Finding Life (in obvious places): Telling Julie About the House

Tonight I told Julie about the house. The arrangements had been made. The owners were so eager to sell, all I had to do was sign a few papers and I could move in this weekend. Julie came over to the apartment after dinner and I told her.

“You what?”

“I bought a house. It’s great. Two stories. Old. Like my grandparents’.”


“I don’t know. I’m tired of this place. Listening to the fat lady next door and her radio that plays all night long. I’m tired of the lady that wears curlers and a house robe who borrows my paper and never brings it back. I just want a place of my own.”

“Well, that’s great. I guess.”

“You’re glad.”

“I’m happy if you’re happy.” She put her arms around my neck and gave me a kiss on the cheek. I was glad she’d come over.

“Will you help me move in?”

“Of course. When?”


“This Saturday?”

“Yeah. You busy?”

“Well, no. Saturday’s fine.”

“You think I’m acting impulsively.”

“No. It’s not that. You just. I’m just surprised. You’ve never really mentioned…”

“I know. I hadn’t really thought of it. But when I saw this place, I started thinking about being a kid at my grandparents’ place and I got real excited. A change like this is just what I need.”

“I think you’re right. It’s good you’re getting a place of your own. Like you’re starting to think of the future.”

“Yeah. I don’t know if I can afford it, though.”

“Things’ll work out.  I love you.”

“Yeah, maybe. Heating’s awful expensive.”

“Hey.” She put her hand on my cheek. “Things’ll work out.”

We watched the news and laid around talking about the house. As she left, I watched her drive away. waving through the car window, knowing I’d be watching. She’ll be great helping me move in, arranging the place. She loves arranging things.

Opening the hall closet, I get down the afghan Julie once knit for me. The bright colors have faded through the years and it is more than a bit unraveled. I don’t get it out much, but it still keeps me warm.

 {This post is part of a larger work entitled Finding Life (in obvious places) in first composed in 1985 and now am revising. To follow the story, click on the title in the tags below.}

Finding Life (in obvious places): The House

Once again, I am beginning another writing assignment – taking a collection of stories I wrote in 1985 called Life (in obvious places) and adding a narrator’s perspective from 30 years later (in italics).  My plan is to write the first draft in serial form over the next several months.  I will continue to post on other subjects, such as “Mental Health Mondays,” so stayed tuned…

Finding Life (in obvious places) begins here and continues here…

Today, I walked down a street I used to wander as a child. Old houses an arm’s length apart, old paint peeling away at the edges. My grandparents used to live around here. Sunday afternoons we’d play croquet in the front yard and watch the neighbor, Mr. Shepler, sweating like a pig and yelling at his lawn mower and three children. Mrs. Shepler would come out with a pitcher of iced tea and listen to him curse the weather, how hot the summers were getting.

About five blocks away from the Sheplers’ I noticed a “For-Sale-By-Owner” sign. I decided to explore. It was a two-story house, with attic and basement. The white painting was graying and the gutters were falling down. The grass was high; tall dandelions covered the front yard, some creeping through the cracks in the sidewalk.

I thought of the family dinners where Grandma would put the dandelions we’d picked for her in a Mason jar and use it as a centerpiece, as proud as a peacock. Mother never understood the dandelions. She’d say they were just weeds the didn’t belong in the house, much less on the dinner table.

After Grandpa died, Mr. Shepler started moving Grandma’s yard — early on Sunday mornings so he could get to his own in the afternoon. Grandma was grateful, though she also believed he was committing a sin working on the Lord’s Day.  The other widow ladies would drive by slowly on their way to church, staring at the sweaty 75-year old with his unbuttoned short-sleeve shirt and Bermuda shorts. Grandma just closed her shades.

“What?” I moved over to his chair. He sat still, but motioned with his arms.

“Ya interested in buying? The owners are out. Moved to Chicago. I’m watchin’ over the place.”

“Well, I was just… Kinda walkin’ around.”

“Cliff Barton’s the name,” he said, lifting his arm.

“Robert Thompson,” we shook hands.

Ya lookin’ to move, Robert?”

“Well, I don’t know. Wouldn’t mind…”

“It’s quite a find. Solid foundation. Fenced in back yard. Quiet neighborhood. Course it’s old. Price of heating these days. But it’s a nice house. Got a lot of good use.”

