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October 2019


Copyright 2019 by the RPG Partnership

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1112 Rogers Road

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Thanks to all these talented writers who contribute to every issue of RPG Digest with such enthusiasm.  The Halloween scene below was done by Betsy Breedlove. She also furnished the scary cover photo.


Description: Description: Description: Betsy1.jpg



Watching October's Good-bye from my Kitchen Window by Sybil Austin Skakle. 3

October by E. B. Alston. 3

Dylan Thomas, a Welsh Poet by Rita Berman. 5

Fall Cleaning by Sybil Austin Skakle. 13

Natters of a Nomad by Peggy Ellis. 13

Agnes and the Halloween Hat by Ariana Mangum.. 15

Large and Small by Randy Bittle. 17

Punctuation is Powerful 20

Autumn Leaves by Laura Alston. 20

Death of a Cardinal by Sybil Austin Skakle. 21

Ruth’s Game by Howard A. Goodman. 21

A Mystery Solved by Diana Goldsmith. 23

Joy or Happiness by Tim Whealton. 25

Dancing by Marry Williamson. 26

Life Dissipating by Rebecca Berman Dunleavy. 28

Family Tree of Vincent Van Gogh. 29

Shadows by Sybil Austin Skakle. 29

The Life of Alexander by Plutarch. 31

We Are an Island by E. B. Alston. 35

Poker Advice by John Blackbridge. 37

Man Goes to a Therapist by Howard A. Goodman. 38

Another Serious Disease by E. B. Alston. 38

Sitting on the Front Porch by Brad Carver. 39

Hammer Spade and the Inca Curse - Seralized book by E. B. Alston. 41

A Beautiful Day by E. B. Alston. 47

From the Kitchen of P. L. Almanza. 50

Halloween Jokes. 51

Contributors. 53


Watching October's Good-bye from my Kitchen Window

Sybil Austin Skakle


Two golden-clad trees beyond my brown

leaf-covered lawn

Catch the sun and sing GLORY.

A dogwood tree, having touches of

red, watches the breezes shuffle

Dry leaves and laments the fading

Flowers and dormant bulbs

As earth prepares for its winter rest

So as to will have all tha is needed

for spring's blooming.



Gene Alston


Looking back over the years, I realized that October was usually a good month for me. I can’t say that I prefer any month. I’m glad I live in North Carolina where every month has a personality. It’s always summer in places like Florida. If the weather today extends into October, it will be a grand time.

My normal recreation from March until October was shooting in High Power Rifle matches. Some months I’d shoot two weekend matches and in late summer travel to Camp Perry, Ohio to compete in the National Championships for a week. I competed in matches from Florida to Maryland and Alabama once. I never won a big match but usually shot well enough to win awards for some stages. I won a bronze medal in the Long Range nationals where I shot a 199 with 9xs at 1,000 yards. But mostly, I had fun. After a tough week at work, it was very relaxing to shoot in competition.

The other big plus was all the friends I made in the process. I met what came to be some of my best friends at rifle matches.

One notable thing about that sport is honesty. At Camp Perry, there were over 700 competitors. We had to go to the pits to pull targets so half the competitors were off the firing line all the time. We left our rifles, shooting coats, spotting scope stool and ammo back behind the firing line while we pulled targets. I’m talking about a $2,500.00 rifle, a $1,500.00 spotting scope, a $400.00 shooting jacket and two-three hundred dollars worth of other accessories and ammunition. I don’t remember a single instance where anybody stole something.

From 1968 until 2012, this was my warm weather hobby. 

My fall and winter sport was quail hunting. Opening day for quail hunting season started the Saturday before Thanksgiving. It lasted until the end of February. I grew up around that sport. My father and three his brothers hunted quail. My Uncle Jack said quail hunting was the most fun a man could have with his clothes on. My sentiments exactly.

After I was out on my own, I got myself am English Pointer puppy and named him “Buckley,” after William F. Buckley, the editor of my favorite magazine, National Review.

As an aside, in the 1970s, I went to New York on phone company business. I called Mr. Buckley’s office. His secretary answered and said he was away from his office. I told her that I had named my bird dog after Mr. Buckley and he was as good at finding quail as Mr. Buckley was in his writing. She laughed and said that she would certainly pass this on to Mr. Buckley. I gave her my phone number, but he never called me.

Buckley turned out to be a great bird dog, in spite of my clumsy training. In some aspects, he taught me a few things about finding quail. When Buckley died, after hunting all over eastern North Carolina for 15 years, I bought Zak, another pointer. Tom Pearson, who also worked at the phone company, said that Zak was smart enough to work in the PBX department at the phone company. Over the years I owned several fine quail hunting dogs. The last one was Fred. He developed hip dysplasia. I had to put him to sleep. I didn’t replace him because by then, 2005, there were no more quail to hunt in North Carolina.

Randy Guthrie once remarked that it was a shame that our canine quail hunting companions didn’t live as long as we did because it was so hard when they passed on to bird dog heaven. 

When I lived in Jacksonville, I occasionally quail hunted with a neighbor. At the time, I didn’t have bird dogs of my own and could only go when invited. One Saturday, we hunted on a big farm southwest of Richlands. I don’t remember the owner’s name but he was going to hunt with us and invited us to breakfast.

I grew up on country breakfasts with eggs, bacon, sausage and ham, gravy, biscuits, molasses and homemade jam. To this day, breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. I had an uncle with a big family and their breakfast consisted of all the above every day.

Our host went one better. We had fried eggs, homemade bread, biscuits, pancakes, fried shad, shad roe, link sausage, country ham, Karo syrup, molasses and blackberry jam.

He served us lunch, too. In comparison to breakfast, lunch was a modest affair with black-eyed peas, cornbread and, in a culinary contrast of epic proportions, oyster fritters. The fritters were prepared using the famous River Forest Manor (Belhaven) oyster fritter recipe. I embarrassed myself over the oyster fritters.

Unfortunately, the eating was better than the hunting. The dogs were careless in the morning and flushed three huge coveys way ahead of us. Then the dogs settled down and found four coveys but we couldn’t hit anything. The flushed quail flew into a swamp where they were safe from any kind of human molestation.

Between breakfast and lunch, the score was quail about 140 and hunters zero.

The dogs didn’t flush any birds wild that afternoon. They didn’t find any either until just before 3 o’clock in the afternoon when the youngest dog pointed in the middle of a hayfield fifty yards from the brushy edge. We lined up, expecting a big covey to flush and an opportunity to make up for our poor marksmanship that morning.

One measly bird flew out. We didn’t shoot at once expecting the rest of the covey to follow and, by the time we figured out that was the only bird, my friend made a long shot. The bird fluttered down at the edge of the border of the field.

The old dog found the bird, caught it and brought it to his master. When his master reached to take the bird from the dog, the dog opened his mouth and the bird flew back into the thicket.

Bird dogs can, and do, get disgusted and I’m sure that dog was. Since we couldn’t hit anything, he caught one so we wouldn’t have to go home empty-handed and we were too incompetent to manage even that.

We started laughing. We ought to have had our limit by then, but we were such poor hunters that we couldn’t even keep a quail that the dog caught and brought to us.

We decided it was not our day to hunt and went home.


Dylan Thomas, A Welsh Poet

Rita Berman


Dylan Thomas was an exciting poet in the twentieth century because his language was brilliantly rich according to Paul Ferris who published a biography of Thomas in 1989.

Thomas was born October 27, 1914 in Swansea, Wales, and died November 9, 1953 in New York. He used to great effect, the rich resonance of his “Welsh-singing” voice and this led him to reading other poets‘ work as well his own on the BBC’s Third Program.  His popularity spread to the Unites States and in 1950, 1952, and 1953 he gave reading of his own and other poets.

Thomas poured the cries of the birds, the heron by the river, and life in Wales into his poems and short stories. In 1959 I bought a copy of his Collected Poems and almost 40 years later went to Laugharne, Wales where he had lived and worked. I stayed for a week tracing the source of his poems and later in this article will describe what I saw.

He began writing poetry as a child, possibly even before he was ten years old. Of these early works his mother said she kept a lot of them for a long time “and then I burnt them. But they were clever little things.”

In his mid-teens he wrote his poems in exercise books.  The State University of New York at Buffalo owns four of these books having, according to reports, bought them for a few pounds one day when Thomas was more than usually hard up.

In Caitlin Thomas’s memoir, Life With Dylan Thomas, published in 1987, she wrote that in the early part of the Second World War Dylan wasn’t desperate for money because he had landed a job which brought in regular income, but he had sold the exercise books to a London bookseller because after mining them constantly during the late Thirties, reworking some of the poems, he later felt he no longer needed them for inspiration. The bookseller in turn sold the exercise books to the University.  

Between the ages of 16 and 19 Thomas produced well over 200 poems. Some of these included the first versions of poems such as “The Hunchback in the Park,” “After the Funeral,” and “I See the Boys of Summer”.

By the time he was 17 he had left school and was working as a reporter for the South Wales Daily Post in Swansea. He was also drinking and writing about it. He was still living in the house where he was born.

In his book Portrait of An Artist as a Young Dog, Thomas wrote, “I liked the taste of beer, its live, white lather, its brass-bright depths, the sudden world through the wet-brown walls of the glass, the tilted rush to the lips and the slow swallowing down to the lapping belly, the salt on the tongue, the foam at the corners.”  Drinking turned out to be his downfall.

In his short working life Thomas progressed from being a reporter to writing more poetry, short stories, documentary film scripts, a radio play, and reading poetry, as well as broadcasting autobiographical essays on the BBC. When reading poetry, he would thunder, roll and caress the words. 

Thomas was 18 in 1936 when he met his future wife Caitlin MacNamara, in a pub in London. Caitlin wrote that when she met Dylan she thought he was fairly innocent. Caitlin had been in love with Casper John but nothing had come of it.  Instead, it was his father, Augustus John the Bohemian artist, who took her virginity when she modeled for him. Caitlin and Dylan were immediately attracted to each other and a few weeks later they both accepted an invitation to visit novelist Richard Hughes who lived in a house beside the ruined castle of Laugharne.  Laugharne is a small Welsh village on the coast some 30 miles west of Swansea. 

In the spring of 1937 Caitlin and Dylan met again and soon slipped into a life revolving around the pubs, living with each other like nomads in the homes of various friends.  They got married on July 11 1937 in Cornwall; a friend Wyn Henderson paid for the marriage license as they had spent their wedding money on drink.

In the early days they were poor but happy. They went for walks on the cliffs and country lanes and Dylan was writing well. For the first few months they lived with his parents and although they made her welcome it was not the kind of house, place, and attitude that she liked, petty wrangling about pennies and nagging about dust.  As a freethinking Bohemian dancer, she said she never bothered about neatness and tidiness. 

They then went to live with her mother for about six months. She had an extensive library, and Dylan made use of it. In a letter to his friend Vernon Watkins he wrote: “I’ve read two dozen thrillers, the whole of Jane Austen….a book of Turgenev, three lines of Gertrude Stein….”

Sometime in 1938 they moved to Laugharne and lived in several rented houses.  The first in Gosport Street was described as an ugly, furnished fisherman’s cottage that was primitive and barely habitable, the only nice thing about it was it had a long narrow garden, almost down to the estuary. Caitlin recalled she used to go there for a swim whenever she felt in need of a bath, or when Dylan was working on the table in the parlor.

By now he had established himself as a poet of some importance. Two volumes of work had appeared, one titled 18 Poems, in 1934 and the other in 1936 was called Twenty-five Poems.  His work was also being published in literary magazines of that period such as New Verse, Adelphi, Contemporary Poetry and Prose and Criterion.

“Often he would only get two to three pounds for a poem that might have taken him weeks to perfect,” said Caitlin.  But he wanted to write and knew that was all he could do.  For him, being a poet was working. He did not want a humdrum job in an office he told her.  When he had money he would give her some; he wasn’t stingy, just careless.  Any money of his own went on drink and this was something he never regretted.

They went up to London at times and Dylan was introduced to famous people like T. S. Eliot, Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell, and Edith Sitwell. But he found the city held too many distractions for him and he was unable to write when there.

With their first child, Llewelyn, they moved into another house in Laugharne, called Sea View, which Dylan described as a “tall and dignified house at the posh end of town.”  Caitlin wrote that they paid seven shillings and sixpence a week for rent and only used two out of the eight rooms until an aunt died and her furniture was sent to them.  They lived there for two years.

Dylan wrote in the afternoons, spending his mornings and evenings at Brown’s Hotel. Occasionally he would sell a poem or a short story and sometimes her mother sent them money but mostly they lived on credit.

In a letter to his friend Vernon Watkins, who he had known since his Swansea days, he wrote that he loved living in Laugharne, “beyond all places in Wales, and have longed for years to writing something about it.”

And so he did.  In his book, Quite Early One Morning” an essay begins “Off and on, up and down, high and dry, man and boy, I’ve been living now for fifteen years, or centuries in this timeless, beautiful town. Some, like myself, just came on day, for the day, and never left; got off the bus and forgot to get on again.”

Sea View bordered the grounds of Laugharne Castle. In 1941, Richard Hughes, who befriended Dylan and Caitlin, lived in a house next to the ruins of Laugharne Castle and he allowed Dylan the use of the gazebo about which he commented, “I have the romantic dirty summerhouse looking over the marsh to write in, and Caitlin an almost empty, huge room to dance in.”

Repeatedly, he wrote about what he knew, and what he loved, and his sense of place in Wales, above all in Laugharne. It was here that he wrote Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog (1955). This is a collection of autobiographic stories and humorous essays.  However, they were more in debt than ever for the literary magazines that he wrote for had closed down during the war.   He went for an army medical but was turned town, because he had a hangover and fainted according to Caitlin.

Although he was known for his poetry and readings, I found Thomas’s prose to be entertaining reading.  He writes in a conversational tone and is highly descriptive.  Here is an example from a piece called Reminiscences of Childhood, written in 1943.

“I like very much people telling me about their childhood, but they’ll have to be quick or else I’ll be telling them about mine.  I was born in a large Welsh town at the beginning of the Great War – an ugly, lovely town (or so it wand is to me) crawling, sprawling by a long and splendid curving shore where truant boys and sand field boys and old men from nowhere, beach combed, idled, and paddled…”

The words just roll over you.  Another of Thomas’s prose, is the highly popular work, “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” full of descriptions that appeal to every sense.  It begins: “One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve, or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.”

Because of debts, they left Laugharne and again stayed with friends and family.  According to Caitlin this was the time when he started going off with women more or less regularly, and drinking more heavily than he had ever done. His physical appearance changed; he became fat and flabby and by the end of the war he looked very debauched.

Eventually they returned to Laugharne and lived in a house named the Boat House from 1949 to 1953.  This house had been bought for Dylan Thomas by his patroness Mrs. Margaret Taylor and she arranged for water and electricity to be installed.

Caitlin thought that Margaret Taylor was besotted with Dylan because he was a poet and was attracted by his fame and talent.  While he accepted her generosity it was unlikely that he slept with Taylor because he would shudder whenever Caitlin brought this up.  However, Taylor’s involvement with him, the financial help and friendship, led to the breakup of her marriage. By this time Caitlin was seven months pregnant and already had two children, Llewellyn born in January 1939, and Aeronwy born in March 1943. 

Dylan Thomas rented a house on the main street for his parents.  It was called “The Pelican” and was almost opposite the Brown’s Hotel so he fell back into his old way of life very happily; pottering around the town in the mornings, calling in to see his father and then went over to Brown’s Hotel for drinks.

His poem “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” was written towards the end of Dylan’s father’s life, when he was very ill. Here are a couple of the verses.


Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.


On the 24th July 1949 Caitlin gave birth to their third child, and they gave the boy an Irish name, Colm.

