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RPG Digest

February 2019


Copyright 2019 by the RPG Partnership

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February 2019




Thanks to all these talented writers who have contributed to every issue of RPG Digest with such enthusiasm.





Table of Contents

Because We Care by E. B. Alston. 2

Was Gertrude Stein a Genius? by Rita Berman. 3

Thoughts by G. K. Chesterton. 9

Natters of a Nomad by Peggy Ellis. 10

A Tree’s Life by Randy Bittle. 11

Nationalities  by Marry Williamson. 12

Dear Cupid by Laura Alston. 14

Grandmother’s Photograph by E. B. Alston. 15

Three Rivers to Cross – Seralized book by Elizabeth Silance Ballard. 16

Life In Moccasin Gap by Brad Carver. 22

Spring by Laura Alston. 23

Gone but Not Forgotten by Rita Berman. 23

Children Are Quick. 25

These United States. 26

Hammer Spade and the Inca Curse – Serialized book by E. B. Alston. 29

Groundhog Humor. 36

Anne Perry by Diana Goldsmith. 38

From the Kitchen of P. L. Almanza. 39

An Affair to Remember by Elizabeth Silance Ballard. Error! Bookmark not defined.

Big Shirley Biscuits by Tim Whealton. 44

Contributors. 46



Because We Care

E. B. Alston


            A reader wrote to say he liked the magazine because it wasn’t “snooty.” Another wrote to compliment us on the variety of the pieces in the magazine, both subject and era. One month a few years ago, we were favorably compared to the New Yorker magazine. This was high praise indeed. We didn’t let it go to our heads.

            The truth of the matter is the magazine in all it’s iterations has benefitted from the work of unknown, but very talented, writers who have found a forum for their work in this magazine. While I appreciate the comments, I can claim no credit.

            Time flies. This is the eleventh year we have put out a magazine. The magazine is, I confess, quite a lot of fun.

            Its hard to be witty in January, and folks have been subdued since the election. You’re pretty much left to your own devices. I’m working my new book, The Venus Chronicles.

            I read a piece a few days ago discussing drudgery. To be specific, it was about alleviating women’s drudgery. The writer’s reasoning was, if women were given freedom from cooking meals for their families, these women would be enabled to advance to “higher culture.” An added benefit was all the money saved if wives stopped cooking meals and the family ate in public cafeterias. I was in the U.S. Army, we ate in a “cafeteria” that was called an Army mess hall. I can say right now that if this plan comes to fruition, I will carry a can of beanie-weenies everywhere I go.

            He went on about how women would have less to worry about if they didn’t have to cook. If this man finds a way to stop women from worrying, he will have done a remarkable thing and it will make him rich.

            I suppose, theoretically, almost everyone would like to be freed from worry, but they wouldn’t want to be freed from worrying occupations, such as writing this. I want to write this column. I guess you’d call it “fun” drudgery. I worry about whether it will make any sense when I finish. Will anybody else think it makes any sense?

            Whenever some busybody starts worrying about “women” as in all women, you can believe they are not thinking of anybody specific. Its easier to “fix” the world than it is to get along with your neighbor.

            Allow me to make a point. We, men and women, worry about the things we are interested in. If we are not interested, we do not worry about it. If you list all the things women worry about you will have also listed those things that most interest them. Like their children, or their children’s school grades, or if their children are getting proper nutrition. I never had a significant worry until I had children and the joy and the worry came in the same package. The sense of satisfaction at the end is worth it. The worry, if I think about it all, is an almost forgotten badge of honor.

            Those who come up with these ideas forget that people worry about things they care about.  Specifically, women and mothers care so much about their children’s nutrition that, given the choice, they would never defer decisions about their children’s nutrition to strangers. And to say that women’s work is drudgery is to say that men’s work is ten times the drudgery and these millions of men and women whose lives consist of worry and concern would not trade one second of it to be worry-free because they care.


Happy Groundhog Day



Was Gertrude Stein a Genius?

