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October 2020

Copyright 2020 by the RPG Partnership

All rights reserved


No portion of this work may be reproduced without prior written permission from


RPG Partnership

1112 Rogers Road

Graham, NC 27253


Thanks to all these talented writers who have contributed to every issue of RPG Digest with such enthusiasm. Cover and title page paintings, courtesy of Jane Foust


Table of Contents

Autumn Paints the World by Laura Alston. 3

In Praise of Honesty by E. B. Alston. 3

Sylvia Plath by Rita Berman. 4

The Good Old Days by Peggy Ellis. 12

I Didn’t Know by Tim Whealton. 14

A Closer Look at Real-ativity by Randy Bittle. 16

Family Attitudes Toward Education by Sybil Austin Skakle. 18

Jewish Singles of the Triangle by Howard A. Goodman. 20

How to Call the Police When You’re Old and Can’t Move. 24

SAT NAV by Marry Willimson. 25

A Trip to a Basketball Game – 1949 by E. B. Alston. 26

Hammer Spade and the Four Horsemen. 27

My Environmental Journey Since September Issue of RPG Digest by Carol A. Rados. 33

New Book Project by E. B. Alston. 34

October Horoscope. 38

Dear Friends and Family by Jo Kerr. 40

Psalm of a Sacred Place by Sybil Austin Skakle. 41

Reality for Seniors. 41

The Canaanite Woman and Jesus by Sybil Austin Skakle. 42

The Prince’s Bride by E. B. Alston. 43

The Diary of Samuel Pepys. 44

Contributors. 47


Editor’s Note: The magazine is late because I had Gall Bladder surgery on 24 September. My mind is still controlled by some very powerful medications, all of which make ma a happier person.

Autumn Paints the World

Laura A. Alston


Autumn comes on swift, strong feet,

And it paints the world with gaiety.

It brings with it joy and laughter,

Dispelling all feelings of gloom and despair.


Autumn paints the world with beauty.

Its yellow, orange, and red are a feast

That everyone is welcome to enjoy.

It is received with gratitude and warmth.


Autumn paints the world with hope.

It ushers in delight and brings opportunities

Of a new beginning, a time of change.

Autumn's presence is exhilarating and astounding.


raise of Honesty

E. B. Alston


Every day we see news accounts of extreme dishonesty. People in high places defrauding others, outright theft, robbery and lying, even when the truth would help them. You expect this sort of stuff from politicians. People who live in ghettos are more honest than the current crop of politicians. You kind of understand  with people who have never had a chance for success, have no saleable skills, bad dispositions, and with nothing to lose.

I was lucky to grow up in a family where honesty was the rule and this includes my extended family of uncles, aunts and 38 cousins. We moved in circles of like-minded people. When I was in the Army, honesty prevailed. In my 42-year career in the telephone industry, I dealt with very few dishonest people, and they didn’t last long. During most of my life, people I know have been the kind where a “word of mouth” commitment was as good as a signed contract.

After stating what I wrote above, I have been thinking about one group who have been a shining star of honesty. They are, hold your breath, shooting competitors. I have never seen, or heard of, a score being changed. As a group, rifle marksmen and women are the most competitive people I know. At rifle matches, thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment sit undisturbed behind the firing line while their owners might be a thousand yards away in the pits pulling targets.

This trait extends to vendors who sell equipment and supplies to competitive shooters. Several (many) years ago, I decided to upgrade my spotting scope for one of the new Kowa’s. A vendor, who was also a high-power competitor that I met at the national matches, had the best price. He lived in Oregon. I called him to order the scope.

When I offered to give him my credit card information, he said, “I’ll put your bill in the box. Mail me a check.”

“What if I don’t pay?” I said jokingly.

“I am a long range shooter,” he replied.

Another vendor, who was also a competitive shooter, lived in Connecticut and he just mailed my orders with a bill.

One time in the late 1990s, I called to complain that the sorry assed sling he sold me in 1969 had worn out.

“I’ll put a replacement in the mail today,” he replied, laughing.

It arrived a few days later with a bill.

This is the kind of world I want. People do what they say they will do. Pay what they owe and don’t lie and cheat. They have a sense of humor about life and the people they know. I bet Heaven is a lot like this.

As an aside, someone sent me an email noting that all the mass killers and political assassins in the last 100 or so years, including these recent mass killers, were all Democrats. And none were competitive shooters or members of the NRA. 


Sylvia Plath

Prize-winning poet, novelist and essayist.

By Rita Berman

 Sylvia Plath was born October 27, 1932. She was a writer whose talent was recognized   when a teenager.  Her stories were published in the magazine Seventeen and after her third year of college she was awarded a coveted position as guest editor at Mademoiselle magazine. By the time she was thirty she lost her battle with depression and committed suicide on February 11, 1963. Although still legally married she was living apart from her husband the British poet Ted Hughes. He inherited all of her written works and oversaw their publication.  

In the same month as her death, her collection of poems in Ariel was published. It became one of the best-selling books of poetry of the 20th century. These intimate and personal poems, relating to her frustration in marriage and motherhood, were written in her highly productive period of a few months, from October 1962 to February 1963.

Her most well-known works are the autobiographical novel The Bell Jar, 1963, and the book of Collected Poems, that was published posthumously in 1981 and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

Plath was born in Jamaica Plain, Mass., to Otto and Aurelia Plath. Her father was a professor of German and entomology. He was much older than her mother. Her brother Warren was born on 27 April, 1935.  In 1936 the family moved to Winthrop, Mass, to be near Aurelia’s parents.

Otto Plath died in 1940 of complication of diabetes and surgery after a leg amputation. Sylvia’s mother returned to work as a high school teacher and Sylvia and Warren’s grandparents moved into the household to take care of them.

Sylvia was only 8 years old at the time of her father’s death and her confusion, anger, and hatred towards both parents is expressed in her journal entries and poems.  She wrote that her mother “woke me up and told me Daddy was gone, he was what they called dead, and we’d never see him again, but the three of us would stick together and have a jolly life anyway… He didn’t leave hardly enough money to bury him because he lost on the stocks, and wasn’t it awful…Life was hell… She had to work and be a mother too.”  Sylvia blamed her mother for marrying an old man “it was her fault.”

When she was 15 she wrote in her journal that “I have a good self that loves skies, hills, ideas, tasty meals, bright colors.   My demon would murder this self by demanding it to be a paragon...Talking about my fears to others feeds it.  I shall show a calm front and fight it."

In 1950 she attended Smith College and excelled academically.  She wrote to her mother “the world is splitting open at my feet like a ripe, juicy watermelon.” By May 1951 her story, “Den of Lions,” was a third-place winner in the magazine Seventeen,’ short story contest and was published.

In late 1951 she wrote “looking at myself, in the past years, I have come to the conclusion that I must have a passionate physical relationship with someone – combat the great sex urge in me by drastic means. …I am obligated in a way to my family and society…to follow certain absurd traditional customs – for my own security, they tell me.  I must, therefore, confine the major part of my life to one human being of the opposite sex.” 

After receiving the guest editorship at Mademoiselle Magazine she spent a month in New York City.  The experience was not what she had hoped it would be, and it began a downward spiral. She was furious at not being at a meeting the editor had arranged with Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas. She hung around the White Horse bar and the Chelsea Hotel for two days hoping to meet Thomas, but he was already on his way home.  Many of this summer’s events were later used in her novel, The Bell Jar.  

On learning that she had not been accepted into the Harvard summer school fiction course taught by Frank O’Connor she felt that she was a complete failure and all the prizes she had won were forgotten as she continued to feel depressed. She slashed her legs to see if she had enough courage to commit suicide.  When her mother saw the gashes, Plath said to her “Oh, Mother, the word is too rotten! I want to die! Let us die together.”  Her mother took her to the family doctor who referred her to a psychiatrist. He recommended shock treatments and she received out-patient bipolar, electroconvulsive shock, with no preparation and no follow-up counselling.

She described this in a poem:

“By the roots of my hair some god got hold of me,

I sizzled in his blue volts.”

More treatments took place and by August 14, 1953 she took a full bottle of her mother’s sleeping pills, left a note saying “Have gone for a long walk.  Will be home tomorrow,” and then went into the crawl space of the house.  She was found by her brother after he heard moaning coming from under the house.   She had been lying in the crawl space for three days.  Her disappearance was reported in national news. After six months of psychiatric care, electric and insulin shock treatment she seemed to have made a good recovery and returned to Smith College in February 1954.  One of her previous friends said it was as if Sylvia was a different person.  In April she wrote her first poem in nearly a year.  It was published in Harper’s magazine.

She dated a number of men and enjoyed expensive weekends with Richard Sasson, a history major at Yale, which she described as “living as man and wife.” When he went abroad she became involved with her physics professor. During her senior year she did not keep a journal but her work appeared in The Atlantic, The Monitor, Mademoiselle, and Seventeen.  In January 1955, she submitted her thesis, The Magic Mirror, about two of Dostoevsky’s novels and she graduated from Smith with highest honors in June.

During the summer of 1955, Plath’s relationship with her mother was fragile.  According to Linda Wagner-Martin’s biography of Plath, Peter Davison another of Sylvia’s lovers, thought this was because Aurelia could never accept Sylvia’s sexual involvements.

The poems Plath wrote during 1955 reflect the tensions in her life. “Aerialist” is about a tight-rope walker, an acrobat doing an amazing balancing act.  Horrible things happened to the woman, trucks crush her, weights fall on her bowling balls threaten to smash her. Staying alive is her feat.   Which is what Plath was trying to do.

Other poems, such as “Temper of Time,” convey a fear of death and loss, said Wagner-Martin, speculating that Plath may have been looking forward to living in England for two years, but was no clearer about where she fit into the world than she had been before her breakdown.  In September 1955, when she travelled to England on the S. S. United States she spent much of the voyage flirting with men and then making love.

Her aims in England were two-fold. She was going to get the best possible education, and she was going to find a husband.   She attended Newnham College in Cambridge, on a Fulbright fellowship from October 1955 until June 1957.  Here she continue actively writing poetry and publishing. Her work appeared in British magazines as well as The New Yorker, Kenyon Review, The Nation, Partisan Review, and Ladies’ Home Journal.

During her time at Cambridge she met Ted Hughes, a northerner, described as a country boy from Heptonstall, Yorkshire, not far from Haworth, Bronte country.

Hughes, also a poet, was working in London, as a reader for the film production company of J. Arthur Rank. His poems had been published in a new literary magazine, St. Botolph's Review. Sylvia Plath had seen them and wanted to meet the author.

Plath went to a party that was celebrating the new magazine and there was Hughes.  In her journal she confided that he was “that big, dark, hunky boy, the only one there huge enough for me, who had been hunching around over women,…came over and was looking hard in my eyes, and it was Ted Hughes.  I started yelling about his poems and quoting…and he yelled back, colossal in a voice that should have come from a pole. “You like.”  From then on we were drinking brandy and he backed me into room.”

“Then he kissed me bang smash on the mouth and ripped my hairband off…I shall keep, he barked. And when he kissed my neck I bit him long and hard on the cheek, and when we came out of the room, blood was running down his face.”

The incident quickly made the rounds of the Cambridge gossip.

Even though Sylvia thought she had found exactly the sort of man she had long sought for a husband, she continued with plans already made to meet Sassoon in Paris, and Gordon Lameyer for a trip through Germany. The night before she was to leave she saw Ted Hughes again. They spent the night together, reciting poetry and making love in his flat.

The next morning she went to Paris but Sassoon was absent and on March 31 she received a love letter from Hughes, telling her that her memory went through him like brandy.  As Gordon was expecting to meet up with her she did not give in to her impulse to return to England immediately.  But within a week she flew back from Rome and joined Hughes.  She wrote to her brother that “Hughes is the only man in the world who is my match…He tells me endless stories, dropping his voice to a hush and acting some out, and I am enchanted: such a rare spinner…He is a violent Adam.” 

After seeing each other nearly every day that spring they were married on June 16, 1956 in the Church of St. George the Martyr, Queen Square, a short walk from Hughes’ London flat.  Her mother was present, a curate was witness, but otherwise the marriage was secret, even from Ted’s family and friends.  Sylvia was afraid she would lose her Fulbright scholarship if people knew she was married. They returned to England after a summer honeymoon in Spain and were completely broke. They went to visit his family in Heptonstall, traveling by train and bus, dragging their cumbersome luggage with them. 

At first Sylvia loved the countryside, the moors dotted with sheep, wild beautiful and trackless.  They took day trips to the Bronte house. When she returned to Newnham College Ted stayed in Yorkshire.  After he got a job with the BBC they realized they couldn’t stay apart and so Sylvia told her mentor about her marriage.  The college and the Fulbright committee allowed her to complete her year, so she stayed in university housing until December and then she moved in with Ted.

That first year of marriage Sylvia typed his manuscripts and sent them to magazines. He was published in Poetry, The Nation, and The Atlantic Monthly, as well as British journals. 

An entry in her journal read, “Here I am: Mrs. Hughes. And wife of a published poet. O I knew it would happen… but never thought so miraculously soon…Today,  while Ted was tying his tie in the living room, and me heating milk for coffee, the Telegram came.   Ted’s book of poems… The Hawk in the Rain has won the Harper’s first publication contest. Even as I write this I am incredulous.”

Still, they were worried about money, and applied to various schools for teaching positions.  After Smith, her alma mater, invited Sylvia to teach Freshman English, at a salary of $4000 for the year, they packed up their books and sailed to the States, in 1957. 

They found a three-room apartment close to campus and Ted wrote at home while Sylvia taught at Smith.  She found teaching difficult, had seventy themes to read, the interaction with students was draining and she could not write, couldn’t think, according to her journal.

Illness with influenza and pneumonia had her laid up in bed.   She was exhausted and unhappy.  Decided to give up her job at Smith.  Ted won some money prizes for his poems and though the original plan was for him to look for work, he didn’t.  And Sylvia resented this. 

They moved to Boston and she took a part-time job in the psychiatric clinic of Massachusetts General Hospital, transcribing the dreams of patients, and acting as receptionist and general office clerk, but soon quit as she became depressed again and returned to seeing Dr. Beuscher, her therapist.

Her moods were up and down.  In May 1959, she was disappointed when she did not win the Yale Younger Poets contest. In October 1959 she got word that The New Yorker had accepted a poem, called “Winter’s Tale.”  Yet this did not cheer her.  She felt oddly barren.  She wrote” my sickness is when words draw in their horns and the physical world refuses to be ordered, recreated, arranged and selected.  I am a victim of it then, not a master.”

By this time Ted Hughes felt he needed to live in England, but before moving they spent some time at Yaddo, the writers’ colony. Sylvia began a new book called The Colossus which is apparently about her father. It contains many poems.

When they sailed to London in December 1959, Sylvia was feeling happier, and she was five months pregnant. They found an apartment in Bloomsbury, she signed a contract with William Heinemann Ltd to publish The Colossus and her first child was born April 1, 1960.  She was named for Frieda Lawrence, D. H. Lawrence’s widow.

By 1961 Plath was working feverishly on The Bell Jar.  In many ways The Catcher in the Rye was the model she used for structure and for some events.  Her autobiographical novel written in interior monologue tells of her summer as guest editor at Mademoiselle, her first serious romance and its breakup, her depression, attempted suicide, and what was most important to Sylvia – her recovery.

