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Thanks to all these talented writers who have contributed to every issue of RPG Digest with such enthusiasm. Summer photo below is by Betsy Breedlove. The front cover image is from Rita Berman and the back cover picture is one I took of Laurel Bed Lake on the top of Clinch Mountain, elevation 3600’, in Southwest Virginia.
Editor’s Column. 2
Dorothy Rothschild Parker by Rita Berman. 5
Natters of a Nomad by Peggy Ellis. 11
Reaffirmed Persistence by Sybil Austin Skakle. 12
The Silvery Blue Butterfly by Laura Alston. 14
A Dutch Adventure by Marry Williamson. 14
Understanding by Randy Bittle. 17
Three Rivers to Cross – Seralized book by Elizabeth Silance Ballard. 19
August Bounty by Sybil Austin Skakle. 28
How to Get What You Really Want by Tim Whealton. 28
Life in Moccasin Gap by Brad Carver. 31
Some Interesting Silliness. 32
Ramblings by E. B. Alston. 33
Bible Quiz. 36
Blond Man Jokes. 36
Hammer Spade and the Inca Curse – Seralized book by E. B. Alston. 37
He’s Equal With the Gods, That Man by Sappo. 48
From the Kitchen of P. L. Almanza. 49
Say What! 51
The subject this month is experts and professionals. We are inundated with them. They are all over television from tornado and hurricane experts to relationship and financial experts. I believe child care expert, Dr. Spock, started it all with his nonsense about how to raise a perfectly balanced child.
I've said this before, but for those who might have missed it, the telephone company definition of an "expert” was someone who was more than fifty miles from home. And if he was represented as, or proclaimed they were not a mere "expert,” but that they were "professionals," the consensus was that they were also dishonest.
Washington, D.C. is the largest repository of experts and professionals in the world. Our state capitals can also claim that distinction for their respective areas.
Listening to the various experts called upon to prognosticate on subjects all the way from child care, such as how to put your child into his or her car seat, to military, strategic and tactical experts, who solemnly explain that actually killing a sworn enemy is not a fruitful strategy.
The dumbest one in the area in which I live is the medical expert on the local CBS channel. His medical advice consists of saying things like, "Take an aspirin if you have a headache,” and “If you cut yourself apply an antibiotic to prevent infection." I’m sure, if he thought about it, he’d say, "If you break your leg, go to the nearest hospital,” but he never deals with a medical subject as complicated as breaking a bone. At least he doesn't give psychological advice. I guess that’s because he doesn't own a beige turtleneck shirt.
Since one of my telephone company assignments was on staff in the headquarters for an eight-state telephone operation, I too was branded an "expert.”
I was sent once to Manchester, Georgia, to investigate a technical problem and, to my surprise, there were several people in the break room waiting for me. Fresh donuts were on the table and the coffee pot was steaming. I asked my contact if they were celebrating somebody’s birthday. He replied, "You’re the first expert from the general office who has ever come to Manchester.”
Sometimes being an “expert” was fun. Like the time I flew on the company plane to Dalton, Georgia, because a new piece of electronic test equipment was providing invalid test results. When I arrived about ten o'clock, the cable splicer had been sitting on his stool beside the mainframe since seven-thirty waiting for the "expert” S.O.B. from Durham. We tested a line. The test was invalid. He gave me a knowing smirk. I asked him to short the test leads and run another test. He shorted the leads, ran another test and that test was invalid. He tried another test lead and the third test was perfect. I drove to the airport and flew back to Raleigh. He didn’t thank me.
Another time Sam Daniels and I flew to Atlanta and drove to Canton, Georgia, because the air pressurization system for the cable in their main central office had pumped humid air into their cables causing wet shorts and cross connections. We had with us an experimental ultrasonic leak detector made by Hewlett Packard. Those were HPs glory days when their test equipment was the finest in the world. Our theory about what caused the problem was their cable system had so many leaks the air dehumidifier was overloaded and couldn't dry air fast enough.
When we drove up to the central office building, Sam said that he bet there was a leak in the first span outside the office. He got out the HP Ultrasonic Leak Detector and located a big leak about eight feet from the second pole.
When we went inside, we found the cable repairman sitting on his stool waiting for us cable pressure "experts." Sam asked him to show us his records and leak plots. After we reviewed them, Sam asked him if he had tried using his AT&T Cable Leak Locating Slide Rule to find leaks. The Cable Leak Locating Slide Rule was the second biggest joke among outside plant people. The biggest was the Insulator Wrench. Our cable repairman spat out a long string of expletives ending up by saying nobody in the history of the world had ever located a leak with that piece of junk. (He didn’t use the word "junk.”) Sam picked up the slide rule, looked at the records and manipulated the slide rule to show a leak 83feet from the end of the cable sheath. "That’s in the first span," our local repairman said. "No way!”
Out we went. He drove his bucket truck to the middle of the first span. Sam pointed to the spot we had found the leak with the leak detector. When the repairman soaped that spot, bubbles flew. But we never convinced him that Sam had found the leak with that slide rule. He knew better than that. Then we showed him the new unit and how it worked. We left it with him and he had a grin a mile wide when we drove away.
The rifle shooting world is also full of experts. Some are writers who write about products whose makers pay dearly for ads in their publication. There is no new whiz bang rifle that doesn’t hit a fly a football field away and kill game like Jupiter’s thunderbolt. Woe be to the poor writer who wrote that the new smoke pole couldn’t hit a barn or kill a fly if you were lucky enough to hit it.
I’m a competitive shooter who has a hard earned rank of Master, which means in golfing terms that I have no handicap. My progression from Marksman to Master took me 20 years.
Without exception, the most accomplished people in this sport are modest. Kent Reeve, who is an internationally ranked competitor, in one June match at Butner, shot a score of 200 with 17 Xs at 1,000 yards. This means he was three Xs short of a perfect score at a target 10 football fields away.
He is one of the most modest, pleasant and helpful people you will ever meet. The same can be said about others in the top of this field. They will never tell you that they are experts. David Tubb, from Texas, who at one time had won the national championship more times than anybody in history. He was as congenial and as friendly as he could be.
There is no place for braggarts in competitive shooting. Bad scores are always the fault of the person who pulls the trigger. This doesn’t any leave room for excuses.
We seldom see any real shooting “experts” at a rifle match. They must think they’ll catch some incurable disease. They’re like the man who told Tim Whealton that his last deer was shot at 400 yards. When he went to the range and saw the 100 yard line, he thought it must be at least 500 yards away. Or the man who told me he had shot a sparrow with his 30-30 250 yards away. He didn’t like it when I pointed out that his front sight would cover half a cow at 250 yards.
A few years ago I was in Scott Tatum’s shop when he was installing a barrel on a match rifle. A man came in to ask about something and saw the rifle Scott was working on. He began to brag about his prowess with a rifle. I told him if he was that good, he ought to shoot with us at an upcoming match. If he shot that well, he would have won every rifle match I had ever attended. He said he couldn’t shoot his rifle in competition because his rifle was banned. Scott asked him what kind of rifle he had. It was a military surplus Italian made Carcano from World War II. It is one of the klutziest, ugliest and least accurate rifles in service during the war.
For a few years after they began to have 1000 yard matches at Butner, deer hunters would come in early fall toting their deer rifles, Browning semi-autos in 300 Winchester Magnum and the like, to show us sissies how real men shot he-man rifles. Three boxes of ammunition later, after they had failed to hit the target, much less shoot a bull’s-eye; they put their stuff back into plastic bags and left, leaving somebody else to pull their target.
I decided to capitalize on that and had ScottTatum install a Krieger fast twist match barrel on an ordinary looking hunting rifle. He re-bedded the action and tuned the trigger. I installed a hunting style scope that had an adjustment range capable of 1000 yards. To the average deer hunter, it looked like a typical deer rifle and it would certainly kill a deer. That fall I won the master class with it. In the match report it was noted that Gene Alston had won the master class with a hunting rifle. My last eight shots were Xs.
The real experts with their real he-man rifles had their usual experience. I proved to them beyond doubt that a deer rifle could be strong medicine at 1000 yards, but I remind you that I am no expert. My 1000 yard Hunting Rifle was a left Hand Model 70 Winchester-Weaver V-16 Scope-243 WCF in a factory stock with a British Lee Enfield leather sling.
A witty, tart writer of short stories and poems.
By Rita Berman
“Born in an era in which there were no telephones, no motion pictures, no radios, no television sets, no aero planes and no inch-worm commuter traffic. In 1893 the decade of her birth was known as the Gay Nineties, but the majority of most Americans in that time eked out a marginal existence under conditions we would now call insufferable,” wrote John Keats in his book You Might as Well Live, that describes the life and times of Dorothy Parker.
While he obtained his material from many written articles and tape-recorded conversation he points out that this is in no sense an authorized or definitive biography. Lillian Hellman who was executrix of Parker’s estate said it was Dorothy Parker’s desire that she should never be the subject of a biography. She died alone of a heart attack, in her room at the Volney Hotel, East 73rd Street, New York, on June 7, 1967.
For those who have enjoyed Dorothy Parker’s stories and poems, Keats’ book suggests reasons why she said and wrote what she did – and why her life took the form that it did. Possibly more than I wanted to know. The Dorothy Parker he described led a sad life, drank too much, said cruel, not always witty things about her friends, and yet accepted their generosity, misled her publishers, and saw little joy in her life.
Yet she was a talented “short-distance writer”, she said. Her short stories reflected life as she experienced it, sometimes painful to read, the best known “Big Blonde” won her the O. Henry Award in 1929, and her first book of poetry “Enough Rope,” sold 47,000 copies in 1926.
She was for a while rich, famous, and powerful. She had two husbands, four lovers, a mansion in Beverly Hills, a country estate in Pennsylvania, and a series of apartments in New York. She was a central figure of the celebrated Algonquin Hotel Round Table, and for a while practically every bright remark of the day was attributed to her. I still remember “Men seldom make passes, at girls who wear glasses.”
She was born Dorothy Rothschild on 22 August 1893 in West End, New Jersey, said to be two months premature. Three weeks later the family returned to their house on West 72nd Street, New York. Her father was Jacob Henry Rothschild, (not related to the banking Rothschild’s) her Scottish mother Eliza died when Dorothy was five years old. Her father remarried in 1900 to Eleanor Frances Lewis, who was a very religious woman. Dorothy refused to call this woman mother or stepmother. She hated her father. Her stepmother, who was Protestant, ensured that Dorothy was sent to a Catholic school, operated by nuns from the Blessed Sacrament Convent. Dorothy was nine when her stepmother died.
Years later, she told an interviewer that “Convents don’t teach you how to read; you have to find that out for yourself. As for helping me in the outside world, the convent taught me only that if you spit on a pencil eraser it will erase ink. And I remember the smell of the oilcloth, the smell of nuns’ garb.”
After the Convent school she went to Miss Dana’s School in Morristown, New Jersey. It was a first-rate private school of such excellence that the nation’s leading women’s colleges would waive the examination requirement for applicants who held Miss Dana’s certificate. When Dorothy arrived in the class of 1911 the buildings were lighted by electricity. She was exposed to the academic bill of fare that included the Bible and English, Latin, history, algebra, and geometry, as well as botany, physiology, chemistry and more. The intention being to turn out well-read, well-informed, and well-spoken young women who would be effective in the world. Tennis, basketball, and tetherball were the games played but Dorothy was not remembered as an athlete.
Dorothy was remembered by former classmates as being five feet tall with French ankles and an Italian bosom, a mass of dark brown hair and dark eyes. She was attracted by boys and was attractive to them, particularly tall, wide-shouldered and darkly handsome boys. There were dances at the school, duly chaperoned. She was in the last class that was graduated from Miss Dana’s before Miss Dana died and the school went bankrupt.
Her father died when she was 19 and she told an interviewer, “there wasn’t any money.” After one of her verses was bought by Frank Crowninshield, the editor of Vogue, for $12 he gave her a job on Vogue for ten dollars a week and she moved into a boarding house at 103rd and Broadway, paying eight dollars a week for her room and two meals, breakfast and dinner. She also worked in the evenings playing the piano for a dancing school.
At Vogue she wrote captions for illustrations. The following year Mr. Crowninshield asked her to join Vanity Fair magazine, which was far more than a fashion magazine. She did, and it was about that time in 1917 when she met Edwin Pond Parker, a handsome lean six-footer in his early twenties who worked as a broker in Wall Street.
They quickly married and in May 1917 Eddie joined the 33rd Ambulance Company. He was sent to France in July 1918. Until then Dorothy and Eddie spent the weekends together in New York, or Syracuse where he was based. His buddies said he was a heavy drinker but not an alcoholic.
Working at Vanity Fair, Dorothy met Robert Benchley and Robert Sherwood. The three became friends and began the habit of eating lunch at the nearby Algonquin Hotel. Franklin Pierce Adams, Alexander Woollcott, and Harold Ross joined the group. They all had a passionate concern for the English language, played games with words and delighted in the clever remarks of others.
In August 1919 Eddie Parker was demobilized and came back to Dorothy Parker. Some months later she was fired from Vanity Fair because she had panned three Broadway plays and the producers had complained. Both Robert Benchley and Robert Sherwood resigned in protest. Robert Sherwood found a job at Life magazine reviewing motion pictures and enjoyed it. Parker and Benchley decided to freelance and rented an office together. It rented for thirty dollars a month and was so small that Mr. Benchley said, “One cubit foot less of space, and it would have constituted adultery.”
She continued to write short stories and verse in 1920 and 1921. Soon she started working for Ainslee’s Magazine, which had a higher circulation. She also published pieces in Vanity Fair, which according to Wikipedia was happier to publish her than to employ her. She also wrote for The Smart Set, The American Mercury, Ladies’ Home Journal, Saturday Evening Post, and Life.
Writing did not come easily to Dorothy Parker. Keats noted that while she might have been lightning fast in conversation, when she sat at her typewriter she would, as she said, write five words and erase seven. She could, and did, spend as long as six months on a single short story. She was not lazy; she was a perfectionist.
Dorothy Parker and Eddie quarreled and she moved into an apartment on West 57th Street, leaving him, for various reasons, among them his drinking, and he wanted to move to Hartford and she didn’t. She was on her way up in the New York literary and theatrical circle, and was enjoying it. In 1928 she divorced Eddie.
Her most productive years were between 1925 and 1940, when she published some 300 poems and free verses in Vanity Fair, Vogue, “The Conning Tower” and the New Yorker, as well as Life, McCall’s and The New Republic. Two more books of verse followed after “Enough Rope” and the short story collection, “Laments for the Living” in 1930 and “After Such Pleasures” in (1933).
Some critics dismissed her work as “flapper verse” but The Nation described it as “caked with salty humor, rough with splinters of disillusion, and tarred with a bright black authenticity.”
Still she suffered periodically from writer’s block. Even after her many successes, the volumes of poetry that earned royalties, the O.Henry prize, and her contributions to The New Yorker, she could not harness her creativity. She would accept a magazine assignment, together with its deadline, and fail to produce on time.
