Why Did the Phone Ring? by Janet Keyes

     Let me say this at the outset- I got a cell phone only for my own safety and convenience. It leaves the house with me only if I go outside alone in the wintertime when I might possibly slip on ice and fall, and when I will be driving out of town alone. To assist in keeping my phone for my own convenience, I have given the number only to my husband and my three children. My three children’s spouses do not have my number, nor do my three grandchildren. It seldom rings.

     Generally I am conscientious about plugging the phone in regularly for recharging. I do know that a dead battery leaves the phone useless. With all my precautions in place, I felt confident that my phone would be used only by me for outgoing calls in proper emergencies. I suppose the enormity of my naiveté should not surprise anyone of my own generation, and will probably elicit pitying chuckles from other generations.

     When I first had the cell phone, I was dismayed when it rang. The nice man in the phone store had set the ringer on “vibrate,” but my phone had a very soft ring-tone accompanied by some vibration and an annoying noise that sounded like a cross between a hoot and a groan. Somewhere some poor owl must be in pain, I thought. My dismay turned to a mild panic when I realized I did not know how to turn the phone on. After I flipped the lid up, should I have pushed the round button? Or maybe I should have hit that odd green icon that resembles an actual phone?  Why didn’t that nice man explain all this? I had been very specific about wanting the dumbest phone possible, so what went wrong? I tried just saying, “Hello?”

     I had waited too long. No one was there.  Or maybe I had failed to push some button. I put the phone back in the bowl on the kitchen counter. This whole business of having a cell phone just for my own safety and security was getting to be complicated. A little later my daughter dropped by. She is a cell phone whiz, plus being a whiz at using all kinds of I-pads and tablets and laptops. She walked me through a few basics, and made sure I could retrieve messages if I missed a call because of being at the other end of the house or out in the garage. The missing message said, “This is Dr. So-and-So’s office calling to remind you that you have an appointment tomorrow at 2 PM, Mr. McMann.  Goodbye.”

     I called the doctor’s office back and explained at length that this was no longer a valid number for Mr. McMann. So now I’m a social secretary for a man I don’t even know. I don’t even remember his real name- I just made up a pseudonym.

     During the next few months I got many calls for him, and of course none for me. I had to explain repeatedly that no, this is not the correct number for Mr. McMann, and no, I do not know what his new number is because I do not know him. Sometimes his callers sounded a little hostile, and when I demanded to know who was calling, they would hang up. Eventually, I began to wonder why Mr. McMann had given up his number. Was he avoiding an ex-wife, or an ex-girlfriend? Was he avoiding collection agencies? Actually, all the calls seemed to come from men- maybe he was dodging an ex-boyfriend.

     I wish I could say I have become more skilled at using my cell phone, but that would be inaccurate. The menu page is for illiterates, with no words, just pictures. I think in words, not in pictures, or pictographs or hieroglyphics. One day as I was fumbling with my phone I discovered to my horror that it was taking pictures- a capacity I did not know it had. I still don’t know how to do it on purpose. The phone store man never mentioned it. Apparently the dumbest possible phones are determined to be smarter than I am.

     Somewhere in all these months of confusion, my daughter was helping me do something with my phone, and it required me to have the ability to text, so she canceled my setting of NO TEXTS. Now I get odd messages by text more than by voice. Sometimes those text messages say things like, “Long time no see. What’s up, baby?” And one hostile recent message said something like, “This Ur-Heg. You must return this call NOW!” Frequently around dinnertime, the phone hoots and groans to give me a text about how somebody needs me to help to make America great again, or to tell me the DNC desperately needs me to contribute money so we can Take Back the House. Apparently Mr. McMann has an eclectic mix of political loyalties. Fortunately the messages can easily be deleted, but I have noticed there is no option to Block this Number or to Opt-Out and Unsubscribe.

     So, after having this cell phone almost three years, I have made about five out-going calls, and have received about four in-coming calls from family members. But most of the time, I still cannot answer the question, “Why did the phone ring?”

