RPG Digest

April 2019


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Thanks to all these talented writers who have contributed to every issue of RPG Digest with such enthusiasm. That amazing “Frosty” mountain photo by Betsy Breedlove and we welcome Dan Cowen as our newest contributor.

Breedlove pic.jpg

Table of Contents

April Fool by E. B. Alston. 2

Charlotte Brontë’s Book Jane Eyre Was an Instant Success by Rita Berman. 3

April First Festivity by Sybil Austin Skakle. 9

Natters of a Nomad by Peggy Ellis. 10

Loving What You Do by Tim Whealton. 11

Judge for Yourself! by Diana Goldsmith. 12

Schulz and the Peanuts Comic Strips by Rita Berman. 13

The Goldfinch by Marry Williamson 15

Plane Travel by Sybil Austin Skakle. 16

Malleable Human Ontology by Randy Bittle. 18

Guide Me by Your Nail Scarred Hand by Mary Noble Jones. 20

The Jackson Affair by Dan Cowen. 20

Favorite April Fool’s Jokes. 23

April in Moccasin Gap by Brad Carver. 24

Education (or Lack of) 25

Surviving Boyhood by Dave Whitford. 27

Say What! 31

Three Rivers to Cross – Serialized book by Elizabeth Silance Ballard. 33

Wisdom.. 41

Ask Kids. 41

Hammer Spade and the Inca Curse – Serialized book be E. B. Alston. 43

April Fool’s Pranks from the Past 49

From the Kitchen of P. L. Almanza. 51

Contributors. 53


April Fool

E. B. Alston


March was a tough month weather wise and, for me, health wise. I expect April weather to be better because we already had “April showers” in March. Maybe the “May flowers” will come in April.

April Fools' Day or All Fools' Day is celebrated in many countries. It is a day of hoaxes  and practical jokes on friends, family members, enemies, and neighbors. One favorite trick is to send a dupe on a fool's errand. On the telephone company line crew, the new guy was sent after the “insulator wrench.” In some countries, such as the UK, Australia and South Africa the jokes are supposed to end at noon, In Canada, France, Ireland, Italy, Russia, The Netherlands, and the U.S., April Fool jokes continue all day.

Where April Fools' Day began is obscure. The oldest tradition of April Fools’ Day comes from the Persian Sizdah Bedar which was celebrated as far back as 536 BC. The modern holiday was first celebrated after the adoption of the Gregorian calendar when it replaced the Julian Calendar. An April Fool may have been someone who forgot to follow the new calendar and celebrated New Year on April 1. It is also said that King Charles IX of France officially changed the first day of the year from April 1 to January 1, some of his subjects continued using the old system. They were called April Fools.

It has the distinction of being a mostly fun holiday about as serious as Groundhog Day although there have been pranks that ended badly and even tragically.

The most memorable April Fool’s joke in my time happened in the early 1970s. This was the time when topless clubs were just beginning to appear in North Carolina and the Raleigh Jaycees pulled one off big-time. They had taken out a parade permit for downtown Raleigh to show off the famous topless queen, “Sultana.” The ads gave a set of spectacular measurements and by the time the recorded music began, quite a few men were lining the streets to witness this miracle. The entire parade consisted of a farmer’s truck pulling a trailer with a cow on it and Jaycee members holding signs touting her measurements and saying things such as “Men call me a cow,” “I’m a vegetarian,” and “Milked for all she’s worth.” According to the News and Observer, one guy who said he drove all the way from Wake Forest commented that, “He knew it was April Fool’s day and thought it might have been something like this.”

We’re too serious about life and it’s good to unwind. I bet none of you has ever regretted having a good laugh. Besides, spring is just around the corner.


Charlotte Brontë’s Book Jane Eyre Was an Instant Success

By Rita Berman

Jane Eyre.jpg

Charlotte Brontë was born in Thornton, Yorkshire, England, on April 21, 1816 and died March 31, 1855. She was the third of six children of the Reverend Patrick Brontë  and Maria Brontë  (nee Branwell). Patrick Brontë  was an Irish Anglican clergyman whose original name was Brunty.

 One of the first things you need to be aware of is that the story of the Brontë sisters as poor, sheltered geniuses, romantics living a life of isolation is a myth.  While it is true that they wrote stories and poems which were considered coarse and shocking at that time, we must remember that almost two hundred years ago writing was not considered an appropriate activity for women.   So in order to get into print at first they used male pen names.

The first biography about Charlotte Brontë, published in 1857, was written by Mrs. Elizabeth Gaskell at the request of Patrick Brontë  after Charlotte’s death.   Mrs. Gaskell was known to be a leading female novelist.  Her fiction, which she began as a distraction after the death of her baby son, related to social and political issues, not passionate love.  Her novel Mary Barton was set in the northern part of England, the manufacturing area.

 With her Brontë  biography, Mr. Gaskell did not stick to the real facts. For example, there were originally five Brontë  sisters, but two died quite young.   After she created the myth of the Brontë ’s as ‘”three lonely sisters living on top of a windswept moor with a mad misanthropic father and a doomed brother,” it was subsequently repeated by later biographers.

In 2003, Lucasta Miller, former deputy literary editor of The Independent, published The Brontë Myth, which offered criticism of the Brontë works and stripped away the myth.

However, she points out that Gaskell’s book was highly popular because of the myth.  Miller’s new, well-researched biography of the Brontë s declares them to be “cultural icons whose reputations were romanticized.”

In other words their lives were not like the characters in their stories.  They were not lonely and poor, and untutored.  Indeed, Charlotte Brontë had read Byron and George Sand.  She studied German and French in a girls’ school in Brussels when she was 25 years old.

True there was much sorrow in Charlotte’s life.  Her mother died when Charlotte was five years old, her older sister Maria, who was born in 1814, died of consumption (now called tuberculosis) in 1825, as did Elizabeth, born in 1815.

 Brother Branwell, the only boy, became addicted to (alcohol and drugs)  and died when he was 31 in September 1848.  Charlotte’s younger sister, Emily, went into a decline after Branwell’s funeral and got consumption. She died in December of that year.  Her sister Anne, also got consumption and died some five months later on May 28, 1849.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/e4/P323b.jpg/200px-P323b.jpgCharlotte Brontë blamed the poor conditions at the Clergy Daughter’s School for the deaths of Maria and Elizabeth but we now know that tuberculosis, a bacterial disease, was most likely the cause. 

 In the 19th century, this illness was called the white plague and seen as a “romantic disease” because of its slow progress and the pale appearance of those infected. Lord Byron popularized the idea of it being a disease of artists when he wrote “I should like to die from consumption.” The writers, D. H. Lawrence and Katherine Mansfield both died from tuberculosis.

After the deaths of Emily and Anne, Charlotte went back to writing her novel called “Shirley”, as a way of overcoming her grief and sorrow.

 It wasn’t until after Shirley was published that she revealed herself as the real author instead of Currer Bell, the name she had used for that book as well as Jane Eyre and other works.  

 Jane Eyre had been called coarse and so full of passion and violence that some thought it could not possibly have been written by a woman.  At least, not a woman in Victorian times for they were expected to be modest and refined, pure and nonsexual, except in marriage.   Thomas Hardy’s “Tess, portrayed society blaming a woman who was raped and had a child out of wedlock.

 Given society’s attitude in those days, it is not surprising that the three Brontë sisters decided to hide their gender. So they published their writings as the authors Ellis, Acton and Currer Bell. They knew that what some thought of as shocking and unladylike, writing about passion and love, might be acceptable if the reader thought the book was written by men but not if written by women.

 In order to deflect any criticism, when it eventually came out that the Bells were three women, Charlotte passed them off as being unobtrusive, unknowing, uneducated country girls, instead of the ambitious, intelligent writers that they really were.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/39/P30b.jpg/200px-P30b.jpgMrs. Gaskell, who befriended Charlotte and was in her life for a while, believed what Charlotte said.   Mrs. Gaskell was also a writer, she and her husband, a Unitarian minister, lived in Manchester, a large town in northern England.  Gaskell has been described as a warm, if sometimes interfering woman.  In a letter to a friend, she expressed her opinion that “artistic work, writing, painting could enhance the lives of women but should not intrude into their responsibilities at home or their duties as mothers.” One could question if Gaskell carried out these lofty aims herself.

After meeting Charlotte Brontë , Gaskell described her appearance in another letter to the same friend.

Charlotte, she wrote, was a “little lady in a black silk gown, a lean figure… undeveloped, thin, she had soft brown hair, expressive eyes, a reddish face, large mouth, many missing teeth, plain forehead that was square, broad and rather overhanging.”

Now let’s try to separate fact from myth, by reviewing the life of Charlotte.  Her mother died of cancer in 1821, and her aunt Elizabeth Branwell came to the home to raise the six children.  Patrick Brontë  proposed to three women but all turned him down for he had a small income and large family. So Elizabeth Branwell stayed on and taught the girls how to sew.  Their father taught Branwell Latin and Greek. 

 When Charlotte was 8 years old, she was sent with Emily, Maria, and Elizabeth to the Clergy Daughters’ School to learn to be teachers.  A charity institution, the school buildings were very damp and cold and the food they ate was stale and rancid.

Maria and Elizabeth were sent home ill, and died soon after, Emily and Charlotte were then brought back home by their father. Back in the parsonage, the girls read from the Bible and studied grammar, geography, and history.  They also created their own literary fictional worlds. All the children read daily newspapers.

 By the time she was 14 Charlotte was sent to Roe Head School to be prepared for a life as a teacher. There were few opportunities for work for unmarried women in those days.  Married women stayed home and kept house for their husband.

 Charlotte was 16 when she wrote a novella, called The Green Dwarf using the name Wellesley. At the Roe Head school she became friends with Ellen Nussey and later worked there as a teacher from 1835 to 1838.  For several years after that, she worked as a governess to families in Yorkshire.

In 1842, Charlotte and Emily traveled to Brussels to enroll in a boarding school run by Monsieur Constantin Heger and his wife.  In return for board and tuition, Charlotte taught English and Emily taught music there.

They were only at the school for a short time when they had to return to Haworth because Aunt Elizabeth Branwell had died.  She left a small amount of money to her nieces. Some three months later, Charlotte felt an “irresistible impulse,” to return to Brussels and Heger’s school.

Charlotte took over teaching of English at the school, and resumed her private studies with Monsieur.  She began using her essays to express her feelings.  He presented her with books to read.  Evidently Madame Heger noticed Charlotte’s deepening attachment, and withdrew her friendship by no longer inviting her to enter the sitting room.  In December Madame Heger accompanied her to the port of Ostend to make sure she boarded the boat home.

Back in England, she kept up with her studies by memorizing a passage in French every day. The first publication, by the sisters, was a joint collection of 61 poems. It appeared in May 1846 under the names of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell and cost them 31 pounds, ten shillings to print. 

Only two copies of this collection were sold, and the women realized they would not support themselves by writing poetry so they began to write novels. 

 Jane Austen’s works had appealed to readers but Charlotte disliked them describing them as “delineating the surface of the lives of genteel English people curiously well, but the passions are unknown to her.”   

Jane Eyre: an Autobiography, was Charlotte’s second manuscript and it was published by Smith, Elder & Co, of Cornhill six weeks after they received it.   George Smith had been so intrigued by it that he canceled plans to go horseback riding, gulped down his dinner and stayed up until late at night reading Jane Eyre.

He offered Currer Bell, (Charlotte) one hundred pounds for the right to publish this book. The book was an instant success and received favorable reviews at first.  “No such book has gladdened our eyes for a long while,” wrote one critic. It broke new ground by being written from a first-person female perspective.  

After writing Jane Eyre, Charlotte began work on Shirley, but put it aside when she was faced with the death of her brother and both sisters in a span of eight months.

 Eventually she resumed work on the book, which was a far less emotional story than Jane Eyre.  It was written in third person about industrial unrest and the role of women in society.

Although her father was aging, Charlotte left him for a few weeks at a time to visit London.   Here she met Harriet Martineau and Elizabeth Gaskell.

 She also visited William Makepeace Thackeray.  His daughter recalled Charlotte as being a “tiny, delicate, serious, little lady, with fair straight hair and steady eyes.  She enters in mittens, in silence, in seriousness; our hearts are beating with wild excitement.  This then is the authoress, the unknown power whose books have set all London talking, reading, and speculating. Some people even say our father wrote the books …”

“Everyone waited for the brilliant conversation which never began at all.  Miss Brontë  retired to the sofa in the study, and murmured a low word now and then to our kind governess … the conversation grew dimmer and more dim, the ladies sat around still expectant, my father was too much perturbed by the gloom and the silence to be able to cope with it all … After Miss Brontë  had left, I was surprised to see my father opening the front door with his hat on.  He put his fingers to his lips, walked out into the darkness, and shut the door quietly behind him. Apparently he went off to his club to recover.”

Charlotte’s third published novel during her lifetime, was Villette. The main character, Lucy Snowe, again a teacher in a boarding school falls in love with a man whom she cannot marry.  Written in first-person, it again drew from Charlotte’s own life.

This life, however, was not devoid of proposals of marriage. Sometime in 1838 or so, Charlotte received a marriage proposal from the brother of her closest friend Ellen Nussey.  Henry Nussey was a clergyman, 27 years old, and proposed in a letter.

 He earned enough money to support a wife but Charlotte asked herself if she “loved him as much as a woman ought to love a man she marries?” And secondly, “was she the person best qualified to make him happy.”  She concluded the answer was “no” to both questions and turned him down.  She wrote “I will never for the sake of attaining the distinction of matrimony and escaping the stigma of an old maid take a worthy man whom I am conscious I cannot render happy.”

Henry promptly proposed to another woman who accepted him. In May 1839, Charlotte took a temporary job as a governess.  She returned home in July and received a second proposal of marriage. This was from David Bryce, an Irish clergyman, who had met her only once at the Haworth parsonage.  She turned him down and he died several months later.

 She confided to Ellen Nussey that she was convinced she would never marry and had resigned herself to life in Haworth. Her father’s visions was failing and a new curate who arrived in 1845 took over many of his pastoral duties.

Arthur Bell Nicholls was 27, and came from Ireland.  He was the son of a poor farmer, who had been adopted by his uncle after his parents died.  He was serious and preferred dry books on church governance to the kinds of writing that the Brontë  siblings were producing. 

Charlotte’s publisher of Jane Eyre, George Smith, was a young man to whom she became attached.  She visited his mother and went with him on a holiday in Scotland, and at one time expected to receive a proposal of marriage from him.  Her novel Villette has a character who is said to be charming but superficial and does not return her love, this is supposedly based on George Smith.

 Meanwhile Arthur Nicholls had been in love with her for years, but it wasn’t until she heard that George Smith was engaged that she accepted Nicholl’s proposal.  Initially her father had objected to the match on the grounds of Nicholl’s “utter want of money.”

Charlotte’s father finally gave his blessing several months later in April, 1854 and the couple were married in June.  She wore a white dress and white bonnet.  The villagers said she “looked like a snowdrop”. They honeymooned for a month in Ireland where Charlotte met his family and liked them.  They were wealthier than she expected.

Charlotte’s last meeting with Mrs. Gaskell, took place before June, and at that time, Mrs. Gaskell viewed the marriage as a happy ending for Charlotte.  This is questionable for some biographers say that Nicholls refused to allow Charlotte to continue writing fiction and even censored her letters to her best friend, Ellen.

 After the marriage, Mrs. Gaskell lost touch with Charlotte and was shocked to receive a letter in the spring of 1855, from the local stationer who sold paper to the Brontë s, telling her of Charlotte’s death on March 31, 1855, shortly before her 39th birthday.   This was less than a year since her wedding and it was speculated she was in the early months of pregnancy.  She is said to have suffered from nausea, then grew feverish and went to bed. The local doctors had no idea what was wrong. Charlotte scrawled a last note to her friends. It read “no kinder, better husband than mine…in the world.”  Charlotte was buried in the family vault at Haworth.

 Mrs. Gaskell felt that had she been in touch with Charlotte she might have induced her to end the pregnancy and thus save her life.  In a letter she expressed a similar sentiment to George Smith.  As she couldn’t save Charlotte’s life Gaskell decided to save her reputation.  “Sometime, I will publish what I know of her,” she wrote.

 She decided against offering the public a critical analysis of the novels, but instead to focus on the lives of the Brontë ’s.  To create a story about them, as a family of condemned genius, living in a painful and romantic solitude.