During this period he was commissioned to write more books and scripts than he could ever produce.  His work area was a converted garage, located a hundred yards from the house that had belonged to Dr. Cowan, the owner of the first car in Laugharne. Here Thomas completed six radio broadcasts, and put the final touches to several of his most significant poems, as well as making progress on Under Milk Wood.

He did some work for the BBC, reading his own poems, and discussing the work of American poets.  “Poetry is the most rewarding work in the world,” he said.  “A good poem is a contribution to reality.  The world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it.”

In her memoir, My Father’s Places, (2009) Aeronwy recalled that she always knew when her father was working or reading. “If you passed and heard nothing he was reading, for as soon as he picked up his fountain pen he spoke every word out loud.  For him, the sound of the words was integral to the poem.” 

Caitlin said, “Dylan may have been dissipated in his drinking and his sexual affairs, but there was nothing dissipated in his poetry. With his poetry he was very self-disciplined. He would go off to work in the shed.  I used to go out along the cliff with the children, and we would tiptoe past the shed as we heard his voice, booming, muttering and mumbling as he wrestled with each word.”

He would spend a long time thinking about a new poem before starting to write and then he worked slowly, experimenting with a single phrase, writing it a hundred different ways before he was content.  After finishing the revision of a poem and making a fresh copy, he would turn the discarded bits into tight rolls, and by the end of the afternoon the floor would be covered with tightly rolled pieces of paper.  He disliked typewriters and got other people to type copies when it was necessary.


Invited to give readings in the United States


John Malcolm Brinnin was a poet and academic in the United States who admired Thomas’s poetry.  In the early 1950’s he was director of the Poetry Center at the 92nd Street Y in New York City.  He invited Thomas to come to the States to give a reading. Thomas accepted the invitation and more than a thousand people came to his first reading at the Poetry Center.  The auditorium was overflowing.

Thomas then did a cross-country tour of 40 universities that was arranged by John Brinnin.  Something that had never been done before by any other British poet. Sales of his books soared.

Dylan had written to Caitlin that when he stayed in Manhattan he was surrounded by skyscrapers infinitely taller and stranger than ever known from the pictures.  As for the noise from lorries, police-cars, fire brigades, and ambulances, it was all day and night and without some drug he couldn’t sleep at all.

When he returned to Laugharne he was enormously stimulated but he was also so tired he could hardly talk or walk, according to Caitlin. And he came back with very little money. “He had one hell of a good time, as well as giving all those lectures and readings.  He had also done some rather scandalous things, although I didn’t know it then,” she said. “In America they make too much fuss of poets; in London they make too little.”

When he went on a second tour of America Caitlin accompanied him and this was a great mistake.  “The fights we had in America were no worse than the ones we had in Laugharne, but they were on a bigger scale and much more public,” she wrote.  Also the parties never seemed to end.

Dylan, however, was in his seventh heaven, because girls would go backstage after he had given a reading, and he would sit there on a stool holding court.  At the Poetry Center Caitlin saw Dylan on stage and they clustered around him like they did later with pop stars.  She didn’t like this and stayed in New York while he traveled around the country to give his readings.    

They wound up the tour, short of money, with a holiday in Arizona with the painter Max Ernst and Dorothea Fanning.  “Those were bleak days,” she wrote, “we could hardly live without drink but I do remember the barren beauty of the Arizona landscape with the eucalyptus trees and the river.”

After that second tour Thomas then settled down to write, Under Milk Wood, which he had been turning over in his mind for about ten years. When he lived in New Quay, another town perched on a cliffside above the sea, he had first created Under Milk Wood as a radio talk called Quite Early One Morning.  This is one of his most famous pieces.  It portrays the lives of people living in Llareggub, a small seaside town. Reading the name backwards it is called Buggerall.

Even though he was busy with Under Milk Wood, as well as readings on the BBC, press interviews, and republishing earlier works, Thomas was still in trouble financially, in debt to the Inland Revenue and others.  His cough, that he had for years, got worse, “with the drink and the cigarettes,” said Caitlin. She wondered if Laugharne being damp in autumn and winter was the wrong place for someone with a cough. Dylan hardly ever went to see a doctor.

Chronically short of money Dylan Thomas went back to America in April 1953 for a third tour that lasted six weeks. That was when he started his affair with Elizabeth Reitell, Brinnin’s assistant.  Caitlin was furious when she heard he was planning to go back to New York for a fourth tour later that year in October. He had received a huge tax bill from the Inland Revenue and said with that tour he could make enough money to pay off his debts.

By that time she was suspicious about his infidelities and felt their marriage was in trouble – but she didn’t know that Dylan was having an affair with Elizabeth Reitell. 

On October 19, 1953, he returned to the United States for his fourth reading tour.  He celebrated his 39th birthday on October 27, in New York and though he had been warned to abstain from drinking if he was to survive, he drank so much that he had to leave the birthday party.

However he recovered sufficiently he recovered sufficiently by Thursday, October 29, 1953 to travel by subway to uptown Manhattan to give a public reading of poems at lunchtime at the City College of New York (the proletarian Harvard was his description). He used the subway because he was conserving money so that he would have something to take back to Laugharne. This reading turned out to be his last public engagement.

A personal friend of mine, Wally Friedman, was one of the students at City College who sat in the front row and saw and heard Thomas present that last poetry reading. In 2011 When Wally learned I was preparing a lecture on Dylan Thomas for Shared Learning of Chapel Hill he came to my class on June 5, 2011 and shared his first-hand experience with the participants.

Wally said Dylan’s voice was impressive, even if he couldn’t understand the words that he was using.  After the lecture Wally heard another student say, “I was touched deep in my heart by the poetry, not in my head.” 

Wally recalled that at the end of the reading on October 29, Thomas was given some money and then moved to a nearby restaurant with a small party from the college where they drank beer. He did not appear to be in any distress at that time.

After the poetry lecture, and the following day Thomas is said to have spent time with Elizabeth Reitell and one other woman.  He also attended parties and by Saturday night was drinking heavily.  He was in bad shape by Tuesday November 3 and supposedly left Reitell’s apartment at 2 a.m. When he returned he is reported to have said, “I’ve had eighteen straight whiskies. I think that’s the record.” Thomas then told Reitell, “I love you, but I’m alone,” and fell asleep.  When two of his friends later retraced his steps for that night and spoke to the barman where he had been drinking at the White House pub, they were told he had nothing like that many. 

Caitlin Thomas disputes that he had drunk as many as 18 whiskies because he would often boast about his drinking as a way of trying to impress.  His biographer, Paul Ferris had pointed out that “in Cornwall in 1937 Thomas had boasted that he had drunk 40 pints of beer, an unlikely feat.”  

No matter the number of whiskies by November 4 he became unconscious and was taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital in a coma on November 5th. Wikipedia reports that the medical notes indicated “upon admission the impression was acute alcoholic encephalopathy damage to the brain by alcohol, for which the patient was treated without response.”

Caitlin was in the audience of the school hall in Laugharne listening to a pre-recorded talk by Dylan when she was given a telegram saying he was hospitalized. She didn’t know he was seriously ill but flew to New York a couple of days later. She drank a lot of whiskies on the plane and then was given a motor-cycle escort to the hospital where she created a scene when she saw Dylan lying on the hospital bed. A tracheotomy had been performed on him.  She rolled on top of him trying to give him a hug.

The nurse pulled her off saying she would suffocate him.  Soon after that she left the room.  In the passage she saw crowds of people looking through the glass partition into his room and then “it suddenly hit me,” she wrote.

“I started banging my head against the glass partition, as hard as I could, and then they dragged me away….The little men in white coats came along,, and they strapped me into a strait-jacket, terribly tight, then they took me to the asylum at Bellevue, where I was left all night, tied up in the strait-jacket, lying on the bed.”

Other reports say she was taken to a private psychiatric detox clinic on Long Island and kept there several days during which time Dylan Thomas died on November 9, 1953 while being washed.  Caitlin was eventually released to the custody of her friend Rose Slivka.

According to Caitlin’s account she wasn’t given his medical records and didn’t know how he had died but she heard that the doctor gave him two injections of cortisone and some other barbiturates followed by half a grain of morphine.

Wikipedia presents more details about Thomas’s death indicating that “Thomas had been suffering from bronchitis and pneumonia, as well as emphysema, immediately before his death. At the post-mortem, the pathologist found three causes of death – pneumonia, brain swelling and a fatty liver. Despite the poet’s heavy drinking, his liver showed no sign of cirrhosis.”

Caitlin fussed and got permission to take his body back to Laugharne by ship, on the SS United States. According to her, she was unable to get a private cabin but had to share with a room-mate.  Again she got drunk and the Captain had her moved to a bunk in the hold.  Next to her was Dylan’s coffin she wrote.

I found her book on life with Dylan to be highly interesting because it gave a different impression than that of his biographers.  She presented the domestic side of the poet, and there was much of herself and her attitude towards life in it.  Somewhat hysterical in tone, and possible exaggerating. By her own account she was a violent woman, had drunken sex with men she picked up only to take revenge on Dylan for his womanizing.

In spite of it all she said she loved him, but as a child not a man. He wrote her loving letters even while he was having affairs with the American women who threw themselves at him, sent him flowers, and pursued him.

Shortly after Dylan’s death she left the Boat House to live on the island of Elba, where she wrote her first book. Left Over Life to Kill, an account of her life with Dylan, it was published in 1957. For 20 years after his death she suffered from alcoholism and eventually jointed Alcoholics Anonymous.

She lived with Giuseppe Fazio, an actor and assistant film director for more than 30 years and gave birth to a son, Francesco, born March 29, 1963, when she was 49.  Caitlin Thomas died in Sicily on July 31, 1994. She was buried next to Dylan at St. Martins Churchyard, Laugharne.

Dylan’s father had died earlier and his mother moved into the Boat House and lived there for the last five years of her life. Margaret Taylor still owned the house and it was let out for holidays and short term rentals after she died.  Nine years later it was put in trust for Caitlin and the children. Visitors streamed to the area and the cliff path was named Dylan’s Walk in 1963.

The house was sold at auction ten years later and a charity trust turned it into a memorial to Thomas. Eventually it was sold to the Carmarthen District Council who did renovations and turned it into a tourist attraction.

Under Milkwood was made into a movie in 1972 starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.  Taylor played only a small part in the movie. She had only a couple of scenes and the director complained that she kept the crew waiting while she made herself up. When she arrived on the set she looked like Cleopatra, not a Welsh farm girl, according to the director. She never spoke to him again after that movie.)  


I visited Laugharne


For many years my visits to England had included a literary pilgrimage to a museum of home of some famous writer.   In the spring of 1998 I arranged for a timeshare exchange and persuaded one of my friends to drive us from the south of England to Wales, to Laugharne.

We spent a week there seeing the area where he had lived, and I took photos of the grave in St. Martin’s churchyard St. Martins Church where Dylan Thomas and Caitlin are buried.  It’s a simple grave, with only a plain white cross marking it, surrounded by headstones on other graves.

I wanted to see for myself where Dylan Thomas had lived and worked, as well as the various houses that he mentioned in his works.  Most meaningful to me was that I saw the actual source of his poems and prose, the marsh, the salty sea, and the village of Laugharne.

We stayed in a lodge a few yards from the Boat House, overlooking the estuary where three rivers meet in tidal flats and sandbanks. Seagulls hovered in the air. From here I had a clear view of the changing scene that occurred when the tide swirled in, slowly at first, then gathering speed so that within about thirty minutes the fields that had looked like patchwork quilts separated by hedge rows were completely covered by water.

Thomas had called the fields, “the water-lidded lands”. When the tide seeped out the mud flats, and grassy areas were again exposed.  Laugharne is composed of two parts, an “up street” and a “down street.”   Up street is the area between the church and Laugharne Castle, where most of the best buildings are to be found, while “down” street has small cottages and a few merchant homes dating back to the days when it was a busy little port.

The dramatic-looking castle was one of a string of fortresses guarding the south Wales coast. The castle has undergone extensive renovation and excavation and is open to the public.

There is a footpath from the Strand Parking lot that leads to the Boat House on the riverbank, but it is accessible only at certain times of the day because of the tide. We took the longer route from the town center along Market Lane to Dylan’s Walk that gave us superb views of the estuary.

When I stood on the pathway and looked down at the three-storey Boat House it did appear to be perched precariously on the cliff edge, I saw what Thomas meant when he called it “a sea shaken house on a breakneck of rocks.”

The Boat House is now a historic site. The top floor of the house which was the bedroom area has been turned into a viewing room offering an audio visual presentation of Thomas’s work and history.

I saw some of the original furnishing and various memorabilia, including letters from President Jimmy Carter and others praising Thomas’s work.  A short distance from the house, along the lane called Dylan’s Walk, I came to his writing shed that he also called a shack or a hut. About nine feet square it has a small stove for heating, and a large window that overlooks the estuary on the east.  Another window on the south offers a view of the village, castle, and further St. John’s Hill.

Looking through the window I saw it was furnished with a bare wooden table and wooden chair. Scraps of paper were rolled up and scattered on the floor, no doubt to simulate the many attempts he made to get the exact word.  It occurred to me that in spite of the cold and lack of comfort it had been Thomas’s room of his own, where he could muse on light and shadow, sea and birds, away from the distraction of family, children and chores.





1.     Rita Berman outside Dylan Thomas’s writing shed. Photographer: Peter Mutton.

2.     Dylan Thomas’s writing shed, interior. Photographer: Rita Berman.

3.     The Boat House, Laugharne. Photographer: Rita Berman.

4.     Dylan Thomas’s grave. St. Martins Church. Photographer: Rita Berman

       View of Taf estuary. Photographer: Peter Mutton


Fall Cleaning

Sybil Austin Skakle


wind shaking golden

leaf carpets on an autumn

morn before winter


 Natters of a Nomad

Peggy Lovelace Ellis


According to our onboard historian, Heidelberg is the warmest place on the Rhine. I can’t vouch for that because our day there was cold and rainy. We learned early in our travels not to let weather hinder our sightseeing. Heidelberg’s first claim to fame is the castle, which is a pivotal location of life in Heidelberg for both residents and university students. (The second is the university.)

There is no documented proof for the claim that Heidelberg castle was once called the Jettenbühl. The name “Jettenbühl” comes from the soothsayer Jetta, who was said to have lived there. She is also associated with Wolfsbrunnen (Wolf's Spring) and the Heidenloch (Heathens' Well). The similar spelling of the latter gives some credibility to the claim. The first mention of a castle in Heidelberg is in 1214.

The sandstone-colored ruins, consisting of several buildings surrounded by beautiful gardens, are among the most important Renaissance structures north of the Alps. The castle is on a natural terrace on the steep hillside above the town. The history of Heidelberg Castle is a cycle of construction and destruction.

The documented history of construction indicates it began in the 15th century. At that time, palaces were also fortresses for defense as seen today in the towers destroyed during one of several wars. However, some scholars believe the first foundations originated in the 11th century, divided into two separate complexes, an ‘upper’ castle and a ‘lower’ castle. The little available archaeological evidence indicates they were simple, defensive structures, not a comfortable residence. The first mention of two castles was in 1303. The last mention of a single castle is in 1294, indicating there had been more than one at some point.

Fire from a lightning strike in 1537 destroyed the higher castle. The lower castle is the site of the ruins today. The upper structure was never rebuilt, according to our historian, because the then owner chose to build a castle in nearby Manheim. (I didn’t find documented evidence.) Villagers later used the stones, wood, and iron to build their homes. (The Manheim castle, which we also visited, bears no resemblance to castle rs.)

The present structures had been expanded by 1650, before damage by later wars and fires. In 1764, another lightning bolt caused a fire which destroyed some rebuilt sections. The castle has been partially rebuilt since its demolition in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The given reason for not rebuilding the castle was a committee report that, while a complete or partial rebuilding of the castle was not possible, it was possible to preserve it in its current condition. Only one building, whose interiors were fire damaged, but not ruined, would be restored. This reconstruction was done from 1897 to 1900.

