Different in My Soul

By Karen Brode

Wanda Rivers had been my church friend since we were in grade school. We attended the Church of the Everlasting and our parents made sure we never missed a service. If the church doors were open, Mother and I were there.

When Wanda and I got old enough to go to the junior high Bible class, I noticed that she had somehow outgrown me overnight. She wanted to sit with the older kids in class and with the teenagers on the front row during church service. There was no way I wanted to do that. The more, let’s just say, worldly Wanda became, the more she fit in at church. And the more she fit in, the more her mother pressed her to be more like me, which is to say, not in the least worldly.

I missed the days when Wanda and I made each other laugh and had sleepovers and told ghost stories into the night. Once she started sitting with the other kids, I felt alone at church. I sat with my mother and, as time went by, we grew apart.

The last time Wanda visited my house, she spent the whole time calling boys. I sat and watched in amazement. She was so at ease talking with them and they seemed intrigued by her. When she finally lowered the receiver to her chest, I thought she was going to hang up and start talking with me.

Instead, she asked, “Is it okay if Bobby comes over?”

The thought of a boy coming to my house sent me in total panic. I nearly fell off the edge of the chair.

“No!” I said in a voice that sounded more like a squeak than a real voice. I had to think fast because my reason had to be good. “My mother has very strict rules about boys,” I said, barely breathing. I crossed my arms over my chest with hopes she wouldn’t see me shaking.

It was true, kind of. My mom would have been furious if Bobby had come over when she wasn’t home. But it was also true she might never have known he had been there. My refusal had more to do with being terrified than anything else. I simply wouldn’t have known what to say to a boy.

Wanda squinted her eyes as if she could read my real thoughts then she turned away and whispered into the phone, “Sorry. She says you can’t.” She shot me a look and then said, “She’s just being childish.”

I sighed and went to my room so I wouldn’t have to hear anything else.


Church was where things really changed for Wanda and me. When we were in grade school, the Bible classrooms all had windows. I could look outside and see the parking lot. The congregation was growing a lot back then, so they built a new wing to accommodate larger crowds. The new classrooms were for junior high and high school classes. They were built out of concrete blocks and didn’t have any windows.

I remember the first time I sat in the new classroom. Wanda and I were thirteen and had just graduated to that section of the building. I began to panic that I couldn’t see anything but the walls. I fanned myself and hoped someone would ask to keep the door open. I wouldn’t do it. Even if I passed out, I’d sit there and stop breathing inside the concrete box before asking to prop open the door.

It wasn’t just the lack of windows either. There was nothing to break up the monotony of the mint green walls–no pictures of Jesus walking on the water, not even a Bible verse on the walls. In fact, the walls were completely blank.

I felt myself hyperventilating. If the walls were made out of concrete blocks and the door was closed, how could we breathe? And what if there was a fire?

I looked at the circle of teenagers and realized no one would ever ask to prop the door open. No one else was having a problem. Wanda was across the room with some of the older kids, chatting as if she had been their age all along, as if the concrete box wasn’t a death trap. I remember looking toward the closed brown door, longing to go back to the classrooms with windows. I knew then that I was the different one. I was the one who didn’t belong.

When the teacher started talking, he spoke of how important it was not to go to the school prom. He warned us of the dangers of dancing and the bad influence it would have.

At one point in his classroom sermon, one of the beautiful high school girls raised her hand.

“I don’t think going to the prom is wrong,” she said.

I held my breath and looked at her, my eyes nearly popping out of my head. I would never have been able to voice my opinion in such a blatant way in a group that might or might not agree with me.

“Young lady,” said the teacher, his neck and ears turning red, “You seem to think you know better than I do. It’s clear to me you have no respect for me or the Church of the Everlasting.”

He stood up and paced, his short-sleeve button-down shirt showing wet stains under his arms where he was sweating. He pointed around the room and jabbed his finger directly at the girl who had spoken up.

“I can predict which of you girls will be pregnant by the time you graduate. It’s you girls who toss aside my warnings like they were nothing. Oh, the prom itself might not be an evil place, but just wait! Someone will no doubt spike the punch with no telling what and,” he paused and shook his head, “I remember what it was like to be a teenager. You get caught up in high spirits.”

“Just you wait. Nine months from that prom date,” he snapped his fingers over the heads of each girl sitting near the one who had spoken up. “Nine months from then, there’ll be a whole crop of babies born to you unsuspecting girls.”

When the bell rang, I was the first one out of that classroom. I could barely breathe—both from the closed-in room, and the fire-and-brimstone speech. The whole thing had just exhausted me and I was only 13!

I didn’t really want to go to worship but I had to unless I wanted to go sit in my mother’s car. I imagined skipping church and going to sleep in her car without telling anyone. The whole church would organize a search party. The police might be called. They might bring in the hound dogs to sniff for my scent. My mother would weep until they found me, curled up in the backseat of her car asleep.

It was just better if I went to worship.

On my way to the auditorium, I stopped by the tract rack and tried to find something that would help pass the time during the sermon. I chose a tract published by a church-affiliated publishing company with the ominous title of “Almost, But Lost!”

When the worship service began, everyone stood for the opening song. I watched Wanda with the older teenagers on the front pew looking as innocent and interested as possible. In one day, she had somehow been accepted into a group that I knew I would never be a part of.

Mother and I sat in our regular spot on the pew. When the sermon began, I opened the religious tract and started reading.

Almost, But Lost!

The story was about a milk deliveryman who watched his wife and daughter go to church. They went every Sunday morning and night, and also on Wednesday night. There were also extra activities at church as well. Vacation Bible School lasted for a week in the heat of summer. On most Sunday afternoons, there were wedding showers, baby showers, and the occasional men’s business meetings. The milkman had the impression that the men’s business meetings were code for “How can we make people give us more money?”

But he was too tired to go to church. He just wanted to rest on the weekends because he worked hard during the week. His wife and daughter wanted him to go to church. He never did, though, because he knew if he took one step inside a church building, they would hound him forever. And they wouldn’t be satisfied with just Sunday mornings. If he went to Sunday morning worship, they would complain that he didn’t go back on Sunday night. There would be no end to their expectations of him.

He never told his wife this, but he often prayed to God, and at times he felt that he and God were pretty good friends. He couldn’t imagine himself in front of a church praying. He was a private person.

His well-meaning wife had asked one of the church leaders to talk to her husband and try to save his soul from hell while there was still time. When the church leader came to the door, the milkman ran out the back, climbed a fence, and walked to a store in a nearby neighborhood. When he returned home, his wife’s cold gaze let him know that, not only was he destined for hell, he wasn’t going to have much fun on earth either.

After a few days of silence, the milkman told his wife he was thinking he might go to church with her sometime. If he only had to go to worship on Sunday mornings he might could stand that.

The next Sunday morning, his wife rose to cook breakfast while the milkman stayed in bed with the newspaper. She didn’t say a word to him, but he knew she expected him to go with her to church. He stared at the ceiling and wished he could be the man his wife wanted him to be.

After his wife and daughter left for church, he went to the kitchen to make some scrambled eggs and toast for himself. He knew his wife had only cooked enough for herself and the little girl. It was her way of letting him know of her disappointment in him.

Suddenly, there was a loud noise outside, and the milkman ran out into the backyard. He saw Jesus descending on a cloud with his arms stretched out to welcome his people to eternal life. The milkman looked on as he watched people rising to meet their Savior in the sky.

Jesus looked down at the milkman in disgust as he gathered his true followers to him. Then, as fast as he had come, Jesus turned his back and headed on back to heaven with his band of angels.

The milkman sat stunned on his back steps. The sky turned black and the sun began to fade.

He fell on his knees and screamed for Jesus to come back and get him, but it was too late. He realized he would be separated from his wife and daughter forever. He fell on the ground and wept.


Upon finishing the story, I threw the tract into the songbook rack on the back of the pew like it was on fire. I didn’t want to take that home! I didn’t want to think about it anymore.

I looked over at Wanda and her new friends and wondered if heaven was going to be like earth—the cool kids on the front row, while the rest of us sat with our moms. I pressed my eyes shut and shook my head. I didn’t want to think about that either.

As soon as church was over, I walked quickly and quietly to the car and waited for Mother. While I waited, I thought about how the tract and watching Wanda with her new friends reminded me a little of the night I had been baptized at a Gospel meeting.

