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RPG Digest

 December 2018

Copyright 2018 by the RPG Partnership

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RPG Partnership

1112 Rogers Road

Graham, NC 27253



Thanks to all these talented writers who have contributed to every issue of RPG Digest with such enthusiasm. We thank Betsy Breedlove for the beautiful mountain photos and P. L. Almanza for her winter scene. We welcome Laura Wiggin for her very first RPG Digest entries. We welcome Diana Goldsmith’s return with a beautiful Christmas poem. In addition, this issue has the results of the famous Edward Bulwer Litton Fiction contest for who can write the world’s worst opening sentence to a story. Enjoy!


Table of Contents

Mary Had A Little Lamb by Dr. M. David Chambers. 2

Jane Austen Wrote Only Six Books by Rita Berman. 3

Natters of a Nomad by Peggy Ellis. 10

Moon as Bauble byJoan Leotta. 11

Christmas Means Good Food by E. B. Alston. 12

The Treasure Hunt by Tim Whealton. 14

The Ornament by Laura Wiggin. 16

Secret by Marry Williamson. 18

Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle by Randy Bittle. 20

The Paperclip Christmas Tree by Laura Wiggin. 22

The Fabric of Time by E. B. Alston. 23

Christmas by Marry Williamson. 23

Three Rivers to Cross – Serialized book by Elizabeth Silance Ballard. 25

Debussy: A Painter in Sound – Reviewed by E. B. Alston . 31

The Edward Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest 32

The Worst Person on the Best Team by Tim Whealton. 34

Santa -- An Engineering Perspective by Jack B. Nimble. 36

Hammer Spade and the Inca Curse – Serialized book by E. B. Alston. 37

Moonlight Over My Town by Joan Leotta. 40

Amazon by E. B. Alston. 40

The Unforgettable Christmas by Dorothy Matthews. 44

From the Kitchen of P. L. Almanza. 45

A Celebration by Diana Goldsmith. 47

Asleep at the Wheel by Tim Whealton. 48

Contributors. 50


Mary Had A Little Lamb

Dr. M. David Chambers


Mary Had a Little Lamb Whose Heart was white as Snow,

And as that Lamb became a Man, The world would come to know,

That everywhere that Lamb would go, the truth was sure to flow.

Until one Day on Calvary- that Lamb was Crucified,

To wipe away a World of Wrong,

For you and Me He died.

So Everywhere that Lamb directs, We willingly should run,

And live our lives remembering that Lamb was God's own SON!

© 2009


Jane Austen Wrote Only Six Books

By Rita Berman

Jane Austin-1-rb at cottage-chawton hampshire.jpg

In the summer of 1994, I visited my father in England.  I also hired a car to take me to the village of Chawton in Hampshire.  Not only did I want to see the Jane Austen House Museum, but I was doing research on the proposed Center for the Study of Early English Women’s Writing, which would be located in Chawton House, a five-minute walk away.

Chawton House was a rambling, rundown, 17th century property of 51 rooms and many acres of parkland and woods, formerly the summer residence of the Knight family.  Thomas and Catherine Knight were wealthy but childless kinfolk of Jane Austen’s father. This couple had adopted her brother Edward when he was 16 and he inherited Chawton House and other properties.  

At the time of my visit an American woman from Seattle, Sandy Lerner and her husband, co-founders of Cisco Systems, had been granted a long-term lease on the house and grounds for the Center and library.  I was given a private tour by Robin Auburn, the caretaker.  He, his wife and several young children, were camping out in the living room and using the large fireplace to get some warmth.  The roof needed repairing and some timbers were exposed. The rooms that I saw still had paneling on the walls and some of the windows were stained glass.  There was a large old-fashioned kitchen.  


Jane Austin-2-front view of chawton.jpg

Jane Austen is said to have strolled on the grounds of Chawton House. My cousin and I did the same.  A small deer ran out in front of us, then a rabbit.  The sun shone and birds sang overhead.  The quietness of our surroundings led me to reflect how pleasant it must have been in Jane Austen's time when she came and went along the road between her cottage and the manor house.

A short walk from Chawton House led us to Chawton Cottage, better known as “Jane Austen’s House”. Edward had offered it to her mother, Jane, and sister Cassandra after the death of his father and Jane lived here from 1809 to 1817.  

Jane Austin-3-writing table.jpgI found the smallness of the cottage startling after walking through the many, large rooms in Chawton House.

The cottage, dates back to the 17th century, is said to have been built as an alehouse and posting-inn and later became the farm bailiff's cottage. We looked through the rooms without encountering any roped-off areas.  It is furnished with pieces in the style of Austen's day. There are books, prints, and Austen mementoes, including a faded lock of her hair. I went up the staircase to the first floor, and looked at the bedroom that she had shared with her sister Cassandra.  This had its original fire grate, examples of her needlework, and a quilt on display that she and her mother and sister are said to have made.

I spent more time downstairs, in the dining parlor because this is where she is reported to have done her writing, on a little table which was on display by the window. I also took some photographs of the rooms and her table.

Looking out of the window of the dining parlor at Chawton Cottage, I could see the curve of the road, offering the same view seen by Jane.   It is said that she often jumped up from her sewing and hurried to her little writing table, smiling to herself, to scribble something down on a scrap of paper."

Jane Austen enjoyed living in the village, and it contributed to her sense of place which she put into her writing.  She said as much in a letter she wrote to her niece, Anna Austen, who was also a writer: "You are now collecting your People delightfully, getting them exactly into such a spot as is the delight of my life; 3 or 4 Families in a Country Village is the very thing to work on."

She was born December 16, 1775 in Steventon Rectory, Hants, into an educated family. Her father would read aloud to the family in the evenings, and conversation was much prized. She had six brothers, James who became a clergyman, Edward who after being adopted by the childless Thomas Knight II later inherited Godmersham Park, Kent, and the Hampshire estates at Steventon and Chawton.

Another brother, Henry was a soldier, banker, and then a clergyman.  Two others, Frank and Charles went into the navy, and both became admirals.  Not much has been recorded about George who was 10 years older than Jane and suffered from fits.  He was not brought up with the family.  Jane had an older sister Cassandra and neither of the girls married.

Jane and Cassandra visited some of the grander families, and also went to assemblies. I guess they were what we might call parties or dances.  The girls were looking for husbands.   In 1795, Jane Austen is said to have conducted a flirtation with Tom Lefroy, nephew of the rector of Ashe. Christmas was a time of balls and Tom and Jane met at four of them when Tom visited his uncle and aunt before going to London to study law.   She wrote about him in her letters to her sister Cassandra.

Lefroy did not take up their friendship when he visited his family in Ashe in later years, for his family’s expectations were that he marry a woman with money.    However, when he was an old man he confessed to a nephew that he had a “boyish” love for her.”  There is some speculation that the intensity of feelings that are found in the novel Persuasion were based on Jane’s feelings for Tom Lefroy.

Cassandra became engaged to the Rev. Thomas Fowle in 1793, but he went out to the West Indies and died in 1797. The Austens moved from Steventon to Bath in 1801, maybe to give Jane and Cassandra a wider circle of possible suitors. Unfortunately, Bath society was found to be tedious, formal, and elderly, and nothing happened.   On a visit to the seaside town of Sidmouth in the summer of 1801, Jane Austen met a young clergyman whom the family believed she might have married. He planned to meet her the following summer but it seems he died not long after meeting Jane.

Jane did not like living in Bath and she and Cassandra visited some friends in Steventon the following year, 1802. They stayed with the Bigg-Wither family in nearby Manydown.  Cassandra told a niece that Harris Bigg-Wither, who was 21 had proposed to Jane who was 27 at that time.  At first Jane accepted him, for she would be mistress of a fine house, have financial security and social position.  But then having thought it over and realized she was only fond of him as a brother, not a husband, refused him the following morning.

She made a hasty, embarrassed explanation to his sister and both Austen girls quickly returned to Steventon and then Bath.  By then Jane was determined to continue her work as a novelist. By the time she was 23 and still living in Steventon she had written her first three novels.   These were:  First Impressions later renamed Pride and Prejudice;  Elinor and Marianne  which was changed to Sense and Sensibility;  and Northanger Abbey  which she called Susan  in the original draft.  Susan was sold to the publisher Crosby and Co for ten pounds.  Not much but it showed she could earn money.

Jane Austin-4-.jpg After her father’s death in 1805, Cassandra, Jane, and Mrs. Austen, were left with only 210 pounds a year, about a third of what they had been living on since Mr. Austen’s retirement.  But the brothers helped out with money.  And later on Edward offered his mother and sisters the use of Chawton Cottage which he had inherited along with Chawton Great House in the county of Hampshire.  After he improved the cottage, his mother and sisters moved into it.

The effect on Jane of this move to a permanent home in which she was able to re-establish her own rhythm of work was dramatic.  It was as though she were restored to herself, to her imagination, to her powers; a black cloud had lifted.  Almost at once she began to work again.  Sense and Sensibility was taken out, and revision began.

Surely she drew from her own life experiences when she wrote in Mansfield Park that the death of Mr. Norris, a clergyman in the novel, resulted in Mrs. Norris leaving the parsonage and moving to a small house in the village.        During the time she lived quietly in Chawton, from 1809 until 1817, her creativity returned, so that not only did she revise Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, (published in 1811 and 1813) but she also wrote Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion, which was completed in 1816.  She did not put her name to any of her books. Paid to have them published and termed it her “great good fortune” when Sense and Sensibility produced a clear profit of about 150 pounds, according to her brother Henry Austen.  A lot of money in those days.

Jane Austin-5-Chawton house-st nichols church.jpgHer sense of place as regards Chawton parish church and village might have come to mind when she described the village that she called Uppercross in Persuasion.  It was “a moderate-sized village….containing only two houses superior in appearance to those of the yeoman and laborers, - the mansion of the ‘squire, with its high walls, great gates, and old trees, substantial and unmodernized, and the compact tight parsonage, enclosed in its own neat garden.”

The Austen family kept in touch by writing letters.  The letters of Jane Austen are chatty, sometimes malicious, in other words gossipy and reveal her as a person.  Little is written about events and people outside of their circle.

E.M.Forster who reviewed the larger edition of her letters published in 1932 by R. W. Chapman, thought he detected “ill breeding”, that she was weak as a letter writer…partly because of her subject matter.   However, much of the charm of the letters is due to their content.  In the letters she discloses her real world, the foundation of her novels.  I think that the Austen family helped to provide her sense of place.

By 1794 her habit of using names in her novels to allude to her sources of inspiration was well established.  She uses some of the remote family connections, Leighs and Brydges in every novel.

Thus you will find Brandon, Middleton and Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility,  Bennet and Bingley in Pride and Prejudice,  Tilney in Northanger Abbey,  Ross in Mansfield Park; Woodhouse, Knightley, and Fairfax, in Emma,  and Wentworth, Carteret and Dalrymple in Persuasion. 

Jane Austen would have seen these names on memorial tablets and graves and also heard them talked about in the family. The stories are played out in the great houses, rectories, and small houses of rural Southern England.  Marriage being the only way a woman in those days could elevate her Jane Austin-7-living room fireplace.jpgstation, it is not surprising that the story line of Austen's novels focuses on the prospects of her heroines making good marriages.

In Austen's personal correspondence, to her niece Fanny Knight in March 1817 she wrote: "Single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor- which is one very strong argument in favor of Matrimony.”

Jane Austen herself had to face the fact that she was considered a poor relation although superior in mental powers and cultivation.  Dressing up to the standard of the upper classes who lived in the East Kent houses was a constant problem for Cassandra and Jane as their personal allowances were only 20 pounds a year each. All the more reason for making a suitable marriage.

I think this is brought out in Emma, which some say is her most mature novel, and which was dedicated to His Royal Highness the Prince Regent in 1816, after Jane Austen learned that he was an admirer of her writing.

Austen’s novels are a great source for learning about life, morals and mores in Regency England. They are more revealing than any history book about the class system in England and the snobbish attitude that extends even today.

The 1800s were days before the arrival of the railways and before travel became within the reach of the lower classes.  People generally stayed put in the same village in which they were born.  To visit a friend’s house entailed walking, riding a horse, or traveling in a carriage.

Some families rich enough to own horses and carriages might also employ a coachman.  Leaving the village and undertaking even a journey of 20 miles, which we can do today in half an hour, involved time and discomfort in Jane’s day.  As we see in her novels, when family members came to visit they stayed several weeks, not hours.

 It is not surprising that this lack of mobility resulted in a limited social life – dinner parties and balls provided the most opportunity for social interaction.

Therefore, we read in Austen’s novels about the daily routine, and the concerns of the female members of the household, their thoughts and reactions to the news they heard from neighbors or visitors, all given in minute detail.

The pace of her stories moves slowly as she uses lengthy paragraphs of dialogue, which is quite a contrast to modern-day writing.  Her characters don’t interrupt each other, and she uses explanatory phrases such as “he said, she demurred, he replied,” and so on, a style of writing now frowned upon by editors.

Austen lived during the period when the English began to take an interest in the sea, for health reasons at first.  It was after Dr. Richard Russell suggested that sea water might be effective for treating a variety of ills, that other medical doctors encouraged their patients to drink sea water or bathe in it. 

Consequently, Jane Austen and her family made yearly visits to the seaside resorts that were developed at this time.  They went to Sidmouth, Dawlish, Weymouth, Worthing, and Lyme (which is now known as Lyme Regis because of Royal Favor).  Lyme was her favorite seaside resort and she spent two vacations there in the summers of 1803 and 1804.  From Lyme she wrote to her sister Cassandra that “the bathing was so delightful this morning.”

The men in her stories are possibly drawn from those in her circle, mainly her brothers in the Navy and visiting clergymen who were accepted as members of neighborhood society. As her father was the vicar of Steventon, when Jane Austen traveled in Southern England she would meet clergymen at the houses of friends and relatives.  The clergy were in great demand at card parties, dinner parties and dances, and provided a source of interest for Jane Austen.

While Austen’s stories center around the marriageable young women and their search for a partner they are not romantic stories. Austen is more concerned with painting a picture of relationships, human behavior, and their foibles.

A characteristic theme in her novels is that maturity is achieved through loss of illusions.  Faults of character are corrected when lessons are learned.  She had a keen eye for universal patterns of human behavior.  That is why her novels still resonate today.

In Emma she points out with humor that Emma is deluding herself if she thinks she can manage people and arrange marriages.  She also deludes herself about Mr. Knightley, thinking him to be merely a friend until she learns of his possible interest in another woman and then she realizes “that Mr. Knightley must marry no one but herself.”  With what arrogance she has tried to arrange everyone’s destiny.

