Decline: A Short Story


The windows

That’s the first thing I noticed.

Her every gesture is in sync with the seasons, waning seed, waxing bulb. She shakes the morning dew from her harvest, disturbs the evening dew as she prunes. Opens her windows to welcome the first sighs of spring, then closes them against the fist of summer heat.

The fist is relaxed in the cool breath of fall, yet her windows are closed, blocking these gentle breezes.

I see the droopy heads of the flowers as I approach, sad pleas, a slouching pity party for anyone who bothers to look.

She had spoiled them.

What do we do now? Trapped in beds. And the weeds! They’re coming for us!

I give them an empathetic nod, poor souls at the mercy of the whims of the weather and approaching winter.

I had noticed the long whiskers of the lawn, bearded in places. Today look up. Did an impatient neighbor shear the wild growth, leaving irregular skeins of blades and weeds?

Soon enough, I suppose, winter will set in, the nap of nature, relief from the rambunctious growth of leaf, limb, and stalk.

She needs her rest.

I see the driveway littered with tangled tufts, fallen needles and leaves. Everything is falling, spent at the end dog days, preparing for the big sleep.

Is she ill?

No one knows.

We would wave at her when she looked up from her flowers. We would nod as she turned her mower in our direction.

Does she have family?

We all shrug.

The gate

My muscles, energized by the fresh October air, tighten as I approach the depressed beds at the end of her drive. A floral dirge.

We shouldn’t be here anymore! Where are the autumn mums? Has she forgotten?

I shrug.

I had stopped here for years of mornings to smile at the flowers. A bed of blooms for each season. This morning I stare at the windows.

I bend to pull a weed.

I kick a brown cluster of grass into the ditch.

Was she forgotten?

The gate is closed. I’m not sure it matters, not sure I would go to the door and knock.

Are you all right?

I’m moved by curiosity, concern, grief for the garden, but not moved enough to break through.

I don’t even know her name.

I stare a few moments, gripped by the world inside her gate, its response to the closed windows.

Philosopher outside her world, I till the emotions, drive my spade into the dry soil of decline. They say “the world goes on,” but that’s not the whole story, is it? The world unravels with us, at least for a moment.

I continue my walk, leaving the wake of decline.

I’ll return tomorrow, maybe I’ll squeeze through the gate.

Today, I’ll visit the nursery after my walk, buy some yellow mums, maybe orange as well. But first, I’ll open my windows.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2021

Want more stories?

The Madness of the Left-Handed McKennedy Women: A Short Story

I grew up knowing that left-handed women in my family go mad in their fortieth year. I’m not sure anyone explained this to me. The madness of the left-handed McKennedy women was a fact that settled into our knowing. The sun rises in the east, dogs bark, rain is wet, left-handed McKennedy women go mad after forty.

The last mad McKennedy woman was sent away the year I was born. I have no memories of her, yet Agnes feels like mine. She went mad my year. 1961.

Was it because of me? Did her madness begin on the day I was born?

These questions bloomed in my head before I learned to write, during those years when family forced crayons, chalk, and my toothbrush into my right hand, mumbling prayers about left hands, madness, and aunt Agnes.

The other “fact” I grew up knowing was that I should not use my left hand to eat, draw, or write.

“What’s the point in having two hands?” I protested once at dinner. I was six or seven and already burning to use my left hand because they told me I shouldn’t.

“Why?!” I insisted.

Mom and dad stared at each other across the creamed corn and smothered snap beans. Then my brother blurted out, “She’s already gone mad! She’s probably a lefty. You should send her away!”

They grounded Ronald, whose left hand was never restricted, for a week, but “lefty” became his whispered taunt, as I know you’re a lefty threats and See ya lefty! greetings.

Childhood Secrets

I went through school using my right hand in public, especially around family, but in the secret corners of my days, I practiced spelling words in cursive, drawing trees, and brushing my teeth with my left hand. Through those years I asked myself Why do left-handed women in my family go mad? and Will I go mad?

The madness was on my mom’s side of the family: the McKennedy line. Mom’s not a McKennedy and her mom wasn’t either, but by blood they spring from the mad McKennedy women. As do I.

I grew up listening to old people debating how far back the madness goes.

Who knows how many women went mad before Lulie and Cora?

Someone should research our family history.

But no one came forward.

