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Thanks to all these talented writers who contribute to every issue of RPG Digest with such enthusiasm. We thank Betsy Breedlove for the beautiful winter scene we used on the cover.
Remember the Season by Susan Comish
The First Christmas by Laura Alston. 3
The Growth and Development of a Writer by E. B. Alston. 3
Oden Graveyard in December by Sybil Austin Skakle. 4
Christmas Customs and Recipes by Rita Berman. 5
Natters of a Nomad by Peggy Lovelace Ellis. 8
The Display by Diana Goldsmith. 11
A Really Big Christmas by Tim Whealton. 12
Family Attitudes Toward Education by Sybil Austin Skakle. 13
The Angel on Top of the Tree by Marry Williamson. 14
Georgia by Howard A. Goodman. 15
Finding Our Place in the Cosmos and Society by Randy Bittle. 18
The Gift by Ruth Whitsel 19
The 2019 Edward Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest Winners. 20
The Secret Ballot Extends Well Beyond Your Polling Place by Howard A Goodman. 23
Merry Christmas from Moccasin Gap by Brad Carver. 24
Carl’s First Christmas by E. B. Alston. 25
Louise, the Christmas Doll 25
It Pays to Keep a Good Dog by E. B. Alston. 27
An Angel Unaware by Sybil Austin Skakle. 28
Christmas Funnies. 29
Colonial Justice by E. B. Alston. 31
Advice for the Loveworn. 36
Hammer Spade and the Four Horsemen – Seralized book by E. B. Alston. 37
From the Kitchen of P. L. Almanza. 41
A High Plains Christmas by E. B. Alston. 43
On the first Christmas, Jesus did come
To a world that was dark and hungry
For His bright light to shine.
So, God sent His son Jesus to be born.
Shepherds were told by the angels about Jesus
And went to seek Him that first Christmas day.
What an amazing thing for them to behold:
The precious babe wrapped in swaddling clothes.
What a great gift we all have received.
There’s Jesus the Savior to save us from sin.
Christmas comes each year, filled with cheer.
We will be with the ones that we love so dear.
E. B. Alston
My stated goals for the magazine are for it to be upbeat, uplifting and humorous. We even try to be culturally superior at times. I confess that I’m not self-critical and tend to be upbeat. And, I know way too much technical stuff. Who in heck today wants to know how their phones work. When I drive alone for long distances, I fight boredom by working math problems in my head.
I have read hundreds of technical, philosophy and history books. I still have over 300, one of which is The Mathematical Theories of Probability. I have been giving my personal books away for years.
I write fiction but doubt if I have read 50 novels. Most of my “fictional” writing is based on historical facts with the times, names and places changed. Probably 3/4s of Hammer Spade and the Ring of Fire is historical. The opening scene is in Xerxes’ palace based on the Biblical account. Even the scene where Jack Kane and Dave Quigley accidentally drop in on a Sheik’s harem is verbatim history with the names, place and times changed. When they visit the Oracle at Delphi, the scene is based on the Iliad when Helen’s parents visited the Oracle.
Quite a few of my friends are real life models for characters in my stories. The real life model for Rachel in The Deal of a Lifetime, Hammer Spade and the Ring of Fire and The Kingdom of America worked at the phone company General Office in the data department. She was transferred to South Carolina where she died before she was 45. She was an attractive and clever woman. Rachel is not her real name. Then there’s Jack Kane, Dave Quigley, Tim Whealton, Jerrel Neuhaus, whose names and character I used with their permission. It helps make my character’s seem real when they are based on somebody I know. I don’t have any “cookie cutter” characters in my stories.
Years ago, in the 1960s, I reviewed books for five newspapers. The literary editor for the Richmond Times-Dispatch sent me the best books, some of which I will never give away. The Norfolk Ledger also sent some good ones. Sometimes I would stick a snide comment at the end of my review. Most of them were never printed. But when I reviewed a boring biography called The Exile of Capri for the Richmond paper, my last line was, “He finally died and ended this book.” The editor left that line in.
I reviewed books until I got promoted into management. When I sent my resignation to the Richmond editor, he sent me a nice letter thanking me for my reviews and wished me well.
I had an interesting career. I started as a lineman and ended with an operation with people in 32 states and six foreign countries. When I retired, I was the last person with a corner office who had started as a lineman. I have traveled to every state except Rhode Island, Vermont and Hawaii. I was also sent to Canada three times and was in Mexico for a month with a team designing a 900 kilometer fiber optic cable route.
Since I am a proficient mathematician and writer, I got some interesting assignments. When I was on staff, I wrote technical instructions for operations and position papers for the executives. The biggest book I have written was a 900 page reorganization plan for an eight state telephone organization. This was before desktop computers. The whole thing was typed on IBM Selectric typewriters.
In all the moving, I have friends scattered about everywhere, one as far as Panama. A depressing number of them have died.
Sybil Austin Skakle
Here you are, but not here
Here am I
A chilling breeze
Hot tears and I am
Lonely for you
Husband, Mother, Daddy,
Brother, uncles, aunts
Are gone from here
Here where I am.
Twisted oaks, dead grasses
For us who live.
Memories and tears
For you who died
Q: What kind of Christmas music do elves like? A: “Wrap” music
Christmas is celebrated in many lands in different ways. Christmas is both a sacred religious holiday and a worldwide cultural and commercial phenomenon. It is usually celebrated on December 25th, and since 1870 Christmas Day has been a Federal Holiday in the United States.
Some churches use a different calendar for their religious celebrations. In Russia, Serbia, Jerusalem, Ukraine and other countries the Orthodox churches use the old Julian calendar and people in those churches celebrate Christmas on January 7th.
Jane Austen’s books inform us of the customs in England in the Georgian and Regency periods. Charles Dickens tells about the Victorian times.
In England in Jane Austen’s time, the wealthier families who lived in country houses did a lot of entertaining at Christmas time. For them the holiday season stretched from December 21 through January 6, and to fill the time the owners of country houses treated their guests to a variety of activities. Formal dinners for guests included meat, poultry, fish, pies, vegetables puddings, and custards.
In a letter that Jane Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra on 7 January 1807 after staying in her brother Frank’s house in Southampton she expressed relief at the departure of guests and the “torments of rice puddings and apple dumplings.”
Yule Logs and Trees
On December 21 it was traditional for a log of freshly cut wood to be brought in and kept going throughout the holiday. Originally burning a Yule log was a custom intended to bring good luck to the house. Nowadays, a Yule log is a pastry cake roll, decorated with icing.
Branches of holly and other greenery were used for decoration. The Christmas tree did not come into fashion until the 1850s. It is said the custom originated in Tallinn in Estonia in 1441 and in Riga, Latvia in 1510. Both trees were put up by the “Brotherhood of Blackheads” which was an association of local unmarried merchants, ship owners, and foreigners in Livonia (now known as Estonia and Latvia).
The first Christmas trees came to Britain sometime in the 1830s. They became very popular in 1841 when Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s German husband, had a Christmas tree set up in Windsor Castle. In 1848, a drawing of the Queen’s Christmas Tree was published in the illustrated London News. The publication of the drawing helped to make Christmas trees become popular in the UK and USA. In Victorian times, the tree would have been decorated with candles to represent stars. In many parts of Europe, candles are still used to decorate Christmas trees.
Poinsettias are used as a popular Christmas decoration. In Mexico they grow wild in large bushes that have bright red leaves in the dead of winter and are called the Christmas Eve flower. After visiting Mexico in 1828, Joel R. Poinsett, a U.S. minister, brought back some of these plants anticipating they would be a seasonal hit. By 1900 they had become a universal symbol of Christmas.
To be kissed under the Mistletoe is said to bring good luck. Mistletoe is a plant that grows on a variety of trees including willow, apple and oak trees. Usually hung near the front door this custom dates back to Norse mythology. The York Minster Church in the UK used to hold a special Mistletoe Service in the winter, where wrong doers in the city of York could come and be pardoned.
In Jane Austen’s time, people went to church on Christmas Day and were encouraged to contribute to the poor box. At about 4 p.m. a turkey dinner or various chopped meats in mince pies, would be served. The very wealthy might serve venison. Dinner usually ended with plum pudding, or a rich fruit cake of nuts, spices, candied and dried fruits, similar to a wedding cake.
In Northern England roast beef was the traditional item for Christmas dinner while in London and the south, goose was a favorite. Many poor people made do with rabbit.
The lower classes, servants and laborers celebrated Christmas in a much simpler way. House servants still had to prepare the meals, and farm laborers had to perform their duties for the animals. On Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, boxes of food and clothing were distributed by the landowner to the tenants on the estate, the house servants would be given a holiday bonus, and the poor received the contents of the church poor box.
Christmas in the late Georgian period was a muted festival. The celebration was increasingly seen as a rather lower class affair, observed predominantly in the country by somewhat unfashionable landowners. When the Factory Act was passed in 1833, Parliament recognized only two legal holidays: Good Friday and Christmas Day. The Industrial Revolution contributed to the decline of the rural way of life in England. Employers needed workers to continue working throughout the festive period and so the idea of Christmas, as an extended season for hospitality, gift-giving, and feasting with friends changed.
Even though the holiday was shortened it was still a special time for Charles Dickens and his family. His daughter Mary described it in her book, My Father as I Recall Him, as a time “which our home was looked forward to with eagerness and delight, and to my father it was a time dearer than any other part of the year.”
She recalled, “He loved Christmas for its deep significance as well as for its joys, and this he demonstrates in every allusion his writings to the great festival, a day which he considered should be fragrant with the love that we should bear one to another.”
Every Christmas Eve he took his children to a toy shop in London where they were allowed to select their Christmas presents and also any for their friends. “We were often an hour or more in the shop before our several tastes were satisfied, he never showed the least impatience.”
“Christmas day dinners at Gad’s Hill were particularly bright and cheery, some of our nearest neighbors joining our home party. On Christmas Day we all had our glasses filled, and then my father, raising his, would say: “Here’s to us all. God bless us.” A toast, which was rapidly and willingly drunk.
For little children the symbol of Christmas is called Father Christmas in England and Santa Claus in America. This fat figure in a red suit that flies across the sky in a reindeer-pulled sleigh bringing gifts for boys and girls is a modern-day version of St. Nicholas. A monk who in the Third century was said to wander the countryside helping the poor and sick he is known as Sinter Klaas in Holland. Such is the magic of Christmas that while he is said to enter houses via the chimney he can still gain access to those apartments and houses that don’t have chimneys.
The custom of hanging a Christmas stocking at the fireplace on Christmas Eve is also associated with Santa Claus, who may fill it with small toys, candy, fruit, coins or other small gifts. The child who has misbehaved may only receive a piece of coal. A bookshelf, bannister, or anything from which the stockings can dangle may be substituted.
Christmas Dinner in Other Countries
In different parts of the world Christmas dinner varies according to regional cuisines and local traditions. In Japan the Christmas cake is a white sponge cake covered with cream and decorated with strawberries. A successful advertising campaign in the 1970s made eating at KFC around Christmas a national custom (according to Wikipedia). Its chicken meals are so popular during the season that stores take reservations months in advance.
In India, the meal may include Biryani (mixed rice) with chicken or mutton, chicken and mutton curry, followed by cake or sweets. Long established Christian communities such as Goan Catholics have pork dishes (Pork Viondaloo and Sorpatel) and beef dishes as part of their main course of Christmas dinner.
For dessert a dish called Bebinca (coconut flour and milk) is popular.
In Denmark the meal may be duck or roast pork, served with boiled potatoes, red cabbage and gravy. Dessert includes rice pudding served with cherry sauce or strawberry sauce, often with a whole almond hidden inside. The lucky finder of the almond is entitled to an extra present.
The Swedish dinner consists of a fish course, followed by cold cuts of meat, with Christmas ham, Sausages, head cheese and leverpastej (liver pie) are also common, eaten with boiled potatoes or on crisp bread. The third course consists of warm dishes such as meatballs, small fried sausages and Janssons Frestelse (a casserole made of potatoes, onions, pickled sprats, bread crumbs and cream).a. Lutefisk (dried or salted whitefish) is sometimes served with the third courses. Finally a dessert of rice pudding is served, like in Denmark with a whole almond hidden, but in this case the finder is expected to get married before next Christmas.
In the USA depending on the region, Christmas dinner may include oysters, ham pie, lutefisk, mashed rutabaga or turnip. Rice is often served instead of potatoes in the south and pumpkin and pecan pies. An American Italian meal for Christmas Eve can be the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Pannetone and struffoli are favored desserts.
Martha Lloyd lived with Jane Austen and her mother and sister Cassandra. Here is her recipe for Festive Rice Pudding as researched by Maria Hubert in her book about the festive season in Georgian England.
“Take six ounces of rice flour, one quart of cream. Mix it well together and boil it; put it to half a pound of button, and half a pound of sugar and one nutmeg grated and then take it off the heat. When cold, beat six egg whites and all and put it to it; butter your dish before you put it in. Bake it quick, and you may paste your dish if you please.”
Those familiar with cooking may deduce that the eggs should be beaten separately and then added to the previously heated mixture of flour, cream, sugar etc. Then turned into a buttered dish and heated in oven, time and temperature unknown.
Maria Hubert notes that some eighteenth century recipes made this dish with a cover of sweet thin pastry before putting it into the oven. It was traditional to eat plum cake at this time of year and meat pies made of meat and plums.
The custom of sending Christmas Cards began in the UK in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole, a civil servant who helped set up the new Public Record Office later called the Post Office. He and his artist friend John Horsley designed a three panel card that sold for one shilling. The center panel illustrated a family having Christmas dinner. Some people didn’t like the card because it showed a child being given a glass of wine. (This card may be viewed on the Whychristmas.com web-site.)
The first postal service that was accessible to ordinary people began in 1840 as the Penny Post. Partly due to the building of railways and improvement of printing methods. The British Museum has an engraved card by the artist William Egley who illustrated some of Charles Dickens’s books.
By the early 1900s the custom of sending Christmas cards had spread all over Europe. While they appeared in the U.S. in the last 1840s it wasn’t until 1875 when Louis Prang, a printer who was originally from Germany but had also worked on cards in the UK, started mass producing cards. His first cards featured flowers, plants, and children. In 1915, John C Hall and two of his brothers created Hallmark Cards, the company is still going strong today.
Peggy Lovelace Ellis
From hand-blown glass ornaments and handcrafted toys to nutcrackers and dollhouses of all shapes and sizes, we found an amazing amount of gift ideas in each Christmas market we visited over the past few years. And food! My goodness, I didn’t realize there could be such a variety to munch and sip as we browsed through an assortment of unique trinkets and one-of-a-kind goods at row after row of elaborately decorated stalls many in the shape of alpine chalets.
