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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Flash Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

A rectilinear life comes to a turning point, and it's unexpectedly difficult to negotiate.








Michael Smith

ENG401, Dr. Adamson

Summer 2021


For this first assignment we’re supposed to write something about ourselves in not more than 3,000 words. That won’t be hard in my case.  I won’t come close to 3,000.

We’re also supposed to write why we’re enrolled in this class.  I read somewhere that retired people are supposed to try something new and creative writing is really new for me.  I’ve written a lot in my life but it was mostly making lists and filling out forms.

My name is Michael Smith, no middle name.  I read somewhere that’s the most common first name for men and the most common family name. If so it suits me because I’m as common as dirt.

I was born in 1955 in El Reno, Oklahoma, where my Dad was a mechanic and my Mom was a nurse.  Dad had his own shop which he called the Last Chance Garage.  He specialized in using junkyard parts to patch up clunkers that were decades out of warranty and should be in junkyards themselves except that their owners couldn’t afford to replace them.  His garage was always full because El Reno wasn’t a rich town and still isn’t.  Dad was proud of what he called his “Code Blue Cars.”  Those were the dead ones that he saved. I think he learned the term from Mom the nurse.  Anyway, he took lots of pictures of them, along with their owners.  I still have those pictures.

I liked to hang out with Dad in the garage, but I didn’t do much except watch. He said that explaining how to do something was harder than doing it himself.  Dad never had much to say about anything.

I was in the High School Vo Tech program learning auto repair and graduated with a C average. My hardest subject was English.  Mrs. Proust was big on writing essays and was always after me not to write in clichés.  I looked the word up and found out that I was a cliché myself so that kind of explained things.

I went out for football in high school, but never played unless the team was two or three touchdowns ahead.  If you go to the school today and look in the trophy case you can see team pictures from all those years.  I was always somewhere in the second row because I wasn’t good enough to be in the front row or tall enough to be in the back row. I have copies of those pictures.

I didn’t have the grades or the money or the interest to go to college, so I enlisted in the Army after I graduated.  My MOS was 91B, Wheeled Vehicle Mechanic, which was a good fit.  I was assigned to the First Infantry Division in Germany where I worked in the motor pool.  After a year I was put in charge of the company PLL, which is all the tools and spare parts that have to be either on hand or on order at all times.  It was simple work but it had to be done just right every day.  The CO wanted to promote me to sergeant but I didn’t want any sort of leadership responsibility so they made me a Spec Five.  I didn’t re-up and went home after two years. I have a picture of the CO giving me the Good Conduct Medal.  I still have that medal somewhere.

After I got home I found a job with the State of Oklahoma as a vehicle repairman in the Department of Transportation Maintenance Division.  I worked my way up to Scheduler who is the man that sees to it that equipment gets the maintenance it needs and also assigns it to jobs.  OK has a lot of stuff ranging from golf carts to heavy earthmoving equipment and I have pictures of myself either in or next to most of it.

In 1970 I met and married Susan, who was working as a clerk in the Department.  She was an ordinary person like me and I suspect we got married because each of us figured the other one was OK and I wanted a wife and she wanted kids.  We used my GI Bill to buy a house in OKC and we had three girls.  Mary Beth was born in 1972, Susan Marie in 1974 and the baby Joanne in 1976. 

Those were happy years and they went by fast.  Nothing much happened except that the girls grew up too quickly.I took tons of pictures of birthday parties, school plays, family picnics, all the usual common stuff.  Looking back it seems that taking pictures was mostly what I was good for. We’d be sitting around and when we ran out of things to talk about Susan would say, “Mike, why don’t you take some pictures?”

I never really had friends because my family kept me busy, and I never had much to say to people.  I enjoyed watching football on TV, but usually at some bar where the other guys were full of ideas and stories about the teams and players and famous games and whatnot while I sat there smiling and drinking beer.  I did take some pictures on special occasions like when the Cowboys won the Super Bowl and the whole bar went crazy. That was a great night and I was out until almost ten.

The kids married and moved out, as kids do.  Mary Beth settled in Pensacola and has two kids. Susan Marie wound up in Chicago with three kids, and Joanne is in Houston, no kids yet.  Their husbands are all good solid men like their Daddy, hard working but I hate to say it nothing special. I took tons of picture of weddings, newborns, christenings, birthdays, family Christmases, all the usual stuff.

The worst thing that happened to me was my wife dying the year I retired.  She had a sudden stroke which could have been a kindness since her Mom had died of cancer.  I was left alone in our big house.  I tried to get one of the girls to come home and share the place with me, but they all have their own lives.  They suggested I sell the place and find something smaller near one of their families.

I contacted a real estate lady and made arrangements to put the house where I raised my family on the market.  All I have to do is clean it out and that’s the problem. I have all these decades of junk.

The biggest problem I have though is a big cardboard box in the guest room closet. It’s old and frayed and held together with packing tape. It’s full of pictures from Kodachrome slides my Dad took to letter envelopes stuffed with prints and shoeboxes full of memory sticks and thumb drives.  It’s my life so I just can’t throw it all away even though it’s been a boring cliché life.  I have to look through it and that’s the problem.

I’m afraid that if I start looking I’ll start crying and I won’t know how to stop.

Submitted: June 15, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Roger Barry. All rights reserved.

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