The oldest description of Heidelberg, from 1465, mentions that the city is “frequented by strangers,” but it did not really become a tourist attraction until the beginning of the 19th century. Tourism received a big boost when Heidelberg was connected to the railway network in 1840. Heidelberg has, in the years of the 21st century, more than three million visitors a year, and about one million overnight stays. Most of the foreign visitors come either from the USA or Japan.

Okay, that’s enough history, interesting though it is. Here are some stories that keep the tourism trade high.

The first story is the one people want to believe most.

Legend says the castle will be handed to any individual who manages to bite through the iron ring doorknocker on the third wooden door to the residential courtyard. Apparently, a witch managed to sink her fangs some distance into the ring, but failed to bite through it completely and put a hex on it.

One of the castle’s other claims to fame is that it is home to the world’s largest wine barrel, so huge that it took 130 trunks of oak to make it. It holds 58,140 gallons of wine and has a dance floor on top of it. The story goes that an entire orchestra was smuggled into the barrel and sat patiently until the end of a banquet, when they burst into music. The sudden huge echo throughout the barrel achieved the intended effect of surprising the people. The story goes the court jester who guarded the cask was known for his ability to drink large quantities of wine. He died when he mistakenly drank a glass of water.

Two United States citizens of renown have a connection to the Heidelberg Castles.

Mark Twain visited the castle and later wrote about it in his 1880, “A Tramp Abroad.” In a lengthy quote about the wine barrel, he ended with this statement: “An empty cask the size of a cathedral could excite but little emotion in me.”

President Thomas Jefferson, a wine connoisseur, visited various places along the Rhine River, including the Heidelberg Castle. He naturally was interested in the huge wine barrel. He measured it and estimated it would hold 280,000 bottles of wine. The onboard historian said he had heard that President Jefferson commented the barrel with its dance floor top is large enough for several couples to dance. The historian further said he hadn’t been able to find it on the internet. I couldn’t either. If you do, please let me know! In any event, there is a staircase to the top and couples have danced on it in recent times.

For the record, my husband and I kept our feet solidly on the floor.

From the castle, which studies show has been in use consistently (not necessarily constantly) through the centuries, I turn now to a castle that has never been in use since the French troops devastated it during the Siege of Mainz in 1689.


§ § §


There is scanty documented history of the ruins of Ehrenfels Castle located above the town of Rüdesheim.

The generally held belief is that around the year 1220, the Archbishop of Mainz ordered the construction of a castle on the site of an earlier fortress and used the imposing buildings to control trade on the Rhine and the resulting tolls. In this, the archbishop had the help of the nearby Maus (Mouse) tower. Its strategically important position led to fierce battles during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) before being devastated by French troops during the 1689 Siege of Mainz. Afterwards the remains of Ehrenfels Castle were left to fall into decay.

At the beginning of the 1990s, the land of Hesse, being the current owner of the ruins of Ehrenfels Castle, made funds for renovation available, saving the castle ruins from a fate of unabated decay. Yet I found no record that renovation took place.

The castle is famous for having held the Cathedral Treasures of Mainz in 1374 as well as the election of the Archbishop of Mainz, Konrad II. Today, its claim to fame is the grape variety, Ehrenfelser, named for the castle.

This concludes my series on the Upper Middle Rhine Valley castles. As I said at the beginning, our Viking Rhine River cruise is the one I treasure in memories. I highly recommend it to anyone considering a riverboat cruise.


Next month, I will review two statues overlooking the Rhine, Lorelie and Germania.



Agnes and the Halloween Hat

Ariana Mangum


Mrs. Mangum greeted Agnes as she arrived for the Book Club meeting. “What a silly purple hat!” gasped Agnes, seeing it by the front door. “Where did you get it?”

“My sister brought it to me, with purple tights to match,” Mrs. Mangum replied.

“May I borrow it?” Agnes asked, taking it off the head of the statue of Mona Lisa, which belonged to Mrs. Mangum's mother-in-law. “May I use the tights, as well?”

At the end of the meeting, Mrs. Mangum found the tights for her. “Here they are. The hat is still by the front door.”

“They will be more appropriate on me,” cried Agnes, excited at the prospect of wearing them. “The hat is perfect for Halloween. I'll outshine everyone else at the party, especially with the purple tights.”

Gathering up her coat and taking the hat and the tights, she left Mrs. Mangum's house with her cousin Sally without another word.

“I must go,” Sally apologized. “Agnes won’t stop until she's tried on those tights.”

“That's all right,” said Mrs. Mangum. “Thank you for coming. I hope she enjoys wearing them.”

“This hat is wonderful, with its purple tower and its veil.” Agnes said. “I'll be the belle of the ball. The purple tights will make the outfit. How wonderful!”

“Don't let your dog, Cookie, get ahold of it. She'll ruin it,” Sally reminded her. “Keep it up and away from her.”

“I wouldn't do such a stupid thing. Surely you don't think I have so little sense.” Agnes felt cross. “You worry too much. Of course I won't let anything happen to such a wonderful outfit.

“I plan to wear it on Halloween night,” Agnes explained as they drove, tenderly holding the hat to keep it from harm. “I'm invited to an important party.”

A half hour later, Agnes entered Sally's house and laid her things on a chair. She looked again at the hat with its purple velvet veil. “It's gorgeous,” she whispered. “I'll be the Belle of Halloween.”

“Would you like a cup of coffee?” Sally offered.

“That would be nice.” Agnes laid her handbag in a chair, along with the hat and tights.

Sally had a big tabby cat named Lucy, who had endless curiosity. She loved to poke into bundles and open packages to see if there were anything to eat. Lucy found the hat intriguing and sniffed it. She overlooked the tights because they were wrapped up and didn’t seem interesting. The velvet tower with its veil, however, was a grand plaything.

When Agnes turned her back on Lucy to chat with Sally as she made their refreshment, the big tabby began to play with her discovery and soon caught her claws in the net’s velvety thread. “Meow, meow,” she cried as she entangled herself and tore at the veil.

“Oh, no! Oh, my!” cried Sally, catching Lucy at her games upon her return to the room. “You naughty cat! Look at what you've done!”

Agnes was stunned. “How could you have allowed Lucy to ruin my Halloween hat?” she cried. “Look, it's ruined!”

“We'll take it to Miss Sue at Miller and Rhoads. She'll soon sort it out,” Sally replied hopefully.

“It'll cost the earth! How could you allow Lucy to make such a mess? It looks like mass destruction!”

“I'm sorry, Agnes, but I'll take the hat to Miss Sue, and she’ll repair it for you.” Sally picked up the damaged hat. It looked limp and bedraggled. The veil was ripped, and the purple velvet was wet from the cat's mouth.

“It's ruined—ruined,” wailed Agnes. “There’s no hope for it!” She burst into tears. Her Halloween joy of wearing her unusual hat was dashed.

Agnes felt crushed and betrayed. “Get out of here!” She sent Lucy scampering onto the floor and out of the back window into the garden.

“Meow, meow,” Lucy protested as she escaped from Agnes’s slap.

Sally picked up the velvet bundle and hoped Miss Sue could work some minor miracle to repair it.

When Agnes and Sally took it to her the following afternoon, Miss Sue appeared reluctant to work on it. “It's a costume and not a real hat,” she objected. But upon closer inspection, Miss Sue announced, “I can fix the veil and repair the velvet.”

“Oh, thank you,” said Agnes, relieved. “I just want to wear it at the Halloween party at Sally's club.”

“I can fix it so you can wear it, and it will look very chic—in the latest fashion,” Miss Sue promised Agnes.

After a few days in Miss Sue’s clever hands, the damaged hat was restored and a new veil sewn on. The hat was made to look quite fashionable.

Agnes was delighted. “I'm very appreciative of your restoration of Mrs. Mangum's hat. I can now wear it to my stylish party!” she told Miss Sue with tears in her eyes.

Miss Sue put the hat in a box so that neither Sally's cat nor Agnes’s dog, Cookie, could get to it, and Agnes carefully carried the box home.

On Halloween evening, Agnes dressed in a purple velvet dress and her purple stockings and pinned a big purple jewel to her lapel. She took the hatbox with her coat and gloves out to Sally's car. In the lot at the golfing club, away from any cats or dogs, Agnes gingerly lifted Miss Sue’s creation out of the its box.

The sequined fine netting glistened, and the purple velvet tower stood tall. Agnes proudly donned the hat. She looked elegant: The dress was a perfect match, and the white gloves set it off, as did the purple jewel in her lapel.

Agnes felt thrilled. She admired herself in the ladies’ lounge mirror. “I'm the most elegant person at the ball,” she thought. “Nobody is more elegantly dressed than I.”


From Ariana Mangum’s last book, The Misadventures of Agnes Randolph. Ariana and I were good friends and I still miss her.


Large and Small

Randy Bittle


I briefly encountered college in the early to mid 1990's in a double major of English (writing-editing emphasis) and philosophy.  Well, to be honest, it was more of a mental skirmish than a simple encounter.  The four-semester battle, cut short and never finished due to indigence, included an interesting 200-level creative writing course.  Our first assignment was to write a two-page introduction of ourselves for fellow students.  The following is a re-creation since I never retrieved the original paper.

An older student, I assessed my then 35 years of life and contemplated what to write.  I studied independently most of my adult life in physics, philosophy, history, psychology, and sundry other non-fiction odds and ends, seeking to improve my understanding of modern reality on my own time within my own budget.  Since the assignment was for a creative writing course, I decided to spice up my personal introduction with a little imaginative philosophical speculation.  I opened the paper in an unannounced dream scenario of being in a philosophy class facing a final exam with but one essay problem: prove you do not exist.

Thinking the ridiculous essay problem was some kind of joke, I looked around and noticed everyone else writing furiously.  So I began exploring avenues of reasoning that might lead one to conclude I did not exist.  My first shot at the problem employed the argument that nothing travels faster than light, therefore no information of my existence could possibly be found beyond a 35 light-year radius from the sun.  Compared to the 13,000,000,000 light-year extent of the universe, this physical law restricted knowledge of my existence to a minuscule size.

However, on Earth, knowledge of my existence would be more difficult to explain away.  My next shot at the problem considered the fact that I knew no one in Chicago, and vice-versa.  So I wrote that you could ask anyone in Chicago and the response would be that none of them knew of my existence.  That's several millions of people supporting my hypothesis.  The true number, worldwide, would be very close to Earth's entire population of 7-billion people, since fewer than a thousand people could persuasively speak up on my behalf acknowledging my existence as a student and unpublished author.

My third argument invoked my life span compared to the 13-billion year age of the universe, including the termination of my earthly life shortly (likely less than sixty years distant).  These arguments, as I wrote them for the assignment, used up a little over a page of my two-page limit.  In the paper, I abruptly woke up from my philosophy dream, or nightmare, and found myself in a Shakespeare class.  I then wrote a brief introduction of myself--my age, my curriculum, my plans, etc--all while groggily remembering who I was leaving the Shakespeare class and heading for the bus stop.  I was proud of that paper.

My professor's opinion of the completed assignment remained unknown to me.  Before the paper was returned with a grade I withdrew from school for family reasons.  I suspect now that sleeping in a Shakespeare class (in the paper) probably affected my grade.  I should have picked a math or physics class.  Nonetheless, after all these years, I still believe in the brilliance of the paper.  The philosophical appraisal of what I was not sticks in my mind even today, although I narrowed my “notness” down to what was left, my selfness.

In the original paper I did not do the math, but let me take the time to do so now.  I want you to get a true feeling for the humbling philosophical limitations on my existence in this enormous universe.  First, let's take the ratio of 35 light-years--no, make it 57 light-years, based on my current age--divided by 13-billion light-years.  That tiny ratio is 0.0000000043846.  Now let's divide a 100-year life span by 13-billion years.  Another tiny ratio is the result, equal to 0.00000000769231.  Finally, let's look at the ratio of 1000 people divided by 7-billion people, yielding the small number 0.000000142857.  Just for fun, being an optimist, suppose I publish several books and, say, some 500,000 people become aware of my existence.  This last ratio would become a comparatively large 0.00007143.

I apologize to those readers who get queasy, faint, and nauseous at the sight of apparently meaningless abstract mathematics, but I wanted to definitively establish my relative insignificance regarding cosmological and demographic parameters.  That college paper fifteen years ago tied all those ideas together into one neat package of comprehensive self-belittlement.  But wait!  Do not substitute yourself for me and, in despair, revel in existential nihilism (a state of individual irresponsibility based on little or no moral values).  My college paper only emphasized philosophical insignificance.  Due to size constrictions and subjective purpose, the paper omitted the philosophically significant part of a more complete story.

Allow me to safely tuck away my fond memory of that school writing project and move now in the direction of the ultra small scale in terms of physical existence.  An atom is approximately 0.0000000001058 meters in diameter.  I know, more of that abstract mathematics stuff.  Bear with me.  I will try to be brief.  I am six feet and one inch tall, which equates to approximately 1.85 meters.  You would have to lay out 17,485,800,000 atoms, adjacently side by side, to reach an approximate distance of six feet and one inch.  Apparently I am quite large compared to some constituents of physical reality.  My ego is recovering and beginning to swell already.

My parakeet Rocky, now deceased, never suffered from a lack of ego.  You could tell by watching him that he thought the entire universe was created just for his benefit.  Rocky was blissfully unaware of protons, neutrons, electrons, atoms, stars, black holes, galaxies, and all the evolutionary steps leading to his parents' birthing his all-important self.  But everything in the universe, in his simple mind, was predestined to provide him a glorious life eating bird seed, drinking fresh water daily, and singing bird-song chatter to the oldies (1960's and 1970's rock songs), which he would unabashedly declare were written and recorded for him, if you could figure out how to ask him in his language.

Rocky was the happiest bird I ever “owned.”  You never really own a bird.  Birds are their own creature selves, a lesson that could benefit some people.  Come hell or high water, be yourself.  Meet friends and lovers halfway, sure, but maintain your own individuality, hopefully with everyone growing and maturing as competent individuals from mutually shared experiences.  Rocky relished his significance between the large and small components of reality of which he never suspected existed.  As an independent philosopher, however, I appreciate the meaningful value of the large and small to human understanding, even as I experience Rocky-like significance in between.

Looking at the large and small of it, somehow I am comforted by the knowledge that more individual atoms comprise my brain than individual stars comprise our galaxy, and more living cells inhabit my body than galaxies occupy the observable universe.  My philosophical perspective balances out by focusing on the fixed extent of my personal reality, establishing my place in the cosmos between the enormous and the infinitesimal.  The lesson I learned from Rocky is to go with the flow and enjoy life as experienced.  But I am a thinker, and I enjoy contemplating reality, despite its inherent complexity.  Experiencing reality is great (bless Rocky's deceased heart), but the philosopher in me craves to understand modern reality, which differs from mere unknowing experience.

Most galaxies lie too far away to see with the naked eye, and the location of all galaxies, besides our own Milky Way, precludes them from affecting my life in any way other than existing as prerequisites for my existence.  But awareness of them is philosophically legitimate.  Cosmology and astronomy are interesting to study because the universe out there exists.  It is real.  The naked eye cannot see the protons, atoms, and living cells that constitute my physical existence, either, but their realities are essential to me.  In fact, I consist of them.  Comprehending them leads to better self-understanding.

The miracle of my presence as a living being consisting of atoms, molecules, and cells--capable of conscious thought and awareness--walking around on a small planet orbiting an average star in an average galaxy in a large universe boggles my mind, but it is the truth, and modern philosophers seek the truth.  Independent philosophers like me delight in exploring the two ends of the magnitude spectrum, cosmology and subatomic physics.  Everything I am and everything I do, my very significance, lies within these two extreme maximum and minimum boundaries.



