Tag Archives: 1990s


Mrs. Tyler was old. Everyone knew that. They figured it was pretty safe to assume that there has been a Mr. Tyler at some point, although no one could actually remember him. She only had two cats, which no one really considered eccentric, although she’d named them Quincy and Tippecanoe. She was just weird enough to be interesting without being spooky. So when Jennasis Walker had to interview someone for her Oral History Project, the fifteen-year-old girl thought of Mrs. Tyler right away.

Jennasis wasn’t the type of girl to walk straight up to Mrs. Tyler’s door and request permission for an interview. For one thing, Jennasis didn’t have a reporter’s innate ability to intrude on someone’s life while believing they had a right to do so. It didn’t help that Jenn wasn’t quite welcomed with open arms in Milton. She had lots of friends, sure. But many people considered her very birth a sin against their beliefs about interracial relationships. Somehow it was even worse to them that Jenn was “legitimate,” that her parents were married for three months before she was even conceived.

Luck was on Jenn’s side, though. She took her own cat, Napoleon, to the vet for shots the same Saturday morning that Mrs. Tyler took Tippecanoe.

The vet’s waiting room had none of the charm of a dentist’s office. There were no magazines for the cats, bird, dogs, rabbit, snake, guinea pig, and people to read. Of course, magazines were unnecessary. Jenn only had Napoleon on a cat harness. Napoleon thought Jenn brought him to an all-you-can-eat place, and couldn’t understand why she kept holding him back.

Mrs. Tyler had Tip in a cardboard carrier that he was shredding urgently, howling to Napoleon that he had first dibs on the guinea pig. Mrs. Hanrahan and Arthur, her Standard Poodle, sat as if they were at a dog show held at a common kennel. Grant Hayes waited with Ginger, his Seeing Eye dog. Douglas Chin, unfortunately, had his mongrel Gandolph there for his distemper shot. Gandolph struggled to sniff at the two other dogs, the two cats, the bird (Luciano), the guinea pig (Buffy), the snake (Susan), and the rabbit (Elmer Fudd). Nothing in a magazine could top the entertainment in the waiting room.

Dr. Cohen took Kelly and her snake Susan first. Although they were the calmest and best-behaved pair in the room, everyone breathed a sigh of relief when they left. Then the waiting room erupted in laughter at the irony. That broke the ice, and people actually began speaking to each other.

As “cat people,” Jennasis and Mrs. Tyler sat on the same bench. Jenn peeked at the orange tabby in the cardboard carrier. “Is Tippecanoe sick?” The girl scored points right away with Mrs. Tyler for being able to tell Tip and Quincy apart.

“No, he’s just here for shots. Napoleon’s looking spunky.” Mrs. Tyler scored a point for herself by knowing the name of Jenn’s pride and joy.

“Yeah, he needs his shots, too.” The conversation halted, and the awkward silence regained control of the room. Then Mrs. Tyler asked Grownup Question Number Two.

“So how’s school going?”

That afternoon, Jenn shifted the backpack on her left shoulder and rang Mrs. Tyler’s doorbell. “Come on in, Jenn. What kind of soda do you want?”

“Root beer, if you have it. Otherwise water’s fine.”

“Root beer it is. So tell me about this project of yours.” As they walked through the living room, Jenn noticed how immaculate and how orderly it was. For a moment she wondered if the books on the shelves were in alphabetical order. The kitchen was the same way. At home, nothing matched, and with four kids, “orderly” meant that things were actually in the room they belonged in. Mrs. Tyler’s potholders matched the dish towels. Jenn was sure it was just decoration, that those potholders had never touched a pot. In a large stoneware cup next to the faucet was a plastic thing with dish soap in it and a little sponge on the end. Not only were there no dirty dishes, but there was no dish drainer either. Jenn sat at the kitchen table, afraid to put her ordinary backpack down for fear it would make the room dirty.

Mrs. Tyler put a coaster in front of Jenn on the bare kitchen table and put the glass of root bear with ice on the coaster. She made herself a glass of ice water with a slice of lemon, and placed it on her own coaster. “What do you want to know about me?”