This was in her mind and she was surprised, but no doubt pleased, when Patrick Brontë  wrote to her asking her to take on the role of official biographer.  He indicated “that a great many scribblers, as well as some clever and truthful writers, have published articles in newspapers and tracts respecting my dear daughter since her death... many things have been stated that are untrue.  Not wanting an ill-qualified individual to write her life, he suggested that Mrs. Gaskell was best qualified to write the account.”

An example of the scribblers that Patrick was referring to was Harriet Martineau, who had published an obituary giving her views of the Brontë novels as being coarse and morbid.  She asked her readers to remember their experience of living in a “forlorn house, in the dreary wilds.”

Martineau assumed that Charlotte had been cut off from cultural norms, but on the contrary, she had been an avid follower of contemporary politics and current affairs. Martineau portrayed her as being too feeble to walk on the moors, and said she could see her sisters’ graves from her window, all of which was totally inaccurate.

Even Emily Dickinson’s tribute poem was wrong, it indicated that Charlotte’s tomb was overgrown by moss, but in fact her grave is inside the church.

Mrs. Gaskell learned that Arthur Nicholls did not want a biography written about his late wife, but being dependent financially on Patrick Brontë he gave in. The biography was published in 1857.  Arthur Nicholls lived with Charlotte’s father until 1861 when Patrick died, at the age of 84.

Arthur returned to Ireland and became a gentleman farmer.  He married again and lived until 1906.

Gaskell was selective about what she included in the biography, kept silent about the possibility that Charlotte had been in love with her tutor Monsieur Heger.  It wasn’t until 1913 that four letters written by Charlotte to Heger were published in the Times.  From their passionate content and her complaints it was evident that Charlotte’s feelings for her former tutor were not reciprocated.  It was known that Heger enjoyed reducing his students to tears “at which point he would melt and become gentle.”  It is possible that Charlotte misconstrued this type of bullying behavior as being loving.

An English film producer, Alison Owen, said that when she needs order in her life she reads Jane Austen.  But when she is feeling more emotional and needs that passionate punch, she turns to Jane Eyre.   

Jane Austen’s characters are well-mannered, they go to balls, seeking husbands, and find them.  The Brontë  characters are rough, Rochester and Heathcliff (in Wuthering Heights) are brusque in manner, are secretive.  After Rochester proposes to Jane we learn that he has a mad wife shut up in the attic.

It has been said that the Brontë  books are not easy to adapt for film. There have been at least nine attempts with Jane Eyre beginning in 1934. 1943, then a gap of more than 25 years until 1970, 1973, 1983, 1996, 1997, 2006, and now 2013. Some said the worst adaptation was the 1934, almost like a parody.  The one in 1943 with Orson Welles is said to be Byronic but not so attractive.

Timothy Dalton played Rochester, in 1983 and that didn’t work either.  The 1996 William Hurt and Charlotte Gainsbourg movie was described as “a disaster.” Apparently, this was attributed to an incorrect quote supposedly by Charlotte as Jane.   Hurt was reported to have clomped through the movie in a floppy Klonopin haze delivering all his lines with the same eye-rolling, double-chinning sarcasm.  (I don’t know what a Klonopin haze is).

 An A&E production in 1997 described as “threadbare” was said to make Jane Eyre a smug character.  She always seemed to be on the verge of giggles.  Caran Hind played Rochester as a honking lech, blustering and bloviating beneath the carpet swatches on his face as if he is auditioning. I got these film reviews from the Washington Post and slate.com sites on the internet.

The latest version of Jane Eyre was offered in March 2011 by director Cary Fukunaga, produced by Alison Owen and it starred Mia Wasikowska, previously seen as Alice in Tim Burton’s “Wonderland.” Mia’s appearance while not plain offers a tight-lipped frown, a creased brow and severely parted hair, to illustrate the poor governess. Michael Fassbender played Mr. Rochester as sexy, cruel, and mangy.

The quoted material in this article came from The Brontë  Myth by Lucasta Miller, Anchor Books, and The Brontë  Sisters, by Catherine Reef, Clarion Books, as well as Wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlotte Brontë .



April First Festivity


Two tiny birds in a

Driveway puddle

Throw water with wings

Shake drops from bodies

As they celebrate

Spring’s warmth and beauty.

Delighting my heart.

Reminding me of

Our Loving Father’s

Care of them and me.


             - Sybil Austin Skakle



“If you wish to avoid seeing a fool you must first break your mirror.” François Rabelais


“Liberalism means the liberty of man. A miracle means the liberty of God. You may deny both but you cannot claim your denial as a triumph of either”. G. K. Chesterton



April First Festivity


Two tiny birds in a

Driveway puddle

Throw water with wings

Shake drops from bodies

As they celebrate

Spring’s warmth and beauty.

Delighting my heart.

Reminding me of

Our Loving Father’s

Care of them and me.


             - Sybil Austin Skakle



“If you wish to avoid seeing a fool you must first break your mirror.” François Rabelais


“Liberalism means the liberty of man. A miracle means the liberty of God. You may deny both but you cannot claim your denial as a triumph of either”. G. K. Chesterton


Natters of a Nomad

Peggy Ellis


People often ask me which of our trips made the most lasting impression on me. Fleeting memories cross my mind: the color of Costa Rica, the unbelievable engineering of Machu Pichu, the arrogant-get-out-of-my-way-penguins of the Antarctic, the glaciers of Scandinavia. Yet my thoughts inevitably return to our 2007 cruise on the Rhine River.

The Rhine is an international waterway that runs through six countries and forms an international border in several places. Along its hillsides are more medieval castles than in any river valley in the world. The castles, the breathtaking landscape of terraced vineyards, and small towns create a setting that became synonymous with the Romantic Movement in the 1800s, which resulted in many, not all, being rebuilt or partially rebuilt and in use today. Others are ruins dating back a thousand years or more. Artists, musicians, writers, and poets throughout Europe immortalized the Rhine’s natural beauty in their artistic endeavors.

The "Middle Rhine" is one of four sections, (High Rhine, Upper Rhine, Middle Rhine and Lower Rhine) of the river. My particular interest is the upper section of the Middle Rhine (also known as the Rhine Gorge). It is approximately 40 miles long, between Koblenz and Rüdesheim, and is on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites, so designated in 2002. The Gorge is a formation created by erosion with a depth of about 430 feet from the top of the rocks to the average waterline.he area under my review has been a major tourist attraction for close to two centuries, but it also has a population of 450,000 people. The valley owes its special appearance to both its natural shape and its human alterations. We also visited some large cities in the broad area including beautiful cathedrals and the magic of Christmas markets, but castles clinging to the high hillsides are the basis of this series of Natters of a Nomad.

During several cruises, we saw many castle ruins throughout both Eastern and Western Europe; however, those along the Rhine River have a mystical aura all their own. Every turn of the river brings a new vista, whether it be natural configurations, vineyards apparently crawling up hillsides (or sliding down), or towns.

I’m a history buff. Perhaps the mixture of nature and history is why the Rhine Gorge fascinates me and, for this purpose, the many medieval castle ruins, which enabled feudal lords to protect their lands and control trade routes along the rivers. The illegal activities of these lords with their tax collection methods later resulted in the name ‘robber barons’. The ruins give silent witness to the region’s violent history. Medieval marauders, not the ravages of time, caused much of the damage.

Most castles in the Middle Rhine Valley originated between the 12th and the early 14th centuries. Those built in earlier centuries were of wood and none has survived. From a distance, those standing in ruins, even partial ruins, today appear carved from a single huge rock. Visits to them indicate otherwise.

Over the next few months, with the help of my scrapbook and internet research for corroboration (or not – we know the internet contains conflicting “facts” on every subject imaginable), I will share my memories of the onboard historian’s anecdotes as we cruised slowly by several castles. I often got a crick in my neck from gazing upward and imagining myself a fly on the wall while I watched history unfold. The discomfort faded into insignificance as I learned of robber barons, feuding families, medieval legends, and so much more.

I will begin with the renovated Old Castle in Koblenz that is in partial use, and will end with the Ehrenfels Castle in Rüdesheim, a complete ruin. I will include interesting anecdotes of a few castle ruins and two rock statues of interest on the Rhine. I will end this series with European Christmas markets.

So, come join me on the Viking Sun. We begin our journey at Koblenz where the Moselle River flows into the Rhine.


Loving What You Do

Tim Whealton


Several years ago, my commanding officer that called to tell me I had been chosen by the local Jaycees to receive the outstanding military award for that year.

I said, “Are you sure, I haven’t done anything.”

He reminded me that my rifle team had won the Infantry Trophy at the national championships.

I didn’t see why I should get a local award for that and told him I was going to be out of town when the awards were given out.

He informed me that I would be at the dinner with him and wearing a dress uniform because we could not pass up a chance to get good publicity for the National Guard. He had already talked it over with the Colonel. At this point I knew any more resistance was futile because the Colonel was not a man to be trifled with.

Maybe it reminded me of when I was a telephone cable repairman and a bad storm hit Jacksonville. They put out a call for help to the other towns and New Bern sent me. I started as soon as I got there. I quickly located a damaged main cable that was feeding Camp Lejeune. This was an 1800 pair cable that was starting to get wet and would cause the Marine base to lose its telephone service with the outside world. By locating the damaged spot before it was a major outage, I saved several thousands and all those Marines could call home long distance that night.

Well, the Jacksonville boss called my boss to make sure I was rewarded for extra effort. My boss listened to the story and said, “Are you sure it wasn’t the man from Kinston?” So much for awards.

As far as the Jaycee function, I didn’t see why there was any reward to begin with. I had only done something I wanted to do. I hadn’t risked my life or given up anything, I had just been having a good time shooting rifles and traveling around the country making friends and shooting Uncle Sam’s ammo. It really was a sweet deal, they paid all my expenses, furnished the best equipment, best coaches, travel pay, regular pay and it counted toward retirement too!

As usual, it didn’t matter what I wanted, I had to go get an award. I pulled out all those shooting medals and put them in place on the dress uniform that hadn’t been worn since the Christmas dinner.  I had to root around in the attic to find my military shoes, but they still fit if I wear thin socks and cut my toenails. I don’t know why, but some people just can’t be dressed up and I am one. I can scrub and comb but I still look like a person that is not at home in a suit. I did my best for my uniform anyway. It was an honor to wear the same uniform of real heroes and that part made me proud.

I waited outside till my Captain arrived per his instructions. After we were inside we were seated at the front with the others that were to be honored. I looked around and saw the best of the best. There were teachers, law enforcement, and care givers of every description. The best of the best and then there was me. They made the world a better place and I shot targets, give me my trophy and let me get out of here.

One by one they came up and talked about what they did. Slowly it started to sink in that maybe I had at least one thing in common with these people. They loved what they did and I did too. Yes, they sacrificed to do what they loved, but they excelled because they loved what they did. It was the passion for what they did that made them better than all the rest. Yes, it was another “ah-ha” moment for me. I left with a better understanding of why I needed to excel. If I didn’t love it, I needed to leave it or find a way to love it because without a passion for it there would never be excellence.

Now the pursuit turned to how to cultivate a passion. I realized that a passion for excellence itself can be the best thing to develop. It doesn’t matter what is the task at hand, whether it be repairing a bird house or building a business from the ground up. Learning to love doing a good job can infect everything you do. Even better, it can infect others. It can be really hard sometimes when the push is to make money or compromise for quantity, but, with help you can find that passion. It might even be from someone that has lost their pursuit more than once. After all, who would know how to rekindle a passion for excellence better than someone who has done it?

I have been blessed to have several mentors that encouraged me. One that I always enjoyed was an old guy that had lost a leg. The first time I saw him he was on a bird hunt. Dressed in full camo, with a pad on his crutch for covering soft ground, he was not the usual sight. After I opened my business he would come by for a short visit from time to time. His body was old and plagued by cancer and other diseases but he never talked about his problems, only ways to make things better. On only one occasion he said I really don’t know why I am still here, but I knew. He was there for people like me that needed someone for encouragement. No matter how bad I was thinking my day was going, just the thought of how he wasn’t letting a little thing like missing body parts stop him from doing his best, would make me realize I had everything I needed to whip my little problems.

So, when you are in a hole, stop digging. Then look around for somebody who has crawled out of their hole. If they made it out you can too and always do good work. When you look back, only good work accomplished anything! Plus, if anybody wants to give you an award, take it.


 Judge for Yourself!

Diana Goldsmith


Jenny had always loved food! She was a greedy baby who ate everything that was put before her. No ‘'posting the letter’ or 'here comes the aeroplane’ to get her to take the spoonful of food. She opened her mouth when she saw it and waited longingly for more!

She liked to try new foods as they were introduced even spicy ones as she became a young child. This was great because her parents liked eating foreign foods. Garlic and chilli didn't faze her at all. On holiday in Europe she even learnt “escargot” and “fromage” and “wurst” and “ciabatta” .

One of her favourites was a 'pain au chocolat’ which she had as a mid morning snack! Fortunately Jenny was a very active child and despite having a very healthy appetite still stayed the correct weight.

Her mother and father for that matter loved cooking and so they encouraged Jenny to help out. At first when she was very young she would perhaps be given a small piece of pastry to play with and roll out and make a jam tart with. Later on, when older she would be given tasks to do when they were making s meal. At seven she could make a 'mean’ omelette.

At ten her chocolate cake was 'to die for’ so light and with such a delicious gooey filling and topping.

At sixteen she could plan an elaborate dinner party and produce it to the delight and amazement of the fortunate guests! Her favourite viewing online and on the TV were cookery programmes. No soppy romantic novels but recipe books by famous cordon bleu chefs, were her desire.

Jenny would then try to emulate them by making the dishes herself! Her parents thought themselves very lucky to have such a talented daughter! They encouraged her to enter competitions. She had won the best Victoria sponge at their village fete when she was nine much to the consternation of the vicar's wife who had always previously won!

She entered Junior MasterChef and was runner up only failing to win because her chocolate souffle wasn't gooey enough according to two of the judges. The other disagreed They all judged her main course of chicken three ways with crispy skin, buttered mash, broccoli spears and orange flavoured carrots as superb.

Her parents said that you had to judge for yourself when it came to food at that level. Anyway because of it Jenny did get a place at a prestigious cookery school for two years. Here she was able to hone her skills and learn new techniques. After that she obtained a position of sous chef at one of the Michelin starred restaurants in London. What an honour and her parents were very proud of her.

After five years of very hard work and very long hours Jenny had developed an excellent reputation and had developed her own signature dish.She decided to enter Masterchef the professionals. Here she was up against some of the top chefs in the country. She would also have to cook for Michel Roux junior.

However she went through the heats and quarter finals and was in the last three. It was neck and neck between her and a guy from one of a very well known restaurant. Then in the very last round his fish was ever so slightly overcooked according to one of the judges and they enthused over her two dishes which they said were the best they had ever had!

So Jenny was crowned MasterChef and was able to open her own restaurant the following year. Two years on she was approached to see whether she would be willing to judge in the competition, which she accepted willingly as her parents had always said

 “You need to judge for yourself!”.



Schulz and the Peanuts Comic Strips

By Rita Berman


The biography of Charles M. Schulz the cartoonist of Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, and Snoopy, as written by David Michaelis is a 654 page book, published in 2007. Schulz died in his sleep the night of February 12, 2000 at the age of 77.

In June 2000 Jean Schulz, his second wife, and Michaelis agreed that in order to write Schulz’s biography he should begin interviewing those who knew Charles in his earlier years while they were still alive.

It took Michaelis seven years to research and write this book. He was given access to business correspondence by United Media dating back to 1950 and permission to reproduce many of the comic strips. The book includes six pages of acknowledgments to the many sources who provided him with their recollections, stories, and interactions with Schulz.

For half a century Schulz created daily and Sunday Peanuts comic strips, totaling 17,897 and he had drawn every single one, without assistants, said Michaelis. While Schulz may have been offered ideas for the strip he never used them.  And so he created the long-suffering but unsinkable Charlie Brown; crabby, often venomous Lucy; philosophical Linus; tomboyish Peppermint Patty; single-minded Schroeder; and grandiose, self-involved Snoopy.

Schulz is reported as saying, “If you’re going to create cartoon characters you can create them only from your own personality.”  In this biography Schulz is described as a withdrawn, undemonstrative man who didn’t hug or express emotions to his five children. His cousin Patty recalled, “Hugging him was like hugging a tree – he never moved.”