Author’s Note:  This essay is from my book “More Colors Through My Mental Prism,” available on  I am currently unable to write because I am the primary caretaker for my mother who has an advanced stage of dementia.  Thanks for your thoughts and prayers, and I will write new material as soon as I am able.  Randy Bittle



Punctuation is Powerful

Submitted by Bill Dodson


An English professor wrote the words: “A woman without her man is nothing,” on the chalkboard and asked the students to punctuate it properly.

All males in the class wrote, “A woman, without her man, is nothing.”

All the females in the class wrote, “A woman: without her, man is nothing.”


Autumn Leaves

Laura A. Alston


A colorful array of autumn leaves

Scatter beneath my skipping feet.

The red, yellow, and brown of the leaves

Are a glorious sight to behold.


Bird song fills the now cooler air,

And leaves rustle in the breeze.

Sunlight shining through the trees

Makes patterns on the ground.


The autumn leaves inspire me

To stand taller and smile more.

I have memories of happy times

As I touch the lovely leaves.


Autumn leaves are my favorite kind.

I watch as they loosen their grip on branches

And carpet the ground in splendid mounds.

They fill me with wonder and expectation.



Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both. Benjamin Franklin


Death of a Cardinal

Sybil Austin Skakle


Last week, a red cardinal fed

A young bird in my azalea bush

And, a female came, pecking

Frantically, at ruffled feathers.

I knew, but not how, that mites

were causing poor bird’s agony.

Mama’s chickens had mites,

But, what did Mama do?

What might I have done?

Today, a bird eye peeped at

Me through window blind.

The bird moved to left,

To other window ledge and

Next to its dead mother, as

A brown wren lighted briefly.

So, I called for help to come

Now it is gone and rain came

To wash away the evidence

Of drama and death.

God cares and sees the birds

And knows that I am bereft.


 Ruths Game

 Fiction by Howard A. Goodman

After she and Steve had been married a few years, Ruth invented this innocuous little game which she would delight in initiating with him nearly every time they’d have a disagreement. Whenever he’d express his dissatisfaction with something she liked but he despised, she’d respond by telling him that if she were no longer around he would then be free to go ahead and change whatever he didn’t like; that the consequences of his making the change would no longer be of any consequence to her.

On Ruth’s first day home following a two-week round of chemotherapy and recovery, Steve decided to assume the responsibility for preparing dinner. Accidentally losing his grip on a china plate, he watched helplessly as it met the ceramic-tiled kitchen floor, shattering into an ever-widening circle of shards.

Ruth, seated over at the built-in desk, was startled by the sound, her attention wrenched away from catching up on the mail.  “Oh, no!”

“Hon,” Steve said, trying to come to his own defense, “if this were Corelle Ware instead of china, it wouldn’t have broken.”

“Corelle Ware?” she replied, her voice elevated.  “Corelle Ware is so common. Cheap.  You can buy Corelle Ware at any Walmart.”

Steve could easily sense that Ruth’s response to his latest outpouring was more mocking than intellectual.  He retrieved the broom and dustpan from the closet in the back hallway, seizing upon the example of what had just happened.

“Well, for one thing,” he continued, “Corelle Ware is tough to break, not like this stuff.  It’s more consistent from piece to piece, thinner. The pieces weigh less. And they’re not painted; the color is natural, derived from microscopic fractures in the glass material. Fritting, I believe they call it. The material is the same color all the way through, so even if you do manage to chip one, the blemish won’t be nearly as obvious.”

Ruth remained passive, unimpressed with his sales pitch, her attention again on the stack of mail.

Steve, crouching down to chase the pile of pieces into the dustpan, pressed on undaunted. “Corelle Ware is a technological achievement. You know, I’ll never understand why people don’t cherish technology as much as they do things that are still made by primitive, outdated processes.”

“What are you talking about now?” Ruth responded, her tone sing-song.

Steve sensed she still thought he was being absurd. “Okay, if you don’t buy that example, here’s another one. What about an inexpensive multi-function LCD wrist watch? No moving parts. And it keeps nearly perfect time.  Look, if you’re gonna be frivolous enough to lay out three-and-a-half grand for a Rolex, wouldn’t you expect to receive a watch that can at least reset the calendar automatically following each month that has other than thirty-one days?”

Ruth shook her head as if to clear the air of everything Steve had said. “Because digital watches are ugly. The reason you don’t understand why china is precious,” she said, “is because you still think like an engineer.” It was clear she had sidestepped his second attempt at convincing her. Her comeback was peppered with mocking laughter.

Steve fumed. “You know I hate it when you call me ‘engineer.’ I’ve been out of that arena for years now, worked hard at transforming myself, changing my image. Do I have to remind you, I’m an overlay marketing rep now. But you still want to call me engineer.”


Somewhere during the most intense phase of Ruth’s chemo treatments, the exact point blurred in time, Steve began to notice that her game had grown more foreboding.

“Honey, if I die, would you ever marry again?”

Impulsively, he’d respond with, “I won’t need to remarry, Hon, because you’re not going to die. You’re gonna recover from this and go on to lead a long normal, healthy life. Look at your parents. In the end you’ll bury me.” Secretly though, he knew but refused to openly acknowledge that her disease and treatment would damage those odds.

“C’mon, Steve. You know you really couldn’t be happy without a wife. Who would you marry?”

Most of the time he’d ignore her goading as best he could manage, or try to change the subject. But only the ring of the telephone or the dropping of an atomic bomb could assuage her insatiable appetite to pry around inside his head.

Unrelentingly, Ruth would begin reeling off the names of her close female friends as possible candidates for Steve’s consideration. Not only were most of them already spoken for, they didn’t interest him romantically in the least. And Ruth knew this perfectly well but seemed to take perverse pleasure in taunting him anyway.

While Steve visited her during one of her protracted hospital stays, Ruth suddenly decided to play her little game again; began pressing him to play along with her. Inevitably, she asked him who he would pick as her successor.

Steve hesitated, pensive a moment, suddenly recalling a mutual friend, a high school teacher on the edge of Ruth’s inner circle who happened to be divorced and available. Suddenly, he brightened. “I know! Rhonda Franklin.”

“Rhonda!” A nervous giggle invaded Ruth’s response. “Really! Why Rhonda?” Her tone had sobered noticeably, no doubt influenced by his sudden and unanticipated candor. Or perhaps she finally realized after all this time she’d overlooked the most obvious choice.

Suddenly, Steve realized he had the advantage. “Isn’t it obvious,” he began, “For one thing, Rhonda’s intelligent. Educated. And attractive. And tall. And graceful.” He paused for effect. “And she’s got great hair.”

Ruth’s eyes widened. “Really!”

Steve kept the pressure on. “Look, Ruth, you’ve known Rhonda as long as I have. She’s a genuinely nice person. Evan really likes her. You know, I think Rhonda and I would be quite good together.”

His other contemplation of Rhonda—the spontaneous heated flush that had swept over him as the three of them huddled together under Rhonda’s golf umbrella during a sudden downpour at their boys’ soccer game, forfeiting their personal space, and Rhonda happened to brush up against him with her breasts—Steve thought better to keep to himself.

Ruth acquiesced, wishing she’d never heard what he had just confessed to her, clearly no longer amused.

Following his visit that evening, during the drive back to North Raleigh from Duke Hospital Steve had forty minutes to reflect on the latest iteration of Ruth’s game. So, he mused, I’ve finally come up with a way to get Ruth to stop. He smiled inside. This time, it had been she who’d retreated. His satisfaction was short lived.

When will Ruth get it through her pretty little head that her silly game frightens the hell out of me?  Can’t she understand I don’t ever want to confront the possibility of having to find another mate? Yet he suspected Ruth believed it was going to happen that way. So he could at least comprehend why it was important to her to know what kind of woman he’d choose, if not whom.

He rounded the entrance to their subdivision. How do I make Ruth comprehend how frightened I am of losing her? In the garage, the engine cut off, tears suddenly came to his eyes. His head fell to the palms of his waiting hands. “Please!” he sobbed. “She’s gone through so much. Don’t let her be the one to die first.”

Early the following morning, just as he was about to awaken Steve dreamt vividly of Rhonda Franklin.



A Mystery Solved

Diana Goldsmith


John Ray stood on the doorstep of number 49 Magnolia Terrace. He reached up, pressed the bell, stood back and waited.

He was forty seven years old and still hadn't gone bald but was getting a bit grey around his temples which, he claimed gave him a distinguished appearance. He was tall and held himself well so didn't have the slouch which sometimes came in men who were above average height. He had played rugby at college but now his only exercise was an occasional visit to the gym or long walks with Bertie his beloved black Labrador. Although enjoying an occasional pint and supper at his local or very rarely a takeaway, he ate healthily and so maintained a slim build. With piercing blue eyes and dark brown well cut hair one could say he was an attractive if not handsome. He did attract women and now he was on his own he might have taken advantage of it however when they spoke to him they soon realised that they never got to know the real John. Although always impeccably polite he seemed to be aloof and held others especially women at a distance. It may have been the fact that it was only three years since Christine, his wonderful soul mate had succumbed to cancer. She had endured all the rigours of chemotherapy and radiotherapy and he had supported her all the way. She had been so brave especially for him and for Karen and Spencer their two children. When she had gone he had crumpled inside but kept up a stoic exterior. Now Karen was teaching in a school in Yorkshire near her fiancé. Spencer had recently decided to use his medical training in the army and was out in Germany. John had decided to sell the large family home and had bought a mews cottage near the river which had a garden for Bertie. He often took him for walks down the towpath. It was to Bertie that John shared his grief but of course it was only a one- way conversation. As time went on John wondered whether he would ever be able to love again let alone share his life with another.

John was a journalist and loved being able to investigate stories so here he was waiting for someone to answer. The door was opened by an attractive middle-aged woman who having established his identity, asked John to come in. She led him into a spacious lounge furnished with large cream leather sofas. She asked him to sit down after offering him tea. He accepted and while she was out in the kitchen John looked around the room. There were tasteful pictures on the walls and photos on the tables and on the windowsills. He noticed a good looking man in them all and a teenager too. She came back with a tray on which were a couple of china mugs, a milk jug and a plate of chocolate and shortbread biscuits which she put down on a table. He took a mug and added a dash of milk to his tea but refused a biscuit when offered. He sat on one sofa while she say on the opposite one elegantly crossing her legs while doing so.

"Mrs Reed", he started , "tell me what exactly you thought happened to your late husband." "Call me Jennie, please," she replied."I will but it's a bit complicated." She added.

"That's fine, Jennie but I must ask you if you mind me recording our conversation?" He asked. "No. That's quite okay", Jennie agreed.

Jennie then told John her story.

We were childhood sweethearts who started dating while at school. We lived in a little village in the Yokshire Dales. It was a beautiful place with scenery to die for, Oh not an appropriate turn of phrase in the circumstances!! As kids we used to run wild with no fear for our parents of any harm coming to us. When we got married we stayed up there in the village. Paul took over his father's farm eventually and I ran the guesthouse side of the business. We only had one child, Annie. We were very happy. Annie became a nurse and worked in the hospital in Keswick. It was 2010 when there was a very hard winter and Paul used to go out to try and dig out the sheep who got stuck in the deep snow drifts on the hills.. Well one day he just never came home. I was distraught and even though there were search parties, they never found him. I was beside myself with grief. Annie came and stayed with me but I just couldn't stay up there. In the end I decided to sell up and move south. Of course I knew I would take the hurt with me but I wouldn't have all the memories. It's been really difficult but it helped when Annie got a job in the hospital near here so she lives here with me.They never found Paul's body , not after the thaw which made it so hard. We never had a funeral then.

On his return later that afternoon, John was sat in front of his computer writing up the story. He continued. Apparently a youth group from London staying up in the Dales, were on a walking holiday. A group were near a wooded area when two of them decided to explore a bit. The road became a really a narrow lane, and two lads heard a car coming quite fast up it. They had to get out of the way fast. One boy took a step as the car whizzed past and suddenly found the ground gave way beneath him. He tumbled down but luckily he fell onto a soft bush. He managed to get up and his friend managed to scramble down to him. They were just going to climb out when they saw it. It was a skeleton lying there. Fortunately being young teenagers they had their phones with them and took some photos instead of panicking! They did get a signal when they had climbed out. The police came and took the body away. It was later identified as Paul.

Jennie and Annie were able to have their loved one's funeral after all and have closure. John thinks he'll visit Jennie again.


 Joy or Happiness

Tim Whealton


We just went through Hurricane Dorian. It wasn’t a particularly bad storm for New Bern. Knocked down a few trees and spotty power outages. Certainly nothing like the devastation we suffered last year with Florence. It was a life changing storm for many of my dear friends on the coast. It also brought back memories of storms when I was a child. Back then I loved to hear a hurricane was coming!

It wasn’t because the storm was coming, it was because my cousins were coming. It meant sleeping in the floor and lots of people and food. It meant a change in the schedule and maybe a day off from school. School was never fun for me but cousins to spend the night was a different story.

My cousins lived in the far end of Pamlico County and a bad storm was dangerous. They were close to Bay River and Pamlico Sound. Our house was comparatively safe (or we thought it was) in Bridgeton. They had stories I hadn’t heard and did stuff you couldn’t (or shouldn’t) do in town. It was just fun.

Then I grew up and storms stopped being fun. I was a telephone man and at that time it was important. No cell phones or Internet. If your phone was out it meant you didn’t have Police, Fire or Ambulance service. When a whole community lost phone service it was critical to restore it quickly.

I remember asking my Dad about how bad storms were when he was a boy. I was surprised when he said it wasn’t much of a problem.  He lived in Pamlico County where my cousins lived. How could that be? With no warning a huge storm batters you and it wasn’t a problem? He just said “well people back then people understood you have to take care of yourself and each other.”

He said Grandad would look at the sky and say “Well it looks like a September storm, put the animals in the barn and come on to the house.” The winds would build and the water would rise in the yard. Then it would go out and you went back to work. The power wasn’t damaged because there was none. The same for phones, internet, air conditioning, cable TV, house insulation, 4 wheelers, riding mowers, or anything else that was powered. The truck was in the barn but Grandad built stuff solid with a lot of nails. He said the foundation holds up the house till the wind blows, then it’s up to the nails. If something blew down you built it back.

When I looked at the devastation left by a hurricane these days I notice the people that have learned to live without extras get back to normal the fastest. They also don’t live in fear of losing everything. Yes they need the basic necessities but they learn how to get by on a fraction of what most people think they have to have.

We have more than any society in history. We have devices to do our work and give us more free time than ever. We then work more hours than ever to purchase more devices to give us more free time. Has it made us happier? In a word NO! We are the most depressed, most medicated, most suicidal society the world has seen. What went wrong?

We confused happiness with Joy. Happiness is short term. It is a new car, gun, boat or other toy. We get it, play with it, get tired of it or break it. Joy comes from a relationship that offers acceptance. A chance to be part of something that is growing. Joy is long term. It fills you. Happiness is short term. It is like an appetite for more. When you feed an appetite you make it bigger.

Take stock of where you are. Look deep and ask yourself if you are missing joy. The things that will bring you joy are still here. Don’t wait. You don’t have to know everything to know something. You already know what doesn’t work.




Marry Williamson


Neil had second thoughts. What was he letting himself in for? He saw the ad in the local paper. Baroque and Regency Dancing. Not line dancing, barn dancing or salsa. No 18th century baroque dancing. He did not have a clue what it meant but it sounded interesting. He was in need of a serious distraction to cope with the demands of his frightful family. The wife, the terrible Aunt Ethel, the teeth sucking monosyllabic son and the selfish daughter. The dancing lessons were on the same night as the wife’s book club and he desperately wanted to be out of the house.  He was getting quite fed up with these excitable, shrieking women in his living room. He usually went upstairs and watched sport on his iPad with his earplugs in but he could still hear them. He could always tell how many bottles of wine they had as with every new bottle their pitch got louder and shriller. Complaining did not help as his wife never listened to him anyway.  Nice to be able to make himself scarce on book club night.