Our Family History

The mad history that was passed down to us began in 1905, with two sisters and a cousin: Lulie Dee, Hattie Jo, and Cora Rue. They were born within eighteen months of each other, lived on the same block, and grew up as a unit, running between houses. Here comes the gaggle of girls! Some of my great-great uncles called them The Triad.

A Note from the Teacher

Cora, the cousin, and the older sister, Lulie, were one year ahead of Hattie in school. Their first-grade teacher sent a disturbing note home to the mothers. In one sweep of her right hand, she admonished the parents for allowing this left-hand deviation and expressed sympathy to them for being parents of left-hand deviants.

What happened next depends on who tells the story. The news wasn’t received equally by the McKennedy sisters, the moms of Lulie and Cora.

Evangeline, Lulie’s mom, protested. “There’s nothing wrong with Lulie! She was born this way, and I won’t allow her to be tortured and retrained.”

Her husband disagreed, and Lulie arrived at school with Cora, where the cousins were instructed to wait at the door until the instructor tied their left hands behind their backs.

Unlike Evangeline, Cora’s mom Kathleen was apologetic. Her parenting anxiety spiked when she read the teacher’s note. To compensate, she greeted Cora at the door after school with the homework/dinner rope.

The Triad

The spin off stories about The Triad are numerous and contradictory. One constant is Hattie. On the one hand, she’s remembered for her heroic efforts to heal The Triad. On the other, about thirty four years later, she would serve as the catalyst for the left-handed madness theory:

The Triad ate the same things, played in the same spaces, slept in the same beds. Since Hattie is right-handed, it stands to reason that Lulie and Cora went mad because they are the left-handed.

Cora dropped out of school after ninth grade. At sixteen she married Woodrow, a man whose indifference to the debate about the dominant hand allowed Cora to live her left-handed life without judgment inside the walls of her home, just two blocks down from her childhood home.

Lulie finished high school then left for college. Her mother coddled her privately, whispering damnations about the schools, society, and retraining measures.

“They have no business shaming anyone for their nature!”

I can only imagine Lulie’s stupor when in the next breath Evangeline encouraged her to keep up the right-hand ruse at school, around relatives, and especially at church.

They say Hattie knew. Surely that would give Lulie comfort, having a safe space to share her secret and small victories of resistance.

Judging from the consistency of the stories about the shock that shook the community, Lulie’s secret was well-kept for most of her teen years. The stories go something like this: Tommy, from around the corner, was at college with Lulie. He came home for summer break and spilled Lulie’s lefty beans.

Lulie’s Beans

Maybe there’s more to Tommy, but I don’t like him. He’s a traitor, especially since he witnessed the torment Cora and Lulie suffered from first grade on. He had to know his words would hurt Lulie.

The beans spilled at the dinner table, where he told his parents he saw Lulie taking notes with her left hand in biology class. His mom Bet told her sister Louise, who told her friend Lucile, who told the preacher’s wife… By Sunday church, the whole congregation knew: Lulie’s a lefty! This was before anyone strung together the notion that the left-handed McKennedy women would go mad.

The shockwave in the community pushed The Triad back together.

The threesome against the world!

Hattie started college the year after Tommy spilled Lulie’s secret. When Lulie and Hattie visited home from college, they spent most of their time at Cora’s. Lulie’s father barely looked at or acknowledged Lulie. He threatened to discontinue payments for her university courses. Somehow Evangeline managed to stop that nonsense.

Lulie and Hattie graduated, then moved away to take jobs and marry (it’s unclear which came first).

Cora bore Woody four children and worked as his bookkeeper for the family lumber business. Although Cora was shamed out of school, she was sharp as a tack, good at math. With her left hand! When Woody was called to serve in the Second World War, he left Cora with a fifth baby in her belly and a business to manage.

Woody didn’t return from the war.

The Madness of the Left-Handed Cousins

Cora’s madness was reported first. The news about Woody was hard on the whole family, especially Cora. Winona, Cora’s first-born, and Cora’s mom, Kathleen, made arrangements for Cora at a sanatorium.

It’s temporary.

I think Winny knew better. You don’t raise your baby brother as your own son if you expect your mom will return. Winny took over the lumber business.

The news of Lulie came a few months later, in September of 1946. Lulie and her husband had no children. Some blame Lulie, but who really knows? Maybe Cal was sterile. Maybe they didn’t want children. Cal returned from the war and after two months (and two days shy of her forty-first birthday) he had Lulie committed to an asylum.

