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My pens have gotten me through some times–happy, sad, moody, angry. Through the years, keeping a diary or journal, as well as writing fiction, has kept me semi-sane.

Here on Penz-O-Paula you’ll find blog posts, short stories and such by me. You’ll also find writing by others that I want to share with you.

Not everything here is sunshine and roses, but I don’t know of anyplace that is, do you?

I hope you’ll visit often, leave comments and follow me!

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D. A. Ratliff: A Clue

Writers Unite!

Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms. Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support!

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A Clue

By D. A. Ratliff

Shiny gold bars.

Clay Jenkins caught his reflection in his darkened computer monitor. His eyes falling onto the newly pinned captain’s bars adorning his uniform collar. Detective Captain Clay Jenkins. He laughed. There were fellow cops from his early days with the department who would have laughed if they knew the rookie beat cop who seemed to have two left feet ended…

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Larry Stephens: Can You Help Me

Little girls, man. Sometimes they’re the spookiest!

Writers Unite!

Welcome toWrite the Story!Each monthWriters Unite!will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone.WU!wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms.Pleasecheck out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support!

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(Please note: the images used as prompts are free-use images and do not require attribution.)

Can You Help Me?

By Larry Stephens

Bart Sandstrom whipped a fist the size of an adult goose in an overhead arc and brought it crashing down on his nightstand, in direct contact with an alarm clock that often opted to not perform to specification whenever it damned well felt like it.

Which it did not do on this fine, feckless morning. Hence the smooshed alarm clock.

The…

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Lynn Gordon: The Weary Traveller

Never lose hope!

Writers Unite!

Welcome toWrite the Story!Each monthWriters Unite!will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone.WU!wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms.Pleasecheck out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support!

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The Weary Traveller

by Lynn Gordon

The door is closed and bolted, access is denied.

I must be wrong, it can’t be locked yet three times now I’ve tried.

My journey is almost over, and now I need to rest

But the door is closed and bolted what to do for the best.

My food supply diminished, my drinking water spent.

The heat is overwhelming, the sun does…

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Paula Shablo: An Unexpected Homecoming

Writers Unite!

Welcome toWrite the Story!Each monthWriters Unite!will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone.WU!wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms.Pleasecheck out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support!

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(Please note: the images used as prompts are free-use images and do not require attribution.)

A note to readers :

This is not a Pro-Life or a Pro-Abortion story. This is an attempt to highlight the many misunderstandings that can occur when people jump to judgment without having all the facts.

Things happen. Take a breath.

An Unexpected Homecoming

By Paula Shablo

She hadn’t expected to love the place, but for Maggie it was instant infatuation. She hugged Josh enthusiastically, and held up…

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Paula Shablo: April Showers

Writers Unite!

Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms. Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support!

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( Please note: the images used as prompts are free-use images and do not require attribution.)

April Showers

By Paula Shablo

For Shane, there was never a question of if the spring storms would come. They would come; they always came.

The only question was: when?

Well, that wasn’t entirely true. The other question was whether he’d have enough advance notice to batten down the hatches—so to speak.

Year after year, it was the same: Summer, Fall, and Winter devoted to repair and…

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Rylee Black – Blue Moon Bay

Writers Unite!

Welcome toWrite the Story!Each monthWriters Unite!will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone.WU!wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms.Pleasecheck out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support!

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Please note: the images used as prompts are free-use images and do not require attribution.)

Blue Moon Bay

By Rylee Black

June 24 – Present day – Blue Moon Bay, CA

Carlie Schafer’s shoulders were hunched up around her ears, and her grip on the steering wheel was white-knuckled. The road to the family’s cabin on the beach was no longer the well-maintained passage from highway to shore she remembered from her childhood. Sometime in the last ten years it had become no…

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Bluebell Rizzi : The Inheritance

Writers Unite!

Welcome toWrite the Story!Each monthWriters Unite!will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone.WU!wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms.Pleasecheck out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support!

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The Inheritance

By Bluebell Rizzi

My granddad used to call for me and my sister before we went to sleep. He’d sit there, in his old green armchair, drinking his blueberry muffin tea. We’d sit on the carpet in our pyjamas. And he would tell us stories.

Magical stories, of fairies in the garden, wizards in the forests, and the angels that guarded the village.

Our eyes…

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Talking to Strangers

In response to some questions I’ve gotten, I’d like to expand on the “friendly stranger”.

The woman I met on the Light Rail is anonymous, because that’s what you are and what you remain when you speak to a “friendly stranger”. I don’t know her name. I don’t know where she lives or where she was going to fly on the day I met her.

The young man who met her at Union Station called her “Grandma”, so I made an assumption. He could have been grandson, great-grandson, an in-law–it makes no difference.

She was beautifully dressed. Tiny. She wore an old-fashioned sky-blue pillbox hat. And she wanted to talk.

That’s all I know about her, and all I ever will need to know. What I might want to know doesn’t matter–what matters is that she had something to say, and she chose me to say it to.

I don’t know what it is about me–maybe I just have “that kind of face”. Maybe I spontaneously smile at people too often. Maybe I just look like a teddy bear. I don’t know why, or what causes people to come to me and talk about whatever is on their minds, but it has always happened.

