquakes. The way these Okies are tackling the aftermath of those tornados – looking out for neighbors, friends, and family – is exactly what I’d expect from residents of my home state. It is the spirit that I grew up with and was surrounded by all of my life. No hand-wringing about who will fix it or waiting for FEMA or promised government aid that may take months, if ever, to come.

8795602301_61a4a551acEven if and when government aid does come through, many Okies are just way too proud to accept it. They will have fixed it all long before any aid arrives. Very few Okies have availed themselves of public shelters, opting to stay with friends and family instead. Centers that have collected items to give to those whose homes were devastated in the storm are brimming with unclaimed donations as Okies find their own way through this challenge, too busy to go seeking handouts, deserving as they are.

Looking out for each other with a spirit of genuine, open friendliness and helpfulness are familiar Okie traits, so none of this is surprising to me. I love it.

You go, Oklahoma! You rock!

About Holly

Holly Whitman lives in Sierra Vista, Arizona, with her husband, Craig, their son, Sean, and their two pugs, Willis and Teddy. Holly is employed as a counselor and therapeutic home specialist supervising providers who foster very difficult children in their homes. A former columnist for the Sierra Vista News, she is also an editor, as well as a musician who has worked in a variety of venues over many years. Currently, she plays jazz flute with Nancy Weaver’s Swing Band, and is a member of the Sierra Vista Community Band. Previously, she was a music teacher and the owner of a small cleaning business.

 

Both photos by Save the Children 

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Obsidian Waves

I wrote this story in response to Lillie McFerrin’s five-sentence fiction prompt, midnight. She typically posts a new prompt weekly at http://lilliemcferrin.com, and I enjoy participating when I can.

Obsidian Waves
By Laura McHale Holland

4268314137_5a3ef92ee3_nHer name wasn’t even Midnight. That’s just what I called her because her face was framed with obsidian waves, and she painted her nails and lips to match. She had an air of mystery about her, too, especially when she would play her flute by the streetlight after dark, and I would watch from my bedroom window and sway in time to her music.

She was my Midnight, you see, until some guy rolled up in a BMW one night and said, “It’s time to come home, Paula.” And so she left.

Yet some nights when I’m about to fall asleep, I sense her music in the air; I rush to the window, but in the streetlight’s glow, the sidewalk is bare; she is never there.

Photo by Horia Varlan

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Snow

Snow
By Laura McHale Holland

Ready for bed, Little Toby looks out his window and sees glowing snowflakes of red, green, gold and white falling through the dark sky. He wants to tell his mom and dad about the colors in the snow, but they are arguing in the next room, and they always get angry with him if he walks into the room when one or the other of them is pacing or throwing dishes or pounding the wall or threatening divorce. So he tiptoes through the house, past the Christmas tree in the living room and to the hallway where he puts on his boots and slips out the front door.

Toby prances around the yard, his face up and arms out to welcome the twinkling flakes as they land on his skin and pajamas. His parents’ voices fade into the background. He begins to spin like a dervish and hum Joy to the World. He spins across the yard, across the sidewalk and into the street just as a Toyota rounds the corner.

The driver sees the boy, brakes, swerves and comes to a halt in the driveway of Toby’s home. The driver, who is a neighbor dressed in a Santa suit after a shift posing for pictures with tots at Macy’s, gets out of the car and runs into the street to pick up Toby, who is still spinning and entranced by the snowflakes.

“Santa, where’s your sleigh?” Toby asks as Santa carries him to his front door.

“In the shop getting serviced for the big journey tomorrow.” Santa puts him down.

“Did you bring me the colored snow?”

Santa studies the snow and sees that it is, indeed, multicolored. “Well, I’ll be. It is in full color, isn’t it.”

Toby opens the door and steps inside. His parents are still arguing.

“Can you do something about them?” Toby asks.

“I’m afraid I’m better with toys, you know.”

“Thanks for the snow then,” Toby says.

“Sure, kid.” Santa waves and walks back to his car.

Toby takes off his boots and returns to his his room as Santa backs his Toyota out of the driveway. Toby’s parents are now quiet and the falling snow is white. He pulls out Where The Wild Things Are from under his bed, gets under the covers and waits for one of them to tuck him in.

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I don’t suppose

I Don’t Suppose
By Laura McHale Holland

The coleus on the counter caught my eye. It was in my kitchen, but I’d never seen it before, and it looked ghastly with my blue and yellow decor. I called my long-time neighbor Layna and told her a stranger was in my home and she’d better come over quick and save me. She asked, “How do you know there’s a stranger there?” I said, “Because there’s a coleus on my counter, and I know it didn’t walk in by itself.”

She told me she’d seen the plant just yesterday when she’d come over to borrow my Shark mop. I told her she was mistaken and that it was three days ago she borrowed the mop anyway, not yesterday. She told me I was full of you know what. And we went on arguing like that until I said, “You bring back my Shark right now or I’m gonna throw this damn plant at your picture window.”

