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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.
Table of Contents
Mary Had A
Little Lamb by Dr. M. David Chambers.
Jane Austen Wrote Only Six Books by Rita Berman.
Natters of a Nomad by Peggy Ellis.
Moon as Bauble byJoan Leotta.
Christmas Means Good Food by E. B. Alston.
The Treasure Hunt by Tim Whealton.
The Ornament by Laura Wiggin.
Secret by Marry Williamson.
Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle by Randy Bittle.
The Paperclip Christmas Tree by Laura Wiggin.
The Fabric of Time by E. B. Alston.
Christmas by Marry Williamson.
Three Rivers to Cross – Serialized book by
Elizabeth Silance Ballard.
Debussy: A Painter in Sound – Reviewed by E. B.
The Edward Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest
The Worst Person on the Best Team by Tim Whealton.
Santa -- An Engineering Perspective by Jack B.
Hammer Spade and the Inca Curse – Serialized book
by E. B. Alston.
Moonlight Over My Town by Joan Leotta.
Amazon by E. B. Alston.
The Unforgettable Christmas by Dorothy Matthews.
From the Kitchen of P. L. Almanza.
A Celebration by Diana Goldsmith.
Asleep at the Wheel by Tim Whealton.
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
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!
By Rita Berman
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
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 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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.”
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
days are only ordinary
at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every
new year find you a better man.
Christmas Means Good
E. B. Alston
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
foreman and one of the yachtsmen became drinking buddies. The yachtsman
tried to persuade Bill to leave with him one morning but Bill demurred.
asked why, Bill said his boat wasn’t ready.
not?” the rich man asked.
I ain’t got a motor yet,” Bill replied, “and I am damn tired of rowing.”
a big laugh from everyone, including his drinking buddy.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
wouldn’t love a Grandad like that?
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
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
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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.
Grandad lowered the newspaper the drunk man saw that he was holding a
sawed off 10 gauge.
said “It’s gonna be!”
Rudolph said you could hear that man’s shoes hitting the dirt road outside
for close to a mile.
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.
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!
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
Nor what a soldier has to go
My little boy grew into a man
The military was his decided
He wanted to be like me, his
Fight for our freedom as I had.
I said, ‘wait son, this is a
But all he could see was me in
The night he left…a deep sad
All my wife and I did was cry.
I knew what was ahead for my son
But he proudly put the uniform
Only a soldier’s heart knows the
What it takes to fly the Old
It isn’t just what is demanded
Nor the hell that each day you
But the simple things you go
What pains make your body shout,
Sights that will forever fill
Demons will haunt you way after
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
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
The young men that join this
Will return broken and changed
But this Christmas there will be
We got the news of what had been
We looked again at the flag and
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
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
There the ornament at my feet
I reached and picked it up as
On top of a pair of soldiers’
boots it beamed
A ceramic ball in red, white,
My son’s dog tags hung on it too
We will never forget was etched
My son’s name and service dates
were on the boots in bold.
Forgetting the wood, I walked
My tears and smile I could not
My wife joined me in this sacred
This mysterious gift that had
been delivered by night.
This perfect ornament was a
That healed the heart and made
Someone had remembered…it was
not in vain.
Every tear had meaning not just
We placed the ornament in the
center of the tree.
The boots sit right under it for
We passed on the legacy of the
To another family whose son
never made it home from deployment.
We sat in the car with prayer
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
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
And someone you know died for
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)
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.
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’.
knew a secret. She was told it by Vera. Vera had said “don’t tell anyone.
It is a big secret.”
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.
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.
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”.
got a sinking feeling that she was going to hear the same story with even
was. No surprise there. “Mind” John called after her as she made her way
for the stairs, “not a dickie-bird to anybody”.
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.
walked into her flat the landline was ringing. She shrugged out of her
coat and sprinted across the kitchen.
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”.
Ellen sighed. “Shoot”.
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.
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.
gentlemen, I hope we shall drink down all unkindness.
Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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).
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
realize just how much of life
our Christmas tree held on its branches!
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.
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.
we have exquisite decorations, but we have a
Paperclip Tree of Love.
Fireside Christmas Collection, Vol.
1 (Inspirational Inklings, 2018)
E. B. Alston
We move through life by
Like Epicureans on a Stoic
For the Gods, Time is a
And they come and go at will.
For us, Time is a commodity;
something we use,
Profitably or not, sometimes
Were I a God, I would find the
And view through a cosmic
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
Teaching my young sons,
While they listen in rapt
The proper way to whittle.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
have the picture repaired and reframed into a new black lacquered frame
and it later hung for years in my parent’s hallway.
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.”
Elizabeth Silance Ballard
I was so proud of my brand-new
suitcases as I watched Daddy load them into the
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!
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.
seemed like a much more suitable
word for my sophisticated Bermuda Green dime store suitcases—I mean,
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.
real proud of you, Charlotte Anne, and I’m glad you can go, but I’m going
to miss you real bad.”
write, Mama, and I promise I’ll send you some pictures of my dorm, the
campus and my roommate.”