First, what is a Christmas market? A bit of history from various sources follows.
A Christmas market, also known as Christkindlmarkt (literally: Baby Jesus Market), is a street market associated with the celebration of Christmas during the four weeks of Advent. These markets originated in Germany, but are now being held in many other countries. I’ve never seen one anywhere except in Europe where they’re prevalent in every city, town, and village. The history of Christmas markets goes back to the Late Middle Ages in the German-speaking part of Europe, and in many parts of the former Holy Roman Empire. The Christmas markets of Bautzen were first held in 1384. Dresden’s Striezelmarkt was first held in 1434. Frankfurt’s market was first mentioned in 1393, Munich’s in 1310, and Augsburg’s in 1498. However, in Austria, Vienna’s “December market” can be considered a forerunner of Christmas markets and dates to 1298.
The markets signal the beginning of Advent, most opening in mid-November and ending on December 25th, with take-down beginning on the 26th. However, we’ve found opening and closing dates vary. On opening night in many towns, onlookers welcome the “Christkind,” the boy Jesus acted out by a local child. We weren’t privileged to see that.
Traditionally held in the town square, the markets have native food, drink, and seasonal items from open-air stalls accompanied by traditional singing and dancing. And, let’s not forget the ice-skating rinks. Most markets we’ve seen have them and all age groups enjoy them. I made special note of the very small children who, when they landed on their seat of learning, simply struggled back to their feet, and tried again. I was never close enough to hear the exchange of words between adults and children, and wouldn’t have understood them anyway, but I interpreted the children’s words to be ‘I can do it myself!’ They did.
It’s important to note that regional specialties and organically certified food are an important component of Christmas markets. Quality is a priority even with the numerous craftsmen. The large variety of gift ideas such as woodcarvings, glass balls, ceramics, accessories, hats and gloves, and puppets and dolls dressed in traditional costume, and children’s toys, etc. come mainly from Germany and Europe. We never found anything that looked or felt like dime store junk.
I’ve chosen four Christmas markets that I particularly enjoyed: Cologne, Prague, Vienna, and Monte Carlo.
§ § §
The location of Cologne’s Christmas market is unique. It’s in front of the city’s landmark, The St. Peter and Mary Cathedral, commonly called “The Cathedral.” Many people drive as much as six hours one way for this market, the second best known in Germany. (The first is in Nuremburg. We haven’t been there.) They may be second in that way, but they claim the largest Christmas tree in the Rhineland. The Nordmann fir towers about 25 meters high and is the shining heart of the market, lit up with 50,000 LED lights, a bright landmark in Cologne during the advent season.
When we were there in 2007, the market had 150 designed and decorated wooden pavilions. There are probably many more now. Many of the artisans worked on their crafts with completed items displayed. Wood work predominated, especially nativities, but brilliantly-colored stained glassware also attracted a lot of attention.
As far as I’m aware, Cologne’s varied stage productions with a hundred Christmas performances of music and entertainment is unique for a Christmas market. Besides the largest skating rink we’ve seen, there’s a Ferris wheel and other activities in the fun area.
The food area had tables; however, there were still people walking around munching sausages in buns and sipping hot punch.
For the record, I did not see any pavilion supplying (free or otherwise) any perfume for which Cologne is famous.
§ § §
We go now to Prague.
The Old Town Square Christmas market is the prettiest and busiest in Prague. This is the best Christmas market in the Czech Republic and welcomes travelers from all over the world each year. We were among a very large number who were amazed by the beauty of the city under Christmas lights. We may attribute this to the contrast of some areas in the countryside which hold memories of World War II devastation.
Christmas in Prague has its own atmosphere. I credit this partly to the medieval surroundings which dominate Old Town. Although it covers a sizeable area, it had a small-town ambiance, which Prague definitely is not.
The Christmas market consists of brightly decorated small wooden huts. They were nestled around the Jan Hus statue and surrounded by centuries-old Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque architecture. A huge Christmas tree dominates the market. It has hundreds of lights and people gathered every evening at five to see the lights switch on. It truly lights up a large part of the city.
A stage accommodates Christmas concerts and short plays in the open air. We enjoyed school choirs and folk groups dressed in traditional costume. It’s so famous that groups travel from all over the country to participate after meeting the stringent requirements.
This market had another distinction. There was an animal stable, where children petted sheep, goats, and a donkey. It also had a large Nativity depicting Mary, Joseph, Jesus, and the three kings in a wooden stable.
§ § §
Our next Christmas market is in Vienna.
The first “December Market” was held in Vienna in 1298. Vienna currently holds 20 Christmas markets around the city, each with its own distinction. Most Christmas markets open in late November and last through December, closing on the 25th, with a few staying open for New Year’s. Vienna’s prettiest squares transform into magical Christmas markets. The scent of bakery items and hot punch would give Christmas anticipation to the grouchiest Scrooge-like person. We were not among that number. Instead, the aromas enticed us to stay until the last possible minute our tour guide allowed.
After seeing several in a tour of the city, the market we chose to attend takes place in front of the Schönbrunn Palace. We browsed the market for a couple of hours after touring the palace. Ours was a nighttime excursion adding mystique to the colorful lights of the market and the palace vying with the stars.Our guide told us this market consistently ranks at the top of Vienna’s Christmas markets. Compared to other such markets in the city, it also scores high on live music, including gospel, which starts at 6:00 pm. On weekends music events take place from 2:00 pm. When we were there, there were 80 decorated huts and exhibitors from Austria and neighboring countries. I found contradictory ‘facts’ to the effect that, at this market, there are only Austrian artisans and crafts.
This market offers uniquely alpine handicrafts and goods as well as a cultural program with activities and workshops. A major attraction is a hand-made Tyrolean nativity scene. There were also limited-edition palace gifts. We purchased the tiny pop-up matchbox nativity for our collection. (See the December 2018 RPG Digest, “Natters of a Nomad.”)
Food is plentiful at every market, but here we found numerous restaurants represented with their typical menu offerings, not simply the usual finger foods and mulled wine.
Also unique (to my knowledge) at this market location is a New Year’s market. The Christmas market closes on December 25th and reopens on the 27th with a different atmosphere. We didn’t experience this, but it seems obvious the Advent music gave way to the live jazz bands for which the city is famous.
§ § §
We next visit the Christmas market in Monte Carlo, which some describe as being ‘fit for a Prince’, an obvious reference to the House of Grimaldi. The tiny Monaco principality is now home to the wealthy, famous, and ‘beautiful’ people. Earlier in the day, we toured the area that did not contain homes of those people. I wanted to visit the Princess Grace Rose Garden, but it was not open to visitors.
We returned to the ship for lunch, and then walked approximately 10 minutes across the dock to the Christmas market, visible from the ship. It’s unique, in my experience, in that the market lasts a full month, December fifth to January fifth, outside the Advent season dates. The market stretches along the dock, which was colorful and interesting with several yachts in various sizes and colors.
This is unlike any other market we’ve seen, but, contrary to Internet sources, I saw no reason to believe the ‘high rollers’ had anything to do with it. Although artisans displayed their creations in what appears to be permanent small huts (we purchased a small nativity in a ‘snow’ globe), the atmosphere was more like a carnival.
People of all ages crowded the area. Several had very small (teacup size) dogs on leashes. Neither people nor dogs considered danger to the pets. I don’t know how people, who obviously were not watching their feet, managed not to step on them.
A children’s area contained a choo-choo circling on a track for pre-schoolers and a workshop area for older children. Outside that area, there was a huge Ferris wheel and a two-level carousel. The skating rink was crowded with everyone wearing red skates, obviously rented. I can’t imagine travelers carrying ice skates to this hot area, and certainly locals would not need them, so the ice would be manufactured.
There were many animated figures on top of the small, open-fronted buildings. One was particularly amusing. A man and a woman, turned a ‘pig’ on a spit above the stall where pork was actually on a spit and being served.
A Punch and Judy show was beginning as we left. As I said, more carnival than the traditional Christmas markets, but a lot of fun.
Based on the appearance of permanency along this stretch of the dock, I believe the area may be in use year-round if for no other reason than to watch yachts arrive and depart.
It's going to start soon so let's hurry!
I've shut the cat in so don't worry.
It's a beautiful evening with a clear sky
We'll be able to see the fireworks fly.
Here we are . Can you see the bonfire?
That bundle is the Guy on the funeral pyre.
Soup's hot. Warming me up though.
I'll look like I've got the porridge oats glow!
Rockets whizz and whoosh across the sky
Shedding golden stars before they die.
The Catherine wheel begins to spin
I think the main event is about to begin.
Oohs and aahs and wow look here's more
Excited children and adults hear the roar
As rainbow colours light up the night
It's worth every penny to see such a sight.
Time to go we chatter happily back
Cocoa and biscuits and hit the sack
A wonderful evening was had by all
Memories made both large and small.
I remember the big ones. Getting up early and trying to not make a sound. Creeping to the living room in the early morning light to see what Santa had left. A new bicycle, toys, boots, binoculars or maybe the king of gifts, a shotgun! The first shotgun was a Mossberg bolt action 410. It wasn’t an expensive gun but at 11 years old it might as well have been a Winchester 21!
Pop would carry me out to a little patch of woods that bordered a swamp. I had hunted it with him for several years before he would let me go alone. He would only let me go alone. He didn’t like the idea of boy’s forgetting their gun safety as boys are apt to do. The 410 didn’t have a lot of range so it taught me how to move slowly and quietly in the woods. My usual quarry was the squirrel. Most trips I would bag 3 or 4, enough for a pot of squirrel and pastry. I still love it.
My mother taught us at an early age that wild game is a special gift that should never be wasted. She quoted Proverbs 12:27 A lazy man won’t roast his game. She taught me how to clean and prepare everything I brought in from the woods. She also saw cooking as a survival skill that every person should master.
I had been doing well with the little 410 and it was the week before Christmas. Pop had got up early to carry me out to the swamp for a hunt. He would drop me off when the sky started to turn pink and come back to pick me up at 10am. I had snacks and a Pepsi stuffed in my hunting coat along with plenty of ammo. I could hardly wait to get into the woods.
My technique was to move quietly to a likely spot and stay still till I spotted movement. Then it was either wait or move into a better position. I had to be closer than 30 yards for a sure clean kill. On this trip I scored early.
A big squirrel ran straight towards me and jumped up on a tree and started barking. It felt heavy in my hunting coat. I knew firing the gun would make everything hide a while so I quickly moved to a new location closer to the creek. The creek was only 20ft wide so I sat down behind a tree and waited. I heard a squeal and spotted two wood ducks land upstream about 50 yards away. I froze and after what seemed like a hour I spotted them swimming my way. I held the little shotgun and pointed at a spot 20 yards away. I could hear my pulse as they came around the bend. I started to squeeze the trigger but realized the second duck was swimming faster and would soon be next to the first. A few seconds later I had bagged my first two wood ducks with one shot from a 410! This was the best day ever! I could just stop hunting and go home and it would still have been my best day. I collected my ducks and started out.
I hadn’t gone far when I heard a squirrel running through the leaves. A few seconds later I added another squirrel to the game bag. My coat was really heavy and bulged out with all the game. I sat down and had a honey bun and a Pepsi to celebrate. While I was feasting I spotted movement in a tree. It was bigger than a squirrel and there was more than one. I raced to the bottom of the big tree and after several shots I had three raccoons to add. They were too big to go in the coat but I had some cord to tie them together and proudly worn them over my shoulder.
I started back to the road so I could meet Pop. Then 2 squirrels were running through the tree tops and I bagged another one. The second one disappeared. I searched in vain because I knew he was hiding in the tree. After a long while I was losing interest and decided he must have found a hole in a hollow tree. Then I got help from a most unusual source. A large hawk glided over the tree and Mr. Bushytail ran around to the bottom of the limb he had been hiding on. As I picked him up I heard the rumble of Pop’s old Chrysler in the distance. Four squirrels, two ducks and 3 raccoons with the little 410. What a day! I spent the rest of the day dressing the game under the expert eye of my Mother. We enjoyed the raccoons barbequed and the ducks roasted with gravy. The squirrels got the usual treatment with the pastry.
I was still remembering that hunt on Christmas morning. All the hints I gave Santa paid off and there in the dim light was a 12 gauge. It was a single barrel 3” magnum with a 36 inch barrel. I knew I had the ultimate gun. I enjoyed it for several years but somehow I never topped the hunt with the little 410.
Now that was a long time ago but those memories are solid in my mind. Through many years I now realize that Christmas was always a lot bigger than I imagined. Christmas is a time to remember, reflect, and be thankful that we have a God that loves us so much he sent us a Messiah. It doesn’t take much to make me happy but even if it did I already have it! Merry Christmas and write a story for your family. They will enjoy it when you do and treasure it when you are gone!
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-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.
There is reason to appreciate every person we meet. 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. My family, past and present, value education in all areas of a person’s life, and value wisdom and character more than a college degree.
The Angel on Top of the Tree
In the end it was the silly little staff that did it. That stupid thing with the gold star at the top. That and the fact that the tree was very prickly. She did not mind her face too much, although the rigid grin made her cheeks ache. She did not mind the stiff little white dress or the fact that she did not have any legs. She had beautiful golden wings instead. What she did mind was that she had to have that silly little staff with the star. It was glued to her hands. She tried to get rid of it every year but had never managed it. Maybe this year.
She had been asleep for nearly a year. She found the tissue paper surprisingly comfortable. Suddenly she was yanked awake when the lid was taken off her box. The bright light hurt her eyes but, of course, she was unable to blink. A voice said: “here is the angel for the top”. Four pairs of eyes peered into her box. Then somebody said: “I had forgotten how tatty she has become. Why did we not throw her away last year. She has definitely seen better days. Let’s have the robin on the top for a change.” She was horrified. Tatty? Seen better days? Were they talking about her?
Surely not!. She was always on the top. That was her rightful place. That daft robin with his fake feathers and clips on the end of his legs? They could not be serious! To her great relief the robin idea was overruled three against one and she was stuck on top of the Christmas tree as usual and the robin was clipped to the branch beneath her.
She tried to smirk at the robin with satisfaction but, of course, she could not move her face and just had to contend with her rigid smile. She tried to put a curse on the robin with her little staff but the superhuman effort to move was her undoing. She overbalanced, the tree pricked her nether regions, she tried to wriggle to stay upright, the silly little staff broke, the star came off and she toppled off the tree. “Oh rats”, somebody said. “Told you that angel had had it. She won’t even stay put now. Oh well, we have to have the robin on the top instead.
