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RPG Digest

January 2020

 

Copyright 2020 by the RPG Partnership

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

 

RPG Partnership

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Online version at alstonbooks.xyz

 

Appreciation

 

Thanks to all these talented writers who contribute to every issue of RPG Digest with such enthusiasm.  The image on the front cover is Janus, the Roman god of beginnings. whose two faces allowed him to look back into the past and forward into the future. The month, January, is named for him. We thank Betsy Breedlove for the lovely picture on the back cover.

 

 

 

Contents

Winter Sunshine by Laura Alston. 3

Welcome to January, 2020 by E. B. Alston. 3

Wilkie Collins, The grandfather of English detective fiction by Rita Berman. 5

Anecdotes of Heroes, WWII by Peggy Lovelace Ellis. 11

What Happened to Raoul Wallenberg?  By Peggy Lovelace Ellis. 13

A Chance Encounter on a Sandy Hill  by Sybil Austin Skakle. 14

A Few Scant Recollections of World War II by Howard A. Goodman. 16

Conceptual Leaps by Randy Bittle. 18

It is All Coming up Roses! By Diana Goldsmith. 21

Grammar Lesson. 22

Oysters with an Atheist by Tim Whealton. 23

Hammer Spade and the Four Horsemen Serealized book by E. B. Alston. 24

Little Jimmy by Marry Williamson. 30

Howard’s Fair Tax Ad by Howard A. Goodman. 31

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman by Sybil Austin Skakle. 32

Miz Lou by Peggy Lovelace Ellis. 33

Musings. 34

New Year’s Day. 36

Raffle (Part I) by Howard A. Goodman. 39

The Shopper by Sybil Austin Skakle. 42

The Twelve Commandments for Getting Old. 42

The Lost Art of Conversation by E. B. Alston. 45

Family Meals and Desserts by P. L. Almanza. 46

Life in Moccasin Gap by Brad Carver. 48

Twilight for the Gods by E. B. Alston. 49

Contributors. 53

 

 

Winter Sunshine

Laura Alston

 

This winter day sparkles like jewels.

Outside the sun shines brilliantly on snow.

The sunshine seems like a benediction

As it falls on snow and slants through my windows.

 

I love the sunshine of winter.

It denotes hope and peace.

Despite the winter chill, my mood lifts,

And a sense of rightness is restored to my world.

 

I feel like hugging this day close.

I will gather the sunshine inside my heart.

Then on gray, cloudy days that may come,

I will still have a winter blessing.

 

I will take this sunshiny winter day as a promise

Of more such days to behold and cherish.

Until then, I will just enjoy the day’s beauty

And pull its memory out whenever I choose.

 

 

 

Welcome to January, 2020

E. B. Alston

 

2020. What a nice number. It’s fun to say 2020, too. 2019 sounds old fashioned, like last year. I’m proud to be here. I’m writing this while in a reflective frame of mind. I get this way once in a while. Beware. 

I know you’ve heard of the Seven Deadly Sins. We are all guilty. I remembered a few days ago that there are the Seven Arts. There’s also the Seven Wonders of the World, but this one was new to me. I looked them up. The Seven Arts in the ancient world were Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Arithmetic, Geometry, Music and Astronomy. Impressive.

The occasion was I read where the Mongol Emperor Kublia Kahn (1216-1294 AD) wrote the Pope in Rome saying he had heard a lot of good things about the Christian faith. He asked the Pope to send 100 Christian philosophers skilled in the seven arts to his court. If these men proved to him the truth of Christianity over all the worlds’ religions, he would embrace Christianity and his empire would become Christian. The Kahn’s empire stretched from the Euphrates River to the Pacific Ocean.

The Pope sent two men with Marco Polo‘s expedition. They lost their nerve at Acre and turned back. A few years later, Kublia Kahn became a Muslim.

Think about that lost opportunity when you go to sleep tonight.

A few years ago the New Yorker magazine had a piece about the Seven Deadly Virtues. They are Morning Perkiness, Uncalled for Thrift, Total Honesty, Fitness Obsession, Gossip Prudery, Overseriousness and Guilt Mongering. I think they are right on the money there. You would not want to take a long trip with any of these folks. 

A guy in Canada has come up with a plan to reduce Muslim terrorism. He proposes that we sew up all the terrorists we can catch into pig carcasses and shoot them into earth orbit. That way they won’t get their 72 virgins. All their buddies back here on earth can watch them pass overhead and hopefully mend the error of their ways. Beats what we’re doing now. Probably cheaper too. Bad outcome for the pigs but, hey, progress always comes at a cost.

The deadly virtue of guilt mongering reminds me of the thing I read somewhere about a white, Christian, heterosexual man of English ancestry who had a wife, children and a job. The strange thing was he felt no guilt about it. In fact he was reasonably happy. His children didn’t even suffer from ADHD. I bet there are a lot more of them than the social scientists and politicians know about. I’m sure they’re working feverishly to fix that problem.

You could say that describes me except I’m pretty old. But I don’t spend a lot of time feeling guilty about anything, especially if I was not responsible for the so-called problem. I had what is described today as a blighted childhood. No television, no running water, in fact no electricity at home until I was 13. No telephone at all while I lived at home.  My grammar school was primitive. It didn’t have bathrooms either. First and second grades were taught by Miss Harrison in the same room. Third, fourth and fifth were combined too. My mom’s cousin, Miss Miriam Anna Clark taught these. She was very pretty. I couldn’t get away with anything at school. The sixth and seventh grades were also combined. Then I got sent to the big school seventeen miles away at Aurelian Springs for eighth grade. The high school counted about 100 students. My class had 27. No bleachers at the football field. No seats in the basketball gym. But we had a carpenter and welding shop.

I’m not complaining. We didn’t even know we were poor. As a matter of fact, if you had told my parents we were poor back then they would have disagreed. This was long before being poor was considered a social badge of honor. This change in attitudes came because politicians couldn’t figure out how to make lazy voters rich. So they hit on this idea of telling them that their disadvantage was a badge of honor. The poor, being also ignorant, swallowed that line too.

My ancestors never thought of themselves as socially superior. They were money grubbing, land hungry farmers. The old photographs reveal stern, tough men who had a weakness for handsome, robust women. The women took pride in their strength and admired through thick and thin their vigorous, tough men.

My paternal grandfather was a chip off the old block. He was six inches shorter than my grandmother. For entertainment when things got dull in his community, he’d travel to neighboring communities to pick fights with strangers. He had a tremendous hunger for land and owned over twelve hundred acres when the depression hit in 1929. He had also borrowed a lot of money to feed his ambitions. The depression killed him.

My father learned that lesson and he never went out on a financial limb his whole life. My grandmother used to tell me that I was more like “Bossy”, my grandfather’s apt nickname, than any of his children. That probably explains why my parents kept such a tight rein on me when I was growing up.


Your Old Country Philosopher

 

 

Before my surgery the anesthetist offered t knock me out with ether gas or a boat paddle.

It was an either/oar situation.

 

 

Wilkie Collins, The grandfather of English detective fiction

By Rita Berman

 

Wilkie Collins was a prolific writer. His output includes more than 30 novels, 50 short stories, at least 15 plays, and over 100 pieces of non-fiction work. Collins was born on 8 January 1824 in Marylebone, London and died on the 23 September 1889 in Wimpole Street, London.  

His full name was William Wilkie Collins and the family called him “Willie” because his father’s name was also William. But his reading public knew him as Wilkie Collins.  His middle name was given in compliment to his godfather, the painter Sir David Wilkie.

He was born with a prominent bulge on the right side of his forehead, visible in some photographs, and his head and shoulders were disproportionately large. He grew to be only five feet, six inches, tall and had particularly small hands and feet.  From a child he was short-sighted and portraits from the age of 21 show him to be wearing spectacles.  He had restless tics and mannerisms, and like to wear flamboyant and unconventional clothes as part of his revolt against Victorian habits. 

Wilkie’s father was a landscape artist who specialized in seascapes, his mother Harriet Geddes came from an artistic family.

Collins grew up in various sections of London. His mother taught him his early lessons and from January 1835 he attended a day school, The Maida Hill Academy. The following year the family traveled to France and Italy, where he and his brother were taken to art galleries and met many of the artists of the day.

When the family returned to England in 1838 they lived in Regent’s Park and Wilkie was sent to a boarding school in North London for a couple of years. It was here, he later said, that he began his career as a story-teller to appease the dormitory bully.

He left school at the age of 17 and was apprenticed to Antrobus & Company, a firm of tea merchants, but after five unhappy years (he found the work boring and called the office “the prison at the Strand” he switched to study law. From May 1846 he was a law student at Lincoln’s Inn and was called to the bar in November 1851.  But he never practiced law although several lawyers feature prominently in his subsequent novels. His early writings were short stories, articles and poems. In 1844 he had progressed to writing an unpublished novel called “Iolani”.

By 1847 when his father died, Wilkie was working on a novel called Antonina, but put this aside while he kept a promise he had made – to write a memoir of his father’s life.  After the memoir was published in 1848 and was well received it launched Collins’ writing career. He then returned to completing Antonina.This was published in 1850 and he received two hundred pounds from his publisher Bentley.  Collins lived with his mother and brother for a number of years in a large house overlooking Regent’s Park.

He wrote a travel book on Cornwall, called Rambles Beyond Railways, which was published in January 1851.

A couple of months later, he was introduced to Charles Dickens, by Augustus Egg a mutual friend.  He was invited to take part in Dickens’ amateur theatrical company, as an extra in a fund-raising commissioned play, called “Not So Bad As We Seem”.  Queen Victoria and Prince Albert attended the opening night of the play.    

Dickens was editor of the magazine Household Words, and published Collins’ first contribution, A Terribly Strange Bed in 1852.

The two men became fast friends, dined together at Verrey’s restaurant where they had a special table reserved for them, and over the years they went on holiday together to Dover, Boulogne, Switzerland, and Italy.  They are said to have gone on midnight tours of the disreputable corners of London and Paris.

Their friendship turned into a family connection when Dickens’ eldest daughter, Kate, married Wilkie Collins’ younger brother Charles.  

Collins joined Dickens on the editorial staff of his magazine, Household Words.  His weekly salary was 5 guineas. That was five pounds and five shillings.

In 1855 and 1856 Collins and Dickens spent holidays together in Paris.  About this time Collins’ mother moved into a new house and Wilkie went into lodgings.  He became ill and wrote an article for Household Words on his unhappy experiences and the unpleasantness of his landlady to her exploited maid-servants.

In 1856 Dickens helped Collins with the writing of his play, “The Frozen Deep,” and arranged for its first production in his own home, acted by friends, family, and servants.  Later, a private command performance was given to Queen Victoria and her family.

In 1857 Dickens and Collins spent a working holiday in the Lake District of England and wrote about their experiences in The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices which was later serialized in Household Words. 

Some biographers describe the friendship of Dickens and Collins as weakening in 1858.  Dickens had left his wife, and by the end of the year Collins had left his mother and brother to live in lodgings with Mrs. Caroline Graves and her 7-year-old daughter Harriet.

He was working on a novel in the summer of 1859, while staying with Caroline Graves in Broadstairs, Kent. He shut himself up at his desk every day from 10 a.m. until 2, he wrote to a friend “the story is the longest and most complicated I have ever tried yet.”

One third of the novel was written but he had trouble in finding a title.  On a walk to the North Foreland Lighthouse, the awkward stiffness of the lighthouse in the evening light suggested to him a “white woman – woman in white.”  He told Dickens this would be his title and Dickens was delighted. He began serializing The Woman in White in November, 1860 in his new magazine All The Year Round. The instalments ran from November 1859 to August 1860.

The story enjoyed extraordinary success.  Prince Albert read the book and approved.  Thackeray was engrossed from morning to sunset and William Gladstone, the Prime Minister, found the story so absorbing that he missed a visit to the theater.  

The story was so popular that every possible commodity was labeled “Woman in White”. There were “Woman in White” perfumes, cloaks, and bonnets. A portrait by James Whistler of a girl dressed in white was called “The Woman in White” by the proprietors of the Berners Street Gallery in London.

Whistler objected to this and wrote a letter to William Hepworth Dixon, editor of the Athenaeum magazine complaining that the picture was named without his “sanction” and he “had no intention whatsoever of illustrating Mr. Wilkie Collins novel, it so happens that I have never read it.” (Apparently one of the few that didn’t.)

The model for Whistler’s picture was Joanna Hiffernan, his mistress.  He called his picture “The White Girl (Symphony in White). It was rejected by the Royal Academy in April 1862 but created a stir when it was exhibited at the Berners St Gallery.  It is now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

After his success with Woman in White Collins wrote a novel called No Name, which might be described as a “reform” novel, the subject matter being the tribulations of two illegitimate girls who were unable to inherit property and money upon the death of their parents.  

Collins’ mother died 19 March 1868 while he was writing The Moonstone about three mysterious Indians coming to London in search of a missing jewel. This has been hailed as his best story, but in my opinion Woman in White is superior.

The Moonstone involves colonial history, the conquering of an Indian state by the British, the access to Scotland Yard and that metropolitan detectives could be hired as private or confidential agents, and the Victorian interest in science, mesmerism, hypnosis, and the use of opium which was readily available.

The idea for the Moonstone may have come from publicity about the Koh-in-Noor diamond, which had been given to Queen Victoria and was on exhibition in the Crystal Palace uncut.  In 1852 it was sent to Amsterdam where it was cut and polished and the largest fragment became party of the crown jewels. 

Collins presented a series of events deliberately arranged so as to reveal their dramatic, thematic, and emotional significance. Fiction dealing with crime and mystery had been published before the Victorian period but the viewpoint had focused on the criminal as a sympathetic hero. After the Metropolitan Police was established in 1828 the focus of stories shifted from the criminals to those who captured the criminals, the police and the private or amateur detective.

Collins suffered from a form of arthritis known as “rheumatic gout,” while writing The Moonstone. He took laudanum to relieve the pain and this caused paranoid delusions. However, from then on he took regular doses of laudanum and although he tried to break himself of the habit was unsuccessful. He is said to have claimed that due to his consumption laudanum he had no memory of writing large parts of The Moonstone.      

As it was later discovered, not only did he take drugs but Collins also lived a secret life. He never married but had two mistresses and maintained two separate households, fathering three children in one.  In 1858 he was already living with Mrs. Graves, but by 1868 he had also formed a liaison with Martha Rudd.

This is described in great detail by William Clarke, in his biography, The Secret Life of Wilkie Collins, published in 1996 by Sutton Publishing Ld. Clarke, is a former Financial Editor of The Times newspaper and is married to Martha and Wilkie’s great granddaughter, Faith.

Faith initiated the quest to find out the truth about Wilkie Collins’ secret life and what happened to the two families after he died. Thus, the Clark biography is based on family recollections, diaries and letters.  It is not an assessment of Collins as a writer but provided insight as to why and how he avoided marriage to either woman.

 

Caroline Graves

Caroline was the daughter of a carpenter but she described herself as the daughter of a gentleman and reduced her age by several years when she first became involved with Collins, probably in the spring of 1856.

She was the eldest child of a large family and lived in a small village near Cheltenham. Sometime in her late teens she met George Graves an accountant’s clerk when he visited the West Country and they were married in March 1850 when Carolina was 20.

Her daughter, Harriet Elizabeth, was born 3 February 1851 when Caroline and her husband were living in London.  George died of tuberculosis in January 1852 and Caroline had to support herself and her child.

By the end of 1858 Caroline and Collins were living together at first in temporary abodes and then in Gloucester Place from about 1859 for the best part of 30 years. She wanted him to marry her, and after about ten years, during which time she had entertained his friends and acted as an accomplished hostess and he had paid for Harriet’s education, Caroline gave him an ultimatum, - “marry me or I will leave you to marry a younger man.”

This ultimatum has been speculated as being in response to Collins’ relationship with Martha Rudd, about which Caroline was aware.  Collins refused and so, frustrated, Caroline moved out of Gloucester Place, but Harriet remained living with Collins.

1868 was a bad year for him. His mother had died in March.  On 19 October 1868 Caroline married Joseph Clow, the son of a fairly well-to-do distiller.  He was 11 years her junior. Collins even attended the wedding, as did Frank Beard, his doctor who was one of the witnesses, her daughter Harriet being the other.  Charles Dickens wrote to his sister-in-law, “Wilkie’s affairs defy all prediction.”

 

Martha Rudd

Collins’ involvement with 19-year-old Martha Rudd began when he met her in the coastal town of Yarmouth, in 1864. She came from a poor family and was an unsophisticated girl, but was said to be good-looking.

