Hard Times Good Times

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Booksie Classic

This is a little story about a family which has an unusual experience early one rainy morning.

Hard Times Good Times

Here’s what I want you to know:  I‘m a single mom with four wonderful kids.  Let me introduce them.  Amanda is oldest, Mandy, we call her.  She’s 17 and graduating from high school this year.  Junior is next, he’s 16, a junior in high school.  Then there’s Marilee.  She’s 13, an eighth grader.  Finally, our baby, Rosie.  Little Rosie has just turned 8 and she’s in third grade.  

We are a close-knit, tight, little family, and we’ve has been through our share of difficulties.  We know how to stick together.  We are fortunate in that we don’t have the issues that many families face when their teens isolate and turn to their peers, setting themselves apart from those who love them.  I must say we get along with each other superbly even though there’s no dad on hand, sad to say.

Yesterday I got laid off my job.  That was a blow even though I saw it coming, hoping like crazy that it wouldn’t.  But come it did.  My company is struggling through this pandemic and having to downsize to bare bones so there are massive layoffs throughout the ranks.  As you no doubt guessed, I am a little worried about how our family will manage to keep things together through these next months.  

True, there have stimulus checks which I’ve stashed into savings for a rainy day.  Good thing too because today it’s raining, literally.  There will hopefully be more checks in the days to come, but we’ll just have to see what comes.  We can hope.  Still I’m concerned having these growing kidsto raise while getting two of them through high school and launched intocollege and two more coming up the line.

I hate to admit it, but I was so worried last night I woke up at around four a.m. and couldn’t get back to sleep.  I tossed and turned and finally knew that was going to be it for sleep.  So at five I got up, made coffee, then sat down at the table to try to set my thoughts into some kind of order. Much to my surprise Mandy walks in in her pajamas saying she can’t sleep either because she’s so worried about what we’re going to do.  

“Honey, why don’t you make some hot chocolate and sit down here with me.  God knows, I don’t want you worrying.  You’ll have plenty time for that later.  All we have to make it through this particular time.  We always do get through things somehow, don’t we, darling?  Look, this is what I’ve been thinking . . . ”

“Oops,” Mandy says from the kitchen stove, “I must have woken them up banging around in the kitchen.  Sorry about that.”

“Mornin’ ma,” Junior staggers in trailed by two sleepy little girls in their bathrobes rubbing sleep out of their eyes.  “If you and Mandy are up to something, we don’t want to miss out, do we Marilee . . . Rosie?”

“OK, kids, you’re right.  C’mon, sit down. I don’t want you to miss out either.  We’ll put our heads together and figure out a plan to get us through this pandemic.  Why don’t we pool our ideas and come up with something that’ll work for us.  Mandy, hon, can you put on some more hot chocolate for the kids.  Good.”

Nursing hot drinks, I turn to them, “OK, here’s where we stand:  The main breadwinner — that would be me — starting next week will no longer be bringing home the bacon, bread either for that matter.  As I told you last night, I’ll no longer have my job, at least not for the time being.  Since we do need bread every day, if not bacon, that gives us a bit of a problem.”

“What about the government?” Junior says, “TV says the government is sending everybody stimulus checks”.

“That’s true.  That will help us some to pay the mortgage and eat for a while, but I don’t think it’ll get us all the way through.”

Mandy looks so precious in her concern, “I could quit school and get a job,  Mom.  That would be a help . . . ”

“No, no,” I object.  “No!  You are too close to finishing your school and you have done so well.  That’s not an option. Besides, how would you get a job when people are getting laid off right and left?  No, the finances are my department.  I’m quite capable, you know, of doing all sorts of things to generate funds.  Maybe I can get back to my writing again and get some stuff published.  But what you kids can do to really help out is work hard at your schoolwork and do your very best to get those scholarships lined up for college. That’s what’s important.  That’s your future —-“

Just then, bang!  bang!  bang! on the front door.  We look at each other questioningly — puzzled too.  Who would be calling on us at this hour of the morning?  

“Don’t open it,” Junior says firmly.  “We don’t know who it is.”

“Wait,” Mandy reminds us, “It could be somebody in trouble needing help, like a neighbor or something.  Maybe we should find out first.”

I sing out, “Who is it?”  No answer.  “Do you need help?”  A muffled response that’s unintelligible.  “What do you need?”  Again an inaudible response.

Marilee says, “Maybe we should see who it is.”