A regular meeting usually ran for four nights, but the more ambitious ones lasted a week. This particular meeting was held at the football stadium because the preacher was well known and followed by so many. A church auditorium would never have held all the people. I had listened intently as the preacher talked about how sad it would be for someone to leave this meeting and go home unsaved.

“Who knows if tomorrow will ever come?” he asked with concerned gravity. “What if Christ comes this very night? It might very well be the last chance.”

The the song leader ran up the steps to the podium and the preacher stepped aside as the audience began singing:

Oh do not let the word depart

And close thine eyes against the light

Poor sinner harden not your heart,

Be saved Oh tonight

Tomorrow’s sun may never rise

To meet thy long deluded sight

This is the time, oh then be wise,

Be saved Oh tonight!

Normally, I would have been too terrified to stand up in front of so many people, but I was more frightened at the thought of being left behind by Jesus should he come anytime soon. I was ten and could no longer ignore the state of my soul. I got in line with the other people who could not risk another day of sin and degradation. I felt hyper alive. I was a part of something bigger, accepted by God and his church.

All the people in the stadium continued to sing another verse of Oh Do Not Let The Word Depart. On the last verse, the preacher stopped the song to give out a final plea:

“Brothers and sisters, I cannot stress to you enough how important this one step is in your life! Maybe you are scared. Maybe you are embarrassed. It doesn’t matter. God sees your heart and will accept any and all who come to claim the free gift of salvation. Get up now, and come as we sing the last verse.”

From my place near the front of the stadium, I scanned the bleachers and noticed they were only half full. A lot of people were up front to rededicate their lives to God. These only required prayer, not baptism.

When it was my turn, the preacher asked me if I believed that Jesus Christ was the Son of God.

“Yes!” I almost screamed.

The preacher pushed me under the water and lifted me up. As soon as I climbed up the steps of the baptistery, someone else was coming from the other side to be baptized. I remember thinking that it seemed like an assembly line.

As I warmed myself with a towel and changed into dry clothes, I looked in the mirror. I didn’t look any different. I didn’t even feel any different. But I knew I must be different in my soul.


Karen Brode is a senior contributor for Jet Planes and Coffee. She grew up in Denison, TX and graduated from Denison High School in 1972.  She took courses at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and worked in a church office for 25 years.  She and her husband, Gary, have been married 39 years and they have one son, Brandon.  Karen’s hobbies are writing, sewing, and gardening.

Deliver Me!

By Karen Brode

“Don’t let her go back in your house,” said Mary, who was sitting at the steering wheel of my car. “We’ll never get her out again!”

Unfortunately there wasn’t much I could do. I was lying in the backseat with a terrible backache. I had bent over to dry my hair that morning and my back had seized up.

As I lied there, I couldn’t help wondering if my pain was psychosomatic. I really didn’t want to go anywhere with these people, never mind three hours on the road from Palm Springs to San Diego with them. Why couldn’t we have just gone out to lunch, or gone shopping for an afternoon? But no, that wasn’t enough. Ida and Mary wanted all of us to go visit Pam. Mary said it would be good for us, for our friendship. She had even talked about going swimming in the ocean. Wouldn’t that be something? Ida couldn’t seem to find her way out of my house. How did Mary think she’d be capable of swimming in the ocean? If you asked me, the entire trip seemed overly ambitious.

After my back seized up, I had considered calling an ambulance to come get me and take me to the hospital.  They could just go without me. And yet I knew even an ambulance couldn’t rescue me. They’d wait. They’d reschedule. I was destined to go on this trip, even if it killed me.

Originally, Ida told us she would be at my house by 9 AM at the latest. Mary had bet it would be noon before she got there, and now it was after noon. I was already tired and we hadn’t even left my driveway. My back hurt, but I told myself I would feel better if we were at least moving in a direction toward our goal. Instead, we were in my hot car in my garage waiting for Ida.

After what seemed like hours, she came out of my house with her sack of fruit. How she had managed to lose it in the first place was beyond me, but then it took her another ten minutes to find it after she ran back into the house in a panic.

Mary was in charge of driving. This made the most sense given Ida’s penchant for indecision and my back pain. But Mary drove with cruise control. I knew it was irrational of me to worry that it would get stuck, but I worried. I never used it. I wondered what we would do if it got stuck. Would we go hurtling past San Diego and into the ocean?

The two ladies chattered away in the front seat while I fought to put the thought of drowning in the Pacific Ocean out of my mind. It seemed to me that, with all that talking, Mary couldn’t be too aware of whether the cruise had gotten stuck, so from time to time, I raised up a little to monitor the car gauges. I was glad I didn’t have to actively participate in the conversation. This allowed me to focus on the pain in my back as well as keep an eye on things from the back seat.

The desert hills and small towns melted into each other as we drove down the highway. The original plan was to drive about halfway to Pam’s house before we stopped for a meal. An hour and a half went by and we had neither spun out of control, nor killed each other yet. When we finally reached an exit that promised restaurant options, Mary took it.

“What about Pamir Kabob House?” Mary asked, looking towards a little yellow storefront with a striped awning over the door. “I’ve never had—what kind of food is that?”

“No, no, no. I want regular food,” Ida said, much to my relief. It’s not that I didn’t like trying new things, but the idea of trying a new kind of food with “Ida-n’t-know” was a level of torture I was not prepared for.

A few days before the trip, the three of us had gone shopping at the local mall. I had wanted to go and I had really wanted to enjoy it. These were friends I didn’t get to see often and it should have been enjoyable. Instead, it came to be a reminder as to why I don’t see these friends very often.

I had stood in the shoe store with Ida for I don’t know how long as she compared thread count and brand names and thicknesses of socks. She carefully studied each pair, she scrutinized the labels, and she asked the saleslady what brand might last longer. The saleslady stared for a moment with a look that seemed to suggest she didn’t get paid enough to deal with people like Ida. Then she composed herself and said she didn’t know for certain because she had only been working there for a few months.

Finally, when Ida picked up the first pair of socks to compare them with the last pair, I walked out of the store leaving Mary alone to assist in the purchase.

I felt tired as I walked to a bench in the middle of the mall to wait for my friends. What surprised me, though, was how I started crying as soon as I sat down. I couldn’t have told anyone why I was crying. I didn’t understand it myself. Yet, there I was, a grown woman, worn threadbare after an hour of waiting for Ida to choose a pair of socks.

Another half an hour passed and finally Ida and Mary came out of the store. I wiped my eyes and tried to look as if I hadn’t been crying. Later, I apologized to Mary about it. Even then I couldn’t put a finger on why I had cried.

Back on the road, we couldn’t seem to decide on a place to eat. We passed a pizza place and a Mexican place, both of which looked nice, but either the parking lot was too full for Ida’s liking or she didn’t like the way the windows were shaded.

“Is your back any better?” Mary asked as she turned the car around to drive back through the shopping area.

“No,”  I whined. “I don’t even know if I can walk!” My arm was draped dramatically over my eyes, but I could see enough to notice how Ida and Mary looked at each other and rolled their eyes.

“Take a look in my purse,” said Mary. “There should be some Advil in there. If you take it now, you should feel a lot better by the time we get to Pam’s house.”

I looked in her purse, and I found the Advil. It was a giant pill that I knew I would never be able to swallow. What was she thinking? I started to remind her of my inability to swallow pills, but then I decided it was best to let it go. I slid the pill back in the bottle and thanked her.

She circled the car back around one last time when Ida said, “There’s Macaroni Grill. Let’s eat there!”

I slowly and carefully got out of the car and followed them into the restaurant. I lagged behind in my infirmity. My back did seem a little better. Maybe the thought of taking an Advil had made me feel better.

Once inside and seated, we sat in silence while figuring out what we wanted to eat. Mary and I closed our menus within a couple of minutes, having made a decision. Ida, on the other hand, studied her menu as if she were preparing for a final exam in Italian cuisine.

“I wonder if this alfredo sauce has real cream or if they make the sauce at the restaurant. I would be afraid of what might be in it if they make it here.”

When the waitress arrived to take our order, Mary ordered a pizza and I ordered the fettuccine alfredo.

“Does the alfredo sauce have real cream?” Ida asked.

The waitress, who had probably graduated from high school the summer before, told Ida she wasn’t sure, but she would go check. When she came back, she confirmed that there was real cream in the sauce. She looked at her notepad expectantly and waited while Ida studied the menu a little more.

“I don’t mean to be difficult,” Ida said, “But I have to be careful not to eat anything with additives or dyes.”