 Daughter Jill said “I don’t know if it was his conservative Minnesota upbringing, but we weren’t the type of family that grew up with hugs and kisses and I love you.”   He was uncomfortable in traveling and happiest (if we can call it that) when staying at home drawing his cartoon panels.  There appears to have been little joy in his life.

In 1943, just three days after his mother’s death from cancer, as a private in the army Schulz was shipped out for boot camp. The sense of shock and separation never left him and shaped his entire life.  

 He was married twice, the first time to Joyce Halverson Lewis who had been divorced by her first husband shortly before she gave birth to a daughter, Meredith. Joyce and Schulz had 4 children and adopted Meredith.  He took no responsibility for parenting his children.  His second marriage when he was 50 to Jean Forsyth Clyde, appears to have been happier.  She was 34 and had two children from her first marriage and they lived with them.

For a number of years he was earning millions of dollars a year but this brought him no joy. Michaelis writes that certainly he did not spend it on jewelry for Joyce, though he did give her a St. Bernard puppy that he named Lucy and another year be gave her a yellow Ford Mustang. Although they bought houses and land, designed and built an ice skating arena this was all Joyce’s efforts.

In the biography he is described as feeling alone, wanting to love and be loved.  Some of his withdrawn feelings are speculating as coming from the behavior of his parents. His father, a barber, was so work-driven that he didn’t stop to greet or hug Schulz when he returned home on leave from the Army.

This is a long book, a difficult read, dull at times, repetitive almost to the point of being boring. But then according to Michaelis, Schulz was a dull person.  Whatever humor he had he put into his strip.  I had enjoyed seeing the cartoon strips over the years and also watched the movie Charlie Brown and Christmas.

Puzzled over my reaction I then looked at some of the 540 reviews of this book on Goodreads.com. “James” said it was a pretty good book considering it’s about a person who was boring; lonely, distant, anxious, depressed, sad, religious, melancholy and a teetotaler too. Schulz did not drink, did not smoke, and did not swear!   As an artist Schulz was a master of the minimal gag.

He knew he had a melancholic disposition but refused to see psychologists for fear it would take away his talent.

Another reviewer said that with Peanuts, Schulz embedded adult ideas in a world of small children to remind the reader that character flaws and childhood wounds are with us always.  His Peanuts strip profoundly influenced the country in the second half of the 20th century. But the strip was anchored in the collective experience and hardships of Schulz’s generation – the generation that survived the Great Depression and liberated Europe and the Pacific, and came home to build the post-war world.

I concur with Carin’s review that acknowledged Michaelis’s biography was authoritative and comprehensive, but taking some pruning shears to it would have improved it a bit.  

There are reports that Charles Schulz’s family were not at all pleased with this biography.  His son Monte is said to have cited numerous inaccuracies. Several reviews noted that the author had drawn conclusions that would be impossible to make.

The United Features Syndicate placed his strip in dozens of English language and foreign newspapers and it brought him $4000 a month in 1956.  He received requests for rights to use his characters of Snoopy, Charlie Brown, Linus and the others in endorsements. In some years his characters brought him in more than a million dollars in pre-tax dollars from all sources.

However, there is no denying that in spite of Schulz’s melancholia he drew an insightful cartoon that entertained readers all around the world for many years.

 He reminded people that, “It says in my contract that when I die the strip ends.”

After learning he had stage IV colon cancer he addressed a letter to his estimated three hundred odd million readers in more than 71 countries, to colleagues, fellow cartoonists, and “friends near and far” that he would retire in order to concentrate on his treatment and recuperation.  His last strip would be released as the final daily on January 3, 2000.

His television specials won or were nominated for Emmy Awards. In 2013, TV Guide ranked the Peanuts television specials the fourth Greatest TV Cartoons of All Time.

A computer-animated feature film based on the strip, The Peanuts Movies, was released in 2015. 



The Goldfinch

Marry Williamson


She got the idea while she studied the painting of the Goldfinch in the Mauritshuis museum in the Hague. For once her husband had allowed Evelyn to go on this little holiday with her sister. Rose had booked the trip to the Netherlands. She found it advertised in the Supplement of the Sunday Times. A cultural trip. A three-day tour of the country’s well known museums. Evelyn loved art and museums but even more than that she relished the thought of being away from him for a few days. To be free from Brian and his controlling ways.

After they had got married almost twenty five years ago she had slowly lost the ability to think for herself and with it her independence. He did everything. His favourite sentence, the one he used almost every day at least once was “don’t you break your pretty little head, darling. I look after it”. It was nothing short of a miracle that he had let her go abroad with Rose on this trip.

The journey to Amsterdam was pleasant and uneventful. They had caught a train to London’s Waterloo station from the Devon town where they lived. A taxi had taken them to St. Pancras station in time to board the Eurostar. They had found their reserved seat without any bother and enjoyed the journey to Amsterdam. They also had no trouble finding their hotel located on one of the quieter canals thanks to a friendly taxi driver and found the place neat and tidy and very comfortable. In the evening they enjoyed a lovely meal in one of the many Indonesian restaurants. All was well, the other people on the tour were nice and they were looking forward to the rest of the holiday.

The first day was spent going round the museums in Amsterdam. The Rijksmuseum where they marvelled at the “Night Watch” by Rembrandt, shuffling along amongst the hundreds of admirers. The Van Gogh museum full of wonderful works by the painter and where they felt sorry for the man and his tragic tormented life.

The next day a coach took them to the city of Haarlem, a beautiful medieval town twenty minutes by road west of Amsterdam. There they visited the Frans Hals museum crammed full of beautiful paintings by Frans Hals, Jan Steen and other famous Dutch masters. Afterwards they had some free time. They used it to walk across the bridge to the park and they spent the afternoon sitting in the sun on a bench eating their lunch which they had bought from the little cafe.

The third day the coach took them to The Hague and the Mauritshuis museum. She saw ‘The Girl with the Pearl Earring’ by Johannes Vermeer and remembered reading the book by Tracy Chevalier and seeing the film starring their favourite actor Colin Firth. From there she moved to ‘the Goldfinch’ by Carel Fabritius. She stood in front of it for ages. She so sympathised with the poor little beautiful bird. And then it dawned on her. That was her. Shackled to a cage, unable to get away. Suddenly she made a decision. She went to the gift shop and bought a postcard of the picture, scratched out the chains and addressed it to herself. Back outside she found a postbox and slipped the card in before she could change her mind.

Two days after she got home the card arrived. It was a Saturday so Brian was home, took the mail from the box and found the card.

“What does this mean?”, he asked just as she came down the stairs with a little suitcase, her passport safely in her backpack. She gathered all her courage, took a deep breath and said: “that was me, chained to this house, this life but above all to you. But as you can see, no more. I am free.”

She left him standing on the doorstep as the taxi arrived to take her to the station and a new life.

“If only I could have set that poor little goldfinch free as well”, she  thought.


Plane Travel

Sybil Austin Skakle


Plane travel is rather ordinary these days, in that so many people are flying. When I was a girl, to fly in a plane was as unlikely as a flight to the moon would be for me now. 

I remember being with others from Hatteras Village the day, Dave Driscoll, a private airplane pilot for one of the Gooseville Gun Club members, was giving free airplane rides to anyone brave enough to climb aboard the plane. Albert Lyons, a handsome man with a beautiful smile and a luxurious head of white hair, inventor of the automobile bumper, a rich industrialist from Detroit, Michigan; was probably the benefactor. Later, Lyons acquired land and built a club for the teenage girls and older women of Hatteras Village.

Since I do not remember the wonder of looking down from a height, even higher than the view from the top of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, I may not have been brave enough to climb aboard the plane. Daddy may have decided that he wanted me to stay on the ground. However, I remember being part of the crowd. I was there!   

    One holiday after Don Skakle and I were married, we arrived at Manteo too late for the bus, which was owned and manned by three Midgette brothers from Manteo and made one trip a day. We found my cousin, Mary Harlow, Uncle Monroe Austin’s younger daughter, and her husband, Otis Styron, there, stranded as we were that day in 1947. Otis suggested we hire an airplane to fly us home to Hatteras. We boarded the plane and were soon flying over Oregon Inlet and above the narrow strand of sand and the other six villages of Hatteras Island to its southernmost one, Hatteras! Home! That may have been my first flight. 

  Since then, I have made numerous flights. Amenities have been curtailed drastically since a flight my oldest sister Margie and I made from Greensboro to Seattle, Washington in 1982, to visit two uncles, Mama’s brothers Caswell and Luther Daniels and their families. During that trip, every time we boarded one plane from another flight, we were offered food. I know we ate many club sandwiches that day. Today they offer your choice of liquid that is non-alcoholic and a tiny bag of pretzels.

My longest flight was probably the one to the Holy Land in 1976, which may, or may not, be longer than the trip my husband Lee Stanley and I made to Hawaii in January of 1992. However, I believe the flight from Paris, France to Tel Aviv, Israel was the longest continuous flight I ever made. Perhaps, I believe that because I remember being unable to sit in the plane seat for another minute. If they would have opened the door, I would have been glad to walk the rest of the way home! 

    Every flight, each with its pluses and minuses, is an adventure. I have written poems about flights and of watching the clouds beneath the plane:


Leaving Seattle-Tacoma Airport,

Our American Airline jet plane

Rose steadily though rain and mist.

At thirty-five thousand feet,

With storm below the clouds,

a surrealistic expanse became

visible below the huge aircraft.

Eastward, sun light below formed

A neutral colored cloud-line, and we

Evidenced dawn without the sun.

Below us, fluffy clouds looked like

Heaps of thick, huge cotton balls,

which became frothy snow fields,

Reaching as far as our eyes could see.

These changed again into wispy, torn

White, gauze-like sheets, revealing

rivers and mountains far below us.

The eastern sky became pink with dawn

and the sun arose, blinding and brilliant.

Roaring motors propelled our plane

toward the blazing sunlight. *


Sometimes my seat companions do not attempt to make conversation. There have been times when I have heard whole life stories. Once, waiting in Philadelphia for my plane to Connecticut, I asked a man to watch my bag, while I went to find a sandwich like his. Consequently, we spent the remainder of our wait talking. He invited me to visit him and his family. We kept in touch by Email for a number of years, while he began a new job, acquired a new home, and became a father. 

One day, having found my gate, I became absorbed in Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher. When the call came to board the flight, I looked up to find myself alone. Everyone had disappeared. I would have run if I could have. I hurried and arrived in time, barely, to board my plane at the change of gate, announced, while I was lost in the story.  

Another time, I missed my flight from New York completely, because I had failed to pick up a boarding pass. Consequently, I needed to be transported to another terminal; boarded the plane, late at night, in driving rain; while my niece Beth Williams awaited me at my destination in Norfolk, Virginia. That was better than another New York incident when I arrived and sat all night in the terminal waiting for Charles Fetterroll, my fiancé to come for me.

I called him, but could not get an answer. I did not dare call his mother, for fear of upsetting her. When I finally called next morning, as early as I dared, he answered the phone.

“Where are you?” he asked.

“I’m at the airport waiting for you,” I said. “I have been sitting here all-night holding hands with a strange man.”

“What? WHAT?” he exclaimed.

“I’ll explain later, when I see you .”

Truly. I never knew whether the man, a down-on- his luck appearing lawyer, sought to reassure me or have me protect him. He slept, my hand imprisoned in his. 

Charles explained that he had come to La Guardia, looked everywhere for me, and when he had missed seeing me- I had missed seeing him – he had driven to Newark airport, in the rain. Not finding me there, he decided I had changed my mind about coming. Exhausted, he went home and to bed.

On my return flight in October 2018 from New Haven, Connecticut, where I had been visiting my youngest son, Cliff, and his wife, the metal in my knee and hip replacements set off the alarm. I was detained to be checked further. The young woman, somewhat apologetically, asked, “May I remove your shoes?”

“Sure! If you’ll put them back on again for me,” I replied.

She removed them, found nothing amiss, put them back on again and tied the laces, smiling all the time. Every delay is an adventure, which I have decided to enjoy.  


*excerpt from “Above the Clouds” by Sybil Austin Skakle


 Malleable Human Ontology

Randy Bittle


Warning:  This essay contains abstract and difficult concepts.  Read at your own risk.  Ontology is a philosophical term that means being-ness, or unqualified and unrestricted ultimate reality.  A living being’s ontology is encapsulated in “…Jakob von Uexkull’s (1934) concept of the organism’s umwelt, the behavioral environment that consists of all things that matter to its well-being.” (From “From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds,” copyright 2017, W.W. Norton publisher, written by Daniel C. Dennet).  Human ontology is a complex umwelt that includes ethereal mental and emotional aspects of the physiological brain/mind plus the physical environment in which we live, all of which combines to produce human behavior.

A simple example of a living being’s umwelt is that of my bonsai tree, which I wrote about in “A Tree’s Life,” my February article for this magazine.  My bonsai tree, which I named Plektos Stelekhos, has an umwelt that consists of the soil it is planted in, air, energy from the grow light, regular watering, and occasional fertilizer nutrients.  These things comprise the sum total of Plektos’s ontological existence as a living being, providing all it needs for the molecular physiological behavior that constitutes its life.  Unbeknownst to Plektos, Duke Energy Progress electricity and City of Raleigh water supply are indirect components of its umwelt.  Also on the fringe of its umwelt is myself.  Although the tree is unaware of my existence, I turn the grow lights on and off and water the soil at the appropriate times, ensuring Plektos’s well-being and continued existence.

In return, Plektos Stelekhos imposes a reciprocal effect on my umwelt.  Its needs dictate my behaviors in relation to maintenance of Plektos’s well-being.  But much more than dictating my behavior, the tree’s existence impacts my umwelt by invoking pleasurable thoughts and feelings that I experience when observing Plektos and mindfully contemplating the tree’s role as part of my life.  Thoughts and feelings are ontologically real aspects of human existence and are necessary components of people’s umwelten.  Umwelten is the plural form of the word.  While thoughts and feelings are ontologically real, they nonetheless exist in a quasi-physical state.

That is to say thoughts and feelings have a physical foundation in brain physiology but also have a less definable mental attribute, produced by electrochemical firing patterns in neural networks.  You cannot physically touch or pick up a thought or feeling.  You can only experience them in their full richness inside your mind, which is based on but more than brain physiology.  Ideas and emotions permeate human ontology by enhancing perception and influencing behavior.  Despite quasi-physical states of existence, thoughts and feelings are unquestionably real and impact human umwelten.

If I suggest you think of a tree, an image of a particular tree may come to mind as a representative example of the general concept of tree.  Each different reader will envision a different particular tree, yet most if not all readers will understand the concept of “tree.”  If I ask you to think of a dendron, some of you may draw a blank.  Dendron is the ancient Greek word for tree, and unless this knowledge previously entered your umwelt, you would have no idea what I mean by the word dendron.  This illustrates the fact that a word is a symbol for a concept and is not the concept itself.  It also demonstrates that concepts and the words associated with them must be in a person’s umwelt to be meaningful.  Thankfully, people assimilate new concepts and words all the time.

Therefore human umwelten are multifarious yet unique to each individual.  Human ontologies are malleable and can be shaped by novel experiences because of the distinctive nature of our minds and umwelten.  Conceptual perspective grows and changes with each new experience.  Growth and change in perspective occurs at the level of the individual brain/mind.  Focus on improving your personal outlook by carefully choosing the quality of conceptual inputs to your mind.  Avoid the all too common garbage-in-garbage-out philosophy of life.  Human ontology is not static and ultimately consists of individuals represented by each distinct person.  You can change your unique outlook and umwelt for the better, and every person who makes a positive change in himself makes the world a better place.


Guide Me by Your Nail Scarred Hand

Mary Noble Jones


Our dear precious Heavenly Father

Give me the strength and power

To lift above my problems in this hour of need.

Give me grace sufficient to loose this devil’s curse.

If I slumber unaware, things will only get worse.

Let us band together to help my friends in need

And by doing so, dear Lord, I will be blessed in deed,

Each day give me wisdom to seek and worship you.

By living in your presence I can make it through.

Thank you, dear Lord for loving me

And today, dear Lord, set me free.

Set me free of the Devil’s snares.

Set me free of sin.

Loose me from my burdens

And give me inward peace.

Freedom comes from the Lord.

Help me understand.

Let me walk in your presence.

Freedom comes only from you, Lord.

Help me that to understand.