“I’m sure it’s a fine house. It’s just… well, I wasn’t actually planning on buying my own…”

“Where ya from?”

“Around here. Stonehedge Apartments.”

“Got a family?”

“No. I’m a… well, I’m single.”

“Yeah? I don’t suppose a young man like yerself’d have much use for a house.”

“It’s not that. Actually, I have been thinkin’ about getting out of the apartment. I’m tired of paying in and not getting anything out of it.”

“You got a good job? That is, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“No… I mean I don’t mind. I, um, I work at Arvin’s.”

“And yer lookin’ for a place of your own?”

“Well, yeah, kind of…”–

“Here, let me show you the place. I’ll go grab the keys.”

I reach in my front pocket and pull out that same set of keys, gently worn from thirty years of use, held together with a John Deere key ring. I look out at the neighborhood — the same neighborhood Mr. Barton watched thirty years ago. It looks much the same, but so much has changed. Cliff Barton died in 1986, right after Allison moved in. Thomas was born. Then Mary came along.  For a while, the place was so full of life. Now it’s just me, sitting in this old lawn chair, looking for life in obvious places.

vintage metal lawn chairs

“vintage metal lawn chairs” from Rhonda Zoch in Home ~ Goods

Finding Life (in obvious places): Me and Claudia Matson

Some time ago, inspired by Leanne Sypes’ post about her accordion-file time capsule, I dug through my big-bin of writings.  Like my mind, there was great disorder — to-do lists from last month crammed in with devotionals from 1983.  Father’s Day notes my daughters had written to me brought a smile to my face, love letters from my wife that brought tears to my eyes.  I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness.  I am not at all at peace with who I’ve been –  as a husband, a father, a pastor. 

To cope, I retreat to my writing studio with a book I found — a book I wrote before becoming all these things, back when I was a 21-year old, single, aspiring writer totally unprepared for the war that would rage within (with mental illness), ill-equipped for responsibilities I would frantically assume.

What follows is the opening of Life (in obvious places).  It is a work of fiction, but as I do not possess a wild imagination, it is firmly based on experience.

Seven years ago, in Freshman English, I was staring at Claudia Matson and her large breasts when I heard Miss Farkas explain what keeping a journal meant to her.

“When I write, it’s as if I were tapping into hidden resources of images, ideas, and thoughts. My journal is an expression of my sacred Self.”

I laughed.

“You find that humorous, do you?” she asked me.

“Well… yeah.”

It was funny, you have to admit. Still, she made me apologize to the class and write, “I will not laugh at the teacher,” five hundred times.

Miss Farkas died last summer and Claudia Matson is in college becoming a nuclear physicist. And I have this journal. It’s personal, but it’s sure as hell isn’t sacred.  I’m writing for myself, but with people in mind. In my mind. Just about things that go on. It’s not a novel or anything.  Just a journal, for Christ’s sake.

It has something to do with my father, I guess. Or my family in general. Dad took off on his motorcycle one Sunday while we were in church. He didn’t leave a note or anything. He never did write much.

My sister started a personal diary shortly afterwards that I stole one night to read. It was mush. A bunch of emotional crap about love and how it should last forever and how horrible Dad was for leaving. I don’t know. Miss Farkas may be right, but how can you tell a story without laughing? It just doesn’t make sense,

So, I moved out of Mom’s house right after high school, started work at the factory, and took to apartment life like an ant to a molehill. That was four years ago. Now I’m wondering what I’m doing here and why I can’t just get married and live normally in some suburban white house district.

No, that’s not it. I’m just trying to figure out where I am and how I got here. And what I’m looking for when I go on walks for hours. I know it’s a pretty tall order.  Maybe I should have gone to college.

The Walk - Fallen leaves - Vincent van Gogh  -  Completion Date: 1889    Place of Creation: Saint-rémy, Provence

“The Walk – Fallen leaves – Vincent van Gogh – Completion Date: 1889 Place of Creation: Saint-rémy, Provence”

from Carlos Leiro in Van Gogh, Picasso, Joan Miro

Building Community by Featuring Followers

Today, I was drawn back to my followers and decided to  feature some of them in a series of posts, both as a way to express gratitude for their following and build more community — sort of like an “A Way With Words” pot-luck.  I’ve included links to seven of these blogs, as well as to recent posts I find indicative of their work.  I hope you will be led to visit their sites and that you might mention you found them here.

