Five stories from Relentlessly Upbeat... 
                        Jesse's Great Escape

My son-in-law tucked two-year-old Jesse in for his afternoon nap, securing the twenty-four inch high gate at the door to prevent his escape.  Four-year-old Jocelyn frowned.

“I think I’ll play in my bedroom for awhile, Daddy,” she said as she disappeared into her room and shut the door behind her.

She sat down at her little table and grabbed a piece of paper and a red crayon. Her frown vanished, leaving a serious, determined expression on her face. She had a mission and would not quit until she succeeded…mission: free Jesse.

Suddenly Jocelyn was in Sagan, Germany, the year: 1944, the place: Stalag Luft III, German prison camp. Steve McQueen sat to her left and James Garner to her right as she started to plot.

“I’m going to need more crayons”, she whispered to herself. “And more paper,” a voice from across the room added. She knew there were three tunnels being built, Tom, Dick and Harry. She knew the freedom of her brother depended on her ability to plan this mission successfully.

She would need over four thousand bed boards, thirty chairs, fifty tables and ninety bunk beds to brace the walls of the tunnels. After all, three hundred feet is a long way.
In pre-school, she hadn’t even learned about three hundred yet. And the sand, there would be several tons of sand to dump…somewhere.  Mommy would be really mad if they dumped it all over her new carpet and several tons definitely would be noticed.

Her eyes met Mr. McQueen’s. He knew better than anyone what happened to those who broke the rules…days even weeks in the cooler. She had to pull this off without getting caught, but how? The whole plan seemed way too risky.

But then it came to her. Jesse’s escape would not require a tunnel. His gate was above ground; she would need some kind of a bridge.  Grabbing three more crayons, she drew pictures of blocks and toys and how they could be interlocked and stacked against the gate to provide a make shift ramp.

And the perfect part was that the ramp could be quickly and easily disassembled so that no one, not even the Mommy or Daddy guards would be able to figure out how they did it. 

Once free they would simply tiptoe the last twenty feet to Jocelyn’s bedroom where they would be safe forever. Jocelyn forged their escape papers and tucked them inside her black leotards. She removed her ballet slippers eliminating the possibility of any scuffing noises that might alert the guards.

“PSSSS, Jesse,” she whispered, “quick, start handing me your blocks…and that big truck too.” Jesse sprang into action handing Jocelyn toys and blocks at lightning speed. Jocelyn quickly assembled a structured that paled in comparison only to Boston’s Big Dig.

Once her project was complete, she stepped across the bridge and hugged Jesse. But as she turned to set him free, Jocelyn realized a minor flaw in her plan. They had not only built the bridge on the wrong side but had used all the blocks and toys available, ending up as prisoners in the same cooler.

“I love you, Jesse,” Jocelyn said as she hugged him, resigning herself to defeat.

“Yeah, you love me,” Jesse replied.

Jocelyn grabbed Jesse’s blanket and wrapped it around them as they curled up together on his motorcar toddler bed.

Within minutes the two were asleep, traveling to a place where they were free, a place that was warm and sunny, a place where they could play in the water all day and eat McDonald’s chicken nuggets and French fries every night.  It was a place where they could be whatever they wanted to be and do whatever they wanted to do.

And even though they never made it to Jocelyn’s room, in a very real way, their plan had succeeded beautifully.

As Jocelyn and Jesse drifted off to dreamland, the peacefulness of their slumber was proof to the world that they had just pulled off the world’s greatest escape.

                For Those Who Guard the Walls

The other day my daughter and I met at the Fort Devens Grille for a bite to eat and some chat time. As we entered the front door, a Marine in full dress uniform caught my eye.
"Wow," I said to my daughter, almost walking into a table, "whoever designed those uniforms should be designing clothes for civilians as well. We need someone who can get the kids away from those belly shirts and pants worn so low I don't want to know what's holding them up."

My daughter laughed. She's over thirty and can afford to laugh at such fuddy-duddy comments made by her mother.

When we got settled at our table, I felt bad for temporarily reducing the Marine Corp to a statement of fashion. After I caught my breath, I mean, I'm old enough to be his…older sister; I started to think about what these men represent.

As the Jack Nicholson character so eloquently said in the movie, 'A Few Good Men', these men guard the walls. We sleep beneath the blanket of the freedom that they provide. Sure, our leaders have made decisions we disagree with especially when it comes to defending democracy. 

We all have opinions on the morality and purpose of each war as we wait for history to record which ones were right. But the men and women who stand on the wall do so without question, without doubting the orders they were given. America's soldiers hold that wall for us, right or wrong.

Every year in November we devote a day to honoring our soldiers and veterans as well as remembering those who gave their lives.

And when I think of those men and women who died for our country, I also think of their families, their friends and the dozens if not hundreds of people who are affected by each and every death. 

I wonder what one day a year means to children who have lost their parents or to parents who have lost their children. 

