lseckerle

Food, Fun and More

The Faces of Chelsea, Michigan

I joined up with a group of photographers for the Kelby World Wide Photowalk last month. Our destination was Chelsea, Michigan.    
We gathered in the parking lot behind the town hall. Two blocks away down an alley, the white tents of the farmers market shown in the sunlight. Under the awnings there was a collage of colors: orange carrots, purple eggplant, peppers in green, yellow and red, stripped squash and gourds. It was a good thing I had my hands full of photo equipment or I would’ve been buying.      

 

The smell of gourmet coffee and baked goods drifted through the booths. A fresh-baked apple fritter hit the spot since my early morning breakfast had long ago faded away. While I was enjoying the sweet treat I spotted a man selling bouquets of dahlias. I’m a gardener and the daughter of a gardener but the flowers had color combinations I’d never seen. As the vendor and I chatted he told me of his dahlia farm and the many varieties he’s raised. Then he let me take his picture. 
After the farmers market, we photographers took to the streets, wandering down Main street, pausing often to capture store-front displays, textures, reflections and decorative signs.    
The side streets revealed intriguing nooks and crannies. An alley held a hidden reading niche next to a used book store – my favorite kind of shop. 
The outdoor display area of an antique/gardening store was full of whimsical lawn ornaments, planters and statues. 
A guided tour through the famous Clock Tower was a learning experience with some unique photo opportunities.  Monica Monsma, Executive Director of the Chelsea Chamber of Commerce and the tower’s caretaker were our guides. Once inside, we climbed the handsome wooden stairs to the upper levels. The caretaker told us of the tower’s history and many uses over the years. We reached a door that led out to the stone covered roof. Seeing downtown from that height was worth climbing all those stairs.  But I have to confess, the very last flight that led to the clocks inner workings, proved too much for my courage. The cement steps were old, narrow and short. I had visions of slipping and tumbling all the way down.
Our stomachs were growling by the time the tour was finished so we decided to have lunch at a downtown restaurant; Smokehouse 52. The food was delicious and we spent a good hour talking about the sights we’d seen and the photos we’d taken.
After I got home and looked over the pictures I’d captured, I saw that the theme I’d unconsciously picked for the day was Faces; from the wall of portraits, 

the scarecrow angel, 

the ones sculpted in stone 

and formed in metal  to the bright smile of the flower vendor. The day was all about the faces of Chelsea.

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Whatever Happened to Birthday Cakes?

What ever happened to homemade birthday cakes? I remember helping my mom make cakes for my brothers’ and my dad’s birthdays. That tradition carried over to baking cakes for my own son and husband. There is so much more of “me” in the cake when the flour is measured and the mess is made at home in the kitchen and they know I’m taking the time and making the effort just for them. 
The kitchen is a place for mother and daughters (and sons too!) to come together. I don’t see that bond, which comes from families cooking together, happening much in this busy world.
An over-sweet, over-frosted cake from a store bakery has nothing over a love-filled cake made with your own hands. It is the flaws, especially ones made by little hands that touch the heart.
Store-bought cakes usually come in two varieties: vanilla and chocolate. Children grow up not knowing the delicious flavors that can be incorporated into a cake. There are orange cakes, black forest cakes, lemon cakes and pineapple upside-down cakes – my son’s favorite- just to mention a few.

I recently made a pineapple upside-down cake for my son’s 38th birthday. It had been a few years since I’d made the last one. As I was placing the maraschino cherries in the center of each pineapple ring I remembered the year he ate all of the cherries off the top of his cake. It was hard to justify being angry, after all, it was HIS birthday cake.
My stepson’s favorite cake is German Chocolate and the recipe I have for the frosting came from my sister-in-law and it is scrumptious. Every time I make that frosting I think of her.
I have recipes in my mom’s very English handwriting that only I can read. She passed away several years ago but it is like she is there with me in the kitchen when I make her mincemeat bars or baking powder biscuits.
Cooking and the recipes we share are delicious ways to keep us connected to one another, share out heritage and culture and feel close to those who are absent.
This is the recipe for my son’s pineapple upside-down birthday cake. It is from my old Good Housekeeping cookbook; the one so loving used that it is held together with a rubber band.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