She was chucked into the bin, along with the star and her broken staff but with her rigid grin still stuck on her angel face. The last thing she saw before the bin lid closed was the robin being clipped on the top of the Christmas tree, winking at her.
Fiction by Howard A. Goodman
Initial attempts to re-enter the dating arena and feel comfortable doing so were at best tentative. Allan’s first encounter, a dark-haired Irish woman about his age, reasonably attractive but lacking in that certain indefinable element he was looking for.
A light dinner at Foster’s Market on the east end of Chapel Hill Boulevard in southeast Durham, his treat; then a concert in Page Auditorium on Duke University’s east campus, her treat. Afterward a friendly hug on the parking lot before departing.
Later, in the isolation of his bedroom he reflected on the eerie feeling of “seeing” another woman for the first time in over thirty years. There had been no sensation of being drawn to her—he didn’t know what to expect. His entire evening had felt as if he were catching up with an old friend—Eliot—but with a woman on the opposite side of the table.
From their conversations over the telephone, he had expected to feel something more toward her when he met her in person, and when that didn’t click he decided to postpone seeing her a second time, instead turning again to his search.
In addition to weighing further responses to his Personals ad he picked up the following week’s edition of the Indy, began to scrutinize personals placed by “women seeking men.” His activities were confined to his bedroom, where he felt more comfortable keeping his actions covert.
He didn’t know how his new socializing was going to affect his children, especially Evan who at times appeared to be still in mourning. He figured it would be better if each found out in their own way.
DWF, 50s, slender, young looking brunette, large blue eyes.
Talented, pretty, 5'4". Diverse interests: music/art/piano, cooking/dining, tennis, mountains.
Seeking tall gent (55-62), with class and depth.
For his second outing, Allan again offered to meet the woman at a “neutral” location, not far from where she lived. He’d been encouraged because her recorded message stood out from others he’d listened to. She had seemed interesting, vibrant, during their phone conversation.
But his vision of her as attractive was quickly dashed starting in the waiting area of Elmo’s Diner off North Greensboro Street in neighboring Carboro. He knew from the very onset of their assignation he would not commit to a second date.
Conversation was trying. He was grateful for the distraction of having their food delivered promptly. In contrast to his eagerness to get to know someone, she came across as hesitant, closed, lacking in depth of emotion.
During the meal he thought it odd that even though she referred to her son on at least three occasions she never once mentioned him by name. Stranger still was the fact that her son attended Enloe High School in Raleigh, thirty miles and two counties east of where she lived. Allan was curious as to the reason but not nearly interested enough in her to ask.
What drove the last nail home was her response after he related the horrific circumstances that had left him a widower. “Bummer.”
A week before his ad was scheduled to expire, he notified the Indy to run it again.
“Wednesday, 1:27pm: Hi! I just wanted to thank you for offering to have me write to you as a way of responding to your ad in the Independent, and... but I decided to leave a message. I thought it would be a faster way to make a connection. So anyway, I was going to write. Then I thought about having you call my number in Chapel Hill. So anyway, I decided to leave this voice message. I live in Chapel Hill. That number is 555-8325. My problem is that I'm very attractive and that sometimes makes for unwanted attention. Bye.”
Allan flinched. He pressed a combination of keys to play the message again. After his second attempt to grasp what he’d heard, he pressed the keys to advance to the next message.
“Wednesday, 1:32pm: I just wanted to... you'll recognize my voice (nervous laugh). I did all this in a crazy way. First I left a message, then I wrote a letter, then I decided to try to phone you... but I don't think that I... you might not connect all these thiiings. So... I left you a blue G in a letter I mailed to your post office box. That's me... and that's... I won't tell you my full name but my first initial is G, and I think I did leave my phone number. When word gets out that you're commitment-minded, women are gonna fall all over you. Uh... but anyway, I live in Chapel Hill and I'll repeat the number. And it's 555-8325. Sorry for all the confusion. I may try to respond to more ads. Yours was the first one. So long. Bye.”
Allan scrambled for pen and paper. Captured by her kookiness, he replayed both messages, jotting down her number along with other details gleaned from listening to her words. He concluded that it might be beneficial for him to witness her “problem” firsthand.
“Tuesday, 4:05pm: This message is for Allan from Georgia in Chapel Hill. I wanted to thank you for the message which enabled me to... make plans for the week and... and not be concerned about a dinner. Um...you mentioned having a plan of calling me towards the end of that week which... you didn't do... which... um... is all right... except that um...if you would like to send any message such as that I might be... maybe... or that you're just having trouble... you know... screening various candidates, and um... I'd be very happy to... to receive any kind of a message. Just... um... it's preferable to me... to... have some vague idea of where I stand. So, um... I hope that everything went fine with your son and the concert and all that sort of thing. This summer I'm teaching Macbeth and so I'm out of my element but more or less enjoying it. In fact, it's not totally out of my element 'cause I love literature. Anyway, um... I'll look forward to hearing from you maybe, and um...lots of luck. Bye bye.”
I realize this is not at all the best way to approach you after I failed to follow through on my promise to call. There is no best way, but you deserve to know so let me just tell you why I backed away.
Before our first meeting I found it so intriguing when you mentioned you were “quite attractive and that sometimes made for unwanted attention.” My reaction was that I had to meet you even though I felt intimidated by your remark. I recall sitting at a table at Caffé Driade, waiting anxiously for you to arrive, and when I looked up and saw this stunning woman standing at the service bar I thought, That’s gotta be her. And my first impression was, Oh my God! She wasn't just bragging.
Before I knew it we were locked in unending conversation and I couldn't believe the high I was feeling was coming from the bottled water alone. Later, when you pulled those jazz CDs from the department store bag you brought with you, I remember thinking, This is perfect!
I couldn't believe it was possible for me to find someone so attractive and compatible after just two prior dating encounters. During the drive home I was excited, jubilant... until that other voice inside my head countered with, Yeah, too perfect.
Friends had cautioned me to take my time, play the field. My own expectation was that I would have to search for a very long time. After dinner at Aurora on our second date, when we said goodbye outside your apartment and you invited me for dinner the following week I should have felt thrilled, delighted. I told you yes, but inside I didn't know what to do. I was confused, scared, so I did the most inexcusable thing imaginable: I ran.
Perhaps if I had met you further along the path of my search, after I had once again become comfortable in this dating arena, then I might not have felt all those frightening things. Maybe by then I would have been more experienced, satiated with the game, better prepared emotionally.
I can't erase what I did, nor can I ask you to remain on hold while I play the field a while longer. I want you to know only this.
It wasn't you, Georgia, that drove me into the shadows. It was my perception that what I had with you in the brief time we were together was too perfect all too soon. Is there any way you can understand that and not hate me?
The damage is done and I don’t know how to repair it. I am very sorry.
He looked up from the sheet of paper filled with his words, his raw emotions, transcribed in his own hand from the virtual copy lying behind the glass of the computer screen. He realized that his venting, his need to set things straight, whatever label he could best rationalize as his reason for writing this letter was as much for his benefit as for the intended. More.
An envelope—addressed, stamped, ready to receive his letter—lay on the desk alongside the monitor. Allan glanced down at the written words again, hesitating a moment before crumpling the sheet of paper, tossing it into the waste can, managing a wan smile before the tears took over.
Ancient Greek mythology explores metaphorically how the harmony of cosmos came into being from the chaos preceding it. In the 1600’s AD, four men examined that cosmic order and provided a glimpse of reality that set the course for nearly four centuries of modern progress. Although more than three hundred years have passed since then, you may have heard of these four men: Galileo, Kepler, Isaac Newton, and John Locke.
Galileo did not invent the spyglass, but he improved it and turned it skyward to observe the moon, Jupiter, and Venus under magnification in late 1609 and early 1610. He saw mountains on the moon. Jupiter had moving stars near the disk of its surface. Galileo drew their positions on charts every clear night for several months. He was convinced that these “stars” were moons orbiting Jupiter. Under magnification and over time, Venus exhibited phases on its disk similar to the phases of the moon. He correctly deduced this was because Venus orbited nearer the sun than Earth does. The mysteries of the universe were coming into focus, and Galileo was the man who first pointed the way.
Between 1609 and 1619, independent of Galileo’s efforts, Kepler worked out the laws of planetary motion, thereby providing a mathematically consistent and plausible theory that the planets orbit the sun. He was correct. Kepler was a mystic and firmly believed that planetary motion was necessarily in tune with ancient occult Pythagorean concepts. The elliptical orbits he discovered were a bit disappointing to him, since they lacked the perfection of circles. Nonetheless, he had access to the best observational records of planetary movement across the sky, and the mathematics of elliptical orbits precisely matched the data. Besides, the orbits were only slightly elliptical. Kepler published his work in a book titled “The Harmony of the World,” which was obscured by an emphasis on his mystical Pythagorean notions.
Isaac Newton was more practical than Kepler in his mathematical assessment of nature. Newton invented calculus to clarify his laws of motion and universal law of gravity. Force, mass, and acceleration were all mathematically related. With the inclusion of a gravitational constant, his formulas described the motion of the moon as well as a falling apple or a cannonball. His work was published in 1687 in the book “Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy.” It was a landmark publication that changed the way people viewed the world by showing that mathematical analysis could successfully be applied to nature. Our place in the cosmos had never before been so clearly defined.
But what about describing us? Who are we and how should we coexist? John Locke stepped forward with two significant books, both published in 1690. One was “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding,” in which he explored the philosophical aspects of how the human mind functions. Not how the brain works physiologically, but rather how the mind furnishes intellect and understanding. His other book of note, “Second Treatise of Government,” discusses fundamental concepts regarding equality and the establishment of social contracts whereby people agree to live in accord with governance approved by a majority. This latter book was a huge influence on the creation of the United States government and Constitution. Between 1600 and 1700, the foundations of modern science and society were solidly laid, with Galileo, Kepler, Newton, and Locke leading the way.
First published in December 2015. Reading about Galileo, Kepler, Newton, and Locke would be an excellent guide to helping you find your place in the cosmos and society. Randy Bittle
On my tenth birthday my long absent father came by with a new two-wheel bicycle. Although I was happy to have it, I noticed that it was a Monarch, a brand I never heard of. Schwinns were the bikes that my friends, mostly boys, bragged about owning.
In the 40s most kids didn’t have a two - wheeler at age four or three, or even two, like they do today. There were no training wheels. My first two- wheeler was the last to arrive among my peers’ bicycles. Fortunately, no one put me down because of the off brand. Soon after, my bike provided an entry into a new physical and social experience.
One Sunday afternoon four of us, Robbie and John, who were brothers, and Sammy and I, stood around beside our bikes deciding what to do. One of us, Sammy, just took off. Without thinking, we proceeded to follow him. Two of the boys were a little older and much stronger than I. Even the younger one seemed to hang on better than I did. I struggled to stay with them. We pedaled through several neighborhoods heading for the Tacony Palmyra Bridge. As we crossed the bridge into New Jersey, traffic began to pick up. This was one of the main routes out of Philadelphia heading south to the New Jersey shore.
Many cars were most likely doing what we called Sunday driving. That meant enjoying the day, cruising along the highways. In those days, stores were not open on Sunday. Computers didn’t exist. Sunday was a day for visiting or a quiet day of rest, except for us. I found myself working very hard at keeping up with three boys tearing down the highway, facing heavy, oncoming traffic. There were no bike lanes in those days. I carefully steered a straight line, fearing I’d swerve too far into the road. Never wanting to be called, ”Chicken,” I kept a brave face. Straining and a little unnerved by the cars whizzing by, I clutched my handlebars with sweaty palms in a grip that could choke a chicken.
At some point, Robbie and John slowed down. I looked back, and they were leaving us, heading back home. Robbie, the oldest of us, probably had more common sense. Sammy just kept on, steadily pedaling, with me a few yards behind. I had no idea where he was headed, but I was attached to him, so I was going wherever he was going. After a long, exhausting ride, I could not believe what I was seeing. The Delaware River Bridge loomed high ahead of us. I knew we were very near the end of Market Street in downtown Philadelphia. Since I was a toddler, how many times had I ridden the subway and the el, looking out the window, becoming excited at the view of the bridge and the ships along the river? How far had we come? How many miles from home?
We made our way alongside the heavy traffic as we crossed the bridge. Then we were back in Philadelphia. I was tired and panting, still silent about my struggle to keep up. Sammy was only a year older. At eleven years old, how did he know so much about how to get around the city? I followed him along the wharf, past several rusted scows and old, long, low buildings sitting right along the river.
We passed through many residential neighborhoods that I had never seen before. Traffic had quieted. Here and there a car passed us. Several streets were uphill and cobble stoned, which rattled my bike and threw off my steering. He kept on going, never seeming to tire or to lose his way. I pedaled on and on and on. We never stopped to rest. As the sun began to set, I expected trouble ahead when I arrived home. I was never supposed to be out after dark, except on Halloween. Maybe Sammy was so driven because he was going to get in trouble too. We were lucky. We both had lights on the front of our bikes. I think bikes came with reflectors on the back, but I don’t remember.
It was a half hour after dark when I got to my front door. “WHERE have you been?”, my mother asked in a worried and irritated tone. When I told her about our bike trip, she seemed surprised and began to smile and asked me to describe again the trip I had just taken. While she gently reprimanded me, I got the impression that she was actually astounded and also very proud of me. There must have been an unbelievable contrast between her perception of me and my actual strength and endurance. I don’t recall one word from her about the risks we had taken and the dangers we faced, but I knew I shouldn’t do it again, nor would I be likely to put myself through that again. A day or two later I heard her, almost bragging, telling my aunt how I had traversed major highways and bridges and covered half the city on a bicycle.
Q: How does a snowman get to work? A: By icicle
Q. Which of Santa’s reindeer has the worst manners? A. RUDE-olph, of course!
Link to full report: https://www.bulwer-lytton.com/2019
How this began:
Paul Clifford is a novel published in 1830 by English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton. It tells the life of Paul Clifford, a man who leads a dual life as both a criminal and an upscale gentleman. The book was successful upon its release. It is known for its opening phrase "It was a dark and stormy night..." although it did not coin the phrase.
The sentence : “It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.” This 59 word sentence it the longest sentence known in English literature
“It was a dark and stormy night,” was made famous by the cartoon character, Snoopy, when he was thinking of writing a book.
Since 1982 the English Department at San Jose State University has sponsored the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose opening sentences to the worst of all possible novels.