The waitress nodded as Ida continued. “If I accidentally ate something with dye in it, my heart would speed up and my arms would no longer work.” She waved her arms around as if to illustrate which part of her body would no longer work.

The waitress looked around the restaurant, apparently looking for reinforcements, but they must have all seen Ida coming and ran. There wasn’t another waitress nearby. Ida continued to examine the menu and the waitress’s eyes glazed over waiting.

Finally, Ida wanted to know if the bolognese sauce was made with real tomatoes, “Because if it has any red dye in it, there’s no telling what would happen.”

The waitress tried to make eye contact with Mary and me, but we had simultaneously started rooting around in our purses wishing that we could somehow disappear.

“Do you think I can get a salad with no dressing on it?” Ida asked. The waitress rallied for a moment obviously thinking a decision was at hand and the ordeal would soon be over. She told Ida she could definitely get the salad without dressing and, as she said it, she wrote it down on her notepad.

“No, honey,” said Ida. “Don’t write that down yet. I was just asking if the salad was an option. I’m not sure if I really want one.”

At that, Mary took the menu from Ida’s hands and told the waitress to bring the lasagna bolognese and a salad with dressing on the side. The waitress seemed so grateful to Mary that I thought she might hug her. Ida, however, sat across the table and regarded Mary as one might regard a poisonous snake.

As soon as the waitress left, Ida said, “I think I should have gotten to order my own food! I hadn’t made up my mind yet.”

“Well, you wanted the lasagna,” said Mary. “Just accept that and move on! Besides, we don’t have all day. Poor Pam, she probably thinks we’ll be driving up any minute now!”

The thought of Pam peering out of her window blinds wondering where we were sent me to a new level of panic. I didn’t think any of this was my fault, but Pam might.

When we left the restaurant I turned the car keys over to Mary because my back still hurt.

“Huh,” said Mary. “That Advil should be making you feel better by now.”

“I know,” I said, trying to sound positive.

Even if I hadn’t hurt my back, it was probably for the best that I didn’t have to put my feet in the floorboards because Ida had filled them with sacks of no telling what. I wouldn’t have had a place to put my feet even if I could’ve sat up.

We were about half an hour away from Pam’s house when Ida began rummaging into the back looking for something. I picked up different sacks and handed them to her.

“No, not that one,” she’d say. I handed one after the other to her, but none of them had what she was looking for. After she examined the contents of each sack, she stared straight ahead and said, “Oh no! Oh no! Oh no!”

Mary pulled off the highway and stopped the car.  We waited in suspense.

“I left my insulin at that restaurant,” she said. She was Type 1 diabetic. I knew that insulin meant life or death.

I lied there, biting my tongue. I had expected something like this to happen. I began to wonder if we would ever get to Pam’s house.

Ida told Mary to keep driving toward San Diego and we could stop at a place called Charlie’s Nook. She could call Macaroni Grill from there. To sweeten the idea for us, she said she had once seen Willie Nelson there. In my case, it made the idea much less appealing because I didn’t want to see Willie Nelson. I was pretty sure Mary didn’t want to see him either but we were trying to be nice in light of Ida’s dire situation.

As soon as Mary pulled into the parking lot, Ida was out the door and running toward the building. It was a large place—larger than a nook. The parking lot alone seemed as big as a couple of football fields. As soon as we entered the building Ida yelled to us from a bank of pay phones.

“What town was that where we ate?” she asked.

Mary and I looked at each other perplexed.

“It was halfway between here and Palm Springs,” I said, trying to remember the name of the town. That was the best I could do. Ida turned back to the phone and looked through the phone book. She started calling every Macaroni Grill between San Diego and Palm Springs, not really knowing even if the restaurant she called was along our route.

“They hung up!” she screamed after a few calls. She looked at me as if it was somehow my fault that they had hung up on her.

As she continued to call all the Macaroni Grills in Southern California, Mary and I went to find a restroom. We had just entered a wide hallway when a woman hurried past us wearing nothing but a towel. Not long after that, another woman in a towel hurried past us.

“Jane, I think Ida brought us to a brothel,” said Mary, giggling.

“I was thinking the same thing.” I said. “We could call Pam and tell her we’re in a brothel and can’t get out!”

Then I said, “Now listen Mary, if it was just you and me, we would have been at Pam’s house hours ago. Now, now, we are in a brothel.”

I looked around, panic rising to my chest. “We could go out that other door and we could get in the car and just go to Pam’s house. Ida’s resourceful. She would find some way to get to San Diego.” My mind raced imagining Ida alone in the brothel. “Maybe she could hitchhike,” I said. “Besides, my nerves are too far gone to spend another minute with her. It would be best for everyone if we just left her here!”

Ida’s voice carried across the entire warehouse of the place. She was loud and sounded as panicked as I was. She had called six Macaroni Grills and no one knew anything about her insulin.

When she had exhausted every restaurant in the book, she said in her loudest, most annoying voice, “So rude! Not one person could help me.”

“That’s terrible,” I said, secretly wishing the day would be over.

Mary asked for a San Diego map and I began to wander up and down the store aisles realizing that I would probably not get to Pam’s house today or any other day. I stood out of sight and hoped with all my heart that we would not have to turn around and go back for the insulin, but I also tried to convince myself that if we had to, we had to.

Mary asked me to call Pam and tell her where we were.  I went to the bank of phones where Ida had just spent the last twenty minutes. Mary attempted to locate the town where we had eaten.

Ida should have been the one to call Pam and tell her why we were late, but it was up to me. I didn’t want to incur Pam’s wrath alone. If we had all arrived at her house at the same time, I might not be singled out for verbal abuse. But we were all in this together, I told myself. There was no going back.

I took a deep breath as the phone began to ring. Before I could even say more than “hello,” Pam started yelling and screaming.

“Where are you?” Her voice was so loud I had to hold the phone away from my ear. “I have been terrified about you. Were you in a wreck? Did you have a flat tire? Are you okay?” She barely took a breath between each question.

I paused before answering, trying to figure out how to sum up what all we’d been through. “”We didn’t have a flat and we didn’t have a wreck,” I said. “We had Ida!”

“Oh no! What did she do now?” she asked calming down.

That’s when I began to sob. “I don’t know if I can make it all the way to your house. All of this has just been too much.”

In a gentle voice she said, “Jane, just hang on for a little while longer and when you get to my house, I will take over and you can rest or do whatever you want. Just concentrate on how much better you’ll feel when you get here.”

I looked over at my friends who were trying to make heads or tails over the map and watched as yet another woman walked by in a towel. Before I hung up, I sighed and promised Pam I would try.


Karen Brode grew up in Denison, TX and graduated from Denison High School in 1972.  She took courses at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and worked in a church office for 25 years.  She and her husband, Gary, have been married 39 years and they have one son, Brandon.  Karen’s hobbies are writing, sewing, and gardening.


The Kindness of Strangers

By Karen Brode

Lightning flashed and thunder rolled as I sat in my car hoping the rain would let up. It seemed to come in alternating waves of intensity. I thought if I could just catch one of those times when it wasn’t hammering down on the car, I could make a run for it.

It wasn’t just about the rain, though. I was extremely afraid of lightning. When I saw it flash, I could count, one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, and estimate if the storm was getting further away.

Really, though, the truth was, I simply didn’t want to be there, no matter what the weather was doing. I couldn’t think of anywhere I’d rather not be than at the nursing home where my mother lived. As it turned out, no one else wanted to go there, either. There wasn’t anyone but me to do what had to be done. They had all scattered to the four winds after she went to live at the home. They wanted nothing to do with her.

Finally, the rain let up enough that I decided to run for it. I ducked my head and ran. It seemed long ago when Mother and I had sat on the front porch of the nursing home, but it was just last summer. I tried to imagine that we were just sitting out on her front porch at her house. She liked nothing better than to sit on her front porch in the twilight. This was a little better than staying inside the nursing home.

During that visit, I had brought my Bible to read to her. I searched through the pages to find something appropriate to read to a woman who had lost everything.

I began, “The Lord is my Shepherd.”

“I shall not want!” She almost shouted. She would never have done that before Alzheimer’s. She was so quiet. It just killed me to see her that way. I guess it was good that she was in her Alzheimer’s World because she did not hear my sobbing as I turned away.