By Rita Berman   


Gertrude Stein, born February 3, 1874, in the same year as W Somerset Maugham, but what a difference in their style of writing.  Maugham has been called a non-modernist, and Stein an avante garde writer, a modernist whose fiction, poetry, drama and exposition was monumentally innovative, according to Richard Kostelanetz. His book The Gertrude Stein Reader includes many of Stein’s less familiar texts.

Kostelanetz says that from 1902 when she began her first novel to her death 44 years later in France on July 27, 1946, Gertrude Stein wrote steadily, producing some of the most extraordinary books in modern literature – texts so original that they still strike many literate people initially as “unreadable and bunk.”

GertrudeStein.JPGI found Stein’s life entwined with Alice B. Toklas to be even more interesting than her books, so this article discusses both women.

Stein was born in Alleghany, PA.  Both of her parents died before she was 18 and she was emotionally and financially able to lead her life the way she chose.

Her younger brother Leo was studying at Harvard.  Although she had not officially graduated from high school and did not know Latin, (a prerequisite for entrance) she was accepted at Radcliffe as a special student.  Her favorite teacher was William James, who taught her about psychology.    

After graduating magna cum laude Stein rejoined her brother Leo in Baltimore and studied medicine at the Johns Hopkins Medical School. 

In describing her behavior as a student one of her Hopkins professors observed: “She could do nothing with her hands, was very untidy and careless in her technique and irritating in her attitude of intellectual superiority.” 

Another faculty member said, “Either I am crazy or Miss Stein is.”  During her third year of medical study, her interest in medicine waned. She became involved in a triangle love affair with a fellow student May Bookstaver.  May and another Bryn Mawr graduate called Mabel Haynes were also lovers.  Later Stein wrote about the trio in her first book QED.       

When she showed it to her agent William Bradley in 1932 the book was refused because it was about lesbian love. After Toklas read the manuscript she is said to have been so jealous on discovering that Stein had an earlier lover that she made her change the verb “may” and even the name of the month, throughout the manuscript of a poem Stein had written.

Stein left medical school in the middle of her fourth year, after failing most of her classes, but she continued her research for several more months.  Her lack of achievement disappointed friends and family.

In 1903 she followed Leo to Europe and they lived together at 27 rue Fleurus in Paris.   Here they bought paintings from artists who were just beginning, and thus began their collection of modern art. 

In 1905 Pablo Picasso, who was then 24, saw Stein in an art gallery; and he found her appearance so infatuating that he asked to paint her portrait.  Her hair then was long and dark, with gentle curls that, as in the Picasso painting, were pulled back across the crown of her head.  Twenty years Stein was said to be massive, with a large face and close-cropped gray hair.  

In 1907 Michael Stern suggested to several San Franciscans they should call upon his siblings when in Europe in 1907.  Alice B Toklas was among this group.

In The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas, Stein describes the apartment at 27 rue de Fleurus as it was then.  “Four small rooms, a kitchen and bath, and a large atelier (studio) adjourning.  The dining room was lined with books. Tacked up on the only free space, the doors, were a few drawings by Picasso and Matisse. In the studio right up to the ceiling were pictures …pictures of all kinds. Matisse, Picasso, Renoir, Cezanne, Valloton, Toulouse-Lautrec, a Daumier, even a little Delacroix and a moderate sized Greco.” 

Alice became a habitual visitor to Stein’s residence and joined the household in 1908.  When Leo later moved out he took his collection of paintings with him.

From the various biographies it is evident that without the faithful Alice, who was more than a friend and lover, Stein could not have spent her time writing and cultivating artists in her Paris salon.  Alice was the housekeeper, the secretary who transcribed Stein’s handwriting, and sent the typed manuscripts out to publishers.  The money from the shrewd investments that Gertrude’s older brother Michael made in managing their family finances, supported Stein. 

Toklas had attended private schools in California, studied piano with a student of Liszt, played in concerts, graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in music, and then gave up music completely.

