Friday, 18 April 2014

Oh, No! Not Grandmom

By Nancy Leitz

One thing that struck terror in the hearts of my young teenage children was hearing that Grandmom was on her way. Not that they didn't love Grandmom. They did. Very much. BUT, she was the World's Greatest Housekeeper and the only thing she did better than clean her house was criticize me for not doing as splendid a job as she did.

So, that meant that when Grandmom was coming we had to spend days straightening up, putting all toys, games and sporting equipment away and trying to find the can of Pledge we hadn't seen since her last visit and, finally, locating and running the vacuum cleaner.

One day the phone rang with the dreaded call. Aunt Tilly had died in Brooklyn and Roy and I were selected to drive Grandmom to the funeral. Uncle Ernie would bring her to our house and then we would take over and drive her to New York for the burial ceremonies.

The call came on Wednesday and the funeral was on Friday so we had two days to prepare the house for a white glove inspection. How would we ever do it?

Everybody went into a sort of blue funk as we considered our plight. One by one the kids came around to the realization that there was nothing to do but pitch in and get the place ready.

So they roused themselves from their lounging positions on the sofa and started looking around wondering where to begin this impossible task of having the house look as nice as Grandmom's house did.

The front door of our house leads directly into our family room, then on to our laundry room and powder room. If we didn't allow Grandmom into the family room and ushered her right up the steps to the living room we figured we were spared having to prepare those rooms for inspection and, best of all, we would put all the stuff we didn't know what to do with into the laundry room.

So, that was the master plan.The laundry room was our warehouse for all the things that really never had a "Place.”

Steve started with his Automobile Mountain Climbing Game. He picked up all the pieces and I helped him set them next to the washer. Carol had her ice skates and a dozen library books (Carol always had a load of books out of the library) and Chris helped her stack them next to the dryer and out of the way so he could put his chemistry vials and instruments next to them.

Jerry had a basketball and a real NFL Duke football he wanted to safeguard so they went IN the dryer. It took a couple of hours and every time somebody, including Dad, had an item they didn't know what to do with we all just shouted, "LAUNDRY ROOM.”

Pretty soon you couldn't walk in there but the living room, dining room and kitchen were free of toys and things and we were looking at the rug for the first time in awhile.

We found the vacuum cleaner and the kids did a good job of running it in the rooms that we were going to allow Grandmom to see. Pretty soon the upstairs rooms looked very nice and we were all congratulating each other on doing such nice work.

Now we just had to make sure it stayed that way for one more day.

The kids hardly breathed all day Thursday and never sat on any of the furniture because we had the sofa pillows all plumped up and the kitchen looked like a model home with flowers on the counter and two wine glasses next to the bowl of lemons that added a wonderful fragrance to our immaculate home.

Friday morning everyone is on edge. They are to be here at 10AM and by now we can't wait for it to be over. We were all in the kitchen making sure that everything was in place when we heard something like a typhoon blowing and without any warning the front door was thrown open and Grandmom came rushing in.

She did not hesitate for one second in her stampede to the powder room. She blew through the family room and went into the laundry room without missing a beat and then we heard the powder room door slam.

A collective groan went up from all if us . We knew it was all over and we were doomed to our fate. In a few minutes Grandmom came running out of the powder room, looked around at all the stuff piled in every nook and cranny of the laundry room.

She never went up the steps to see how beautiful the rest of the house looked. She shouted to Roy and me that she did not want to be late for Aunt Tilly's funeral and she would wait for us outside by the car.

As she was leaving through the front door, she took the time to turn in our direction and shout in her thick German accent, "You people keep a schloppy house."

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

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Thursday, 17 April 2014

How to Make Your Own Luck

By Clifford Rothband

As bizarre as it might seem when we reach retirement, at least myself, I found out that I have run out of things to do that I thought pleasurable when I was younger.

As an example, here I am in a dentist office or getting ready for a prostate exam and the attendant says, "Think of something that you enjoy, like the beach, dancing or music or playing a game. You know, get your head in a better place.”