She wrote for three or four hours each day.  Her mother visited and Sylvia felt she could not live up to her mother’s expectations that she should excel in everything, including motherhood.

When Sylvia found she was pregnant again, she and Ted decided to look for a house in the country.  They moved into a ten-room house in Devon that was in need of repair. She received a Saxton grant of $2000; which made it possible for her to get child-care while she finished The Bell Jar.

Their second child, Nicholas, was born in January 1962.  By the spring, although she was writing again, she was also depressed, trying to keep up with the chores of caring for two small children. She became jealous about Ted’s friendship with a neighbor’s teenage girl, and felt there was a distance between herself and Ted.  He was either off working or in London, or Exeter much of the time.  Her poems in May 1962 were about the female speaker’s role as lonely, wistful wife.

In May 1962 David and Assia Wevill, a couple who had sublet their London flat, came to Devon to spend a weekend with them.  The day after they left Sylvia wrote two angry poems, that indicated Ted was interested in Assia, either seeing her or was planning to. Assia (who is referred to as “Olga” in Edward Butscher’s biography titled Sylvia Plath Method & Madness, published in 1976,) had boasted earlier to friends that she would seduce him, and had told Sylvia that her present marriage to David, her third husband, was little more than a loving friendship. 

On July 9, Sylvia intercepted a mysterious phone call for Ted and was so enraged she tore the telephone wires from the wall.  She then left the house taking the children and spent the night with some friends.  The next day after returning home she burned Ted’s letters, drafts of work and papers and a manuscript of what would have been her second novel. She wrote only two more poems that summer.  One was called “Burning the Letters.”

For a while Ted and Sylvia pretended to others that they were a happy couple, but he kept leaving without explanation and by August Sylvia wrote to her mother she had decided to separate because Ted lied to her and betrayed her. He was living in London with friends. However she also wrote she would never return to the States to live. The Bell Jar had been finished and accepted for publication by Heinemann.

In spite of her early desire to find one man to love and marry, Ted Hughes may have been the wrong man.  A fellow poet, not only did he compete with finding time and a quiet place to write, but he helped her even less after they had children.  One might say was also a domineering, selfish individual. Certainly his unfaithfulness with Assia Wevill contributed to the break-up of their marriage, even if Sylvia’s suicide arose from the demons that plagued her.

Plath wrote many more poems, and asked for help with the children saying “I am a writer… I am a genius of a writer…. But do need help for the next two months. I am fighting now against hard odds and alone.”

From October 21 to December 11, 1963 a young nurse came to care for the children while Sylvia worked on writing poems.  Elizabeth Compton, a friend, thought she looked ill. She was thin, coughing, running a low temperature but flushed with the joy of successful work. Other friends remember her frantic need to talk, her nonstop delivery of story after story, just as she had after her 1953 breakdown and recovery.  Clearly she needed someone to listen.  She went to London on October 29 and 30, taped an interview with BBC producer Peter Orr and read from her new poems.

In the interview, she spoke about herself as an American poet, and about the vitality of some recent American poetry. She admired the fact that it drew on “interior experiences” and on “private and taboo subjects. She criticized British poetry for its gentility.

She returned to Devon, triumphant and flooded with compliments from friends and acquaintances about her appearance and her work. She had decided that living in London would continue to be exciting. So she looked for an apartment and found one just around the corner from where she and Ted had lived in 1960 and 1961.  It was the top two floors of “Yeat’s house.” Ted went with her to the agent because, in those days, as a single woman she was considered a bad credit risk.  He agreed to pay a year’s rent in advance.  In mid-November she assembled a second book of poems, change the title several times and settled on “Ariel.”

Plath wrote to Dr. Beuscher that she was coping with the changes and was intent on making a new life for herself and the children in London.

The lease to the flat was signed on December 3, and four days later she had moved in but was waiting for the telephone to be installed. It was very cold in London that winter. Her downstairs neighbor, Professor Thomas, saw her carrying in food, pushing the children in a large, old-fashioned pram. They were very quiet and she appeared to be erratic, one day charming, another bad tempered.

The week before Christmas London was shrouded in fog.  The children were ill, and she went to see her former physician, Dr. Horder and asked for sleeping pills. On December 21, she learned The Atlantic had accepted two of her poems.  But The New Yorker, which she had counted on as a source of steady income, had rejected ten large groups of poems.  This was compounded by a rejection letter from her Knopf editor, that The Bell Jar manuscript was not acceptable for American publication.

Plath quickly sent it to Harper and Row. Ill again in January, a terrible snowstorm and they were housebound.  Still, she tried to maintain a regular writing schedule. She had blackouts.  On January 14, The Bell Jar was officially published, with the author’s name as Victoria Lucas.  Two good reviews appeared on January 25, but Sylvia felt they missed the point of the ending, which was the recovery of Esther, the main character.  She was so upset that she went downstairs to talk to Professor Thomas, weeping uncontrollably.

A week later she had recovered from the flu and hired a Belgian girl to live with her and the children.  She wrote many more poems, some of which expressed the sense that death is a reasonable alternative to life. Her last poem was about a woman who is now “perfect” because she has died.  Called “Edge”.

Sylvia wrote to her mother that she saw the “finality of it all.”  She was becoming depressed, wondering how she would live as a single parent with the two children for the rest of her days.

During the last week of her life, Plath continued to fluctuate wildly in her moods, running mysterious temperatures and terribly aware that a breakdown was imminent.  The au pair girl was gone and Sylvia missed her help and companionship.    By Friday, February 8 she saw Dr. Horder several times that day.  She was thin and anxious, the sleeping pills did not work any longer.  Dr. Horder concluded that her depression had reached a dangerous low point.  He tried to find a bed for her in hospital for the weekend, without success.  Later that day, she assured him she was better and agreed to see him the next two days.  He arranged for a nurse, a Miss Myra Norris, to come to her flat on Monday morning.   

On Sunday February 10, Dr. Horder thought she was responding to her antidepressant medicine.  But that evening about 11 p.m. she went down to Professor Thomas’s flat to buy postage stamps from him.  Later he recalled thinking she looked very ill.  She refused his suggestion that she should call her doctor.

At about 6 a.m. on the morning of Feb. 11, Plath knelt beside the open oven in her kitchen and turned on the gas.  She had left cups of milk beside the children’s beds. Before turning on the gas she had put tape around the doors and towels at their base to protect the children from escaping fumes. She had also taken a quantity of sleeping pills, and left a note asking that her doctor be called.

At 9:30 .am. Miss Norris found her with her head in the oven, and tried to apply artificial respiration until the ambulance arrived. The police were called, as was Dr. Horder. At 10:a.m. Katherine Frankfort arrived to babysit. Ted Hughes came soon after. On February 15 an inquest was held. The verdict was her death was a suicide.

Sylvia Plath Hughes was buried in Yorkshire, in St.Thomas’ Churchyard, Heptonstall. The name Hughes was repeatedly chiseled off the headstone by her supporters. It now appears in bronze lettering to prevent it being removed.

Ted Hughes inherited all of Plath’s written works as they were still legally married at the time of her death.  In the year 2000, her unabridged journals from 1950-1962 were published by the Estate of Sylvia Plath, Random House, New York. Missing from the record are two journals that Plath wrote during the last three years of her life. One of them was said to have “disappeared” according to Ted Hughes.  The last journal which contained entries to within three days of Plath’s suicide was destroyed by Hughes because he said, “I did not want her children to see it.”

Her journals, described as probably the most famous and honest papers ever penned by an American poet, reveal Plath’s fears, doubts, and joy of some events in her life.  She wrote about the struggles she had, the uncertainty and torment that plagued her, wondering whether she could achieve anything significant and the depression she was unable to overcome.  

Smith College acquired all the manuscripts remaining in the possession of the Plath Estate in England, but two of the journals in the archives written between August 1957 and November 1959, were sealed by Ted Hughes until February 11, 2013. However, they were unsealed by Ted Hughes shortly before his death in 1998 and Karen Kukil the editor of the journal included them in her book.

Plath’s book, Collected Poems that was published posthumously in 1981, won the Pulitzer Prize.  The Bell Jar was reprinted by Faber and Faber under Sylvia Plath’s name in 1966. The American edition appeared in 1971 under Harper and Row’s imprint. Ted Hughes had tried for seven years to prevent its publication in America because of what was written about real people even though they were portrayed as characters.

Hughes became Britain’s Poet Laureate in 1984.  He had been publishing poems since 1954, and over the next 41 years he wrote more than 90 books including a dozen collections of poetry, books of prose and a number of books for children. In the years after her death he wrote very little about Plath and nothing about their life together.   He refused to speak to biographers, scholars, or journalists.

However, in 1998, when he was suffering from terminal cancer, he published his own collection of 88 poems in The Birthday Letters, a book about his relationship with her, it gave scenes of their marriage from his angle.  Some of these poems, written long after her death, deal with him trying to find a reason why Plath took her own life.   He wrote about how she looked and moved and talked, her pleasures, rages, uncanny dreams, what was good between them and where it went wrong.

In defense of Hughes, his brother Gerald published a memoir in 2014, Ted and I: A Brother’s Memoir, which Kirkus Reviews called “a warm recollection of a lauded poet.”

The Plath’s children, Frieda 3 years and Nicholas l year old, at the time of Sylvia’s death, were not told of their mother’s suicide until they were in their teens. They were at first raised by Assia Wevill, the woman who precipitated the breakup between Ted Hughes and Plath.  According to Assia she began the affair with Hughes after she and her husband, David, visited Ted and Sylvia at their home in Devon, in 1962.

Assia said that Hughes kissed her when they were alone together in the kitchen.    Assia’s husband, learned of the affair and took an overdose of sleeping pills, but survived.  He sent a note to Hughes that read, “If you come near my wife again. I’ll kill you.”  But the Wevills separated, and Assia moved in with Ted Hughes after Sylvia’s death.   She had a child with him, called Shura.

Hughes did not want to marry Assia and in 1968 he embarked on another affair.  Assia left him and the following year, in March 1969, she committed suicide by gas, taking 4 year old Shura with her. Wevill blamed the ghost of Plath for making her suicidal.  In 1970 Ted Hughes married his second wife, Carol.

Ted Hughes’ mother had just had an operation prior to Wevill’s suicide and he was afraid that the news might affect her recovery.  In the following weeks he shunned his parents, and did not visit, phone or write to them.  When his father asked Olwyn, Hughes’ sister, what the matter was, she told him, but made him vow to keep it a secret. But he could not keep silent and told his wife.  Edith suffered a thrombosis, lapsed into a coma and died three days later. An article in The Guardian, in 2006 reported that Hughes was certain that Wevill’s suicide was the final blow.

Assia’s biography, in A Lover of Unreason published in 2006 is told by two Israeli journalists who spent 15 years researching it. This book, portrays Ted Hughes as a domestic tyrant.  He issued a “draft constitution” written in 1967 when he banned her from staying in bed beyond 8 a.m. ordered her to get dressed straight away, that she should teach the children German, play with them for at least an hour a day and introduce at least one meal with a “recipe we have never had before on a weekly basis.”

When Assia’s biography was published, novelist Fay Weldon, who knew all three people, reacted by saying that “Assia was the sort of person who expected a maid to do everything. Ted probably wondered how he’d cope so he sat down and typed two pages of instructions.  This doesn’t mean he’s any more of a domestic tyrant than all men were in the Sixties, when the men went out to work and the women looked after the home.”

Weldon, thus states the problem that Sylvia Plath had struggled with-- how to become accepted as a woman poet in a man’s world.  While Plath sought love, and marriage, she resented that her role then became like the average woman – a housewife and carer of children. When she first learned she was pregnant, she was devastated.

In 1974 the Journal of American Medical Association published an article by N.J.C. Andreasen, M.D. who questioned if her suicide could have been prevented if she had been hospitalized and given antidepressants. “Her death was both a literary and a human loss,” he wrote, “for she left behind two young children and the aborted promise of poetry yet to be born.”

In March 2009, Nicholas Hughes, Plath’s son, took his own life in Fairbanks, Alaska. He was 47, a fisheries professor.   Carol Hughes, who had raised Nicholas and his sister Frieda as her own after marrying Hughes in 1970, said that “Nicholas’s tragic death is devastating…  He had been suffering from depression.”

Frieda who became a poet and painter, was angered by the making of entertainment featuring her parents’ lives.  She accused the “peanut crunching” public of wanting to be titillated by the family’s tragedies. In 2003, she published the poem “My Mother” in Tatler:

   Now they want to make a film

   For anyone lacking the ability

  To imagine the body, head in oven,

   Orphaning children.

   …they think

    I should give them my mother’s words

   To fill the mouth of their monster,

   Their Sylvia suicide doll.

I saw the first film that was based on The Bell Jar and found it very depressing.  I have not seen the film Ted and Sylvia, made in 2003 that starred Gwyneth Paltrow as Sylvia.

“Plath has become such an icon since her death that often her reputation gets in the way of any kind of true knowledge or appreciation of her work,” suggested Jessica Ferri in an article on, 2015.  She recommended 10 books to read that celebrated Plath’s words, life and legacy. They include books written by Plath and several books on Plath written by others among them Her Husband, by Diane Middlebrook, from the point of view of Hughes; The Silent Woman by Janet Malcolm, on the art (or lack thereof) of biography, memory, and celebrity; and Pain, Parties, Work, by Elizabeth Winder that described the cultural atmosphere in New York City in the summer of 1953.

Local access to Plath’s writing is available at UNC’s Wilson Library in Chapel Hill, in the Rare Book Collection. It is a gift of the James R. and Mary M. Patton Collection.



The Good Old Days

Peggy Lovelace Ellis


During these months of quarantine in our condo because of the Covid-19 virus, I’ve had plenty of time to think back through the years we call life. From this distance, I realize my journey has been an interesting one—much more so than I thought while I was living it. Dull was the word I used then.

Life on a farm in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains was not easy, and I often envied my town cousins. Now, I realize what a good life John and Carrie Lovelace gave my siblings and me on those 25 acres during the 1940s and 1950s.

The Beech community near Weaverville didn’t offer much in the way of entertainment. However, life wasn’t all work, even when it was work. Hog-killing time, for example.

Early on a cool autumn morning, Daddy would slaughter our hog, then men from other farms would help with the scalding, cleaning, and butchering, while the women stayed busy in the kitchen. In the following days, they repeated the process at different farms. We kids stayed out from under foot, but we could never go far enough away to avoid the smell of rendering fat. However, that didn’t stop us from enjoying the cracklings which Momma put in cornbread in the following weeks.

One pig remains in my memory. It disappeared a few weeks after my brother-in-law brought it home. Dan searched but couldn’t find it, and finally decided a bear had taken it. Time passed. One day, a large porker waddled into the barnyard and went directly to the feed trough, empty for months, and no food odor remaining. Dan checked around neighboring farms, but no one had a boar missing. He reached the conclusion his piglet had come home in time for butchering. Certainly accommodating of him.

The two churches, Baptist and Presbyterian, combined to have a fall festival party complete with “fishing” for prizes, bobbing for apples (I managed not to drown) and various other games. Trick or treating did not exist.

Our annual Christmas pageant was the highlight of the season for most farm families. We finished our chores early and our tiredness disappeared as we walked the mile to the Presbyterian church. Walking the mile back up Maney Branch Road left us tired enough to sleep the few hours before the roosters reminded us it was time to start another day.