She was 30 years old when she met Stein.  Her appearance, according to Mabel Dodge, was unattractive, “her eyelids drooped, and the corners of her mouth, and the lobes of her ears drooped …weighted down with long, heavy oriental earrings.”  She was small and wispy, later as she aged she had facial fair. “Nicely ugly,” was the way James Beard, the gourmet and cooking authority,” described her. Stein was only 5 ft. 2 inches tall, and when she got older reportedly weighed over two hundred pounds. According to Kostelanetz she had a commanding personality.  She was alert, articulate, cordial, imperious, and quarrelsome. She was also demanding of attention and gave the impression, not merely of doing what she liked but of being almost anything she wanted to be.  “She seemed at once female and male.”

Janet Malcolm’s book “Two Lives,” published in 2007, described Stein as a “self-proclaimed literary genius, who no one reads anymore.”

Nor did many people read her back in 1909 when she paid a small publisher to print 1,000 copies of Three Lives, and sales were negligible.

The book had taken her only a few months to complete with almost no revisions.  But not even her brother Leo’s lack of enthusiasm for her writing stopped her from paying for its publication after commercial houses had turned it down.

Grafton Press was a vanity press and yet the publisher was so concerned about sales that he sent an editor to her Paris apartment to talk her into revising the prose style. She firmly sent the young man away. Years later after being reprinted by Random House and others Three Lives became one of her two popular works.  It has been called a feminist work for the stories are about a woman’s world, one in which women’s voices are heard expressing their inner feelings, wishes, moods, ideas, and confusions. And above all else, earnestly advising one another the best way to life.   

Stein’s writing habits were that she wrote from midnight to dawn and then slept into the afternoon.  Influenced by James she looked at the power of words-in-themselves.  Experimenting to see if what failed to make logical sense nonetheless made emotional sense. 

Toklas began her morning by typing the handwritten pages that Stein produced.   And it was Alice who submitted the manuscripts to prospective publishers. Had Stein not been wealthy enough to support herself and Alice she could not have indulged herself by continuing with her efforts to separate language from context, to use words without a formal framework.

Here’s an example of her early writing:

“In working when she did what she did she worked all she worked and she did all she did when she did what she did.  She did what she did and she worked.  She felt what she felt and she did what she did and she worked.  She did what she did and she felt what she felt when she was doing what she did when she worked.” The piece continues in similar vein for 4 more lines.

Early on Stein had decided to experiment like modern art and do the opposite of convention.  “It’s not all repetition,” she said, “I always change the words a little.” She described this repetition as “insistence”.  

According to Toklas “it was one of Stein’s aims to describe something without mentioning it.” Thus there are no comprehensive descriptions, plots don’t come to a climax, instead plenty of repetition, circling around a subject. 

Stein herself said “she liked writing.  It is so pleasant to have the ink write it down on the paper as it goes on doing.”

A reporter once asked Stein, “Why don’t you write the way you talk?” and she replied, “Why don’t you read the way I write.”

 Stein is known more for her salon and interest in modern art, and the collection she and her brother Leo amassed of Cezanne, Picasso and Matisse works.   She held court in her salon in Paris and younger writers like Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald, Sherwood Anderson and others sought her out.  Within the literary world it was known she was doing something special. Stein is said to have influenced artists like Picasso and writers including Hemingway.

Hemingway was only 23 when he visited Stein. She wrote that he was extraordinarily good-looking, with passionately interested, rather than interesting eyes.  He sat in front of her and listened and looked. 

Later, Toklas and Stein visited Hemingway’s apartment and Stein went over all the writing he had done up to that time. He was writing a novel that Stein found wanting.  She told him, “There is a great deal of description in this, and not particularly good description.  Begin over again and concentrate.”  Stein advised him to drop his newspaper work if he intended to be a writer.   

 In his memoir called Alice and Gertrude and Others, Donald Sutherland described his impression of the relationship between Stein and Hemingway as being “more than literary comradeship or even maternal and filial affection. I had heard that Hemingway had not infrequently said in conversation and once at least in a letter (to W. G. Rogers) that he had always wanted to lay her.”