Martha had moved to London and was living near Collins before Caroline issued her ultimatum.  Nine months after Caroline’s wedding, Martha gave birth to a daughter and Wilkie gave her a regular monthly allowance and paid other bills, but he didn’t marry her either.  She lived in Bolsover Street, not far from Collin’s home in Gloucester Place.

In 1871, within two years of Caroline’s marriage to Clow, when she was 40 years old, she left Clow and returned to Collins’ house on his terms, as hostess and housekeeper but no longer his mistress, fully aware of his continued commitment to Martha Rudd and the three children he fathered.

Caroline’s daughter Harriet had taken on the role of secretary to Collins and he is said to have dictated part of The Moonstone to her when he was under the effects of opium.

Collins it seems had the best of both worlds, a devoted housekeeper and hostess in one house and a mistress and children in another.  The births of Martha’s three children (Marian, Constance Harriet, and William Charles) were registered in the name of Dawson. Collins had shielded her from scandal by using the name Dawson and calling her Mrs. Dawson when they traveled or took lodgings.  He called his family “his morganatic family.” 

 

In 1874 Wilkie Collins went to the United States and Canada and toured giving readings from his works. He had a touching faith in the Southern States, a high regard for some of its writers and an open mind about the American people.

In New York he occupied the same suite of rooms at the Westminster Hotel that Dickens had used on his last visit.  The desk Dickens had used stood in front of the window and as soon as Wilkie Collins realized who had used it, he was visibly overcome.     

The reception to his readings was mixed. Annie Fields described in her diary his appearance as that of a “small man with an odd figure and forehead and shoulders much too large for the rest of him. His talk was rapid and pleasant, but not at all inspiring.”

He was pleased with the ease he could make money from readings, particularly at a time when Wall Street was going through one of its periodic panics. After traveling to Toronto he became exhausted, and went to bed for 34 hours when in Chicago. He cancelled plans to go west to California and returned to Boston where at dinners and banquets he met (or re-met) Oliver Wendell Holmes, Mark Twain, Henry Longfellow, and Josiah Quincy.

“I leave America with feelings of sincere gratitude,” he wrote to an American friend, “and sincere respect.  If all goes well my first visit shall not be my last.”

He did not have an ache or pain all the time and the climate had suited him – his gout had left him.

Soon after returning to London he visited Martha and nine months later on Christmas Day their third child, a son named William Charles, was born. Collins never hid his private life, nor its irregularities from his closest friends, and as the years passed he enjoyed the company of the younger children.  Almost yearly his works were published or plays performed. However, his novels and novellas of the 1870s and 1880s are generally regarded as inferior to his previous productions and receive comparatively little critical attention today, although they are available as e-texts.

In 1888 he was again complaining of the fog and damp in London and one evening on returning from a dinner party his four-wheel cab collided with another vehicle. He said, “I did not feel it much at the time – but I fancy it has given me a shake and stirred up the gout.”

A month later he was taken ill and confined to the house for six weeks. By the end of March 1889 he was “saturated with bile, racked by neuralgia” but attempting to work on a serialized novel called Blind Love. In mid-June he had a severe stroke. However, he had left extensive notes and another writer, Walter Besant, was able to finish the rest of the novel.

When he received the notes for Blind Love Besant discovered that Collins had prepared a detailed scenario in which every incident was carefully laid down: fragments of dialogue were inserted where dialogue was wanted, and in effect he completed the serialization under this guidance from Collins.  The story was based on a true situation told to Collins about fraud in the insurance world.

In the first week of September Collins wrote that he was well on the way to recovery and well looked after by two good nurses, but he died two weeks later at Wimpole Street, on 23 September 1889.

Four separate auction of his original manuscripts, his library and his paintings and drawing were held in the year after his death.  While his friends knew about Caroline and Martha, Victorian society was shocked to learn that Wilkie Collins had divided his estate equally between Carolina and Martha.

Unfortunately, through trustee investment mistakes and mismanagement on the part of the solicitor, virtually half of Wilkie’s wealth had disappeared within five or six years of his death. This reduced the annual income to which both Caroline and Harriet were entitled.

Caroline had to move into a smaller house. Martha thought at first that her two daughters were reasonably provided for but later it turned out that they were in no way fitted for an occupation, and as Martha and Collins had not been legally married, the girls were not socially accepted in Victorian society.

William Charles, Martha’s son was still in school when Collins died, but later he got a job as a clerk and then at the age of 19 went into the military and served in the Boer War. After he left the army he learned to drive and became the chauffeur of the Earl of Orkney. He married and began his own motor business but soon after the birth of his second child Charlie caught influenza and died suddenly from a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 38.

Caroline Graves died in 1895 and was buried in the same grave as Wilkie Collins in Kensal Green Cemetery, West London.

Henry Bartley, the lawyer who had married Caroline’s daughter Harriet, left his wife and four children. In 1897 he died of cancer and no will was found.  For some years his mother provided financial support to Harriet and her children.

Harriet died in 1905.

Martha Rudd (Dawson) died in 1919. Her daughters Marian and Hettie had to rely on continual support from their brother Charles’ children. Both girls had worked as governesses for a while and never married.  They remained discreetly silent about their famous father.

In summing up the secret life of Collins, William Clark suggest that the tight control he exerted over his plots was hardly paralleled in his private life. His views were unconventional, he lived his own life in the way he wished.  He took drugs, had a casual approach to liaisons, kept two mistresses and a morganatic family in an era when rigid codes of conduct existed uneasily alongside loose morals. But he did these things not to make a point, not to be ahead of his time, but simply because he was always at ease with his own decisions.

His writing suggests that he accepted woman for what they really were, individuals in their own right, and not Victorian appendages to a male-dominated society.

Wilkie Collins work has been reprinted, made into films, television productions, and plays. The Wilkie Collins Society, founded in 1980- promotes interest in his life and work. It is active in London and California. 

The Moonstone and Woman in White were the most popular of his novels and could be called classics. They share an unusual narrative structure, in which different portions of the book have different narrators, each with a distinctive narrative voice.

Two other major works are the Armadale, a crime story involving two generations, and No Name, which attacked the then-prevailing laws on inheritance and illegitimacy.

Andrew Gasson said that when he first read Wilkie Collins in the early 1970s “except for The Moonstone and The Woman in White all his other books were out of print.”

But by the time Gasson produced an illustrated guide on Wilkie Collins, published in 1998, nearly all of Collins’ works had reappeared in bookshops.  An enormous revival of interest was accompanied by two recent biographies as well as radio, television, movie and theatrical productions.

Dorothy Sayers who wrote detective fiction was working on a biography of Collins and had completed five chapters before her death in 1957. These were eventually published in 1977. Her collection of his works, manuscripts and autograph letters are now at Austin, Texas.

There have been screen adaptations of The Woman in White, commencing with a silent UK film in 1929, and the most recent five episodes in the UK in 2018. The Moonstone was first filmed in 1934 and five episodes in the UK in 2016.

 

                                                 End

 

 

We’ve heard that a million monkeys at a million keyboards could produce the complete works of Shakespeare; now, thanks to the Internet, we know that is not true.

—Robert Wilensky

 

Anecdotes of Heroes, WWII

Peggy Lovelace Ellis

 

As early as 1937, Adolph Hitler and his Third Reich were persecuting Jews in several European countries. Many people helped Jews avoid deportation to the concentration camps in various ways. I include here a brief history of four people: a Swiss, a Brit, a German, and an American, who succeeded, by fair means or foul, in rescuing thousands of Jews during the war. I also include the mysterious disappearance of a fifth man known to aid Jews, and an American actor of Hungarian heritage who gave aid many years later.

Carl Lutz (March 30, 1895 – February 12, 1975) was a Swiss diplomat who served as the Swiss Vice-Consul in Budapest, Hungary from 1942 until the end of the war. He is credited with saving over 62,000 Jews, the largest rescue operation of Jews of the war. He received the title of “Righteous Among the Nations,” the Israeli government’s highest honor awarded to non-Jews who risked their lives aiding Jews during the holocaust.

        In cooperation with the Jewish Agency for Israel, he issued Swiss safe-conduct documents that enabled almost 10,000 Hungarian Jewish children to emigrate, in addition to the 62,000.

One of his efforts was a special deal with the Hungarian government and the Nazis. He gained permission to issue protective letters to 8,000 Hungarian Jews for emigration to Palestine. He deliberately interpreted his permission for 8,000 as applying to families rather than individuals, and proceeded to issue tens of thousands of additional protective letters, all of them bearing a number between one and 8,000. He also set up 76 “safe houses” around Budapest, declaring them annexes of the Swiss legation and thus off-limits to Hungarian forces or Nazi soldiers. About 3,000 Hungarian Jews found refuge in these building.

It’s still unclear how many Jews made it to Budapest safe houses or how many passes were issued or forged.

Sir Nicholas George Winton, MBE (born Wertheim; May 19, 1909 – July 1, 2015) was a British humanitarian who established an organization to rescue children at risk from Nazi Germany.

Shortly before Christmas 1938, Winton planned to travel to Switzerland for a skiing holiday. He decided instead to visit Prague, Czechoslovakia, as it then was, and help Martin Blake, who had asked him to help in Jewish welfare work. Winton established an organization to aid children from Jewish families at risk from the Nazis. In November 1938, the British House of Commons approved a measure to allow the entry into Britain of refugees younger than 17, provided they had a place to stay and a warranty of £50 was deposited for their eventual return to their own country.

An important obstacle was getting official permission to cross into the Netherlands en route to England. Winton succeeded thanks to the guarantees he had obtained from Britain. After the first train, the process of crossing the Netherlands went smoothly. Winton ultimately found homes in Britain for 669 children. The last group of 250, scheduled to leave Prague on September 1, 1939, were unable to depart. With Hitler‘s invasion of Poland on the same day, the war had begun. Of the children due to leave on that train, only two survived the war.

Winton’s rescue achievements went unnoticed for half a century until, in 1988, his wife found a detailed scrapbook in their attic, containing lists of the children, including their parents’ names and the names and addresses of the families that took them in. She gave the scrapbook to Elisabeth Maxwell, a Holocaust researcher and wife of media magnate Robert Maxwell. Letters were sent to each of these known addresses and 80 of “Winton’s children” were found in Britain.

The wider world learned about his work in February 1988 during an episode of the BBC television program That’s Life!  when he was invited as a member of the audience. At one point, Winton’s scrapbook was shown and his achievements were explained. The host of the program, asked whether anybody in the audience owed their lives to Winton, and if so, to stand – more than two dozen people surrounding Winton rose and applauded.

Our guide told us of a book called Nicky’s Family, which contains pictures children prisoners drew of daily activities. The pictures were not found until after the war. The original pictures are on display at the Jewish museum (formerly a concentration camp) at Terezin, 40 miles from Prague.

Queen Elizabeth knighted Winton for “services to humanity, in saving Jewish children from Nazi Germany-occupied Czechoslovakia.” On October 28, 2014, he received the highest honor of the Czech Republic, the Order of the White Lion (1st class). He died in 2015 at age 106.

Oskar Schindler (April 28, 1908 – October 9 1974) is now probably the most famous person aiding Jews during the war. A German industrialist and a member of the Nazi Party, he is credited with saving the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his enamelware and ammunitions factories in occupied Poland and, later, the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.

He’s the subject of the 1982 novel Schindler’s Ark and its 1993 film adaptation, Schindler’s List, which reflected his life as an opportunist initially motivated by profit, who came to show extraordinary tenacity and courage to save the lives of his Jewish employees.

In 1939, Schindler acquired an enamelware factory in Kraków, Poland, which employed at the factory’s peak in 1944 about 1,750 workers, of whom 1,000 were Jews. His connections helped Schindler protect his Jewish workers from deportation and death in the Nazi concentration camps. As time went on, Schindler had to give Nazi officials ever larger bribes and gifts of luxury items obtainable only on the black market to keep his workers safe.

By July 1944, Germany was losing the war; the SS began closing down the easternmost concentration camps and deporting the remaining prisoners westward. Schindler convinced officials to allow him to move his factory to the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. He continued to bribe SS officials to prevent the execution of his workers until the end of the war, by which time he had spent his entire fortune on bribes and black-market purchases of supplies for his workers.

When he went bankrupt in 1958, Schindler returned to Germany, where he failed at several business ventures and relied on financial support from a group known as “Schindler Jews,” the people whose lives he had saved during the war. He died in Hildesheim, Germany, and was buried in Jerusalem on Mount Zion, the only member of the Nazi Party to be honored in this way. He and his wife Emilie were named “Righteous Among the Nationsby the Israeli government in 1993.

Roddie Edmonds (August 20, 1919 – August 8, 1985), a master sergeant of the 106th Infantry Division, 422nd Infantry Regiment in the United States Army during World War II, became the ranking U.S. non-commissioned officer at the Stalag IX-A prisoner-of-war camp in Germany. There – at the risk of his life – he prevented an estimated 200 Jews from being singled out from the camp for Nazi persecution and possible death.

Edmonds, along with other inexperienced troops, arrived in the combat zone December 1944, arriving only five days before Germany launched a massive counteroffensive, Battle of the Bulge. During the battle, on December 19, 1944, Edmonds was captured by Nazi forces, and sent to a German prisoner-of-war camp, Stalag IX-B. Shortly thereafter, he was transferred, with other enlisted personnel, to another POW camp, Stalag IX-A. As the senior noncommissioned officer at the new camp, Master Sergeant Edmonds was responsible for the camp’s 1,275 American POWs.

On their first day in Stalag IX-A, January 27, 1945 – as Germany’s defeat was clearly approaching – the commandant ordered Edmonds to tell only the Jewish-American soldiers to present themselves at the next morning’s assembly so they could be separated from the other prisoners.

Instead, Edmonds ordered all 1,275 POWs to assemble outside their barracks. In a fury, the commandant placed his pistol against Edmonds’ head and demanded that Edmonds identify the Jewish soldiers under his command. Instead, Edmonds responded, “We are all Jews here.” He told the commandant that, if he wanted to shoot the Jews, he’d have to shoot all the prisoners. Edmonds also told him that, if he harmed any of Edmonds’ men, the commandant would be investigated and prosecuted for war crimes after the conflict ended. He cited the Geneva Conventions requirement that prisoners only had to give their name, rank, and serial number. Religion was not a requirement. The commandant backed down.

Edmonds survived 100 days of captivity, and returned home after the war, but kept the event at the POW camp to himself. He also served during the Korean Conflict. He died in 1985, having never received any official recognition, citation, or medal for his defense of the Jewish POWs.

On February 10, 2015, Israeli authorities recognized Edmonds as “Righteous Among the Nations.” The awards ceremony was held January 27, 2016, at the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C., where then-President Barack Obama praised Edmonds for action “above and beyond the call of duty,” and echoed Edmonds statement of solidarity with Jews. Chris Edmonds received the Righteous medal and certificate of honor on his father’s behalf, at the ceremony.

As late as February 2017, Edmonds’ act had never received official recognition by the U.S. government. His son continues his efforts to have Congress award the Medal of Honor posthumously. So far, the congressional reason has been that Edmonds’ action was not in battle; therefore, he isn’t qualified.

 

What Happened to Raoul Wallenberg?

 

Raoul Wallenberg was a Swedish businessman and diplomat credited with saving thousands of Jews from the Germans in the waning days of the Second World War. From the summer of 1944 until late in the year he protected Hungarian Jews by issuing them Swedish passports and sheltering them on properties designated as Swedish territory under diplomatic and international law.

When the Soviet Army besieged Budapest, Russian authorities arrested Wallenberg on suspicion of espionage. Over a decade later, the Soviets reported his death to have occurred in July 1947, with the cause of death being heart failure.

After that “death” report, several former prisoners and even guards reported having seen Wallenberg, at least as late as the 1980s. Reports indicated Wallenberg was in Soviet custody in the infamous Lubyanka Prison. Reasons for his being held by the Soviets have been largely speculation, ranging from his alleged connections with US intelligence to his having been involved in espionage activities against the Hungarians.

Wallenberg was reported as being murdered by the Gestapo in 1945, dead of natural causes in 1947, murdered by the Russians while in custody in 1947, alive on Wrangell Island in 1962, and alive in another Soviet prison in 1987. Swiss authorities officially declared dead in 2016.

Wallenberg’s relationship with US intelligence, as well as his activities subverting the pro-Nazi Hungarian government during the war are still the subject of speculation, with the governments of several nations, including Russia, Ukraine, Germany, Hungary, the United States, and Sweden, all issuing conflicting statements regarding his actions. The story of Raoul Wallenberg, which includes his often visibly contentious relationship with representatives of Nazi Germany in Budapest, remains a mystery which becomes more entangled the more one attempts to unravel it.