To read more, visit my new blog address by clicking on the title below —

“Building Blogging Community: Featured Followers”

cute blogging notepad!

 from Katie Whalen Krysh

The Need to Succeed; the Craving to Create

In my writing want to emulate Rich Mullins in his musical vocation.  Smith writes of Mullins –

HIs decision to go into the music business was not to impress people, not to make a name for himself, and not to make money. He did it so that he could minister to people, and making music was the gift God had given him to use.

To read more, click on the title below:

“The Need to Succeed; the Craving to Create”

Rich Mullins
(photo of Rich Mullins from nanonymous in Music)

Tilling the Soil and Telling the Stories

James Bryan Smith, in his book from An Arrow Pointing to Heaven: A Devotional Biography of Rich Mullins, describes the motivation Rich had to write songs –

Rich believed that the desire to create comes from God and is a duty for all Christians. ‘I think creativity is a very Christian thing. I think if we are created in the image of God that means we’re going to have an impulse to create.’

The first two things God told Adam to do were to till the garden and to name the animals. We were created to create.

To read more, click on the title —

“Tilling the Soil and Telling the Stories”

Finding Life (in obvious places) – The House

Today, I walked down a street I used to wander as a child. Old houses an arm’s length apart, old paint peeling away at the edges. My grandparents used to live around here. Sunday afternoons we’d play croquet in the front yard and watch the neighbor, Mr. Shepler, sweating like a pig and yelling at his lawn mower and three children. Mrs. Shepler would come out with a pitcher of iced tea and listen to him curse the weather, how hot the summers were getting.

To read more, click on the title below –

“Finding Life (in obvious places) – The House”

vintage metal lawn chairs

“vintage metal lawn chairs” from Rhonda Zoch in Home ~ Goods

Upcoming Publication to be Released May 10, 2013 at Amazon

I just received word that a piece of Flash Fiction I wrote (“The Distant Mountain and the Barren Tree“) will soon appear in an e-book anthology (cover above). The publication date is scheduled for May 10th on Amazon. The e-book will be free. After 90 days, the plan is to publish it through Smashwords.

I feel quite blessed to be included in this collection, as a relative novice to the weekly “Wednesday Writer Blog Hop” from which the stories come.  A special thanks to Carrie K. Sorenson and Nicole Pyles, co-editors of the anthology.  I also want to acknowledge the writers of stories included in the e-book –

Carrie K Sorensen – (WWBH co-host, co-editor)
Emily Jean Roche –
George Beckingham –
Krystal Wade –
Leanne Sype – (WWBH co-host)
Nicole Pyles – (WWBH founder and co-host, co-editor)
Randy Lindsay –
Roman Taylor (Scott’s son)
Sydney Aaliyah –
Tena Carr – (WWBH co-host)
Yolanda Tong –
I look forward to the big release.  If I receive word about any virtual parties or book signings, I’ll let you know.

“In the Beginning” (there was story)…

WFHB Community Radio  - Bloomington, IN.

Last night, I attended The Bloomington Storytelling Project’s event “In the Beginning” which was held at The Bishop – a very friendly neighborhood bar on South Walnut St. (near the courthouse).  I arrived early.  You see, there is a superstitious technique I learned from some Indiana high school football players who, the night before and away game would visit the opponent’s stadium and urinate on the four corners of the field (thus “claiming the territory”).  Though I kept my pee to the men’s urinal, I did go four times before I shared my story and I really think it helped.

The bartender at the Bishop was a very friendly chap (I say “chap” because he wore a tartan newsboy cap).  I saddled up to the bar and ordered my favorite illicit beverage – ginger ale.  I laid a $5 bill on the counter, which he waved away.  I was very grateful and offered to serve as the designated driver for anyone going back to Columbus (provided they left before my bedtime).

Being a writer (not a storyteller), I had composed my story in the morning and recorded it on my digital voice recorder.  I listened to it throughout the day, trying to memorize it.  Fearful I would blank out on stage, I wrote on my hand 12 key words that would serve as prompts to get me back on track if I lost my place.

Leigh, the perky emcee for the event (I say “perky” because she was wearing a short yellow “bumblebee” skirt and had a cheerful demeanor) explained I would be fifth in the program.  I sat down and tried to pray away my anxiety.  I had butterflies the size of Buicks fluttering through my stomach, entering my small intestine and basically violating other valuable body parts.