Now I’m sitting on my front porch steps, plant in my lap. She’s standing on her porch, Shark in hand. I was all set to march across the road and let her have it, but I just noticed there’s this pink, plastic rabbit stuck smack in the middle of my rosebush hedge, and I swear I’ve never seen that critter before. What if this is the beginning of my end, what if I’m slipping terrified into that good night? Layna’s my best friend. I don’t suppose I ought to brain her.

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Pretty soon I’ll have to tell him

Our maple tree came to rest on our roof a few days ago, and I still wrote a story this week. Here it is:

Pretty Soon I’ll Have to Tell Him
By Laura McHale Holland

My Bernie, he’s a real good man, you know, except sometimes he gets these harebrained ideas, and I try my darnedest to put the kibosh on them—ideas like befriending Jake the Wolf-man. We always called him that around town ‘cause he kept wolves, well, not really wolves, but wolf dogs, you know, half wolf, half dog, which some folks say are worse even than keeping real bona fide wolves because these here wolf dogs have instincts pointing them every which way, so they’re real unstable.

So I didn’t think too much of Jake the Wolf-man and I didn’t take to the idea of Bernie and him bein’ friends, but Bernie, being Bernie, the most curious guy in all of North Bend, and the friendliest, too—just about anybody would tell you what a standup guy my Bernie is—so Bernie, he’s a mail carrier and he got this route a few years ago that included Jake the Wolf-man’s spread, and he started by sayin’ hi, and then it was a few friendly remarks, you know, how’s the wife doin’ or those sure are pretty critters you have there, and one thing led to another and pretty soon Bernie was saving Jake the Wolf-man’s mail ‘til last stop and then sittin’ on his front porch to shoot the breeze for an hour or so before comin’ home on many an afternoon, which I didn’t appreciate, and I told Bernie so.

But, you know,  I couldn’t stick to being mad about it or anything else when it comes to my Bernie because he has this sheepish sort of grin that gets to me, so he can get away with anything—but don’t you ever go tell him that or nothin’ otherwise my goose is gonna be cooked—so, see, I guess I started to look forward to his little stories about what’s new with Jake the Wolf-man and all because, let’s face it, things are pretty boring here in North Bend, lots of us sittin’ around with nothin’ to do and nothin’ but dreams left of jobs that went south of the border or to Asia or wherever.

So I started lookin’ forward to hearing about Jake the Wolf-man and that pack of his. He had about a dozen of ‘em in a big enclosure, must have been about four acres. And he went in there and ran around with them and stuff, said the wolf dogs were his brothers. He tried to get Bernie to go in with him, and Bernie swears he never did because he thought a dozen of them crazy wolf dogs was just too much for him. But my Bernie, he said, one-on-one them wolf dogs were as sweet as can be and a little mysterious, too, like something out of a myth. That’s just what he said, a myth. And I told him right then and there that was a big bunch of hooey. Oh, but Bernie, he looked so stricken by my words. I wished I could take ‘em back. It broke my heart seeing how I’d hurt him. I felt bad about that for days.

Then Bernie came home early one day real down in the dumps, you know, long faced and just draggin’ himself in. He flopped on his recliner and sat starin’ at the TV, which wasn’t even on, mind you. And I said Bernie, what in the dickens has gotten into you and he grunted a little but couldn’t get a word out for a long time, but I kept askin’ and finally pulled it out of him that those wolf dogs up and killed Jake the Wolf-man.

Bernie had a vet bill and a Rolling Stone magazine to deliver to his buddy that day. But when he pulled up in the mail van, an ambulance was driving away, and police and animal control officers and even North Bend’s fire captain Big Bill were swarming around the property. Dead wolf dogs were stacked in a pile just inside the enclosure, and Bernie saw what he thought was a pool of blood right near the gate. There were a lot of tears that night, I’ll tell you, between the two of us. Bernie was sobbing, and I was cryin’ for Bernie losin’ a friend like that, and then I was cryin’ for Jake the Wolf-man, too, even though I didn’t even know him. And I was cryin’ about maybe having to let go of a fantasy Bernie had, and I was starting to have, too, about things being different than they really are between people and wild animals.

We were still down in the dumps the next morning when Bernie went off to work, and I expected we’d be pretty glum at the end of the day, too. But when he came home, he walked in with that sheepish grin of his and a big bulge in his jacket. I asked, Bernie, what’s in there, but he kept mum. He sat in his chair, unzipped the jacket, and there were two little pups, couldn’t have been more than eight weeks old. He’d gone to Jake the Wolf-man’s house, sat on the front porch to just think about his pal, and he heard squealing coming from the direction of the enclosure. He went inside and found the pups huddled way back in a corner behind a pile of bricks.

Bernie asked me if he could keep them, and he looked so hopeful, and the pups looked so cute just snuggled there in the chair, I melted and said okay. I said it real cool like so as not to let on how adorable I though the little critters were. And I said they have to live out back in the yard; there’s no way they’re gonna set foot in the house. And, Bernie, being Bernie, said he was okay with that.