“Junior,” I say, “can you please get the door?  Turn on the porch light.”

To our utter amazement three guys burst right in past Junior, barreling through the front door into the living room.  ‘Shoot!’ I think, ‘I should have reminded him to put the chain on the door first.  Just goes to show what a trusting family we are.  My goof.’

I get up to turn the light on in the living room.  “Gentlemen,” I say,  “I think you must have the wrong house.  We do not expect visitors at this hour. I suggest that you leave at once.  In fact, I insist on it!”  As I say this I move toward them pointing at the door.  “Now please go.”

“Sorry, lady, but we can’t do that.  Excuse us for imposing like this,” the biggest one says, “but we saw your lights on and thought it might be all right to pay a little visit.  The fact of the matter is, since you mentioned it, we do need help.  You can help us quite a bit, ma’am”.  

Before we know it they are tracking water and mud onto the carpet,  shaking off their coats and dropping them on the floor since we’ve provided no place for them to hang them up.  Then they sit themselves down, two of them on the piano bench and the third in an adjoining chair.

“Well, yes, why don’t you just go ahead and make yourselves right at home,” I say belligerently, “since that’s exactly what you are doing anyway.  Is there anything else we can possibly do to make your stay more comfortable?”  They settle themselves and look around as though they are ‘casing the joint’.

“No, ma’am. Thanks.”

“Now, what exactly is it that you so urgently need?”

The big fellow says, “Yes, maybe you could bring in your all your family to sit down with us and hear us out.  By the way, what a nice looking family you have here.  Do your lovely children have names?”

I challenge him belligerently , “Do YOU have names?  What are they?”

“Well,” says Big Guy, “You’re probably right, maybe there’s no need for introductions after all.  In fact, maybe it’s for the best.But yes, the fact is we do need help and we’re very much hoping you’ll cooperate with us, you and the kids too.  We’d like you to work with us in getting a certain situation in place.  We’d sure appreciate your assistance.  This has been a problem for quite a while now, and there are all sorts of ins and outs and little niggling details.  Well, I’m sure you understand, don’t you?  It’s just so hard to say this in polite language, but try to bear with me and I think I’ll be able to explain it so you’ll see what I mean . . . “

I’m thinking, ‘Would they even be sitting here were it not for the fact that they’d just barged in without waiting for an invitation or even giving us any choice in the matter at all?’

“So what precisely is it that you are trying so hard to say?”  At this point, I don’t really care about trying to hide my irritation at their unwanted intrusion.  They are people we don’t know and don’t want to know.  “Spit out out and then be on your way!”

“Yes, ma’am, I hear you loud and clear.  I’m doing my best.”

The younger fellow at his side is looking distinctly uncomfortable.  Leaning over, he nudges Big Guy on the shoulder and in a whisper we can all hear says, “Just tell her, boss, blurt it out and so they can get on with their day and we can get the heck out of here.  Just do it!”

“OK,” Big Guy growls.  In a low voice that would have been easy to miss as he turns and mutters to the guy behind him, “Listen, I want this job, I really want it.”  Then he turns to me, smiling.

But by now, he has completely lost my attention and any small degree of sympathy I may have had to begin with.  ‘What?  He thinks we are a JOB’?! Oh, I just want them out of our house NOW!  My mind is working furiously, considering all angles of this bizarre situation since they don’t seem to be willing to leave peaceably.  Hmm . . .

Finally I say firmly, “Excuse me, but I am frankly not interested in whatever it is you are selling or trying to persuade or coerce us to do.  You are NOT welcome in this house.  I am asking you politely, for the second time, to go.  Do you hear me?  NOW!Right now!  GO!“

I turn to Junior who’s sitting closest to the door.  “Son, will you please show these gentlemen out.”  I stand up, advancing toward them, arms held out as though herding a flock of chickens.  You’d think they would get the message and leave, but they don’t.  They just sit there stubbornly, implacably, not moving.  Big man looks at me defiantly his eyes squinted to slits as though to say, “Make me!”  And that’s exactly what I WANT to do — oust him forcibly— all of them!  But how?

Now I AM getting worried.  ‘Do we have a problem here,’ I wonder?  What can I do to get these jerks out of here.  I know better than to show weakness or let them think they can victimize us (which it’s starting to feel very much like they are trying to do).  I want to set a good example for my kids of a strong, competent woman who isn’t vulnerable in times of crisis and who can calmly protect her dear children no matter what happens. So how do I do that?  What ‘s the best course of action to take?