Regardless of how others interpret Wallenberg’s actions, the people of Budapest hold him in highest regard. He had no diplomatic experience, yet he led one of the most successful rescue efforts saving tens of thousands of Jews from deportation to the Auschwitz death camp. When Soviet forces liberated Budapest in February 1945, more than 100,000 Jews remained, mostly because of the efforts of Wallenberg and his colleagues, including Carl Lutz.

Behind the Great Synagogue (Doheny Street Synagogue), we found the Wallenberg Holocaust Memorial Park dedicated to the man they honor as hero. The Holocaust Memorial, erected in 1989, stands in Wallenberg Park above the mass graves in memory of Hungarian Jewish martyrs. A name of a martyr is on each leaf of a metal weeping willow tree.

Another American, Tony Curtis (nee Bernard Schwartz, June 3, 1925 – September 10, 2010) well-known actor, deserves some attention for his aid to Jews resulting from World War II. He, of course, was too young to serve.

Beginning in 1990, Curtis and his daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis, took a renewed interest in their family’s Hungarian Jewish heritage, and set up a foundation to help finance the rebuilding of the Great Synagogue in Budapest. (Today, this truly stunning synagogue is the Doheny Street Synagogue.) The largest synagogue in Europe today, it dates to 1859 and suffered severe damage during the war.

In 1998, Curtis also founded the Emanuel Foundation for Hungarian Culture, and served as honorary chairman. The organization works for the restoration and preservation of synagogues and the 1300 Jewish cemeteries in Hungary. It is dedicated to the 600,000 Jewish victims of the Holocaust in Hungary and lands occupied by the Hungarian Army.

 

A Chance Encounter on a Sandy Hill

Sybil Austin Skakle

 

After being married thirty-three years, my husband died unexpectedly in 1980. Our three sons were grown. I married twice more, divorced from one after 7 years and widowed a second time in 1992. It was not unusual for me to be on Hatteras Island. I grew up there. I do not remember what year or day it was. Or, why I was in Buxton and needing gas for my car why I drove up a sandy hillside to that unfamiliar gas pump that particular day. As I stepped out of the car, I observed a man ahead of me. Suddenly, I recognized someone I had not seen in a lifetime, not since 1944.   

“Hi, Mace! How are you?” I said. 

He turned, recognized me and exclaimed, “Sybil, I declare. He threw his arms around me and gave me a big, big hug. “What are you doing here?”

“Going to get some gas! Gosh, it’s good to see you. How are you?” I said, a bit flustered, but wanting to know everything about his life since then.  

“Doing good,” he said. His crooked, endearing smile reminded me of how much I cared for him. “I really loved you, Girl!”

“Did you really?”

Mace, a Buxton boy, was stationed in the U. S. Coast Guard at Creeds Hill Station in Frisco sometime during his service time during World War II. We became special friends after my engagement to another young local man, also from Buxton, ended. A letter, just before Christmas 1943, had informed me that he had met another girl. 

My mother, well-meaning perhaps, cautioned me. She supposed that the boys might be reluctant to date me. I had not known how to interpret her advice, which hurt and embarrassed me. There was no reason for anyone to think that I needed to get married, or for fellows to be afraid to date me.

My friend Marian, who would have been my maid of honor, had come home from Florida, where she had been working, folding parachutes, while living with her older sister and husband. Our friendship, active since we were three years of age, was more important to me then than I knew. When Mace – his real name Amasa Quidley, Jr. – and I began dating, the three of us were always together. The guys kidded Mace that he was being chaperoned. Mace laughed when he told me, but continued to pick us up and take us home from one of the two places that we young people of the villages congregated to dance and mingle. He was kind, good natured, and a loyal friend. I enjoyed his company.

When Mama gave me a birthday dinner for my 19th birthday Mace came, as well as Marian and her date. My younger sister Mona and her date were with us too. It was a delicious dinner and I think that I never adequately thanked my dear mother, who I suspect was trying to make up for my disappointment the month before.

I sometimes dated Marty Dudek, a Coast Guardsman stationed at the Hatteras Submarine Station, from which men patrolled the Hatteras beach during World War II, to watch for submarines offshore and apprehend any person who might be a threat to the safety of the village, or the United States of America.

Neither friendship developed into one of love. I cared for both men. I liked to dance with Marty, from Passaic, New Jersey. He was full-bodied and dancing with him was like being cuddled by a teddy bear. Once when dancing with him, the juke box was playing “You Always Hurt the One You Love,” he said, “Sybil, you can’t fall in love with anyone. You have been too hurt.”

What he said was psychologically correct. Years later, after reading a lot in psychology, I understood. But not then? I was grieving and denying that I hurt.

Fortunately, I did not imagine myself in love with either Mace or Marty. I was grateful they were not afraid to date me, that they were willing to be my friends. 

Marty and I exchanged letters after he left the island for sea duty, but he did not survive wartime. He died of a heart attack while serving on a U.S. Coast Guard ship in Japan. A cousin of mine, serving in same area, informed me of his death.

Mace and I never exchanged letters that I remember. I do not know when he left the service and what he did afterwards. I know he married a local girl, had children and lived happily, as Mace surely would have.

Did he really love me? Of course he did! And in the same way I loved him. We were important to one another during that part of our lives.

Actually, I do not know where Mace went from Creeds Hill Coast Guard Station. We did not have time for him to tell me there on the hill. We had not laid eyes on one another for thirty-five or forty years and I never saw him again. I read his obituary in the local paper.

 

 

A Few Scant Recollections of World War II

A brief slice of life by Howard A. Goodman

 

When Gene Alston asked to see what I could come up with, I suddenly realized it was not going to be very much. You see, I was born less than one year after World War II began to involve the U.S. By the time the war ended I was just three, barely old enough to remember anything. Yet, a few memories persist in spite of my tender age at the time.

The very first must have occurred no later than 1944, when I was barely two years old. My parents had rented a row home in the Strawberry Mansion section of Philadelphia, on the 2400 block of North 34th Street. Outside their bedroom window was a wooden telephone pole, and mounted high on it an air raid siren.

According to my mother, air raid drills were conducted frequently, and the siren would be activated for minutes at a time. Its sound was so piercing it frightened the bejesus out of me. To this day I still have an issue with loud noises.

I recently did a street search for that home using Google Maps and discovered the telephone pole still stands in front, though most likely not the original one. And sans siren.

Next on my shaky list is victory gardens. As I understand the concept, the U.S. government at the time encouraged civilians to grow their own produce on any space available to themno doubt a challenge for city dwellersso that supplies from commercial farms would remain adequate for our troops overseas.

In the spring of 1944 we moved to the Fern Rock section of Philly, to a row house my parents purchased for about $9.000. My new home was situated directly across the street from Fern Rock Yard, the northern terminus of the Broad Street Subway Line. Along the undeveloped northern end of the property, employees of the Philadelphia Transportation Company who were based out of the yard were encouraged to plant victory gardens. This practice persisted until 1955, when a portion of the land was cleared for a new station and commuter parking lot. Had the practice continued until today, victory gardens might have qualified as a tradition.

One of the most significant food items that was rationed during WWII was meat. By 1944, the Office of Price Administration had been established and charged with developing a rationing system.

 

One of the means the OPA came up with was “tokens.” These tokens were fabricated from vulcanized celluloid fiber and measured 5/8 inch in diameter.

 

 

 

 

    Rationing tokens

Tokens were available in two colors. Red tokens were used to regulate the purchase of meats and fats, while blue tokens, more rare, were used for processed foods.

My memories of these tokens solidified sometime later. When the war ended, so did rationing. The Office of Price Administration was disbanded and the token system retired.

For several years afterward I would discover tokens along the driveway behind my row house, discarded by neighbors yet somehow never making it to the inside of the garbage truck.

Perhaps a carryover from WWI, apparently it had become customary to light bonfires at the conclusion of WWII.

My grandfather lived about four miles east of us off of Roosevelt Boulevard, northeast Philly’s textual name for U.S. Highway 1. At the conclusion of the war, on the way to his house to celebrate the return of my Uncle Bobby, an infantry sergeant, I recalled seeing bonfires and crowds of people on the athletic field of nearby Olney High School.

To me, as a three year old bonfies seemed rather scary, especially at night. Perhaps in my child’s mind I feared the war had arrived on our shores. So I kind of put this memory out of my mind until just recently, when Gene called for a series of articles about WWII memories.

Even today, the notion of a bonfire to celebrate the end of a conflagration is at odds with my sense of a peaceful activity. I don’t recall the practice of lighting bonfires being performed at the end of the Korean War. Or Viet Nam.

 

Conceptual Leaps

Randy Bittle

 

Love may have been the first conceptual leap experienced by the human race.  Of course it began as pure sexual instinct, but eventually conceptual habits of love developed, producing the social fabric surrounding family and friends.  Tribes of family groups lived together, hunting and foraging for food and looking to each other for protection and subsistence.  Along with symbolic vocal language and religious ideas, the habitual use of tools and fire evolved to assist in dealing with the challenges of daily life.  Each of these conceptual leaps in prehistory produced lasting changes for Homo sapiens, occurring over hundreds of thousands of years.

Following the last Ice Age, about ten thousand years ago, settlements were established along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Mesopotamia and independently along the Nile River in Egypt.  Agriculture became a new way of life.  Settlements grew larger and villages developed, followed by towns and cities.  Irrigation and other advances in agriculture, in conjunction with reliance on the major rivers, were conceptual leaps that altered the course of human history forever.

Speaking of history, around 3100 BC, writing on clay tablets originated in Mesopotamia.  Pictograms and ideograms emerged earlier, on less permanent mediums than baked clay.  Writing was a monumental step in the progress of humankind, although it was limited to a few priests, clerics, and government officials.  More than 90% of the various early civilized populations remained illiterate for thousands of years after the first evidence of writing surfaced.

The ancient Greeks revamped writing when they adapted the Phoenician alphabet in the eighth century BC.  By adding vowel symbols to the already existing consonant symbols, the Greeks could write down any sound that could be spoken.  This enabled them to record the epic poetry of Homer and Hesiod, and also allowed them to write any other ideas that came to mind, such as philosophy, history, and drama.  Several characteristics favored ancient Greece for cultural and artistic developments manifested in written works.  I wrote about these characteristics in essays previously published in the Righter Quarterly Review, but I will briefly outline them here.

First, the Greeks were a nation of city-states, each governed independently.  While they had a common religious heritage, no centralized national authority oversaw religious practices.  Each city-state administered religious duties locally, resulting in variety in regional and personal beliefs.  Also, for the first time in history, a larger percentage of citizens had the leisure time to learn to read and write.  Freedom of personal beliefs, combined with educated citizenry, led to a high level of individual creative thought captured through the art of writing.  Philosophy, history, poetry, and drama flourished in classical Greece.

Philosophy and history were arguably the most lasting and influential inventions of ancient Greece.  The works of Plato, Aristotle, and Herodotus in the fourth and fifth centuries BC represent another conceptual leap for human kind.  Thales and Anaximander were the first philosophers, and many others contemplated the nature of reality before Socrates’ time.  These early philosophers are now categorized as the pre-Socratics and primarily focused on natural phenomena.  None of them got it exactly right, but they made the first human attempts to literally, not mythically, comprehend reality.

Socrates did not write anything himself, but he is known to us indirectly and second-hand through the works of Xenophon and Socrates’ student Plato.  In Plato’s dialogues, Socrates’ character focused his attention on human nature, considering virtue, justice, and whether right and wrong could be truly understood and taught.  In Plato’s dialogues, Socrates sought truth although he claimed to have none himself.  This quest for truth separated philosophers from other people and brought to mankind a new level of understanding.  For Plato, justice and the virtues had pure and divine realities, which he called Forms.  True belief or true opinion was as close as humans could come to comprehending the divine Forms.  Plato’s works were influential, though not instigative, in Christian thought about seven hundred years later, most notably in the works of Augustine.

Aristotle, Plato’s student, spent less time questioning whether truth could be understood and just got on with the business of understanding it.  He single-handedly invented the basic rules of logic, creating a valid and sound avenue to truth.  Aristotle closely observed the world around him and wrote about the nature of being a good person, incorporating economics, politics, biology, ethology, religion, and the family in his analysis of what was best for an individual.  Aristotle qualified his conclusions, basing them upon observation.  He wrote in the middle of the fourth century BC.

1500 years later, Thomas Aquinas merged Aristotle’s works with Christian theological orthodoxy, a connection that dominated human intellectual activity for another 500 years.  The pivotal conceptual leap of philosophical inquiry, as demonstrated by Socrates and recorded in words by Plato and Aristotle, advanced and influenced humankind in an enormous manner that is hard to overestimate.

Herodotus invented history in the fifth century BC, another Greek accomplishment that changed the world.  He wrote about the causes of the Greek-Persian wars.  This initial historical account showed Herodotus’ biases.  Bias inevitably became a normal part of historical expression.  Thucydides and Xenophon are prominent history writers from classical Greece, following the lead of Herodotus.  History continues to fascinate people today.  Professional historians seek accuracy, but some truths are elusive in historical work, and some bias is unavoidable.  Despite inadequacies found in philosophy and history, both disciplines altered the way humans thought about the world.

Around 1600 AD, Francis Bacon started a movement in natural philosophy that placed skepticism, observation, and measurement at the center of scientific investigation.  In his book “Novum Organum,” he outlined a new methodology for understanding natural phenomena that broke away from the futile traditional method of theological logic-chopping.  Bacon did not make much progress himself outside of showing the way, but his new methodology inspired others, including Kepler, Galileo, and Newton.  Observation and applied mathematics became standard tools in natural philosophy, much to the benefit of mankind.

Appeals to authority and circular logical arguments that dominated human intellectual endeavors between 1100 AD and 1600 AD were slowly replaced with skeptical observation and mathematical analysis.  Kepler had the advantage of Tycho Brahe’s recorded accurate observations of planetary movements.  Kepler worked out the laws of planetary motion based on those observations.  Galileo turned the newly invented spyglass (later called a telescope) to the sky.  He observed the phases of Venus, recorded the movements of Jupiter’s moons, and identified mountains and craters on the Earth’s moon.  Galileo even tried to calculate the heights of the moon’s mountains from the length and angles of their shadows.

Isaac Newton published “Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica” in 1687.  This work firmly placed observation and mathematics at the forefront of scientific investigations.  Newton defined the mathematical relationships between force and mass, and he expressed the universal law of gravitation.  Even as late as the seventeenth century, better than 80% of the civilized world’s population were illiterate farmers, soldiers, and craftsmen.  But the educated elite took notice of the work done by Kepler, Galileo, and Newton.

For the first time evidence overwhelmingly suggested the Earth orbited the Sun.  Mankind’s view of the universe shifted to a more realistic perspective because of this conceptual leap.  Natural philosophers across Europe eagerly applied the techniques of skeptical observation and mathematical measurement to everything they studied.  Astronomy, botany, alchemy, biology, navigation, and tool-crafting thrived as natural philosophers solved mysteries at an astonishing rate using the new methodology first proposed by Francis Bacon.

In the eighteenth century, the Age of Enlightenment followed the progress of the seventeenth century.  Increased education, proliferation of newspapers, and numerous book publications invited new curiosity and intellectual activity.  Thinkers of all kinds gathered in coffee houses throughout France and England to discuss politics, society, and the latest scientific discoveries.  Civilized society would never be the same.  Education continued to be emphasized and became more common.  In the nineteenth century, Germans took the lead in university level scientific inquiry, but France, England, Italy, and America all made contributions. 

Three more conceptual leaps concerning physical reality are worth mentioning: the periodic table, Einstein’s special and general theories of Relativity, and quantum mechanics.  All three led to radical changes in humankind’s perspective and understanding of natural reality.  However, the biggest conceptual leap in modern times involves the change in thought patterns of the population at large.  The industrial revolution, brought about by scientific advances, led to increased dependence on non-food consumer goods.  People took on occupations other than farming and soldiering.

The invention of radio and its commercial application in the early twentieth century made possible a wide dissemination of information to a greater percentage of the population than ever before.  Information for the masses became the norm by the middle of the twentieth century as radio and television grew in popularity.  Popular culture was shared by large numbers of people through these new media.  The growth of the telephone industry and its infrastructure linked people who previously were limited to local or regional community influences.  Automobiles and airplanes extended mobility.  Advancements occurred more and more rapidly throughout the twentieth century, altering the way common people related to the world and to each other.