1-20 oz can pineapple rings                                  1 cup butter, divided                                           2 c packed brown sugar, (2 sticks) divided           10 Maraschino cherries                                      2 ¼ cups cake flour                                               1 ½ cups sugar                                                 ½ teaspoons baking powder                                 1 teaspoon salt                                                   ¾ cup shortening                                                  ¾ cup milk                                                           3 eggs                                                                    1 teaspoon vanilla                                               ½ teaspoon almond extract

DIRECTIONS: Drain pineapple rings. Using two 9-inch round cake pans, place ½ cup of butter (1 stick) in each pan. Place in a low oven to melt the butter. Once the butter has melted, sprinkle 1 cup of packed brown sugar over butter, in each cake pan. Arrange 5 pineapple rings evenly over top of brown sugar in each pan. Place a maraschino cherry in the center of each ring. Set pans aside.  In a large bowl, combine cake flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add shortening, milk, eggs, vanilla and almond extract. Using an electric mixer, beat at low speed until ingredients are mixed then increase speed to medium. Beat for 5 minutes, occasionally scraping sides of the bowl. Drop batter over pineapple rings by large spoonfuls. Gently spread batter evenly and to the edges of the pan. Bake at 375 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes. Cakes will be lightly browned and a toothpick inserted into the center will come out clean when cakes are done. Let cool 10 to 15 minutes. Carefully run a sharp knife around the edges of the cake to release it from the sides of the pan. Invert onto a serving plate. If any of the topping remains in the pan, carefully remove with a spatula and place on the cake. Let cool then serve. 

Brick Walker Tavern – an Unexpected Visit

 

I drove over to Cambridge Junction to photograph an old-time baseball tournament that was scheduled to be played in the Brick Walker Tavern Historic Complex which is part of the Michigan State Park system, located a quarter mile north of Brick Walker Tavern on M-50. I haven’t done a lot of sports photography and thought this would be a fun way to get more experience. My camera and my 70-200mm lens were in the trunk.
I pulled into the park, but there was no baseball game. I was sure – well almost- that I had the correct day. I turned around and headed back toward the tavern. Two men were working in the garden and yard.  I made a quick decision and whipped into a parking spot. They gave me the EYE when I got out of my car; not sure about the interruption. A question revealed that the ball game had been canceled. Darn! It looked like my photo gear would stay in the trunk for the time being.
After chatting for a bit, I discovered that one of the workers was Tom Lee, the owner of Brick Walker Tavern. He’d been renovating the three story hotel and tavern, built in 1853, into a wedding and event venue. While keeping true to the time period he skillfully added the modern conveniences of air conditioning, updated bathrooms, WiFi and flat screen TV’s in the second floor bedrooms.
Mr. Lee gave me a tour of the first floor while entertaining me with the building’s history.  We entered through the kitchen which featured hand-crafted cupboards made by a local craftsman. Then we went on into the four parlors, the early Cambridge Junction post office and a tavern with the original bar.  He and pointed out that each room has been named for a previous owner. Having to get back to work, he had his son take me upstairs to explore the rest of the hotel.
He explained that a wedding party could spend the night before and after the ceremony in the five bedrooms on the second floor. The rooms were cozy with authentic quilts and shams on antique wooden beds. They were also accented with other period furniture and features.

A private bath was provided for each room. A gourmet breakfast could be cooked and served by a private chef the last morning of the wedding party’s stay.
The Grand Ballroom filled the third floor and was impressive in its grandeur and beauty.
Weddings and/or receptions are held in the ballroom or in the remodeled and remarkable Antique Barn, which was on the same property. The barn’s grand staircase was the perfect setting for pictures of the wedding party and the bride with her train flowing gracefully down the steps. White fairy lights shone from folds of white organza and around beams and newel posts. I was enchanted and lost in the magic of it, wishing I were twenty-something again and planning my first wedding.

