Monthly Archives: June 2014

Excerpt 1 from my book

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One bright Saturday we drove over to All Saints Cemetery on the edge of town. Jill was excited to start snapping pictures and when we arrived she jumped out of the car, energized and ready to grab the perfect shot. The cemetery was very old – well over a century – and many of the crumbling tombstones showed ever-more vanishing death dates in the 1800’s.

The entrance to the graveyard was framed by an enormous archway which curved grandly over the gravel drive. Etched into the stone arch were fairy angels and small birds and a long vine with grape leaves that stretched from one end to the other. The detail of the design was close to breathtaking, but even so, the arch always felt heavy and forbidding to me. Whenever I drove past the cemetery and the metal gates under those arches were closed tight, I was glad. It made me feel better to see that the over-sized jail cell door, heavy and locked under the stone archway, was keeping the dead in.

Jill clicked away, repositioning her camera a few inches after each shot, attempting different angles, different outcomes. I watched her for a while but got bored and without much to do, I began aimlessly kicking some stones scattered on the drive. In the distance I could hear a loud truck barreling our way. There were a lot of pickup trucks and haulers around town, and I could tell by the sound of this one that it was a fairly large truck. I kicked a few more stones down the drive and turned to face the road.

The Prairie Sugar truck lumbered up to the cemetery quickly and sped by over-packed with freshly harvested sugar beets. The sugar beet factory still thrived in Bay City due, in no small part, to the fact that no other town would endure the fumes that were created when the beets were processed. It was an odor you could only compare to burning cow manure with a little rotten meat sprinkled on top.

I watched the truck drive past as Jill continued snapping photos and I followed its movement with my eyes. The truck seemed to be heading much too quickly into the curve ahead, and I watched with fascination to see how the driver was going to maneuver the turn. Suddenly the brakes began to squeal and the tires started to skid. I have to give it to Jill – not once did she take the camera from her eye. She just turned and wheeled toward the sound, clicking furiously away.

And what a sight it was.

The truck continued to skid around the curve until the entire right side of it actually lifted off the ground. The driver had completely lost control but was, nonetheless, still trying to steer even while fully in the midst of some kind of sideways wheelie. It was almost comical – for a  few seconds it reminded me of a cartoon – and I stared in disbelief.

It’s weird. When strange things happen right in front of you, time truly seems to slow down. I could see hundreds of sugar beets suspended in mid-air, waiting to fall like huge, ugly brown snowballs.  I could see the right tires twirling furiously off the ground, grasping fruitlessly for traction in the air. I could even see the look of shock and then horror on the driver’s face as he contemplated what he had done: ‘Shit I’m gonna get fired, SHIT!  I’m gonna to get killed!’

Click, thud, thud, click, thud… Distinctively I heard the click of the camera shutter snap, then the sound of beets hitting the ground, then the camera again, then the beets. And then – CRASH!  The truck landed on its side and careened into the cemetery smashing several tombstones in its path. It was shockingly quiet when the hauler finally came to rest on Emmanuel Smither’s grave; the squeaking of the truck’s rotating wheels the only sound that broke the silence. All the sugar beets lay dead on the road or scattered into the cemetery. Jill and I looked at each other.

“Do you think he’s dead?” I asked Jill shakily.

(end of excerpt)

About Me

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Life at Panera

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Life at Panera

Coffee shop kindness

by Mary Rexer-Bluhm

posted 5/22/2014

I’m sitting at my usual table by the window at the Panera on Washtenaw, sipping tea and revising my manuscript. There is a homeless man in a chair in the corner, his belongings stuffed in a ratty duffle bag next to him. One of the workers approaches him, and I brace myself for an eviction.

Instead, I hear this conversation:

Worker: “Isaac? What time do you need to catch your bus?”

Isaac, mumbling: “I have to be at the church by eleven o’clock.”

Worker: “So, I’ll come and remind you at 10:30, then?”

Isaac: “Yes, thank you.”

The worker returns to the counter where the cookies and muffins are stacked under glass. To her colleague she says, “I’ll set my phone for 10:30. That way both of us can remember, OK?” and the other woman nods yes.

On another day a commotion outside the front window catches my eye. A woman is frantic, screaming for her son, clutching at her head. Customers leave their tables and coffee and run to her, asking what’s wrong. But she can’t hear them. She is in her private world of terror–a parent’s worst nightmare: someone has taken her son, she is sure. She screams his name over and over, “George! George!” A man runs down the street calling for the boy; others scramble back into Panera, wide-eyed, searching for the missing child. The woman can no longer stand, and other women, strangers, hold her up, comforting her as best they can. Suddenly one of the regulars from Panera, the one who ran down the sidewalk, comes back into view. He yells to the distraught mother, “He’s in GameStop!” She folds to her knees as her child runs to her, unsure what is wrong. When you’re five, sometimes you just want to play a video game.

