2014 Writing Contest

Our Second Annual Writing Contest

2014 Writing Contest

First Prize:
$150 CASH.
Work published in our Fall catalog and Website.

Second Prize:
$75 NACE Class Gift Certificate. Work published on Website.

Third Prize:
$50 NACE Class Gift Certificate. Work published on Website.

Topic: First Love, or First Car, or First Place, or First…

W I N N E R S

1st PLACE

First Born by Elizabeth Rose

Johnny had to be first. That’s just the way it was between us. I knew that from the beginning and really it didn’t make no difference. He was the first born so it made sense.

When Mama wanted something done she asked him to do it. He was biggest and turned the oldest first, no matter how we all tried to catch up.

He was a big boy, even for a 10 year-old and bein’ in our family. All the boys becoming men were big in our family. For generations it had been that way. Maybe it was all the bread and home churned butter we ate or the pecan pies for all the birthdays, but we were a big healthy family.

He and Mama was real close. Maybe that was because daddy was gone so much or because he and Mama had blue eyes, not like any of the rest of us with brown.

Johnny had the clearest blue eyes, just like the color of the sky on the best fishin’ day of the summer or of the lake when the flies were going nuts and we knew a fresh trout was gonna be at our barbecue that night. Mama said his eyes were the colors of angel’s pools because he could see clear into the afterlife. That’s how gone on Johnny Mama was.

It started with such a little thing, just a tiny red welt on his right ankle. None of us, including Mama, even noticed that Johnny wasn’t right when it began. Just seemd like a beetle bite or maybe a ‘squita. We never were sure.

Johnny, he never complained either. He was like that.

But the doc said it was just an infection and the antibiotics would take care of it. They always did. But we had no idea that the infection could be what they called the MERSA, the anti-biotic resistant kind of thing and pretty soon he had a hungry flesh-eating something.

All those little bacteria just eatin’ their fill like a whole family of Macalesters at a picnic.

When it came to the time when he was too weak to help out, when he was too weak and sick, Mama was as heartbroken by him slipping down in the order of things as she was by his weakness and what it meant for his future.

“He’s my first born,” she cried to us.

“It wasn’t meant to be this way,” she said. Then she squinted off into the blankness, as though she was trying to make out some shape that was just beyond glimpsing, like she was tryin’ to read something written in invisible ink.

But us kids liked that we all got a chance to be first now and help her out so we didn’t mind as much as Mama did at first. Of course, maybe we was all too young to really understand.

But we sure understood when Johnny came to be first to pass on, Mama wailin’ and

Daddy drinkin all that whisky. There were a lot of tears shed in our house that day.

Suddenly I was first but it sure was no prize.

2ND PLACE

First Car: A Love Story by Jonathan Persinger

Yes, there’s something about those milestones of our youth that grow ever sweeter as they fade into the distance in our rearview mirrors. Yet among all of them, one stands high above the others as a beacon atop the ever-growing junk heap of my memories: my first car.

To those familiar with the Detroit area, you will understand that the automobile is not just a conveyance, a job, a hobby, a passion, a way of life—although it is all of those. No, something strange has taken place over the generations of auto workers sweating it out in the foundries and on the assembly lines. The mingling of blood and oil, of steel and bone, has caused the automobile to become meshed into our DNA. When I was a kid you could count on a serious fistfight if you made either of two declarations: 1) professional wrestling is faked, or 2) Ford is superior to Chevy. So perhaps it is not surprising that I recall my first car with such loving nostalgia.

She was a ’69 Ford Galaxy 500 sedan, in a sort of dark avocado green that was so popular then for large kitchen appliances and shag carpeting. The interior was a more neutral color: flesh, with a dose of jaundice. Under the rusty hood was an equally rusty 351 Cleveland V-8 with a 4 barrel carburetor. The exhaust system, patched with a soup can and two ring clamps, hung from the chassis by wire clothes hangers. The original front bumper had rusted completely off (there was no shortage of road salt in those days). I replaced it with a 2X6, which I bolted in place and painted black. In the center I painted a bright red open mouth with white teeth. It looked as though Mick Jagger had joined the Flying Tigers.

To add even more class, I cut two small holes on either side of the padded center of the steering wheel, and fished the copper contact switches for the horn out through the holes. I purchased a pair of flesh colored latex baby bottle nipples, and installed them into the holes and over the contact switches. Pinching either nipple caused the horn to honk. It was the zenith of my engineering career.

