Archive for the ‘Essays’ Category

Tinkerer’s Syndrome, by Alexander Gasiorowski

If a friend or a loved one displays a mechanical inclination, spends long hours messing with broken gadgets in the garage, and refuses to buy new stuff when he claims the contraption he brought back from the garage “works just fine,” that individual may be afflicted with Tinkerer’s Syndrome. Yes, I just made that up. That individual is likely a tinkerer. “Why do you waste your time? You’re never going to get that thing to work properly, just buy a new one,” you may ask. Once upon a time, products were made to last and when they broke, they were repaired. This is no longer true. Many of the appliances, toys, gadgets and electronics made today are designed to be used for a time and disposed of when either a new, “better” product reaches the market, or when the item fails. Thus, it can be difficult to understand the practical motivation behind being a tinkerer; why a loved one dwells in the garage far into the wee morning hours, trying to determine why the battery charger keeps tripping the circuit breaker. To an individual to whom a broken gadget does not beckon, the mind and motivation of a tinkerer seems foreign.

Dictionary.com defines a tinkerer as: “A person skilled in various kinds of mechanical work; jack-of-all-trades.” I would further augment that definition to include all machines, mechanical, electrical, or other, not just mechanical work. A tinkerer is an individual who casually pursues an understanding of machines by means of first hand analysis or by studying the experiences of others. Being a tinkerer is similar to being a professional in a field, albeit often without formal instruction in that field. A tinkerer often takes a casual approach to technical fields and possesses the skills needed to do simple repairs or modifications to complex equipment, though the quality of work is not up to par with a professional. In a modern, disposable society, the practicality of being a tinkerer is brought into question. The primary goal of the tinkerer is not to bring the item in question back to working order. “Honey, I can fix this, you don’t have to buy a new one,” is just an excuse. Rather, the goal of the tinkerer is to expand his or her understanding the world; to learn the “how’s and why’s” of our world.

My earliest memories are of crushing my thumb with a hammer, attempting to nail together two pieces of wood at the age of two. When I was four, I would disassemble my Buzz Lightyear action figures and reassemble them, mixing and matching parts. At the age of eight, I took an interest in wiring and electricity. I studiously scoured Black and Decker’s Advanced Home Wiring and Basic Troubleshooting and Repairs manuals. Applying what I gleaned, I assembled a number of switched outlet contraptions and lighting circuits, occasionally blowing circuit breakers along the way. In each instance, my activities were not for a practical purpose, rather the goal was to gain a broader understanding of our world. Retrospectively, the questions I was seeking answers to in each of the aforementioned cases were: “How are these pieces of wood held together,” “What pieces make up my action figures,” and “Why do the lights turn on and off when I flip this switch?”

*I have acquired a number of friends I would describe as tinkerers. Like myself, they are all mechanically inclined and take an active interest in learning more about the machines that make up our world. My friends and I all have basic understanding in a wide variety of subject areas while specializing in two or three specific areas. While we are similar in that regard, we often differ in our areas of expertise. I hold an interest in cars and many types of electronics, while a tinkerer friend of mine is interested in woodworking, a field in which I have only basic understanding and minimal interest.

Being a tinkerer has led me to acquire the skills and understanding needed to repair and maintain the majority of appliances, tools, electronics, and other gadgets I own. A tinkerer’s interest in computers and electronics has led to a career in the Information Technology field. My mechanical inclination has helped me to fix and maintain my cars, vehicles with maintenance costs that would otherwise drive me bankrupt. Friends and family have benefited from the free and discounted work I’ve done on their computers, electronics, and automobiles.

If you have a friend or loved one afflicted with Tinkerer’s Syndrome, you’ve likely noticed parallels between the experiences I’ve recanted here and the experiences of that individual. Tinkerers often cannot help themselves. There is no cure for Tinkerer’s Syndrome. Buying a new toaster oven often won’t stop a tinkerer from trying to fix the old one. The best course of action is to be supportive of the endeavors of a tinkerer, understanding that the tinkerer’s goal is not to repair the gadget in question, but to learn from the attempt.



Works Cited

“Tinker” Def. 3 Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 01 Nov. 2015. <Dictionary.com: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/>.

Race, by Alexander Gasiorowski

“You’re late! Get out of bed!” Like ice water splashed on a sleepy face, fear flooded my mind. My crusty morning eyes shot open to see my mother, with a concerned scowl, standing in the doorway of my room. “We need to leave now if you’re going to catch the bus.” Evidently I had overslept. In my groggy state I must have turned off my alarm when it went off half an hour ago. What little grogginess remained was washed away with a splash of icy cold water as I rushed to get ready. It was Saturday morning, the morning of my first cross country meet. If I made it to the bus on time, this would be the first meet I would actually run in. Last week I was so stricken with anxiety that I vomited. Today would be different. Today I would learn to overcome my fear and anxiety.