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.
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.
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.
scared, Lady Baby?”
little, Daddy. Well, maybe more than a little.”
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.”
Like Meadow View?”
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.”
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.”
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!
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
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
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.
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!”
with him back to Uncle Leonard’s truck, trying hard to keep the tears at
your money, right?”
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.
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.
maybe three minutes for Suzanne Romalda McManty to notice that we were
vastly different people.
kind of accent is that?!”
Accent? What is she talking about?
There’s no accent,” I said. “I’m from right here in North Carolina.
From Meadow View.”
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
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.”
get it. You’re a Hoy Toyder!”
answer but simply looked at her with, I hoped, no expression on my face.
know, Charlotte! High tide?
High Tider but with your accent, it sounds like Hoy Toyder. Say
it for me. Say High Tider.”
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.”
back to my unpacking.
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.
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?”
it’s only a few minutes by boat or car.”
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.”
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.
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.”
told her to call me Charlotte Anne but, for some reason, I held back.
people call you
Suzie or Sue?”
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?”
indeed; and at that moment, I left
Charlotte Anne behind forever.
find the dining hall. I’m starving. Do you know where it is?”
can explore the campus after we eat. Okay, Charlotte?”
of us had clicked. We would
be great friends. My college life, my new life—my Real Life—had begun.
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
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.
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.
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?”
what she meant. Meredith’s campus was not only beautiful. It had that look
of a place where one could be happy.
considered Waverly, too, Suzanne, and I’m glad we both came here instead.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
hardly bear the thought of staying there those two full weeks before I
could go back to Meredith.
feel okay, Charlotte Anne?” Mama put her hand to my forehead. “You
comin’ down with the flu?”
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.
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.
forget your party dress, Charlotte Anne.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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,
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
parents were adamant that she always go home for the Christmas holidays
and that was the only time I went home.
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.
By Stephen Watsh.
Knopf; 368 pages, $28.95
Reviewed by E. B. Alston
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.
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.
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).
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.
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
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.
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
Edward Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest
Wretched Writers Welcome
2018 Contest Winners
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
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
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
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
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
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
Sylvi Warshaver-Stein, New
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,
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
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
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
"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,
See the whole list at :
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.
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.
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
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.
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!”
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!
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
put Heaven is where we want to go. Jesus is the way there.
Jack B. Nimble
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Marine orderly woke me. “Sir, it is 14:00.”
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.
you, sir. Would you like breakfast or lunch?”
want it here or in the dining room?”
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.
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.
better?” he asked after I took a seat.
looked pretty beat yesterday.”
hadn’t slept in two days. Where is everybody?”
“Clover’s gone to Santiago. Oscar and Isabela are checking out some
from the Richmond area.”
there any other Richmond?” he replied with a grin.
not. Not one that counts, anyway. How’d you get tapped for this mission?”
‘borrowed’ me from a boring job.”
your regular job?”
other life, I’m a pharmacist.”
He grinned. “Ain’t it great!”
must have some kind of hobby or something that pointed Clover to you,
unless he plans to obtain revenge with prescription medicine.”
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.”
brought me a cup of steaming coffee, a plate with scrambled eggs, Canadian
bacon and two English muffins.
the orange marmalade?” I asked jokingly.
changing his expression, he took a jar from his apron pocket and set it on
left, I said to Hart, “I guess he didn’t think that was funny.”
don’t have much of a sense of humor around here. Clover frowns upon any
kind of levity.”
you do that caused Clover to bring you here?” I asked.
“I am a
wizard with a six-shooter.”
He produced a Colt single action revolver with a five-inch barrel.
pretty. I use a 1911.”
too slow for this kind of work and they ain’t as well balanced.”
I retorted. “You have to cock that thing for every shot.”
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.”
approached the table where Hart and I were talking. “Are you Mr. Spade?”
am,” I replied.
handed me a printed document and a lined tablet. “Mr. Clover asked you to
write your report. He said to stick to facts.”
wants it in time for the strategy meeting tomorrow morning at seven.”
have it ready.”
tell Mr. Clover.”
turned and left.
“Clover’s not much on compassion either,” Hart observed.
can’t be in this business.”
guess you’re right.”
well do you know Isabela?” I asked.
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.”
worked with Oscar last week. He knows his way around.”
Oscar. He’s my kinda folks.”
“Everybody we met when I was with him respected him.”
him because he’s got a quick mind and doesn’t let Clover push him around.”
laughed. “Nobody pushes Oscar around. I better get to work. I’ll see you
tomorrow at seven.”
better catch up on your sleep.”
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.
ready?” he asked.
it to him. “Here it is.”
it a cursory glance, then, stuffed it into his briefcase. “Are you ready
to go to work?
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.
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.
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.
