Only One Who Got It

The Discover prompt today is STREET

I’ve told this tale at some point in the past, but will retell it as my response to this prompt:

I got married after I finished Grade Eleven, so never did get my Grade Twelve. About twenty years back I decided to write the GED test to get my General Equivalency Diploma. This certificate proves to employers that you have the equivalent of a Grade Twelve knowledge.

I did it just for anyhow. In retrospect it was a more of an interesting diversion than anything, because what you need to know to pass Grade Twelve now was about what we knew in Grade Ten when I went to school. And to top it all off, when I did get my certificate, the printer had spelled “Congratulations” wrong!

Anyway, I signed up for the GED test prep evening classes, about ten in all, held at a school not far from where we lived. There were at least twenty people, almost all under 30, I’d say, and we had an enthusiastic and very patient instructor, a teacher about 35 years old. We all enjoyed him.

He and I had a few interesting exchanges in the hall before or after class, not so much about religion, but some leaning that way. You know how sometimes you meet a person and somehow sense that the two of you are on the same wavelength? I knew he was a modern Catholic and felt somewhat of a kindred spirit from him; I think he felt the same.

But the particular class incident that still makes me smile is the one where he announced to us that he was going to tell us a joke. Everyone sat up and listened, eager for the joke and of course the punch line. This was a very clean joke, he assured us. (I later learned that this is an old joke but it was new to me that evening, too.)

“There was once a very rich man who was on his death bed. He wanted to go to Heaven, but he just couldn’t bear to leave all his wealth behind. So he begged God, “Can’t I take some of my money — even a little?”

Finally God relented. “Okay, I”ll let you bring ONE suitcase. You can bring as much wealth along as will fit in that one suitcase. But that’s all.”

The rich man was delighted and converted his cash into gold bars enough to fill the suitcase. He had it by his bed when he died.

Now he gets to those pearly gates lugging this heavy suitcase and St Peter’s waiting there. “Hold it. You can come in, but you can’t bring that suitcase in. Nothing of earth enters in here.”

“I’ve talked to God about this and He’s given me permission to bring one suitcase.”

“So what’s in it,” St Peter asks. “Open it up and let’s see what you’re carrying in.” The man opens the suitcase and proudly shows him all those gold bars gleaming.

St Peter appears bewildered, and says, “You’ve brought pavement?”
🙂

Our teacher paused for us to get and respond to the punch line. I got it. I laughed.

It feels funny to be the only one in a group of over twenty who gets the punch line. But all the others sat there as bewildered as St Peter and the teacher had to explain that, according to the Bible, the streets of Heaven are paved with gold. So this rich man had brought more pavement. Get it? No wonder St Peter was stunned.

The class smiled politely, but the kernel of truth — all this stuff of earth, even the most precious of commodities, is worth nothing on those “Streets of Gold” — was lost to them. The joke had fallen as flat as the pavement.

I still think it’s funny — and yet so true. We’re so inclined to hold onto, to hoard. These days we’re even hoarding toilet paper and sanitizer. Heaven must laugh!

Truth, Lies, and Desk-ku

According to haiku poet David Lanoue in his book Write Like Issa, “Many poets and some editors of journals dislike so-called “desk-ku”; haiku dreamed up as works of pure imaginations. Such writers and readers much prefer haiku to erupt from raw, genuine sensations and feelings.”

the furious sea’s
cat-and-mouse game with the ship
the band plays on

I guess this is desk-ku, since I’ve never been on a cruise, nor at sea in a storm. I was on a whale watch cruise once and did sense the power of the deep sea below. Also, I’ve read A Mighty Tempest by Michelle Hamilton, who describes her own experience in a small craft during a ferocious storm. So I let myself envision what might go on if a wild storm suddenly swept down on a cruise ship and picture the wild sea tossing even a behemoth like that into and out of troughs. I imagine the crew trying to distract passengers from the danger and keep up morale. I remember the story of the Titanic, how the band played as the ship went down.

In reality, cruise ships nowadays have enough weather-watch equipment to avoid that kind of a storm. Passengers would be ordered to their cabins until the danger was past. Oh, well…exciting to imagine.

This thought of genuine experiences and emotions versus writer imagination brings to my mind a similar sentiment expressed by a couple of different friends: “There’s no point reading fiction. It’s just lies someone’s dreamed up.”

To which I’ve replied, “Not very many writers just dream up everything they write in their stories. While the setting itself is invented, fiction involves weaving in incidents we writers have seen, heard, and experienced ourselves. The characteristics of our heroes and villains may be over-balanced compared to real-world people, but if they behave too irrationally, the story is spoiled and the reader disgusted — unless they like fantasy.