Let me walk in your presence.

Guide me with your nail-scarred hand.

Thank you, Dear Lord,

For in your Holy Name I pray.



The Jackson Affair

Dan Cowen


In the 1940’s and early 50’s it was a common practice for landowners to enter into an agreement with their tenants whereby the landowner make available a certain amount of land for the tenant to cultivate and harvest. The landowner would also provide housing, fertilizer, seed and equipment.

At crop harvest time, after the crops were sold, the landowner and the Tenant Farmer would split the proceeds 50/50.

This arrangement was usually a verbal agreement between the landowner and the Tenant. There were some different rental agreements but this was the most common.

As a rule, the landowner would provide 30 acres of land per working tenant. For example, if a family had one man with two sons that were old enough to plow and work in the field the landowner would provide 90 acres of farmland.

When a family size changed the amount of land they could tend also changed. Very often, as the tenants families changed it was a common practice that they would move to another landowners that could meet their needs.

During the winter and early spring was a time when tenant families moved around as their family size changed.

The Jackson family, Mr. Monroe and his wife Jessie were both middle aged and were not able to have children. They were tenant farmers on property owned by Mr. Buck Campbell.

The house where they lived was an old Log House, but it had been remodeled and large porch added on. Mr. Campbell had also replaced the windows and doors, so the house was easier to keep warm in the winter. The water supply was a manual water pump located on the back porch but was convenient to the kitchen.

Mr. Campbell was a large landowner and had a reputation of being honest and good to his tenant farmers.

Every week he would drive around to his farms just to see how things were progressing and discuss any problems his tenants were encountering or if they needed any assistance that he could provide.

Because Mr. Monroe was a good worker, Mr. Campbell agreed to give him extra land to till and increased his allotment to 55 acres.

Monroe and Jessie hoped that if they took on the extra acreage, it would be worthwhile in the long run. Maybe the additional money they earned would allow them to buy their own farm someday.

The Jacksons lived on a dirt road and their house was about three miles from the highway and a country store where they would buy their groceries and other household needs.

Their closest neighbor was about a mile away. This neighbor was a man named Silas Bennett.

Silas also a sharecropper for Mr. Campbell and was assigned farmed about 30 acres of land. He lived alone with his aging mother, Mrs. Mable. Silas was in his 50s and had been living there several years. To the outsider no one had any knowledge that the two families had any relationship because both families tended to keep to themselves.

Silas was a quiet man and it was difficult to have much of a conversation with him.

We later learned that Silas and Monroe sometimes worked together helping each other as they tended their crops.

Jessie was a hard-working lady. She managed the things that needed to be cared for around the house while Monroe tended the crops.

It was an August and harvest time. Everyone was picking the last of their cotton and getting ready to start harvesting their peanuts.

Silas was finished with his smaller cotton patch. Monroe was still finishing up his last load of cotton and would be taking it to the Gin in the next day or two.

One day Mrs. Mable was making a cake and needed two more eggs for her receipe. She asked Silas if he would walk over to the Jacksons and see if Mrs. Jackson could lend her two eggs and she would give them back later.

Silas did as his mother asked and started on his way. Silas didn’t mind the walk because there was a short cut across the woods. Along the way, he noticed how nice and pleasant the weather was as he walked along the trail the Jacksons house. Squirrels were chatting in the birds were singing in the trees. Although it was hot summer, it felt good to be going over to see Jessie.

Jesse was a very handsome lady and he had already taken a liking to her.

When he was approached the Jackson’s house, he saw Jessie hanging cloths on the line to dry. He also noticed how good she looked when she stretched out to hang the clothes on the line.

He said, “Good morning Miss Jessie

 “Good morning, how nice to see you. Are you looking for Monroe?” she replied.

“Naw, mama is baking a cake and needs to borrow a couple of eggs.  She will give them back to you later.”

“I have plenty of eggs,” Jessie said and invited Silas into the house when she went inside to get the eggs.

Silas  picked up her clothes basket and carried it into the house for her.

Jessie said, “Thank you for bringing in my basket that was very nice of you.”

Jessie went to her refrigerator to get the eggs with Silas following her over. When she leaned down to get the eggs Silas saw her beautiful breasts under her dress.

He took the eggs and started to leave. “Mama will appreciate the eggs and I will bring you a piece of cake when it is finished,” he promised.

Jessie moved up close to Silas and said in a soft voice, “I sure hope you do.”

All of a sudden, Silas had a feeling that he had not experienced in many years. Now, he could not wait to get back over to the Jackson’s house, but it had to be at a time when Monroe was busy working in the fields. Then he remembered that Monroe would be gone all day when he took his cotton to the Cotton Gin.

Silas asked his mother to hurry up and bake the cake because he was looking forward to eating a piece. The next day, Silas decided to go over and visit Monroe and see how he was coming along with his cotton picking. He learned that Monroe was going to the Cotton Gin the next day.

Silas was happy as a lark when he arrived back home and smelled the cake cooking in the oven.

The next day, he waited until he knew that Monroe had plenty of time to load up and go to the Cotton Gin.

The process of getting a bale of cotton unloaded and run through the Cotton Gin into a Bale and using using mule drawn wagons took most all day. Therefore, Silas knew he had plenty of time to take Jessie a piece of cake and maybe spend some more time with her.

He still rememberd his last visit and the great feeling he had as he walked back home.

When he thought the time was right, Silas wrapped up the cake and headed off to see Jessie.

Jessie welcomed him in with a big smile when he handed her the piece of cake that his mama made.

Jessie said, “I knew that you would not forget about me.” She touched his arm and said, “Thank you for thinking of me”.

At that point Silas pulled her to him. She did not resist. He gave her a big kiss. and squeezed her body close to his. They kissed for a long time.

Thus began a passionate romantic affair that lasted several weeks anytime they could find time, plus when Monroe was away from the house.

A few weeks later, Jessie started to worry that Monroe would catch them. She told Silas they had to quit seeing each other because she was afraid they would get caught..

This upset Silas. He told Jessie that he loved her, and he was not going to stop seeing her.

This really upset Jessie because if Monroe caught them, there would be a big fight. Monroe might harm to Silas, or her, or both.

Silas came over one day while Monroe was out working in the field. Jessie told him that he had better leave right then and he had better not come back.

Silas left mad and told Jessie that he would be back.

Later that day Silas returned with a shotgun and argued with Jessie some more. She told him to get out of her house.

Silas shot Jessie and she fell to the floor.

Monroe heard the gunshot and ran to the house. When he came through the door Silas shot and killed him. Then Silas turned the gun on himself and committed suicide.

When Silas did not return home his mother contacted another neighbor and told him that Silas had gone to the Jackson’s house and had not come home.

They went over to the Jackson’s, found the bodies and called the Sheriff’s Office.

A true down-south Shakespearean tragedy.


Favorite April Fool’s Jokes


Gmail Autopilot

Google unveiled Gmail Autopilot, a feature that automatically reads and responds to your email, saving you the time of doing this. It boasted that Autopilot could mirror any communication style, could also work for Gmail chat, and would work even if both sender and recipient had Autopilot on: Two Gmail accounts can happily converse with each other for up to three messages each. Beyond that, our experiments have shown a significant decline in the quality ranking of Autopilot's responses and further messages may commit you to dinner parties or baby namings in which you have no interest.


Fake Panda Bear Scandal

The Taipei Times reported that pandemonium broke out at the Taipei Zoo when it was discovered that the zoo's two panda bears were in fact "Wenzhou brown forest bears that had been dyed to create the panda’s distinctive black-and-white appearance." Suspicions were first raised when it was observed that the bears were spending almost their full waking hours having sex. (Pandas are notorious for their low libido.) This behavior caused chaos among zoo crowds. "Children screamed and parents became irate." The pandas had been received as a gift from the Chinese government. "Some angrily compared the subterfuge to last year’s contaminated milk scandal, when melamine that had been added to watered-down milk sickened 300,000 victims across China and led to a recall of diary products in countries including Taiwan." Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang was said to have issued a statement: "We understand that our compatriots in Taiwan are very upset. We wish to assure them that we have taken steps to address their concerns. We hope that our Taiwanese friends enjoy the gift of two extremely rare Wenzhou brown forest bears."



British supermarket chain Waitrose placed ads in newspapers announcing the availability of a new fruit, the pinana (a combination of pineapple and banana). The text of the ad read: Pinanas. Fresh in today and exclusive to Waitrose. If you find that all Waitrose pinanas have sold out, don't worry, there's 50% off our essential Waitrose strawberries."


Squeez Bacon

Online retailer thinkgeek.com unveiled Squeez Bacon, 100% bacon paste that could be squeezed from a tube. It described it as "the world's most perfect food."

Squeez Bacon® is fully cooked 100% bacon. Due to the patented electro-mechanical process by which Squeez Bacon® is rendered, it requires no preservatives or other additives. Each serving is as healthy as real bacon, and equivalent to 4 premium slices of bacon! You can put it on sandwiches, pizza, pastas, bacon, soups, pies, eat it hot or cold (warm Squeez Bacon® on toasted rye is to die for), substitute it for bacon in your recipes, or even eat it right out of the tube like we do! If it's edible, it's better with Squeez Bacon®.


Tartan Sheep

The London Times ran a photo of "tartan sheep" said to have been bred by Grant Bell of West Barns, East Lothian. However, the Times warned, "Before you complain of being fleeced, check out the baa-code for today's date."


Helium-Filled Chocolate Bars

Candy shop A Quarter Of announced it would soon be selling the Chokle, a chocolate bar filled with helium gas. It's a chocolate bar that tastes great, makes you squeak and makes everyone else laugh... pure genius! Take a small bite and your voice goes up a little, eat a whole bar in a single mouthful and you approach your maximum Mickey Mouse squeakiness!


Association of Swiss Mountain Cleaners

The Swiss Tourism Board announced it was seeking volunteers to join the Association of Mountain Cleaners. It claimed, "The Association of Mountain Cleaners... makes sure that our holiday guests can always enjoy perfect mountains. Using brooms, brushes, water and muscle power, they clean the rocks of any bird droppings." Visitors to myswitzerland.com were invited to take a Mountain cleaner aptitude test and submit their name for a chance to win a week's holiday in Switzerland.



April in Moccasin Gap

Brad Carver


So, it’s April. Easter is in April.  I remember when I was a little boy playing in the streets of Moccasin Gap, the dirt streets on the other side of the tracks,  Easter was always a time to get new shoes.  Every Easter I got new shoes. Exactly what new shoes have to do with the rising of Jesus is beyond me. He walked out of the grave and before that He walked on water. So I’m getting new shoes. Guess I’ll do some walking of my own. How nice.  And what exactly does the birth of Christ have to do with chopping down a Christmas tree?

I could never figure that one out either. And mistletoe? Come on, it’s the birth of Christ for God’s sake.  Moccasin Gap is close to Durham, NC so every Easter when I was little we visited Duke Gardens and the flowers were always so purty. That’s NC for pretty, in case you’re wondering. And by the way, where did a rabbit laying eggs come into play? Is this Easter or Alice in Wonderland? April is also National Grass Month. We celebrate that around here. If you think it’s about you front yard you are wrong. 

April is also Pets are Wonderful Month. I have two cats that leave a wonderful mess everywhere they go. House cats are so arrogant and I think I know why. See what you think of this analogy. I believe it’s because out of all the cat species, the house cat is the only one who has found a way to cohabitate with the human species. And since they’re so cute and cuddly, they use that cuteness to manipulate their owners to get anything they want. It’s not because the other cats want to cohabitate with humans, it’s just that the other cat species are happy being the cats they are. 

Every other cat species; the Lynx, the bobcat, leopard, lion, puma, tiger, panther; every one of them like being free carnivores. They like hunting their own food and running wild. They like being cats. They really like it. They’re cats, they’re macho; they’re tough. But the house cat has become a pussy. Even the black house cat is a pussy. And I’m not saying that because I’m a racist, I’m saying it because it’s a fact. 

When you’re sitting on the front porch in Moccasin Gap, you have a lot of time to think and this is the kind of stuff I think of. I used to think of politics but that was too depressing. Besides, when you’re white and say something bad about a black politician, you’re racist.

I knew several black people who didn’t like Bush, but we never called them racist. Why is that? Why is the race card always thrown at white people? Just something else to think about while sitting on the front porch.

I really need a job. Oh, that’s right. There are no jobs. The world is going to hell in a hand-basket, whatever that means, and I’m sitting on the front porch in Moccasin Gap sipping on a Pabst Blue Ribbon and thinking incoherent thoughts.

Life is fine here. I hope it stays that way. By the way, April is also VD Awareness Month. Maybe you should think about that while your government is screwing you. Get involved America. It’s your life and It’s your money.



Education (or Lack of)

Submitted by Steve Martin

Question: Define Nitrate.

  1. Much cheaper that the day rate.


Question: What was Sir Walter Raleigh famous for?

  1. He was a noted figure in history who invented cigarettes and started a craze for bicycles.


Question: Name one of the early Romans greatest achievements.

  1. Learning to speak Latin.


Question: What did Mahatma Gandhi and Genghis Kahn have in common?

  1. Unusual names.


Question: Name one measure that could be put in place to prevent flooding in times of extensive rainfall (e.g. in Mississippi)?

  1. Flooding is areas such as the Mississippi may be avoided by placing a number of big dames into the river.

Question: Name six animals which live in the Artic.

  1. Two polar bears and four seals.


Question: How does Romeo develop in the play (Romeo and Juliet)?

  1. He doesn’t. It’s just self, self, self all the way through.


Question: Assess Fashion House plc’s choice to locate its factory near Birmingham. Is Birmingham the right location for this type of business?

  1. No. People from Birmingham aren’t very fashionable.


Question: Name the wife of Orpheus that he attempted to save from the underworld.

  1. Mrs. Orpheus.


Question: Where was the Declaration of Independence signed?

  1. At the bottom.


Question: What happen to a boy during puberty?

  1. He says goodbye to his childhood and enters adultery.


Question: State three drawbacks to hedgerow removal.

  1. All the cows will escape.
  2. The cars will drive in the fields.
  3. There is nowhere left to hide.


Question: What is the meaning of the word, “varicose?”

  1. Close by.


Question: What is the highest frequency sound that a human can register?

  1. Mariah Carey.


Question: What is a fibula?

  1. A little lie.


Question: Explain the phrase, “Free Press.”

  1. When your mom irons your pants.


Question: How could living close to a cell phone mast cause ill health?”

  1. You might walk into it.


Question: Joanna’s computer is a stand-alone system. What is a stand-alone computer system?

  1. It doesn’t come with a chair.


Question: Steve is driving his car at 60 feet per second. The speed limit is 40 MPH. Is Steve speeding?

  1. He could find out by checking his speedometer.


Question: Why would people live close to power lines?

  1. You get your electricity faster.


Question: What is a vibration?

  1. There are good vibrations and bad vibrations. Good vibrations were invented in the 1960s.


Question: Where was Hadrian’s Wall built?

  1. Around Hadrian’s garden.


Question: Expand 2(X+Y)

A.    2       (      X          +            Y)


Question: The race of people called Malays come from which country?

  1. Malaria (My favorite.)


Surviving Boyhood

Dave Whitford


It’s amazing that I did.  Considering tree climbing, fox holes, snow forts, knives, cap pistols, sledgehammers, kitchen matches, bullets, and a chemistry set … it’s no wonder we horrified our moms.

Through fourth grade, I lived at 45 Cedar Street in Millburn, NJ.  Cedar Street is in a neighborhood of seven two-block, tree-named streets that plummet down the southeast face of South Mountain, bounded by Sagamore Road above and Myrtle Avenue below. Wyoming Avenue bisects each street on its two-mile run between Millburn and South Orange Avenues.   

Cypress Street in the middle plunges left of Wyoming Elementary to cross Myrtle and Glen Avenues, duck under the Lackawanna railway, and connect with Millburn Avenue.  Its wintertime sled run was the steepest, most terrifying, and exhilarating.  We used it little because of the extra traffic it carried as a through street.

I waited with hideous impatience at 45 Cedar for Mr. Harvey, our mail man, to deliver three successive Captain Midnight CodaGraphs, the 1947, ’48, and ’49 models.  We could decode a clue at the end of each afternoon’s fifteen-minute serial radio program to help us guess what might happen to Captain Midnight on the next day’s show, or how he might get out of his present predicament … pole vault over the electric fence with his boy and girl pals, or what?

