Hidden Treasures


Sometimes the thing we’re looking for is right where we are. Hope you enjoy this story.

Hidden Treasures

Julie Perkins’ crisp November morning started before sunrise, while nosy neighbors still slept and streets weren’t snarled in traffic. Other than a few boxes stacked near the door of her studio apartment, the room was bare. Julie sold the furniture and anything that didn’t have strings attached to her heart when she received the certified letter informing her of her father’s passing.

With a loud grunt, she hoisted a box of rejected screenplay manuscripts and spiral bound notebooks and carried them to the `65 Mustang that would take her back to Missouri, provided the tires didn’t go flat and the transmission held up. “Shit,” she moaned when she realized her car key was in her hip pocket. She tried to balance the overstuffed container on the bumper with one hand. The minute she popped the trunk, a gust of wind sent papers flying out into the street. “Crap,” she cursed and dropped the box into the trunk.

By the time everything was retrieved and the final boxes were loaded, sweat dripped down Julie’s neck. Now hot and exhausted, she rolled down the windows, put the car in gear and took off.  Screw this town. I wish I’d never come here. Tears stung with the acknowledgment.

As an only child, Julie swore Hollywood whispered her name in dreams. She envisioned walking on stage to receive an award for best screenplay. She wanted fame and fortune. She wanted to be somebody special. Growing up in the rural Ozark Mountains didn’t afford those opportunities. Julie’s mother, gone since she was twelve, would have understood. She took Julie to the matinee every time a new movie came out.

Her dad, on the other hand, fumed and cussed at Julie, calling her a fool for chasing an elusive dream. “Everything you need is right here,” he’d insisted. The more he talked, the more relentless she was to prove him wrong. Julie never forgot his hurtful words the morning she decided to go. ‘If you leave, don’t come crawling back.’ Too proud to admit defeat, she never returned. Spirit-broken and alone, the need to return to her childhood home tugged at her heart.

The man standing by the stoplight went unnoticed by Julie until he reached into the car and snatched her purse from the passenger seat. “Nooo!” she screamed. He took off down an alley with Julie following close behind in her car. “Stop!” The thief ducked between two buildings and disappeared. What the hell am I going to do now?

Julie circled back around determined to find her belongings. Surely the man would dispose of her purse quickly. A trash bin caught her eye and she threw the car in park, leaving it idle while she dug into the nasty metal container. “Got it.” Pleased with her find, she brushed off her jeans and straightened her blouse, just in time to see her car drive off. “Son of a bitch!”

The sun glared overhead as she stomped her way to the nearest police substation. In her furor, she hadn’t noticed the reporter standing within ear distance and armed with a camera. “Don’t you dare,” Julie protested in vain. The headlines would read, Free-Lance Writer Robbed Twice in One Day. The black mascara streaming down her tear-stained face was just the type of photo the sleazy magazine loved to print and not the kind of fame Julie imagined.

“Just doing my job, trying to make a dime. You know how it is.”

She plopped down on a park bench, distraught and homeless. On the following day, the police recovered Julie’s stolen car. Wanting no more delays, she dropped the charges against the teenage joyrider, withdrew the last of her money from the bank and with the warm California sun to her back, she headed east.

November winds had stripped the trees of their leaves, still the rolling Missouri hills brought nostalgia and a sense of peace that had escaped Julie for many years. She’d cherished the memories of picking fresh vegetables from the garden and the endless hours in the kitchen helping to snap the beans, shuck the corn and fry the chicken in preparation of the next meal.  When the sun went down, Dad would come in from tending the fields and give her a big hug.

As the Bloomsdale exit came into view, Julie noticed the addition of a large truck stop. Bet all the farmers love that. She wound her way through the back roads, past quaint little towns, and across low water bridges, in giddy anticipation of seeing the two-story home that held so many treasured memories. She hummed to the music on her radio as the miles clicked away.

The euphoric mood imploded when the house came into view. Abandoned for years, the deteriorating home mourned for attention. Not a window pane survived the solitude. The roof barely provided shelter for intrusive squirrels. Even the front door succumbed to the gravity of its unattended wounds.

“Oh my God,” Julie moaned as she shook her head in despair. The words echoed across the barren yard. Gone, the prized rose garden her mother tended to as if it were an innocent child. Gone, the field that once bore acres of corn, now overgrown with weeds. Gone, the man who protected it all. Puddles filled Julie’s eyes and she blinked to clear them. In the distance, an image appeared. Frozen in disbelief, she watched the man walk toward the house. “Dad?”