Her friend, George Oppenheimer, who was also her editor and publisher at The Viking Press, literally had to force her to work. Because she hadn’t corrected some page proofs that he had sent to her, he took a copy of them and, he said, “He locked her into a room together with himself and a bottle of whisky. The more she drank, the less she liked what she had written, but a few drinks more and she mellowed, and put the proofs into shape.”
Alcohol was her lifelong problem. After arranging to meet with Joseph Bryan III, when he turned up at her apartment, she couldn’t remember him or that they had made plans. One of her friends attributed her drinking to a dislike of parties and she “had to get tanked up to go to them.”
In the 1930s she became politically active in fighting for civil rights. She also became involved with the Communist Party. It was this association that led to her being blacklisted in Hollywood. The FBI had compiled a 1,000 page dossier on her.
Between 1930 and 1933 she took several lovers one of whom was Alan Campbell. They married in 1933. He was a beautifully built, handsome, and clever young man who was 29 years old and she was 40. He was of mixed parentage, the reverse of Parker’s for he had a Jewish mother and a Scottish father. His mother was only 12 years older than Dorothy and the two women did not get along.
Alan was at a turning point in his life, his talents as an actor were meager but he had abilities as a screen-writer. He persuaded Dorothy they should go to Hollywood where they signed contracts with Paramount Pictures. Here they had much success, sometimes were paid $5,200 a week for various studios.
Between 1933 and 1938 they received screen credits for fifteen films. With Campbell and Robert Carson, Dorothy Parker wrote the script for the 1937 film A Star is Born. Itwas nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing—Screenplay. Dorothy would brighten up the dialogue in Alan’s scripts but she was unhappy about their life in Hollywood while Alan loved meeting the stars, the glamour and the money.
For a while they lived in a cottage at the Garden of Allah complex, Mr. Benchley was living there as well. They then moved into a big house in Beverly Hills, and had a butler and a cook, but still she was homesick and lonely for New York and her friends there.
Early in their marriage Alan had managed to get Dorothy to cut down on her drinking but she soon began to drink too much again – and so did he. Their marriage soured; she said he was bisexual, but they remained together and quarreled constantly.
After the United States entered the Second World War, Dorothy Parker and Alexander Woolcott collaborated to produce an anthology of her work as part of a series published by Viking Press for servicemen stationed overseas.
Alan Campbell served as a Lieutenant in the Army Air Force and was stationed in London. He had a long-term affair with a married woman while there and did not return to Dorothy when the war ended. Dorothy moved into the Algonquin Hotel in 1947 and Dorothy and Alan divorced. They remarried in 1950, then separated again in 1952.
She received a nomination for an Oscar along with Frank Cavett for the screenplay they wrote of Smash-Up, The Story of a Woman (1947), starring Susan Hayward.
After separating from Campbell, Dorothy and her dog moved into the Volney Hotel. In 1956 she was visited by Wyatt Cooper and Alan Campbell. Campbell had asked Cooper to accompany him. According to Cooper Dorothy Parker was fat, and kept apologizing for the disorder of the barely furnished room, her appearance and the absence of anything to drink.
She and Campbell had been separated for more than three years during which neither had luck. Alan had no work in films. A play Dorothy had written had failed and she had refused invitations to meet with friends.
After visiting with Cooper Alan returned again to see Dorothy and tell her that a Hollywood producer, Charles Brackett, wanted them to write the script of a motion to be called The Good Soup. The star would be Marilyn Monroe. Dorothy realized this was another chance for her and Alan. She needed him and he needed her.
So they reconciled and returned to Hollywood in 1961. They found a place that she later called Peyton Place and wrote a nice little innocent bawdy French farce, she said, “but the studio took our scripts and hoked it up with dope pushers, two murders, and straight out of Fannie Hurst, the harlot with a heart of goo.”
The film was never produced and that was the last film assignment that Dorothy and Alan ever had. Their income was unemployment compensation, some $600 tax-free each month and the $1,000 to $2,000 a year that her books of poems and short stories still brought in. Still they quarreled and each complained about the other one drinking.
The last story she published was in the New Yorker called The Banquet of Crow in 1957. Esquire asked her to review books for them for a fee of $750 an article. She accepted but couldn’t do it. Yet each month Esquire would send its $750 whether she sent them any copy or not.
For some years they existed like this with Alan looking after her and both of them drinking more than they should, until the night of 13 June 1963, according to Keat’s account, when after a considerable amount of drinking each took sleeping pills before they went to bed. When Dorothy woke the next morning she couldn’t rouse Alan. The newspapers said he had a history of heart attack, the police analyzed the pills found on the bedside table and decided death had been caused by accident.
Dorothy did not attend the funeral. Alan’s mother took charge of the funeral arrangements. After spending the summer waiting for Alan’s affairs to be settled Dorothy moved back to the Volney Hotel in New York. Here a reporter came to interview her when she was 70 years old. Dorothy said she felt 90. Looking back at the Algonquin days she denigrated the talents of the participants of the Round Table saying it was just a lot of people telling jokes and telling each other how good they were. She praised Lardner, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, and Hemingway as being “the real giants.”
Her lonely days at the Volney Hotel ended with a heart attack in 1967. In her will she bequeathed her estate to Martin Luther King, Jr. Following King’s death, her estate was bequeathed by his family to the NAACP. Parker’s friend and executrix, Lillian Hellman, contested this disposition but was unsuccessful. Parker’s ashes remained unclaimed in various places, including her attorney’s filing cabinet for some 17 years. Eventually in 1988, the NAACP claimed her remains and designed a memorial garden for them outside its Baltimore headquarters.
Her literary position is based on her short stories, and not on her poems. John Keats praised her as being one of the first to report on the gathering tragedy of twentieth-century social instability and unrest.
She also became one of the first American short-story writers to try to let carefully selected facts speak directly to the reader, and was one of those who contributed to the development of the American short story; Hemingway was another. His influence on a generation of writers was far greater than hers; nevertheless her contribution was felt. Keats concluded that she wrote some stories that are easily as good as some of O’Hara and Hemingway,
Brendan Gill in his introduction to The Portable Dorothy Parker commented that Dorothy Parker enjoyed an early vogue which passed, leaving her work to be judged on its merits… she had boasted of wooing death, attempted suicide several times, and many people were astonished to read of her death from natural causes at the age of seventy-three.
In 1992, the 99th anniversary of Dorothy Rothschild Parker’s birth, the United States Postal Service issued a 29 cent U.S. commemorative postage stamp in the Literary Arts series. Her birthplace at the Jersey Shore was designated a National Literary Landmark by Friends of the Libraries USA in 2005 and a bronze plaque marks the former site of her family house.
The Portable Dorothy Parker published in 1944 has reprints of her stories from previous collections plus 5 new stories and verse from 3 poetry books.
In 1996 Scribners published a book by Stuart Silverstein titled Not Much Fun, that included the lost poems of Dorothy Parker. This was updated in 2009 with an extensive 73-page introduction by Silverstein in which he posed the question, “why do her poems stay in print, decade after decade, when many of her contemporaries have faded?”
Many of the so-called “lost” poems were not published until Silverstein’s book and he suggests that she may have been embarrassed by some of her “earlier and implicitly inferior work”.
Silverstein relates even more about Dorothy Parkers’ life than Keats did. Informing that in the decade from 1923 a “too-lengthy succession of men would share Dorothy’s bed.” Many were transitory arrangements.
A friend was quoted as saying that Dorothy was “ignorant about money. All she knew was that she needed it. She spent whatever she earned, usually on scents, cigarettes, liquor, and clothes.” She often forgot to pay her taxes. She was a dreadful housekeeper and did not know how to cook.
Included in the published poems are a group called “The Hate Verses”. Here is an extract from the one about Women.
I hate Women
They get on my nerves.
There are the Domestic ones,
They are the worst.
Every moment is packed with Happiness,
They breathe deeply
And walk with large strides, eternally hurrying home
To see about dinner.
They are the kind
Who say, with a tender smile, “Money’s not everything.”
They are always confronting me with dresses,
Saying “I made this myself.”
They read Woman’s pages and try out the recipes,
Oh, how I hate that kind of woman.
Silverstein offers a different description of Alan Campbell’s death reporting that Dorothy found him dead in a little hide-away den he had built for himself. The official cause of death was an overdose of the barbiturate Seconal. His body was found with a plastic dry-cleaning bag draped around his head and shoulders, so it was listed as a probable suicide, nevertheless, Dorothy and some friends maintained the death was accidental.
Dorothy Parker turned 70 two months after Alan’s death. She grew increasingly infirm, with several serious medical problems and was nearly blind without her glasses. She returned to New York, and the Volney. Had a private nurse for several months. Her health improved in 1965 and a dinner party was given in her honor in March 1967 attended by much of New York society. A few months later she died leaving a net estate of more than twenty-three thousand dollars.
From poem called Fulfilment
I do not sit and sigh for wealth untold,
It never thrusts itself into my schemes;
I shrink from all your piles of clanking gold
Better my sparkling hoard of golden dreams.
A life of limousine and jeweled ease
Is but a round of fathomless ennui.
Your motor cars, your pearls, your sables – these
Are naught to me.
Parker, with Algonquin Round Table members and guests (l–r) Art Samuels (editor of Harper's and, briefly, The New Yorker), Charles MacArthur, Harpo Marx, and Alexander Woollcott, circa 1919
Natters of a Nomad
Peggy Lovelace Ellis
Katz Castle stands on the ridge overlooking the town of St. Goar. It received its abbreviated name from Count William II of Katzenelnbogen, who built it circa 1371. The name roughly translates into English as Cat's Elbow Castle, and is popularly linked with that of the nearby Maus (Mouse) Castle.
Katz Castle was used as a military base to protect the Rheinfels Castle. Together, they formed a fortified barrier for levying the Rhine toll. Due to the intentionally chosen location on the mountain ridge, Katz Castle could not be conquered from the valley.
Only after the invention of firearms were reinforcements necessary for the Castle. It was also upgraded as protection against Maus Castle. At the same time, the massive inner tower was raised to approximately 197 feet to ensure eye contact with Reichenstein Castle, which is almost two miles away.
The family line of the Counts of Katzenelnbogen died out in 1479.
In a succession of long-lasting disputes on heritage, Katz Castle and Rheinfels Castle were besieged, demolished, rebuilt, and extended several times. Napoleon bombarded Rheinfels Castle in 1806. In the same year, the District Administrator acquired Katz to reconstruct it as closely as possible to the original design.
From 1946 through 1951, Katz Castle served as a local boarding high school, the “Institute Hofmann.”
A note of interest, Katz Castle and its surroundings are the place of action for the Belgian comic book L'Orgue du Diable in the Yoko Tsuno series by Roger Leloup.
There is some contradiction regarding ownership. One belief is that, since 1989, Katz Castle is the private property of a Japanese company and accommodates the hotel Katz Castle. Yet another is that it now houses a privately owned school, and not open for visitors. The name of the comic book series, Yoko Tsuno, gives credibility to the Japanese ownership, and certainly there is a hotel in the complex.
We turn now to Maus Castle (Mouse Castle) which stands above the village of Wellmich, north of Katz Castleand across from Rheinfels. Local folklore attributes the names to the Counts of Katzenelnbogen’s mocking the Electors of Trier during the 30 years of construction. The counts reportedly said the castle was the “mouse” that would be eaten by the “cat” of Katz.
Construction started in 1356 and continued for the next 30 years by successive Electors of Trier. The construction of the Maus was to enforce the Elector’s recently acquired Rhine River toll rights and to secure its borders against the owners of Katz castle. Maus Castle was one of the most modern and technically most interesting constructions of its time.
Among the people, the impression arose that the castles spied on themselves like cat and mouse, so both castles got their nicknames, under which they are known until today.
Unlike its neighboring castles, Maus was never destroyed, though it fell into disrepair in the 16th and 17th centuries. (This disputes the belief Marksburg is the only castle on the Rhine never destroyed, as I mentioned in the May issue of RPG Digest.)
Napoleon bombed some castles along the Rhine early in his reign of terror, so it is plausible to believe Maus suffered the same although neither the onboard historian nor Wikipedia give that as definite. It is clear that, in 1806, Friedrich Habel purchased the castle at auction and began renovations shortly thereafter, being careful to preserve its original appearance. Recorded history of the castle between 1806 and 1900 is open to question; however, at some point an architect obtained ownership and restored it with attention to historical detail between 1900 and 1906.
The castle suffered some damage from shelling during World War IIwhich has since been repaired.
Who owns Maus Castle? Neither the onboard historian nor Wikipedia has the answer. However, the historian did tell us that Maus hosts an aviary that is home to falcons, owls, and eagles. There are flight demonstrations for visitors from late March to early October.
Some scholars maintain these two castles played cat and mouse games throughout the years, with the mouse coming out as winner in terms of longevity and usefulness. The onboard historian disagreed. I say, let the readers decide for themselves.
Two miles from the Katz sits the Reichenstein Castle, as noted above. We go there next, and perhaps will learn why Katz wanted or needed an eye view.
Sybil Austin Skakle
My 1949 hard-won B.S Pharmacy degree from the University of North Carolina qualified me to take the two-part examination: a theoretical, which I passed, and a practical, which I could not take until I finished 9 months of pharmacy practice experience. Only then could I apply for a North Carolina pharmacy license. I had not spent a single day in a drug store. Dare County had no drug store until last 1940 when Keith Fearing opened one in Manteo, 60 miles from my Hatteras home.
During the summer of 1949, the Greensboro druggist withdrew his job offer to me for the fall. Our small family faced a crisis. Don was to return to Chapel Hill to complete his degree, but toddler Eddie and I had no plans.
At the ending of the summer, Don’s mother and father joined us at Hatteras for vacation. They suggested Eddie and I might return with them to Waltham, Massachusetts. Poppa Skakle, head of advertising for TheWaltham Tribune, who knew the drug store owners in Waltham and surrounding cities might help me. If I found employment, Mom Skakle would care for Eddie.
Eddie and I returned with them, but by the time Poppa Skakle finally arranged an interview for me, Don and I had decided our separation was intolerable. Leaving Eddie with grandparents, I boarded a south bound Greyhound bus.
The Philadelphia stopover was several hours long. Waiting, I met another traveler, a young man, possibly as unsure of himself as I was. We decided to attend a movie. He took my hand and I let it be held. I confessed my infidelity immediately when Don met me. Surprisingly, he seemed unconcerned!
Don lived in a dorm se we needed to engage a room. I believe we stayed with Sallie Markham Michie, because his mother and father stayed at her home when they came to attend a football game at Kenan Stadium in 1946. The house was located on South Columbia Street across the street from several fraternity houses, near the corner of Franklin Street. The University of North Carolina wanted her property. She determined they should not have it and willed her property to the Daughters of the Revolution. They sold it to the University of North Carolina. Ackland Art Museum now occupies the ground where it once stood.