All this inside story make the lives of Stein and Toklas more interesting than Stein’s writing.  The salon, the stream of artists and writers, all coming to pay homage to Stein.

In those years even if she was influencing others, she wasn’t publishing.   Carl Van Vechten put her manuscripts away for safekeeping and he became her literary executor after her death.  

The art Stein collected funded some of her writing.  In 1930, Alice B. Toklas sold a spare Picasso painting to Mrs. Averell Harriman in order to set up a company called Plain Edition that published 5 of Stein’s books. 

In one of them titled How to Write she wrote about grammar, sentences, paragraphs and vocabulary.  In a lecture she said, “Sentences are not a contradiction but a combination…because the emotional paragraphs are made up of unemotional sentences.”       

However, it was The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas, written in 1926, and published in 1933, that brought Stein to the attention of the general public. This was the first time a prominent U.S. publisher invested money in Stein’s works.   By then she was 59 years old.   

Stein said she wrote the book in six weeks while staying in Bilignin “and it was published and it became a best seller…I bought myself a new eight-cylinder Ford car and the most expensive coat made to order, by Hermes and fitted by the man who makes horse covers for race horses, for Basket the white poodle and two collars studded for Basket.  I had never made any money before in my life and I was most excited.”

It became a best-seller, was a Book-Of-The-Month selection, and, as Stein said, her first income from writing.  But it is not about Alice, it is mostly about Stein, writing about herself from the viewpoint and voice of Alice.  There is a long chapter about Gertrude Stein in Paris in the years 1903-1907 which is before Alice showed up. In addition there is a lot of gossip about what went on at Stein’s salon, the visits of Picasso, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald and their conversations, and this is what appealed to the general public. Rather like the celebrity magazines of today.

One story I particularly enjoyed was about Helene, the excellent cook employed by Stein.  Helene made a very good soufflé.  She did not like Matisse because she said, a Frenchman should not stay unexpectedly to a meal particularly if he asked the servant beforehand what there was for dinner.  Matisse had done this.

So, when Miss Stein said to Helene, Monsieur Matisse is staying for dinner this evening, she would say, “in that case I will not make an omelet but fry the eggs.  It takes the same number of eggs and the same amount of butter but it shows less respect, and he will understand.”

The result of publication was that Stein came to the attention of the average reader and was invited to give a lecture tour across the United States.  She and Alice went to the USA in the summer of 1934, after an absence of some 30 years for Stein.  A young man had told Stein that American ate tinned vegetable cocktails and tinned fruit salad.  So she decided that before lecturing she and Alice would eat alone on oysters and honey-dew melon, occasionally fish or chicken.

On the lecture tour Stein gave interviews that made the front pages of newspapers.  Her post-lecture repartee was said to be brilliant.  People remembered her exact remarks decades later. One day Stein and Toklas lunched at the University of Virginia with some of the faculty.  At dinner Alice was paralyzed to find she was seated next to Mr. James Branch Cabell, who was a popular author of fantasy fiction.  Cabell cheerily asked, “Tell me, Miss Stein’s writing is a joke, isn’t it.” Alice wrote that this question put her completely at ease.   

After the lecture tour Random House reprinted Three Lives and this led to more interest in her writing.  But her later work was said to be weaker than the early pieces. The language became cute, her perceptions glib. Her newfound popularity led her to giving her readers what she and her publishers thought they wanted.

Stein’s major passion after writing was eating; and this is borne out by the reminiscences in the Alice B. Toklas Cook Book, which Toklas wrote after the death of Stein.  Published in 1954 it is a delightful mixture of recipes and recollections of their life together.

“Before coming to France I was interested in food but not to doing any cooking,” Alice wrote. “When in 1908 I went to live with Gertrude Stein… she said we would have American food for Sunday-evening supper, she had had enough French and Italian cooking.”