Ah, this highly customized, rump-sprung rust-bucket was the chariot in which I rode, triumphal, through the portals of adulthood (which, at sixteen years old, still looked promising). It took me to school, work, drive-ins and pizza parlors. I clearly recall shoving my drum set into that car in anticipation of my first paying gig in a real bar. This led to my first real inebriation.

So many other significant “firsts” in my young life were made possible through the magic of the internal combustion engine: first date; first real job with real taxes taken out of my paycheck; even my first pelvic affiliation, in an obscure, primitive rite of passage we called “parking.” How could these premium leaded memories not be treasured?

3RD PLACE

My First Safari by Chuck Kennedy

It happened during our second day out. We were cruising the Seronara area of the Tanzanian Serengeti when Shaibu, our guide and driver, spotted a bunch of cars parked alongside the road ahead. As we came closer we noted a herd of about 40 water buffalo moving through the waist-high, wheat-colored grass savannah on our left. Then we spied the lions laid out on a rocky outcropping to the right. They were gazing at the passing herd with mild interest. Water buffalo are one of the few animals that take no crap from lions. They’re big enough and mean enough to take care of themselves.

We stopped the car, turned off the engine and waited. Nothing happened for about 20 minutes. The lions (four females) maintained their position and idly watched the parade go by. Simultaneously they jumped up. We followed their gaze back 100 yards behind the herd. Here was a baby buffalo, about the size of a six-month old cow calf, trying unsuccessfully to catch up to the main herd.

The lionesses were on the move. They used the cars as cover –all the animals here are habituated to automobiles. They crouched beneath the vehicles. Then, as if on a signal, they broke into a run. They reached the calf in less than 10 seconds. The baby tried to run. It tried to kick. It bawled loudly. This brought three huge buffalo on the run. When they reached the baby, all of a sudden lions were being tossed every which way. The baby staggered to its feet. It looked for a minute that the buffalos had saved the day.

Those lions were not to be put off. As the buffalos worked over one of them, another would sneak around their flanks and attack the baby again. The baby was down again with a lion going for the throat. The huge buffalos gave up the fight, and walked back to the herd. It was as if they all came to the same conclusion that this was a lost cause.

It looked to us like a lost cause. The lions were all over the baby. The baby continued to kick and to bawl.

Then a strange thing happened. Another adult buffalo galloped back to the calf. We wondered if this one would renew the fight. As this big buffalo approached, the lions strangely backed off just a few feet. Was this the mother? We’d like to think so. Anyway, the baby struggled shakily to its feet, its head hanging, its tongue lolling, blood streaming from its neck and haunches. The big buffalo nuzzled the baby for just a minute or two, as if to say goodbye. She then turned and walked slowly back to the herd.

As soon as she left, the lions pounced on the calf. It was over in a minute.

A graphic example of the circle of life that is carried out every day in the Serengeti.

HONORABLE MENTION

First Sunday by Ariana DeNardo

His first Sunday without her, he calls her from the toilet. “Need more toilet paper!” Then he remembers, squatting numb on the porcelain seat. Of course. What a fool. How simple, digging under the sink for a roll, finishing his sad business. He tugs the ring off his finger to scrub his hands, thinking only of supper and tonight’s forecast. Nothing too dull to bring a man down. He goes to start the broth.

The game is on in the kitchen: Marlins vs. Indians. He grips his hip, edging toward the table, taking the remote from the basket and adding subtitles. Full count, top of the second. He remembers the chicken in the refrigerator, and sets it on the counter. He’s 4 and 3 with Tomlin. He rams a butter knife down the side, hacking it into bits for the simmering pot. The announcer is oblivious, excitable in his deep drawl. He, too, will retire one day, sleep in late, stay home alone. A small, ridiculous heaven.

When he met Marlene, she was heckling outside a Shop N’ Kart with the Salvation Army. Her red apron was taut around her waist, and she leaned over, saying she recognized him from church. “Why, it’s Fred, ain’t it?” He went along, because she’d spoken so sweetly. They got bagels at the Diner, where he noticed her small wrists, her anxious smile and brow. Not wanting to mislead her, he confessed, “I’m from Westbank County. Not a holy bone in my body.” For a minute, she fidgeted in silence. “I’ll take you,” she looked up from her lap. “To mass.”

