The Bull


Our acreage on Oak Grove Road abutted Joe Harris’ property separated by a creek. Joe owned the Diamond Dot store on M59 in Howell and raised beef. We were told it was private property, to never trespass, so we were always back there. We often took “hikes”, would see Joe’s cattle and would taunt the bull to chase us. I have no idea why we thought that was a good idea. We would taunt the bull by jumping around, calling to him and dancing, and he lazily go back to his business of eating grass. Except one day when we were again walking away a disappointed.

It’s never a good sign when one of your buddies yells “HOLY SHIT!” and runs for their life. It’s all in the way they run. Not a jog or running to first base but an absolute panic complete with head down and arm twirling. I think of the line “I don’t have to run fast, just faster than you”. The rest of us looked behind we could see one really pissed off bull bearing down on us like a train. We all ran for the same tree. The guys taller than me, like all of them, grabbed the low hanging branches and swinging up, left exactly no branches for me. My brother Mike extended his hand to pull me up but I knew he would dangle me like a red cape in front of that bull. A huge branch of the tree was lying on the ground. It was just big enough for me to fit under. He chased around the tree to get me from one side and I’d slip under the branch. Then he’d go around the other side and I’d duck under the branches again. This stalemate went on much longer than was necessary. Bulls, like kids, may not be bright, but what they lack in smarts, they make up in sheer stubbornness. I got tired of this real quick but not enough to be gored by Mr. Bad Mood. He eventually lost interest and slowly walked away. My “buddies” got down from the tree and we decided our hike was over. Now we just had to walk by the bull on the way out.


imageKaren and I used to play gigs at Dillons in Haslett. One night four guys came in, of the sort that most likely had never been in a bar. The kind with pocket protectors, calculator holsters and their top buttons fastened. It was obvious they had never smoked because they held their cigarettes awkwardly and coughed a lot. It was an Easter Egg hunt. They would scope out a cutie, all would stare and put their heads together and giggle like little girls. They were hurriedly getting trashed. The Alpha male left a cigarette in his mouth the whole time like James Dean. You could tell it was driving him crazy as he kept wincing. Then ten beautiful sorority sisters walked through the door. They were dressed to the Nines but the standout was a tall long haired blonde with a pink mohair sweater. These guys started seizing. The Mother Lode. They giggled and put their heads together to plan their strategy. The Alpha was bestowing his knowledge of CHICKS!!! With his cigarette hanging, and beer in hand, the Alpha rose and swaggered toward the trophy blonde. The remaining guys were wide eyed with anticipation. Alpha squatted next to the blonde and began talking her up. She was not receptive. All the while the cigarette smoke was rising into his face. He tried to change the angle of his head, lost his balance falling forward and stuck his cigarette right into her mohair sweater. It went up like a torch. Everything got chaotic then. He rose from the floor and threw his beer on the fire, her face and hair. Karen and I missed the next verse but kept playing. The blonde about smacked the shit out of Alpha. The sisters were yelling obscenities. He walked dejectedly back to his table without his cigarette. Or the girl. The guys all got up, hang dog, and walked out the door. Cigarettes burning and beers unfinished.



She had been frugal her whole life, but it was the one extravagance she would allow herself. She had long ago cast off that repressive religious tapestry of her youth, to forsake adornment in favor of simplicity. Although she could never be considered “flashy” it was no longer a pivot point in her life. Although she had kept the frugal part. After 20 years on a fixed retirement income, she knew there was merit to being frugal. But at this point she didn’t care. She was going to continue to buy the Japanese Cherry Blossom Hand Soap at the Walmart Store even if it was more expensive than the Walmart brand. There were many hand soaps but this one excited her more than any hand soap ever should. It was a pleasant pink shade in an attractive rectangular bottle that tapered at the top.