Alice’s first attempts were fricasseed chicken, corn bread, apple and lemon pie that she had eaten in California.  When the pie crust received Gertrude Stein’s critical approval Alice made the dressing for the turkey at Thanksgiving and from then on she grew experimental and adventurous in cooking.   In a chapter called Murder in the Kitchen she points out that cooking is “not an entirely agreeable pastime,” particularly during the wartime Occupation of France when she had to kill the carp, and pigeons, before she could cook them.

In my opinion, Toklas is a far more interesting writer than Stein.  She can hold your attention and leave you with amusing memories.  For example, Alice relates that in 1916 Stein drove a truck for the American Fund for French Wounded.  Stein called the truck Aunt Pauline.  Stein knew how to do everything but go in reverse.

  Alice wrote: “there was no civilian traffic until one day after a delivery to a military hospital in Montereau Stein blocked the entrance to an inn where she was to eat lunch.  Crowded with military cars none of them could leave because her truck blocked them in.  Fortunately, an officer helped her to back out.”

In 1920 the truck was no longer repairable and so Stein bought a 2-seater Ford. Alice commented to Stein that the dashboard was nude.  No clock, ashtray or lighter.  Stein promptly named the new car “Lady Godiva.”

Stein’s need for attention is revealed by Alice Toklas who wrote that when American soldiers landed in France in the 1940’s,  a major and three colonels asked Gertrude Stein for her autograph and asked if they could visit her if they were in that area again.  She replied, “Several colonels have come to see me…Now I would like a general.”

One of the officers said, “We are on the staff of General Patch, who commands the 7th Army.”

Stein’s response, “You tell him I would like him to come to see me. If he does we will give him a chicken lunch.”

Patch sent a message via another colonel, thanking her for the invitation and said he hoped to be able to accept when the war was over. Alice sent him a cake that she had baked.

Stein’s last days in 1946 as described by Alice in a letter to Carl Van Vechten, were that  “after a trip to Belgium just before Christmas 1945 ‘Baby” complained of being tired and said she wouldn’t go about so much and we’d see fewer people.

“In April the doctor said she needed to be built up and then an operation.  She refused the operation, felt better but got very thin.  The day after she left Paris to stay at a friend’s house she had a short, painful attack.  Went back to Paris and consulted with doctors who said she needed treatment then refused to proceed. Stein dismissed them all and then Dr. Valery-Rado and Dr. Leriche operated on her for cancer but it was too late.”

Toklas sat with Stein before the operation and recalled that Stein said to her “what is the answer?”  Toklas was silent.  In that case, Stein said, “what is the question?”….Later they took her away on a stretcher to the operating room.  I never saw her again.”

In The Gertrude Stein Reader, Richard Kostelanetz wrote that “although Stein spent nearly all of her adult life abroad, mostly because a comfortable, job-free existence was more feasible in Europe, she was scarcely an expatriate. She never considered herself French, and she disliked reading, even newspapers, in any language but English.  In her will, she described herself as legally domiciled in Baltimore, Maryland, but residing in Paris.”

In Stein’s will she left her manuscripts, correspondence and photographs to Yale. She wanted all her unpublished writings to be published. All the paintings, with the exception of the Picasso portrait of Stein (which was left to the Metropolitan Museum of Art), were left to Alice for her lifetime and then would pass to Allan Stein, the child of Gertrude’s oldest brother Michael, after his death to his children.

Allan died before Toklas and the probate court appointed an administrator who sent money in dribbles to Toklas, leading her to sell about forty Picasso drawings, this led to legal proceeding and in June 1961 while Alice was away in Rome the paintings were removed from her apartment under court order by Allan Stein’s children who had them declared as “endangered” as they were uninsured.   Even pictures that belonged to Toklas and not part of the estate had been removed.   

For 20 years after Stein’s death Alice lived alone, at first she spent much time getting Stein’s unpublished manuscripts into print. She was drawing a monthly allowance of $400 from the estate and used it to pay the rent of the apartment and household expenses.  She enjoyed one meal a day, let the white poodle out and in, and taken to the vet.