Note: This is a tiny sample of the winning entries for 2019
Space Fleet Commander Brad Brad sat in silence, surrounded by a slowly dissipating cloud of smoke, maintaining the same forlorn frown that had been fixed upon his face since he’d accidentally destroyed the phenomenon known as time, thirteen inches ago. Maxwell Archer, Mt Pleasant, Ontario, Canada
Dropping his now-empty Remington .30-06 and tearing across the tundra after two weeks of hunting in the Alaskan wilderness in the company of none other than three-time Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt—the rustic outing being the spoils of his winning bid at the Sun Valley Country Day School live-auction fundraiser—Bart Michaelman realized with dismay that, in this particular instance, he did in fact have to outrun the bear. Andrew Lundberg, Los Angeles, CA
Old man Buckman had been murdering and dismembering teenagers in our town for years, and getting away with it, and it's important to emphasize this right up front, because young readers like you have painfully short attention spans, and unless a story grabs you right off the bat, you'll be back on your video games or phones or skateboards in the blink of an eye. John Hardi, Falls Church, VA
Dishonorable Mention-Crime Detective
Olivia followed her breasts into my office where I was studying the dead flies on the window sill and dropped a large brown envelope on my desk, which rearranged the dust as it came to rest next to my right elbow, causing me to lose interest in the flies as I watched her walk away, watched carefully while wondering if the motion of her hips could bring a dead man back to life, which led to wondering what she could do to a man who was still alive. Arlen Feldman, Colorado Springs, CO
Dark and Stormy
It was a dark and stormy night, and since this was Miami in July and everyone had left their convertible tops down, the rain fell in Cadillacs. Andrew Lundberg, Los Angeles, CA
Dishonorable Mention-Fantasy and Horror
Thunder crashed and the wind howled in a driving rain as the ancient witch raised her hands toward the moon and with increasing desperation chanted the words of a spell that her recently unearthed Book of Charms had assured her would restore her to youth and beauty but so far was just riling up the weather and getting her wet. Bill White, Allentown, PA
Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States of America, sat down at the theatre with his wife, the first lady of the United States of America, turned and asked her, ¨Do you think the fella behind us can see over my hat?¨ Olivia Burkett, Springfield, OH
When the tall dark, handsome, buff, and wealthy cowboy moseyed into my "Blazin' Six-guns" novelty shop, I felt a wave of heat flood through me, as if I had accidentally swallowed my sub-lingual nicotinic acid lozenge, causing the niacin to be released instantaneously, rather than in a more controlled, extended, low-potency dose, for which means the prescription had been written.
Randall Card, Bellingham, WA
Gregory was falling in love with the doe-eyed Nora, not knowing that she could be an infuriating, complicated woman at times, like one of those self-service checkout machines at the grocery store where you can never figure out where to insert the money or get your change, plus the scanner never recognizes your jar of Vlasic sweet pickles so you have to call the attendant.
Steve Lynch, Tucson, AZ
Dishonorable Mention-Science Fictiom
Sven wondered, staring into Opal's trusting eyes, if he could truly marry her knowing that, in just three weeks, the stock market would crash, her father would jump out of a 10th story window, and he, the intrepid adventurer and time traveler, would return to the 21st century with millions of dollars worth of her old man's Coca Cola stock. Robert K Walters, Asheville, NC
Dishonorable Mention -Vile Puns
After almost twenty years of baldness, Harry finally decided to splurge on an expensive, human-hair wig – after all, four hundred dollars to look twenty years younger was a small price toupée.
Julian Calvin, Bellbrook, OH
"Yeehaw, boys, and so long," called Eugene 'Bullettooth Dynamite' Jones as he rode off into the torrential downpour on his 32-inch-tall miniature horse, Kevin, hiding a frown because he knew deep down in his heart he had yeed his last haw. Stephanie Karnosh, Springboro OH
Miscellaneous Dishonorable Mention
It seemed a cruel irony to Nigel when he realized, only in hindsight, how mistaken he had been to abandon his youthful ambition to become a technical writer and bend to his parents' wishes that he go into proctology. Scott Wilson, Corvallis, OR
Marginal advice by Howard A. Goodman
Several months before the National Election of 2016 my wife decided to stake a political sign into the front lawn of our home. The sign, located near the intersection of two streets, prominently displayed the name of her preferred candidate to any passerby, whether in a vehicle or on foot. Though I harbored negative feelings about her posting the sign, I acquiesced.
Almost immediately following the placement of her political sign, mischievous prankish things began to happen. First, I started receiving emails from organizations representing a major political party I am not affiated with, thanking me for joining their campaign. Next, little dings began to appear on the exterior of my car, which I park in an overflow space on the street. Then, under the cover of darkness came the quiet removal of my wife’s sign and it’s replacement with a political sign of the opposite party.
My wife, being the kind of the no-nonsense person she is, decided to get to the bottom of this. She posted a thread on Nextdoor in which she asked if anyione else in our neighborhood was similarly affected. In the one reply she received that merits any mention, the sender, who lives a block away, informed her that his political sign, that of the opposite party, had gone missing that same night. Could it be that it was this person’s sign that ended up on our lawn? We were never able to positively identify the culprit, though we have a good idea of who it was… a neighbor to whom my wife’s political sign is quite visible.
The “umbrella” over all of this, I believe, can be stated quite concisely by the following three words: Don’t invite trouble! While perfectly legal, posting a political sign on your premises invalidates the notion of a secret ballot. Stated obtusely, I know of no one who has ever displayed a political sign lauding a candidate of one party, then come election day voted for the candidate of another party. If you place a political sign on your lawn, it’s a dead giveaway to your neighbors and other passersby which candidates you’re going to vote for. So much, then, for a secret ballot.
Therefore, in this age of mounting political polarization I believe it is sound advice to refrain from wearing your political leanings on your sleeve… or your lawn. The same advice applies to your religious beliefs as well. If you still feel compelled to do so, share them only with those you know very well, not with ‘acquaintences’ who happen to live in your neighborhood. Best to remain a good neighbor with your neighbors.
My daddy used to be able to tell if it was going to rain by the way his corns hurt. He used to sit on the front porch and put his feet up on the railing, take his shoes off, rub his feet and go, “It’s gonna rain today.” It could be sunshine without a cloud in the sky, but somehow he knew it was gonna rain. And it would always rain before the day was through. If his arthritis was acting up it was gonna snow. If his rheumatism was acting up it was gonna be a tornado coming through. I once asked him how he knew all that stuff. He said, “It’s a gift.”
I was six years old. I was wondering who gave him that gift for Christmas and how can I top it. Somehow, the electric razor I gave him didn’t mean squat. You can’t tell anything from shaving.
My daddy wasn’t much for talking. I remember when I moved away to college I would call home to talk to him. He’d answer the phone and I’d go, “Hey daddy.” The first thing he’d say is, “Hang on, I’ll get your mamma.”
One year for Christmas he got me an electric train set but I couldn’t play with it for two weeks. Every time I tried, he was playing with it. He loved that train set.
He always got me stuff that he could enjoy too and I learned from that. That’s why this year for Christmas; I’m getting my seven year old a twelve foot pontoon boat.
We used to always have a big party at our house on Christmas and all the family would come over; aunts, uncles, cousins, everybody. And everybody would bring a covered dish. I remember one year everybody brought potato salad; seventy three bowls of potato salad.
To this day potato salad is my least favorite food, right behind fruit cake, which was always made by grandma. She was old and didn’t care if we liked it or not.
Who invented fruit cake and why did they do it? What were they thinking? “Let’s invent a cake that no one will eat and make it a Christmas dish.”
No one likes it, not even Santa Claus. Every time I’d leave out a slice with a glass of milk on Christmas Eve, the next morning the milk would be gone, but the fruit cake would still be there.
You can’t get rid of the stuff. It lasts forever. Fruit cake never goes bad and even if it does, how will you know?
I Always give fruit cake to people I don’t like. Those I really don’t like get two.
My family’s not really big on Christmas decorations. We put up a tree and a wreath on the door and that’s about it.
My neighbors are rednecks. They put up a glowing Santa Claus on top of their house with a number eight on his suit.
And he’s peeing on a Ford Sleigh.
And a cemetery wreath on the door instead of a Christmas wreath. I guess when times are tough you make do the best as you can.
I remember one year when Daddy was out of work and couldn’t get me anything for Christmas, he drove around the neighborhood and picked up boxes on the side of the road where other people got their kids stuff. Then he put the boxes under our tree. We were really poor that year but I got a lot of really nice boxes.
Anyway, here’s a Merry Christmas to you and your family from Moccasin Gap. That’s right, I said Merry Christmas. I don’t care who I offend.
I notice the folks at Wal-Mart say, “Happy Holidays.” They don’t want to offend the Muslims.
There are no Muslims in Moccasin Gap, just God fearing, unemployed country folks. And if there were any Muslims here, the rednecks would use them for target practice. If they don’t say, “Merry Christmas” then you shouldn’t shop there, bottom line. And now, in California they’re using a slimmed down Santa Claus because the fat one sends the wrong message. They should rope off California from the rest of the country. I’ll be so glad when the big earthquake comes and sends California sliding into the ocean.
I’m so glad I was born in North Carolina. We don’t have crazy people here, just folks who are special.
E. B. Alston
He’s the master of this house. That isn’t hard to see.
He’s loud, hard to handle and invariably finds his way to me.
He squirms and worms and monkeyshines and stands up in his crib.
He coos and goos and shows his teeth and slobbers on his bib.
He’s the apple of his mother’s eye, his sister’s and his brother’s,
Both grandpas, uncles, aunts and even both grandmothers.
He walks and crawls and grins and scowls and gives us funny looks.
Pulls down diapers drying, sister’s dolls and rearranges books.
Scatters papers, letters, pounds the typewriter and makes the house a scene.
He chases fierce Chihuahuas; tries to pull the cat through a hole in the screen.
His mother says in pained chagrin “Although he’s mighty sweet”
“He’s all boy and that’s a fact. No grass grows round his feet”.
We all agree without exception that he’s our pride and joy.
But today we find, in spite of all discretion,
He’s afraid of his Christmas toy.
Nobody claims authorship for this
As a joke, my brother used to hang a pair of panty hose over his fireplace before Christmas. He said all he wanted was for Santa to fill them. What they say about Santa checking the list twice must be true because every Christmas morning, although hiss kids' stockings overflowed, his poor pantyhose hung sadly empty.
One year I decided to make his dream come true. I put on sunglasses and went in search of an inflatable love doll. They don't sell those things at Wal-Mart. I had to go to an adult bookstore downtown. If you've never been in an X-rated store, don't go, you’ll only confuse yourself. I was there an hour saying things like, "What does this do?" "You're kidding me!" "Who would buy that?"
Finally, I made it to the inflatable doll section. I wanted to buy a standard, uncomplicated doll that could also substitute as a passenger in my truck so I could use the car pool lane during rush hour.
Finding what I wanted was difficult. 'Love Dolls' come in many different models. The top of the line, according to the side of the box, could do things I'd only seen in a book on animal husbandry.
I settled for 'Lovable Louise.' She was at the bottom of the price scale. To call Louise a 'doll' took a huge leap of imagination. On Christmas Eve, and with the help of an old bicycle pump, Louise came to life.
My sister-in-law was in on the plan and let me in during the wee morning hours long after Santa had come and gone, I filled the dangling pantyhose with Louise's pliant legs and bottom. I also ate some cookies and drank what remained of a glass of milk on a nearby tray. Then I went home, and laughed to myself for a couple of hours.
The next morning my brother called to say that Santa had been to his house. And he had left a present that had made him VERY happy, but had left the dog confused. She would bark, start to walk away, then come back and bark some more.
We agreed that Louise should remain in her pantyhose so the rest of the family could admire her when they came over for the traditional Christmas dinner.
My grandmother noticed Louise the moment she walked in the door.
"What the hell is that?" she asked.
My brother quickly explained, "It's a doll."
"Who would play with something like that?" Granny snapped.
I kept my mouth shut.
"Where are her clothes"' Granny continued.
"Boy, that turkey sure smells nice, Gran," my brother said, to steer her into the dining room.
But Granny was relentless." Why doesn't she have any teeth? "
Again, I could have answered, but why would I? It was Christmas and no one wanted to ride in the back of the ambulance saying, "Hang on Granny, hang on!"
My grandpa was a delightful old man with poor eyesight.
He sidled up to me and said, "Hey, who's the naked gal by the fireplace?"
I told him she was my brother's friend, Louise. A few minutes later I noticed Grandpa by the mantel, talking to Louise. Not just talking, but actually flirting. It was then that we realized this might be Grandpa's last Christmas at home.
The dinner went well. We made the usual small talk about who had died, who was dying, and who should be killed. Then suddenly Louise made a noise like my father in the bathroom in the morning. Then she lurched from the mantel, flew around the room twice, and fell in a heap in front of the sofa. The cat screamed. I passed cranberry sauce through my nose, and Grandpa ran across the room, fell to his knees, and began administering mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. My brother fell back over his chair and wet his pants. Granny threw down her napkin, stomped out of the room, and sat in the car.
It was indeed a Christmas to treasure and remember. Later in my brother's garage, we conducted a thorough examination to decide the cause of Louise's collapse. We discovered that Louise had suffered from a hot ember to the back of her right thigh. Fortunately, thanks to a wonder drug called duct tape, we restored her to perfect health. I can't wait until next Christmas
E. B. Alston
Most of my dogs have been bird dogs. I never thought of them as pets because my good ones were working dogs. I believe they preferred it that way. There is nothing people do that they enjoy as much as a bird dog enjoys hunting. It is wonderful to see a young dog on his first hunt smell his first quail, see it fall at the shot and pick it up and bring it to his master. You can see him change as he comes to the realization that this is what he was put on earth to do. If only that we could achieve such clarity of purpose.
Bird dogs have two other characteristics that often go unnoticed. All of mine loved children, although none tried to be my children’s pet. They obviously loved being around children and would play with them enthusiastically, but the play was more as an equal than as a pet. Mature bird dogs are never cuddly.
Second, they were very protective of my children. Buckley came when Lynn was twelve, Michial was ten and Carl was six.
If Michial was wrestling with another boy and the other boy got on top of Michial, Buckley would pull him off. If a stranger came into the yard, he positioned himself between my children and the stranger. If a strange dog wandered within range of my children, he chased the dog away—even if it was a boxer. The time that happened caused a pretty serious dogfight and Buckley hurt the boxer badly. I know you think that is surprising. I was surprised myself. Part of the reason was Buckley had a mission and the boxer just wandered up. I don’t think the boxer meant to do any harm to my children. Buckley didn’t see it that way.
