Love, Kristen: Last Leg of Summer


Plum Orchard Lake

OK, so lecture me about not posting for a while. It’s not really my fault.

The summertime has gone by so quickly, and I’ve spent most of it living at my folks’ cabin across the road from Plum Orchard Lake.

With the heat wave we’ve had all season, this was my best option for staying cool.

Besides, it didn’t cost me anything except for groceries, day-to-day necessities and upkeep, having to put up with my parents for a couple of weeks while they were on vacation, and sundry weekends when they felt like escaping the hectic pace found within their thriving community; if you can consider MacArthur as anywhere near a sprawling metropolis.

My dad likes to tell the tale about how his parents as newlyweds moved to the small mining town when it was called “Hollywood,” saying his father, a wannabee thespian, was such a bad actor, he had to settle for fame in West Virginia, running the local movie house instead.

Unfortunately for Grandpa, his jovial boasting about finally living the good life and landing a job in “Hollywood” was short-lived, becoming deflated to just an often-told anecdote at family and business gatherings. Shortly after my grandparents settled in their new dream home, the town was renamed MacArthur in 1942, honoring the illustrious WWII general.

Grandad still did pretty well regardless, and I thought he was a decent actor, especially when he played Santa in the lobby of his movie theater during the holidays, or a scary monster at Halloween.

He also started a village theater group that presents plays regularly in an old, former Baptist church his company purchased and remodeled into a formidable venue, which still bears his name: The Van Ouven Cultural Center for Theatrical Arts.

His quaint movie theater was sold to a large conglomerate before Grandpa retired. The old building was torn down and replaced with a new complex containing a dozen screens. He remained active in his other theater until failing health forced him to hand over the reins of his performing troupe to my dad, who’s now the chairman of the board and oversees the maintenance and funding of the building, and the theatrical direction of the company.

My parents sold their house and moved in with Grandma, to take care of her after Grandpa died. When she passed away, Papa inherited the house. Both of them still live in it. As of the last census, the population in town was 1,500. Everybody knows everyone. They love it there.

Me?  I was raised in Beckley and had left home before Grandpa died.

Not wanting to harbor the extra expense for broadband-Internet service to their summer cabin, my parents—who are not very tech-savvy anyway—never had it installed at the lake.

Mother, however, has her Facebook page at home to embarrass me with old photos she puts up on occasion of her only child, a loving daughter who was a lanky tomboy, wearing an Atlanta Braves baseball cap atop straggly hair, worn high-top sneakers and sporting dental braces, smiling widely with a tin grin.

Thank the high heavens those times have changed; although, my hair still gets straggly, and I often wear high-tops and baseball caps during my leisure time.

Aside from reading a lot of hardcover books, writing while using a pen and paper inside a journal, I’ve been living without my laptop computer to get away from the daily distractions and complete reliance upon technology.

I’ll admit to bringing a smartphone along to quell my Social Media and Internet jones during my stay at The Swamp. Have you ever tried to type a 1,500-word essay to a blog on an iPhone’s flat keyboard, notably during an intermittent signal?

I tried one night, thinking about how I should add something to Mike Slickster’s tirades, knowing how he’s been suffering in this summer’s inferno up in Philadelphia, and wanting to rub it in that I was presently at the lake, high in the mountains, watching the Perseid meteor showers while reclined in a hammock, feeling cool as a cucumber.

But after a short spell, swiping with frustration, cussing at all the mistakes made and auto-corrects that didn’t make any sense, I shut the phone off and decided to marvel at how insignificant we actually are among all the billions and billions of stars in the universe, now with their shimmering light show, cast by the seemingly hundreds of meteors’ soaring and cascading before my eyes.

Most likely I was better off not teasing Mike during the height of the heat wave and his region’s intense light pollution, keeping him from seeing the Perseids, considering what he’d probably tell me I could do with that earlier cucumber cliché and where to put it.

Back home now because school starts next week, I have to say I’ve missed my computer for word processing, the convenience of browsing, researching, editing and such. Nothing like a real keyboard upon which one’s fingers can compose proficiently

As I pulled up to the garage at my house yesterday, Karen, my young neighbor, was filling up a hole in her garden by our fence line.