And she wrote letters, having found a new avenue for her energy in letter writing which she referred to “as her work.”  Edward Burns transcribed more than 3,000 letters and prepared a collection of letters from the last 20 years of her life. 

  Toklas had written that Stein felt like an older sister to Picasso.  Once, she took him by the lapels and shook him when she was displeased with him and he responded by kissing her on either cheek.  They understood each other in spite of saying dreadful things when they were irritated.  

Otto Friedrich who visited Toklas in 1948 (after Stein’s death) and saw the living room crowded full of painting, wrote that she was a tiny, hunched old woman, 71 years old, accompanied by a giant poodle with yellowing hair. But her ugliness was irrelevant, wrote Friedrich, for she was interested in writers.  And he, only 19 years old, was writing his third book. She asked to see it when it was finished and thus began their friendship.  He last visited her in 1963 when she was 85, and saw that all the paintings had gone, leaving the walls naked just faintly marked showing where the pictures had been.  

When Alice was in her 80’s she had an eye operation which restored enough sight so she could read holding a magnifying glass.  She gave up cigarettes at 87 and by then she could no longer walk.  The white poodle Basket II was dead.  She was evicted from the apartment on rue Christine and spent three months in the American hospital because of ill health. She then moved across Paris to Rue de la Convention, a newer, lighter apartment where the walls were so thin that she wrote, “A neighbor sneezed the other day and I heard it.”

After more than 50 years in France she still had a Californian accent.   Alice remembered she had been baptized as a Catholic when a little girl and “then I wandered.”  In the hopes she would be reunited with Stein she confessed to a priest in 1957.  She died on March 7, 1967 almost 90 years old.  She was buried in the same vault as Stein in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.  She left her papers to Yale University.

Some years ago I saw a Peter Sellers movie, “I Love You, Alice B. Toklas”, released in 1968, in which the characters got high on Alice Toklas’s brownies. The recipe that Brion Gysin gave her for Haschich Fudge appeared in the 1960 edition of Alice’s Cook book, p. 273, but had been deleted from earlier editions. According to Alice anyone “…could whip up on a rainy day...this is the food of Paradise…it might provide an entertaining refreshment for a Ladies Bridge Club or a chapter meeting of the DAR… it produces euphoria and brilliant storms of laughter.” As the book is still under copyright so I will not provide the recipe here.

More recently there is the movie Midnight in Paris, written and directed by Peter Sellers, with Owen Wilson, as a young writer who hero worships the writers and artists of the 1920s and earlier and travels back in time to meet them. I have viewed my DVD of this a half dozen times and never tire of the portrayals of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Stein. 



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


Natters of a Nomad

Peggy Ellis


Recently, we had dinner with a prospective resident in my retirement community. He was a United States citizen originally from Germany. He made a remark that people in the United States don’t want to learn the language of people who immigrate here. I told him of a news article I’d read that contained the statement, ‘more than 900 official languages are spoken in North Carolina every day’. (I cannot vouch for the authenticity of that statement.) I asked him which I should learn first. My husband promptly changed the subject.

You see, that’s one of my soapboxes. I believe all immigrants should learn the language of their adopted country. Do I expand that to learning some language of our travel destinations? Some of our travel companions do. I don’t with the reason my mispronunciation might be more confusing than my English.

English is the language of the world. I learned that several years ago in conversation with a World Health Organization employee who regularly traveled over large parts of the world. She stated WHO officials had declared all meetings would be in English, and further stated other scientific organizations had done the same. I now have a friend who travels to many countries on evangelism trips. They, too, speak only English in their meetings.

I’m not aware of any country that requires children to learn any second language other than English. In our travels, we’ve learned people like to practice their English with us.

A local guide in San Juan, Puerto Rico, comes to mind as one who did not. We had a very difficult time understanding him. He persisted in talking about ‘hodulls’. I thought he might be saying ‘hovels’ but we were not in a slum area. Finally, he said ‘Howard Johnson’ and I realized he was talking about hotels. He’d learned English by reading, not by hearing.

