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Braking Points

Pausing in the midst of Life to ponder, pray and find footing to continue.

Month

September 2013

Less Caustic, More Life Giving Overflow

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If anyone believes in me, rivers of living water will flow out from that person’s heart, as the Scripture says.” (John 7:38 NCV)

In my rather zig zag walk of faith I am so often like the father of the young boy who prompted by an evil spirit often threw himself into water to drown or into the fire to burn.  This father (Mark 9:14-27) actually brought his son first to Jesus disciples, who were unable to heal him, and then to Jesus.  He really was just exhausting all possible avenues to healing.  He did not have much hope at all.  What spilled out of his heart as he carried his mute son to Jesus exposed his raw emotions.  In his frustration, he engaged in verbal argument with the crowd around Jesus including some Pharisees and teachers of the law…NO ONE can help my son! 

I have been there.  Have you?

I have felt like I have done everything I could to overcome an obstacle, restore a relationship, pay the bills that overextend my budget, calm a distraught child, find healing.  Have you?

When the father shouted his frustration, his anger, his heartache, the overflow of his heart like mine so often is, was acidic and caustic.  He didn’t need the crowd commenting on his son’s condition, he had no use for Jesus disciples, who hadn’t helped his son, and he was not expecting Jesus to step into the midst of the situation.

And Yet, Jesus did.

And so He does for me.  For you.  For all who will believe.

All my caustic rantings, all my tears, all my foolish explorations of worldly solutions sought without his guidance do not keep him from stepping close and asking,

“How long has this been going on?”

The father relates the history of his son’s illness and then, again, like me, says.

“Please help him, if you are able.”

Jesus must close his eyes, shake his head and then look up to see a crowd filled with unbelief and me, hanging by a thumbnail of faith before he reminds me like he did the father of the boy,

“If I am able? All things are possible to one who believes.”

And so with the father, I whisper, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.”

To have a heart of belief, to have faith to move mountains, so that rivers of living life giving water flow out of me and splash on others, everyday I must turn loose of the world and let Jesus help me fly.

Fowl Play–Chapter Twelve

For those of you who are reading Fowl Play I have 18 chapters completed and I completed those several years ago, so I need to get back to writing so I can post. While I remember the basic premises and twists this piece originally intended, it may twist differently as I write on. If you have suggestions or questions as always post comments here or on Facebook. I’d love to know what you are thinking.

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Chapter Twelve

Mavis arrived at Heritage Village early the next day. She had every intention of heading off another confrontation in the hospice wing. Her plan was to meet with Helen and clear the path for Amy to visit and play for the patients. She had checked with Lydia Brownfield’s family after having dinner with Earl. They had given their permission for Amy to visit Lydia, but had let Mavis know that Amy was on her own with Lydia and that if Lydia threw her out, that would be the end of it. Mavis had agreed.

Milo’s affairs rested in the hands of Bartholomew Gratis, an attorney, who basically told Mavis choices of care and treatment were up to Heritage Village, because it wouldn’t make a bit of difference to Milo. Mavis interpreted his apathy as a “yes”. And thus armed, however tentatively, she prepared to discuss the matter with Helen, before Amy returned to the hospice wing.

At the hospice wing nurse’s station, Mavis saw one of the new registered nurses entering chart information on the computer. What is her name, Mavis struggled to remember, Cindy? Lindsey? Reaching the desk, she found “Sydney’s” employee id badge visible, enabling Mavis to call her by name.

“Good Morning, Sydney.”

Sydney intent on her charting, startled, and then seeing the smile on Mavis’s face smiled back.

“Good Morning, Miss Purcell. How can I help you?”

“First, call me Mavis.”
“Mavis.” Sydney replied, nodding, but Mavis had the distinct impression that the use of her first name was not going to come easy to Sydney. Mavis tried to remember how old Sydney was; she looked fifteen. Probably, early twenties, Mavis concluded unable to remember what was on her application.

“Is Helen here?”

“Yes, ma’m,” Sydney looked down the hall and then pointed, “Miss Marcum is making patient rounds. I think she is in Mr. Grant’s room—436. Do you want me to go get her or call her on the intercom?”

“No, I’ll just catch up with her when she finishes in his room.”

Milo Grant’s room was near the end of the corridor. Approaching, Mavis noticed the door ajar and a mirror on the wall opposite his bed reflected Helen as she worked. A muted sound, which Mavis first thought to be Milo moaning, caught her attention. Drawing closer to the door, but standing out of sight, she listened. What she heard awakened a new picture of Helen Marcum in her mind—one that prepared her to speak about Amy playing for the hospice patients with Helen. All the scenarios she had practiced before coming in early to talk to Helen dissolved on the wings of a song. Helen sang, as she worked with Milo to make him more comfortable. The low mournful yet hopeful words brought tears to her eyes.

“All my trials, Lord, Soon be over.”

Mavis pivoted and returned to the smiling Sydney at the nurse’s station.

“Did you find her?” Sydney asked.

“Yes, but she’s quite busy. Could you call me in my office when she finishes making rounds? And, Sydney, tell her I need just a few minutes of her time.

##

Deborah Webster rolled over in bed, hit the snooze alarm and stroked Daffodil’s curled form. Daffy nestled closer, wedging her body against Deborah’s in feline protest to the possibility that she was about to be booted from the bed. Folding her ears down, the cat tried to ignore Deborah’s cooing sounds. Deb found the cat to be a perfect companion. Daffy, unlike the human companions Deb had chosen, never left any doubt about her true feelings. When Daffy was mad, Deb knew she was mad.

At forty years old, after three failed marriages, a battle with alcohol dependency, a month in rehab followed by AA meetings that continued to this day, Deb rediscovered the faith of her childhood, the Jesus who loved her. In AA meetings when others grappled with their “higher power” she knew for sure who hers was. However, when she tried to share her new found faith with her sisters, both devoted church women, Donna had patted her hand and commented that she hoped Deb didn’t “go off the deep end.”

On the other hand, Diana ever the encourager offered, “Wonderful! Now you need to find a church with a singles’ group in our age range. I just know there is a perfect man out there for you and church is such a healthy place to find one.”