This week, he discovers old pleasures again: gin and tonic, KFC, cigarettes, burger with fries. Tonight he’s gone with soup, no reason for it. The commercials come on, giddy, like the children he never had of his own. There was his stepson, grown up and studying law, but they’d never got along. He recalls their awkward visit last year. They were both hung over, incidentally.

He flips the channel, and a suited preacher shouts about the Messiah. He needn’t listen. No more bedside sermons when she’d leave for evening mass and he’d stay back to catch the game. He shifts the pot off the burner and checks on the storm, stepping out the door. The night leaks inside, a dark gravy. No rain yet. He’ll check again.

Hobbling to a chair, he lets his neck ease. The music of a Pepsi ad simmers, and the clock digits burn above the broiler. The soup is too hot to eat, so he waits, staring out the window. He is a kid again, a free man, a cowboy. Maybe he’ll move back to the city.

In the black, he chews the soft meat and gulps the spicy bisque. It is potent, saltier than he remembers. A burst of lightening dances in front of the window. The rain has come, surrendering to the roof, to the sidewalk, to the doormat. He puts his spoon down and listens.

Marconi Beach by David Andrews

He says it happened right then, at that particular moment. I think those things are gradual, but that’s the way he talks. Maybe, though, he’s right.

We were visiting Cape Cod. One of his, and one of my favorite spots at the National Seashore is a place called Marconi Beach. It’s never crowded there. I guess because it’s really a cliff, produced by erosion, and it will probably disappear in a decade or two. There’s really no beach, no swimming, just looking. There’s a gazebo-like structure with some information about Marconi and his accomplishment. Whenever we go, he repeats his story about the Starship song, We Built This City, and the lines:

Marconi played the mambo,

Listen to the radio.

And he reminds us that the Marconi they’re talking about is this one, the one on the beach.

Then there’s this modernistic, metal sculpture of the man himself – just strips of metal, but put together in a way that captures the way he must have looked. Finally, scattered about almost carelessly, are the remnants of Marconi’ s radio transmission apparatus. He was the first, you know, to send wireless radio messages across the ocean. The set-up must have been impressive, judging from the wreckage. It looks monstrous and unwieldy. It must have looked weird back then. Maybe our space shuttle will look weird 50 years from now. Anyway, it’ s a place he loves, probably because it’s uncrowded, and I’ll have to admit the view is spectacular, and the wind blows constantly, sometimes so hard you can’t hear when someone talks to you.

It happened after we parked and were getting ready to walk the 100 or so yards to the site. I asked him to race, just for fun. Now, I have to tell you, I knew I could beat him. He had been beatable for over a year, as I reached 14, and he 40. And l probably gloated about those victories a bit, although I know he didn’t mind. I even think he was proud of me. He responded, “No, not just now,” and then he broke into a sprint.

I started after him, confident that I could catch him before he reached the gazebo. Otherwise, I probably would’ve yelled, “No Fair!” or “Restart!” We raced along the asphalt path, and I caught him about 50 yards from the end of it. I eased up, matching his pace, and said, ” It looks like Dad will have to take a loss today.” Then I began to pull away.

He reached out to grab my shoulder and yelled, “Wait! It looks like Chris has stumbled nearing the finish!” continuing the imaginary play-by-play for an unseen audience. But it was he who stumbled.

Reaching out to grab me, he must have unbalanced his stride. He fell forward, sprawling on his hands and knees on the rough asphalt walkway. I stopped, genuinely worried that he was badly hurt. His hands, and the one knee that had struck against the ground were bloody. But he was smiling. ‘Tm okay,” he assured me, as my brother and mother came rushing up to see if he was alright. Maybe he was already thinking about the moment. “I’m okay,” he repeated, as he limped over to a rock, sat down, and surveyed the damage to his hands and knee.

Later, at dinner, after a shower had erased the streaks of blood on his leg, and he had only scrapes and scabs to show for our adventure, he limped behind me and cautioned me to remember the moment. “That was it,” he said, “that was when it happened.’

“What happened?” I wanted to know.

“My adolescence ended,” he said, “and yours began”

THE REST…

Grade One Love by Joe Donnelly

“Cute as a button,” my mother would have called her. A cheerleader: perky, energetic, smart enough. I hadn’t really seen much of her since grade school. We weren’t in the same classes, didn’t hang with the same crowds. We were both “good” kids, no trouble, but even in our small high school there was room enough for us not to collide.