Over the course of my high school cross country career, my cohorts and I had often joked that our sport is other sport’s punishment. There is certainly truth to that. Cross country is punishing, but the source of my anxiety was never a fear of pain. No, this anxiety ran deeper than a fear of running or of pain. I had a fear of being tested, a fear of reaching my limits, a fear of failure. It has been said that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. My great concern was that when the going got tough, I would fail. I was afraid I would give up and thus I wouldn’t even try.

The last person strides onto the bus just as my mother and I pull into the parking lot. In a mad dash, I grab the bag containing my lunch and a few bottles of water, sprint through the crisp September morning, and slip onto the cozy bus. The bus is practically full, but I find a seat next to another nervous freshman. The old diesel engine roars to life and the bus lumbers forward. Except for the hum of the engine and the noise of the road, the bus is silent. Anxiety hangs sticky in the air. I quench my nervous thirst with a gulp of water and gaze out the moisture-laden window.

It was a half hour drive to the park. By now the sun had burned away the moisture left on the bus’s windows, but the anxiety remained. I busied myself with setting up camp, trying not to think about the challenge awaiting me a few hours from now. My mental avoidance continues through the rest of the morning, though the walk-jog of the course and through the other runners’ races. Fifteen minutes before the start of the race, my teammates and I stand at the starting line preparing to start our warm up stretches. By now the sun had reached its apogee, though the air remained comfortably cool. I spy nearly a hundred other runners surrounding us, everyone in their own little trance, pondering what was to come. From the starting line, three quarters of a mile of open field lay in front of us, followed by a massive hill, with the rest of the course snaking through the forest thereafter.

Out and back, skipping, stretching, jogging, that’s the warm up routine. Loose and limber, I join my comrades at the starting line. A colorful crowd has assembled to our right, emanating a low rumble generated by the collective hushed speech of several hundred spectators. A man stands in the middle of the field, two hundred yards away from the starting line wielding a miniature canon. “One minute to the start of the freshman boy’s race,” A voice booms over the loudspeaker. Thirty seconds later the loudspeaker cracks again: “Thirty seconds.” By now the starting line is silent. Even the great crowd of spectators stands silent. The loudspeaker quips one last time: “Ten nine eight seven six five.” My eyes are fixed on the man with the canon. It is at this point the mental dam breaks forth and the thoughts of the challenge that awaits me flood my mind. Hundreds of people will watch you fail, you can’t succeed. You should give up, why bother trying? But I knew this was coming. I had held back the fear and the doubt long enough. I can’t back down now, it’s far too late for that.

You see it before you hear it. Sound travels significantly slower than light, we all know that, though there are few situations in life where that difference can be experienced. This is one of those. A mighty cloud of smoke bursts forth from the canon. I’m already running by the time the sound hits me. Moments later the cloud of dissipating smoke moves by my moving feet. One foot in front of the other, the course blurs by. Fellow runners, whose race preceded my, own line the openings in the course, cheering me on. I see the faces, I know them, but my mind’s only ponderance is putting one foot in front of the other. Up the hills, down a few more and the end is in sight. The voices echo in my head: “Don’t try to beat the guy next to you. He’s faster. You will lose. You will fail.” The fear clears away, replaced by pure adrenaline as I begin a mad sprint for the finish. I bolt past the negative thought just as I pass the runner next to me. The race is done. I certainly didn’t get first place, but I won nonetheless.

To this day, seven years later, and likely for the rest of my life, I will be hounded by the fear of failure. It never truly vacates my mind. Even so, running cross country throughout high school taught me how to manage my anxiety. It was through cross country that I demonstrated to myself that I am competent and capable. My fear of failure remains strong, but I am ever stronger.

In the Life of PMDD by Heather L. Premo

Most people do not know what PMDD is let alone just how destructively debilitating it truly can be to a person; a person like me. PMDD, better known as Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder has been raising some hairs for quite some time now. Questions like whether or not it is a psychological illness or a medical one is very common, but the one that chaps my behind is the doctors who claim that it does not exist and that it is a made up illness. I am sure you can put your imagination to what I would say to them and have.