This is not something I actively seek out. I also don’t hide from it.

Sure, there are times when I’d like to keep my face buried in my book, but when someone initiates a conversation, I respond. Sometimes people need an ear; I have two.

Of course, if the conversation turns uncomfortable–like the urine-scented drunk wanting to wax poetic about the size of my breasts–I excuse myself and get gone. I’m not obligated to talk to strangers, and I can always bow out if I need to.

Mostly, though, my experiences as a “friendly stranger” have been positive ones.

The “friendly stranger” has no responsibility to further a conversation with questions or opinions. The “friendly stranger” mostly listens–really listens–to the tale offered. I have sometimes laughed and sometimes cried. I have, on a couple of rare occasions, been moved to take some action. One of the better examples of this was when I realized the wheelchair-bound companion on the bus would have to handle her chair alone in foot-high snow drifts.  She told me her son usually met her, but he’d been delayed by the storm, so at least I’d know it wasn’t a frequent occurrence. I pushed her home, and made sure she got inside safely.

I don’t ask for names and I don’t offer mine. I don’t ask where they’re going or where they’re from. Sometimes they say; mostly they don’t.

The “friendly stranger” phenomenon isn’t about making friends. People who seek one out are looking to tell a tale, get something off their chests, share a secret that can’t be told to any mutual acquaintance. Sometimes these stories are bursting to get out, and sometimes they’ve been hidden away for so long the teller has to drag them up and out of a deep, dark well.

While this has been an ongoing thing my whole life, living in a city the past two decades really expanded my availability. I have often used public transportation to get to work, school, or activities. Seven trips out of ten, I would enjoy whatever book I was currently reading. The other three trips, I would have a seat-mate who wanted to chat.

I’ve heard birthing stories, surgery stories, accident stories. I’ve held hands with people who had just lost a loved one and needed to tell someone how they were really feeling. People don’t always want to do that with family and friends, because they’re afraid that person might feel the need to compare losses. I get that. I have stories like these of my own–we all do.

Of course, there are also the wonderful stories of marriage proposal plans, and new jobs and pregnancy after years of trying. Joyful stories that left me smiling all day.

There was a little boy with his mother who demanded to be allowed to sit next to me and tell me about his first trip to the library. That one made my whole week! I didn’t tell him about the rapture I felt on my first library excursion, when I–all by myself!–got my own library card and checked out books to read. I didn’t need to share that, but his story brought all those wonderful feelings back. My smile must have been a mile wide when he read me the first two pages of his “lie-berry” book before he and his mother had to get off at their stop. “Goodnight, Moon.” What else? I smiled all night.

If you, too, are a “friendly stranger”, you know that it is a gift. Some of the stories you listen to might be hard to hear, but the need to speak is strong in those seeking a willing ear.

Sometimes, I will share a story. Mostly I don’t, but when I do, no one gets hurt by gossip, because there are no names or references to places. Just “this guy” or “that woman” had this or that happen.

I can’t offer any advice on being a “friendly stranger”. You don’t choose it. People choose you or they don’t. I’m grateful to be chosen on those occasions when I am.

I’m also grateful for the times I get to sit and read my book.

Refusing to Call Polka Dots “Stripes”

I just posted this on Facebook in response to being asked if I “dared” to call something by a term which clearly defines what it is.

Of course I “dared”. Here’s my post:

I feel no obligation to defend my use of a term that apparently offends some people. If you are wearing a blouse covered in polka dots, I’m not going to comment on your lovely plaid shirt. I call ’em like I see ’em.

Still, I’m going to tell you a story, and if you bother to read it, you will better understand my perspective.

On my last trip from Denver to Wyoming, I took public transportation from my home to the airport. This included a bus and two light-rail trains.

When I got to the first light rail station, I was a little dismayed. From across the road, it appeared that I would have to climb several stairs–with a suitcase. Imagine my relief when I discovered there was an elevator.

When I got to the actual stop, there were others there waiting for the train to Union Station. Among them were two elegantly-dressed older women.

I’m 59, so when I say older, you can correctly assume that I mean OLDER. Like, late 80s to 90s older. Perfectly groomed hair, long cloth coats, pillbox hats–elegant with a capitol E.

When the train arrived, the women embraced and I realized that only one of them would be boarding the train. I got on first and took a seat near the door, curious to see which one it would be.

It was the little one.

Okay, they were both small, but this woman was tiny. She reminded me a bit of my “Little Grandma”, my paternal grandmother, who was a very large presence in a tiny package. She looked nothing like her, but the size was right.

I smiled at her.

The train was far from full; she could have sat anywhere. She came to me and asked if I would mind having a companion for the ride. I immediately moved my bag so she could sit down.

When asked if conversation was possible, I stowed my Kindle and agreed at once.

Then she said something to me that was at once both odd and oddly familiar: “My mother once told me, if you must discuss your problems, talk to a friendly stranger. You don’t know them; they don’t know you; even if they later tell, you are nothing more than an anecdote, and no one will be the wiser.”

