Weekly Featured Essay
This week’s featured essay asks a question on the lips of many in this “quiet quitting moment,” although the answer for Alden Blodget may prove uncomfortable.
by Alden S. Blodget
On the Friday night before my father’s memorial service, our family gathered for a dinner that felt surprisingly normal. We sat around the old dining room table, eating quietly, without my father—pretty much as we always had, but with a more profound silence that magnified the occasional clink of knife or fork striking china, like a bell invoking a shadow’s shadow. My father was always more an absence than a presence in my life. He was a businessman who worked long hours. He departed early in the morning, traveled a lot, missed many dinners.
When he came home in the evenings or on weekends, he often disappeared into his den to conduct more business on the phone. For hours his laughter rumbled through the house. His work seemed to be the source of great friendships and hilarity. My mother said he constantly approached strangers—in railroad stations, airports, restaurants—to introduce himself and leave his business card. “He wants lots of people at his funeral,” she told us, laughing. He and my mother enjoyed a social life with these friends on the few weekends when he wasn’t traveling, so even when he was home, he wasn’t home. He was the personification of the work ethic. He was my role model.
From the Inside
by Joseph O’Day
“I’m surprised you applied, Joe. I thought you were happy where you are. People who work with me know I’m blunt. I tell it like it is. You’re no spring chicken.”
For the past eighteen years I’d been Director of Pharmacy at a community teaching hospital in Boston. I met Pete (not his real name), a thirty-something, about a year ago when he arrived from out of state. We see each other regularly at our pharmacy directors’ meetings.
His comment shocks me. I react by laughing.
My Mother Did Not Die
by Mary Ittelson
Was I thirteen, or fourteen, the day my father kicked the door in? I was lying in bed reading a book, or maybe doing homework. Probably it was Saturday or Sunday. I remember the way the sun lit the lemon-yellow walls of my room in stripes through the slatted blinds. Quiet except for leaves brushing my windowpane in the breeze, and a faint tussle in the living room of voices low and urgent.
My parents had let me pick that particular yellow myself. Let me mix it to order at the Sherwin Williams store in downtown Dayton where my dad and I got everything I needed to complete the job: cans of paint and primer, brushes, rollers, trays, edging tape, buckets, and a wooden safety ladder with a supply ledge. We loaded it all into the way-back of the station wagon. It must’ve been the summer before 6th or 7th grade. An age when painting my room myself seemed as likely as flying solo to the moon by flapping my arms.
by James Seawel
I come from a long line of po’ folks. Understand, I am not a Yellow Dog Democrat running for office in 1980s rural Arkansas, so I am under no cultural obligation to parade my forbearers’ poverty around like a prized mule. But the truth is that my parents, not just my grandparents, remember living in homes without running water or electricity. Ah, my southern roots.
Roy Clark, of Hee Haw fame, can still be heard on the airwaves of my old Ozarks stomping grounds. The country crooner’s vivid lyrics about gut busting field work mostly fall on nostalgic ears these days, but for many of my parents’ generation, the words carry them back to a real place and tougher times.
In John Grisham’s A Painted House, it was the Spruills, not the Seawels, who ventured down from the Ozarks to the flatland as seasonal sharecroppers. My foothills kin who have read the novel report that the Jonesboro native nailed it.
The Museum of Odd Inheritance by Daughters from Mothers
by Liza Wieland
In her last year, my mother asked me to gather up all her jewelry and hide it from the cleaning lady (who was completely honest and devoted to my mother). And then my mother forgot all about it. And then she died. So I am in possession of the whole lot: the pearls real and fake, the gold, plate and solid.
When my sister came to visit our mother in the hospital, the nurses asked her to take off our mother’s wedding ring. Steroids were causing her fingers to swell, and so the idea was better do that now than, you now, after…. Our mother protested mightily, but eventually the ring came off, and I presume my sister still has it.
I call these accidental leavings, different from inheritance.
My mother accidentally left us these things.
My mother accidentally left us.
by Rhiannon Koehler
My grandfather was a local celebrity. He owned a popular restaurant in Chicago on North Avenue and Wells Street. For all my growing-up years, he was seated at the bar, with watered-down whiskey in his hand, talking to regulars. Or at table 20, the one right by the door, in front of the antipasto table, with Mark Angler, the television lawyer, and AJ Timmel, the judge. They’d sit and drink and talk about nothing.
The memory of my grandfather that rises to the top, though, is one that makes me mad. When I went to the restaurant with my mother as a child, the waiters would greet us with a basket of fresh Italian bread. I could never get enough of it. The only available bread in my parents’ house was spelt, which is a closer cousin to sandpaper than sourdough. So, at the restaurant, I’d reach for the bread. And then another piece. And at my third reach my grandfather would say, “Stop with the bread. You don’t want to get fat. Leave room for your pasta.” And then he’d turn to my mom: “You gotta put her on a diet.”
The Last to Go
by Julia Van Buskirk
Outside in the garden, a scrawny robin tugged at an uncooperative worm until it got just the right tension and then, with a frenzied slurp, snapped it from its’ hole. Grandmother did not see it. The distant look in her eyes told me she had not seen what went on around her for a long time.
“It’s sunny out today, Grandma. What do you say we take the winter chill out of our bones?” I pushed her wheelchair from the solarium towards the lobby. “Let’s go for a drive; maybe we can go by the cemetery.”
But we only got as far as the vestibule door where she grabbed the brake on her wheelchair and abruptly locked it in place.
“Grandma,” I implored, “we should really change the flowers on Dad’s grave. The cemetery people don’t like it if you leave the plastic winter wreaths past Memorial Day.”
And then, from a place so deep inside her, so guttural she barked. “No!”
I reached down to unlock the brake. She was his mother, for God’s sake. I was not going to allow her to pretend he never existed. His memory was the fragile link that bound us; without it, she would be alone. I pulled up on the brake as forcefully as I could.
A hard slap met my hand.
The Second Mistake
by Liz Olds
The University of Idaho theater scene shop smelled of cut lumber and cold cream, a smell that made me feel at home, reminding me of my small scene shop in high school. The difference was scale—this hangar-sized room contained a bounty of plywood, two by fours, a radial arm saw, a band saw, a table saw big enough to accommodate plywood, and tools hanging on pegboard with outlines of those tools drawn around them in black magic marker so they would always be returned to the same spot on the wall. In my high school shop we made do with one hand-held power saw, a drill, and a bunch of hand tools—we fought over the ratchet we had bought.
The first time I entered the Idaho theater shop, a woman sat cross-legged on the floor painting a sign on canvas. “University of Idaho Theater presents Guys and Dolls” in bright red letters. The group of us, six first-year theater students, stood silently, nervous, shy, expectant.
“I’m O.B.” she said in a Texas accent. “Y’all must be the freshmen.”
What Time Was It?
by Sydney Lea
That long-legged woman was not you, though she was almost as striking, almost as tall. We stood together for mere moments on the sidewalk, having come out of a Rothko exhibit. The paintings were hung on one floor only. How had I missed her indoors?
She seemed rushed. I saw her hail a taxi and flee, as I inanely put it to myself. In that mere instant, I noticed her beauty, but although they never met mine, it was more specifically her eyes that intrigued me. Unlike yours, they seemed full of sadness.
She shook out her hair just before getting into the cab. The gesture was brisk, but it made me sigh, because it too revealed certain fascinating, if indefinable traits, ones I now know were of my own invention.
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Encounters features fifteen eclectic essays originally appearing in bioStories magazine, all focused on some of those chance encounters that can transform our lives.