Are these real moments real? Friends.

Are these moments real?

Or, are my fleeting thoughts

The bowl to eat from?


I am alone, yet

Memories accompany me,

Then, they abandon me for higher ground?


Many days I wait for truth

Then truth comes, full fledged

I am unarmed. Tacit.


Help me Lord,

My knees are weak,

Weak from wrestling with faith’s strong arm.


Where are the friends I knew?

The friends who knew me no matter what?

The friends who knew the conjunction between me AND me?

I Can’t Help Myself, I’m Laughing & Crying Too Hard

Bridesmaids – Wilson Phillips – Hold On

Afternoon Aliens

Any exhaustive research into my childhood would reveal several close encounters with aliens.

 You would learn that these encounters occurred primarily on Sunday afternoons but also sometimes on Saturday nights.  You would read that the aliens would slowly pull up in front of my parent’s home and then park right smack in the center of our view, a view framed by our front room picture window. (I wanted to say “frontroom” because it’s the Chicago way.)

 For our family Sunday mornings meant going to church – the hell-fire-and-brimstone-preaching-shouted-from-revved up lungs-quivering jowls-and-leaps and-bounds-of-a-Baptist-minister-kind of church.  Such a fire-breathing monster would let us know in no uncertain terms that redemption came only by turning from our sins and by walking down the aisle or raising our hand. I did wonder why he didn’t sell exercise videos out in the foyer – “Pilate Your Way Out of Purgatory:  Fit and Fundamental Workouts.”

 Now my mom and dad are God-fearing people who have always been very hospitable. Often, after a Sunday morning service or an evening service, my folks would invite friends, speakers, missionaries or relatives over for a meal.  As I said, this happened a lot.

 There were also a few Sundays when my parents decided to have an afternoon home alone with the kids. On those days we would come home from church to the salivating smell of pot roast.  The roast would cook while we sat in church pondering our short comings and our eternities.  The record will show that I had aromatic visions of pot roast as I turned from sin, walked down the aisle and raised my hand. 

 Back at home my mother would take the pot roast out of the oven and cover it with aluminum foil. Apparently the fat needed to rejoin the roast in a final cattle roundup. Mom and dad would then prepare the sides – all kid friendly: corn, mashed potatoes and gravy, rolls.  And, upon occasion my mother would make butterscotch pudding for dessert.  As a devotee of such fine cuisine I sat in the basement far out-of-the-way of the chefs. Down there I watched Warner Oland play Charlie Chan on our B & W TV:  “So sorry.”

 Besides being wafted to Kid Heaven by the smells I knew that my parents were not just making a scrumptious Sunday meal.  They were not going to take any chances with me going far from the straight and narrow.  They knew that the way to tether a kid’s soul and keep him close to home was with pot roast and butterscotch pudding.

 Well, on one of those blissful Sundays when my tummy was ballooned to its fullest pot roast-iest extent I lay on the floor rolling and reading the funny papers.  Nancy and Sluggo. Dick Tracy and Flattop. Brenda Starr and…my brother. 

 Daryl ever the antagonist always wanted to read the same few square inches of the comics that I was reading. I swear.  He would daily invent ways to aggravate me.  That day his pointed elbow to my side almost burst me.  In retaliation I poked him back and then he poked back harder.  This went on for ten minutes until my father said, “You two cut it out or no butterscotch pudding for you.” That settled things for the next five minutes. The thought of Butterscotch pudding had a calming effect on me. An added dollop of whipped cream would also keep me in check – for at least a half-hour.

 It was within the cautious serenity of those five minutes that I saw my father suddenly leap up out of his swivel rocker.  The Chicago Tribune fell to the floor splayed open.  My dad turned to my mother who was sitting on the couch half asleep.  With a look of petrified horror he said, “The Gephardts are here!” That was the day I would have my first sighting of aliens in our own front yard.

 Absolutely beside himself, my dad thought for a moment:  perhaps we could make it look like we weren’t at home.  But then he saw the visitors looking at him through the picture window.  The alien father on the front lawn was yelling “Hi Bob.”   My dad then looked down at his two young children, children who just came home from re-dedicating their lives to Jesus and to pot roast looking up at him.   Instantly changing his mind my dad scrambled in two directions at once.  In the same step he first bolted toward the kitchen but then turned and flew to the back of the house.  Things were put away, hidden from view.  Rooms were “straightened.” Food stowed deep in the refrigerator. Our Schnauzer Bobbie took the cue and hid under my bed whimpering. My brother and I hid all of our toys.  The quiet afternoon had morphed into the afternoon of the living Gephardts.