I hadn’t really considered her in years. But graduation week came and, like all teens moving on to new things, we looked back with maudlin eyes. I had edited our yearbook and everyone agreed it was great. Passing it around for signatures, we crossed paths once again. “Do you remember how we used to play footsies in the cafeteria in first grade?” she asked. I lied and said I did.

A Crack in the Door by Peg Foley

My first memory of you is quiet and dear. It’s whispers and prayers at the edge of my bed. It’s a fuzzy land of blankets and teddies, sideburns, “sweet dreams,” and “I love you, Daddy.” A hazy vision, it’s more a sensation than sight. It’s tenderness and warmth at the end of the night. It’s moonlight and nightlight, your whiskers, and more. It’s kisses tossed through a crack in the door.

My last memory of you is nearly the same. It’s you in the bed, but be that as it may, your face against mine is still scruffy and solid. I sit beside you, and moonbeams join in. The hallway is quiet; its lights are dim. You laugh at a joke, and you talk about snow. I smile because some things don’t change. You admire Mother Nature right to the end. The night is a gift wrapped in fate and in dreams, and ethereal ribbons of stillness and calm. It’s so peaceful you say, more times than one. I watch you sleep, as you doze on and off. When you wake, we talk in whispers so soft. After saying good night, we each give a present. Your smile and wave bestows thanks and approval; my thumb—pointed skyward—offers luck, hope, and courage. I’ll always remember those big, little gestures. I couldn’t have asked for anything more than that fond farewell through a crack in the door.

I’ve realized those memories—the first and the last—are Father Time’s entanglement of present and past. One is not better. One is not worse. Perhaps, in reality, every last is a first.

Your presence was massive. It left a void I can’t fathom, but I know nothing will stop you from filling that chasm. So I wait for the signs, for your big, little gestures. I’m sure that they’ll come, as they did before. I know that you’ll find a crack in the door.

FIRST DAYS OF OUR EXILES by Sandra Golbert

The first time we were transferred was so exciting. Being a Hilton Hotel wife-of-Manager sounded so powerful…sort of like The First Lady, wife of Podus!

We were sent to St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Manager, wife, three small children, and Saki, the Siamese cat. As the assistant manager showed us around, we noticed, written on the back wall of the hotel, in big black letters, Kill The Manager. We must have turned a bit white because he immediately said, “Don’t worry, that was the last manager”. It didn’t make us feel any better.

The two years went by quickly, we made good friends and no one was killed. We saw several planes crash into the bay and one flight crashed into the ocean before it made it to the runway at the airport. Manager and older daughter were supposed to be on it, but missed the flight in San Juan.

Our next destination was Guadalajara, Mexico. En route, landing in Yucatan for customs and Immigration, we were informed that since our youngest, a boy, was on my passport, he would not be allowed to continue. He ‘would have to stay’.

Right. After a few choice words and many tears from the girls and me, we suddenly remembered the briefing we had been given before going to Mexico. Everything revolved there on ‘oiled gears’, witness: the ‘mordida’. The bribe.

We made it to Mexico City, where we were to meet the boss and spend a night. We were given the Presidential Suite where gardenias floated in a small pond near the entrance. It also had full sized grand piano, which my children loved and we had to practically duct tape the keyboard closed.

We went to dinner and when we returned, the Manager’s briefcase was gone, as were our passports, our money, our travelers’ checks and all the papers needed to work in Mexico.

We had to stay several more nights and ‘mucha mordida’ had to be spread around.

Luckily, Hilton paid.

After a lovely couple of years in Guadalajara which included much partying, meeting many good friends, both Mexican and from the American community, not to mention the ‘incident’ that sent the Manager into hiding and my children to school for weeks with an armed guard. And I do mean armed… some kind of huge rifle slung over his shoulder like you see in newscasts involving Russians.

My parents were visiting during the siege and my Mother knitted during the entire incident. She was henceforth known as Madame Lafarge.

Then off we went to Curacao, in the Netherland. We were there for three and a half years and during that time, Manager was kidnapped, and once again the big rifles came out, only this time we sent the kids to PR to my folks.

All in all, I enjoyed the 10 years worth of first days in a new land, not to mention room service, adventures galore, some good, some bad, and the friends we met along the way.

My First …. Marathon by John Grant

I was forty-nine years old when I decided to run a marathon. I had been jogging and running shorter races for about ten years but wasn’t what you’d call a ‘serious runner’. Before that, I had lived a pretty sedentary lifestyle. The marathon was in Anchorage, Alaska and I would run as part of the Leukemia Society Team. My sister had died of cancer eight years earlier and I was going to run in her honor.