Moving On Up

I did it! I moved out of my historic two-story country brick home and bought a lovely ranch house just two miles from my son. I no longer run up and down the stairs with loads of laundry, but I also no longer enjoy the smell of sun-dried sheets on my bed and the roughness of line-dried towels against my skin. (see my post The Zen of Laundry for a fun read).
The last few days before moving, I had my morning coffee and breakfast on the deck. I shared the time with a red-headed woodpecker that had moved into the neighborhood this spring.

A robin had also decided to nest, for the first time, right outside my bedroom window   and I got the first cutting from my rhubarb in the freezer before moving. These going-away presents tugged at my heart and made me want to stay. But the wheels were in motion and as I found out from threatened lawsuits, it was too late to turn back.
There is always a trade-off whenever there is change, even if that change is for the better.
Instead of being on the road for the most of an hour to buy groceries, I now have the convenience of a grocery store, several restaurants, my bank and a used book store all within a short drive. The serenity and beauty of the Dahlem Conservancy is a mere two minutes away and I can hike at the MacCready Preserve anytime I chose.
It’s been over thirty years since I went through the process of buying a house. I’d never been through the wringer of selling a home. I’ve been told that it is one of the most stressful experiences of a life-time.

 I had no idea how true that was. Many times I had to remind myself to breathe. Sleepless nights, doubt and second-thoughts were daily obstacles. I often wished my late husband could give me advice and counsel. But the decisions were mine alone and heavy to carry.
After several weeks, closing day arrived, the pile of documents was signed and the deed was done. The new owner of my old house said her daughter couldn’t wait to paint her bedroom purple! I had just finished two years’ worth of remodeling and redecorating. I reminded myself that it wasn’t my house anymore.
I got in my car, turned down an unfamiliar street and drove home. 

The Lemons Are Ripe!

It is harvest time! The lemons are ripe and need picking.

There are two on my dwarf Ponderosa lemon tree this year, each the size of a softball. I’ve decided to try a new Lemon recipe this year. I’m going to use one of the lemons to make Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins.
I’m glad that part of my inheritance is my dad’s lemon tree. I remember the year we brought it back from Florida, in the back of our station wagon. (For a fun tale see my post, Dad’s Lemon Tree, post date 1/24/14) It not only makes me feel close to him every time I smell the sweet fragrant blooms or wait patiently as the small green fruits grow and ripen, I get delicious fresh home-grown lemons – in Michigan no less.
I’ve tried making lemon meringue pie one year which was yummy, but the bottom crust became soggy after a day or two. I’ve never figured out how to solve that problem. And I like to make gift-size loaves of lemon bread. I share them with my neighbors and they’re delighted to receive the tasty treat.
Whenever someone new moves in, I get to tell them the story of my dad and his lemon tree. I enjoy the telling and in that small way his legacy lives on.
Here is the recipe I made this year. I don’t have a sweet tooth, so I skipped the icing. The muffins are wonderful either way.

LEMON POPPY SEED MUFFINS
1 1/3 cups of flour                  ½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt                    4 tablespoons of butter
¾ cup of sugar                      2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla               1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons lemon zest    ¾ cup sour cream
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
Icing:
2 tablespoons butter, softened      2 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 to 4 cups powdered sugar          1 to 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

DIRECTIONS: In a bowl, sift together flour, baking soda and salt. In a larger bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, vanilla, lemon zest, lemon juice, sour cream and poppy seeds. Mix well. Add flour mixture and stir until just combined. Fill muffin cups 2/3rds full. Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes, or until lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool then remove from muffin pan. Icing – Cream together butter and cream cheese. Add powdered sugar and lemon juice. Mix well. Drizzle over cooled muffins. If icing is too thick add a little more lemon juice. 

The Orchid Show – Are We There Yet?