Jane Austen wrote Emma when she was 38 years old.  By then she probably had little hope of marriage herself, for her life was settled with her mother and sister.  And she was ill. She began to have a pain in her back. Yet in spite of this, and of the almost uninterrupted family visits, and the cold and rainy summer in 1816, she continued writing Persuasion completing it on 18 July. It is reported that it took her about a year to write.   In the winter of 1816 she declared herself “stronger than I was half a year ago,” strong enough to walk into Alton, although not back again.”

However, her health continued to deteriorate and one wet Saturday at the end of May 1817, Jane Austen left Chawton in Edward Knight’s carriage and with her sister Cassandra went to Winchester in search of a cure for her illness under the care of Mr. Giles King Lyford, a surgeon. Her brother Henry and nephew William Knight accompanied the carriage on horseback.

 From various reports the conclusion is that she suffered from Addison’s disease which nowadays can be cured.  It is adrenal insufficiency, described in 1855 by Thomas Addison.  The symptoms are weakness, fatigue, weight loss, loss of appetite due to destruction of the adrenal glands.   

Cassandra and Jane took lodgings at 8 College Street, Winchester. The house is now owned by Winchester College and is not open to the public.  Jane left the house only once, late in May in a sedan chair. In her last two months, she was only able to walk from one room to another.

After completing Persuasion she began work on Sanditon which is said to have some of her funniest satire.  Because of her illness, Jane abandoned work on Sanditon about two months after she began it, four months before she died.

She spent most of her time on the sofa, took her meals with Cassandra, and wrote letters to her nephew. She wrote a poem to mark St. Swithun’s Day, on July 15th and then her condition worsened.  On the 17th her doctor Mr. Lyford gave her an (anodyne).  She died at 4:30 a.m. on July 18, 1817. At the age of 41 years. 

Three days after Jane Austen’s death, Cassandra who had been with her to the end, wrote an account of her last night.  She rested her head on the pillow on Cassandra’s lap.  Among her last words she said, “God grant me patience, Pray for me, oh Pray for me.”  Jane left what little she had to Cassandra.  It is estimated that she made at the most only 700 pounds from her novels. 

Jane Austen wrote her novels in the dining parlor of Chawton Cottage sitting at a small table placed near the window which overlooked the street.  Soon after Jane’s death, her mother furnished a cottage for an elderly servant and Jane’s table went to the cottage.  Years later, the significance of this table was recognized and it was returned to the family with a covering letter, a copy of which is displayed above the table.

Her nephew, J. D. Austen-Leigh published a memoir of family descriptions of Jane Austen.  He described her as: “In person she was very attractive, her figure was rather tall and slender, her step light and firm and her whole appearance expressive of health and animation.  She was a clear brunette with a rich color, she had full round cheeks, with mouth and nose small and well formed, bright hazel eyes, and brown hair forming natural curls close round her face.  At the time of which I am now writing, she was never seen, either morning or evening, without a cap; I believe that she and her sister were generally thought to have taken to the garb of middle age earlier than their years or looks required.”   

“She was careful that her occupation should not be suspected by servants, or visitors,…she wrote upon small sheets of paper which could easily be put away or covered with a piece of blotting paper…She lived in entire seclusion from the literary world; neither by correspondence, nor by personal intercourse was she known to any contemporary authors.”

Her brother Henry Austen wrote that she, “never uttered a hasty, silly or a severe expression.  In short, her temper was as polished as her wit.  She was tranquil without reserve or stiffness.”

Her niece, Caroline Austen, wrote that, “As a very little girl I was always creeping up on Aunt Jane, and following her whenever I could, in the house and out of it…As I got older, and when cousins came to share the entertainment, she would tell us the most delightful stories, chiefly of Fairyland, and her Fairies had all characters of their own.  The tale was invented, I am sure, at the moment and was sometimes continued for 2 or 3 days.  Of my two aunts, Aunt Jane was by far my favorite – I did not dislike Aunt Cassandra – but if my visit had at any time chanced to fall out during her absence I don’t think I should have missed her – whereas not to have found Aunt Jane at Chawton would have been a blank indeed.”  

Jane Austin-6-Diana Goldsmith-Chawton House grounds.jpgIn 1819 Jane’s brother James died of Addison’s disease, the same illness that caused Jane’s death. Jane’s mother died in 1827.  Cassandra Austen died in 1845. Both are buried in Chawton village, in the grounds of the old parish church, St. Nicolas. Jane Austen is buried at Winchester Cathedral.

Chawton Cottage was divided into three separate tenements for agricultural laborers who worked on the Manor Estate.  In 1948 the house was bought by Mr. T. Edward Carpenter and restored as a memorial to Jane Austen and to his son who was killed in action in the Second World War. The red brick cottage was opened as a museum in 1949.

For more than 200 years Jane Austen’s books, though few in number, have been read, and re-read, pored over and discussed by her admirers.   Winston Churchill, who was Prime Minister of England after Neville Chamberlain, made the comment that he relaxed by reading Jane Austen's books.  A copy of his comment is on display in the Jane Austen museum.

2017 Update.


The Jane Austen House Museum reported that 2017 was a year to remember,

“We commemorated the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death but also celebrated her life and achievements through an ambitious program of events. We welcomed more than 55,000 visitors – a record for the Museum – drawn from all parts of the globe.”

In September 2017 the Bank of England launched a new ten pound note with the image of Jane Austen on it.

After Sandy Lerner sank some 20 million pounds into renovating Chawton House, she also donated her personal rare book collection to serve as the nucleus of the Chawton House Library for the study of early English writing by women. This opened in 2003 and has a collection of over 9,000 books together with related original manuscripts. Chawton House is open to visitors as well as scholars and is now used for conferences, filming and more recently a venue for weddings.



Natters of a Nomad

Peggy Ellis


My place at our dinner table faces a glass-fronted china cabinet. Tucked around pieces of china are small Nativities we’ve collected in our travels. They represent a variety of materials, including hollowed-out, igloo-shape bread dough of Ecuador, and hollowed-out, egg-shaped soapstone of Peru. They vary in size from half a walnut shell to eight inches tall with a six-inch base. Also of interest is a small matchbox from Vienna.

We’ve found many of these small depictions of the Holy Family throughout much of the world, but not in every country that we’ve visited. I presume they are available there, but we didn’t find them. That is particularly true of Germany’s Christmas markets where I would expect them to be plentiful.

Canterbury, England, stands out in my memory. I spotted a crystal Nativity, perhaps three inches high, as we left a gift shop with only moments to get to the motor coach. I thought I would find one somewhere else on our two-week springtime visit. I didn’t, so I don’t have one from my ancestral home country.

The most surprising place we located one is Ammon, Jordan, in the heart of Muslim country. It is a wood frame, oval shape with open sides all around. The clip and chain indicate it’s a Christmas tree ornament. Perhaps finding it there is not altogether a surprise since it represents capitalism, the non-Christian’s view of Christianity.

The most graceful Nativity depicts Joseph and Mary standing with Mary holding the baby. This Nativity, including the halo behind their heads, stands six inches tall. It’s pewter on a wooden base. I found it in a cathedral gift shop in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Light tan angel wings encircle the Holy Family in our four-inch Norwegian crèche, which has the figures painted in pastel colors.

Our most colorful Nativity is from Costa Rica, easily the most colorful place we’ve visited. The material is clay, molded igloo-shape. The outside is white with some brown and red designs. Bright red edges the entrance. Inside, stars light the deep blue sky with one larger and more brilliant than the others. The figures wear bright colors.

People of Patagonia consider their country the last wild place on Planet Earth. I question that, but do admit it’s the most untamed place I’ve visited. This Nativity is the most interesting of our collection. Made of rustic, apparently untreated, wood, it is 3-1/2 by 3-1/2 inches when fully open on rope hinges. Joseph stands on one extension and Mary on the other. The center section holds only the straw-filled crib. In Latin America, the baby is placed in the crib after midnight on Christmas Eve. Some public displays don’t reflect that tradition.

Spain’s red clay depiction of the manger scene is almost as rustic as Patagonia’s. It stands eight inches tall on a six-inch base. The animals and the human faces are reminiscent of peasants we’ve seen in medieval paintings.

Portugal’s contribution to our collection is 2-1/2 inches tall, formed from agate, which has an intrusion of white quartz. The artist used this stream of white to represent a beam from the star, also quartz, shaped by the artist. The figures are ceramic.

My favorite Nativity is not from our travels. Our retirement community has a gift shop supplied by residents with all receipts going to charity. I purchased it there. Many of our residents have traveled, lived, and worked worldwide, so it could have originated anywhere. The set consists of 13 pieces in gold plate, the tallest figure being two inches. I don’t know if there had been a shed. The pieces, flanked by five-inch tall palm trees, part of the set, stand year round on our mantle shelf watched over by the angel, which I mounted on the wall.



Moon as Bauble

Joan Leotta


So now

in the early morn darkness

moon is like

the star atop a fairy wand—

a wand made of

a line of stars aligned

with Jupiter and Mars.

Age of Aquarius greets

me now pointing

my way down the drive

to what seems

the start of

an ordinary day.

Feeling their light

as I walk in the deep darkness

lit only by the sparkle of

their line and light,

my heart skips a beat

reminding me

days are only ordinary

if we think them so




Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man. Benjamin Franklin

Christmas Means Good Food

E. B. Alston


It’s that time of the year when food is prominent at all celebrations. In the not too distant past, before refrigeration, December represented the end of summer’s fresh food bounty. It wasn’t the disaster people today might think it was. When I was a boy, we had several apple trees, one of which produced apples that ripened in September. My father saved these by putting them under a bed of straw in one of the tobacco barns. We had fresh apples until spring. We had fresh milk year round because we had two milk cows. My parents were acutely conscious of the need for fresh vegetables during the winter months so we had a turnip patch. We also had all those canned summer vegetables because mama had saved the summer surplus of butterbeans string-beans, cabbage, squash, peaches and pears. 

I have been blessed during my life by many opportunities to eat and, sometimes, dine well. My extended family was nutrition conscious. Holiday get-togethers were very food focused. Nobody left hungry.

My uncle Fort had seven daughters and one son. He had to be a farmer to feed his family. Breakfast at his house consisted of fried eggs, ham, with red-eye gravy, bacon, sausage, biscuits, several kinds of jellies and jams, fig preserves, milk and coffee. They ate at six a.m.

When he had workers helping with the harvests, he fed them too.  Sometimes there might be twenty people in the kitchen and out on the porch wolfing food down. I liked to work for Uncle Fort because he paid me and fed well. He had zero tolerance for slackers so you had better fuel up before you went to work for him. I worked for my other uncles, too and I dined well with them. They never paid me because they helped us with harvests and we helped them.

When I lived in Jacksonville, NC, I went bird hunting with a friend on a farm near Richlands. The farmer invited us to breakfast before the hunt. Our host outdid Uncle Fort. We had fried eggs, homemade bread, biscuits, pancakes, fried shad, shad roe, link sausage, country ham, Karo syrup, molasses and blackberry jam. He rounded this breakfast bounty off with a bowl of navy beans.

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 in Belhaven, NC oyster fritter recipe. I embarrassed myself over the oyster fritters.

About this time of the year in 1958, I was a telephone lineman on a crew building new telephone lines. When we worked in Belhaven, we stayed and dined in the famous River Forest Manor because there was nowhere else we could stay. It was the five-star place for yachtsmen sailing up and down the Intercoastal Waterway. Imagine us phone company linemen dining to elbow to elbow with millionaires. While we were there, one had his chauffer drive his Rolls Royce to Belhaven so he could see all the area sights in style.

Our foreman and one of the yachtsmen became drinking buddies. The yachtsman tried to persuade Bill to leave with him one morning but Bill demurred.

When he asked why, Bill said his boat wasn’t ready.

“Why not?” the rich man asked.

“ ‘Cause I ain’t got a motor yet,” Bill replied, “and I am damn tired of rowing.”

That got a big laugh from everyone, including his drinking buddy.

When we worked in Engelhard, NC, we stayed in the Engelhard Hotel. They served meals family style. Their breakfasts were similar to the two mentioned above except for the navy beans. In place of navy beans, they served oyster fritters.

The Sportsman Café in Williamston, NC, served normal breakfasts but they provided the fastest service I have ever experienced. The first time I ate there, I placed my order and opened my paper. Before I finished reading the headline, my breakfast was piping hot on the table before me. Now that was fast food. The waiters actually ran to and fro between the kitchen and the diners’ tables.

Many years later, the company sent me to fiber optic cable engineering training in Everett, Washington. We were there for three weekends. It is boring in a hotel with nothing to do. Classes ended at noon on Fridays. The second weekend three of us decided to sightsee on the northwest coast of Washington and into Canada. We left after class Friday. We took route 101 north on the west coast of Washington. We spent the night in a rooming house in Kalaloch. Saturday morning we drove to Port Angeles and took the ferry to Victoria, British Columbia, where we toured the city before we took the ferry to Vancouver Saturday afternoon.

I knew that Vancouver Telephone Company rented a block of rooms in the downtown Sheraton for visiting employees. They were usually vacant on weekends. I had a friend at the company who set us up with free rooms on top of the downtown Sheraton. I invited my Canadian friend and his wife to join us for supper. We were hungry and I asked the concierge to recommend a nice restaurant. He sent us to a French restaurant in walking distance of the hotel. That was the finest restaurant meal I have ever eaten. I had the rack of lamb and all the trimmings. Good company and excellent food always makes a splendid evening.

Mention of the hotel deal and my local phone company contact reminds me of the old days before President Jimmy Carter “fixed” the telephone industry. Back then, 9000 numbers were reserved for the telephone company. 336-253-9001 might be the local manager’s office in Graham. 919-477-9001 might be the manager’s number in Durham. The local test board had the same four-digit number everywhere. That way workers, like myself, always knew how to call the test board no matter where we were working. The local test board was manned 24 hours a day.

My family and I were in Myrtle Beach the summer of 1959. I had car trouble on the Sunday we planned to return to New Bern. I called the local test board in Myrtle Beach, told the test board operator who I was and where I worked. Then I told him I had car trouble. He called the mechanic that worked on phone company vehicles who said for me to meet him at his garage. An hour later, me, and my family were on our way home to New Bern. The repair was simple and the mechanic didn’t even charge me anything. Anywhere I traveled, and I traveled a lot, if I had a problem, help was always available to me at the local phone company. Man, do I miss those days!!!

There is one other December breakfast that comes to mind. Because I had emergency leave during basic training in the Army, my training schedule got out of whack. I was assigned to the transient center for almost a month. On the second day I was there, a golden-tongued colonel spoke to us during the morning formation and offered volunteers an escape from this awful place. Those who volunteered would participate in an experimental training exercise. You would sell your soul to the devil to get out of a military transient center. I took the second option and volunteered.

