Not Long Tales … November 5th, 2019

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4219)

13.

Turnkey Dinner

Melanie Shakeland was the mother of two intelligent, talented, precocious sons, Maxwell, thirteen, and Johnny, ten.

Unfortunately, the boys were also poverty stricken, since their mother had been out of work for thirty-five days, and all the remaining finance had been used up in the pursuit of living and breathing.

They lived in a two-bedroom apartment at the Bermuda Manors, Room 1211. There were about seventy units in the building, with people of all nationalities, all ages and certainly all dispositions.

Melanie had made her run through all the agencies, charities, churches and generous friends and relatives in McKendree, Michigan. There was no one left to tap—no one who hadn’t heard her story of difficulty and struggle.

She made a plan.

Sitting and talking candidly with her two sons as if the three of them were board members from a Fortune 500 company, she explained her scheme. She was going to go somewhere to get money to pay their rent on October 15th, take care of the utilities and leave behind enough money for the two industrious young men to survive on for eats and treats until she returned to them by November 15th—with a new job, a new city and a new home.

Maxwell and Johnny could barely contain themselves with joy. Although they liked the McKendree school system and had many friends, it was embarrassing to be considered the “poor boys” of the class. They believed in their mother—actually, they believed in their mother more than their mother believed in herself.

Melanie took a deep breath and visited one more person—a minister who was new in town at the Universalist Unitarian Church. He was a foreigner from someplace in the Mideast. He was called Tanzier. He refused to be called Reverend, Pastor or any title whatsoever. Tanzier listened carefully to Melanie’s plight, which by this time she had perfected to a sharp, pointed edge. After she was done, Melanie was shocked when the young Arab man agreed to give her money for her October rent, utilities and also extra for food and gasoline.

Melanie was so startled and breathless over the blessing that on the way home she picked up a five-dollar pizza so they could celebrate with the remaining root beer in their last bottle.

She explained the plan one more time. She would be gone for one month. They were to tell nobody that she was out of town. The boys were to keep to themselves.

She showed Maxwell her signature, making him practice it so he would be able to fake school permission slips. She also created a fictitious relative named Aunt Mindy to deter those who might be so nosy as to challenge the situation. Mindy would be staying with them while their mother was away on business.

Although Maxwell and Johnny were frightened and saddened by the absence of their mother for a month, they were determined to do their part to help the family remain a family—and hopefully, with some good luck, become an everlasting family.

On the morning of October 15th, Melanie, having paid the rent and secured the utilities, rose and shared some toast and jelly with the boys before kissing them on the forehead and lips. She handed them two fifty-dollar bills, and with tears in her eyes, said, “Make it last.” She headed out the door.

Time passed. There were many close calls—folks who felt it was needful to talk to Mother Melanie. But the promise of Aunt Mindy—the reassurance that she would get back to them as soon as she could, eventually caused all parties concerned to back away and leave well enough alone.

The hundred dollars Melanie left behind spent pretty well, but after all, the boys were only thirteen and ten, and had little experience with purchasing groceries. They went through half the money in the first week, buying things to eat from the closest convenience store.

November 15th came and went. There was no contact from Mother Melanie. The same was true the next day and the day after. Maxwell encouraged Johnny, and Johnny was attempting to be uplifted—to give Maxwell some peace of mind.

Before they knew it, here came Thanksgiving Day. All they had left was eight dollars and forty-one cents. They nearly got into a fight on Thanksgiving morning, over who had spent too much money on what, and why some particular candy bar should have been avoided.

Just when they were about to start scuffling, Johnny stopped, looked Maxwell in the eyes, and whispered, “I don’t want to fight with you. You’re all I’ve got.”

The two boys broke into tears, grateful they were alone and such an action couldn’t be mocked by their friends.

“What are we gonna do?” whimpered Johnny.

“About what?” asked Maxwell.

“Thanksgiving,” replied Johnny, with a crackle in his voice.