She first bought it on a whim and when she smelled it, she was lost in a fantasy of sailing on cherry blossom winds, under pastelic hues of the sky, with a horizon that seemingly resting on a bed of gold from a stingy sun, reluctant to give up the day. Full moons and starry nights, royalty, riches and romance. Her tiny feet in sandals with wood blocks on the bottom, shuffling short steps. Her white silk kimono, smooth and sensuous on her skin, with the protective high collar that contrasted with barely concealed curves.

She kept the Japanese Cherry Blossom Hand Soap in the bathroom as though it was a secret, and found herself walking out of the way to wash her hands, often sniffing her cupped hands during the day. It made the Women’s Auxiliary Guild meetings more tolerable when she would rub her nose or cheek to sneak a smell. And again she was transported into a forbidden fantasy. Her audible gasp once elicited questioning glances. She smiled.

She had never traveled but did go to Duluth once, for cousin Millie’s wedding to the preacher Carlton Stone. She thought it must be like San Francisco with it’s hilly rolling streets near the shore. There was a restaurant called Grandmothers and behind was a circus tent where she heard Dr. Hitt and his Big Band play old swing tunes. She danced with her cousins and they drank too much. The next day Millie married Carl. He didn’t have a nose as much as a beak. She grinned as she thought that he could spear a bug in the corner if he wanted. He also had large ears unevenly perched on either side of his thinning hair. Still, Millie had found someone to love and someone who loved her back. But not her.

As a teenager her family had stayed at her Aunt and Uncle’s house during a revival weekend. Lying in bed upstairs next to Millie who was already asleep. In the old house the heating ducts were just holes in the floor with screen covers that amplified the voices of the adults. She knew she shouldn’t listen but she couldn’t stop herself. The mumbles of her Dad and Uncle in the other room, and her Mom and Aunt gossiping, talking house and Bible verses and their worries. That’s when she discovered her mother worried about her. That she had diminished prospects because she was plain and unremarkable. She had suspected in her heart that it was true, but until then it had been an amorphous feeling. But her mothers words were a fixative to hard set a form. At one time a lover, husband and children were everything. But that time had passed.

What if she went to the Walmart Store and the Japanese Cherry Blossom was gone? A twinge of anxiety. Maybe she should buy a case of it just to be safe? Maybe two? She smiled at a thought; when she had literally sailed into the horizon, someone, she couldn’t imagine who, would find stacked cases of Japanese Cherry Blossom Hand Soap and think she was eccentric. What would she care?

Gazing at her hands she was pleased the migrating rich cherry color of her knuckles tapered into her porcelain skin. She rose from her chair to wash her hands. She had the cleanest hands in town and maybe the dirtiest mind. No one would ever know. Because she was plain and unremarkable.


Karen and I go to Howell every Saturday night and take Mom out to Applebee’s and a show. We need another place to eat since I have that menu memorized. I’m just grateful she’s not into Steak and Shake. When Karen was away it was up to me. I felt that I wanted a night off since I was so mischievous while Karen was gone. Just one night off. I also know that at 89, Mom looks forward to our nights out. So I went back and forth and then just decided to go. I called her early in the morning and told her I was coming between 4-430p. She called at 330p and asked me where I was. I told her I would be there between 4-430p which is our regular time. When I arrived at Oak Haven, I was literally four steps from her door when my phone rang and looking at my phone which said “Mom” was calling. I answered but the call dropped. I walked in and closed the door.