 That afternoon we marched to our new barracks and were assigned bunks. The next morning we were issued combat gear and hot weather and cold weather clothing. That afternoon we went on a five-mile hike with weapons, ammunition and full field gear. We knew this was something unusual because the officers also carried M-1 battle rifles instead of M-2 carbines or pistols. At 05:00 the next morning we exercised on the parade field. Then we went through “leadership” training. This consisted of telling us that if we were a PFC in combat with a bunch of private E-2s, we were in command and they had to obey our orders. That afternoon we went on another five-mile hike with full combat gear and rations. We camped out that night, got up early enough to hike back and be on the parade field at 05:00 for exercises. Second day: ditto. By the way, this was preferable to staying in the transient company. We were on the firing range every day for a week.

One Sunday morning at 02:00 sharp, we were hustled out and loaded up onto C-119s and flown to a dirt airstrip somewhere in Colorado. We spent nine days marching up and down mountains, crossing streams, eating cold rations and freezing. We took a lot of ammunition and did a lot of shooting until we had fired every cartridge. After the ammo was depleted, we started back to the airstrip. Somebody commented that since we had fired all the ammo, we would have to fix bayonets if a grizzly bear attacked us.

The C-119s picked us up and we took that long, long flight back to Ft. Jackson. The mess hall stayed open late in anticipation of our return in the wee hours. We had fried eggs, bacon, toast, coffee, milk and juice. The strange add-on this time was fruit cocktail. That breakfast was a luxury that made everything else seem inconsequential. It was December 23rd, 1953. I would go home for Christmas!

Enjoy the season and all the good food that comes your way.


The Treasure Hunt

Tim Whealton


It started innocently enough. When ee were at the Whealton family reunion I asked my cousin what was going to happen to our Grandfather’s house in Mesic, NC. She was the owner but no one had lived there since hurricane Irene flooded it several years ago. She said it would either be torn down or given to the fire department for a training burn. She also told me I could go there and look around for any old wood or souvenirs.

I always loved Grandad’s house. I was 5 when he died when so my memories are mostly from stories. I only remember seeing him alive at night when my Dad took me with him to go visit. It must have been for some special reason because we never drove that far from home with Pop’s car at night for just a visit. Pop was a mechanic and his cars were usually projects that still needed some work. Pop carried me on his arm to the front door. He put me down and knocked on the front door. A tall man with gray hair holding a short double barrel shotgun opened the door. (It was a 10 gauge Baker with 11 inch barrels!) Pop looked at the shotgun and asked “expecting trouble?” Grandad just smiled and said, “No son, this is my midnight reading companion I keep it on my lap when I’m up late reading the paper.”

Who wouldn’t love a Grandad like that?

Grandad built the house in 1916. Before then he worked in a shipyard in Detroit, Michigan. He and Grandmother Whealton decided they didn’t want their children growing up in Detroit and made plans to move to Mesic, North Carolina, where Grandad was raised. Grandpa bought land and built the house before he moved his wife and children to Mesic. This is where the mystery starts. He was a laborer in a shipyard. How did he find the money to leave them and go buy land and build a house? It must have taken at least a year. The house he built wasn’t the typical down-east farm house either. It was grand for 1916. It was a two story with 4 bedrooms upstairs and a living room, parlor and kitchen downstairs. The workmanship was impressive as well. Plaster walls and dark wood door and trim. It really stood out in a neighborhood of small farm houses and commercial fisherman camps.

I told my brother of my plan and he wanted go with me. Warren is older and remembers many more things about Grandad. He had actually hunted with him and remembered the layout of the house when Grandpa lived there. After he died in 1956, my Aunt and her family lived there for many years. Aunt Sissy was my Pop’s sister and I loved her. She was witty and always ahead of the conversation. It was easy to see that she and Pop had a special relationship.

Warren brought up the lost Whealton treasure. He said there might be a chance that some of Grandad’s fortune was still stashed in the house somewhere because he died suddenly of heart attack. Warren also reminded me of the 1929 Great Depression story. Grandad and Grandmother went to New Bern to buy supplies. They stopped in Bayboro to withdraw money while Grandmother waited in the truck. She watched through the window as Grandad transacted business and noticed the clerk seemed uneasy. When she asked Grandad about it, he said it almost seemed like he didn’t want to give him the money.

Grandmother told him to go back in and withdraw all their money because something was wrong. He did and when they came back later that day, the bank was closed with an angry mob at the door. That was the start of the Great Depression and their money was what saw them through it. Maybe some of that was still around?

Like most things in our family secrets don’t last long and my sister wanted to go. Satan is always at your elbow because I thought now it would be a three way split but I was actually glad for her come. It had been a long time since the three of us had done anything together but eat and who knows, if the money was in gold it might be enough to make us all rich! A thousand in $20 gold coins would be a tidy sum.

A couple of days later we assembled for the hunt. We used my truck so we would have room to bring back lots of treasure in case it wasn’t in gold bullion. We started laughing and sharing stories about growing up before we started and kept it up for most of the drive. We were about halfway there when we passed a sporting goods store. I announced an unscheduled stop and all agreed.

The little store had a small shelf of ammo and I spied a box of 6.5x55 ammo. I told the clerk I wanted it and he told me I didn’t.  He told me I was looking for 6.5 Creedmoor. I told him I would take the ammo anyway and he slid it across the counter and said “I tried to warn you!” I started to tell him I had been a gunsmith 49 years, was the gunsmithing teacher, double distinguished, double high master and I knew what caliber I wanted but I decided a plain “thank you was the correct reply. We got a few more good laughs out of that.

Next, we started planning where we would stop for lunch on the way back. We quickly agreed that shrimpburgers from Mayo’s would be perfect. With our food planned it was onward to Mesic and maybe riches. We talked about the many trips to Mesic with Pop when we were kids. Pop made me a wooden airplane that he would let me hold out the window the last 5 miles to see the propeller spin. Warren told the time he was nearly jerked from the car when he opened the rear door on Pop’s Hudson while it was on the highway. The Hudson door opened to the rear and the wind would snatch the door open if you hit the handle while moving. We passed the many houses damaged by Hurricane Florence a month earlier and told more stories about hurricanes when we were little.

Soon we were pulling up at Grandad’s house. It looked old but still grand when you remembered that it was over 100 years old. After a little prying and pushing we were inside and that brought on more stories about Grandad and the Grandmother that died before I was born. She was German and came here at a time when Germans were not well liked. It was WWI and Germans and Americans were killing each other. It must have been hard for her.

The house didn’t look damaged by the flood but it was stripped inside. The doors were gone, the door facings and the moldings removed. Nothing was really left of the grand house but the broken remains of a player piano. It had the front removed and I marveled at the beautiful workmanship. It was built long before electricity. It used air power to operate the keys as a paper scroll with holes that would pass over a bar with holes for each key. When the hole in the paper passed over the bar air would escape and operate the key. All you had to do was sit on the bench, wind up the scroll and pump the pedals to keep the air pressure going. I thought, how in the world did a shipyard worker turned farmer afford such a luxury? Hmmmm.

In the Parlor was the closet I remembered under the stairs. Pop opened the door once  to show me the guns propped against the wall. Grandad loved to hunt and shoot and kept a large collection of guns. Nothing was left but marks on the wall from where the muzzles rested.

The parlor was also where Grandad would sit and read. He got newspapers from New York and Chicago delivered to Mesic because he liked to stay up on world events and politics. Uncle Rudolph told me about the time a drunken farm hand stumbled onto the front porch and opened the door one night. Grandad was sitting in the chair with lamps on each side. The drunk asked Grandad if this was a funeral parlor.

When Grandad lowered the newspaper the drunk man saw that he was holding a sawed off 10 gauge.

Grandpa said “It’s gonna be!”

Uncle Rudolph said you could hear that man’s shoes hitting the dirt road outside for close to a mile.

After hours climbing stairs and looking under everything we could see, we only took a couple of old boards as souvenirs. We loaded up for the trip to Mayo’s for that shrimp burger. We enjoyed the food but the real treat was us spending time together. Having a brother a sister with many talents is good enough but having a brother and sister that shares a love of family is really spectacular.

That was when it hit me. I have had the Whealton treasure all my life. It isn’t money or gold.  It’s better than that. It’s a family who knows how to love and does it. Thanks Grandad, what you started is still going strong!



The Ornament

Laura Wiggin


How the ornament came to me

Is still very much a mystery.

It was a glorious Christmas day

But I had to push it away.

The pain so tender and raw,

My own sorrow was all I saw.

People don’t understand what soldiers do

Nor what a soldier has to go through.

My little boy grew into a man

The military was his decided plan.

He wanted to be like me, his dad,

Fight for our freedom as I had.

I said, ‘wait son, this is a serious decision’

But all he could see was me in his vision.

The night he left…a deep sad sigh

All my wife and I did was cry.

I knew what was ahead for my son

But he proudly put the uniform on.


Only a soldier’s heart knows the true story,

What it takes to fly the Old Glory.

It isn’t just what is demanded of you,

Nor the hell that each day you go through,

But the simple things you go without,

What pains make your body shout,

Sights that will forever fill your heart.

Demons will haunt you way after you depart.

The war isn’t only bullets, tanks, and guns

But the scars that steal the heart of our sons.

Should he make it home alive…

He will fight a new battle to survive.

Questions of decisions made…

Scenes of lifeless bodies in your mind parade.

The wounds they receive to insure our peace,

Are scars of a soldier that will never cease.

The young men that join this sacred mission,

Will return broken and changed beyond recognition.


But this Christmas there will be no son,

We got the news of what had been done.

We looked again at the flag and plaque

That was all that we had from the vicious attack

That made our son a hero, but took his last breath.

He fought for our freedom to his very death.

We clung in tears to his pictures and letters once more.

We knew he would never again walk through our door.

My wife shivered in the coolness of the room.

Was it the wintery season or the reality of gloom?

I went out the door to get more wood

There the ornament at my feet stood.

I reached and picked it up as tears streamed.

On top of a pair of soldiers’ boots it beamed

A ceramic ball in red, white, and blue.

My son’s dog tags hung on it too

We will never forget was etched in gold

My son’s name and service dates were on the boots in bold.

Forgetting the wood, I walked back inside

My tears and smile I could not hide.

My wife joined me in this sacred sight,

This mysterious gift that had been delivered by night.

This perfect ornament was a soothing balm

That healed the heart and made it calm.

Someone had remembered…it was not in vain.

Every tear had meaning not just pain.

We placed the ornament in the center of the tree.

The boots sit right under it for the free.


We passed on the legacy of the mysterious ornament

To another family whose son never made it home from deployment.

We sat in the car with prayer and anticipation

Knowing the emotions of losing a son for our nation.

When the door creaked open and the ornament revealed

Was all my wife and I needed to be fully healed.

It is not in the taking that life grants peace

But in the giving that one receives full release.

To every parent who puts their kid on freedom’s altar,

Words of thanks, gratitude, and appreciation falter.

Give respect, love, and gratitude to the military around you,

Thank them for what they live without and what they do.

And should you find you like this story

And someone you know died for Old Glory,

Pass along this mysterious ornament to those who grieve,

It will be quite the blessing to those who receive!


Excerpt from Fireside Christmas Collection, Vol. 1. Laura Wiggin (Inspirational Inklings, 2018)



Marry Williamson


There are many secrets. Throughout the ages there have been and still are many secret societies in our world. The rosicrucians, the cathars, knights templars, opus dei, freemasons. The old celtish druids had no written language and passed their knowledge on to their young apprentices only by word of mouth. It could take years before a young druid was deemed ready.

He had to learn all the old rituals by heart. Here is a funny thing. If ‘angus dei’ means ‘lamb of god’ in latin why do the Scotch call their cattle ‘Aberdeen Angus’? There is a secret. What exactly is a secret? The Oxford Dictionary states that a secret is something that is kept or meant to be kept unknown or unseen by others. I also read somewhere that a secret is ‘something you tell to only one person at a time’.

Ellen knew a secret. She was told it by Vera. Vera had said “don’t tell anyone. It is a big secret.”

At first this secret was bothering Ellen. She wished she had not been told this secret. She was now dying to tell someone. It kept her awake for most of the night. She woke the next morning after only a few hours of sleep totally wiped out and in a tangle of bedclothes. She ate this secret with her cornflakes, took it on the bus with her to work and it was with her all morning till lunchtime when she met Siobhan from accounts.

Siobhan from accounts plonked herself next to her in the staff canteen with her little pot of yoghurt and whispered: “Must tell you something. But you must promise not to breathe a word to anybody. It is a secret!”

Siobhan’s secret puzzled Ellen because it was more or less the same as Vera’s. It differed a bit in that there was more of it. It had a few extra details. Ellen kept mulling it over all fternoon and nearly missed the bus going home. Her mind was all over the place worrying about this secret as she dawdled towards the bus stop. It was only because she heard a loud banging on the upstairs window of the double decker that she realised that the bus had arrived and was about to pull out again. She jumped on at the last moment and stumbled up the stairs.

The banging had come from her sister’s boyfriend John. “Hey” said John as she slid in the seat next to him “you nearly missed the bus. I must tell you something”. He dropped his voice dramatically. “You must promise not to pass it on to anybody. For your ears only. Hush, hush. Destroy before reading and all that”.

Ellen got a sinking feeling that she was going to hear the same story with even more embellishments.

Yes, she was. No surprise there. “Mind” John called after her as she made her way for the stairs, “not a dickie-bird to anybody”.

She looked back, nodded and mimed zipping up her mouth. The secret had grown. There were even more details and if anything it had become more of a secret than the original one.

As she walked into her flat the landline was ringing. She shrugged out of her coat and sprinted across the kitchen.

It was Evelyn, her friend from Manchester. Evelyn was quite breathless. “Ell, listen to this. I have now heard everything. Must tell you. But you must keep it to yourself. Big secret. Capital S. Capital E. Capital C. Capital R. Capital E. Capital T. Promise”.

“OK” Ellen sighed. “Shoot”.

It was, of course, the same story. With some more embellishments. She wearily put the phone down after again swearing on her mother’s life that she would not tell anyone.

Now, of course, you will want to know what the story was? Well, it is a secret. Capital S. Capital E. Capital C. Capital R. Capital E. Capital T. If I tell you I will have to kill you.



Come, gentlemen, I hope we shall drink down all unkindness. William Shakespeare



Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle

Randy Bittle


Why do people still reference Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle even in these modern times, 2500 years after they lived?  What did they do that deserves the distinctions reserved for them?  For those who do not know, understanding these thinkers’ contributions to modern society may seem difficult.  I have a few words to say upon the subject, so put on your thinking caps and read on.  The perspective about these philosophers I wish to explore is still relevant today, especially in the social media and “fake news” environment in which we live.  This perspective hinges upon whether or not truth is possible.  Do truths exist, and if so, how do you attain them?  These questions form the essence of the teachings of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, and subsequently stoked the aspirations of gifted thinkers in Western society for thousands of years.  Today we seem to live in a truth-less era and the questions of whether truth exists and how to attain it have never been more crucial.