The ’47 model was cheesy: just a big blue police whistle that you could blow for help.  It was oversize to include the all-important CodaGraph on its side: a red wheel you rotated to align its numbers with the blue letters on the side.  You set the code every day according to what the announcer said.  His secretive voice would say, “X-18”!  Then you aligned the X and 18 as the decoding cipher.  His excited voice then read a sequence of numbers and letters so’s you’d get the secret message about the next day’s program.

Weekends were agony, waiting to see what Friday afternoon’s message said about Monday’s program.  But double-feature matinee westerns on Saturday at either the Millburn or Maplewood Theaters took the edge off. They cost a dime.  We walked to the Millburn Theater.  Maplewood invited a ride, but in a pinch, we walked there too.

The ’49 CodaGraph had a gold-plated cover over a secret compartment of round red plastic the size of a pocket watch.  The secret compartment held a glow-in-the-dark signaler that unfolded to reveal a short ball-point pen for writing secret messages in purple.  Its CodaGraph function was through a tiny window that displayed only the secret cipher before you could scramble it with the silver knob for setting it, in case of any trouble.

We ate boxed serial to get this stuff.  It took a box top and a quarter, sent right through the mail for three cents.  And then we waited an agonizing 4-6 weeks for the CodaGraph or whatever … why I remember Mr. Harvey’s name.

I’ve never liked boxed cereal, not even now … couldn’t abide the soupy texture of soaking it in milk, still can’t, won’t, don’t.  Why do they make it crunchy if you’re gonna sop it in milk?  I’ll eat Special K at a motel nowadays when absolutely limited by a cheesy Continental Breakfast, but only dry.  I’d really rather pay Hardees for something greasy and substantial than eat “free” dry cereal.

Frannie found a recipe for frying Kix in butter.  I liked that, so I sent in some Kix box tops for doo-dads on other serial radio shows.  None such are memorable … well, maybe the atom-bomb ring in 1946.  You could pluck the plastic tail fins off that bomb to reveal a tiny compartment for secret messages, and a lens.  In a dark closet after your eyes adjusted, peering into the lens let you see little green “atoms” dancing around inside.  Who knows?  I might have permanently irradiated my seven-year-old eyeball with that thing.  That was before OSHA.

Captain Midnight advertised Ovaltine.  I liked that, but I’ve not drunk any in 50-plus years.  Is it still available?

Before I tell the hard stuff, I must mention the Cedar Street girls.  Next door was slim, pretty Virginia, who sang on key in First Grade and always got the nod for school plays or any time when singing was a component.  Barbara was a tougher kid from two doors up, fat, brassy, and a year older.  One door farther up was Anne, a year older than I was and a year ahead in school.  That seemed like an enormous age and developmental difference then.  Anne had classic beauty and was the first girl I ever tried to impress.  I split a lip and got two stitches for that trouble, but that’s another story.

Virginia’s front concrete stoop had a crawl space under it, just big enough for little kids.   We’d pry its enclosing latticework away just enough to slip inside at the corner.  A nicely secret place, it found three of us in it one summer afternoon: Virginia, Barbara, and me.  Barbara somehow talked us all into dropping our drawers to reveal all.  That was my first time ever seeing a girl’s lower part.  While my peanut was out and I was admiring Virginia’s lovely symmetry, Barbara sought attention by peeing into the dirt, a hateful, horrid thing to do considering our innocent exploration of one another.

Anne never showed me anything, even though I rode her fast on my King of the Hill sled.  Our plunge down the hill went out of control on an icy patch.  I stopped us slam-bang by applying my face to the back bumper of my dad’s ’37 Lincoln Zephyr.  He’d parked it at the edge of the street because no one had yet shoveled through the snow bank barricading our driveway. The sled’s quick stop spewed Anne off the back, and she rolled a few revs farther down the hill, not at all the way I meant to impress her.  She got up sniffling and batting back tears.

 Some things are destined to be, I suppose, and never getting to see Anne’s part was apparently one of them.

Although Sally lived on Cypress Street, her yard backed up to ours on Cedar Street.  She was almost thirteen, five years older, and already up at Millburn High.  In her father’s yellow-tomato garden one August afternoon, she revealed herself to some of us boys as we produced our peanuts.  That was the first time I ever saw a furry female part, maybe my first flirt with perversion ... Sally’s not mine!  I was only seven, and still pretty pure.  Like Barbara, Sally peed into the dirt too, to show us how it worked, I guess.

The boys on my street were four-five years older, 12-13, really creative and exploratory about mischief.  To keep up with them, I grew up fast.

We were blessed by landscape.  Directly across from my house were woods, two lots wide, which extended all the way to Linden Street, four adjoining undeveloped lots.  Hardwood trees, vines to swing on, poison ivy, and places to climb and build tree houses beckoned us.  We dug a foxhole fort in the middle and abandoned it only after tunneling under one edge to start a “cave”, which collapsed and nearly buried us. 

The Erdman twins lived uphill next to these woods.  Their house was Cedar Street’s biggest, a two-story 1915-ish Craftsman Style on a double-wide lot with an L-shaped lawn for big-time croquet.  The house had a basement with several rooms and an attic with nooks in which to hide.   In the attic’s big dormer overlooking the street, Dr. Erdman toiled with us boys to screw down permanent tracks on a big table for an elaborate Lionel train set.

The double garage out back had a loft overhead, accessible only by a ladder of two-by-fours nailed across studs on the back wall.  It invited adventure.  We started a secret club in that loft, and I was the youngest member.

Behind the garage, a woodshop housed Dr. Erdman’s wood lathe, table saw, and scroll saw for him and us to use.  Unless Doc was there to supervise our making rough jigsaw puzzles on that scroll saw, the woodshop stayed locked while he taught at Orange Memorial Hospital.

 A little apple orchard with well-developed trees was in the corner of the yard by the woodshop.  During World War 2’s end, we boys – the Erdman twins, Hunter, Charles, and I – climbed and flew the trees on bombing missions over Japan.  The twins flew one together as pilot and bombardier.  Hunter, the mean kid, flew his own B-25 unaccompanied.  I was bombardier for Charles’s B-29.  We’d cry “Bombs away on Tokyo!” when we got over target. 

For navigating, we nailed orange-crate ends to the branches for each pilot.  Each end had jar tops tacked to it for instruments: altimeters, airspeed indicators, fuel gages, whatever.  Levers consisting of scrap sticks from the woodshop and nailed to the sides of the branches were our throttles and control sticks.  Fear and excitement characterized our hours of maneuvering bombers through the hordes of defending Jap Zeroes on our way to Tokyo.

Winter brought sledding, snowball fights, and snow forts in northern New Jersey’s kid-friendly winters.  Millburn Township plowed enormous snow banks beside Cedar Street’s cobblestone gutters, planing off our hill to a thin sheet of snow as slick as snot.  My cheap King of the Hill sled outran the more numerous and expensive Flexible Flyers repeatedly. … why I was able to lure Anne onto that fateful ride.

Maybe Anne married a sports-car guy, some caring fellow who never flung her off the back.  I like to think that’s how she ended up … with someone more careful with her than I was. 

After a day of sunshine, Millburn’s planing of Cedar Street’s snow would glisten to ice, and Millburn’s chary use of salt extended our rocket-sled riding.  We rubbed paraffin canning wax on our sled runners and snow shovels to slick them up too.

Big snow piles grew from shoveling away the driveway-blocking snowplow banks to get cars out onto the street.  For our cross-street snowball fights and final frontal attacks, we hollowed these piles into fortresses.  It seemed like a good idea: impregnable places to hide and make a last stand.  It was a bad idea because the mobile snowball infantry from across the street then had you cornered.  And it was awful when weather changed and a fortress caved in.  Some of us could’ve smothered.

Laughing out loud in our snow suits, we dug one another out, never mentioning the cave-ins to our moms.  What moms didn’t know couldn’t worry them.

Spring brought cowboys, Indians, and cap pistols.  The standard cheap cap pistol then fired a roll of 50 caps, little black pimples of compression explosive spaced on a strip of blue or red paper that a cap pistol could feed through its primitive mechanism … somewhat.  Toward the end of a roll, the pistols fed the caps badly, resulting in misfires, ruined caps, and the losers of gunfights.

More realistic “six-guns” appeared, toy replicas of the revolvers that Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and Tom Mix used in the movies.  These guns required six caps in a circle to match their rotating cylinders.  The six-gun caps from Kilgore Caps were also bigger, fatter, and louder.  Kilgore was wise to acknowledge that each cap needs to go bang.  The roll-cap industry previously missed that point.  The cap makers must’ve thought, “Hey, the kids will never rue an occasional misfire.”  How wrong they were!  We counted every cap.

So Kilgore caps – fatter and louder even in rolls – became the industry leader because they went bang every time.   Skipper from up the street got one of the early six-guns that required the circle caps.  Skipper’s dad had access to the wholesalers of Kilgore caps, which thus became the neighborhood standard.

It didn’t take long for the bigger boys to discover that smiting an entire roll of 50 Kilgore caps with a hand sledgehammer on a solid surface produced a mighty boom.  What they overlooked was the big hammer’s rebound almost into the forehead of the smiter.  Maybe that’s why we don’t let kids have explosives any more.  Oh, well …

Kitchen matches then, the kind you can no longer buy, would strike on anything: the top of your cook stove (why they called them “kitchen matches”) or even on grandpa’s britches.  The reason was an explosive tip, either white or red, on the rest of the incendiary blue match head.  To make “lightning bolts”, we sliced off the very tips of kitchen matches with our pocket knives.  We’d screw a carriage bolt just half-way through a square nut to contain maybe half a dozen match tips inside the nut.  Then we’d screw on another bolt from the other side to lightly compress the match tips.   That gave us a detonate-on-contact grenade.  Thrown at a hard surface, our lightning bolts made a satisfying pop.  We made and popped a lot of ‘em, sometimes at each other.

Hunter took the technology higher.  At Millburn Hardware, he bought two really big carriage bolts and the nut to go between them.  That hardware guy must still wonder why a twelve-year-old kid would want two big bolts but only one nut to fit them.  Anyway, we needed to cut the tips off many, many kitchen matches to fill the maw of that big bolt and nut.

We took our creation over to the play yard behind Wyoming Elementary.  A high concrete retaining wall holds back the steep hill between Cypress and Pine Streets to make the level dodge-ball space.  Hunter hurled the big bolt at the wall.  KaBoom!  It flew apart and scoured a nice chunk from the wall!  The parts we could retrieve were a bolt with missing threads and half the now-threadless nut.  In awe, we decided to explore paper dolls, model railroads, rubber-band airplanes, or something else for awhile as we beat our retreat from the schoolyard.

The lightning bolts led to little bullets.  I mentioned to the big kids one day that I knew where my dad stored “bullets”.  I referred to three boxes of 22-caliber rim-fire ammo for his Remington Model 341P rifle.  They were where I couldn’t reach ‘em on a high shelf above the attic stairway, no problem for the big kids.  One afternoon while Frannie was playing bridge with neighbors, Hunter fetched down a box.

After the big kids consulted awhile, they decided to put a cartridge on our concrete sidewalk and pelt it with big rocks plucked from the storm gutter that ran under the sidewalk.  With modern center-fire ammo, this would have been a non-problem because the explosive primer that makes a cartridge go bang when struck with a firing pin is well protected from rocks thrown at it.

Rim-fire 22 ammo, however, has the primer in the rim of the cartridge base, vulnerable to dropped rocks.  It didn’t take long for the big boys to make a cartridge go “pop” by squarely enough crushing it with a dropped rock.  The result was a squashed brass cartridge case and some gunpowder residue.  The bullet (projectile) was long gone, of course, across the street or into my yard, or wherever.

Although the missing bullets didn’t go far or fast outside of a rifle barrel, we might’ve gotten a little bullet in the leg, or worse.  What we did was stupid, but we did it with rapturous, innocent ignorance.  And we did it over and over again, getting satisfying pops with each accurate rock drop.  Just like throwing lightning bolts, huh?

Soon Frannie heard the unusual pops and investigated.  Horrified, and sufficiently hostile at her card game’s interruption, she shooed the big boys away with gnashed teeth and hauled me into our house by my ear.  Cowering in her kitchen, I waited while she went out back to fetch a “switch” (stick) with which to thrash me.  Then she returned and finished her job.  I now have a profound respect for the importance of ammunition safety.  Those were the good days when the ACLU or whatever wouldn’t interfere with decent parental discipline.  Later in the 1950s, Frannie just used a rubber flyswatter for such “reminders” … saved her going to the backyard for willow switches.

For their birthday one year, the Erdman twins got a chemistry set.  It was the biggest and best offered by A. C. Gilbert, the people who also made the American Flyer train sets.  We boys spent many happy basement hours following the recipes in the Experiment Book that came with the set.  It didn’t take us long to discover that the “cold” experiments were tepid and lackluster, so we skipped most of them to do those that required fire and a test tube.  Two of our favorite chemicals were sulfur because it stank and potassium nitrate because it sped most concoctions up.  If we’d had a little charcoal, we were perilously close to making gunpowder.

Kids might be safer now without the access to explosives that I had, but I wonder whether video games indoors really quite compare with decoding secrets from Captain Midnight, flying apple trees to bomb Tokyo, throwing lightning bolts, and crushing ammo with rocks.



Say What!


Children's Logic: "Give me a sentence about a public servant," said a teacher. The small boy wrote: "The fireman came down the ladder pregnant." The teacher took the lad aside to correct him. "Don't you know what pregnant means?" she asked.  "Sure," said the young boy confidently. 'It means carrying a child."


Beginner’s Luck: Unni Haskell took up golf when she was 62 years old. After two months of lessons, she went to Cypress Links Golf Course in St. Petersburg, Florida, teed up with her purple driver and sank a hole-in-one. “I didn’t know it was such a big deal,” she said. “I thought all golfers do this.”


North Korea: Dear Leader Kim Jong II has opened a pizzeria in Pyongyang to allow his people to sample the world’s best foods. One customer is quoted as saying the flavor was, “Unique.”


Want to own your own town? A quaint English village with 22 houses, two blacksmith shops, a rectory and a cricket field was put up for sale for 35 million pounds.


Something useful for a change:  John Kare, an astrophysicist, and some friends have developed a “Star Wars” type laser that zaps mosquitoes. It zaps them and they disappear in a puff of smoke.


Celebrity News: Bob Dylan’s Malibu neighbors have complained to the city that fumes from his outdoor privy makes them sick.


News: A Florida man wearing an “I Love My Wife” T-shirt was arrested for choking her.

A financially troubled auto dealership in Nebraska stole 81 of its own cars, trucked them to Utah and other mountain states and tried to sell them.


Scientists say that the Yellowstone volcano is on a 600,000 year cycle. The last volcanic eruption at Yellowstone took place 640,000 years ago and it is overdue for an eruption, which could take place anytime between now and the next 50,000 years. Get ready. The next eruption might be the big bust that ushers in a new ice age. Why are we worried about global warming? The last catastrophic volcanic eruption was in 1883 when the volcano on Krakatoa island exploded with a column of ash 17 miles high, caused a 130 foot tidal wave and was heard 3,000 miles away. Atmospheric ash cause global temperatures to drop 2 degrees and 1884 was called “the year without summer.” Incidentally, there are 169 active volcanoes in the United States.


Americans produce 30 less trash now that the economy is in the dumps.


The Japanese have developed a new walking, talking robot with a beautiful female face and a feminine voice. It (she?) makes lifelike facial expressions. You can get one for about $200K.


Gainesville Florida police put seven parking tickets on a BMW before noticing the dead body inside.


One in 26 Louisiana citizens are under control by the state prison system.


84% of twenty-year-old Germans would give up family members rather than give up the internet.


A New Mexico man hid an engagement ring in a milkshake to surprise his girlfriend. She swallowed it. Doses of prune juice helped recover it. She said yes.


An orangutan in the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. has leaned to whistle. I wonder if she knows how to whistle “Dixie.”


The average price of homes sold in Detroit, Michigan in December was $7,500.00. That’s not a typo. Its seventy-five hundred dollars!