June 18th’ we land in Anchorage at 10:00 pm but the sun is shining like it is high noon. Driving to the hotel, I can’t resist checking out the finish line first. I get butterflies in my stomach seeing it, although I can’t tell if they’re the kind you get when you’re about to ‘get lucky’ or the kind that come just before major surgery. June 20th/Race Day, I wake up at 4:30 am and begin visualizing the race course. I think about my sister and all she went through and give thanks to all the people back home cheering me on spiritually.

The starting line is like a festival. There is a couple tying the knot before they run. I chat with an 83 year old man running his soth marathon; one in each state. I am pumped.

The starting gun fires and we’re off. “I’m doing it. I’m running a marathon”. Mile four, I notice men with rifles along the race route; another runner tells me it’s in case there are bears. Hmmm.

Mile seven, I see my wife cheering. The spectators have been so encouraging, I find myself laughing out loud as I run.

Mile twelve, my running buddy says he’s going to pick up the pace. I stay with him for a while but the voice in my head says, ‘Run your own race’. I give him a wave as he pulls ahead.

Mile eighteen, there’s my wife again. I’m still smiling and so is she. I touch the bandana I’m carrying with my sister’s name on it. ‘This is for you Carrie’. Mile twenty-one, my longest training run was twenty miles. I’m in uncharted waters now. I pass a woman chanting ‘I can, I will, I am’. I chant with her for a while. She’s my newest hero.

Mile twenty-four, there’s a pretty serious hill here but I am so psyched I don’t notice. I shout at other runners ‘Is this great or what’. Apparently, not everyone shares my enthusiasm.

Mile twenty-six, the finish is just ahead. Tears now running down my face as I hold up the bandana and cross the finish line. ‘For you Carrie; for you’. My wife and friends surround me; kisses, high fives, and lots of stories. Man, it feels good.

Back at the hotel, soaking in a warm bath, I hear tubs being filled in the rooms around me. I lay back and close my eyes and quietly mouth the words I have waited to say. ‘I am a marathoner’ .

The Initiation by Brian Greenberg

The summer of my fifteenth year can only be summed up in one word: dull. In the rearview mirror were my years of summer day camp, and coming up would be summers where I could soon drive anywhere I wanted to. To busy myself, I listened to every album in my collection…and had taken public transportation to just about everywhere in Philadelphia, including weekly visits to my grandmother in the aptly-named “Rest Haven” nursing home.

One day, my dad took me to see my cousin Steven, who had just returned from a teacher training course on meditation–TM, or Transcendental Meditation, to be exact. Coincidentally, I had just recently seen Phil Donahue interview a couple of TM instructors on his popular TV talk show.

Steven started explaining what the meditation was about…inner peace, fulfillment, improvement of health, and even world peace. I was skeptical–not so much about what he was talking about, but of who was doing the talking.

You see, Steven was a product of the ‘60s and had tried just about every recreational drug then known to mankind. While I was glad he had finally found a non-drug euphoria, I wasn’t quite sure I wanted him to be my meditation instructor.

As I was starting my sophomore year in high school that fall, I saw a poster at a local store announcing a free “Introductory Lecture” on Transcendental Meditation. I again heard all the promised benefits. But I liked these two guys, Kenny and Gene. They had three-piece suits and ties. They more closely matched my own straight-laced, if not slightly neurotic, personality. I was hooked.

Suddenly there were things to do. I had to earn $35 to pay the initiation fee. I painted our garage door to earn the money.

Then came my initiation day. I rode my bike the two miles or so to the Northeast Philadelphia row house where the personal initiation ceremonies were taking place. Flowers and fruit were involved. So was incense. I was a little trepidatious about the whole thing. A light rain started to fall.

When I first heard my mantra, I was, frankly, a little jarred. I wasn’t sure it was a smooth enough sound for me. But I went with it. I started repeating it, repeating it, repeating, repeat–…

Where I went to in that meditation I can’t exactly say. It was somewhere deep. It was pleasant. I started having vivid flashbacks of being a kid rolling in autumn leaves with cousins. But I was not in a trance. I was aware of rain softly hitting the windowsill of the small room I was in–it sounded musical.

Soon my initiator came back into the room and brought me out of the meditation. I had a big smile on my face. “Something good is happening,” said my initiator.

And although I didn’t understand how or why, from that point forward, something inside of me did start changing…and for the better.