It is not uncommon for women during their reproductive years to have symptoms of PMS. We as women have all heard the jokes and have been invalidated in our efforts more times than we can count saying, “It’s that time of the month, isn’t it?” or, “Are you PMSing again?” Words that we as women have all heard and comments that just make us more irritated, but in the cases of PMDD, the anxiety, mood-swings, anger, and sadness are literally off the charts and uncontrollable. To put it into understanding, PMDD is like PMS supercharged and on steroids. I know this first hand because I have had this illness since I was a teenager when I began menstruating. For years and years I could never understand where all these feelings of helplessness would come from; how I could just cry endlessly for no reason, and why I felt that my world was at an end; but only before my periods would start, and then all those feelings were gone like they had never existed.

To explain this more, I am going to bring you into my head and my life just so you have an understanding just how devastating this illness can be to women. When these feelings before my period began, it was usually about a week or so before menstruation began. I would literally cower in corners crying. The feeling of dread consumed my every thought. I believed that everyone hated me and that the world was going to get me. I hated everything about myself. I would try to do my hair and have become so agitated and angry that I broke things or threw them. The level of anger I felt had me thinking of hurting others or hurting myself. Luckily I never succeeded. Mood swings from one extreme to the other were so prevalent that I began to isolate. Not that anyone could tolerate me anyway. The way that I looked at the world for that short time was completely dark. Then I would snap out of it, just like that. I returned to a normal functioning human again, able to cope.

As I grew older, the PMDD symptoms got worse. Especially now. I have tried to commit suicide and have checked myself into the hospital a few times. I also drank during those dark times to cope with the level of anxiety I was feeling. Drinking enough to choke down an elephant just to numb the pain and be able to sleep. Anything to stop what I was going through. Especially the anger; the anger is what scared me the most because I literally wanted to explode at other people. People who have done me wrong or simply just got in my way when I was walking at school, work, or the shopping mall. The level of distain that I feel toward humanity during that time is not healthy. Again, learning to lock myself away. Because my method of coping was to drink, it got me in trouble with the law and my family when I did drink at those times, but somehow never drank when it wasn’t that time of the month. Sometimes I didn’t drink for months. I have lost jobs simply because I would so easily get angry or frustrated that I would just up and walk out or at times just not show up. A few times I have chopped off my hair in a rage only to regret it a day or two later when I snapped out of my crazy faze.

Fortunately in all my irrational cracked up behaviors at that time, I never hurt anyone. Probably due to the fact that my heart and my conscience would not allow me to go that level. Deep down I wanted to get better and not make it worse although what I felt at those times contradicted. Somehow I always did remember that the feelings would pass and that helped me get through.

So many unhealthy things befallen me that survival had become near impossible it seemed. It is only recently that finally I had gotten health insurance and checked myself in because I became so sick of the way my life was going. I knew that if I wasn’t able to change it and fast, I was either going to hurt someone else or jump in front of a bus. I was at the breaking point. So, I checked myself in to the coo coo’s clinic, and managed to find a psychiatrist whom also is a woman and around my age and stayed current on all the medical and psychological issues concerning women. Since then, I have been on multiple different anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications. I finally have found one that seems to be working. Now that I am feeling like myself and not a total nutball, I have decided to educate others on the effects of this illness and the damage it can cause and hope that other women like myself can get some insight on what is happening to them and get the help that they need.

Some facts about PMDD: The illness can begin between 1-2 weeks before menses and generally end when menses begins. 3-8% of women experience PMDD during their reproductive years with onset of symptoms beginning in their 20’s. PMDD can begin earlier as it did with me, but it is rare. PMDD is also linked to being a genetic illness so it is possible that someone in your family may have it or have had it and not known because it is just becoming a realized illness within women.

Symptoms of PMDD are anxiety, extreme anger, depression, irritability, an overwhelming sense, social withdrawal, sensitivity to everyone and everything, fatigue, forgetfulness, and poor concentration. Some of the physical symptoms are the same as with PMS, but are more pronounced or severe like with problems sleeping which was one of the major issues that I have experienced. The most severe of all the symptoms however are suicidal thoughts and possibly actions.

Along with the symptoms I have listed, illnesses like migraines and fibromyalgia seem to go hand and hand with PMDD. With caffeine or alcohol use, they can exacerbate the symptoms and make them worse.

It is important to know yourself and to begin charting your symptoms and the times that they occur with as much detail as possible. The next step is getting the education and the help you need to conquer this illness so that stops interfering with your life and you begin to feel like yourself and get to know the wonderful life that can be lived.

