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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

The Full Suburban: Short stories can pack a punch, and Julia Ditto wants to hear yours

Henry Ditto was disappointed to return home early from a camping trip, but his grandma knew just the thing to say.  (Courtesy of Julia Ditto)
Julia Ditto For The Spokesman-Review

You would think that, after writing a column every week for almost five years, I would run out of things to talk about. It’s true that some days, I stare at my blank computer screen for several minutes, then check my email, go on a walk, eat a handful of Girl Scout cookies, text a friend, feed the dog, read the newspaper, and tidy my office – all while racking my brain for an idea to write about.

Sometimes, a funny thing will happen that’s good enough to share but not necessarily meaty enough to fill a whole column. These ideas are kept in a folder on my computer – creatively titled “Ideas” – and today is the day that some of them are finally going to see the light. I hope you enjoy these shortest of short stories, in no particular order.

1. A couple years ago, when the now-annual summertime wildfire smoke-n-choke was in full swing, our son Henry was scheduled to go on a two-day campout with a few male leaders and a handful of boys his age. He had never been on an overnight campout without his family, and he was beyond excited for this relatively unsupervised foray into the outdoors. He packed his duffel bag and chose some favorite snacks, and I drove him to the drop off location, where he and his friends almost immediately started throwing gravel at each other.

A few hours later, I got a text from one of the leaders, telling me that the smoke had been too bad at the campsite and that the campout was being called off.

I told my mom about it the next day, after a disappointed Henry had been returned to our very boring and supervised home.

She pretty much summed up what I was thinking when she replied, “Gonads aren’t what they’re cracked up to be.”

2. One of my youngest sons, Emmett, inherited my delightful penchant for worrying about everything from whether the cats got fed to the rate at which the polar ice caps are melting.

When he was about 8 years old, I was tucking him into bed when he said, “Mom, if it was between me dying and you dying, who would you pick?”

“Me dying,” I replied.

He paused. “What if it was a slow death?”

3. I have written before about the draconian parental controls Logan and I keep on our kids’ smartphones. These pre-set controls block questionable content like pornography and other explicit material.

One day when she was still in high school, our oldest daughter, Lucy, was using her phone to look up information on hot air balloons. Time and time again, she was unable to open any web pages that were suggested from her Google search.

“Why does this keep getting blocked?” she asked in frustration. “What could the parental controls possibly find inappropriate about hot air balloons?”

“Maybe it’s the word ‘hot’,” I joked. “Why don’t you try Googling ‘attractive air balloon’ instead?”

She did, and just like that, all the information she ever wanted to know about hot – er, I mean attractive – air balloons popped up immediately.

4. Emmett loves chess. He’s in the chess club at school and is quite the whiz kid. I, on the other hand, understand exactly zero of the rules. Poor Emmett has tried to teach me, but nothing makes sense in my mind besides “checkmate,” which means you are finally free to leave and go make yourself a sandwich.

One day, Emmett convinced his little and less-proficient-at-chess brother, Hyrum, to play a game with him. He was surprised when Hyrum was able to get out of check (which I think means to avoid losing?).

“That’s impressive,” I said. “That’s more than I know how to do in chess, and he’s only 6 years old.”

Emmett looked thoughtful for a moment, and then said with a completely straight face, “You guys are probably equally terrible.”

That’s it for today, folks. So now I want to hear from you: send me your best, true, shortest-short stories (200 words or less), and I may just print some of my favorites in a future column – unless they’re all equally terrible, in which case, I’ll go make myself a sandwich.

Julia Ditto shares her life with her husband, six children and a menagerie of farm animals in Spokane Valley. She can be reached at