My First Ambition by Marilyn Johnston

I just turned 60, so I’m no spring chicken. My first anything was a long time ago. But this, I remember.

It was my seventh birthday. My neighbor brought me a huge, gift-wrapped book. As soon as I opened it and saw the picture on the cover, I knew. This would be my future. There in vibrant colors, on that shiny paper that book covers are made of, was my destiny. The Littlest Majorette. She was who I was meant to be. She looked just like me. We both had blond curly hair (remember the Toni permanent wave?), and lean, muscular limbs. My new heroine was clothed in the most heavenly outfit that any person had ever worn. She was perfect. Everything else that I had ever owned and cherished paled in comparison to her. Of course, reading about the little majorette who leads the parade was only the beginning of my fantasy. I then had to begin to collect the tools of the trade. I had my first ambition!

Unfortunately, my mother didn’t believe in spoiling us kids. This meant that I had to buy the baton with my own money. Do you remember how slowly you earn money when you’re seven years old? Sweep the kitchen floor, ten cents. Take the baby for a walk around the driveway in the carriage (and stay out for at least a half an hour), a quarter. At that rate, it took a long time to earn the money I needed. Finally, after about a million more jobs, I had over $5.00.

At J.J. Newberry’s they had two kinds of batons. I bought a good one, you know, the professionally balanced kind that sold for $4.50. My best friend, Krissy, only bought the $3.00 kind, but she wasn’t really going to pursue it as seriously as I was. She only twirled to be friends. I did it for the glory! Oh, I got the boots, too. They were hand-me-downs from my sister’s friend who was a real teenager. They were white, and they had gold tassels hanging down the front, just like the Littlest Majorette’s boots. They were at least five sizes too big, but it didn’t matter at all. I used that sponge-on shoe polish that you squish out and spread around, and they were practically perfect.

When my father played just the right music on his record player, a rousing Sousa march or a rip-roaring rendition of anything by the Tijuana Brass, I was in heaven. I would march around the house wearing my boots and manipulating my baton with abandon. Did you know that if you jiggle the baton fast enough back and forth, it really looks like you’re twirling it? Nobody could ever tell the difference. I swear.

Predictably, my days as the Littlest Majorette were short-lived. After a while I stopped reading the book. Marching around in circles got a little boring, I guess. Besides, we found out that Krissy’s cat was pregnant!

My First Victory – the Sweetest! By Ruth Kerr

Sam was the tick in the fur of my life. His domain was Sunset Street. His mission was to torment anyone and everyone. I called him the weasel because he was the harbinger of woe, the fiend of despicable things. If he could make his bike saunter, he would. Now he was peddling our way!

He was closing in rapidly on me and my friend Peggy like a hawk to mice. Sliding in on his bike sideways, he kicked up dust on both of us. I wished that a big hawk would scoop him up and his bike and fly far away from here.

“Sam that was a stupid trick! You covered Peggy and me and our bikes with dust.”

“You’re stupid and your bikes are stupid.” was his pithy response. “I could beat you any day on my bike.”

Those were fighting words! I loved my blue bike with the white stripes. I had decked it out with streamers in the handles and a clothespin with a card on the spokes to make it sound like an engine. My bike was ungirl and made me feel powerful. As I wandered through my brain to give him a snappy retort back, I heard my friend Peggy say through my fog of fury,

“Ruthie could beat you anytime on her bike!”

I looked at her as if she had two heads. I gave her “the eye” to no avail.

It was a done deal Sam had challenged me to a race at noon time. That was in twenty minutes. I ran home for lunch not so much to eat but to quiet my heart which was pounding with fierceness and fear all at the same time.

When I came out of the house what I thought was going to be a private duel between me and Sam. It was not. Peggy had told her seven brothers and sisters who in turn told their friends. It was now the Daytona 500. I even had a pit crew that kicked my tires and dusted off my bike seat.

“On your Mark! Get Set! Go!”

We were off!! Sam was ahead of me but not by much. My bike only had one speed, me and I peddled my heart out. The rough road was dirt and potholes but I knew every one of them but so did Sam. The turn was near and as I hit the turn, my knee hit the ground and scraped a rock. I managed to plant my red sneaker and right my bike. I was off bloody knee and all. Sam was going down too, even though he had the inside curve. I did not look back. I could feel my heart pounding in my ears. People were cheering as I neared the finish line drawn in the dirt road. I had won!!! I was Gary Cooper in High Noon. I had won the showdown on Sunset Street a sweet, sweet Victory.