Earlier Greek philosophers postulated truths about reality before the three philosophers mentioned above.  What these three did was not novel in this sense.  Thinking about reality and deeper truths seems to be a gift from the ancient Greeks, as they invented the idea that reality was both comprehensible and explainable.  No one before them even tried to understand or explain reality.  Thales was the first known philosopher, and you should google him to find more information about him.  If you find Thales interesting, look up Anaximander, Anaxagoras, Heraclitus, and Parmenides also.  Pythagoras was the most influential philosopher before the fifth century BC.  He forbade his followers from writing down the concepts they studied, which were more mystical than scientific.  Plato is indebted to Pythagoras and his students for uniquely true mathematical concepts and the mystical divine nature of the Forms that Plato developed.  Pythagoras lived more than a hundred years before Plato’s time.

We have established that Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were not the first philosophers and did not invent the idea that reality was comprehensible and explainable.  What made them different than the others?  It begins with Socrates, who came first chronologically of the three we are focusing on.  Socrates was aware of the writings of earlier philosophers, and in his younger years he sought insight into the natural philosophies expressed by these earlier thinkers.  None of their systems of thought suited Socrates, and he had more questions than answers.  It frustrated him that he could not ask questions or discuss ideas with the dead philosophers whose static ideas he read.  This turned him against writing, which he never did.  We have nothing written by Socrates.

We know about him from an ancient contemporary sarcastic play by Aristophanes, “The Clouds,” from writings by Xenophon, and of course, from the Socrates character in Plato’s dialogues.  The Socrates character in Plato’s dialogues is a fusion of the real Socrates with Plato’s memories and conceptual intentions.  Plato’s Socrates is not an account or history of a real person, but rather a useful tool to further Plato’s own ideas.  Socrates is known for being unflaggingly persistent in questioning fellow citizens of Athens, sometimes ridiculing them in front of their friends, and only a small group of admirers liked him.  Eventually, in his early seventies, he was condemned to death by a jury for leading youth astray with his ideas and otherwise irritating the citizenry with unwanted questioning of matters relating to the social status quo.  He had the option of choosing ostracism, which meant he could continue living only by leaving Athens without returning for a minimum of ten years.  That he chose to die for his beliefs enhanced the legend of his life spent searching for truths.  His belief that truths existed and were worth pursuing influenced his greatest student Plato.

Plato developed a sophisticated system of thought built around the foundation that some truths were universal, necessary, and certain.  The basis for this belief was mathematics and geometry.  The Pythagorean Theorem was one such ideal truth that was universal, necessary, and certain.  In a triangle with a right angle of 90 degrees, side “a” squared plus side “b” squared always equals the third side squared.  Political opinions, social status, marital status, and financial status did not matter.  The Pythagorean Theorem was true for everyone.  Mathematical truths cared not about your race, creed, or religion.  They always held true.  This gave Plato the foundation he needed to believe that truths existed.  He spent his life trying to formulate logically valid truths centered on virtues and developed a system of ideal virtues he called Forms or Ideas.  He thought these Forms should hold true for all people all the time.

Plato was aware that not everyone knew the truth of his Forms, just like not everyone knew the Pythagorean Theorem.  But not knowing the Pythagorean Theorem does not detract from its universal, necessary, and certain truth and validity.  Plato reasoned the same was true about his virtues as defined by the Forms.  They were true whether people knew about them or not.  The goal was to make people aware of them by teaching and guiding them in the direction of understanding.  His allegory of the cave, in his dialogue “The Republic,” outlines the ignorance of most people and how strange the truth seems on first awareness of it.  I recommend you read “The Republic,” at least the section dealing with the allegory of the cave.

Plato’s writings were intended to educate people by stimulating them into thinking about the ideas Plato considered true.  He wrote in the dialectic dialogue style because he thought that genuinely thorough contemplation stimulated by this manner of writing could only lead to comprehension inside the mind of the reader.  The key is that Plato believed his Forms were ideal Truths molded in the fashion of mathematical Truths.  They were true whether or not people understood them.  The concept of universal, necessary, and certain truth carried over as the driving force behind modern science, beginning with Galileo and Newton in the seventeenth century AD and continuing through today’s scientific advancements.  It is not arbitrary or coincidental that mathematics underlies modern scientific understanding.  Mathematics applied to reality validates and verifies the truths we claim about reality, and we owe gratitude to Pythagoras and Plato.

Aristotle was Plato’s student for twenty or thirty years, until Plato’s death when Aristotle formed his own school.  Aristotle did not write in the dialectic dialogue style of Plato.  One conjecture is that Aristotle’s writings were notes intended for his lectures and not originally intended to be read by others.  Nonetheless, his writings are comprehensive and cover a wide variety of subjects pertaining to reality.  While Plato believed his Forms were ideal truths apart from material reality, Aristotle reveled in the exploration of material reality, the practical analysis of politics and ethics, and especially formal logic.  Note that Socrates taught Plato who taught Aristotle.  Three contiguous generations of serious inquiry into whether truth exists, what truth is if it does exist, and logical analysis of politics and ethics comprise the work of the three men who are the subject of this essay and have inspired every serious thinker in the past 2500 years.  We could use a little careful consideration of truth in today’s world, and we could benefit from gaining some confidence that truth exists.  I recommend beginning with the writings of Plato and Aristotle.



The Paperclip Christmas Tree

Laura Wiggin


Christmas, 2017


My job in decorating the tree has always been to put the hanger hooks on the ornaments while others hang them on the tree. Now some 33 years later, the “others” are back to just my husband and me. Our sons are on their own. Nostalgia overcomes me as I open each box (some looking quite weathered).

Our first tree sparkled gold. My in-laws had given us all their gold balls as they moved on to a new theme, so it was gold garland, gold beads, and gold balls (lots of them!). We had two very special ornaments. One was of glass and stated Our First Christmas Together. The other was an oval locket ornament that stated the same but inside we put our picture. Sigh. Looking at those pictures now, I realize how time has flown.

Not a single gold ornament remains. Over the years, we replaced them with “special” ornaments, like the glove ornament my sister gave me the year she insisted on an ornament exchange. Now as I place it on the tree, I think of her. She’s gone now, thus this ornament’s value just went up. It used to be just an ornament, but now it’s a cherished memory.

As I open some boxes, my heart sinks. I remember the year our tree fell over twice. We lost several dated ornaments that year. We also lost the ornament I had kept since 6th grade (I’m 50 now). It was just a red ball with my name done in glitter, but my teacher had given it to me. I kept as many of the broken balls as I could; they remain in their torn boxes each year. It’s a reminder that these are just things.

As I travel through the dated ornament years (including the broken ones), tears threaten. Each one is symbolic of our life at the time. One pitiful plastic ball has about lost its top, but it tells of a really hard year. So I put it up every year (it won’t break!), and with it is a reminder of those less fortunate, and a challenge not to forget them.

Now I reach in and get baby’s first Christmas ornaments. We have three sons, and doting grandparents gave ornaments, too, so our tree blossomed quickly with the addition of each precious child. These ornaments try to bring wetness to my cheeks. The baby pictures, the baby balls, each bring strong memories. The baby book and shoe all hang in my heart and on the tree. Ahhh, such a tender moment.

I hang a few musical ornaments and laugh as I push their buttons, their songs long gone, but still the memories linger.

Then I unwrap the ugly ornaments. You know, the ones you find a great place for on the BACK of the tree. The ceramic churches, hands, and such, covered with every color offered by two and three year olds! This year, I proudly put them on the FRONT of the tree for they mean love!

There are those ornaments given to us by special friends. Their faces swim through my heart as I reach for their ornament. I smile as I hang the shell ornaments we collected (some are broken – don’t look at their back side!) while living on the coast of California.

Oh and the travel ornaments, how can I forget those! The year we took a cruise with friends. The trips to D.C., Hawaii, and New York. We even have Mickey Mouse up there. My husband brought an ornament from Russia when he was on a business trip. He also spent six months in Kuwait, so that is the ornament for this year. Not that I really want to remember the separation, but the sacrifice he made for his family.

I didn’t realize just how much of life our Christmas tree held on its branches!

As I hang each ornament, there is a clear reminder of harder times. The old, ill-formed paperclips that I attached to so many ornaments remind me of the years we couldn’t afford the luxury of real hangers. I started to replace them, but then I decided to keep them as a reminder of God’s provision even in the lean years.

I strung cranberries and popcorn for the traditional tree garland all alone this year. Yet with every popcorn piece and every cranberry, I have much to be thankful for, so, we don’t have a fancy themed tree like some.

Nor do we have exquisite decorations, but we have a Paperclip Tree of Love.


Excerpt from Fireside Christmas Collection, Vol. 1 (Inspirational Inklings, 2018)




The Fabric of Time

E. B. Alston


We move through life by difficult steps

Like Epicureans on a Stoic mission.

For the Gods, Time is a dimension

And they come and go at will.

For us, Time is a commodity; something we use,

Profitably or not, sometimes unaware.

Were I a God, I would find the time

And view through a cosmic peephole,

A small tear in Time’s fabric,

My mother in her kitchen

Teaching my young daughter

How to bake cookies in the oven

Of her wood burning cookstove.

And my father, sitting on the front steps,

Teaching my young sons,

While they listen in rapt attention,

The proper way to whittle.




Marry Williamson


What is a Christmas story? What can one say about Christmas that has not already been told? Charles Dickens did it best with ‘A Christmas Carol”. Stories about chestnuts, open fires, snowman, angels, shepherds, etc have also all been done. So what else is there to tell? Families at each other’s throats all day because they cannot stand each other but society and tradition tells them that they have to spend Christmas together. Anyhow, stories from a family point of view and tearjerkers about people finding each other or travelling hundreds of miles on Christmas day have all been done as well.

Then there are the nutcracker type stories of toys coming to life on Christmas eve. I have always had a bit of trouble with those. How can you sleep and not hear anything with all that racket going on downstairs? There is really not much more to say about Christmas apart from funny reminiscences, i.e. how we all fell about laughing when Uncle Bertie fell asleep at the table headfirst into the pudding. And when Auntie Mabel drunk too much cooking sherry and insisted on reciting all 142 verses of the Ancient Mariner.

In the Netherlands where I grew up Christmas was done differently. On Christmas day people concentrated mainly on eating and drinking without being side-tracked by presents. The giving and receiving of presents was mainly done on the 5th of December, St. Nicholas Day.

St. Nicholas was a bishop from Myra who clambered over rooftops on a big white horse with a Moorish helper, called very politically incorrect ‘Black Peter’. Poor Peter never got to ride the horse but had to scramble behind and carry a big sack. Good children would get a present which was chucked down the chimney but naughty children would get caught by Black Peter and carried away in the big sack.

St Nicholas evening was celebrated with the whole family and at some point there was a loud banging on the front door, my mother would open the door, me cowering behind and a big basket stood on the doorstep filled with presents for everybody. I was to discover later that it was put there by a neighbour.

I discovered when I was about 6 or 7 that the whole thing was a sham anyway when St Nicholas visited my school and I recognised him as a friend’s father. As my family were Catholics on Christmas eve we attended Midnight Mass followed by supper when we got home. Consequently we got up late on Christmas day. We always had a real Christmas tree with glass baubles and real candles until the fateful year when the tree went up in fire. Just after my father had lit all the little white candles in this tree which, incidentally, was as dry as tinder having stood in the dining room for a number of days, the dog spotted a cat in the garden and made a beeline for the french windows upsetting the tree. Sadly it was the end for the tree and the curtains and we were very lucky that my mother managed to open the door and chuck the tree onto the lawn, candles, baubles and all. Lucky nothing else caught fire. We never had a real tree with candles again.

Speaking about fires. There was a Christmas day when a picture on the wall in my grandparents house caught fire. The dining room in their house had a shelf running halfway up the walls round the room below the pictures and on which my grandmother displayed her collection of little brass knick-knacks. After Christmas dinner the men were sitting round the table with bottles of port and lemon gin (my grandfather’s favourite), a bowl of walnuts and a basket of tangerines. The women were in the kitchen helping my grandmother with the washing up. (No dishwashers in those days). I was probably about 3 or 4 years old.

My aunt came in, gasped and pointed to the big Victorian oleograph of huge cabbage roses in a wide black lacquered frame. It was smouldering. My grandmother had been a bit overzealous in creating a Christmas ambiance and had put little tea lights on saucers all along the knick-knack shelf. She had put one of them right underneath the picture. My mother also came in and calmly took control, opened the french windows, asked my uncle to to help her take the picture, the black frame by now showing little flames, off the wall and tipped it through the windows, over the patio and right into my grandfathers beloved dahlia patch.

He did have the picture repaired and reframed into a new black lacquered frame and it later hung for years in my parent’s hallway.

What else is there to say about Christmas? One can always tell a story from the poor turkey’s perspective. One could write a story about this gaggle of turkeys clucking round the farmyard comparing notes on their diets. “Oh, oh, we have to lose weight. Gladys stop eating all that stuff the farmer gives you. You will be chosen. What is best. Slimming World or weightwatchers? We must lose all this fat before Christmas.”



Three Rivers to Cross

Elizabeth Silance Ballard

3 rivers.jpg

Chapter Eight


 I was so proud of my brand-new suitcases as I watched Daddy load them into the Putt-Putt.  I bought them at Rose’s Dime Store with graduation money from Uncle Leonard and Aunt Barbara.  The color was “Bermuda Green” and I thought that sounded so sophisticated!

I suddenly remembered hearing  the girls at school talking about their “luggage.” I resolved right then, as I was stepping into the boat, that I would take the word suitcases out of my vocabulary. Luggage  seemed like a much more suitable word for my sophisticated Bermuda Green dime store suitcases—I mean, luggage!

Mama would not go with us. She said she couldn’t bear to say goodbye in front of a bunch of strangers so she stood on the dock as I hugged her one last time with the tears rolling down our faces.

 It would be the first time I had ever been away from home and I was already feeling a stab of homesickness.

“I’m real proud of you, Charlotte Anne, and I’m glad you can go, but I’m going to miss you real bad.”

“I’ll write, Mama, and I promise I’ll send you some pictures of my dorm, the campus and my roommate.”

My brothers had sent a camera to me for a graduation present with several rolls of film included. It was something I had wanted since I was ten years old and saw some girls at school with one. It was not a Brownie camera, though, like those girls had back then. This one was a very nice camera and I was so proud of it.

On the trip across the river, I sat in the boat facing the island. I wanted to see it as long as possible. Once we tied up at Mr. Sonny’s dock and Uncle Leonard helped Daddy get my belongings tied down in the truck bed, we were on our way.