2-web  3-web8-web

My cousin Robin and I took a drive last weekend to Meijer Gardens for the Grand Valley Orchid Show. We had our cameras, lenses and other gear ready to go. I thought she knew the way, we’d been there before. But, she had counted on me having directions since the trip was my idea. I’d left them home in my Directions file. We couldn’t remember the way, and I get turned around and can’t tell if I’m going east or west. It was a cloudy day with no sun to help us. I did remember that is was right off the highway. I just didn’t know which highway.
Robin said, “Not to worry.” She had Siri on her IPhone. We stopped and had a delicious lunch in Kalamazoo. I mentioned I didn’t remember going through Kalamazoo the last time we went to Meijer Gardens, but we continued to trust the directions coming from her phone.
After driving through freezing rain and lake effect snow, the app ended up taking us to a modular home park somewhere on the outskirts of Grand Rapids. It had Garden in its name and apparently caused Siri’s confusion. We sat in the parking lot, not believing where we were. Then pushing ever onward, we asked Siri to reconfigure. We were pleased to find that we only had to backtrack a few miles, pick up I96 and within minutes we would be there. Our lesson for the day was not to trust Siri.
We’d planned on being at the show when it opened at noon. It was now 2:30 p.m. My nerves were frazzled nerves-web but at least we didn’t have to wait in line. waiting-in-line-web
The orchards were remarkable in their variety. Some had happy faces funny-face-web and some looked like they were hungry and waiting for a snack,   bite-web

but they were all beautiful. As usual things worked out for the best. With the crowd thinning out at the end of the day, we were able to get some great photos then enjoy a cup of coffee and a chocolate chip cookie in the café before heading home.
There are three more shows coming soon to central Michigan. Admission to all of the shows is free. I hope you get a chance to attend at least one. Find the information below
3 more pictures
The Greater Lansing Orchid show is February 25 & 26th on the MSU campus in the Plant & Soil conservancy. (http://greaterlansingorchidsociety.com)
The Ann Arbor Orchid Festival is March 18th & 19th at the UofM Matthaei Botanical Gardens (www.aaosonline.org)
The Michigan Orchid Society Show is March 25th & 26th at the United Food Workers Building at 876 Horace Brown Drive in Madison Heights. (miorchids.com)

4-web 5-web 9-web 7-web

Winter Gardening

I find that one of the hardest things to accept about winter is that I can’t go out to the garden and pick fresh herbs and vegetables. All summer long and well into the fall basil grows by the shed in a tossed-together herb garden.  Dill Weed webI’ve often stopped to pinch off a leaf just to enjoy the pungent aroma.  When it comes to making sandwiches, I tend to be adventurous, but lunchmeat isn’t on my list of edible ingredients. It is too full of chemicals and preservatives to be healthy. The question is: what else is there to use? Enter my friend Karen. She introduced me to the delicious combination of tomato, basil and mozzarella. The mixture of flavors is a gourmet delight and makes a tasty sandwich.
Fresh basil is also wonderful in a tossed salad. I’m a lazy cook in the summer and salads often end up on the supper menu. Once the weather has warmed up, I take it for granted that I can walk across the lawn and pick the fresh basil leaves any time I choose. Basil web
Then the frost comes.
Recently, I looked out my kitchen window at white ground and gloomy skies. I decided to do a little winter gardening. I’d found some basil plants in the produce department at the grocery store, but they looked sad and about ready to die. I checked every plant, but didn’t feel that I could save any one of them. I was disappointed but decided to wait and see if there were any fresh plants the next week. Vola! Those plants looked healthier. basil-1-web I bought one – on a cold and windy day – placed it in the cup holder in my console and drove the twenty miles home with the heater on high.
When I set the basil plant on the kitchen counter, I remembered I hadn’t put a 5-gallon bucket of potting soil down in the basement last fall like I usually do. You just never know when you might need some nice warm dirt in the middle of winter! All of my potting soil was out in the shed, frozen solid. Then I recalled the cement planters that hold geraniums in front of the garage every year. I’d dragged them into the garage for the winter. That dirt might not be frozen. I went out to check.
Lo and behold, I was able to chip and scrape together enough soil to use. I trudged through the snow and got the empty pot I’d left on the deck then I brought the pot and the cold dirt into the kitchen and set them on the counter. I added a little water to the bone-dry dirt and left it and the clay pot to warm up for a couple of days. Meanwhile my new basil plant was enjoying the southern sun in front of the kitchen window. basil-2-web
On the third day I stirred up the dirt, broke up the hard clumps and removed the maple seeds, dead leaves and other debris. It felt so good to this gardener’s hands to be back in warm soil. The smell of the damp earth was like a whiff of spring. I scooped a couple inches of soil into the clay pot. Then I gently removed the basil plant from the plastic store container and placed it on the dirt. I poured more soil around the basil until it was even with the crown of the plant (where the stems come off the roots).
I drizzled some water all the way around and added a little more dirt where the soil had settled. I stood back and looked at my basil plant in its new home. It seemed happy and turned its leaves to face the sun. basil-3-web