I think of Jesus, whose parables have come down to us through the ages, and how He left his stories open so readers could put themselves in the place of his characters. In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus no doubt had a real situation in mind. He didn’t tell this as a dry account, however. He didn’t explain how “Twenty years ago back in Bethlehem, A, a middle-aged farmer, had two sons, B and C. One day C decided he’d had enough of working long hours in the fields; he wanted to see the world. So he says to his dad…and then he takes his share of the inheritance and heads off to xxx where he shells out his shekels on booze and parties. Etc.”

Leaving the actual facts unsaid, Jesus invites his audience — and us today — to see ourselves in all those characters. Haven’t all of us wandered down some wrong path — in attitude if not in fact? Then something woke us up, we saw where we were headed. We sensed we were polluting our minds, bodies, lives, with garbage, and we turned around. Haven’t we all had to go back and admit, apologize, figuratively if not literally ask to be taken back into the family or friendship?

Years ago a teen wanted “freedom” from the restrictions of her Christian home. She became infatuated with a ‘leader-of-the pack’ type, the head of a biker gang, and became his girl. But those bikers worked their girls; she ended up in the pigsty of prostitution, not at all free, and was finally cast aside by the leader. One day, soon to give birth, she finally came to herself, thought of her parents, the love she once knew, and started walking. She started to hemorrhage there on the sidewalk; a good Samaritan picked her up and drove her to the hospital. From there she and her baby girl went back to Mom & Dad and were welcomed back into the family fold.

Most parents can identify with the father, anxiously watching for the return of his prodigal. Whether the child has distanced himself in fact or in spirit, haven’t we hoped and prayed they’d come to their senses, deal with their sour attitude, and get their life back on track?

If we’re honest, we can place ourselves in the role of brother B, who kept his nose to the grindstone, bearing an extra-heavy workload because C took himself off to the fun-fair for a year or two. Now here comes his long-lost brother, crawling home broke and wasted, and their father lays out the red carpet, kills the fatted calf, and is in the middle of a big “Welcome Home” party for this loser.

Some writers do spin fantasies. Even if they try to cover their tale with a realistic setting, no real human beings would react the way their characters do. In real life, if you’re harsh and demanding, often rake your friend or partner over the coals for minor faults, he or she is not going to respond with profuse apologies and promises to get it right and pay attention to your feelings from now on. Trust me. Won’t happen. Modern romances really lead you astray on this one, because real human beings will either lash back or clam up and resent — just like you would if treated that way.

When I was a girl my mom wanted me to take an aspirin for whatever “growing pains” I had, so she’d crush it on a spoon together with sugar. The sweetness masked the taste of the medicine that relieved my pain.

That’s what writers do, sort of. A good fiction writer can take real life situations, dream up a fiction setting, give various incidents a twist — so Aunt Vanilla doesn’t know this humorous bit is based on her baked beans and Uncle Shellby doesn’t realize we’re describing his snoring — and head into a story that has a theme, a point. Something to ease the reader’s pain if they’re hurting.

I recall a time when I was worried about a situation that needed to be addressed somehow. It seemed someone(s) must see the light before too much damage was done — but I could hardly go and educate the attitude-riddled parties involved. Then a story seed dropped into my fertile mind and expanded into a somewhat exaggerated illustration with the point snugly wrapped inside.

My take on the gossip after a minor accident in our community, and how you just can’t believe everything you hear, became Brother Ed’s Accident in Silver Morning Song. Poor Brother Ed had a simple incident when hauling cattle, and thanks to the arrival of a helping hand, the problem was easily solved. But when he got to church the next Sunday… When I asked another writer for a critique, he told me, “This exact thing happened to me after I had a minor accident; the gossip had us dead and dying and what-not-all.”

One local farmer read that story and said he didn’t believe cattle could ever be rounded up that easily, I told him, “I’ve seen it done.” I also researched stock trailer doors online to find out if they might occasion pop open. Yes, it has; a horseman once lost a good stallion that way.

Writer integrity is the key phrase here. Realistic fiction, like all other writing, is a blend of personal experience & emotion, eye-witness accounts, stories heard, and a LOT of research. It shouldn’t be dismissed as “Just a bunch of lies.”

Truth Hurts, Doesn’t It?

One day years back my husband read this little anecdote to me, written by a fellow who shares our last name, and we both had chuckle.

With a bit of time to waste one day, the fellow who wrote it had wandered into a pinball arcade. He stepped up to one of the machines and was about to put money in the slot when he noticed a little sign on the machine. It read: “Why are you wasting your money playing this dumb game?”