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Time Was Not Our Friend by Janet Keyes

I tried to think of an occasion when time got away from us. Maybe we are the only people who never experienced that, or perhaps we never felt embarrassed enough to remember it. Or maybe we had such an experience and found it so traumatizing that our minds have completely blocked the memory.
I do, however, recall an incident when time was not our friend. We were young, with two small children. We liked to go out square dancing a couple Saturday nights a month. We also did western style round dancing a couple Tuesdays each month. These recreations gave us a break from our routine, and gave Allan’s mom and my mom some quality time with the little ones. As responsible parents, we always left a phone number where we could be reached in an emergency.
On one such evening we were going down to the square dance at the Westover Air Base in Chicopee. We had called ahead to make sure this was a phone that would be answered throughout the evening. You just never know with a government agency. We were reassured, and Continue reading

Sounds of My Life  by Janet Keyes

Early there were murmurs of adults
reading stories to each other-
near the warm kitchen stove,
grandparents, father, mother.

In summer came the chirps of cricket song,
and wind in pines made whistling sound.
Greenfield added rumbling trains
as raucous city noises would abound.

In teen years I heard music of my peers
the stuff my mother could not love-
and I came to know choral hymns
telling us of God above.

In nursing I heard anguished moans of pain,
from terminal patients unrelieved.
Their doctors’ fear of making addicts
was not to be believed.

In motherhood I cherished tiny sounds
of newborn infants’ little cries,
and when I held and nursed them,
there were gentle happy sighs.

In all the years my kids were growing up,
their noise of living filled my every day,
laughing, joking, squabbling, yelling-
my children went on their way.

 Inevitably, declining times have come,
and lesser sounds are falling on my ears.
Cicadas, crickets, hoots, and howls
serenade me through the years.

 

Mom’s Secret by Janet Keyes

When my older children were young I got into a health food kick. I even asked the Easter Bunny to bring no chocolate, just healthy things like nuts and sesame logs. I was not just being mean; a couple of the kids were slightly allergic to chocolate. The children seemed a little less enthusiastic about Easter baskets in those days.

I sometimes made cookies from ingredients bought at the health food store on Miles Street, even including soy flour.  Occasionally the cookies were pretty good.  I also made my own granola, using stone-ground oats, chopped dates, sunflower seeds, organic almonds, and a hint of honey.  Lightly toasted, that granola tasted great.

My cupboards often contained brown paper bags labeled “Stone-ground Bulgar Wheat” and other earthy crunchy things.  My kids were not truly deprived of chocolate, as they could go next door to Grandma Keyes’ house and get a little chocolate almost any time.  They thought I didn’t know, but I could see the little chocolate rash on small buttocks at bath time.

Sometimes I also had a craving for chocolate.  One day I bought a can of Nestle’s Chocolate Quik to have on hand for my little emergencies.  How could I hide it from the kids? Ah, yes.  I cut up a brown paper grocery bag and created a neat wrap for the Quik container.  Then I used a black Flair pen to label it “Stone-Ground Broccoli.”  This was perfect, and I could place it in plain sight on the top shelf of the cupboard.

This ruse worked well for about two years. Then one day I walked into the kitchen and saw a chair next to the counter near that cupboard, and twelve-year-old Julie and seven-year-old Peter standing next to the kitchen table, where the Stone-Ground Broccoli container stood open.  Both the container and the kids looked at me accusingly.

“Mom! How long have you been hiding Quik in this disguise?  This has been on that shelf a long time!”

Busted! My chocolate secret was destroyed, never to be replicated again.

Our Old Barn by Janet Keyes

Our barn had a great history.  Reportedly it was once the carriage house for the large white building at the corner of Main and High Streets, next to the Walker Funeral Home.  Many years ago, probably before 1910, it was moved all the way to its current location at the end of Colorado Avenue. To move it the new owner (probably Bruno Hartmann) had to dismantle it completely, then move it board by board and beam by beam on horse-drawn wagons.  The old construction involved pegs in addition to nails.  The round wooden pegs and the old-fashioned cut nails were carefully removed, then re-used at the new location.  I’m not sure what the wood was.  Chestnut was the most common old wood, but this was likely something else.

Bruno Hartmann had a small farm, maybe about 70 acres, and he kept a few cows and sold milk to his neighbors in that small German community. The barn was about 30 by 30 with two large lofts connected by a smaller loft at the front of the building.  The barn had to accommodate two or three cows, two draft horses, and lots of hay in addition to a small space for grain, tack, and tools. Continue reading

Battling Wildlife in my House by Janet Keyes

“Hey, how long was the cat in the house today?” Allan asked me suspiciously.

“I don’t know, why?”

“Well, I was just in the master bathroom, and I’m pretty sure he killed a bird in there!”

“That’s ridiculous,” I protested. “Lightning is old and no longer has any eye teeth so he can’t kill anything! Besides, how on earth could a bird even get inside the house?”

