Dandelion Wine, like most of my books and stories was a surprise. I began to learn the nature of such surprises, thank God, when I was fairly young as a writer. … No one told me to surprise myself … I learned to let my senses and past, tell me all that was somehow true. ~ Ray Bradbury
“What is the challenge round, Vinnie?” asks Vinnie’s mom.
“You haven’t heard of the challenge round, Mom? I thought everyone knew about it. Rupert and Dexter knew about it,” says Vinnie.
“Vincent, you said you made up the game. It’s the first time all three of us have played it,” says Vinnie’s mom.
“That’s true, Mom, but moms and dad are supposed to know what their kids are thinking if they are in tune with them,” says Vinnie.
Vinnie’s dad takes his eyes off his iWatch and says, “Where’d you hear this? In school?”
Vinnie smiles and says, “No, Dad, I’m not allowed to go to PTA meetings. It’s just for adults. I heard it last week when I came home from school. Mom was watching Dr. Bob. Dr. Bob said it.”
“You watch Dr. Bob?” says Vinnie’s dad raising his eyebrows.
“I do not watch Dr. Bob. I was getting ready to do my yoga. I always practice yoga when Vinnie is doing his homework. I turned the TV on and it happened to be on the channel that broadcasts the Dr. Bob show,” says Vinnie’s mom folding her arms across her chest.
“Dr. Bob’s pretty smart, Dad. He’s a doctor. You’re not a doctor. Mom’s not a doctor,” says Vinnie.
“Can we get to the challenge round, please,” says Vinnie’s Mom. She adds, “Dear, can we get a sitter for tonight? I really, really, really need to go out.”
“Mom, can I go? If we don’t finish the game, we can continue at the restaurant. I’ll be at a disadvantage since Dexter can’t come. Can I take Rupert? Please, Mom. Please.”
Vinnie’s dad, often not the most sensitive male in the world, catches the urgency in Vinnie’s mom’s voice. He says, “Mom’s talking about her and me, Vinnie. We can get a sitter or I can call Gramma and Gramps. Do you have a preference?”
Vinnie’s mom says, “Thank you, Dear.”
“I don’t need a sitter. I got Rupert and Dexter. What could go wrong?” says Vinnie.
“Oh my God. Where do you want me to start?” says Vinnie’s mom.
“Let’s start the challenge round, Vinnie. We’ll figure out the sitter situation after the game,” Vinnie’s dad feels his world spinning around and threatening to crash.
“Okay, but I don’t want Heather, she smokes pot and has her boyfriend come over and all they do is kiss on the sofa,” says Vinnie happy with himself for constructing a no win situation for his parents since Heather is the only sitter who agrees to stay with him.
“I don’t believe you,” says Vinnie’s mom.
“She’s sneaky, Mom. She told me you are so easy to fool. She tells me how to fool you. It’s like she’s a brain when it comes to fooling adults.” Vinnie’s words spill out of him one after the other as if he is a sous chef at a five star restaurant making a gourmet meal.
“Okay. I’m going to call her parents right now. If I find you are not telling the truth, you are grounded for the rest of your life,” says Vinnie’s mom reaching for her iPhone.
“Can we start the challenge round, please,” begs Vinnie’s dad.
“Mom, if you call Heather’s mom, she won’t know anything because Heather told me her mom and dad don’t have a clue,” Vinnie feels his stomach starting to do a backflip. Vinnie’s mind starts working on a reverse story plan.
He blurts, “No need to call Mom. You passed my test.”
Vinnie’s mom puts her iPhone down, “What test?”
“I was making sure you loved me. I heard Dr. Bob say young kids always need to know their mom and dad love them.”
Vinnie’s mom stretches her arm across the table, “Of course we love you. You don’t have to test us. But we’re going out tonight and you are staying home. Case closed.”
“Darn. Okay, here’s the challenge round question.”
VINNIE RETURNS ON MONDAY ~ WILL HIS PARENTS SURVIVE HIS GAME? DON’T MISS A SINGLE EPISODE
I write all my novels and stories, as you have seen, in a great surge of delightful passion. ~ Ray Bradbury
Vinnie finds a parent worthy question. He holds it up in front of Rupert. Then he shakes Rupert’s head acknowledging Rupert had enough time to read the question. Vinnie bends over the side of his chair and shows the question to Dexter. Dexter’s thinking it’s food, snaps at it barely missing the question and Vinnie’s fingers.