When bird dogs fight, they use their speed and agility. They don’t do any posturing, growling or make threatening moves. They just get on with it. They are finesse fighters. When he attacked the boxer, Buckley did a running circle to get up speed. He hit the boxer with a ferocious shoulder block that knocked him on his back before he knew what was happening. Then Buckley had him by the throat. The fight was over and I had to rescue the boxer.
That spring when the school year ended, Lynn asked if she and three of her friends could camp out that night in the woods behind our house. The rear of our lot bordered a state forest and there were miles of woodlands behind our house. We agreed and I helped them set up the tent about a hundred yards behind the house.
Then Michial and two of his friends wanted to camp out so I helped them put up their tent about half way to the girls’ tent.
Around one a.m., Buckley’s barking woke me up. It was unusual for him to bark. I opened the window and yelled at him to shut up. He didn’t.
I put on my slippers and went to the kennel to see what had him so excited. When I got to the kennel I saw a high school age boy lying by the gate passed out. But Buckley was barking in the direction where my children were camping. I got that cold feeling that you get when you fear for the safety of your children. When I opened the gate, Buckley ignored the boy lying on the ground and took off in the direction of the tents. Thoroughly alarmed now, I ran back to the house, put on my pants, got my glasses, a flashlight and the shotgun, loaded it and ran back to the tent where the boys were.
When I opened the boys’ tent and shined the light inside, Jimmy Brogden woke up enough to tell me that Buckley was out of the kennel. My dog had already checked on the boys.
I rushed to the girls’ tent and found Buckley outside checking it. The girls were inside fast asleep.
Then I heard some raucous noise a little farther in the woods where I found some high school boys were having a drinking party. I probably scared them when I appeared with the shotgun. I told them their buddy was passed out in my yard and they ought to come with me and check on him.
We couldn’t revive the boy on the ground, so I had to call the rescue squad. He was taken to the hospital with acute alcohol poisoning.
Buckley didn’t come back to the house with me. He stayed in the woods near the tents guarding my sleeping children.
When Carl was a teenager, he developed a fondness for pond fishing and always took Buckley with him. I asked why he never took my younger dog, Lucky.
Carl replied, “Buckley sits on the bank beside me while I fish. Lucky wants to play in the water and she scares the fish away.”
He was still guarding my son.
Buckley lived to be fifteen years old and hunted the last season he lived.
Sybil Austin Skakle
It was Friday, December 8th when the telephone rang in my kitchen. I picked it up expectantly, as usual. To be truthful, I don’t remember the name of the person who called. However, the conversation was significant. It was a telemarketer, trying to interest me in taking a weekend trip to Myrtle Beach.
“I can’t go to Myrtle Beach this time of year, “ I said, in exasperation.
“Why not?” the nice male voice asked, patiently.
“Christmas! I’ve shopping to do and I can’t get started.”
“There’s nothing to it,” he said. “I take a day off, get started at 8 o’clock in the morning, shop all day, come home and wrap the gifts and I’m all finished by 11 PM that night,” he said cheerfully.
“I bet your wife does most of the shopping,” I answered, disbelieving.
“I don’t have a wife.”
“How many gifts do you have to buy?”
“But I don’t know what they want or need and I don’t know their sizes,” I said.
“Oh, I never buy clothes.”
“What do you buy?”
“I have friends that are computer bugs. I go into software stores and gift certificates are great. ”
Twenty gifts are a lot to buy. I dared ask, “How much do you figure for each gift?”
He could have evaded that one. I had no business asking. But he said, “Oh, around a hundred dollars.”
Gracious! This guy must do well at this job, I thought.
Well, after all that, he forgot to try to sell me on coming to Myrtle Beach. Besides he has to mail all those gifts, because he shared that he wasn’t going to be able to go home for Christmas. We ended our conversation.
On the strength of his call, I went out for five hours and accomplished an incredible amount of shopping. I actually enjoyed it. I took time out to go to the K&W to have a bit to eat for supper in the middle of it. When I couldn’t think of anything to buy, I bought gift certificates.
It was dark by the time I finished and drove home. I unloaded my packages and following my prompter’s example, I went into the guest room, spread out the bright wrapping paper rolls and red, green, gold and white bows and began to wrap the gifts on the bed. It was two o’clock in the morning before I fell into bed, exhausted and exhilarated. It took awhile for my adrenaline to lower enough for me to relax and to go to sleep.
In church on Sunday, when we were asked for praises, I told the congregation about the blessing of the telemarketer. I wanted to call and thank him, but I didn’t know his name or the company he represents. However, I thank God for his call. I reminded my church family of the scripture which says,
“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.“
“Be kind and considerate of telemarketers, they may be angels,” I said in praising God for the call that got me out of the Christmas doldrums. I am sure I am indebted to a telemarketer and thank God for his call. If he ever calls back again, I’ll thank him for his help, even if I still decide Myrtle Beach is not where I want to go. .
Courtesy of Funny Jokes
E. B. Alston
The year was 1691. They had been missing for two weeks when they sheepishly crept into town at dusk. He was arrested the moment they stepped into the town square. Her father had seen to that. The girl was firmly escorted home and confined to her room.
Abigail had been the apple of her father’s eye. He insisted that she had been kidnapped, but this was obviously not the case judging by her behavior when she had to be torn from the arms of her lover.
Cooler heads were advising him to let them be. They were old enough to marry and everybody knew they were in love. She was a mature girl of fifteen and he was almost eighteen. Let them get married right away. Then the legends of their elopement would grow into a happy story to be told at family gatherings.
Her father would have none of that. And when his wife sided with the cooler heads, he went into a rage. She had seen him like that before and retreated back into her kitchen. She had lost too many of those battles and she had no stomach to fight this one.
He raged like a mad bull and would have hung the young man on the spot if the sheriff hadn’t forcibly prevented him from doing it. They persuaded him to wait for the magistrate from Concord who would arrive next month. Her father was determined to use every bit of his considerable influence to see that the boy was convicted. Then he would let frontier justice be exacted in the fullest sense.
Seth T. Wagstaff was the most prominent man in this little Massachusetts settlement. A lot of the local men worked at his sawmill. Retail merchants were dependent on his business. None of the townspeople had the fortitude, or were in a position, to oppose him.
The boy’s family lived a few miles away in the fishing village of Green Harbor. He was the youngest of six sons and three daughters. All of the sons were big, strapping outdoor men who fished and farmed with their father.
Their father was a taciturn man. When his father tried to reason with Wagstaff, he refused to meet him. His father then went to the sheriff but the sheriff was afraid to release the boy for fear of angering Mr. Wagstaff.
Everybody in town, except Seth Wagstaff, agreed what should be done but nobody had the courage to act.
Seth had not come to this new world to allow it to become a cesspool of sin like the England he had left fifteen years ago. He had come to a clean, new place free from the sin and degradation of the old world. Except for the godless natives, it had been pure and unspoiled.
He and his wife had seven daughters and no sons. Abigail was the youngest and by the time she arrived, he had given up on having sons and focused his affection on her. The other six daughters thought their father was cold-hearted and escaped into marriage as soon as they could entrap an eligible young man. It helped that they were, including Abigail, comely and well groomed, thanks to their mother who was the daughter of an obscure aristocratic family back in England.
One of Seth’s daughters had already caused him great embarrassment. She had blossomed into a statuesque and flirtatious beauty who wore tight dresses and stylish hats to church. Her husband relished his wife’s attractiveness and approved of her showing herself off.
Oddly enough, the one who complained most about her was his brother who told everybody that would listen how his brother was besotted of this flouncing, jiggling Jezebel. She had a sensuous walk and she would flip her dress in a way that showed her ankle and the calf of her leg. The tavern window was full of faces when the lookout announced that she was passing by.
Alas, the man she had married was oblivious to the slings and arrows of a Puritan population. He was having a grand old time and didn’t care what anybody thought of his prize. There were plenty of men in their little community who were willing to take his place.
The girl’s mother had encouraged the relationship between Abigail and the boy who was named Nathan. He was good-natured, clever, and he had learned to read and do math on his own. Abigail’s mother thought that was a noteworthy achievement and this boy might go somewhere in this god-forsaken backwater settlement.
Abigail’s mother’s plan backfired when their passion got out of hand and they ran away. Now, there was literally hell to pay. Abigail was probably pregnant. The shame of being an unwed mother with a bastard child in a Calvinist environment was too awful to contemplate but she doubted if Abigail had thought about the consequences.
Seth’s anger prevented him from looking to the future in a realistic way. The shame of what a pregnant unwed daughter would do to him in his position as elder in their church had not yet entered his mind. What he would do when that occurred was not pleasant to think about.
Things calmed down over the next few weeks while the town waited for the Magistrate from Concord to arrive and try the case against the boy. As the big day approached, an undercurrent of anticipation began to envelop the little community.
On the day of the trial, the magistrate wearing his judicial robes and powdered wig set up court in the local tavern.
Magistrate Thomas Echols was of sober demeanor and not given to officiousness or legalistic finesse. People thought he had a lot of common sense.
He was an easygoing, rotund man who enjoyed a fine meal served well and a pint of local stout afterwards.
Everybody wondered how Magistrate Echols would fare when Abigail’s father lit into him. Would he cave in like everybody else or would he possess the mettle to pronounce a just verdict and allow the young couple to get on with their lives?
The tavern was full that morning when Abigail’s father arrived in time to see Nathan brought into court in shackles.
The boy’s father and brothers filled the benches behind the accused.
The Magistrate banged the gavel.
“We are here to try a kidnapping charge brought by Mr. Seth T. Wagstaff against Mr. Nathan James Williams of Green Harbor,” he announced. “Will the accused stand?”
Nathan stood up.
“Son,” Magistrate Echols said sternly, “You have been accused of kidnapping. Do you understand the severity of the charge?”
“Yes Sir,” the boy answered with a clear voice.
“Then how do you plead?” the Magistrate asked.
“I am innocent, your Honor.”
“Who brings these charges against this young man?”
“I do,” Seth Wagstaff growled.
“Who is your witness?” the magistrate asked.
“Don’t need a witness. Everybody knows he kidnapped my sweet Abigail.”
The magistrate paused. “I wish to question the victim.”
“Why, your Honor?” Wagstaff asked. “He kidnapped her.”
“This young man is being tried for a capital crime. Don’t you think we ought to hear from the one witness who knows what happened?”
“My daughter has suffered enough. I see no need for dragging her before this court.”
“Is your daughter in the courtroom?”
“My daughter is at home. She did not wish to relive her shame and disgrace.”
The magistrate called the bailiff. “Bring the victim to the courtroom.”
Seth objected strenuously and threatened to have the magistrate removed from his post.
The magistrate announced a recess while the bailiff went to get Abigail and escort her to court.
An hour later the bailiff returned with Abigail. She was crying as she approached the bench. The magistrate motioned her to a chair beside the table he was using as his judicial bench and waited for her to regain her composure.
“What is your full name, miss?” the magistrate asked gently.
“Abigail Porter Wagstaff,” she replied softly.
He pointed toward Nathan. “Do you know that young man?” he asked.
“Yes,” she replied.
“Do you know that he is being tried today for the crime of kidnapping you?”
“Did he kidnap you?” the magistrate asked gently.
Wagstaff protested. The magistrate banged his gavel for quiet.
“No, Sir,” she replied in a trembling voice barely heard in the courtroom.
Wagstaff rose from his seat in fury. “She knows not what she says.” Wagstaff shouted.
The magistrate banged his gavel. “Mr. Wagstaff, you are intimidating the witness,” shouted the magistrate. “If you persist, I will order the bailiff to remove you from this court and have you locked up.”
Wagstaff became livid and was barely able to force himself back into his seat.
The magistrate turned to Abigail. “So you willingly left your home with Nathan?”
“Yes, Sir,” she admitted in a trembling voice.
“Why did you go with him?” the magistrate asked gently.
“Because I love him,” she replied tearfully.
“Did you obtain permission from your father to leave with Nathan?”
“Because Papa hates Nathan and said he’d kill him if he came to see me anymore.”
“Do you know why your Father dislikes Nathan?”
“He wants me to marry somebody with more money than Nathan’s family has.”
“Do you realize what you have done by defying your Father’s wishes?”
“Yes, Sir. After what we have done no decent man will want me for his wife.”
“Nobody but Nathan.”
“Is Nathan a decent man?”
“He is to me.”
“If your father agreed, would you marry Nathan?” he asked gently.
“Yes, I would.”
“Does Nathan want to marry you?”
“Yes, he does.”
“I wish to ask you one more question. Will you swear that what you say will be the truth?”
“Did Nathan kidnap you?”
“Did you go with him willingly?”
“Yes, Sir. It was my idea. He did it because I begged him to take me away from Papa.” She paused to wipe tears.
Wagstaff protested that she was lying. The bailiff shoved him back into his chair.
Abigail continued. “Nathan tried to talk me out of it and promised that he’d wait for me as long as it took for me to get Papa’s permission.”
“Is what you said the truth, Abigail?” he asked gently.
The Magistrate looked at the boy sitting on the bench. Nathan felt agony for Abigail in her defiance of her father.
The magistrate addressed Nathan. “Has she told the truth?”
“Do you love this girl?” he asked.
“Yes, Sir,” he replied without hesitation.
The magistrate paused and appeared to be studying some papers on the table before him.
Wagstaff was adamant in his accusations. If he found the boy innocent, there was no telling what he would do to obtain retribution for the wrongs he felt must be punished. He was now concerned about the girl. She had embarrassed her father in front of everybody in their community. What could he do to protect the young couple and at the same time give Wagstaff time to cool off and accept the reality of the situation?
It was clear that the girl loved the boy and a month of being locked up a prisoner in her home had not diminished her affection for him. He admired her spunk in the face of a livid parent who was determined to hang her lover.
While the magistrate reflected on his burden, everybody else in the room awaited his verdict with breathless anticipation. Would he bow to Wagstaff or would he do the right thing and declare the boy innocent of all charges? The magistrate absentmindedly shuffled the papers on the rough table while he thought.
Tension in the courtroom was high when he asked the boy to stand.
Without further ceremony he announced his verdict. “Nathan James Williams, I find you guilty of the charge of kidnapping Abigail Porter Wagstaff.”
A low murmur swept through the crowd. Wagstaff smiled broadly. He had been vindicated. The crowd was stunned.
The magistrate continued. “I sentence you to thirty days in the county jail.”