Hey, really. I am anxious just thinking about what will come tomorrow. I am not afraid of dying. But I do fear pain.

Well, I did everything possible to prepare for this final epic or era of my lifetime and you know what? Guilt by never fulfilling my dreams stands out. Nothing worked out as I might have planned it would.

Sure I have my health, whatever that is (I am alive and breathing). Happiness, a feeling of accomplishment and usefulness are only misleading or deceptive.

I have a family, a loving playful wife, kids and grandchildren. I have had my injuries, I had a education, served our country and tried to make a better life. I've got thank you letters and plaques. We have coached kids. I've been arrested, charges always dropped.

I never smoked, or drank, not even a beer. I never did any drugs that were not prescribed or over-the-counter. I eat right and try to exercise. I seldom if ever gamble. I never really partied, played golf or tennis.

I always worked hard to support a family. I never cheated anyone, although I have been accused. That's life.

Now the point of this writing exercise is to use my brain. Let's assume our creator gave us a special gift at an advanced age. We enjoy certain freedoms in the USA, the most important are the freedom of thought, and free speech comes in close second.

When I was younger, I dreamt of travel although I never really had the time or the funds. Our short overseas excursions usually ended up sick on a ship food poisoned, third world facilities or trying to decipher a foreign dialect.

So, before our time is up, we decided now to see the USA. Not just set out for a destination but let's aim somewhere and get lost getting there. Remember Dinah Shore, "See the USA in your Chevrolet.”

Whatever vehicle rents the most economical and is comfortable, unlimited mileage and easy exchange. This maybe the nearest to a miracle in today's world. An engine light or bad tire can cost gazillions on the road. Triple A and their books are helpful. Cell phones are a necessity. Pamphlets, maps and GPS are useful.

But getting lost is the most fun. Thank goodness for the Walmarts where one can always pick up a new anything, or take a break 24/7.

The hamburger and sub shops also have an appeal, the exception being seafood on the gulf coast in Texas where BBQ reigns supreme, or the northeast where Johnnycakes and syrup or lobster are king.

You can visit friends and there are always motel rooms. We used the discount coupon books offered on the interstates. Among the lessons learned, stay away from the "numbered" named motels or those who say that they are the best.

A lot of people dream of visiting sporting events or parks. We look for history. We remember having such a bad time in the military Vietnam era and consider that "million dollar experience not worth $2."

Before my time is up I wanted to see as many points of interest - forts, war ships, military installations and museums and veterans facilities as possible. I had read and heard that the military has been reformed. Yes it has.

Great pleasure was had visiting active military and veteran facilities. Start a conversation during a meal, later on mail a hat or small gift with a location logo and you share a dream with someone else.

We all have stories but many seem to remember only the hard times. Even so, as the philosopher Fredric Nietzche wrote, "What doesn't kill us only makes us stronger.”

Or my grandfather's Depression era favorite saying, "Boy, you gots to be hard in this world."

Now I can write about the places we visited but those are stories on there own merit. People are more important.I have learned that making a smile maybe the most important common human trait.

As an example, a motel lobby clerk in Panama City who helped with our laptop: In conversation she said that 10 years ago after finishing school, she took this dead end boring job and offered to drive and pay her way just to travel. She made us all smile.

To end with some humor, picture this: My wife is taking photos of me in Virginia Beach> They have this enormous bronze globe with King Neptune along with life-size sharks, dolphins and creatures of the deep.

So everyone on the boardwalk is wearing bathing suits and I am posing and this attractive 30-something, redhead in a thin black dress strides up to me. "Hey Pop,” she says, “are you a tourist? Do you have some money? Let's have a good time."

Now my wife can hear it all and is laughing but not helping me from a near distance. My first thought is this is a police set up or what do I want with another woman?

Or the sexy young woman on Pensacola beach who approached me and said that she has six kids at home, no job or money, her husband is in jail and she would do anything for money.

“Yea, please go away,” was my response.

