Welcome to today’s guest post! I am pleased to share my site with returning Author, Robert Parlante. He has a beautiful story for us today and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did when I first read it.
A Kingdom of Possibilities
(based on true events)
By Robert Parlante
Before Disney World and its Magic Kingdom, there was the gray-weathered clapboarded two-room building hidden away near an abandoned anthracite coal mine in Pennsylvania. The dilapidated structure surrounded by coal debris seemed to have been ever-present as long I could remember as a young boy.
I once peeked inside the ramshackle place early on through dust-encrusted windows when my nine-year-old friends dared me. One room, full of junk, looked like it was used to service mining-related equipment, while the second room was empty space and was probably used by the mine manager. With no people around and pervasive coal-dust grime, both rooms look lifeless and creepy.
Even as an adult today, I could not recall how the old building became occupied by the old man and woman who took over the place. The junk room always remained the same jumbled mess, while the empty room was somehow outfitted with a rudimentary kitchen-livingroom-bedroom combo.
The rumors round the mining community was that the couple just showed up and became squatters. As a kid, I remember being warned to stay away from the place. There were rumors of their checkered past, unexplained mysteries and stories of two people on the run for speculated reasons. No one seemed to know how they got their food or money or where they came from. I wondered who even owned the building? Who would ever give them permission to occupy the place?
One day, by happenchance, I met the old man walking along a dirt road. My first instinct was to run! He beckoned me with an offer.
“Young man, come here, what’s your name?
“Bobby,” I said with the word choking in my throat. “And you?”
The old man looked surprise by my impertinence. “Pudnick,” he replied.
Was that his first or last name? I had wondered.
The old man went on to make his offer. He’d give me a quarter if I would walk to the next town about two miles away and buy six lemons for his missus. I reluctantly accepted the deal. A quarter was too hard to resist.
Hours later I returned. When I approached the homestead, I had a game-plan. I’d place the bag of lemons and his change (less 25 cents) at the front entrance, yell out and run!
As I slipped the lemons near the door I heard footsteps.
I turned to run and bumped into the old man walking behind me carrying a bucket of coal scraps. He smiled, still his yellowy teeth frightened me. “Did ya get the lemons?” was all he said.
I stuttered back then. I couldn’t get any words out of my mouth.
“Come in the house.” The old man turned away and headed for the front door.
My feet would not move. I envisioned being sacrificed on some demon-worship altar like I saw in the movie serials.
I was frozen in place, and my imagination ran wild! Was the old man some serial killer about to claim another victim?
The man turned around, and I remember him saying, “Thanks for picking up the lemons. That was kind. You must be tired from walking? You know the missus likes to make lemon meringue pie.”
Kind? I did it for money and not some charitable reason. I remember feeling guilty. Throwing in the lemon pie softened my heart. It was, and still is, my favorite pie! It felt like someone turned on a heat source, and I started to thaw. I followed the man into the house like a puppy dog anticipating an obedience treat. I was no longer afraid.
We walked into a large dusty room, smelling oily, and filled to the brim with what I thought was junk. There were bits and pieces, tools, scrap metal, wheels, and rusty coffee cans filled with nuts and bolts and nails. It was visual overload with virtually no open space to place another item. If something broke, the man probably had the means to repair anything using his stash of scrap. I began to imagine how to take disparate pieces of stuff, put them together somehow to create something new. It reminded me of the Erector set I received for Christmas.
But one item did stand out above the rest. In the middle of the room was a working grandfather clock with sun and moon dials and lacquered cabinetry. It was not a scrap-looking item as the time ticked quietly in the room. When I asked him where the clock came from, he changed the subject. It was another mystery involving the old man who went on to tell me stories about the sun and the moon and the galaxy beyond.
I loved science and math in school, and the room with its tales about the solar system energized that side of my personality. Would I be a scientist someday? Maybe I would figure out a way to get to the moon and back. An hour ago, my imagination ran wild with scary thoughts. Now it ran rampant with everything I could do or be as an adult. I had entered what felt like a kingdom of possibilities.
The old man introduced me to his missus in the other room. Her first name was Maggie, and she had a welcoming smile when I handed over the lemons. There was a coal-burning stove, a bed with a down comforter, two armchairs, a sink with running water, and a table with two chairs. With no electricity, kerosene lanterns were used. Alongside one arm chair was a stack of magazines, looking decades old.
“You can come by tomorrow for a piece of pie … if Mr. Pudnick doesn’t eat the whole thing!”
The next day I returned for my treat. When I walked into the kitchen, there were three small pieces of lemon meringue pie waiting on the table.
I tasted my first forkful of pie. Wow! This lemon masterpiece was made from scratch, not some boxed lemon pudding mix. It was the real thing made with fresh lemons. The tangy buttery filling puckered my lips, and I wondered how Maggie could achieve such results in her meager kitchen.