Somebody in the back of the room laughed. This was not the penalty Wagstaff had expected.
Then the magistrate faced Abigail. “Abigail Porter Wagstaff, I find you guilty of aiding, encouraging and abetting your own kidnapping.”
Wagstaff rose from his bench to protest. The magistrate banged his gavel for silence.
“I also sentence you to thirty days in the county jail.”
Abigail broke down in tears. Wagstaff was enraged. The crowd clapped and hooted Wagstaff down. Nathan looked stunned. Pandemonium reigned in the courtroom.
The magistrate banged his gavel for quiet.
“Both sentences are to begin today,” he announced. “The bailiff is ordered to remove the prisoners from this court and take them to their place of imprisonment.”
Then he motioned for the bailiff to approach the bench. “Put them in the same cell away from the other prisoners,” he whispered. “Have the jailer’s wife prepare their meals.” He paused. “And they are not allowed to have visitors.”
The bailiff couldn’t help smiling as he led both prisoners away.
Abigail was still crying. Nathan put his arm around her shoulders to comfort her.
The magistrate called for the next case.
· When a man steals your wife, there is no better revenge than to let him keep her. King David
· After marriage, husband and wife become two sides of a coin; they just can't face each other, but still they stay together. Sasha Guitry
James Holt McGavra
1. Whenever you're wrong, admit it,
2. Whenever you're right, shut up.
The most effective way to remember your wife's
birthday is to forget it once...
Serialized book by E. B. Alston
I have almost recovered from that ordeal everybody calls The Inca Curse. Oscar made a full recovery although it was touch and go for a time. Jack recovered from being poisoned in the Long Shooter case. Both were lucky. Jack owes his luck to Isabela Salazar and Oscar owes his to Judge N. O. Hart. Oscar took Alonia up on her offer to stay at her place during his convalescence. He didn’t have anywhere else to go. His last living cousin, Pablo, was killed during the Long Shooter case. This is a dangerous business.
I was bone tired by the time I finished closing out the warehouse in Iquique, Chile. Alonia stayed and helped the last four weeks. This was the first time we actually worked together and her work ethic surprised me. Alonia is surprising in many ways. She’s a jet-set socialite, yet she’s dependable on the job, down-to-earth and downright pleasant to be around. Not everybody thinks that about Alonia. Isabela would say that the scales have not fallen from my eyes. I bet most of Alonia’s ex-husbands would agree with Isabela.
Clover visited for a week while Oscar was with us. He’s usually all business without any display of congeniality, but he let his guard down during the visit. Clover likes Oscar and the three of us had some interesting conversations while relaxing on Alonia’s balcony overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Out of a sense of duty to Lady Margot’s memory, Clover and I took a trip up the mountain to visit her grave. It was a sad trip and neither of us felt better for it. Clover didn’t talk much during the drive and acted as if he had a lot on his mind. He didn’t bring it up, and I didn’t ask about his new operation. He gave Alonia a heartfelt thank you for the few days of respite at her place with servants and five-star meals.
Alonia and I are back at home in Durham now. She’s talking about quitting the modeling business. Last year was tough on all of us. We have been together for four years. It seems like yesterday she visited my office for the first time. I wonder if her last ex-husband, Bernie, still lives in Pilgrim’s Knob, Virginia.
Hammer Spade and the Four Horsemen
Alonia and I visited Phoebus during the holidays and stayed for his big New Year’s Eve bash. Guests came from all over the world to join the festivities and sample Phoebus’s famous hospitality. Sir Burton came. So did Evgeni Petrov. We all had a nice visit. A contingent from the DEA and the CIA also came. Clover sent his respects saying he couldn’t get away. Minerva and Alonia served as Phoebus’s hostesses. I was surprised how congenial Minerva could be when she tried. Their brother, Sir Reginald, and one of Alonia’s ex-husbands, Steele Vulcan, were there. I haven’t figured out how Steele is considered a family member, but Alonia’s family has a lot of odd connections. Two of
Alonia’s half-sisters, Ceres and Diana, were also there. Both of them carried the mantle of their beauty in classic style while they assisted Alonia and Minerva. After the party was over, Alonia and I stayed another week with Phoebus before we drove home. Minerva’s fish tank had nine sad-looking little fish when I walked into my office.
Phoebus called me on Wednesday.
“Are you interested in an assignment with the U.N.?”
“I don’t know. They’re slow to make up their minds, but they want to put you on retainer while they get their act together.”
“Will I work alone?”
“Not sure about that, either, but they want to put Mr. Callaway on retainer too.”
“I’ll let you know more when they tell me something concrete.”
Shidee got excited about it when I told him. I wondered how the U.N. heard about us. I didn’t know they were involved in the kind of espionage that I’ve been doing. My guess was Phoebus brought me to their attention when they called him for advice.
He called again on Thursday. “The CIA wants Jack. They’ve contacted the North Carolina SBI about borrowing Clare Davis to work with him.”
“They want Jack on retainer right away but it might be several weeks before they are ready.”
I thought Jack and Clare would make an unbeatable team. I was glad they asked for Jack because he had been worried about his marketability after his bout with the golden frog poison in Colombia.
Phoebus called again Friday. “Is Dave available?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“Blackwater wants him and another man of his choice.”
“Yes, it’s for U.S. military intelligence.”
“What is going on?”
“I don’t know but it’s big and agents from all over the world are being recruited.”
“I wonder if spearheading this is why Clover left us in Chile while we were cleaning up after Lady Fisher was murdered.”
“Have you heard about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?”
Where had I heard that before? Then I remembered Isabela saying something about it. “Yeah, Isabela mentioned that after Clover left Iquique.”
“It’s a group who plan to destabilize the world and create a new order.”
I groaned. “Just what the world needs—another bunch of wild-eyed fanatics with a plan to ‘fix’ everything. Who’s in charge with our end?”
“Nobody yet. Everybody who called swore me to secrecy.”
“With all these people involved, we’ll be in each other’s way.”
“I think the U.N. will eventually assume organizational control.”
“But nobody knows?” I was skeptical of the U.N.’s ability to manage anything.
“That is correct.”
“I hope they put somebody in charge.”
“I’m sure they will.”
Phoebus called again the following Monday and asked if we could release Buster Williams to work with Dave.
“I can’t release him, Phoebus. Minerva has to have somebody here to help her.”
This was the first time I had ever turned Phoebus down.
“I understand. If you think of somebody else, call me.”
“Jerry Breedlove might be available.”
“Check on it.”
“I’ll do it right away.”
When I called Jerry, he told me that he and all the agents in his organization had been placed in reserve for something big and he couldn’t tell me anything.
The evening before Alonia left for her next assignment in Rome, we had one of those talks a man dreads. She fed me my favorite meal before she brought up the subject over dessert wine.
With a serious expression, she asked, “Hammer, do you think I nag too much?”
“I hadn’t noticed whether you nagged or not.”
She gave me ‘that look’. “Sometimes you are so thick-headed.”
“Is that a criticism or a compliment?”
“It’s a critical statement because I want to know if I annoy you too much.”
“I’m here, aren’t I?”
“That’s not an answer. You could be here for the food, or the sex, not because you like the way I behave toward you.”
“Maybe I like you the way you are, even when you push me to do something I can’t get to right away.”
She looked away.
Why are you bringing this up?”
“Minerva told me I ought to treat you better than I do.”
“You treat me okay.”
“She said I’m too pushy and demanding when you’re trying to do your job.”
“You mean like the time you wanted me to drop everything and come to see you when I was in Iquique?”
“That’s one time.”
“I was annoyed but I didn’t stop loving you because you annoyed me.”
Alonia laid her napkin down, rose from her chair, came to me and kissed me.
“That’s for being a wonderful man.” She returned to her place, sat down, and took another sip of wine, then got serious again. “How many times can I ask you to do something before you consider it unacceptable nagging?”
“If I don’t want to do it,” I replied with a grin, “the first time is unacceptable nagging.”
She laughed and threw her napkin at me. “I love you.”
“Why is Minerva so concerned about us?” I asked.
“She likes you and she knows how I have treated other men.”
“Do you treat me different?”
“Not really.” She paused. That’s not completely true. I was a terrible wife to Steele.”
“Why were you different with him?”
“Because Father made me marry him.”
“Why?” I asked, thinking how boring Steele would be to a live wire woman like Alonia.
“Father thought marriage to a steady man like Steele would calm me.”
“How did he make you two get married?”
“He told Steele to marry me and told me that I was marrying Steele.”
“That’s it? He just ordered you two to get married?” Amazing, I thought. What a family!
“Had you been dating?”
“No. I had seen him with Father but I hadn’t been alone with him until after we got married. We didn’t have a ceremony.”
“I bet he was a big surprise to you,” I replied, remembering that Steele had a limp and was not a handsome man.
“I was so mad! I slept in another room on our wedding night. We were married a month before I let him be with me.”
She paused and frowned as if an unpleasant thought passed through her mind. “I was unfaithful to him while we were married.”
“Was the marriage annulled?”
“No. We remained husband and wife for two years.”
“You must have been very young,” I said thinking about the number of husbands she’d had.
“I was eighteen. When Father allowed us to end the marriage, he rewarded Steele for trying.”
So that was why Steele was considered ‘family’.
She continued. “Thank you for being you, and for not trying to be what you think I want you to be.”
“I have no desire to be any other way, Alonia.”
“That’s what Minerva said, and she admires you because of it.”
Then she dropped the bomb. “Hammer, can we get married now”
“Sure,” I stammered. “But I thought you wanted a big family wedding with your pop and all of your relatives present.”
“We can do that later. I want us to have a small civil ceremony right away.”
“Why the sudden rush to do something we planned to do when the time was right?”
“I want to be your wife now. Not next week. Not next year.” She paused. “Or some year after that.”
“Are you worried about something?”
“Not really. But I want Isabela to understand that you’re taken.”
“She knows that.”
“No, you think she knows that. Men think because they say something, women take it at face value. I saw the way she looked at you.”
“I’m not going to run off with Isabela.”
“I know. Could we get married tonight?”
When Alonia gets something in her head, it’s best to just hang on. “Alonia, if this is what you want, we can get married tonight.”
That night I became the newest member of the exclusive club consisting of men who have been married to Alonia.
We got married at the magistrate’s office in the Durham Judicial building. Minerva and Judy were witnesses, having been pressed into service on very short notice. It was a good sign that Judy, Alonia’s cook and housekeeper, approved. I thought Minerva would be rolling her eyes over her sister’s latest escapade, but she seemed pleased and hugged me for the first time.
“Alonia has finally made a sound decision,” Minerva whispered in my ear when she kissed my cheek. “Welcome to our family.”
Alonia read my mind about the exclusive club I was thinking about. On the way home from the magistrate’s office, she said, “Hammer, you are my first real husband. The rest were figments. Their memories do not clutter my mind. They are nothing.”
That night I slept with Alonia Cytherea Venus Inanna Kilya Morpho Aphrodite Panaceia Areia Mana Erycina Delia Spade. I’m not sure I have all of her names in the correct order.
The new, now legal, Mrs. Spade left early the next morning for Rome.
Phoebus called me a week later to say Jack had been mobilized.
Banana Pudding Cheesecake
For the crust:
4 oz vanilla wafers
2 oz butter, melted
1. Using a food processor, pulse the cookies until they turn into a fine crumb. Add the butter and pulse until a dough is formed.
2. Spread the cookies in the bottom of a 8 inch springform pan. Refrigerate the crust while making the batter.
For the batter:
2 ripe bananas
17.5 oz cream cheese
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2.5 oz vanilla wafers
1. Preheat the oven to 320ºF.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the cream cheese and the mashed bananas. Beat for 3 minutes.
3. Add in the sugar, beating for another 3 minutes.
4. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for one minute after each addition. Add in the vanilla extract.
5. Crumble the cookies with your hands and fold them into the batter.
6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until the cake appears set, with the center jiggling only a little. Let the cake cool in the turned-off oven.
For the topping:
2.5 oz vanilla wafers
1 cup whipping cream
2 tbsp sugar
vanilla wafers for garnish
1. Slice the banana and distribute it on one layer on top of the cooled cake. Place the cookies on top of the bananas.
2. Mix the cream and sugar until it forms stiff peaks. Spread it on top of the cake.
3. Top with additional crumbled cookies. Refrigerate overnight (or at least 6 hours) before cutting.
Cranberry Christmas Cake Made Easy
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened,
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
12 oz or 340 grams fresh cranberries.
1. Preheat oven to 350ºF or 176ºC degrees. With a mixer, beat the eggs with the sugar until slightly thickened and light in color, about 5-7 minutes. The mixture should almost double in size. The eggs work as your leavening agent in this recipe, do not skip this step. This mixture should form a ribbon when you lift the beaters out of the bowl.
2. Add the butter and vanilla; mix two more minutes. Stir in the flour until just combined. Add the cranberries and stir to mix throughout.
3. Spread in a buttered 9×13 pan.
4. Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until very lightly browned and a toothpick inserted near the center of the cake comes out clean.
5. Let cool completely before cutting into small slices.
No Bake Coconut Chocolate Bars
2½ cup shredded coconut
1 (3 ounces) instant vanilla pudding
2 cup milk
7 oz cream cheese, room temperature
4 tbsp butter, softened
4 tbsp granulated sugar
8 ounces semi sweet chocolate, chopped
6 tbsp heavy cream
Line an 8x8 inch dish with parchment paper.
In a medium dish, mix instant vanilla pudding and milk, using an electric mixer, minimum speed, for about a minute, then for 2 more minutes at medium speed.
In a separate, large dish, put cream cheese, softened butter, sugar and vanilla and mix for about 2 minutes with an electric mixer, medium speed, until creamy.
Add already prepared vanilla pudding and mix until well combined.
Finally add coconut and stir well. Spread evenly in an already prepared dish, using some solid object to make a firm layer. Leave aside.
Put heavy cream in a small dish. Heat it on medium temperature.
When it starts to boil, remove from the heat and combine with chopped chocolate.
Stir well, so that all the chocolate melts. You need to be quick, if you don´t want any crumbs.
Spread evenly over the coconut layer. Keep refrigerated for minimum 4h.
Keep it in refrigerator in airtight container to maintain freshness.