The dance group met in the church hall. Surprisingly, there were 18 of them. He had no idea that Baroque and Regency Dancing was that popular. There were 12 women and 6 men. He heaved a sigh of relief. At the last minute, standing in front of the little green side door, he had a terrible thought that he might be the only bloke and he had nearly bottled it. The teacher was a very jolly buxomly lady of around forty called Rose looking exactly the opposite of a Jane Austen type pale, suffering lady. She would definitely not fit in a Pride and Prejudice dress. Actually, none of the ladies did. He looked at he men and imagined them in tight breeches. His mind boggled and it was beginning to feel surreal.

After the introductions, Rose started to explain the mysteries of the dances. She said that they were more of a social occasion. The Minuets were like walking about in strict patterns. You started with one partner, faddled about going from person to person inclining your head a lot until you came together with your original partner. Then there were the Quadrilles and Country Dances that were more energetic requiring a lot of skipping and jumping.

One Sunday, after a few pre-lunch whiskies in the White Horse with Craig he admitted to his family over lunch what he was doing on his Thursday nights out.  His wife and dreadful daughter sniggered and choked on their soup and the monosyllabic son did not even utter one syllable but looked at him as if he was something nasty under his expensive designer trainers. “Well, sod them’ he thought. He actually enjoyed the dance group and incidentally, Rose’s company. He found that he was actively looking forward to the Thursday evenings. He even found that he was able to shrug off the taunts of his family. “Dad, do you want to borrow my tights?” from the daughter and “do you wear wigs at these ballet lessons?” from the wife. He was also sure that the wife had told the book group ladies because a few days later he met one of them, the sizzling Sarah, at the dentist and she smiled at him coyly and made as if she was fanning herself with some imaginary fan. ‘Well’ he thought ‘sod her too’.

When the dance club had been going about 6 weeks Rose came in with a brochure. A ‘Regency Style Dance Convention’. In a nice Bournemouth hotel. One week, bed, breakfast, dinner and dancing. All included at 350 quid. “Anybody interested?’ Arranging a whole week away on his own was tricky. His wife was indignant “What! A whole week prancing about? Just with the twinkletoes? Wives not included? You stopped me going to Ibiza with Sarah last year!” So it was going to cost him a trip for the wife to Ibiza or something equally expensive and probably for the dreadful daughter as well and possible, knowing those two, for the sizzling Sarah, too. He was adamant, though, that for once he was going to do what he wanted. The monosyllabic son sucked his teeth. No doubt biding his time to sting him for something expensive as well.

The dance week rolled by like a dream. It was heaven. He really enjoyed himself. Away from his family he blossomed and relaxed. Rose started to look better and better. In fact, he thought she was gorgeous.  On the last night there was a little bit of a party.  Everybody had a wonderful time and the wine flowed freely. It got very late and one by one the others disappeared. All of a sudden he and Rose were the only ones left. They had another drink and drifted out onto the terrace and went through their paces with imaginary others and coming together again. Then they had another drink.

The next morning he woke with a start, a raging thirst and a little man in his head trying to break out with a hammer. He groaned and opened his eyes. Once the room stopped spinning he noticed that something looked different. Same furniture, same curtains, same bedspread, same pictures. He screwed up his eyes trying to figure out what was different. The luggage rack, that’s what it was. That was not his bag. And that was not his book on the bedside table. Realisation struck.

This was not his room! Just at that minute the door to the ensuite opened. Rose! Wrapped in a big white fluffy bath towel. She smiled at him. “Good morning”.

He cringed.  He had no idea how he got there but he was definitely in Rose’s room and in Rose’s bed with a massive headache. His brains were whizzing in his skull. He closed his eyes. This was too awful. He desperately tried to remember what happened last night. He got as far as two bottles of wine, a couple of brandies and dancing with Rose in the moonlight. After that a big blank. Rose seemed oblivious to his embarrassment. “Shower free” she chirruped. He lifted the bedclothes gingerly and looked down. No pants! He had no pants on. He was completely naked. This was worse. “Eh, eh” he managed to bring out desperately pointing to a bathrobe hanging on a hook on the bathroom door. Rose lifted her eyebrows, smiled and threw him the robe. He turned the shower on as cold as he could stand and stood under it trying to clear his head and make some sense of it all. His wife would have a field day if she ever found out. Not to mention the dreadful daughter, terrible Aunt Ethel and unspeakable son. He could hear the sniggers and teeth sucking. And the book club ladies would be wetting their knickers. Rose started to sing. He hoped that she had dressed while he stood here. The cold water had eased his hangover a bit. He wrapped himself in the bathrobe and ventured out. Rose, thank goodness, had dressed and sat at the mirror slapping on some face cream. He found his clothes, neatly folded, on a chair, his underpants - cringe - on top and withdrew into the bathroom again. When he emerged Rose was gone.  To breakfast he supposed. He found his own key on the dressing table and scuttled off to his room. As soon as he opened the door he saw it. The wife! Asleep in his bed! Was this nightmare never going to end?

She woke and sat up. She was all smiles. This was creepy. “Hello. I thought to surprise you last night but found Rose in your room. She said you had passed out on her bed so she thought she use yours. Boy, were you drunk!  You did not even notice that I undressed you.  Rose and I slept in your bed. She says that you are her star pupil. Eat your heart out Mr. Darcy! Nice lady by the way. Rose and I got on very well. She is going to join my book club!”



Life Dissipating

Rebecca Berman Dunleavy


Joint by joint the pressure of time is felt

Year over year memories expand while

Conversation, movies, music all blend

The eagerness to savor life’s flavors dissipates

Missing “My Love” hugs weighs like a heavy blanket

The future dreams become less important

As days are filled by basic motion

Life forcing mediocrity

Yet inside, I’m yelling “Not ready to go!”


Note: Rebecca’s poem reflects her mother’s words over the last few years on how life changes as you age.



  The letters T and G are very close to each other on a keyboard. When I noticed this, I decided never again to end a work email with the phrase "Regards".


You can't direct the wind, but you can adjust your sails. Unknown


Whenever someone says "I'm not book smart, but I'm street smart," all I hear is "I'm not real smart, but I'm imaginary smart".

 Family Tree of Vincent Van Gogh


His dizzy aunt: Verti Gogh

The brother who ate prunes: Gotta Gogh

The brother who worked at a convenience store:S top N Gogh

The grandfather from Yugoslavia: U Gogh

His magician uncle: Where Diddy Gogh

His Mexican cousin: A Mee Gogh

The Mexican cousin's American half-brother: Gring Gogh

The nephew who drove a stage coach: Wells Far Gogh

The constipated uncle:  Can't Gogh

The ballroom dancing aunt: Tang Gogh

The bird lover uncle: Flamin Gogh

An aunt who taught positive thinking: Way-to-Gogh

The little bouncy' nephew: Poe Gogh

A sister who loved disco: Go Gogh

The brother with low back pain: Lum Bay Gogh

The niece, who travels the country in an RV: Winnie Bay Gogh

If you thought this was funny: There Ya Gogh



Sybil Austin Skakle


A poem by Robert Louis Stevenson, written 1885, in his The Golden Book of Poetry is my earliest memory of shadows in literature:   


I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,

And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.

He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;

And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.


The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow—

Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;

For he sometimes shoots up taller like an India-rubber ball,

And he sometimes gets so little that there's none of him at all.


He hasn't got a notion of how children ought to play,

And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.

He stays so close beside me, he's a coward you can see;

I'd think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!


One morning, very early, before the sun was up,

I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;

But my lazy little shadow, like an errant sleepy-head,

Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.


Source: The Golden Book of Poetry (1947)


As a little girl, I often visited my mother’s older sister, Elrado Daniels, in Berkley, Virginia, One moonlit night while visiting her, shadows to flicker on the walls of the dark room where I was to sleep. It took great restraint not to cry out in terror, for my imagination ran amok. Next morning I discovered the reason for the shadows. Growing in the side yard of the big old house on Main Street I discovered a huge Chinaberry tree, which I climbed. I picked its fruit, brought them inside the house, and Aunt Rado suggested I boil the berries and retrieve the big round seed. Strung on a cord those seed made a very handsome necklace which I proudly wore. 

A song, Me and My Shadow,* lyrics by Billy Rose and music by Dave Dyer and Al Jolson, written in 1927, became popular at different times in later years.  Judy Garland made a recording, as did many other artists. I probably danced at The Beacon or other places where juke boxes encouraged us to gather in Hatteras village. It has a haunting melody with these words:   


Shades of night are falling and I'm lonely
Standing on the corner feeling blue
Sweethearts out for fun
Pass me one by one
Guess I'll wind up like I always do
With only
Me and my shadow
Strolling down the avenue
Me and my shadow
Not a soul to tell our troubles to
And when it's twelve o'clock
We climb the stair
We never knock
For nobody's there
Just me and my shadow
All alone and feeling blue
When the sun sets on the far horizon
And the parlor lamps begin to glow
Jim and Jack and John
Put their slippers on
They're all set but we're still on the go
So lonely
Me and my shadow
Strolling down the avenue
Me and my shadow
Not a soul to tell our troubles to
And when it's twelve o'clock
We climb the stair
We never knock
For nobody's there
Just me and my shadow
All alone and feeling blue.

I learned that other lyricist used the title, later, but I am not familiar with any of them.

Now I favor songs of reassurance.  A gospel song I especially like is entitled “Overshadowed. It’s chorus is: “I’m overshadowed by His mighty love, Love eternal, changeless, pure, Overshadowed by His mighty love, Rest is mine, serene, secure…” - Pastor Ironside’s Gospel Songs, 1935, H. A. Ironsides, music. George S. Schuler, lyrics.

The dread and fears of our childhood and the insecurities of youth no longer threaten my peace. Oh, but I remember well “The Shadow,” a radio program which ran for 24 years. Orson Wells, an early host became too famous to continue but they mimicked his eerie voice as the program ended: “What evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!” 


The Life of Alexander

Plutarch (c. 45-120 AD)


Editor’s note:  Roman historian, Plutarch, produced several biographies of great figures from the ancient world and remains a key source for historians about that period. Plutarch was from the Greek town Chaeronea, and was one of the two priests at the temple of Apollo at Delphi responsible for interpreting the auspices of the Oracle. He was something of a celebrity in his own time, and the Romans loved to read his writing and listen to his speeches. He was regarded as one of the great thinkers of Rome’s golden age. Below is a selection of excerpts from his biography of Alexander the Great.


 Philonicus the Thessalian brought the horse Bucephalus (In English-Oxhead) to Philip, offering to sell him for thirteen talents; but when they went into the field to try him, they found him so very vicious and unmanageable, that he reared up when they endeavored to mount him, and would not so much as endure the voice of any of Philip's attendants.

Upon which, as they were leading him away as wholly useless and untractable, Alexander, who stood by, said, "What an excellent horse do they lose for want of address and boldness to manage him!"

Philip at first took no notice of what he said; but when he heard him repeat the same thing several times, and saw he was much vexed to see the horse sent away, "Do you reproach," said he to him, "those who are older than yourself, as if you knew more, and were better able to manage him than they?"

"I could manage this horse," replied he, "better than others do."

"And if you do not," said Philip, "what will you forfeit for your rashness?"

"I will pay," answered Alexander, "the whole price of the horse."

At this the whole company fell a-laughing; and as soon as the wager was settled amongst them, Alexander  immediately ran to the horse, and taking hold of the bridle, turned him directly towards the sun, having, it seems, observed that he was disturbed at and afraid of the motion of his own shadow; then letting him go forward a little, still keeping the reins in his hands, and stroking him gently when he found him begin to grow eager and fiery, he let fall his upper garment softly, and with one nimble leap securely mounted him, and when he was seated, by little and little drew in the bridle, and curbed him without either striking or spurring him.

Presently, when he found him free from all rebelliousness, and only impatient for the course, he let him go at full speed, inciting him now with a commanding voice, and urging him also with his heel.

Philip and his friends looked on at first in silence and anxiety for the result, till seeing him turn at the end of his career, and come back rejoicing and triumphing for what he had performed, they all burst out into acclamations of applause; and his father shedding tears, it is said, for joy, kissed him as he came down from his horse, and in his transport said, "O my son, look thee out a kingdom equal to and worthy of thyself, for Macedonia is too little for thee.

The king had a present of Grecian fruit brought him from the sea-coast, which was so fresh and beautiful that he was surprised at it, and called Clitus to him to see it, and to give him a share of it. Clitus was then sacrificing, but he immediately left off and came, followed by three sheep, on whom the drink-offering had been already poured preparatory to sacrificing them.

Alexander, being informed of this, told his diviners, Aristander and Cleomantis the Lacedaemonian, and asked them what it meant; on whose assuring him it was an ill omen, he commanded them in all haste to offer sacrifices for Clitus' safety, forasmuch as three days before he himself had seen a strange vision in his sleep, of Clitus all in mourning, sitting by Parmenio's sons who were dead.

Clitus, however, stayed not to finish his devotions, but came straight to supper with the king, who had sacrificed to Castor and Pollux. And when they had drunk pretty hard, some of the company fell a-singing the verses of one Pranichus, or as others say of Pierion, which were made upon those captains who had been lately worsted by the barbarians, on purpose to disgrace and turn them to ridicule.

This gave offence to the older men who were there, and they upbraided both the author and the singer of the verses, though Alexander and the younger men about him were much amused to hear them, and encouraged them to go on, till at last Clitus, who had drunk too much, and was besides of a forward and willful temper, was so nettled that he could hold no longer, saying it was not well done to expose the Macedonians before the barbarians and their enemies, since though it was their unhappiness to be overcome, yet they were much better men than those who laughed at them.

And when Alexander remarked, that Clitus was pleading his own cause, giving cowardice the name of misfortune, Clitus started up: "This cowardice, as you are pleased to term it," said he to him, "saved the life of a son of the gods, when in flight from Spithridates's sword; it is by the expense of Macedonian blood, and by these wounds, that you are now raised to such a height as to be able to disown your father Philip, and call yourself the son of Ammon."

"Thou base fellow," said Alexander, who was now thoroughly exasperated, "dost thou think to utter these things everywhere of me, and stir up the Macedonians to sedition, and not be punished for it?"

"We are sufficiently punished already," answered Clitus, "if this be the recompense of our toils, and we must esteem theirs a happy lot who have not lived to see their countrymen scourged with Median rods and forced to sue to the Persians to have access to their king."

While he talked thus at random, and those near Alexander got up from their seats and began to revile him in turn, the elder men did what they could to compose the disorder.

Alexander, in the meantime turning about to Xenodochus, the Pardian, and Artemius, the Colophonian, asked him if they were not of opinion that the Greeks, in comparison with the Macedonians, behaved themselves like so many demigods among wild beasts.

But Clitus for all this would not give over, desiring Alexander to speak out if he had anything more to say, or else why did he invite men who were freeborn and accustomed to speak their minds openly without restraint to sup with him. He had better live and converse with barbarians and slaves who would not scruple to bow the knee to his Persian girdle and his white tunic.

Which words so provoked Alexander that, not able to suppress his anger any longer, he threw one of the apples that lay upon the table at him, and hit him, and then looked about for his sword.

But Aristophanes, one of his life-guard, had hid that out of the way, and others came about him and besought him, but in vain; for, breaking from them, he called out aloud to his guards in the Macedonian language, which was a certain sign of some great disturbance in him, and commanded a trumpeter to sound, giving him a blow with his clenched fist for not instantly obeying him; though afterwards the same man was commended for disobeying an order which would have put the whole army into tumult and confusion.