When we built the dog house for them out back we told the neighbors they’re some kind of sled-dog mutts, so everything is cool with them. And each day Bernie feeds the pups their breakfast kibble before he goes off to work, and I wave goodbye from the front door. Then I bring the babies inside. I can’t explain it. I never expected to turn into a wolf-person. No way. But when I look into their blue eyes, I feel like they understand me in ways not even Bernie does. My Bernie. Pretty soon I’ll have to tell him about the pups and me; they’re growing bigger by the minute.

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How dreadful

How Dreadful
By Laura McHale Holland

Wendy wends her way toward Harold’s Diner at the end of the block. Judy scowls at Wendy from her parlor window as she knits a baby hat for a child yet to be conceived.

Judy’s husband works long hours in a cubicle balancing accounts for his employer. Wendy’s husband left her for a pole dancer five years ago.

Wendy pauses to touch one of the many of red tulips blooming along the picket fence defining Judy’s front yard. Judy rushes to her front porch. “What do you think you’re doing?” she demands.

Wendy looks up at Judy’s squinting eyes, her clenched jaw and feels sorry for the woman who is always peeking out from behind her curtains but never sharing recipes with neighbors or stopping in for a cup of coffee at Harold’s. “Why, I’m admiring your tulips, such a lovely part of springtime,” Wendy says.

“You’d best be on your way, now. Those bulbs came all the way from Holland. Cost a pretty penny. I don’t want any funny business.”

“All right, then, neighbor,” Wendy says. She ambles off and soon reaches Harold’s, where she is greeted by familiar smells and the smiles of long-time friends.

Judy watches the diner door close behind Wendy and bites her lip, imagining how dreadful being a waitress must be.

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The neighborly thing

Here’s the fourth installment of my 2011 weekly flash fiction project.

And you’ve probably noticed my website is once again in transition. I was getting used to the other theme I was trying out, so it was a shock to see this plainer one, but I believe it’ll get more interesting in the next couple of weeks.

I will welcome your feedback, both on the story and the website design.

The neighborly thing

By Laura McHale Holland

It started on a Wednesday in March, about 1:30 in the afternoon. Mary Sanchez heard it first, the country music blaring from Fred and Lula Hentzel’s garage on Maple Street. Fred loved country music. And since he’d retired back in January, he’d been tinkering in his garage most afternoons, crooning along to the likes of Merle Haggard, Patsy Cline, Garth Brooks, Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood. But the volume reached a new level that afternoon, one Mary found intolerable.

Then Brady Freeman heard it. He was walking his retriever around the block like he always did at that time of day, and he heard it as soon as he rounded the corner onto Maple. He thought maybe some tattooed, drug-crazed teenaged truants were throwing a party in one of the empty, foreclosed homes on the block. But as he moseyed along, he realized the music was coming from Fred and Lula’s and he knew a rowdy party was out of the question. About all Fred and Lula ever did for fun was drive to the casino up the hill and play the slot machines for an hour or two. Their kids had all grown up and moved out years ago, and they never had anybody over.

Brady slowed down as he approached Fred and Lula’s driveway. He thought for sure he would see Fred in the garage, but when he looked up the driveway in passing, he saw the garage door was wide open, and there was no sign of Fred or of his beat up Chevy truck.

Mary was weeding around the succulents in her front yard when she saw Brady passing. “Hey, Brady, what’s up with Hentzel? Is he gettin’ hard of hearing or what?”

“Don’t know Mar. He’s nowhere in sight.”

“Probably went inside for something.”

“Yeah, probably. Maybe for some lemonade.”

“Yeah, it’s a scorcher for March for sure.” Mary rubbed the back of her hand across her forehead.

“Uh huh, I’m panting, just like my dog.”

“I’ve gotta go over and tell him to turn it down though. There’s only so much of that country garbage a person can take.”

“I hear you, sister.” He tipped his Giants cap and shuffled off.

Mary threw the weeds in her compost bin and walked across the street. Since she was friends with Lula, she felt comfortable walking up the driveway, through the garage and into the house. She knew Lula was still at her reception job at the community credit union nearby, but she thought she’d just have a look to see if anything was amiss. On the kitchen table she found a legal pad with a note scratched in Fred’s sprawling hand: “Dearest Lula, I’m so sorry about last night, my love. I can only imagine what you must think of me, lying to you all these years. I hope you have it in your heart to forgive me. If so, meet me out at The Golden Cup tonight. I’ll be waiting with open arms. If not, I’ll just push off,  and you’ll never have to bother with me again. Always yours, Freddy”

Mary sat down at the table, re-reading the note several times. Then she ripped it from the pad, folded it several times and put it in her pocket. Lula would be bewildered and sad at Fred’s disappearance, of course, but Mary figured it would pass soon enough.

She turned off the music and closed the garage door on her way out. Back at home, she unfolded the note and put it through her shredder. Then she went to the kitchen, pulled her favorite knife from a drawer, grabbed some lemons from a bowl on the counter and started slicing. She figured she would take some lemonade over to Lula later on. It would be the neighborly thing to do, to see that her friend was hydrated while she kept vigil through the night, waiting for her husband to walk through the door.

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