“Well, everything. We need to know what a person’s life is like now, and how it used to be. Like, we need to know what people and experiences changed your life. That’s supposed to teach us about history. I guess. Mr. Qureshi is into making everything meaningful. That means you don’t understand anything, but you have fun doing it.”

“What will you do with the information I give you? Remember, it’s my life we’re talking about here. I don’t think I want to see it on 60 Minutes.

“Don’t worry. We’re gonna put an edited version together for the class history book. Mr. Qureshi is gonna meet with us individually and read our full reports, and then give them back to us. Then I’ll give you yours back. You won’t have to worry about anything. Why? Do you have something to worry about?” Jenn tried not to sound interested and excited.

“Maybe you should just ask me your questions, and we’ll see if I’m interesting or not, OK? Shoot.”

Jennasis opened her backpack and got out her supplies. She had one of her mother’s legal pads and her father’s best pen, as well as a tape recorder. She wanted to look professional. She asked permission to tape the conversation, and then began her questioning.

Mrs. Tyler didn’t turn out to be very interesting on Saturday afternoon. Her husband’s name had been Joseph, and they met each other working at the hospital together. They’d known each other for a long time before they got married. They never had any children, and Mr. Tyler died before their second anniversary. Mrs. Tyler tried to date a few times, but gave it up. She just wasn’t interested in anyone else.

Jenn took the information she’d gotten to class on Monday. As the students shared the rudimentary information they had so far, Mr. Qureshi helped them brainstorm more probing questions.

“What do we want to know in the end?” he asked. “What questions will give us that information?” After the students came up with ideas, they broke up into groups. Each group member wrote down specific questions for the others to ask the person they were interviewing.

“I see you have more questions written on your legal pad,” Mrs. Tyler noted as she poured Jenn a glass of root beer. Jenn explained the process the class went through today.

“I have to ask you more questions. Mr. Qureshi says we don’t have enough details. He says we know a lot of surface stuff, but not a lot of human stuff. He says that History is about humans.”

“Oh. What kind of human stuff do you want to know?”

“Well, I need to ask stuff like how you met your husband. And you said that you knew him a long time. Did it take you forever to fall in love? Or just to get married? Why did you wait so long? Where did you work together? What were your jobs? Stuff like that.”

“I see.” Mrs. Tyler used her cloth napkin to wipe the moisture off her ice water glass, studying the glass carefully. “Joe and I worked together in a hospital in Tucson.”

“Oh, so you were a nurse and Mr. Tyler was a doctor.” Jennasis watched a lot of television.

“No, not exactly. Yes, I was a nurse. I still am.”

“And Mr. Tyler wasn’t a doctor? Did he do x-rays or something?” Jenn wasn’t sure what a man would do in a hospital besides be a doctor.

“No. Joe was a chaplain.”

“What’s that?”

“Well, a chaplain helps people heal their minds and souls while the doctors and nurses are healing their bodies.” Mrs. Tyler could see that Jenn was lost. “Mr. Tyler prayed with people, the ones who were sick and their families.”

“Oh.” Jenn thought about this for a moment. “Like a minister.”

“Yes, like a minister.”

Mrs. Tyler returned to wiping her glass while Jenn concentrated on this information. The student looked up. “But he wasn’t a minister?” This was a lot to put together: a man who worked in the hospital but wasn’t a doctor, and a man who prayed with people but wasn’t a minister. “Well, but then …” She stopped. “Was Mr. Tyler a priest?” Jenn held her breath.

“Yes.” Mrs. Tyler looked at Jenn, and waited.

“So, like, you were a nun?”


“But you and Mr. Tyler got married.”


“Well, is that OK? I mean, don’t they get mad about that kind of stuff?”

Mrs. Tyler took the church calendar off its nail on the wall. “What’s today?”

Jenn looked at her with that teenager look. “Monday, March 22, 1999.”

“And what was the date 600 years ago?”

“March 22, 1399?”

“And 300 years from now?”

“I’m not that good at math. Maybe they’ll have a different calendar then. Why?”

“Because 600 years ago, it was OK for priests to get married. Lots of priests had wives and children. Lots of priests had children without wives. Many do today.”

“Have children without wives? Or wives and children?”

“Both. See, people used to donate things to the Church, just like they do today. But the laws years ago said that if a man dies, everything he owns goes to his oldest son.”