We met so many different people - many happy, some lonely, some empty, some less fortunate and most just plain working folk. Listened to so many nice stories, Saw so many faces and folk as unusual as the places we visited.

Life can be full of surprises. Sometimes one has to make your own luck.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

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Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Another Way

By Maureen Browning

It was very cold in North Dakota in late October of 1956, the day my aunt Angie died. My uncle Harold was at work and my cousin Frankie was at school. Angie, who was in her early forties and home alone, suffered a severe asthma attack and within minutes. Died on the living room floor.

The saddest part, other than her death itself, was that when she collapsed, she fell face down over the open grated furnace vent. I was told that when she was found, her face was badly burned from the heat coming up through the grate from the coal burning furnace in the basement.

Angie was my dad's sister. Her funeral was scheduled for a few days later and burial would be in the spring after the ground thawed.

I was almost 15 then, about to attend a funeral for the very first time in my life. In the hour ride from our home to the church, I had a lot of time to think but I had no idea what to expect.

I had never seen the body of a dead person. I knew that Angie would be prepared with make-up and dressed in her finest clothing before she was placed in her casket.

When we arrived for Angie's funeral and entered the church, I immediately noticed her open casket at the front near the altar. I distinctly remember how much I dreaded the idea of seeing Angie that day, especially since I knew her face had been so badly burned. I wanted to remember her as she was the last time I had seen her.

Angie was a remarkably good-natured person with an especially bubbly personality. She and my uncle must have loved each other a lot because I can remember them holding hands almost every time they sat beside each other.

Angie and I shared our maiden name of McGuire and we also shared the asthmatic condition. Knowing how she died, I could not stop thinking about how she must have struggled for air and how frightening it must have been.

As we made our way to the front of the church, I anxiously whispered to my mother my sudden feeling of not wanting to walk by Angie's casket. She told me that I had to follow her but that I didn't have to look at Angie.

As we approached the casket, I made a split second decision to look at her anyway. Her eyes were closed and other than that, I could barely see any details of her face because a very light pink gauze fabric had been placed over the open area of her casket. Heavy makeup and the pink fabric had been used to disguise her badly burned face.

I felt a wave of relief after moving past her but was consumed with a deep sense of sadness for my uncle and cousin who would miss her terribly.

On the ride home, I wondered about Angie's burial in the spring. I knew that I didn't want to go. A few days later, I talked to my mother about it. She told me the decision whether to go or stay home would be up to me.

I stayed home that spring day but by late that afternoon, I realized that I might as well have gone along with my parents because my vivid imagination of Angie's casket being lowered into the ground had played over and over in my mind all day.

By evening I knew that after my death, I did not want by body to be placed in a casket, viewed by family and then buried underground. Even though I was not aware of exactly why I felt so strongly about this at that particular time and had no idea of how and where I wanted my body to end up after my death, I just knew there had to be another way.

By 2010, I had found another way. In July of that year, I made legal arrangements to donate my body to a University Medical School for anatomical use, to be followed by cremation.

Upon my death, it will be my gift to science and to the education of the doctors of tomorrow.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

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Tuesday, 15 April 2014

No Blue Hair, Please

By Janet Thompson

After my second divorce, as a newbie I brazenly answered an irresistible ad in a weekly, alternative Denver newspaper noted for its unusually clever singles ads.

John’s was so imaginative I was immediately hooked. He described himself as a distinguished, mature man, a writer who liked movies and intelligent conversation.

His surprising criteria for a prospective lady friend were a mature woman who enjoyed the same, had no entanglements and he specified, “no blue hair, please” (the hook for me). He requested a handwritten response.

My handwritten response on high-rag-count, discreetly proper, buff notepaper stated, “I, too, enjoy movies; delight in intelligent conversation and my previous entanglements are now disentangled.”

Specifying the “hook,” I also declared, “Miss Clairol and I are dear friends.”

Phoning, he invited me for conversation, wine and cheese. (In the late 80s in Denver, it was unlikely to meet undesirables through a singles ad).