Quotable Quotes:

“The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable.” John Kenneth Galbraith


“I’m living so far beyond my means that we may almost be said to be living apart.” ee cummings


“You can fool some of the people some of the time, and that’s enough.” W. C. Fields


“Heroes of finance are like beads on a string. When one slips off, the rest follow.” Henrik Ibsen


“Tradition is a guide, not a jailer.” W. Somerset Maughan



Three Rivers to Cross

By Elizabeth Silance Ballard


Chapter Eighteen


The trip back  home was uneventful. Surprisingly enough, the visit with the Clevelands had given me a measure of closure, enough so that I thought only of the future. I settled in my seat behind the bus driver and started making a list on the back of an envelope.

3 rivers.jpgThe insurance money, as much as I abhorred taking it, would go a long way in helping me get my life on track. There were several things I needed to consider.

1) Apartment: I liked all three places I had seen but I did want to take one last look at all of them before deciding. That was my first priority.

2) Furniture. I could certainly afford now to furnish a living room and bedroom.  I would need items for the kitchen and bath, too. I was starting from scratch so I needed everything from a sofa to a flour sifter!

I knew Mama would offer some things from home but I wanted a fresh start with all new things, new to me anyway. I was not opposed to yard sales, second hand or consignment shops though I absolutely would not seek out any of those places Meadow View.

I would drive to Greenville, Wilmington, or even Raleigh where I knew no one. I still had that much hatred for so many people in Meadow View. I would not let them see the Fish Girl shopping for secondhand merchandise!

3) Car. Will Cleveland was right. I could not walk everywhere all the time.  There was not even a taxi in town so a car truly was a necessity

The closer we got to Meadow View, the more excited I felt and, of course, I had to feel guilt over that, too!  Forgive me, Greg. I love you but I am excited to get my own place and start teaching. 

I called Suzanne that night to tell her about it all but she had news of her own. I could hardly believe it.

“Are you serious, Suzanne? Are you just joking?”

“You heard correctly! I’m going to be an airline stewardess! I went for the interview a while back and received a letter telling me I was accepted and to report for training next week. You should have heard my parents! I’ve never seen them so angry!”

I laughed. “I can imagine.”

“Yes, they said if they had known that I didn’t have any higher ambition than that, they would not have wasted thousands of dollars on a four year college degree and I wouldn’t have wasted four years of my life.”

“You had the scholarship, a full scholarship. It couldn’t have cost too much.”

“I know. I reminded them of that and I even asked them just how much money they did pay out for me those four years. Oh, wow! I thought Dad was going through the roof. I truly thought he was going to slap me. But enough about me. What’s going on with you, Charlotte?”

So, I caught Suzanne up to date with all that had transpired ending with the possible name change.

“He suggested that you should go back to your maiden name? Why?”

“He didn’t suggest it, really. Just said it would be perfectly understandable if I want to since, after all, Greg and I had from Friday evening to Sunday morning—about 39 hours—as a married couple. Think about it. We were married around 6:00 Friday evening and he left around 9:00 Sunday morning. I never saw him again.

“I’m in my hometown where everyone knows me as Charlotte Gurganus and, remember, it was too late to have Charlotte Cleveland put on my Degree certificate. I don’t know. Part of me feels guilty for even thinking about it, which I hadn’t until he mentioned it! On the other hand, it might make life easier. I wouldn’t always be explaining.”

“Well, I guess there’s no reason why you shouldn’t change names since it’s only you. No children, I mean. You’re not pregnant are you?”


“Well, if you want to legally change your name back to Gurganus, do it.”

The Clevelands and Suzanne were in agreement with the name change but my own parents were not quite as understanding about it. They thought it was wrong but, in the end, it was my decision and it felt good to see my name, Miss Charlotte Gurganus, on my classroom door when school started.


Though my childhood and teen years in Meadow View had left scars, I soon found that life in that same town as an adult and a teacher was a different state of affairs.

Everywhere I went, people smiled and greeted me.  I finally had friends in my own hometown and there were two other new teachers that year in the elementary grades, both single, and we all quickly became good friends.

Miss Thompson (“Call me Violet!”) had retired at the end of the previous year and she immediately became mentor to all three of us new teachers. We quickly became a solid foursome!

Our little foursome soon evolved into what turned out to be a very pleasant routine. It had been Laura’s idea.

“Rather than each of us going home alone every day and preparing our own dinners,” Laura proposed, “for four days of the week  each  one of us will prepare dinner for all of us.”

Since Violet and I were both involved in church activities on Wednesday nights, I took Monday nights to host the meal and Violet took Tuesday nights.

Laura chose Wednesday: “Episcopalians don’t have Wednesday night prayer meetings,” she said, so that left Melanie with Thursday.

“That won’t work for me, y’all,” she said. “I bowl on a Thursday evening league. Please let me have Wednesday, Laura.”

“But I can’t do Thursdays, either. I have my Eastern Star meetings every second and fourth Thursday.”

So Violet switched to Thursdays, Laura took Tuesdays, leaving Wednesdays for Melanie. Everybody was happy.

“Is anybody allergic to any food?” 

No allergies being mentioned, it was decided that there would be no further discussion of meals. Each hostess would decide on her own menu and do everything for it.

“But, what if one of us is not a very good cook?” Melanie asked, blushing.

“No problem, Mel! We promise to eat whatever is put before us Monday through Thursday with no complaints. It will be fun! We’ll all become better cooks.”

 I was so happy to have good friends again. I had been afraid that, having been accustomed to living in a dorm, it would be lonely in my apartment.

I could also identify with Melanie. I had never really learned to cook, either; but, being the daughter of a fisherman, I decided to make seafood my specialty.

Since, Mama always had toasted cheese sandwiches and tomato soup on Sunday nights, I decided to do the same and invited Violet. We would go to church and then come to my house afterward for the light supper.

As for my Monday night meals, I planned out my weekly menus a month ahead and for that first one, I decided on fish stew. How difficult could that be? I would just get Mama’s recipe. The following week I’d have crabmeat panned in butter and a salad, maybe oyster fritters for the third week and end the month with salmon croquettes, grits, and corn bread, the way Mama always fixed it.  Yes, I would go get her recipes.

“But I don’t have any recipes, Charlotte Anne,” Mama said. “I wouldn’t even know how to write one down because I don’t always fix things the same way every time. It just sorta depends on what ingredients I’ve got on hand. I just use whatever seems right at the time.”

I left Mama’s kitchen, drove the half hour into Jacksonville, found the BST Bookshop (“We buy, sell, and trade”) and invested in a seafood cook book.

It was fun and it was nice knowing that I didn’t have to cook every single night of the week and it kept the four of us from eating quick and easy junk food.

 Laura specialized in Chinese food, Melanie in Italian food, and Violet in “down home” cooking. Said it was all she knew.

Life was good and suddenly it was the end of November, two weeks until the Christmas holidays.  I spent part of each day with my students making ornaments and other decorations while talking about how each of their families celebrated Christmas as well as customs in other countries and other cultures. That pre-holiday hustle and bustle of the classroom brought back such good memories.

Chapter Nineteen


One afternoon I dropped by to see Violet on my way home. After we settled down with her homemade gingerbread men and coffee, I admitted I had been feeling nostalgic all week.

“Violet, watching my students work on the decorations for the class Christmas tree brought back memories of the Christmas when I was in your fifth grade.”

“Ouch! Now you’re making me feel my age!”

“You remember that year, Violet?”

“Of course. The year I received Teddy Stallard’s perfume and bracelet.  Did I ever tell you, Charlotte,  that I heard from Teddy after he and his father moved away? I didn’t even know they were leaving Meadow View. Anyway, Teddy sent me an invitation to his high school graduation in the spring of 1961. He was Salutatorian!”

“That’s wonderful! Did you go?”

“No, my mother was in the nursing home by then and I was trying to be with her every day so I sent a little gift to Teddy. I also got an invitation to his college graduation at Carolina last spring.

“My mother was not well at all by that time and passed away a week after school was out. I had already put in for retirement and that was my last year of teaching. Then you came and took my place in the fifth grade.”

 “Where is he now?”  

“Ted is in medical school!”

“Violet, this is what gets a teacher through the difficult times, isn’t it?  Seeing students succeed and knowing that you had a part in that success. I hope I’ll hear from my students in the future. How rewarding that must be for you!”

“You know, Charlotte, I came close to failing as a teacher with Teddy. I realized he was struggling and I was concerned about him. At the same time, though, I actually felt angry towards him. I saw him as my problem child.

“I was having difficulties of my own that year. I really wasn’t at my best and I knew it; but, every day it was something! And those two girls in there? Oh, my goodness! That year was my trial by fire for sure. Not only as a teacher, but in my personal life, too.

“Yes, I was failing in every area of my life that year. Besides all the trouble in the classroom, I was dealing with my mother’s difficulties. She was showing Alzheimer’s symptoms, and I must admit I did not have a lot of patience with her when I came home from school during that year.

“Then there was the night that I was certain that my Significant Other was going to propose. He didn’t, of course. Instead, he told me he was moving to Virginia and he certainly had enjoyed and appreciated my friendship!

Friendship! Just what a woman wants to hear after dating a man for four years. I was forty years old and certain that life was over for me, at least the life I had hoped, prayed, and planned for anyway.

“I was failing as a teacher, failing as a daughter and the only man I ever loved never even saw me as anything more than a friend when, all the time, I thought we were headed for the altar!”

“Violet! What a terrible year you were having! To top it all off, you had The Two Mean Girls in class, too!”

 “I remember them well but I never knew they were called the Two Mean Girls. Frankly, I called them the Two Brats! Adrienne and Betsy were their names. I’ve never wanted to paddle a student as much as I wanted to paddle those two!  I’ve often wondered what made them so hateful and hurtful to Teddy. Do you know?”

“No, but it was someone different every year. Believe me, I was their target one year, too. Remember how they called him Stupid Stallard or Teddy Smellard?

”Well, they called me the Smelly Fish Girl in the lower grades until I was convinced that I was smelly. I took soap and wet paper towels into the stall with me every time I went to the bathroom at school. I practically gave myself another bath every day that first year even though I had certainly taken a bath before I left home.”

 “What happened to those two? Do you know if they went on to college?”

“Yes, the word in the class was that Betsy went to Sacred Heart College somewhere in Virginia.”

“Oh! I’m sure she met with some strict discipline there! I wonder how she did. I hope she had better teachers than I was! I hope they could handle her better.”

“Wasn’t it a shame there was no parochial school here in Meadow View, Violet? I’ve heard they use much stricter discipline than we do in public schools.”

“It would have been a blessing for her and for me!”

“I guess the discipline is what it took because Betsy became a nun! The Sisters of Mercy or Sisters of Charity. I’m not really sure which.”

 “Will wonders never cease!  I would never have expected that girl to enter a convent. What about the other girl?”

“Well, that was the talk of the senior class that year!  Adrienne stayed pretty much the same haughty girl all through school. During our senior year, all she talked about was her Debut which was to take place shortly after graduation. I didn’t even know what a  Debut was and, even though I hated to show my ignorance, I asked another classmate about it.

“Anyway, she was supposed to make her grand entrance in a ball gown which was being made especially for her, a one of a kind gown, by some designer in New York. Her escort was to be the son of some friend of her father. He wasn’t from this area. His father and her father were somehow connected through their business dealings. I don’t remember his name.

“Well, Violet, the problem was, she, uh—well, let’s just say by the time graduation rolled around, she wasn’t around to graduate.

“She didn’t need that ball gown, either, because she could not have fit into it by that time. She never even returned for the second semester of our senior year. Her so-called best friend, Betsy?  Well, she told everybody that Adrienne was, as my mother would put it, ‘in the family way.’ ”

“I can’t imagine why I never heard anything about that in the teachers’ lounge! I don’t know how I missed all that drama going on around me.  I do remember her mother telling us at church once that they had sent Adrienne to a finishing school but I didn’t think anything about it at the time.

“Well, you just never can tell how a child will actually turn out. At least not as early as the fifth grade apparently! I would never have guessed!”



Chapter Twenty


What with teaching and my friendship with Violet, Laura, and Melanie, life was good. Gradually, I was able to put away my photos of Greg, his letters and other things. That summer after my first year of teaching, however, was difficult to face. The preceding summer, following our college graduations, Greg had died. He and I had spent the three summers prior to that at Sea Vista together.

Two groups from church were going to Sea Vista that summer and I was asked to go as a chaperone but I declined. Those three summers Greg and I had at Sea Vista were too important, too personal, and I wanted to keep that time and place set apart from the rest of my life. Sea Vista had no place in my life now or in my future.

Instead, I taught Vacation Bible School and then went to visit Suzanne for a few days in Atlanta.  We had a wonderful visit together but I was glad to leave the horrendous traffic, as well as the hustle and bustle of so many people. Never had I appreciated Meadow View so much. Never had I been so glad to get back home.

I went across to the island frequently that summer and helped Mama with the canning necessitated by her huge garden. I even invited Suzanne to come for a visit since I no longer had negative feelings about her seeing Rattlesnake Island.

I had come to understand, with the help and listening ear of Violet Thompson, that it was simply a phase of life I was going through while I was at college with Suzanne, and didn’t want my new, and only, friend to see the way my family life had been in Meadow View. 

It was a relief to finally understand that it had been a process of separating, differentiating, becoming my own adult self. I was at last able to reconcile my feelings about the island, the lack of things others took for granted, the knowledge that my parents were different, no matter how good they were at heart, and that different didn’t mean they were bad or not as good as others. Their approach to life was simply different.

I had tried very hard to keep my feelings hidden at Meredith. I had wanted to fit in so very much and to even give a hint that my home and family, my past, were different would have been unthinkable.

Suzanne, however, was completely enthralled with the whole idea of living on an island. I admitted to her how I felt that first year at Meredith, especially after I went home with her for Thanksgiving.

She seemed genuinely puzzled that I would feel that way and I was genuinely puzzled that she could find the lack of electricity and a real bathroom not appalling! Instead, she seemed to glory in the simplicity of it all.       

“Well, I reckon it ain’t for everybody,” Daddy explained, “but even if it were possible to run electricity out here (and I’ve never looked into it, mind you), we’re doing all right without it. I don’t even want to know if it CAN be brought to us, much less how much it would cost.

“I’ll admit that it would be nice to have a real bathroom and all, but all our children are grown and have their own places now. Louisa and I are okay with the way things are. We’re used to it.”

Suzanne and I had a lazy week there on the island. Suzanne’s favorite thing to do was to walk around at low tide to look for “treasure” exactly the way I had done as a little girl. We also spent hours and hours that week in the porch rockers talking about anything and everything and laughing like schoolgirls again.

“Wow! I’m going to have to diet steadily for a month or two to lose all the weight I’m gaining at your Mama’s kitchen table. The airline is really strict about that, you know. God forbid that our uniforms pull the slightest bit anywhere. Excessive snugness is not acceptable!”

“Are you still happy as a stewardess, Suzanne? Are you enjoying your life?”

“Absolutely! I’ll be happy as long as I can keep flying around the country and overseas from time to time. When I was in Ireland, I bought some truly beautiful Irish lace for my wedding gown and veil, just in case I ever do get married! Do you think you’ll ever get married again, Charlotte?”

That was not a topic I wanted to discuss or even examine within myself.

“Well, I don’t see too many males in my fifth grade class who appear to be husband material!”

We had a good laugh and Suzanne, too, shied away from talking about her own love life.

 “Or the lack thereof!”  She said, with mock dismay. “Poor, poor Mrs. McManty! Her only daughter wasting her education and flying around the country serving meals and drinks like a waitress! And no man in her life so no sign of grandchildren any time soon AND she’s not getting any younger, you know!

“In the meantime, I’m enjoying my life immensely, Charlotte, so I don’t care what they say!”

Chapter Twenty-one


We invited Mama to ride with us to Raleigh so Suzanne could catch her flight to Atlanta but she declined with that look I hated. It was a look resembling something between a deer in headlights and a scared jack rabbit poised to run.

I knew better than to push the issue and she took us across the river to where my car was parked at the Bait and Tackle. While I transferred the luggage from the boat to the car, Mama did get out so Suzanne could give her a big hug.

“Thank you for everything, Mrs. Gurganus. Charlotte is lucky to be able to live so close to you.”

“Come back, Suzanne. We love you,” Mama said. 

Although we laughed and talked, keeping it light on the drive to the airport, I knew I would miss her terribly. After we got her luggage out of the car, I smiled and said, “Yes, come back and we DO love you! And stay in touch!”

With a wave, she was gone, disappearing in the throng of others who were going somewhere.  It was the last time I would see Suzanne. The plane exploded in the air shortly after takeoff.