When I looked back at her, I saw her sitting in her wheelchair dressed in some other old woman’s clothes. Her beautiful silver hair was cut at chin length. I wondered what she would be like if she hadn’t turned into this facsimile of herself. But it was no use to wonder that.

In the beginning, it had upset me to see her in someone else’s clothes and to spot other people wearing the dresses I had bought for her. After awhile, I realized that there was no way to keep up with clothes, and I should just be grateful she was dressed.

I made it safely to that memorable porch out of the rain. I shook my umbrella off and left it outside. I had forfeited my lunch hour from work earlier that day so I could just go home when my time at the nursing home was over. I wanted to sit quietly in my house and not have to think about any of it.

She was usually in the cafeteria when I arrived, but when I looked in, she wasn’t there. One of the nurses said she was asleep in her room. I walked into her room and watched her sleep. The thunder clapped in the distance. I told myself that nothing could ever be as bad as this. Nothing for the rest of my life could hurt as bad. I put my hand on her hand as I stood by her bed. I didn’t mean to cry, but the tears came unbidden.

The door to her room opened. I turned to see a woman in a business suit. Her hair was professionally coifed. I wiped at my eyes and she came to stand beside me. She explained she was from the State of Texas. They were doing a routine check of the nursing home. She saw my tears and put her arm around me as I cried some more.

“My mother has been in the nursing home over ten years,” I said. “She used to have Sunday dinners at her house, and the table would be full of family members, but now. No one else in the family will help. ” My voice broke off.

She nodded. “It’s not right, but this is usually what happens. Usually just one person ends up doing all the work.” Then she hugged me again and left the room to continue her rounds.

After she was gone, I leaned down and kissed Mother’s forehead. “Momma, I love you.”


Karen Brode grew up in Denison, TX and graduated from Denison High School in 1972.  She took courses at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and worked in a church office for 25 years.  She and her husband, Gary, have been married 39 years and they have one son, Brandon.  Karen’s hobbies are writing, sewing, and gardening.

Brother Betrayed

By Eliot Gregory

My twin brother, Bradley, has always been a religious type. We didn’t go to church when we were growing up, so I don’t understand how that happened. I wasn’t religious at all. Usually, twins are more alike than different. We are fraternal twins, not identical. Maybe that could explain the differences in us. As I understood it, we just happened to be born at the same time. We have always been totally different, and, as life goes on, the differences become more pronounced.

For starters, Bradley was a football player in high school. Wild horses couldn’t have made me an athlete! I watched from the bleachers as he made touchdowns, and I cheered with the others who were screaming around me. This was Texas, where football is a religion all its own. I was afraid not to cheer! I didn’t understand the sports world, but I knew it could draw anger from others if I didn’t pretend to be excited by everything that happened on the field.

After high school and college, Bradley took his religion from the field and into church. He became a minister, of all things. He didn’t want me around much during those years. He married a girl he met on a mission trip to Italy. She could barely understand any of us, let alone Bradley. I could see after a year or so things weren’t going to work out, but there wasn’t anything I could do but watch his life implode.

That’s when he finally turned to me for help. He asked to live with George and me in our condo in Austin. We had the room, but to be honest, it really wasn’t comfortable with him there. At times, I saw the distaste on his face that he had for George and me. I tried not to let it bother me because I wanted to help him. So, I ignored the looks and became a sounding board for him.

Funny how it was me who let him into my life when he had once shunned me and put all his stock into his church. By the time chinks started showing in his armor, though, his Christian friends had completely deserted him. He realized too late that Christians aren’t always very nice. They might say they cared, and they all said they’d pray for him, but their actions spoke much louder, in my opinion.

For years, I kept my mouth shut about all of it. And I’ll admit that it gave me a tiny bit of satisfaction to know the church had turned on him. It didn’t make me happy to see my brother so sad and out of options, but there was a little piece of me that enjoyed hearing what all had happened to him at the hands of his beloved church family, especially when he had shunned his real family (me) because of his beliefs.

I wanted to say, “Well, Bradley, where are your church friends now?” Believe it or not, though, I don’t always say everything I think. I knew my words would twist the knife in his back. I didn’t want to add to his misery, so I tried to help him pick up the pieces and move forward.

Most days, he languished in his bedroom reading or watching TV. George and I bought  a TV for his room.  I knew he was taking pills of some sort but he had always been fairly responsible, so I didn’t worry too much. I didn’t realize the extent of the damage done to him, though.

He cried hysterically when he talked about the senior pastor yelling at him when everything fell apart. It must’ve been awful for him to go through that and then see the guy up in the pulpit on Sunday mornings talking about how Christians should encourage each other and bear each other’s burdens.

“Church is a haven; a place of rest,” the minister had told his congregation. That’s a fine thing to say in public. Too bad he couldn’t have practiced what he preached.

By the time he turned to me, Bradley’s wife had long divorced him. He was greatly diminished as a person and nearly annihilated as a minister. I never went to his church. I just couldn’t do it. I had thought to myself that he was so happy and anxious to do a good job, especially in those early days. I guess they thought that’s who he would always be.

He went through so much. I wanted to tell his church friends that, but I could already see the critical looks that would be on their faces if I tried to talk to them about their hypocrisy and unfairness to this man who gave his life to their service. But I would be wasting my breath because I know how church people are. They’re scared! Plus, I knew they would never admit they had been wrong to fire my brother at such an awful time in his life, even if they sort of believed it in their hearts.

Not long after he was fired, we found out he had a brain tumor. Stage three brain cancer. I don’t think I have ever felt so sorry for anyone in my life as I felt for Bradley during that time. Not one of the church leaders that he had looked up to all those years took the time to visit him or even call him. He had a broken heart along with that brain tumor.

Even after he came through that horrific disease, he was constantly pulled back to the torment of what had happened at church. I listened patiently to every story that tumbled from his lips. He explained just how petty things had gotten before he left, such as how he had left a message from one of the members for the senior pastor on a sticky note.

He put his head in his hands and sobbed.

“Well, tell me the rest, Bradley,” I said, because I couldn’t imagine how that had been wrong.

“He screamed at me for leaving messages on post-it notes!” This big man just crumpled in front of me. He dropped his head back in his hands and cried.

It took everything in me not to go give that pastor a piece of my mind, but it would’ve been pointless. I could see all the church people standing there against me; against poor Bradley. It was so senseless, all of it. The people who should have been there for my brother deserted him at the worst possible time. And they couldn’t ever be sorry because they couldn’t admit they were wrong.

So it was Bradley who had to change and accept things, and the church people would not be held accountable for their actions, at least not in this world. I tried to take deep breaths when I spoke with my brother so I didn’t explode. I wanted to keep my voice calm because he was already so visibly shaken much of the time. I watched him disintegrate and I didn’t know what to do.

After a while, I knew all of it backward and forward. Months went by, maybe a year. I heard the story over and over until I couldn’t stand it anymore. I knew it was time for him to move on, but he couldn’t.

One Saturday afternoon, I went in Bradley’s room and pulled up the blinds to let the sun shine in. He was still in bed. He groaned and rolled over, away from the light. I told him I wanted him to get up, get dressed, and go somewhere. I didn’t care where, just somewhere.

It was then I noticed the bottle of pills on his nightstand. He didn’t leave his room much, but when he finally went for a shower, I went in and looked at them. Whatever it was, he had 90 of them.

To see us standing next to each other, someone might think the athletically built Bradley was the strong one; the one who could handle the vicissitudes of life. And I would be seen as the opposite, with my thin bone structure, pale appearance, and shy demeanor. Bradley never had much of anything go wrong in his life, whereas I was bullied relentlessly in school. I watched him all throughout high school. Although I didn’t envy him, I did want to understand him, so I stood on the sidelines and paid attention. He and the other football players punched each other in the arms. They talked about which cheerleader they were going to take out on Friday night, and they chatted about the game the week before.

My brother is a people pleaser–always has been. When he had the beautiful wife from Italy on his arm, he looked like the picture of success. I think in his early adulthood, he thought he was still on that football field and he could still hear the cheering. Then it all went away and he crumbled.

I felt sorry for him at first, but after a while, it got old. I heard the story too many times. Finally, I just couldn’t listen to it anymore. I know he felt that there was no one left in the world who cared.

Last night, I had had too much. He followed me down the hall screaming, “They told me I could never make another mistake!” I looked at him with disgust. He was disgusting to me now.

“Get over it, Bradley,” I said as I closed the door in his face.