Then suddenly I KNOW!

I say to Marilee, “Sweetheart, will you run next door and tell Uncle Jack and Aunt Bea that we could really use their help this morning as soon as they can get away.  There’s so much we’ve all got to do to get ready for our company which we’re picking up at the airport this morning.”

I look at my watch, “Oh dear, we don’t have much time.  Here it is almost six in the morning, and we are still sitting around here like we have nothing better to do today.”

“Junior, you’d better get dressed for school, but first can you bring in the dogs and feed them before they start yowling and waking up the entire neighborhood.”

I look at our visitors as though to say,  ‘Are you still here?  What an drag. What a nuisance.’

“OK,” I turn to Mandy.  “What I need you to do is to call the station and leave a message for Dad that Junior can’t pick him up this morning since his car won’t start, and can they have his partner drive him home today.  Then you can help me get breakfast going so it’s ready when they get here.  Tired cops really need a good hot meal after a long night of patrolling, don’t you think?”  

Mandy takes out her smartphone and I hear her leaving the message with the receptionist for her Dad.  “Oh, Mandy, honey, add that that we would be honored to have Officer Jackman join us for breakfast too if he would care to stay.”

In all the flurry I happen to notice that our guests are no longer just sitting there stubbornly.  They’ve had their heads together conferring between themselves, and now they’re getting up, reaching for their overcoats, putting them on, and moving towards the door.  This is exactly what I was hoping for.  NO — this is exactly what I was counting on.

Big Guy turns to me and says, “So sorry to have bothered you and your nice family, ma’am, so early in the morning but we need to be on our way now.  I was just reminded of another pressing appointment we have this morning.  Thank you for your kind hospitality.  Maybe we can drop by some other time to have a cup of coffee and a friendly little chat.”  

“Oh, gentlemen, what a pity you have leave so soon.  But next time you go visiting, it would be polite, you know, to wear your masks.  I was so hoping you could stick around a little longer and meet my husband.  He’ll be here just any minute now.  I know it IS sometimes easier to talk to another man, isn’t it?  But I’m sure he’d be happy to try and help you figure out something.  And his partner would no doubt have some good ideas too.  Are you REALLY sure you have to rush off like this?”

But they are already at the door, stepping out into the rain as fast as they can, pushing each other to get down the steps.  

“Well, goodby then,” I call after them, “Have a good day”.  I close the door firmly, lock it, and turn out the porch light.  ‘Well, that,’ I think, ‘is THAT!”

“Rosie, sweet girl, it would be a big help if you would  go and turn on all the lights in the rest of the house, but make sure the blinds are closed first, OK?”  Rosie, giggling, walks down the hall flipping light switches.

Mandy and I sit down at the table, Marilee joins us — then Junior.  Rosie’s back, laughing so hard she can hardly stand.  “Mom, that was so-o-o cool,” she says.  “You don’t even have a husband, and not one who’s a COP!  Did you see how fast they skedaddled when they thought your policeman husband was going to show up while they were still here?”

“Mom even told them to wait  around so that they could meet him”, she said to the others.  Then to me, “How did you know they wouldn’t wait around?”

“Well, I was pretty sure they wouldn’t want to meet a couple of cops this early in the morning.”

“Hey, Mom, that was just brilliant of you to tell me to go let the dogs in and feed them when we don’t even have any dogs.  It made me feel like doing some some vicious dog barks outside just for fun”.  Junior was laughing now too.  “And what was that about my CAR?  Don’t I wish!”

“Yeah, I was hoping they would get a picture of ferociously fierce dobermans or maybe hounds on the scent of prey.  That’s what I was projecting.  And don’t worry, Junior, you will have a car, and hopefully sooner than you think.”

Then I say, “Mandy, honey, that call you made to the station sounded absolutely realistic, leaving a message asking that Dad's partner drop him off home since they’d be finishing their shift a little early.  I heard that too.  Very well done.  The perfect touch.”  Mandy is beaming.

Marilee pipes up, laughing, “And I liked the way you told me to tell our relatives next door to come over as soon as they could — because we don’t have an Uncle Jack and Aunt Bea next door.  And we don’t have any company arriving this morning either, do we?  What a joke on them.”   

“I agree with you, sweetie.  I don’t think those characters would be happy to see reinforcements coming to our aid from all sides.”