E. B. Alston
Zed and Sarah allowed themselves to become part of the whole town’s celebration of their wedding day. Mattie and Jane appointed themselves bridesmaids to help Sarah get ready. Mrs. Morales appointed herself to be Jennie’s baby sitter for the duration. Amos fired up the tub so both Sarah and Zed could have a hot bath and he would give Zed a free shave before the ceremony. Walter Tyree would organize the dinner in the saloon. So on this Christmas day in 1869, Longford, Kansas became a beehive of frenetic and excited activity in anticipation of the marriage of Mrs. Sarah Fitzgerald Montgomery and Mr. Zedekiah B. Smith. It was a Christmas they would remember for the rest of their lives and it was a testament to the true spirit of Christmas.
The other townspeople started dropping in after 10:00. They wanted to see the couple and visit with each other. Sarah took her bath first and was hustled up to her room by Mattie and Jane to get ready. Mrs. Morales kept Jennie and delighted in showing her off to all the guests. Jennie obligingly smiled at everybody at least once. After his bath and shave, Zed tried to mingle, but he was not much of a talker and ended up just grinning and nodding a lot. The thought occurred to him that by the end of this day his mouth would be sore from all this grinning. By 10:45, the bar was loaded with food and drink and the biggest table was loaded with desserts. The babble of voices was loud as the townspeople passed the time.
At five minutes to eleven, as if by a prearranged signal, the saloon became quiet. Zed and Walter Tyree were positioned near the foot of the stairs. But all eyes were focused on the top where the bride was soon to appear. When she did, a murmur swept through the crowded saloon. Sarah appeared at the top of the stairs, escorted by Mattie and Jane. She was wearing a red satin dress the likes of which had never been seen in this little town. It had a square neckline and was cut low enough in front to reveal just a hint of cleavage. Her long black hair fell in ringlets about her shoulders.
Her excitement added a natural blush to her complexion and she looked radiant. Her eyes were bright and she smiled upon her newfound friends as she slowly descended the stairs to stand beside Zed. If Zed and the guests had been more fashion conscious, they would have noticed the absence of jewelry. A dress like she was wearing demanded jewelry. Once there had been a diamond necklace with matching diamond earrings and a bracelet. As Sarah descended the stairs, Zed thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world. The hushed crowd watched in awe as she took her place beside Zed before the Justice of the Peace.
This was the first wedding Walter had performed, so it was very brief and informal. Nobody seemed to notice that he missed a few points. When the time came for the ring, he produced a wedding band from his pocket, telling the couple it had belonged to his grandmother. He presented it to Zed for placement on Sarah’s finger. After pronouncing them man and wife, he informed Zed he could kiss the bride. Zed blushed as red as a beet as he dutifully took Sarah into his arms and kissed her lightly on the lips. The crowd in the saloon yelled and screamed and clapped their hands in a raucous celebration of the only wedding ever held on Christmas day in Longford, Kansas.
“Time to eat!” somebody yelled and the celebration continued.
The citizens of Longford bonded that cold Christmas day as this wedding celebration brought them together. Many who had been strangers to their neighbors became lifelong friends. It was a noisy wedding feast and as it ended, Zed and Sarah stood by the door, thanking all the guests as they were leaving. It was a fairy tale beginning for them.
Jennie’s feeding time slipped up on Sarah and she had to leave before all the guests had departed. Zed remained at his post, thanking the stragglers as they left. Amos and Walter were the last to leave.
“You’ve done a fine thing today, Zed,” Walter told him.
He got a puzzled look.
Amos explained, “What Walter is saying is we tried our best to talk her out of this thing she was doing, but she was hell bent on making some money fast and would have done anything to get it.”
“Then you showed up and rescued her,” Walter added.
Then Amos added encouragingly, “She’s fine woman, Zed, and she’s got a real good head on her shoulders.”
Walter laughed, “Yeah. But she’s about the stubbornest woman I’ve ever seen. You’ve got your work cut out for if you plan to win many arguments with her.”
“Yeah,” Zed replied with a grin, “I already know about that.”
They all laughed.
“You’ll be alright,” Amos said and slapped him on the back.
“And you’ve got yourself a mighty fine woman,” Walter added.
They left and the saloon became quiet, except for Mrs. Morales cleaning up. He went to thank her for keeping Jennie.
“It was a pleasure, Mr. Smith. She’s such a sweet and pretty child.”
“Will you two want supper tonight?” she asked.
“Yeah, something light. Maybe around seven.”
“I’ll see you two at seven then,” the woman replied.
She looked like she wanted to say something else.
“Is there something else, ma’am?”
“Mr. Smith, you have done a good thing today and I know God will bless you for it. We was so worried about Mrs. Montgomery and what she was trying to do. Then you came like a knight in shining armor and saved her. I just know God is smiling at you right now.”
There were tears in her eyes as she finished her little speech, turned away from him and went back to work.
Zed went upstairs to his room. When he opened the door, Sarah was seated in the chair nursing Jennie. Since she’d been alone, she hadn’t covered herself and nothing was close at hand to use. She blushed.
“I’m sorry, Zed.” She couldn’t stop nursing her child.
“It’s alright,” he replied, looking away.
“We are married now. It’s alright for you to look at me.”
He stole a glance, blushed himself and looked back out the window.
“You’re a mighty pretty woman, Sarah.”
“Thank you, Zed. A woman likes to hear that from the man she loves.”
“You love me already?”
“Yes, I do. And you have already proven that you love me too.”
He thought about it for a minute, “Yeah, I reckon I have.”
Jennie finished nursing and Sarah pushed the strap of her gown up to cover her breast. Zed saw this from the corner of his eye and looked directly at her again.
“Which room would you rather use?” he asked.
“The other room is a lot nicer.”
“I don’t want to be reminded of what I tried to do in that room.”
“Then I’ll move all your stuff in here.”
“Thank you, Zed.”
She busied herself getting Jennie ready for her nap. She had just finished changing her diaper and putting her down when Zed brought the last of her belongings into his room. After he set it down, she came to him and put her arms around his neck. He had never held a woman like this before.
She kissed his lips and softly whispered, “You may undress me, Zedekiah.”
Jennie woke them up. First she tried fidgeting and cooing and when it didn’t obtain the required result, she started bawling. Sarah jumped out of bed, put on her robe and went to the basket. Jennie was both wet and hungry. Her crying ceased the instant her mother came into view. Sarah changed her diaper, picked her up and began to nurse her now happy child. She would nurse a while, then stop to coo and smile before nursing some more.
After Jennie quieted down, Zed observed that she seemed to be a happy little girl.
Sarah smiled at him, “She is good natured most of the time.”
“She’s got a good mama.”
“She’s got a good daddy now.”
Zed was quiet.
“How do you feel about having a family, including a daughter all of a sudden?”
He grinned, “It feels pretty good.”
“I’m glad you feel that way,” Sarah said while she watched her daughter.
“How many diapers does she use a day?”
“Eight to twelve. Sometimes more.”
“How have you handled it here at the hotel?”
“Mrs. Morales washes them for me every day.”
“She likes you a lot.”
“Why do you say that? What did she tell you?”
“That I done a good thing by marrying you.”
“It was nice of her to say so.”
“Yeah, it was. Amos and Walter like you a lot too.”
“Yeah. They told me the same thing Mrs. Morales did.”
He got out of bed and dressed.
“You are such a handsome man, Zedekiah.”
“I’m real glad you think so.”
“I get all quivery when I look at you.”
He grinned, “I get some funny feelings looking at you too.”
She blushed, “Zedekiah, you embarrass me when you say things like that.”
He laughed, “I ain’t never seen a prettier woman than you was when you come down them stairs.”
“Thank you, Zed. I wanted to be pretty for you.”
“Well, you sure was pretty.”
Jennie was about finished eating.
“What would you like to do now?” he asked.
“Could we take a walk?’
“It’s still real cold.”
“I’ve got warm clothes and I can wrap Jennie in a wool blanket.”
“I ought to check on my horse anyway.”
“I ought to check on mine too.”
“Yours must be the good looking roan.”
“How’d you know?”
“There ain’t but two horses in the stable. I fed him early yesterday morning after I fed mine.”
“I thought that man named Jake fed them.”
“He probably does most times. I was there real early thinking.”
She smiled, “You were up early thinking about me, weren’t you?”
“Yes ma’am, I was.”
She stood up, still holding Jennie in her arms and kissed him.
“That’s for thinking about me.”
His love for this woman grew with every passing minute. Her voice was like soothing music to his soul. He left the room and went downstairs to give her some privacy while she got ready for their walk.
When she joined him downstairs she was wearing a long fur coat and a fur hat. Jennie was bundled head to toe in an Indian blanket.
“You ought to stay warm,” he observed.
“I like to feel fur.”
“I got a buffalo robe back at the line shack.”
Her interest perked up, “Be sure to get it when we pick up the rest of your things.”
“What do you want it for?”
“I want it on our bed,” she replied with a sweet smile.
He thought about it a few seconds before he gave her a broad grin. “I’ll be sure to get it,” he assured her.
Jake was at the stable when they arrived. He was sober but looked very much the worse for wear. They remembered seeing him at the wedding.
“When are you two leaving town?” he asked.
“I’ll pick up the horses about 8:00 tomorrow.”
“You going to pick up the missus’ horse too?”
“I’d like to buy the buggy. Ain’t too many of them around here.”
“It’s not for sale,” Sarah told him.
“I’d offer good money.”
“It is not for sale!” Sarah said with finality.
“Sorry, ma’am. Ain’t no need to git huffy. I just thought I’d do you a little favor since you need money so bad.”
Sarah started to blurt out something but Zed stopped her.
“It ain’t for sale, Jake. Just let it go.”
“Okay, okay. Don’t get mad. I’ll have both horses ready for you tomorrow.”
Zed took Sarah’s arm and guided her away from the stable. She was fuming.
“Who in hell does he think he is deciding what I need to sell?”
“Calm down, Sarah. He didn’t mean no harm.”
She cooled off a little, “You’re right. I guess I’m too touchy thinking he remembered what I was trying to do at the hotel.”
“You ought to put it out of your mind, Sarah. Don’t think about it or talk about it any more.”
He’d meant to warn Jake about the big black but forgot about it during the buggy discussion.
They walked quietly a while before she said anything else.
“Zed, you’re right.” Then she added, “Mrs. Morales was right too.”
“Yeah, I think so.”
She squeezed his hand and they finished their walk in silence. Nobody else was out that cold afternoon and they had the streets of Longford all to themselves.
It was time to feed and change Jennie again by the time they returned to the room.
“Do you mind holding her while I get out of my winter clothes?”
“I ain’t never held a baby before.”
“Then you might as well learn now.”
She removed the blanket and placed Jennie in the crook of his arm. Jennie looked up at him and gave him her best smile.
“See, it’s not so bad.”
“Naw, it ain’t.”
He was holding her like you’d hold a fragile doll and was trying to hold her perfectly still. Jennie didn’t like perfectly still and soon began to squirm and fidget. By the time Sarah was ready to take her from him, she was arching her back and kicking like she wanted to get away. He was about to panic, not knowing what to do.
Sarah rescued both of them.
“She likes movement. Rock a little when you’re holding her and she’ll be quieter.”
Sarah showed him how and he marveled at how quickly Jennie relaxed and quieted down. She changed Jennie’s diaper and began nursing her. He wondered how Sarah thought she would have been able to manage having men with her when Jennie occupied so much of her time.
“I enjoyed this afternoon, Zed.”
“I did too.”
“I especially enjoyed being in bed with you.”
“Yeah,” he grinned. “I liked that a lot.”
“I can’t wait until tonight.”
He looked at her smiling at him. He’d never had a woman smile at him the way she did and he’d never been in bed with a woman like her. This was hard to take in and he was hoping he wouldn’t wake up to find it had been just a dream.
“What are you thinking about?”
“It’s hard for me to say the right words, ma’am, er Sarah.”
It took a few seconds for him to get started but once he did, the words spilled from his lips. “I feel so good when I’m around you I feel like I’ll bust wide open. I get like it when I just think about you too. I feel good and happy inside. It’s a real good feeling and I’m scared it won’t last. I’m afraid I’ll wake up and it’ll be just a dream. It’s like I’m just too lucky and any minute my luck’s going to change.”
“I feel the same way, Zed. You make me so happy that I’m afraid too.”
They were both silent. The only sound in the room was Jennie nursing.
He spoke first, “Sarah, I want to keep this feeling for as long as I live.”
“Oh, Zed,” she whispered, “You say the sweetest things to me.”
After Jennie finished nursing, he asked Sarah if she’d like something to drink.
“Some coffee would be nice.”
Since the saloon was closed, it was as private as their room. He started a fire in the kitchen stove and they got the coffee pot going. After the coffee was ready they sat at one of the tables. Sarah was holding Jennie in her arms.
“You can have a drink of whiskey if you want to,” she told him. “I don’t mind.”
“Coffee’s fine. I don’t drink a lot. I’ll have one once in a while but I don’t ever get drunk.”
“Ethan was like that.”
“You got any livestock on your farm?”
“We,” she corrected him, “have two milk cows. One is in. The other will come in late spring. Fresh milk keeps us healthy through the winter. There are two sows and one boar and we ought to get four litters of pigs next year. Ethan’s horse is a Hunter, good to saddle but not much of a cowpony. My horse, the one you saw in the stable, is broke to ride and pull the buggy. We have ten oxen to pull the plows Ethan bought in St. Louis two years ago.”
“The plows are the new four gang bottom plows. It takes four oxen to pull one of them. We use the two extras for rotation and in case one gets hurt or sick.”
“How much can they plow in a day?”
“You and Julius ought to be able to plow 25 acres a day.”
“That’s a pretty big operation.”
“Zed, it’s ours now.”
“Yeah. This is going take some getting used to.”
“You’ll do fine.” Then she smiled sweetly, “You’ll have me too.”
“Yeah,” he grinned. “I will.”
“Maude and I manage the household; the garden, the pigs, the chickens.”
He interrupted, “You’ve got chickens?”
“Yes, for eggs and meat.”
“I’d sure love some fried chicken. I ain’t had none since I got to Kansas.”
“We’ll celebrate and have fried chicken for supper tomorrow night.”
He looked at her, “I’m still scared I’ll wake up.”
“This isn’t a dream, Zed. It’s real. Be happy with me.”
They talked until it was time to feed Jennie again, making plans for their future. He was surprised to find out how much Sarah knew about farming and how quickly she was able to translate how long it would take and how much it would cost to do something. He mentioned maybe running a few cows on the fallow sections of the farm and she was quick to point out that in order to do it they’d need fences. Cattle could come after fences and fences came after the money and the time was available to build them.
“Zedekiah, we have a lot of work to do. But we can do it together and make something both of us will be proud of.”
He had married a woman with a dream.