Community life centered round the school, which had grades one through six. It had an auditorium and four classrooms. By the time I reached school age, only two classrooms were in use. The auditorium was the site for poetry recitations, spelling bees, and community meetings. Oh, the number of times I stood on trembling legs and recited poetry before a crowd of what I was sure must be 500 or more. If I had bothered to count them, I might have reached 75.

Probably the most important day, then and now, in the Beech community is July 4th. There has been an Independence Day celebration every year beginning in 1884. It began as part of an end-of-school celebration and involved the entire community. We are justly proud that the community has never needed to raise or spend money on it. The day was complete with a patriotic program, a parade of children on assorted wheels, sack races, climbing a greased pole, and other games before the huge potluck dinner. People still digest their food sitting on bleachers watching a baseball game. Each year is much the same as those preceding it. One thing changed through the years, for reasons I don’t know. Adults took over the parade, complete with tractors, volunteer fire truck, etc. People who grew up there and those who visited the two guest houses and the boys’ camp come from many states. Between 500 and 600 people converge on the community center every year.

Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic changed the celebration this year. No large gathering, no parade, no food, no games. Yet the community didn’t forget its heritage. A short memorial service occurred with a few people maintaining distance, wearing masks, in the community center grounds. Perhaps, next year we can go back to the fun of our Independence Day celebration.

In the 1960s, Daddy divided the farm among the eight of us. By that time, we were dealing with adult problems of family, jobs, and the economy, not to mention the Vietnam War. We mostly ignored the feminist movement of the 1970s, probably because we were each doing what we chose to do. The eighties and nineties are a blur. We lived our lives and met our responsibilities as Daddy and Momma taught us to do.

Now well into the 21st century, only two of us survive to remember life on the farm in the forties and fifties. Ruth lives on her acres, her six kids, now middle-aged, live nearby. Her husband, Dan, farmed Ruthie’s share until he was no longer able. Her sons tend the place, but don’t farm it. Bob, Jim, Jack, and Judy sold their property to outsiders; Bill (a bachelor) sold his to a nephew; Fred and I owned the home place jointly. Upon his death a few years ago, I gave my share to his daughter as a way to thank Fred for taking care of our mother in her last years. Robin sold the home place to Judy’s son who, in turn, willed it to his nieces. They don’t live there. The house, built in 1902, needs renovation and the land lies fallow.

I wonder if children will ever again live there. Perhaps so, but in this electronic age, they won’t have the privileged childhood we had. They won’t hide in an apple tree and drop small green apples on the unsuspecting victims occupying a glider underneath. They won’t escape the July heat into a pine stand, sweep pine needles into the shape of a house containing several rooms, and play with their dolls as Judy and I did. They won’t climb a tall pine tree, hug the trunk, and sway with the breeze. I won’t talk about the pine resin on my clothing.

Life goes on. It’s been a long road, full of surprises, some good, some not so good. However, those years with good or bad crop seasons, competing with wild turkeys for grapes in the arbor, one blight or another attacking the fruit trees—all prepared me for whatever life offered.

Do I want to go back to what we call ‘The Good Old Days’? Sometimes. Then I remember the difficulties and realize how fortunate I am to have the life I have today.

On our early morning walk, Jim and I hear a rooster crowing on adjoining property, watch bunnies peek from under shrubbery, keep a sharp eye out for Momma Bear with her three cubs especially near the apple trees, and wave to neighbors walking their dogs.

Highland Farms Retirement Community is about 15 miles from Daddy’s farm. These 75 acres are a former working farm and much of its character remains. Thankfully, Black Mountain ordinances limit buildings to two levels. We have huge oaks, poplars, and hemlocks, dogwoods, crab apples, and flowering cherry. A small lake stocked with bass and carp attracts the attention of residents’ visiting grandchildren. We walk on long stretches of green space as well as on paved roads.

Miscellaneous birds serve as an alarm clock each morning. The Canada geese have migrated south already. Momma Mallard and her two surviving out of twelve ducklings will follow in a few days. She and her life partner will come back in the spring just as they’ve done the past ten or so years. Until then, I’ll miss her squawking at our patio door when birds, squirrels, and chipmunks have eaten all the food. We will still have blue birds, cardinals, and several other birds at our feeders along with the squirrels and chipmunks. Bears never hibernate completely, and will visit on regular occasions throughout the winter. We don’t bother them and they don’t bother us.

All things considered, this is a pleasant place to spend my remaining years, and remember my barefoot days on Daddy’s farm.

I Didn’t Know

Tim Whealton


I have always studied other people. Especially older people. I wondered what it was going to be like when I got old. Would I be able to have any fun or would I just sit and complain about how bad everything was? I saw some that just seemed to quit living. They had a heartbeat and respiration but that was about it. Then there were some that seemed to pick up speed in later years. I always wondered why. What could make such a difference?

Some of those old people made lasting impressions on me. Most were eager to share what they had learned if anyone took time to listen. Today it seems we are eager to judge the people that came before us. We try to condemn them for decisions they made and blame all our current problems on them. I often wonder if they were brought back to life how they would judge us.

Old Tom lived in Lowland. I met him when I worked on his phone around 1972. He was in his nineties. He lived in a modest house that was built in the 1800s. The first thing I noticed was a cutout in the corner of the room ceiling. It had a 7 foot ceiling and he said it was for the old duck gun that was too long to go in the corner. The gun was long gone but his mind was sharp and he recounted many stories about the gun and killing ducks for the market. I could easily tell he knew what he was talking about and was telling the truth. He told me about how they would mount the big gun in a little boat and paddle to a flock of ducks at night and fire. He said a good shot would be 12 to 15 but many times it would be only 3 or 4. I told him I had heard stories about people killing a hundred with one shot. He told me stop listening to liars!

Tom was the youngest boy in the family and his father would take him and his brothers to Engelhard to goose hunt each fall. Since he was the youngest his job was to skin the geese and pack them in salt. He hated every trip because it took a week to travel, a week of skinning and a week to get back. They would stay with farmers they knew along the way and usually sleep in their barns. I thought about how many times I felt like a victim because I had to go back to the store and pick up a chicken after I got home and it was already picked and cleaned!

 One of Tom’s friends told me in the 1950s they got a new game warden. The new warden knew Tom shot ducks out of season whenever he wanted to eat duck. It was a cold blowing day in February after the season was closed and the warden figured Tom would hunt since his house was next to the bay. The warden drove to within a mile and then walked in darkness to the edge of the woods where he waited for Tom. Before dawn he saw a light inside Tom’s house and watched him working in the kitchen as he shivered in the darkness. After a while Tom came out on the porch held up his coffee cup and said “mighty cold out there, might as well come in and have a cup.” The warden was stunned but figured his cover was blown so what the heck. He came in a warmed up with coffee and finally asked Tom how he knew he was there. Tom said “Didn’t, figured you would get around to me sooner or later, been doing that all winter!” The warden left him alone after that.

I would always try to stop and see Tom when I could. He was always glad to see me and wanted to know about what was going on in my life. He would talk about his life if I asked but he was never a chatter box. One day I stopped and some people were moving out his stuff. I still miss him.

Old Bill lived in Jones County. He was what they used to call a “rascal.” He was crippled and held up his withered hand and said “some people got this way fighting wars, I got this way fighting whores!” His daughter that stayed with him would say “Daddy!” and he would grin. He was a veteran that had fought in WWI and WWII. He was gassed in WWI and hit with shrapnel.

 He was an engineer and it was his job to find land mines. I asked if he had a mine detector and he said “oh yes, still got it, want to see it?” I said sure and he got his daughter to fetch it from the closet. It was a long bayonet. He would crawl out of the trench at night and crawl on his stomach as he probed the ground for mines. When he found one he would mark it with a little flag. If they shot up any flares he would have to lie still till they went out. This could be a long time. If he moved while the flare was burning or the German snipers spotted him he would be shot. In the morning they would blow the whistle to attack and the men would go over the wall and run while they dodged the mines he had found and marked. When he missed one people died.

Bill told me when WWI was over they stopped the train in Cove City and he had to walk the 14 miles to his home in Jones County with his duffle bag. I said that was terrible but he just smiled and said “It was the best day of my life. Never thought I would live to see home and every step was a joy!”

When Bill found out I liked to work on guns he gave me a little cheap revolver. It was tiny and had a folding trigger that popped out when you cocked the hammer. Told me he took it off a prostitute in Paris France in 1918. Told me to keep it and think about him whenever I looked at it. I still do.

The thing that sticks in my mind about these old guys isn’t the amazing stories or even the times they lived, but it was how much they had learned to treasure every day. Life itself had become precious to them.

I understand that now. Life has changed me as well. I see it in everything I do. Even when we go shooting. I use to shoot and a couple of bad shots would make me mad at myself. Now I dismiss the bad shots and think about how much fun those good shots were. How those sights moved across the target and then like magic stopped in the center for a second and the gun went off.

It’s a better way to live. Think about the good things, let the bad go away and enjoy each day as a precious gift. It was God’s plan all along. It just took me 69 years to figure it out! 



A Closer Look at Real-ativity

Randy Bittle


In June, I wrote an essay introducing the concept of realativity.  Realativity is my theory that perceived human reality differs from person to person. Realativity is simply the fact that people perceive reality differently, each person’s mind formulating a perceived reality unique to the individual.  I gave the example of two basketball fans watching a game, each fan pulling for a different team, each with different impressions of the final game-winning shot.  Sometimes it helps to look at extremes to better understand the underlying principles. 

Consider reality as perceived by a woman who is blind.  This is difficult for me because I am not blind.  Her world consists of sounds and textures, with no colors or visual shapes.  She would perceive the roundness of a tennis ball through her sense of touch alone.  It would still be a rich perception. She would feel the texture of the surface and the tension as she gently squeezes the tennis ball while perceiving its roundness.  But it is unlikely she would ever be able to enjoy playing a game of tennis.  Her reality differs from that of a sighted person.

A deaf person would perceive the world much differently than a blind person.  Again, I can only imagine because I am not deaf or blind.  Without sound the beauty of music would be inaccessible. Vocal communication would be limited, and the value of sign language would become indispensable.  Blind and deaf people perceive unique realities that differ in many ways from perceptions of people without sensory limitations. These extreme cases highlight the principles of realativity.

Now consider an example that illuminates how people with working senses can have radically different perceptions of the world. There is a man in North Carolina who is a Southern Baptist and drives a truck for a living.  In Tibet, there is a monk who lives a simple life centered on meditation.  The world views and day to day lives of these two men differ so radically that it would be difficult for either one to conceive the other’s perceived reality. Again, these extremes highlight the principles of realativity.

Most of us share some of our beliefs and life activities with others close to us.  But even in these cases, perceived human reality differs, if only slightly.  This is the foundational basis of my theory of realativity.  Acknowledging differences and attempting to share experiences makes the world a better place.  In a world of realativity, it is up to you to modify your perceived reality into a meaningful conscious existence.  It takes effort, but your perceived experience of reality can be enhanced to a level of meaningfulness that makes living a worthwhile, positive experience.

Everyone must find their own realative path to meaningful existence, but I will share mine and those of my friends as examples. I am a philosopher, which automatically makes me different from most people you meet.  I enjoy thinking about difficult concepts regarding reality.  Reading books and watching courses on DVD produced by The Great Courses Company guide my researches and influence my thinking about reality at a fundamental level.  Amateur radio is a big part of my life. I can share my thoughts with amateur radio friends and get their inputs which sometimes change my perspective.  And of course, I thoroughly enjoy expressing my ideas in writing for you, my readers.

Amateur radio is a good example of how people can improve their lives and the world around them.  I am amateur radio station KE4PNT. My friends Charles, KI4DCR, and Robert, KG4BDX, are net control operators.  A net is held regularly at a specific time and day.  KI4DCR is net control on Tuesdays at 7:00 pm on the 224.160 mhz repeater, and KG4BDX is net control on Wednesdays at 7:00 pm on the same repeater frequency.  They share their time with the amateur radio community, improving their own realative lives as well as the realative lives of others, like me, who participate in the nets.

My friend Joe, W4TTO, is net manager for the Piedmont Coastal Traffic Net (PCTN), which is held every night at 9:00 pm on the 146.880 mhz repeater.  That net participates in the National Traffic System (NTS), which sends amateur radio messages throughout the country and the world.  Sometimes these messages are about the health and welfare of people where regular communications are impossible because of a natural disaster, such as a hurricane.  NTS is an important public service in this respect.  My friend Kevin, KN4AAG, helps Joe with the PCTN.  Joe and Kevin improve their realative lives and those of others around the country and world by participating in the NTS.

My friend Virginia, NC4VA, is very active in amateur radio public service communications.  She is North Carolina State Deputy Auxcom Coordinator and Wake County Deputy Auxcom Coordinator.  Auxcom provides amateur radio communications assistance to the Department of Homeland Security in times of emergency.  NC4VA is also Central Carolina Skywarn Emergency Coordinator. Skywarn provides trained amateur radio spotter communications assistance to the National Weather Service (NWS).  Skywarn provides trained weather spotters to help detect and report by radio hazardous weather to the NWS.  Skywarn also serves to alert the amateur radio community to hazardous weather.

I am proud to have KI4DCR, KG4BDX, W4TTO, KN4AAG, and NC4VA as personal friends, and I know they all derive personal satisfaction from their volunteer services to the community. As you can see, there are ways to enhance your realative existence by contributing in a positive way to your community. Amateur radio is only one volunteer service available to you.  Many volunteer opportunities exist to better yourself and your community.  Like it or not, realativity exists as a feature of perceived human reality.  What you do about it is up to you.  I recommend enriching your personal realative experience by sharing your time and ideas with others.  And always keep your mind open and inquisitive about the reality of this world and universe in which we live.



Courage is the greatest of all virtues, because if you haven't courage, you may not have an opportunity to use any of the others. Samuel Johnson

Family Attitudes Toward Education

Sybil Austin Skakle


Everett Austin Skakle, the youngest member of the family of which I am matriarch, is seventeen months old. He is full of possibilities. Already his curiosity has him learning new things daily and he is forming his preferences for food and activity. We are charmed by his mastery of new tasks and excited about the person he is becoming. His education began the moment he was born and will continue as long as he lives.

My mother was a school teacher. Her interest in education never wavered. Having taught for so many years, with a long lapse between the first stretch and going back during World War II, teaching always excited her. She was issued a county teaching certificate in early 1900, after one year at North Carolina Normal School in Greensboro. She raised it as high as possible, without a degree, after return to teaching, by attending summer school and taking a course by correspondence. After Daddy’s death, she registered at University of North Carolina for classes, attempting to obtain that degree she no longer needed, when she was 75 years old.

During time away from teaching, Mama managed the seven-bed-room house, cared for boarders, took part in the community, while raising five children. She never stopped learning and teaching and her capable hands, fired by an agile mind, mastered many and varied activities. Not only did she quilt, sew, crochet, knit, garden, she raised a pig and turkey just for the challenge of it. There were chickens too.

Daddy once told me, “I would have liked to have been a doctor.” Well, he never had the opportunity or means to be a doctor. After his medical discharge, due to what we now know to be ankylosing spondylitis, from the U. S. Navy, he purchased a used barber chair for twenty-five dollars, and established his first of several businesses. Today he would be considered an entrepreneur.

