Member Monday: A Mile in Their Shoes by Alicia McCauley

Welcome back to Member Monday.  Today Writers Forum member Alicia McCauley shares a piece from her first trip to Uganda.  Alicia will be sharing about her time as a writing teacher and a Vigilante of Kindness in Northern Uganda at the April Writers Forum meeting.  Welcome, Alicia.

Author’s Note: In the summer of 2012 I took my first trip to Northern Uganda as a volunteer writing teacher at a school for former child soldiers, orphans and other students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend school.  As I prepare for my third trip to Uganda, I look back with fondness at my very first blog entries about the people and the land that has since captured my heart.  Here’s an entry from a day I’ll always remember.  I’m still in close contact with these boys and have the distinct joy of watching them grow into young men of honor and integrity.

IMG_3633

A Mile in Their Shoes

by Alicia McCauley

After church on Sunday, I stayed at the school for the afternoon and hung out with the kids.  Sunday is their only full day off from school and it was great to spend a little time getting to know them.

These kids are so funny.  Laughter is like breathing here, bubbling out of the easy smiles of the students.  It’s the white noise of the campus.

It never ceases to amaze me what kids will share if you just spend time with them sans agenda.  After church I sat in the shade of one of the outdoor classrooms shooting the breeze with the kids, talking about things like rap music and soccer.

Then the conversation took a turn and the kids started talking about their experiences as night travelers during the terror-filled years when Kony rampaged through the north.

Each night they’d travel the dark road from their houses and huts and into Gulu.  You can’t imagine the pitch darkness of this road.  No glow of electricity.  No flashlights.  Only stars pin pricking the sky and the white face of the moon to watch over them.

The boys walked for miles with their cousins and siblings, an ant trail of children hurrying along the edges of the roads in search of shelter and the hope of safety in town.  One particular boy was ten years old at the time.

I think about my nieces and nephews who are around that age and I imagine them walking that dark road together and I use the corner of my skirt to wipe the agony from my eyes.

The boys talked about family members who were taken; uncles whisked away, fathers snatched out of the potato garden in the early morning hours.  They talked about family members who are still missing and about others who were mercifully released.

They also told stories of children forced into servitude for the LRA, walking for days with heavy loads balanced on their heads.  A single utterance hinting at hunger or fatigue meant a sure and swift death.

The boys told horrific stories that I can’t even bring myself to type because the malevolent inhumanity of it burns in my stomach and causes hot vomit to sizzle in my throat.

It’s fitting to me that the school is built in what was once one of the most violent and unstable areas in Northern Uganda.  The heart of the school is their dedication to love and justice and I can’t think of a more fitting place to make such a declaration.

On my way back to town that Sunday, I walked part of the road used by the night traveling children.  Two of the boys escorted me and I couldn’t help but sneak peeks at their faces, imagining younger versions of them making this walk in the dead of night.  We walked about a mile before flagging down bodas that took us the remaining miles back into Gulu.

Sunday night my heart was heavy, weighing me down in my sleep as the boys’ stories came to life in my nightmares.

Every good teacher learns from his or her students.  Here in Uganda, I’m eager to learn how these children walked the darkest road and arrived at this destination, to a time and place where laughing is like breathing, where love and justice prevail over land once red with the blood of their loved ones.

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com. Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free. Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links. The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter. Thank you!

Member Monday: London Calling by Deborah Gilson

Welcome back to Member Monday!  Today we feature a piece by Writers Forum member Deborah Gilson.

London Calling

by Deborah Gilson

One way or another, I was going to Europe. Entering Kurt, my fiancé’, and myself in the 1996 London Marathon, I told my friends I was finally going abroad.

The only trouble with my plan was I AM NOT A RUNNER. Never have been, probably never will be. I began my training by walking around my block a couple times after work. B-O-R-I-N-G. I trained for a month before Kurt and I took flight to Europe. I mean, how hard can it be running 26.4 miles?

After landing in London, we went straight to the marathon headquarters and obtained our runner’s packet. The day arrived for the big race. Carrying a sack of essentials while I ran, it wasn’t long before I was throwing these items off my fanny pack. The heat was relentless, the millions of other runners had no idea of personal space and my old “running” shoes began to hurt my feet before the one-mile marker. Still, I continued jogging until I thought I would faint from exhaustion.

Seeing the back of a friendly-looking man’s head, I struck up a conversation with Joe, from England. He was running for the National Meningitis Trust, in an effort to create awareness of this disease. I told him I’d never heard of it. Speaking of hearing, the disease took the hearing from one of his ears. Having to repeat myself often to Joe, I began running on the side of his good ear.

Joe, determined to raise awareness for his cause, continued running while I stopped cold at the 10-mile marker. It was there I met Vicki, from Wales, who was also taking a running break. I told Vicki I’d heard of Wales as I followed whatever Princess Diana was doing. “Where in the heck is Wales anyway?” I asked Vicki. Thinking I was joking, she gave me a gentle push. Puzzled, I continued walking with Vicki, my new best friend.