And then the personal computer was invented.  Computers became affordable and the internet linked them and their users together.  Micro-electronics ushered in the early twenty-first century.  Smartphones and tablets got to be ubiquitous “must have” gadgets.  Twitter, Facebook, and their spin-offs connected people in an ever expanding network.  Where the future leads I cannot say, but the rapidity and comprehensiveness of modern technological advances is overwhelmingly changing the way an individual interacts with popular culture.  Conceptual leaps happen every five to ten years now and affect massive numbers of people.  I see good and bad in the events that shape society today.  My intuition tells me education, including philosophy, history, and the scientific method, is vital to successful social evolution.  How it all turns out remains to be seen and is a subject for speculation in another essay.

 

It is All Coming up Roses!

Diana Goldsmith

 

I was recounting a change in my situation in an email to Judy, one of my best friends.

 

Last Saturday I had a strange experience.

I had just sat down on a park bench to tie my shoelaces when an old man walked up and asked me if I'd watch his dog for five minutes. Being soft hearted when it comes to animals, especially the cute variety, I agreed. It was a small dog of indeterminate breed; Jack Russell with some Westie and perhaps a little bit of Yorkshire terrier. A real rough-haired mongrel. I held on to it's tartan lead while it sat and looked up at me.

It was a lovely warm and sunny morning with just a few wispy clouds in a vivid blue sky. I had decided to go for a run before breakfast and had to stop as the lace had come undone in one of my trainers. I just wanted to finish my jog round the park and get home for a well deserved breakfast. I waited and waited for the man to return.

"Well little boy where's your master?", I inquired of my mute friend. He nuzzled my hand. I looked down and saw there was a disc attached to his collar. I read it. Reggie was the name inscribed on it. I took out my phone and checked it for any notifications.Twenty minutes later had me worried and fed up. I couldn't have left Reggie on his own so I reckoned I had better report the missing man to the police.

I got up and turned to walk in the direction of the police station but Reggie stayed put. I pulled but he was a 'dead weight' and stubbornly refused to budge!

"Well Reggie, what am I going to do?", I enquired of my small companion.

Reggie seemed to get my drift and started to pull on the lead after starting off in the opposite direction.

"Oh, all right, little fellow, you seem to know where you're going or at least I hope so!" I muttered to myself.

We left the park through the south side. I lived on the north of the park. Reggie pulled me on and I just let him lead me as he seemed to know where he was going. We went through a council estate but he didn't stop there as I thought we might. We were now out in the country and Reggie seemed to speed up as we approached an old cottage standing on its own.

The cottage didn't look in good repair as there were slates missing on the roof and the garden was very overgrown. I did see that there had once been a lovely rose growing over the door but now there were just a few buds struggling to survive being choked by brambles. What a shame I thought to myself as I bet this had been a pretty farm worker's dwelling,

Reggie pulled me up to the door which was ajar.

We went in and there was the same old man in the room. He was sitting on a very battered, old armchair with bits of stuffing coming out in places.

I looked around and saw that there was a lifetime's detritus. Newspapers piled high, books had been stacked up but had fallen over. Coats and shoes were on the floor too. There was a stained cloth covered table on which dishes, plates and mugs were piled high and open tins and cheese and mouldy bread. It nearly made me heave. There was hardly any room to move.

I didn't know what to say..but the man spoke first, tears falling from his sunken blue eyes. He told me how he and his wife Florrie had moved into the cottage after their wedding sixty years before. He had been a farm worker and she a milkmaid. They had many happy years but they always regretted not being able to fill it with the happy laughing sounds of children.

Now he was all alone apart from Reggie. His Florrie had been very ill for many years. He had looked after her taking over the tasks she used to do such as the cleaning, washing and cooking. She had always kept the home spick and span. After a few years it all changed and he found she put things in the wrong places and she couldn't remember where. She resented him helping her. He found it harder and harder and would take Reggie just to get out of the house.

It had all come to a head and in the end he called the doctor and he came and contacted Social Services. They had taken Florrie to a Nursing Home and she didn't even recognise him when he visited her and got herself in such a state that it was suggested that he didn't come anymore. He was all alone in all the mess and he didn't know what to do

He was so depressed he had decided to end it all but he wanted to find a home for Reggie first. He had decided to walk to the park and find a suitable person and leave Reggie with them.

However when he got down to the canal edge he found he couldn't jump in and just went home.

So what did I do? I realised that I needed to have some new purpose in my life. I had taken early retirement. I'd done the travelling bit. I had joined a book group and a drama one. My daughter had started her first job after Uni. and was in a happy relationship so I was redundant.

I decided I could help Bill, the old man. I told him and said I'd help him get the house straight again if he'd help me. He took a little persuasion but did agree. It wasn't too bad in the end. I contacted Social services and they arranged for some regular help for him and even managed to get Florrie to accept his regular visits to see him in her home. I think she thinks he is a new boyfriend but he doesn't seem to mind and plays the part well if it means he can see her again!

Reggie is well looked after and comes with me regularly on my Saturday jog in the park. He is also allowed to visit Florrie with Bill.

My next project is to attack Bill's garden in the Spring and get that rose blooming again

 

 

Grammar Lesson

One Political Plaza - Home of politics

 

        Is it, "complete." "finished" or "Completely Finished?”

No English dictionary has been able to adequately explain the difference between these two words - "Complete" and "Finished.” 

 In a recent linguistic competition held in London and attended by, supposedly, the best in the world, Samdar Balgobin, a Guyanese man, was the clear winner with a standing ovation which lasted over 5 minutes. 

The final question was:  “How do you explain the difference between COMPLETE and FINISHED in a way that is easy to understand?  Some people say there is no difference between COMPLETE and FINISHED.”

Here is his astute answer: "When you marry the right woman, you are COMPLETE.  When you marry the wrong woman, you are FINISHED.  And, when the right one catches you with the wrong one, you are COMPLETELY FINISHED!"

He won a trip around the world and a case of 25-year old Scotch!

 

Oysters with an Atheist

Tim Whealton

 

Last week I finally got chance to go to Cedar Island and spend a day at the camp. My life has changed since I joined the Ministry last May. Not just what I do, but even who I am has changed. With lots of classes to take, preaching, teaching full time, and reorganizing my business my days are full. Just like I want them! My goal in going to Cedar Island was not to take a day off but to check on waterlines, leaking toilets and cut underbrush. One night of study and writing was also on my list. It was good trip. I cut down bushes, prayed in the old church, ate snacks, slept well and was almost ready to leave when my old neighbor from down the road stopped.

He had been oystering and asked me to come have some steamed oysters and conversation for lunch. I was ready to go but Cedar Island oysters changed my plan. Now oysters are usually good but Cedar Island takes it to a whole new level. Oysters live in salt water but not as salty as the ocean and not as fresh as the river. Cedar Island is the perfect place. Where the Neuse River empties into Pamlico Sound on the north and Core Sound brings in the salt from Drum inlet on the south. The oyster is just proof that God has a personality and likes to show off now and then.

I have known the old neighbor for many years. He was a gun customer when he was younger. He was a quail hunter and tough as whip leather. You could look at him and his gear and tell. Pants and coat torn by briars, finish worn off his shotgun, not an ounce of fat on him or his dog. I was told by an old gunsmith years ago when I started working that the quail hunters were the true gentlemen of the sport. They respected the landowners, the game and the sport. He was right 100%.

I arrived at his camp on the water just as he lit the fire under the oyster pot on the porch. There was a warm breeze blowing in from the south. A large squirrel ran across the yard as I parked. The spectacular view was across Cedar Island Bay and Core Sound to the Outer Banks. He motioned me to come to the porch and held up his beer.

He offered me a beer but I explained that I had never learned to like beer and now I was a Baptist minister and we didn’t drink alcohol. He said no problem and brought out a diet Mountain Dew for me. We had time to sit and talk about life, fishing, bird dogs, and guns. He explained the he was an atheist and I might not want to eat with him. I told him that was crazy. I told him I had some pretty good examples of doing the right thing and eating with him was an opportunity (not to mention he had fresh oysters)!

We discussed classic literature and how smart bird dogs are. He had a dog that would watch as the bird flew away and would know if that bird had been hit by the shot. If the bird was crippled he would watch for the bird to land and then decide whether he should find it and point it again for another shot or if it could just be retrieved. He said he was rarely wrong. He said his dog would get disgusted with him when he missed a bird. I have experienced that too.

He told me he read the Bible and his wife taught Sunday School to a bunch of old women. He had decided that what went on at church didn’t have much to do with God. He knew that something or God had made the world and he knew how to treat other people so he was fine with staying out of church.

We talked for a long time as we opened oysters and enjoyed each other’s company. Seemed every time we got on something else we drifted back to God as a topic. Not unusual for people who call themselves atheist. He had seen how so many things work together in the world that it couldn’t just happen. He saw how much intelligence is hidden in the dumbest of living things that the smartest can’t figure it out. How the dumbest man in the room can be infected with a virus and his body will make an antibody that will heal the body. Something that our great thinkers can’t do. And the body does it without hands, eyes or Google. It just “knows” what to do!

We talked about how even plants have more intelligence than our conscious minds. They know how to prepare for seasons, release seeds on time and store energy efficiently. He said it was obvious that that intelligence came from somewhere.

I realized while he was talking that my job as a minister isn’t to do anything more than make you think. I can show you examples, read scripture, pray, and help you find friends that love God but making you think is what I’m really trying to do. The old man isn’t an atheist. He has answered the first question, is there a God? Now he is wrestling with the next question, what do I do next? God has a way of using some of the strangest containers to send his message. The old man had done what I want to do, he made me think. 

This is the start of a new year.  A New Year can mean a new start. Start it by thinking about where you are. Is it where you want? Want more out of life? Many people I talk with will make the statement “I just want to be happy”. Then they proceed to kill themselves trying to get stuff. The stuff starts to make demands on them too! The stuff needs to be stored, cleaned, serviced, protected, and insured. Then the stuff isn’t new anymore and needs to be replaced.

If it’s happiness you are searching for look around. Who is happy? Who has joy in their life? It will always be the generous person. It won’t matter what they have, if they are willing to share they will be the happiest people you will find. Don’t believe me? Well look at the negative example. Ever see a stingy scrooge that was happy? Me neither!

Let this be the year you find a better path. It starts with one step in the right direction. Happy New Year!

 

Hammer Spade and the Four Horsemen

Serialized book by E. B. Alston

 

Part One - The Setup - Michael Clover

 

Chapter Two

 

Clover checked into the Hotel Les Armures on Puits-St-Pierre 1 - 1204 in Geneva, Switzerland. His first thought was that these revolutionaries had expensive tastes. His room was located at the heart of the old town, near the financial district, in a beautiful 13th century building. It was five minutes from Lake Geneva and cost over SwF 600 a night. After the uniformed porter deposited his luggage in the closet, he hung up Clover’s suits and laid out his shirts. The porter thanked him for the tip and wished him a pleasant stay.

“Have a good evening Your Grace,” he said, with a salute, locking the door as he left.

Clover dined alone in the hotel restaurant that evening. When the waiter brought his menu, he also brought a brochure that described the hotel’s history. The hotel was a historic landmark. It was originally a 13th century café and it had been thoroughly restored with period decorated ceilings, painted façades, frescos and chimneys with white marble mantelpieces, as well as numerous art treasures.  The atmosphere was comfortable and reeked of antiquity. After taking a brief tour of the public areas of the hotel, Clover retired to his room and went to bed wondering what the morrow would bring.

Clover’s alias in this assignment was Lord Philip Norwich, a descendant of Edward of Norwich, 2nd Duke of York and 1st Duke of Aumale. Edward died in the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, the battle that brought France to her knees.

A family record had been fabricated. His academic career was portrayed as one of preaching against democratic government and all forms of liberalism and rights for the masses. According to the fabricated family record, Lord Phillip’s grandfather was executed for being a spy for Germany during World War II. Lord Phillip was on record as vehemently decrying the decline of western civilization and calling for a purification of the masses and destruction of representative government. Of course, all of this was fake. Clover didn’t know, or care, if a man named Philip Norwich ever existed.

The purpose of the meeting was to choose a chairman and assign group leaders for the four organizations making up the Four Horsemen operation. The organization was modeled after the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse with the Antichrist, the devastation of War, the debilitation of Famine and the terror of Death. Why they chose a Biblical theme was puzzling. Maybe its antiquity lent an air of mystery and intrigue. Maybe they were religious fanatics trying to rush the Second Coming.

Clover’s superiors in London had taken this as a very serious threat. He also knew that the U.N. and the American CIA were involved, as were the Italian, French, Polish, Spanish, German, Greek and Russian governments. They considered it an international plot against western civilization and suspected that China was funding it. Clover did not look forward to meeting the conspirators in the private conference room on the top floor of the hotel.

 

 

Clover walked into the conference room ten minutes early. He was the last to arrive. A dignified man approached him, smiled, and offered his hand. “I am Loredano Ziff. You must be Lord Phillip.”

Clover guessed that Ziff was the man who had organized the meeting and was acting chairman until the group chose a permanent leader.

Clover noted that Ziff was the only man in the room who looked genuinely affluent and possessed continental manners. A few of the rest looked uncomfortable in expensive clothes and footwear obviously chosen in a failed attempt to impress.

“Yes, I am,” Clover replied.

“How should I address you?” Loredano asked.

“You may address me as Phillip, Loredano.”

“I am Pleased to meet you, Phillip. We are delighted that a man of your statue chose to join with us in our quest for world stability.”

“My inherited position is not an important factor,” Clover remarked dryly.

Undaunted by Clover’s cut, Loredano introduced him to the other men in the room.

“Philip, meet Alec Kristokos. He is our Greek representative.”

Kristokos was a shabbily dressed man with an insincere smile and bad breath. Clover made a mental note to sit as far away from him as possible.

Next in line was Alain Binoche, a Frenchman with that superior, smug look that some Frenchmen cultivate. 

Clover was next introduced to Kael Smithson, a bluff, ruddy-complexioned Irishman. He seemed genuine and gave Clover a wry grin.

“Welcome, neighbor,” he said.

Paolo L. Ferretti, an Italian from Genoa, dressed like a dandy and carried a bamboo cane. Thaddeus F. Wasielewski from Poland was the most sincere member of the group. Shifty-looking Georgi Dimitrov was the Bulgarian contingent. George Scott hailed from Canada. He looked and acted like an American. Swede Fox, an Australian, was a big man, a full head taller than everybody else and he must have weighed three-hundred pounds. He didn’t smile when he shook Clover’s hand.

After the introductions were finished, Loredano took a seat at the head of the table and banged a gavel to call the meeting to order.

Clover’s first impression was that they were a motley crew. He had ordered the deaths of many dangerous men and these men didn’t seem very dangerous. However, appearances could be deceiving and ideologues came in all shades and personalities.

Loredano glanced around the table. “We will speak in the order that you arrived. Alec Kristokos, you will speak first. Tell us why you are here.”

Kristokos stood and glanced at each of the attendees around the table before he began.

“I am here because western civilization is decadent. It has lost its dynamism and has run its course. Western countries are governed by the most inept administrations in all of history. Now is the time to replace them with a civilization of sterner mettle and capable governments.

“Democracy weakens the spirit of men, debilitates society and beguiles the weakest into becoming willing parasites. It must be overthrown and destroyed. My purpose is to change society by destroying the old and inaugurating a new age of steel minds and hard men placed in charge of the weak and the weak-willed.”

He then went into a twenty-minute rant about lemming-like populations, cowardly governments and greedy, corrupt politicians.

He ended with a flushed face and a call to wipe such scum from the face of the earth.

Alain Binoche, tried to out-do Kristokos in vehemence, but said pretty much the same thing. Then he straddled the fence by adding that western cultural traditions of old were superior to all other cultures and the French were arbiters of taste in a crude world.

Ditto for Kael Smithson who told them that the Irish had saved western civilization once and were prepared to do it again.

Paolo L. Ferretti fretted that, with the worst government in the northern hemisphere, Italy could only agree.

Thaddeus F. Wasielewski reiterated the struggle Poland had maintaining its freedom and the curse of the communist years the Polish people had endured.

Georgi Dimitrov, the Bulgarian, just said he had nothing to add.

George Scott from Canada made the longest speech, most of which consisted of disparaging Americans. “That once great engine of freedom and industry has lost its vision. In America today, everybody teaches, but nobody learns.”

Everyone except Clover clapped when he resumed his seat.

Swede Fox had the least to say. He mumbled something about not having a prepared speech and sat down.

