June 26, 2024

During our last meeting, my writers’ club decided to have a homework assignment. We were to write a short story about a battle or personal struggle. I decided to write something for my fourth novel. But I fell into research rabbit holes! What I shared last night was an extremely rough draft, and I won’t post it now. Instead, I’m going to share one from several years ago.


Independence festivities kick off with a twilight parade. Since my daughter will perform, I leave work at 12:00 on Wednesday. Another hot, humid day. I’m drenched with sweat before I reach the Chicago parking garage. As soon as my minivan starts, I full-blast the air and check the time. Tessa’s babysitting my seven-year-old son, and she must be at school before 3:00.

Vehicles travel at a turtle-like pace as Chicagoans flee the heat for a long weekend at their Michigan summer homes. Time and traffic conspire against me. It’s 2:45 when I park.

Tessa is watching and opens the front door before I reach the porch. She wrinkles her nose as she hugs. “You’re really late. You need a shower. I’ve got to go!”

Dressed in t-shirt and shorts, she slips on flip-flops. She’ll change into her heavy purple and gold uniform at school. “Don’t forget I’ll be on the right-hand side.” An impish smile lights her face. “You’ll be surprised by what we play today.”

“Forgetting a water bottle? Need a ride home?”

“You know they always make sure we have enough water. I’ve got my key, so I’ll walk.” She rushes out the door.

“Jase, I’m home. Where are you?”

“In my room. Can Taylor come with us?”

“Sure. I’m going to shower.”

First, I phone my elderly parents. “Hello Mom. Are you sure you and Dad want to be out in this extreme heat? Okay. Tess said she’d be on the right-hand side, so we’ll meet across from the Kennedy Avenue butcher shop around 5:00. Oh, I just got home. She didn’t say she called. Love you.”

I shower, then don shorts and a halter top. After applying minimal makeup, I go into the kitchen to add ice-filled water bottles to my tote. I want to get there before barricades block the streets. “Jase, we need to get a move on!”

From his dejected look, I know Taylor can’t come with us. “Hurry up. Zorro needs his walk.”

He takes out the dog while I slip on sandals, then pick up his cap and my hat. Jase returns, takes his baseball cap and the tote. Outside, I start the van, blast the air, then glance at the clock. “We don’t have much time, kiddo. How about Arby’s and then Dunkin Donuts for iced coffee?”

“Can’t we go to McDonald’s?”

“Not today. Want to split a large curly fry?”


It’s almost 5:00 when we reach Highland. Traffic barriers block Highway Avenue, so I navigate residential streets to reach the butcher shop. Its lot is full. I park three blocks away. Putting our food sack inside my tote, I then hand it to Jase. I make sure that he’s wearing his baseball cap, has drink in hand plus a bag for candy. I don my hat, sling purse over shoulder, place drink on roof, grab our camp chairs from the back, then lock up my van. I retrieve my iced mocha coffee and suck on it. Ah, that hits the spot. It’s too hot out here!

We walk back. At the stoplight, I check to see if any other relatives are there. Finding an open spot across from the shop, I put down my drink, shrug off our chairs, get them out of the carry sacks then set up. Jase drapes the blanket on the curb. We sit down to enjoy our beef and cheddar sandwiches.

As I slather sun block on both of us, I see some relatives have arrived. I wave, wait for a stray car creeping down the street, then we jaywalk across. My cousins and I chat about the ongoing heat and mounting death toll. It’s now reached over a hundred. Deaths are most prevalent among elderly people living alone. No matter their age, everyone must be concerned about heat exhaustion.

As other relatives arrive, we exchange hugs. I’m shocked when I see my cousin’s daughter, Stacy. She and Tessa are the same age. Though they attend different schools, they are usually involved in similar activities. I’m surprised she isn’t playing in her band and cannot believe the amount of makeup she’s wearing. She looks tawdry!

At 6:00, the police brigade appears six blocks south. It’s time to go back across. Jase settles on the blanket. Hand shading my eyes, I search for my parents. The parade’s starting. Why aren’t they here?

Relieved, I finally see them. I rush down the block to retrieve chairs from Dad’s shoulder and take mom’s tote bag. “Where’s Paul?”

“He dropped us and went to find a parking spot. Because of him, we couldn’t get close.”

My oldest brother never gets anywhere on time!

Once they are settled, I give both parents a kiss. Moisture beads Dad’s face. “Would you like the last of my drink?”

He sips, then takes off the lid and grabs a chunk of ice. As he runs the ice across his forehead, I hand him a napkin. Glancing at Mom, she’s wearing a long-sleeve, turtleneck shirt with a blouse over it and has brought a jacket. “Aren’t you hot?”

Mom shakes her head as she waves to her sister’s family and receives answering waves. Paul appears carrying a sack of sandwiches and a carton of drinks. Settled into the chairs, we chat while they eat.

It’s almost twilight. Police motorcycles reach our section of the avenue and make several figure-eight passes. Several top-down convertibles follow, politicians sitting atop the backseat, tossing out candy and gum. I keep an eye on Jase. Making sure he doesn’t run into the street to grab any. I’m proud to see he isn’t greedy; he makes sure younger nearby children get an equal share.

I watch for Gavit’s marching band uniforms but pay more attention to my parents. Both have survived tough surgeries. I worry about them. A closer examination assures me they’re okay. I lean close to Mom. “Is Dad putting on weight again?”