The thought has a sting of truth to it. Pricked in conscience and annoyed with the guy who’d taped on this sign, he tore the note off the machine. Underneath was another note: “Truth hurts, doesn’t it?”

In the end he must have gotten a chuckle out of it, or he wouldn’t have written this and told on himself.

Telling the truth is risky!

So many times I wish I’d been more tactful when someone got huffy because of what I said! Other times I regret that I didn’t speak up, but was afraid of giving offense. But “beating around the bush,” as we say, may not have changed the outcome. Looking back, I appreciate the times when someone gave it to me straight up, rather than hinting so tactfully that I didn’t grasp the truth until years later.

If the words we say, wanting to be helpful, deliver a bit of sting in their truth, the hearer’s going to feel it and may respond angrily. But sometimes only the truth served straight up — as it was in this account — will get the point across. 🙂

Have you ever upset someone by telling them the truth? Did they appreciate your straight-forward honesty in the end?

Knowledge

by Archibald Lampman

What is more large than knowledge and more sweet;
Knowledge of thoughts and deeds, of rights and wrongs,
Of passions and of beauties and of songs;
Knowledge of life; to feel its great heart beat
Through all the soul upon her crystal seat;
To see, to feel, and evermore to know;
To till the old world’s wisdom till it grow
A garden for the wandering of our feet.

Oh for a life of leisure and broad hours,
To think and dream, to put away small things,
This world’s perpetual leaguer of dull naughts;
To wander like the bee among the flowers
Till old age find us weary, feet and wings
Grown heavy with the gold of many thoughts.

.
Book & quote

Sweet Memories

FabricThe good times and the bad
the ribbons of joy,
the patches of sorrow,
the threads of lessons learned
from the materials of every day;

with these we weave
the fabric of our lives
into a blanket of sweet memories
that will warm our hearts
in the old times, the cold times.

I’m going to be occupied with an editing project for a couple of weeks. You may not hear too much from me during this time, but I’ll try to pop in every now and then.

A Classic Bait-and-Switch

Caveate Emptor
(Let the Buyer Beware)

I included this bit of wisdom in a post to Judy Dykstra brown and she was so thrilled to learn a new expression she even wrote a post on the topic. 🙂 Click here to read it.

Her reply jogged my memory. I recall an experience I had on this one myself years ago, when we were living in Montréal. And since today’s Word Press prompt word is infuse, I’ll use this example of a time where I was infused with righteous indignation.

One fine summer day…

He was standing at the entry to one of Montréal’s métro stations. Early thirties, I’d guess, rather shabby in appearance — hardly your ‘up-and-coming enterpreneur’ look — with a small bouquet of flowers in his outstretched hand. “Pretty flowers. Two dollars,” he called to the mass of people passing. The crowd, hurrying to catch the trains, ignored him.

I was part of this human tide flowing into the subway entrance, but when I saw him I paused. Yes, the flowers were pretty, neatly wrapped and ready to go. Plus he really looked like he could use the money, so I opened my purse.

When he saw me step closer and start fishing for the money, he held out the flowers so I could get a good look at them. The bouquet, which even included a rose, was colourful and fresh as a daisy. “Just two dollars,” he repeated.

He took the coin I handed him and I reached for the bouquet — but he was quick. Pulling back the flowers in his one hand, with the other he scooped up a similar bouquet from a bucket beside him, wrapped so you could just see the flowers, and held it out to me. The flowers appeared identical so I grabbed it, nodded my thanks and joined the crowd headed for the trains.

After I took my seat on the subway car I took a closer look at my purchase. Oh.

This bouquet’s best-before date passed yesterday — or the day before. The outer rose petals were withered; the mum blooms were fringed with a bit of brown; the greenery appeared a little wilted. NOT just like the one he was holding out for inspection.

As I thought about the switch he’d pulled I was infused with indignation. What a rotten trick! And a sense of injustice. The man’s dishonest — a cheat! Wounded pride. I’ve been had! Okay, it was only $2, but still… And embarrassment. I should have been watching. I should have protested when I saw him make the switch.

By the time I’d arrived back at the house, I’d decided to let it go. If he was a cheat, it would be on his conscience; I wasn’t going to lose sleep over it. I’d cut my losses — along with the flower stems — and move on.

I trimmed the stems right away, stuck the flowers in warm water and revived those I could. The mums and greenery perked up well for a few more days; the rose was too far gone. And after all, I’d only lost $2. Not worth grinding my teeth about.

I chalked it up to a relatively cheap lesson in life. Economics 101: o caveat emptor!