In the movie ‘Shenandoah’, James Stewart plays farmer Charlie Anderson, a widower with seven children caught between the north and south during the Civil War. After losing several of his children to the war, he speaks at the grave of his wife, his words
choked with tears. "There's not much I can tell you about this war, Martha. It's like all wars, I guess. The undertakers are winning
it, the politicians talk about the glory of it, and the old men talk about the need of it. And the soldiers, well, they just wanna go home."

So, this year, on Veterans' Day and every day that follows, I will pray that all the soldiers come home and soon.

I know that bringing them home will not end all wars. If history has taught us anything, it has taught us there will always be wars.

But this year as I climb into bed on the eve of November eleventh, I will dream every one home, even if just for one day.

As my daughter and I got up to leave the restaurant, I walked her to her car and gave her a big hug, holding on an extra second because I didn't want to let go.

"Thanks for supper, Mom," she said as she got into her car. "Give my love to Dad. See you next week!" It was as simple as that. See you next week, Mom.

And I know we will. I know we will because she sleeps under the same blanket that I do, that all Americans do, the one that the Marine and his comrades so bravely gave us, the blanket of freedom.

                    Technology Meltdown

Recently my husband and I were grocery shopping.  Despite the fact that shopping together is not our usual “modus operandi”, we were actually having a good time, that is, until we went to check out. 

For some reason the drawer at our selected register would not open. After five minutes of pulling and prodding and sticking his I.D. badge into various places; our cashier finally flipped on his blue “help me” light.  To make a long story short, it took three additional cashiers plus their manager to wrestle the cash register into submission.

The rescue team assured us that it was a very unique situation. I assured them that they didn’t need to use the word very and unique in the same sentence, especially in this case since the exact same thing happened to us at the exact same store just the month before.  To make them feel a little bit better, I did mention that it happened at a different register.

My husband and I finally departed and tried to resume our otherwise chipper demeanor. But obviously meltdowns travel in multiples as the very next day we found ourselves the victim of another one.

This time we were at a self-checkout in a large department store. As we started to scan our items, a high-pitched voice from inside the cash register explained that my bag of Doritos was not being accepted and I should try again or put them back.  I waved desperately at the floating assistant who seemed to know before I did that I was going to need her help.

“Could you hang around for awhile,” I continued after my Doritos were safely moving down the conveyer belt, “I have a gift card.”

She let out a gasp as if I had told her that I was going to secure a home equity loan to pay for my purchases. But she remained by my side and even tried to smile.

At the end of the transaction, the lady attempted to insert the gift card into a little black box. But the machine rejected my card like a toddler spitting out a spoon full of spinach.

She tried again and again. I admired her persistence even if my husband and I were on our way to a late lunch and trying to stay focused while our blood sugar levels dropped off the charts.

“These machines are so old,” she finally explained.

“How old are they,” I asked while leaning against the counter, too faint to actually be annoyed.

“Oh, gosh,” she laughed, “they’re over five years old.”

And then it hit me.  The advances in today’s technology are so fast that many new inventions are outdated almost as soon as they are released into the market. 

The world’s technology is developing at a pace where we practically have to sleep at the mall so we won’t miss the next “must have” item.  And yet, as technological advances have increased, their dependability and shelf life have headed in the other direction.

For some reason no one seems surprised or even upset that many inventions which are newer than our last haircuts are already failing.

Years ago I read an article about the airlines business, which unfortunately gave me one more reason not to fly.  The article explained that the computers in the traffic control towers, which help the planes land safely and not smash into each other were designed in the 1960s. The flying industry has spent millions, maybe even billions
trying to correct this situation but to no avail. To update these computers, the entire world would have to shut down for a day or two, something the entire world is just not willing to do.

So maybe meltdowns are simply the price we have to pay for all the new inventions. Maybe meltdowns are the price for being able to talk into a box the size of a deck of cards and speak to someone on the other side of the world.

I can deal with that, I really can. As long as the lady inside the cash register doesn’t take away my Doritos, I’ll be okay.

                    Who's Perfect?

I looked out the window and watched my neighbor remove the last five snowflakes from his driveway. After he used a shovel to scrape the places the snow blower had missed, he brought out a fine bristled broom to scrape up anything still caught in the rough pavement.

Just then my husband came in the back door, covered with snow, announcing that if I really wanted to get out of the driveway I should take the truck, which has four -wheel drive.

"Gee, did you notice our neighbor's driveway," I asked, trying not to sound like I was comparing the two.

"Hello… can you believe that guy," my husband chuckled, "isn't it enough that you can eat off his driveway in the summer? Does he know he's making the rest of us look bad?"

"He's probably just fussy when it comes to his driveway," I said, even though I knew better.  In the summer, his lawn is not only raked but combed and the trees are manicured to the point where he removes any leaves that don't look quite right.
He scrapes the lichen off the tree trunks and his birds look neat as a pin.

"I can't imagine what the inside of his house looks like," my husband mumbled from the living room with a mouth full of potato chips. "I bet he drives his wife crazy."

Oh, I bet he doesn't, I thought to myself, as I cleaned up the pathway of chips leading to my husband’s my easy chair. I bet he wipes his feet at the door, washes and puts away the bowl he used for a midnight snack and makes the bed in the morning as soon as his wife gets up to go to the bathroom. 