“Yeah, we already learned that in history.”

“Well, if you donate a piece of land to a priest who has a wife and children, and the priest dies, what happens to that piece of land?”

“His family gets it. That’s only fair. They still have to live and support themselves!”

“Right. But suppose you donate a piece of land to a priest, and he has no family, and he dies. What happens to it?”

“The church gets it?”


“But that’s dumb! You can’t tell people to not fall in love and get married because of stuff, because of land. I thought there was something holy involved.”

“Those rules were made a long time ago. It was a different world, a different culture. They had no concept of people having any rights or needs back then.”

“But don’t you have to follow the rules until they change them?”

“Yes, you’re supposed to. And we did try. I tried to get transferred to a different mission. That means I asked my religious community to let me work someplace else. But they told me to keep working at the hospital. Joe couldn’t get the bishop to transfer him either. There was a lot going on, and they needed him there.”

“So why didn’t you just avoid each other?”

“Is there anyone at your school whom you could totally avoid if you wanted to? Are there any teachers that you can stay away from completely if you don’t like them?”

“Well, no.”

“Then imagine how much harder it is to avoid someone you’re in love with.”

Jenn took her own cloth napkin and wiped the moisture off her root beer glass. “This is so stupid. Why do we have to do this dumb old assignment, anyway!”

“Because your teacher, Mr. Qureshi? He wants you to see that this is what history is all about. Real people.”

“But you broke the rules. Doesn’t that matter? Is that why you moved here?”

“So did your parents. Where they lived, the rules were very clear that a white man and a black woman aren’t allowed to date, let alone get married. They are a part of history, too. They broke a rule that was unfair, and they moved here. If they followed the rules, you and your sister and brothers would never have been born. Is that OK with you?”

Jenn gave Mrs. Tyler the teenager look again. Then she felt something against her leg. She looked down and saw Tippecanoe rubbing against her. Jenn patted her thigh wordlessly, and the orange tabby jumped onto her lap. Of course Quincy, the other cat, became jealous. He hissed at Tip as he walked past him, and jumped into Mrs. Tyler’s lap. The woman and the girl petted the cats in silence.

Finally, Jenn spoke. “So who makes these dumb rules, anyway?”

“I should cheat and tell you to ask Mr. Qureshi that. Really, though, people make the rules. Sometimes the rules have a very good reason, sometimes just an OK one, and sometimes rules were meant to hurt people on purpose. Your job is to obey the first set and fight the last set.”

“What about the middle rules?”

“You can’t just go around breaking rules because they aren’t convenient. If you break a rule, you’d better have a very good reason for it. Very.”

Tip started purring in Jenn’s lap, so Quincy had to purr louder. “What else are you taking?”

“Well, I’m taking poetry. Dumb stuff. Dumb rhyming stuff written by dead people. History’s about dead people, too.”

Mrs. Tyler laughed. “I’ll bet I can make poetry interesting.”

“How? You’re a nurse?”

“Oh, like nurses can’t read? Really. I wanted to be an English Major, but my community made me become a nurse. They didn’t want any teachers in my group. The next year’s group was teachers. Mine was nurses.” Jennasis stared, a little mind-boggled. “Let me take your glass. I’ll get you some more root beer.” Quincy stole Mrs. Tyler’s warm chair as soon as she stood up. Jenn decided that this was more interesting than going home and fighting with her little sister. She and Tip got more comfortable in the chair.



We came from California and Corpus Cristi parish down the street. We came to Image Justice, to meet God in each other, to meet other people like us, to share our hopes and fears. We came as we were, faithful, … Continue reading


A voice is floating

through the room

touching no one.

The girl next to me

is at her birthday


last weekend.

I am watching

the Cubs

beat the Giants

last night.

Only fifteen




We spun the jacks
tiny ballerinas
dancing across the floor.
The object was
to have all ten spin
at the same time.
We never won
we never lost.

Some Times

Sometimes they sit in silence on

the front porch

watching the world parade before them

watching times change.


Sometimes they still hold hands

gazing lovingly at each other

while they share scrambled eggs and coffee

while they share memories.


Sometimes they snuggle watching

old movies on television

crying for Tony and Maria, and themselves

crying for love that has to hide.