 Now the Gephardts were good people my folks said, “They’re just a little different.” Yeah, as different as earth and mars I would soon find out.

 After greeting the family of five, my dad said he had to get “some things” at the grocery store.  An hour later my mother looked concerned, abandoned concerned, angry concerned.  As the time crept, my mother sat patiently listening to Mrs. G. wonder out loud if her little “Ronnie was really over the chicken pox.” (I kid, (scratch, scratch) you not.)

My brother and I stood across from the three alien kids, two boys and a girl, and wondered what to do. Mom suggested that we go to a nearby field and play baseball until the FBI had located our father. So off we went.

 I can not recall whether it was my brother or whether it was me who was hit in the head with a baseball bat by a Gephardt boy. It must have been me who received the carom because great a swath of my memory has been forever displaced. The oldest kid swung right though an imaginary fast ball which was in fact my head.  Let the record show that silly remained intact though.  (I have had three concussions in my life:  one from a right-handed batter on sugar, one from a concrete wall that halted my fifty yard dash at 55 yards and one as an adult when a humongous lead pipe-carrying truck used my car as a brake – my head bounced around like a pin ball in a Dukes of Hazzard pinball game. Three concussions may explain my David Lynch-like persona, my dream-state reality and my stuttering posts.)

 At some point my dad came back from the store with a pie, a cherry pie and a can of whipped cream.  He offered to heat it, slice it and even remake it -anything so as to not have to talk to Mr. G who I now know was dead ringer for Randy Quaid.  Mr. G sat in our front room – greasy tee shirt, flys buzzing and all.  The three G kids all could have walked off a page of the Addam’s Family comic strip.  It’s all a blur.  On purpose.

 Mr. G was a junk collector by trade.  He collected “fine” items no longer of use to their owners. He resold his JIT inventory on Maxwell Street. Did we have anything that we didn’t want any more?  I imagined that my father wanted to say “Yes, you here.”  But my dad, a generous and good man, kept to his busy ways and went looking for a ‘fine item” that would spur Mr. G into immediate sales activity.   My dad “sacrificially” retreated to the basement where after a half hour of searching everywhere including a Walter Cronkite newscast he found a lamp on its last light bulb and handed it to Mr. G. who was pleased with his salable good but continued to eye my mom’s china cabinet.  My mother seeing Mr. G’s honed gaze locked onto the china cabinet stood up between Mr. G and the cabinet as she continued to talk to Mrs. G.  The “over-my-dead-body” look must have told Mr. G all he needed to know.  He backed down.

 After some warmed cherry pie and coffee and a shake down of each the kids to see if they had taken anything from our rooms we said goodbye to the G’s and to the afternoon. It was now evening.  Exhausted we all fell back into the couch to watch a “really big shew.”  We had seen the Outer Limits.

 Over time the Gs would show up again and again unannounced.  Somehow we were ever on their radar though my parents only slightly knew them as neighbors at a previous address in Chicago. But finally these afternoon aliens did stop showing up.

 I suspect they stopped coming when our house looked eerily uninhabited:  with all the curtains pulled my dad started taking long Sunday afternoon naps on the couch in the dark, cool basement of our house.  My mom who loved our dad took us three (by now) perturbing kids for a long drive in the country – all of us far from afternoon aliens.

(Any truth in this account, real or perceived, is totally up to you.)

© Sally Paradise, 2012, All Rights Reserved

“Well, what did you think?”

“Well, what did you think?”


“Well, what did you think?”

I’ve heard people ask,

As if a snide comeback,

Was up to love’s task.


“Reasons, all reasons.”

“We’re not by your side.”

“Our life has its reasons,”

They’d chortle and chide.


“With friends like these friends

I’ve learned to just say,

“I’ll continue along,

Get out of their way.”


“Well, what did you think?”

They won’t hear me ask,

I’m so far behind them,

I walk in their past.