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
I had a
million questions but I didn’t think he wanted to hear them.
much information do we have about Fuente’s operation?” I asked.
much I’m afraid.” He grinned at me. “But this ought to be a piece of cake
for you after your Amazonian excursion.”
know about that?” I asked.
everything there is to know about you,” he said with a knowing smirk.
“What are our rules of operation?”
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.”
get Quigley after he’s dropped off in Bermuda?”
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.”
Clover shook hands with all of us and bade us farewell.
“Remember,” he said as he opened the door to leave, “Get Fuente.”
Michael Clover was gone.
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,
along the nearer bank,
stretch to stroke moon's
soft, shining face.
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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!
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
The tree and the gifts were all
in their place
The table was set with silver
The food was all cooked, it took
The family arrived from all
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
As we continued with our
And now it was time to open the
With anticipation our spirits
Then all of a sudden, I heard a
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
Were four tiny babies of the
I was embarrassed to say in the
That seemed to spoil our
The gifts were all moved to the
So our celebration could now be
Now this is a Christmas I’ll
And yet I think there’s a moral
Don’t work so hard to get it
You never know what’s hid
out of sight.
Banana Pudding Cheesecake
a food processor, pulse the cookies until they turn into a fine crumb. Add
the butter and pulse until a dough is formed.
Spread the cookies in the bottom of a 8 inch springform pan. Refrigerate
the crust while making the batter.
Preheat the oven to 320ºF.
the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the
cream cheese and the mashed bananas. Beat for 3 minutes.
in the sugar, beating for another 3 minutes.
the eggs one at a time, beating for one minute after each addition. Add in
the vanilla extract.
Crumble the cookies with your hands and fold them into the batter.
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.
wafers for garnish
the banana and distribute it on one layer on top of the cooled cake. Place
the cookies on top of the bananas.
the cream and sugar until it forms stiff peaks. Spread it on top of the
with additional crumbled cookies. Refrigerate overnight (or at least 6
hours) before cutting.
Cranberry Christmas Cake Made Easy
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
12 oz or 340 grams fresh
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.
the butter and vanilla; mix two more minutes. Stir in the flour until just
combined. Add the cranberries and stir to mix throughout.
Spread in a buttered 9×13 pan.
for 45-50 minutes, or until very lightly browned and a toothpick inserted
near the center of the cake comes out clean.
cool completely before cutting into small slices.
No Bake Coconut Chocolate Bars
ounces) instant vanilla pudding
cream cheese, room temperature
semi sweet chocolate, chopped
8x8 inch dish with parchment paper.
medium dish, mix instant vanilla pudding and milk, using an electric
mixer, minimum speed, for about a minute, then for 2 more minutes at
separate, large dish, put cream cheese, softened butter, sugar and vanilla
and mix for about 2 minutes with an electric mixer, medium speed, until
already prepared vanilla pudding and mix until well combined.
add coconut and stir well. Spread evenly in an already prepared dish,
using some solid object to make a firm layer. Leave aside.
heavy cream in a small dish. Heat it on medium temperature.
starts to boil, remove from the heat and combine with chopped chocolate.
well, so that all the chocolate melts. You need to be quick, if you don´t
want any crumbs.
evenly over the coconut layer. Keep refrigerated for minimum 4h.
in refrigerator in airtight container to maintain freshness.
It might seem like the same old
How our God sent His Son down to
this mortal earth
But what made the King of all
To humble Himself in arriving by
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
So our God had to cast them
It might seem like the same old
How our God sent His Son down to
this mortal earth
But what made the King of Glory
Humble Himself in arriving by
A loving Father longed to bring
them back again
Over the years they heard His
Through cloud and fire and even
Would come a time to rejoice
It might seem like the same old
How our God sent His Son down to
this mortal earth
But what made the King of Glory
Humble Himself in arriving by
So to a world filled with sin
Came God's answer-He would
become incarnate man
To angels and shepherds he would
Unbelievers though would Him
It might seem like the same old
How our God sent His Son down to
this mortal earth
But what made the King of all
Humble Himself in arriving by
Carpenter Joseph and Mary his
Came to Bethlehem to give birth
Their boy Jesus would bring new
While angels, and shepherds were
filled with mirth
It might seem like the same old
How our God sent His Son down to
But what made the King of Glory
Humble Himself in arriving by
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
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
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.
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.
the stare that said without words “Watch out, you are getting a little too
smart” so I dropped it.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
agent asked: "How many children do you have? He answered: "Twelve"
agent asked, "Where are the others?"
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!
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.
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.
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 Amazon.com are Still Hopping, Still Hoping, (2012),
The Dating Adventures of a Widow, (2013), The Key, (2014), Parallel Lives,
(2016), Ariana Mangum's Books and Columns (2017),and Military Wives and
Widows Tell Their Stories, (2018).
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 Amazon.com. His latest book,
More Colors Through My Mental Prism
is also available.
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
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
She lives in Chard, Somerset, UK.
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
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:
Is the handle of a famous Cowboy Action competitor. He knoweth wherof he
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.
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.
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