Seven hours passed and I was still a participant in the London Marathon. At least I still had Vicki by my side. We learned each other’s entire lives during our walk. When we would see television cameras, Vicki would jump up and down, waving to her family back home in Wales, who were watching for glimpses of her.

Kurt, my fiancé’, planned completing the marathon in a little over four hours. It occurred to me he finished three hours ago. Positive he was back at the hotel resting after a hot shower, with perfect-feeling feet, body, mind, heart and soul, I nearly collapsed.

At long last, I saw the finish line. Grabbing Vicki’s arm for reassurance, I pointed to the only remaining people involved in the race: the volunteers. A vicar (priest) walked in between us, holding each of our arms in his. He walked us over the finish line as the timer displayed: 7: 15: 30. Yes folks, that’s right. It took Vicki and me a mere 7 hours, 15 minutes and 30 seconds to complete the London Marathon.

Vicki taught me I’d better learn geography, humor under duress, perseverance, the meaning of the word vicar and confirmed it’s possible to instantly feel I’ve known someone all my life. Her parting words to me were, “Remember, Debbie, it’s not how fast you do the race that counts. It’s the fact you finished what you started.”

London Calling PDF Photo.pdf

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com. Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free. Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links. The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter. Thank you!

Member Monday: Cut the Cake by Deborah Gilson

Welcome back to Member Monday!  Today we feature a piece by Writers Forum member Deborah Gilson.

Cut the Cake

by Deborah Gilson

It was my fifth birthday. Mom headed to work in the city after dropping Ross, my four-year-old brother, and me off at nursery school. From the instant I awoke, I waited for the day to end. At nursery school I told Crystal, the most beautiful little girl ever, I had a cake coming that night after dinner.

The magic moment arrived for my mother to pick Ross and me up from nursery school. On the front passenger seat of our red Volvo station wagon, I saw my cake box. I asked Mom if she could drive home a little faster. Looking at me from her rear view mirror, she said she would try.

Ross pulled a funny trick on the way home and began making siren noises while we crouched on the floorboard of the back seat. Ross told her she was speeding and would probably get a ticket. Mom pulled the car over to the side of the road and waited. When no police car appeared, she heard our muffled giggles. Reaching her 12-foot-long arm into the back seat, Mom could not grab either of us. Exhausted from another day’s work as a single mother, she slowly put the pedal to the metal and continued the drive home.

Standing in our tiny kitchen, my mother asked me, the birthday girl, what I wanted for dinner. With tremendous excitement, I declared, “Dinner shot out of a cannon!” This meant breakfast-style food for dinner, the fastest meal in town.

After dinner, Ross and I cleared the dishes from the kitchen table; my grand event finally arrived. Out of the box came an elegant, small lemon cake with cream cheese frosting. The edges were lined in pink and yellow rosettes. My mother intentionally handed me a spatula, instead of a knife, and said I could cut the cake. My mother began washing the dishes; thankfully, her back was turned away from Ross and me.

With Ross standing as close as possible, I held up the spatula as a sword for his big blue eyes to see, translating my deafening non-verbal message, “Don’t you even think about coming near my cake!” Without saying a word, my mother sensed my selfish and greedy demeanor, so she interjected over her shoulder, “And Ross gets to choose the first piece.” With disbelief and even bigger blue eyes, I screamed, “WWWHHHAAATTT???!!!”

Grabbing my cake from the kitchen table, I gingerly placed it on the kitchen floor. So I would be eye-level with it, I laid down flat on the floor to get a bird’s eye view for the precise cut. Ross laid down next to me, resting his chin on his folded hands. I measured where to cut the cake into pieces so Ross would not have even one granule more. Finally, I felt secure knowing I cut the cake into equal portions. Using the spatula as a serving tool as well as a knife, I gently put a piece of cake onto my plate and walked to the kitchen table with my mouth watering. Again, my mother knew inappropriate behavior took place and told me to hand my piece of cake to Ross.  Tears began to well up by now; I was positive I would have no birthday cake.

Being me has never been easy, however, it is the memories of how I treated my younger brother while growing up, which are difficult to swallow. With Ross no longer living, I think about my birthday night and wish I had done things differently. I long to go back to the evening of April 2, 1965. If this were possible, I would hand the spatula to Ross and say, “It’s my birthday and I want you to cut the cake.”

Debbie & Ross, 1965 PDF Photo.pdf

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com. Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free. Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links. The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter. Thank you!

Member Monday: Aunt Shirlee’s Angel by Deborah Gilson

Welcome back to Member Monday!  Today we feature a piece by Writers Forum member Deborah Gilson.

Aunt Shirlee’s Angel

by Deborah Gilson

Cats are said to have nine lives. Humans have one, however, there’s one exception: my aunt Shirlee. She’s seen more lives in her near-85 years than any cat on GOD’s green earth.

The other night, I called at her resident’s home to catch up. She pleaded to have, “The good Lord take me home.” I said I honor her wish. She apologized she couldn’t wait any longer for my dreams to come true. She said it was taking too long for my loving man to enter my life. She said she was sorry my writing career didn’t happen while she was still alive. I told her I understood.

