Under A Blue Sky

Image of Short Story
Ignorance... bliss?

Kenneth Shippe was my grandmother Rita's first cousin. Kenneth's wife Olivia and he lived in a large, one-story ranch-style house in a small town called Maple Junction. Kenneth and Olivia's home was situated on a hill below a wooded ridge. There was a long, downward sloping front yard that met the main road some five-hundred feet below. Homes in this area were spread very far apart, and there was a landscape that featured a predominance of upward and downward sloping fields. These fields originated from or gave way to high, wooded ridges as far as the eye could see.

“I hope they're home,” Rita said, as my grandfather Pete turned off of the route. We began our ascent up the winding road that ran parallel to Kenneth and Olivia's house.

“Sure, they're home,” Pete said with confidence as he hung a right into the Shippe's gravel driveway. A large German Shepherd known as "Queenie" barked out a loud welcome from behind a high fence opposite the rear of the house. “There's Kenneth.”

Rita smiled and waved to a tall, slender man somewhere in his mid-sixties. He was wearing steel framed glasses that empowered bright blue eyes. The man sported a head of snow white, well-kept hair. He had just emerged from somewhere inside the garage and, upon seeing us, returned Rita's greeting with a grin. Pete pulled in front of the garage door and shut off the engine.

“We were wondering if you guys would make it up,” Kenneth said as the three of us got out of the car. “Olivia was just talking the other evening.”

“Well, we're here,” Rita said with a laugh and gave her cousin a big hug. “Talkin' about us again, are you?”

“Of course. And all of it good talk.” Kenneth answered with a chuckle and turned to my grandfather. “Hey, Pete.”

“Hey, Kenneth,” Pete said as the two shook hands.

“Put 'er there, Rob,” Kenneth said with an outstretched hand towards me. I accepted. “Boy, you'll be as big as Pete pretty soon, if you keep growing.”

I nodded. This got a collective chuckle out of the three grown-ups.

“Yeah, he's shooting up straight as a weed.”

“A good one, I hope.”

“As good as they get.”

“Come on inside,” Kenneth gestured towards the garage. He grinned. “Guess where Olivia's at.”

“Her favorite place. The kitchen.”

“How'd ya know?”

“I know that woman all too well.”

Kenneth smiled. “You're just in time for lunch.”

“You could show up at the eleventh hour and still not miss out on an Olivia Shippe meal,” Rita said. “You're never late for any meal on Olivia's clock. Her kitchen is always open.”

“That's me,” Pete said. “Always on time. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, you name it. And especially when Olivia's the one doin' the cookin'.”

Olivia Shippe was a short, pleasantly plump woman-- much like Rita-- with a head of short, curly hair, somewhat thinning out. She was, as Pete had testified, one of the best cooks up home, bar none. If you left her home hungry, it was your own damn fault, not Olivia's.

“Welcome, all,” Olivia said to us as we entered the dining room. “Come into the kitchen and join us for lunch. You're just in time.”

“What'd I tell ya?” Kenneth said, his blue eyes dancing.

In truth, the eat-in kitchen was the focal point of the Shippe home. Many enjoyable meals were eaten here, combined with good conversation. When the food was consumed and the dishes were done, the group of us migrated into the living room.

I sat near Kenneth and Pete and listened to a healthy dose of “men's talk.” On the other side of the room, Olivia and Rita provided the female version. After a while, Kenneth turned to me.

“How are ya for blocks these days, Rob?”


“C'mon, then. Let me show you what I got.”

“Let's go,” Pete said with a slap on my lap. “Follow Kenneth.”

Kenneth led us out to his workshop, where he kept wooden blocks of all different shapes and sizes-- disjecta from his various woodworking projects-- for my inspection. He would fill up a brown paper bag with the ones I wanted. These I would spend hours at home with, building and rebuilding various structures of my own design.

After I had made my selections and Pete put the bag of blocks in the car, he turned to me.

“Why don't you go and run around the front yard awhile? Blow off some steam. See if you can find any golf balls.”

“He's been hittin' em out there, Rob,” Kenneth said with a grin. “Seen him out there just the other day. The bottom part of the yard is probably filled with 'em.”

“I'll go see,” I said and ran off.

After checking for Praying Mantis among the flowers planted by Olivia in front of the concrete slab porch, I sprinted the several hundred feet down to the lower portion of the front yard. I was greeted by two distinct sounds: the long, sustained cry of the Killdeer in flight, intermingled with the monotonous, low, steady “hum” of the power outlet across the road. Occasionally, a car would also make its presence felt as it traveled past Kenneth and Olivia's front lawn, perfectly illustrating the Doppler Effect.

Kenneth and Olivia's neighbor's teenage son, apparently a big baseball fan, was the one responsible for filling up the lower portion of the front yard with golf balls. These he would hit with an aluminum bat, causing them to travel the several hundred feet between houses. On a good day, I could find anywhere from twenty to thirty golf balls, which I got to keep. It was a clear, blue sky day with white, fluffy clouds. A cool, early spring breeze blew tufts of grass in waves. Several crickets and grasshoppers cleared a path for me, as I would spot yet another golf ball and run to scoop it up.

And, as I sit here looking back on me standing there, looking out across that road to those rolling slopes and the ridges in the distance, I wish that I had the foresight then in equal proportion to the hindsight I have now. I would have came to the realization that this is life. This is living. This is as good as it gets. It doesn't get any better than this.

It never did.