Deb wasn’t sure what the deep end was and she didn’t want the “perfect man”. She had found him and if she never entered a romantic relationship again, Christ would have to plop him down in front of her, because she wasn’t looking.

For four years since, it had been Daffodil and Deb with no sign of supernatural match making. The cat planted her front paws directly on Deb’s chest yowling full force. Suddenly feeling playful, Deb rubbed Daffy’s head until the cat leapt from the bed switching her tail in mock disdain. Deborah laughed and slid her feet onto the floor, poking a toe in Daffy’s direction eliciting a clawless attack.

“You love it and you know it.” Deb told the cat, laughing again. Awareness dawned—Hallelujah—her body didn’t double over with coughing. As if to warn her not to get too confident, a small cough emerged but the effect was less devastating than it had been the previous week.

Deb glanced at the clock and decided that before she climbed in the shower she’d call her mother. The visit with her sisters, the whole chicken falderal struck her as wrong. They had promised to help with the “pet” project and silly or not Deborah decided she’d keep her end of the bargain. Besides she thought, shoving her feet into her slippers, I’ll probably get free eggs and who knows maybe God has a chicken farmer out there somewhere for me.

##

As it turned out by the time the breakfast crowd gathered, Agnes had spoken to Deborah and Mavis had spoken with Helen. Both conversations ended on positive notes.

For Mavis that a conversation with Helen turned out on a high note was an event so rare that Mavis could not recall even one. Surely that was not true, but then again maybe it was. The outcome left her almost euphoric, even giddy. Amy would be allowed and even assisted with her music therapy in the hospice wing.

Agnes, on the other hand, felt a touch of motherly pride that Deborah wanted to participate in the chicken project. Even if the other two triplets chose to continue to distance themselves from the folly, the numbers on each side of the argument now corresponded equally. If her walker and repaired hip would have allowed her body to follow her spirit, Agnes would have skipped to breakfast.

Fowl Play–Chapter Eleven

image Chapter Eleven
A number of people gathered for the blessing of the pets, including Agnes’s triplets. Aside from a few cat calls and two or three yappy dogs, most of the pets and their new owners behaved themselves. The Early Birds arrived with representative chicks and set in the bird owners section. Besides their chickens, there was a parakeet, a pair of canaries and a toucan.

Mavis welcomed the residents, their guests, and the pets. Chaplain Connors prayed invoking God’s blessing on “all creatures great and small” Each resident introduced their new pet and all repeated a pledge to care for the animals entrusted to them. The whole ceremony reminded Agnes of baby dedications or baptisms she had participated in over the years. Her daughters flanked her when she lifted up the box with the tiny peeping fowl, but a sideways glance told her that only Deborah smiled and that possibly was the fever.

The Tri-Dees had arrived thirty minutes before the ceremony and headed straight for their mother’s apartment. Donna was clearly in charge with Diana nodding in agreement. When Agnes opened the door, the three stood shoulder to shoulder in their birth order. Deborah appeared to have a hangover, though Agnes knew Deb had sworn off all spirits after her third divorce. She wobbled between her two siblings, but still managed to be the first one to hug her mother. Agnes took her shoulders and could not resist the motherly urge to put a hand to her middle daughter’s brow and check her temperature.

“Good grief! Deb, you have a fever. Why aren’t you home in bed?” Agnes scolded her middle child while she quickly hugged her other two daughters, pulled Deb to the living room and ensconced her in the recliner. As an afterthought Agnes yanked the afghan from the couch and threw it over her feverish.

“I’ll make tea, but I have to be downstairs in fifteen minutes,” and then because she couldn’t resist the urge, she added, taking in her little brood with one sweeping look, “You really shouldn’t show up with a fever at the old folks’ home. Our defense systems aren’t as good as they used to be.”

Deborah looked grateful both for the remark and the offer of tea.

“I’ll just stay up here, while . . .”

Donna quickly stepped to the plate, with a scorching ‘you’re not getting off that easy, Sister’ glare, before stating the reason for the unified visit.

“Mother, no tea! And by the way, Deb has a sinus infection. She is not contagious! I spoke with her doctor this morning.”

“You, WHAT?” Deborah exclaimed, her voice no more than a forced whisper that collapsed into a coughing fit that left her dripping with sweat and wiping tears from her eyes. Donna ignored her.

We came to try to talk some sense into you. Chickens are not pets.”

“Good! Mavis did call you. I thought she might.” Agnes continued filling the teapot with water, setting it on the stove to boil and getting out tea bags and cups. “I am so glad you all came by for a visit and I do hope you will stay for the blessing of the pets.”

“Mother!” Diane intoned, “what on earth do you know about chickens?”

“Well, I know a good deal more than I did a few weeks ago. Thanks to all of you.”

“All of us?” Donna asked.

“Yes, the computer you gave me. The internet has over 500 sites about raising poultry.”

Deborah almost laughed. She would have if she could have done it without succumbing to a coughing fit.

Agnes punctuated her remarks with a bright smile accentuated by the mischievous twinkle in her eyes. Diana and Donna exchanged open mouthed glances with each other, their mother, and the computer. It served them right, Agnes thought as she watched their bewilderment. They thought she’d sit around and play solitaire all day. Agnes left them to their silence, as she prepared the tea tray and brought it to the living area. She had just poured tea, when her doorbell rang.

Diana, anxious for something to do and yet feeling left out of the mission, which had really been Donna’s idea anyway, jumped up to open the door.

The Reverend Henry Porter and Thelma Louise stepped across the portal carrying small open white boxes greeted Diana and then proceeded further into the room followed by Ruth who had two boxes identical to the ones carried by the Reverend and Thelma Louise on lap. All the boxes were peeping loudly.

##

So they all stood near their mother during the program. Deb kept sucking on the cough drops, Diana continued to pass her from what seemed to be a bottomless sack. The crowning moment of the ceremony occurred midway through Amy Davidson’s performance. Agnes caught Ruth’s eye as the lively Celtic tune filled the room.