My First Second Marriage by Ron Pagliarulo

My first marriage, my ‘”till death do us part marriage” lasted but sixteen years. The better half left town and thanks be to God, forgot to take our three kids with her. I swore off any kind of long-term relationship after that, let alone marriage; I never really wanted to get married in the first place. Playing the field was what I did best, especially after sobering up four months after “the little woman” left; something we both should have done sooner. Two years was about the average length of my romantic relationships. Then there is the sadness of breaking up even though relationships linger in boredom before the final breakup.

Meeting women was never a problem; one could meet someone in a super market checkout line, at Twelve Step meetings, PTA meetings, playgrounds, and yes, even in church. Being a single dad homeowner went a long way to attracting single moms looking for “soul mates” who would share “living happily ever after.”

I must admit that I truly loved some or perhaps even all of the women I dated, but commitment anxiety inevitably took hold of me and I bolted.
That was my life until I spotted Elaine, twenty years after my failed marriage. I say spotted because that is exactly what happened, I spotted Elaine in church spotting me, I knew in a flash that this would be an easy “score.” I do not believe that God looks down favorably on such thinking while sitting in a church pew, but perhaps The Almighty might overlook it and maybe even help it along a little. It took a few evenings of Elaine, fresh from her job at MIT looking for a place to sit and finally sitting in the pew that I occupied. During the “peace sharing,” rather than shake Elaine’s hand I hugged her instead and introduced myself to her. The next night that I saw her, she accepted my invitation to dinner.

Elaine, a mother of three adult daughters did not share my idea of just another temporary relationship; she was not one who freely dated having been terribly disillusioned in a marriage. We went on a couple of weekend getaways and dated regularly. I sponsored Elaine in this thing called Cursillo, a women’s spiritual weekend. I guess that is when this God thing kicked in. It is no wonder that I was not struck down in church for my sexual thoughts, God had it all planned out.

Nineteen years later, sitting at our home in Rowley, Massachusetts, I look back on our elopement (no. kids) to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island in 1999 and remember that I forgot to bolt. Our frequent walks along the Newburyport waterfront are reminders of our marriage and honeymoon in P.E.I. and the Peakes Quay waterfront.

There is serenity around water, and serenity in a stable loving relationship, and serenity in living God’s plan.

My First Attempt at Making Italian Spaghetti Sauce by Kathleen A. Porter

Who would have thought that a blonde hair, blue eye American girl with German heritage would ever become a good Italian cook? Not this person or her newly wedded husband.

Setting out to cook our first Italian meal, I puiled out the trusty Fanny Farmer’s cook book. How hard could this be? Take some canned tomatoes, hamburger, and all the other ingredients and voila-ltalian sauce. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

As the newlywed husband left for work, I started on my mission. Pull out the book, read the recipe and go from there.

Mix the meat with salt and pepper, shape into small balls and fry gently. Strain the tomatoes and stir into the cooked mixture. Simmer for some time, and then serve with the chosen pasta. Lydia Basterrian watch out.

Setting the table, pouring the red Chianti, (yes the one in the bottle with the straw on the bottom which eventually becomes the candle holder), light the candles and wait to impress. How wonderful that will be, how exquisite. I’ll be asked to cook for all the future family get togethers. They’ll all be asking for my recipe, have me taste it. Does it need a little more salt? Too much? Not enough? I could see it now.

The husband came home, dinner was served and as only a newlywed husband’s gently kindness could be, he ate the golf ball size meatballs (which tasted like leather) and spooned in great heaping amounts the sauce onto the past a. Dinner went by quietly. When asked how it tasted, my wonderful husband kindly replied: “You need to go see my grandmother.” What did that mean? Wasn’t it any good? Too much salt? Not enough? Was the garlic overcooked and bitter? The only reply was “You need to go seen my grandmother.”

Now there is something to be said for the trusty Fanny Farmer cookbook. I still have the original one received as a wedding gift, 40 years ago. It is held together with duct tape. It is full of not only recipes torn from newspapers, magazines and old acquaintances, but also past Christmas and birthday cards, pictures of old friends, and notes from our children. However what it doesn’t contain and no cookbook in the universe can is the love and history which comes from generations of family recipes.

I swallowed my pride and spent an afternoon with my husband’s Italian grandmother: Nonna. I learned that there are some ingredients that don’t need measuring but tasting. I learned that as one cooks for her family, a love is infused that cannot be bought at any grocery store or farm stand.

