Monday, December 30, 2013

"Friend in Need," a #YA Short Story

Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

“Denise! You did what?” Tess was astounded.

“Tore my ACL hopping off a pogo stick.”


“A ligament at my knee. I’m in a leg cast now and for the next month.”

“Will you be back in school?”

“No. We hope to have a tutor.”

“Can I help?”

“That would be great. Could you pick up my assignments and bring them to school with you?”

“Sure. Your house is not that far out of my way. I’ll be happy to do that. Can I do more?”

“Not that I can think of. Thank you so much, Tess.”

“Denise, I know you’d do the same for me. I’ve got to run. Call you later.”

Thus began a month in which Tess picked up Denise’s assignments at school and delivered the finished work back to the school. She also called Denise daily and visited her at least once a week. The ACL took longer than a month to heal, and there was a lot of painful physical therapy Denise had to endure, as well, but she made it through rather well and returned to school.

When Denise got back, she and Tess talked some more about what Denise had gone through, which had been rough. Something other than the knee had been painful, though.

“Tess, you were the only friend who really helped out. Others offered to do things but did not come through. Some seemed to be avoiding calling me. It was disappointing.”

This surprised Tess, and she discussed it with her parents. Her dad said there is an expression that covers it, “A friend in need is a friend indeed.”

“What does it mean?” she asked.

“You can tell who your true friends are when you find yourself in need, in a situation in which you need help. In the Fire Department, we can rely on each other, partly out of obligation, partly out of friendship. In school, there is less of a sense of duty, but real friends help friends.”

Tess’s mom added, “When you need help, some people avoid you, pretend they don’t know about your problem. True friends find out what you need and try to get it for you. That’s how you can tell friends from mere acquaintances.”

Tess wondered, which of my “friends” would actually help me if I needed something? I think Denise would and May Lee would, but I am not so sure about some of the others.

Tess said, “I hope I am the kind of friend who can be relied on.”

Her mother responded, “You’ve already proven that.” 


One of our series of fifty instructive short stories for young readers. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

"More Precious Than Gold," a Short Story for Middle Grades


Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

“Mrs. Williams, this is Lacey Cotter. Your daughter baby-sits for us sometimes, and she did so yesterday. May I speak with her?”

“Sure. I’ll call her to the phone. Is anything wrong?”

“Well, we can’t find my diamond and gold ring. We’ve looked everywhere. Maybe Tess has seen it or has an idea where it might be.”

“Tess, pick up the phone! It’s Mrs. Cotter.”

“Hello, this is Tess.”

“Tess, we can’t find my gold diamond ring. It was not here last night when we came home. Did you see it while you were watching the kids?”

“No. Not at all.”

“Well, thank you. It will probably turn up, but I don’t know where.”

That was Sunday. On Monday, Tess learned that one of the Cotter kids had told his friend that Tess had stolen his mother’s ring. Tess was shocked.

When Tess and her mother met in the kitchen early that evening, Tess told her what had happened. Mrs. Williams knew that Tess would never steal, and she wanted Mrs. Cotter to stop her kids from saying something that could be so harmful to Tess’s reputation. Tess’s mother called Mrs. Cotter.

“Hello, this is Jane Williams, may I speak with Lacey.”

“This is Lacey.”

“Lacey, Tess is very upset. One of your children told some of your child’s friends that Tess had stolen your ring.”

“That’s terrible. We know Tess would never do such a thing. That’s one of the reasons we trust her with the kids. I will speak to them right now and get to the bottom of this. Please excuse us and give my apologies to Tess. I am very sorry this has happened.”

Within a day or two, Tess learned that the Cotter kid had told his friends that he had been wrong…and that his family did not think that Tess had stolen the ring, even though it was still missing. Tess did not know who else might have heard the first story, though.

Almost a week later, Mrs. Williams got another phone call from Mrs. Cotter.

“Jane, this is Lacey. I want you to know that we have found the missing ring. When I went to scrub the bathtub today, I put on a pair of rubber gloves that I use for such work. The ring was in the ring finger of the glove, where it must have come off the last time I used it, and I did not notice it immediately.”

“I’m sure you are glad to have it back, and I know Tess will be pleased, too.”

“Yes. Tell her again that we are sorry for the unpleasantness a few days ago. We hope she will continue to baby-sit for us.”

“I’ll tell her. Thanks.”

At dinner that night, the Williams family discussed what had happened. Tess still felt hurt, a bit. Everyone agreed that having her reputation harmed was unfair. It has been written that our reputations are “more precious than gold,” and Tess understood what that meant. She was not sure she would baby-sit for the Cotters again. Their carelessness had certainly hurt their reputation in the Williams household.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Expect More. Get More. Care Less.