On an early spring morning, Panera is mostly empty, the breakfast crowd now on their way to work. I tap on my computer at my table by the window, typing word after word

…continued below…


on paper, hoping a story will flow. Just after 9 a.m. the church ladies begin assembling, one by one, like soft lavender flowers winding their way into a bouquet. The ninety-year-old in charge commandeers three round tables and begins moving chairs together. I know better than to ask if she needs help. Soon more women arrive and drift to the tables, their canes and plastic purses slung over the back of their chairs. I assume their conversations will be of God or, perhaps, the ailments of the elderly. Instead the bits that drift to me are of Obama and Russia and the U-M basketball team. The manager comes over to their table with a tray of muffins and pastries. “We made too many,” he says, and shakes his head. Every morning that the church ladies are there, they make too many.

Days later Isaac, the homeless man, is back. He is standing in front of Panera, unsure what to do. It’s clear he doesn’t have money for a cup of coffee, and his integrity prevents him from simply walking into the place for warmth. He is not aggressive enough to beg, and I watch as he stands against the building, out of the way, eyes downcast.

Soon a man, perhaps a graduate student (judging from his neatly trimmed beard and black glasses), approaches Isaac. A conversation between them begins just three feet from me, but we are divided by a pane of glass, so I hear nothing. Isaac nods slowly, barely making eye contact, then follows the man into Panera. The man orders a bagel and coffee and softly tells Isaac to order whatever he wants. When they pick up their food, the man briefly and almost invisibly pats Isaac on the shoulder before he walks out. Isaac sits in his regular chair near the front, his ancient duffle at his feet, and begins to eat his lunch.    (end of article)

[Originally published in May, 2014.]


On May 22, 2014, Jordan wrote:

I love this. I’ve witnessed these acts of community in Ann Arbor of the years and it is one of my favorite things about living here. It’s nice to here that it even extends to someplace as ordinary as Panera.


On May 22, 2014, Celena wrote:

What a beautiful story. Thanks for sharing


On May 22, 2014, Just Me wrote:

What a wonderfully warm story. It’s words like these that give me faith in humans. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and words.

Ladies in the park…

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I walk my black lab down to the The Ponds, our small neighborhood park on the south side of town near Morgan and York. I am hurrying on my way, intent on fitting in some exercise for my dog in the few minutes I have for lunch. Ceasar is pulling me towards his mid-day heaven, the place where he chases and jumps and catches the Frisbee with ease. He carries the doggie disk in his mouth, prancing ever faster towards his destination, never ever getting there fast enough.

As we approach the park I glance at the two elderly ladies sitting on the bench and they look up at us as we walk past, speaking quickly in Chinese, their heads tilted near each other. I hope they won’t be upset when I let Ceasar off his leash. I know it’s against the local leash law but running for the Frisbee for ten minutes at lunch is the only time Ceasar gets his exercise. And like any good, self-respecting lab, all he wants to do is play.

I walk to the edge of the grass and unhook the dog from the leash. Behind me I hear the Chinese ladies again, murmuring, louder now, from a breeze to the wind.

“Crap,” I think. “One of them is going yell at me any minute.”

Quickly I decide to get in a few good throws for the dog before the reckoning happens. I whip the Frisbee forward and Ceasar darts after it, no longer just an everyday lab but now a beacon in space, zipping at the speed of time. He is good at this – it’s his thing – and in these moments he looks so fluid and smooth, like Lake Michigan on a calm day. When Ceasar poises to jump, the humming from the women behind me pitches up an octave. And when, in midair, he finally clutches the disk between his teeth, the ladies in the park start to clap, delighted by his performance, happy for the entertainment. I turn around surprised and laugh, delighted by them. I make a mental note to myself to stop expecting the worse.

We continue in that manner for the next ten minutes, the dog running for the Frisbee, the ladies humming their anticipatory song and then the hardy clapping for a job well done whether Ceasar makes the catch or not. It is a warm and sunny day and the four of us are thoroughly enjoying ourselves.

As we start home, Ceasar panting happily, his face drawn back into a doggie-smile, I turn and wave at our two-person audience. The two ladies in the park wave back excitedly, chattering in a language I can’t understand, smiling and happy.  Before we’re out of earshot I hear one of the ladies in the park call out in broken English,

“Good dog!”