While Don attended classes, I visited Chapel Hill’s three-owner operated, drug stores, all on the north side of Franklin Street. Eubanks and Suttons on north side of the 100 block of Franklin Street.
Clyde Eubanks,a pleasant, jovial man, greeted me warmly, but had nothing to offer me. It is a good guess, that every student at the university weighed, at least once, on a pair of big white scales near the front entrance of Eubanks.
Having exhausted Chapel Hill’s possibilities in Chapel Hill, I took the bus to Durham. I began at McPherson Eye, Ear, Nose Throat Hospital, familiar to me. In the early summer of 1943, following high school graduation, I had eye surgery to correct what is sometimes called wall eye. While we waited for my stitches to be removed, Mama had nose surgery to correct a deviated septum.
The pharmacist at McPhersons was pleasant, but told me that due to the limited number of medications required for the specialty hospital, my experience there would be wanting. Besides, McPherson could not afford another employee.
Next, I visited Watts Hospital. Director Hunter Kelly, a friendly, encouraging man, enjoyed showing me the operation there, which included the mixing and autoclaving of intravenous fluids, but he had no position to offer. Nor did the Duke Hospital pharmacy.
Discouraged, but determine to exhaust all possibilities, I took a bus to Greensboro. I visited Liggett-Rexall drug store, on the corner of Elm and West Market Streets. Manager Banks Kerr, founder of 90 Kerr Drug Stores of North Carolina, interviewed me, standing on left side of the store; he asked for my qualifications. I told him of clerking in my father’s general merchandise store. Banks Kerr remembered and had empathy for a young pharmacy graduate. He hired me.
My sister Marjorie and her family had one of the eight apartments in what had been a large old, two storied, mansion on Blandwood Avenue. I would rent one of them and Margie would keep Eddie while I worked.
Lighthearted, knowing I would be coming home to North Carolina right away, I traveled back to Waltham to collect 15-month-old Eddie and within the same week I again boarded a Greyhound bus to Greensboro.
For all those who helped me, especially my hard-working, determined parents, I thank God. Without the help of many, I could not have succeeded. I thank God for all who helped me. In 1967 the summer position at Watts Hospital became a permanent one. I retired from Durham County Hospital in September 1990. Persistence never admits failure.
Laura A. Alston
The Silvery Blue butterfly is a very lovely insect.
It is delicate and blue with silver around its tips.
Though small in size, its beauty is plentiful,
And it is wonderful to behold.
It begins life as a very tiny egg.
The egg hatches into a caterpillar
That spends a lot of time eating and growing.
Then it emerges as a beautiful butterfly.
The butterfly has delicate front and back wings
That propels it forward into the air
W here it can soar and be free,
Not wingless and earthbound like me.
I was born in Haarlem in the Netherlands. Haarlem is a lovely medieval town about 12 miles from Amsterdam. I had not been back to Haarlem since the last member of my family died in 1998 and I had not visited Amsterdam since I moved to London in 1966 so we decided to make a sentimental journey to Amsterdam. Our trip started on the Sunday at Crewkerne station. A friend had driven us to Crewkerne which is the nearest main line station from Chard. We waited for the train to London with some trepidation because there had been a strike during the week with a lot of upheaval and people being messed about but that Sunday the train was on time and we got to Waterloo without any problems. A taxi took us across London to Bloomsbury where we checked into the Holiday Inn for the night.
The next day a short taxi ride took us to St. Pancras Station and the Eurostar terminal where we checked in, cleared customs and went through passport control without any hassle. The Eurostar is incredibly comfortable. We had booked Comfort Class and that was exactly what it was, comfortable. Plenty of room. A steward served us with a nice meal, coffee and wine almost immediately. Three hours later we were served with a snack, more coffee, more wine and shortly after that we arrived at Amsterdam Central Station. The whole journey had taken just 4 hours and had been stress free. Such a difference from the hassle and trauma associated with air travel. Our 5 star hotel in Amsterdam was literally a 3 minute walk over the bridge from the station.
On the Tuesday we found that breakfast in the hotel was 30 euros each. At only one euro for one pound that was expensive and we decided to find breakfast somewhere else. Next door we found a restaurant advertising breakfast for 10 euros. But when we walked in we were asked if we were guests. We had not realised that the restaurant was attached to a 3-star hotel. I spoke to the owner in my very best Dutch (I just about remembered enough after 53 years living in England). He was a typically laid back Amsterdammer. OK he said “go ahead”. I later heard him allowing some backpackers to fill their water bottles at his dispenser which was very nice of him since a half litre bottle of water anywhere was 3 euros! Breakfast turned out to be a buffet. The food was lovely and plenty of it. Cooked or continental, fruit, cereals, yoghurts. There was all sorts. Fortified we braved the tram to the Rijksmuseum. We had bought our tickets on line at home which was just as well because the queue for tickets was quite long and the Netherlands was in the grip of a heatwave (it was 36 degrees C that day). The museum was nicely air conditioned and as there is so much to see we stayed in there for most of the day. There are plenty of seats everywhere and a very nice restaurant for lunch. We filed past the ‘Night Watch’ and the other Rembrandts, the Van Goghs and other Dutch Masters. We found the Doll’s House of Petronella Oortman which was the inspiration for the Jesse Burton bestseller ‘The Miniaturist’. I was interested in this as I read this book and enjoyed it very much especially as I knew all the places mentioned in the novel. Another item ticked off my bucket list. I had not realised, though, how big the actual doll’s house was.
We had arranged to meet old friends from Haarlem and the next day they picked us up from the hotel and drove us first to a cafe in the dunes for lunch and then to Haarlem and all my old haunts. My parents old house where I was born, my uncle’s house, my old school (now re-developed into apartments) the swimming pool where I learned to swim (now apartments) and the Catholic church where we used to go. Driving through those old streets brought back so many memories but after 53 years nothing looked quite the same. Our friends took us back to their house in one of the quaint little streets in the centre of Haarlem to relax for a while and then we went for dinner in the seaside town of Zandvoort about 4 miles from where I used to live. Going to Zandvoort brought back memories of walking our dog through the dunes to the beach or cycling (slowly) with the dog running beside me. We had a lovely day and our friends dropped us back at the hotel in the evening.
The next day after another good breakfast next door at the Prins Hendrik Hotel we dodged the cyclists and trams and walked into Amsterdam. We had a look in the ‘Bijenkorf’ department store, the shops in the Kalverstraat, had coffee on the Dam Square, walked past my old office near the Dam where I worked in the early 60’s as an ‘schoolleaver’, commuting every day from Haarlem. We took a boat trip on the canals and the harbour. In short, we did all the touristy things one does in Amsterdam. Luckily the weather had calmed down a bit and it had settled into a more comfortable 23 degrees C.
Friday was going home day. We had been unable to reserve a seat on the through train from Amsterdam back to London but were booked on the Thalys to Brussels. The Thalys is fast and comfortable and we had a reserved seat in first class but, of course, we had to get off in Brussels to transfer onto the Eurostar to St. Pancras. At Brussels it was mayhem. Trains coming and going to Liege, Lille or Paris. Thousands of people having to go through a relatively small customs and passport check area. It was a complete shambles. We joined this enormous line that progressed extremely slowly and with still hundreds of people in the queue in front of us we heard the final call for the Eurostar to London. We bulldozed our way through to the front and amazingly people let us. They must all have been waiting to board another train. Anyway, we managed to find our carriage and seats and a place for our luggage just in time and we were off and able to relax. Just as on the way up we were given a meal, coffee, wine, beer and the rest of the journey passed very pleasantly. At London St. Pancras we got a taxi to take us through the slow moving Friday peak hour traffic to Waterloo but we were still in plenty of time for the Exeter train to Crewkerne. After the Eurostar experience South Western Railways was an anticlimax. Nine carriages, only three of them going to Exeter. At Salisbury three went to Castle Carey and three stayed in Salisbury. Apparently most people wanted to go Exeter so after Salisbury there was a great movement of people coming forward to pack these three coaches. We were allright in first class but in the remaining two carriages people were packed in like sardines and standing in the aisles. At last a female guard fought her way through, used some common sense and told people to go through to first class where there were seats unoccupied. We were so glad when we finally reached Crewkerne where our friend was waiting to take us home to Chard.
But apart from these last three uncomfortable hours on South Western Railways we had a lovely holiday and a wonderful time in the Netherlands.
Understanding is so difficult. It requires work and energy. Why should understanding matter? Lots of people go through life with little or no understanding. Why bother asking why and then expending energy struggling to understand? I am opening with these couple of questions to stimulate your mind into considering the concept of understanding. I hope to guide you to an understanding that everything is connected and makes some kind of sense. The human mind is well suited to understanding with a bit of effort, and I wish to encourage that effort in your mind so that you can better understand your world.
The sometimes considerable effort required for understanding must have an energy source for the work to be done. Energy for thinking is easily supplied to people by the process called eating. The bacon and eggs I had for breakfast are being digested into molecules that are distributed to my brain to supply the energy for the work required to produce the ideas in this essay. Providing energy for understanding is as simple as eating your favorite foods. As a thinking human being, I am able to convert bacon and eggs into abstract yet meaningful ideas for you to contemplate.
Thoughts and feelings are the result of electrochemical firing patterns in the brain. Synapses (connections between neurons) regulate these electrochemical firing patterns. What does electrochemical mean? The conduction of electricity in axons inside neurons, and the subsequent transfer of neurotransmitter molecules in the synapses between neurons, leads to large electrochemical neural networks capable of producing complex thoughts and feelings. How this is done is still somewhat of a mystery, but let’s start at the beginning and get back to the basics.
All matter consists of atoms made of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Physics explains the nature and relationships of these fundamental particles that make up atoms. Chemistry explains how these particles inside atoms interact with particles inside other atoms to form molecules, which make up the “stuff” we see and touch. It is important to remember that a sheet of paper and a sheet of steel are both made entirely of protons, neutrons, and electrons. The numbers and configurations of protons, neutrons, and electrons differ for paper and steel, but both paper and steel are each comprised of unique arrangements of these atomic components. I cannot stress this enough. Wherever you see matter, you are looking at protons, neutrons, and electrons.
The brain you are using to try to understand these concepts also is made entirely of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Physics of atoms and chemistry of molecules combine to explain the properties of paper and steel, but for the brain, biology and neuroscience are also needed to give a full explanation of brain activity. Biology is the science of how complex molecules exchange energy inside living beings. Neuroscience tries to explain how thoughts and feelings arise inside brains. Note that thoughts and feelings DO NOT consist of protons, neutrons, and electrons like ordinary matter.
Thoughts and feelings are the result of synchronized electrochemical firing patterns among multiple neurons in connected networks. Neurons, and neurotransmitter molecules in the synapses between neurons, DO consist of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Thoughts and feelings, however, are synchronized electrochemical transfers of energy through these material neural components of the brain. Remember, everything you can see and touch is made of protons, neutrons, and electrons, which are configured in molecular arrangements unique to each substance. But thoughts and feelings are substances that are immaterial, that is, not atomic or molecular in their structure. You cannot see them, touch them, or pick them up. They are substances not made of matter. Rather they are the resulting effects of transferred energies within the atomic and molecular neural framework of the brain.
This concept is difficult to grasp. Neurons and neurotransmitter molecules are physical and made of matter, but thoughts and feelings are nonmaterial exchanges of energy within the physical matter of neurons and neurotransmitter molecules. The arrangement of neurons and synapses influence and alter thoughts and feelings, and reciprocally, thoughts and feelings can change the physical connections and shapes of neurons and synapses, as well as the numbers and sensitivities of neurotransmitter molecules. This is how learning takes place. Synapses are reinforced, building more robust connections between neurons, by repeated electrochemical firing patterns. With enough repetition, learning occurs. Learning leads to understanding.
Learning about physics, chemistry, biology, and neuroscience will go a long way in helping you understand the world around you, and perhaps most importantly, helping you to understand yourself. The brain is indifferent to the quality of information it processes. It treats misinformation the same as legitimate truths, so be careful about sources of information and knowledge. I recommend courses recorded on DVDs by The Great Courses Company. Their website is < www.thegreatcourses.com >. They have multiple hundreds of reliably sourced courses taught by competent professors covering a wide variety of interesting subjects. Understanding is not easy. Personally, I prefer to put in the hard work to understand the world and myself. I think it is better than not knowing, or even worse, misunderstanding and thinking you know when you don’t. Thanks to those readers who made it all the way through this essay.
By Elizabeth Silance Ballard
As soon as I arrived at school the following morning I went down to the third grade classroom, which had been our old fifth grade, and explained to the teacher about Ted wanting to visit the room.
“No one ever forgets Violet Thompson, do they, Charlotte? She made such an impact on her students.”
“You’re right about that. I hope that even a few of my students will remember me with half as much fondness as her students remember her!”
“Me, too, but I’m not sure any of us can live up to her accomplishments. I’m afraid Violet Thompson was one of a kind! I was one of her fifth graders, too, you know. Several years behind you in school, though. Charlotte, here, take my extra key so you can lock up when you leave.”
Then the bell rang and we were off and running with our classes. That’s one thing about being a teacher. You are so involved, so focused, and have so many things going on during the day that you don’t have time to think about anything else. I was excited about Ted coming but I never gave it a thought until the last student left the room.
I took out my compact to refresh my makeup and lipstick. I wouldn’t take time to go to the teachers’ lounge to fix my hair. I was afraid I would miss him so I just stooped down and made do with the child-sized mirror over the lavatory in the classroom, and was ready for the tour when he arrived.
He wanted to look around my own classroom first so I just sat and let him look to his heart’s content. I suspected that he was, on some level, dreading the trip down memory lane to our fifth grade. Teddy had a rough time that year and I wondered why wanted to go back to the site of his torment.
Because I was in a classroom every day and had been in that particular classroom many times over the years, I had no special feeling about it. He did have special feelings about it, though. I saw it in the set of his jaw as I opened the door, reminding him that it was now a third grade classroom and looked very different from what he remembered. He just nodded.
Neither of us said anything at first. Even though the desks were nothing like the old wooden desks we had in fifth grade and, even though these desks were arranged in a big semi-circle rather than in long rows as ours were back then, he still walked to the very spot where his desk had sat.
“Here,” he said, “is where I sat.”
Then he pointed out where my desk would have been and where the Two Mean Girls sat, where Miss Thompson’s desk had been and where the little Christmas tree had been placed. His memories were vivid.
“Whatever happened to the Two Mean Girls?”
I have to say that it gave me the greatest pleasure to relate the continuing story of the two girls who made his life miserable, much more pleasure than it gave me when telling it to Violet years ago.
I told him all about “Mean Girl #1” and I left out no details!
“What about Mean Girl # 2?”
“You’re not going to believe this one. Mean Girl # 2, Betsy, became a nun!”
“I have to admit that I am astounded!” Then he burst into laughter.
“Just goes to show that we can’t always judge how people are going to turn out from their early years.”
“Ted, that’s exactly what Violet said about it!”
