Standing Tall and Proud: a short story by cam8510
U.S. Airways Airbus
This was my entry in the 2015 NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. Interestingly, in the 2016 challenge I was assigned the same genre in which to write. The genre is comedy. You can read this, my first real attempt at humor and my latest undertaking and compare. Have I improved. I hope so. My 2016 entry in th e NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge story is titled,
In the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge, writers are given three prompts; Genre, Subject and Character. For Genre, I received Comedy (ugh). For Subject, I received A foreign exchange student program (What? Really?). For a Character, I received A Website Designer (Again, What? Really?).
In response to the above prompts, I wrote the following story. Comedy? Barely, but I hope you appreciate the attempt to write to what I consider to be pretty tough prompts. A maximum of 2,500 words was placed on our stories. At 2499 words, mine came in just under the limit.
I hope you enjoy this story.
Standing Tall and Proud
The Vaughn family waited expectantly at Gate E14 of Philadelphia International Airport as passengers from Frankfurt, Germany filed out of the exit door from the European Airbus. One after another, travelers greeted family and friends with hugs, fist bumps and high fives while the Vaughns continued to wait. Then a six foot blond was standing in the doorway to the boarding bridge sporting a grin that would make an undertaker get all toothy. He set his carry-on bags down and stretched his arms out as if to embrace the entire terminal. With a German accented voice that carried nearly the length of the concourse, he cried out, “HELLO, MY NAME IS STEPHAN SCHUSTER FROM DRESDEN, GERMANY. WELCOME TO AMERICA!” Everyone who heard erupted into laughter and applause. The Vaughns ran forward to greet the foreign exchange student who would be spending the next year in their home.
A stout, forty year old man with a complexion that spoke of hours working in the sun, stepped up and shook the hand of the fired up youth.
“Stephan, I’m Orlie Vaughn, and this is my wife, Patricia. Over there is Julia who is fifteen, and next to her is Jimmie who just turned twelve. Welcome to the United States.” The family crowded in, shaking Stephan’s hand and patting him on the back.
After picking up Stephan’s checked luggage, they made their way through the terminal and outside toward the parking lot. Stephan walked between Julia and Jimmie, all three talking at once.
“I am so exciting!” said Stephan. Everybody cracked up at that as they piled into the SUV to begin the drive through Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Stephan was watching intently as they passed by Center City.
“I love big city,” he said, his face nearly pressed against the window.
“We’ll bring you here often so you can see all the historic sites,” said Patricia.
“Internet cafe?” said Stephan.
“Practically on every corner,” said Julia.
Philadelphia, Center City
The city fell behind, and the wide open fields of Lancaster County greeted them. Stephan’s smile faded to a frown and his brow wrinkled.
“Live in Philadelphia, Yes?”
“No,” said Orlie. “We live outside the city on a farm. I’m surprised the foreign student exchange company didn’t tell you.”
“Stop automobile! Please stop auto!” Shouted Stephan, hugging his carry on bag.
Orlie got off the interstate on the next exit and pulled into the parking lot of a Wawa convenience store.
“Okay, Stephan, what is it?”
Slowly and deliberately, Stephan said, “I have never been outside city of Dresden until today.”
“Stephan, you mean that you rarely go out of the city, right?” Said Orlie.
“You seldom leave the city?” said Patricia.
“Infrequently?” Said Julia.
“Never?” Said Jimmie.
“Never….Ever,” said Stephan.
When they arrived at the farm, Stephan stood in the driveway with beads of sweat forming on his face. He turned in a slow circle, taking in the wide open countryside. The Vaughn’s house and farm buildings were the only structures in sight.
“I wonder what the opposite of claustrophobia is?” Said Julia, staying back from where Stephan stood wrestling with the same issue.
“Ooh, good one, Sis. I’ll look it up right now,” said Jimmie.
“And you’ll have a paper written on the subject by dinner time,” she added.
“Agoraphobia,” said Jimmie, looking at the screen of his smart phone. “That’s the best I can do right now, but I’ll keep looking.”
Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
Inside the house, Patricia showed Stephan to a large, second floor bedroom. Four windows allowed the room to be filled with natural light. She left him to unpack his bags and went downstairs.
A short while later, Stephan appeared with his bags still packed.
“I go back to Dresden now. Please take me to airport,” he said.
“I’ll take you if that’s what you really want, Stephan,” said Orlie. “But we’ve been looking forward to you coming for a long time and have planned lots of fun things to do this summer.”
“I’m a freelance website designer, Stephan,” said Patricia. “We can work together to build you a blog where you can post all the photos and videos you take for everyone back home to see. Please stay.”