Clitus still refusing to yield, was with much trouble forced by his friends out of the room. But he came in again immediately at another door, very irreverently and confidently singing the verses out of Euripides's Andromache, "In Greece, alas! how ill things ordered are

Upon this, at last, Alexander, snatching a spear from one of the soldiers met Clitus as he was coming forward and was putting by the curtain that hung before the door, and ran him through the body. He fell at once wit a cry and a groan.

Upon which the king's anger immediately vanishing, he came perfectly to himself, and when he saw his friends about him all in a profound silence, he pulled the spear out of the dead body, and would have thrust it into his own throat, if the guards had not held his hands and by main force carried him away into his chamber, where all that night and the next day he wept bitterly, till being quite spent with lamenting and exclaiming, he lay as it were speechless, only fetching deep sighs.

His friends apprehending some harm from his silence, broke into the room, but he took no notice of what any of them said, till Aristander putting him in mind of the vision he had seen concerning Clitus, and the prodigy that followed, as if all had come to pass by an unavoidable fatality, he then seemed to moderate his grief.

And now a general assembly of the Greeks was held at the Isthmus, where a vote was passed to make an expedition against Persia with Alexander, and he was proclaimed their leader. And now, wishing to consult the god concerning the expedition against Asia, he went to Delphi; and since he chanced to come on one of the inauspicious days, when it is not lawful to deliver oracles, in the first place he sent a summons to the prophetess.

When she refused to perform her office and cited the law in her excuse, he went up himself and tried to drag her to the temple, whereupon, as if overcome by his ardor, she said: "Thou art invincible, my son!"

On hearing this, Alexander said he desired no further prophecy, but had from her the oracle which he wanted. As to the number of his forces, those who put it at the smallest figure mention thirty thousand foot and four thousand horse; those who put it at the highest, forty-three thousand foot and five thousand horse.

To provision these forces, Aristobulus says he had not more than seventy talents; Duris speaks of maintenance for only thirty days; and Onesicritus says he owed two hundred talents besides. With such an appalling lack of money and with the government still in confusion a young man just barely beyond boyhood had the audacity to entertain thoughts of Babylon and Susa, and even of an empire embracing all mankind. Then Alexander must have been an unthinking hothead to challenge such a formidable power with this meager resources?

Not at all. Did anyone ever start out for war with greater or better preparation for succeeding than nobility of character, intelligence, self-mastery and courage – with which philosophy had equipped him for his journey? He crossed over against the Persians with greater resources furnished by his teacher Aristotle than by his father Philip. In fact there are writers who allege that Alexander once said that he had brought the Iliad and the Odyssey along as a provision for the army; and we believe them, honoring Homer. And if anyone maintains that he only used Homer for relaxation after toil and as a pleasant way of diverting his leisure moments, but that his real provision for the journey lay in the philosophic doctrines, in discourses on fearlessness and valor, of self-mastery and on high-mindedness we look on this with scorn.

There were famous philosophers like Pythagoras, or Socrates, or Arcesilaus or Carneades who wrote nothing. And these men were not occupied with such great wars, or civilizing barbarian princes, or establishing Greek cities among savage peoples, nor did they continue pressing on against lawless and ignorant tribes in order to instruct them in law and peace.

Then why are they believed to have been philosophers? Because of what they said, how they lived and what they taught. Then let Alexander be judged on the same basis and he will be revealed as a philosopher by what he said, by what he did and by what he taught.

Thanks to Alexander, Homer was read in Asia, and the sons of Persia, Susiana, and Gedrosia sang the choruses of Euripides and Sophocles. Now Socrates was brought to judgment for introducing foreign gods by informers in Athens, but Alexander caused Bactra and the Caucasus to worship the gods of Greece.

While Plato drew up a single form of government which was so strict he could induce no one to adopt it, Alexander, by founding more than seventy cities among the barbarian tribes, and seeding Asia with Greek outposts, suppressed their savage and uncivilized customs. Although a few of us read about the laws of Plato, countless numbers have adopted and continue to use the laws of Alexander.

Those whom Alexander conquered were more fortunate than those who escaped, because there was no one to correct their foolish way of life, while the conqueror forced his subjects to live in prosperity.

Now Demaratus of Corinth, the mercenary and a friend of Philip’s, wept tears of joy when he saw Alexander in Susa, exclaiming that those Greeks who had died earlier had been robbed of great happiness since they had not seen Alexander sitting on Darius’ throne. But I, by Zeus, do not envy those who saw a spectacle which is associated with Fortune and lesser kings, but I think I would have been more pleased at the fair and blessed sight of the marriage procession when, bringing together 100 Persian brides and 100 Greek and Macedonian grooms into a single tent bedecked with gold, with a single hearth and a single table, he was the first, crowned with flowers, to raise the hymeneal song, singing as it were a song of friendship, while he joined together the greatest and most powerful peoples into one community by wedlock.

For he did not cross Asia like a robber, nor did he have it in mind to ravage and despoil it for the booty and loot presented by such an unheard-of stroke of fortune – the way Hannibal treated Italy later on, or the way the Treres acted earlier in Ionia or the Scythians in Media.

Instead he conducted himself as he did out of a desire to subject all the races in the world to one rule and one form of government, making all mankind a single people. Had not the divinity that sent Alexander recalled his soul so soon, there would have been a single law, as it were, watching over all mankind, and all men would have looked to one form of justice as their common source of light. But now, that portion of the world that never beheld Alexander has remained as if deprived of the sun.

Let us examine what he said, since other kings and rulers reveal their character by the spirit of their pronouncements: When he talked to Diogenes himself, in Corinth, he was so captivated and overwhelmed by the man’s way of life and reputation that he would often refer to him later, saying: “If I were not Alexander, I would like to be Diogenes! If I did not intend to blend the customs of the Greeks and the barbarians; to cross every continent and tame it; to search out the farthest points of land and sea; to make Ocean the boundary of Macedon; and if I did not mean to transplant the peace and the justice of Greece to every people, even then I would not waste my energies in useless luxury, but I would emulate the frugality of Diogenes.

But now, Diogenes, excuse me. I am imitating Hercules, rivaling Perseus and following in the footsteps of Dionysus, the ancestor of my line. I wish to bring the chorus of victorious Greeks to India once more, and to renew the memory of Bacchic revels among the wild mountainous peoples beyond the Caucasus.

And there are said to be holy men in those parts who live under laws of their own, a rough and naked sect devoting their lives to the god. They are even more self-denying than Diogenes, in that they require no wallet, for they do not save any food since the land continually provides them with a fresh supply. Flowing rivers furnish them with drink, trees shed their foliage over them and herbs of the field serve them as a bed.

Thanks to me they will come to know of Diogenes, and Diogenes of them. I, too, must coin money, and stamp the form of a Greek constitution on a barbarian mold.” Well then, do his deeds appear to be primarily the result of chance? Power in war? Government by force? Do they not rather suggest the great courage and justice, the great self-control and mildness of one who does everything in an orderly and intelligent manner and in accordance with a sober and sagacious plan?



We Are an Island

E. B. Alston


Americans of today and the greater part of Western Civilization are living and striving for an impossible utopian dream. It’s on television talk shows, the theme of countless books, plays and movies. Millions of Americans make their living by supporting an illusion.

What is this utopian illusion? It’s called “togetherness,” a “feel good” syndrome. We are in this “together,” “I share your pain,” and “I share your joy.” This sentimental utopia is perpetuated in a sense that, somehow humans are, or could be if everybody tried, linked together in some sort of common sharing of intimate inner selves.

I will be blunt. It’s all a sham, a big lie, and all it does is make people who, in their innocence, believe that stuff and seek in vain for a feeling of being bonded to another person or a group of persons, or a cause.

The idea of humans achieving total communion with another human is nothing but a utopian myth. We are an island. We have a built-in craving for togetherness with other islands, but no matter how hard we try, we are ourselves, only ourselves, on a personal island all our own and we are all alone. Other people are separate beings on their island and they go their own way. In fact, they must go their own way.  It is the way God intended them, and you, to go. 

Let’s talk about love first.

We can love others. We need to love others. If we don’t love others our lives will be totally self-centered. But today we expect too much of love. For one thing many of us believe the objects of our love have an obligation to return our love. But those we love have no obligation to return our love. Not even our children. You can't buy your children’s love and you can't make others love you. It’s wrong to try.

We want love to be “even,” But it’s not. It’s wrong, and a waste of effort, to expect it to be “evened out.” It is perfectly okay for you to love someone who doesn't love you. It's not okay to think they owe you anything because they don't love you. It's also okay for you to help those you love who don't love you. It's not okay to worry about them not loving you. It's foolish to feel that someone who doesn't love you owes you something because you love them.  

It's okay for someone you don't love to love you. You are not required to return their love. It is your choice and your decision. 

Love is an unbidden result. You cannot seek love and find it. You cannot give it away.

Happiness is much the same. You can't find happiness by looking any place but within yourself. Your personal happiness is inside you. No external idea, or person, or thing can make you truly happy. Finding happiness in something or someone else is another utopian myth.

Weeping over bad outcomes is not a new phenomenon. The Roman commentator, Cicero, wrote of sentimental high-born Roman women weeping over a dead sparrow in the streets of ancient Rome. The news, current literature and even the government focus on displays of emotion over bad outcomes and events. All anybody cares about these days is how we “feel” about a given incident. Even important people wear their feelings on their sleeves, as if weeping over dead sparrows was a badge of honor. It’s as if we are expected to spend our lives “feeling” something as if feeling was important.

I’ll be blunt again. How you feel about something doesn’t mean squat. The ancient philosophers would be amazed and appalled about things we, including our government and the military, do because of sentiment. They thought, and taught, that sentiment was a poor guide when important decisions had to be made.

That most practical and no-nonsense of ancient people, the Romans, were not sentimental. They had no confidence in sentiment. They tried to make important decisions by analyzing the facts and examining the possible results of their actions. The ancient Romans never considered doing something just because it made them, or anybody else, feel good. They certainly got better results from their process than we get from the feel-good nostrums of our day.

Practically speaking, decisions based upon sentiment seldom solve the issue they were supposed to address and they make more problems than they resolve. I’m sure you can think of several recent incidents where hastily cobbled up solutions went awry. The worst ones in recent memory is the U.S. military fiascoes in the Middle East. I bet a couple of Jovian priests brought in from ancient Rome to study the entrails of a barnyard chicken from Corsica, South Dakota, would have counseled against that disastrous enterprise.

What is important is what you do to prevent bad outcomes and insure good outcomes in the future. Nothing else matters

But the whiners say, there’s so much to be sad about. Sadness is an emotion that should be reserved for the death of a family member or a close friend. Our emotions are overworked today. I’ll call it compassion burnout. The proper mental attitude for things people are publicly sad about is regret. They are emotional about things that would be more properly regretted. It’s okay to regret bad outcomes in love, money, work, family, and friends. Being sad about these matters is an escape mechanism for the mentally lazy because it relieves people of the obligation to do something about preventing recurrences. That the idea of being sad is enough. But regret/sadness should not spoil your inner contentment or prevent you from engaging the tasks at hand.

The only dependable solace in this life is our personal faith and inner strength. You, and I, are islands. When God gave us individuality and free will, he allowed us to write our own life story and make it end the way we want it to end. No other person can share your individuality.

God will never ask how you felt about anything. He won’t ask why you were sad. He knows what you accomplished in this existence and will say, if you met his standards, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.

My advice is to be proud of your island and strive to make it what it should be. Be happy. Be content within yourself. It is all you have and it is your choice, yours alone, and nobody else can, or should, share it.



Poker Advice

John Blackbridge


·       Let your chips talk for you. A silent player is so far forth, a mystery, and a mystery is always feared.

·       In this game, never do anything that you are not compelled to while cheerfully responding to your obligations.

·       At Draw Poker all statements not called for by laws of the game, ot supported by ocular demonstration, may be set down as fictitous, designed to enliven the path of truth throughout the game, as flowers in summer enliven the margins of the highway.

·       Lost money is never recovered. After losing you may win, but the losing does not bring the winning.

·       No gentleman will ever play any game of cards with the design of habitually winning and never losing.

·       A gentleman is always willing to pay a fair price for recreation and amusement.

·       That habit of mind which continually leads us to undervalue the mental force of other men, while we continually overvalue their good luck.

·       The injury done to your capital by a loss is never compensated by the benefit done to your capital gain of the same amount.

·       Players usually straddle when they are in bad luck, upon the principle that bad play and bad luck united will win. A slight degree of intoxication aids to perfect this intellectual deduction.

·       The lower cards as well as the lower classes are only useful in combination or in excess, and cannot be depended upon under any other circumstances.

·       It is a hard matter to hold four aces as steadily as a pair, but the table will bear their weight with as much equanimity as a pair of deuces.

·       Endorsing your friends is a bad habit, but it is nothing to playing Poker on credit. Debit and credit ought never to interfere with the fine calculations of this game.                    


Man Goes to a Therapist

Humor by Howard A. Goodman


Man goes to see a therapist. After a brief introduction and explanation of his charges the therapist asks the man to annotate his issue.

“Well, Doc,” the man begins, “Last week I went to see my internist because I haven’t been feeling well lately.”

“Yes?” the therapist says. “Please continue.”

“My internist gave me a thorough examination, ordered tests, the works. Yesterday he informed me I only have three more years to live.”

“That’s awful,” the therapist replies, genuinely empathetic. “I’m very sorry. How can I be of help to you?”

The man ponders a moment, then gestures. “I was wondering whether there’s some way to make my last three years seem like a very long time.”

At which the therapist appears to enter a trance. Finally, the therapist faces the man squarely and replies, “Do you happen to live in a subdivision?”

“Why, yes,” the man says. “Banbury Woods.”

“This Banbury Woods… how many homes are in it?”

The man hesitates a moment. “I’m not sure. Maybe around a hundred and twenty-five.”

“So more than likely they have a homeowners’ association.”

“Yes,” the man says again, his sudden change of expression a mix of faint optimism and mounting curiosity.

“Good. Now, do you happen to know whether there’s an open seat on the board of directors?” the therapist continues.

“Yes,” the man replies again. “Two, in fact.”

“And how long is the term of office?”

“A year, I believe. But you can be voted in for another term. In fact, there’s no limit as to how long you can serve.”

The therapist leans forward in his chair, gesturing toward the man. “Perfect! Then I think you should volunteer to fill one of those open seats.”

“Really?” the man says, like a child about to have his wish granted. “Do you think that’ll make my last three years seem longer?”

“Well, maybe,” the therapist replies. “But just in case, you should also serve as Chairman of the Architectural and Appearance Committee. Then it’ll seem like an eternity.”



Another Serious Disease

E. B. Alston


I found out about P. A. D. the other night while I was watching television. Its complete name is Peripheral Arterial Disease. I was frightened. No! I was scared out of my wits.

That’s a lie. I was holding my sides laughing.

I get much of my health care advice from television but I use this cornucopia of hypochondria in a perverse manner. I pass on to my doctor what the actor, who was dressed on a doctor’s smock, told me. Then I tell my health care provider not to even think of prescribing any of this stuff for me. I could provide a long list of medications that I have blacklisted.

The first time my doctor and I had one of these discussions, I got an illuminating insight about how my doctor really felt about this abundance of symptom treating drugs. She agreed with me!

In the same vein, after some dental work last year, my dentist’s nurse handed me a prescription for a painkiller. I didn’t think I needed it and told them so. Do you think they tried to talk me in to taking it? Heck no. My dentist told me that she thought it was best not to take that stuff if I didn’t need it.