That evening, the two of us went out to dinner. He said he would be meeting with Violet’s attorney the next day to finalize everything. He handed me a letter. “Here, you can read this now. I wasn’t ready to share it yesterday when I showed the music box to you.”
I read silently while he gave our order to the waitress.
Teddy, since you’re reading this, I have already left this earth and am, I hope, standing here with your mother. I prayed that she would be the first person I saw when I crossed over and that we would stand together during this time. I truly believe that, as you read this, we will both be looking down on you with pride.
Teddy, of all the people who have influenced my life—and there were several—no one had as much influence or changed my life as much as you did. I have always thought if I had a son, I would have wanted him to be just like you—a boy, and later a man—any woman would be proud to call her son.
My dear, I’m sorry your marriage did not work out. You probably didn’t know that Avery wrote to me after the two of you divorced. My Christmas card that year went, of course, to the house where she still lived and she wrote in detail of the problems you had both tried to work through. She had only the best to say about you and apparently held no animosity. She said she thought you were both happier.
I’m leaving everything I have in this world to you because I know you will do much good with it. I know you have a soft spot in your heart for the free clinic and this town does not have one. If you should ever decide to come back here, the sale of this house and everything in it, might give you a good start on establishing such a clinic.
If you decide to look into this, you might want to consult with Charlotte Gurganus. She’s a teacher now and knows everybody in town. I’m sure she could be of help to you. You might remember her from our fifth grade class.
Teddy, the first thing I want you to do after you read this letter, is go to the cedar chest in my bedroom. Inside there is a musical keepsake box. I do ask that you keep that box and everything in it. You will understand why. I’ve never told you, Teddy Stallard, but—I love you.
So Violet’s concerns about Ted’s marriage had been well-founded. She had never mentioned the divorce to me. I really didn’t know what to say. That letter touched me deeply because even I had not known the depth of love she felt for the man who sat across from me.
“So, what now, Ted?”
“I have some ideas but I’m going to wait until I meet with Mr. Riggs in the morning. I’m flying home tomorrow afternoon. I’m going to give myself some time at home to process everything that has happened. Strange as it may seem, I believe I know right this minute what I need to do about it all, but I’m still going to give myself some time and distance.”
I mumbled something about it being nice to renew acquaintance and that a lot of townspeople would be glad for him to stay because there was no pediatrician in Meadow View. When he took me home, I knew I would never see him again. I would be in school the next day when he left town and flew home to New Orleans and he had no reason to come back to Meadow View. He could handle the sale of the property, and any other matters regarding Violet’s estate, through the attorney.
Back at my apartment, Ted said goodnight and that he would try to call me before he left town the next day. Once again, I was alone, alone with my thoughts and reflections of the past few difficult days.
When we expect the death of someone we love, when we know it’s coming and coming soon, we want to be with that person every single possible minute. That’s the way it had been for me with Violet. I wanted to make sure she knew I loved her, that her life was special and affected mine tremendously but Violet would have none of that. She wanted me to meet my class every day and not maintain a vigil with her. At first, I could not understand her attitude. It hurt that she did not want me there at all times.
One day, as I was leaving, her friend, Minnie, was coming down the hall to visit Violet and we stopped to chat. She said that Violet would only let her stay a few minutes and then insisted she go home.
“She tells me the same thing. Why do you think she does that, Minnie? I hate the thought of her being alone in this hospital and maybe even dying with no one with her.”
“I think she wants to spare us the moment of her death, Charlotte. That’s why she won’t let us stay long when we come. It’s very difficult to be at the bedside when a loved one dies. One moment my husband was there and in the next moment, he wasn’t. I’m sure Violet is trying to spare us that moment.”
I don’t know. Maybe Minnie was right. Maybe Violet was trying to protect us. But there, sitting in my living room in the soft lamplight, drinking my evening hot chocolate, I knew I was absolutely and truly alone. My last and dearest friend was gone. Frankly, I would like to have been with her, holding her hand at the end.
Violet had not been lucky in romance, having lost the only man she had ever loved, and even the love for her mother had weighed her down with great responsibility and heartache for many years. But love? Oh, yes, Violet had loved and had been loved.
She was a woman of kindness and appreciation. She had shown us, by the way she lived, how to be happy, how to have a satisfying and successful life, how to be—or at least strive to be—what God intended us to be.
I fell asleep there on the sofa with the lamp still on. In the morning, I didn’t remember dreaming, but I must have dreamed about my friend because the sofa pillow was still damp with tears.
I didn’t have time to think about that, though. I had to get to school. I had learned that the best medicine is to keep moving, to keep putting one foot in front of the other, to keep to one’s normal day-to-day work and activities. Besides, I knew Violet would want me to meet my class that morning. Already running late, I skipped breakfast and opted for a long hot shower.
We had just started a new chapter in Social Studies the next afternoon when an unusual announcement came over the P.A. system. I was excited and dismayed.
“Attention, Miss Gurganus’ fifth grade. This is our Moment in History for today: Let us remember the historic message of that great American, General Douglas MacArthur, who said, ‘I shall return!’ ”
I told the students to remain seated and I ran out of the room and down the hall as fast as I could go. He stood there in front of the school office with a grin on his face.
“Ted! What were you thinking?”
“Well, they said I couldn’t go to your classroom and they wouldn’t call you out of class. They admitted that they interrupt classes with the P.A. system, so I just…”
“You’re going to get me in trouble. Let’s go!”
We went outside to where he was parked—in a No Parking zone.
“Charlotte, I’m coming back. I’m coming back for good. Here, take this key. It’s the key to Miss Thompson’s house. I want you, and you alone, to go there whenever you can. You might want to make a list of things you see which need to be done: Painting, repairs, whatever.
“Start making a list of things we might want to keep and those we don’t mind getting rid of and we’ll look at the lists when I get back. We can get a professional inspection then and see if anything major needs replacing or repairing—roof, plumbing, heating, that kind of thing.”
We? Until two days ago I hadn’t seen this man since we were ten years old and he’s talking about “we?”
He had his hands on my shoulders and looked me square in the face, obviously expecting an answer.
“You’re mighty sure of yourself, aren’t you, Dr. Stallard? Taking a lot for granted, too!”
“Yep!” He took my hand, put the key in it, and closed my fingers around it.
“Now, kiss me, Teacher. I’ve got a plane to catch!”
I watched him drive away and went back to my classroom. I wasn’t fooled. I knew Ted Stallard wouldn’t be back. He wanted help with Violet’s things. That’s all. I had no illusions otherwise.
He might believe he’s coming back but it’s just the emotional aftermath of the funeral.
“You’re all gone now,” I said to Melanie when she called that night. “I have never felt quite as alone as now.”
“We’re not gone, Charlotte! Violet’s gone but I’m right down the road in Wilmington. That’s what? Less than an hour from you? Laura and I have both told you to get out of Meadow View for years! Now is the time. You absolutely have no reason to stay. Think about it!”
I didn’t mention Ted’s being there for the funeral or the time we spent together until he left to go home.
“Okay, I’ll think about it.”
“That’s what you always say!”
I knew I would not move to Wilmington. I rarely even went to visit them and vice versa. Once again, I was reminded of what Violet told us once about friends growing apart once one of them marries.
“Their lives have changed. Their whole lives. Our lives are still the same and…we all have less and less in common…and we’ll be going on alone.”
I didn’t want to go on alone.
The first week after Violet’s passing, I was grateful, not only to be a teacher, but a seasoned teacher. I knew what I needed to do each day and did it with little problem. I wasn’t even in “autopilot” mode. I was doing just fine.
There were only six weeks until end of the term and school would be out for the summer. I knew I would be all right those six weeks, but the summer—I dreaded the summer that year.
Ted called three weeks after he left Meadow View. It was a Sunday night and I was having the same Sunday night meal Violet and I had enjoyed for years, tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich, when the phone rang.
“Charlotte, this is Ted.”
“How are you, Ted?”
“I’m having a hard time with all of this, Charlotte.”
That made me a little testy. After all, I was the one who had lost my very dear friend! Mine was the real loss! He was not the one who had been accustomed to seeing Violet almost every day. He could not possibly be missing her. At least, not like I was missing her. But, I had misinterpreted. That wasn’t what he meant.
“Charlotte, we need to get together and decide what’s to be done with Miss Thompson’s house and all her things. Did you get back over there? Have you come up with any list of things you’d like to keep?”
I had not nor did I intend to do any such thing but I just said, “No.”
“Well, things are difficult over the phone but I can’t take time off right now to go back to Meadow View. I do have some ideas I’d like to talk over with you, though. Would you be willing to come here? Maybe leave after school on Friday, or even take that day off and fly out for the weekend. You could fly back Sunday and be at school bright and early on Monday.”
“Fly to New Orleans?”
“So you’ll come?”
I didn’t answer but my mind was racing wildly. I really DID want to see Ted Stallard again; but I didn’t want to risk love again, to risk losing love again. There was no denying that people close to me had a way of dying!
“Look, if you’re uncomfortable with staying here, I’ll make reservations for you at the Comfort Suites.”
“It’s not that. It’s…..”
How could I explain? I didn’t even want to explain.
“Well, what about this Friday? I won’t be on call all weekend. We’d have plenty of time to talk.”
“It’s too close to the end of the term. I have too much to do. Maybe I could go after school is out for the summer?”
There really was no reason NOT to go after school was out for the summer. I had made no other plans.
“I won’t fly. I’ll go by bus.”
“But if you fly, we’ll have more time to talk and plan.”
“Ted, I will NOT fly and at that point it won’t matter how long it takes. I’ll have plenty of free time.”
The next day, I called Mr. Phillips over at the bus station about schedules.
“You’d be better off to fly.”
“No! No airplanes, Mr. Phillips.”
“Well, you can drive it faster than the bus can get you there but don’t tell anybody I said so. Think about driving.”
So, I did just that. My map was regional and only covered North and South Carolina so it took me a little while to find a map that covered the area I needed. I found that I truly hated road maps. Thank goodness, we have GPS today, but at that time, I had to make friends with a road map. I was not successful with that friendship.
“Sis, let me get a route for you through AAA. Believe me, it’s easier than trying to handle a map while you’re driving alone with no one to help navigate.”
I took his advice and pored over the Trip-tic every night, and felt very comfortable as I left school that Friday, that last day of school. I was already packed except for my last minute items so I would get up early the next morning and be on my way. I called Ted that night and told him of my travel plans. I would drive to Macon, Georgia, and spend the night and the following day, I should be in New Orleans well before dark. He gave me specific directions to his condo.
“Charlotte, call me collect from Macon when you stop for the night.”
I left Meadow View the next morning before daylight and was well on my way before I stopped for breakfast. I had been too excited to even have a cup of coffee before I left home.
It was a beautiful day and I reached Macon just about when I had expected to and, after a quick call to Ted and a leisurely bath, I got into bed. I knew nothing else until the jangling of the phone. It was my requested wake-up call. It was 5:00 a.m. I fought the temptation to go back to sleep and in an hour I was on the road again.
I was somewhere in Alabama when traffic came to a complete stop. I was praying we wouldn’t be stuck there too long but, the driver ahead of me had gone to investigate and the news wasn’t good.
“There’s been a horrific accident on a bridge up ahead. Multiple cars. There are police cars and fire trucks everywhere. They’re waiting for the tow trucks to come clear it away. No telling how long we’ll be here. I don’t know if there were any injured but someone told me the ambulances have already come and gone.”
Oh, no! I had been praying that I wouldn’t be stuck in traffic too long while people were possibly injured or maybe even dead. How terrible! Was it a sign? A sign that I shouldn’t even be going to New Orleans, much less driving there alone?
Lord, should I turn around and go home? Is this a sign that I shouldn’t be going to Ted’s at all? Am I making a mistake? What should I do?
A number of cars in front and behind me were pulling out of line and heading back in the opposite direction. I knew it might be possible that I could take an alternate route by doubling back and getting off this highway, but not being familiar with the area and being far too rattled to even look at the Trip-tic to see if there were any alternatives for me, I just stayed put.
Okay, Lord, if there is any damage to the bridge, I’ll know that’s my sign and I’ll turn around and go home!
I took out one of the Bronte novels from my tote bag but promptly put it down.
Lord, what is the matter with me? Have I lost my mind? What is the matter with me? Here I am driving half way across the country to see a man I hardly know!
When traffic started moving again, I kept moving with it and crossed the bridge. There was no visible damage to the bridge but that still wasn’t enough for me.
You’ve got to make it plainer to me, Lord. Is this really a sign or am I just nervous about seeing Ted again? What was I thinking? Should I turn around?
I could go back to Macon, spend the night, and start home the next day. If I kept going to New Orleans, I might not make it before dark. I did not want to be alone and lost in a strange city at night!
Lord! I’m really getting cold feet about this whole situation. This isn’t like me to do something like this! I really SHOULD turn around! As soon as I get off this bridge! How much further? Is there no end to this bridge?
Finally, I reached the end of the bridge and began passing several good spots where I could turn around but I didn’t. I kept going, stopping only for fuel and to pick up Cokes and snacks. I wasn’t going to take time to stop for meals. I had to be in New Orleans before dark.
We never seem to recognize those pivotal moments. It is only later that we recognize we made the wrong decision or the right one. That day, I made the right one.
Once I decided to keep moving toward New Orleans, the fears began to subside and I simply kept driving. I kept driving because I wanted to see Ted.
I was completely over my jitters when I arrived at his condo and I had made only a couple of wrong turns in the city traffic. He had taken off work for the whole day to make sure he was home when I arrived. We hugged, though a little self-consciously on my part, and he took my luggage out of the trunk of the car.
“And the rest is history,” as Ted likes to tell it.
As you can imagine, however, “history” wasn’t all that quick and easy. Over the next several months, I made quite a few trips to New Orleans, most of them by plane. Yes, I finally conquered my fear of airplanes. I am living proof that the love and attention from a good man can banish fear! Besides, after that first trip, I didn’t want to waste any time on driving or riding a bus!
If I wasn’t going to New Orleans, Ted was coming to Meadow View. In fact, any weekend he wasn’t on call, I was picking him up at the airport! My brothers teased me and said they wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see my car driving to that airport sometime right by itself!
“I need to tell you something,” Ted said one night, as we cuddled on my sofa watching the old Bette Davis movie, Jezebel. “I went to see Mark Gibson today. He was Miss Thompson’s physician. I’m sure you remember him.”
He looked so serious! I turned the television off.
Oh, no! He’s going to tell me he’s dying. He has an incurable disease. It’s true, after all. I AM a jinx. When people get close to me, they die.
I could see the headlines: Local Residents Mourn Loss of Former Meadow View Resident, Dr. Ted Stallard.
“And did you have a nice, friendly visit or was it a professional thing?”
“Both. We worked out all the details. I’m going to join his practice. He’s excited that the town will have a pediatrician.”
He paused. I was afraid I might have misunderstood so I said nothing.
“I’ve already left my practice in New Orleans, Charlotte, and my condo sold very quickly. The closing is next month and I’ve already called the movers.”