The year of the cousins’ madness coincided with Abram Blau’s maddening publication, The Master Hand, which warned that left-handed children would suffer severe and life-long mental problems.

I doubt any of the women or men of the town read the treatise, but when they got wind of the theories, they stood, shaking their heads, forming a W with their arms, palms to the sky, whispering Cora and Lulie’s names.

And Hattie’s just fine, don’t you know.

In a family of Irish and Scottish blood, thick with legends and folklore, the story of Lulie and Cora sufficed to put the narrative of the mad McKennedy legend on the loom.

More Madness

In 1956, Winona, Cora and Woody’s first-born, went mad. Like her mom, Winny suffered retraining in the schools. She went mad days after her fortieth birthday. Indisputable, was a word used after her breakdown at a church gathering, where she accused her cousin Fanny of making moves on her husband, Ed. Most blamed Cora for allowing Winny to use her left hand, and all of the family leaves out the part where Ed divorced Winny less than a year later. Winny’s family business and Ed’s attentions went to Fanny.

The next reported case was a year or two later, still in the fifties. We don’t know much about her history, except that she was a lefty, descended from McKennedys through Geraldine, mother of Margaret, mother of Bernice, mother of Harriet, mother of Suzanne. Susan? Her name varies depending on who’s telling it. Her birth year is also foggy. Some say Suzanne went mad in her fortieth year, others say she made it to forty five. Her family didn’t send her away at first, but then she nearly burned down the house.

It’s not safe to keep her.

Finally, in 1961, the year I was born, aunt Agnes.

My Left Hand

As I listened to these stories growing up, I would massage and stretch my left hand. I wanted to champion the left hand, to protect my hand —all the left hands!— from this family lore. I wondered if there were fewer left-handed McKennedy women now because they truly weren’t or because they trained themselves not to be. The matter-of-factness of the voices that told stories to perpetuate the legend incensed me.

I came out as a lefty after my first year of college. My mom’s sisters accused me of being a lefty on purpose.

“You’re not really left-handed. You’re just rebelling!”

My mom was clearly annoyed with me, a fearful You’ll go mad! stitched on her face. My brother made snarky remarks openly, and my dad had a permanent smirk on his face. Was he proud of me? After I came out, I understood that dad never embraced the family legend, and that mom’s family lore had probably driven a wedge between my parents. Were they taking bets on my impending madness?

I needed to escape. I remembered the graduation card from my mom’s aunt Deidre. She was always prompt with cards and gifts for special occasions. At the bottom, she wrote, “Come visit me anytime.”

“Does she mean it?”

Mom shrugged, still annoyed, then looked up her phone number. “Ask her yourself.”

Great Aunt Deidre

Three days later, I drove ten hours to aunt Deidre’s house on the bay.

I arrived as the sun was setting. My great aunt Deidre was on point.

“Drop your bags here,” she said pointing at a spot in the foyer as she hurried me through the house to her deck where two glasses and a bottle of wine waited for us. Surely she heard I came out, but we finished our wine and the sunset without talking about left hands.

Dinner was ready and waiting in the oven. Baked oysters, creamy shrimp casserole, and broccoli. I realized as I saw dinner come out of the oven aunt Deidre was my most exotic relative. That truth persists.

I honestly never suspected a thing. She hid it well. I may have never known if I hadn’t asked Deidre for her shrimp recipe after dinner.

The Shrimp Recipe

“Sure. Go fetch a tablet and a pen from my study.”

When I returned with the tablet and pen, she had refilled our wine glasses and was holding up the card from her recipe box.

“Is this OK?” I asked, offering her the pen and tablet.

“Perfect,” she said, pushing my glass to me and swaying around her stool to sit with the card and tablet.

I was taking a sip when through my goblet I saw her pick up the pen with her left hand! She started writing.

I paused a bit too long with the sip because she saw me see her. An amused look spread across her face, not unlike the smirk dad couldn’t wipe from his face when I came out. She brought the pen to her lips with her left hand.


“But how?” was all I could manage.

“I have my ways,” she answered with a hint that she might share her secrets. Then the business of writing the recipe occupied her. I stared as words spilled with natural ease from her left hand.

“Well, why then?” I asked, sensing she might never spill her secret hows.