Pajama Yoga and Lucy

I’m one of those people who need to get their workout in before breakfast and while I’m still in my PJs. Every third day of my exercise regime I do yoga. The stretching and slow movements are soothing and the concentration creates a Zen-like state, setting the demands of the upcoming day aside for thirty minutes or so. That was, until two months ago when I adopted a kitten named Lucy.

cat-on-the-mat-web
Lucy has decided that the yoga mat signals playtime. My outstretched arms, in the Second Warrior Position, are a challenge to how high she can jump. Laughing at her attempts makes it difficult to focus and keep the pose.
Heaven forbid that I stay in the Cobra for more than a few seconds. My open thighs and arched back provide an obstacle course as she runs over my lap, circles round and gallops between my arms and across the room ending under the furniture. Seeing her eyeing me from behind the skirt on the sofa is disconcerting. I never know when she is going to “attack”.
A Down Dog at the Chair involves a cat in my hair. I try to concentrate as I lightly push the palms of my hands into the chair seat while keeping my elbows locked and pushing back through my hips. Lucy takes this move as her cue to sit in the chair, with a paw on each side of my head, holding on tight.

tree-pose-web
The Tree position requires me to balance on one foot while the other foot is pressed against my calf. My arms are raised to represent the branches. Lucy like trees. She likes climbing trees. I end the pose holding up my pajama bottoms while trying to pluck her of the trunk of the tree – my leg!
I don’t have the heart to lock her in a different room while I exercise. How can I when she looks at me with that sweet face? To her we’re having a fun playtime. And she does keep me on my toes, so to speak. The day will come when she will be a grownup cat and she will no longer consider me one of her toys. In the meantime Lucy and I really enjoy doing yoga. lucys-sweet-face-web

Lucky to Live in Michigan

Sometimes I have to take a minute, look around and remember how lucky I am to live in Michigan. For one thing, there are no sharks in our in-land oceans. Earthquakes – on the rare occasion when there is one, are mild tremors at most. They elicit comments such as “What was that!” and ‘Wow, that was awesome! Did you feel that?” Also, Michigan is home to only one poisonous snake, the eastern massasauga rattlesnake. I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve never seen one.
Michigan’s cultural diversity ranges from the Detroit Opera House to museums, orchestras and various theaters on the one hand to back-trail hiking, threshers’ conventions and our own Porcupine Mountains in the Upper Peninsula. The industrial center is in the southeast, Amish settlements can be found along the back roads of south central Michigan amish-haystacks

and fertile farmlands dominate the vast Saginaw valley. corn-web

Up North is a whole other world. When we Michiganders say we’re Going Up North it means any place north of Clare. The rest stop at the intersection of US 127 and US 10 is the gateway to adventures, sparkling waters, great food and summers of fun.

Michigan has the longest coastline (3,288 miles) of any state in the union except for Alaska. That translates into a lot of beaches, boating and fun.  sailboat-webOur maritime history is rich in ship building, transporting ores from our mines and stories of the many shipwrecks that happened during the treacherous winter storms on lakes Superior, Michigan and Huron.

ship-mast-web

 

 

 

 

 

I recently took a trip up to Traverse City, Mission Point and down the western coast to Manistee. Lighthouses and white sandy beaches are to be found near the small towns along the lake shore .

frankfort-lighthouse-web

It has been more years that I want to admit since I’d been in the Traverse Bay area. The city has grown with the addition of micro-breweries and world-class restaurants with quaint little shops nestled among the new businesses.
A for sure stop was the General Store on the way up the Leelanau peninsula heading toward the Grand Traverse Lighthouse.