He yelled at the top of his lungs for what seemed like hours. He beat on my locked door and cried and begged me to not leave him alone. I tried to burrow more deeply into my bed. I couldn’t stand to hear any of it again. I ignored his pleas. And, finally, he cried himself out and went back to his room.

To be continued….


Eliot Gregory is a contributor to Jet Planes and Coffee. For him, writing is an exploration in human emotion and action. He has been writing for his own enrichment for more than 20 years. Thankfully, upon gentle encouragement from others, he decided to share some of his favorites with us.

An Evening on Jupiter Island

By Alexander Dominick

My favorite nickname for Jupiter Island is “God’s Clipper Club.” It’s the place where old people go in the winter–to visit their parents.  Situated about 40 miles north of West Palm Beach and nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and the Inland Waterway, Jupiter Island has served as a winter home for many of America’s wealthiest families since the creation of the Jupiter Island Club by the Reed family in the 1950’s. The island can be reached on the south side from the town of Jupiter, or from the north through the smaller town of Tequesta. From the Tequesta side you cross a drawbridge that spans the Inland Waterway. There are always a few thin old men dangling fishing lines over the bridge, day or night, sitting on overturned bait buckets, cigarettes hanging out of their mouths, passing time.

Once on the island, giant ocean pine trees bracket the narrow avenue, arching over the road and darkening it as if you were entering a cathedral.

My parents began to winter there in the mid-70s. My father suffered from late-onset multiple sclerosis, and my mother took care of him for the last and worst six years of either of their lives. How they got there is irrelevant to the telling of this story. What is relevant is to understand the people who inhabit this island.

The vast majority are American royalty, born to wealth, sent to the best schools and the best universities, groomed for a lifetime of privilege, and well aware of their exalted status in society. There is never any question about the “rightness” or fairness of this good fortune. That certainty of position permeates everything on the island. The signs of wealth and privilege are everywhere. All the houses have names discreetly displayed by the driveways. They are immaculately kept, and most of them exude that air of simple elegance that is expected of a winter home. (Some of the “newer” people have had the gall to build giant compounds, great walled fortresses that shriek nouveau riche, but they are the minority and only marginally tolerated by the Old Guard. It’ll be a long, long time before they’ll gain membership at the Yacht Club.)

The police are extremely polite. One evening as I walked to the beach from my parents’ home, a cruiser stopped and the patrolman inquired if I needed any assistance or if he could give me a ride. This after making sure I actually belonged, of course.

Perhaps the greatest indicator of status is the style of dress. Plaid pants, citrus-colored shirts, white shoes–all very common attire. My mother wanted to buy me a mustard colored blazer, a Brooks Brothers shirt and a navy blue tie with ducks on it for the “Young People’s Dance,” but I was able to escape with only the tie. As a postscript, this dance is open to all the children of club members, as long as they are younger than 40.

Fast forward to 2002. My father died in 1981, and my mother has aged beautifully, living to an age that no one else in her immediate family has ever reached. She is in a remarkably healthy state of mind, spirit and body. She continues to winter on the island and summer in Colorado, driving herself back and forth cross-country every year. She lives alone in a secluded house in south Denver, and is also alone but slightly less secluded in her house on the island. She has the wonderful gift of being able to listen and relate to everyone. All of my visits to her home there have been punctuated by her friends’ declarations that, “Your mother is the most popular woman on the whole island.”

One of her dearest friends is a woman named Martha, the proprietress of the local antique store who recently celebrated her 90th birthday. Martha is a Southern woman who came of age in Knoxville. She is fully armed with the weaponry bestowed on all Southern society women. She is also remarkably healthy, with one glaring exception: she is 95% deaf, even when wearing hearing aids. Still, she drives all over the island, seeing friends, playing bridge, dining out and managing a store full of merchandise that she personally selects at antique markets in England during the summer.

Another dear friend is Emmy, a woman of indeterminate age who stands erect and shines the light of Northern aristocracy from her piercing blue eyes. One can see by the “cut of her jib” that she’s a Yankee through and through: tall, spare, charming when she wants to be, with rapier-quick reflexes when meting out judgments on social inappropriateness. Emmy too appears very healthy, playing tennis regularly, appearing at social events and quickly becoming the center of attention by both her demeanor and her striking appearance. Again though, there is one small glitch: in spite of her healthful appearance, Emmy’s mental faculties have jumped ship. She is increasingly unable to remember where she is, where she is supposed to be, or what she should be doing at any given moment.

On a recent visit to the island, my brother Michael and I were privy to a very amusing evening. Mom had invited Martha for dinner. I had met Martha and socialized with her over the years, and knew her to be charming, witty, gracious, and very, very funny. Michael had also become acquainted with her and had been the recipient of her generous offering of two unused bicycles for his young daughters when they were visiting their “Mimi” on school vacations. We all looked forward to spending a quiet evening at home with this special friend. Neither Michael nor I was aware of the extent of her hearing loss, however.

At the appointed hour, Martha screeched to a stop in her gray Volvo station wagon, spraying gravel across the front lawn. She parked in front of the house, maneuvered out of the driver’s seat with assistance from her cane, and came to the door. She came in loud, a preemptive strike against having to be at the disadvantage of not hearing what we were saying.


The tactic worked. Michael and I, stunned by the volume, backed away and made hand gestures to her to show her that we’d like her to come in and sit down in the living room. Mom came out from the kitchen to join us in greeting her and was treated to a similar onslaught.


Mom laughed, welcomed her, and offered her something to drink. Martha just stared at her. Mom repeated the offer, this time with an empty glass in her hand.


Mom went into the kitchen to get Martha her drink, leaving Michael and me to entertain.

My opener: “How have you been, Martha? You look wonderful!”


Michael and I looked at each other. It was his turn.

“We went by the store to see you yesterday, but you weren’t there.”

Martha just stared at him.

Just then, as Mom arrived from the kitchen with Martha’s ice tea, Emmy came blasting through the front door.

“Hi everyone!” she called out gaily.

“Hi, Emmy,” we called back. Michael and I scrambled to our feet.

Martha yelled from her seat, “IS SHE INVITED TOO?”

Awkwardly, we all stood there, except for Martha, who was comfortably installed on the sofa and wasn’t in the least interested in otherwise acknowledging the new arrival.

Mom, slightly flustered at the unexpected guest, quickly recovered and said, “Emmy, dear!  You look wonderful, but we weren’t expecting you!”

Emmy’s look of confidence was immediately replaced with one of self-doubt and embarrassment.

“Oh dear,” she said. “Am I supposed to be somewhere else? I thought I was supposed to come here.”

“Well I don’t know, dearie. I saw you earlier today playing tennis with the Bishops, and I know they are having a dinner party tonight. Were you maybe supposed to be over there, do you think?” Mom was trying to be gentle, as Emmy was becoming increasingly distraught. Martha sat and waited.

Mom offered to call the Bishop house to see whether Emmy was indeed supposed to be their dinner guest.  Michael, Emmy, and I stood in the entryway. Emmy made little half-laugh noises to try to cover her anxiety. Michael and I tried to make some small talk to put her more at ease. Martha, in her sofa seat, sat and waited.

Sure enough, Mom came back with the news that Emmy was expected at the Bishop party—but rather than leave, Emmy hesitated, shuffling her feet a little and biting her index finger.  The anxiety was palpable.

“I don’t think I remember how to get there,” she stammered.

“Dearie, it’s the house right around the corner,” Mom replied. But it was obvious that Emmy had no idea how to get anywhere, much less “around the corner” in the dark. “Would you like me to lead you there?” Mom offered.

“Oh would you please, Nance?” she asked, almost out of breath. She glanced at Michael and me, standing behind our mother. “She’s the most popular woman on the island, you know.”

As they were going out the front door to Mom’s car, Martha yelled, “THAT WOMAN STAYS AND STAYS!”

While Mom was taking Emmy to her dinner party around the corner, Michael and I resumed our conversation with Martha. Having learned, we started off each salvo at high volume, making sure to have direct eye contact with Martha. Sometimes that worked, and she answered the correct question.  Sometimes she answered a question she thought we’d asked, at length. Other times, she’d just look at us, turn her head slightly to her right and mutter, “Well….”

It was going to be a long night.

Mom returned a few minutes later. She apologized to us all for having had to leave and expressed her concern for poor Emmy. Then she ushered us into the kitchen for dinner.