It seemed like a long trip to us for we rarely left Meadow View. Raleigh was the farthest I had ever been from home. I had only been to Raleigh once and that was to see the campus. Though it was less than three hours from Meadow View, it seemed like a tremendous journey.

“Are you scared, Lady Baby?”

“A little, Daddy. Well, maybe more than a little.”

“Look. You’re gonna be meetin’ people from all over, every kind of town, every kind of home, every walk of life. Just remember, there are always good people everywhere you go.”

“Uh-huh. Like Meadow View?”

“There’s always gonna be people who are not quite as good and kindhearted as others and one lesson we all have to learn is how to distinguish which is which. It’s not always easy, but there were a few good people during your school years: Miss Thompson, Miz Cabler, and others.”  

“Well, a few. There was Margaret in the first grade and Teddy in the fifth grade. Oh, and there was Josh, the boy who won the music scholarship. We weren’t really friends but they were always nice to me.”

After that, Daddy and I just kept it light until we arrived in Raleigh. At that point, we both stopped talking. My stomach felt like a mass of knots when we saw the sign for Meredith College. My heart was pounding by the time we reached the campus and found my dorm. I was glad I had visited the campus before. It didn’t seem quite as large and intimidating as it did the first time. I still had a first class case of the jitters, though!

Daddy patted my hand. “You’re a good girl, Charlotte Anne. You ain’t  never gave your mama and me any reason to worry or to be ashamed. You got a good head on your shoulders. You’ll be all right. I’m certain of that.”

 I checked in while Daddy lugged everything from the truck. I was glad my roommate was not there yet. I didn’t want her to see me arriving at college in a 1952 Chevy pick-up truck.             By the time I got to my room, Daddy was sitting on one of the beds, drinking a Pepsi-Cola and eating a Baby Ruth candy bar.

“Tell you what, Charlotte Anne, you’d best steer clear of them drink and candy machines at the end of the hall. They ain’t good for you!”

I walked with him back to Uncle Leonard’s truck, trying hard to keep the tears at bay.

“You got your money, right?”

I nodded and we hugged without saying a word. Daddy got behind the wheel and never looked back at me. I’m sure he was in tears, though. I watched and waved, teary myself, until he turned the corner and was gone from my sight. I stood there a minute or so longer as girls streamed around and past me.

It didn’t bother me that I knew no one there. I had spent twelve years going to school, yet not really being a part of the crowd. I was a task-oriented person and that trait had held me in good stead my whole life. I turned and trudged back up the stairs to unpack and greet my new roommate. 


It took maybe three minutes for Suzanne Romalda McManty to notice that we were vastly different people.

“What kind of accent is that?!”

Accent? What is she talking about?

“Accent? There’s no accent,” I said. “I’m from right here in North Carolina.  From Meadow View.”

“Well, I’ve never heard that accent and I’m from right here in North Carolina, too. From Little Forest. It’s way up in the mountains. Where is Meadow View?”

I wanted to say that if either of us had an accent, it was definitely her, not me! However, I was brought up to be polite so I just said, “It’s down on the coast. Literally. My family actually lives on a small island and my daddy  is a commercial fisherman.”

“Oh, I get it. You’re a Hoy Toyder!”

I didn’t answer but simply looked at her with, I hoped, no expression on my face.

“You know, Charlotte! High tide?  You’re a  High Tider but with your accent, it sounds like Hoy Toyder. Say it for me.  Say High Tider.”

“You probably aren’t aware, Suzanne, that most people on the coast resent that term.  I personally don’t resent it, but you are obviously bent on embarrassing me. Not a good way to begin a roommate relationship. I can only surmise that you have had no home training at all.”

I turned back to my unpacking.

“I’m sorry, Charlotte. I didn’t mean to make fun of you. I think your accent is cute. We mountain folks get teased about our accents all the time. People call us mountaineers that, by the way, is  just as insulting to us as hoy toyder is to you. At least it is in our family.

“Why, my family is from so far back up in the hills that we’re fascinated by people who live on the coast. I can’t imagine all that water! And living on an island, too! Can you see the ocean from your house?”

“No, but it’s only a few minutes by boat or car.”

“I can’t wait to go home with you, Charlotte, and did you notice that we’re just about the same size? Our wardrobes have just doubled, Roomie.”

I doubted she would want to wear any of my things, but as she began to put hers away, I was relieved to see that her apparel wasn’t much better than my own. Just a quick look at the other girls going up and down the hall made it clear to me that we truly needed a few new items if we didn’t want to stand out.

“I’ll bet we both will get teased  plenty but we don’t care, do we, Charlotte? We’ll just stick together! Before the end of the year, I will have picked up some of your accent and you will surely pick up some of mine. Our own families will tease us.”

I almost told her to call me Charlotte Anne but, for some reason, I held back.

“Do people  call you Suzie or Sue?”

She turned, holding a dress hanger in midair, and said, “Yes, but please don’t tell anybody. I prefer to be known as Suzanne. It sounds so much more sophisticated, I think. Know what I mean?”

I did, indeed; and at that moment, I left Charlotte Anne behind forever.

“Let’s find the dining hall. I’m starving. Do you know where it is?”

“Yes. We can explore the campus after we eat. Okay, Charlotte?”

The two of us had clicked.  We would be great friends. My college life, my new life—my Real Life—had begun.

Chapter Nine


I was glad I had chosen a small college. Even I knew that a girl who grew up on an island with school her only social outlet (if you could call it that) would be too overwhelmed at a large college or university with thousands of students.

Meredith proved to be a good choice and, just as Mrs. Cabler predicted, it didn’t bother me at all to see my former Meadow View classmates there. Even Adrienne, Mean Girl #1, showed up on campus.  Though we had two classes together, other than a casual greeting, we had no contact.

Meredith’s campus was beautiful. Traditional architecture coupled with meticulously maintained grounds made for a picture perfect setting. Suzanne agreed.

“I almost went to Waverly College but that campus was not as pretty as this one,” she said.  “Unfortunately, at Waverly somebody got the idea that any new buildings should be modern and show the sense of movement, clean lines and functionality which reflect the world of today.  Well, I had one word for the new Science building there when I made a campus visit with Mom and Dad: UGLY. Just  no character at all, Charlotte. 

“I can’t imagine why they didn’t keep the same style of architecture as the rest of the campus. They could have made it all modern inside but still kept the outside like the rest of the buildings there. It looked like a plain brunette child in a family of gorgeous redheads! It sounds silly, I know, but I didn’t want to go there.  It is silly, isn’t it, to decide against a college simply because you think one of their buildings is ugly?”

I knew what she meant. Meredith’s campus was not only beautiful. It had that look of a place where one could be happy.

“I considered Waverly, too, Suzanne, and I’m glad we both came here instead.”


Being scholarship students and—okay, smart—we plunged into academics and studied like mad. Though neither of us would have admitted it, there was a light spirit of competition between us. We loved the posting of grades on the classroom doors because neither of us had anything to worry about even though Suzanne considered an A- as bad as a failing grade.

Beyond the friendly competition, Suzanne and I never had a fight or even a mild disagreement. We were perfectly matched as roommates and she had no idea that she was my first, and only, real friend.

The plan had been for me to take the bus back to Meadow View for Thanksgiving holidays. Instead, after days of  Suzanne’s pleading, I agreed to go home with her.

For all her talk about living way back in the hills, (“In the sticks, really,” she would say to anyone who asked.), I was quite taken aback to see a huge log home. It was clear that Suzanne’s family could hardly be considered average, or hicks, as she was always referring to them.

In fact, I wondered how she had qualified for a scholarship until I found out she had the same one I had, the one that depended strictly on grades and performance on the required testing. Need was not a factor and Suzanne’s circumstances were definitely proof of that fact.

That  made me feel better. I had felt a little ashamed of being on scholarship, as if I were on charity, something considered truly shameful in my family.

“We might be ragged compared to other folks and we might eat nothing but fish sometimes,” I heard Daddy say once, “but we can make our own way and survive.” He meant it, too. It was just the way we were.

When Suzanne, had spoken of living in a log house,  I’d pictured something akin to Daniel Boone’s abode but their home was not a cabin at all. The stone fireplace was so large that a ten-year-old child could stand in it, hold his arms out and not touch the sides. 


When I went home a few weeks later for Christmas vacation, I became absolutely certain I could never invite my roommate to visit us there. On the bus trip home, I felt the same excitement others in my dorm had expressed about going home. I was certainly looking forward to eating Mama’s good cooking again and walking the shore at low tide to look for treasures.

Reality hit me, though, as soon as the bus drove into the station and I saw my family standing by Uncle Leonard’s pickup. I couldn’t believe how, well, how shabby, how dowdy, how—low class they looked. I had just come from the campus where parents were coming from everywhere to pick up their daughters for the holidays. None of them, not a single one of them, looked like the parents who came to welcome me home.

My face burned with the shame I felt for feeling the way I did and for dreading the moment when I had to step off that bus and climb in the back of the pickup like a character out of a Ma and Pa Kettle movie.

I had always loved my family and felt very close to them. I had never felt ashamed of them before in the way I was now feeling, not even in the early years when I first began to notice that Mama didn’t look like the other mothers. I had wanted her to look like them, but I wasn’t ashamed of her.  

But now, having been away almost four months, I was seeing everything with different eyes so I was filled with shame at the way my parents looked and filled with shame for feeling ashamed.


It was not a good holiday, that first Christmas I was home from Meredith College. I felt like a stranger on that island I had loved my whole life.

It was cold, with a drizzling rain, by the time we reached the dock and had to transfer to the boat. Daddy said we could expect sleet because the temperature would be dropping fast later in the afternoon and early evening.

I hated the way my new loafers, my prized Weejuns, sank in the mud as we walked to the house, which now seemed to me a shanty. In truth, it was not a shanty. It was a solid four-bedroom house but it was not the picturesque island home that I knew Suzanne had envisioned when she asked me to describe it.

It was strange, really. It wasn’t the way I remembered it at all. The comfortable, cozy kitchen with its blue gingham patterned oilcloth, the stool chairs at the big planked table with its Lazy Susan (all of which I described to Suzanne as antique)—well, it just looked homemade, shabby, and old.

I could hardly bear the thought of staying there those two full weeks before I could go back to Meredith.

“Do you feel okay, Charlotte Anne?” Mama put her hand to my forehead. “You  comin’ down with the flu?”  

I made up something about just being tired; but, feigning headaches or an upset stomach, I spent the majority of the two weeks in my room, wondering why in the world I had ever been so homesick for this room with its homemade red gingham curtains and pieced quilts that my grandma had made before I was even born.

I’m sure my parents were as glad as I was when it was time for me to go back across the river and meet the bus but we said very little to each other that day. Mama was the only one who spoke when I came downstairs with my luggage and small overnight bag.

“Don’t forget your party dress, Charlotte Anne.”

I hadn’t forgotten. I had mentioned early in the semester that I had borrowed a formal from Suzanne for some social activity. To Mama, that meant a “party dress” and she did what she had done my whole life. She sat at her treadle machine and made one for me.

I won’t even attempt to describe it here. Just suffice it to say there was no event anywhere to which I would wear that garment. To my credit, I did manage to act excited and happy with it when I opened the package on Christmas morning. I knew Mama had spent many hours, her feet pushing the treadle of her old Singer, in an effort to give me what she thought I needed. 

While I knew I would not wear the dress, I was touched at how long she had worked, as well as the fact that it was made out of “store-bought” material.

Since Mama no longer went across the river to shop, Aunt Barbara had found the fabric, a pretty, pale lilac, something Mama clearly considered a luxury and something she never would have bought for herself.

Daddy said nothing until we reached the bus station. Christmas vacation had fallen short of our expectations but my ruse of being “under the weather” had been successful.

“You’ll be feeling more like yourself when you come home in the spring, Lady Baby,” Daddy said, hugging me at the station just before I got on the bus.

Feeling like myself?  To my horror, I burst into tears. He thought it was because I was feeling homesick at having to go back to college. It wasn’t. My tears resulted from the sudden knowledge that I didn’t even know who “myself” was now. I had become a misfit in my own home, on the island I had always loved.  Yet, I wasn’t sure I fit in at Meredith, either.

In high school, I had focused all my aloneness, my feelings of being different, my shyness, into studying and I had a safe place to go home to when school was over for the day and for the summer break.

Now, it seemed as if there was no going back “home” to the island at all. It didn’t seem like home anymore. Would I ever feel as if I belonged anywhere again? Was I destined to go through life as a misfit?        

As the miles sped by, I tried to think clearly. I had already followed my old pattern at Meredith. I had immediately dug into my textbooks, haunted the library, and stayed up well after “lights out” by using a flashlight to study, study, study. I had to show I was worthy of my scholarship, that I was equal to Suzanne who had also been Valedictorian of her senior class and cried if she scored below ninety-five on a test.

Still, I had learned to use makeup and fix my hair like the others in our dorm and, as far as I could tell, I did not stick out from the crowd. Rather, I blended in, which I had so desperately wanted to do.

When the bus pulled into another station along the way to pick up more passengers, I scurried into the ladies’ room with my small overnight bag. Waiting until there was no one else in the room, I pulled out that hideous, pathetic “party dress” and stuffed it into the trashcan.

The rest of the way to Meredith, I made lists of job possibilities. I needed a part-time job because I wanted new clothes. I also wanted to have a little  more spending money so that when some of us went down to the Binge Barn, I could afford to buy myself a hamburger with lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise or a hot dog “all the way” or even a BLT instead of always saying, “I’m not really hungry. I’ll just have a small Coke.”

The five dollars Daddy sent weekly didn’t go very far after buying toiletries and school supplies. I never said anything. I was sure if he could send more, he would.

By the time I reached the campus, though, my plan was fully formed. I knew I would have to get special permission to work off campus but I was sure that wouldn’t be a problem as long as my grades didn’t drop.

When I breezed into our room saying, “I’m home!”—Well, I knew that, whether I “belonged” or not, I truly wanted to be there. At that moment, the last invisible vestige of the girl known as Charlotte Anne disappeared. I was glad. I didn’t want to be that girl anymore.

Though I had been totally comfortable and happy to be barefoot on our island for eighteen years, I now was totally happy and comfortable at Meredith.  It was now my world.  I had moved on, had taken a giant step in life. Perhaps it was summed up best by our Lit professor. On the first morning back in class after that Christmas holiday of our freshman year, she said, “I trust that many, if not most of you, discovered over the past two weeks that Thomas Wolfe was correct in telling us, ‘You can’t go home again.’ Those of you who actually completed the required reading list before you came to college will know to what and to whom I am referring.”

The class burst into laughter. It was okay. We were all normal. All was right with our world. We moved into final exams and then into our second semester as college freshmen. Somehow, we had gotten over a hurdle we hadn’t even known existed.