The first 4 stories seemed to go well.  Many of the participants had a connection with the community radio station WFHB.  I enjoyed the stories, though I felt a little like a foreign exchange student who was about to stand up and give an oral report (with no notes) – not knowing if the class would understand a word he was saying.

Leigh introduced me, using the two-sentence bio sketch I had provided, which was –

“Tony Roberts is a balding middle-aged Midwesterner with an unquiet who has “A Way With Words” (a WordPress blog).  He once worked in Bloomington selling his plasma to the Blood Center.”

I walked up on stage, grabbed one of the water bottles they so generously provided and took a long slug, then set it down.  I imagined myself to be John Prine (before his throat cancer), taking a long drag on his cigarette before laying it aside and beginning his story-songs.

The story I shared was entitled, “To Allison – My First Muse”.  It is vastly revised version of “For Allison (my former muse)“.  I started with sort an ice-breaker.  An earlier storyteller (Louis, I believe) had mentioned he attended Hanover College.  My story began with a mention of Hanover.  So, I invited Louis to join me in teaching the audience the Hanover fight song.  I sang (if you want to call it that)

“High above the stately river”

Louis yelled out, “I don’t know it,” which got a good laugh.

The Buick-size Butterflies became more like VW bugs and I was able to make it through the story, only needed to look at the “cheat sheet” written on my hand once.  I skipped over a couple of key lines that I think would have made it better, but overall I’m pleased with it as a first effort.

Positive reviews are coming in on the Facebook page (link above) and I think I’ve taken a positive step forward, both in overcoming some social anxiety and gaining broader exposure to my writing.  God is good (contrary to popular opinion).

(logo above “WFHB Community Radio – Bloomington, IN”  Marti Durkee Garvey in Radio)

To My Niece E.: A Literary Investment (the gift that keeps on giving)

I gave my niece E. a kindle reader today and told her it wasn’t just a gift, it was an investment – a gift that keeps on giving.  Then I told her this story.

Abraham Lincoln by Norman Rockwell


It all begins with Abe Lincoln.  You’ve heard of Abe Lincoln, right? (she nodded her head, “Yes.”)  Well, Abe Lincoln lived out in the deep woods of Kentucky and Indiana and couldn’t go to school like you or me.  But he still wanted to learn.  So he read books.  Mostly, he read the Bible, but he also read just about any good books he could get his hands on.

My wife Alice and I were married in the village of Boonville, Indiana – where Abe Lincoln had studied the law.  He didn’t go to school to become a lawyer.  Instead, he walked many miles up and down hills to get to a library where he could read law books.  He read so much and studied so hard, he was able to pass the test to become a lawyer and became a very good one.  Later, as you know, he even became President – maybe the best President our country has ever had.

Now, my story jumps forward over 100 years – to the early 1970s, when I was about your age.  Your great-great grandmother Bessie (Grandpa Veston’s mother) gave me a book about Abe Lincoln and I started reading with great interest.  I developed of passion for reading.  Grandpa Veston, Granny, and later Grandma Connie and Papaw Dan would buy me books to read – books about many different subjects.  I was able to learn a lot about God’s world and go to college, and even to graduate school to become a pastor.

Not only did reading books help me learn more about God’s world, but they became like friends for me.  In stories I read, I met people who faced hard times like I did (some much worse than I did).  I didn’t feel so much alone.  I learned more about how difficult the world can be and yet how God is still good and we can make the best of a bad situation.

When I had my own children, one of things I dearly loved to do was to read books to them or get books for them to read.  Back then, I would travel to three different libraries to get enough books to keep up with them, they read so much.  (Only I could drive a car and didn’t have to walk, like Abe Lincoln.)

Today, things are very different.  This Kindle I’m going to give you is like having about a million books at your finger tips.  (She smiled.)  Have you heard of Kindles?  (She nodded her head yes.) 

As I said, this is an investment.  Who knows?  Maybe one day you’ll grow up to be President, like Abe Lincoln.  And if you do, perhaps you could name me “Poet Laureate”  and give me an office with a leather chair, desk and computer and I could spend all day just coming up with words that make beautiful sense.

But, whatever God has in store for you, this is a good investment.  I believe you will make the most of it to make your life and the lives of those around you better.

image “Abraham Lincoln by Norman Rockwell”  Keith Hill in “These are the times that try men’s souls.” ― Thomas Paine, The American Crisis