“You’re moving back here?”
“Well, I was pretty sure I would be welcomed! Don’t you think it’s time we made some real changes? We’re not kids anymore. We know what we want and I believe I speak for the both of us.”
“Oh? So, you believe you can speak for me now?”
He grinned. “Yes, Ma’am, I do so believe. The couple who has been renting my family’s old house is moving into a retirement community and I’m moving into that house for the time being. We can rent it again later.”
He paused. “Well, my goodness, Miss Charlotte, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen you smile so big before! You know what, though? I believe you can smile even bigger. Let’s check it out.”
And then, he pulled out a beautiful Marquis diamond solitaire. He still loves telling people that my smile then actually did reach from ear to ear.
Ted and I have been retired now more years than we care to count. Our daughter, Louisa Violet, is a nurse over at the hospital in Wilmington and her husband, Luke, took over Ted’s practice long ago, which gave Ted an opportunity he had always wanted.
Down through the years, he partnered with other doctors and they would go for three weeks twice a year on a medical mission trip. The other wives and I became “gofers” for the doctors but we also worked with local pastors and missionaries, helping with special activities for the children in sort of a Vacation Bible School type setting.
In retirement, he has been able to go on mission trips more often because there was always need for medical care. Of course, his great love is the free clinic he began and which still operates. Even though retired, he still helps out there from time to time. It was one of the first things he did when he moved back to Meadow View, using Violet’s insurance money to set it up and to help maintain it.
Well, as I said earlier. There I stood, looking across the river to Rattlesnake Island, now called Paradise Island, when he drove up and waved.
“Hey, there! I’m sorry I’m late!”
I put my arms around him.
“Why, Miss Charlotte, don’t tell me you’re going all weepy over this, are you? You know Louisa and Luke are waiting for us, all excited to show us the progress that’s been made on the house.
“Oh, I know I’m being silly, but I wish they hadn’t renamed the island. And that house!! It’s ridiculous. Everybody’s talking about it.”
“Yes, I know. I just tell everybody that we had nothing to do with that house. I tell them our only contribution was to deed the island over to our daughter.”
“House? Ted, people are calling it The Castle because it’s so pretentious!”
“Honey, I know it looks a little unusual for Meadow View and it certainly isn’t our taste but it doesn’t have to be our taste. It’s their house and they’ve certainly outgrown the house they’re in now. Besides, the grandchildren are going wild at the idea of living on an island. They can hardly wait to move over there.
“Hey, shall we drive over the new bridge? That is, if I can remember the security code! These wrought iron gates to the bridge are really something, I must admit. No wonder people are calling the place The Castle. It’s a wonder they don’t call it The Fortress!”
I shook my head. “No, Ted, let’s take Mama’s Putt-Putt one last time.”
Yes, the Putt-Putt was still there but with new motors through the years, it no longer made the putt-putt sound. I knew that it was time to put the boat in storage. It was no longer needed, now that there was a bridge. I was not about to let them destroy it, though, or even give it away. Not in my lifetime. It will stay on the island as long as I am on this earth.
Ted and I spent the afternoon looking over the beautiful new home that stood near my old home. I was secretly glad Louisa had insisted that the home place be left just as it was.
“It’s a part of our history, Mom. I want our children to see where their grandmother grew up. Besides, you might want to come over and visit the house from time to time. It can be a little get-away for you and Dad.”
She met us at the dock, this beautiful daughter of ours. She and her Luke were all smiles, full of excitement and so proud to show us around.
“What do you think of the house, Dad? Mom?”
Ted didn’t hesitate. “We love it! Right, Mama?”
“Yes, Louisa. What a beautiful home you’re going to have right here on Rattlesnake Island!”
“Oh, Mom! Please don’t call it Rattlesnake Island! This is Paradise Island! And use the bridge next time! You don’t have to take the Putt-Putt across the river anymore.”
“I know, Louisa, but I wanted to do it this one last time. We’ll use the bridge from now on. It was just a twinge of nostalgia. You know how I am!”
“Yes, we certainly do,” the three of them said in unison, laughing as I stepped into the Putt-Putt and Ted started the motor.
As we started back across the river, I have to say it was a wonderful feeling to see our daughter standing there with her husband, their new home almost finished. They waved again as we reached the town side of the river and tied up at dock in front of the Bait and Tackle shop. Yes, it is still there, though my brother sold the business a few years ago and finally retired.
“Ready to go home?” Ted put his arm around me as we walked to the car. “Hey, where is your car?”
“I didn’t drive. It’s a nice day. I wanted to walk.”
“Well, lovely lady, allow me to drive you home.”
In our driveway, we sat for a few minutes just looking at the wonderful house Violet Thompson left for us.
“I never get tired of coming home to this house,” Ted said. “How about you?”
“Never. I thank God for our home every day.”
“None of us could have possibly imagined during that year of fifth grade that our lives—yours, Miss Thompson’s and mine—would be forever connected.”
“We’ve had such a good life, Ted. When I left here in the fall of 1961 for Meredith College, I was determined that I would never come back to Meadow View to live. Yet, if I had not come back, none of this would have happened.”
“All things work together for good to those who love the Lord and are the called according to his purpose, you know. Now, let’s go in, my Nice Girl, and grill up some nice, buttery, strictly NOT healthy, toasted cheese sandwiches and warm up the tomato soup. It IS Sunday, you know; and, if you get me fed, I might be willing to cuddle with you on the sofa and watch yet another old black and white Bette Davis movie. What about it?”
“Absolutely! I’ll do the sandwiches. You get the soup started. The sweet tea is already in the fridge.”
“Ah-h-h,” he said, pulling me close. “Life is good!”
Sybil Austin Skakle
Every August figs and sugar, in large pot,
Bubbled on our kitchen stove,
Above a blue gas flame and the
Brown mass emitted steam and a
Sweet aroma and memory
Of peanut butter and figs, its tiny seed
Cracked between my teeth, on a biscuit
Late at night with best friend, Marian.
Mama gave fig preserves to visitors and
Sister Jo continued her tradition.
At Christmas, she included figs preserves
Her gift evoked again the memory
Of our sweet treat and Mama’s
Wish for us: “Sweet dreams!”
It’s at our very core. Something so basic that we all accept it without question. The founding fathers even wrote it into American DNA when they wrote that we were entitled to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Read that again and you will notice you are entitled to life, liberty and pursuit. Happiness is not an entitlement. No one can give it to you. You have to find it for yourself.
Most of us seem to have a hit and run record with happiness. A few seem to have it running over, some seem to have every reason to be happy but live in misery and others just can’t ever seem to get a break. Is happiness elusive? Some seem to find it for a short while and then something happens and happiness vanishes. Maybe replaced with grief, loneliness, shame, anger, hate or just a sense of empty. Bad substitutes for happiness. The enemy is always ready to give you a substitute!
Before we go any deeper we better decide what happiness is and just as important what it isn’t. Happiness is hard to define for everybody because it is a feeling. You never know what another is truly feeling. We only gauge it by what we feel or think we would feel but we can only define it for ourselves if we are willing to go deep in our mind and explore places we rarely go. Like a diamond it probably won’t be on the surface!
Ask someone what they want and you will get a broad range of responses. If they say “A million dollars” ask them why? When they say to buy everything they want ask them why? When they say so they can do whatever they want ask them why? About now you will be getting close to what they are seeking. The true desire is buried deep. It will be the things they really value. Respect, Love, friendship, purpose and other lofty goals that are integral with that sense of well-being and contentment.
Just as important is how we define what happiness isn’t. We use some terms like pleasure when we speak of happiness. Pleasure isn’t happiness! Pleasure is a short term intense experience. It leaves us wanting more. Not more just like we had but even more intense and longer. It is a high! A rush.
How many times have you seen someone get what they thought they wanted only to find out later it wasn’t what they really wanted. How many times has it happened to you? It happens to every one of us.
It gets so tricky when we want because we attach emotion to the item. We think about getting something (or someone!) that will make everything better. Being seen as a success with a new car, house, and boat or having that mate that everybody wishes they had. We start to believe that not having that thing is making us miserable and that thought becomes self-fulfilling. Then we get afraid of what will happen if we never get it and fear always turns want into need. Told you it was tricky!
This problem was explained by Paul in Romans 7:15. This could be a life verse for me. You know like that one verse that really defines you. It says, “what I do I don’t understand!”
Paul explains that he wants to do good and then doesn’t do it. He then turns and does the very thing he hates. Sound familiar? Why? If you know the right thing to do why not just do it? Oh were it so simple. Something is obviously in the way.
It’s back to the basic question of do we want pleasure or happiness? Which is better? Can we have both?
1. Pleasure is short term, Happiness is longer
2. Pleasure is taking, Happiness is giving
3. Pleasure can be achieved with substances, happiness cannot
4. Pleasure is experienced alone. Happiness can be experienced in a social group
5. All extremes of pleasure leads to addiction. No such thing as being damaged by too much happiness.
6. Pleasure is Dopamine, happiness is serotonin.
Dopamine and serotonin are brain chemicals the brain cells excrete to send a message from cell to cell. Its how the brains thinks. Actually sort of similar to a modern computer when it communicates. Its either on or off for the cell. Why do we care
Dopamine is the pleasure monkey drug of choice. It excites the cell and makes it go. The brain knows something is wrong when cells fire too much. The brain turns off some of the receptors to keep this from happening. So next time it takes a bigger hit to get the same rush. And more and more. This is called down regulation. Eventually the cell dies from over use and this is addiction.
Serotonin is a chemical that inhibits the cell and keeps it from firing. It causes a peaceful state of mind that says everything is as it should be. You can’t overdose. You can’t be harmed by too much happiness! Now there is one thing that will down regulate serotonin. You guessed it, dopamine! That’s right, too much pleasure will destroy happiness. The Bible tells it and modern science backs it up! (Isn’t it amazing how smart the ancient Christians were?)
Paul gives an example of immediate desire for pleasure destroying happiness. It’s an Old Testament story that you have probably heard before. It’s about a dysfunctional family. Isaac and Rebecca had twin boys. The first baby was hairy so the named him---Hairy. In Hebrew Esau means hairy. The second born was born holding his brothers heel. He was named Jacob which means one that is pulling something. Isaac and Rebecca made a parenting mistake, they played favorites. Esau grew up a favorite of Isaac and hunted the fields. Jacob was a foodie (like me!) and stayed home with Mom learning how to cook.
You probably remember the story. Esau came home hungry and went in where Jacob was cooking a stew. It smelled sooo good. He had homemade bread and the stew ready and Esau said gime, gime, gime or I will die. (If you have ever been a bird hunter you know how he felt. Walk behind a bird dog all day and your dog’s food will smell good!) Jacob said “sure, just give me your birthright as firstborn and you can have some.
Esau said “Sure why not, I will die anyway if I don’t get some.” Now I know Jacob couldn’t believe his ears. So he made him swear and he traded off the birthright for a bowl of stew! Who would do such a thing? He wasn’t dying. It takes over a month to die from starvation.
The first born received a double portion of the inheritance. Money, status as head of the family and prestige. All for a bowl of stew. Who would do that? Only someone who let the desire for immediate pleasure override his thinking. It’s just as true today, getting what we want many times keeps us from getting what we really want.
Paul knew it way back then and so did a lot of others. There is a battle going on inside our minds. Doesn’t matter if you are aware of it or not. The battle is real! So how do we start scoring some victories in this battle? First we have to dig deep into who we are and know what we value. We all have values. It might take some work and it might not be comfortable to admit some things but if you are going to get what you really want you have to know what it is.
Then we start asking God for his help. We accept that Gods plan is the ultimate path to happiness. We pray and ask God for knowledge and courage. God has the knowledge, but do we have the courage to walk away from that next pleasure high? Maybe now that we know it is always at the expense of happiness we might. Remember, happiness is longer!
Maybe you have been searching for happiness for a long time. Maybe you gave up the search and learned to live without it. You don’t have to live without it anymore. Jesus made it simple for us. All he said was “Follow Me.” Not fix yourself and come back (as if you could!), just “Follow Me.”
The bad thing about the future is that it seems to get here a lot quicker than before
Humor is to life what shock absorbers are to automobiles.
When I was in the third grade, me and a bunch of other boys would always sneak off to the woods during recess. It was just more fun to play in the woods than on the playground. There were trees you could climb and bushes you could hide behind and places where you could make camps and that was all a kid needed back then to be happy. There were creeks in those woods with tadpoles in them and other little water critters. I loved playing in the woods and still to this day, I love walking in the woods with my two boys and discovering nature.
In those woods was where we discovered among other things, rabbit tobacco. That’s a piece of branch from a tree that you can actually smoke. And you can actually get sick and throw up which I did the first time I smoked it. And 1 threw up every time I smoked it after that. For some of us it takes more than once to learn a lesson.
I don’t know why they called it rabbit tobacco, but it was safer to smoke than regular tobacco, it was just harsher on your throat and impossible to inhale. But by smoking it we thought we were men and we were doing something that children would never do. I later discovered that rabbit tobacco is best kept for rabbits, not kids.
JB Jackson is the one who got me to try it. He kept saying, "Go ahead and try it. Don’t be a wimp. Are you a man, or are you a boy?” Well, I am certainly not a wimp and I am a man, I thought. I am, after all, nine years old. So I tried it. I threw up all over JB’s new shoes. He never teased me again.
Something else we used to love to do is play marbles on the school playground. I had a pocket full of marbles every day I went to school. And when school let out in the afternoon, I had even more marbles in my pocket. I was a marble king. I could beat anybody on the playground. I had every kind of marble you could think of, cat eyes, pintos, steel marbles, I had them all. No one could beat me when it came to playing marbles.
My buddy Alvin was the yo-yo wiz. No one could do what he could do with a yo-yo. He would walk the dog, rock the cradle, go around the world, he could do it all. Between Alvin and me, we owned the playground. People would actually gather around us and watch us play. We could have put together a show and gone on the road, 'The Marble King & The Yo-Yo Wiz.’
Danny Childers was the bully of the playground. I don’t know what made him the way he was, but no one liked him and he couldn't understand why. It's because you’re a bully, you idiot. His parents were decent people. It was just their son that no one could stand. Danny was always picking fights and starting trouble. And when the bell rang, if you were playing marbles and he was anywhere around he would always yell, "Johnny pick-ups”, then he would grab all the marbles that were on the ground and run inside, not a nice thing to do and certainly not the kind to thing you would want to do to two creative kids like me and Ricky Dixon.
So we devised a plan. There was an old tree outside by the area where we played marbles. And the tree had a low lying branch. It was a big branch and too strong for just one person to pull back. So Ricky and me both climbed the tree and tied a rope around the branch. Then we tied the other end of the rope around the trunk of the tree. If you let the rope go, that branch would swing down and knock you for a flip if it hit you.