Maxwell smiled. “You know, my brother, I’ve been thinking about that. I’ve got a plan, if you’ll help me. At school the other day, I looked up on the Internet the ingredients used for a Thanksgiving dinner. I wrote them all down. So I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind going to apartments and asking people if you could borrow some of these simple ingredients, because your mom ran out, or forgot to get it at the store.”

Johnny interrupted, upset. “Maxwell! You can’t ask people for a turkey!”

Maxwell patted him on the shoulder. “No, no, of course not. You see, that’s the beauty of the plan. What you do is ask them for this easy, cheap thing, and then when they invite you in to get it, you stare at something from their table, or maybe from their kitchen they’re preparing, and then—if my thinking is right—they might offer you a little bit of it. When they do, you can shy away like you’re upset that you got caught looking. That’ll only make them insist more. Then finally, let them give you a piece from the dish, and bring it back here. Take the thing you requested and leave, thanking them a whole bunch.”

Johnny stood and stomped his feet. “This ain’t gonna work,” he objected.

“Oh,” Maxwell said. “I see. I got it. I didn’t know you were Chicken Boy.”

Johnny hated to be called Chicken Boy. It was like pouring salt into his gizzard. “I ain’t no Chicken Boy and you know I ain’t no Chicken Boy!”

Maxwell spat, “Well, I know you think you ain’t a Chicken Boy. Since it’s Thanksgiving, maybe I should change it to Turkey Boy. Are you a turkey, Johnny?”

Even though Johnny wasn’t sure what was entailed in being a turkey, he was deeply offended, and threatened to punch his bigger, older brother in the belly. Maxwell blocked the punch and hugged him, holding his flailing arms.

“Listen,” Maxwell spoke into his ear. “Just try it once. If it doesn’t work, that’s fine.”

Johnny, still irritated and twitching, slowly nodded his head. Maxwell released his grip. “Here’s the first thing I want you to go after,” he said. “Poultry seasoning.”

Johnny crinkled his brow. “What’s that?”

Maxwell sighed. “I don’t know, and you don’t need to know either. It’s Mama stuff.”

Both Maxwell and Johnny thought it would be good to start on the furthest end of the building and work their way back toward 1211.

The plan worked at the first stop, where they offered Johnny a huge clump of pumpkin pie. When he went to the next unit, asking for cinnamon, he got some dressing. When he inquired about borrowing some aluminum foil, he was loaded down with a generous portion of mashed potatoes. At the next apartment, he requested corn on the cob holders, and they gave him a huge hunk of ham. Finally, when he was in search of a potato peeler, two ladies who happened to share a home both gave him treats—one, some corn on the cob, and the other, a salad (which had enough non-green things in it to make it look possibly edible).

It took about an hour and fifteen minutes, but the boys sat down at a table with a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner—and poultry seasoning, cinnamon, aluminum foil, corn on the cob holders and a potato peeler, just in case they ever needed them.

They were about halfway through their surprising feast when there was a knock at the door. Maxwell frowned, worried. Maybe somebody had become suspicious. Maybe they had noticed Johnny going to more than one apartment to borrow things. Or maybe, after a whole month and twelve days, some neighbor had put together what was really going on and was ready to uncork his or her opinion on the two befuddled lads.

Johnny looked at Maxwell and Maxwell back at Johnny. Should they answer the door?

They stayed as quiet as possible, but after the third knock, the visitor spoke from outside the door. “Maxwell? Johnny? Are you two boys in there?”

They immediately knew who it was. It was Mr. Caylens, one of the teachers at the McKendree School, who lived right down the hall. He was a nice fellow—kind, and always a little bit sad because he had lost his wife to cancer over the summer. But whenever he saw the two boys, he greeted them with gentleness and asked them about their studies and activities.

Still, Maxwell remained quiet, and held Johnny’s hand to keep him from responding. For some reason, Mr. Caylens refused to leave. “Maxwell? Johnny? I know you’re in there. I just saw you, not more than ten minutes ago, running down the hallway. That was you, Johnny, wasn’t it? I just wanted to step in and wish you a happy Thanksgiving. I brought some fried turkey I made this year—it sure is juicy and good.”