John appeared comfortably relaxed, of average height and indeed was distinguished-looking. I observed a shock of snow-white hair, a silk cravat at the throat of an open-collar, preppy-patterned shirt under an academic style blazer above khaki trousers and boat shoes.

With his white mustache, deep vertical forehead wrinkles and lively blue eyes under bushy eyebrows, I saw a combination of Hollywood bon vivant and eastern, financially secure, leisure-loving academic. He was at least 15 to 20 years older than I, maybe the age of my parents. I would describe John as the most “worldly-wise" person I've ever known.

We visited senior matinees and art house movies twice a week. At either home, we enjoyed wine, cheese, avocados and conversation. He loved avocados, a certain brand of jug wine, water crackers and triple crème brie.

John said I should first critique the movies we had seen. I would and only after I did, would he tell me his impressions. It was daunting for me to disclose mine. (My reviews were usually lame). I now watch movies more knowledgeably than before meeting him.

I finally learned from John the correct use of “lie” and “lay.” His being a writer, it vexed him sorely when I would misuse them. Every time I want to use either word, I stop and think first, reminded of John in the doing.

Many times after our sojourns, he wrote and mailed me a little note. One I saved described me as having been “a remarkable companion, intellectual foil, conversational nourishment provider and hand holder in the dark recesses of Denver’s cinema slums.”

John told many engrossing tales about his Hollywood screen-writing life between the 30s to 50s. He authored during the McCarthy hearings but disclosed little about that sorry period. He wrote poems, stories and plays all his life. I was captivated by some he shared.

A native easterner, he subscribed to the New Yorker magazine so I gleefully thumbed through the most interesting articles and fun cartoons.

We watched TV in horror as the Tiananmen Square massacre unfolded live. We discussed movies as varied as Sex, Lies and Videotape, White Men Can't Jump, Pretty Woman and When Harry Met Sally. He knew Nora Ephron well and the movie became a constant theme between us: whether men and women could be "just friends" or would eventually have to become lovers.

I felt tongue-tied at comments like, “until they have been lovers, a man and a woman are strangers.” This, and then he would expand on it by penning a note to me. Some of his greetings were: “Dear Person.” If he sent the note the next day after we saw each other, it might be “P.S.” A paragraph might end with, “Seque to - ” followed by “But will we?” Or it might be prefaced with “(Stage direction: He takes a deep breath – Then -)”

Having just disentangled myself from the entanglement I had assured him of, I wanted to be just friends but glanularly, he needed a lover.

John continued putting ads in the singles columns. One reply finally produced a JoAnn and he started seeing her. In writing, I became “The Other Woman” or “Dearest Other.”

January, 2003, in answer to my Christmas card, JoAnn sent me a note with no return address saying John had died around Thanksgiving. I never knew her last name so I couldn't share my innocent memories with her, making me feel empty.

* * *

He always made this college drop-out feel his intellectual equal.

In heaven, is he still collecting singles ad replies? If not suitable compositionally, do they still go into his round file?

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

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Monday, 14 April 2014

The Panhandler

By Norm Jenson of Mostly Anecdotal

Our dog’s a panhandler. I didn’t realize it for a while, but then one day it was clear.

She occupies the prime real estate in front of my chair. She gazes straight into my eyes trying to make eye contact. Her eyes are sorrowful. I'm not sure how she accomplishes it, but she does.

She tilts her head to the side. I can see the sign, "Hungry, Little Ones at Home, Please Help, God Bless.” She should remember that I know she's been spayed. Perhaps she's forgotten.

She leaves for a spell but then returns with a determined look and a new sign. "Will Work for Food," it reads. And then as if to prove the point she trots over to the back door showing her willingness to do something in return.

Probably she thinks doing her business outside counts as work. I can see her point. She goes out and down the stairs — sometimes she pretends to get business done but it's a ruse — not this time though, this time she does her job and I reward her with a treat.

She's back again with the "Will Work for Food" sign but I'm not buying it so she changes signs to "Single Mom, Help Me Feed The Little Ones," and then does the head tilt bit.