The meal consisted of some kind of chicken patties that had been mixed with herbs and spices and cooked with a cream sauce, string beans, and wild rice. While she was facing the stove, she said, “Martha eats like a horse, so I’ll give her two of these patties.” She knew, of course, that Martha wouldn’t hear her.

Martha did, in fact, eat like a horse. While we were trying to talk, yelling across the tiny table in the kitchen, Martha methodically dissected and devoured the food on her plate.






Everyone within a three-mile radius now knew that George Bush would be in Knoxville the following week.

I watched as the food disappeared into her mouth, fascinated in particular, to see the way she slowly sucked in the green beans. I was reminded how an iguana might look, sitting on a hot rock in the Arizona desert devouring its prey.

After a few more minutes of idle, wall-shaking chitchat, Martha made her goodbyes and once again sprayed gravel from the driveway as she headed into the otherwise quiet darkness of Jupiter Island.

It seemed especially quiet after she left, and it took several minutes for the island’s equilibrium to ease its way back into our conscience, but once it did I recognized the quietly respectful symphony of night critters, as if they too were aware of the storied population and history of their human neighbors.


Alexander Dominick is a new contributor to Jet Planes and Coffee. More bio information to come!


By Eliot Gregory

Jewel pulled her cloth coat closer around her and braced herself for the north Texas midnight wind. She carried her purse beneath her coat in case anybody got any ideas about trying to take it.

She had to walk two unlighted blocks to get to the Harbrick Company, a cotton gin that had hired her reluctantly, and only after her father had talked to the owner. It was a dull job but that might be for the best. She had not finished high school and she knew a lot of girls dropped out of school if the right man came along.

Under her breath, she said a quick prayer for Louise, “Lord, please watch over Louise while I am at work. Keep her safe and let her sleep.”

Louise was her 8-year-old daughter. Jewel had had to leave her that night in her apartment by herself. She had explained to Louise that she had to take whatever job was offered, even though it might not be ideal.

As always, she went over the rules with Louise before she left the house. “Keep the lights off, don’t answer the door no matter who it is. This door is opened only for me when I get back from work in the morning.”

As she rounded the corner of the Harbrick Company, she came upon two teenaged boys leaning against the brick wall.

“Hey baby, where you goin’ on such a cold dark night?”

Jewel’s pulse raced but she kept a steady pace and walked past them. In less than a minute, she was at her work station inside the company. She smiled at Gertrude who stood across from her. The bell whistled and the cotton bolls came down the conveyor belts. She and Gertrude were the first ones in  line to grab  cotton bolls and separate the cotton from the seeds.

She was glad she wasn’t the last worker on the line. The last workers were often yelled at by Mr. Fisk, the manager. She had never seen Mr. Fisk actually do anything. It was his job to stand at the end of the conveyer belt and see that no seeds were mixed in with the cotton that fell on to the next conveyer belt. It was a job he was born for. He stood with his arms crossed over his chest and a disappointed look on his face.

Even though it was cold outside, it got hot in the building. Workers were never allowed to turn on the air conditioner in the summer or the heater in the winter. Those decisions were made by the men who sat at big desks with their cowboy booted feet crossed on top of the desks leaning back in their easy chairs while smoking a cigar.

Jewel and Gertrude didn’t get to talk much because it was too loud. It wasn’t worth the effort. They each got a ten minute break every three hours. It was only long enough to go to the one restroom in the building, and there was always a line. Jewel often looked at her watch and weighed the time it would take her to get back to her work station. Mr. Fisk made checkmarks by the names of workers who were even a few seconds late getting back to their stations. She certainly did not want any checkmarks by her name.

She thought how, under different circumstances, she and Gertrude might be housewives visiting back and forth between houses, their children playing together, family barbecues on Sundays. It was best not to think of “what-ifs.”  She was living in the real world where she had to leave her child alone at night to make a meager living for them.

She had been the envy of all the girls when she announced her engagement to Homer Martin. She was 16 when he pledged his undying love for her in the Baptist Church where she had grown up. Now she felt like crying when she thought of him. For her husband, there was always another party, always another woman. He heard distant music and couldn’t be tied down with a wife and daughter. Jewel never saw him as an enemy, but she did feel betrayed by him. He had loved her and made her feel happy, as if all her dreams were coming true.

She wondered if he ever thought about her or about Louise. He never sent his daughter any birthday cards or Christmas presents. She probably couldn’t even find him if she needed him. But then, she couldn’t imagine why she would ever need him. She didn’t know where he lived or if he was happy. She wanted to think that maybe he sometimes had a sad pensive moment when he thought about his own past, the family he made.

She felt sad when she thought of how quickly her charmed life had gone away when she married Homer. She felt so many possibilities in life, and then, like a dream it had all gone away. Being married  wasn’t as much fun as she had thought it might be. Her father had worked as an accountant at the Bells Cotton Gin. He was a deacon in the Baptist Church there. He brought his paycheck home every Friday night and handed it to Momma. How was Jewel to know this was not the way of all men?

She couldn’t let her mind go off on these tangents. She had to just accept her life and focus on her work at the cotton gin. This was her life. She wouldn’t get another chance. Her efforts had to be for Louise. She was 25 years old and, as she tried to push away the past, her future telescoped before her and made her tired.

Sometimes when she was daydreaming as she picked at the cotton bolls, she would think that someday Homer would realize what he had given up. She liked to think that he would come crawling back to her and Louise and beg her forgiveness. But she wouldn’t take him back, not after all of this. She wasn’t seeking retribution and she didn’t want anything bad to happen to him, but she could never feel anything but sadness and betrayal when she thought of him.

Louise looked a lot like her dad, but Jewel didn’t hold it against her. That little girl was the reason Jewel got up in the morning, the reason she worked at this awful job, the reason she lived in the best apartment she could afford. When she had a day off from the cotton gin, she would usually sew a new outfit for Louise.  She didn’t want her daughter to suffer or go without just because her father was a lout.

All of Jewel’s sisters had married much nicer men. It made her wonder how she could be so fooled? Poppa had not liked Homer, but her father wasn’t the kind to interfere if they loved each other. Momma had gone to bed for several days when Jewel quit school to marry Homer. Her mother didn’t handle things well. She could afford to not handle things well because her dad was there to pick up the slack. Jewel realized with stark clarity that she could not afford this luxury.

As she rifled through all her old memories and daydreams, one particular scenario played out in her mind and brought a smile to her face. In it, Homer was old and lying in a hospital bed. Jewel, being the kind good Christian woman that she was, would go to visit him and, from his bed he would cry and say, “Oh, Jewel, I’ve been such a fool! How could I have lived like this?”  He would beg Jewel for one more chance, but without much emotion, Jewel would say, “I don’t think so, Homer.”


Eliot Gregory is a new contributor to Jet Planes and Coffee. We look forward to hearing more from him in the coming weeks and months.

Spanish Flu

By Eliot Gregory

It was December 3, 1918. William stood in the snow with stinging pellets of sleet slashing his face. Although he wore a wool coat, gloves, and a warm scarf around his neck, nothing could stop his shaking.

He took a moment to lean on the shovel. The sky seemed to be glowering at him in anger. There was no sense in what had happened. He wanted to shake his fist at God. He had always served God and he was a good man. He knew he was. Shouldn’t these things happen to scoundrels and wicked people? Not him.

Now he wasn’t even sure there was a God. Why would God let this happen?

His thoughts turned to the day he and Annabelle had gotten married. It was the happiest day of his life. She was beautiful and she was his. That had been less than a year ago. Things had seemed so happy and bright. He had looked at her with awe that such a beautiful woman would even look twice at him. It was still hard for him to believe that she loved him.

He pushed on the shovel and tried to push those thoughts from his mind. He couldn’t think about it right now. He pushed again and again but the ground was too hard to break up. It was frozen. He stood on the shovel but made only small indentions in the ground. He reached up and wiped sweat off his forehead. He knew he would probably be sick, too. He couldn’t help wishing that he, too, could be carried away by the Spanish flu. Maybe it could still happen. He didn’t want to go on living without them.

He had contacted several grave diggers, but none of them were available. They were either trying to nurse someone in their own family or they had this awful flu themselves. Who knew that something like this would come and take everything away from him?

He should not have been so happy, he told himself. He shouldn’t have allowed himself to be so taken by the baby. Maybe God was mad at him for loving Annabelle and the baby too much.