The two boys couldn’t help salivating. Although their dinner was quite impressive, the only turkey they had acquired had apparently died and dried out in the desert.

Maxwell considered his choice, and then all at once, spoke up. “Just a second, Mr. Caylens. Thank you for thinking of us.”

He walked over and opened the door. Mr. Caylens looked him in the eyes, but also gazed above his head, searching for an adult presence. “Is your mother here?” said the teacher.

“No,” said Maxwell. “I thought you knew that she went on a trip and left us with our delightful Aunt Mindy.”

Caylens laughed. “Is she delightful?”

Johnny stood to his feet and ran over to join them at the door. “She sure is, Mr. Caylens,” he piped in.

Caylens chuckled. “Well, if she’s that delightful, I certainly must meet her.”

He tried to step through the door, but Maxwell awkwardly blocked him. Mr. Caylens pulled back, a little startled, and Johnny tried to fill in the moment. “It’s interesting that you brought up the fried turkey, because Aunt Mindy just left to go pick ours up at the grocery store. I mean, it’s not frozen or anything—you probably saw the sign, that they cook turkeys, and she was just going down there to get ours, but this is gonna be great!”

Johnny reached up to take the turkey, wrapped in aluminum foil, from Mr. Caylens’ hands. Maxwell touched Mr. Caylens’ shoulder, trying to turn him to leave. “Yeah, this is going to be great. Aunt Mindy told us that sometimes those store-bought turkeys can be dry to the bone.”

Mr. Caylens paused. Although he had been guided to walk out the door, he turned back around and looked into the faces of the two boys, trying very hard to play their parts in the deception.

He had pretty well figured out that there was a problem when he overheard the landlord, who arrived on the fifteenth of November for the rent, and the boys explained that their mother was sending it in the mail, and it would be a few days. It just didn’t ring true.

Mr. Caylens had been a teacher for nearly twenty years, and he certainly could sense a ruse when it was trying to rise. He didn’t want to scare the boys, and certainly didn’t want to disrupt their unity.

Then, struck by a thunderbolt of inspiration, he said, “I don’t know whether you boys know this, but your mother did explain her plan to me.”

Maxwell looked over at Johnny, who was about ready to speak, excited at the prospect of an ally. Hurriedly, Maxwell stepped in. “What are you talking about, Mr. Caylens?”

Mr. Caylens leaned against the doorpost. “You know,” he replied. “The plan she devised so she could get back on her feet to take care of you boys.”

Maxwell was stumped. There was just enough truth in what Mr. Caylens said that he sure was tempted to believe that his mom had a backup person to watch out for them. After all, that would be pretty smart. And one thing Maxwell knew—his mama was a genius.

Johnny couldn’t stand the wait any longer. “She’s a few days late, Mr. Caylens,” he said. “She said it would just be a month, but you know how time can slip away.”

Mr. Caylens nodded. Even though Maxwell was still suspicious, he was also very tired of carrying the burden. He was weary of deceiving the teachers and friends who had once meant so much to him, but now were just obstacles to a private scheme.

Maxwell spoke very slowly. “I don’t know whether you’re lying to us, or trying to get information, or whether my mom did talk to you. What I want you to know is, if you have plans to mess with our plans, well…” He paused. “Well…”

Mr. Caylens interrupted. “Well what, Maxwell? Are you gonna kill me?”

Maxwell shook his head. “Hell, no! What would make you say a thing like that? I’m not a killer—and please forgive me for saying hell.”

Johnny interrupted, using his most mysterious voice. “I guess we just have to get you to swear to silence. You know—like a blood covenant.”

Mr. Caylens frowned. “Well, I certainly don’t know what you mean by that, but it doesn’t sound very good. Here’s what I can do. I can become Aunt Mindy.”