As I handed the empty plate back to Maggie, the stack of magazines next to the chair caught my eye again. Maggie suggested I do some reading. I thought she sounded like a school teacher as she fluffed up the stuffed chair and invited me to sit. She told me some of the magazines would suit a young boy like me.
I saw Look and Liberty magazines. They were decades old, smelled damp and felt crumbly. As I grew into adulthood I never forgot those magazines yellowed by time and rubbed thin by calloused fingers thumbing its pages.
We never had magazines around our home as they were considered too expensive. We had radio back then, and that was enough.
Maggie told me when you read, you can go anywhere. It took many more years later to understand what that meant, but the journey started in that dusty tumble-down structure. This was a different magic kingdom than the old man’s domain and his grandfather clock. I remembered reading those magazines repeatedly for years until I entered high school. I began to feel like a penny with its two sides. One side wanted to be a scientist or an engineer, but now the other side suggested a different life option for me. A writer, a journalist, a novelist.
The combination of science and the creative side of the brain do not easily coexist in the same person. Yet the two sides coexisted in one couple, the home they lived in, and the eclectic lives they led … like collecting scraps of coal during the day, left behind by the abandoned mines, and reading some issue of Atlantic Monthly from 1935 at night. Both activities sustained their lives.
Now an adult, I am convinced that the Lord knows and proves that he could take anyone’s upbringing and use it for his good purposes. Ephesians 2:10 says “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Whatever life phase one may be in, think of yourself as being prepared for the greater good, a mission, an occupation, a vocation you haven’t yet given a shred of thought towards. We may consider our lives falling short at times. Start dreaming about all the possibilities of a life in Christ. Be open. Above all, be patient. I published my first novel as an older adult. But God started preparing me when I was nine years old by sending two eccentric people into my life.
Maggie used to say, “Grab a seat, reach for something to read, and let your mind soar!” She would extend her arms like the wings of a plane and swoosh across the room.
You don’t need an expensive ticket to enter this Magical Kingdom.
I often visited the old man and woman because I liked reading stories in their stash of pulp magazines. Zane Grey’s Western magazine was my favorite. As soon as I finished one story I would begin another and often read the same story over again. I practically had the story memorized, and I would go outside to reenact the plot. Cowboys and rustlers. The beautiful teacher abducted by the evil mine boss. My trusted dog would help me save the day! There was no limit to what my two-sided brain could conjure up on a hot and humid summer day in anthracite coal country.
I also liked to scavenge the areas around the abandoned coal mines searching for treasures left behind after the mines stopped operating. When I brought a stray pulley, I had found or stumbled upon a length of rusted metal, the old man acted like I had brought him a million dollars as he added them to his junk collection. I once brought back an empty cobalt-blue glass bottle that glistened like a sapphire gem. It was probably worthless, but the old man treated the bottle as priceless, telling me it should be set in a king or queen’s crown. It inspired me to bring back more.
One day, my magical kingdom took a turn for the worse. As a child there was never a time I did not have a dog, and every one of them was named Lassie, male or female. I was obsessed with the movie “Lassie, Come Home” filmed in 1943. Between Zane Grey and Lassie, I had everything I needed to conjure up a life and death story where some nine-year-old hero comes to the rescue.
One day while on another scavenger hunt, I heard a strange sound coming from the mine area and the surrounding waste heaps. It was a faint wailing that sounded desperate, like a crying baby. When I homed in on the place it was coming from, I walked up to the edge of a cavernous excavation. As I scanned the deep ravine I saw a dog who had fallen off the edge and landed onto a narrow ledge about 50 feet above the crater’s bottom. Had the fall just happened or did it occur days ago? It had to be some time ago, because the dog was skinny and hardly moving.
There was no escape! There was no way for me to reach the desperate dog from the top. There was no way for the dog to jump off the ledge and survive the leap. Who to call? No phones. Certainly, no cell phones. I stood frozen looking down at the helpless animal. No matter how much I tried to figure out a rescue, I came up empty. As I considered the likely outcome, I found myself fighting back tears. I sat on the ground and imagined I was stroking the poor dog, hoping it would be a source of comfort.
I decided to walk back to the junk man and see if he could help the dog. He was physically limited, but he still returned to the ravine with me. As we approached the ravine, there was stone silence. I was immediately heartbroken. Life was not a story where I could change the ending or soften the hard parts with a happy thought or a redeeming gesture. This time I would not be the hero.
To this day I still think about the wailing dog, I wish I could have figured out a way to save that desperate animal.
When I returned from engineering school many years later to visit family, the two-room building was demolished for business development. The old couple was gone … mysteriously, with no explanation.
Maybe they were flying to the moon or growing lemons in California? That’s just the way the two sides of my brain work. Thank you, Mr. Pudnick and Missus Maggie.
* * *
Follow Robert online:
Thanks so much for visiting with us! Please help me show today’s guest some incredible support with likes, shares, and comments.
Until next time……………………………… Stay Creative!!