‘Franny’: A little piece of fiction

A little bit of fiction – not yet connected to a story. Come back tomorrow for another section of “A Story To Tell”.

No one wanted to be nice anymore and everyone was always staring down at their phones.

That’s how Franny Beiler felt about the world these days and she wasn’t afraid to say it.

When she was young people actually talked to each other, face to face. No, they didn’t always say nice things and they didn’t always get along, but they were a lot more alert and a lot less like a brain dead zombie; that much she knew.

The feet of the rocker hit the porch hard as Franny pushed her feet down. She felt turned up inside and angry at the world. She knew it wasn’t right but darn it, she was tired of being visited only if the battery on one of those darned cellphones died and her grandchildren were bored.

“Oh, Mom, there is nothing wrong with them being on their devices from time to time,” her daughter Hannah had lectured as she unpacked the groceries earlier that day. “They aren’t hurting anyone and some of their games are educational. Just because you didn’t have technology like this when you were younger doesn’t make it bad.”

Hannah closed the refrigerator door.

“Now, I got you that bread you like and some more of that ham you can slice up for your dinner. Robert will be over later with some dessert and to fix the buzz in the TV. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

Anything else she could do? Why? So she wouldn’t feel guilty for rarely visiting her own mother and always being too busy to stop and talk awhile?

“No, thank you.” Franny’s top lip had disappeared against the bottom as Hannah leaned down and kissed her cheek and walked toward the front door. 

“Call if you need anything,” she said casually as she closed the front door.

“Always nice to be talked at and not to,” Franny mumbled to herself as she rocked.

Franny knew she shouldn’t be so uptight and disgusted with everyone and everything but lately the frustration simply seemed to spill over. It was spilling over even more as she thought about her daughter’s condescending tone. She increased the speed of her rocking.

“Hello, there, Miss Franny.”

The voice of Joe Fields, the new pastor of the local Methodist church startled her. She didn’t like being startled and she jerked her head around and leveled a furious glare at the smiling, red faced balding man standing on her porch. 

“Well, good grief. I thought you Southerners were supposed to be polite. No one taught you not to scare an old lady?”

If the pastor was surprised by her snappy response he didn’t show it.

“I’m sorry Miss Franny. I have been told I have a quiet way about me and I guess that didn’t work out as a good thing this time.”

He laughed easily. Franny didn’t.

He stopped laughing and cleared his throat.

“Did my daughter send you here to talk me into coming back to church?” Franny snapped.

Pastor Fields found himself clearing his throat again. Suddenly he felt like he was 10-years old.

“Well, no, I mean, yes, but that wasn’t exactly what she said – I mean..”

The chair creaked loud as it rocked.

“Or did she send you here to tell me she’s sending me to a nursing home?”

“Oh. I-no-“ the pastor laughed nervously. “That wasn’t something she – I mean, she didn’t ask me about – or that is to say that I don’t know of any such plan –“

“Not sure I’d ever want to go to church with a preacher who can’t seem to figure out how to finish a  sentence ,” Franny said tersely.

Joe wasn’t sure if he should laugh or run  back to his car and drive away.

“Well, yes..anyhow, Miss Franny, I just stopped to tell you that anytime you want to come to church, I’d be glad to send someone to pick you up.”

He spoke quickly, before she struck him down with her tongue again.

“I’ll keep you updated,” she said dryly, looking  away from him to watch the neighbor’s pick up pass by the house. Henry Sickler waved and Franny lifted her hand in a quick movement and then laid it back on the rocker arm.

“Well, that would be –“

“But don’t hold your breath,” she quipped, still not looking at the young pastor.

Joe cleared his throat again and nodded.

“Well, okay then. Is there anything else I can do for you, Miss Franny?”

“Stop calling me Miss Franny for one. He may be dead but I’m still a Mrs. Thank you very much.”

“Of course. I’m so sorry. I meant no disrespect, ma’m. Down South we just use the term ‘Miss” as a sign of affection or respect.”

Franny felt a twinge of guilt. Maybe she really was being too hard on the young man. He was just trying to be nice, to do what he felt was his calling, or whatever. She decided to throw him a line and hoped he wouldn’t strangle himself with it.

“That’s fine. I’m sure you didn’t mean to be rude.”

She focused her eyes on a bird on the bush next to the porch instead of looking at him.

“If you ever need to talk – you know – about your loss . . .”

Franny snorted and rolled her eyes. Good God he’d just hung himself from the nearest tree.

“I don’t talk about loss,” she snapped. “There is no sense in talking about such things. If that’s all, it’s time for my afternoon nap. You probably have a nursing home or two in town to visit so don’t let me stop you.”

Joe stood slowly.

“Well, yes, uh, I should be going. You’re right.”

He tried to smile, to ignore the internal feeling that he wasn’t able to hit a home run on one of his first home visits as the new pastor.

“You have a good day, Miss- I mean Mrs. Tanner,” he said softly and at the risk of being yelled at again he added: “I meant what I said about being here if you ever need to talk.”