“What are you up to, there, Karen?”

“My goldfish died and I’ve just buried him.” The poor lass was teary-eyed and her voice was quivering.

I felt so bad and said, “That’s an awfully big hole for a goldfish, isn’t it?”

The youngster patted down the last heap of earth. “That’s because the fish is inside Mr. Benson’s dead cat.” He’s our neighbor who lives next to Karen and shares our dead-end, dirt road in and out of paradise. I was flabbergasted, didn’t know what to say and remained speechless.

“Fooled ya! Welcome home, Kristen.” Milkman Dan had just walked out of Karen’s barn. “I saw you in town going into Kroger’s and cooked up this little joke, knowing you’d be coming home soon and asking Karen about what she was doing by the fence.”

“Don’t tell me you dug this hole just for the prank.”

“I remembered how much you loved our last little charade, right before you left for the lake,” Dan said. “Man, did you wig out.”

“Uncle Danny came barreling up our road in a cloud of dust, as if he was late for Sunday dinner,” Karen said. “This morning when he delivered milk, I told him I’d be burying some old vegetables in the garden for compost later. He has a good memory.”

“I was hoping Squirt had done it already, which she had,” Dan added. “That’s when we came up with our plan about burying Benson’s cat.”

“You two really shouldn’t have. Now, allow me to unpack my car. Karen, you’ll pay for this in school next week, as you’ll be in my homeroom,” I said. “And Dan, Clyde Curtis will be hearing about your unprofessional behavior on company time as of late, when I call him after my stuff is unloaded.”

Both hooligans’ eyes looked as if they were caught robbing a grave, their countenances filled with shock and remorse.

“Fooled ya, and thanks for the warm homecoming,” I said.

The two jokers had appeared to be previously on the verge of pleading for my forgiveness. Perhaps I should have let them beg for a bit, but I couldn’t be that mean.

“I happen to be on my own time, Miss Know-it-all,” Dan said. “You don’t see Clyde’s truck anywhere, do you?”

“No, but I thought it may have been parked in the barn out of sight.”

“Busted,” he said. “Kristen, you’re a real shrewd tomato.”

“Thanks, Dan, but I’d prefer it if you’d call me a peach. Now, Karen, you should tryout for drama this year. You’re really good. I loved your tears at will and the quiver in your voice.”

“Do you really think so, Miss Kristen? Thanks so much. I’ve always wanted to be an actress.”

“Those tears were from the fumes of the rotting onions she had just finished burying,” Dan said.

“Uncle, you didn’t have to tell her that.”

“Don’t worry. You’ll be wonderful, Karen. Dan, your a nut. See y’all later.”

It wasn’t until I was inside my home that a macabre thought occurred to me. After all, this is West Virginia, whose dark tales of horror and perversion are associated whimsically with this small, mountainous state. Remember the movie, Deliverance?

What would have happened if one or both of my neighborhood tricksters snapped suddenly after I threatened them, and they came after me with a chainsaw, machete or something lethal and bad for my health? That just gave me an excellent idea for another short story.

The new school year is upon us. I’m looking forward to getting back to it, especially after having lived the life of a water rat all summer. Hopefully yours was as enjoyable.

I’ll probably not be around again until the fall. The first few weeks of September are quite busy for a returning teacher.

So until then, may your remaining days of summer be happy, memorable and rewarding. Don’t forget to use sunscreen.






About Mike Slickster

As an early retiree with an honorary doctorate degree from the proverbial "School of Hard Knocks," this upcoming author with a lot of free time on his hands utilizes his expansive repertoire for humorous yet tragic, wildly creative writing that contains years of imaginative fantasy, pure nonsense, classic slapstick, extreme happiness and searing heartbreak; gathered by a wealth of personal experiences throughout his thrilling—sometimes mundane or unusually horrid—free-spirited, rock-'n'-roller-coaster ride around our beloved Planet Earth. Mike Slickster's illustrious quest continues, living now in Act Three of his present incarnation, quite a bit on the cutting edge of profundity and philosophical merriment as seen through his colorful characters, most notably evident in the amusing Thirty Days Across the Big Pond series, all of which can be found at
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