I went through several treatments and medications before finding the one that worked for me, but it took a bit of time and I had to not only be optimistic, but patient with the process. I am now on an anti-depressant that not only helps the symptoms of PMDD, but also helps to subdue my migraines as well which also have interfered with my life, and racked up some nice ER hospital bills.

I do want to say that now that I am healthier and beginning to know the great world around me– even if there are still jerks on the street that I run into from time to time– I do not regret what I have gone through. Everything that I have lost, every tear, and every single horrid experience is what made me stronger so that I could find the help that I needed for myself so I could bring this knowledge to you and many more.

I chose to be an advocate for PMDD because I believe that it could have been fatal for me and may have been in the past for other women. No one should have to live in that much pain. No one should have their life turned upside-down so much that a person feels like there is no end to the panic and no light in the endless tunnel we walk in our journey. There is a light, a very bright one and I am proof of that light and I hope to encourage and empower you.

More Thighs than Popeyes, by Nicole Turdury

“I could hear the jailer making his rounds on the other tiers. The jangle of his keys and the sharp click of his boot heels” kept me awake through the long hours of the night (Baca 6). The echo from the cinder block walls intensified the slightest noise. I could hear the seconds click away on the clock above the bunks. Minute after minute would go by as I waited for the overhead speaker to announce the 5am breakfast call. It felt as if the next few weeks would never end; it was my own personal hell. The only thing that gave me solace was the beautiful writings of my favorite authors.

The months leading up to my arrest had been a brutally cold winter. It was the kind of winter that would chill your bones, with constant advisories and warnings to stay inside. Patients were admitted to hospitals with pneumonia, frostbite, and hypothermia. Hobos’ bodies were found frozen and lifeless behind buildings and in vacant lots. Jackknifed semis lined the interstates; cars were stuck in ditches with emergency help hours away. It had been a true battle with Old Man Winter.

After such a terrible season, it was time for a celebration. I will never forget that day; my friend, Jaime, and I decide to BBQ. It was the first nice day of spring in the month of April.  That afternoon I could see the city come alive, I could breathe in the fresh air, and feel the warm sun on my face. While we cooked greasy burgers and beer boiled brats, we indulged in that same cold beer. We reminisced of previous times, caught up on current events, and made plans for a great summer. We talked of outdoor swimming pools, birthday parties and road trips to wherever the wind would take us. As the evening wrapped up, speech became slurred, and judgment became impaired; it was time to head home.

Despite the pollution in the sky you could see the stars and a beautiful yellow moon. I lived only a few blocks away, and although it was a lovely night for a walk I decided to take the short drive. After making my departure, just minutes from my destination, red and blue flashing lights lit the sky. The lights bounced off the car windows and homes. People were coming out to see the commotion. The seconds felt like minutes, and minutes felt like hours as the two police officers made their way to my car. They approached, one on each side of the vehicle, with their hands rested on their pistols, night sticks on their sides, and a golden badge on their chests; my heart sunk. It felt as if it would explode inside me.

The next few months would bring a battle with the courts, but more so a war within myself. That evening had been a true wake-up call. I needed to find happiness without the use of drugs or alcohol. I was a party girl; I knew all the promoters and hung out backstage with national and local acts. I needed to distance myself from that scene and from the people I considered to be my friends. I began my journey that would be a lifelong endeavor.

At times life would feel impossible. I had no family and now no friends to speak of. I felt alone in life but strong. Strangely enough I felt like a flourishing tree in the middle of a hot, dry desert. There were many times of loneliness, and many weekends that my only friends were the characters in whatever book I was reading that day. I could get lost in the stories; I felt a sense of freedom from my surroundings; I could abandon the universe and the people around me.

As the months went on I waited for the court to hand down its sentence. The waiting felt like it would never end. Every week it was another court date, or another meeting with the bail supervisors. I would sit in the waiting rooms, waiting to be called in the line of thirsty criminals. I didn’t feel like I belonged there. I found myself amongst thieves, robbers and rapists. At times it was downright scary. I would ignore the people around me by sticking my nose in a book. If I made eye contact the questions would come. “Wat cha here for?”, “Grrl you too good to talk?” they would ask; the best one I heard was “You got more thighs than Popeyes!” Who were these people comparing me to a bucket of chicken? I couldn’t take it anymore. I just wanted it all to end, to be sentenced, and to clean up the mess I had created.

Six long, horrendous months and the waiting was finally over. Judgment day had come and passed. I had ten days to turn myself in to the county jail. I prepared my home, my work, and myself. I wasn’t allowed to bring books into the jail; I suppose someone could sneak drugs or weapons in the bindings, lace the pages with hallucinogenic acid, or place razor blades in the book sheath. I was however allowed to order from the publisher and have the books shipped to me, so I did just that.