“Oh, you know how he is. Monday, he went to Ultra and bought Oreo cookies. Before bed, I found the empty sack in the trash.”

Sighing, I shake my head. “Did Tessa invite you to tomorrow morning’s parade?”

“Yes. Your father said he’d like that.”

“Want to meet for an early breakfast and stake out a spot near the restaurant?”

“Sounds good.”

There’s a lull in the parade. I take a long sip from my iced bottle, then ask Mom and Dad if they’d like some. As I pass it to Dad, I notice my son’s flushed face. “Jase, sit down and drink some water now.”

He’s upset for a moment, then up to grab more candy. A parent grins at me as he hands her toddler a sucker. At last, I spot purple and gold. “She’s coming!

The parade slows turning the corner onto Highway Avenue, nearing the judging stand. This means her band will perform in front of us. I ready my camera. Are the students overheated? Will Tessa keep in step? Will her notes be off-key?

Marching in rhythm, Gavit’s band approaches, then stops. Tess glances over and smiles for a second before composing her face. The drum major blows his whistle, then the drums thunder. I’m astonished by the cadence of Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk.

Legs flashing up and down, they march in rhythm. Other instruments chime in as the band weaves in formation. One side moving left, the other right; merging in an exquisite blend of movement and melody.

The day’s worries disappear. Time slows.

Trumpet at her lips, Tess dances in tempo, weaving, dipping, twirling. Her sounds are crisp, clear, sweet. The last rays of sunlight make her auburn hair appear like a copper halo fanning out beneath her plumed hat as she moves. Focused on this girl in front of me, I marvel at her grace. My camera is forgotten.

Dad shouts, “Go Tessa!”

She ignores him, concentrating on her steps and music. I see a confident young woman strutting her stuff. Amazing! When did she become so poised? Where has my little girl gone?

She’ll turn thirteen next month and will start high school this fall. Like a flower, she has burgeoned, but it wasn’t until now that I realized just how much.

The band finishes. Volunteers now squirt water into each student’s mouth. There’s another smile and a wave from my daughter before the group marches away from us. The remainder of the parade passes in a blur. I don’t recall saying goodbye to my family or returning home.

My daughter will have memories of other parades, such as performing in Hawaii last spring. There’ll be plenty more before she leaves for college. After all, Tessa has three more parades tomorrow. But, for me, this will always be the memorable one, the one I cherish. The one when I recognized her womanhood.

June 12, 2024

During our May 22nd meeting, my writers’ club decided to have a homework assignment based on the following:

  • Write 1500 words or less
  • Set story in or around a college campus
  • Focus on the dynamics of the students and professors
  • Include support characters

Here’s the short story I composed and shared during our last night’s meeting:


The Chicago accounting firm where I worked allowed us time off after the tax season ended. I had accumulated so many hours, I decided to finally return to school. So at age 43, I enrolled in Indiana University Northwest, and I was able to transfer two accounting courses taken at Valparaiso when I was younger.

One of my initial courses was Algebra. The professor gave a test on the first day. The next class as he returned these, he said, “If you failed, you don’t belong in this class.” Not using this kind of math in 20 years, I had miserably flunked. But I was determined to remain and not transfer to a remedial one. I went home and spent the entire weekend with my nose in that textbook. Lucky for me, it contained solutions to every homework problem. A lot of the formula computations came back to me. I also spent time in the Math Lab with tutors. These young students were friendly and helpful. I managed an A- for this course, and made the Dean’s List for my summer and fall classes.

The firm changed its time-off policy the following year. My partner approved my working earlier in the day and leaving early so I could continue school in summer and fall.

I enjoyed my classes and continued making the Dean’s List. Summer ones were grueling because of the shortened timeframe. Housework also suffered as I spent hours studying or writing term papers. My teenage daughter often cleaned and did laundry.

The following year, I switched my major from business to computer science because the CPA certification now required a 6-year degree. Here I was struggling to get a 4-year one! My new advisor was very encouraging. The courses I’d already taken would meet the requirements, but I needed to take Calculus. I signed up for it that fall semester.

Oh Lord, what did I set myself up for? I spent hour upon hour in the lab again. I knew I was failing, but it just didn’t make any sense. One of the textbook solutions was wrong and when I questioned this elderly professor he got angry. “The answer is right. No need to look at how it got solved!”

When I mentioned this to one of the lab tutors, he said, “He’s an old school teacher, and grades on a heavy curve.” The student was correct. My D- turning into a B+ was indeed a huge curveball!

I enjoyed my interactions with other students and my professors, several of whom offered to give me recommendations. I did think a few were too absorbed in their campus life and failed to understand every day reality.

I didn’t have any problem with coursework, except for one class. World History was my downfall. This slim, bookish looking man focused his entire course on war. He would strut back and forth as he lectured on winning strategies. I thought it unlikely he had ever served in the military. Probably was 4F and never in service. Four books were assigned as required reading. One of which was Machiavelli’s The Prince. I tried but just couldn’t read it. Nothing was discussed in class except one battle after another. Considering this was the fall of 2001 and our country was seeking Osama’s whereabouts after the disaster, I skipped quite a few classes. My grade for this one was an appalling D.

It took me 7 years to obtain my degree. My children, parents, and older brother came to watch me receive my Bachelor of Science with honors in December 2002. I was surprised at the honors because I thought I’d lost this distinction because of that one awful course.