Personal Essays and Nonfiction Short Stories

Skip Van Lenten

Nonfiction Short Stories



The Radio

     There must be some truth to the old saying, "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree." The other day, my son brought home a pair of speakers that one of our neighbors had put out on the curb for garbage, and I have to admit that I had my eye on them too. More


The Boat

     I have several violins that were handed down to me by my father. He enjoyed playing them, but was not very good. The only reason I can get away with saying that is because I enjoy playing too, and I am even worse. It is a difficult instrument to master. More


Welcome Home

    My son came home from California to visit us just before the holidays. Our gift to him was his air fare, and because we were going to celebrate Christmas a week early, we were able to book a round-trip flight for a reasonable price. He was delayed for the return trip, however, and we had to re-book it for the following day, at three times the initial cost. Being one day closer to Christmas was enough to make that much of a difference. More


Little Big Books

     When I was growing up, I shared a bedroom with my younger sister, and my mother would come in almost every night and read us a bedtime story. Sometimes, she would sit on my sister’s bed, and sometimes she would sit on mine, and read out loud to both of us, but as I got a little older, she started teaching me to read by myself. If I had trouble, she would point to a word and tell me to “sound it out,” and eventually I learned to get through a whole sentence without stumbling. More


Minnesota Nights

    I bought my first telescope when I was 12 years old. I had saved up enough money delivering newspapers to buy a Criterion 4 inch reflector, known as a “Dynascope,” and it opened up the universe to me. I was able to view distant galaxies and nebulae, and double stars that otherwise appear as one, and spent many hours exploring the night sky. I had a star map to locate various objects, and a small pocket guide to look up new things while I stood out on my front lawn. More


The Parade

     Before I moved back to my hometown in New Jersey in 1998, I lived in the small town of Kent, Connecticut. It reminded me of what it was like to grow up in New Jersey in the 50's, when it was still a rural area, and maybe that's why I had chosen to live there in the first place. There was one traffic light at the main intersection, a few stores on Main Street, and the pace of life and the surrounding woods made me feel right at home. More


My Father’s Violin

    We grew up with music in our house. My sisters and I may not have known what to make of it when we were young, but whenever my mother sat down at the piano, and my father got out his saxophone, we became what he called, “a captive audience.” I’m not sure we had a choice. More


The Cloakroom

    I recently retired, after working most of my adult life as a housepainter, but one time, while I was painting a house for one of my regular customers. I walked out to the truck to get something, and couldn't remember what it was. I stood there for a minute, mentally running through a list of what I might need, but nothing came to mind. Not wanting to let on that I was having trouble remembering, I grabbed a few rags and an old paint brush and started walking back to the house when it came to me: sandpaper! More


Wildlife Sanctuary

    I lived in northern California in the early 80’s. I had an opportunity to stay in a house at the base of the Usal Mountains, about as far north as you can go on Highway 1, before it makes an abrupt right turn in Westport, and winds its way eastward toward 101. The owner had offered to sail a friend’s boat to Hawaii, and would be gone for the summer. He had been constructing the house entirely from logs, and although it was far from complete, I saw it as an opportunity to spend some time in a very isolated and unique setting. More


The Bike Trip, 1958

     I have an old roadmap of New York that was put out by the Shell Oil Company in 1946. "Tour with confidence," it says, under the familiar scalloped-shell logo.
     In those days, you could pull into any gas station and pick up a map for free, but this one was published long before I was able to drive. It covers northern New Jersey and parts of New York as far north as Bear Mountain State Park. The paper is brown with age, and there are tears along the folds, but every once in a while, I open it up just to relive one of my favorite memories. More



    On summer days back in the 50's, there could be as many as a dozen kids playing in the street in front of our house. Mostly, we played stickball, or two-hand touch, or some form of street hockey, using a crushed can for a puck. My favorite was tossing a Pee-Wee. A Pee-Wee is a small football, about one-forth the size of a real one, and if you could throw a spiral, you could toss it from one telephone pole to another with no effort at all. More


Benny's Clarinet Teacher

     In the late 90’s, while I was living in a small town in northwestern Connecticut, I was hired by a woman to do some interior painting in a house that was owned by her grandfather. I have forgotten her name now, so I will call her “Maria.” We had met several times before, and had some mutual friends, but the only thing I knew about her was that she was a novelist, and had eight books to her credit. Her grandfather had recently passed away, and the house was going on the market. More


A Dog Story

    Psychologists say that a person's earliest recollection can sometimes be linked to the way they perceive the world as adults. Looking back on my own life, I can recall a bright spring morning, when my mother took my hand and walked me down our driveway, between an old black car and the side of the house, to see our first dog, Daisy. More


A Little Adventure

    When I was younger, my favorite books were always about sea voyages and shipwrecks. I enjoyed reading stories about people who were stranded on remote islands, or stuck on life rafts, and then rescued. I also read all of the major accounts of solo voyages around the world, and I think one of the reasons why I was so fascinated by these stories is that my father had an old wooden boat, a seaworthy 32 footer, and every once in a while we would take it out into the Atlantic, just off the coast of Point Pleasant, and fish for fluke or blues. More


Burning Leaves

        We have a large maple tree in our backyard that has been there as far back as I can remember. It was the first tree I ever climbed, and one of my favorite places to play. In the summer, the trunk of the tree was always surrounded by toy tractors, steam shovels, and trucks. We built roadways and tunnels all around it, but at this time of year, what I remember most of all are the piles of leaves that we used to jump into from the rope swing that hung from one of the larger branches. More



Additional story links:

Learn to Draw
Charles Atlas
My Father's Violin
The Trade
Mr. Stewart's TV



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All material Copyright 2015 Skip Van Lenten