The day I turned myself over to the state winter was sneaking upon us again. The jail was cold, and the metal bunks felt like knives stabbing my skin when it made contact. The plastic mat they called a mattress was about an inch thick. It was so worn the blue plastic was thinning to white strings. I wouldn’t dare think of the thousands who had slept on the mat before me. The possible germs and parasites that could be living in the mattress I rested my head on made my skin crawl. I hated the incessant light above my bunk; it stayed on twenty-four hours a day.  Until I received my reading material it served no purpose to me.

When I heard the “jailer making his rounds”, “the jangle of his keys” were my cue; I would put my book down and pretend to sleep (Baca 6). Even in the dead of night there was so much noise I could not relax my mind. I would read for hours on end. I traded books with my bunkmate. I even began to look forward to lockdown. When I wasn’t reading I would think about what would happen in the story, or what book I would start next; it was the only thing that gave me solace. It was the one thing I had to look forward to. The more I read, the “more and more words would emerge, I could finally rest” (Baca 7). My mind was now at ease.


Works Cited

Baca, Jimmy Santiago. Working in the Dark: Reflections of a Poet of the Barrio.

            Sante Fe, New Mexico: Red Crane Books, 1992. Print.

Life’s Little Tattoos by Danielle York

Should I or shouldn’t I? This was the first question I asked myself before I got my first of 21 tattoos. This probably sounds like a stupid reason to start such an expensive habit, but over time tattoos became something much more to me. Tattoos became my way to express myself, vent, hide imperfections and bring happiness. According to Lynda Dickson “many tattooed persons view tattoos, and other forms of body art, as a way of expressing themselves as an attractive method of body adornment” (107).

My first tattoo was put on my body about sixteen years ago when I was 19. Everybody was getting tattoos to celebrate being an adult. Just being in the tattoo shop listening to the constant buzz made me feel very grown up. The peer pressure of wanting to feel grown up and make my own decisions led me to getting my very first tattoo. It was a vibrant colored dragonfly. To this day it reminds me of how my adulthood first started.

Over the next few years my passion for tattoos starting growing. The more tattoos I got the more liberated and independent I felt. They also made me feel more likeable. It sounds odd, but for me tattoos made me feel prettier and more confident in myself. Feeling more confident made me feel happier and that feeling of happiness was important to me.

Just like me, my tattoos changed over time. They started to fade and lose their vibrancy. That is when I started to cover them up with a different tattoo. The first cover up was of a solid black lizard that was on the side of my knee. It looked faded and had almost a greenish black color to it. Just like me, it needed to change. It was covered with a totally different tattoo. This once black lizard was now flowers that extended halfway up my leg. This tattoo by far is one of my favorites because instead of people looking at the hideous birthmark on my leg, they look at my tattoo instead. This tattoo brought a whole new level of confidence and took the focus away from one of my imperfections.

There has been a few problems with a few of my tattoos. I should say mistakes instead of problems. When my boys were born I decided to tattoo their names around my ankle. Not only did this happen, the decision was also made to put my then husbands name alongside of the boys. Moral of this story is never, ever put a spouse or boyfriends name on yourself because you cannot see the future and life is always constantly changing. This name has been covered up now with a black rose and symbolizes my courage to raise my boys myself without much help.

Many of my tattoos also have a lot of sentimental meaning to them. It may sound corny to some people, but to me the sentimental meaning is my way of expressing to myself that even though life can be tough, it always gets better. To signify this motto I have happiness tattooed on the back of my neck and strength tattooed on my wrist and foot. Just putting these two words on my body have me more courage to keep going, not give up and be proud of what I’ve accomplished.

“Do you ever regret getting a tattoo?” This question has been brought up many times and to be honest there is only one tattoo that I truly regret getting. Not because of the location of it or the meaning of it, but the look of it. This tattoo resides on my upper right arm. It is a picture of a lock and keys with my boys names incorporated on it. It was supposed to look more realistic, but ended up looking like a huge black blob. Being a guinea pig for a tattoo artist was a huge mistake, but just like life we all make mistakes and learn from them.