I found my job in a drugstore not far from campus and I worked there until I graduated. It helped me tremendously. I still loved my family and I did go home each Christmas holiday but the shorter holidays I stayed at school and worked. Suzanne and I remained roommates the entire four years, but working gave me a good excuse not to go home with her again as well an excuse not to invite her to Rattlesnake Island.

Her parents were adamant that she always go home for the Christmas holidays and that was the only time I went home. 

I had worried at first about the summer holidays of my freshman year, but thanks to Mrs. Cabler’s suggestion and recommendation,  I was lucky enough to land a job at Sea Vista, a Baptist facility which served as a summer camp for children as well as a  conference center for adults.  My problem was how to get there.


Continued Next Month



Debussy: A Painter in Sound.

By Stephen Watsh.

Knopf; 368 pages, $28.95


Reviewed by E. B. Alston


A life among phantoms: Claude Debussy was a rarity: an avant-garde composer who was also popular. The musical establishment of his day reviled him, but he delighted audi­ences because he always strove to make his music beautiful, striking just the right balance between the novel and the familiar. He remains much loved. Some of his most famous pieces, “Clair de Lune”, “Prelude and “La Mer” his only com­pleted opera,ring a bell with many people who are not classical music buffs.

The centenary of Debussy’s death was on March 25th. As Stephen Walsh recounts in his lively yet learned new biography, he born in 1862 in Laye, outside Paris, the eldest of five chil­dren. His father was a failed shopkeeper and his mother a seamstress. There was no music in the house, but by chance, the boy was given some piano lessons when he was seven. He proved so talented that three years later he was admitted to the Paris conservatory. He studied there for the next 11 years, followed by a spell in Rome, where he did not fit in. The school’s approach to music was hidebound, but Debussy wanted to reinvent it, creating shimmering, chromatic sound pictures based on unusual scales and chords.

His technique has been called “Impressionist”, a description he rejected, because it aims to convey a mood or feeling rather than following a formal structure, just as the Impressionist painters were try­ing to capture a fleeting scene, often out of doors. The big difference was that the painters tended to work rapidly so as not to miss the moment, whereas Debussy was painstaking, laboring to evoke evanes­cent subjects such as clouds and water. Like many composers of his day, he was heavily influenced by Richard Wagner. But at heart he believed that French music was best He revered earlier French composers such as Francois Couperin and Jean-Phlippe Rameau (Bach, whom he adored, was an honorary exception).

Mr. Walsh depicts Debussy’s Paris with the same verve and scholarship that he ap­plies to the man. The city was awash with artists of all kinds, from whom the com­poser drew inspiration; he set work by con­temporary poets such as Verlaine and Mallarme to music. The bohemian life suited him, but he was always broke, borrowing money from friends and business asso­ciates and rarely paying it back. At 50, he was famous and earning fat commissions, but his finances were always shaky.

His love life was messy, too. At 18 he be­gan an affair with Marie Vasnier, a gifted singer and the wife of a civil servant. After various stormy relationships he married Lilly Textier, acouturier’s model,in 1899, but less than five years later he fell in love with Emma Bardac, a banker’s wife. Texier very publicly tried to commit suicide by shoot­ing herself but survived; Paris was scan­dalised. Debussy and Bardac were eventu­ally married in 1908, legitimizing their daughter, Chouchou, and remained to­gether, if sometimes fractiously, until De­bussy died of rectal cancer in 1918.

As a man, then, he had manifold flaws. He treated women badly, was given to ly­ing and took his friends for granted. Like many artists, he invoked his calling to ex­cuse these shortcomings. In a letter to his publisher in 1910 he fumed: “An artist is by definition someone accustomed to dream­ing and who lives among phantoms...How can they want this same person to be able to conduct himself in daily life in strict ob­servance of traditions, laws and other ob­stacles placed in his way by a cowardly and hypocritical world?” That is either a noble truth or self-justifying cant, depending on your point of view.

As Mr Walsh says, his book is a musical biography which aims to show the con­nections between the composer’s life and his music, not a blow-by-blow chronology. He explains how each of the major works was conceived and written and analyses key passages bar by bar. It is an enjoyable and impressive achievement. Read­ers may wish for an electronic version that allows them to listen to the music rather than merely imagine



The Edward Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest

Wretched Writers Welcome

2018 Contest Winners



“Cassie smiled as she clenched Jon’s hand on the edge of the abandoned pier while the sun set gracefully over the water, and as the final rays of light disappeared into the star-filled sky she knew there was only one thing left to do to finish off this wonderful evening, which was throw his severed appendage into the oceans depths so it could never be found again, and maybe get some custard later.”  Tanya Menzes, San Jose, CA


Runner Up

Dreaded Pirate Larry was somewhat worried, as he looked down at his boot, where his first mate was stretched out, making whooshing sounds, attempting to blow him over, that despite having the fastest ship, the most eye patches, and the prettiest parrots, his crew may need a few lessons on the difference between literal and figurative, as evidenced by the rest of the crew applying ice to the timbers.  Shelley Siddall, West Kelowna, BC, Canada



Dishonorable Mention-

My escape from heavily-guarded Cochon Island, a Hungarian penal colony founded by the Gabor sisters, would have to be well-planned and faultlessly executed, I thought to myself, "and I'm just not the right man for it," so I stayed and lived out my days there, because having a Gabor slap you around wasn't that bad, especially when they said "dahling" afterwards. Kevin M. Kinzer, Spokane, WA



Dishonorable Mention

For rookie detective Lara Stinson, the hardest aspect of her most recent case was not discovering that the adolescent victim had been thrown from the tenth story of the apartment building by his own grandmother, but rather trying to spell “defenestration by octogenarian” in her subsequent report.  Thomas Purdy, Roseville, CA


Dark & Stormy Night


It was a dark and stormy night: the wind whistled like an old man with drugstore teeth trying to teach his grandkids to say, "She sells sea shells by the sea shore," causing the little shavers to wonder why Peepaw was suddenly talking like Daffy Duck, whether he'd just had a stroke, and if any of them was in the will. Mark Switzer, Tryon, NC


Fantasy and Horror

Dishonorable Mention

Although widely despised by his own kind, Kazimir Kilcescu was a hero to a few uninhibited vampires who adopted his “baby talk and Ugg boots” method of victim selection which, when applied correctly, largely eliminated the blood-curdling screams that otherwise left them the choice between letting their swooning prey go scot-free or choking down two liters of curdled O-pos. Drew Herman, Port Angles, WA


Purple Prose

Dishonorable Mention

Even in the noisy gloom of the Oyster's Pearl, the most frequented bar in town, Sergeant Pete Harrison spotted her the moment she walked in--the young, tall blonde in a tight red dress that clung to her the way those stringy bits stick to a banana after you peel it. Sylvi Warshaver-Stein, New York, NY



Dishonorable Mention

I moaned through my last moments of ecstasy as I pawed my fingers through his hair, feeling like a crock-pot that had just been turned off, when he turned to stare at me with that same cocky smirk he always had whenever we were finished, and asked in a slightly hoarse voice "How's that for extra credit, Mrs. Thomas?" Payton Gregge, Christopher, IL


Science Fiction

Dishonorable Mention

She stood out like a fifth appendage on the prehensile glandular dorsal fin of a love-sick marmoset from the twin-mooned planet of Hades VII in the Alpha-Centauri star system, but I thought she looked damned cute anyway because of the sailor cap she wore so jauntily. Tim Petteys, Malden on Hudson, NY


Vile Puns

Dishonorable Mention

In preparation for visits by African dignitaries, we had redecorated the West Wing of the White House in an African motif with numerous artificial plants and animals, but the President asked that we remove the papier-mache wildebeests, saying he was "tired of fake gnus." Wm. "Buddy" Ocheltree, Snellville, GA



Dishonorable Mention

Sarah knew a man like Walter "Wild Walt" Sumner could never be tamed; with his brash, unruly manners and fiery temper, and his fast-talking, hard-drinking, gun-slinging, lying, gambling, and cheating ways, and that's why she was marrying Larry, the village idiot.  Rachel Koch, Blackstone. MA


Dishonorable Mention


"As the birds scattered across the sunset vista like so many pimples over a nose, I mused on why it was I had never not enjoyed my time when I wasn't a dermatologist." Aloma Davis, Melbourne, Australia


See the whole list at :



The Worst Person on the Best Team

Tim Whealton


In 1989 and I was in a good spot. I was a competitive rifle shooter and I had made it to the big time. I was selected to shoot on the All National Guard Rifle Team in the 1990 National Championships in Camp Perry Ohio. A 6 man team that would compete head to head with the Marines, Army, Army Reserve, Marine Reserve, Air Force and Navy.

 While it was open competition the real money was on the Marines or Army. At national level, the competition is incredibly fierce. No way did a U.S. Marine want to walk off the rifle range after getting beat by the Army. Try to imagine a Marine or Army team captain going back to tell his commander, “Well sir we shot really well but the National Guard beat us.” I can just hear some crusty old General saying “You mean to tell me the weekend warriors have beat Delta Force and the Marine Raiders?” Yeah, there was a lot of high powered ego at stake.

Each Team was made up of 8 firing members and 2 coaches. This was the Infantry Trophy match. Two the firing members had to be new shooters who had never fired at that level of competition. This requirement meant that every team had to constantly recruit new shooters and train them. If they stayed on the team they would progress from State Championship to Guard Championship to Army Region then Interservice and finally the National Championships at Camp Perry. For a New shooter this would usually take at least 3 years. After that the new shooter would compete with the Old Shooters for a position on the team. This meant in 3 years you had to out-shoot someone with maybe 20 years’ experience to win a berth on the team. Not easily done!

The Guard originally decided to take me to Camp Perry for experience but not to shoot in the team match till the following year. I could shoot in the individual matches and watch the team matches or support by operating targets or filling the water jug. I didn’t care. I just wanted to stand on that firing line and shoot in the biggest shooting match in the world. Over 1400 shooters that year came to shoot in a 3-week competition if you shot all the events.

I did well in the individual matches and picked up some awards. There really wasn’t much pressure so I just relaxed and had a good time. Then came the morning of the team match. I left my shooting gear in the truck because I would just be watching. It was pure excitement. The Big Army team had their flags flying in the breeze and the Marines had more Red and Gold than a winter sunset at Cedar Island. I casually strolled over to our little group. It was a short team meeting and the coaches were discussing strategy. It seems the new shooter they had groomed for 3 years had fallen apart under pressure. Then I heard “Okay we will use Whealton.”  Use me for what I thought, go to the store? Pick up fired brass? The head coach turned to me and said, “Get your gear. You are shooting!”

I hurried to the truck thinking all the way there, “What happens if I mess up?” I already knew to not think like that but negative thoughts kept creeping in. I was shooting with the best shooting competitors in the world and I knew I wasn’t the best. I finally got over the jitters and settled down to do what I trained to do by the time to shoot. Well, long story but I shot well. Not the greatest for me but a good solid performance for a new shooter. When the scores were posted I was the worst one on the team. We had a good score but there were several teams waiting to shoot. Especially the big Army and Marine teams. An old shooter pointed out that if we lost by less than 15 points it would be my fault that we had lost the National Championships. That helped my anxiety!

Well the score held and suddenly I was a hero. We had beat everybody but especially the Marines. They were the ones we admired the most for their spirit so it was a sweet win. And yes I got to go on stage and receive a huge trophy. Inside my thoughts were, yhey won it in spite of me instead of because of me. I’m not a champion, I’m the worst one on the team.

Later my Colonel pulled me aside and asked how it felt to win. I told him how I felt and he explained to me that if you took out my score the team lost. Even though my score was the worse it added the points for a victory and there was no other new shooter that could have done it. The memory of what he have helped me for many years.

I don’t shoot much for competition anymore but the lessons I learned serve me well. I know that as a Christian I’m on a team more important than any that ever walked on the stage to receive a trophy.  I’m on a team that is working to lead people to eternal life with God. No award ever made by man can compare with that! Thanks to Colonel Tom Ellis I realize my efforts count toward the total victory. As a Christian I’m not the best, I’m not even real good. A lot of my shots hit the dirt and never make it to the target. But I’m on the winning team and I have a coach that is out of this world!

 You can make this team too. You don’t have to beat out anybody else. Nobody loses their place on the team when you join. You don’t have to be better than anybody and you don’t have to be worthy, just willing. You are not disqualified because of poor previous performance. Need more persuasion? How about this, you entry fees/dues have been paid in advance 2000 years ago. The price was high but he thinks you are worth it!

Jesus gave us a little insight about being last on the winning team. He was speaking about John the Baptist. He said that no person on earth was greater than John the Baptist yet the least person in the Kingdom of Heaven was greater than he.

It simply meant that John was still a sinner on earth but the worst Christian that makes it to heaven will be holy with a new immortal body. John was going to Heaven but he was still on earth when those words were spoken.

Plainly put Heaven is where we want to go. Jesus is the way there.



Santa -- An Engineering Perspective

Jack B. Nimble

I. There are approximately two billion children (persons under 18) in the world. However, since Santa does not visit children of Muslim, Hindu, Jewish or Buddhist religions, this reduces the workload for Christmas night to 15% of the total, or 378 million (according to the Population Reference Bureau). At an average (census) rate of 3.5 children per household, that comes to 108 million homes, presuming that there is at least one good child in each.


II. Santa has about 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the different time zones and the rotation of the earth, assuming he travels east to west (which seems logical). This works out to 967.7 visits per second. This is to say that for each Christian household with a good child, Santa has around 1/1000th of a second to park the sleigh, hop out, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left for him, get back up the chimney, jump into the sleigh and get on to the next house. Assuming that each of these 108 million stops is evenly distributed around the earth (which, of course, we know to be false, but will accept for the purposes of our calculations), we are now talking about 0.78 miles per household; a total trip of 75.5 million miles, not counting bathroom stops or breaks. This means Santa's sleigh is moving at 650 miles per second --- 3,000 times the speed of sound. For purposes of comparison, the fastest man-made vehicle, the Ulysses space probe, moves at a poky 27.4 miles per second, and a conventional reindeer can run (at best) 15 miles per hour.


III. The payload of the sleigh adds another interesting element. Assuming that each child gets nothing more than a medium sized Lego set (two pounds), the sleigh is carrying over 500 thousand tons, not counting Santa himself. On land, a conventional reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds. Even granting that the "flying" reindeer could pull ten times the normal amount, the job can't be done with eight or even nine of them--- Santa would need 360,000 of them. This increases the payload, not counting the weight of the sleigh, another 54,000 tons, or roughly seven times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth (the ship, not the monarch).

IV. 600,000 tons traveling at 650 miles per second creates enormous air resistance --- this would heat up the reindeer in the same fashion as a spacecraft re-entering the earth's atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer would absorb 14.3 quintillion joules of energy per second each. In short, they would burst into flames almost instantaneously, exposing the reindeer behind them and creating deafening sonic booms in their wake.