From the barber shop he developed a general merchandise store. He owned a freight boat, named Kathleen, that brought goods from Elizabeth City, North Carolina and carried fish from Hatteras. He contracted to build several buildings for others. When the lot for the Hatteras Girls Club needed filling, he bought a dredge and dredged The Slash to fill in the lot for the building. In the process, he placed sand in other areas, as well. In circa 1936, he contracted for the building of Austin Theater for Brother Shanklin, who managed all the business and ran the projector, after Corlett Burrus, who trained him, left Hatteras Island and moved to Norfolk, Virginia.  He built three boats, named: Ramona, Sybil, and Blue Mud.

 In 1943-44, Daddy drew plans and oversaw the expansion of his existing store and home building. In 1950, Daddy drew plans and was the overseer for building Durant Motor Court, using Durant Life Saving station, acquired when it was decommission in 1939, as its core. While, Durant was the first motel on Hatteras Island, others soon were built to compete. 

We can learn from those who have less formal education than we have. Intelligence varies and interests, opportunities, means, and possibilities influence people to choose the path they follow.  As far as I know, my family, past and present, value education in all areas of a person’s life important and wisdom and character more than a college degree. Three scholarships are given every year to a deserving student. The Inez Daniels Austin one is given to a girl graduate of Cape Hatteras High School for college of choice. The newest scholarship, given by Josephine Austin Oden provides four year assistance to an aspiring Hatteras Island high school graduate. There is reason to appreciate every person we meet.



Submitted by Bill Dodson


While I sat in the reception area of my doctor's office, a woman rolled an elderly man in a wheelchair into the room. As she went to the receptionist's desk, the man sat there, alone and silent. Just as I was thinking I should make small talk with him, a little boy slipped off his mother's lap and walked over to the wheelchair. Placing his hand on the man's, he said, “I know how you feel. My Mom makes me ride in the stroller too.” 

As I was nursing my baby, my cousin's six-year-old daughter, Krissy, came into the room. Never having seen anyone breast feed before, she was intrigued and full of all kinds of questions about what I was doing. After mulling over my answers, she remarked, “My mom has some of those, but I don't think she knows how to use them.” 

 Out bicycling one day with my eight-year-old granddaughter, Carolyn, I got a little wistful. “In ten years,” I said, “you'll want to be with your friends and you won't go walking, biking, and swimming with me like you do now.  Carolyn shrugged. “In ten years, you'll be too old to do all those things anyway.” 

Working as a pediatric nurse, I had the difficult assignment of giving immunization shots to children. One day, I entered the examining room to give four-year-old Lizzie her injection.  “No, no, no!” she screamed. “Lizzie,” scolded her mother, "that's not polite behavior.”  With that, the girl yelled even louder, “No, thank you! No, thank you!"  

 On the way back from a Cub Scout meeting, my grandson innocently said to my son, “Dad, I know babies come from mommies’ tummies, but how do they get there in the first place?”  After my son hemmed and hawed awhile, my grandson finally spoke up in disgust, “You don't have to make up something, Dad.  It’s okay if you don’t know the answer.”  

 Just before I was deployed to Iraq , I sat my eight-year-old son down and broke the news to him. “I’m going to be away for a long time,” I told him. “I’m going to Iraq .” “Why?” he asked. “Don't you know there’s a war going on over there?” 

Paul Newman founded the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for children stricken with cancer, AIDS, and blood diseases. One afternoon, he and his wife, Joanne Woodward, stopped by to have lunch with the kids. A counselor at a nearby table, suspecting the young patients wouldn’t know Newman was a famous movie star, explained, “That’s the man who made this camp possible. Maybe you’ve seen his picture on his salad dressing bottle?”  Blank stares. “Well, you’ve probably seen his face on his lemonade carton.”  An eight-year-old girl perked up. “How long was he missing?” 

 And my personal favorite… 

God’s Problem Now!  His wife's graveside service was just barely finished, when there was a massive clap of thunder, followed by a tremendous bolt of lightning, accompanied by even more thunder rumbling in the distance. The little, old man looked at the pastor and calmly said, "Well, she’s there." 

Jewish Singles of the Triangle

Fiction by Howard A. Goodman


Aaron figured who the caller was before his son finally relinquished the phone. “Grandma Eva,” Evan said, laying the handset on the desk before returning to the culinary corner of the kitchen.

“Hi, Mom. How are you? Yes, Beth and David are fine. Me? Not much. Oh, the temple is sponsoring a Jewish Singles get-together. I've been thinking about attending but—. Mom, you know I’m not good in crowds. And I won’t know anyone else.”

“So what!” she said, her voice ringing from inside the earpiece. “If you ever expect to meet someone, you really ought to go. What have you got to lose?”

Aaron pondered a moment. He had recently begun to enjoy his closest relationship ever, perhaps due to the eight hundred miles that separated them, and it had reached a point where he trusted her enough to share everything about his new life. Nearly everything.

“Yeah, mom, I might as well. I’ve got nothing better to do.”


Friday evening after a light dinner Aaron freshened his appearance before heading out. A hundred yards south of the Creedmoor Crossing Shopping Center, he swung his minivan into the driveway, found a space in the paved section of the parking lot, cut the engine and lights. He checked his appearance again in the rear-view mirror before making his way down the hill toward the temple entrance. In the waning light, his watch read 7:00.

Right on time.

Beyond the two sets of black wrought iron and glass doors, the lobby appeared deserted. To the left, the oak veneer doors to the social hall had been propped open. He took a deep breath and stepped


At the center of the angular room, large folding tables arranged like veins in a leaf and draped in white tablecloths were being laid out by two ladies of the congregation with pastries, cookies, fruit, and punch for the oneg the would follow the service.

Against the wall to the left of the doorway a separate table crowded with hors d’oeuvre-style noshes and wine had been set up. There was nothing immediately obvious to indicate why it had been located apart from the others but Aaron figured it was reserved for the Jewish Singles get-together.

Facing each other in a conversational stance, a man of average height and a woman much shorter separated Aaron from a stack of self-stick tags resting at the end of the lone table. He politely navigated his way around the less-than-accommodating pair, picked up a marker, printed his first name on one of the tags. He peeled off the backing and pressed the tag to his shirt pocket. Hate these things. But maybe it’ll make it easier to break the ice.

“Guess everything is self-service here,” he quipped in maneuvering around the same couple, catching the woman in mid-sentence. The man shot him a stare of annoyance while the woman, like a tape recording that had been paused, continued precisely where she had left off.

The lone refreshment table formed the hub of a virtual half-circle inside of which stood most of the attendees. From just outside the circumference, Aaron perused the others. Several pairs of heads were engaged in conversations, oblivious to the rest. Most simply faced the table like sea gulls in the hope that someone would toss them a crumb of attention.

One, a short, rough looking guy in his early fifties, dressed in a black leather bombardier jacket, made frequent dives on the table, scooping up a handful of cocktail peanuts with each sortie. Aaron could feel his face contorting to a painful grimace. Are we having fun yet?

A petite, cutesy blonde with wire-framed glasses caught his eye as she flitted about like a hummingbird, pollinating everyone she came in contact with. Everyone except him. He remained focused on her until she disappeared behind a circle of several others. Oh, well, he sighed, she’d probably be too young for me anyway.

Aaron drifted past the oneg tables to the rear of the social hall. A Tree of Life memorial, its monolithic “branches” spread like welcoming arms, was mounted on the back wall. With his forefinger he traced a bronze branch, each of its leaves engraved with the names of temple members, together their families present and past. At shoulder level, his eyes came to rest on the one he'd nearly forgotten the location of—Ruth Glotsky Brody.

God, Hon, I can’t believe I’m actually here doing this. I hate it. Please come back. I love you. Ruth did not answer. He let his arm drop to his side, then returned with reluctance to the front of the hall to rejoin the disparate gathering of fellow singles.

A woman stood nearby, facing him as though she were waiting for his arrival—not the kind he’d be interested in meeting, let alone sharing much of himself with. Her eyes appeared sunken, spiritless; her long tousled gray hair cascaded like a bundle of straw.

Aaron quickly assessed she had not visited the inside of a salon in some time if at all, that she had probably been something of a natural woman back in the seventies, perhaps someone who’d never left academia. As much of a gentleman as he believed he was, Aaron knew he was incapable of overlooking physical appearance when considering female companionship.

The woman interpreted his involuntary eye contact as permission to approach. “Nice spread,” she opened, nodding her head in the direction of the refreshment table. The profile of her nose appeared as if it would be more flattering on a man.

Aaron felt her glimpsing his name tag. “So where’s yours?” he asked.

“Oh, I never wear them,” she smugged.

“Then how do you expect anyone to know your name?”

“I donno.” A shrug was her prelude to a wormy smile.

“Well, it probably wouldn’t stick to your sweater anyway,” Aaron said. “Even mine begins to peel off at the corners, especially when I tell a lie.”

“Are you telling one now?”

Aaron glanced down at his tag. Two of the corners had begun to curl. He smiled sheepishly. If this conversation progresses any further, I might be forced to.

“Where are you from?” the woman asked.

“Here. North Raleigh. I’m a member of this temple.”

“So am I,” she replied. “Um, this brie is delicious,” she added, ingesting the remaining bite. “Think I’ll have another piece. Want some?”

“No thanks. But while you’re over there, grab a name tag for yourself. Well, time to circulate.” Aaron beamed his very best acrylic smile. “It was nice meeting you.” God, I hate myself for saying that. He sauntered off, closer to the doorway. A member of this temple? Funny, I’ve never noticed her before.

Two women entered the lobby from outside. Both looked to be in their mid-forties, each sterily attractive in a hyper-civilized, New-York-Woman kind of way. Both were dark-haired, impeccable, dressed to kill. Neither was soft or pretty. They exuded no warmth, no vulnerability. Aaron’s appetite for companionship didn’t care.

He positioned himself in the doorway to the social hall to be in their direct path. As they drew closer they circled, one to each flank, their eyes roaming over him as if inspecting a slab of beef at the butcher. He blushed nervously. His smile was not returned.

Aaron twisted in their direction, threading back through the crowd, snaking closer. It didn’t take him long to catch up, but the two women were already engaged in conversation with a lanky, forty-something suit, bald and sporting a prominent Adam’s apple.

Aaron stood for a minute looking on, pretending to be listening, amazed that at this guy’s age he could still look so gawky. The suit continued to dominate the conversation, suddenly thrusting forward on one leg, knee projected, as if performing a fencing move. Aaron parried back, trying to steal the ladies’ attention. He might as well have been invisible.

His discomfort elevated to unbearable proportions. Even without a jacket he was roasting. Beads of perspiration began to dot his forehead. He turned away, retreating again to the Tree of Life at the rear of the social hall. This time he found Ruth’s spirit waiting, laughing hysterically.

When I tried to summon you earlier, you didn’t come. Only now while I’m digging myself into a hole you decide to show up. Ruth’s laughter continued.

Dammit, Ruth! What’s so funny? I’m dying here. Oops! Sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.

It’s okay, Aaron. It’s not like it’s going to change anything. Not even a second passed before Aaron

heard the sound of Ruth’s raucous laughter again.

Look Hon, you know I have this social problem with being thrust into a pack of strangers.

I know. And I feel so bad for you. You look so… so absolutely hopeless out there.

Then why don’t you give me some help?

What can I do? You’ll just have to figure things out for yourself.

Oh, Hon, I miss you so.

I miss you too, Aaron.

“Boy, there sure are a lot of men here.”

The last words were not Ruth’s—and not in his head. Aaron twisted to his right. A man, average looking, a bit shorter and about his age, had parked himself alongside.

“I’m sorry, he replied. “What did you say?”

“There seem to be a lot of men here,” the man repeated.

Aaron pondered a moment. “I don’t wish to sound rude,” he replied, “but I don’t think we should be seen together. Might create the wrong impression.”

The man appeared baffled.

“I don’t know about you,” Aaron continued, “but I came here to meet someone of the opposite sex.” The man assumed an expression of shock and without another word headed in the direction of the gathering.

Aaron held back for half a minute, then did the same. Lord, hear me. I can’t take another minute of this. If I haven’t made some kind of meaningful connection by eight o’clock, I’m outta here. Oh jeez, there’s the rabbi.

“Well, hello there, Aaron,” Rabbi Diamond said as she stepped into the social hall. Her black ceremonial robe resembled that of a judge. “I haven’t seen you in quite awhile.”

“I know,” he said. A second later he recalled the last time he’d seen the rabbi: the evening of the day Ruth died. He wondered whether she was intentionally avoiding any reference to Ruth.

“I’m so glad you’ve decided to join Singles.”

Aaron smiled like someone trying to mask pain.

“How’s Evan?”

“Doing fine. He’s a sophomore at Enloe High.”

“Terrific. Well, don’t be a stranger.”

Rabbi Diamond slipped further into the room, trapping everyone’s attention like a spider web with her outstretched arms. “I’d like to welcome y’all to Temple Beth Or this evening.” The timbre of her voice cut through the collective chatter. “Sabbath worship begins at eight o’clock. Please join us in the sanctuary. It’s almost time.”

Aaron glimpsed his watch. Seven-fifty-four. Yeah, almost time.

The others began to flock after the rabbi as she exited the social hall and crossed the lobby in the direction of the sanctuary. Aaron joined in at the very end, hugging the wall to the front entrance, using those in front of him as a visual shield. He noticed that Rabbi Diamond had stalled to greet some congregants who had just arrived. If I can just slip out the door without her noticing.

“Aaron, where are you going?”

Guess not. “Uh—just to my car, rabbi—to find something.”

Rabbi Diamond nodded, then continued toward the doors to the sanctuary.

Aaron pushed open the wrought-iron doors, tasting immediately the freedom of the outside. He’d already distanced himself several yards from the entrance when he heard the doors clang shut behind him. The evening air began to bank his emotional furnace.

“Yeah, to find something all right,” he uttered aloud. “My friggin’ sanity!”


“Have you spoken to your brother lately?”

“No, Mom. I should give Marty a call.”

“So how was the Jewish Singles?” she said, and suddenly Aaron knew the real reason for her call.

“Terrible. Awful.” The line grew silent. “Seriously,” he continued, “it’s that no one there seemed interested in mixing with anyone but the ones they already knew.”

“That’s too bad.”

“And there was no one to act as the yenta, you know, to make the introductions. If I decide to attend another one, I’m going to collar the person who organizes this thing and implore them to announce each newcomer to the others the moment they walk through the door.”

“That might work.”

Aaron hesitated. “But I feel that by not looking outside of the Jewish community, I’m missing something.”

His mother did not protest, nor did she do so when his brother decided to go that route. “Well, it’s a start,” she said. “Something will happen. I’m very proud of you for at least trying.”


How to Call the Police When You’re Old and Can’t Move


George Phillips, an elderly man from Walled Lake, Michigan, was going up

to bed, when his wife told him that he'd left the light on in the garden

shed, which she could see from the bedroom window.

George opened the back door to go turn off the light, but saw that there

were people in the shed stealing things.

He phoned the police, who asked "Is someone in your house?"

He said "No, but some people are breaking into my garden shed and

stealing from me!"

Then the police dispatcher said, "All patrols are busy!  You should lock

your doors and an officer will be along when one is available."

George said, "Okay."