Deidre’s Closet

“Oh darling, who wouldn’t? They would have driven me to madness long ago with their fear of me going mad.” My eyes were on her hand as she wrote more. “That’s how it happens, you know. You… they say you manufacture… no, that’s not the word… you make it happen…”


“Yes! Manifest! They’re madness manifesters! All their retraining and prejudices.”

“So you write with both hands,” I was in a state of thrill and awe.

“Not if I can help it. Honestly, you don’t write much in front of other people after you’re done with school. Checks. I practiced my signature a lot, but ‘practiced,’ isn’t what you think. It was to get my left hand to sign like my right hand.”

I needed more than a stool, so I staggered to the table and collapsed in a chair, calculating Deidre’s age and thumbing through my memories of her, not a single memory of her writing.

“But eating!” I exclaimed.

“If anyone called me out, I told them I favored European table manners, which isn’t untrue.”


I sat with this news: Deidre, also my most-traveled relative, was a closet lefty. How did she live so many days hiding her dominant hand from her family, especially from her meddling aunts, sisters, and female cousins? How many days? I began calculating her age.

Hearing my thoughts, Deidre announced, “I’m seventy one.” She handed me the recipe. “It’ll be easier for you.”

So they did tell her I came out. “Mom told me that she ‘just didn’t want me to live through…'”

“‘… all those hardships.’ Yeah, yeah. I told myself that for years. I hid my hand for years to avoid the ‘hardships.’ But you know what? That was a hardship. Maybe harder.”

I stared at the recipe without reading it, soaking in Deidre, her story, her grace, what later that evening she would call her grave error when comparing herself to me.

The recipe shook in my left hand, which tingled with something like fear. “I think I made a mistake.”

“Oh, honey, coming out was the right thing to do.”


“No!” The sting in my eyes pulled at my jaws. “I’m not!”

“You’re not what?”

“I’m not left-handed.”

“But why?”

“Because the stories made me so angry! I wanted to prove they were wrong, be left-handed and never go mad.”

Deidre joined me at the table and reached across with both hands.

“And this is how I failed you, isn’t it?”

I looked up, my cheeks wet now. I looked at her realizing she was right. If I had known, maybe forcing my hand wouldn’t have felt necessary.

“I just wanted to help,” I moaned.

Coming Out

Aunt Deidre came out as a lefty on her seventy-forth birthday.

“See, I’m not mad!” she exclaimed as part of her announcement.

This didn’t stop the meddlesome aunts from whispering otherwise. I wanted to tell them you drive us mad! I also wondered if mine wasn’t the madness, pretending to be left-handed to prove them wrong.

Deidre had another secret: her dedication to our genealogical history. She approached the project with a single-minded effort to refute the McKennedy madness, through personal correspondence, medical and school records, and news clippings. The year she came out, she published this family book, naming all of the left-handed McKennedy women she unearthed, the mad and the not so mad, proving that the left-handed madness lore was unfounded.

Predictably, the McKennedy legend lives on in some families, mostly as a weapon. One hissy fit from a left-handed forty-something wife and the husband exclaims, “See? She’s mad!” Or, should a forty-year-old mother who writes with her left hand get too heated in an argument, her son insists, “She’s got the madness.”

Yesterday I celebrated my seventieth birthday. I never undid my coming out. Some family members still think I’m left-handed, especially when recalling that day some thirty years ago at a family reunion when I had a fight with aunt Gladys.


We laid Deidre’s body to rest shy of her ninety-fifth birthday, her only madness the time and money she threw at refuting a family fable that won’t die. I have a collection of letters and notes from relatives about left-handed women now, because I inherited Deidre’s legacy: the copyright of her book. Many are petitions to update the book, which I disregard. The book is perfect as it is. I ponder the fates of Lulie and Cora. Winny and Suzanne. Agnes.

Did the retraining drive Lulie and Cora mad?

Deidra writes.

Maybe Lulie went mad because Cal couldn’t give her children? Maybe Cora went mad because Woody left her alone with five? By the time Winny, Suzanne, and Agnes came along, they were expected to go mad. What if they just had one bad day beyond their fortieth year and were hauled away because madness was expected?

I wonder especially about Agnes. I know my birth had no bearing on her lot. Deidre couldn’t prove she didn’t go mad, but there were circumstances to consider.

Did anyone consider her broken heart after her fiancé of eleven years bailed? Maybe she needed a friendly ear and a good cry, not a padded room.