© Sally Paradise, 2011, All Rights Reserved

Heaven’s Home

At 3:38 am this morning I awoke melancholy from a very sad dream. Without giving you the details, the dream replayed my grief and loss from a divorce, especially the fact that my children and my family are no longer with me everyday. As I write this I am still reeling from the effect of this dream.

The end of this dream is mystifying, as dreams tend to be. I saw myself enter a business meeting with a woman friend of mine. We both sat down at a conference table across from our clients. I whispered to my friend that I wanted to borrow her engagement ring for the meeting. She handed me her diamond under the table and I put it on my ring finger. Then I awoke almost crying.


If you have ever seen Terrence Malik’s movie Days Of Heaven and the scene of the singular house on the hill then you may have some idea of what I am about to describe.

Since childhood, my recurrent dream of heaven is a specific image: I see a small one room cottage sitting on the crest of a rolling hill. It is almost midday. Effusive 11:00 o’clock sunshine gilds the opulent scene. The light infuses everything including me. I am of it.

The cottage stands alone, nested in a bright sea of yellow flowers. I see the flowers move in waves as cool breezes wash my face with the freshest of air. The sun warms my cheeks. I face home. I know that this is my forever home. “Delight” is the only earthly word I can affix to my emotions.

The dream always has me looking at the cottage from a short distance. I have never been inside but I always sense that I will love living there. And though I am alone in the dream I do not feel alone. Rather, I know that Jesus comes to my home. My family comes and my parents come and those who have died come to this place. They are all bathed in the same golden light in this never-ending day.

There are imaginings of sumptuous feasts, of raucous laughter, of child’s play and of a complete collapse into the arms of the One Who’s hands are forever scarred.

What has been lost has now been regained seven-fold. Heaven.

The True Myth of Friendship: Part Two Cont’d.

Continued from Part Two…

Part Two: Billy the Kid, Bill the Buddy, continued…

The 1960s and 1970s. I clearly remember arriving at my fifth grade class on a chilly Friday, November 22, 1963 and seeing my teacher Mrs. Rhoades standing at the front of the classroom, weeping. I soon learned that President Kennedy had been assassinated.

Our class was sent home that morning. Our school was closed for several days the next week. The death of our president, his stately funeral procession and the swearing in ceremony of Lyndon Baines Johnson became the national focus. During this time we as children looked to our parents for meaning and for security. We looked to our friends for a sense of community. Billy and I were close friends throughout the distrssing times we lived through.

At home with my family, I watched as the TV networks replayed Abraham Zepruder’s 8mm film of Kennedy’s assassination. I also saw Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby. The black and white images of our TV set seemed to add to the grief we were feeling. I began to sense that there was evil in the world. With curious apprehension I wondered what would happen next. I would sit with my father and watch the news every night.

The international tension of the Cold War was brought home daily via the nightly news. The ongoing events of this stand-off war between the U.S. and the USSR were presented by newscasters Walter Cronkite and Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. Their reports detailed the U.S.’s escalating involvement in the War. The U.S. sought to contain the encroaching U.S.S.R. Communists moving into Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. This escalation began in the early 1960s. U.S. combat troops would be deployed in 1965.

At this time Billy and I were in seventh grade. And though I had no thought at this time that I could later be drafted, I did see that my father took a special interest in the newscasts. As we sat on the couch together his right leg would shake up and down nervously, the motion reminding me of my mom’s sewing machine stitching my pants.

When Billy and I entered high school, we veered off into different directions. Billy, a technology kind of guy, was involved early on with an automotive internship work program. This program allowed him to leave school early and go to a local auto shop and learn about cars. Although Billy, now called Bill, was somewhat lethargic about school studies and strongly opposed to sports, when Bill did focus on something he would put all of his thought, energy and money into that project. He would become a stream of consciousness, in any direction, that nobody could interrupt. One day his mother once told me, as Bill flew out the door on another self-directed mission, that Billy “was like the wind”. I knew what she meant.

High school for me, on the other hand, was about music and sports. I auditioned for the concert band during the summer before our freshman year and I won a seat in the first trumpet section. I also joined the cross country team and began running that same summer. I liked the new friendships these activities brought with them.