He hung up the phone and counted to 30.  Then he phoned the police again.

"Hello, I just called you a few seconds ago because there were people

stealing things from my shed.  Well, you don't have to worry about them

now because I just shot them both! And he hung up.

Within five minutes, six police cars, a SWAT team, a helicopter, two

fire trucks, a paramedic and an ambulance showed up at the Phillips'

residence, and caught the burglars red-handed.

One of the policemen said to George, "I thought you said that you'd shot


George said, "I thought you said there was nobody available!" (True Story)

Don't mess with old people


Getting Older

A distraught senior citizen phoned her doctor's office. "Is it true,"

she wanted to know, "that the medication you prescribed has to be taken

for the rest of my life? “Yes, I'm afraid so," the doctor told

her. There was a moment of silence before the senior lady replied,

   "I'm wondering, then, just how serious is my condition because this

prescription is   marked:     'NO REFILLS’."


An older gentleman was on the operating table awaiting surgery and he

insisted that his son, a renowned surgeon, perform the operation.

As he was about to get the anesthesia, he asked to speak to his son.

"Yes, Dad, what is it?

"Don't be nervous, son!  Do your best and just remember, if it doesn't

go well, if something happens to me, your mother is going to come and

live with you and your wife...."


Two guys, one old and one young, are pushing their carts around

Wal-Mart when they collide. The old guy says to the young guy,

"Sorry about that. I'm looking for my wife, and I guess I wasn't paying

attention    to where I was going."The young guy says, "That's OK, it's

a coincidence. I'm looking for my wife, too...I can't find her and I'm

getting a little desperate.The old guy says, "Well, maybe I can help you

find her…What does she look like?"The young guy says, "Well, she is 27

years old, tall, with red hair, blue eyes, is buxom...wearing no

bra, long legs, and is wearing short shorts. What does your  wife look

like?"To which the old guy says, "Doesn't  matter, ---let's look for




Marry Williamson


Emma said: “The darn thing did not work properly. It kept jiggling about.” And that is why we came to be here. Stuck in the rolling hills of Devon.

We were all in a pub in the City of London having a glass of wine to chill out after a hard day’s work. We were working flat out on a new Directory, cross referencing, proof reading, checking the illustrations, the photographs, the phone numbers, mobile numbers, email addresses, web sites, etc. Emma said: “Oh, I am so ready for a holiday” and Karl said: “why don’t we all go for a break somewhere nice when we finish this job?”. We all agreed. A nice break was needed. But where? “Tell you what”  Oliver said “let’s roll a dice.  Whoever rolls the 6 gets to choose the destination and does the organising”. So that is what we did and the winner / loser was Emma. Over the next few weeks we all tried to sound her out as to where we were going but she kept tapping her nose and saying: “you’ll see when the time comes”. Eventually we stopped asking her. We finished the Directory and had a celebratory drink in our favourite pub. “So, Emma” Oliver said, “where are we going tomorrow?” Emma blinked. I had the distinct impression that she had forgotten all about our arrangement and was taken off guard. But being Emma she recovered almost immediately and said: “All of you. Be here tomorrow morning at eight o’clock sharp. Pack for a week.” And that was all we got out of her. We were all there the next morning at eight o’clock. All of us except Emma. We stood about for a bit debating what to do when she turned up, half an hour late in a large six-seater car, shouting: “All aboard for the magical mystery tour!”

We were singing ‘we are going on a summer holiday’ as we drove out of London on the M4. We were singing when the Sat Nav guided us onto the M5. We stopped for sandwiches at some hellishly expensive service station and we were still singing as we drove over the Devon border. After that things became a bit fraught. First of all Emma, who had stopped singing roundabout Exeter, kept frowning at the Sat Nav. After we had left the main road - as instructed by the Sat Nav - it became apparent that we were lost. We drove down a very narrow country lane so remote that it had grass growing in the middle and the hedgerows on either side kept brushing the wing mirrors of the six-seater. Emma said: Oh darn and with that drove straight into the hedge. The six-seater got stuck and that was it. “We will have to walk the rest” Emma said. “What rest?” we asked, “where to?” we asked. Emma said: “I don’t know, you all think of something. Phone somebody”.

“Who?” we asked “who do we phone?” “What do I know” Emma said. “We better start walking”.

So that is what we did. We walked. With our bags and paraphernalia. We walked. The lane was endless and did not seem to go anywhere. It followed a ridge and the land fell steeply on one side. After an hour Emma said: “My feet are killing me”. After another hour she said: “One more rolling hill and I have to kill myself”. Karl said: “I wish you would” and Oliver said: one more rolling hill and I will kill you.” We still did not know where we were going. After 3 hours I sat down and said that I did not go any further and we should have phoned the AA in the first place. “I did not” Emma said “because I thought we were nearly there” “WHERE?” we shouted. “The barn” Emma said. “My Aunty Mabel’s holiday barn in Yorkshire. “YORKSHIRE?” we shouted. “Yorkshire is over 300 miles in the other direction. “Is it, really?” Emma said: “I thought that darn Sat Nav was not working properly. It must have turned me left on the M5 instead of right”.


 A Trip to a Basketball Game - 1949

E. B. Alston


I was 15 in October 1949 and did not have my driver’s license. I started school when I was five so I was behind everybody in my class in everything important, like having a driver’s license. By the time I could drive, all the girls in my class that I liked were going steady with somebody else.

I lived a mile north of Essex on Highway 43, Bob Arrington, Joseph Powell and Donald Ray Satterwhite lived around Hollister. We planned to ride to the basketball game with Bob in his daddy’s Packard straight 8. I rode to Bob’s house on my Whizzer motor bike. Aurelian Springs was 17 miles away. At the last minute, Bob’s dad needed the car so we were without transportation. Bad, bad news because we were going especially to see Peggy Lee play basketball. Peggy moved around a basketball court with the grace of a ballet dancer. Bob pointed out that two of us could go on my Whizzer. That was a bummer for the two left out. Then Joseph suggested that I could tow a bicycle with a rope and all of us could go. That was a plan! The weather was mild. We weren’t wearing jackets. It was a full moon night. Bob got his bicycle and a rope from their mule barn. We tied it to the seat post on my Whizzer and we decided we better not tie it to the bicycle. It would be best for Donald Ray to hold the rope and Bob would steer the bicycle. Joseph rode behind me on the Whizzer.

Off we went and arrived at the gym in time for the first whistle.

We saw both games and the Aurelian Springs High School girls won their game. I don’t remember if the boys won or not.  

After the games were over, we started home. The moon was so bright I didn’t need to use the lights on the motorbike unless a car passed us or we met one. Traffic was light because we were passed by one car and met two during the whole 17 miles. I dropped Joseph off at his house that was close to Medlin Crossroads and Donald Ray at his house in Hollister. After towing Bob to his house, I rode home the back way and arrived a little before 11 pm.

I am glad to this day that I grew up when I did where I did.



Hammer Spade and the Four Horsemen

Chapter Twenty-One


While they were waiting for their luggage at the Oran Es Sénia Airport, Dave had a suggestion.

“Jim, let’s stay at the Sheraton. It’s a nicer hotel and we won’t have to walk to meet them when they come.”

“They told us to stay at the Hotel Colombe,” Jim replied.

“We could have stayed on the moon for all they knew. They wanted us to stay in a cheap place because they’re big boys and we’re just foot soldiers. You’re on your honeymoon and they are not paying the bills.”

“Good idea, Dave. I’ll go along with that.”

When their luggage came down the chute, Nisreeno’s followed in a long line of matching suitcases.

“Could you get by with just one suitcase while we’re here?” Jim asked Nisreeno.

“Yes,” she replied. “There is one I packed for travel.”

“Maybe the airport would store the rest.”

They went to the pile of her suitcases where she pointed to one. “That is the one I need. The rest can be stored.”

Jim went to the baggage counter and asked if they could store some of their extra luggage somewhere at the airport.

“It costs five franc’s a day per piece,” he told Jim.

While Jim handled storing Nisreeno’s luggage, Dave made their reservations and called the hotel to send a van.

While they waited for Jim and the van, Dave asked Nisreeno if she preferred the desert or the city to live.

“I love the desert,” she replied. “I love the wind, the freedom and the solitude.”

“What about modern conveniences?”

“My father’s home has many modern conveniences.”

“Then, I understand why you like the place where you grew up,” Dave replied.

When the hotel van arrived, they boarded and soon they were checked into their rooms. Dave put Jim and Nisreeno together in the honeymoon suite.

After unpacking, they met in the hotel restaurant for dinner. When Nisreeno walked into the restaurant beside Jim, every man’s eyes followed her.

Nisreeno seemed preoccupied during dinner, and appeared not to be hungry. She picked at the items on her plate while Dave and Jim talked about what they would report to Alain and Georgi. After they finished dinner, the three of them returned to their rooms.

Nisreeno nodded to Dave when he wished her goodnight.

On the way to their room, she walked quietly beside Jim and stood close to him on the elevator. After Jim closed and locked the door to their room, she came to him and put her arms around his neck for the first time. She didn’t try to kiss him.

Jim tentatively, awkwardly put his arms around her, acting as if he wasn’t sure what to do.

When he didn’t try to kiss her, she stood back, looked at him quietly for a moment, and said, “My husband, do you not wish to love me?”

He waffled. “I don’t feel right about this.”

She was dissatisfied with his unenthusiastic reply. “We have been married for six nights and you have not loved me. Will you ever love me?”

Jim stared at the wall behind her. “I don’t know,” he eked out.

“Why not? We are husband and wife. We may not be husband and wife the American way, but according to my people’s tradition, we are married. I was dishonored when you failed to come to me that first night, and you have dishonored me every night since.”

“I didn’t mean to dishonor you. I just didn’t feel right about it,” he repeated.

“When we were on the trail, we could have slipped away while the others slept, but you didn’t. Why?”

“I don’t have a good answer,” he replied. “This is not the way Americans do it.”

“I am not an American and we are not in America. I have wanted to be in your arms every night since you entered our gates. Cleopatra has been loved many times by now. But I, who chose the manliest, handsomest man I have ever seen, have not been loved.”

“I’m afraid it won’t work out, Nisreeno.”

“What is there to work out? I have been good to you, I have been patient and I have tried to make myself beautiful for you.”

“You are very beautiful,” he agreed.

“I am glad my husband thinks I am beautiful but I do not know what I must do to get him to love me.”

She paused and waited for him to reply, but he didn’t say anything.

“Jim,” she said with the strong m, “Our marriage will work if both of us try. Do you not want to try?”

Then it occurred to Jim that none of his friends would understand either. They would make fun of him for his reluctance to make love to this beautiful woman. Maybe he was nervous about the foreign atmosphere. If they had been back home, he certainly would not have delayed consummating this marriage. Then he had an epiphany.

“Yeah, I do.”

“Will we tonight?” she asked.


She gave him a slight smile. “Would you mind taking your bath first?”

“No, not at all,” he replied.

When he took his toiletries into the bathroom, she opened her suitcase to get out her things.

Alone in the bathroom, Jim started thinking again. That night he had the most thoughtful shower of his life. She was a foreign woman with foreign ways and he had not scratched the surface as far as getting to know her. On the other hand, she was honest and she worked hard at whatever she chose to do. She was a very civilized and cultured woman. She was more civilized than he was by a long shot.

He wondered how she would react to his redneck friends, or how they would react to her. He quickly realized he didn’t need to worry about what they thought because her beauty would smooth the way with them. In addition, she could be very witty when she chose to be. Dave admired her, and Dave was a good judge of people.

When Jim came out of the bathroom wearing a hotel robe, she was sitting on the cushioned window ledge wearing a white cotton robe, staring out over the Mediterranean.

“I’m finished,” he said.

She rose without speaking, gathered up her things, went into the bathroom and closed the door.

He turned on the television, but it annoyed him, so he turned it off. He stood by the window looking out at the sea and the city, thinking about what was about to transpire. He smiled when it occurred to him that they could call this a “merging of two continents.” He moved one of the chairs by the window and watched the port traffic. What if she came out wearing a teddy outfit! That got him excited.

When she finally came out of the bathroom, she was wearing a simple, knee-length, white cotton gown with spaghetti straps. It was just tight enough to show slight curves over her bosom and hips.

He rose to meet her as she came to him with a solemn expression and smelling of expensive perfume. She put her arms around his neck. He felt her tremble at his touch. Her trembling increased when he kissed her.

“Is something wrong?” he asked.

She shook her head and tried to smile. “I’m nervous.”

After all that talk, she was nervous? “You don’t need to be nervous on my account.”

She trembled harder and laid her head on his shoulder. “I must tell you something,” she whispered.

“What?” he asked.

“Mother told me that it hurts the first time. She said I must not cry out because my husband might think I did not love him.”

He was surprised and moved by this revelation, as the significance of this moment and what it meant to her dawned upon him. Now, at that moment, Jim knew that he loved this woman.

She looked into his eyes. “I will try not to cry out, my husband, but if I do, please think of it as a cry of joy because I love you.”

“Don’t worry, Nisreeno,” he whispered. “I won’t hurt you.”

He picked her up and carried her to the bed where he gently laid her on top of the covers. Then he turned out the light, and took his rightful place on the bed beside her.



Dave was having breakfast the next morning when the two lovebirds entered the dining room. He knew right away that the honeymoon had begun. Jim had a big smile and walked with a light step. Nisreeno was glowing with happiness.

“How are the newlyweds?” Dave asked.

“Wonderful!” Nisreeno gushed.

“Well, Jim, how’d it go for you?”

Jim smiled broadly and held up two fingers.

“Two times?”

Jim nodded.

“Jim was very gentle,” Nisreeno offered.

“Good,” Dave said.

“He didn’t hurt me.”

“I’m glad he didn’t,” Dave replied. “But let’s not get too clinical here in public.”

“I do not care who knows,” she said. “And I am going to give my husband many brave and handsome sons.”

“You realize how you really lucked out?” Dave said to Jim. “And she is gonna be the talk of the town when you take her home.”

Jim nodded.

They took their places and ordered coffee and breakfast.

While they waited, Dave asked, “Jim, did you learn anything new while you were so busy last night?”


“What did you find out?”

“The whole thing was a setup.”

“What do you mean?”

“She volunteered to be the prize at the card game.”

“She did? Why?”

Nisreeno answered. “I fell in love with Jim the first day you arrived.”

“It was about the same time Aama Tahar fell for Cleopatra,” Jim added. “Either way it went, one of them got what they wanted.”

“My uncle cheats at cards,” Nisreeno said.

“Jim cheated to win you,” Dave said.

Her hand went to her mouth. She looked at Jim. “You cheated?”

“Yeah,” he replied with a grin.

“Nisreeno, maybe you can clear this up for us,” Dave asked. “Cleopatra told us that if Jim didn’t take you away with him, you’d be an outcast and everybody would shun you. She even said working men would rape you. Everything we saw back there indicated that they loved you. It doesn’t square that they would treat you like that.”

Nisreeno bit her lip and stared at the floor a few seconds before she replied.

“That was a little fib that I told Cleopatra. We thought that Americans, being sentimental like you are, would be more likely to rescue me if you thought I was in danger.”

“So you fooled Cleopatra.”

“Yes. I cried a lot, too.”

Dave laughed. “Let me get this straight. You fell for Jim the first day we arrived.”

Nisreeno nodded.