“Tim, where are you?”
“I’m here.” I turned around and noticed she was talking on the phone and her back was to me. I stood there. “So you’re here now?” she asked. “Mom, I’m right here, I said. “Are you in the parking lot?” she said into the phone. “Mother, I’m here.” “Oh, ok. I just wanted you to know that I was able to get you in to eat in our dining room tonight!” At this point I was amused she was still speaking into the phone but felt this was getting to the point of cruelty. I walked up beside her so she could see me and said “See, I’m here.” “Oh” she said into the phone. “He’s here, never mind. Bye.” I thought this little vignette alone was worth the trip. She turned around and gave me a big hug and I noticed that she had gotten her hair cut and permed and she was dressed to the nines. I said “Oh look at you! You look so nice! You got your hair cut! You look great!” She just beamed. At this point I felt like a real shit for even considering not coming tonight. These visits are huge for her. She then proceeded to tell me three times, at varying intervals, about how she was unable to get me in to eat at the cafeteria and then able to get me a seat after all. She was so proud of her persistence and success. She had talked about how wonderful the food was, but I have to tell you, it wasn’t registering on the Richter scale for me. So we went down the hall to dinner. We had a table to ourselves and she was worried no one would join us. I know that she loves to have her kids over and she’s told me stories of how so-and-so’s kids never come. This is a big thing here. So again I felt like a shit for even considering not coming tonight. Her friend Sally finally joined us at the table and we ate chicken salad croissants, tomato bisque, pickled three bean salad and a strawberry mousse for desert and coffee. Probably the best I ever had. The whole while Mom sat there 10 feet tall and bullet proof. We left for the movie and saw Joy, and I’m pretty sure she slept through it, although she is very cagey these days in camouflaging her sleeping during movies. Of course she hated it. She hates every movie unless there is humor and lots of romance and kissing. Last week Karen and I took her to see “Sisters” with Tina Fey and Amy Pohler. After a hellacious party, Tina Fey is cleaning up a wall-size magic marker drawing of a huge Schwantz and taking selfies in obscene positions with the Schwantz. Although I’m now 60 and Mom is 89, it is still awkward as hell, probably for both of us, to watch any kind of sexual anything with your mother. I’m sure she pretended to be sleeping although I honestly couldn’t look at her. So I take her home and we say good night, I give her a big hug and a smootch. While driving home I thought about my decision to go after all. I realized that many times I either make it by inches or miss it by inches. Tonight I made it and I’m glad. It was so important to her.

Since our kids left, there are five words that seem to get me off the dime, every time. And I’ve noticed, that for me, they are applicable a lot of the time.
“It is not about you.”


Karen left this week to visit her parents in Florida so I’m home alone with Elly Belle and the Cheshire twins. When both our kids and marriage were young, there were many times that I’d been alone. The novelty lasted a couple of days and then I’d get lonesome. But I have to tell you that I’m having a blast this week. It’s the strangest thing. I go to bed and get I up whenever I please, take mid day naps in the mid week, watch movies with my coffee instead of the News, I’m readIng more, writing more and have been listening to Pandora continually for days now. I went to the corner store and bought Vernors Ginger Ale (with sugar by God) and I’m not even sick. I bought Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream and I’ll eat it for breakfast if I have a mind to. Yesterday I sat down with my MaCallan’s Scotch and watched the “Cosmos” with Neil DeGrasse. I can’t understand that stuff on my best days and certainly not while drinking Scotch. I thought it would help me relax, enlighten my abilities and the little voice whispering “How stupid am I really?” would shut the hell up so I could understand Neil. Well that was a fail and I started watching Mad Max instead.

I was talking to Karen on the phone about it. “Yeah I DO miss you but I’m having a great time!” And she’s the one in Florida. I offered that since I retired several weeks back, I feel guilty about not working while she works each day. That I feel I have to get up and go to bed the same time she does. That I have projects planned each day and feel the pressure to get them done. And that does include cleaning the house, the dishes and doing the laundry. I’ll cook something for dinner that she can smell when she walks in the door at the end of her day. And that by the end of the day she’ll notice that I was not just sitting around. I have to make an effort to not feel guilty about it. I’ve been working since 14 years old and I’m entitled to it after all these years. I envisioned rolling around naked on the living room carpet for the first week after I retired. But it’s not that way.

Now I am committed to enlightenment and self improvement. I told her that I can get over this, it may be tough but with her support I feel I can do anything. My plan when she gets home is to continue to let the dishes stack and laundry pile high, to nap and watch movies during the day while eating Ben and Jerrys and drinking Scotch. That’s right baby. THE CLOTHES ARE COMING OFF!!