I went back to visit Deidre several times before she died. We didn’t speak it or write it, but we forgave each other for whatever might be considered shortcomings. We understood we were on different paths to a common goal: to demystify our mad family history.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2021
For more fiction (stories and poems), go to Stories and Poems.

Your Shoes

I cannot truly stand in your shoes.
I can stand at your side
to face the rise and fall of the sun,
stand firm with you as the shadows drift,
hold space for you as you ground in your light.
I cannot know what it is to stand in your shoes,
but I can stand with you.

I cannot imagine what it is to be in your shoes.
I can listen to the crunch
of the twigs and pebbles beneath your soles,
the stories of the paths you’ve walked,
the creak of the leather as it bends with the bones of your feet.
I can never know being in those shoes,
but I can listen to you.

I cannot know what it is to walk in your shoes.
I can teeter behind you
along the fallen trunk to cross the chasm,
through the bramble that litters your path,
stepping high over the patches of briars and berries.
I will never walk in your shoes,
but I can walk with you.

I cannot know your feet in those shoes.
But I can sit with you,
our weary feet beneath the table,
where we share stories of callouses and recovery,
blisters born of rough edges, tender arches protected by thick soles.
I cannot know your shoes,
but, in this stillness, I can hear your heart.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved.  2021

Time Out

Time out

You’re in time out
Could be worse.
It could be a spanking.
You just wait until dad gets home!
Or it could be a rejection.
Out! I can’t look at you anymore!
But it’s just time out.

Stay in your room.
No, you can’t leave yet.
What did you say?
Just wait until I tell your mom!

You’re in time out squirt.
Sit here and think about what you did.
The mindlessness,
Like a rat, gnawing away at the fine edges of all the beautiful things.
No respect. No consideration for me
your mom
your dad.
Taking all the things we’ve provided for granted.

You sit here and think about that, why don’t you?
The ease of playing with friends in parks and at parties.
Parties! Dinner parties, birthday parties, retirement parties
where everyone shared cakes and punch and finger foods.
You sit here and think about all those things you didn’t appreciate.
The mountains of choices at stores.
The restaurants, Can I have a taste of yours?
The Hi! Come give me a hug!s at church.
The neighborly handshakes across a fence.
The friendly conversations around a fire pit.
Drinking from water fountains.
Splashing around in public fountains and pools.

You’re in time out and you’d best do as I say.
Sit here.
Be grateful for all you still have.
And don’t come back out until you can be a better human.

You’re in time out.
It’s for your own good.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2020.

Running out of breath (not really a poem, but . . .)

It’s like running out of breath, isn’t it?

As if you’re jogging too fast.

Unable to recover your breathing.

Gasping for air.

I’m doing those blocks you gave me. They’re really good.

Blocks? I think a couple of ticks.

Oh, the puzzle books!
Yes. Books not blocks. I get mixed up. They’re good for  [gasp, gasp] . . . I do them.

Like that last pushup.

Your arms struggle to push your body from the floor.

But you just can’t.

You collapse.

Yesterday when your dad and I went to the . . .

I wait a couple of ticks, then:

Where did you go?
I don’t know. [push, push, collapse] I know I wanted to tell you.
That’s okay. You’ll remember in a minute.

Sometimes you do. More and more you don’t.

You feel weary.

I feel you slipping away.

You work the puzzles, but you’re tuckered out.

It’s like you’re dozing off,
then perk up a second when you remember something you want to tell me.

But your mind is muddled with fatigue.

The words tangle in their own descenders and beaks.

We’re working on the . . . At the . . . [Deep sigh, shoulders fall.] I don’t know, I forget . . .

Sometimes we can untangle the words together.

More and more, weary of fighting to find them, you just let them go and shuffle away.

Sometimes, it’s like waking up from a great dream you want to share.

But by the time you find me, . . .

I really wanted to tell you something, but I lost it before I got here.

When you manage to string two or three sentences together,
the words scrape across the gravel that has collected in your throat . . .

Here, have some of my water.

. . . because words travel less and less across your vocal chords.

Still . . .