I have gotten a lot of criticism over the years from having so many tattoos. * Most people will ask: “Are you done getting tattoos? “Why do you have so many tattoos?” or “Do your tattoos ever cause issues with employment?” Honestly I have no idea when or if I will ever stop getting tattoos. There is always a new idea of one brewing in my head. Why stop if they’ve made me so happy over the years? My main reason for having so many is that tattoos have provided me with that strength and courage needed over the years to keep going. As for getting a job, there still has not been any problem with that. Usually most of my tattoos are out of sight except for two and if need be they can be covered up with a long sleeve shirt.

Tattoos are a part of my life and always will be. They give me a sense of confidence, strength and happiness I need in my life.   As the saying goes: “Don’t judge my choices without understanding my reasons.”




Works Cited

Dickson, Lynda, “To Ink Or Not To Ink: The Meaning Of Tattoos Among College Students.”  College Student Journal 49.1 (2015): 106-120. Academic Search Complete. Web. 27 Mar. 2015.

Funny Flannel Papa, by Danielle York

“It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s stupid man!” My father was always trying to make my boys laugh.

“Papa say it again!” they’d cry.

My dad always had that personality to make others laugh, even when he didn’t try. His jokes and “tall” tales will always be something to remember.

I swear you could spot my father out of of a crowd easily. He was a tall, lanky, thin man who walked slightly hunched over. I’m pretty sure dad used to have dark brown hair, but over time it had mostly turned grey and had a matching beard to go with it. We used to tell him he looked like an anorexic Santa. He always wore a baseball hat, flannel shirt, jeans and ratty looking tennis shoes. Even during the hottest month of summer, he’d still be wearing that flannel shirt.

During the summer time when I was younger we would always take my dad camping for his birthday. My sisters, a few friends, and I would throw dad a themed birthday party. We would dress my father up in something ridiculous, like a clown or princess and make him prance around the campground. Dad always played into it making everyone stop, look, and laugh uncontrollably.

Dad was always telling his “tall’ tales. I call them this because most of the time they were lies.

I remember always telling my friends that when they meet my dad try not to believe every word that came out of his mouth. Most of his tales were about himself. He always told us how he was a race car driver, a night club owner, a baker or even a care taker. When I was much younger I remember asking my mother if dad was really what he said he was.

“Mom was dad really a race car driver?” I’d ask.

“Hell no!” she’d replied. “Your father is just telling you another lie.”

We got used to hearing dad tell his tales. My sisters and I had come up with our own little way to tell if dad was lying or not. Ninety percent of the time when he lied he’s rock his feet back and forth as he was telling his story. When we’d see him doing this, my sisters and I would all look at each other and roll our eyes. As we got older we’d already heard most of his stories so we kind of ignored him when he’d repeat them to the grandchildren. The grandchildren hadn’t heard them before so they would laugh hysterically when dad would tell a good one.

My father would occasionally tell the kids the stories of how he’d be forced to dress up as something very embarrassing.

“Papa what did you dress up as?” the kids would ask.

“Well your mom and your aunts used to dress me up as a princess crown and all,”   he’d say back to them.

The kids would just roar with laughter. Dad had that effect on them. As soon as he’d start telling a story, he’d add in a little stupid joke or saying just to grab the attention of the kids and keep them on their toes for more.

My father lived his life the way he wanted and died the way he wanted. He taught us to have fun in life and always laugh away the small stuff. Even today my boys quote little sayings Papa said and will always remember him being so funny.

Ol’ Man Joe by Scott Pritchard

Joe, or “Ol’ man Joe,” as I liked to refer to him was a short, frail, old, Jewish man. He stood about 5’4″, and weighed, oh maybe 120 pounds. He was in his late 80’s when I met him and was one of the nicest, “mean old men,” that I ever knew. I wish that I had had more time to spend with my friend.

Joe was a simple man who forever seemed to have a scowl on his face; in fact, all of the neighbors advised to steer clear of him. Seems everybody knew his name, but yet nobody really knew him at all. His wrinkled skin resembled that of leather, perhaps from a lifetime spent in the sun. He had but a wisp of stark-white hair on his otherwise bald head, which would only be revealed if you were lucky enough to see him without his grey, flat, knit hat, which he always wore. He always appeared to wear the same tattered tan kaki pants, along with a red plaid shirt, which looked about two sizes too big for his small frame.

Joe loved to walk. During the summer months, almost like clockwork, I would see Joe with his cane rounding the corner at the end of the single lane street to take his daily meandering stroll around our short block. Step by small step, Joe moved along ever so slowly. I never really decided if he walked so slowly because he actually had trouble walking, or he simply wasn’t in a hurry. Perhaps he was just enjoying the feel of the sun on his face, or the sweet smell of the neighborhood lilac trees.