I almost entitled this piece, “Expect less. Get less. Care less.” Expecting less helps shield us from disappointment. Lowered expectations often lead to worse results. Poor results need to be faced stoically.

Discussing this with my beloved wife, M.S. patient Tina Su Cooper, we agreed we should recommend a more positive approach.

Expect more. Doing so makes you work harder, more optimistically, toward your goals. Others often try to live up to our expectations. Low expectations produce worse behavior. Expecting that another person will treat you unfairly can make that person inclined to treat you less well.

Get more. Not only does positive thinking improve our mood, it seems to attract what we are seeking. This “law of attraction” doesn’t always work, but it probably does improve our chances.

Care less. We all prefer positive outcomes. If we let outcomes control our happiness, however, we are vulnerable to unhappiness when things do not go our way. Kipling advised that we meet triumph and disaster stoically, and “treat these two imposters just the same.” Imposters? Some defeats are to our benefit: “Every knock is a boost.“ Some victories are Pyrrhic, costing more than are worth, encouraging us to go in a wrong direction thereafter.

“Hope for the best and prepare for the worst.” Harness positive thoughts, but “keep your powder dry.” For example, IBM announced this August that it was moving its retirees, like me, from their generous medical plan to Medicare plus partially subsidized supplements. For many, the change was neutral or beneficial. For Tina and me, it would be disastrous, falling far short of the hundreds of thousands of dollars a year that IBM has been providing for Tina’s round-the-clock skilled nursing care these past nine years. After contacting IBM, I scurried around, planning the depletion of our savings, our retirement funds, and money from our two families, preparing for the worst, while hoping IBM would make an exception for exceptional cases.

In mid-November, we learned that Tina’s in-home skilled nursing care would continue to be covered fully. IBM had listened to the concerns of its retirees who were in special situations, and the corporation has modified its plans. Our response: “Thank God. Thank IBM. Thank God for IBM.” Our Thanksgiving came a week early.

When we were informed originally that IBM would not be covering Tina’s in-home nursing care, we were advised by friends to pursue legal remedies, to fight. The alternative was to expect that, once aware of situations such as ours, IBM would do the right thing, as it has. Litigating might have been useless or even counter-productive.

Care more? A case can be made for caring more. One lives more intensively that way. Love is worth it. Negative emotions are not. Ideally, we would savor each success and shrug off every failure. Ideally.

In pursuing our goals, everything counts, including optimism, yet we ought not care too greatly: we are only here temporarily.


Submitted to 20 Nov 13

Saturday, December 7, 2013

"On Time...Or Else!" A short story for young adults

Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

“Rick, what’s the matter?” Tess asked at dinner that night.

“Oh, nothing.”

“Sure there is,” his dad commented, “you’ve been glum as long as I’ve been home.”

His mother put her hand on Rick’s shoulder. “What’s bothering you?”

“I got a letter saying I won’t be considered for Trailblazers’ Camp counselor this summer because I sent my application in two days late. It doesn’t seem fair.”

His dad looked up from his meal, “Why don’t you think it was fair?”

“I was only two days late. How much difference can that make?”

Tess wanted to know why he was late at all.

“They required an essay, and it took longer than I planned to get it just right.”

This started a conversation that lasted many minutes. His dad told Rick about how he himself had missed out on a college scholarship by sending his application a day or two late, and it taught him a lesson he never forgot. Mrs. Williams commented that she has to be at school before classes start each day, and that deadlines are important. She said she is strict about deducting points for late papers in her classes.

Tess thought the camp was being too strict, but both parents agreed that deadlines are needed and that it is not fair to those who mailed their applications on time to let others send them in late without penalty.

Mr. Williams commented, “The other thing about this is that you either did not give yourself enough time or you fussed over the essay too much. While it is good to do careful work, nothing is ever quite perfect, and sometimes close enough is good enough.”

Mrs. Williams offered to help Rick with the next essay he needed to write, but Rick said he did not want someone else to do what he was responsible for, although he would appreciate it if she read it over once he was done, to help him catch any errors.

By this time, Tess and Tim were feeling left out of the conversation, and they headed into the living room to watch television. They were sorry to see that the long dinner conversation meant that they came in late for their favorite program. T and T both agreed that next time, “On time…or else!”



Monday, December 2, 2013

"Snow Business" A Short Story

Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

Tess Williams lived with her family on Highland Avenue, on the edge of a small town about 70 miles north of New York City. When it snowed there, she and her elder brother, Rick, and younger brother, Tim, would go from house to house along Highland and offer to shovel the walks and the driveways for some money, not a lot of cash, but enough to feel it was worthwhile.