Loredano parroted what the rest had said with more polished rhetoric. He took his seat and addressed Clover. “Lord Phillip, it is your turn.”

Clover had listened to them in disbelief. All had expressed extreme positions in theory but none had introduced any practical solutions. It was as if they promoted the idea of revolution in the strongest terms, but the poverty of their ideas about how revolutions succeed was striking.

Clover rose, took his place behind the microphone and began. “The nihilist’s view of human existence is that when you are born, one person goes into a room and two come out. Revolutionaries must of necessity be nihilists. When revolutionaries die, one person goes into a room and none come out. That is the essence of the revolutionary’s philosophical view of life.

“My hope is when my son becomes a man, and your sons and daughters embark upon their independent lives, they will live in a world where the ugliness and meanness that has already scarred the 21st century has ended in a time of peace and prosperity. I hope that they will be grateful and proud that their father’s and mother’s blood ran strong when they fought the powers that threaten to bring that nihilist nightfall that inevitably ends in despair for the living. In order to succeed, we must make the silly bray of our enemies’ laughter become the sour grimace of a poor loser, that hopeless pantomime of pretended good will of the envy addict.”

He paused. “The populace is a monster, full of confusion and errors.

“A nation, a people, and a society are doomed when it loses its martial ardor. The myth dies. Force becomes free. Today, our society is a monument to the insufficiency of human enjoyments. Welfare governments demoralize healthy and capable populations by encouraging dysfunctional behaviors and corrosive attitudes resulting in social breakdown. A foundation of self-interest and a weak consensus liberates creativity to a point, but does not offer a moral cohesion upon which a society can be ordered.

“Carelessness is the norm. Americans waste 40 percent of their food supply. When you ask why, their explanations for this carelessness can be summarized as, ‘Don’t blame us’. 

“Man is by nature, self-seeking, immoral and lawless. Today’s political leaders hold on to power by two ancient but cherished axioms: One, the people are stupid, and two, their political and cultural opponents are evil. The result is the dim vote incorrectly, allowing malicious charlatans and thieves to lead them. The end result is that the multitudes’ wishes are never realized.

“Many species have existed since the earth was formed, but humans are the only species that is destructive unto itself. Billions of human beings have disappeared from the earth as a result of poor, misguided, inept, and monstrously destructive governments. Those of us who survive today barely amount to a rounding error.

“Our task will be hard. Men are by nature acquisitive, audacious, pugnacious, cruel and corrupt. Our followers and allies must know in their hearts that you and I can promise them nothing but disaster, pain and sorrow. Nothing is a sure thing. The revolutionary often sees his hopes destroyed by absurd idealists who have ridiculous visions of a changed order, and by realists who wait in the wings to take over after the revolution has failed.

“We must expect no utopias, and dream no dreams. In the relentless cycle of human affairs, always remember that valor produces peace, peace produces repose, repose produces disorder, disorder produces ruin and ruin produces valor.

“Gentlemen, we must end this destructive cycle.”

When Clover returned to his seat, the others stood and applauded.

“Thank you, Lord Phillip, for that most perceptive and inspiring speech,” Loredano gushed, then paused. “The next order of business is to choose a permanent chairman. Do I hear a nomination?”

Alain Binoche stood. “I nominate Lord Phillip Norwich.”

Clover was approved by acclamation.

 

 

Later that evening, Clover called in to operations and began his report with, “You are not going to believe this.”

 

▲▼▲▼▲

 

Chapter Three

 

When the group convened at nine the next morning, Lord Phillip took his place at the head of the table and called the meeting to order.

“Have you a plan?” he asked Loredano.

“It is the chairman’s responsibility to develop a plan.”

“It is the chairman’s responsibility to delegate,” Lord Phillip replied sharply. “What have you discussed?”

“We have spoken of many important things,” Alain replied. “But we have not produced a practical operational framework.”

“Why not?” Lord Phillip asked pointedly.

“Because none of us has experience in such things,” George replied plaintively.

“We hoped that you would provide that missing component,” Thaddeus added.

Lord Phillip was disappointed when he realized that they hadn’t voted him to be chairman because of his great speech. They made him chairman because they thought he would know what to do.

“Very well,” Lord Phillip replied. “Who came up with the name, ‘Four Horsemen’?”

“I did,” Kael replied.

“And why did you choose that name?”

“I liked the way it sounded.”

“That’s all?” Lord Phillip asked incredulously.

“You know, it’s kind of scary,” Kael said.

“So your thoughts on the matter are that we will frighten our enemies into doing what we wish them to do.”

“I thought it would work,” Kael replied defensively.

Lord Phillip didn’t reply.

“Lord Phillip, you must know some ways we could achieve our aims,” Loredano said. “We would welcome your ideas.”

Lord Phillip glanced around the table, pausing to make eye contact with each man. Except for Loredano and Thaddeus, they seemed afraid to meet his gaze. These men had placed him in this position. Now they must suffer the consequences.

“I am your leader. Our motto is Libertas Restitvta, Restorer of Liberty,” said Lord Phillip.

“Loredano, you will be the White Horseman of the Apocalypse, the Antichrist. You will develop an organization whose responsibility is to corrupt religion and morals. Your goal is to sow disbelief among the religious under the guise of being the Guardians of Liberty. Your motto will be Libertas Tvtela. Be subtle. Follow Satan’s advice in The Screwtape Letters: ‘Cards are as good as murder, if cards will do the trick.’ Move them ever so gently away from the light and into the nothing and we will have them.”

“Alain, you will be the Red Horseman, the Horse of War. You are to take peace from the earth and to make men want to kill each other. Foment international strife and war.”

“But, Lord Phillip,” Alain objected. “I am a Frenchman.”

“Yours is the easiest task,” Lord Phillip countered. “The world is becoming more unstable every day. Frenchmen are devious. Many in the Middle East wish to destroy the West. Recruit them to do your job. All you have to do is egg them on with pronouncements, enticements and gossip that inflames warlike passions.”

Alain was not convinced, but said nothing else.

“Swede, you are the Black Horseman.”

“Why me?” Swede asked. “I don’t know nothing about nothing.”

“Your job is to bring hunger to the world. You represent an agricultural nation. Gather subversive agricultural and nutrition experts from around the world and develop a plan to reduce the world’s food and drinking water supply. Nothing will generate more strife than hunger among the masses.”

“Diabolical!” Loredano exclaimed approvingly.

“Kael,” Lord Phillip continued, “You are the Pale Horseman, the Horseman of Death. Find or develop new poisons that will kill masses of people. You will augment the results of war and famine to reduce the population. Make the poor suffer. Create an unbridgeable gulf between the haves and have-nots.”

Kael was surprised and opened his mouth to object.

Lord Phillip cut him off. “That is your assignment.”

He paused to let them think about what he had said, then continued. “Thaddeus, you will assist Swede as his second-in-command. If he is arrested or killed, you are to take his place. Alec, you are assigned as Loredano’s lieutenant. Georgi, you will assist Alain. Paola, you will work with Kael.

“Any questions?”

None came. They were afraid to admit that they were lost men, in over their heads, in the middle of an ocean on a cloudy day without a compass.

“Your genius surprises us,” Loredano said. “We bow at your command. What are our next steps?”

“Set up a headquarters at a location of your choosing.” Lord Phillip replied. “Recruit members. Obtain financing. Develop a plan to accomplish your mission. In four months we will meet, review your plans and begin operations.”

“What do you mean by ‘members’?” Paolo asked.

“Soldiers for the revolution that purifies the world. Recruit rogue scientists, crooked financiers, money launderers, colonels, captains, lieutenants and soldiers for your armies of the night. They will need transportation, arms and supplies.”

“Soldiers? Arms?” Georgi asked. “Are we going to kill people?”

“Revolutionaries kill their opponents. You said that you were revolutionaries and that you were going to cleanse the world of evil and stupidity.”

“Well, yes, we are,” Georgi admitted hesitantly. “But I hadn’t thought about killing anybody.”

“What did you think?” Lord Phillip sneered, “That they would just go ‘poof’ and disappear?”

“Who will approve killing?” Alain asked.

“You,” Lord Phillip replied coldly, “and all the rest of you will decide who helps our cause and who does not help our cause. You will destroy those who stand in our way.”

Clover paused as if he was gathering his thoughts. The eyes of everyone in the room focused upon him, fearful of what terrible challenges he would throw before them, as his ancestor would have thrown a gauntlet.

“In reality,” he began in a quiet, steady, tone of voice, “this drama we are about to unleash upon an unsuspecting world is largely artificial. We will create it ourselves for ourselves but we must implicitly believe in it.

“We know what we want. We must work day and night to carry it out with no thought of ourselves. We will be serious and forthright and with simplicity of motive we will demand the discipline of ourselves that we will also demand of others. We must not waste time, money or effort. We must reject with contempt half measures and compromises. We will not allow ourselves luxuries or to become, with success, ostentatious. Everything must be subordinated to the needs of the movement. We must divide our external environment neatly and completely into friends and enemies. But our friendships must be practical, even if, for the cause, they are friendships with those who hate us, and those we hate. Outworn pretensions must be discarded for the rubbish they are until the whole rotten edifice we are striving to replace comes crashing down.”

He paused. “For those of us who remain when our victory is achieved, for those of us who see it firsthand, the impression will be unforgettable.”

The room remained quiet.

Lord Phillip continued. “We will meet in four months at the Le Royal Meridien Mansour, 27 Ave de L'ARMEE Royale Casablanca 21000, in Casablanca, Morocco. You will come with operational plans to complete your missions. If I approve them, you are to begin your missions at once.”

“What if our plans are not approved?” Kael asked.

“Your replacements will be assigned to accomplish what you failed to do,” Lord Phillip replied.

“If we fail, what will become of us?” Thaddeus asked.

“You cannot be allowed to compromise the operation. There is only one way to prevent failed operatives from causing serious damage to the operation. None of you has the luxury of failure.”

Thaddeus wished he hadn’t asked that question.

“Why Casablanca?” Georgi asked.

“Where else would world-changing revolutionaries meet?” Lord Phillip answered with an ironic grin.

 

To be continued

 

 

Little Jimmy

Marry Williamson

 

I sat down on the park bench to tie my shoelace. An old man walked up with his dog and asked me if I’d watch the dog for five minutes. The man never returned and I had to choice but to take the dog home.  I had waited almost an hour but there was no sign of the man anywhere.  The dog, which was a little Jack Russell, looked at me quizzically as it to say: “now what?” I later realised that the little thing always looked like that because, although he was mostly black and white, he had these tan patches over his eyes like raised eyebrows giving the impression that he was constantly asking a question.  There was  no name or phone number on his collar.  We walked home stopping at the corner shop to buy some dog food. As I had no idea what to feed a dog I bought some tins and a bag of dry dog food. Mr. Patel said some dogs ate both at the same time. “All you do is put some stuff from the tin in a bowl and put some of these little balls on the top” he said. I bowed to his superior knowledge. He knew a bit about dogs but said he had never seen this one before.  “He is not from around here.” He was very sure about that. “By the way”, he said, “if you are going to look after him you will need these” giving me a packet of nappy bags. “Really?” I said, showing my complete doggie ignorance, “what for?”. “Poopie scoopie”, he said. “Picking up his doodah of course. You got to clean up after him”.

When we got home, the little dog looked round the flat as if to say: “this will do”. He snuffled round the room for a bit, looked at me again as if to ask for permission and then jumped onto the sofa, turned round a few times and settled down. At tea time he ate half a tin of beef stew topped with a bit of the dry food. Mr. Patel had been right. He seemed to like it. I took him down to the little patch of grass at the back of the flats and again he snuffled round for a bit and did his business. Mr. Patel had been right again. The nappy bags came in handy - literally.

The next day I took him down to the vet. Mr. Patel had said that most dogs were microchipped and the vet could tell who the owner was and various other details relating to the animal. “And this is…?” the receptionist asked. I had no idea. I could not just call him ‘dog’. I looked round the waiting room for inspiration and my gaze fell on an advertisement for a dog food called ‘James Wellbeloved’. “James”, I said. “James or Jimmy for short”. The little dog pricked up his ears at that. “Jimmy”. He seemed to like that. “Jimmy it is”. The vet could find no microchip. He reckoned that Jimmy was about 3 years of age and in perfect health. He recommended a local dog sanctuary if I could not look after him long term. I took the phone number. Jimmy looked at me sadly, his eyebrows and tail went down and he trotted dejectedly with me back to the flat. But before we got home I decided. He had already grown on me and, besides, I had given him a name. We stopped off at the pet shop on the parade to buy a bed. I showed Jimmy a big tartan cushion.

His eyebrows went up and his tail starting to do overtime. He approved. When we got back to the flat I dropped the phone number of the sanctuary in the kitchen bin, closely watched by Jimmy. He looked at me as if to say: “I am staying then?”

Jimmy and I have been together for 10 years now. He moved with me when I sold the flat and bought a house, giving him a large garden all to himself. He comes with me to work, lying under my desk being spoilt rotten by my colleagues. I sometimes wonder who the old man was who left Jimmy with me but I thank him every day.

 

 

Howard’s Fair Tax Ad

Reality by Howard A. Goodman

 

Back when the Fair Tax was beginning to gain traction, I penned the following ad. At the time, the Fair Tax was being championed by Neal Boortz, a conservative radio talk-show commentator. Boortz even wrote a book about it. Nowadays the Fair Tax, a consumption based (and therefore voluntary) tax, is no longer discussed in political circles. I’m fairly certain well established organizations such as the IRS and the tax preparation industry are thrilled about that.

In order to make my ad sound more like a TV pitch and less like high-handed rhetoric, I patterned the tone after a popular TV commercial by a Raleigh bankruptcy attorney.

How would you like it if you no longer had to pay Federal taxes on your earnings? All your Federal taxesincome tax, Social Security tax, Medicare tax, inheritance tax, death tax.

How would you like it if your paycheck were free of Federal tax deductions?

How would you like it if you were the one who controls the amount you pay in Federal taxes, no matter how much you earn, regardless of whether you're self-employed or work for an employer?

How would you like it if you no longer had to file cumbersome Federal income tax returns each year... or pay someone to do it?

How would you like it if your income, spending, savings and investment habits were no longer the business of the IRS?

That's the power of the Fair Tax, and elimination of Federal income taxes is the proof. With the Fair Tax you pay a Federal consumption tax of 23 percent on the things you buy, but only on new items, at time and place of purchase. That’s it! And there’s no paperwork to fill out.

But that's not all. A “Prebate” provision within the Fair Tax will reimburse all of us for taxes we pay on necessities up to the poverty line.

Sound fair? You bet it is.

Too easy? Don't we deserve something better than our convoluted, ever shifting tax code?

And once we've transitioned to the Fair Tax, the price of goods and services will fall because U.S. manufacturers won't have to pay Federal income taxes either.

Then what do you suppose might happen to America's economy when we become the only country in the world that global businesses do not have to fear?

The Fair Tax… THAT you can afford.

 

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman

Sybil Austin Skakle

 

Five husbands rejected- divorced her.

Possibly another compromised her life.

She met Jesus when she came to draw water.

He gave her respect and acceptance,

With “living water” he offered her.

She became a whole person,

Transformed from shame and guilt.

And ran to proclaim the good news.

To others, who told others, who told me:

“You are forgiven, redeemed. God loves you.

Hallelujah!

 

October 27, 2008

 

 

Miz Lou

Peggy Lovelace Ellis

 

“What’s the problem, Mom? You’re looking at the phone like you want to bite it.”

“I’m more likely to throw it across the room.” Her frown became a grin. “Maybe I should throw Lou across the room instead! Peg, I need your help.”

My mother, Carrie Lovelace, of Weaverville, North Carolina, was the calmest person, the most competent person, I have ever known. Finding her in a tizzy was so far outside the box I knew something serious was in the air.

As Mother’s Day nears, memories of Mom flood my mind. The conversation I recorded above took place many years ago and started me on a path I had not considered, working with homebound people. She often said the world would collapse if people didn’t help each other. I watched her live her belief as she ministered to family, friends, and strangers in our community. Her most often quoted scripture, Luke 6:31: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ reverberates in my mind as I remember her request for my help.

Miz Lou, as everyone in the community called her, had been a second mother to me as her daughter and I were friends from cradle days. I was sure Jean’s death a couple years before contributed to Miz Lou’s depression, so the least I could do was help her mother as well as my own.

These two lifelong friends had a major thing in common, which should have been a bond. They had strokes within months of each other, but reacted differently. Mom worked at recovery; Miz Lou didn’t. Instead, she became a recluse. Nothing Mom tried changed matters, so she asked me to think of something to get Miz Lou involved with life again.