When little Henry had been born, no one was ever as happy as he and Annabelle had been. They took him everywhere with them. Henry was such a good baby. He didn’t cry and take on like some babies at church.  Annabelle was very discreet and kept a blanket over her chest when she nursed him. Everything about Annabelle was first rate. He sometimes worried that he wasn’t good enough for Annabelle.

Fresh tears ran down his face as he pictured his baby son. The tears froze into icicles against his face. Little Henry had begun smiling at William when he was a little over a month old. At first he and Annabelle had thought the baby had gas, but no, he was overjoyed at the sight of his father when he came home at the end of the day. William would sit in the chair by the fireplace in the small kitchen and hold the baby while Annabelle finished cooking supper.

He and Annabelle had named the baby Henry after his grandfather. It made him so happy that Annabelle wanted to name the baby for the grandfather he had loved so much. Having that sweet baby named after him was almost too much happiness for one man. He had been 21 when he and Annabelle married. By 22, he had everything he had ever dreamed of having, and then so quickly he lost it all. The rest of his life looked bleak and hopeless.

When he had been a child, he often spent time with his grandfather. He loved listening to the old man’s stories about the good ole days. Sometimes his grandfather would tell him something sad about his own life. It was hard for William to imagine his grandfather ever playing any role in life except being his grandparent. He tried to think of what his grandfather might have been like as a child.

If only he could go and talk to his Granddad Henry about all this. It wouldn’t make it go away, but he would feel a little less burdened. He knew he couldn’t talk to him ever again. It was too sad to think about. Wherever Granddad was his heart must be breaking, too, because they had loved each other so dearly. William would’ve given up everything he owned to bring any of them back. Even as he thought it, though, he realized he was asking for the impossible.

It seemed  an intolerable cruelty that he had to dig the grave that would hold the two people he loved most in the world. He wondered what he had done to deserve it.

People all over the village were screaming and crying in anguish at the death of another beloved relative. He didn’t want to hear them. He had heard enough screaming and crying to last the rest of his life.

He and Annabelle had held little Henry over a steaming pot of water on the stove. Henry coughed so deeply and even in the beginning, it made William  shake when he felt the cough that rattled his son so deeply. Then one night William went to check on Henry in his  sleep and, well, he couldn’t dwell on that. No amount of grieving would bring him back.

Just when he thought things couldn’t get any worse, Annabelle came down with the same thing. She had cried and wailed when the baby died, but William couldn’t comfort her because he was wailing on the inside. Annabelle lived 36 hours after Henry died.

William thought about the Black Plague that had decimated entire families all those years ago in Europe. In the night, wagons would go up and down the streets and carters yelled for people to throw out their dead. Bodies of the dead  were taken to a common grave outside of town and dumped in with all the other bodies. He felt sick when he pictured people being dumped in with other dead bodies just because no one had the time to grieve or to move on. He could do precious little for Annabelle and the baby now, but he would see that they had a proper grave, and a headstone.

He had sent his brother a telegram to tell him what had happened.  It said:  “Wife and baby both dead STOP.  Come if you can. STOP.

Some people in the community didn’t bother with funerals. William wanted Annabelle and Henry to have a nice service. He was burying them together.

He looked again at the sky that that was still spitting snow at him. Slowly the hole in the ground that would receive the bodies of his beloved Annabelle and his two-month-old son began to take shape. The afternoon was colder and darker as he chipped away at the graves, but he knew he could not stop because if he did, he might never be able to start again.


Eliot Gregory is a new contributor to Jet Planes and Coffee. We look forward to hearing more from him in the coming weeks and months.

Raining in My Mind

By Eliot Gregory

I listened to the puddles of rain splashing up underneath the car as we drove down the highway.  The sky was pewter and looked as if it might rain some more. It was a fitting day to be going where I was going.

George drove. Our friend, Doris, sat in the passenger seat of the car. My car. It seemed appropriate for me to sit in the backseat of my own car, representative of my life. I was no longer in the driver’s seat. Frankly, it was a relief to let them make decisions for me.

“It’s so nice to be insane, no one asks you to explain.” This line kept going through my head in a loop, over and over. I couldn’t remember where I’d heard it–perhaps it was part of a song, or maybe just something I had read–but all I could remember was that one line.

I wasn’t insane, though. I was a drug addict. And no one was more surprised than me.

In high school, drug addicts were brought in to speak about the horrors of addiction. I usually read a book during these testimonials. None of it applied to me. I was smarter than that. Now, though, every time I heard the word addiction I cringed.

It was April 20, 2011. Doris knew a psychologist in the next town and after months of pleading, she and George had finally talked me into going for an appointment. Just one visit, they said. Doris set everything up and scheduled it.

When I heard her say the date, it the first thing that came to mind was that it was Hitler’s birthday. I knew I shouldn’t think about that, but it had to be a bad omen. I was certain that a normal  person would think of something happier and lighter. Instead, I thought about how Hitler and all of his SS officers carried cyanide capsules in their socks and were expected to use them in emergencies. I wondered how I could get cyanide. I’d have to find it in another form instead of a capsule because I can’t swallow capsules.

The idea was intriguing, though. I doubted I could order it on the internet. I’d heard it was a very quick death, though I couldn’t remember whether the word painless was used when describing such deaths. I just didn’t know. Was it painful? I wasn’t that much into pain.

The idea blossomed in my head, gaining steam with each mile passed on the road to the psychologist’s office. I knew I couldn’t look it up on my home computer. It would be recorded that I had searched for the information. I could go to the library if I could get myself together. I wondered if that kind of death would look like a heart attack. Heart attacks were prominent in my family. I had to make sure there was no curiosity by investigators as to the cause of my death.

My twin brother Bradley recently recovered from a very deadly form of leukemia. We have always been close and his potential death was too much for me to handle. I was still surprised that he was alive, quite frankly. I remember walking the halls of the hospital wringing my hands when I thought he was dying. It was such a painful thing to watch. Too painful. More than once I stared out from the fifth floor railing that opened onto the atrium below. It would be quick, I thought. But what if five floors up wasn’t quite enough?

It was the worst time of my life watching my twin suffer and nearly die. For 25 years I had worked as a teaching assistant in the same school. I thought I was surrounded by loving people who cared for my family and me. Of all people, I thought they would understand. They didn’t. Instead, they fired me.

I often told myself as I opened the tranquilizer bottle that anyone in my circumstances would do what I was doing. There was no other way to get through it.

George turned into the parking lot of the psychologist’s office. My stomach turned to ice. It was the last place I wanted to go.

I thought fondly of Dr. Lemon, my former psychologist. I  hadn’t seen her in almost 15  years, but we had stayed close through letters and email. All the time that Bradley was in the hospital fighting for his life, I felt her near me, but the idea of seeing her during that time was too much. I just couldn’t get myself together enough to call her. I smiled as I thought of her and how I almost hadn’t gone to that first appointment just because of the psychologist’s name!

Then it was too late. She was gone. She was 88 when she passed away. I was lost without her in the world.

“It’s time to go in!” Doris said as she got out of the car a little too loudly. Her voice could really be obnoxious sometimes. I sat in the backseat clutching the armrest and seat padding. It was drizzling, but my resistance had nothing to do with the rain. I just didn’t want to go in. George opened the back door and urged me to get out with the look that always won any argument. I did.

We walked through the light spring rain and I noticed that on the window of the psychologist’s office were the letters spelling his name, Robert McGill, followed by a series of letters indicating his education and licensing.

It’s supposed to assure people that he was licensed, I thought. I wouldn’t have known the difference. I didn’t care how many licenses he had. I just wanted to go home!

The waiting room was not what I expected. It had three hard wooden chairs  that looked as if they were carved out of a tree. I thought there was probably a good reason not to have comfortable chairs in the waiting room. People wouldn’t loiter then. There were magazine racks filled with Cowboys and Indians magazines. I had never heard of a magazine devoted to Cowboys and Indians, at least not since I was a boy, but Doris picked one up and started reading it as if my world wasn’t falling apart.

Dr. Lemon  would be so sorry for me if she could see me now, sitting in some strange psychologist’s waiting room in a total panic.

Then the door to the inner sanctum opened, and Dr. Robert McGill asked us all in. I  kept reminding myself that it was just this one time, just to make Doris and George happy. Doris had told me that the good doctor had gone to the same grade school I had. She probably thought I would be more eager to go to the appointment knowing this, but I wasn’t.