I see Marilee thinking hard about something,  “You know what else?  That phone call Mandy made, if she had really called 911, and the police came with the sirens and red lights flashing and everything, it would have gotten the neighbors all worked up and curious about what’s going on, peering out their windows and poking their noses into our business.  Why would we want that?  We wouldn’t.”

“And something else,” Junior says.  “Somebody might have gotten hurt if they really had been that desperate.  Good thinking, Mom, for not getting the police involved.”

“And if they’re still hanging around outside, they’ll see all the lights on in the house and know not to bother us anymore.  Right, momma?”
“Yes, that’s right, Rosie, sweetie.”  

“Hey, I just thought of something,” Junior breaks in.  “We did those fellows a favor, didn’t we.  Just think, they’re not having to go walking around in the rain worrying about the police looking for them.  That’s one worry they won’t have today.”

“Yes,” I agree with you, that’s a gift we gave them, all right.  Good point, son.”

“We did the police a favor too, don’t you think, by not adding more work for them by calling 911,” Mandy added.  “That was a gift for them too.”

“Wow,” says Marilee, “they must have been really desperate to crash in on us.  I can’t believe they had the nerve to do it . . .”  

“What bright, resourceful kids you are.  See what we can do with a little creative thinking?” I ask them and watch as they sit back looking at themselves a little differently.  I see amazement on their faces and a touch of satisfaction too.  

“You know, kids, I really want thank you for being so perceptive, for picking up on my intentions and seeing what I was trying to do or at least trusting me and going along with it.  No one blew our cover.  Now that’s what I call teamwork!  I’m so happy with each of you.  Hugs all around”.

“Yeah, Mom, we love you too.  And thanks for taking such good care of us,” Junior is smiling at me.  Music to my ears.

“You are so welcome!”

I look at them fondly.  “Well, kids, I’ve just gotta say that whatever challenges the pandemic throws at us, now we know we can depend on our own smart, loving selves to get us through it.  Right?  And whatever problem those poor miserable blokes have, and most certainly it will be a whopper, we can pat ourselves on the back that we didn’t let them make it our problem as well.  We’ll just bless them and send them on their way, hopefully with the idea that there are better ways to handle troubles than trying to intimidate good people at some ungodly hour of the morning.”

I was just about to get up to start breakfast when Mandy suddenly speaks up.  She’s frowning a little and looking serious, “You know, Mom, something just came to me.  I couldn’t help wondering what it would be like to do what those men did, just busting into our home when we are total strangers to them.  What would make them do that do you suppose?Do you think it might have been pure desperation?  Maybe they weren’t
bad men at all.  Maybe they got laid off their jobs, like you did.  Maybe they were worried men, worried about how they were going to take care of their families?  They’re just human beings too, like we are, aren’t they?  Could that explain it, do you think, Mom?”  

“It could, yes, sweetheart,”  I say regretfully,  “It’s just too bad they weren’t able to say what it was they wanted or needed.  If they had then maybe we could have given them a hand somehow, shared what we have with them or something . . . “

I had not given it so much as a thought up to this moment, I’d been so wrapped up in my own anxiety and worry — AND  thinking how clever I was, when in fact I’d been reacting out of fear, not competence.  My brave, smart daughter had seen what I had completely missed.  In her openness she had seen humanity in those people.  She knew inherently that compassion is stronger than fear.  Deep down I knew it too.  How had I forgotten it?

“Oh, Mandy, darling, you are so very wise.  And you’re right too, of course.  I could have been kinder . . . should have been.  It wasn’t necessary to be so sarcastic.  I could have responded with more sensitivity.”  Come to think of it now, that would be the example I would have much preferred to set for my children.

‘Yes,’ I thought, ‘those men were polite and respectful the whole time they were in our home.  I’m the one who wasn’t.  After all, this pandemic is a trial for everyone, some more than others.  But is that a reason not to be thoughtful and compassionate to our fellow man?’

“So here’s good news, kids,” I say.“It’s not too late to forgive them and intend that they will find more constructive ways cope with their problems whatever they are.  That’s the least we can do for them at this point.”

“That’s what I want for them,” Junior says.

“Me too.  Me too,” chime in Marilee and Rosie.

“Oh, my special, wonderful kids, what a morning this has been!  So much excitement — adventures and lessons all around.  And look.  The day has hardly begun!Let’s make the world a little better place today, shall we?  What do you say?”

Submitted: February 12, 2021

© Copyright 2021 L A Norman. All rights reserved.

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