“I read in your bio that you’re a runner,” said Julia. “I run too. I suppose you do all your running in the city back home. We can go into Philly sometimes and run along the Delaware River. Say you’ll stay, Stephan.”
“On the other hand, if you go home, I’ll get my room back,” said Jimmie. “Otherwise, Mom and Dad are making me move out into the barn with the cows while you’re here.”
“That’s not true. Don’t believe a word he says, Stephan,” said Patricia, laughing.
Stephan smiled a little.
“Cows might be sad if Jimmie does not live with them. I will stay.”
The family included Stephan in everything they did. During trips into Philadelphia they toured the historic sites such as Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and the historic Eastern State Penitentiary. After each outing, Stephan would add photos to his new blog.
The first time Stephan observed Orlie milking the cows, he was amazed. He watched intently as the machine was attached to a cow’s udder and milk came out. Orlie also taught Stephan how to milk the cows by hand. Jimmy was busy with his smart phone, so Stephan grabbed one of the cow’s teats, pointed it and squeezed. The white stream hit Jimmie in the ear.
“And now, cows will like like how you smell when you sleep in barn.” Stephan was laughing at his own wit when a stream of milk went straight into his mouth.
“Nice catch,” said Orlie.
One evening as they all sat around the table after dinner, Stephan got a phone call, so he excused himself and went into the living room. The family couldn’t help but overhear his side of the conversation, which was in German.
“Listen to him,” said Patricia.
“It’s like a different person,” said Orlie. “He sounds confident and more like a seventeen year old.”
“Hmmm,” said Jimmie. “That’s a very interesting observation about how a person who speaks a second language is perceived by those for whom it is their first language.”
“Write a book,” said Julia.
“I will,” said Jimmie, “and it’ll be called How to Intellectually Intimidate Your Older Sister.”
Historic Eastern State Penitentiary
August came and the family made plans to go backpacking on the portion of the Appalachian Trail that passed through Pennsylvania. They sat down with Stephan to explain the trip.
“We’ll be gone for six days,” said Orlie. “We have an extra backpack, tent and sleeping bag for you, and we’ll each carry a portion of the food.”
“How long is Appalachian Trail?” Asked Stephan.
“From Georgia to Maine it’s about 2,200 miles,” said Patricia. Stephan pulled up the calculator app on his phone, punched in the numbers and stared wide-eyed at the result.
“I don’t think I can walk 3,540 kilometers in six days,” he said.
“Don’t worry, we’ll only be covering about fifty miles,” said Orlie.
“That’s 80.47 kilometers,” said Jimmie as he kicked his sister under the table.
Backpacking the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania
The day they were to leave on their backpacking trip finally arrived. They parked the SUV in a gravel parking lot along the highway. These were the Pocono Mountains and the hikers were surrounded by forested peaks. A small sign that read “Appalachian Trail” pointed to a narrow path that led into the trees. Each person hefted their own pack onto their back and adjusted the straps. Stephan had practiced putting the pack on when it was empty, but was having a hard time with it full. Finally he had it in place and Orlie led the way. The plan was to hike eight miles to a campsite at the top of one of the mountains.
The trail climbed steadily, and Stephan was having trouble keeping up. The others stopped frequently to wait for him.
“What’s the matter, Stephan?” Said Julia. “I’ve gone on lots of runs with you, so I know you’re in good shape. Maybe you just aren’t used to carrying a pack.”
Finally they reached the top where the going was easier. When they arrived at the campsite, Stephan was completely exhausted. He took off his backpack and dropped it to the ground where it landed with a dull, thud. He fell down next to it with another thud. Orlie walked over and grabbed the pack.
“What did you put in here, Stephan, one of the cows?” He began unloading the pack. At first there were the expected camping items, but then Orlie reached in and pulled out Stephan’s laptop and all his other electronic gadgets. Next came a huge wheel of cheese from Germany with a label that told them it weighed 2.2 kilograms.
“That’s 4.85 pounds,” said Jimmie. “We studied metrics last spring at school. “Half a kilogram is about one pound. Shut up Julia.”
“I didn’t say a thing,” she replied.
Orlie kept digging in the pack, pulling out a bag of candy bars, a loaf of bread, a box of Pop Tarts and a six pack of Coke.
Julia started laughing, followed by everyone else, including Stephan. Orlie
was trying to talk, but it was difficult because he was laughing so hard.
“Stephan, we were each carrying about twenty-five pounds in our bags. You had at least fifty in yours.”
On the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania
After setting up their tents, they all gathered round the fire pit for dinner. Patricia handed each person a small bag. Stephan felt the weight of his dinner and retrieved the cheese and the six pack of colas. He gave everyone a can.