I am proud to say, that after a few additional visits and tries, I did learn to master making Italian spaghetti sauce and received the praise from both Nonna and my lovely mother in law. The recipe has since been passed on to my daughter who was smart enough from the beginning to ask.

“First Love, or First Car or First place, or First…” by Nancy A. Reily

The word “First” evokes a sense of excitement or the anticipation of joy and pride…a sense of ownership or accomplishment. We all have our own “fill-in-the-blank” moments when reflecting back on a “first” memory.

There is, however a “first” that I was never prepared for, I never read much about or could have imagined. The first day in my life without my beloved husband who died suddenly. He was young, healthy, and enjoying his life. He left three grown children ready to begin many pivotal moments in their own lives and me broken hearted. He was my first love, my emotional compass, and my hero.

The first days without him felt like steps into another world where nothing felt familiar. Music needed to be quieter and peaceful. Things in the bakery needed to be plain and undecorated. Clothing in the stores shouldn’t sparkle or be too bright or look meant to have fun. The fragrance of men’s cologne made me cry. My voice felt different. I couldn’t speak up… nor did I want to. I walked differently; head down not wanting to look up just in case someone said,”Hi how are you?”

The first trip to the grocery store seemed to make no sense at all as I walked by all of my husband’s favorite foods while the Eagles’ song that he loved so much played over the speaker. How come all of the people seemed to be in couples everywhere? And they were holding hands. What is the answer on the questionnaire when they want to know if I am married.”Of course I’m married”, “He’s just not here right now!”

The first time I went to the card store and stood in front of the husband section and cried because I knew I was no longer a wife. But, I read all of the cards anyway and decided I would continue to buy the card that described him best. There was something comforting in that… perhaps just knowing that it was my secret. But, the first time I realized that we created this life together and that it is now my job to continue “the trip” across life’s “ocean”. I need to help get our family the rest of the way, leaning on them and them on me.

For the first time the songs on the radio brought a smile to my face and comfort to my heart… I knew he was there. We danced in a dream under the moonlight and somehow the next day seemed brighter. The first time I realized that just maybe his time on earth was meant to be shared with me. I am the lucky one to have been chosen for that blessing. Now that he is gone I will finish the journey for him… until the “First Time” I see my beloved again.

The First Ripple By Andrea Stoehr

Every summer in August when I was a child growing up in Byfield, my family and I packed up the Ford station wagon and made the four-hour trek to Long Island to see my paternal grandparents and head out to their summer cottage in Mattituck. Since Dad was the youngest of his four siblings, he got the last choice so we always spent the last two weeks of August there.

It was a rustic cottage with two bedrooms, a reading room, a kitchen, a bathroom, and a screened-in porch on the first floor. The second floor was an open attic that contained all sorts of stored items such as old steamer trunks, fans, bureaus and four single iron beds, one in each corner. Usually we kids took the beds in the attic until my brother decided he couldn’t deal with us and took one of the downstairs bedrooms. My favorite bed was to the left of the window facing the Mattituck Bay. My sister either took the one to the right or one on the far side of the attic.

The back lawn sloped down from the cottage to the beach on Mattituck Bay. Two huge trees supported a rope hammock strung between them. The hammock got a lot of use each summer with each of us trying to flip one or both of the others out of it and onto the ground.

One of my fondest memories of these vacations was waking up in the morning and looking out at the bay. During the day and into the evening the water rippled and surged with the tide and passing boats. But I found that very early in the morning, around 6:00 a.m. or a little earlier, I would look out and the bay would be flat and as glistening as glass – not one ripple. I would look away and the ripples had started, the bay alive again. But catching sight of that very first ripple was elusive.

It became my goal the summer I was six years old to see that first ripple.

Every morning I got up early just as the sun rose, stood at the window and … waited. The water glistened and reflected the sky like a mirror. I tried not to blink so I wouldn’t miss the first one. But I missed it – each morning. Somehow I got distracted and looked away at some bird or dozed off. When I looked back the bay undulated with the morning tide and ripples and waves lapped onto shore.

It was five o’clock the last morning. We were leaving in a few hours. The sky was still dark but I didn’t care. I’d wait until that first ripple came. Nearly an hour went by as I stared at the sky and the water.

Just as the sun peeked over the horizon, there it was. A single ripple made its way toward shore followed distantly by other ripples. I could go home happy.

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