One morning, as I went out to get the newspaper, I had my first opportunity to speak to Joe. It just so happened that Joe had begun his walk a little early that day. I hadn’t noticed him at first, but when I stood up after picking up the paper from the grass, there I was, within yards of this so called “cranky old man.” I awkwardly raised my hand, still holding the newspaper, as if to wave. I timidly spoke out, “Good morning Joe.”

Joe stopped his gait for a brief moment, raised his head and looked at me with a puzzled look on his face. Joe then raised his scratched up, copper colored cane in the air and with a tiny, soft voice simply said,”yep!”

“Nice day for a walk, eh?” I asked with much hesitation, not knowing what kind of response I might get.

“The best,” Joe replied in the same soft voice.

As he lowered his cane back to the cool pavement to continue his trek, I thought for a moment,       “maybe this guy isn’t as bad as they say.” With that, I blurted out an invitation that was completely out of my character.

“Hey Joe. You know if you’re not too busy.”

I paused and realized that I must have sounded completely dim-witted because Joe immediately stopped, looked again with that same puzzled look and replied sarcastically, “I’m 87 years old. I’m always busy.”

To which I replied, “What I mean is, if you’d ever like to share a cup of coffee and some conversation, stop on by sometime.”

“I might just take you up on that offer,” Joe said with what appeared to be just a quiver of a grin on his wrinkled face.

The following morning Joe indeed took me up on my offer. We sat and talked over hot coffee for a couple of hours. Joe must have been a little nervous at first because I don’t think ever stopped stirring his coffee the entire time we sat there. Each time I’d ask if he wanted a warm-up, however he’d simply nod and smile, as if to affirm his content. I discovered that Joe was a Navy pilot in WWII. Like me, Joe had a passion for aviation and you would see his tired eyes light up like a child’s eyes at Christmas, when he spoke of anything that had to do with flying.

Joe visited quite often in the few years that I got to know him. He mostly spoke of his wife of 60+ years, his services in the military, his children, and of course our favorite subject, flying. Joe passed away during the winter of 2006. I can’t help but wonder about the stories that I missed out on. Turns out that Joe wasn’t the “tyrant” that others had made him out to be. I’ll always be grateful for the friendship we shared. It is said to never judge a book by its cover and that has never rung more true than with “Ol’ man Joe.”

Dora, by Valerie Lopez

             As time goes by, we think about the people who made a difference in our lives and the impact they made. To me, that person was my grandma Dora. My abuela was one of the most beautiful, caring, and witty woman I knew.

 She had short, wavy, salt and pepper hair that was always brushed back behind her ears. Her eyes were like pools of blue that were inviting and tempting to swim in. When I looked into them, I felt like I was looking into the depth of her soul. Her skin was of a milky white complexion that glowed as if she was still in her youth. Abuela stood 5 feet 4 inches tall, but this woman was always slouched so she didn’t seem that height. She rarely eversmiled but when she did, she would always give you a half crested one that lit up your heart with joy.  

            My grandmother was born on July 11, 1919 in Lockhart, Texas and for 25 years she worked as a nurse. She was married twice and had 12 children while living in San Antonio, Texas. She then moved to Milwaukee shortly after my grandpa died. She was 55 years old when my Grandpa Miguel unexpectedly died of a heart attack. She ended up moving in with my aunt Tere, who was already established in Milwaukee, and lived with her till the day she passed away.

Even though my grandma didn’t have a lot of money, she would always assist others in need. Once, when I was 8 years old, she made a blanket for a homeless lady living on the streets. As she gave the quilt to the vagrant woman, I quietly whispered to my grandma, “Abuela why did you make that lady a blanket?”

My grandmother then stated, “Mija because I am sure at night she feels the bitter cold crawl through her lightly clothed body.”

One of my fondest memories of my grandmother occurred when I was 10 years old. I had spent the night at her house and awoke the next morning to the smell of oven baked fries swiveling in the air and to the sound of eggs sizzling on the stove. She loved to make me this dish every time I slept over her house. Till this day when I make this dish, it reminds me of the aroma that filled her house early on Sunday mornings.

Although my grandma did not give off a welcoming vibe to those who she would meet, she would always show me affection. She kept to herself and really didn’t show affection to those around her. When someone tried to hug her she would push him or her off and tell that person she doesn’t like to hug. However my abuela would always hug me, and tell me she loved me. My mother and I lived with her the first two years of my life. My father left before I was even born. My mom then moved in with her mother, my abuela. I believe that my grandma and I shared a special bond from this experience. Consequently perhaps that’s why she favored me and let me embrace her and who she was. 