I toughen up and ignore her but then she starts whining and snorting and then whining again. I lose my place in the book I'm reading and I’ve had it. "Out of here," I say, but she screws her little rear into the floor, and growls. I need a new plan.

I get a treat and throw it into the hallway, she bounds out of the room but before I can get up and shut the door she’s back with the treat in her mouth. She has this half-open mouth grin she does sometimes, she's doing it now, bits of dog treat drop to the floor.

I try again. I get another treat and throw it into the hall; I'm on my feet now and confident I'll get to the door before she does. But she's pretending she's not hungry.

She stares at me. She lies down and pretends to sleep so I sit down and start to read. I look over at her, there she is lying on her side like a giant pork sausage.

I'm back to my book. Detective Wallander is working on a case that's taken him to Latvia. He’s just discovered a bug hidden in the clock in his room, it's then I notice the dog has done it again.

While I was sleuthing with Kurt she was stealing the bait I left in the hall and was back again with her half-smile.

I don't have an answer. I'm certainly no match for this devious pooch. We should have trained her better. We should have stuck to our guns and not let her outwait us. We shouldn't have fallen for her well thought out plans and now we'll just have to live with it.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

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Friday, 11 April 2014

The Giving of a Tallis

By Sondra Terry

When I was in my early fifties, I found my way to a synagogue that had a woman rabbi which intrigued me and lured me into ultimately becoming a member of the congregation.

I wanted to learn, to study and to participate in prayer with others. And, after a time, I wanted to wear a prayer shawl, a tallis which was worn by not only the men of the congregation but also some of the women.

Speaking on the phone one day, I told my father about my desire for a tallis and I asked him to buy one for me. There was a hesitant silence and then he said, “My dear child, I can’t do that.”

I pressed him, “Why not? I want to wear one. Why would you say you can’t do that?”

He explained that the way he was raised, the tallis was a ritual item worn only by men. To go and buy a tallis, knowing it was for a woman - well, he just could not do that.

I remember quickly ending the conversation, putting the phone down and sobbing. The hurt was too much to hold in. I knew my father would have given his life to save mine yet he would not do this simple thing. To have a tallis from him would have meant so much to me and it was not to be.

The next few days, the thought of his response kept coming to me: “My dear child, I can’t do that.”

I wondered if he understood how that answer hurt me. I wanted to call him but I stubbornly determined that I wouldn’t and I would never raise the question or talk about it with him again. It was too painful.

Then he called. I know I must have sounded cool to him at first, but he soon said he wanted to talk about the tallis.

“What about the tallis?” I asked.

“You must remember that I gave your husband the gift of a tallis before you married. That is traditional. I don’t know and it’s not my business whether he ever wore it. But I want you to ask him to give you that tallis and I will buy him a new one.”

I heard his words and I blurted out, “No, I want my own from you.”

He slowly and firmly repeated what I was to do. “Listen to me. You take the tallis I gave your husband. Let that be yours and I will give him another.”

I heard his words, I thought for a moment and I understood his intent. This was how he resolved his dilemma. I will have a tallis from my father, bought by my father, but it will have resided in my husband’s possession for a time. How clever.

And so it came to be that I have a beautiful woolen tallis, given by my father.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

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Thursday, 10 April 2014

Personality Split?

I have come to the conclusion
that my New Year's resolution
to leave grouchiness behind
and be courteous and kind
has been causing some confusion.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

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Wednesday, 09 April 2014

Too Old To Be Self-Conscious

By Arlene Corwin

There is no subject that cannot
Be kicked around
Or talked about;
No theme so ‘sacred’ it must be avoided.
No age when you cannot have passion,
No age when you're not allowed
To be yourself:
The same in every
When you can’t become a newcomer
To themes that make you joyful,
Things that make you tingle;
There is certainly no age
When you may not be entertaining:
Giggly, extroverted, corny, plainly silly – and a fool.
No age when you must discontinue demonstrating, sharing
What you’ve learned and known;
No age too late to come into your own,
Be known for what you’ve done and do.
If it is not your birthday,
Happy anyday* to you.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

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Tuesday, 08 April 2014

The Great White Hunter

By Old Bill Weatherstone who blogs at The Diesel Gypsy

Lately my cousin and I have been discussing about how far back our memories can retrieve. In my case it was/is at three years old. These discussions (over drinks of course), triggered another memory, but at the age of seven, 1942.