“Aama Tahar fell for Cleopatra the same time, right?”

Nisreeno nodded again.

“Then Aama Tahar cooked up this card game where he could cheat and win Cleopatra’s hand, but to make sure nothing was wasted, you stood in just in case Jim won.”

She nodded again.

“What if I had been the best card player?”

“My uncle would have prevented me from leaving.”

“So you had that base covered, too. But you didn’t have to worry because Jim cheated and won you.”

She agreed.

“Then, after you ran all over the desert in an Arab robe, acting cute, you sprung yourself on us yesterday looking like a million dollar runway model.”

“Yes, I did,” she replied with a smile.

Dave laughed. “Jim, we have been outwitted at every step by a bunch of camel jockeys. Why, we even gave Aama Tahar two four-thousand dollar rifles for flimflamming us out of Cleopatra.”

“Jim, tell him the best part,” said Nisreeno.

Jim tried to seem serious, but it didn’t quite come off.

“Nisreeno and I have to fly to Geneva while we’re waiting for the Frenchman.”

“What for?”

“I’m to sign some papers at her dad’s bank so I can collect her dowry.”

“Her dowry?” Dave laughed. “What are you getting? Two goats and a camel?”

“I’m getting two million Swiss francs,” Jim replied, trying to sound apologetic.

“Well, I’ll be!” Dave exclaimed.

“They don’t want a member of the royal family to live in penury,” Jim offered as an explanation.

“You fought this every step of the way,” Dave mused. “What does that say about your ability to analyze a situation and come to the right decision?”

“But, Dave, it worked out.”

“Yeah, Jim, it did. Maybe Cleopatra knew something when she said God would see to it that it worked out.”

They began to laugh. They laughed so loudly, and so infectiously, that patrons and workers in the restaurant began to laugh with them, even though they had no idea what was so funny. 



 Chapter Twenty-Two


While Jim and Nisreeno were in Geneva collecting Jim’s fortune, Dave tried to come up with some sort of story that would make Alain and Georgi think they had accomplished something besides making Jim rich.

Dave didn’t like those two and thought they were wild-eyed fanatics with no personal or operational skills. The last thing he wanted to do was go on another mission for those two clowns. But then, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin had been a wild-eyed fanatic himself, and he did a lot of damage to 20th century civilization.

He wondered what kind of man this Lord Philip Norwich was to have selected these men for any kind of serious enterprise. The U.S. government was treating this as a grave international threat, as did most of the governments in Western Europe, but the whole thing had an element of farce. In typical 21st century fashion, every threat, and every suspicion of threat, was treated by Western governments as a worldwide emergency.

After lunch, he called Alain and told him that he and Jim had returned from their mission and would have their report ready by the end of the week. Alain chewed him out for returning to Oran ahead of schedule and informed Dave that they would arrive on the appointed day and not one minute earlier. Then Alain spat out a French word that Dave took to be uncomplimentary, and hung up the phone.

Dave called his girlfriend, Wubesh Smith, in Somalia. They had a long conversation that resulted in her coming to Oran in two days to help him pass the time. Life was uncertain. Why waste it bored and alone.

The two lovebirds met Dave at breakfast the next morning. It was sickening how happy they looked. She wore beautiful attire wherever she went, and her Libyan complexion gave her a mysterious allure. Any man could single her out in a crowd. Jim even dressed better and was more careful about his grooming. Dave decided that this had been good for both of them.

The more Dave got to know Nisreeno, the more he admired her in her own right. Jim told him she had a beautiful voice when she sang her tribe’s traditional wedding song to him their first night together. What Dave admired most was her clever mind. She was the first woman he had met who might be as clever as Rachel Clark, who worked on the Ring of Fire case with him, Hammer and Jack. Unlike Rachel, Nisreeno had a devious streak a mile wide and a mile deep. He and Jim, and Cleopatra, too, had been outwitted from the moment they arrived at the gates of Aama Tahar’s mud-walled city.

In retrospect, it seemed that their arrival together in Oran at the honeymoon suite in the Sheraton was the culmination of a carefully choreographed script, in which he and Jim had unwittingly played major parts. Nisreeno got the man she desired and Jim was the beneficiary.

Cleopatra was right. Sometimes things work out in mysterious ways. Dave bet she was having a ball, playing Queen Cleopatra IV.



Dave left the two of them alone for the rest of the day and met them for dinner that evening in a small private dining room on the top floor of the hotel. The restaurant had a western and an Algerian menu. Jim and Nisreeno ordered their respective nationalities’ food in order to trade bites from each other’s plates. Dave asked them if they had had any disagreements.

“None so far,” Jim replied. “Her daddy trained her well.”

“That is because he has agreed to everything I suggested,” she retorted.

After their meals came and they had privacy, Dave asked Jim if he had any ideas about what to say in their report to Alain Binoche and Georgi Dimitrov.

“Naw. I hadn’t thought much about it. What do you think?”

“I guess we’ll have to tell them Aama Tahar can’t conquer Europe and doesn’t want to.”

“If we do that, he’ll chew us out and send us to another hellhole somewhere else.”

“Binoche chewed me out for getting back to Oran before his schedule allowed.”

“When are they coming?”

“The twenty-eighth day, like he said when they sent us off. You and Nisreeno have thirteen days of honeymoon left and you’re on expenses.”

Jim grinned. “Maybe being a secret agent ain’t so bad after all.”

“Don’t expect to get a royal princess for a wife on every assignment.”

Nisreeno giggled.

“Dave, we ain’t supposed to help them. We’re supposed to make them think we’re helping while we try to sabotage whatever they try that might work. We could tell ’em that Larbi Aama Tahar M’hidi has a million men under arms itching to avenge European humiliation of the Middle East and all he wants is some financial help.”

“You know, they might be stupid enough to swallow that.”

“Binoche’s an arrogant jerk,” Jim agreed. “Neither of those clowns has a clue anyway. We could even tell them Aama Tahar received a shipment of long range weapons while we were there.”

“You know, Jim,” Dave said with a grin, “you’re almost as big a schemer as your wife that you won by cheating in a poker game.”

Nisreeno had a suggestion. “I could be with you in my desert princess outfit when you meet with them.”

“Yeah,” Dave agreed. “Good idea.”

“They might not allow her to be with us,” Jim said. “It’s supposed to be top secret.”

“Tell them I don’t speak English,” Nisreeno suggested.

“Jim, you could even tell ‘em you won her in a poker game,” Dave reminded him. “That would lend reality to our story because it’s not a lie.”

“They might buy that,” Jim agreed. “It would catch them off guard, and her presence would prove that we met with tribal leaders.”

“Didn’t you say you were fluent in French?” Dave asked Nisreeno.

“She is,” Jim answered. “She speaks it like she was born French.”

“They have side conversations in French while they’re meeting with us,” Dave said. “Nisreeno, you could eavesdrop and tell us what they say behind our backs.”

“They have very bad manners,” Nisreeno said. “They are hiding something from you.”

“I wouldn’t doubt that,” Dave agreed.

“I say that we go with it,” Jim said.

“I’ll write it up tomorrow morning,” Dave said. “We can review it over dinner sometime before they arrive. You two enjoy your honeymoon. Don’t worry about me. My girlfriend is arriving tomorrow afternoon.”


 My Environmental Journey Since September Issue of RPG Digest

By Carol Rados


            In my reading, I have learned that much of our electricity is generated from fossil fuels.  Most of our transportation uses fossil fuels.  Container ships use the most polluting fuel, next airplanes, trucks, and then cars.  During our world wide shut-down we have flown less and driven less, but the use of container ships and delivery trucks has increased.

            Trees are our best mitigation.  The forest fires in the western states are not only causing pollution, but we are losing those trees and it will take decades or longer to replace them.

            I have enrolled in a Climate Change class through ECU’s Lifelong Learning program that begins on October 1, 2020.  This class is one day per week for the month of October.  I will access the class through Zoom.

            I am thankful for the rain that comes regularly to us in North Carolina.  We have lots of trees and woodlands here too.

            Electricity became available to my parents in rural North Carolina the year I was born.  I have never known life without electricity.  My parents were slow in their transition.  They kept their wood cook stove for about 10 more years.  They also continued to heat with wood for most of their lives except for one oil heater that was in the living room.  They kept their oil lamps. Losing electricity was not that big a deal during my elementary school years. They finally got central  heating and AC when they were in their late 70’s or early 80’s.  Gene Alston helped make this happen. 

            Installing Solar panels on houses is a great idea.  I need to research this to see what is involved and what the costs and benefits are in our area.

            I plan to get a solar motion light to install in my trash can area.

            My shredded paper is being recycled by putting it into a paper bag.  I plan to take it to the recycle bin at Food Lion.

            My practice of hand washing plastic bags, drying them, and then reusing or recycling them continues.  I continue to recycle mixed paper and glass at Food Lion.  I am also saving my plastic that Greenville not longer recycles for the RAW program to be used or recycled.

            When I shop, I notice packaging and choose non-plastic  packaging when I can.

            I have enjoyed writing these articles.  Thank you for sharing my journey.



New Book Project


On the 24th of September I had emergency surgery that removed my gall bladder. As this is typed, I am in considerable pain, which I know will soon moderate and my health will be better than before. While I was forced to lie on a hospital bed flat on my back for five very, very long, painful, days, it occurred to me that I ought to finish my 28th book, The Venus Chronicles, It is set in the far, far distant future. My editor, Peggy Ellis, tells me this is my best book. I decided to let readers of the magazine see a few samples of the contents. I started writing it about a year and a half ago. The complete manuscript is presently at about 40,000 words. This sample starts on page 10 of the manuscript.


The Venus Chronicles

E. B. Alston


The Background

Since the 21st century, the earth had evolved and changed more than it had the previous four billion years. It was now dryer than Mars was 14.16 billion years ago. Natural and man-made disasters had taken a grim toll on livability. Surface moisture existed only in the arctic zones. There was no natural ice. You could boil an egg in the ocean at the equator. Seashores had moved inland. New York City was under 10 feet of water, as was most of Florida. 100’ above the previous sea level was now the seashore. It would have been worse if evaporation from the heat had not kept most of the extra water in the air. This was the only atmospheric condition that allowed animal life to continue to exist. It kept the planet cooler. The whole USA was like Arizona. Canada was like southern Florida and much of the arctic, including northern Canada, Russian Siberia and Alaska, was under water. The southern hemisphere was mostly water anyway but the ice was gone from the South Pole. Things were not going to get better.

By then, humans were very different, too. The humans were descendants of humanoid earth creatures who lived on earth before earth had any civilianization.

The humans who migrated to Venus were very different from the humans who lived on earth before one million AD, which was its most livable period. Nuclear wars on the latter part of the first thousand millennia drastically reduced the number of people. Robotic armies controlled by computers killed humans without mercy and destroyed millions of square miles of habitable land.

Survivors of these manmade disasters learned to get along, cooperate and settle disputes without conflict. Killer robots were banned. By then all industrial work, including production of human food was accomplished using robots.

The most volatile interaction between humans was sexual relations. It had been replaced. Women produced eggs and men produced sperm for the purpose of race continuation. It was a civic duty. The eggs and sperm were collected by medical staff and placed together in a petri dish for fertilization. Then the fertilized egg was placed inside an egg-shaped enclosure where it was provided proper nutrition. As the fetus developed, it was monitored and any that showed developmental imperfections were discarded. After the fetus developed into a baby, the egg was opened during a solemn birthing ceremony. Then the child was taken by its parents to raise to become a proper adult. The infant could expect to live two earth-centuries.  

Now all humans were fair skinned, blonde, blue eyed, six feet tall, weighed 180 pounds, were athletic, intelligent and educated. In other words, they were all alike, cookie-cutter people.

All of them thought alike. They were as different from 21st century humans as people could be and still be called human. The oldest colonist was 173 earth years old and the youngest was four.

Humanoid robots, designed to look human, were used as helpers for humans. Some were designed to be servants for people. Software prevented them from killing or injuring any person. They were self-aware and developed likes and dislikes of their own. Some were cooks, others house cleaners, gardeners, chauffeurs, baby sitters, athletic coaches, trainers, and anything else humans didn’t like to do or thought to be boring.

Industrial robots were designed to perform specific functions without any attempt for them to look, or act, like humans.

Worker robots might be humanoid or purpose built. Programming was tailored for the things they were built to do.

Engineering robots were mechanical robots with software minds designed to make them equal to the famous Greek, Archimedes of Syracuse. They were purpose designed and their appearance might be humanoid or look like a crane or a floating barge that could do mathematical calculations, design and transfer building instructions to construction robots. They could also speak.

All robots were built by other robots and their programming supervised by humans. In this culture, robots did all the work. Humans did the planning and told them that to do. Humans worked eight hours a day, played another eight hours and rested eight hours. Robots worked 24 hours a day.


Earth to Venus


The pioneers who first came to Venus were desperate. Earth had become a desert. Drinkable water was more precious than gold. Government had ceased to exist. Less than a million humans were left, fending for themselves and living in groups of like-minded individuals. What kept them alive was the technology that had been developed eons before. Robots did all the work. Food and housing was available. Nevertheless, everybody knew that one day, there would be no living humans left on the planet. A sort of civilization would continue with the robot population continuing to do the jobs they had been designed to do, possibly forever. Robots didn’t need water and food, or supervision.

A group of scientists living near Newberry, Michigan, began to realize that if humankind was to continue to exist, they had to find another place with air and water. Venus was the closest planet and its orbit was inside the earths, closer to the sun.

Venus was originally a comet. Ancient astronomers discovered it around 1200 BC. Venus is an odd planet. It rotates in an opposite direction from all the other solar planets. It’s day/night revolutions are about two per earth year, walking speed. Earth’s rotation speed is a little over 1,000 MPH at the equator. The climate was hostile but there were clouds and water. It’s core is similar to earth’s.

Venus and Earth are almost the same size and have about the same mass. The surface gravity on Venus is about 91% of the surface gravity on Earth. If you weighed 200 pounds on Earth, you would weigh 182 pounds on Venus. Like Earth, Venus is made up of a central iron core and a rocky mantle, similar to the composition of Earth. Venus’s atmosphere is much heavier than the earth’s.

By this time, its atmosphere had become more life-friendly. As it cooled, the atmosphere changed to 15 % carbon dioxide, 66% nitrogen, 18% oxygen with small amounts of other gases. This was a lot more carbon dioxide, less nitrogen and three percent less oxygen than Earth, but the human adjustment would much less strenuous than the adjustment from Mars to Earth many eons ago. Venus is 162 million miles from earth, plus or minus. The distance varies because both have elliptical orbits. A year on Venus is 2 days, equal to 224, earth days.

Since there was nothing else within possible reach, the group designed four spaceships, all the same size. The first mission was to transport 10 couples, their offspring and rations to Venus. A second ship would accompany them and take as many robots and technological equipment as it could carry.

The mission was to determine if it was possible to live on Venus and, if it was, make preparations for the rest of the group. The other spaceships were to transport the remaining humans for the second wave. The trip would take about four months.

They planned their emigration in secret as robots built their transport and provisioned it. The robots were also instructed to build transport to take them to the new planetary home.



For their launch facility, the pioneers built a spaceship launch center south of Newberry on the shore of Lake Michigan. Northern US was almost deserted by then. Major population centers were all in the far northern and southern areas of the planet, as far away from the blistering equator as they could get. The state of New York was like the Saudi Arabian desert. Florida, Louisiana, Southern Texas and most of Mexico were under water. The great plains were also under water.