When Mom had her stroke, I learned it isn’t easy to stop an active life. Following her example, I had done volunteer work for many years, but my work with homebound people began with her, an avid gardener. To see her wistfulness when neighbors worked in their flowerbeds tugged at my heart, so I found a way to help.

I took her outside while I gathered moss and tiny, rooted plants from the hillside behind her home. This served a dual purpose: she got fresh air and sunshine and assured that I would dig the correct plants. She created “dish gardens” using aluminum pie tins. Some were flat, meadow-like scenes while in deeper tins she formed hills, scattered pebbles as “boulders,” and planted Tom Thumb violets. An occasional spritz of water kept the plants alive indefinitely.

After seeing the pleasure Mom received from this pastime, I tried it with Miz Lou.

In memory, I can still hear her pithy comments, which I include in italics for your enjoyment or head shaking, as you choose.

Green stuff makes me itch.

My next endeavor dealt with pictures. I suggested we gather the boxes of snapshots tucked away and organize them into books, or frame some to hang on the wall.

I never keep pictures. They would end up in a landfill when I die, so why should I clutter my house with them in the meantime?

Along that same thought line, there’s oral history, a vital, but disappearing, part of life. I suggested she record her memories on paper, tape, or video.

I was born and I will die. What's interesting about that?

I asked if she traveled during her younger years, gathering brochures that she planned to put into scrapbooks “someday.” The pleasure of organizing the items and remembering the journey would be boundless. Travel is a three-fold pleasure: planning, doing, and remembering. When I told Miz Lou that, she looked at me as if I had lost my last marble.

Why would I want to go among strangers? Friends are ornery enough.

Most people like music, whether hearing, playing, or singing. She might enjoy a jam session or sing-along with visiting friends.

Music is just noise.

Books were my next suggestion. Perhaps she would enjoy a small group reading and discussing a chosen book.

Trash, Miz Lou informed me with an inelegant sniff. Nothing else is published now.

I refrained from asking how she could know that if she didn't read.

No gardening, no pictures, no oral history, no music, no reading. What else might interest Miz Lou? Needlework. I knew a lady who had dementia. Her mind often took refuge some other place, but her hands remembered how to knit. Sometimes she couldn’t count the stitches and the result was lopsided, but appearance isn’t important. Companionship is. I presented this idea to Miz Lou.

Arthritis, she said, thrusting her hands toward my face.

Let’s clarify things here. I am not a saint. I get as impatient as anyone does. Miz Lou was my ultimate challenge, but Mom kept me on track.

She enjoyed hearing of my efforts and encouraged me throughout on our daily visits for coffee using her set of mugs featuring “Peanuts” characters, her favorite comic strip. Aha! A last resort, perhaps, but I took Miz Lou a gift of bone china teacups and saucers.

Will wonders never cease? She accepted them with as near a smile as I had seen on her wrinkled old face. I felt like I had reached the top of Mount Everest.

Miz Lou was my first success with homebound people, but not my last. With each, I received as much blessing as they did.

Thanks, Mom.

 

 

Musings

 

·       If I had a dollar for every girl that found me unattractive, they'd eventually find me attractive. 

 

·       I find it ironic that the colors red, white, and blue stand for freedom, until they're flashing behind you.

 

·       Today a man knocked on my door and asked for a small donation towards the local swimming pool, so I gave him a glass of water.

 

·       I changed my password to "incorrect" so whenever I forget it the computer will say, "Your password is incorrect."

 

·       Artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity.

 

            ·       I'm great at multi-tasking--I can waste time, be unproductive, and procrastinate all at once.

           ·       Take my advice — I'm not using it.

 

·       My wife and I were happy for twenty five years; then we met.

 

·       ** I hate it when people use big words just to make themselves sound perspicacious.

 

·       Hospitality is the art of making guests feel like they're at home when you wish they were.

 

·       Every time someone comes up with a foolproof solution, along comes a more-talented fool.

 

·       I'll bet you $4,567 you can't guess how much I owe my bookie.

 

·       Behind every great man is a woman rolling her eyes.

 

·       If you keep both feet firmly planted on the ground, you'll have trouble putting on your pants.

 

·       A computer once beat me at chess, but it was no match for me at kick boxing.

 

·       When I married Miss Right, I had no idea her first name was Always.

 

·       My wife got 8 out of 10 on her driver's test--the other two guys managed to jump out of her way.

 

·       There may be no excuse for laziness, but I'm still looking.

 

·       Women spend more time wondering what men are thinking than men spend thinking.

 

·       Give me ambiguity or give me something else.

 

·       Is it wrong that only one company makes the game Monopoly?

 

·       Women sometimes make fools of men, but most guys are the do-it-yourself type.

 

·       I was going to give him a nasty look, but he already had one.

 

·       Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.

 

·       The grass may be greener on the other side but at least you don't have to mow it.

 

·       If at first you don't succeed, skydiving is not for you.

 

·       Sometimes I wake up grumpy; other times I let her sleep.

 

·       If tomatoes are technically a fruit, does that make ketchup a smoothie?

 

·       Money is the root of all wealth.

 

·       No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.

 

 

New Year’s Day

 

The earliest recorded festivities in honor of a new year's arrival date back some 4,000 years to ancient Babylon. For the Babylonians, the first new moon following the vernal equinox-the day in late March with an equal amount of sunlight and  darkness-heralded  the  start of a new year. They marked the occasion with a massive religious festival called Akitu (derived from the Sumerian word for barley, which was cut in the spring) that involved a different ritual on each of its 11 days. In addition to the New Year , Atiku celebrated the mythical victory of the Babylonian sky god Marduk over the evil sea goddess Tiamat and  served  an important political purpose: It was during this time that a new king was  crowned  or  that  the current ruler's divine mandate was symbolically renewed.

Throughout  antiquity,  civilizations  around  the  world  developed  increasingly sophisticated calendars, typically pinning the first day of the year to  an  agricultural  or  astronomical event. In Egypt, for instance, the year began with the annual flooding of the Nile,  which coincided with the rising of the star Sirius. The first day of the Chinese  new  year,  meanwhile, occurred with the second new moon after the winter solstice.

Why did January 1 became New Year’s Day: The early Roman calendar consisted of 10 months and 304 days, with each new year beginning at the vernal equinox; according to tradition, it was created by Romulus, the founder of Rome, in the eighth century B.C. A later king, Numa Pompilius, is credited with adding the months of Januarius and Februarius. Over the centuries, the calendar fell out of sync with the sun, and  in  46  B.C.  the emperor Julius Caesar decided to solve the problem by consulting with the most prominent astronomers and mathematicians of his time. He introduced the Julian calendar, which closely resembles the more modem Gregorian calendar that most countries around the world use today.

In order to realign the Roman calendar with the sun, Julius Caesar added 90 extra days to the year 46 B.C. and called it the Julian calendar. As part of his reform, Caesar instituted January 1 as the first day of the year, partly to honor the month's namesake: Janus. the Roman god of beginnings. whose two faces allowed him to look back into the past and forward into the future. Romans celebrated by offering sacrifices to Janus, exchanging gifts with one another, decorating their homes with laurel branches and attending raucous parties. In medieval Europe,

Christian leaders temporarily replaced January 1 as the first of the year with days carrying more religious significance, such as December 25 (the anniversary of Jesus' birth) and March 25 (the Feast of the Annunciation);

Pope Gregory XIII reestablished January 1 as New Year's Day in 1582. in many countries. New Year's celebrations begin on the evening of December 31-New Year ' s Eve-and continue into the early hours of January 1. Revelers often enjoy meals and snacks thought to bestow good luck for the coming year. In Spain and several other Spanish­ speaking countries, people bolt down a dozen grapes, symbolizing their hopes for the months ahead-right before midnight. In many parts of the world, traditional New Year ' s dishes feature legumes, which are thought to resemble coins and herald future financial success; examples include lentils in Italy and black-eyed peas in the southern United States.

Because pigs represent progress and prosperity in some cultures, pork appears on the New Year's Eve table in Cuba, Austria, Hungary, Portugal and other countries. Ring-shaped cakes and pastries, a sign that the year has come full circle, round out the feast in the Netherlands, Mexico , Greece and elsewhere. ln Sweden and Norway, meanwhile, rice pudding with an almond hidden inside is served on New Year's Eve; it is said that whoever finds the nut can expect 12 months of good fortune.

Other customs that are common worldwide include watching fireworks and singing songs to welcome the New Year, including the ever-popular “Auld Lang Sine'' in many  English­ speaking countries. The practice of making resolutions for the New Year is thought to have first caught on among the ancient Babylonians. who made promises in order to earn  the favor  of the gods and start the year off on the right foot. (They would reportedly vow to pay off debts  and return borrowed farm equipment.)

In the United States, the most iconic New Year's tradition is the dropping of a giant ball in New York City's Times Square at the stroke of midnight. Millions of people around the world watch the event, which has taken place almost every year since 1907.  Over time, the ball  itself has ballooned from a 700-pound iron-and-wood orb to a brightly patterned sphere 12 feet  in diameter and weighing nearly 12,000 pounds. Various towns and cities across America have developed their own versions of the Times Square ritual, organizing  public  drops  of  items ranging from pickles (Dillsburg, Pennsylvania) to possums (Tallapoosa, Georgia) at midnight on New Year's Eve.

The 2020 astrology forecasts that the coming year will be a refreshing year for the 12 star signs. This is a year of new opportunities and chances. Your success this year depends on the choices you make.

For Aquarians (January 20-February 19) 2020 is the year to prove your abilities! This is the year to put people’s doubts to rest. You will be at your creative peak this year. So make the most of it. Show your loved ones that you can be the perfect spouse and the perfect parent. Let your imagination and innovative ideas speak for themselves at the workplace. Just do not get carried away by this new found energy and remember to save for the rainy day

The Pisces (February 20-March 20) sign can expect a year of excitement and adventure for the Fishes. You will be brave enough to be open to changes and try new things in life. You might even get pregnant. Your job or business will serve as an inspiration for you. You are in a comfortable position in life. So don’t let your impulsive decisions spoil what is working out for you.

For Aries (March 21 – April 19) 2020 will be all about balance. Even though you will be ambitious, you will be more realistic about your goals. Stability will be seen in all aspects of your life, especially your relationships. Changes and new opportunities in your profession will keep you busy in 2020. Aries, everything will work out in your favor. But you need to take the initiative to make the first move

For Taurus (April 21-May 20) predictions forecast a calm and steady year. You will be ready to settle down this year. This is a year when important choices need to be made. Be it relationships or your job; be sure of what you decide. Being impulsive in love is not an option for the bulls in 2020. Always be open to suggestions from knowledgeable people when it comes to financial investments.

Gemini (May 21-June 20) will have a refreshing 2020. You have to set the pace for yourself this year. If it feels too slow, then be more active. And if life seems to be too fast, then slow down. Love life will be fun and passionate. The money will be stable, and your job will keep you occupied for the most part of the year. This is a year to improve the different aspects of your life

Cancer (June 21-July 22) needs to expect changes in 2020. The astrology forecasts for 2020 predict that improvement in love and career is on the cards for the crabs. But whether you choose to take up the opportunities or let them pass, depends entirely on you. Conflict at the workplace needs to be dealt with. Observing the tiny details in life will help you overcome all problems in 2020.

For Leo (July 23-August 22) life will be full of twists and turns. The Lions will be filled with vitality and vigor to achieve their dreams this year. But you will also be sensible and know when to draw the line. You will be open to trying new food, new exercises, and new relationships. A job change or a new business too might interest you. Overall, 2020 will be an enjoyable year for the Leos. 

Virgos (August 23-September 22) will be out of their nature in 2020. Known to be practical, the virgins might make some very impulsive decisions in 2020. This might lead to bad relationships or breakups and problems in the workplace. Or even some bad financially loss-making deals. The 2020 sun sign predictions ask you to think twice before making any serious commitments in 2020. This is not a year to be stagnant, but at the same time, do not take rash decisions

Libras (September 23-Ocrober 22) will have a relatively easy 2020. This is a year to enjoy and make merry. You will not have many responsibilities towards family or your job. Relax and rejuvenate your mind in preparation for the coming years. Single Librans will enjoy flirting and moving from one relationship to the other. And do not forget to spend some good quality time with your parents, spouse, and children. 

Scorpio (October 23-November 22) 2020 predictions foretell that this will be a year of liberation and freedom. You will feel free of all restrictions and limitations in your life. This is a good time to focus on learning a new hobby or improving your work skills. Use your positive energy to help others move forward in their lives. You can choose what to do or not in 2020. So make the most of it judiciously.

For Sagittarius (November 23-December 21) 2020 is a year of resolutions. This is a good time to let go of your past baggage and clean up on different aspects of your life that have been bothering you. But to achieve success, you need to be patient. You might be very social in the coming year and open to meeting new people. But don’t let that reflect on your existing relationships. And you can expect some major financial gains

For Capricorns (December 22-January 19) in 2020 you will strive for calm and tranquility. You will be tired of running the rat race and ready to take a break. Learn new ways to meditate and practice mindfulness. A spiritually healing vacation too will prove to be beneficial for your mental health. When you are at peace with yourself, you will be able to make the most of the opportunities that are presented to you in 2020

In China, 2020 is the Year of the Rat is the first in the 12-year cycle of Chinese zodiac. The Rat is the first of all zodiac animals in China. Though people consider the rat not adorable, and it even makes its way into derogatory languages, it ranks first on the Chinese zodiac signs. The Years of the Rat include 1912, 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020, 2032... According to one myth, the Jade Emperor said the order would be decided by the order in which they arrived to his party. The Rat tricked the Ox into giving him a ride. Then, just as they arrived at the finish line, Rat jumped down and landed ahead of Ox, becoming first.

The Rat is also associated with the Earthly Branch and the midnight hours. In the terms of yin and yang, the Rat is yang and represents the beginning of a new day.

In Chinese culture, rats were seen as a sign of wealth and surplus. Because of their reproduction rate, married couples also prayed to them for children. Rats are clever, quick thinkers; successful, but content with living a quiet and peaceful life. Optimistic and energetic, people born in the Rat year are likable by all. They are sensitive to other’s emotions but are stubborn with your opinion. Their personality is kind, but due to weak communication skills, their words may seem impolite and rude.

On the financial side, they like saving and can be stingy. However, their love for hoarding will sometimes cause them to waste money on unnecessary things.

2020 for Rats is the year of Metal. These Rats tend to be reliable and live a stable life. They may hold some power and are able to turn unlucky events into fortune.

 

Raffle (Part I)

Fiction by Howard A. Goodman

 

Following a stop at the credit union on Aisle D, Aaron negotiated the maze of hallways leading back to his office. The evening before, his younger son Evan had all but cleaned him out for gas money, leaving him with just a dollar bill and a handful of change.

Since his wife died, Aaron never gave his youngest much of an argument when he wanted something, though Evan often waited until the last minute to ask for it. Even before he arrived and stepped through the doorway, Sondra Brugnolotti’s cello voice caught his ears. His heart jumped.

Sondra was leaning over his desk, her back to him. Helen, his office mate, was seated at her desk, preoccupied with filling in the stubs of what appeared to be a book of tickets. Several more books were fanned out on the reference table that divided the former single-occupancy office into two work cells.

As understated as Sondra was dressed, the sight of her slender calves and the outline of her tiny tush beneath her taupe skirt stirred his juices. Fortunately, neither she nor his office mate, Helen, caught him salivating.

“Hi, Sondra,” he said. “Whatcha doing?” Sondra turned to face him, only the slightest bit embarrassed.

“Oh, hi, Aaron! I’m selling raffle tickets to raise money for my church’s building fund.”

Aaron noticed Sondra was wearing her auburn hair down, the way he liked best. Her moist blue eyes locked with his. He froze.

Sondra’s lips parted. “It’s a chance to win a thousand dollars,” she said. Her pale eyebrows, enhanced with a touch of pencil, lifted like dampers over piano strings.

As a long-time employee Aaron was well acquainted with IBM’s policy prohibiting personal solicitations. But he knew it was ignored just as often as not. The rest of the sales pitch he was expecting did not follow. Could it be, he considered, she feels hesitant about asking me for money to benefit a Christian denomination? “How much are the tickets?” he asked finally.

“Five dollars for a book of six.”

“Count me in.” He dug into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. Sondra took the five-dollar bill he handed her, flexing her knees in a tiny dip. She fumbled with her small purse, retrieving a Kraft paper envelope in which to deposit the money.