Our guide in Lucerne was the opposite. She eagerly told us she’d learned English by listening to the BBC out of London, yet she recognized our accent was different and consistently asked if we could understand her.

Even native-speaking people in one country speaking the same language in another can have difficulties. Our guide in Quebec told us of using her native French tongue in Paris. She couldn’t understand those people and they couldn’t understand her.

When I lived in Chapel Hill (now there’s a melting pot of languages!), I had a native Spanish-speaking client from Chile working on her doctorate. One of her professors, a native of Spain, consistently corrected her with the statement the only correct Spanish is the pure Castilian Spanish of Spain’s upper classes.

One of our most pleasant encounters concerning English was in Heidelberg, which some people call The City of Swans. For lunch, we chose a restaurant known for its soups. The waitress spoke English well and was eager to practice it. She described one soup as “the big white ‘veggie-table’ [her pronunciation] that pulls apart.” She repeated pronunciation and the spelling of cauliflower several times and then described another soup. She couldn’t remember the word for “the other white bird, not chicken.” We guessed all we could think of, then Jim said swan. She glared at him and said, “We don’t eat swan!” Jim finally came up with goose.

In Germany, we had a local guide who obviously had learned English by reading. She referred to the South-ern part of the United States. Okay. North-ern, West-ern, East-ern, so why not South-ern?

I greatly admire people who attempt to learn English as a second language. I doubt if there is a more difficult language on Planet Earth.

A Tree’s Life

Randy Bittle


bittle 1.jpgFor my 60th birthday in December, I did something I have never done before.  I will only be 60 once, and I needed some philosophical reinforcement to bear the weighty transcendence into my seventh decade of life.  So I bought a tree.  Not just any tree, but an eight-and-a-half inch bonsai tree with a strategically bent and aesthetically shaped trunk.  All my life bonsai trees fascinated me, and now was the time for me to try sustaining the life of an indoor tree.  Of course I named it.  Drawing on ancient Greek vocabulary for a distinctive nomenclature, I call it Plektos (twisted) Stelekhos (trunk).

Plektos Stelekhos was only the initial $34 purchase setting off a cascade of subsequent purchases.  A tray with pebbles to hold water for humidity around the tree, a bottle of concentrated bonsai fertilizer, a misting bottle, a small dropper to measure the liquid fertilizer, a graduated 200-ml borosilicate beaker for watering, and a dual head LED grow light were all needed to maintain the life of my new bonsai tree.  Plektos arrived on November 30th, and for 37 days it has been thriving and quietly living the life of a tree in my presence.

Philosophical contemplation of Plektos includes what it means to be an unconscious living being.  The tree is alive, yet it has no centralized cognizant awareness of its existence.  Plektos just sits there, sucking up water and soil nutrients through its roots and shuttling them up through the trunk and limbs to the leaves, where photosynthesis transforms light from the grow light into energy for biological cellular processes.  The tree comprises a complete system of organized molecular activity sustained by water, air, and light.  This complex system represents the essence of life.

bittle2.jpgFurther contemplation of the tree’s life reveals the fact that my body, a complex system of interrelated molecular activity itself, carries out most of its functions without conscious effort or awareness.  I am unaware of the breakdown and absorption of food into molecules usable by cells inside my body.  I do not consciously engage the lungs in breathing or the heart in pumping blood.  It is all unconsciously regulated by molecules in the cells that make up the tissues and organs.  In many ways the essence of my life mirrors the life of the tree.

If my consciousness is unnecessary to sustain life, what good is it?  Everybody has their own purposes, reasons, and experiences of conscious awareness, but contemplation and understanding are at the top of the list for my personal consciousness.  Luckily, contemplation and understanding can be solo enterprises.  I would like to find a good woman interested in mutually shared contemplation and understanding. That would be nice.  But my observations show that dissatisfaction, anger, lying, and arguing seem more appealing to the majority of women than contemplation and understanding.  51% constitutes a majority, so up to 49% of women should not be dissatisfied, angry, or need to lie or argue about my observation.  You decide where you fall on the spectrum.