grand-traverse-lighthouse-webThe proprietor entertained the customers with old-time stories of ghosts and snowed-in winters as they chose between homemade sour cream donuts, old-time soft drinks and a vast variety of unique wares.
The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lake shore is also a landmark not to be missed. It is so much more than a tourist attraction with its unique archaeological formations. The area stretches for 35 miles of coastline and the dunes sit 400 feet above glacial moraines as the expanse was once covered by glaciers. The area was designated as wilderness in 2014 and is truly a site to behold.
And of course the view of the straits while driving across the Mackinac Bridge is breathtaking. makinaw-bridge-span-webIt is the longest suspension bridge in the western hemisphere with a length of 26, 372 feet, connecting the lower and upper peninsulas. The inside lane – that is a see-through grate – will test your courage, especially on a windy day.  bridge-crossing-croppedIt is a LONG WAY DOWN to the water and every few years a car would be blown over the side. Steps have been taken to increase the safety of drivers and there are times when the weather is such that crossing is not allowed.
Tonight, as I watched the setting sun turn the clouds pink and white against an azure sky, I thanked my lucky stars that I woke up today in this amazing state of Michigan.

sunset-web

A Second Chance

Hugh Carnes gripped the padded leather of his steering wheel. Ripe fields of wheat, burnished red in the twilight, rushed by as his tires edged over the double yellow line.
He stared through the windshield, mind churning and thought of the things that declared his success: a large corner office with a private bathroom, leather seats in his Mercedes, an expensive house in an exclusive subdivision. But, it wasn’t enough. What had become of the life he’d dreamed of? Every time he made another ruthless business deal he lost a piece of himself and now there wasn’t anything left. The man he could have been, so many years ago, was gone.
Hugh turned up the car radio to block out his thoughts. A tree whipped by and then another. His foot pressed against the gas pedal and the tires searched for a grip on the pavement. He leaned forward and held the steering wheel steady. Its ridges were embedded in both palms when he slid into the next curve.