At supper that night, Mrs. Morales watched them carefully to see how well they were getting along. She smiled to herself when she saw the affection they shared. She offered to care for Jennie to give them some private time together, but Sarah declined.
“We’re doing just fine. Zed holds Jennie like she’s going to break but we’re having a wonderful wedding day. But thank you so much for offering to help.”
Later, after Jennie was down for the evening, Zed had to leave the room to get some wood for the fire. When he returned, Sarah was waiting for him in bed. He fixed the fire and joined her. On that cold Christmas night their love was cemented forever.
So ended the most famous Christmas ever celebrated in Longford, Kansas.
The next day was Monday. Amos came in to check on them while they were having breakfast. “I thought you might want to settle up early and head on out.”
“Yeah, I do,” Zed replied.
After Sarah left to go upstairs and pack, Zed and Amos went to the hotel desk to go over the accounts.
“You and the missus getting along okay?” Amos wanted to know.
“Yeah. We’re just fine.”
Amos seemed to be relieved. “I’m glad it worked out. You going to settle up for her?”
“It won’t be so bad. She got here two days before you.”
“So she got here Thursday?”
Zed didn’t say anything.
“Zed, you’re the only one that went up to her room.”
Zed looked at him but still didn’t say anything.
Amos continued, “A cowpoke came in Thursday night and asked for a woman, but I didn’t like his looks and didn’t tell him about her. I knew you were a good, honest man. That’s why I told you.”
“Thanks for looking after her.”
“I’m glad it worked out. We was real upset about what she was trying to do and didn’t want nothing bad to happen to her. She’s a good woman, Zed.”
“She is a real good woman,” Zed agreed.
“If everybody tries, things work out for the best.”
“Well, it did this time. Worked out real good for me.”
After settling up, Zed gave him a tip for Mrs. Morales.
“Come back anytime, Zed. The missus and I’d like for you to visit us next time you’re in these parts.”
“We will. And thanks for all you done for us.”
“You’re welcome. Anything else I can do for you?’
“Yeah. She wants a wood house. I want you to order one of them precut houses from that outfit in Chicago.”
“Sears and Roebuck?”
“Yeah that’s it.” He reached into his pocket and removed a page torn from a catalog. “This is the one she wants.”
“I’ll order it tomorrow.”
Zed took six $100.00 bills and a $10.00 bill from his pocket and handed it to Amos.
Amos took the money and grinned, “Looks like she did okay for herself too.”
“Yeah, she can be a mighty persuasive woman when she wants to be,” he said with a sheepish smile.
Amos laughed, “You’re a good man, Zed. Remember to come and see us.”
Zed went upstairs to see how the packing was going. When he walked through the door he saw Sarah lay a pistol on top of her luggage. He picked it up and examined it.
“It’s loaded,” he observed.
“An unloaded gun is useless.”
“It’s a Colt Army .44.”
“I bought it when I went to Antietam to get Ethan.”
“Can you shoot it?”
“I can hit a playing card at 10 paces.”
Zed whistled. “I can’t do that.”
“What kind of gun do you have?”
“A Colt Navy.”
“That’s what I wanted but couldn’t find one.”
“You about packed?”
“Yes. I’ll be ready as soon as I dress Jennie.”
“I’ll get the horses and buggy then.”
“Don’t let Jake overcharge you for keeping Beauregard. He promised to board him for me for 25 cents a day.”
“Beauregard?” Zed laughed.
“It’s my horse’s name. What’s so damn funny about his name?”
“Sarah, you lost the war.”
“I can name my horse anything I want to.”
“Yeah, you can, Sarah.” He was still laughing. “He charged me 35 cents.”
She started laughing. “Guess what Ethan’s horse is named?”
He laughed and left for the stable thinking, “What a woman!”
Jake had already harnessed Beauregard to the buggy.
“You ought to have told me how mean the big black horse is.”
“I meant to last night but it slipped my mind.”
“When I tried to put the bridle on him he tried to bite me.”
“Yeah, he’s kind of mean to strangers.”
“Won’t nobody ever steal him for sure.”
“I’ll get him out. How much?”
“$1.45. Your missus drives a hard bargain.”
“She watches her money.”
“I hope you two have good luck. Ain’t many women like her in these parts for sure.”
The big black was happy to see Zed and in a few minutes he was saddled, bridled and tied to the back of the buggy. He didn’t like the looks of this and showed his displeasure by baring his teeth at Jake.
“You black scoundrel! It’s his doing, not mine.”
Zed laughed and got into the buggy and drove to the hotel.
“Good luck, buddy. Come back anytime,” Jake yelled as he left.
After tying Beauregard to the hitching rail in front of the saloon, he decided to get a jug of molasses and a new deck of cards for the boys in the line shack. He carried their luggage from the room and after everything was loaded, they were ready to go. Mrs. Morales and Mattie were there to see them off. They both hugged Sarah and Jennie and wished the new family Godspeed to their destination.
As they drove out of town several townspeople waved to them.
It was a bright, sunny day without a cloud in the sky. Beauregard was pulling them at a fast clip through the snow and the rough spots caused the buggy to bounce a lot.
“What’s your horse’s name?”
“He ain’t got a name. Everybody calls him the big black.”
“He is big and he is black. But it’s not very imaginative.”
“Sarah, what would you name him?”
She looked back at the unhappy horse tied to the buggy, “I think ‘Longstreet’ would be a good name for him. He doesn’t look very friendly.”
“Sarah, the war is over.”
She laughed, “Then ‘Longstreet’ is okay?”
“I didn’t say it was.”
“But it is okay?”
“Yeah, I guess so.” She had won again and he didn’t mind at all. They moved along at a good pace toward the line shack.
“How much money have you got?” he asked.
Her guard went up, “Why are you asking me that?”
“I just wanted to know if you had any money, Sarah.”
“Yes, I do.”
“Why do you want to know?”
“Sarah, I just thought I’d like to know. You know how much I have. I don’t have any special reason. I just thought I ought to know what our financial condition is like.”
“So you’re not going to draw any conclusions if I say I have $30.00?’
“Sarah, I know I was the only man that went to your room.”
“You do? How?”
“Amos told me.”
She looked relieved. “I’m glad he told you. He and Walter tried to talk me out of doing it.”
“Yeah, they told me they did.”
“Zed, you know just about everything there is to know about me don’t you?”
“Not by a long shot.”
“What did they think about us?”
“They were glad we worked things out the way we did.”
“Would you have believed me if I’d said you were the only one?”
“I love you, Zed.”
“I feel the same about you, Sarah.”
“I really have $893.87.”
“So between us we have almost $1800.00?”
“Yes. We have enough to plant the crop and leave a little cushion for a bad year.”
“You sure do have a head on your shoulders.”
“Thank you, Zedekiah.”
They rode in silence the remainder of the way to the line shack.
Smoke was coming from the chimney and the door was closed when they rolled into the yard of the line shack. Zed tethered the roan and helped Sarah down so she could stretch. He got the jug of molasses and deck of cards out of the buggy. When he walked through the door, Bob, Abe and Gilbert were playing cards at the table.
Abe looked up at him, “Well, well, here’s Zed back from Longford.” He pronounced it, “Looooong Fooooord”.
“How was Christmas in Longford?” Bob asked laughing.
“Was it better than Abilene?” Gilbert wanted to know.
“I thought it was.”
Abe saw the molasses jug, “You brought us some molasses?”
“Yeah, I got you a new deck of cards too.” He threw the deck on the table.
“Why, that’s mighty nice of you, Zed. What’d you do in Longford?” Gilbert asked.
“I got married.”
They stopped playing cards and stared at him. “You got married?” Abe asked incredulously.
“To a woman?” Bob wanted to know.
“Where is she?” Gilbert asked, not believing what he was hearing.
“Outside by the buggy.”
They jumped up from the table, throwing cards everywhere and dashed outside to see this miracle. When they emerged, Sarah had removed her hat and was shaking out her hair. They stopped about ten feet from Sarah and stood there a few seconds, staring at her.
Abe found his voice first, “Howdy, ma’am.”
“Hello, all of you,” Sarah replied.
Gilbert thought he heard a southern accent, “Would you mind saying what you said again, ma’am?”
Sarah laughed, “Hello, ya’ll.”
“Jesus Christ!” he yelled, “You’re a southern woman!”
“Yes, I am.”
“Zed, where’d you find yourself a southern belle?” Abe wanted to know.
“Ma’am, where are you really from?” Gilbert asked.
Sarah picked Jennie up from the buggy seat.
“She’s got a baby, Zed,” Bob observed.
“Yeah, she’s four months old.” Zed told them.
They gave Zed a questioning look.
“She was a widow woman.”
“Where’d you live, ma’am?” Abe asked.
“On a farm on Chapman Creek.”
“She’s a sodbuster,” Gilbert said to everybody.
Bob asked, “How big a place, ma’am?”
“You done got yourself a sodbuster wife, Zed, with a big place.” Abe observed.
“Yep. I came by to pick up the rest of my stuff.”
“So you’re going to go and live at her place?” Bob asked.
“Yep, she’s my wife.”
“Yeah, I reckon I’d do it too.”
“What about the calendar? Who’s going to mark the calendar with you gone?” Gilbert wanted to know.
“Abe’ll do it. Won’t you, Abe?”
“Yeah, I’ll do it,” Abe replied looking at Sarah.
“What about Mr. Dean?” Bob asked.
“I’ll help you run the horses back on the 15th of March and settle up with him then.”
“So, you’re going to quit being a cowpoke and farm?” Gilbert asked.
Gilbert thought about it for a few seconds, “Zed, you got a real good deal, I think.”
Abe and Bob nodded in agreement.
“And you got yourself a real fine southern woman for a wife,” he continued.
“Yep, I sure did.”
“You know me and Abe is real jealous about this.”
“I figured you would be, her being a fellow southerner and all.”
“But if any northerner got her, we’d rather it be you than anybody else we know.”
“You’re a good man, Zed. We hope you two have the best of luck.”
“Thanks. You too. You’ve been good buddies to me for a long time.”
Bob was choking up, “We’re going to miss you, Zed.” Then he said to Sarah, “You got yourself a real good man here, Mrs. Smith. And he’s a hardworking man too.”
“I know he is, Bob,” Sarah answered.
Zed moved toward the door of the shack, “I better get my stuff.”
“I’ll help you,” Abe volunteered.
They went inside the shack, leaving Bob and Gilbert with Sarah. Zed stuffed his clothes and other items into his duffel bag. He didn’t have much to pack. Abe picked up his rifle and the buffalo robe.
“You got yourself a real lucky break, Zed” Abe observed. “She’s a mighty fine looking woman.”
“Yeah, I sure did.”
When they got back to the buggy, Sarah, Bob and Gilbert were laughing and talking. After Zed’s gear was loaded on the buggy, he helped Sarah up to her seat, untied the roan and took his seat.
“If Mr. Dean comes by before March 15, tell him what I’ve done and tell him I’ll settle up with him when we take the horses back. Tell him I want to buy the big black from him. I’d like to work it out if he’d let me.”
“He ought to give the devil to you! Can’t nobody else do nothing with him anyway,” Bob said.
Gilbert had a request, “Zed, could we come and visit you sometime? We don’t want to be no trouble, but we’d sure like to talk to her some more.”
“Sure. All of you are welcome anytime.” Sarah smiled and nodded assent.
“Just hearing her talk makes us homesick.”
“Good luck boys,” Zed said and clucked to the horse.
“Good luck to you, Zed and to you, ma’am.”
Sarah smiled at them and waved goodbye as they drove away. The three men watched until they were out of sight.
Abe was the first to say anything.
“If that don’t beat the band.”
“Yeah, we ought to have gone to Longford with him,” Gilbert said.
“But who’d ever thought anything like that would happen in Longford?” Bob asked.
“There’s more to this than we know about. I wonder what the real story is?” Abe mused.
“It must have been the Christmas spirit. Zed sure got hisself one helluva present.”
“Amen, brother, amen to that!”
They turned to go back into the shack.
“Well, at least we got a new deck of cards and a jug of molasses out of this,” Bob remarked sarcastically as they went inside and closed the door.
A mile away the happy couple was cruising along in the snow. It was a perfect sunny day. She took his hand.
“I like my Christmas present, Zed.”
He grinned, “I like mine too, Sarah.”
We zoom up for a panoramic view. The snow covered Kansas plain stretches as far as the eye can see in every direction. Directly below we see a handsome high stepping horse pulling a buggy with a man and a woman in it. The woman is holding a little baby and the back of the buggy is loaded with baggage. A powerful long legged black horse is trotting behind the buggy. It is a timeless scene of poignant but stark beauty. It could be a scene on a prairie Christmas card. But the picture on the card wouldn’t come close to portraying the story that played out in Longford, Kansas on Christmas in 1869. The one that no one who was there would ever forget.
P.L. Almanza: From the Kitchen of P. L. Almanza; lives in Hamlet, North Carolina. She has been writing stories since she was four years old. Her first book, The East Side Killers came out in April 2014. Her cookbook, Family Meals and Desserts, came out in the summer of 2015. She is currently working on two new cookbooks
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: The First Christmas; 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 Yours
Rita Berman: Christmas Customs and Recipes; 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 Amazon.com 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: Finding Our Place in the Cosmos and Society; is a self-taught independent philosopher who is still learning. He has two books, both collections of essays, available on Amazon.com. His latest book, More Colors Through My Mental Prism is also available.
Brad Carver: Merry Christmas From Moccasin Gap; was a regular columnist. His book, Daddyhood, was published in 2007. Brad was a humorist, and friend who lived in Semora, North Carolina. This is a reprint from November 2012. He is now deceased and I still miss him.
Peggy Lovelace Ellis, Natters of a Nomad, has been a freelance editor for 46+ 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 (Chapel Hill Press, 2004), 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.
Diana Goldsmith: The Display; 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: Georgia and The Secret Ballot Extends Well Beyond Your Polling Place; 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 with his wife in Cary, North Carolina.
Sybil Austin Skakle: Oden Graveyard in December, Family Attitudes Toward Education and An Angel Unaware; 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: It’s Different Now: 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.
Ruth A. Whitsel: The Gift; Was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Graduated from Gettysburg College with a degree in English and Education and a master’s degree in Social Work from the University of North Carolina. A Certified Clinical Social Worker, she was employed for 25 years as a psychotherapist at the local Mental Health Center and in private practice. Served as an adjunct instructor, teaching clinical practice to graduate students placed at the clinic from the School of Social Work. In describing her childhood, she says she was raised by the movies. She loves to read. Writing memoirs is her weekly pleasure.
The Angel on Top of the Tree; 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