I have heard similar words many times over the years, but never had I heard them so eloquently phrased. I often feel that I am a magnet who attracts people who need to spill secrets, vent emotions or simply share their thoughts.

“I am a friendly stranger,” I told her.

“I have been feeling quite blue lately,” she said.

“Do you know why?” I asked.

“Oh, yes,” she said. “I am feeling sorry for the generations.”

“I’m sorry?”

She smiled at me, and it was quite simply the saddest smile I can ever remember seeing. “America has slipped away,” she said. “America saved me, and now that world is gone. I never would have dreamed that I would see an America that harbored concentration camps.”

Now, you know me well enough to know that I have some opinions about that myself, but I did not contribute to this conversation, except to nod at her encouragingly so she would continue talking.

She pushed back the sleeve of her white cloth coat, revealing a tattoo. Tears came to her eyes–and to mine. “My sister and I were separated from our parents,” she told me. “We never saw them again.”

She went on to tell me that all they could ever do was assume that their parents were taken to an extermination camp and killed. They were never able to confirm this.

She told me I had a lovely smile, then thrust her false teeth at me and clicked them back into place. “I lost many teeth in the camp,” she said. “The food was very poor–an old woman there told us we were fed what was deemed not good enough for the hogs, and I’m sure she was right! Poor food is very bad for your teeth. What few I had left were lost soon enough after the war.”

She and her sister slept on the floor, sharing a threadbare blanket that wasn’t quite big enough cover them both, even though they got thinner and thinner each day. They lost hair and teeth. In the first days they cried a great deal, but soon enough it seemed that crying required too much energy.

Everyone was required to work, work, work, and day after day, people died. No one seemed to care, except that the body would have to be removed. No one wanted that task, least of all the armed guards, and often little children were forced to drag a body to the yard.

“No one cared?” I asked. I know my eyes were wide. This was hard to hear.

“The guards were many times angry to lose a worker. The people…we said things like, ‘Oh, how lucky for Avram’. Or, ‘good for Helene. They are at peace; they suffer no more.’ And the body would go, but there was no burial. No one was allowed to sit ‘Shiva’. Everyone was back to work.”

“We came to America in 1947, my sister and I. We’d worked very hard and we had a distant cousin here who took us in. Oh, how I did bless America for a new chance, a new life!” Her little face shone with the memories. I could imagine the joy of arriving in a new land, hopeful and excited for a chance at something better.

“We were still young, not yet 20. But my sister, she was frail. She was older, and she had made it her mission to take care of me. She saved some of her food to give me more. She kept me warm. She tried to do all her own work, plus some of mine.” Now her face was sad, her eyes downcast.

I was afraid to ask, but I did it anyway: “What happened to her?”

“She got tuberculosis. She died before her 21st birthday.” A heavy sigh. “I miss her still.”

“I’m sure,” I agreed.

We arrived at Union Station, where I had assumed she’d get off. Instead, she was met by her great-grandson. He was going to the airport with her, and assured her that his wife and daughter were already there with all the luggage checked in. He asked if she had had a nice visit with her old friend, and she assured him that she had.

We made our way around the station to the airport rail, and I assumed that she would go with her grandson, but she waved him away and sat with me again. The young man smiled at me, went to sit a few seats away from us and pulled out a book to read.

I felt a great deal of affection for that man.

“This country was good to me,” the old woman continued, taking up her story as if there had been no interruption. “I worked hard. I studied the language.”

(She pronounced it langwich. I found that charming. I don’t know why.)

“I took classes, and I became a citizen of these great United States in 1955. I have voted in every election since.” She raised her chin proudly.

“This is not the same country I swore my allegiance to all those years ago.” She looked me in the eye. “Does that offend you?”

“Yes,” I said. “Not because you have said it–because it is true.”

“It is true. Perhaps it has never been the same country. I was an old woman when I first learned that Japanese Americans were held in captivity during the war. In concentration camps on American soil! Oh, the shame of it!”

She shook her head. I admired the sky-blue pillbox hat. I remembered a woman who attended church every Sunday in my hometown, and how I was more interested to see what she would be wearing to Mass than I was in the service itself. Such class.

Finally, she looked up at me. “I was dismayed when I learned of the treatment of the Japanese families, but I was so sure that lessons were learned and it would never be allowed to happen again.”

I agreed with her. Of course I did!

“Concentration Camps! All those innocent children!” she cried. “The shame of it!”

I put my arm around her. She didn’t cry, but she did rest her head on my shoulder.

As we got nearer to the airport, she sat up straight and smiled at me. Her dentures were brilliantly white and so well-fitting I never would have suspected if she hadn’t shoved them out at me. I took a couple of pictures of the distant mountains and showed them to her. I told her I was going home to take care of my folks and she told me I was a good girl.

She was probably 30 years my senior–she can call me a good girl if she wants to.

Of course, I quickly lost track of her once we said goodbye at the airport. DIA is huge, and I have no idea where she was going.

The point of this story–at least for me–is that if someone who knows first hand what a concentration camp is clearly states to me that the “detention centers” are concentration camps, who do you think I’m going to believe?