You amaze me.
Ever the athlete, you’re strong in this race, even as you gasp for air.
Always the coach, you’re inspirational, even as your arms fall limp and you collapse.
Still the sage, you’re wise, even when your words dissolve, silenced, on your tongue.
Forever my mom, you’re my role model, gravel-scraped chords, diminishing gaze, and all.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2020

What if in the end

What if we fall like leaves,
sometimes pulled by a gust,
sometimes pushed by our tree because it’s time?
Slow somersaults through air
cushioned landing and a tumble across the brown grasses,
until, in stillness and decay, we break down,
sinking to the roots,
feeding the tree that held us for a season.
In the end,
would that not be beautiful?
Would that not be enough?

What if we shoot like stars,
sometimes dust, sometimes rock,
bursting through the atmosphere,
falling in streaks of wonder,
Wow, look!! Did you see that?
echoing in waves, cheering our final brilliance,
our trail of light,
as we burn away in the dark sky
or plummet heavily into the soft earth.
In the end,
would that not be beautiful?
Would that not be enough?

What if we’re more than we can understand,
more than words and creeds,
more than books can teach?
What if we’re both
ancient and young,
timeless and transient,
connected to the trees and earth,
the stars and the milky way?
What if in the end
we’re everything and everywhere?
Or maybe just this once, this place?
Would that not be beautiful?
Would that not be enough?

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2019

Being the Change

The Hidden Brain podcast about being the change you want to see moved me.

The host Shankar Vedantam asks what would happen if we truly stood by our principles. He also points out how exhausting people who stick to their principles can be.

The podcast showcases the journey of one couple and their effort to raise their daughter free from gender stereotypes. This story is not only moving, but also enlightening. To shield their child from gender stereotypes these parents struggled against words, clothing, and colors. They struggled with family and friends. But they held true to their path and trusted their truth. And, importantly, they were patient.

Changes take time. Being the change takes patience.

This couple takes being the change to a fiercely high level. I feel privileged to know a few young souls who are as strong and brave as that couple. The bravery of people who fearlessly stand by their principles gives me hope. They also inspire me to be better and being the change.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

The sounds of fabric

The sounds of fabric

I hang somewhere between my parents and my children,
Snapping in the winds, palms burning as I cling to a weathered line.


The generation before me unravels just a bit with each gust.
The generation after me whooshes,
Crisp taffeta, precariously tacked.

I never took time for the backstitch.
How was I to stitch the seams of their character?
I hang by a thread.

Yet off they spring, releasing the line.
The rustling fibers of their beauty stroke my soul,
Wash me with innominate emotion as they bravely billow up and away.

I still hang somewhere between.
Clinging. Damp. Sagging sadly before those who formed me.
I question my strength to ease their decline.
Will the determination of my whip and slip stitches be enough?

I loosen my grip, and allow the draughts to slide me up and down the line.
Rippling through memories and hopes.
Flapping flatly past regrets and dreads.

A gust and I snap back.
The upside down arms of cotton distend
upwards to embrace the energy of those rising,
forward to hold the strength of those unraveling.

I swell somewhere between.
The ethereal threads that bind us.
The lightness of love that lifts us.

9 February 2017

© Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2017

Happy Father’s Day! You’re the Greatest.

Dad’s all over this country will receive cards, gifts, and time with their families because they’re… well, fathers! I’m not the biggest fan of relationship holidays like Valentine’s Day, Father’s Day, or even Mother’s Day. It’s not the sentiment that rubs me wrong, but the forced sentiment obliged by commercialization. That said, when these holidays slap us upside the head, we can ponder the gifts of these celebrated relationships. I’ll celebrate this day with family, but I also offer a game. Meet four dads and read their “Happy Father’s Day” cards. Can you match each card to the dad?

The dads

Marcus is a firefighter in a small town in Pennsylvania. He was raised mostly by his six siblings after his father was killed in a plant accident when Marcus was eight. He has a daughter by his high school girlfriend and two sons by his ex-wife. He spends as much time with his children as their moms, his work, and time allow. At least once a month, he sends a letter to each of them, hand-written and stamped. His daughter teases him about it and says he’s old-fashioned, but she collects her dad’s letters in a binder.

Chuck (Charles Whitney Campbell, IV) is a CEO at a Fortune 500 Company. His relationship with his tycoon father was strained and cold. In college, Chuck met Ann, a brilliant girl with a full FAFSA and scholarship ride. In the beginning he dated this girl from a modest middle class family to irritate his father, but, shortly after spending the best Thanksgiving ever with her family, Chuck accidentally fell in love with her. While Chuck makes sure their three children have everything they need, he also makes sure he provides what Ann’s father gave to his children: playful devotion.