I was spared the sight and sound of it all only because I was roughly half way home before the plane left the runway. Daddy was waiting for me.  He thought I had probably already heard what happened but I had not turned on the car radio.

“I just happened to hear the news over at the Bait and Tackle, Charlotte Anne. I prayed it wasn’t Suzanne’s plane but when they said it was a plane bound for Atlanta, well, I knew it had to be hers.  I came on over here so you wouldn’t be alone. I knew you would be upset. I’m glad you didn’t hear it on the car radio. It would have been hard driving home alone.”

I knew he was talking non-stop for my sake and meant well.

“I know how upset you must be, Charlotte, but I don’t know how to help.”

Upset?  I was devastated. My first real friend in my life was dead. It was just as it had been with Greg. No survivors from the plane again and, this time, deaths and injuries to those in the vicinity of the crash.

I’m sorry, Lady Baby. I’m so sorry.”

He hadn’t called me that pet name lately and it brought me to tears.

“Come on home with me, Charlotte Anne.  I don’t want you to be alone.”

“No, Daddy. I want to be alone. I want to call Suzanne’s parents. I want to know for certain. I’m sure you’re right, Daddy, but I just need to know for sure.”

“Yes. You’re hoping against hope that I’m wrong.”

He wasn’t wrong. Her father confirmed everything.

“We begged her not to take that job, Charlotte. We told her she was wasting her education and talents, but we were really fearful that something would happen to her and now it has happened. No one would even tell us anything about the explosion.”

I could hear the anguished sobs in the background. “Charlotte, Honey, thank you for calling. We’ll talk later. Right now—well, you can hear how it is.”

I hung up the phone and went to the bathroom to splash some cold water on my face and take some aspirin.

I’ll never fly and I won’t let anyone I love ever step on an airplane!  Never! First Greg and now Suzanne! Gone. Just gone.

 Why, Lord? Suzanne and Greg were both so full of life. It was such fun to be around them. Everyone loved them. I’m the quiet one, the dull one. Why them? Why not me? Why am I still here? Why, Lord? Why?

The Lord didn’t answer and the sad woman in the mirror said nothing. She just looked back at me with dull eyes and slumped shoulders. A woman no one would even notice in a crowd.


One thing is certain: Life goes on, no matter how hurt or broken we are, no matter how much we’ve lost. Life simply goes on, with or without us; and, if we are to survive and thrive, we must do the same.

Every morning I awoke feeling as if someone had kicked me in the abdomen with steel-toed boots. It hurt to breathe. I had to force myself to swallow food. Once more, Violet Thompson was my lifeline.

“Sometimes all we can do is just keep moving, Charlotte. Losing someone we love so much, well, it’s almost a miracle that we, ourselves, live through it.  There’s really nothing anyone else can say or do. No one understands our pain the way we do except God and He seems very far away during this time. Believe me, I know.”

“Violet, it’s comforting to have you listen. You never tell me that it’s ‘the Lord’s will’ or that things will be all right. In less than two years, I’ve lost my husband and my best friend, two people I loved so much. I don’t want to hear that ‘it’s the Lord’s will’ or even—well, anything! Losing Suzanne—it’s like losing Greg again!”

Gradually, life returned to “normal,” which is to say, I felt alive and capable again. Death and grief, however, always changes us, no matter how many times we experience it.

“One thing I’ll be eternally grateful to Suzanne for,” I told Violet one day, “is her insisting that I go to church with her while we were at college. I already knew the Lord, already understood the power of prayer, and had a strong faith. My parents had seen to that even though they didn’t take us to church when we were growing up.

“But, after Suzanne and I both joined the church in Raleigh shortly after we arrived at Meredith, I realized how good it is to have a strong circle of friends with like faith.  She had grown up in the church and it was like a second home for her, but it was new to me and it has made a tremendous difference in my life.

“Greg once told me his mother believed if the church door was open, her family was supposed to be there, so he had grown up participating in all aspects of church life. Like Suzanne, he was at home in the church.”

“And so are you,” Violet said softly.

“Yes, I am—now. It was no coincidence, Violet, that Suzanne, Greg, and you were brought into my life. God put you there. No, I’m wrong. I think He put ME where all three of you were!”

Continued Next Month





·       "The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative on the day after the revolution." Hannah Arendt, quoted in The Daily Star (Lebanon)

·       "Happiness is a reward that comes to those that have not looked for it." Philosopher Emile Chartier, quoted in the Montreal Gazette

·       "Any plan conceived in moderation must fail when the circumstances are set in extremes." Austrian diplomat Klemens von Metternich, quoted in TheFederalist.com

·       "In politics, if you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman." Margaret Thatcher, quoted in GoodHousekeeping.com

·       "Earth is the cradle of the mind, but humanity cannot remain in its cradle forever." Rocket scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, quoted in the Los Angeles Times

·       "History teaches that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives." Israeli statesman Abba Eban quoted in The New Yorker

·       "I find penguins at present the only comfort in life. One feels everything in the world so sympathetically ridiculous; one can't be angry when one looks at a penguin." Art critic John Ruskin, quoted in the Daily Mail (U.K.)


 Ask Kids

(From the Internet)

I was driving with my three young children one warm summer evening when a woman in the convertible ahead of us stood up and waved. She was stark naked! As I was reeling from the shock, I heard my 5-year-old shout from the back seat, 'Mom, that lady isn't wearing a seat belt!'


On the first day of school, a first-grader handed his teacher a note from his mother. The note read, 'The opinions expressed by this child are not necessarily those of his parents.'

A woman was trying hard to get the ketchup out of the jar. During her struggle the phone rang so she asked her 4-year-old daughter to answer the phone. 'Mommy can't come to the phone to talk to you right now. She's hitting the bottle.'

A little boy got lost at the YMCA and found himself in the women's locker room. When he was spotted, the room burst into shrieks, with ladies grabbing towels and running for cover. The little boy watched in amazement and then asked, 'What's the matter, haven't you ever seen a little boy before?'  


5) POLICE # 1
While taking a routine vandalism report at an elementary school, I was interrupted by a little girl about 6 years old. Looking up and down at my uniform, she asked, 'Are you a cop?'  'Yes,' I answered and continued writing the report. 'My mother said if I ever needed help I should ask the police. Is that right?' 'Yes, that's right,' I told her. 'Well, then,' she said as she extended her foot toward me, 'would you please tie my shoe?'

6) POLICE # 2
It was the end of the day when I parked my police van in front of the station. As I gathered my equipment, my K-9 partner, Jake, was barking, and I saw a little boy staring in at me. 'Is that a dog you got back there?' he asked. 'It sure is,' I replied. Puzzled, the boy looked at me and then towards the back of the van. Finally he said, 'What'd he do?' 

While working for an organization that delivers lunches to elderly shut-ins, I used to take my 4-year-old daughter on my afternoon rounds. She was unfailingly intrigued by the various appliances of old age, particularly the canes, walkers and wheelchairs. One day I found her staring at a pair of false teeth soaking in a glass. As I braced myself for the inevitable barrage of questions, she merely turned and  whispered, 'The tooth fairy will never believe this!'


A little girl was watching her parents dress for a party. When she saw her dad donning his tuxedo, she warned, 'Daddy, you shouldn't wear that suit.' 'And why not, darling?' 'You know that it always gives you  a headache in the morning'.


While walking along the sidewalk in front of his church, our minister heard the intoning of a prayer that nearly made his collar wilt. Apparently, his 5-year-old son and his playmates had found a dead robin. Feeling that proper burial should be performed, they had secured a small box and cotton batting, then dug a hole and made ready for the disposal of the deceased. The minister's son was chosen to say the appropriate prayers and with sonorous dignity intoned his version of what he thought his father always said: 'Glory be unto the Faaather, and unto the Sonnn, and into the hole he goooes.' (I want this line used at my funeral!) 


A little girl had just finished her first week of school. 'I'm just wasting my time,' she said to her mother. 'I can't read, I can't write, and they won't let me talk!' 


 11) BIBLE
A little boy opened the big family Bible. He was fascinated as he fingered through the old pages. Suddenly, something fell out of the Bible. He picked up the object and looked at it. What he saw was an old leaf that had been pressed in between the pages. 'Mama, look what I found,' the boy called out. 'What have you got there, dear?' With astonishment in the young boy's voice, he answered, 'I think it's Adam's underwear!'


 Hammer Spade and the Inca Curse

E. B. Alston

Chapter Nine


hsic cover.jpgWe eavesdropped on a call saying that a big shipment of cocaine and heroin was supposed to be delivered to Saavedra’s men three days from now in Villa Carlos Paz, a town about forty miles west of Córdoba. Saavedra told the caller that Catunta Herrera, Acarapi Castro and his brother, Paul, would meet them at 22:00 in three days at an area under the west end of the bridge over the San Antonio River. They would be driving a dark green Chevrolet Yukon.

We discussed what to do. Hart suggested that if something happened to Saavedra’s men during the pick-up, Fuente might get involved. We decided to be waiting at the delivery location when the drug suppliers met Saavedra’s men.

I delegated Oscar to remain in Córdoba and man the lookout. Isabela, Hart and I would leave at once hoping to get to Villa Carlos Paz early enough to scope out the place in time to have a plan of attack when the moment arrived. I left Oscar over his objections, but I knew how he operated and I knew I could depend on him. We needed another man and I hoped Quigley would arrive soon.

Isabela and Hart were two people of unknown quality. Isabela was clever and levelheaded but Hart was a big question mark. Phoebus had told me that he did this for fun. How would he perform when it got to be work or became dangerous? His preference for an antique Colt revolver was a concern to me. He dressed like a veteran of the Pancho Villa war a century ago, with a big black hat, a black shirt, black trousers and shiny black cowboy boots. He shined his boots and cleaned the Colt every night.

It was also hard to remain inconspicuous when travelling with these two. Hart would stand out anywhere in the world and when he spoke, everybody knew he was an American. Isabela didn’t try to show off but she was pretty, immaculately groomed, well dressed and comported herself as if she was the product of an exclusive finishing school. When we were out among the locals men noticed Isabela and nodded approval along with their male companions when she passed by.

Clover had said Isabela was a quick and deadly shot with her Beretta 92F. I hoped he was right because it was hard to picture such a beautiful, classy, woman as dangerous. But then, she might be the most dangerous of all.

I missed Jack and Dave. Don reported that the command center said as soon as Dave reached the Bahamas, he would be on his way. When he arrived, we could have two teams for fieldwork.



We traveled west on Route 20. At lunchtime we pulled off the four-lane at a place called Yocsina. While we ate at the Malagueño restaurant on Plaza Principal, we heard the sound of gunshots followed by cheering and clapping. We noticed that the other diners ignored the sounds of gunfire. A few minutes later, we heard it again.

Isabela asked the waitress what the shooting was about and learned that there was a pistol shooting match in the town park. She said it was a big event and people traveled many miles compete.

After we finished lunch, Hart suggested that we check out the competition. The park was crowded when we arrived. Isabela parked the van and we walked toward the sound of gunfire. When we got there, the crowd was raucously applauding the newest winner who was holding up a fistful of Argentine pesos. We watched while shooters lined up along a picket fence getting ready for the next course of fire. Teenage boys ran to a steel cable stretched on a series of posts about thirty yards in front of the shooters. There they used two-foot-long strings to tie cantaloupe size helium-filled balloons to the cables.

While the boys were doing their work, another man walked down the line of shooters collecting money from each one. Then he went to a speaker’s stand on the left, picked up a microphone and made an announcement in Spanish.

“What did he say?” Hart asked.

“The pot will be 2,000 pesos,” Isabela replied.

“How much is that in U.S. dollars?” Hart wanted to know.

“About five hundred.”

After the boys returned, the man with the microphone announced, “¡Que avancen los tiradores!”  

Isabela translated for us, “Shooters to the line.”

The announcer paused.

“Ahora pueden cargar las pistolas y ponerlas a su lado.”

Isabela translated again, “You may load your pistols and hold them by your side.”

He paused again.





The men shot until one had burst all six of the balloons in front of his position.

¡Alto el fuego!” the man at the microphone shouted.

Cease fire.” 

The victorious shooter marched to the speaker’s stand with a big smile amid much shouting, clapping and handshaking. The man running the match handed him the winner’s pot.

Then the winner and several other shooters got into line for the next match.

“I’m gonna do this,” Hart announced and went to the van to get his Colt and cartridges.

Isabela and I looked at each other. “What do you think?” I asked.

“They won’t like it if a gringo stranger wins.”

“I guess they wouldn’t,” I agreed

“If he does, we had better be ready to get out of here in a hurry.”

“There’s not much chance of that. He’s shooting a single action revolver.”

Isabela laughed.

When Hart got in line to shoot, Isabela introduced him to the match director, who grinned broadly and announced for all to hear, Nos quedaríamos muy contentos a tomar hoy el dinero del gringo.” Laughter rippled through the crowd.

Isabela laughed, too, when she translated what he said for Hart. “We will be happy to take the American gringo’s money today.”

When the boys returned from hanging the balloons, the man with the microphone called the shooters to the line.

“¡Que avancen los tiradores!”

He paused.

“Ahora pueden cargar las pistolas y ponerlas a su lado.”

He paused again.



Hart’s Colt spoke first. “Pa, pa, pa, pa, pow!” After another split second a sixth, “Pow!” Nobody else had broken more than two balloons. While the stunned crowd stood silent and uncomprehending, Hart marched to the speaker’s stand, plucked the wad of pesos from the match director’s hand, strode quickly to us and said, “We better get outta here.”

“¡Alto el fuego!” the man at the microphone muttered as an afterthought.

We could hear the crowd’s murmurs grow louder as we made our way to the van. Five minutes later, we were driving west on the four lane.


Chapter Ten


“How did you do that?” I asked Hart after we were on the main highway.

“I cocked the hammer with my left hand instead of my gun hand.”

“You fanned it?” I asked incredulously.

“Naw. You can’t hit anything fanning. All you do is spray bullets downrange.”

“Show me.”

Hart unloaded the Colt and put it in his right hand, then, with his left hand, he cocked the hammer five times by brushing the hammer back with his thumb, then his forefinger, middle finger, ring finger and little finger. Then he cocked it again for the sixth shot with his thumb.

“How much did you practice to do that?” Isabela asked.

“I’ve shot over fifty thousand rounds in practice,” he said.

“Well, pardon me for making fun of your pistol,” I said. “I had no idea it would shoot as fast as a machine gun.”

“I wasn’t kidding when I told you that I could shoot my old Colt as fast as I wanted to, but you had to wait for your 1911 to cycle,” Hart replied.

“That big 45 Colt bullet is a stopper too.”

“Yeah,” Hart answered. “It has ended a lot of fights.”

Hart had been cool back at the match and he knew when it was time to get out of Dodge. The only question now was how would he be when they were shooting back? Clover was a good judge of men and I doubted if Hart had been chosen because he was nice. I hoped he would be a tough and determined adversary when they were shooting at him. Isabela had stayed calm and acted with deliberation back there too. Beautiful and dangerous. What a combination.



The scenery along Route 20 was pretty and the drive was uneventful. About half way to Villa Carlos Paz we passed through a toll station and a few miles farther we saw a racetrack sporting a Chevrolet sign at the entrance. 

Villa Carlos Paz is located on the southern shore of San Toque Lake in the northern part of the province of Córdoba. It is a popular vacation spot for residents of Córdoba, the capitol of the province. The San Antonio River and a stream called Los Chorrillos divide the city which has a population of about 56,000. The city lies in the south end of the Punilla Valley on the western slope of the Sierras Chicas. Punilla Valley is famous for its spectacular scenery and it too is a major tourist destination. We passed by a plaque commemorating the city’s founding in 1914 by a rancher named Carlos Nicandro Paz.

After we arrived in Villa Carlos Paz, we followed Route 20 until it merged into Route 38 and followed it across the lake to where it makes a sharp right at a three-way intersection. There we took rooms at the Hotel Ritz. Our balcony overlooked a huge clock tower built like a cuckoo clock without the cuckoo. Apparently, it was some sort of tourist attraction because we saw people lined up to get inside.

Since it was a couple of hours before dinner, we decided to scope out the meeting place, which was a little farther west on Route 38. As we approached the main bridge crossing Lago San Roque, a road forked to the right, crossed the lagoon and looped back to the main highway. There was a dirt road to the left a few hundred feet from the main highway, which passed under the bridge. We turned onto the dirt road and followed it under the bridge. If ever there was a perfect place to do something illegal, like trade drugs for money, this was it. We followed the road to where it ended at some residential buildings. Trees blocked the view from the buildings along the waterfront and there were no streetlights. Unless you had a boat, there was only one way out.