“Good, you’re finally home. Follow me.” His firm command, a faint whisper in the wind, wrapped around her and caused a shudder.

Still in command. That’s my dad. Julie smiled to herself. She reached out to touch him just as he disappeared and was met with the hard surface of the wood siding. “Dad?” Julie stepped toward the front of the house peeking through the collection of spider webs, brushing them aside as she stepped through the opening. Her father stood near the bedroom he’d shared with her mother.

“Should have given this to you sooner. Your mother wanted you to have it. I think it’s what you’ve been looking for.”

At the foot of the bed was a slat of wood, slightly ajar. She bent down and dusted off the area before removing the board. With both hands, she wiggled the old cigar box from the snug hiding place. “What is this, Dad?” She glanced up just as her father faded from view. “Dad! Don’t go!” Julie clutched the box close to her chest and hurried outside. Her father was gone. Julie collapsed to the ground sobbing.

***

Dr. James Howell escorted Julie to the front row of the theatre just as the lights flickered, indicating the play was about to begin. She glanced at her handsome date and smiled. Who would have thought I’d be here tonight? The journey had taken her thousands of mile and years of struggle, but the rewards exceeded her greatest expectations.

Her father had been right. The treasure she sought had been there all along. Had he shared it sooner, he might have celebrated with her. Inside the box had been a love story like none she had ever read. The handwritten journals provided Julie with the foundation for an award-winning screenplay and more. She’d never expected to find a family member.

The search to find her brother, placed for adoption years before Julie had been born, had taken longer than writing the screenplay but had been worth it.

Jimmy touched Julie’s hand and whispered, “I’m so glad you found me. We’re finally home.”

“Me too. Finally Home. I thought it was the perfect title for a play.”

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Autumn’s Predicament


The writing prompt for this story was “Fear the Challenge.”

As the summer winds down and temperatures cool, perhaps you’ll relate my tempered love of fall. Enjoy and drop me a line if you have time.

Autumn’s Predicament

Ah, how I love fall.  It’s a nearly perfect season when hillsides are filled with splashes of vibrant crimson and gold.  A time when nature’s chilling breeze orchestrates a blissful dance of leaves drifting to the ground.  Apple orchards celebrate the season with mounds of pumpkins stacked on bales of hay.  Children dash in and out of corn mazes, squealing with delight.  Large barreled pots compete for attention with boastful yellow, rusty maroon and faded purple mums spilling to the ground.  The taste of sweet, mellow cider lingers on my lips.  I envision long, leisurely walks in thick woods and mesmerizing evenings spent snuggled near crackling bonfires.

It’s nearly perfect, this autumnal equinox.  Yet, anticipation of what follows disturbs my pleasures of October and November and causes my emotions to rise and fall like the swells of the sea.  The joy of the season is tempered by the impending void that is left when the page turns into winter.

In the silence of the night, roof tops are christened with a fine layer of glistening white.  It is a signal to dress in layers before taking my morning walk.  I round the corner of my three mile hike with my spouse and notice the chill has disappeared into delightful warmth that urges me to shed my windbreaker.  Enjoy the moment, I repeat to myself like a mantra needed to survive the inevitable.

We return home and I am drawn to the bay window for another glimpse of the masterful day.  Even after a lifetime in the area, the contrast of Missouri’s unpredictable weather still amazes me.  Yesterday’s gray clouds brought gale-force winds that stripped many trees of their treasures.  I pause to admire the inch of muted foliage that camouflage the fading green earth.  A beautiful carpet left by nature.  The sun glistens through the nearly bare branches and my heart wants to stay suspended in this place until spring arrives.

Then poof!  The spell is broken with the sound of our electric garage door opening.  With it comes a familiar knot in my stomach that begins to tighten in anticipation of the task ahead.  Mentally, I prepare to enter the war zone.

The childhood joy of diving into large piles of raked leaves evaporated many years ago.  In its place is a yearly battle between nature and man.  I hear the grinding pull of the cord and the mulching mower is cranked up.  The battle has begun.  I watch my husband take off with a vengeance.  No leaf is safe from his quest to reclaim the well-manicure yard he spent nearly two decades perfecting.

My partner of forty-plus years views the arrival of the unwanted visitors as an intrusion on his space.  His constant wrath toward the harmless innate objects begins with the first leaf that glides to the ground, daring to lay claim to his sacred ground.  Each year, his passion swells to obsession and it pushes me to dark places where angry words linger behind pursed lips.  We dangle at opposite ends of the spectrum as I struggle to understand the need to alter the natural occurrence of fall.