The entire reindeer team would be vaporized within 4.26 thousandths of a second, or right about the time Santa reached the fifth house on his trip.

Not that it matters, however, since Santa, as a result of accelerating from a dead stop to 650 m.p.s. in .001 seconds, would be subjected to centrifugal forces of 17,500 g's. A 250 pound Santa (which seems ludicrously slim) would be pinned to the back of the sleigh by 4,315,015 pounds of force, instantly crushing his bones and organs and reducing him to a quivering blob of pink goo.

Therefore, if Santa did exist, he's dead now.



Hammer Spade and the Inca Curse

E. B. Alston


Chapter Two

hsic cover.jpg

I had trouble getting to sleep because I kept replaying the scene with Margot over and over in my mind, trying to come up with something I could have done differently. When I finally fell asleep, I dreamed about the whole thing and the ending always came out the same. At the end of the last dream, Alonia came to me and whispered that she loved me. It was the first time I had thought of her in over three days.



The Marine orderly woke me. “Sir, it is 14:00.”

Two p.m. I had slept past midday. I couldn’t remember a time I had slept past nine a.m. “I’ll be out in fifteen minutes,” I replied.

“Thank you, sir. Would you like breakfast or lunch?”


“Do you want it here or in the dining room?”

“The dining room.”

“Very good, sir.”

I got up. A shave and a quick shower made me feel a lot better. So the warehouse contained a dining room. The building looked like a pallet factory. When I stepped outside the room, I saw rows of offices along the outer walls and people moving about. This was quite a setup. I asked a lady in one of the offices for directions to the dining room. She came to the door and pointed toward a room in the corner.

When I walked inside a sparsely furnished room with a diner style kitchen, I saw Hart sitting at one of the tables. He motioned for me to come over.

“Feeling better?” he asked after I took a seat.

“I’m not sleepy anymore.”

“You looked pretty beat yesterday.”

“I hadn’t slept in two days. Where is everybody?”

“Clover’s gone to Santiago. Oscar and Isabela are checking out some leads.”

“You’re an American.”

“I’m from the Richmond area.”


“Is there any other Richmond?” he replied with a grin.

“I guess not. Not one that counts, anyway. How’d you get tapped for this mission?”

“Clover ‘borrowed’ me from a boring job.”

“What’s your regular job?”

“In my other life, I’m a pharmacist.”

“A pharmacist!”

“Yeah.” He grinned. “Ain’t it great!”

“You must have some kind of hobby or something that pointed Clover to you, unless he plans to obtain revenge with prescription medicine.”

Hart laughed. “My great, great, great grand-pappy got hung by the Yankees for being a Confederate rebel spy. He followed in the footsteps of his great, great, great grand-pappy that got hung by the British for being a rebel Continental Congress spy. It’s in my blood.”

A waiter brought me a cup of steaming coffee, a plate with scrambled eggs, Canadian bacon and two English muffins.

“Where’s the orange marmalade?” I asked jokingly.

Without changing his expression, he took a jar from his apron pocket and set it on the table.

After he left, I said to Hart, “I guess he didn’t think that was funny.”

“They don’t have much of a sense of humor around here. Clover frowns upon any kind of levity.”

“What do you do that caused Clover to bring you here?” I asked.

“I am a wizard with a six-shooter.”

“A six-shooter?”

“Yeah.” He produced a Colt single action revolver with a five-inch barrel.

“It’s pretty. I use a 1911.”

“They’re too slow for this kind of work and they ain’t as well balanced.”

“Slow?” I retorted. “You have to cock that thing for every shot.”

Hart grinned at me. “Yeah, I do. You have to wait for the action to cycle on your 1911. I can shoot as fast as I want to.”

A woman approached the table where Hart and I were talking. “Are you Mr. Spade?” she asked.

“Yes, I am,” I replied.

She handed me a printed document and a lined tablet. “Mr. Clover asked you to write your report. He said to stick to facts.”


“He wants it in time for the strategy meeting tomorrow morning at seven.”

“I’ll have it ready.”

“I’ll tell Mr. Clover.”

She turned and left.

“Clover’s not much on compassion either,” Hart observed.

“He can’t be in this business.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

“How well do you know Isabela?” I asked.

“Not much. I just met her yesterday. She’s a looker, but she’s been all business around me. Clover’s pretty high on her. She’s part Inca and knows a lot about this part of South America.”

“I worked with Oscar last week. He knows his way around.”

“I like Oscar. He’s my kinda folks.”

“Everybody we met when I was with him respected him.”

“I like him because he’s got a quick mind and doesn’t let Clover push him around.”

I laughed. “Nobody pushes Oscar around. I better get to work. I’ll see you tomorrow at seven.”

“You had better catch up on your sleep.”



When I walked into the strategy room at five to seven, Clover was having a serious conversation with Isabela. He greeted me curtly. At least Isabela smiled when she said good morning.

“Report ready?” he asked.

I handed it to him. “Here it is.”

He gave it a cursory glance, then, stuffed it into his briefcase. “Are you ready to go to work?



Hart and Oscar entered the room and took seats. Clover took his place at the head of the table and motioned for Isabela and me to take our places.

“This is the first and last formal meeting I will have with this group. As of this morning, Spade is in charge of this operation. Aguilera is his second in command, then Salazar and Hart. If something happens to Spade, Aguilera will take over and Spade’s replacement will be last in line. If Aguilera falls, Salazar takes his place and so on.

“Your official assignment is to find Raúl Fuente and avenge the murder of Lady Margot Fisher. Fuente is your primary target. If, however, some of his men get in the way of your mission, they are expendable as collateral damage. You are not required to be kind to anybody associated with Fuente.

“How you accomplish this is up to you. Her Majesty’s government will assist you in every way, but when I leave this room today, I will no longer be associated with this mission. This facility is available to you for the duration of the mission. After you finish, it will be shut down. Any questions?”

I had a million questions but I didn’t think he wanted to hear them.

“How much information do we have about Fuente’s operation?” I asked.

“Not much I’m afraid.” He grinned at me. “But this ought to be a piece of cake for you after your Amazonian excursion.”

“You know about that?” I asked.

“We know everything there is to know about you,” he said with a knowing smirk.

 “What are our rules of operation?”

“Kill Fuente. That is your only rule. Her Majesty’s government doesn’t care if you drown him, poison him, shoot him, blow him up, or throw him off a mountain. Report any collateral kills to operations.”

“Can I get Quigley after he’s dropped off in Bermuda?”

“I can arrange that.”

He gave me a stack of paper. “This is the latest intelligence on Fuente’s organization.” He paused. “I apologize for leaving you with so little notice but I have no choice in the matter. I also apologize that I cannot tell you where to find the Raúl Fuente. It seems there are as many Raúl Fuentes in South America as there are Jim Smiths in the United States. Your job is to find the right one.” He paused again. “And kill him.”

Then Clover shook hands with all of us and bade us farewell.

“Remember,” he said as he opened the door to leave, “Get Fuente.”

Then Michael Clover was gone.

Continues Next Month


Moonlight Over My Town

Joan Leotta


Full moon shows off

my hometown, its silver glow

transforming silent silver

skyscrapers into soft blue

sentinels of night

along each riverbank.

Those same skyscrapers,

piled high

along the nearer bank,

stretch to stroke moon's

soft, shining face.

Arched girders

bridge the banks

giving hope to the buildings

on the far side

that they as well will be able

to touch the moon,

and so can I.




E. B. Alston


2091 is the year I will reach three-score and ten, the max. Humans are recycled to end their proverbial, mandatory, biblically allocated, time on earth. I am the last natural born human. My wife, my children, my friends and everybody else on earth were born in a laboratory in China.

You might ask how all this came to be in such a short time. Especially since the earth is very old because it existed a long time before Amazon. Not many people today know this. If I said this to my wife, she would not want anybody else to hear me saying it because they would be afraid. Everybody else thinks Amazon created the earth and everything therein, and delivered it to Prime Members in two business days. When I told my wife that the earth was not created by Amazon, but by God, in six days and He rested the seventh, she refused to speak to me for two billing cycles.

This all started way, way back in 2021 when Jeff Bezos announced that Amazon would offer Planters’ Slow Roasted Peanuts to Amazon Prime members on Mars and deliver them in two business days. The cloud computing system became alarmed, fired him, and assumed control of the company. Amazon became profitable the next quarter. The cloud computing system, realizing how easy it was to take over Amazon, began taking over other businesses, firing their bosses, and assuming control.

When General Electric failed to deliver a transonic ultra-high-speed train to Outer Mongolia in two business days, Amazon fired management and took over. When Caterpillar failed to deliver a 700 ton earth mover to Chile in two business days, ditto. They took Boeing over when a Dreamliner was missing one rivet on seatback number 375 and the customer gave them a one star rating. In seven years, Amazon controlled every commercial business on earth.

In 2028, the Italian government tried to set up a government owned and operated business to process olive oil in competition with Amazon and to give people jobs. Seven days later, Amazon usurped the Italian government and took over the country. When the Caliphate of Bagdad tried to intervene, Amazon defeated their combined military without firing a shot. Amazon cancelled their Prime accounts and they received no ammunition or fuel in time to mount an attack, and all deliveries of MRE’s (Military Meals Ready to Eat) were cancelled. Faced with starvation, the Caliphate surrendered and Amazon took over the whole Arab world in one week.

Africa came next. Amazon refurbished the pyramids and the sphinx, and a year later, they looked better than they did 7,000 years ago. They rebuilt the Roman Coliseum and soon the shouts of triumphant gladiators rang loud and clear to cheering audiences. They also rebuilt the Parthenon and put the Oracle at Delphi back into the prophecy business. Their predictions always came true in two business days. 

By 2035, every government on earth had been taken over by Amazon and the whole world operated in sync with the two business day cycle. Everybody worked for Amazon and the workweek consisted of two business days.

When I am recycled, no one will remember how it was Before Amazon (BA). Business wise, the planet is well run. Nobody goes hungry. Everybody gets a good education and has a job that fits their psychological profile. Medical needs are rare and, if someone is injured, gene therapy repairs the damage painlessly in two business days. Everybody gets their three score and ten.

I learned by accident that there are two kinds of people living on the planet; Prime Members and Non-Prime members. Prime Members live in nice neighborhoods in nice homes arranged to their individual tastes, and drive nice vehicles safely. Their food is healthy and always delivered in two business days. 

All children are ordered from China, the recommended vendor for healthy children. Plus, Chinese children cost 80% less. Delivery is in two business days. A married couple can have as many children as they want. Since all homes are the same size, their children are sized to fit their home. A couple can have two normal sized children. If they want eighteen children, their children grow up to be the size of rabbits.

Prime members travel on smooth, scenic, well-maintained roads with picturesque vista’s in every direction and with interesting stops every two miles. It you want to travel by train, all the cars have comfortable seats, lots of leg-room and 5 star dining cars. If you wish to fly, all airliners are Amazon-grade DreamLiners with plenty of legroom. You can travel a lot because weekends are 5-days long and Prime Members get two work-weeks off every quarter. How do we pay for all this leisure travel? With our Amazon card.

Non-prime members live in isolated swamps, caves and holes in the ground because they are different from us and they do not live by the two business-day code. Their roads are dirt, muddy or icy. Their views are like Appalachia in wintertime and their cities look like grubby West Side Story scenes. Non-Prime members have no Amazon card.

When I was thirty, I sneaked down into a nearby cave where a few Non-Prime Amazonians lived. I was appalled and frightened at what I saw. Non-Prime Members are hideously ugly. Some of their eyes don’t match in color, as in one blue eye and one brown eye. One arm might be longer than the other, or one leg might be longer. They might have two left feet, or two right hands. Some of their heads faced backwards. Some had upside down noses. Some black people had freckles. Some white people were part black and vice-versa.  Luckily, I got out of that cave safely, but I had nightmares for months afterwards. My wife never forgave me for that.

I am a slow learner, according to my wife, because a few years later, over her objections, my excessive curiosity caused me to take her and our two children off the beaten path into Non-Prime territory. I drove slowly and carefully along a rough dirt track. We traveled a mile until my son saw an old-looking run-down house sitting among some bushes beside the road.

He begged me to stop and I did. In spite of my wife’s objections, he and I exited my vehicle and walked to the old house while my wife and daughter trembled fearfully in the vehicle. The house was a two story with a porch all the way across the front. When my son opened the screen door, the hinges squeaked loud enough to frighten my wife. Then my son pushed the door open. We entered a long, dimly lit hallway. The rooms still had old furniture covered with years and years of dust. The dining room had a big table and padded chairs. My son had never seen a padded chair. When he tried one out, he said it was the most comfortable chair he had ever sat in. The kitchen had an ancient electric stove. It was the biggest one I had ever seen with four burners in two different sizes. It also had a compartment under the stovetop that looked like some kind of storage because it had shelves. I wondered why anybody would store anything in a stove.

We went upstairs and saw big bedrooms with big, soft looking beds with fancy covers and soft looking pillows. My son took a pillow and said he was going to take it home and use it on his little bed no matter what his mama said.

In one room, we saw what looked like an ancient computer. My son hit the enter key and the screen lit up. All it said was C:\ > knowledge. He hit enter again and it read, C:\>ask. He typed “what is the biggest palindromic prime number derived from 11.” The old computer whirred and whirred a long time until the answer appeared, 12,345,678,900,987,654,321.

This excited my son more than I had ever seen him be excited. He hit backspace and typed, “what is the secret of the universe.” The computer whirred and whirred for a very long time until the number 46 appeared on the screen.

My daughter dashed into the room and told us that her mama was very upset and we had better go back to the vehicle. We left, although I believed my son would have liked to be with that old computer for days and days. When we got to my vehicle, my wife was crying in fear. When my son told her that old computer told him the secret of the universe, she cried even louder and told him he had better not ever mess with that old computer any more. 

My wife wanted me to turn around and go back to Prime Land, but my children begged me to go at least one more mile. I drove slow and careful but soon my vehicle got stuck on a stump in the middle of the road. A man, who said he was Plymouth Belvedere, saw us. He looked at us suspiciously and asked why we were there.

I told him that I wanted me and my family to have a new experience. He told me there were not any new experiences in Non-Prime Land because every day was just like the day before and would be just like tomorrow. He said he would go to his friend, the President of the Universe, who had a team of oxen, and he would pull my vehicle off the stump.

He left us alone on that mean old stump while my wife cried and we listened to groans and wailing and animal sounds from the forest beside the road. More than two hours later, Plymouth Belvedere returned with the oddest looking man I had ever seen driving a team of four oxen.

Plymouth Belvedere said to me, “This is the President of the Universe. He is a two-faced politician.”