                        My grandmother would like to whistle while she cleaned, or she would hum a tune in her head. She also loved to swear in Spanish but never meant it in an uncaring way.  My grandmother just liked to use vulgar language at times, maybe to express some frustration she had bottled up inside. These were just her special mannerisms that made her who she was. This little feisty firecracker always knew how to make the people around her laugh. Because it was unexpected at times when she would use bad words in Spanish to talk to someone, but we knew it was her way of socializing with people.

When I was 11-years-old my grandmother developed Alzheimer’s, a crippling disease that takes control of your mind. She ended up dying just four years after she was diagnosed with this illness after complications from a stroke. Even on her deathbed, she worried about my mother, who at the time was a single parent of 8 children. My aunt Tere promised her that she would be there for her sister so my grandma wouldn’t worry. Later that evening, my abuela had finally let go. She passed away in her sleep knowing that my mom was going to be taken care of.

 In conclusion, this woman who I called my grandma marked my life in a positive way. She taught me to always treat others as you would want to be treated. And she valued family because it was important to her and I also value family in my life. Her words are very significant in my life and her values are also very important to me. I continuously practice them in life.  I never appreciated her words of wisdom when I was younger. Now as an adult and mother, I have come to understand them, and for that I am grateful. Her acts of kindness and nurturing ways demonstrated to me how to be a humble person. She is the kind of woman I strive to be, the woman I called my abuela.  



A Life Stamp, by Michael Hammer

Living only a block away from Mr. Howard’s candy store as a child was a treat.  I went every time I had some change in my pocket. Most times though, I found myself going when I didn’t have a penny to my name.  It would be Mr. Howard who would teach me a lesson in trust that I would never forget.

      I liked Mr. Howard.  He was always quick with a smile and an offbeat joke that only he would get.  I would laugh, or at least smile, to humor him.  I liked playing the “guess which cup held the piece of candy game.”  He would place a piece underneath one of the cups, mix them up, and I would try to guess which cup it was under.  I, of course, would always win.  Mr. Howard would be amazed at how smart I was.  For some reason this didn’t bother him, and I loved to win that tasty treat.

      One day, I found myself alone in the store.  Mr. Howard stepped outside to speak to a neighbor.  He had asked me to keep an eye on the place.  I felt so important, someone at the age of seven taking on such responsibility.

For the first time I truly saw the store which I spent so much time in. I was mesmerized by all the diverse colors all around me. The many shapes and sizes of the thousands of pieces of candy carefully placed in the glass cases, and counter top jars.  The faded wooden floor would creek with each step I took as I explored all that I’ve seen before, but never truly noticed.  All of this exploring was making me hungry.

       I thought he would never notice if I were to help myself to my favorite candy bar.  Besides, he gave me candy all the time.  I started to work my way back to the front of the store.  Although I could hear Mr. Howard talking outside, he wouldn’t be able to see me from where he was.  I had the candy bar in sight; my heart began to beat faster.

       I placed the item in my pocket just as Mr. Howard walked in.  Our eyes met. Mine must have shown terror, while his showed anger, a look I never saw before from him.  Before I could muster up something to say, he told me to get out, and to never come back again.  My heart that was racing slowly began to sink.  What have I done?  Everything at once came crashing down.  I lost Mr. Howard as a friend, and I let him down.  More importantly I lost his trust, which hurt the most.   

       Over the following weeks I tried to talk to Mr. Howard, to apologize, but he would have none of it.  I missed my friend, and would do anything to gain his trust again.  I vowed to myself that I would never steal again. Nothing like this could ever be worth it.

       Several weeks later I walked past the candy store, Mr. Howard smiled at me again.  I smiled back.  Then I was elated one day when he invited me into his store.  We were talking once again.  I told him how badly I’ve felt and said I would never do anything like that again. He must have felt my sincerity and said he was sorry for yelling at me, but I knew that I deserved it.  I wondered if he would ever be able to trust me again.  He then reached behind the counter and brought out those familiar cups.  My eyes lit up, and he smiled.  He then began to tell one of his jokes. When he finished, I laughed.  I got it this time.

       I did eventually earn Mr. Howard’s trust once again.  It didn’t come easily, but was well worth it.  That was a long time ago; it was a lesson that has stayed with me to this day.  Now as an adult I find myself from time to time walking past the building that holds so many childhood memories for me. I stop sometimes to recall them, with that one particular lesson in trust always coming to mind.  As I think about that day way back then, all I can do is smile.