The solemn-faced man on television, who spoke in the gravest of terms, told us of the dangers of P. A. D. He recommended that we contact our health care provider at home that very evening, even if it was late, and tell them about a medication called *Unclogmyveins, which is supposed to counteract P. A. D.

Those among you who are perceptive noted that I used the word "counteract" instead of "cure." P. A. D is an unusually sinister malady. It doesn’t have symptoms! That’s what the guy said right there onscreen and he looked very serious.

But then, actors can look serious anytime they want to. He said I could have it for years and not know it. What’s more, in all probability most older folks have it. They had diagrams and clever animated illustrations describing what it was like.

He couldn’t say, "cure" P. A .D. because, since there are no symptoms, how in heck would anybody know they had been cured? I’m such a simpleminded yokel that, when a doctor tells me that I have no symptoms it means, hold your breath, that I am well. As in "not sick" and I can engage in the fun part of living.

Basically, what the spokesman said was Peripheral Arterial Disease is part of the normal cycle of life. In less self-absorbed times it was called "getting old."

Old-fashioned logic would tell you that if you feel good and have no chronic pain, things are pretty good health wise. Taking prescription medications when you have no symptoms to treat sounds, in addition to being expensive, well, silly. Plus, there’s that long list of horrible possible side effects.

This means that, after taking a medication to treat a condition that has no symptoms, you will have symptoms that were caused by the medication. Hypochondriac heaven. I saw a cartoon once where two doctors were talking. The caption underneath read, "It’s just perfect. They never die and they never get well."

 * Name changed to protect everybody that could be sued if we used the real one.



Sitting on the Front Porch

Brad Carver


October 2009: Life is so easy when you’re sitting on the front porch watching the sun set and making homemade ice cream, and surrounded by friends and family, and watching people walk by. That’s just about any day here in Moccasin Gap. We’re pretty laid back. Stress isn’t a factor in these parts. Hell, we don’t even know what stress is. To us, stress is what happens when you stretch a rubber band. The stress is what makes it break. I suppose in the bigger cities that’s what happens to people. They’re like rubber bands. They get so stressed out they break. In Moccasin Gap we never thought of looking at it as a way of life.

     There goes Ol’ Clyde Hensley walking down the street with his wife Estelle. Now if there was anyone who has a reason to be stressed out, it’s Clyde. Estelle is the worst nagger in the county. (As Clem said, “Is she a nagger?” Clyde answered, “No, she’s white. But she nags all the time.) She nags about everything. Like the time Clyde went into the Army. She nagged for a month because he was leaving, yet he had no choice. He was drafted. It doesn’t matter to a nagger. All they want to do is nag, nag, nag. Clyde was in World War II. He got shot in the leg and had to have it amputated and Estelle nagged because he had only one keg. And then one night while she was sleeping, Clyde took his artificial leg and beat her over the head with it. She doesn’t nag anymore. 

            And here comes Jasper and his wife Louise with their two little boys Aaron and Eugene. They should’ve named them after biblical characters like Satan and Lucifer, bless their hearts. I believe that God gives us children as punishment for all the hell we put our parents through when we were growing up. Those two boys could wreck an empty room.

            I don’t know what they’re going to be when they grow up. All I know is if they were my two boys, they wouldn’t grow up.

            Here comes Rita Muldoon prancing down the street. She knows every single guy in town and a few married ones too, but we won’t talk about that. We’ll save that conservation for the barber shop. The barber shop is where all the men go to gossip. They say that all women do is gossip, but if you’ve ever been in a barber shop, you know that men can gossip just as well as women.

            And when a young person dies in Moccasin Gap it’s because of drugs. You see, that’s the only way you can grow old around here – never do drugs. If you died young, you were on something and that is all there is to it. I remember my Aunt Myrtle telling me, “You remember that Johnson boy who used to live up the street?”

            I said, “Yeah, little Rickey Johnson. I remember him. Whatever happened to little Rickey?”

            Aunt Myrtle said, “Well, he was struck to death by lightning yesterday.”

            I said, “Wow, what a terrible way to go.”

            She said, “He was smoking that blamed ol’ Marijuana (or, as she calls it mar-ig-an-na), and just walk right into it.”

            I said, “You mean to tell me that smoking pot will make you walk that fast? Most of the people I know who smoke can’t even get up off the couch. I’m guessing that Williams boy who was shot to death last week was smoking real good pot to walk in front of that bullet like that – SIX TIMES.”

            But, as my grandma used to say, “We don’t do drugs around here. We take medication.”

            Well from all us medicated folks here in Moccasin Gap have a great day and a great autumn, a time when all the leaves turn red because they’re blushing to think how green they’ve been all summer.

            Y’all come back now, you hear?



What is the difference between an author and a writer? A writer, as we know, writes; an author has written. What does an author do? Auth? Authorize? An author authors. But never in the present tense. No one says, when asked what he or she is doing, “I’m authoring.”  ― Roy Blount Jr., What Men Don't Tell Women

 I'm always terrified when I exit from Word, and it asks me whether I want to save any changes to my ten-page research paper on which I made no changes.


Hammer Spade and the Inca Curse


Chapter Twenty-Four


Description: Description: Description: hsic cover.jpgI didn’t sleep much that night, worrying about Alonia being in danger and trying with little success to keep my anger under control. I was ready to strangle Fuente with my bare hands. When I finally got to sleep, I dreamed that I cut Fuente’s femoral artery and I watched him bleed to death. After I woke up, I reminded myself that decisions made in anger tend to be risky. I was responsible for the four people on my team. I did not want to do anything that deprived Isabela’s son of his mother.

An idea about how to take the fight to them came to me during breakfast. I thought about it all day and suggested it at supper.

“Goitia is methodical,” I explained. “Shift changes occur at midnight on Sundays. We could break into their suite the same way we broke out of ours. If we timed it around ten p.m. on Sunday, they might be off their guard. Three of us could attack them and, when Goitia’s relieving team arrived at midnight, we would be ready to take them out. Roscoe could answer the phone if anybody called.”

Everybody liked the plan and we agreed to implement it. We had four days to get ready. That night we slipped into the hallway to make sure nothing was mounted on the sheet of plywood we intended to remove.

We spent the rest of the time rehearsing our attack. Dave and Roscoe would go in with our two silencer-equipped Llama XVs. Hart and I would back them up with our Colts. The drawings showed a six-by-eight broom closet exactly like the one in our suite in the back corner closest to us. It had a sink on one end and a door at the other. If they kept this door closed like we did, the noise we made removing the sheet of plywood and cutting through the sheetrock should be contained within the room. We had no way of knowing if they kept the door closed so we must be as quiet as possible.



At ten p.m. Saturday night, Roscoe and Hart entered the utility hallway behind AG Enterprises. Dave Quigley and I followed to help. Isabela stayed by the phone to record messages if any one called. Five minutes later, the plywood was down and Roscoe began to cut a hole in the sheetrock. First, he cut a small handhold so Hart could keep the sheetrock from falling inside. Roscoe cut slowly and carefully to keep the noise down.



When Goitia called at ten-eighteen, Rueda Guzmán answered.

“How is everything?” Goitia asked.

“Normal,” Guzmán replied. “Boringly quiet. But,” he added, “boringly quiet is good.”

“Fernando, Jorge and Álvaro will relieve you at midnight,” Goitia said.

“That is good,” Guzmán replied. “Miguel and León are ready for a break.”

“And you are not?”

“Señora Rivera is picking me up tomorrow afternoon.”

Goitia laughed. “I’m surprised she won’t be there at midnight, Señor Cojones.”

Guzmán didn’t take the bait. “She has an important meeting tomorrow morning.”

“I will come tomorrow afternoon to inform them of some recent events.”

“I will tell them to expect you.”

“Have a good week with Señora Rivera,” Goitia said with a laugh and hung up.

Guzmán thought he heard a noise in the closet.

“Sounds like rats,” he thought to himself as he walked toward the closet.

When he opened the door, a shadow in the form of a man rose up in front of him. Guzmán reached for his gun but before he could get it out, he heard a subdued pop, felt a blow to his forehead and lost consciousness.

Two men emerged from the closet, approached the cots containing Guzmán’s sleeping partners, fired two more shots and it was over.



We worked fast moving the bodies out of sight into a room they used for eating and drinking coffee. Hart covered them with a blanket. I put Roscoe on the phone in case somebody called. Then I slipped back to our suite to tell Isabela and Sally that phase one had gone according to plan.

We waited for the next shift to arrive. Hart and Roscoe would fire first with the silenced Llama XVs, with Hart shooting the man on the right, Roscoe shooting the man on the left and both shooting the third man. Dave and I were reinforcements with our .45s.

They didn’t come all at once.  Álvaro called and spoke to Roscoe, who was using Guzmán’s voice, to say he would be a half-hour late. The other two came at staggered intervals and never knew what hit them. Álvaro arrived forty-five minutes later and met the same fate.

I left Hart and Roscoe to keep watch and answer calls while Dave and I went back to our suite to start packing. We took a short nap at one a.m. and relieved Hart and Roscoe at four a.m. Roscoe had to stay with us, sleeping on one of their cots, in case somebody called.

We were all up and in place at noon. Goitia arrived at one-fifteen on the dot. He had a surprised look just before Roscoe pulled the trigger. Then it was anticlimactically over.



Hart and Roscoe replaced the plywood on the wall behind Goitia’s suite. Everybody was so beat by now that we stopped and got four hours of rest with one of us on rotating watches.

After removing the electronic phone taps, we refastened the plywood behind our suite and repaired the sheetrock so no one would notice the hole we cut. I devised a staggered exit schedule with Isabela and Dave flying out first, then Hart and Roscoe. Sally and I would leave last. That pairing had a Spanish speaker on every flight out. We left at eighteen-hour intervals.

Isabela and Dave would start planning the next operation as soon as they arrived in Iquique. Raúl Fuente was our next and last target.

I called London.

“What’s up 0061?”

“The Cochabamba operation is finished.”

“Any problems?”


“I’ll pass it on.”

“We’re shutting down here. Contact the Embassy to pick up our equipment.”

“Will do.”

“We’re leaving for Iquique in staggered stages.”

“What’s the schedule?”

“68 and 62 will be on on the last flight out today. Tomorrow its 5470 and 5318. I’ll leave last with 5521 and turn in the rental vehicle.”

“Any bullet holes in the windshield this time?”

“No, 0068 didn’t drive much on this operation.”

He laughed heartily and said something to somebody else.

“Call in when you are back at your operations headquarters.”

“Will do,” I said and hung up the phone.



That afternoon, Fuente called Goitia and got no answer. He continued calling, first at two-hour intervals. By evening, he was calling every five minutes and getting no answer.


Chapter Twenty-Five


Sally and I were the last to leave Cochabamba. She placed a note in the window saying the office was temporarily closed. We had cleaned out all of the trash and the place looked like it did before we moved in except for the receptionist desk out front. I would turn it back over to the realtor after we finished Fuente.

On the way to the airport, I asked Sally how she felt about working in the field on something like this.

“I was familiar the plan so I knew what to expect,” she replied. “But I wasn’t prepared for the tension when something unexpected happened. I was afraid for Alonia and Roscoe when you took the call from London about the men following her. And I might have been the most uptight one on the team on the team the night of the attack.”

“Everybody was on edge. It’s normal.”

“But, you guys were so businesslike, as if you were just doing a job.”

“We were just doing a job. If we paid attention to our nervousness, we would have made mistakes and it would have gone bad for everybody.”

“I guess so. If you need me again, I’ll be glad to work with you,” she said.



I had been in Iquique so long that it felt like home. When I mentioned it to Dave, he said the same thing.

When I called London, they simplified things, for a change.

“We have located Fuente,” he said.

“That’s good news, Where is he?”

“Urubamba, Peru.”

“Where’s that?”

“It’s south of Machu Picchu.”

“Does he have a big organization in Urubamba?”

“No, he doesn’t operate in the city where he lives.”

“That’s smart.”

“Yes, it is.”

“Two of his operations were very well run, much like a business operation,” I said.

“Which caused you the most trouble?”

“The unpredictable one, which was the worst managed. That’s where 5038 was wounded.”

“So the best managed operations were the easiest to attack?”



“Because they were the most predictable.”

“Why do you say that?”

“I believe it was because they were run by efficient managers.”

“I would think that was an advantage,” he replied.

“Their business is susceptible to unexpected threats from many sources: competitors, law enforcement, collecting cash payments, dealing with a lot of cash, and us. All of these factors add an extra element of chance to their operation.”

“Wouldn’t capable managers reduce the chance of making mistakes?”

“Sure. But failure to adapt is what causes disasters. They manage well and their very dangerous jobs become routine. They become vulnerable because they fail to recognize when reality changes and no longer conforms to their expectations. They are misled by their success into thinking they don’t have to adapt.”

“So, you’re saying that they are complacent because their work becomes routine, like any normal business operation.”

Right. They tried to run an illegal business as if it were an ordinary business. Their failure to adapt is a psychological problem. Goitia and Figueroa suffered from the illusion of control.”

“But it wasn’t an illusion. They were in control.”

“Not hardly. They thought they were better than everybody else in a game of chance. Their success had become routine and they were lulled by an unwarranted confidence caused by their success in an arena of skill.”

“I don’t get it.”

“They were operating in an arena where chance reigns supreme. They forgot that, and it was their fatal undoing.”

“You are a good manager.”

“I know that.”

“Then you have that same weakness to attack.”

“I am very aware of that weakness in the way I operate.”

He laughed. “Let us know when you are ready to move.”

We were down to one!



Don and the intelligence gatherers briefed us the next morning.

“Raúl Fuente lives in Urubamba, Peru. Urubamba means “flat land of spiders” in the Quechua language. It’s a small town located near the Urubamba River under the snow-capped mountain of Chicon. Urubamba is about an hour south of Cusco. It is the biggest town in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Tourists stop there on their way to Machu Picchu. The Quechua name for their empire was Tawantinsuyu, which is translated as The Four United Regions.

“Raúl was born in Urubamba and educated in the United States. He graduated from Texas Tech with a degree in Electrical Engineering and went to work for what was then Southwestern Bell Telephone Company. He had worked up to division engineer when he was caught smuggling cocaine into the country and fired from his job. His family spent a fortune keeping him out of prison.

“After he was released, he moved back home with his American wife, his son and his daughter. His daughter is grown now and she has moved back the United States. She’s married and they have two pre-school children. His son attends a local college in Urubamba and he is every parent’s nightmare.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“He had a drug habit before he was fourteen. He lies and steals, mostly from his father, to support his habit. Raúl’s guards watch him twenty-four hours a day.

“Raúl himself abstains from all forms of narcotics and he forbids his employees to use them. If he catches any of his men using drugs, they are executed. He doesn’t smoke or drink hard liquor although he is quite fond of the local wines.”

“He’s smarter than I thought,” Dave observed.

“Southwestern Bell trained him in management,” Don replied.

Hart was astonished. “The phone company?”

“He learned to manage operations at Southwestern Bell,” Don said.

“Their organization, along with all of AT&T, is based on the Roman Catholic Church, which was based on the Imperial Roman system,” I replied.

“I didn’t know that,” Hart said.

Don continued. “His wife is an alcoholic, a drug addict, and probably the one who got their son hooked.”

“Not much of a home life,” I said.

“He doesn’t care about his wife, but his son, who as a child was the apple of his eye, tears at his soul.  Raúl has a mistress. He puts her up in a luxury apartment in Urubamba.

“When he’s troubled, he goes to the ancient ruins to think. Sometimes he camps alone for as long as a week. While he professes disbelief in the ancient Inca religion, he takes maize offerings to burn on his campfire. He is usually accompanied by two or three of his guards who stay with the vehicle and prevent anyone from surprising him.”

“We better move fast,” Dave said. “If Fuente goes up there, he’s gonna to be tough to find.”