Directing Ruth with a tilt of her head toward the canine section, both ladies swallowed a giggle. A low moan emitted from one then another then another until a disharmonious but unified howl pierced the small room. The felines quickly joined the chorus. Even the birds including the Early Birds chicks joined in with gusto. Only Mrs. Robson’s gold fish seemed unaffected.

For a few moments the new pet owners and the guests tried ignoring the racket, pretending they could hear Amy Davidson play, but when Ruth could hold it no more she burst out laughing even as she shushed the little chick in her lap. She swatted at Agnes sideways admonishing her for getting her started, and then noticed Agnes and virtually everyone else laughing, too.

Amy lifted her bow from the violin and joined the mirth. If being heckled by a crowd of animals bothered her, it didn’t show.

##

The crowd moved outside to the patio after the ceremony for refreshments. Some of the residents kept their new charges in the crates, while others snapped leashes on theirs, still keeping a good distance between the more adversarial animals. So far no scraps had broken out.

Albert stood to the side watching the little funeral service down the hill. He always thought of himself as Albert, though no one else did. If anyone ever had reason to inquire, despite the fact that no one ever would he would confide that he did so because his mother and Ilene had called him Albert. That the two women he had loved had used Albert and because that bit of his memory remained intact, he chose to be Albert if only in his own mind. With so much of his past shattered by the explosion of a weak vein that spewed blood in his brain, he cherished the shards that remained.

Lately, unannounced other pieces had emerged, though where they fit remained a mystery. The source of one recollection was Amy Davidson. He recalled the moment he had first seen her here at Heritage. She reminded him of someone.

The recollection surfaced like the periscope on a tempestuous sea, tossing about in his mind, a glimpse followed by nothing followed by another peek. It was all unsettling and left him feeling queasy as he tried to fit the brief seconds of clarity together. First the image of a woman—she was crying—not just crying but struggling against unseen restraints. The images, jerky though they were, snagged his attention and created such misgivings and rage that it frightened him. No matter what he did to squelch the aura, it dogged his footsteps both repelling him and drawing him to Amy Davidson. One minute the sight of her told him to flee and the next, well, he’d found himself outside the ceremony drinking in the sound of her music, tears streaming down his face.

There she was Albert noticed; Miss Purcell was escorting her onto the patio. The churning in his gut propelled him. His eyes dropped to his shoes. Escape, now. He dropped his empty paper cup into the receptacle and headed back into the building.
Entering the side door, he bumped shoulders with Helen Marcum, who stood, arms crossed watching the gathering through one of the side windows next to the door.
Head down he mumbled a quick apology, “Sorry.”

“Crazy old fools,” Helen muttered her eyes fixed on the scene on the patio.

“What?” Albert asked, unsure if she had spoken to him. He paused and looked back at her. Helen turned with a puzzled expression. A retort formed on her mouth, but remained unspoken; her face grew more bewildered as their eyes locked. A flicker of recognition dissolved as quickly as a blink. Both shook their heads as if trying to jiggle a key in a lock.

“Sorry,” Albert said again ducking his head and retreating. Helen watched his back for a moment, shook her head again before returning to her observation post. For some time she had noticed something oddly familiar about that man, an impression that stirred her emotions like a pinch of salt in a partially healed wound, but nothing in either his demeanor or appearance suggested where or when Helen might have encountered him. Helen rarely considered the mild prick of pain that made her consider where she had or whether she had met him before. With his hurried departure, the pinch barely raised her attention.

Helen’s malevolent attentions rested instead on a man she did recognize, the coward who had shredded her life into bits and pieces. She watched him now. Upright, arrogant as always, he occupied a seat a few feet from the prattling pet owners. From her vantage point, it appeared to Helen that he watched his table companions as they carried out the burial of the ill fated fowl with amusement. He had been Major Henderson Wilcox when his actions had ripped Helen’s future from her. Even now though a retired full colonel, Helen saw through the man. The set of her jaw tightened. The bitterness of the years welled up and strengthened her resolve. She would confront him, but she would bide her time. His cowardice had stolen her life from her. If any man deserved to face judgment, Colonel Henderson Wilcox was that man.

##

Agnes had insisted that the Tri-Dees accompany her to the small burial service. It turned out to be a good decision as none of the new chicken owners could easily kneel and lower the tiny shroud into the small grave. Of course, Otto or Frank would have helped, but somehow it seemed nicer that family performed the service. As it turned out, Deborah’s dizziness prevented her from the action; Diana refused to touch the body of a dead bird lest she catch West Nile Fever, bird flu or histoplasmosis, so the honor fell to Donna, who lifted the handkerchief wrapped corpse from the box in Ruth’s lap, lowered it into the grave and scraped dirt over the spot.

Donna possessed no gift of prophecy, but her cynicism prompted a vision of dozens of similar graves on the hillside next to this one. For the first time since she’d learned of her mother’s chicken raising intentions, she experienced a ray of hope. Perhaps the whole lot would fall over dead from a rare chicken blight. She pulled herself up from the ground by holding on to Ruth’s wheelchair and clutched hands with the others as the Reverend Henry Porter prayed.

Death wasn’t always a bad thing, Donna thought, a slight smile playing on her lips, especially not the death of a chicken . . . or chickens.

Fowl Play–Chapter Ten

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The discovery of the first dead body happened when the second box was opened.

Taylor Wingate using a dolly moved the boxes to the furnace room. Since he was the only one likely to be able to kneel on the concrete slab and then get up again, he suggested and the Early Birds agreed in unison, that he should be the one to transfer the chicks from their boxes to the brooder.

Thelma Louise gasped when he lifted the lid of the second box. One of the tiny birds lay stone still in a corner. Taylor looked up at the foursome.

“It happens in shipping sometimes.” He quickened his movements with the 24 living residents of the box and then lifted the corpse out of the container. He held her up for all to see. Her neck lay at an odd angle, but there were no other marks on her. Taylor moved her head slightly to straighten it with the rest of her body.

“Broken neck?” Agnes remarked. Taylor nodded.