Hugh stood under the first of the evening stars watching the steam rise from the crumpled hood of his car. The front fender hugged the trunk of an oak tree that had been growing for a hundred years.
The silence was broken by a faint hum. A single headlight shimmered then disappeared behind a rise in the road. The sound of a motorcycle grew louder until tires skidded to a stop on loose gravel at the side of the road. The rider snapped down the kick stand with the heel of his boot and swung his long leg over the seat. He took off his gloves and laid them on the handlebars. The back of his black, leather jacket bore the name Spirit Riders emblazoned in white. A rawhide shoe lace held his gray hair tied at the base of his neck.
“Hey Buddy,” the man said as he slipped down the grassy embankment. “That’s quite a dent you’ve got there. You’re lucky to be alive.”
Hugh snorted and turned back to his car.
The rider held out his hand and said, “I’m here to help you. My name is Timothy, St. Timothy, actually.”
“St. Timothy, huh?” Hugh said, neglecting the man’s hand.
Timothy shrugged and turned to show Hugh the back of his jacket. “Club name,” he said.
“So you haven’t come to save my soul?”
“I think you need a tow truck first. There’s a Waffle House down the road. I’ll give you a lift. They have a pay phone. Your cell won‘t work out here.”
“I’ve been down this road a hundred times. There’s no Waffle House.”
Timothy turned and walked back up to the road. “Sure there is. You can call for help there. Are you coming with me?”
Hugh scrambled up the ditch and slipped on the damp grass. “I haven’t seen a motorcycle like this in years,” he said.
“It’s a Kawasaki, A7 Avenger, 350 cc’s.” Timothy lifted his leg over the seat. “Takes me anywhere I need to go.” He kicked the starter and the low rumble of the engine broke the silence of the night. Hugh swung his leg over the back of the bike and settled behind the old biker. He rested his hands on his thighs.
“Hang on to the handles on the saddlebags,” Timothy said over the noise of the motor. He twisted the accelerator and Hugh felt the engine’s vibration in his legs as they pulled out onto the road. The wind whipped past his ears and his heart raced as they leaned into the curves.
The yellow letters of the Waffle House sign glowed, suspended above the road. Bright fluorescent light spilled out of the diner’s windows, creating a shimmering island in the dark.
“I’ll order us some coffee while you call for a tow truck. The pay phone’s in the corner. There should be a phone book there too,” Timothy said as he sat in a booth. The orange vinyl seat was split. A piece of duct tape held the material together.
“A pay phone? It’s got to be the last one on the planet,” Hugh muttered. He pulled some change out of his pocket and went to make the call.
A waitress set two beige ceramic cups and a silver pitcher of cream on the table as Hugh walked back to the booth. He saw her wink at Timothy and pat his shoulder.
Hugh slid into the other side of the booth and tested the coffee. “This is good.”
“Best coffee around,” Timothy said.
Hugh flipped through the selection of songs for the jukebox. They were all oldies, real old oldies. He tried to slip a quarter in the slot but the coin was too large.
“You need a dime,” Timothy said.
“I didn’t know there was a juke box left that took dimes.” Hugh slipped the coin in the slot and punched F5. Paul Revere and the Raiders started to sing Just Like Me. “I remember dancing to this song on Saturday night at the armory. I met my wife at one of those dances. She was only seventeen.” He sighed and looked out the dark window.
“So what went wrong?” Timothy asked.
“I make my living forcing other people out of business and I do it well. I never made it to any of my son’s football games. Hell, I even missed his graduation. And it’s been so long since I held my wife and told her I loved her, she would push me away if I tried it now.”
Hugh set his coffee down and nodded his head toward the back of the diner. “Does that pinball machine work?”
“It sure does.”
“How about a game before the tow truck gets here?”
Timothy scored 100,000 points plus two free balls. When he was finished with his game, Hugh put in a quarter. “Now you get to watch a master. I used to spend hours playing.” He guided the shiny, silver balls with gentle nudges to the machine. He grew engrossed with the game as the score increased and the silver balls became fewer.
“Tilt? Come on.” Hugh slapped the side of the machine.
“Try it again,” Timothy said.
Hugh slipped another quarter in the slot. The balls ran down, lining up in a row. “I wish I could try my life again. I’d just like a chance to do it better,” he said. “Do you have a family?”
Timothy shook his head. “They wouldn’t fit into my life.”
“Don’t you get lonely? You can’t be a biker forever.”
“That’s just it. I can be a biker forever. Once in a while someone like you comes along and makes it possible. What if I could give you a second chance?”
“Ya right. I’m to believe you can give me that?” Hugh pulled the spring-loaded knob and sent a steel ball clanging through the game.
“Say you could do it over. What would you be willing to pay?”
“Name a price.”
“Not money. Would you give up your wife?”
“No.”
“Your, son?”
“No, of course not.”
“How about part of your life?”
Hugh hesitated and leaned on the machine. “What do you mean?”
“Would you be willing to, say, give up ten years?”
“If I could do it over, sure it’d be worth it.” Hugh turned back to his game. “So what do you get out of this if I agree?”
“I receive half of the years you give up.
“You’re serious, aren’t you?” Hugh said.
“You’d die at fifty-three instead of sixty-three.
“I’m sixty-three now. What makes you think I’m going to die?”
“You succeeded tonight. You died back there in the ditch,” Timothy said.
Hugh gripped the sides of the pinball machine. He hung his head and listened.
“You went through the wind shield and broke your back against the tree.”
Hugh lifted his head and looked at Timothy.
“I can give you another chance, if you agree to the price.”
“Ten years?”
“That’s the going rate.”
“Tell me what to do.”
“Walk out the door, you’ll figure out the rest.” Timothy said.
Hugh hurried across the diner and swung open the door. He stepped into the night. When he turned back the building was gone. He was standing on the side of the road, his legs encased in blue jeans with a pair of Converse sneakers on his feet. His hands were those of a young man and when he touched his face it felt lean and smooth, not the loose jowls he was used to.
A pair of headlights topped the crest of a hill and Hugh waved his arms over his head. A battered and rusted pickup pulled onto the gravel berm.
“Can you give me a lift into town?” Hugh asked.
“Sure, hop in.” A weather-beaten man in coveralls leaned across the seat and pushed open the passenger door. Hugh climbed into the cab.
“What’s a young feller like you doing out here in the middle of nowhere?”
“Heading home,” Hugh said.