We drove back to the hotel. Isabela asked the woman at the desk to recommend a place to eat dinner. She recommended the Costalago on Avenue San Martin 1423 and told Isabela that they had the best breads in town. After we cleaned up, we drove to the restaurant where we were escorted to a table with a view of the street.

While we sipped wine, Isabela told us about the area cuisine.

“Lunch is the biggest meal of the day in Argentina. Businesses close for lunch and most people return home. Lunch times last most of the afternoon. The Argentinean diet has European roots with lots of meats, pastas and breads.”

Isabela ordered a dish called the Mediterranean Olive Toss. It was very colorful and the highest calorie salad I had ever seen with tomatoes, garbanzo beans, capers, garlic, herbs, balsamic vinegar and feta cheese. She ordered Hart the Cornish game hens with olive and rice stuffing and the grilled sirloin steak with olive sauce for me. Mine came with fried potatoes, a side of mushrooms and other colorful stuff that I didn’t recognize. It was delicious. Wine was the drink. They only served water if requested.

We ate and watched the crowds pass by.

“This is a pretty place,” Hart observed.

“There are many places such as this in South America,” Isabela replied. “It is unfortunate that the world hears of our many problems but not of our wonderful culture and the beauty of the landscape.”

The friendly atmosphere made me think of Jack. I asked Isabela what she did when she worked with Jack.”

“I was his in-country partner and interpreter in Panama and Colombia. My mother is Inca. I speak the native languages in addition to Spanish and English. We met some native tribesmen who told us that Lady Margot had passed through their area.”

“With your language skills, you were an excellent choice.”

“Why, thank you,” she replied with a smile.

“We couldn’t get along without you either.”

“I have prayed for Jack every night since he was hurt.”

“You’re probably the only woman who has ever prayed for Jack Kane.”

She laughed, “He was sitting up and in good spirits when I left to come here.”

“Jack is my good friend. Thank you for looking after him.”

“He speaks well of you too,” she replied with a smile. “I felt as if I knew you already when we met in Iquique.”

“What about the woman you left in the road?” Hart asked.

“She’s still there as far as I know,” Isabela replied without any emotion.

Isabela was a supremely dangerous woman.


Chapter Eleven


It was after eleven p.m. and Raúl’s wife had passed out on the couch. His son was God knows where in the slums of Urubamba seeking a new bottom for his young life. Raúl was watching the local news on television when the guard came to tell him that a man named Arturo Santos from Cochrane asked to speak to him.

“He’s one of my men,” Raúl replied. “Send him in.”

The guard left and returned with a man of small statue, wearing army fatigues, who walked with a military bearing. Raúl motioned for him to sit in the chair beside the couch.

Arturo looked hesitantly at Raúl’s wife.

“She’s passed out,” Raúl said. “Pay no attention to her.”

After Arturo was seated, Raúl asked if he wanted something to drink. The visitor shook his head.

“Why did you come to see me without telling me you were coming?” Raúl asked.

“Did you know that Carazo is dead?”

Raúl was surprised. “No! What happened?”

“He was flirting with a waitress in a city park in Córdoba when a man came from out of the darkness and killed him.”

“Why are you telling this to me?” Raúl asked grimly. “Ronaldo should have reported it.”

“Ronaldo Saavedra did not wish for you to know this.”

Raúl banged his fist on the coffee table. “That fool! That stupid fool! Does he not have brains in his bald head? Why does he keep secrets from me?” He paused to gain control of his temper. “Carazo was a fool anyway and he was bound to get into trouble because he can’t keep his hands off the ladies. Good riddance. Ronaldo should have fired him before now. It was probably the waitress’s husband or boyfriend.”

“Carazo was killed by a professional,” Santo said confidently. “He may have been the lady’s friend but he was a professional in either case.”

“How do you know that?” Raúl asked.

“He was killed in the manner a military commando would kill. The killer also left no evidence at the scene.” Arturo replied.

“What are you getting at?” Raúl asked, intrigued.

Arturo gave Raúl a knowing look. “It seems obvious to me. We have been targeted by somebody.”

“The English Lady is dead. That is over.”

“Did you know that Philippe Cardoni has been killed?”

“No, I did not!” Raúl exclaimed. “Why? Who?”

“The rumor is that the Honduran Federalistas brought in some men to assassinate Philippe.”

“Do you believe that?” Raúl asked.


“What do you think?”

“I think an organization we know nothing of killed him and I think it is somehow connected to the man who was with the English Lady at the time of her death and what happened to Carazo,” Arturo said.

“Who would they be? Another competitor?”

“I do not know.”

“In what way was Philippe killed?”

“The English way,” Arturo replied.

“The English way? Please explain.”

“One man, one bullet, a man dies.”

“That is the English way,” Raúl agreed. “The Federalistas would have sent a thousand men and fired a million bullets.”

“There was a man named Quigley in Catacamas before Cardoni was killed and he was nowhere to be found afterwards. An Englishman named Quigley is wanted for the murder of an Arab sheik in Somalia about a year ago.”

“What about the man who was with the English Lady?” Raúl asked.

“I know nothing of him except he, too, is a marksman of great skill and his woman is a famous model.”

“Yes, I’ve heard of his marksmanship skills and his woman,” Raúl said with a sigh.

“What did you hear?” Arturo wanted to know.

“That superstitious fool Menendez is convinced that she is the daughter of Inti.”

Arturo laughed. “I wouldn’t believe anything that Menendez told me. Why were you even speaking to him?”

“He came to report that Castro, Jorge and Milo had been killed by the man who was with the English Lady.”

“Castro is dead, and Jorge and Milo too?” Arturo was surprised.

“Yes, it has been a bad month for us. I have lost four of my men.”

“If Ronaldo Saavedra doesn’t do his duty, there will be more.”

Raúl gave Arturo a hard look. “If Ronaldo loses another man, he must go.”

“I agree with your assessment,” Arturo said. “But who will you send to take his place?”

“You. I need a man in Córdoba who has military combat experience. It’s too valuable an operation to let it slide.”

Santos frowned. “But who will run my operation in Cochrane?”

“Vicente. I will combine the two operations. He will report to you.”

“It will be hard to manage two operations,” Santos warned.

“I do it all the time.”

“But control diminishes with distance,” Santos retorted.

Raúl laughed. “There is truth in that but Vicente is reliable.”

“Yes, he is,” Arturo agreed.

“You will be okay.”

“What about Ronaldo?” Arturo asked.

“Another incident or one more loss and you will kill him and take over his operation.”


Continued Next Month


 April Fool’s Pranks from the Past


The Washing of the Lions (1698)

The April 2, 1698 edition of Dawks’s News-Letter reported that “Yesterday being the first of April, several persons were sent to the Tower Ditch to see the Lions washed.” This is the first recorded instance of a popular April Fool's Day prank that involved sending people to the Tower of London to see the "washing of the lions." The joke was that there was no lion-washing ceremony. It was a fool's errand.


The Monster of Deadman’s Hole (1888)

The San Diego Union reported that two hunters had killed a bizarre, half-human half-animal beast in an out-of-the-way location called Deadman's Hole northwest of San Diego. The creature, it was said, was responsible for a string of gruesome murders.

The creature was said to have the body of a bear, but it stood upright like a man and had a human face. The Union provided a graphic account of its death: "Cox, who is a wonderful shot with a rifle, brought his weapon to his shoulder and fired. With a cry like that of a human being the beast instantly fell in a hideous heap across a boulder that it was in the act of scaling." Then the hunters discovered the creature's lair where the bones of its human victims lay piled in a heap.

The article theorized that the animal was the result of a cross between a man and some kind of carnivorous beast. It said that the hunters planned to bring the body to San Diego for public exhibit within a few days.

The article caused a minor sensation in San Diego, and many people inquired where the creature would be displayed. Of course, there was no monster of Deadman's Hole, outside of the imagination of the Union's staff.


Sunflower Lamps (1901)

The German Gardener's News, edited by Herr Möller, issued an April Fool's Day edition that revealed various botanical discoveries. For instance, it was noted that scientific investigation had discovered some varieties of flowers that were so phosphorescent they gave sufficient light to read by. "Under proper conditions the flowers of the clematis glow like stars, while sunflowers, if correctly nurtured, make it quite possible to read a newspaper by their unaided light." An accompanying photograph showed Herr Möller reading by the light of sunflower lamps in his garden at 10 o'clock at night.

Also discussed in the same edition was the new fad of growing fruit trees in the likeness of Emperor William, and the accidental discovery of a hybrid of bottle gourds and grape vine that produced gourds full of delicious Rhine wine. [Chicago Tribune, Apr 13, 1901.]


April Fool Riot Call (1920)


The desk sergeant at the San Francisco police station received a frantic phone call. "For God's sake rush the wagon to 1448 Bush Street." A dozen officers were sent to the address. The local paper reported, "They found 1448 Bush Street. It is a branch police station." [Modesto Evening News, Apr 1, 1920.]


World To End Tomorrow  (1940)

On March 31, 1940 Philadelphia radio station KYW broadcast the following message:

Your worst fears that the world will end are confirmed by astronomers of Franklin Institute, Philadelphia. Scientists predict that the world will end at 3 P.M. Eastern Standard Time tomorrow. This is no April Fool joke. Confirmation can be obtained from Wagner Schlesinger, director of the Fels Planetarium of this city.


The Yonghy Bonghy Bo  (1957)

Rear Admiral Tully Shelley, managing director of a company of oil refinery and construction engineers, designed a match striking machine as an April Fool's Day joke. He called it his "Yonghy Bonghy Bo." However, the machine actually did work and could be used to light a cigarette. [Getty Archive]


Dutch Elm Disease Infects Redheads (1973)

BBC Radio broadcast an interview with an elderly academic, Dr. Clothier, who discoursed on the government’s efforts to stop the spread of Dutch Elm Disease, the disease that had been infecting many of England’s trees. The academic described some startling discoveries that had been made about the tree disease. For instance, he referred to the research of Dr. Emily Lang of the London School of Pathological and Environmental Medicine. Dr. Lang had apparently found that exposure to Dutch Elm Disease immunized people to the common cold. Unfortunately, there was a side effect. Exposure to the disease also caused red hair to turn yellow. This was attributed to a similarity between the blood count of redheads and the soil conditions in which affected trees grew. Therefore, redheads were advised to stay away from forests for the foreseeable future. Of course, none of these discoveries were real. The academic was really the comedian Spike Milligan disguising his voice.


Topless Protestors (1979)

An announcement was made in Berne, Switzerland that a protest was being held outside of the parliament buildings. The protestors were said to be topless women who were demonstrating in support of nude beaches. The announcement caused hundreds of men to descend upon the parliament buildings. Unfortunately for them, they found no women there.


The Tasmanian Mock Walrus (1984)


The Orlando Sentinel featured a story about a creature known as the Tasmanian Mock Walrus (or TMW for short) that it said made a perfect pet. The creature was only four inches long, resembled a walrus, purred like a cat, and had the temperament of a hamster. What made it such an ideal pet was that it never had to be bathed, used a litter box, and ate cockroaches. In fact, a single TMW could entirely rid a house of its cockroach problem. Reportedly, some TMWs had been smuggled in from Tasmania, and there were efforts being made to breed them, but the local pest-control industry, sensing a potent threat in the TMW, was pressuring the government not to allow them in the country. An accompanying photo showed protestors picketing outside the offices of the Orlando city government to call attention to the plight of the TMW. Dozens of people called the paper trying to find out where they could obtain their own TMW.


Flying Rabbit (1994)

The British Today newspaper offered a feature on a flying rabbit from a northern Guatemalan rain forest, which was being brought to a theme park. Pictures showed it flying through the air by means of pigeon-sized wings on its back. The commentary explained that the rabbit was "a natural performer and totally at home working with parrots."


Left-handed Cellphone  (2004)

Virgin Mobile announced that it would be offering a left-handed Sony Ericsson LH-Z200 mobile phone: "Designed with a reversed keypad layout, the buttons are switched from right to left instead of standard left to right… This simple but clever design makes dialling, texting and menu navigation quicker and easier for anyone left-handed." A number of technology sites fell for the joke



From the Kitchen of P. L. Almanza


Fried Salmon Patties



1 (14 3/4 ounce) canned salmon

1/4 cup onion, finely chopped

1/4 cup cornmeal

1/4 cup flour

1 egg

3 tablespoons mayonnaise



Open salmon can and drain thoroughly. Place drained salmon in mixing bowl and flake evenly with a fork. Add onion, corn meal, flour, mayonnaise, and egg. Stir until well blended.

Shape the mixture into patties about the size of an average burger or less. Cook in oil in skillet over medium heat until browned on each side. Turn once while frying.

The mayonnaise helps the patties hold their shape and keeps them from being too dry.


Cornbread Corn Sticks



cornbread sticks2.jpg2 teaspoons unsalted butter (melted)

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon mild vegetable oil

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3/4 cup fine-grind stone-ground yellow cornmeal

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (optional - I do not use salt at all)

1/2 cup buttermilk (I use low-fat but you may use full-fat)

1 large egg, lightly beaten

cornbread 1.jpgYou Will Also Need: 1 cast-iron corn stick pan with 7 wells



1. To prepare the corn sticks, position the oven rack in the center position and preheat the oven to 425ºF (218°C).

2. In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the butter with 1 teaspoon of the oil. Use a pastry brush to coat each corn stick pan well generously with the butter-oil mixture. Place the corn stick pan in the oven to heat while you mix the batter.

cornbread 3.jpg3. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the buttermilk, egg, and the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and use a large spoon to stir the batter slowly, just until the ingredients are combined. There may be some small lumps.

4. Remove the corn stick pan from the oven and spoon about 2 tablespoons of the batter into each well. The batter should fill the well to the rim.

5. Bake the corn sticks until the tops are lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 15 minutes. If you peek at the bottom of the corn sticks, they will be browned. Let the corn sticks cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes (but no longer than).

6. Use a small, sharp knife and your fingers to loosen the edges of the corn sticks and carefully transfer the sticks from the pan to the rack. Do not turn the pan upside down to release the corn sticks because its weight may break them. Serve warm. You can bake the corn sticks a day ahead, covered, and left at room temperature. To serve, preheat the oven to 275ºF (135°C) and reheat the corn sticks, uncovered, just until warmed through, about 10 minutes.)

Peanut Butter Cup Cookies



1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

peanut1.jpg1/2 teaspoon salt (optional - I don't use salt)

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup white sugar

1/2 cup peanut butter

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1 egg, beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons milk

40 miniature chocolate covered peanut butter cups, unwrapped



Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Sift together the flour, salt and baking soda; set aside.

Cream together the butter, sugar, peanut butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Beat in the egg, vanilla and milk. Add the flour mixture; mix well. Shape into 40 balls and place each into an ungreased mini muffin pan.

Bake at 375 degrees for about 8 minutes. Remove from oven and immediately press a mini peanut butter cup into each ball. Cool and carefully remove from pan.




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.


Elizabeth Silance Ballard: Three Rivers to Cross is being serialized, is a magazine columnist and author of Three Letters from Teddy and Other Stories, co-author of Whoopin and Hollerin in Onslow County, Kate’s Fan, Christmas Without Koyoko, The Fourth Wife of A Markham Gillespie, Welcome Home, Teddy Stallard, Three Rivers to Cross, and her latest, Life with Elizabeth 


Rita Berman: Charlotte Brontë  Book, Jane Eyre Was an Instant Success and Schultz and the Peanuts Comic Strips; 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: Malleable Human Ontology; 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: April 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


Dan Cowen; The Jackson Affair: This is his first contribution to the magazine. His book, Growing Up In South Alabama, 1936-1953, was published in 2017. Dan and I have been friends and co-workers for many years. He lives with his wife in Gibsonville, NC.


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


Diana Goldsmith: Judge for Yourself and The Goldfinch, 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.


Mary Noble Jones: Nail Scarred Hand was a writer and artist who lived and wrote in Amelia, Virginia. Her children’s book series, Itsy Rabbit and Her Friends are available on Amazon

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

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


Tim Whealton: Say Hello to My Little Friends : 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.


Dave Whitford: Surviving Boyhood, is retired from IBM and now writes in Toano, Virginia