Sometimes, but not often

they speak of those who died

naming friends they have lost forever

naming quilt pieces.


Their love has passed the test

of time

the world enriched by their gifts

the world that rejects them.


Sometimes they sit in silence on

the front porch

two old men

watching the world parade before them

watching times change

and waiting.



Yawn. Stretch — arms, legs. Sigh. Hear Puff purr. Turn. Feel — cool breeze, warm sun. Smell cut grass. Fresh. Moist. Yawn. Stretch. Turn. Sleep.


Mandy was named after a Barry Manilow song.  It didn’t do a thing for her love life.  Somehow, Barry Manilow’s name didn’t seem to evoke the same images as, say, the Rolling Stones.  It didn’t help that “Mandy” was a song about rejection.

It wasn’t that guys didn’t like Mandy.  She was very popular with men.  They all confided in her, shared their joys and sorrows with her, and told her all their tales of unrequited love.  They just didn’t think of Mandy in that way.  She was a very good friend, practically a sister, to a whole lot of men.  They just weren’t sexually attracted to her.

There was the other bunch, of course, who thought that telling you their first name counted as foreplay.  Mandy had already been on a few too many of those dates.  She got better and better at trusting her own instincts, which also meant she had fewer and fewer dates.  By the time Glenn and Patti introduced her to Eugene, Mandy was just about ready to join a convent.

Eugene came as a nice surprise.  He also came with his own collection of Barry Manilow tapes.  Already Mandy knew that this would not be the usual sleep-and-run kind of date.  Eugene had to be a decent guy.  He also didn’t even try to kiss her on the first date!  Of course, it’s hard to work up a lot of passion after a round of miniature golfing at King Putt’s, but still.

Their second date, to Strikes & Suds bowling alley, was rather pleasant.  Eugene wasn’t unduly competitive, and seemed genuinely interested in whether or not Mandy was having a good time.  Dating Eugene was a lot like going out with her brother, but Mandy knew that it took a while to build up a relationship.  Perhaps the sparks would come, and even if they didn’t, she could still have fun in the meantime.

Eugene took Mandy to see her beloved Cubs play in a Spring Training game, and bought her a Cubs hat (although she already had one) and a Cubs baseball.  Although the hat was overdoing it a little bit, Mandy enjoyed the attention.  Here they were on their third date, and Eugene was only now holding her hand.

Mandy and Eugene did something together every week.  Mandy worked second shift at the nursing home, but her days off rotated.  One of them was always spent with Eugene.  He didn’t call her at work so that she wouldn’t get in trouble.  Instead, they made their plans before the end of each date.  Mandy hardly had time to think in between dates.  At least she was dating someone, even though it was really hard to think of Eugene as a boyfriend.

One night they went to dinner at Glenn and Patti’s house.  Mandy knew that the couple considered setting up Mandy and Eugene as one of their success stories.  Eugene continued to be polite and considerate.  Tonight, though, it didn’t quite feel considerate.  Eugene wanted to take Mandy home before she was ready to go.  He didn’t claim that he himself wanted to leave, but rather that he knew Mandy had a long day tomorrow and that he wanted to get her home.  He was insistent — to Glenn and Patti — that it was time to go, not addressing Mandy on the matter at all.  Although she was displeased about the situation, she told herself that Eugene was the first man she had dated in a long time to care about her needs instead of his own, and she just wasn’t used to it. Mandy agreed on the details of their next date, scheduled for her next day off.

The next date was somewhere between pleasant and boring, but Mandy’s concerns about Eugene were forgotten.  The following week, though, Mandy just didn’t want to see Eugene.  It wasn’t that she particularly disliked him.  After seeing him every week for eight weeks, she just needed a break.  Being with Eugene felt more like going steady in high school, with your own brother, than dating.  On top of that, Mandy just needed time alone.  She liked being alone; that’s why she had her own apartment.  She couldn’t call Eugene and feign an illness to cancel the date; that would by lying.  So Mandy did the next best thing:  she turned off the lights and pretended she wasn’t home.