The recess bell rung, Ricky was positioned in the tree with his scout knife. And just like clockwork, here came Danny Childers screaming, “Johnny pick-ups.” He grabbed all the marbles and went running for the classroom. And just as he went running by the tree, Ricky took his scout knife and cut the rope. The branch came flying around and hit Danny so hard it knocked him clean off his feet. It made a loud “whomp” sound. He turned at least two flips before he hit the ground. It was amazing.
Mr. Reaves, the school custodian was standing there and saw the whole thing. He laughed so hard his false teeth came out of his mouth. He told me later that he had never seen anything like that before. He said he never liked that kid anyway and he knew that one day he would get his, but he never knew it would be that good. The other kids who saw it were so impressed that they actually applauded when the branch hit Danny. We all got our marbles back too because they went flying everywhere. I picked up as many as I could and the other kids that Danny had taken marbles away from picked up their marbles too.
It was a great day for all of us, except, of course, Danny Childers. He never screamed “Johnny pick-ups” again after that. Probably because when that branch hit him it knocked his two front teeth out. They were baby teeth, so they grew back. Besides, we thought, Danny wasn’t a real man, we never saw him smoke rabbit tobacco.
I ran into Danny when I moved back to Moccasin Gap twenty-five years later, and you know w'hat? He is still a bully. Some people just never learn, I guess.
So, let this be a lesson, kids. Don’t be a bully. No one will like you and one day, if you’re not careful, you'll cross the wrong people; like me and Ricky Dixon.
Questions to ponder:
1. If poison expires, is it more poisonous or is it no longer poisonous?
2. Which letter is silent in the word "Scent," the S or the C?
3. Do twins ever realize that one of them is unplanned?
4. Why is the letter W, in English, called double U? Shouldn't it be called double V?
5. Maybe oxygen is slowly killing you and It just takes 75-100 years to fully work.
6. Every time you clean something, you just make something else dirty.
7. The word "swims" upside-down is still "swims"
8. 100 years ago everyone owned a horse and only the rich had cars.
Today everyone has cars and only the rich own horses.
Confusions still unresolved:
1. At a movie theatre, which arm rest is yours?
2. If people evolve from monkeys, why are monkeys still around?
3. Why is there a 'D' in fridge, but not in refrigerator?
4. Who knew what time it was when the first clock was made?
Vagaries of English Language!
Ever wonder why the word funeral starts with FUN?
Why isn't a Fireman called a Water-man?
How come Lipstick doesn't do what it says?
If money doesn't grow on trees, how come Banks have Branches?
If a Vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a Humanitarian eat?
How do you get off a non-stop Flight?
Why are goods sent by ship called CARGO and those sent by truck SHIPMENT?
Why do we put cups in the dishwasher and the dishes in the Cupboard?
Why do doctors 'practice' medicine? Are they having practice at the cost of the patients?
Why is it called 'Rush Hour' when traffic moves at its slowest then?
How come Noses run and Feet smell?
Why do they call it a TV 'set' when there is only one?
What are you vacating when you go on a vacation?
Did you know that if you replace "W" with "T" in
"What, Where and When",
you get the answer to each of them.
E. B. Alston
I wrote this poem after a good-looking, statuesque, redhead named Rose stood me up 65 years ago. I was in the army at Fort Bragg and met her at a dance. She was with someone else but we hit it off and made plans to meet at a restaurant on highway 301 in Wilson the following Saturday. I arrived at nine on the dot. I left mad at 10 and drove back to Fort Bragg. I got a letter Wednesday chewing me out for leaving before she got to the restaurant.
Valedictory to Rose
We were to meet at nine.
I left at ten.
She wrote to complain,
“Why are men
So fretful about time?”
I bought a perfect rose.
Kept it four days
And sent it with a note that said,
“Because these wither.”
“Your weed has withered,
But your Rose has died”.
Gene Alston 1954
I admire and treasure the classical Greeks. Their gift to mankind was how to celebrate the life of the mind. When we formulate arguments, thank them. The Greeks invented selfhood. We could not be Christians without a sense of self. Ancient Egyptians were only concerned about their souls. The Mesopotamians were too practical for philosophy. When things went wrong, they just sacrificed a few cattle. If that didn’t fix it, they sacrificed a few children and virgins.
The Greeks accomplished this without reliable any heavenly help. Their gods were a capricious lot. Just as likely to hinder as to help. When Odysseus pleaded with Athena to help them defeat the Trojans, teenage acting Athena set down her topaz saucer heaped with nectarine jelly, which made her mouth look red, spat it out, stood up and shrieked, “Kill! Kill for me! All men can do is use up natural resources and kill, so kill, kill for me. It’s better for the Greeks to die than to live without killing!”
That mother of democracies selected office holders by lot.
Western writers owe everything to the Greeks. If not for the Greeks, Shakespeare would have written no plays. My first book, Those Whom the Gods Love is a Sophoclean tragedy. It’s title comes from an ancient Greek proverb. If you remember the proverb, you know how the story will end.
Here is the Greek model: Antigione.
“We looked, and in the cavern’s vaulted gloom I saw a maiden lying strangled there, A noose of linen twined about her neck. And hard beside her, clasping her cold form, Her lover lay bewailing his dead bride…When the king saw him, with a terrible groan He moved towards him, crying, “Oh my son, What hast thou done? What ailed thee? What mischance has reft the of thy reason? Oh, come forth, Come forth, my son; thy father supplicates.”
But the son glared at him with tiger eyes, Spat in his face, and then without a word drew his two-handed sword and smote, but Missed his father flying backwards. Then the boy,
wroth with himself, poor wretch, incontinent, fell on his sword and drove it through his side, home; but, yet breathing, clasp in his lax arms The maid, her pallid cheek incardinated with his expiring gasps. So there they lay, two corpses, one death.
My poor copy: The last scene in Those Whom the Gods Love.
Bill looked back at the car and the hole in the windshield while Rick kept trying to get up, holding out his right hand, his lips silently pleading “Help me, help me, please.”
Bill raised the 45 and with a steady hand slipped off the safety, lined up the sights between Rick’s eyes and squeezed the trigger.
A momentary flash of fear appeared in Rick’s eyes right before he collapsed on the ground. He twitched a few seconds and lay still.
The instant Rick was down, Bill raced to the Ford. When he got close, he saw Bess leaning forward with her head on the armrest. Then he saw the red spot in the center of her back. The slug had entered her chest below her necklace and shattered her spine.
He opened the door slowly, caught her as she fell from the car and held her in his arms. While he held her he gently caressed her cheek with the tips of his fingers while images flashed through his mind of all the other times he’d held dead or dying comrades in his arms. He didn’t hear the sirens. When the deputies found them, he was still holding her in his arms, right where she wanted to be for the rest of her life.
Archimedes (287-212) discovered by the method of elimination that the area of a circle equals that of a right triangle whose perpendicular equals the radius and whose base equals the circumference.
Artists strive for the perfect painting, Diamond cutters strive for the perfectly cut diamond Word artists strive for the perfect phrase
Most memorable phrase I have ever read comes from Virgil’s Aeneid when Virgil writes, “Sable night enclosed them in its hollow shell.”
Do you realize that the Punic war between Roma and Carthage lasted 118 years (264BC-146BC. It would like the US started a war when William McKinley was president in 1900. Hannibal would have been camped outside Washington waiting for Harry Truman to surrender and the war would last 70 more years.
I have read a lot. Most of my reading has been history and philosophy but my favorite fictional story is Lord of the Rings. I started with the Hobbit and read straight through. That scene in The Two Towers when Queen Galadriel advises Frodo that “All gold does not glitter. And not every wanderer is lost.” Is my favorite line of all time. Not to forget that in the The Silmarillion, there’s the unforgettable, “Mortality is a gift. We who do not share your gift and find the days, weeks and years burdensome. But the choice is not ours. God chose for us immortality but for you mortality. And you must not refuse God’s gift.”
When Howard Carter died in the 1970’s the London Times headline was, “The Mummy’s Curse strikes again.” He was the man who first entered King Tut’s tomb in Luxor, Egypt February 16, 1923 in spite of the warnings that anyone entering the room would be cursed by the gods. The report was that he died mysteriously in his home during the night. He was 81.
Speaking of famous people, when the Duke of Wellington’s mistress died, the heartbroken Iron Duke was comforted at her graveside by her husband who was overheard telling the Duke, “Do not grieve Your Grace, I shall marry again.”
Ed Zern wrote my favorite hunting story for Outdoor Life. It was about a mountain fox hunt where the hunters built a big bonfire on the top of a mountain and drank moonshine while their foxhounds chased the fox. (Sounds a lot more fun than the downeast way of fox hunting.) An old grandfather’s female foxhound was in heat and the other hunters tried to dissuade him from running his dog because the make dogs would be chasing her instead of the fox. He was stubborn and insisted that none of the other dogs could catch her. The old man was hard of hearing brought his grandson to listen to the dogs for him. The foxhounds were turned loose and Sure enough, she struck a fox right away and the hunt began. Periodically old man would ask his grandson if “Betty” was in front. The boy always answered yes and then would volunteer which dog was behind her. Because the second place dog changed occasionally, the other hunters realized that the boy could recognize the bark of all the dogs. Finally one man asked the boy to give them a complete rundown on all the dogs. “Betty is in front, Buck is second, Gabe is third, Howler is fourth and the fox is running fifth.”
When I was a troubleshooter at the phone company, I was sent on a trouble where the report was the bell didn’t ring but they knew they had a call because the dog howled. The dispatcher was laughing when she gave me the report. I went to the house way out in the country, went inside and dialed a code to make the phone ring. Sure enough, a dog howled right outside the window but the bells didn’t ring. I went outside saw that the poor dog was chained to the phone company ground rod. I took the chain off the ground rod and told the customer not to tie their dog to any ground rod. I poured some water on the ground rod so it would transmit ring current and told the customer if their phone stopped ringing, just pour a bucket of water on the rod.
I like math and English. I also like history and philosophy. My favorite authors are Michael Grant and Dorothy Parker. I enjoy using words, playing with them in order to obtain just the right meaning or convey subtle ideas or feelings. My stories pop into my head. I’ve carried some of them around for a long time. My collection of short stories contains a ghost story that came to me when I was in the 11th grade.
I retired at the end of 1999 and worked another year and a half before I got caught up in the technology bust. 67 year-old men are much not sought after in a tight economy.
In July 2001 I decided to write down some of these stories and to date I’ve completed manuscripts totaling over a million words. This doesn’t count over 200 columns for a Topsail Island magazine and I’ve put out magazines for 11 years.
There are the names of sixteen books of the Bible mentioned in the paragraph below. See how many you can find. A preacher found fifteen books in twenty minutes but it took him three weeks to find the sixteenth.
“I once made a remark about the hidden books of the bible. It was a lulu, kept people looking so hard for facts and for others, it was a revelation. Some were in a jam, especially since the names of the books were not capitalized. But the truth finally struck home to numbers of our readers. To others it was a real job. We want it to be a most fascinating few moments for you. Yes, there will be some really easy ones to spot. Others may require judges to find them. I will quickly admit it usually takes a minister to find one of them and there will be loud lamentations when it is found. A little old lady says she brews a cup of tea so she can concentrate better. See how well you can compete. Relax now, for there really are sixteen names of books in the bible in this paragraph.”
(Editors Note: I had blonde hair before it turned light brown, then gray. Also Note: Blond without the e is masculine. Blonde is feminine.)
A blond man is in the bathroom and his wife shouts: "Did you find the shampoo?"
He answers, "Yes, but I'm not sure what to do... it's for dry hair, and I've just wet mine."
A blond man spies a letter lying on his doormat.
It says on the envelope "DO NOT BEND ".
He spends the next 2 hours trying to figure out how to pick it up.
A blond man shouts frantically into the phone, "My wife is pregnant and her contractions are only two minutes apart!"
"Is this her first child?" asks the Doctor.
"No!" he shouts, "this is her husband!"
A blond man is in jail, the guard looks in his cell and sees him hanging by his feet.
"Just WHAT are you doing?" he asks.
"Hanging myself," the blonde man replies.
"The rope should be around your neck" says the guard.
"I tried that," he replies, "but then I couldn't breathe."
An Italian tourist asks a blond man: "Why do scuba divers always fall backwards off their boats?"
To which the blond man replies: "If they fell forward, they'd still be in the boat."
A friend told the blond man: "Christmas is on a Friday this year."
The blond man then said, "Let's hope it's not the 13th."
Two blond men find three grenades, and they decide to take them to a police station.
One asked: "What if one explodes before we get there?"
The other blonde man says: "We'll lie and say we only found two."
A woman phoned her blond male neighbor and said: "Close your curtains the next time you and your wife are having sex. The whole street was watching you yesterday."
To which the blond man replied: "Well the joke's on all of you because I wasn't even at home yesterday!
Chapter Twenty and Twenty-One
Don was surprised when we called for him to pick us up at the airport.
“What happened?” he asked.
“Roscoe took matters into his own hands.”
“What do you mean?”
“He finished them off in one night.”
“Was that good or bad?”
“It turned out okay and we got away.”
“I’ll be there in thirty minutes.”
We were beat after being up most of the night and the excitement of skipping town on the run. We went to bed right after we ate dinner. The food in the cafeteria was plain but it beat MREs. Before I went to sleep, I thought about what Roscoe had done and the risks he took—risks that could have killed us instead of them. Was I over-reacting? Should I give him a medal, or, should I fire him?
Raúl Fuente called his friend in Colombian intelligence. After passing a few pleasantries, he got down to business.
“What do you know about an American named Hammer Spade?”
“Nothing. Never heard of him. Why do you ask?”
“Something has occurred in a way that tells me Hammer Spade had something to do with it.”
“Some of my men in another country were murdered. They died from wounds identical to the wound that caused Lady Margot Fisher’s death. Hammer Spade is the only man who knows how she died.”
“We were pleased to hear that Lady Fisher was dead. We congratulated you for what you did but we were hoping we would find her first.”
“I wanted her brought to me alive but the fool I sent as bait panicked and killed her.”
“Yes, we know.”
“I want you to use your resources to find out where Hammer Spade is and what he’s doing.”
“That will take a few days. We must be discreet.”
“Yes, by all means, be discreet. And if he happens to be in your country, pick him up and save him for me.”
Roscoe and Hart arrived late the next day after driving around the clock. The next morning, I called Roscoe into my office and closed the door.
“What’s up, boss?” he asked.
“I want to talk to you about what you did back there in Constitución.”
“What about it?”
“You acted without orders?”
“I saw a chance to get it done and I took it.”
“If you continue to work for me, you won’t do that again.”
“What’d I do wrong?”
“You took unacceptable risks, alone, without permission.”
“Dave said you got mad about what I did. I think I did what I ought to have done.” He paused. “It’s what you would have done yourself in my place.”
“The difference is I would not have acted alone.”
“What’s your beef? I was careful. I knew what to do. I did it and we’re all back here safe and sound. Besides, Clover told me you were prone to exceed your orders.”
I struggled to remain calm. “Did you consider what a disaster it would have been if you had been caught?”
“Naw, I didn’t.”