Though Bill and I were separated during school hours our social lives were entwined with our church’s teen’s group. It was in this group that we thrived emotionally. We could flirt with the opposite sex and spend endless hours in Bill’s car, just driving around so that we could just hold hands with someone sitting next to us. On the weekends, if were weren’t in church or in Bill’s car we would be at John’s Pizzeria drinking Cokes and gobbling large amounts of salty, greasy pizza.

The tables at John’s Pizzeria each had a flip chart jukebox. On the music menu were songs by groups like the Monkees, the Beatles, the Turtles, the Buckinghams, the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, the Association and the Platters. Of course, everyone had their favorites. Bill would play Bachman Turner Overdrive’s “Taking Care of Business and the Monkees, Last Train to Clarksville.” I would play the Turtles “Happy Together”, the Association’s “Cherish” and the Moody Blues “Nights in White Satin.”

Our church’s teen’s group met at John’s Pizzeria after every Sunday evening service. It was a time and place like no other – a teenage haven. While the rest of the world was splintering into factions and the words of the Beatle’s “Revolution” blared from our table speakers, we met and talked about the things that mattered to us: who we liked, about our church, our parents, and our part-time jobs and about our school. Bill and I felt safe inside this circle of church friends.

Outside our close-knit world, momentous events marked our high school days: Martin Luther King was assassinated, April 4, 1968; Robert Kennedy was shot and killed on June 5, 1968; the first humans landed on Earth’s moon, July 20, 1969; Woodstock took place on Max Yasgur’s farm, August 18, 1969. And, the secularist album “Jesus Christ Superstar” would soon be released.

In 1969 I was informed by mail that I had to register for the draft. I was seventeen. Apparently, the Vietnam War needed more blood to fill its ranks. Bill, because of his school/work program, was not asked to register. After filling out the Selective Service card, I handed it to my mother. She worked at the counter of our local Post Office. As I walked away from her, I began to feel the draw of the world pulling me into its many conflicts. This unsettling feeling hid itself behind a mask of false bravado that I wore only briefly. I soon realized, though the television news didn’t show it, what being drafted could mean for anyone drafted– body bags, missing arms and legs, scars and tremendous loss. A fear grew inside me. A fear I had never known before. A fear of someone waiting to kill me; I could be chosen to step in front of a bullet.

On December 1, 1969, I nervously watched the televised draft lottery with my father. This draft lottery would determine who would be sent to Vietnam. Birthdates were given numbers from 1 to 366. These numbers, put into plastic capsules, were mixed in a large glass jar. A hand would reach in and select a capsule and then someone would read the number to the watching audience. The first number/birth date pulled would be the first persons to serve in the military; the next number would be the second wave of inductees and so on. The drawing would go on until 195 numbers were fished from the bowl. My father and I waited and waited, talking about anything except Vietnam. When the seemingly unending process finally concluded, my number would not be one of the 195 chosen to serve. I breathed a great sigh of relief. My father relaxed back into the couch, his knee finally still.

In 1971 Bill and I would graduate from high school. Bill was planning to go off to a technical school to learn about electronics technology. I would go off to Moody Bible Institute for a teaching and music career. But before we took off for more schooling, Bill and I would travel out west to Yellowstone National Park and the Rocky Mountains. In doing so, we would leave behind the volatile ‘60s and our umbilical youth. In it’s place: a “Lean-On-Me” friendship. This friendship would become the fuel for an exhausting road trip.

(If you wonder why a girl like me hung out with Bill, doing all that we did together, I can only tell you that the story is unfolding out before you. Before Sally there was…)

Part Two: Billy the Kid, Bill the Buddy, to be continued…

The True Myth of Friendship

The True Myth of Friendship Part One: Lena

Friends come and ago. At least in my life they have. I moved away from my first friend and then later another friend moved away from me. Some friends were friends in my mind only: these three ‘friends’ had other plans for me. One friend left me when I decided to make a life change and another close friend died. Friendship has always meant more to me than any romantic relationship. Friendship meant people liked to be together and do things together, sharing their imaginations. And, friendship wasn’t loneliness.

1957. Lena is the first friend that I can recall. She lived downstairs just below my family’s apartment. Lena’s parent’s, both of them immigrant Swedes, were the landlords. The three story apartment/house was situated in the middle of a quiet block on Long Ave. in Chicago. Beside the house was a stretch of grass, a garage and a food garden. Lena’s parents tended the garden daily. I can still taste the tart garden fresh strawberry-rhubarb pies my mother made from scratch.