Eugene didn’t take this well.  After pounding on the door a couple times, he left.  Mandy tried to breathe a sigh of relief, but thought better of it.  This might not be over.  She left the lights off, just in case.  It wasn’t long before Eugene was back with reinforcements.  Mandy heard Patti pass her bedroom window saying, “She probably just fell asleep.  You know how hard she’s been working at the nursing home.  I’m sure she’s quite all right.”  Mandy knew that this was being said as much for her own benefit as Eugene’s.  So with suitable pillow wrinkles on her face, Mandy answered the door.

Patti gave Mandy a sympathetic look and abandoned her.  Eugene gushed about how worried he was — he was all set to call 911.  Mandy pretty much repeated what Patti said outside her window.  Happy that all was well, Eugene suggested that of course they should still go on the date.  When the date was over, he gave Mandy a very chaste peck on the lips — their first kiss.

By now, Mandy was really pretty tired of Eugene.  It wasn’t that he wasn’t basically a nice guy; he was.  He was always a perfect gentleman, which was such a refreshing change — really.  She couldn’t even imagine him as a sexual being.  He did seem to have her best interests at heart, even when he went a little overboard.  Aside from being vaguely bored, there was nothing concrete that Mandy could put her finger on.  She just didn’t want to go out with Eugene any more.  Now she just had to figure out a way to end the dating.

It wasn’t going to be easy.  Eugene wanted to go out with Mandy.  He saw no reason to stop, and Mandy had a hard time coming up with one that sounded polite.  After all, Eugene wasn’t really a creep; he couldn’t just be callously dumped.  Nor was it likely that he would immediately move on to his next conquest.

Mandy started with the semi-direct approach.  She told Eugene that she couldn’t see him next week.  She waffled, though, when Eugene asked her why not; she made up a story.  Naturally, then, they had plans for the following week instead.  At least Mandy would have her first real free time in a while.  But Mandy’s joy was tempered with the knowledge that it was temporary; she and Eugene still had plans for a date, even if it wasn’t right away.

She started thinking that maybe she could survive an every-other-week thing.  But that would be dumb.  Why force yourself to date someone you don’t want to?  Mandy had never taken an assertiveness training class, though.  She could be aggressive when her self-preservation was at stake.  But she had no clue how to get rid of a “nice guy” — well, a nice guy who was a little too nice and actually gave her the creeps sometimes.

At the end of their date, Mandy tried to avoid planning another date.  Eugene asked if there was someone else she was seeing.  No, of course not!  Mandy felt like she and Eugene were moving too fast, even though they were actually going nowhere.  They’d not yet even French-kissed, and Eugene’d never touched anything but Mandy’s hands and shoulders.  Still, it seemed to Mandy that Eugene was way more attached to her than she was to him, and than she’d ever be to him.  There were just no sparks for her at all.  Eugene was nice to do things with, but they really had nothing in common to talk about.  Although Mandy had always considered herself overly romantic and nostalgic, she couldn’t imagine celebrating an anniversary of their first date, or telling her children about this period in the life of “mommy and daddy.”   In fact, as much as she wanted children, she just couldn’t fathom having them with Eugene.

Mandy didn’t know how to tell him any of this.  She figured guys could probably take rejection easier if there’s another man than if they were being rejected and there’s no one else on the horizon.  Guys were such fragile little things.  Since creating an imaginary boyfriend was beyond her, Mandy told Eugene that she needed a break.  She wanted some time alone to think about stuff.  Eugene wanted to know what she had to think about, and why it excluded seeing him.  This was not going to be easy.

Mandy didn’t have any real answers, and she knew it, and Eugene knew it.  Eugene very nicely and politely demanded a reason why they should stop seeing each other.  Mandy was too polite to tell Eugene that he gave her the creeps sometimes and wouldn’t take no for an answer.  And since she was right — Eugene wouldn’t take no for an answer — they dated some more.

Eugene remained respectful on their dates, and continued to show interest in Mandy’s enjoyment.  He talked about the things she wanted to talk about, let her choose what they did together, and never tried to do anything that Mandy didn’t want done–except continue dating.  When Mandy tried again to end it, she could tell that she’d genuinely hurt Eugene’s feelings, after all he’d done for her.  He looked like he was going to cry right on the spot.  And they continued dating.