That February came an especially heavy late-winter snow storm, so heavy that some trees were knocked over by the wind and the weight of the snow on their branches. Overnight, the entire neighborhood lost its electric power, as some trees knocked down the power lines.

For Tess and her family it was a bit of an adventure. None of their electric clock alarms went off, so four of them got up late, not a problem for Rick or Tess or Tim or their mom, because school, they soon learned, was cancelled. Mr. Williams, though, was awakened by a call on his cell phone, and left the house for the fire department before everyone else was up and around…a fire had started in a home a few miles away, caused by a kerosene heater being used because the electric power was out. He was likely to be gone all day.

Breakfast was blah, all cold. How long would the electricity be off? The longest outage the kids could remember was 95 hours a few years before, but usually the power company got the power back to everyone within a day or so.

“Let’s make some dough shoveling snow,” Rick rhymed.

“I think money is sweeter than honey,” Tess rhymed back.

“I’ll help, too,” Tim chimed in, not up to rhyming this early in the morning, if ever.

They spent much of the day going along Highland Avenue, knocking on doors, ringing doorbells, getting many of their neighbors to pay them for shoveling walks and driveways. They did not stop in at the house at the end of the street, though. Mr. Taylor, elderly and sometimes grumpy, usually shoveled his own walk and his own driveway. Seemed proud of it, in fact, although maybe he just wanted to save money, being retired.

Evening came. The Williams kids split the money they had made shoveling snow. The family had sandwiches for dinner by candle light, as the power was still off. No TV, no radio, a bit boring. Flashlights let them read, awkwardly. They went to sleep early, without worrying about getting up the next day for school, as it was a Saturday.

That following morning there was still no power. The no-power adventure was getting to be a drag. They decided to go sledding, and all three bundled up and headed up Highland Avenue to the hill they used for sledding.

“Tess, you and Tim go on. I’m going to check on the Taylors. Their walk and their driveway are still not shoveled.”

“OK, Rick, see you there later.”

Rick rang the Taylors’ doorbell. No answer. He knocked. No answer. Knocked again. This time, the door opened, and Mr. Taylor invited him in, putting his finger to his lips to indicate Rick should be quiet.

When they reached the kitchen, Mr. Taylor said, “Sorry to shush you, but my wife is sleeping. She’s not well. You’re the eldest Williams boy, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I’m Rick Williams. We noticed your walk and driveway were not shoveled and wondered what was wrong. Usually you do it yourself.”

“Thank you for your concern, Rick. My wife’s health is very fragile. Our power has been out for over a day, and I do not want to leave her. Our telephone is out, as well.”

“We have the same problem, Mr. Taylor, but we can use our cell phones until they run out of power. Don’t you have one?”

“No. We try to watch our expenses and did not want to pay the extra money for a cell phone. I think we were mistaken, though, as I would like to be able to call a doctor or the hospital if my wife’s condition gets any worse.”

“Is that why your walk and driveway are not shoveled?”

“Partly. My back is sore lately. Also, I didn’t want to leave my wife alone. If we have to go to the hospital in my car, it will be difficult. If necessary, I could call the emergency 911 number, but what they consider an emergency might not be what I would consider one. They might not want to come.”

“Mr. Taylor, I’m glad I came. I’m going to do two things. First, I’m going to lend you my cell phone, right now. Second, I’m going to shovel your walk and driveway so you and your wife can get out if you need to.

“I couldn’t accept all that.”

“I insist.” So it was.

Late that afternoon, the power came back on all along Highland Avenue. Not long after, the phone rang at the Williams home.


“Hello, this is Geoffrey Taylor, who is this?”

“Tess Williams.”

“Are you Rick’s sister?”


“Please tell Rick my wife and I greatly appreciated his help this morning. She is feeling better, and we did not have to get out to the hospital after all. Tell Rick I will be down to return his cell phone within the hour, and please tell your parents they have a son to be very proud of.”

“Thank you, Mr. Taylor. I will go to your house right now and get Rick’s phone and save you the trouble.”

“Very nice of you, Tess. I see the Williams family has two very good children. I‘ll be waiting at the door.”

When Tess met Mr. Taylor, he tried to pay her for the work that Rick had done. She refused his offer, with thanks.

Sometimes, Tess thought, it’s better to give than to get. We made enough money shoveling…it’s a nice little business. In fact, there’s no business like snow business!”


One of a series of fifty short stories for young readers.