Hart and Roscoe agreed.

I thanked Don and the intelligence guys for a most thorough briefing. Now we had to figure out how to get Fuente.



When I called London the next morning, I got a real let-down.

“An informer reported that Fuente has left Urubamba with camping gear and three guards. He said that when Fuente failed to contact Goitia, he became deranged, claiming that Margot Fisher was not dead, as he had been told, but was alive and responsible for the wreck his organization had become. He called several friends in South American intelligence services to recruit another team to hunt Lady Margot Fisher down and kill her, but none would agree to help him. When his Colombian contact told him to get his own act together, Fuente slammed the phone down, breaking the handset, and proceeded to get drunk. The next morning, he packed his camping gear and left with three of his guards.”

Bad news in spades! But I had an idea.

“Can you have an unmanned surveillance aircraft from one of your ships stray over Machu Picchu to look for him?”

“That is an excellent idea!” he agreed. “It may take a few days to set up.”

“It might take months for us to find him on the ground,” I said.

“Quite right,” he agreed.

“We’ll get ready to go camping and hope you locate him. We’ll probably need a helicopter.”

“No problem. I had better get to work on this. I’ll call you.”

After he hung up the telephone, I briefed the others. We spent the next few days getting ready for something without knowing what it would be. We cleaned weapons, we checked scope mounts and zeroes, we studied ballistics tables for high altitudes and we made sure we had a supply of MREs.



Sally told us at lunch one day that the Chilean National Symphony was visiting Iquique to play a Strauss and Rachmaninoff concert. It would be in an ancient hall on Presidente Errázuriz Street the next evening.

Isabela was a fan of classical music and said she wanted to go. Sally told her she could get tickets in the center section, five seats from the front. Isabela asked me if I would allow her to attend.

“Sure,” I replied. “But somebody has to go with you.”

Isabela looked around the table for volunteers. Hart said he didn’t like classical music. Quigley said he didn’t feel like it. Roscoe had some feeble excuse so it came down to me. I like classical music so when Isabela looked at me, I agreed to go with her.

It was a formal affair and Isabela had brought formal clothes, something I thought remarkable. I had no formal clothes with me. Sally knew where we could rent a tuxedo and volunteered to get one for me. This was beginning to look like a conspiracy.

The next evening Roscoe dropped Isabela and I off in front of a classic white-columned auditorium. I took Isabela’s arm and we marched through the doors into a lavish lobby full of the well-dressed elite of Iquique. Somebody offered us a glass of wine. We stood by a window sipping wine while Isabela made small talk with a couple who had brought their teenage daughter. When the lights blinked off and on signaling the audience to take their seats, we entered the auditorium to the sound of the band tuning up. A uniformed usher escorted us to our seats. Even in this elite crowd, Isabela stood out as one of the loveliest women there.

“Thank you for coming with me,” she said after we were seated.

“You’re welcome,” I replied.

“I hope I didn’t put you out too much.”

“Isabela, my other option was to sit back there in the dining room listening to the others debate everything under the sun.”

She laughed. “Unfamiliarity with subject doesn’t keep them from arguing about it.”

“No, it doesn’t.”

The conductor entered from the left and the crowd became quiet in anticipation of the music to come. Isabela deserved this break and I was glad I had agreed for her to come. The music was beautiful and Isabela was beaming with pleasure by the time the last piece was played.

“Thank you, Hammer,” she said and kissed my cheek while we were standing outside in the warm tropical air waiting for Roscoe to pick us up. 


Continued Next Month



A Beautiful Day

E. B. Alston


I grew up next door to a widow lady that I knew as Mrs. Thornton Davidson. She lived in a faded old mansion among a cluster of modest middle-class houses. When I was eight years old, I began running errands and doing chores for her. She paid me for everything that I did.    

She was a good neighbor to the families in our little community. If anyone got sick or had a death in their family, she always brought food and condolences. My father thought she might have been a great beauty when she was young. She was old now and dressed in styles that were in fashion long ago.    

An incident when I was twelve caused her to have special feelings for me. Boys from another neighborhood came into her yard and rode their bicycles through her flowerbeds and knocked down her bird feeders. She saw it but was afraid to confront the young hooligans. I happened to be at home and heard the racket.

I ran into her yard and confronted the leader of the boys, a big boy about two years older than I was. When I grabbed his bicycle handlebars and made him crash, he came up fighting mad. He was a bully and the boys followed him because they admired bullies. They stopped and stood astride their bicycles while they watched what they expected to be a lopsided fight where I’d get a bloody nose and run home crying.    

My father had taught me how to deal with bullies. When I was in the second grade, I had a fight with a bully who was in the third grade. When I ran into the house several days in a row and my mom noticed that I seemed afraid of something. She mentioned it to my father. He asked me what was going on. I told him that some big boys had been chasing me home from school yelling that they were going to catch me and beat me up.    

My father didn’t threaten to look for the boys and make them stop like I’d hoped he would. He gave me this advice, “They’re bullies and one of them is the leader. If you hurt him, they’ll leave you alone.”   

“But they’re on bikes,” I protested.

“Carry a short stick with you tomorrow and when he rides up to you, stand your ground. When he rides close enough, put the stick through the spokes of the front wheel. This will cause him to crash. Jump on him while he’s on the ground and hit him as hard as you can right square on his nose. If it doesn’t bleed right away, hit him again. When you bloody his nose, they will steer clear of you.”   

I did exactly as my father suggested and it worked just as he said it would. The bully leader was the one who ran home crying because I got carried away and blacked one of his eyes, too. It was suppertime when I got home because I stopped at a local playground and played tag with some other kids. My mom was worried to death. My father never asked me what happened.    

I was more confident this time and I had the other boy bloodied and crying while I pummeled him in his face. Then I stopped, got up and threw his bike out into the street telling him to never bother Mrs. Davidson’s flowers again. The other boys meekly pushed their bicycles out of Mrs. Davidson’s yard and the boy with the bloody nose slinked sniveling out of the yard and pushed his bike down the street.   

Mrs. Davidson had watched everything from her window and she rushed out when the boys were gone.     

“Mark, are you hurt?” she asked.

“No ma’am,” I replied.

“Thank you so much,” she said. “You were very courageous to stand up to that bully.” She smiled. “You reminded me of Thornton, my husband.”

“Thank you,” I replied.

That night she came to our house and told my parents what happened and thanked them for having such a courageous son.

Every year after that, she gave me a hundred dollars on my birthday and another hundred dollars for Christmas. I ran errands and did chores for her through high school.   

In the spring of my senior year, Mrs. Davidson asked me where I was going to college. I said we couldn’t afford it. I had applied for a working scholarship with a local plant that allowed two students to alternate working a semester while the other was in college. That night Mrs. Davidson visited my parents. The next morning my father told me that Mrs. Davidson had promised to pay for my college education.  

So I went away to college. I always called on Mrs. Davidson when I came home. She still had me run errands and do chores for her when I was around. She always asked about my grades and she was so proud of my academic performance that she paid for me to get my PhD.      

On every visit to Mrs. Davidson’s, when it was time for me to leave, she thanked me for visiting and said it was a beautiful day, no matter what the weather outside was like. She also wrote me a letter the first day of every month. Her handwriting was so beautiful that her letters could have been framed. I would need an hour to write one character the way she did, but she wrote at normal speed. After graduation, I got a job teaching at a university in a neighboring town.     

The years flew by. I married a girl from the town where I taught. Late in life, my parents inherited income-producing property from an uncle. They became affluent in their old age and moved out of our old neighborhood. I still visited Mrs. Davidson every time I went home to see my parents.    

By then Mrs. Davidson was in her nineties and it seemed that every time I visited her she was getting feebler.    

Then I got a promotion. The same year both of my parents died. My mother died in the spring and my father right before Christmas. My visits to the old neighborhood became more infrequent. In the process, I inherited the property from my parents so I still had to visit my old hometown a couple of times a year.    

Two years passed before I visited Mrs. Davidson again. When I rang her doorbell, I noticed that the place looked even more rundown. If it had looked any worse, you could conclude that it had been abandoned.     

A young woman who looked to be about twenty-five opened the door and greeted me. When I asked about Mrs. Davidson, she was vague about what had happened to her and said that she was Sarah.

“Must be her daughter,” I thought. There was a strong resemblance to Mrs. Davidson and she even dressed in the same style clothes Mrs. Davidson had worn. Since Mrs. Davidson had been a virtual recluse, I figured that Sarah was her daughter and shared that trait. I also considered that Mrs. Davidson had died and Sarah, had inherited the house. We had a nice visit. Mrs. Davidson must have told her about me because she seemed to know me well.     

On the way home I thought about Sarah. She was a very beautiful young woman. Any young man would be pleased to have her by his side. But with her reclusive tendencies she would never meet anybody while she stayed in that old run-down house.    

Two years later I was in the neighborhood and visited Sarah again. She looked the same. She had that same reclusive, ethereal aspect about her. I suggested that the house could use a coat of paint. She replied that it suited her needs just the way it was.    

Over the next few years, I continued to stop at irregular intervals to visit Sarah. She was always the same. Beautiful. Ethereal. Reclusive. She always seemed happy to see me.    

The last time I visited, that big old house was gone! The lot had been cleaned up and a “For Sale” sign was posted next to the sidewalk. The neighborhood had gone down over the years and none of the neighbors had any idea what had happened to Sarah. They acted as if they had never seen her. What a recluse she must have been!    

I drove to the realty office listed on the sign and asked the lady at the desk what had happened. She told me that the property had been sold for back taxes and the new owner had torn the house down in preparation for selling the lot.    

When I asked about the lady who lived there, she told me that Mrs. Davidson had died fifteen years ago and the house had been vacant since then.

What a puzzle! Had Sarah been that reclusive? I began to have a funny feeling about this on the way home, remembering how pretty Sarah was and how she never seemed to change as she got older.

My wife had gotten the mail and when I looked at the pile, a letter with familiar handwriting was on top. With trembling hands I tore it open and read it.   


Dear Mark,

Goodbye and thank you for everything. It was always a beautiful day when you visited me.


(Mrs. Thornton Davidson)


My wife walked in.

“Mark!” she exclaimed, “You’re as white as a sheet. You look as if you’ve seen a ghost!”



From the Kitchen of P. L. Almanza

P. L. Almanza

It's Fall and what better way to celebrate your Fall mornings than with this Fall pumpkin pancakes recipe.

Description: C:\Users\EB Alston\Documents\RPG Folder\October\pumpkin pancakes.jpg


Description: Pumpkin Pancakes13













Fall Pumpkin pancakes



1/2 cup pumpkin purée (I use canned)

2 eggs

2 cups milk

2 cups flour,

3 Tbsp. sugar

3 1/2 tsp. baking powder

2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

1 tsp. nutmeg.




Whisk pumpkin and egg together until smooth. Add in remaining ingredients and whisk until smooth. Cook batches in skillet or pancake or waffle pan for a delicious fall breakfast treat. You can cut this recipe in half and make less, but we always made more for the next day! (You can also vacuum pack and freeze them!)



Easy Pumpkin Pie


Makes 1 9-inch pie  (double the ingredients for two pies)

Description: C:\Users\EB Alston\Documents\RPG Folder\October\Pumpkin Pie 1.jpg


 2 eggs

 1 (16 ounce) can pumpkin puree

 1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg (optional)

 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)

 1  unbaked pie crust



Preheat oven to 425 degrees

Combine eggs, pumpkin puree, sweetened condensed milk, and pumpkin pie spice in a large bowl and mix thoroughly.

Pour pumpkin mixture into the pie crust.

Place pie on a baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake until filling is set, 35 to 40 more minutes.  

Description: HALLOWEEN WITCHES BROOMSTICKS 1Enjoy! You may also substitute sweet potatoes instead of pumpkin!


Halloween Cheese Witches Broomsticks



5 String Cheese Sticks (I use sharp yellow cheese) Instruction:



12 Pretzel Sticks

Fresh Chives or Green Onion


Instructions:Cut a cheese string crosswise in thirds. Then cut lengthwise ¾ of the way through the cheese, splaying the ends to make them look like brooms.

Press a pretzel stick through the end, and tie a chive or piece of green onion around the top to complete the broom effect. Makes 12 servings  



Halloween Jokes

Courtesy of Funlogy Jokes


Q: What do ghosts eat for supper?  A: Spooketi


Q: What do you do when 50 zombies surround your house?  A: Hope it’s Halloween!!


Q: What is the most important subject a witch learns in school?  A: Spelling.


Q: Why didn’t the skeleton want to go to school?  A: His heart wasn’t in it.


Q: Why didn’t the skeleton cross the road?  A: He didn’t have any guts!


Q: Why did the skeleton cross the road?  A: To get to the body shop.


Q: Why didn’t the skeleton go to the ball?  A: Because he had no BODY to go with.


Q: What did the little girl say when she had to choose between a tricycle and a candy bar? 
A: “Trike or Treat”?


Q: What do you call a fat pumpkin?  A: A plumpkin.


Q: What room does a ghost not need?  A: A living room!


Q: Why are ghosts so bad at lying?  A: Because you can see right through them!


Q: Who did Frankenstein take to the dance?  A: His “ghoul” friend!


Q: Why is Superman’s costume so tight?  A: Because he wears a size “S”.


Q: What do ghosts use to wash their hair?  A: Shamboo!


Frankenstein: Witch can you make me a lemonade?  Witch: Poof you are a lemonade!


Q: What do you get when you cross a witch with sand?  A: A sandwich!


Q: What is a vampire’s favorite fruit?  A: A nectarine!


“Mommy, everyone says I look like a werewolf.”  “Please be quiet and comb your face.”


Q: What kind of dessert does a ghost like?  A: I scream!


Q: When is it bad luck to be followed by a black cat?  A: When you’re a mouse.


Q: What do birds say on Halloween?  A: Twick o tweet


Q: What do you get when you cross a Cocker Spaniel, a Poodle and a ghost?  A: A cocker poodle boo.


Q: What do moms dress up as on Halloween?  A: Mummies!


Q: What is a ghost’s favorite fruit?  A: Booberries!


Q: What does a skeleton say before dinner?  A: Bone appetit!


Q: What does a witch use to keep her hair up?  A: Scarespray!


Q: What do you get when you cross a snowman with a vampire?  A: Frostbite.


Q: What kind of pants do ghosts wear?  A: Boo-Jeans.


Q: Why do ghosts make good cheerleaders?  A: Because they have a lot of spirit.


Q: What did one owl say to the other owl?  A: Happy Owl-ween!





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


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


Brad Carver: Sitting on the Front Porch; 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.


Rebecca Berman Dunleavy: Life Dissipating: Rebecca’s career in Operations at Abbott Labs spanned three decades. Now retired, Rebecca and her husband (Terry Dunleavy) are learning a new pace of life filled with volunteer work, consulting, and enjoying their grown children Brittany and Ryan in Illinois.  Rebecca’s poem reflects her mother’s words over the last few years on how life changes as you age.


Diana Goldsmith: A Mystery Sloved; 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.


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.


Howard A Goodman: Ruth’s Game and Man Goes to a Therapist and Ruth’s Game and Man Goes to a Therapist; 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.


Ariana Mangum: Agnes and the Halloween Hat; Ariana, now deceased, was a professional writer whose columns and essays appeared in magazines and newspapers. Her books, A Forgotten Landscape, Carlos, the Mouse Who Discovered America, When the Goldenrod Sang in the Meadow, Where the Butterflies Roam, A Shenandoah Promise and The Misadventures of Agnes Randolph are all available on Amazon and Amazon Kindle.


Sybil Austin Skakle:  Watching October’s Goodbye from My Kitchen Window, Fall Cleaning, Death of a Cardinal and Shadows; 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.    


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


Tim Whealton: Joy or Happiness: 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.