Vinnie looks up at his mom and dad. “Mom, Dad, are you ready for the question? It’s got a few parts. Do you want the last part first or the first part second because I can give you the third part first.”
“Vinnie, this is confusing. How many parts to the question?” asks Vinnie’s mom.
“I’m sorry, Mom. I forgot you and Dad are adults. I have to make it easier for you.”
“Don’t be fresh, young man,” says Vinnie’s mom.
“Vinnie may have a point, Dear. You know how young kids take to technology. Vinnie taught us all about snapchat and Instagram,” says Vinnie’s dad.
“Go ahead. Stick together. I thought we were a team in this game?” says Vinnie’s mom.
Vinnie turns to Rupert, “Rupert, you and Dexter will win, because you know how to work together.”
“Ouch,” says Vinnie’s dad.
“What is the question? Start at the first part,” says Vinnie mom. Her impatience level now registering seven on a scale of five.
Vinnie picks up the question and reads it, “I was born in Columbus, Ohio. But we only lived there while I was alive for two months and then we moved to Texas. How come when you say O H, I have to say I O? We don’t live there.”
Vinnie’s dad raises his hand, “I got this one, Dear.”
“You don’t want to talk about it first?” says Vinnie’s mom.
“You can take it if you want it. It seems straight forward,” says Vinnie’s dad.
“I don’t trust him. There’s a catch,” says Vinnie’s mom.
Vinnie’s dad turns toward Vinnie’s mom, “Vinnie’s our son, of course we trust him.”
“You take it then,” says Vinnie’s Mom sticking her hand into a bag of nachos.
“Well, Vinnie, Mom and I both grew up in Columbus and we both went to Ohio State University. That’s what they teach us to say. They’ll teach you the same when you go there.”
“What if I don’t want to go to college there? I think I want to go to Michigan instead of Ohio State. What’s wrong with that?”
“OMG! I told you, we couldn’t trust him. Vincent, you cannot go to Michigan. If you do, you’re crossing over to the dark side. They are our arch rival,” says Vinnie’s mom.
“Mom’s right on this Vinnie. When you say that word, it’s like cussing,” says Vinnie’s dad.
“I am not going to Ohio State when I grow up. Besides, Sister Janet went to Notre Dame and at Sunday School she said it is a much better place than Ohio State. I asked her.”
In unison, “You are going to be a Buckeye. End of discussion.”
Vinnie turns to Rupert, “Do you want to take this or should I?”
Vinnie uses his falsetto voice, “I’ll take it.”
Vinnie picks Rupert up, holds him arms outstretched in front of his face and speaks in Rupert’s voice, “You’ll have plenty of time to get used to the idea. Vinnie’s only in third grade.”
Vinnie sets Rupert down against his lunch box, then turns toward his mom and dad, “I wish you guys were as smart as Rupert. This game is really unfair.”
“We’ll see. And, I am your mother, not Sister Janet,” says Vinnie’s mom.
Vinnie lifts Rupert and twists in his seat. He bends over placing Rupert on Dexter’s head. Dexter doesn’t move because Vinnie often does this. Vinnie lifts Rupert up and places him back on the table. He says, “Rupert and Dexter have a better answer, too bad. You get minus seven points for your answer. Rupert and Dexter get eleven points for the correct answer. Now, part two. What is a buckeye? Why would anyone chose this for a mascot? And, why do they call it The Ohio State University? Should I call Rupert, The Rupert and Dexter, The Dexter? And, none of my friends root for Ohio State in football season, they all root for Texas teams. Why can’t I root for a Texas team? If Ohio was so good, how come your parents, Mom, come to Texas for the winters? And, how come your parents, Dad, moved to Florida? What’s your answer?”
“To what question?” asks Vinnie’s dad.
“That’s a minus ten response, Dad. Too bad. You and Mom are at minus seventeen. Rupert and Dexter are at seventy-six.”
“How are you scoring this game?” asks Vinnie’s mom.
“That’s one of the best parts of the game, Mom. The person who asks the questions gets to make up a score.”