Finally, Mandy called Eugene’s answering machine at a time when she knew he wouldn’t be home, and left a message canceling their date.  Breaking up one date at a time was the best she could think of.  Mandy received a call at work that night from Eugene asking why she canceled the date.  The telephone call only surprised Mandy because she was sure that by now Eugene knew that she wanted to dump him.  But she stuck to her guns; she couldn’t go out with him on Tuesday.

Monday, Eugene actually came to where Mandy worked to see her.  He somehow managed to combine polite, pathetic, and perturbed in his quest to change Mandy’s mind, but she was firm.  She couldn’t go out tomorrow.  He tried to convince her to go out her next day off instead — the following Monday.  Mandy refused to make a commitment to date him next week.  She wasn’t going to see him this week; right now, that’s all that mattered.  He finally left, with no date for tomorrow and no date for the following week.  Mandy’s stomach felt queasy instead of relieved.  She tried to ignore the feeling and enjoy her day off.  Right.

When Mandy returned to work Wednesday, Eugene had sent her flowers at work.  Everyone told her how lucky she was to find such a guy in this day and age; no one ever sent them flowers.  Truthfully, no one had sent Mandy flowers before either.  Under any other circumstances, it would’ve been a sweet gesture.  Instead, Mandy felt awful about not liking the flowers and not trusting Eugene.  Why couldn’t she just be appreciative, she asked herself.  No wonder she never had dates.  Look at the kind of person she was!  She was lucky that Eugene had stuck with her.  Mandy really didn’t feel very lucky, though.

The following day, Eugene showed up at Mandy’s work again, where everyone commented about the lovely flowers and how lucky Mandy was to have him.  Mandy wanted to puke.  Eugene again asked if she wanted to go out the following Monday to see the latest Star Wars movie.  She turned him down, even though she thought it made her look ungrateful and undeserving, not to mention stupid.

Clear out of left field, Eugene asked her if she was seeing Hugh again.  Hugh was a loser whom Mandy had mentioned in passing during one of their first dates.  She was surprised that Eugene would remember him.  She was even more surprised that Eugene would think she’d ever want to see Hugh again in this lifetime.  There was no reason to mention Hugh’s name.

Mandy’s denial only served to plant Hugh’s name in her co-workers’ brains, next to the image of the ever-so-nice, clean-cut Eugene who sent Mandy flowers.  Some of them had even heard stories of this chapter in Mandy’s unwritten Dates From Hell anthology.  The next night at work, Eugene brought Mandy take-out sweet & sour pork, her favorite.  She was overjoyed that he didn’t mention seeing each other again at all.  He didn’t actually have to, though; now Mandy and Eugene were seeing each other every night — where Mandy worked.

Eugene was never at the nursing home for too long, just long enough to make a good impression on Mandy’s co-workers.  They were happy to see that finally Mandy was in a decent relationship.  Finally a guy was interested in Mandy for herself.  What a lucky girl!  He brought her flowers and her favorite dinner, took her out every week instead of expecting to watch television at her house between her cooking dinner and breakfast.

Sunday night, the night before her day off, Eugene again mentioned wanting to see her the next night.  Mandy again declined.  She had no “good reason” to give Eugene.  She just didn’t want to spend Monday with him.  Eugene slipped Hugh’s name into the conversation again.  “You know I’m not seeing anyone else,” Mandy responded with a hint of anger.  The damage was done, though.

Tuesday, after Mandy’s day off, Eugene again showed up at the nursing home with extra crispy chicken.  Mandy wasn’t there.  Eugene was quite convincing in his display of concern–after all, they’d all heard stories of what a loser Hugh was.  Maybe he really did go to see Mandy, and, well, Eugene decided he should go to Mandy’s apartment to check on her.  Of course he had to break into the apartment, to see if Mandy was all right.  Naturally, his fingerprints would be in the apartment; he and Mandy were dating.

When the police later questioned Mandy’s co-workers, they attested to Eugene’s good character, and mentioned this loser Hugh whom Mandy had dated in the past and who might have planned on seeing on her day off.  It goes without saying that Eugene sent a wonderful flower arrangement to the funeral home.  For a while, he even made sure that there were always flowers in the vase on Mandy’s grave.  Eugene was such a nice guy.