Lena, a couple of years older than me, was in second grade. I had just started kindergarten. We attended the same school, Lowe Elementary, not far from our home. We would walk together. Lena, as I recall, looked as if she had walked out of a Carl Larrson painting: golden-blond hair, rosy cheeks, blue eyes and a snow white complexion. It was usual at any given moment, apart from school and sleep, for me to head out the back door of our apartment onto the open porch. I would run down the noisy wooden stairs to the first landing and from there jump down to Lena’s porch floor. The impact was enough to let Lena know that I was ready to play. Through their screen door I could hear Lena tell her mom that she’d be on the back porch playing with me. Her mother would respond in Swedish. The smell of cardamom bread often followed Lena to the porch.

Being best friends meant that Lena and I spent a lot of time together playing house, playing doctor/patient or playing doctor/nurse. We also played baseball and kick ball along side the house. When we did, Lena’s mother would anxiously look out the kitchen window. Her mother was very concerned about the ball coming near her garden or a window. When we hit the ball too close to the dining room picture window, we were scolded in Swedish. In English, we were told to go find something to do, but “not here.”

Finding something to do in the neighborhood was easy. It wasn’t long before we found out that a group of us kids could unscrew the nearby fire hydrant cap. On very hot summer days we would open the hydrant and let the gushing yellow water cool our feet. The splashing and laughing would go on until fire trucks came whirring around the corner. Heavily dressed men with big open eyes and mouths would jump out of their trucks. They would chase after the rapidly scattering crowd of waders hoping to give each one of us a disciplinary talk. Escaping their clutches, Lena and I would run and hide on her back porch. Once there, we would play firemen and fire. It was a Curious George time in our lives.

Friendship with Lena was an easy give and take. Each of us could easily imagine characters we wanted to be when we grew up. We would often role play a mother and father situation. When we did, Lena would always choose to be the father. I was to be the mother. As designated mother, I was relegated to making supper and having things ready when “father” came home from work. I would stand on the back porch stirring imaginary stews on an imaginary stove (the porch bench). At some point, “father” would come home, walking through the screen door out onto the porch. “Father” would give me a hug and say “How was your day, honey?” In return, I would say, “The kids were terrible.” The days of our parent’s lives were enacted again and again until the time had come for my family to move.

Besides Lena, there were other friends, too, whose names I can’t recall. I do remember that I would often walk down Long Avenue to the busy West Chicago Avenue. I would go with a friend or by myself (I was six years old. In those days, parents were not afraid of letting their kids wander through the neighborhood. I don’t think, though, my mother would have approved of this if she knew.) On the Avenue, I would sometimes visit and sit in on the service at the Salvation Army Center for the homeless and the drunks. The Captain knew me as a regular. To him, I must have looked like a lowly street urchin from a Charles Dickens’ story.

I would also visit a deli just next door. The sights and smells (and conversations) would delight my senses. There, I could buy a huge kosher pickle for only 5 cents. After paying the owner of the deli, I would reach into the pickle barrel and pull out a pickle that had been floating at the top of the briny vinegar water. I would eat the whole pickle, puckering my lips from the sourness. This is a memory that is as sweet and sometimes as acerbic as the friendships I’ve had.

Recalling the day we left our Long Avenue apartment, I was a terribly sad when our car slowly pulled away. We waved goodbye to our many friends who were gathered on the side walk. There were moms and dads, tree house friends, kids on bikes, the ice cream truck guy and, of course, Lena. That night, I couldn’t hold back the tears as I lay in my new bedroom in the new house on a new block in a new unfinished subdivision. I thought of the gushing fire hydrant, of Lena, and of the back porch where we staged our make-believe lives. I wondered, too, as I lay in my bed: Would there be fire hydrants and friends on this new street? The next day I would meet Billy and Blackie dog.


Part Two: Billy the Kid, Bill the Buddy…continued here.


Living gniviL

Only. .ylnO

Never reveN

Even nevE

Loving gnivoL

You. .uoY



© Sally Paradise, 2010, All Rights Reserved