“That’s what it looks like to me. She probably got hung up somehow and broke it trying to get free.” The onlookers nodded. Thelma Louise pulled a tissue from her sleeve and dabbed at her eyes.

“What do you want me to do with it?” Taylor asked. Agnes started to tell him to put it in a plastic bag and discard it, when Ruth spoke up.

“We should have a little funeral and bury the poor little thing out by the chicken coop. Reverend, would you say a few words at the burial?”

The Reverend Henry Porter cleared his throat. He had also envisioned a less formal disposal, but seeing Ruth and Thelma Louise’s faces, he matched their solemnity with a simple nod of acquiescence.

Taylor completed the transfer of chickens to the brooder under the watchful eyes of their owners. His knees complained a bit as he lifted himself to an upright position, dusted his hands and looked from one to the other.

“I will go get Frank to dig a little grave. You planning to do the burial after the animal blessing ceremony?”

“That would be fine, just fine.” The Reverend Henry Porter answered for all of them.

##

Mavis caught up with Amy Davidson in the hospice wing. Rounding the corner she saw Helen Marcum and Amy locked in a muted but heated discussion. Mavis shuddered. She had hoped to ease Amy into working with Helen, although easing anyone into working with Helen bordered on unlikely at best. No sense in worrying about it now. Better dive in and do damage control, Mavis decided.

“What seems to be the problem?” she asked as she approached the pair. Amy sighed deeply, inhaled, and prepared to speak when Helen swung on Mavis, face set tight, teeth clenched and proceeded to yell as loud as she could while maintaining a volume like a whisper though wetter. Spittle spewed forth with the words driving Mavis back a step or two.

“I will not have my patients disturbed in the name of therapy.” Helen who no one would call diplomatic did not even attempt to mask the disdain in her voice. Her eyes narrowed and she pointed toward Amy. “This young lady seems to think she can waltz right in here and set up a concert in. . .”

“Now that’s something I’d like to do—waltz.” Amy interrupted a tiny smile tugging at her mouth.

“Don’t pull that sympathy card on me, Miss Davidson!” Helen swung around, wagging her finger in Amy’s face. “You may not realize it but this is the hospice wing. These patients in here are dying. Don’t be expecting any pity from this part of Heritage Village.”

Mavis jumped in—no time like the present, she thought, “Ok, Helen. You’ve made your views clear. Now, hold it for a moment.” Mavis tried for an even but firm tone.

Helen drew back, crossed her arms and glared at her, but she did close her mouth. Observing Helen’s reaction Mavis experienced something akin to a rare moment of empowerment in the company of this woman who classified on some days as a mere pebble in her shoe and on other days as—God forgive me, Mavis thought—as the antichrist.

“Amy, you have patients to work with in the hospice unit?” The rise on the end of the statement indicated a question, but Mavis meant it as a statement.

“Yes, after reviewing some of the charts, I have found several who might benefit in a palliative way. Music eases pain and soothes the mind.” She broke off, unwilling to repeat what had already been said during her discussion with Helen.

She lifted two charts and handed them to Mavis, who accepted them looking down at the names. She winced a bit when she saw who Amy had selected and if Helen had not been looking down her nose and smirking, Mavis would have questioned the choices. Instead she thumbed through each chart. Milo Grant had been hanging by a thread for two weeks; his once tall lanky frame lay coiled in a tightening fetal position and although he was receiving IV fluids, he had not taken anything by mouth for days. He had no family other than a distant nephew. Mavis started to move to the next chart glancing up at Amy. She must have sensed Mavis’s eyes and heard her shift the charts, because she spoke.

“I chose Mr. Grant, because his case reminded me of my mother’s last days.” There wasn’t a hint of apology in Amy’s voice, as if picking a patient for therapy from personal experience was a natural even professional plan. Helen huffed but held her tongue. Mavis chose not to look at her, moving on to the next chart.

Lydia Brownfield had Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. From what Mavis knew of Lydia, Amy might find her reception in that room caustic. The disease had weakened most of Lydia’s body and though her breath was shorter, her acid tongue had not faded except in volume, earning her the nickname, “Dragon Lady.”

Mavis closed the folders. Her expression disheartened. Helen scoffed, turned and walked away. Mavis heard her deriding some poor nurse down the hall. Amy sat expectantly on her scooter. Mavis sighed.

“Amy, do you really think these two will benefit? Miss Brownfield can be very difficult and Mr. Grant, well. .” She broke off as she felt Amy’s hand on her arm.

“I really do.” She said softly, “Gina, my helper, by the way thanks for her she’s great. Anyway, Gina read the charts to me. I would like to try.”

“Ok, but could you postpone until tomorrow? I’ll talk to Helen and clear the way, but I doubt she will be helpful. At least I may be able to get her out of your way. Today I really need your help at a little ceremony. Could we head back to my office?”Amy nodded so Mavis shared the concept of “Residents with Pets” even about the Early Birds with their seventy-five chickens as they traveled back through the corridors—Mavis walking and Amy driving—to the administrative wing. Amy giggled at the story and Mavis found herself laughing too—in spite of herself.

HOPE for TODAY…and the Future

Photo credit: crosscards.com
Photo credit: crosscards.com

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. (Jeremiah 29:11, 12 NIV)

Twenty-three years ago I happened (by God’s design) on this passage. For some reason I had never considered it before. I was at an extremely low point in my life, my job had ended, there were financial concerns and then during my morning quiet time this scripture entered my life. I literally lived clinging to these promises, believing and seeking and praying. God brought my whole family through and even carried my husband and I to a new location, where God has continued to bless us. Satan cannot destroy the purposes of God.