The choreography of their union had invoked a slow, touch-less dance during which they gracefully switched places. Aaron sat down in his chair and began to fill in the stubs.

<> 

About a week after discovering Sondra, Aaron had begun to strike up chance, nearly daily conversations, usually in the doorway to her office or his. The actual location depended on whose office mate was not around at the time. He soon discovered that she grew up in Wynnefield, west of Philadelphia, had a graduate degree from Drexel University, though a decade after he’d attended.

The attention of an attractive woman, if only in the workplace, made Aaron feel alive again, helped to salve the unrelenting loneliness and desire for female companionship he’d been experiencing in this phase of recovery from his greatest loss. For hours afterward he replayed each conversation they’d shared. When he finally got up the courage, he asked her out.

“Oh, I never date men who work in the same field as me,” Sondra replied as if reciting a business rule. Her tone was little more than civil. “What would we ever have to discuss every night but work?”

Aaron had forced himself not to retreat. “But my personal interests having nothing in common with what I do at work,” he countered, offering her something to bite on. Sondra didn’t go for the bait. He knew he was trying too hard but he wanted Sondra to like him, only much more than she might have suspected.

“Can you imagine,” she added, “what would happen if the relationship suddenly fell apart?”

With that he began to shrink. “But we don’t work in the same department,” he said. “Or share an office. It’s not like we’d be bumping into each other all the time.” Pretty weak comeback, he thought immediately afterward. Without even trying he saw Sondra at least twice a day when she stopped by to chat with Helen.

He asked her out again a couple of weeks later, figuring she’d gotten to know him well enough to realize he was not some kind of psycho-killer. But his attempt only triggered multiple outpourings of consistently bad luck with her adventures in dating.

“I went out with this UNC professor a couple of times,” she explained as he accompanied her to her office. “I found out later he was much older than he said he was. If he lied about his age, how many other things did he lie about?”

At that point Aaron shared his age with her, as if to dispel the issue. Sondra reacted with a sort of non-verbalized shock, leaving him to wonder whether she had thought the difference in their ages was narrower.

“Then I was seeing this child psychologist,” she continued, sitting down at her desk.“But he had such a faggy voice.”

“That’s a legitimate concern,” Aaron replied. “It's something you’d have to learn to accept if you’re ever going to feel comfortable in the relationship.”

Sondra replied she didn’t think she ever could. “And this doctor I dated for awhile seemed nice, but he was forty-six years old and had never been married, so I suspected he might be gay.”

Aaron offered her his wincing nod of empathy, fighting to stifle an oncoming spontaneous guffaw. This, coming from a woman who herself had never been to the altar except as a bridesmaid for her two sisters.

“All the men I’ve gone out with lately were so immature, so inconsiderate,” she went on. “Can you imagine my being invited out to dinner, wined and dined, and then being asked to pay for the meal because he didn’t bring enough money?”

Aaron shook his head, his sympathy now genuine.

“If a man tells me he’s that interested, he’ll just have to try harder to win me.”

Aaron wondered whether Sondra thought he was anything like the last jerk, or if her real message was that he just needed to try harder. The more Sondra revealed, the more she reminded him of every whiny, fussy girl he’d ever known. But his arcane attraction had already anesthetized his aversion and annihilated his last shred of common sense.

Aaron gestured. “I think you should try dating a Jewish guy,” he offered spontaneously. “You see, we have this one distinct advantage.”

Sondra drew closer, almost to the point of invading his personal space for which he would have been only too grateful. Then just as suddenly and with a muffled shriek she threw up her freckled arms and stepped back.

Aaron assumed by her reaction that she was expecting him to utter something about being circumcised. “As a group,” he resumed quickly, now in a deliberate tone, “Jewish men have the highest tolerance for henpecking.”

Sondra hesitated, then vented a peculiar high pitched laugh he’d picked up on, as though she knew something was supposed to be funny but didn’t get it.

“Look, all I’m trying to say here is that we’ve adapted quite well to putting our women ahead of our own egos.”

“Well,” Sondra replied, “I’ve nothing against Jewish men, but there’d always be that difference.”

Aaron detected a slight tremble in her voice. “Look,” he said, “if it’s religious difference you’re referring to, singularity of religion is no guarantee of a successful relationship.”

“Yeah, like my sister and her husband,” she said, wearing a pitiful expression. “They’re still together... and miserable.”

Aaron smiled with caution. Score one for me. “I see no reason why two people who really care for each other can’t enjoy a long-term commitment despite differences in their faiths. As long as they have ongoing mutual regard, anything is possible.”

Sondra acquiesced, nodding as if to agree.

“There are plenty of opportunities to demonstrate that regard,” he had explained during their verbal volley, “without feeling threatened in our own beliefs.” He knew it had sounded preachy, but he was desperate.

<> 

On the last line of each stub Aaron entered his home phone number. He realized that in the unlikely event one of his tickets were to be drawn they’d most likely contact him during a weekday. But he saw this as an opportunity to slip Sondra another one of his personal points of contact. He’d already tried to look up her number but it was unlisted.

Perhaps she just doesn’t see this raffle thing as an opportunity to let me demonstrate, he mused. Or can’t allow herself to acknowledge anything but the most shallow connection between us. His lips curled in a sly smile, reflecting a sudden realization. Or maybe she’s finally discovered in me someone who has everything she said she’s been looking for in a man, and now she’s absolutely terrified.

He spun around in his chair, handing Sondra the completed stubs. “How much are they expecting to raise, anyway?”

“I know it’s a lot,” she began slowly, “but we’re looking to raise a million dollars. We’re a rural congregation with many migrant workers and very few upwardly mobile professionals.”

Aaron grew puzzled. Why would this classy Chapel Hill lady choose to become a member of such a congregation? “At Temple Beth Or,” he said, “we’re trying to raise three million for a major building expansion.”

“Yeah,” she said, “but you have all those doctors and lawyers, I suppose.”

Aaron choked. Is this her vision of the typical Jewish person? What does she think I’m doing working here?

Before stashing the tickets in his wallet, Aaron glanced at them once again.

 

Holy Family Catholic Church

1997 Spring Raffle

1st Prize: $1,000 cash

 

 

The Shopper

Sybil Austin Skakle

 

“Upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

 Matthew 13:46

 

Wandering in narrow, noisy,

crowded Jerusalem streets

Shiny trinkets of copper,

brass, silver and gold catch my eye

Bright colored silk scarves

tempt me to deplete my purse

Knowing these will not satisfy 

I turn to search for Jesus’ stall

A perfect pearl of his will

Satisfy my longing at last.

 

The Twelve Commandments for Getting Old

 

#1 - Talk to yourself, because there are times you need expert advice 

#2 - Consider "in style" to be the clothes that still fit. 

#3 - You don't need anger management; you just need people to stop 
getting on your nerves. 
#4 - Your people skills are just fine. It's your tolerance for idiots 
that need work. 

#5 - The biggest lie you tell yourself is, "I don't need to write that 
down. I'll remember it." 

#6 - These days, "on time" is when you get there. 

#7 - Even duct tape can't fix stupid, but it sure does muffle the sound. 

#8 - Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could put ourselves in the dryer 
for ten minutes, then come out wrinkle-free and three sizes smaller? 

#9 - Lately, you've noticed people your age look so much older than you. 

#10 - You thought growing old would take a lot longer. 

#11 - Aging sure has slowed you down, but it hasn't shut you up. 

#12 - You still haven't learned to act your age and hope you never will. 

And one more: 

So you know you're growing old when "one for the road" means taking a 
bathroom stop before you leave. 

 

The Lost Art of Conversation

E. B. Alston

 

When was the last time you engaged in a conversation? Before I go any further maybe I ought to define what conversation is for you young folks, or rather, what it is not. Conversation is not selling somebody a bill of goods, covering your behind, making a date, explaining a failure or giving instruction. It is not any kind of purposeful discussion.

True conversation is a purposeless free ranging discussion. It is very civilizing. I grew up in a garden of conversation. My grandmother lived on the family home place, which was about one hundred yards from my parent’s home. My dad had four brothers and four sisters. That makes for a lot of cousins visiting just about every weekend. I actually don’t remember a single Sunday when somebody didn’t visit. My mother’s family was almost as big. Sometimes everybody showed up.

They talked, they laughed, they engaged in verbal gymnastics and they had a good time. But very little useful information sullied the camaraderie. Back then nobody had television. Radio wasn’t much entertainment either. So, while the children played games, the adults conversed. Sometimes the children would listen. Ah, those were the days.

I took part in some very interesting conversations when I was in the army. When you’re a private in the US Army in the 1950’s nobody takes you serious so the privates enjoyed talking about…whatever. Then I was on the telephone company line crew in New Bern, North Carolina, where some days we stayed around to talk after we got off work. Think about that. Just stood around and talked. Sometimes the talk was so interesting that we were late for supper and our wives gave us the evil eye for being late.

The group I worked with in Jacksonville, North Carolina, had the best after-work conversations. We even had an employee club where once a month we traveled to some restaurant, had a nice meal, had a few drinks and had a lot of what you would call just talk. We never solved any of the world’s problems. As far as problem-solving goes, we likely made a few. But we didn’t care. We enjoyed being together having conversation about a most amazing range of subjects. Unfamiliarity with a topic didn’t eliminate it as an object of discussion.

When you get promoted to second line management you can no longer engage in conversation such as this with workers. Not that I didn’t want to. When you get to be second line you are the “official” voice of the company and everything you say has value whether you intended it or not. For me that was the biggest problem with advancement. I still miss it.

The Ancient Greeks invented the art of conversation. It worked for them because they didn’t look up to anybody. As one of my bosses said about me once, the ancient Greeks had no respect for authority. The most prominent example of their attitude was when Alexander the Great called upon Diogenes the Cynic. Diogenes was a famous wise man who lived under an up-ended wine vat at the edge of Athens. Picture the great conqueror sitting astride his white charger asking Diogenes if he could do anything for him.

Diogenes replied, “Move on. You’re in my light.”

The Greeks talked among themselves about everything and anything that popped into their heads and a whole lot of interesting stuff popped into the ancient Greek’s heads. Think Socrates, Plato, Euripides, Sophocles and Heraclites (Who gave us the technical description of a soul) and many, many more. The Romans tried to keep it up and they did pretty good themselves with Cicero, Ovid and Virgil. Sophocles wrote that all of us are prisoners in our own life tower

After Rome fell the art of conversation declined until the Enlightenment when Salons sprang up in France and the Clubs became popular in England. Several commentators, including Benjamin Franklin have written that the finest exercise of the art of conversation occurred in the Salons of Paris. With the likes of Boswell and G. K. Chesterton, Samuel Johnson and many more, the English held their own pretty well. What would we give to go back in time and be a fly on the wall when these raconteurs of talk held forth?

Another famous conversation group met at the Algonquin in New York City during the roaring twenties. If you happened to be a member of the literary elite, you could have conversed with such raconteurs as Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley.

The closest thing I have to those carefree conversations these days is that period after a rifle match when all the shooters unwind while waiting for the final scores to be posted. The winning and losing is over. The gear has been loaded, the range is now quiet and the sun is getting low. It is a magic time and everybody savors the moment. And we talk. We talk about everything under the sun.

Conversation is what civilizes us. Watching television is a solitary experience and talk is forbidden. We are the worse for it. Conversation makes us human. It makes us thoughtful. It teaches us many things. It gives us joy and cements a bond and a nostalgia that will never be lost and will never go away.

Today the world is much too busy. Everybody is on edge all the time. We work as hard having “fun” as we do in our jobs. It’s work, work, work and go, go, go. Nobody has a moment to spare for purposeless talk.

I mourn the decline of the art of conversation.

 

pear sauce.jpg

Family Meals and Desserts

P. L. Almanza

 

Apple and Pear Sauce Dessert with Ice Crean

 

Ingredients:

7 Medium size baking apples

4 Medium size pears

1/2 cup water (depending on the size of your fruit, you may need more water)

Cooking instructions:

Peel core and cut apples and pears into quarters. Place cut up apples and pears in a microwave safe dish, Add approximately 1/2 cup water and cover with microwave safe plastic wrap. Microwave on high for 25 to 30 minutes or until apples and pears are soft and easy to mash. (keep a close eye on the apple mix in case your microwave cooks faster).

applepaer.jpgUse cooking mitts and carefully remove the dish and plastic wrap, it will be very hot. Stir mixture with a fork, cook a little longer if apples and pears are not easy to mash.

 

Seasoning:

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1 cup of honey or to taste

 

Add cinnamon, nutmeg, ground cloves and honey. Adjust to taste, especially with the cinnamon, you may wish to add more. Mix well.

bacon ranch potatoes.jpgServe warm in a dish with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Coconut or other non-dairy ice cream may be used. Enjoy Fall!

 

Bacon Ranch Potatoes

 

8 -10 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes

1 can cream of mushroom soup, do not dilute

1 1/4 cups milk

1 envelope ranch dressing mix

1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese or cheese of your choice

salt and pepper 6 slices cooked bacon and crumbled *salt optional

(diced *chives for color) optinal

Add the potatoes to a saucepan. Add water to cover. Bring to a boil; cook about 10-12 minutes or until potatoes are almost tender; drain.

Place drained potatoes into a greased 13x9 inch baking dish.

In a bowl, mix together the soup, milk, salad dressing mix,

1 cup cheese, salt and pepper to taste; pour over potatoes. *salt optional

Sprinkle crumbled bacon and the remaining cheese over the top. Sprinkle *chives while hot!

Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 25-30 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Enjoy!

 

Baked TamaleBaked Tamales2.jpg

 

Makes 6 servings

1 cup Reduced-Fat Bisquick or any Fast Biscuit mix                                    

1/2 cup cornmeal                                               

1 1/2 cups shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese 6 oz.    

1 4-oz. can chopped  green chilies (drain them)                

1/3 cup condensed beef broth                                   

1  15 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained               

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro                                 

2 small tomatoes chopped,  deseeded                         

Salsa

Fat-free sour cream                               

 

Heat oven to 350°. Grease 9 x 13 inch pan.

Mix Bisquick, cornmeal, 1 cup of the cheese and the chilies. Stir in broth. Pat mixture evenly in bottom of pan. Mix beans and cilantro and spoon over cornmeal mixture to within 1/2 inch of edge. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese.

Bake 35 minutes. Loosen side of tart from pan; remove side of pan. Arrange tomatoes around edge of tart. Cut tart into wedges. Serve with salsa and sour cream.

 

Banana Pudding Cake

 

A cake with all the delicious flavor of banana pudding! Between each layer is a creamy banana pudding filling with Nilla wafers and fresh banana slices. The cake is covered with a delicious whipped topping frosting and Nilla Wafers. Enjoy!

bananapuddingcake .jpg

 

Ingredients:

3 cups all-purpose flour

1¾ cups sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda *optional

1 teaspoon salt   *optional

1 cup vegetable oil or (mashed bananas)

½ cup buttermilk

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups mashed ripe banana

1 (3.4-ounce) box instant vanilla pudding mix

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened

1½ cups heavy whipping cream

1 box Nilla wafers

4 medium bananas, thinly sliced

 

Frosting

1 cup butter, softened

5 cups confectioners sugar

1 (8-ounce) container whipped topping thawed

 

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 3 (9-inch) round cake pans with baking spray with flour.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, *baking soda, and *salt.

Add oil, buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla extract and beat on medium-low speed with an electric mixer until smooth.

Beat in mashed banana.

Pour batter into prepared pans doing your best to fill them with equal amounts.

Place in oven and bake 20 to 25 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

 

Let cakes cool in pans for 10 minutes and then remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Place pudding mix and cream cheese in a medium bowl and beat with a mixer set to low speed until smooth. Gradually add in cream and beat until mixture is very thick.

Arrange about 15-18 vanilla wafers on top of one of the cake layers. Use a spatula to spread half of the pudding mixture on top of the wafers. Top with ½ of the banana slices placed in a single layer.

Place a second layer of cake on top of bananas, and repeat layers: vanilla wafers, pudding mixture, and bananas.

Top with final layer of cake.

 

Make frosting.

Beat butter in a large bowl until creamy. Slowly add confectioners' sugar, beating until smooth. Add whipped topping and beat until evenly mixed in.

Spread frosting over top and sides of cake. Decorate with vanilla wafers and extra bananas.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Lasts up to 4 days.

 

Life in Moccasin Gap

 Brad Carver

 

            Moccasin Gap is a tiny little town in NC right on the VA border that was built around a cotton mill. Mr. John Long came here and built the mill and then built neighborhoods of little pink houses all around the mill. That way people who worked in the mill could rent the houses and walk to work and everything was wonderful in Moccasin Gap.