As usual in my case, it was again another Great Lakes shipping season where I was boarded out to a different family in a different location - a small farm just outside the town of Petrolia, Ontario, Canada.

The old house had an outhouse inside with the same function as if it were still outdoors. There was a small barn housing some pigs and a cow. There was also a dog (breed unknown). He and I became inseparable.

One day it was time to replenish the meat supply. A neighbour from the next farm came over and with Alex, my guardian, went into the barn. I was curious so I followed them.

They had a large pig separated in a smaller pen. The neighbour proceeded to chase the pig and jumped on his back and wielding a large bayonet, quickly dispatched the animal.

Between the squealing and action I was sort of paralyzed and could not take my eyes off the event. I can still visualize the incident as clearly today. I learned quickly that you have to do unpleasant things to survive this life.

A few days later, I decided that it was time to learn how to hunt and live off the land. I picked up my trusty Red Ryder 1,000 shot BB gun, called Jake (the dog) and headed out into the pasture. Being very careful not to step on a land mine (cow pie), I carried on to a very heavily wooded ravine where I envisioned all the huge animals lived. You know; the bears, moose as well as unknown monsters.

Jake was on the move and I tried to keep up. He was barking up a storm having cornered a large skunk whose tail stood straight up and was ready for combat.

He was about 25 to 30 feet away, part way down the ravine.

I pulled my trusty rifle into action, took aim and missed. I could see the copper BB in flight and then compensated for range. Three fast shots hit the animal and I guessed he was sort of pissed off because he shot back, first hitting Jake as he was only about two feet away.

Jake retreated, whelping like crazy and digging his nose into the ground trying to get relief from the skunk’s barrage.

I took one more shot trying to finish him off and save my dog when the skunk charged at me and got me with a full blast of his secret gas weapon.

Both Jake and I retreated in great haste and never looked back. Once across the open field, I climbed over the back yard fence.

Violet (my guardian also) was at the time hanging the wash on the line in the back yard. She suddenly stopped and got a good whiff of what was returning from the hunt.

Letting out an ear piercing scream, she yelled, “Stop right there, you little buggar.” That included Jake as well who by this time was cowering at her voice, which he knew better than me.

Boy did the crap hit the fan then. Back at the fence was a giant round (like a wooded barrel) water tank about 40 inches deep and ten feet wide, filled by a windmill pump.

She told me to take off all my cloths and get in. I immediately responded in high gear. I brought the dog in with me while he swam around and then wanted out.

Violet then called Alex to get over to the general store and get as much tomato juice as he could. He responded quickly to the voice of authority and was back in a flash.

The dog was first to receive the antidote, a thorough scrubbing in and out of the tank, a rinse and then locked into the barn. I guess that was the dog jail.

Expecting the same treatment, I was next. While Alex set fire to all my cloths and burned them in the field, Violet doused me with tomato juice and scrubbed me down and threw me back into the water tank for a rinse.

When the attack was over, I was expecting to be locked in the barn with Jake but was escorted back to the house. It was a quiet next couple days until the trauma cooled off.

Jake and I were set free from our prisons and allowed to venture out to explore the universe again, but without our trusted (confiscated) Red Ryder BB gun.

Another lesson learned by little Billy Weatherstone.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

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Monday, 07 April 2014

Death’s Plan is Always Fair

By Marc Leavitt of Marc Leavitt's Blog

Death’s plan is always fair,
An Equal Opportunity Employer,
He shows up everywhere,
And really doesn’t care
If you dance like Fred Astaire,
Or win in court; he’s unimpressed by lawyers.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

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