As I was clinging and by the way still cling to this scripture I learned an important lesson. I learned that to see this passage as a future promise, something for heaven, something for tomorrow or next year is to allow my mind to limit God. He intends it for “this day.”It may not be “Plans” like the world teaches, with goals, objectives, etc. Sort of, “in 5 years I will be trying out on ‘The Voice’ ” God’s plan may be woven into the fabric of your daily life…God’s plan may be focusing on TODAY, NOW, in the ordinary things you are doing. When you rise giving him thanks, or love your spouse even if he is grumpy or sick or just plain annoying, when you offer your voice in praise, He works His plan in your life. And know what else, He works His plan in you as you bring your vulnerability and insights to others who are covered with grace by this verse. Each of us are different and God intends those differences to work HIS plan in the world

Fowl Play–Chapter Nine

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Chapter Nine

Agnes and Thelma Louise hovered over Otto who adjusted and tinkered with the brooder until he had it just like they wanted. He rose from the concrete floor of the furnace room, large beads of sweat dripping from his face, which was as red as the bandana he drew from the back pocket of his overalls. Drying his face, the kerchief became more sodden with every swipe until it looked full enough to wring out, he faced the ladies.

“Believe that’s got it, Ms. Webster, Ms. Sanderson.”

He nodded to both of them then folded the wet cloth and shoved it back into place—a wide damp circle grew quickly on the outer surface of the pocket attesting to the amount of perspiration absorbed from Otto’s face. The two ladies peered from Otto to the metal box, with its bottles of water, feeding dishes and warmer. For an instant Otto thought they might ask for some other adjustment, but after the brief scrutinizing, both beamed at him.

“Otto, it is just perfect.” Agnes said patting him on the shoulder.

“All ready for those chickens,” he responded, “but, it does seem pretty spacious for four little chickens.”

“Well, that’s better than being too cramped.” Thelma Louise remarked.

“When are they due to arrive?” Otto asked.

Agnes startled, squinted at the face of her watch, blinking several times to focus, thinking—I should have worn that monstrosity the Tri-Dees got me—as she struggled to read the time. She fumbled for her reading glasses in the basket at the front of her walker with no luck.

Letting out a disgusted sigh, Agnes thrust her arm toward Thelma Louise and asked, “Can you see what time it is?”

“Wait a second.” Thelma began digging into her black handbag, extracting mountains of tissue.

Otto, sweat once more pouring down his brow, pulled out a large pocket watch.
He said, “It’s 11:00.”—just as Thelma Louise whipped out her reading glasses and studied Agnes’s watch.

“It’s eleven.” She proclaimed.

Agnes looked between Otto and Thelma and shook her head.

“The chicks were to be delivered this morning. Let’s go see if they are here.”

##

The chicks had indeed been delivered. Mavis Purcell walked one way around the three large noisy boxes she had just signed for and then traced the same path the opposite direction. Careful observation did not reduce the size of the boxes nor the number. The peeping sounds obviously came from more than the four chickens the Early Birds had requested.

Mavis had been on her way to the therapy suite to talk to Amy Davidson. The conversation playing in her mind was stayed upon the possible responses Amy might offer when Mavis requested her presence and talent at the blessing of the animals and owners during the afternoon ceremony. With her mind locked into one task and her feet set in the direction of the therapy room, Mavis swept along the hall, when Leticia Hamilton grabbed her arm in a panic. Mavis jolted, then wavered in her forward progress.

“Ouch!” Mavis protested as Leticia’s inch long nails tore into her flesh.

“Ms. Purcell, you got to come quick. The mail truck is here and the mail girl says somebody’s got to sign for three boxes of live chickens—Three Boxes!—all crawling with the little critters!” Leticia released Mavis’s arm only to flap hers, while her eyes, indeed her whole face displayed alarm with a hint of revulsion. Mavis had followed Leticia into the administrative office area, shoving her previous mission into a brain cubby hole marked “Later”.

Annie McBride shoved the clipboard forward, a smirk tugging at the corner of her mouth. Mavis snatched it from her, scribbled her name as Annie pointed to the spot on the page and then shoved it back to her.

“It looks like Heritage Village is going into chicken farming.” Annie observed struggling to keep her voice level, an effort that provide unsuccessful as a snigger emerged on the last two words. Annie gulped. Mavis glared.

“Better get on to your other deliveries.” Mavis commanded her gaze boring in on Annie.

“Right.” Her pitch rose as she elongated the response and turned on her heels and left. Laughter wafted back growing louder and more sustained the farther Annie got from the door. The loudness was accentuated by the utter silence of the humans in the office area, the number increasing as the curious staff gathered.

Mavis stood as motionless as the others for a moment. With concentrated effort she drew a deep calming breath and then ordered the bystanders from the room. The staff scurried out; Leticia started to follow, when Mavis wagged her index finger at her. One more deep breath and she requested, “Find Taylor Wingate and get him here as soon as possible” then, her breathing evening out, “and find the Early Birds. Now!”

So, now needing something to do Mavis paced in circular pattern around the boxes of chicks. Occasionally she noticed little beaks poking through the holes and the peeping escalated and declined as the infant chickens moved around bumping and shoving each other in the cramped quarters. How many were in each box? Mavis wondered, trying to estimate.

“Well, well, what have we here?” Taylor Wingate chortled, from behind her. Mavis swung on him, prepared to retort, but found herself disarmed by Taylor’s good-natured calm countenance. Sweeping her arm toward the three boxes, she sighed before stating the obvious.

“Chickens,” then with emphasis, lest he not catch the gravity of the word, ‘Three Crates of Chickens.”

Taylor moved to the boxes and lifting one of the lids, studied the contents. Mavis edged closer peeking over his shoulder at the tiny birds. He glanced from the chicks to Mavis.

“Cute little things aren’t they? It looks like they are all wearing pill box hats. I wonder what breed they are.” He replaced the lid. Seeing that Mavis had no interest in the pompoms crowning the chicks’ heads and certainly no interest in chicken breeds, he reported, “I estimate 25 chicks per box, give or take one or two. Frank and Otto are going to need to get that poultry coop and yard finished.”

“Seventy-five chickens!—you cannot be serious. Never mind, of course, you are serious.” Mavis’s tone modulated from incredulous to resignation and was punctuated with a heave of her broad shoulders and an exhalation of air so noticeable that it needed no expletive attached to convey her meaning.

A chorus of voices gasped collectively. Taylor and Mavis turned to the sound. There stood the culprits.

“Oh, MY!” Agnes exclaimed eyes wide and hands trembling as she grasped the walker.