The ships carrying the first wave of explorers, equipment, and robots lifted off on June 1.

The leaders were:

Arthur King, who was a medical doctor. He was voted leader by a unanimous vote the month before they departed.

James Smith, who was an engineer, skilled in design. He was an unorthodox “out of the box” thinker.

Robert Johnson, a builder and construction expert.

John Williams, an agronomist. He had written a scholarly study of food plants.

Thomas Jones, a computer and software expert.

David Wilson, a plant biologist.

Stephen Moore, an animal biologist.

Richard Jackson, a chemist.

Samuel Lee, a plumber

Brian Adams, a chef.


They landed safely near the equator of Venus after a 121-earth day space flight. The time was early morning on a 2,802 hour day on their new home planet. It was cloudy. Temperature was 114 degrees. Their watches and clocks were useless. They had rations for four months.


Venus Day One


Richard did an atmospheric test and pronounced it safe. They spent the first hours stretching their limbs and walking around. The air stank but didn’t seem harmful. They agreed there was no reason for caution because they came on a one-way trip. If the atmosphere had been poisonous, it wouldn’t matter. The 114 degrees didn’t seem so bad because humidity was low and it was cloudy. By then, anything was better than being cooped up in that cramped spaceship. They felt stronger. Everybody laughed when Thomas lifted Linda up over his head. This was the first laughter anybody had heard in a long time. The children started playing tag. Brian set up tables and served them their first meal in their new home planet.

After their meal, Arthur called a meeting where he reviewed their plans. The first order of business was shelter. Because the environment seemed temperate and reasonably healthy, the debate ended with some camping in tents while others slept in the ship. The second order was to find food. Rank vegetation was visible to the north and south. They would also hunt for animals to supply meat. The third item was to begin construction at once for the environmentally controlled dome they had designed before they left earth.

They began a 24-hour schedule for meals, work, recreation and sleep. David Wilson and his 19-year old son, Taylor began scouting for food plants using electric powered 4-wheelers. Steven Moore and his sons, Clark and William, also left scouting for edible meat. Both teams were armed with laser weapons. The rest of the men and their sons began unpacking and activating the robots. By the end of their first seven 24-hour periods on Venus, they had robots digging a well searching for water, digging foundations, crushing rocks and mining limestone to make concrete.

Wilson discovered edible plants, a kind of grain, a leafy vegetable and an edible bean. Moore and his sons had located animals; strange-looking but one vaguely resembled a small hairless pig. He killed and butchered three but their taste was not familiar at all. They also saw horse-like creatures and some huge featherless birds.

Luckily, they had brought genetic material for horses, cows, pigs and chickens.

The third week they located a lake in a small patch of vegetation three miles south. The water was light blue. It tasted “different” according to Mary Smith but Richard was sure he could filter and treat it to the point that it was drinkable. The decision was made to move closer to the lake because easily accessible water was a big advantage.

The youngsters acclimated quicker than the adults and the weaker gravitation gave them physical skills that would have been impossible on earth. By the second earth-month, they were calling themselves Venusians and making fun of those poor kids back on earth with nothing fun to do. Adjusting to the incredible space, that was as flat as a football field and almost as smooth as pavement was easy for them. One of them had a robot build a small glider that they towed with a four-wheeler. The spacious feeling was intoxicating for everybody.


 October Horoscope


The month of October is the tenth month of the Gregorian year, but it is also the first full month of Fall in the year. The early nights and breezy temperatures of October perfectly capture the spirit of autumn. As the month ends, children are given one of their most loved holidays, as they dress as their favorite frightful characters on Halloween. October is also home to numerous other national and international holidays, including Leif Erikson Day, Columbus Day, Canada's Thanksgiving and Free Thought Day. 

The two signs associated with the month of October are Libra and Scorpio. People born from October 1st to October 22nd are members of the Libra sign. As a Libra desires security and harmony above all else, those born under the sign can be identified by the organization applied to all aspects of their lives. For those born from October 23rd to October 31st, they are members of the Scorpio sign. The Scorpio is resilient and opinionated, which explains why they are amongst the most driven of the zodiac signs. For more information on those born in October, consult the horoscopes listed below.


Libra season just began, and you may feel like everything is placid. But that’s not the case. A lot is happening below the surface for all signs—your subconscious is whispering, not shouting, at you. That’s why it’s so important, this month, to pay attention to small signs, feelings, or coincidences. This is a building month, and the full moon on October 5 is a great time to set intentions for the next few weeks.


Aries October  

The October 5 full moon energizes you and asks you to take a look at your social circle and consider adding someone new. On October 11, a Mars-Saturn square may bring an unexpected disagreement up between a close friend or coworker. Listen to what they say. Rams always like to be right, and this time you may agree they have a valid point. The new moon on October 19 spotlights romance: You’re charming all month long, so use that mojo for good. 
Taurus October 
The full moon on the fifth brings some dreams to the forefront of your mind, and if you have a personal project or goal you’ve been putting off, the stars say this is the time to get it done, and even baby steps will be extra productive.  Find someone to cheer you on: Sometimes, relationships need compromise. Take a deep breath and don’t take anything too seriously. 

Gemini September      
The full moon on October 5 lights up your social sector. Social Gemini is always friendly and always has plans, but this is a great time to make sure that your plans, activities, and friends energize instead of drain you. Don’t take things too seriously, and see what happens—next month will bring more clarity.


Cancer October
All your hard work has paid off, Crabs! On the fifth, the full moon brings good news, related to a goal or project you’ve been manifesting all summer.  On October 12, Mercury sextiles Saturn while the Moon is in Cancer. This combination may cause some drama in your home sector; ride out the waves and don’t get too upset, especially about situations you can’t control.  The more you love yourself, the more love and energy you can bring to others. 


Leo October Horoscope
The full moon on the fifth says to get even bolder, Lions. Make the first move, send an intro email, or do something to say that you are here! The new moon on October 19 will remind you to pay attention to your extended family. On October 26, the sun conjoins Jupiter. What this means? You are lucky at month’s end! Take a risk; it’s time!

Virgo October
The full moon on October 5 shines a light on your finances, and you’ll see that small lifestyle changes add up to big savings. The October 19 new moon may give you even more incentive, as well as some ideas for how to generate extra income. On October 24, a Mercury-Neptune trine casts a golden light on the week ahead. Shine bright! 


Libra October
Libra, this is your month! The October 5 full moon shines bright on your heart, Libra, and you are ready for love. The new moon on October 19 energizes you and makes you feel 24/7 charming. This is a golden week; soak up every single second!


Scorpio October  

October 5 new moon lights up your sector of self improvement. Scorpio is known for being perfectionistic, but you may be getting in your own way. On October 10, Jupiter enters Scorpio. This is a great configuration and brings good luck and fortune for the next year. Be proactive and make a one year plan, now. When you put your mind to it, you can absolutely manifest those goals. Again, taking the lead is key. 

Sagittarius October  

Creative Archers have spent the past month focused on nuts and bolts of certain plans, ignoring their creative side. The new moon asks you now to honor that side of yourself. Where am I, and where do I want to be in five years? Journaling and connecting with friends can help you answer these questions. The October 19 new moon asks you to break free of routine.. And if you can, go solo. You need that time in your head!

 Capricorn October  
The October 5 full moon urges you to pay attention to your home sector. Buying something especially for fall is a nice treat and can make your house even more of a happy place for you. You’re always so careful with money, which is a great thing, but at the beginning of the month, a minor financial outlay can result in a serious happiness boost—spending money isn’t “bad!” On October 24, as the moon conjoins Saturn, your relationship takes priority.


Aquarius October  

The full moon on October 5 urges you to spend time with friends and family—and this time, do what they want. You’re great at planning the itinerary and pace of the day, but your friends want you to indulge in their interests, too. On October 15, as Mercury opposes Uranus, you may have second thoughts about a project or idea. It’s okay to shift directions, and the work you’ve done hasn’t been wasted. Acknowledge what you love in life—you may find your passions and professional life can find a way to work together. 

Pisces October  
Money matters are illuminated by the full moon of October 5. On October 10, when Jupiter leaves Libra and enters emotional Scorpio, you may feel weepy, nostalgic, and sad about missed opportunities. Let yourself feel. On October 19, the new moon asks you what you can give to another person, even a stranger. The more you give, the better you’ll feel. 



Dear Friends and Family

Jo Kerr

 Today would usually be our village flower, vegetable and craft show. That annual competition where locals impress each other with the size of their onions, and Victoria Sponges have to be presented on doilies in order to not be disqualified. My tomatoes are always the runts in the corner and my apples are entered for comedy value only, however it is all about taking part (and I will never forget the year that my photographs won the “people’s choice” award). It is a great event for villagers to socialise, have fun and speculate about what one particular individual does to his potatoes to ensure they are always the heaviest crop. The event is a key part in our village calendar; it marks the end of summer, the point at which if your tomatoes are not ripe yet then they probably wont ever be, the start of school terms and autumnal days.

And I will also miss our annual September pilgrimage to the Southampton Boat Show, that glorious opportunity to pretend to be a millionaire as you window shop for a luxury motor yacht and end up buying a cheap pair of sunglasses instead. Then there is Chard carnival in October, which is the point at which we traditionally dig out our winter scarves and coats…. Not forgetting Harvest Festivals, Bonfire night, Christmas pantomimes, nativity services…. These events define our year; they act as a marker for the passing of the seasons and are part of the family tradition and fabric of our lives.

One of my friends posted this recently:

“I wonder if anyone else had found that the strangest things seem to upset them during this time of uncertainty.  As silly as it may sound, I’ve been quietly emotional this week because this Friday - for this first time I can ever remember in my 38 years - I can’t go to Crewkerne Fair.  The kids and I adore fun fairs and circuses, and we were disappointed to have missed most of the circuses this summer season.  That was sad, but missing Crewkerne Fair is just really tough.  I remember going with my Nan or Dad, even before I started school, and I can’t remember ever missing a year.  The fair marks the end of the summer and the start of the Autumn Term - it’s one of those little points in the year that marks the seasons and the ebb and flow of life, and I’m just gutted we can’t go.”

We have already missed the London Marathon, Easter Egg hunts, birthday parties, Wimbledon, Glastonbury, end of year school plays, school fairs, sports days… it is no surprise that 2020 seems so discombobulated. I feel as if life was paused back in March and not really started back up again.

And not only have we lost the signals that mark the passing of the seasons, but our kids have lost some of the rites of passage that are so important in marking their progression towards adulthood. Whether this is the school prom, DofE expeditions, final speech day, passing the driving test or going to their first music festival without the parentals, young people can’t mark their smooth transition to adulthood if they don’t have the opportunities to do so. However, maybe in our culture we should be grateful that we don’t have to follow the rites of passage of teenage boys in Ethiopia, who have to jump over a castrated, male cow four times while naked, or in Vanuatu, where boys have to bungie jump from a 98 foot tower with just some non-elastic vine tied round their ankles….

Which all makes our village flower, veg and craft show seem quite tame in comparison.

Stay combobulated.


Psalm of a Sacred Place

Oden Graveyard, Hatteras, N.C.

Sybil Austin Skakle


Praise God for all generations of my people.

Celebrate their lives now past.

Remember them in this place where their bones and ashes lie,

On a sandy hill within the sound of the mighty Atlantic.

Thank you, O God, for your faithfulness to them.


For protecting them during fearsome storms-hurricanes and gales.

For your graciousness to them during the ebb and flow of their lives' tides.

Establish this place as a sacred one for future generations.

May we remember your steadfast love sustained those before us,

And will protect us who trust you and obey Jesus, your son.

When my ashes join the remains of my ancestors,

My lips will praise you in the New Jerusalem.

Hallelujah!  Amen.


 Reality for Seniors


1.     Talk to yourself. There are times you need expert advice.

2.     “In Style” are the clothes that still fit.

3.     You don’t need anger management. You need people to stop disagreeing with you.

4.     Your people skills are just fine. It’s your tolerance for idiots that needs work.

5.     The biggest lie you tell yourself is, “I don’t need to write that down. I’ll remember it.”

6.     “On time” is when you get there.

7.     Even duct tape can’t fix stupid—but it sure does muffle the sound.

8.     It would be wonderful if we could put ourselves in the dryer for ten minutes, then come out wrinkle-free and three sizes smaller.

9.     Lately, you’ve noticed people you age are so much older than you.

10.  Growing old should have taken longer.

11.  Aging has slowed you down, but it hasn’t shut you up.

12.  You still haven’t learned to act your age, and hope you never will.



The Canaanite Woman and Jesus

Sybil Austin Skakle


Desperation drove me crying into that crowd,

“Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David;

My daughter is tormented by a demon."

This man, whom I'd heard acclaimed,

Even to Tyre and Sidon, ignored me.

I heard those men following say:

"Send her away for she keeps shouting after us."

Finally, he looked at me and said: "I

Was sent only to the lost sheep of

The house of Israel.11

In spite of his rejection, I knelt at

His feet.  "Lord, help me!"

He spoke cruel words of prejudice: "It

Is not fair to take the children's

Food and throw it to dogs."

Even so, I sensed in him compassion.

Woman's intuition?  Maybe.

I dared reply, “Yes, Lord, yet even the

Dogs eat the crumbs that fall ... 11

"Woman, great is your faith!  Let it be

Done for you as you wish."

He looked into my upturned face, touched

My hair and helped me to my feet.

I bowed briefly, smiled shyly and hurried

Away with a light heart.

I knew I would find my daughter well at

Home and praised God as I ran.



The Prince’s Bride

A one act, one scene play

E. B. Alston


Act 1, scene 1: The Amonata Castle on the banks of the Levisa River. The Duke of Bogswitch, Sir Smedley Whitherspoon, (SSW) has just been informed that the King’s fourth son has requested the hand of his daughter, Cynthia, in marriage. The King’s Senior Messenger (KSM) requests an immediate response.

-Curtain opens-

 Two men are speaking in the foyer of the castle. A tall, dignified, gray haired, gentleman is speaking to a portly man in the uniform of the King’s Messenger Service.

SSW (Very flustered): “But this is so sudden. Why all the hurry?” (He asks in consternation.)

KSM: “Your Grace, the King’s son has fallen passionately in love with your daughter.”

SSW: “But the Prince has never seen Lady Cynthia.”

KSM: “He saw her yesterday helping his cat, Bicycle.”

SSW: (Mystified) “Cat? Bicycle?”

KSM: “The Prince’s favorite cat is named “Bicycle”.”

SSW: “That is an odd name for a cat!” (Still mystified)

KSM: “The cat was born with just two legs. Left front and right rear.”

SSW (Trying not to laugh): “Oh, I get it, two legs equals bicycle.”

KSM: “Precisely, your Grace.”

SSW (Laughing now): “Couldn’t he have been named ‘Bipedal’?”

KSM (Not laughing, very serious.): “Your Grace, the King’s son chose his cat’s name. It is not for us to question his decisions.”

SSW: “And exactly how does this cat named “Bicycle” get around?” (He asks with a sly smile.)