Aunt Shirlee fell a few days ago and ended up in the hospital again. This morning in honor of Valentine’s Day, I went to the hospital to see about cheering her up. The moment I walked into her hospital room she said, “Listen, Debbie. This hospital stuff is getting to be old news.”

We talked an hour and a half when she said with a glimmer in her eyes, “Oh, I almost forgot to tell you. The nicest nurse visited me this morning at ten past four. She turned on a light, just bright enough for me to see her and that clock on the wall. It wasn’t glaring, it was just right. When I asked if she was here to give me more medication, she said she was only here to visit.” I let Aunt Shirlee know that was an odd time for anyone to just pop in for a visit.

Aunt Shirlee explained this was no ordinary nurse. I said, “Oh? Tell me about her.” Aunt Shirlee began describing her special nurse saying, “Well, she had blonde, crinkly, wavy hair to her shoulders. I asked what hours she worked and the nurse explained, she’s here for me 24/7. Whenever I need her, she’ll know. She told me her workplace is immediately outside my door on the right. She said there’s a group of offices and hers is the closest to my room.”

My antenna was on high by now. I let Aunt Shirlee know there were no offices outside her hospital door, only more hospital rooms. She asked me to double-check. I poked my head outside the door, looked down the long corridor and saw only what I’d seen walking to her room upon my visit. Aunt Shirlee’s face was visibly perplexed.

At that moment, a male Hispanic janitor walked in to mop the floor and empty the waste basket. I thanked him for coming in and Aunt Shirlee asked him, “Excuse me, could you please tell me if there are any offices outside my room?” He said, “No, ma’am. There are only more hospital rooms.”

Aunt Shirlee asked with a curious look, “Debbie, who came to my room this morning?” I gently said, “Aunt Shirlee, that was an angel.” Aunt Shirlee paused a moment and then asked, “Why did she come see me?” I explained, “The angel knew you’d been feeling alone and she’s here to let you know whenever you need a friend, she will be here.” Aunt Shirlee replied, “Well, she sure was pretty.”

At that moment, my aunt Audrey called on Aunt Shirlee’s hospital phone. I knew it was time for me to leave. When Aunt Shirlee’s time is finished on earth, I’ll be at peace, knowing she has an angel guiding her home.

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com. Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free. Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links. The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter. Thank you!

Member Monday: Cory by Deborah Gilson

Welcome back to Member Monday!  Today we feature a piece by Writers Forum member Deborah Gilson.

Cory

by Deborah Gilson

Life would be critical if I didn’t get another bunch of bananas today. I needed one to take to the YMCA for that night’s work out. I moseyed into Safeway for all the items on my list, paid for them and walked out.

I noticed a handsome man in his early 20s sitting on the sidewalk holding a sign reading: Hungry and Homeless. I grabbed a banana from my bag, walked over and sat down next to him, “Hi, I’m Debbie. Wanna banana?” He gently took the banana from my hand, peeled back the skin and said, “Thank you, Debbie. I’m Cory.”

Curiosity took over and it wasn’t long before I asked about his plight and how he’d become homeless. He said he’d been married and his wife’s father owned the apartment complex where they lived. Once they divorced, Cory was told to leave and explained he couldn’t afford the rent on his own. I asked whether he could get a room-mate for another unit and he said he wasn’t from the area and therefore, didn’t have anyone he could ask. He said his biggest lesson is he relied only on his efforts with his wife believing they’d be together forever.

I asked whether he could save up money from where he worked and he let me know he worked for his former father-in-law who let him go. He confessed after so many personal set-backs, he sunk into a deep depression and only had the energy to sit with a sign.

Cory said he didn’t have a place to shower and by now it was no longer the first thing on his mind anymore. I told him he was a decent looking person who only needed a little touch-up. He smiled and exposed the whitest, straightest, cleanest teeth in a most brilliant smile. My eyes flew open wide and he pulled out a toothbrush from his back pocket. I told Cory his teeth would get him through his darkest hour.

I handed Cory a $20.00 dollar bill and said I really didn’t care what he did with the money, however, I suggested he purchase an inexpensive, disposable, plastic razor. I told him to keep his blond hair combed and out of his eyes. I gave him a laundry list of things to keep in the forefront of his mind and to sit up straight when holding his sign.

Cory gave me an education in the hour we sat shoulder-to-shoulder. I told him I’d wondered since I was a child how people became homeless. I’d seen panhandlers in the streets of San Francisco since I was high enough to see out the back window of my mother’s car. Ross, my younger brother, and I would push out button noses to the window and watch them as our car drove past. Cory needed only one person to believe he was worth being a part of functioning society again.

I told him I’d come by next week and I’d better not find him sitting here because I knew he was going to make it. After my workout at the Sequoia YMCA the next week, I slowly drove into the Safeway parking lot fearing I’d see Cory sitting there still, however, his spot on the sidewalk was vacant. Although I was disappointed not to have another visit, I was relieved he knew someone believed in him.

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com. Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free. Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links. The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter. Thank you!