Franny nodded curtly without looking at him. She listened to him him step off the porch, walk down the sidewalk and to his car. When the sound of his car faded she tightened her jaw and fought the tears. She would not cry. She’d cried enough tears in the two years since Ned had died. She didn’t need to be reminded of all she had lost that day and she didn’t need to be reminded Ned wasn’t there anymore. Not by her family and certainly not by some upstart pastor from the South.

The weekend I learned people of ‘a certain age’ don’t actually sleep

Apparently, once you hit 70 or so, you don’t sleep. At least that’s what I’ve learned after spending two nights and three days with my parents this past weekend.

I really thought that older people slept a lot – or at least napped – sort of like cats, but, alas, that is obviously not the case.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know that aches and pains and heartburn and simple, general old-age insomnia keep many older people awake, so that’s why they don’t sleep. I’m already experiencing it at middle-age. Still, I had no idea that people of a “certain age” only need about five hours of sleep to function each day. They may not function well, and they may function on a bit more of a cranky plane than others, but they function nonetheless.

My daughter wanted to stay at her grandparents one weekend and since we couldn’t that particular day, I told her we would do it the following weekend when her brother was at a sleepover and her dad was working an extra shift. As so often happens when I plan a special weekend, I ended up having two weird health spells while there (translation: I’m hitting that special age when our hormones shift so my nasty monthly visitor came early), which wasn’t fun, but what was fun was watching my daughter spend almost our entire time there sitting next to her grandmother playing with her stuffed animals and telling my mom all she knows  about wildlife thanks to PBS kids’ Wild Kratts. Of course, she did tell Mom that some Jaguares give birth to 300 cubs at a time, obviously not accurate, so I think she may have misunderstood something Chris and Martin told her.

I don’t have a strict bedtime for my children most nights and since this was a sleepover we went to bed late that night. I crawled into my aunt’s old room around 11:30 and since Little Miss hadn’t had a nap all day she passed out within five minutes. I started to drift off at midnight while reading a book.

Before bed I had tried to figure out how to turn off the lamp next to the bed and before I even reached it, it turned off, which made me realize it must be a touch lamp. I decided I must have touched it right and went to bed, only to have the thing turn on a few moments later without me even touching it. That was disconcerting so I found the actual switch and turned that to make sure the light stayed off. I could just imagine my late aunt up in Heaven, if she can see from there, laughing at me until she couldn’t breathe. Back in bed I curled up in the flannel sheets and tried to relax after a weird day of dizziness and high blood pressure (as mentioned before, this turned out to be related to my early visitor, but I didn’t know that at the time so my hypochondria had kicked in. The blood pressure went back into normal range the next few days.).

I closed my eyes and ten minutes later a light filled the room as if the stadium lights at a night football game had been turned on. Zooma the Wonderdog had curled up at my feet, but, of course, when she heard footsteps in the hallway she was off the bed to investigate. I figured Dad had to use the bathroom while Mom was in the one downstairs so I waited for the light to click back off again. It did, but then bam! It was on 30 seconds later. I decided I’d have to join the dog to investigate so I headed down the stairs only to meet my dad, brushing his teeth, coming up to meet me.

“I turned the light off but then I thought I’d better turn it back on because I didn’t know if the dog could find her way back to your room in the dark,” he told me.

“Dad, she’s a dog. I’m sure she’ll be fine.”

I flipped the light back off and went back to bed. It was about 1 a.m.

At 6 a.m. I woke up to use the bathroom and could already hear my dad opening and closing the front door and calling for Zooma to come back inside from her morning potty break. I’d had a long day the day before so I crawled back into bed and a few hours later I staggered downstairs to find my parents somewhat wide awake and freshly baked fish on the counter for breakfast (we aren’t really breakfast-food people.)

“Good grief, don’t you two sleep?” I asked.

“What? I was up at 5:30…” Dad told me.

“Yeah, but you didn’t go to bed until 1,” I pointed out.

He shrugged.

I imagined he would catch up on his sleep the next night. Instead, I was again woke up at 6 a.m., the next morning, after going to bed too late again, this time by Zooma jumping on the bed and a bright, artificial light filling the room. Apparently, Dad still didn’t think Zooma could find her way back after her morning potty break.

The last night we were there, my 4-year old daughter and 12-year old son were eating tomato soup with their grandfather at 10:30 at night.


I was glad it was only soup this time.

One other time we were stranded at their house in a snowstorm when my mom began shoving several pieces of chocolate into my then 3-year old daughter around 11:30 at night. Fine, maybe Mom wasn’t shoving them in, but simply opening them one-by-one so my daughter could shove them in. We were awake until at least 1 a.m. the next morning. When I discovered the empty wrappers, I asked my mom what she was thinking and she giggled and said “I don’t know! She was just so cute!”

I swear when people hit grandparent age they forget about all those rules they had when they were parents. I can’t imagine my parents ever letting me shove candy down my gullet that late at night, or even being awake that late at night.

And also when they hit grandparent age, they apparently, forget how nice sleep can be.