            Then he ran advertising in newspapers in a one hundred mile radius of the area asking for large families to move here to work in the mill. The ad read; “Guaranteed job for life.” Of course, that was long before our wonderful government came along and ruined our way of life forever. When the mill moved overseas life in Moccasin Gap was never the same again. Thank you, Capitol Hill.

            My mother’s family lived in Charlotte Courthouse, VA. And Granddaddy saw the ad in the paper and moved here. He figured since he had twelve children that qualified him as a large family. Granddad stayed out of work a lot, apparently.

            The reason they wanted large families to move here was so when the parents were too old to work in the mill the children could work there. My mom dropped out of school in the fifth grade to work in the mill. Child labor was okay in America back in the 40’s and 50’s.

I remember she would come home with cotton in her hair from the mill. She was a weaver. She took the string that was made from the cotton and put it on a spool to be shipped out. 

            Life was good in Moccasin Gap back then. Everybody had a job, stress was not a factor and the streets were safe to play in. We used to leave the key to our house on a nail by the back door when we went out of town just in case anyone needed to get in the house while we were away. Try doing that today and you’ll come back to an empty house.

            We knew everyone in our neighborhood and everyone trusted everyone else. Today, I don’t know who my neighbors are.

            As children we all played outside until way past dark every night. We played hide-go-seek and tag and we built racing cars out of wagon wheels and two pieces of wood. We played in the creek below the house and we burned tires during the winter to keep warm

as we snow sledded down the hill using a piece of cardboard as a sled. We were very creative kids back then.

            We played cowboys and Indians and we shot each other with toy guns. I was always an Indian because my Grandmother on my daddy’s side was Native American. That qualified me to be an Indian. I would always shout, “Remember Custer.” I never liked him anyway.

            Main Street in Moccasin Gap was busy every day and on Saturday all the ladies were shopping while the men sat on the courthouse wall and gossiped. They could gossip better than any woman I know.

            And there was always a preacher on the courthouse lawn preaching, but no one was listening.

            Every storefront was busy. Every street had people shopping and everybody knew everybody.

            There were three big movie houses in Moccasin Gap back then, quite a few for such a small town. And my dad worked at all three. I remember meeting Lash LaRue, Gabby Hayes and Don Red Barry because back then the movie stars would make appearances at the movie house to plug their movie. I actually met and touched the Lone Ranger. I was about five years old. I touched him and started crying because it was, after all, the Lone Ranger for God’s sake. I swear, in person he was bigger than life. He bent down and asked, “Why are you crying son. Am I your hero?”  I said, “No sir. You’re my idol. My dad is my hero.”

            Life was so good in Moccasin Gap in the 60’s when I was growing up. I wish it could be that way now for my children. But I’m not going to waste my time wishing. I’m going to spend my time doing everything I can to make life better – for my children and their children and generations yet unborn, because everything you do matters - everything. Remember that.

 

 

Twilight for the Gods

E. B. Alston

Part 1

 

I woke up because a stranger was shaking me and yelling something in my ear. I hadn’t a clue what he was talking about. It was still dark but the one working streetlight a half block away gave the room enough light to see forms. A big man strode in and shoved the other man away from the recliner where I was sleeping before this smelly wino woke me up.

“Come with me,” the big man said in diplomatic English.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“With me.”

 “What for?”

“You will know in good time. Hurry, we must leave now.”

“But, I need to pack,” I mumbled, wondering why I didn’t tell him to go to hell and leave me alone.

“Everything that you need will be there. Hurry man. They are waiting.”

I wondered who “they” were and who was this stranger ordering me to get moving. He grabbed my arm as if to pull me out of the recliner. I resisted.

“Tell me what is going on. Am I being arrested?” I asked.

“You ask too many questions. I’m offering you the chance of a lifetime.”

“You are? What are you talking about?”

“Shut up you fool! We must leave at once. The plane is waiting.”

“How long will I be gone? Don’t I need to pack?”

“No, you must hurry.”

“But what about my stuff?”

“Forget that. Everything you need will be there. Hurry. What we have waiting for you there is much better than that garbage you are leaving here.” He paused and put his mouth inches away from my face. “Move it, man!” he bellowed.

I lurched up. The big man grabbed one arm and the other man grabbed my other arm. They yanked me out of the door, slammed it shut behind us and shoved me towards a black limousine where a man in a chauffeur’s uniform stood at attention holding the door open.

“Are you taking me somewhere to be shot?” I asked.

I had sneaked some articles out of the country that my paper had printed without attributing them to me. The paper had printed the names of people who would have known I was the only outsider who overheard the conversation. A four-year-old could have figured out who wrote them.  

“You worry too much,” the big man said. “Trust me.”

Good advice, I thought, especially since I was sitting between them in a speeding limo going to God knows where.

We drove through darkened streets, running red lights and chasing pedestrians back to the curb as we sped through the night.

“What time is it?” I asked. My watch was on the stand beside the chair back at my room.

“O-two-hundred.” The big man said.

No wonder it’s dark, I thought. We continued our mad rush through the darkened, sleeping city.

After what I guessed to be an hour, I saw signs giving directions to an airport. The driver slowed and turned into an entrance marked “Military Traffic Only. Civilian Traffic Prohibited.” The limousine pulled up beside a Cessna business jet parked on the damp tarmac. The pilots and three soldiers armed with submachine guns stood beside the door of the plane. My two “hosts” dragged me out of the limo and hustled me into the plane where I was told to sit in the seat on the left, facing the rear of the plane.

One of the pilots asked me if I wanted something to drink. I was too sleepy and too alarmed to eat or drink anything so I declined his offer and thanked him for his hospitality.

A military officer showed up. The big man asked when the lady would arrive.

“They are trying to hurry,” he explained. “But she is being difficult this morning.”

The big man grunted something that I took to be a curse word and lit a cigar. They made private small talk while the minutes ticked away. I dozed off a few times only to be awakened when one of them laughed.

The sky was brightening in the east when a second limo pulled up and stopped. The driver opened the right rear passenger door and stood at attention as a head full of blonde hair emerged. I watched as my new companion stood up. It was Christina de La Rocha, the famous movie star. She looked just as beautiful in person in the pre-dawn light as she did onscreen. I’d seen her at parties but I had never been this close to her. Her beauty held up to close observation very well. Ms. de La Rocha was, in addition to being the only movie star in this tiny country, the president’s mistress. Scuttlebutt gave her credit for his popularity.

She was the most famous international advocate for her country. If not for her, few people would ever hear her country named in conversation. One of the national television stations played her six movies over and over in a loop twenty-four hours a day and it was the most watched television station in the country.

The big man escorted her onto the plane and motioned for her to sit in the seat facing me. I was about to take an airplane trip seated five feet in front of the famous Christina de La Rocha.

She was immaculately dressed. Upon closer inspection her face was over-made up; not enough to diminish her loveliness but, instead, it made her seem more human; less goddess-like, if that makes any sense. 

“Good morning,” she said in that voice everybody loved to hear.

“Good morning,” I replied.

“Do you know what this is all about?” she asked.

“Not a clue.” I pointed to the big man. “He told me this was very important and ordered me not to worry.”

She laughed, “Politicians! They think everything they do and think is of the highest importance.”

“Yeah, I guess so. It’s the same everywhere.”

“I’ve seen you around. What’s your name?”

“Allen Tate.”

“Oh, you’re the reporter. I’ve heard them talk about you.” 

That was not good news. Why would the president be having private conversations about a freelance reporter?

“Oh, you have? What kind of conversations?”

“Your name came up a couple of weeks ago when they were planning the conference.”

“Conference?”

“The National Economic Symposium starts tomorrow.”

“Is that where we are going?”

“I think so. I wasn’t planning to go but they changed their minds and came to my apartment at an ungodly hour this morning and said I had to come with them.” She paused and looked out the window of the plane and watched them loading her luggage. She must have packed for a month.

“I don’t know why they want me to go. I am not what you would call an economic minded person. I guess Carlos decided at the last minute that he wanted me to be with him.”

The pilots boarded the plane followed by the big man and wine-breath. After the big man closed the door, they sat in the right-side seats with the big man in the seat beside Ms. de La Rocha. The airport was empty when we took off.

The plane turned southeast toward the Andes Mountains. We climbed to about thirty thousand feet. The door to the cockpit had been left open and I could hear the pilots talking. After the plane leveled off, wine-breath served coffee. The big man told us we’d get breakfast when we arrived at the resort. Ms. de La Rocha was quiet as she looked out the window at the mountainous terrain.

She was smaller in person than she looked onscreen. Her cream-colored skin was without blemish. To look at her was to want to touch her. Jewelry looked good on her and she was wearing quite a lot, all of which looked very expensive. Her clothes and shoes were of a style and quality worn by the very rich.

The big man and wine-breath were also expensively dressed. The big man seemed like somebody who was used to getting his way. He reminded me of Mafia characters in American gangster movies. 

About two hours after we took off, the plane began to descend. It was cloudy and I could tell from the pilot’s conversation that they were having trouble locating the airport. One asked, ominously, if there were any peaks in the area taller than five thousand meters. Then I heard one of them exclaim, “There it is!” and the pilot made a sharp World War II fighter plane turn to the left.

The big man cursed. Ms. de La Rocha looked frightened and remarked that she hated to fly in little airplanes.

I turned to look out the cockpit windshield to see what kind of airport we were approaching and became uneasy myself when I saw how short it was. It was on the top of a mountain that had been leveled off and paved. Both ends of the runway stopped at the edge of steep, rocky cliffs. Overrunning this runway was not an option. Cessna jets come in hot when they land. If the reverse thrusters and brakes failed, we were dead.

I had forgotten about crosswinds. The Cessna was crabbing ten degrees when the wheels touched down. If we had not been in seatbelts we would have been thrown from our seats when the plane straightened out. Wine-breath was holding the armrests so tightly that his knuckles were white. When the pilot activated the reverse thrusters, Ms. de La Rocha and the big man were straining against their seat belts from deceleration forces. Then the pilot applied the brakes and even I, facing backwards, felt the force of gravity. We came to a stop less than thirty yards from the end of the runway. Ridiculous signs were posted on both sides of the runway warning pilots not to taxi beyond the painted yellow marks.

The pilot did a u-turn on the runway and taxied to a limousine waiting on the left side taxiway. I looked at the clock inside the cockpit. It was seven-thirty a.m.

 

 

We off-loaded and got into a waiting limousine. Our destination was an old Swiss Alps style resort on an adjacent mountain peak. A bridge spanned a thousand-foot chasm between the mountaintop with the runway and the mountaintop resort. It looked to be a quarter of a mile long and it was the most beautifully designed highway bridge I had ever seen. It had graceful lines and the concrete blended with the adjacent terrain in a way that made you think God had put it there when He made the world. The resort looked old and luxurious.

We didn’t wait for Christina’s luggage. The big man ordered the limo driver and wine-breath to go back and get it after we were delivered to our destination.

The president was waiting inside the foyer and after embracing Christina, he shook my hand and thanked me for agreeing to be his honored guest at this crucially important conference.

I mumbled how I was honored to be his special guest and hoped the conference was a success. The president looked as if something else was on his mind. His eyes never focused on me while we were speaking. Instead they were darting this way and that. Looking at him and thinking about Christina made me think it had to be the money. He was not handsome nor was he a confident man. He looked like a man who was in over his head.

A hotel employee escorted me to a lavish, well-appointed room that had a panoramic view of the western mountains. I checked out my closet and found that the big man had told the truth about the stuff here being better quality than what I left in my apartment. There were shoes, shirts, silk underwear, suits, ties, and two types of tuxedos. Even the toiletries were first class. All of the clothes were the correct size. Somebody had done their homework.

My room was on the third floor and had a balcony with a stone balustrade. When I stepped out on the balcony to look at the mountains, a familiar voice greeted me with, “Hello, neighbor.”

It was Christina and she was wearing a lavender dressing gown. “Hi,” I replied. “Nice view.”

“I love to come here,” she answered. “This is my favorite vacation spot.” 

“Do you come here often?”

“Once or twice a year. Carlos is a very busy man. But we come as often as we can.”

“I guess he is a busy man.”

“This hotel has a special place in my heart.”

“Oh, it does? Why?”

“This is the place where I met Carlos.”

“How did you meet the president?”

“I was on a modeling assignment here and Carlos had been invited to view the session as an honored guest.”

“Were there any other girls?”

“Sixteen. But Carlos chose me. It was so romantic. Just think, a poor young girl named Christina, an ordinary girl from Chone being chosen to be companion to the president.” She paused as if she was savoring the memory. “He invited me to dine with him in his suite that evening and he made love to me for the very first time. I felt so honored.” She smiled at me. “I grew up in a house with two rooms and a dirt floor. Now look at me. I am companion to our country’s greatest president. I wear beautiful clothes and expensive jewelry. I live in an apartment with servants and I travel as a member of the president’s staff.” She gave me her sweetest movie smile, “And, best of all, I am a famous movie star beloved by millions of people all over the world.”

“That is a touching story,” I observed, trying hard not to reveal my true opinions.

“I am so lucky. He could have any woman that he wanted but he chose me. Carlos loves me above all other women.” 

I changed the subject. “Do you know what the schedule is?”

“You should have a schedule and an agenda for the conference in your room. There’s a dinner tonight and entertainment for the president’s staff and advisors. You are expected to attend. The conference attendees will arrive later tonight.”

I hadn’t looked for anything like an agenda. Kidnap victims seldom receive agendas. “I’ll check in a minute.”

She looked at her watch. “I’d better get moving. Breakfast is in twenty-five minutes.”

She went inside.

When I returned to my room I saw a folder on the writing table. It contained the full schedule of events including my name badge to be worn at all times when I was away from my room. A handwritten note advised me that I was expected to attend all functions dressed in the prescribed attire that had been provided. I was to behave respectfully toward all present and I was to sit at the place marked with my name. It also said that I was an honored guest and to inform the hotel staff of anything I needed. The last sentence told me that I was not allowed to make telephone calls to the outside world nor was I allowed to mail anything.

I looked at today’s breakfast dress code. It was slacks, loafers and a golf shirt. Hanging in the closet inside a clear plastic bag was a white golf shirt, a pair of navy slacks and a pair of shiny black tassel loafers. A post-it note read, “Breakfast-Day 1.” These people were very particular.

Continued Next Month

 

Contributors

 

P.L. Almanza: From the Kitchen of P. L. Almanza; lives in Hamlet, North Carolina. She has been writing stories since she was four years old. Her first book, The East Side Killers came out in April 2014. Her cookbook, Family Meals and Desserts, came out in the summer of 2015. She is currently working on two new cookbooks 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Brad Carver: Life in Moccasin Gap; was a regular columnist. His book, Daddyhood, was published in 2007. Brad was a humorist, and friend who lived in Semora, North Carolina.  This is a reprint from November 2012. He is now deceased and I still miss him.

 

Peggy Lovelace Ellis, Anecdotes of Heroes of World War II, What Happened to Raaol Wallenberg, and Miz Lou  has been a freelance editor for 46+ years, and a published author for considerably less. Over the past 25 years, she has published regularly in such magazines as Good Old Days, Reminisce, Reminisce Extra, Rock and Gem, Aquarium, True Story, Splickety, Woman’s World, Highlights, and Righter Monthly/Quarterly Review. She publishes in the Divine Moments series, Merry Christmas Moments (November 2017) and The Right Words at the Right Time (forthcoming). She has compiled and edited three anthologies for her writers’ group: Challenges on the Home Front World War II (Chapel Hill Press, 2004), Lest the Colors Fade (Righter Books, 2008), and A Beautiful Life and Other Stories (Righter Books, 2010). Each contains her short fiction, memoirs, and research.

 

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

 

Howard A Goodman: A Few Scant Collections of World war II, Howard’s Fair Tax Ad and Raffle (Part 1: A veteran of corporate society his entire working life, Howard discovered his passion for writing—an occupation that had lurked subliminally in his subconscious—thanks to the grim reality of suddenly being forced to make a major mid-life career transition. Though he didn’t grow up in the South and is not particularly partial to grits, Howard considers himself a Southern author of sorts. In contrast to those who spin tales of being raised dirt-poor on a tobacco farm, Howard's focus is on the lives of corporate professionals and their families—the thousands who flocked to the upscale cities and towns surrounding North Carolina’s high-tech Research Triangle Park—the Neo-Southerners. Howard resides with his wife in Cary, North Carolina.

 

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

 

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

 

Marry Williamson: Little Jimmy; 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.