Micah is a first-generation immigrant with a small sandwich shop that he opened in Houston a year after Katrina destroyed his home and the restaurant his father established in New Orleans. After a year in shelters and temporary housing, Micah decided to stay in Houston. He and his wife opened a deli-style sandwich shop instead of a full-service restaurant so that they would have more time with their four children. They still live in a small apartment where the children have to share a bedroom, but the little apartment complex with a pool and playground is their dream home.

Louis is a doctor with a private practice in Boston. Louis was born and raised in Idaho, but moved to Massachusetts for college. He met Paul in med school and decided to stay. He and Paul have a son and daughter, both adopted. Despite the demands of their medical careers, Louis or Paul (sometimes both!) are always home after school to help with homework and cook dinner. Dinnertime is when they “put it on the table!” Not just the food. They share stories about their day. This is everyone’s favorite family time.

The cards

You're the greatest because

The Happy Father’s Day message

Dear dads: It’s not your title at work, the games you buy, the things you accumulate, the money you spend. It’s the loving time you spend with them, the things you make with them, the games you play with them, the role you play in their lives. Those are the moments your children will hold in their hearts.

If you’re still trying to match the cards, stop! You can’t. These four kids all received what mattered most. Those moments.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads. May today be a day of celebration and remembrance, a day to make new memories.

© Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2016

Deadlines Are Real

I missed a self-imposed deadline on Saturday.

Recurring: publish a post on Saturday.

Self-imposed: my effort to draw myself back to writing for real versus writing for rent.

I blew it.

I had my reasons.

But a deadline is a deadline. Or is it?

What does deadline even mean anymore?

With an etymological history that twists all the way back to civil war prisons and 19th century printing presses, the “line” was often imaginary. Yet, the word probably provoked terror among civil war POWs. Crossing the often unmarked imaginary line in a civil war prison could be lethal.

Today we wrap deadlines around our clocks and calendars, then toss them about with nonchalance. We start at a tender age, disguising the deadly words as “due dates” and end of term projects.

As our minds grow callous from rubbing against the calendars and clocks, we link our deadlines. Chains: The test is Tuesday. The term paper is due Friday. You’ll get your grade on Monday. If the chain is broken, Monday might be blue day.

Deadlines are the modern day ball and chain.

They’re often impossible. We toss about our calendars and clocks, and create a fabulously heavy ball. Everyone knows it will be a miracle to roll that ball up the mountain to that deadline. Yet, that is the deadline. When the weight of ball overtakes every effort and it rolls back down, smashing all the other little deadlines leading up to the big one, we regroup and reboot our calendars and clocks to start the deadline chain game again. Or we lose everything.

Deadlines are real.

I missed my deadline on Saturday. I didn’t lose my job over it. No company lost millions. Yet I was dismayed.


Sunflowers towering over my garden

We learn mundane urgencies that we don’t always call deadlines, yet they are. “Tend to the garden or the plants will die.” They cross the dead line.

Plants have one. Pets have one. People have one. They all eventually die.

If they matter to us, we must nurture and enjoy them while we can. We don’t think of these things in terms of deadlines, but there is a deadline, an ending.



Sometimes our mundane deadlines are the most significant and real parts of our lives. I missed most of my daughter’s senior-year events because I was scrambling to meet “important” deadlines for a textbook. I don’t remember what I had to do for those deadlines nor why I chose them over senior-year events. I will always remember, however, that my daughter attended the senior breakfast without a parent. I missed the more significant and real deadline.

Even in the 19th century, “deadline” evoked dismay. Printers would dismay when their words spilled past the deadline on their printing press.

I dismayed when my words didn’t make it to the deadline.

I’ll do better. I’ve made tiny and big promises to myself over the last few years to be present. That means being present with an open ear and heart for family and friends. It also means honoring the imaginary and insignificant deadlines I impose on myself.

So does this post make up for the deadline I blew on Saturday? No, silly wabbit! I’m not a time-traveler and Saturday is gone. But today I chose to take a few minutes for myself and meet my Tuesday deadline to share something I wrote for real.

Do something real for yourself today. It matters.

Copyright © 2015 by Pennie Nichols, All Rights Reserved.

Click here for more information on the origin of the word “Deadline”.