“All of you please drink a Coca-Cola. I do not want to carry them tomorrow.
I will eat my cheese also. I am sorry, but I think I will need more than this little bag of food you have so kindly provided.”
Orlie took a pot of boiling water from the fire and instructed Stephan to open his bag. Orlie poured water into the bag and handed Stephan a spoon to stir with. He was pleasantly surprised when the steam rose, carrying with it the pleasant aroma of lasagna. A few minutes later, when the contents of the bags had reconstituted, everyone was eating a delicious, hot meal.
After dinner, Orlie noticed that Stephan seemed to be a little restless.
“What’s the matter?” He asked.
“Nothing really. I’m fine,” Stephan said as he crossed his legs.
“Come with me, Stephan. Jimmy, you can come too,” said Orlie. The three of them wandered off into the trees as the daylight faded. Julia and Patricia stayed by the fire.
“He’s about to experience one of the highlights of being a male,” said Patricia. “Peeing in the woods.”
“I’m sure this will be a rite of passage for him, a watershed moment, so to speak,” said Julia.
After walking for a few minutes, Orlie turned to Stephan.
“You can do your business here. You’ll need these,” He said, handing Stephan a small, garden spade and a roll of toilet paper. Dig the hole at least six inches deep. When you’re finished, cover it up.”
After that, all three of them stood quietly with their backs to each other….
When they had finished, Orlie and Jimmie started walking back toward the campsite.
“But what do I put in the hole?” Asked Stephan.
“Just think about it a minute. You’ll figure it out,” said Orlie.
Orlie and Jimmy had been back at the campfire for several minutes when they heard Stephan’s voice floating back beneath the forest canopy.
“Oh, now I understand.”
“Welcome to America,” said Julia, rolling her eyes.
“Gives a whole new meaning to ‘Land of the Free,” said Patricia.
Philadelphia City Hall and William Penn Statue on Top
Stephan and Julia wanted to go to Philly for one more city run before school started. On Friday night the family had watched an old movie together that Julia wanted Stephan to see before their run on Saturday.
The two runners began at City Hall with old William Penn watching down over them from the top of the building. They spotted the Philadelphia Museum of Art from a long way off and made a bee line toward the famous structure. The steps were broad and rose before them, though from their vantage point, they couldn’t see the top.
“Recognize it yet?” Julia asked. They climbed the first few steps together, and Stephan began to laugh as he raised his arms over his head, fists pumping into the air. Then the pair ran up the steps just like Rocky Balboa had done in the film the night before.
They looked down on the city and the river from the top. They could see Orlie, Patricia and Jimmie down below.
“This would be a great time to name the highlight of your summer, Stephan,” said Julia. They stood in silence as he considered the question. He had achieved so many personal firsts that he was hesitant to elevate any one over the others.
“Yes, there is one thing that makes me stand tall and proud, Julia, though it is a little uncomfortable speaking of it.”
“Peeing in the woods, right?”
“It was awesome.”
Philadelphia Museum of Art and Rocky Balboa StatueClick thumbnail to view full-size
From there, Stephan and the Vaughn family went to another nearly sacred place in Philadelphia. At Ninth Street and Passyunk Avenue stood two historic monuments which represented one of the most significant contributions of this city to the world. On one corner was Geno’s Steaks and on the other was Pat’s, King of Steaks. At this intersection, a continual war was waged over who made the best Philly Cheese Steak in the city.
Stephan stepped up to the window. He had done his homework and knew what to order.
“Cheese Steak with Whiz,” he said.
As they ate their Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches along the crowded street with sparrows dancing at their feet, Stephan spoke up.
“I almost want to change what has been the highlight of my summer.”
“The cheese steak was that good?” Julia asked.
“Well, maybe not quite that good,” said Stephan.
Geno's Steaks, Philadelphia
On the final evening of summer vacation, the family was cleaning up after dinner. Stephan excused himself and left the kitchen.
“He certainly seems to have gotten used to the wide open spaces of Lancaster County,” said Patricia.
“I agree,” said Orlie as he put another drinking glass into the cupboard.
“Hey Dad, come look,” said Jimmie. He led his father to the laundry room at the back of the house. “Out there,” he said, pointing out the window into the back yard. Stephan stood in the shadows with his back turned to the house, apparently thinking he was well hidden. Finally he turned, still zipping up his pants.
Returning to the kitchen, Orlie took another drinking glass from Patricia and said,
“Yes, I do believe Stephan has adapted to life in the country quite well. But do me a favor, If he ever comes asking for a small garden spade, let me know.”