“Good Gracious!” Chimed Thelma Louise.

“Are those OUR chickens?” Ruth challenged a hint of distrust in her voice.

“Agnes, how many chickens did you order?” The Reverend Henry Porter asked the look on his face incredulous.

Fowl Play–Chapter Eight

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Chapter Eight

Taylor and Lucille Wingate sat down to breakfast long before the day began for the residents and the day shift staff at Heritage Village. With the unpredictability of both their jobs, it was the one meal they guarded for themselves. Even if they did not join hands and return thanks, the ritual would have been described as sacred by each of them. Other meals could be eaten on the run, or in Lucille’s case with the kitchen staff or as it happened often missed entirely by Taylor who moved from one urgent task to the next.

Breakfast provided the Wingate’s the togetherness that prepped them for whatever the day brought. Like a bookend their evening decaf coffee sipped in their small living room and the shared crossword and cryptogram from the daily paper allowed the couple the opportunity to unwind the coils of the day before slipping into bed to coil as one.

“Quite a storm last night,” Taylor remarked between bites, “good preparation for the boarding of the animals.”

“Comparing the likes of the animals coming on board at Heritage Village to the ark, may border on sacrilegious,” Lucille responded with an amused smile and without a hint of malice.

Taylor returned the smile, merely grunting his mouth now filled with Lucille’s pecan pancakes, one of his favorites. A verbal response was unnecessary; he knew Lucille sided as did he with Mavis. Pets, even the questionable chickens, would undoubtedly provide therapeutic companionship to a community of people in need of companionship. Even the extra work the menagerie threw his way would be worth the trouble if the residents with pets benefited.

##

By 7:30 the kitchen staff had breakfast near completion; they had set the tables in the dining hall and some residents began assembling. The majority gathered around the movie sized television set and watched the national morning news programs and the local weather rather than taking their appointed places.

Darin Murphy, former student of Agnes Webster, now a meteorologist reported that the evening storm had produced two inches of precipitation. Agnes paused, leaned on her walker and watched her former student with a thankful heart. She remembered Darin as a boy, always fixed on the sky outside her fifth grade classroom. Her thankfulness surfaced as a silent amen for Darin was now putting his cloud gathering to work. Another observation told her that the cowlick he’d battled as a boy still struggled to be free even with an ample application of hair spray.

Agnes studied her former student—now, become expert, boy become man—and that moment of reflection, impeded her deliberate progress toward her chair at the table on the other side of the room. The walker had yet to become an extension of her legs, requiring her constant cognizance to keep both it and her legs moving in the same direction at the same speed. Twice, Agnes had gotten her feet tangled in the aluminum legs and had narrowly avoided falling.

Glancing across the room, Agnes saw, Thelma Louise and the Reverend were already seated at the breakfast table and approaching found them chatting brightly about the sunshine after the storm and the expected arrival of their “pets” when she approached. She noticed Ruth chatting with Lucille, who was busy setting baskets of hot biscuits on each of the tables. Hot they were when Lucille set them out, but Agnes knew by the time breakfast officially started they’d be warm at best. With only a bit of effort, she lowered her bottom into her chair, cheered by the animated faces of her new business partners.

Call them “pets”, if they wanted, but Agnes didn’t believe that wild tale anymore than Mavis Purcell had. She wasn’t sure how many eggs three hens could lay, but they’d need a market. Aside from that, with a rooster they’d be sure to go to brood and with any luck they’d have more—maybe even some baby chicks around Easter, although the memory of Thelma Louise’s sad story tended to cloud that possibility.

“The brooder should arrive this morning,” Agnes announced, reaching for a biscuit, the moment Lucille placed the basket on the table. She’d at least get the Promise spread on it while it was still hot. She continued, “good thing, because it will give Otto time to get it all set up in the furnace room. The chicks should arrive this afternoon and they’ll need a home. I checked on the computer to see where they were and found they were at the main post office in town scheduled to be delivered just in time for the little ceremony Mavis has planned.”

Ruth wheeled into place, butting into the table and the conversation. “Can you guess who is getting a toy poodle?” she asked leaning forward as Agnes had to grab a hot biscuit.

Before anyone could venture a guess, Pauline bounced into her place, leaving only the Colonel’s chair empty. The Reverend Henry Porter looked up at the clock. The Colonel was late. He started to comment, but not quick enough. Pauline had taken the floor.

“You will never guess what my dear sweet Celeste has gotten me.”

Ruth sent sideways knowing glances to the other Early Birds, and was opening her mouth to respond but Pauline babbled on, “She has gotten me a genuine pedigree toy poodle!”

Before anyone could respond, Colonel Henderson Wilcox arrived. All eyes turned to greet him, including Pauline, who gasped. The normally impeccable Colonel looked as if he’d slept in his clothes, if he had slept at all. His face sported evidence of a hasty shave complete with a piece of tissue that clung to a razor nick. A tiny bird’s nest of hair that his comb had missed, if indeed a comb had been used at all rested toward the rear of his head near the crown.

“Good Morning,” he said, taking his seat and flipping his napkin into his lap. For a split second his table companions gaped at him. Pauline continued to sit as if in suspended animation, her mouth pursed to speak. The Colonel furrowed his brow, as he glanced from one to the other.

“Are you alright, Colonel?” Ruth inquired quietly.

“Of course, I’m alright!” He retorted.

“We were getting a little worried,” Pauline tittered, and then ventured, “It isn’t like you to be late.”

“Late?” He sputtered, extending his back and raising his chin, so that he peered down at the lot of them. Crazy old fools, he thought. “Nonsense! I am never late.”

Thelma Louise started to respond, but Agnes poked her before the words of protest crossed her laryngeal folds.

“Senility,” Agnes hinted softly, lowering her head so the Colonel couldn’t hear her. Unfortunately, Agnes’s attempt at discretion failed. Speaking so that the Colonel could not hear also meant that neither could Thelma Louise, who whispered back while covering her mouth with a napkin and dabbing at nonexistent crumbs at the corners.

“I don’t think humility ever crossed his mind.”