“I dunno. But there are gray and white feathers on the counter right beside the sink!”

A light dawned in my fuzzy brain. “Oh-oh, I gave myself a haircut in the bathroom earlier, and I took at least three fistfuls of hair clippings to the wastebasket but maybe I forgot the last batch.”

Allan shook his head. “No, feathers, definitely feathers,” he insisted. I detected a distinct twinkle in his eyes.

By then I had entered the bathroom. The abandoned hair clippings really did look like feathers.

But poor old Lightning was off the hook. I was the culprit.

Ah, the joys of wildlife. And, oh, the joys of living with Allan’s sense of humor.

Fever Game by Janet Keyes

I don’t think I ever had any unusual experiences when I had childhood fevers. I would just hunker down and sleep, waking only when my mother urged me to take a few sips of punch or fruit juice mixed with ginger ale. I do remember wishing good stuff like that would be available when I might feel well enough to enjoy it.

When I was bored and not sleeping, I would stare at the cracks in the ceiling and try to see images of dogs or butterflies or faces.  Wallpaper was also a good source of face-like images. Fortunately I never saw anything spooky or scary.

My husband has different memories. When he was young a fever would inspire him to stare at a nearby window and watch it slowly get farther away and smaller. When it got really small, he would blink quickly to make the real world come back. He has also had this experience as an adult, and still blinked.

A few years ago when I had a fever, I too watched a window recede far from me. As it got smaller and more distant I began to feel uneasy.  The experience was mesmerizing, and the feeling of impending irreversibility caused panic and the irresistible urge to blink to return to reality.  That nagging feeling of “what-if-I-couldn’t-return” is overwhelming.

I won’t try that again.

 

Cajun Pancakes, Anyone? by Janet Keyes

One time when our kids were enjoying a week-long visit from their cousin Jeffrey, we decided to have pancakes for supper as a special treat.  We always had maple syrup and butter on hand so this was an easy choice.  Whenever we made pancakes we usually cooked a few, then allowed the kids to start eating while more were cooking.  This time was a little different.  While I was cooking pancakes, a bout of nausea and intestinal cramping pounced upon me.  I had to run to the bathroom, where I would have to remain for several minutes, tending to the needs of my troubled gut.  Allan, who in those distant days never did any cooking, meal preparation, or serving, stepped right up and took over responsibility for the grill.
Jeffrey, who was about eleven years old, nervously asked, “Do you know how to cook pancakes, Uncle Allan?”
Allan, always being Allan, confidently answered, “Of course. I just cook them on this side until smoke comes out, then turn them over and cook the second side!”
Because of the great power of suggestion, to this day Jeffrey remembers having burnt pancakes for supper that day.  Everyone else remembers that Allan saved the day by taking over and using his old Boy Scout skills to make absolutely delicious pancakes in a true labor of love. Even I remember that, because later on, when my stomach had settled down, I also had a couple of those mouth-watering treats.

In the Words of Odd Thomas by Janet Keyes

This poem consists mostly of the words of Odd Thomas, a beloved fictional character created by best-selling author, Dean Koontz. The poem is published here with written permission from Dean Koontz, whose stories delight millions with fantastic plots, white-knuckle suspense, skillfully drawn characters, and descriptive passages which could stand alone as lyrical poetry.  His personal communication to Ms. Keyes also shows him to have a fabulous sense of humor.  Thanks to him for his permission.

Like others I was born for joy to know.
My life has goals and mystery each day,
And I learn by going where I have to go.

I travel some with my friendly ghost dog Bo.
For helping others Bo leads me through the fray,
And like others I was born for joy to know.

I search for meaning in life of trial and woe.
For failing, my living is the price I pay,
And I learn by going where I have to go.

I remember Stormy, my girl of golden glow,
The love of my life, who took my breath away.
Like others I was born for joy to know.

Now life is hard, but it was not always so,
And forward is the only way back, I say.
I learn by going where I have to go.

I see the ghosts of others trapped below,
And their silent siren song I will obey.
Like others I was born for joy to know,
And I learn by going where I have to go.

SUN / SHADE – JOY / PAIN by Janet Keyes

 Bright dappled sunlight dots cool checkered shade

with twinkling dimples clear.

And each – the light, the dark – is more intense,

more deeply cherished here —

Because the other dances at its edge.

My blessings burn across my fevered life

with scars of joy and pain.

For sun and shadows lightly co-exist,

with loss to balance gain —

 And sorrow richly frames my greatest joys.