That might bother some people, I thought, allowing myself to dream, but it sounded like a little bit of heaven to me.

I caught the half eaten bag of chips from my husband’s lap as he jumped up when Brady threw a long pass to the ten-yard line. An avalanche of crumbs fell from his shirt to the carpet.

"You know, ants like potato chips too," I said trying not to sound like a nag.

"In the winter?" he replied without taking his eyes off the game. "That's what I'm talking about," he cheered as the Patriots scored a touchdown.
When the game was over my husband came into the kitchen.

"Hey, I think I'll check out the movie channel or would you like to watch one of our own. How about ‘Casablanca’? We haven’t seen that one in a long time."

He got halfway down the hallway, stopped and turned around, "Any idea where it is?"

"Yes, it's in the video bookshelf, top row, seventh one from the left, right next to “Caddy Shack’," I answered without hesitation.

"Wow, you have our movies in alphabetical order? When did you do that?" He grabbed the movie and got ready to settle down for the night. "Ready?" he asked as he reached for the light switch.

I grabbed the rest of the potato chips and a bowl that had been on the counter since the night before. I picked up a couple pillows off the floor and moved some of the golf magazines from the top of the coffee table to create a space for my feet.

"Here, let's cover up those little tootsies of yours before they get cold," he said as he threw the blanket over my bare feet. "It wouldn't do for my beautiful Ingrid Bergman to catch cold."

I snuggled up against my husband, chips and all. He isn't perfect, I thought to myself, but seriously who is? And as he put his arm around me, he gave me a little squeeze and whispered, “here’s looking at you kid”.

He gave me a wink and I melted into his side.  In an imperfect world, he was the most perfect thing in my life, crumbs and all.

                 The Best Show in Town

Last weekend my husband and I attended a twenty-four hour performance at our daughter's house entitled, "The Best Show in Town." And while the cast consisted of eight children ranging in ages from two to ten, I can honestly say that the show rivaled the best that Broadway has to offer.

Upon our arrival, we were greeted by one of the leading characters, two-year-old Jesse who was already in costume wearing a blue onesie, one sneaker and a ducky slipper. Three and a half year old Jocelyn followed wearing her pajama bottoms, a tutu and tiara while still sporting her tan marks from last summer's production of "A Place in the Sun".

"Oh," I whispered to my husband, "perhaps we are going to see a remake of ‘Hair’ or ‘Oh, Calcutta’, how exciting!"

As we took our seats, Jesse and Jocelyn announced that there would be a delay in the show due to the fact that two of the cast members were finishing up a production called ‘School’. 

Without skipping a beat, the two actors amused us with songs, nursery rhymes an occasional noise that only dogs can hear.
The pre-show performance was excellent and got rave reviews from the front row attendees.

After a brief refreshment break, Morgan and Timothy, ages eight and ten respectively, arrived and the first act began.

The show had a delightful sense of interaction interspersed with laughter, tears and screams…something for everyone. But by the end of the second act, Jesse and Jocelyn were in need of an overnight
intermission which worked out nicely since the last four actors were expected to arrive early the next morning.

As dedicated actors, the cast members began assembling even before daybreak. From our sleep chamber located on the floor above the main theater, we could hear rumblings as they rehearsed act three.

Two year old Chase arrived shortly before 9:00 with his sponsors whom he referred to as 'Mumma and Daddeee'.  He entered the front hallway and immediately squealed as he was handed one of the show’s more dramatic props, a bouquet of white and yellow balloons. "Balloons, balloons," he giggled over and over again as he rehearsed his only line. "Balloons!" Just as the audience was starting to stir, the last three
actors arrived, Ruby, Sage and Patience.  They reunited with their fellow cast members with hugs all around and quickly got into place. The curtain went up.

Jocelyn, the lead comedienne, took center stage cracking up the audience with her stories about what Mommy and Daddy do all day.

These stories were denied by a heckler sitting in the row behind us. Jesse grabbed the microphone from Jocelyn as he started his monologue with his 'sure to get a laugh' mantra, my turn, my turn, MY TURN!  The audience howled hysterically, people holding their sides to control an anticipated stitch.

Cameras clicked throughout the entire show as each performer delivered his or her lines to a packed house.

As the show came to an end, there were tears of joy, tears of exhaustion and tears that always accompany the ending of anything so beautiful. The actors stood on stage waving to their fans and promising they would return as soon as possible.

The audience bid each other a fond adieu. Hours of sharing an experience so deep and meaningful created a bond like no other.

The audience hugged each other. The audience hugged each performer. They stood at the door of the theater not wanting to leave until, until ten year old Timothy reminded everyone that their next production was only weeks away.

"Surely none of you will miss our next show," he reminded everyone, "new time but the same actors. It's going to be the best show in town. We're calling it our ‘Merry Christmas to Everyone' show."

"Wow," my husband laughed as we drove away, "those actors should get Oscars."

"Absolutely," I agreed, "and even though it took us over twenty years to acquire these front row season tickets, it was well worth the wait.”