##

Helen Marcum considered with pride her practiced lack of vanity, no primping and preening wormed their insidious delays into her day. Neither self admiration of a shapely nose, which she did not possess, nor self debasement of the aquiline one she did slowed her one whit. A quick shower, an application of deodorant followed by combing still damp hair straight back from her face and clasping it into a tight chignon at the base of her skull, facial moisturizer—slapped carelessly on her cheeks—brushing and flossing her teeth composed her total daily beauty regiment.

On occasion she would use mouthwash or eye drops, but those occasions were rare.
She dodged her mirror image. Thus she avoided the pitfalls of nose laments and other issues most women encountered when preparing for the day. Helen could be up and out the door in less than hour and for as long as she could remember she had managed to eat breakfast and at least glance at the headlines in the morning paper within that same time frame. Helen had no tolerance for people who dilly dallied in front of mirrors.

Half the staff she supervised in the hospice section couldn’t pass a chrome pitcher without checking their hair or make-up and the other half were slovenly. Thirty minutes before her shift, Helen slipped a jacket over her uniform and headed out for a brisk walk around the lake. Rain or shine, every single morning, Helen completed one lap or maybe two. Discipline had never failed her.

With a determined steeling of her spine, Helen decided that it would not fail her today either. Today the animals would be arriving. Well, no amount of dirty animals would change her patterns. Nor would she allow even one in the hospice unit. She tucked a small notebook into her uniform pocket. She planned to record every infraction, every unattended poop pile, and every wandering beast. Yes, indeed she planned to detail every incident, even the mildest, that represented animal or animal owner misconduct. “Residents with Pets” ranked as public enemy number one in Helen’s book. She’d bring them down or die trying.

##

Amy Davidson’s morning regime resembled her neighbor’s in at least one way. Mirrors were useless. Her mirror image had faded years before, but her attention to detail in her morning grooming matched Helen’s, except for the greater time required.

Even with careful planning, she could not complete all the tasks required to get up dressed, and groomed in less than two hours. She’d heard her neighbors across the hall leave before she’d managed to sit on the side of her bed. Not that Amy hadn’t tried to swing her legs off the bed and rise to an upright position—she had been trying for nearly twenty minutes. Another ten minutes passed after she’d listened to the crisp retreating footsteps before her wooden feeling legs obeyed with her torso and head following in one continuous if not graceful movement.

Once sitting, a few more minutes passed as the swirling in her head subsided. Now bracing herself against the bathroom sink, Amy listened to Helen Marcum as she left.

Having been blinded at eight years of age, Amy found working in the fog that surrounded her natural. At thirty eight years old her compensatory skills and her other senses had been honed to the point that she hardly noticed her blindness. Of course she’d been lucky or blessed as her mother would say, because her blindness was not the blackness others imagine. Amy’s visual deficit had not robbed her, at least not yet—who knew what the multiple sclerosis would do—it had not robbed her of light and dark. Amy’s visual environment varied with the light she encountered, with objects in her path, producing at times a kaleidoscope of gray tones.

Some days if the light around her was bright, she could almost distinguish lines and shapes, patterns, but no matter how she strained no color emerged, only shades of gray. Her fiddle, as she lovingly called her violin brought color into her world.

Blindness no longer threatened her, if it ever had. Her memory of the accident, followed by the months after as her vision declined, were incomplete—an act of repression, according to one therapist her parents had insisted on when she entered eighth grade. Amy remembered at the time wondering why on earth Dr. Babbitt thought remembering bad stuff was so important. At age thirteen, it wasn’t her blindness that depressed her, it was her flat chest. Now clinging to the sink, the enemy was the multiple sclerosis, because she knew it could eventually take the color from her world, her music.

Today she battled not only the heaviness in both legs but also a spasm in her right thigh. Amy grimaced, wondering what diminished function this exacerbation would leave behind. Typically, her MS kicked in when her resistance dropped especially during stressful times. Her greatest exacerbation came following her mother’s death and had swept her from dependence on a cane to increasing dependence on her scooter. Smaller episodes dotted the last several months as she made decisions that added to the stress of grief.

With tenacity she edged her body away from the sink, reaching for her cane, fumbling a bit before finding the familiar curve of metal. Amy pulled it closer to her, turned loose of the sink, and leaned momentarily on the three footed stabilizer. She had agreed to taking the music therapist position at Heritage and living within the facility after an awful row with her father. Only in a semi-protected environment would he even consider letting her move out of the only home she’d known since the accident. There was no convincing him that she could take a position with more autonomy and manage to live, work, breathe on her own.

So, she relented, but in her plan Amy determined she would not remain one moment longer than required to soothe Wyatt Davidson’s doubts. It would require a perfect performance, but Amy planned to give one.

Back on Track…Sort of…Not

imageI returned to my exercise class yesterday after several weeks off recovering from surgery. I vowed to take it easy..not overdo..NOT. There I was in that room full of the folks I have been exercising with for over a year and the competitive side of my usually rational, well occasionally rationale, mind kicked in and alas I am still recovering this morning.

Learning about my own foolishness at my age as IF I had never encountered my tendencies before brings me to wondering if I exercise…ok, I admit it, I exercise my foolish tendencies in living out my Christian life.

When Terry had cancer and we went through chemo therapy, chemo and radiation therapy, I tried at first to become SUPER WOMAN! Folks, that did not last long. Thankfully, others..folks I worked with, church members, friends, family all stepped up and supported and prayed us through. I came to a point where I fell before God and said, “I cannot do this.” To which, he responded, “No, NOT if you keep trying to do it all yourself!” So after much screaming and crying, MINE, I began to accept every single offer of help. Know what, I got stronger not weaker…I was enabled to handle much more than I could have handled on my own. Wasn’t easy, would not wish it on my worst enemy, but God and all HIS people carried both Terry and I through.

I have to remind myself in the light of the devotional I am doing with the She Reads Truth community [check it out at Shereadstruth.com] and the facts of life that the trials of life are not an opportunity to flex Christian muscles in front of my Christian friends and fellow exercisers, but are times to seek God, allow his hands to massage my weary heart and troubled mind. I grow and strengthen through trials carried on the prayers of others and as God works with and in me through the darkness.