“I don’t know. I just didn’t. I was thinking about how Maggie died and I figured since I had the chance, I ought to let ‘em know how it felt. I liked Maggie better than anybody I know.”
I wasn’t making any progress. “Roscoe, you have a lot of desirable qualities. You are determined, resolved and skilled. I chose you because I wanted those qualities. However, in this case, you reacted to your anger at the murder of Lady Margot. Your plan stood a chance of success and you were deluded enough to take that chance. You, and we, were very lucky. If you had been unlucky, it would have been a catastrophic failure. They would have made you talk. Then we would have been surrounded by Chilean Army tanks and a battalion of infantry the next morning. The opportunity to get Fuente would be gone forever, and we might have found ourselves before a firing squad and the British government would eat crow for twenty years.”
I paused but he didn’t say anything.
“We operate under military rules here. You are not to precipitate any individual action without my or my second-in-command’s specific permission. That is an order. Do you understand?”
“Do you agree?”
“What if I don’t?”
“You will be on the next plane out of Iquique.”
“Who’s your second in command?”
“Oscar was. I plan to appoint Isabela to replace him today.”
“I thought you’d pick Dave.”
“Isabela is my choice.”
He was quiet while he thought about what I said.
“Isabela is a good choice.”
“Will you obey my order?” I asked again.
“Yeah,” he said grudgingly.
“Then you are dismissed. Report to Isabela. She and the others are sorting through phone numbers, trying to figure out where to go next.”
He got up and opened the door. Before he went out, he turned and said, “You know, you could give Clover a few lessons.”
I called London to bring them up to date.
“We have finished in Constitución.”
“That was quick.”
“One of my men saw an opportunity, made an independent decision and acted upon it.”
“Are they all dead?”
“You are to be congratulated,” he said. Who was it? I’ll tell 0031.”
“I suppose you’re pleased that you stuck by your guns?”
“Sort of. Nothing in this business is an unalloyed success.”
He laughed. “You are more philosophical than most,” he said. “I’ll pass it on.”
“I’m appointing 0068 as my second-in-command today.”
“She will replace 5038.”
“I’ll tell 0031. I’m sure he will approve this one.”
“I’m sure he will too.”
“Where will you go next?”
“We’re sorting through phone records trying to figure that out.”
“I’ll pass it on. Good luck.”
“I’ll let you know what our next target is as soon as we figure it out.”
I brought Isabela into my office to talk to her about being my backup.
“I’ve got to appoint a second-in-command to replace Oscar.”
“Who did you have in mind?” she asked.
She was surprised. “I thought you brought me in because you wanted my advice,” she replied. “Are you sure? Dave has more experience.”
“You’re more alert to situations that could cause problems.”
“What do you mean?”
“When Roscoe made his move in Constitución, you instantly understood the problems he might have caused.”
“Yes, I was appalled that he operated alone without telling anybody.”
“He won’t do that again,” I said grimly.
“Is that why you spoke to him today?”
“What will you do if he disobeys orders again?”
“He will be on the next plane out of Iquique.”
“Does he know that?”
“Yes. If I’m not here, can you handle it?”
“Yes, I can.” She answered with assurance.
“Will you take the job?”
“Yes, I accept.” She paused. “Thank you for your confidence in me.”
“Thank you for your confidence in me,” I replied.
“I like working with you.” She paused, then said, “At first I was afraid you’d be an egotistical control freak because Jack expressed such high regard for you.”
She smiled, “I was also afraid you called me into your office to resume our discussion about Alonia.”
“No, that’s not why we’re here. The others are waiting. We better get to work.”
When Isabela and I took our seats with the others at the conference room table, I said, “I have an announcement to make.”
They stopped what they were doing and looked at us.
“I have chosen Isabela to take Oscar’s place as my second-in-command. In my absence she will act on my behalf.”
Dave looked relieved. I guess he was afraid I’d appoint him. Everybody, including Roscoe, congratulated Isabela.
The intelligence group had identified our next target as Antonio Goitia who operated out of Cochabamba, Bolivia, a fairly large city 8,000 feet above sea level. It is situated in a fertile valley surrounded by Tunari Hill, the Alalay lagoon and the San Sebastian hill. The weather is mild and people who visit say it has the best climate in the whole country, with warm, sunny days and cool nights. Average temperature in winter is 61° Fahrenheit and the average temperature in summer is 78°.
Like most South American cities, the drug culture is a fixture and the drug trade was an important segment of the economy. Fuente’s operation in Cochabamba also provided enforcement services to another small local operation run by Claribel Rivera. Claribel was a woman of statuesque beauty who used drug profits to finance her jet-set lifestyle.
A photograph provided by our intelligence guys showed her receiving some sort of trophy. She was good-looking and had shoulder-length curly black hair. It was said that Claribel had many lovers. No wonder.
Antonio Goitia was unusually intellectual for the drug business. He was a patron of the arts and a member of the local opera committee. According to the report, his cultural side did not prevent him from having a reputation for cruelty toward anyone who crossed him. He had nine men: Fernando Costas, Raúl Castedo, Ronny Peñaranda, Jorge García, Miguel Ponce de León, Ángel Corte Tarijeña, Rueda Guzmán, Rodolfo de Negocios and Álvaro Aparicio.
Goitia had his own ideas about scheduling operations. He kept half of his men on duty 24 hours a day for a week in a rotating shift. When the first half finished their week, the second half took over. His headquarters was in an upscale office park on Avenue Guillermo-Killman close to the Jorge Wilsterman Airport. His vehicle fleet consisted of non-descript cars and pickups like the rest of the local population drove. His office had a glass front and receptionist’s desk where a young woman took calls during normal working hours. No visitors were allowed into the area behind the receptionist desk.
“This looks tough,” Dave said.
Hart nodded in agreement.
“They are never all together,” I said. “If we tackle the half on duty, the other half can either slip away or come after us.”
Even Roscoe was shaking his head.
We needed finesse on this one.
“Isabela, I want you and Roscoe to fly in and find us a place where we can work.”
“Maybe we should look for something close to Goitia’s location,” she suggested.
Dave agreed. “He’s in an upscale office park. I think close in this case might be good, like maybe in the same building or office park.”
“It won’t give us any margin for error as far as moving about,” Hart said.
“Yeah, but if we’re in the same building, and we had the architectural drawings, we might find a way to get to them in a way they won’t know about,” Roscoe suggested.
“He’s right,” Dave said.
“Isabela, try to get us in the building with them,” I said. “Don, get us a set of drawings. The rest of us will start getting ready to move as soon as you and Roscoe find a place.”
Dave came in my office after the meeting ended.
“After what happened in Constitución, I’m surprised that you sent Roscoe with Isabela to Cochabamba.”
“Two things. He’ll do anything she tells him to do, and nobody will harm Isabela while he’s around.”
“I hadn’t thought about it that way—but you’re right.”
Raúl Fuente’s friend in Bogotá, Colombia, called him.
“We can find nothing about the whereabouts of Señor Hammer Spade.”
“Nothing at all?”
“Well, we know he’s on a case that his manager thinks will last until December.”
“How did you find that out?”
“I called his office. The Señora who is his business manager said he was on a case.”
“Yes, the Señora did not elaborate even though we said we would like to pay him well to do some work for us.”
“Thanks for trying,” Fuente said.
“I’m sorry that I could not find out more.”
“Mr. Spade troubles me.”
“If you need our assistance, let me know.”
“Right now, I don’t know what to ask you to do.”
“Maybe he is not your enemy. Maybe he is somebody else’s enemy.”
“I hope you’re right, but things have gone very badly for me since Lady Fisher’s death and he was with her when she died.”
“What do you mean?”
“Something has happened to my team in Córdoba and my whole team in Constitución was murdered in one night.”
“Have you heard nothing from your men in Córdoba?”
“No. When I sent a man from here to investigate, he returned with nothing.”
“It was as if they disappeared from the earth in one week.”
“Maybe they stole your money and they are hiding from you.”
“I’ve thought of that, but the incident at Constitución makes me believe Señor Spade may have had something to do with what happened to my men in Córdoba. I now believe Señor Spade is a devious man, and he is my enemy.”
“But you have many enemies.”
“Yes, but I fear Señor Spade more I feared Lady Fisher.”
The other man laughed. “But you dealt with Lady Fisher when none of us could reach her.”
“Still, I fear Señor Spade.”
“You’ll be okay. You still have Antonio. He is a rock who has crushed many of your enemies.”
“Yes, Antonio is my right arm. He is both clever and dependable. But he is my last operation. If something happens to him, I am done.”
“The director is on my other line. I’ve got to go.”
“Thanks for trying.”
Fuente sat staring out the window at the cloudy sky. It was a dreary day and he was in a dreary frame of mind. Two thirds of his operation was gone. For all he knew, someone, maybe it was this Hammer Spade, was planning to attack Antonio next.
He called Antonio.
“Raúl here,” he said when Antonio answered.
“What do you want?”
“You should take extra precautions for the next few weeks.”
“Figueroa and all of his men were attacked and killed a week ago and I have lost all contact with Córdoba.”
“Who killed Figueroa?”
“I do not know but I suspect an American named Hammer Spade had something to do with it.”
“What about Ronaldo Saavedra and Arturo Santos?”
“I don’t know anything except I cannot speak to or find them.”
“Both of them were fools. Maybe they have stolen your money and customers and went out on their own.”
“At first, that’s what I believed. Now I don’t. I suspect that Señor Spade did it.”
“Where is this Señor Spade?”
“His business manager in America knows but she wouldn’t tell my friend in Colombian intelligence.”
“With your permission, I will send Ángel and Rodolfo to America and make his business manager tell them where this Señor Spade is.”
That was the first positive suggestion Fuente had received. “Thank you for such a thoughtful suggestion!” he exclaimed. “Do it at once!”
Then Fuente had a second idea. “This Señor Spade has a girlfriend who is a famous fashion model. She is said to be madly in love with him. Send two of your men to follow her. If she visits him, your men will kill them both when they are together.”
“I will send Raúl Castedo and Ronny Peñaranda.”
“Excellent!” Raúl was feeling better already. “After you get the information we need, kill his business manager too. Kill everybody in his office.”
“What is this famous fashion model’s name?”
Antonio whistled. “This Señor Spade has excellent taste in women.”
“No matter. Kill them both! I will not be happy until you call to tell me that your mission is accomplished.”
After they hung up, Fuente glanced out the window. The clouds were breaking up and sunlight bathed the eastern mountains. This was a good omen and he felt more relaxed than he had in many weeks.
Our equipment and Sally’s files arrived two days after Isabela had taken possession of the suite. We flew in that night on the last flight from Iquique. As the plane circled to land, I saw a well-lit, white marble statue of Christ standing with arms outstretched on top of a mountain west of Cochabamba.
Isabela met us in a rental van. After we were underway, I asked her about the statue of Jesus.
“It’s a piece of one-upmanship on the part of the Bolivians. It’s supposed to be taller than the Cristo el Redentor, on Corcovado Mountain in Rio de Janeiro,” she replied.
“It is an awe inspiring monument,” I agreed and changed the subject. “How did Roscoe handle himself?”
She laughed. “He has obeyed my every request as if I were a colonel in the German Army.”
“Good.” I replied. “We need him because he is a good man in a fight.”
“Yes, we do,” she replied.
A professionally painted sign in the window of our suite read Importadores Salazar. Below that it read: Proveedores de alta calidad de fertilizadores chilenos.
Hart laughed. “So, Isabela, what’s the English name of this notorious outfit we’re working for?”
“What do we import?” Dave asked.
“Our business is importing Chilean fertilizer and you two will do all of the heavy lifting.”
It took us all night to set up and get our communications working. Although we brought MREs, I allowed them to go out for breakfast in two groups with one group manning the shop while the others ate.
The closest restaurant was the La Posa del Bato whose specialty was churrascos, whatever that was. Like Chile and Peru, roasted corn was on the breakfast menu but tortillas, eggs and coffee tasted good after an all-nighter.
Cochabamba was a picturesque city. On our way to the restaurant, we passed a statue called Cholita, Tiquipaya that looked like a Swiss girl with a wide brim hat over a ponytail and wearing a full, knee length dress. Isabela told us that the statue commemorated the orphaned daughters of the heroic women who fought against the Spanish in 1812.
After breakfast, we made a guard schedule. I took the first three-hour watch while everybody else sacked out to get some much-needed rest. Sally posted a “Closed” sign on the door so I wouldn’t have to answer some stranger’s questions in Spanish about fertilizer.
About this time back in North Carolina, two men entered my office in Durham and asked to speak to the manager.
Juanita ushered them into Minerva’s office. After Juanita left, one of them closed the door.
“We are looking for Señor Hammer Spade,” the smaller one said in Spanish-accented English.
“Mr. Spade is on a case,” Minerva replied.
“We wish to speak to him on an urgent matter,” the man said.
“Mr. Spade is unavailable.”
“Do you know where Señor Spade is?”
“Yes, I do,” Minerva replied.
The man pulled a pistol and pointed it at Minerva. “You will tell us where Señor Spade is.” He clicked the safety off.
Nobody pointed a pistol at Minerva and threatened her and got away with it. She stood up to her full six-foot-two-inch height, towering above the men before her. When she stood up, the second man produced an UZI submachine gun and pointed it at her. Minerva glared at them.
“You will not threaten me,” she said with fearsome, terrifying, menace in her voice.
My Bail Bond Manager, Shidee Calloway, was sitting at his desk in the office next to Minerva’s when he heard a commotion next door. He leapt up and charged into Minerva’s office with his .45 ready.
When he stepped inside, he saw a Taurus 92 and an UZI submachine gun lying on the floor in front of Minerva’s desk while two swarthy men cowered in the corner on the floor of Minerva’s office.
“Who are you?” Minerva asked.
They didn’t answer. Shidee couldn’t tell if they were refusing to tell Minerva their names or they were too terrified to talk.
“Who sent you?” she asked.
Still no response.
“Give me your identification,” Minerva said.
The small man found his voice. “We have none with us,” he said fearfully.
“Then I will tell the police that you are nobodies,” Minerva said. “And you will tell them the same.”
The two terrified men nodded in assent. “We are both nobodies,” the smaller one vowed in a trembling voice.
She turned to Shidee. “Guard them while I call the police.”
While Shidee covered them with his .45, Minerva went to his office to make the call. He remembered the time when Minerva first came to work for Hammer and two men had tried to rob her. Robbing Minerva was a daunting task because she knew well how to defend herself. By the time he arrived, those men had the same terrified look as these two, hoping the police would come quickly and rescue them from this beautiful, but terrifying woman.
After the police came and took Minerva’s statement, they hauled the two men off to jail and took their weapons with them. As Minerva had instructed them, they gave their names as “Nobody.” Their police record identified them as “Nobody # 1” and “Nobody # 2.”
Minerva called to warn me. “Two South American men tried to attack us this morning. Fuente knows about you.”