I force the worn leaf rake to serve as my accomplice in the vengeful attack on the helpless victims entangled in the chain-link fence.  My unwilling weapon rebels by tightening its spokes around the metal structure.  I choke back expletive phrases that threaten to escape my clenched jaw just as the hum of the motor stops.  It is my cue to come help hold the large body bag.  I pretend to ignore the signal, but guilt forces me to give up the battle with the fence and toss the rake to the ground in order to fulfill my obligation as a cohort in this crime.

With my place by the commander’s side, I steady the flimsy container as the dusty remains are deposited.  My body is positioned to avoid eye contact with the enemy for surely my fellow warrior will realize I am a traitor.  The internal struggle rises in my throat and urges me to speak my mind, but I have done so before to no avail, so I hold my tongue.  The warfare will end soon enough.

I return to the hillside to search for my weapon which has become one with the muted masses that soon will face a dismal fate.  I pry its fingers from the tight hold on the fence and continue my disheartened efforts.  My mind drifts to poetic words I think that I shall never see, a poem as lovely as a tree.  The sweat on my brow slowly dissolves the anger in my heart.

With the emerald land temporarily restored to its fiscal owner, the weapons are cleaned and stored away.  We retreat to the safety of our shelter, dusty and worn.  My gray-haired, weary warrior advances toward the bay window and nods as he admires the recapture of his territory.  I am moved by the moment and step closer to him.

“Good job babe.”

He grins, pleased with his victory, and bends down to plant a pleasurable reward on my lips.

“Thanks.”

His comforting embrace warms me and I try to savor the moment.  Tears dampen my cheeks as I watch autumn slip silently into winter.  How many more battles await us?  I fear the answer.

There’s No Place Like Home


Like a cobra that refuses to relinquish its grip, unrelenting heat waves are squeezing the breath from folks across the United States.  My escapes outside are limited to essential missions.  I find myself planted in front of the computer, browsing through blogs, dreaming of faraway places that I long to visit.

Going Dutch, by Malou, http://malouprestado.files.wordpress.com offers the reader to escape to picturesque fields of tulips and poppies.  Recently, she shared stunningly beautiful pictures from a family vacation in Tuscany.  The breathtaking photos captivated me and made me long to journey to such romantic places.

It is a dream for another day and while I lingered a little longer than I had anticipated, the time spent was not wasted.  It inspired me to write about the delightful opportunities that are offered here in Missouri.  For the next few weeks, I will revisit some of my most favorite locations and invite readers to ponder the possibilities of vacationing in Missouri.

The historic downtown St. Charles is one of my favorite places to spend the day.  The 16 acre Frontier Park boarders the Missouri River and hosts many events throughout the year.  The Festival of the Little Hills, to be held August 17-19, 2012, attracts 300,000 visitors each year and provides a stage front for the 300 craft booths, food, live music and entertainment that line the streets of the Historic St. Charles Downtown District.  The great thing about this event is that I can get an early start on my Christmas shopping then grab a funnel cake or roasted ear of corn and sit a while in the park listening to the wide variety of music.

Speaking of music, Music on Mainstreet fills the Jaycee’s Stage on the third Wednesday from May through September at 5:00 p.m.  The St. Charles Municipal Band Free Concerts invite everyone to bring their lawn chairs on Thursdays June through August at 8:00 p.m. to tap their toes in the grass.  Some of my fondest memories came from watching my mother’s face light up when she recognized a song from her era.  Somehow, the music transcended her from the struggles of Alzheimer’s disease to another time.  She knew every word and sang along softly, all the while keeping a beat with her frail hands.

History buffs will enjoy the wonderful statues found throughout the park and along Main Street.  The Lewis and Clark Boat House and Nature Center is a great place to start.  The county was established in 1812 and played a significant role in the westward expansion of our country when the Lewis and Clark Expedition departed from the banks of St. Charles.

Wear comfortable shoes because there is much to see and do.  The 240-mile Katy Trail, a paved biking and hiking path borders the park along with the MKT Depot.  If this peaks your interest, check out the website at http://www.stcharlescountywebsite.com

The quaint shops and delectable restaurants provide for a leisurely stroll down Main Street.  If you make it all the way to the end, you can visit the Foundry Art Center and some of the pubs that offer reprieve to summer’s strain.

My journey will continue through other delightful parks and attractions.  I hope you join along and share a story or two with me about your home town vacation.