The two boys frowned at him. Mr. Caylens burst out laughing—like he probably hadn’t done for months. “What I mean,” he said, still chuckling, “is that I know there’s no Aunt Mindy. But you see, I’m right down the hall. I don’t need to move in with you, but I do need you to check in with me. And I need you to trust me to quietly find out what’s happened with your mother.”

Johnny looked up at him with big, brown eyes and said, “Sir, we’ve only got eight dollars and forty-one cents left—plus the food we were given by all the nice folks.”

Mr. Caylens reached over and ruffled his hair. “I don’t think it’ll bust my budget to help you all to keep groceries in the refrigerator. But here’s the one stipulation—”

Maxwell jumped in. “Now, I know you’re an English teacher, but does stipulation mean ‘rule?’”

Caylens nodded. “Yeah,” he answered. “Basically. Rule might be too mean. Stipulation is just an agreement. And here’s the stipulation. You will contact me when you come and go. You will let me know if you need something. You’ll let me do all the signing on the notes, and you’ll check in with me in the morning and before you go to bed.”

Maxwell and Johnny felt like slaves that had just been freed from a Roman galley ship. No longer would they have to lie, cheat, plot—and worse, scrounge. Johnny looked up into Mr. Caylens’ face. “Don’t worry, sir,” he said. “It won’t be long. Mama’s comin’.”

Caylens sat down with the boys that night, adding some leftovers from his own table, and he had a delicious dinner with the turnkey boys. As he left to go back to his apartment, wishing the boys a good night, deep in his heart, he knew there was something wrong.

He had always known Melanie Shakeland to be a solid person but being poor could make someone do poor things. He was doubtful that the boys would ever see her again. He was already formulating what he would have to do on the first of December when she didn’t return.

It was November 30th, in the afternoon, when Johnny knocked on Mr. Caylens’ door. Opening it, the young man said excitedly, “Can you come down to our apartment?” As soon as the words were out, he disappeared down the hallway.

Caylens slipped on a sweater and slippers and ambled down to their unit. The door was open, so he stepped in.

There was Melanie Shakeland, surrounded by two of the happiest boys that had ever been known.

She reached out, took Mr. Caylens’ hand and thanked him. “Maxwell and Johnny tell me that you figured out our little deception, and that you were good enough to watch over them. I’m sorry I was late. But I found a job. A good one. Actually, it’s kind of weird—I got a position as a nanny for a very wealthy family down in Grosse Point. I couldn’t come back on time because they were going to Europe and needed me to immediately move into the home to take care of their two children. I didn’t know how to get hold of the boys or what to tell them. I probably did wrong. But anyway, this family lives on beautiful grounds with a mansion and a house out back, that used to be called servant’s quarters. They’ve invited me to bring my two boys to live there, and to take care of their daughters. I don’t know how science, God or Mother Nature saw fit to bless me so. I just plan on trying to do my best to be worthy of it.”

Mr. Caylens was shocked to the point of tears, overcome with the emotion of being present for what could only be called a miracle.

For this mother he had presumed dead was alive.

She was lost, and now was found.

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What Do I Want? … April 28, 2014

Jonathots Daily Blog

(2216)

What do I want JonathanAs I scanned the congregation yesterday morning at Highland Hope United Methodist Church, looking into the varied countenances of those attending, I was reminded of a question posed to me two nights earlier by a young man after my concert. He was a precocious fellow with a bit of edge, but a curiosity that was born of purity rather than guile.

He asked me, “Mr. Cring, what is it you want?”

In other words, if I actually had a say in the matter, what is it I would like to see happen in the spiritual, social, cultural and maybe even political climate of our country?

People who pursue good cheer

Good cheer that leads to truth

Truth sensitive to humans

Humans searching for hope

Hope grounded in reality

Reality that uses talent

Talent which grows

Growth moving towards mercy

Mercy that believes in change

Change that births better people

Yes, I would love to see a church that has followers of Jesus instead of merely observers of the after-effects of the doctrine of blood atonement.

Jesonian: excited about the announcement that Jesus still has good ideas.

 

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