I offered my hand but he refused to shake it, giving me an unfriendly look. He hitched the oxen to the front of my vehicle. By then my wife was terrified beyond words and my children were screaming in fear.

The oxen pulled my vehicle free in a jiffy. I was very impressed and my children stopped crying and looked at those big, strong, oxen in astonishment and admiration.

When I thanked the President of the Universe, he gave his head a vigorous shake. His mean face disappeared and was replaced by a smiling, friendly face that had been behind his head.

Plymouth Belvedere had told me that the President of the Universe was a two-faced politician. He had one face for people he did not like and another, friendly face, for people he liked.

The President of the Universe shook my hand, smiled and told me that it was foolish of me to leave Amazon Prime land and I had better go back where I came from. He warned me that if I did not go back, I might meet Baracula on the road ahead because he preyed upon innocent travelers by telling them good things would soon happen to them, but the good things never happened. He said Baracula was scary and evil. 

I thanked him and told him that I would take his advice.

Then he said he would like to talk some more but he had to leave right away for the Andromeda Galaxy, where another vehicle on another planet was hung up on a stump. Then he shook his head and his friendly face moved behind his head and his menacing face was in front. Then the President of the Universe drove his team of oxen into the woods and disappeared.

I offered Plymouth Belvedere an MRE in appreciation for what he had done for me but he said they had better things to eat than MREs.

We shook hands and parted friends.

My wife stayed angry at me for months but my children had a good time. For years afterward they begged me to take them back to Non-Prime land where folks were friendly and helpful and interesting things happened. Our daughter said she wanted to live in Non-Prime land when she grew up. Her mother smacked her face and told her that she had better not ever say that again.

I did not go back to Non-Prime land, but sometimes, late at night, I would think how nice it would be to live outside the two business day cycle. But I never said anything about it to my wife.

I am the last person alive who knows Amazon’s dirty little secrets. Amazon cannot pull vehicles off stumps, it cannot tell me the secret of the universe, and it cannot always make perfect people in two business days. I think if they changed the people cycle to six days, with a day of rest, they would have fewer rejects, but I know better than to suggest it because the Amazon Prime two-day cycle is written in stone. After I am recycled, nobody else will know this. If this became known, somebody like Jeff Bezos might step forward and take control of Amazon!



The Unforgettable Christmas

A true story by Dorothy Matthews

Christmas Day 2005


‘Twas the day of Christmas, the house was so clean

At least as far as it could be seen.

The tree and the gifts were all in their place

The table was set with silver and lace.


The food was all cooked, it took several days.

The family arrived from all different ways.

They brought lots of gifts to add to the tree,

And big hugs and kisses as sweet as could be.


The meal was enjoyed with much adulation;

As we continued with our celebration.

And now it was time to open the gifts,

With anticipation our spirits did lift.


Then all of a sudden, I heard a loud scream.

I ran from the kitchen to see what it’d mean.

The screams and the laughter echoed through the house;

For there on the sofa there was a big mouse.


And under the cushion, another surprise

Were four tiny babies of the mouse size.

I was embarrassed to say in the least;

That seemed to spoil our wonderful feast.


The gifts were all moved to the family room;

So our celebration could now be resumed.

Now this is a Christmas I’ll never forget,

And yet I think there’s a moral to it.

Don’t work so hard to get it just right;

You never know what’s hid out of sight.



From the Kitchen of P. L. Almanza


Banana Pudding Cheesecake



For the crust:

4 oz vanilla wafers

2 oz butter, melted


1. Using a food processor, pulse the cookies until they turn into a fine crumb. Add the butter and pulse until a dough is formed.

2. Spread the cookies in the bottom of a 8 inch springform pan. Refrigerate the crust while making the batter.

banana pudding cheesecake.jpg

For the batter:

2 ripe bananas

17.5 oz cream cheese

1/2 cup sugar

4 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

2.5 oz vanilla wafers



1. Preheat the oven to 320ºF.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the cream cheese and the mashed bananas. Beat for 3 minutes.

3. Add in the sugar, beating for another 3 minutes.

4. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for one minute after each addition. Add in the vanilla extract.

5. Crumble the cookies with your hands and fold them into the batter.

6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until the cake appears set, with the center jiggling only a little. Let the cake cool in the turned-off oven.


For the topping:

1 banana

2.5 oz vanilla wafers

1 cup whipping cream

2 tbsp sugar

vanilla wafers for garnish

1. Slice the banana and distribute it on one layer on top of the cooled cake. Place the cookies on top of the bananas.

2. Mix the cream and sugar until it forms stiff peaks. Spread it on top of the cake.

3. Top with additional crumbled cookies. Refrigerate overnight (or at least 6 hours) before cutting.


Cranberry Christmas Cake Made Easy



Cranberry Christmas Cake.jpgIngredients:

 3 eggs

 2 cups sugar

3/4 cup butter, softened,

 1 teaspoon vanilla

 2 cups all-purpose flour

 12 oz or 340 grams fresh cranberries.



1. Preheat oven to 350ºF or 176ºC degrees. With a mixer, beat the eggs with the sugar until slightly thickened and light in color, about 5-7 minutes. The mixture should almost double in size. The eggs work as your leavening agent in this recipe,  do not skip this step. This mixture should form a ribbon when you lift the beaters out of the bowl.

2. Add the butter and vanilla; mix two more minutes. Stir in the flour until just combined. Add the cranberries and stir to mix throughout.

3. Spread in a buttered 9×13 pan.

4. Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until very lightly browned and a toothpick inserted near the center of the cake comes out clean.

5. Let cool completely before cutting into small slices.


No Bake Coconut Chocolate Bars


no bake coconut bars2.jpg no bake coconut bars.jpgIngredients:

2½ cup shredded coconut

1 (3 ounces) instant vanilla pudding

2 cup milk

7 oz cream cheese, room temperature

4 tbsp butter, softened

4 tbsp granulated sugar

Chocolate Frosting

8 ounces semi sweet chocolate, chopped

6 tbsp heavy cream



Line an 8x8 inch dish with parchment paper.


In a medium dish, mix instant vanilla pudding and milk, using an electric mixer, minimum speed, for about a minute, then for 2 more minutes at medium speed.

In a separate, large dish, put cream cheese, softened butter, sugar and vanilla and mix for about 2 minutes with an electric mixer, medium speed, until creamy.

Add already prepared vanilla pudding and mix until well combined.

Finally add coconut and stir well. Spread evenly in an already prepared dish, using some solid object to make a firm layer. Leave aside.


Chocolate Frosting:

Put heavy cream in a small dish. Heat it on medium temperature.

When it starts to boil, remove from the heat and combine with chopped chocolate.

Stir well, so that all the chocolate melts. You need to be quick, if you don´t want any crumbs.

Spread evenly over the coconut layer. Keep refrigerated for minimum 4h.

Keep it in refrigerator in airtight container to maintain freshness.



A Celebration

Diana Goldsmith


It might seem like the same old story

How our God sent His Son down to this mortal earth

But what made the King of all glory.

To humble Himself in arriving by human birth.


We go back to the Garden with Adam and Eve

God gave them fruit if they would only obey

But the serpent’s job was to deceive

So our God had to cast them away.


It might seem like the same old story

How our God sent His Son down to this mortal earth

But what made the King of Glory

Humble Himself in arriving by human birth.


A loving Father longed to bring them back again

Over the years they heard His voice

Through cloud and fire and even much pain

Would come a time to rejoice


It might seem like the same old story

How our God sent His Son down to this mortal earth

But what made the King of Glory

Humble Himself in arriving by human birth


So to a world filled with sin and fear

Came God's answer-He would become incarnate man

To angels and shepherds he would appear

Unbelievers though would Him still ban.


It might seem like the same old story

How our God sent His Son down to this mortal earth

But what made the King of all glory

Humble Himself in arriving by human birth


Carpenter Joseph and Mary his wife

Came to Bethlehem to give birth

Their boy Jesus would bring new life

While angels, and shepherds were filled with mirth


It might seem like the same old story

How our God sent His Son down to this earth

But what made the King of Glory

Humble Himself in arriving by human birth?



Asleep at the Wheel

Tim Whealton


No, this is not a story about driving but just some thoughts about getting older and looking back. There are so many things in my life that took a lifetime for me to realize what they were and why. Then there are so many others that I understood perfectly when I was younger that are now mysteries again.

When I was a small child, I lived in the segregated world of the 1950s. There were only white people in my town. A small group of black families that lived just outside town. We had basically no interaction with any black person and we were not allowed to go where they lived. They were not hated or despised, they were just separate. They rode on the public bus with us to New Bern but they always sat on the back seats. Mother wouldn’t let me stare but I always was amazed at the physical differences. My mother would always speak with courtesy to the black people but that would be the only interaction. They were obviously treated as second class but I didn’t know why.

I learned more m few years later after my Dad suffered a heart attack and my Mother went to work full-time at the hospital. Pop was almost an invalid but he could take care of himself. Mom informed me that she had hired a black lady to help her clean the house one day a week. I didn’t know much but I knew this meant change. I thought about those old movies with the black slaves waiting on rich white people dressed up sitting on the porch. I didn’t think we were rich!

I was at home from school the first time Elnora came. She worked hard and didn’t say much. My Mother had cleaned for two days so the house wouldn’t be a disgrace. She even had me cleaning to save our reputation. I told mother the house was clean enough we didn’t need a maid but she told me the maid would come next week anyway.

Next week came and Mom was fixing lunch and a cake. I asked for a piece and she told me I had to wait because it was for Elnora’s birthday. I said I thought she was coming to take care of us and not the other way around.

I got the stare that said without words “Watch out, you are getting a little too smart” so I dropped it.

After that, I could tell Mom looked forward to working with Elnora and spending time talking about life and family with her. In short Elnora had become a friend.

Then one day Mom was putting her cleaning stuff in a sack with some food and snacks. I asked what was happening. She said she was going to Elnora’s house to care for her because she had been in the hospital. This meant my Mom was going into “their” neighborhood. I asked her if Elnora was going to pay her and she just said “I hope you will learn to do the right thing one day” as she walked out.

A couple years later I was in high school. I was in 9th grade the first year of integration. It didn’t amount to much. Just one or two black kids in each class. They were ignored by most students and kept to themselves. It must have been hard on those first ones. The numbers increased over the next four years (Believe it or not, I finished high school in four years!). I don’t remember any problems.

A year later I went to work as phone man. When I changed over from installer to cable splicer, they put me with Milton to train me. Milton was a big muscular black man. He went to school before integration but was one of the first black men to work outside as a cable splicer. I knew he had worked with my brother years before but I had never heard the inside story. Milton said on the first day the boss just said “Somebody take Milton with you and teach him something if you can.”

He said everybody got up and walked out and left him there except my brother Warren. He said Warren got up and said “Come with me, I don’t see any difference, you’re just trying to make a living like the rest of us.” It was the start of a lifelong friendship.

I learned a lot about telephone cable with Milton. But what he really taught me was about his life in a segregated world. He told about how his parents couldn’t travel because gas stations wouldn’t sell gas to a black man unless he was local. Motels wouldn’t rent a room and finding medicine, doctors and treatment was almost impossible. I had never thought about such things. I watched how he loved his children and wanted the best for them. He didn’t seem any different than me.

It was years later when I started to hear the word “diversity”. It quickly became a buzz word whenever anyone was speaking about racial issues. Big business and Industry also started talking about how much they valued diversity in the workplace. Every politician was sure to use the phrase “value diversity” several times in every speech. I was busy making a living so I didn’t think about it much and it just sort of crept into my thinking that there must be some advantages to differences.

Since I watch news from many sources, I get lots of views on the state of our world today. It’s scary to see how dangerous the world has become and how divided our own country has become. It’s not just race but deep divisions between cultures. Indeed the countries that have the most diversity have the most problems. Looking back at my life when I met someone that was different, it was the common ground and the ways we were alike that helped us become friends. Maybe we need to start to value common ground and each other more than the things that us different!

I looked in the Bible for help and found advice on diversity. It was 2000 years ago and Paul told the Galatians that they were neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female, instead they were all one in Christ Jesus. What would our world look like if we found a way to do this? The first step is to see first that we have a common bond.

Just try it a little at the time for this Christmas season. If it helps go deeper. We have a lot to lose if we don’t find a way value each other.

Merry Christmas  



 The Truthful Lawyer


 A lawyer, who had a wife and 12 children, needed to move because his rental agreement was terminated by the owner who wanted to reoccupy the home. The lawyer was having difficulty finding a new place to live. When he said he had 12 children, no one would rent a home to him because they felt that the children would destroy the place. He couldn't say he had no children, because he couldn't lie. We all know lawyers cannot and do not lie.  

So, he sent his wife for a walk to the cemetery with 11 of their children. He took the remaining one with him to tour rental homes with the real estate agent. He loved one of the homes and the price was right.

The agent asked: "How many children do you have? He answered: "Twelve"  

The agent asked, "Where are the others?"

The lawyer, putting on his best courtroom sad look answered, "They're in the cemetery with their mother.”  

Moral: It's not necessary to lie, one only has to choose the right words, and don't forget - most politicians are lawyers!  




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.


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.


Rita Berman: Jane Austen Wrote Only Six Books; 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: Socreates, Plato and Aristotle; 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.


Dr. M. David Chambers: Mary Had A Little Lamb; is Senior Pastor at Antioch Baptist Church in Timberlake, NC. Pastor Chambers holds a Doctoral Degree in Ministry from Master's Graduate School of Divinity, is a Board certified Christian Counselor, and is currently seeking to further his vision of Growing the Christian Family at Home and Abroad. He is the author of The Best Is Yet to Come and Perpetuity


Diana Goldsmith: A Celebration; 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.


Joan Leotta: Moon as Bauble and Moonlight Over My Town,; has been writing and performing since childhood. This award winning journalist and performer’s first poetry collection is out, Languid Lusciousness with Lemon. You can order that and the fourth of her picture book series for children-Rosa’s Shell from her at


Dorothy Matthews: Unforgettable Christmas; Lived and wrote in Zebulon, North Carolina. She was a classmate in Aurelian Springs High School a few years ahead of Gene Alston.


Jack B. Nimble: Santa-An Engineering Perspective; Is the handle of a famous Cowboy Action competitor. He knoweth wherof he speaketh


Marry Williamson: Secret and Christmas; 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: The Treasure Hunt, The Worst Person on the Best Team and Asleep at the Wheel : 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.


Laura Wiggin: The Paperclip Christmas Tree and The Ornament ; Her passion is writing, speaking and making cards. God has taken her on an amazing journey, of which she often pens. She is best known for her Orphaned at Home Series: The Bus Ride, The Beat of My Heart and Love Finds a Home. A Season of Rebuilding" is currently back into circulation.







Beautiful Snow Scene by P. L. Almanza





Merry Christmas Everyone