“Is the game almost over?” says Vinnie’s mom wondering if she can call a support hotline for moms who have sons like Vinnie.
“We’ve only started, Mom. We’re going to enter the challenge round next.”
But how did I begin? I wrote 1000 words a day. For 10 years I wrote at least one short story the week, somehow guessing that the day would finally come when I truly got out of the way and let it happen. ~ Ray Bradbury
Have you asked Why? I did throughout the depths of my grieving, thousands of times, and never found an answer. I asked M, “Why?” She gently guided me with her wisdom. Here is an excerpt from Dancing Alone: Learning to Live Again:
“I keep asking why. I never find an answer. I find only anger and sadness. I might as well try to stop the tide from rising.”
M nodded, and said, “Exactly, Ray. Instead, why not choose to open the door and escape from the labyrinth of chasing after the ‘why’ questions? Why not ask questions to help you make today a better day than yesterday? Think about questions that lead you in a hopeful direction to more fully discover the meaning in your life.”
“What if my questions can’t be answered?” I asked.
M shrugged, then said, “You can spend your life seeking the answers to those questions or you can accept their unfathomable nature. Learn to live with them, Ray.”
Dancing Alone: Learning to Live Again. Available in paperback and ebook formats from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and Kobo.
Dancing Alone: Learning to Live Again
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Vinnie’s mom checks the time on her iPhone. They’d been playing for fifteen minutes. It seems like fifteen years, she wonders if it will ever end. Vinnie’s dad is on his third cup of coffee. Vinnie is taking one question after the other out of his lunch box and crumpling them into balls and building a fence around Rupert with them.
Suddenly, he stops crumpling the questions and says, “Ah hah. I found the perfect question. I’ve made a rule change to help you. First, I think I’ll put game recommended for smart people when I get a box for it,” says Vinnie.
Vinnie’s mom makes a deep sigh. She says, “What is the rule change, Vinnie?”
Vinnie says, “Since you both have trouble answering an easy question, I’ve taken out the competition part. You are now partners playing against Rupert and Dexter.”
Vinnie’s mom glances at Vinnie’s dad and says, “We’re playing against a stuffed animal and a beagle?”
“Apparently so, dear,” answers Vinnie’s dad.
Vinnie’s mom says, “I need a five minute break. It might be good for all of us.”
“I agree with Mom,” says Vinnie’s dad.
“Will you set your iPhone timer for five minutes. If you both are not ready to play in five minutes, you get penalized and Rupert and Dexter will get your points.”
Dexter slowly got up on all fours and barks thinking he was being called to eat. Rupert sat on the table against the lunch box, his smile never leaving his face.
Vinnie’s mom left the dining room and headed to the bedroom. Vinnie’s dad didn’t bother putting on a coat before he heads out to the deck where the large round circle thermometer read both 140 F or -10 C. Vinnie’s dad prefers reading the Fahrenheit reading because it seems warmer.
With his parents out of the room, Vinnie uses the time to prep Dexter in the only language Dexter knows, food. Vinnie walks into the kitchen, Dexter trails closely behind. Vinnie opens the pantry door, he finds his dad’s favorite snack, a soy based faux meat jerky beef stick. He takes the largest bag, opens it and turns to Dexter. Dexter immediately sits on his haunches. Dexter knows this is the default position for receiving rewards from adults.
Vinnie opens the package, breaks a piece of jerky off and says, “Dexter, bark if you know the answer.”
Dexter is not too bright, but food is an excellent incentive. After five tries, Dexter catches on.
Vinnie’s mom hollers from the bedroom, “What’s Dexter barking at?”
Vinnie answers, “He’s practicing answering questions. How much time is left on the timer, Mom?”
There is a brief pause. Then Vinnie’s mom answers, “There’s one minute and five seconds.”
“You better get Dad, Mom. Rupert and Dexter are ready to play.”
On time, Vinnie’s mom, Vinnie’s dad, Vinnie, Rupert, and Dexter are in place for the game to continue.
Vinnie’s dad looks at Vinnie’s mom, “Isn’t it a bit early for a glass of wine, Dear?”
“No,” answers Vinnie’s mom.
“Do you mind if I get a beer?” asks Vinnie’s dad.