KSM: “He can’t get up by himself, but if someone helps him up he gets along quite well.” (He pauses) “He’s okay when he stops too, if he can lean on something but if he can’t, he falls down and has to be helped up. Lady Cynthia saw him fall yesterday and helped him up. That’s when the Prince saw her. She was leaning over in front of him.” (He pauses again.) “Begging pardon, Your Grace, but the Lady Cynthia is well endowed.”

SSW (Ignoring his remark): “Suppose he’s out in the woods alone and falls down?”

KSM (Gets a little huffy) “Impossible! The Prince’s beloved cat is never alone, Sir. Five pages are assigned to his care around the clock.”

Sir Smedley rolls his eyes at that piece of information.

SSW: “Does the Prince have any other pets?”

KSM: “He has a dog named ‘Lighthouse’.”

SSW (Staring at the ceiling): “I don’t want to know anything else about the Prince’s dog.”

KSM: “The King wants to set a date for the wedding.”

SSW: “Now? Lady Cynthia is busy vacuuming the castle today.”

KSM: “Tomorrow, then?”

SSW: “Lady Cynthia is shredding cabbage for slaw tomorrow.”

KSM: “The day after that?”

SSW: “She’s peeling potatoes.”

KSM: “How about Friday?”

SSW: “She’s filleting the fish Friday and crating them for shipment.”

KSM: “The King says he’s tied up this weekend. How about Monday?”

SSW: “Lady Cynthia starts to college on Monday.”

KSM (Throwing up his hands in exasperation.) “That does it! You are refusing to honor the King’s wishes!”

SSW: (Indignant) “I am not!”

KSM: “Why, she’ll be in college for years.”

SSW: “Surely the king wants his son’s wife to be educated.”

KSM: “She doesn’t need a college degree for what the Prince wants her to do.”

SSW (Very indignant stare at the KSM.): “And just what, Mr. Messenger, is that?” 

KSM (Realizes he’s overstepped his bounds): “I’d better not say.”

SSW: “That is correct. Watch your tongue. Tell the King we’ll discuss this matter after Lady Cynthia graduates and not one day sooner.”

KSM: “But the King is worried that the Prince will lose interest in the marriage if he has to wait. He’s very flighty.”

SSW: “That’s inconstant. Women are flighty. Men are inconstant.”

KSM: “Sorry, Sir. The Prince is inconstant. Once again, is this your message to His Majesty?”

SSW: “It is my final message.”

KSM: “Then I’ll take your message to the King.”

SSW: “Very good. You do just that.”

KSM: “The King will be mad.”

SSW: “Tell His Majesty to get himself a two-legged cat.”



He ushers the KSM out of the castle, closes the door behind him and brushes off his hands. The lovely Lady Cynthia, having overheard the whole conversation, rushes to her father, curtseys, kisses his hand and thanks him profusely.

-Curtain closes-


Copyright 2003 by E. B. Alston



The Diary of Samuel Pepys


3rd. This morning my Lord showed me the King's declaration and his letter to the two Generals to be communicated to the fleet. The contents of the latter are his offer of grace to all that will come in within forty days, only excepting them that the Parliament shall hereafter except. That the sales of lands during these troubles, and all other things, shall be left to the Parliament, by which he will stand. The letter dated at Breda, April 4/14 1660, in the 12th year of his reign. Upon the receipt of it this morning by an express, Mr. Phillips, one of the messengers of the Council from General Monk, my Lord summoned a council of war, and in the meantime did dictate to me how he would have the vote ordered which he would have pass this council. Which done, the Commanders all came on board, and the council sat in the coach [Coach, on board a man-of-war, "The Council Chamber."] (the first council of war that had been in my time), where I read the letter and declaration; and while they were discoursing upon it, I seemed to draw up a vote, which being offered, they passed. Not one man seemed to say no to it, though I am confident many in their hearts were against it. After this was done, I went up to the quarter-deck with my Lord and the Commanders, and there read both the papers and the vote; which done, and demanding their opinion, the seamen did all of them cry out, "God bless King Charles!" with the greatest joy imaginable. That being done, Sir R. Stayner, [Knighted and made a Vice-Admiral by Cromwell, 1657, and sent by Charles II. to command Tangier till the Governor arrived.] who had invited us yesterday, took all the Commanders and myself on board him todinner, which not being ready, I went with Captain Hayward 'to the Plymouth and Essex, and did what I had to do and returned, where very merry at dinner. After dinner, to the rest of the ships quite through the fleet. Which was a very brave sight to visit all the ships, and to be received with the respect and honour that I was on board them all; and much more to see the great joy that I brought to all men; not one through the whole fleet showing the least dislike of the business. In the evening as I was going on board the Vice-Admiral, the General began to fire his guns, which he did all that he had in the ship, and so did all the rest of the Commanders, which was very gallant, and to hear the bullets go hissing over our heads as we were in the boat. This done and finished my Proclamation, I returned to the Nazeby, where my Lord was much pleased to hear how all the fleet took it in a transport of joy, showed me a private letter of the King's to him, and another from the Duke of York in such familiar style as their common friend, with all kindness imaginable. And I found by the letters, and so my Lord told me too, that there had been many letters passed between them for a great while, and I perceive unknown to Monk. Among the rest that had carried these letters Sir John Boys is one, and Mr. Norwood, which had a ship to carry him over the other day, when my Lord would not have me put down his name in the book. The King speaks of him being courted to come to the Hague, but to desire my Lord's advice  where to come to take ship. And the Duke offers to learn the seaman's trade of him, in such familiar words as if Jack Cole and I had writ them. This was very strange to me, that my Lord should carry all things so wisely and prudently as he do, and I was over joyful to see him in so good condition, and he did not a little please himself to tell me how he had provided for himself so great a hold on the King. After this to supper, and then to writing of letters till twelve at night, and so up again at three in the morning. My Lord seemed to put great confidence in me, and would take my advice in many things. I perceive his being willing to do all the honour in the world to Monk, and to let him have all the honour of doing the business, though he will many times express his thoughts of him to be but a thick-skulled fool. So that I do believe there is some agreement more than ordinary between the King and my Lord to let Monk carry on the business, for it is he that can do the business, or at least that can hinder it, if he be not flattered and observed. This, my Lord will hint himself sometimes. My Lord, I perceive by the King's letter, had writ to him about his father, Crewe, [He had married Jemima, daughter of John Crewe,Esq., created afterwards Baron Crewe of Stene.] and the King did speak well of him; but my Lord tells me, that he is afraid that he hath too much concerned himself with the Presbyterians against the House of Lords, which will do him a great discourtesy.


4th. I wrote this morning many letters, and to all the copies of the vote of the council of war I put my name, that if it should come in print my name may be to it. I sent a copy of the vote to Doling, inclosed in this letter:-- "SIR, "He that can fancy a fleet (like ours) in her pride, with
pendants loose, guns roaring, caps flying, and the loud "Vive le Roy's," echoed from one ship's company to another, he, and he only, can apprehend the joy this inclosed vote was received with,
or the blessing he thought himself possessed of that bore it, and is "Your humble servant."

About nine o'clock I got all my letters done, and sent them by the messenger that come yesterday. This morning come Captain Isham on board with a gentleman going to the King, by whom very cunningly my Lord tells me, he intends to send an account of this day's and yesterday's actions here, notwithstanding he had writ to the Parliament to have leave of them to send the King the answer of the fleete. Since my writing of the last paragraph, my Lord called me to him to read his letter to the King, to see whether I could find any slips in it or no. And as much of the letter as I can remember, is thus:- "May it please your Most Excellent Majesty," and so begins. That he yesterday received from General Monk his Majesty's letter and direction; and that General Monk had desired him to write to the Parliament to have leave to send the vote of the seamen before he did send it to him, which he had done by writing to both Speakers; but for his private satisfaction he had sent it thus privately, (and so the copy of the proceedings yesterday was sent him) and that this come by a gentleman that come this day on board, intending to wait upon his Majesty, that he is my Lord's countryman, and one whose friends have suffered much on his Majesty's behalf. That my Lords Pembroke and Salisbury are put out of the House of Lords. [Philip, fifth Earl of Pembroke, and second Earl of Montgomery, Ob. 1669. Clarendon says, "This young Earl's affections were entire for his Majesty." Williams, second
Earl of Salisbury. After Cromwell had put down the House Of Peers, he was chosen a Member of the House of Commons, and sat with them, ob. 1660.] That my Lord is very joyful that other
countries do pay him the civility and respect due to him; and that he do much rejoice to see that the King do receive none of their assistance (or some such words,) from them, he having
strength enough in the love and loyalty of his own subjects to support him. That his Majesty had chosen the best place, Scheveling, for his embarking, and that there is nothing in the world of which he is more ambitions, than to have the honour of attending his Majesty, which he hoped would be speedy. That he had commanded the vessel to attend at Helversluce till this
gentleman returns, that so if his Majesty do not think it fit tocommand the fleete himself, yet that he may be there to receive his commands and bring them to his Lordship. He ends his letter,
that he is confounded with the thoughts of the high expressions of love to him in the King's letter, and concludes, "Your most loyall, dutifull, faithfull and obedient subject and servant, "E.M." After supper at the table in the coach, my Lord talking concerning the uncertainty of the places of the Exchequer to them that had them now; he did at last think of an office which do belong to him in case the King do restore every man to his places that ever had been patent, which is to be one of the clerks of the signet, which will be a fine employment for one of his sons. In the afternoon come a minister on board, one Mr. Sharpe, who is going to the King; who tells me that Commissioners are chosen both of the Lords and Commons to go to the King; and that Dr. Clarges [Thomas Clarges, physician to the Army, created a Baronet, 1674, ob. 1695, He had been previously knighted; his sister Anne married General Monk.] is going to him from the
Army, and that he will be here to-morrow. My letters at night tell me, that the House did deliver their letter to Sir John Greenville, in answer to the King's sending, and that they give him 500£. for his pains, to buy him a jewel, and that besides the 50,000£. ordered to be borrowed of the City for the present use of the King, the twelve companies of the City do give every one
of them to his Majesty, as a present, 1000£.


5th. All the morning very busy writing letters to London, and a packet to Mr. Downing, to acquaint him with what has been done lately in the fleet. And this I did by my Lord's command, who, I thank him, did of himself think of doing it, to do me a kindness, for he writ a letter himself to him, thanking him for his kindness to me. This evening come Dr. Clarges, to Deal, going to the King; where the towns-people strewed the streets with herbes against his coming, for joy of his going. Never was there so general a content as there is now. I cannot but remember that our parson did, in his prayer to-night, pray for the long life and happiness of our King and dread Soveraigne, that may last as long as the sun and moon endureth.





E. B. Alston: Author, columnist, literary critic, and sometimes poet. His work has been published in various newspapers, telecommunications trade magazines, and books. He is the Managing Editor of the magazine.


Laura A. Alston: lives and writes in Inez, North Carolina. Her first book, My Pet Rocky Renee, was published in June 2010. In addition she has published Too Many Goodbyes, You Gave me Wings and a book of her collected poems, From My Heart to Your.


Rita Berman: was born in London, England and now lives in Mebane, N.C. Her business, travel, and writing advice articles have been published in more than 500 diverse newspapers and magazines in the United States and Gt. Britain. Her reference book, The A-Z of Writing and Selling, was a Writer's Digest Book Club selection for September 1981.  Her other books, available on are Still Hopping, Still Hoping, (2012), The Dating Adventures of a Widow, (2013), The Key, (2014), Parallel Lives, (2016), Ariana Mangum's Books and Columns (2017),and Military Wives and Widows Tell Their Stories, (2018).


Randy Bittle: is a self-taught independent philosopher who is still learning.  He has two books, both collections of essays, available on His latest book, More Colors Through My Mental Prism is also available.


Peggy Lovelace Ellis, has been a freelance editor for 48 years, and a published author for considerably less. Over the past 25 years, she has published regularly in such magazines as Good Old Days, Reminisce, Reminisce Extra, Rock and Gem, Aquarium, True Story, Splickety, Woman’s World, Highlights, and Righter Monthly/Quarterly Review. She publishes in the Divine Moments series, Merry Christmas Moments (November 2017) and The Right Words at the Right Time (forthcoming). She has compiled and edited three anthologies for her writers’ group: Challenges on the Home Front World War II (2nd edition World War II Amazon, 2020), Lest the Colors Fade (Righter Books, 2008), and A Beautiful Life and Other Stories (Righter Books, 2010). Each contains her short fiction, memoirs, and research.


Jane Foust: Has lived most of her life in Piedmont, North Carolina. She paints in acryllic and oils, but occasionally experiments with mixed media designs


Diana Goldsmith: Diana has been attending and now runs a shared learner’s ‘Writing for Pleasure’ group for the past 8 years.  She is an avid reader especially historical crime and loves Anne Perry’s books about Victorian England. She lives in Chard, Somerset, UK.


Howard A Goodman: A veteran of corporate society his entire working life, Howard discovered his passion for writing—an occupation that had lurked subliminally in his subconscious—thanks to the grim reality of suddenly being forced to make a major mid-life career transition. Though he didn’t grow up in the South and is not particularly partial to grits, Howard considers himself a Southern author of sorts. In contrast to those who spin tales of being raised dirt-poor on a tobacco farm, Howard's focus is on the lives of corporate professionals and their families—the thousands who flocked to the upscale cities and towns surrounding North Carolina’s high-tech Research Triangle Park—the Neo-Southerners. Howard resides in Cary, North Carolina.

Jo Kerr: I have spent my married life convincing people that that really is my real name. I am a doctor working in Somerset, England, and I live in a sleepy little village just opposite a cider mill (perfect for those emergency shopping needs). We keep the local foxes well fed with our flock of free range chickens and we quite often foster a dog from our local rescue centre; they seem to enjoy the respite from kennels and the chance to chase some chickens. I have three teenage children so am very used to always being wrong. I am an active member of our local church and

enjoy both preaching and writing- one is simply a version of the other. Or maybe I just enjoy putting my views across in a forum where my kids can’t always tell me I’m wrong.


Carol Rados lives in Greenville NC with her husband.  She grew up in Hollister, NC.  She worked as a Rehabilitation Counselor for the North Carolina Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.  In December 2015 she retired.  Her interests are doing volunteer work as a member of the Service League of Greenville, participating in Life Long Learning classes through ECU, reading, water aerobics, playing Mahjong, and she is involved at Congregation Bayt Shalom, her synagogue. She is very interested in using less plastic, and doing other things to improve our environment.  She is the sister of Gene Alston, the publisher.


Sybil Austin Skakle: grew up in Hatteras, NC, born January 10, 1926, was a hospital pharmacist for 23 years, has published poetry, Searchings, 2001; a memoir, Confessions of an Outer Banks Filly, 2002; another memoir Valley of the Shadow, 2009. Her work has appeared in periodicals and numerous poetry and prose anthologies, four of which were published by The Chapel Hill Writers’ Discussion Group. She has been a member of Friday Noon Poets for more than thirty years.    


Tim Whealton: writes a regular column from New Bern, NC. He is a gunsmith whose shop is in Cove City, North Carolina. His book, According to Tim, was published in 2013.


Marry Williamson: lives in Chard, Somerset, England. She was born in the Netherlands and moved to Britain in 1966. She worked for an Anglo-Dutch company in London. In 1999, Marry and her husband retired and moved to Chard, Somerset. Her hobbies are writing, reading, bird watching, and exploring ancient monuments. She is a member of a local writers’ group in England.