I had a vague memory of Dr. Robert McGill. He was a jock and jocks like him made fun of me. In fact, somewhere in the back of my memories, I was pretty sure we had a schoolyard altercation. It was almost a daily event in my life back then. As I sat in the chair he offered, I hoped he wouldn’t remember me.

Even without that horrible nightmare of a memory, I could tell immediately that he was someone who could never understand me. Few people did. Doris is case in point. She had obviously made a mistake. I couldn’t tell this man anything at all about my life. I had asked to see a lady psychologist and here I got Dr. Cowboys and Indians. It was clear that he was light years apart in thought patterns and lifestyle from me. I sighed loudly to let Doris know my first impression. It was turning into more of a disaster with each minute that ticked by.

Doris handed him my bag of pills. He made a big effort to pick it up, acting as if it was the heaviest bag he had ever lifted. I watched him warily as he picked up each bottle and commented on its use. I felt attacked.   Finally, he put the bag down and looked over at me, tired.

“I see that you are going to Dr. Marvin?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said, my voice shaking more than I wanted it to.

“Do you need all these pills?” he asked.

“Yes,” I answered. I shifted in my seat and felt lightheaded.

From the look in his eyes, I could tell he was angry. Maybe I should have said no? Instinctively I leaned more toward George as the doctor continued.

“I have seen so many people whose lives have been ruined by this man,” said the doctor, clearly furious.

I was flabbergasted. Couldn’t he see that I would not still be alive if I hadn’t had those pills to blot out some of the pain? Suddenly, I was the one that was angry. I didn’t like this man putting down my medical doctor. Dr. Marvin understood how horrible life can be. He helped people get through the unbearable times. I felt the need to defend him right then and there.

“Dr. Marvin didn’t put those pills in my mouth! I did that myself!” That told him!

“He sure set the table though, didn’t he?” shot back Dr. McGill with lightning speed. He burned red and nearly rose from his chair in anger.

I had no answer.

He sat in the center of the room in a chair with a word processor from the 80s balanced on his thighs. His thoughts seemed suddenly far away. The timbre of his voice softened as he asked other questions, but I could tell there was another not so comforting voice just underneath.

It didn’t matter, I thought, because I had just made up my mind. I was never going back there. I was there in the first place because of Doris and George, but it was the last time I would ever be in that office.

In my mind, I  could hear Dr. Lemon’s voice saying, “Run! Run as fast as you can!”

As I stood up to go, Dr. McGill asked if  I could come back the following week.

I said, “Sure.” There was no conviction in my voice, no real commitment. I said it knowing I would cancel the appointment later.


Eliot Gregory is a new contributor to Jet Planes and Coffee. We look forward to hearing more from him in the coming weeks and months.

The Gloaming

By Karen Brode

Mother and I  had never had church people over for Sunday supper. I knew my she did not like to entertain, but we had been over to other people’s houses so much that she felt she had to reciprocate.

It was still light when evening service was over, but there was already a chill in the air that promised a long winter. It was a beautiful autumn evening, and the colors of the leaves made them look as if they were on fire.

Our house was secluded, surrounded mostly by woods. Mother had given up trying to explain to Mr. Thompson how to get to our house. She had asked everybody to form a caravan so she could lead all of them there. Mr. Thompson was right behind us with his wife, Millie, and his mother, Pauline. Five more vehicles followed behind him. I could tell  they were all anxious to see our house.

Mother was a little nervous because Mr. Thompson drove way too close behind us. She was not a natural born hostess. She worried over silly little things like whether or not  she had dusted the mantle of the fireplace.

She seemed to be going over in her mind how the house would appear to people who had never seen it.  It seemed almost spooky to me, nestled in the woods with no lights on, and the setting sun reflected in the upstairs windows.

After all the cars pulled up onto the gravel driveway, Mother went to the Thompson’s car and helped get Pauline into her wheelchair. It had to be carried in the trunk of the car. Pauline was in her eighties, but had been very sharp mentally until just lately when her mind had begun to slip. She lived with Millie and Fred. Millie didn’t like the arrangement, but she felt helpless to change it.

All of the Babcock family spilled out of their car–all seven of them. Mrs. Babcock unbelted the youngest’s carrier seat and lifted the baby out. There were five children in all. I had heard Mother whispering to Donna at church that she thought Mrs. Babcock was expecting again! Donna had looked horrified, but it wasn’t really her business. It would mean, however, that she would have to put together another baby shower.

All of the church families entered the house.

“Just sit anywhere for now,” said Mother.

Fred and Millie chose the couch with Pauline’s wheelchair next to them.  All the other families sat on chairs. Several of the guys sat on the fireplace threshold.

Mother went into the kitchen. She set the plates and utensils on the kitchen counter before she got the food out of the refrigerator.

“Would any of you like some iced tea?” she hollered from the kitchen. They did.

Being the responsible 10-year-old that I was, I very carefully carried a big round tray with all the glasses of tea on it. I felt like a waitress in a restaurant and wished I could carry the tray above my head without spilling everything.

“This is such a beautiful home out here in the woods,”  Fred hollered from the den so Mother could hear.

“We just fell in love with it the minute we saw it,” she answered.

While the people sat in chairs and couches, I went to the window and pulled the curtain back. Fred asked me what I was looking for.

I looked back at the group of people sitting in the den and then a little beyond toward the kitchen where Mother was finishing everything up for the buffet supper.

“Please don’t tell my mother,” I said. “It  upsets her too much. But it’s been almost two years and sometimes I can’t believe that they are really gone.”

Everyone in the room leaned forward as I told them how my father, uncle, and two brothers had gone off before dawn to go hunting one fateful morning. Normally, they returned by mid-afternoon, but on that day, they didn’t come back. Mother had paced and worried and wondered. Finally, police cars and search dogs had scoured the woods all around to find them, but there was not a trace of them anywhere. It was a terrible day. Mother was not ever herself again.

I peered back out the window and continued. “I get this feeling every night at about this time that maybe they will come back. I can’t help looking out the window and just hoping.”

There were sighs of great sympathy and disbelief as I stood there looking out the window.

Millie Thompson and Mrs. Babcock got up and stood by me. Millie put her arm around me. It was hard for me not to cry with all that sympathy coming my way.

“It was a night just like tonight,” I continued. “And sometimes I even think I see them coming. But I know they couldn’t come back after all this time.”

Slowly, I walked away from the window, leaving the curtain cracked enough to see through the window. Before I got halfway across the room, Mrs. Thompson screamed and said, “It’s them! They’re coming out of the woods!”

I feigned great surprise and ran back to the window. “It is them!” I said with a gasp.

Fred grabbed his Mother’s wheelchair and headed for the front door. Everyone tried to get through the door at once. The Babcock children hovered close to their parents as they exited.

I smirked as I listened to the car doors slamming and the engines starting. My Mother raced into the den, worried and curious.

“What happened?” she asked.

“Everyone said they had to leave. They saw the hunters coming out of the woods and it just scared them all to death.”

Mother looked out the window and saw that her son, Jimmy, had not worn his cap as she had told him to do that morning. Daddy, Uncle Bill, Jimmy and Robert traipsed toward the house in apparent hunger and exhaustion. They had not eaten since early that morning.

At least she had supper ready for all of them.


Karen Brode grew up in Denison, TX and graduated from Denison High School in 1972.  She took courses at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and worked in a church office for 25 years.  She and her husband, Gary, have been married 39 years and they have one son, Brandon.  Karen’s hobbies are writing, sewing, and gardening.

December’s Giveaway: Coffee + Chocolate Gift Box

Originally posted on Action Event Services:

Caffe Vita and Theo Chocolate Gift Box (Photo from Theo Chocolate’s website.)

It’s time for our December Giveaway! This month, we’re giving away a box you can keep for yourself or turn it into a gift for someone else. It’s a Caffe Vita Coffee and Theo Chocolate Gift Box!

This gift box includes:

  • a 12-ounce bag of Theo Blend Caffe Vita Whole Bean coffee,
  • a 4-piece box of Caffe Vita Caramels from Theo, and
  • a 2-ounce Coffee Dark Chocolate bar from Theo.

To enter this giveaway, simply go to our Facebook page and “like” it. Then write on our wall “Coffee + Chocolate Gift Box” and you’re entered to win! A winner will be selected using a randomizer on December 18th. If you already like our page, simply write on our wall the phrase above.

All entries must be received by midnight PST on December 17th. A winner will be…

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