We posted a watch at the open-air café across from the entrance to Goitia’s suite. Hart stood the first watch. When Dave relieved him, he remarked that nobody had entered except the receptionist and nobody had left the building.
I called London to report the attempted attack on my office.
“Who were they?” he asked.
“We don’t know who they are or who sent them. They just asked my manager where I was and when she refused to tell them, they drew guns and demanded that she tell them.”
“How’d your manager handle that?”
“There are no two men alive who could tackle Minerva and she is not a woman you can threaten and get away with it.”
“She must be some woman.”
“She is and she is also the best manager I’ve ever known.”
“What happened to the men?”
“They’re in jail.”
“And nobody knows their identities?”
“No. They wouldn’t give their names and had no identification on them when they were arrested. They’re locked up on “John Doe” warrants.
“Are they likely to obtain bail?”
“I doubt it. The charge is attempted murder. Minerva is a lawyer and she is very popular downtown. I doubt if their boss will hear from them again.”
“You may be right about that but it is evident that whoever sent them knows a lot about you. You and your team had better be extra careful.”
“I think there’s a good chance that Fuente sent them,” I replied.
“Why do you say that?”
“Because of the way 5470 handled the job in Constitución. That would have pointed the finger at me.”
“With the local authorities or with Fuente?”
“Fuente. He might know how his man killed 0057. 5470 killed the men in Constitución the same way. Some of Fuente’s men were watching from a distance when Allen met 0057. When they came after me, I killed three but there might have been more.”
“Then you must be very careful.”
I put Roscoe to work building an opening in the back of our suite to allow us inside the utility hallway. Roscoe’s work was ingenious. After knocking a hole in the inside sheetrock, he pushed the plywood panel off just enough to cut the nails holding the plywood. Then he fastened two handles to the plywood and had Hart hold the plywood while he cut the nails. Presto! We had access to the utility hallway. While Roscoe fashioned a method to hold the plywood in place from the inside, Hart and I examined the telephone terminal box. The tags were in Spanish so I had to call on Isabela. She quickly identified the telephone lines and twenty minutes later, we had a wireless electronic tap on both lines. Five minutes later, we had speakers and recorders set up in our suite.
The receptionist at Goitia’s front desk answered a call and paged Goitia on the intercom to say Raúl was on the line.
“Have you heard from Ángel and Rodolfo?” Isabela translated for us. Fuente’s voice was raspy and unpleasant.
“No, but they arrived in North Carolina yesterday.”
So, Minerva was right. The men who tried to attack my office were Fuente’s men.
“When you hear from them, call me at once.”
“I will do that.”
“What about Castedo and Peñaranda?”
“They are in Buenos Aires and they have found the lady.”
“Did you tell them to get her schedule?’
“I told them everything,” Goitia said in an exasperated voice. “They are good men. Let them do their job.”
“This is very important to me.”
“I know that, but if you don’t like the way I’m handling this, do it yourself!”
“You do the job!” Fuente shot back. “Or I will replace you.”
Goitia laughed. “You cannot replace me.”
“Yes, I can, and I will if you don’t produce the results I want!” Fuente shouted.
“If you do try to replace me, I will partner with Claribel and take your slice of the Cochabamba pie with me.”
“If you betray me, I will kill you,” Fuente retorted.
“We will live and you will not be able to do anything about it.”
Raúl screamed a long string of Spanish expletives and slammed the phone down. Isabela did not translate what he said but observed that Fuente was very upset.
“Things are not rosy in Raúl’s domain,” Hart commented with a satisfied smirk.
I wondered who the lady in Buenos Aires was. Alonia was there.
Goitia’s men spent their time chasing women. Most of the telephone conversations we heard over the next few days were gossip and seduction plays. Claribel apparently had a crush on Rueda Guzmán. He had a squeaky voice, which she apparently found charming because she called him several times a day.
On the practical side, we learned that with four men gone on assignment to Fuente, three men manned the operation in shifts instead of the usual five. They slept and ate in the room for a week. They took calls when the receptionist was not on duty and we learned that she didn’t work on weekends. When they left to do something, one always remained in the suite to man the phone.
On our side, the three Spanish speakers were Isabela, Sally and Roscoe. When they were unavailable, we recorded conversations to be translated when one of them returned.
Roscoe was, among many other things, a talented mimic. He could mimic Rueda Guzmán’s voice to a “T” and he and Isabela had a lot of hilarious conversations with him mocking Guzmán and Isabela playing Claribel. We stopped posting watch at the café across from Goitia’s suite because it seemed like we were taking unnecessary risks. We passed call information to Don back in Iquique for analysis.
I was getting more and more uptight. Fuente’s men had tried to attack my office in North Carolina and two more might be following Alonia. If they attacked Alonia, the stakes were about to get very high. I thought we were on the verge of finding out exactly where Fuente lived, or hid.
I called Alonia.
“This is a nice surprise,” she said with a smile in her voice.
“Yes, it is, but I called to tell you that Fuente might have people shadowing you.”
“I haven’t noticed anybody acting suspicious.”
“Be on the lookout in any case.”
“I can take care of myself, Hammer,” she said.
“But you got kidnapped.”
“That was a freak occurrence and I wasn’t as careful as I should have been.” She paused. “Besides,” she laughed, “You’ll to save me if I do.”
“Alonia, it isn’t funny.”
She became serious. “Yes, Hammer, you’re right. I will be alert and careful.”
“Good. I’ve got to go.”
“I have a couple of days free this weekend. May I visit you?”
“Sure, but you know how busy we are.”
“Dearest, I’m confident that you’ll make some time for me.”
Alonia knew me well.
She didn’t seem as concerned as I thought she ought to be, but she was a free spirit. I guess free spirits are content to let others worry about them. Maybe that’s why she keeps me around.
Sappo (630 – 570 BC)
He’s equal with the Gods, that man
Who sits across from you,
Face to face, close enough, to sip
Your voice’s sweetness,
And what excites my mind,
Your laughter, glittering. So,
When I see you, for a moment,
My voice goes,
My tongue freezes. Fire,
Delicate fire, in the flesh.
Blind, stunned, the sound
Of thunder, in my ears.
Shivering with sweat, cold
Tremors over the skin,
I turn the colour of dead grass,
And I’m an inch from dying.
Translated by Nicolai Abildgaard (Danish, 1743 - 1809)
Bacon Cheddar Twice Baked Potatoes
10 medium Idaho russet potatoes washed and dried
One tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoon kosher salt (optional)
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 slices hickory smoked bacon
1 1/4 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 1/4 cups milk one half cup butter 1 stick melted
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
1 pinch ground nutmeg
One container (8 ounces sour cream)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees
Poke each potato three times on each side with a knife to vent.
Rub potatoes with oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
Place on large rimmed baking pan. Bake potatoes 60 to 70 minutes, or until potatoes are pierced easily with knife, turning once halfway through the baking time.
Remove from oven and let cool reduce heat to 350 degrees.
Place bacon in single layer on rimmed baking pan while potatoes bake, cook bacon in oven 15 minutes or until crisp.
Transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. When cool enough to handle, crumble bacon.
Starting on top and approximately one-half inch from the sides of each potato use a small sharp knife to cut out an oval shape about 1/2 inch deep along the length of each potato.
Scoop out inside portion of each potato and place in large bowl including skin on top of potato
Leave at least a 1/4 inch wall remaining on the inside potatoes return potato shells in 2 rimmed baking pan with fork mashed potatoes into Bowl until small lumps remain. Stir in one Cup cheese milk butter chives nutmeg and remaining 1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper mix well spoon potato mixture into potato shells top with remaining one fourth cup cheese and crumbled bacon 15 to 18 minutes until cheese melts and potatoes are heated through.
Served with sour cream.
Cheddar Beef and Rice
1 pound of flank steak
2 cups (dry) long grain rice
1/2 cup each carrots
Green Onions (or ramps)
1/2 TBSP "Mrs Dash"
1/2 pound sharp cheddar
Parmesan (to taste)
Slice the flank steak across into 1/4" × 1. Flash sauté in butter to rare/medium rare.
Prepare rice using chicken broth in rice cooker.
Lightly sauté the vegetables in butter, until warmed through.
In a 9x14x2 inch greased baking dish, spread the rice evenly across the dish, then the mixed vegetables and then the beef
Across the top, spread the shredder cheddar to cover the beef.
Bake covered at 300°F for 20 minutes (to melt cheese)
Serve with parmesan and fresh crusty bread.
Oven Style Chicken and Rice
1 box Uncle Ben’s Long Grain Wild Rice (original)
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of celery soup
1 can water
(You can add another can of water for moister rice.)
Chicken breasts or tenders (you can use beef tenders also)
In a greased 9 x 13 pan, mix the box of rice, cans of celery and mushroom soup and
one can of water. I always add the extra can of water because I like moist rice.
Arrange the raw chicken on top of the rice mixture.
Cover and seal with foil.
Bake at 350 degrees for 2 1/2 hours and “Don’t Peek!”
Your house will smell so good!
3/4 cup sugar
3 cups can milk
1 cup heavy cream
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
3 cups cooked, cooled, rice
1 cup raisins
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Beat the eggs and sugar together. Slowly pour in the milk and cream and mix well. Add the vanilla and cinnamon and mix well. Add the rice and raisins and stir to combine. Pour mixture into a greased casserole dish.
Place the filled casserole dish inside a larger, oven-proof dish. Add about 2 inches of water to the larger pan (or enough to fill about halfway up the side of the rice pudding dish). This method will help the pudding to have a custard texture.
Bake for 30 minutes. Gently stir. Bake for an additional 30 minutes or until a knife inserted comes out clean. Serve warm.
Angela Carter has written a collection of short stories that include one where a female transvestite believes she has gotten her wife pregnant. In another, a girl borrows a hyena from the zoo so the hyena can attend the ball in her place. Angela Carter's Book of Wayward Girls and Wicked Women. 400 pages, $21.00.
Coleridge once wrote of a gaudy sophist who stood under a rainbow caused by steam rising above a pile of manure in a piece called The Steam of a Dunghill.
William Faulkner’s stories were not always admired. In 1937, Geoffrey West wrote a review of Absalom, Absalom saying that “the book has almost everything against it, a tiring prose, an exasperating method, a distasteful subject-matter dubiously attaining the dignity of the tragedy it hints at. Yet, the author's passion, that conflicting love and hate finding no rest or resting place, gives its pages indubitable vitality; it lives as unquestionably, and if too often as awkwardly than sometimes as beautifully, as other's of Nature’s more eccentric creations.” Then Oprah recommended Faulkner’s work and today his books sell better than they did while he was alive. Life is not fair.
Not a story plot but it could be. "Australian police caught a one- legged burglar by following the trail of one-footed footprints.” Police admitted it was, “Not the hardest series of crimes to solve because he cut a pretty distinctive figure with one leg.” You can’t buy police work like that.
Ten-year-old Tom Phillips, of Abergavenny in southern Wales, wasn't allowed to drive his father’s tractor, but when he saw a 2,000 bull knock his father down, he started the tractor and used it to push and keep the bull away from his father. His father was rescued and is now recovering in a hospital from ten broken ribs.
Mike Treciak of Jackson, Michigan, heard his neighbor, Tim Kirkland, scream for help. A jack had slipped and he was trapped under a minivan he was working on. Treciak ran over and lifted it so that Kirkland’s son could pull him to safety.
Ninety-year-old Charles Futrell is the oldest man to complete a sanctioned triathlon by swimming 440 yards, bicycling ten miles and running three miles. All of this in two hours and 18 minutes.
These United States
A Washington state woman drove her vehicle down a boat ramp into a lake because the GPS told her to. She and two passengers were able to escape and swim to shore.
The Portland Water Bureau drained a 7.8 million gallon reservoir because they caught one man urinating in the water. What about all those birds flying over and dropping doo-doo into the lake?
California police confiscated all copies of the Big Bear High School year book because it contained a photograph taken during a dance where a 17 year-old boy was seen in the background pinching a 15 year-old girl’s thigh. They called it child pornography depicting sexual activity. The police said possession of a copy could lead to prosecution. Just what this country needs, more busybodies.
A New York man was kicked off a delayed Atlantic Southeast Airlines flight because he spat out a string of vulgar expletives about the delay. He claimed he was not disruptive and in his native Brooklyn “we curse as adjectives.”
The number of Tweets sent by members of Congress dropped 28% as a result of Weinergate.
The Miami Herald ran an ad for Macy’s congratulating the Miami Heat for winning the NBA finals after they were crushed by the Dallas Mavericks.
In a British survey, 15% of people admitted they had served guests food that had fallen on the floor.
Lesbian bloggers were surprised that blogger “Gay Girl” in Damascus, Syria, actually was a married American man who made it all up. Another guy who needs to get a life.
In 1930 the average American woman owned nine outfits. Today they own sixty.
Kids going to summer camp in Maryland must bring a signed statement from their parents giving camp counselors permission to apply sunscreen and not be accused of improper touching of a child. We live in a lawyer heaven. But it’s a stupid hell for the rest of us.
A Michigan prison inmate is suing the prison to obtain his right to read pornography while in prison. He claims that he suffers from “Chronic Masturbation Syndrome." See note about lawyer heaven above.
A competitive eater (?) named Joey “Jaws" Chestnut, won the Coney Island hotdog eating contest by downing 62 hotdogs in ten minutes. His mama must be proud.
And, last, this gem. A New Hampshire apartment complex now requires dog owners to provide DNA samples from their dogs to allow the complex management to identify un-scooped dog poop. The complex’s manager said the owners who complained the loudest were probably the reason the policy was enacted.
Life in Germany
German police have scrapped an experiment to locate bodies using trained vultures (I am not making this up) instead of trained dogs. The experiment failed because the vultures were prone to eat the dead bodies.
For Those Who Have Everything
The Zafirro Iridium razor made by an Oregon company has solid white sapphire blades 5,000 times thinner than a human hair. It is supposed to last forever. Cost? A mere $ 100,000.00.
“The immaturity that obstructs rational autonomy-or self government according to rational precepts-derives not from any lack of understanding, but lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another." Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)
"The heart of another is a dark forest, always, no matter how close it has been to one’s own.” Willa Cather
"A country without a memory is a country of madmen." George Santayana
"When congress makes a joke it's a law and when they make a law, it’s a joke.”
"The man who can smile when things go wrong had thought of someone else he can blame it on.” Robert Bloch
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:Dorothy Rothchild Parker; 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: Nothing; is a self-taught independent philosopher who is still learning. He has two books, both collections of essays, available on Amazon.com. His latest book, More Colors Through My Mental Prism is also available.
Brad Carver: Life in Moccasin Gap; was a regular columnist. His book, Daddyhood, was published in 2007. Brad was a humorist, and friend who lived in Semora, North Carolina. This is a reprint from November 2012. He is now deceased and I still miss him
Peggy Lovelace Ellis, 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.
Sybil Austin Skakle: Reaffirmed Persistence and August Bounty; 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: A Dutch Adventure; 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: How to Get What You really Want : 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.