Carried on the prayers of others
through the fire with flames lapping
Lifted by my sisters and brothers
through the flood, waves slapping
When all I can do is weep and wail,
when I am weak, going under, drowning
The prayers of the righteous prevail
God’s power and redemption surrounding
I flex, I move, I find a voice for praise.
In the fire and flood, there I find grace
With renewed strength, my hands I raise
As I glimpse in the prayers of others, God’s face.

His promise is true that trials strengthen us when we turn to Him and he doesn’t let us go through it alone. So GLAD He has provided this community for so many of us who are living through some pretty awful times.

But now, this is what the Lord says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. (Isaiah 43:1, 2 NIV)
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Fowl Play–Chapter Seven

image Chapter Seven

Construction of Heritage Village began in the early 1980s and proceeded in stages to the present, with plans for additional condominiums and an acute rehabilitation-slash-fitness center near ground breaking. Prominent display of architectural renderings of the future additions greeted both residents and guests when they entered the main lobby. In the 1980s the concept of a facility offering senior citizens whole life living arrangements, ranging from full independence to full nursing care, had made strides in major retirement regions like Arizona and Florida. Heartland entrepreneurs seized the budding idea and Heritage Village became one of its first blossoms.

Even before the first of the baby boomers turned fifty the notion that Granny and Grandpa would live out their senior years in their rocking chairs on the front porch found challenges lobbed from a whole new brash bunch of old folk. Prominent among these challengers were eighty year olds who ran the Boston Marathon and Harley clubs composed of members all past sixty years old. Top that off with the fact that the citizens of the United States elected Ronald Reagan to the presidency when he was near seventy years in 1980 then reelected him in 1984 when he was seventy-three. Clearly the number of people over the age of sixty was mushrooming and just as unmistakably they were not trundling off to “old age” homes or being pushed aside. The united senior voice demanded an ear that would listen. The nursing home business twitched its ear and responded.

Over the next several years senior residential care facilities transformed into the total retirement whole life campuses that now dotted the landscapes of all fifty states. These changes coaxed more reluctant seniors to chuck the family home opting for condos with amenities that included trips, golf and no yard work. Their children relaxed knowing that when mom or dad’s health declined the whole life plan would provide on going care appropriate to their parent’s needs. The multi-million dollar conglomerates running these campuses exploded as the popularity and the need expanded. Most of them occupied high-rise corporate offices, had holdings in multiple states and a surplus of rising young executives—median age 35—who kept the acquisitions coming and the bottom line in the black.

Heritage Village had at last count 90 sisters in 26 states all owned by Elder World Enterprises, Inc. Corporate offices were located in an enormous glass and steel building in Louisville, Kentucky. The executives at Elder World seldom, if ever, involved themselves with the actual business of their multiple holdings, visiting sites only for ground breakings and other photo opportunities and hiring health care administrators as managers to set up boards of community leaders, professional staff and representatives from the families of the residents, to enact policies and procedures, deal with state and local legal issues, accreditation, manage staff and deal with the endless day to day routine.

At Heritage Village the day to day business rested with Mavis Purcell. Single and forty-five years old Mavis seldom worked an eight hour day or a forty hour work week. So as she escorted Amy Davidson along the circuitous route to the staff wing at nine o’clock in the evening after arriving that morning at seven Mavis did not entertain thoughts of martyrdom, but she did acknowledge, at least to herself, weariness. With her weariness came diminished conversational skills. This did not seem to bother Amy who seemed deep in her own thoughts. Mavis did marvel at how well she navigated the halls with her limited vision. Wyatt Davidson had told Mavis, without elaboration, that an early childhood trauma had caused Amy’s blindness. Her other disabilities began developing in her early thirties with a final diagnosis coming a month before her mother’s death. Amy had multiple sclerosis. He had said little else except to tell Mavis not to underestimate Amy. While blind, she did see shadows and movement. Given time he expected she would need little assistance getting from place to place at Heritage Village, although she might need help out of doors. Her guide dog, Brutus died not long after her mother’s death, but he had requested another in hope that she would accept one.

“We are approaching the corridor that leads to your apartment, Amy. When we get there . . . oops! Right now!” Mavis said, causing Amy to brake suddenly, “you need to make a left turn. Sorry, I didn’t realize how quickly we were moving. I need my running shoes to keep up.”

“No, problem, Mrs. Purcell. I am sure once I get the layout in my head, I’ll be less of a bother.”

“Call me Mavis and call me if you need me.” She added, “Until you get the layout in your head. Here’s your door.” Mavis eased Amy in the right direction with a touch to her shoulder. She noticed waiting for Amy to unlock her door that Helen Marcum’s door was slightly ajar. Spying, Mavis concluded.

Farewells concluded and Amy safe inside her apartment, Mavis turned to walk away. As she did, she heard the distinct click of Helen’s deadbolt. Tired as she was the image of Helen spying on her new neighbor produced an impulse to laugh. Fortunately, she restrained the urge only giving into it thirty minutes later as she soaked her body in a wealth of bubbles. Whether it was the bath or the laughter, Mavis didn’t know, but she dropped to sleep not remembering much after her head hit the pillow.

In her last conscious action, she inhaled and the magic of the night’s music filled her head to toes. Holding both breath and music for a moment she lingered in a state of suspension then exhaled. Her next breath did not register as intentional, but with it came a parade of animals led by turtles, followed by chickens, dogs, cats, a menagerie not unlike artistic renditions of Noah’s Arc, except these animals marched into the multi purpose room at Heritage Village to the strains of “Lead on O King Eternal.” By morning she would have forgotten that vision at least until the real thing happened at two o’clock the next afternoon.

##

Mavis Purcell’s retreating footsteps prompted not only the closure of Helen Marcum’s clandestine observation but also that of another positioned in the dim light of the wing’s solarium. Having chosen a wing back chair, the man simply sat very still until Mavis had departed and Helen had retreated behind her door. He slipped off his shoes before arising then padded in his socks away from the staff apartments.

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