These negative qualities I sometimes see in women are okay, even desirable, in small quantities.  It is good to be dissatisfied or angry when appropriate, white lies can be good, and arguing with logical reasoning is the very basis of philosophical inquiry.  But when these are predominate character traits of an individual without clear direction or justifiable intention, that person becomes insufferable and unbearable to spend time with.  I advocate more contemplation and understanding for your own peace of mind.  What is the allure of a mindset steeped in dissatisfaction, anger, lying, and arguing?  Alas, I shall follow my path of contemplation and understanding alone until the right woman comes along.

One might ask at this point, as a living being, is it better to be me or the tree?  The answer is a split decision.  I speculate that the tree likes being the tree, and I kind of like being me.  Plektos Stelekhos is well maintained and thriving, and I can’t help thinking there’s an unconscious sense of well-being in Plektos as he carries out his molecular functions.  I too carry out the subconscious molecular functions of a living being, but I enjoy my mental meanderings.  Having a conscious mental existence suits me well.

I delight in pondering philosophical conundrums.  Indeed, just watching a candle flame excites me as I wonder what actually happens to the atoms and molecules involved in the controlled processes of burning wick and melting wax.  I love non-fiction books and the university-level courses produced by The Great Courses company.  Google “The Great Courses” to find out more about the exceptional learning experiences in their courses.  I also thoroughly enjoy writing for my readers.

Some of my readers are amateur radio operators.   I have many friends through amateur radio and talk with them daily.  Most of them are above average in intelligence and our conversations span a wide range of interesting topics.  My amateur radio friendships are valuable to me.  Yes, I live a good life, and I am consciously grateful for all I have and do.  If Plektos could be appreciative, I’m sure he would appreciate my actions taken to sustain his healthy existence.  Recently turning 60, I appreciate Plektos giving me an agreeable perspective on aging.  Three days have passed since I started this essay, and the tree has now been in my house for 40 days.  Thank you Plektos for existing and sharing this thing called life as we age together.




A Parody

Marry Williams


I recently read somewhere that mankind enjoys making fun of other nationalities. We try to keep an open mind but we cannot help it. The following illustrates the preconceived ideas that we have about the various inhabitants of other countries. I have, of course, my tongue firmly in my cheek.

We start this little tale with Hans Untergruber. Hans is German and an upstanding and righteous character for most of the time. He is very fond of his ‘bratwurst’ and ‘schweinebraten’. He is methodical and not overly endowed with a sense of humour except for the obvious and crude, at which he laughs very loudly slapping his lederhosen. He loves going on holiday and extending his horizon providing he can book the loungers by the pool.

On one of his holidays he teamed up with Pierre Dutout. Pierre is French and a bit of a pernickety, slightly effete character looking as if he is chewing a wasp and not given to bursts of raucous laughter like Hans. He likes deep and inscrutable movies with storylines that go nowhere.

He loves coffee and croissants and cervelles and thinks that all other country’s food belongs in the ‘poubelle’.

He almost always dresses in a stripy shirt and wears a black beret with a little worm-thing in the middle. He has, however, ditched his string of onions and garlic.

The pair of them met on a flight from Amsterdam to New York. They struck up a conversation with Jan. Jan van Heemskerk is Dutch and a Amsterdammer from the Jordaan, which is an area in the heart of the city. Jan looks quite unkempt and a bit wild and is so laid back that he is almost horizontal. But their suspicion of Jan vanished after he shared his cake, baked by his doting mother with them. After that they became bosom friends and started to find everything hilarious. Even Pierre unpursed his mouth and let out a few ‘rires’.

Their flight was fine. The trouble started after they disembarked at Kennedy Airport. They hit a queue, or ‘line’ as they say in the States. This line was about a mile long and snaked through immigration. Tempers flared. Not Hans’s or Pierre’s and certainly not Jan’s who steadfastly stayed laid back. But the tempers of various other travellers, especially the Italian family, consisting of a very fat mama and papa and numerous offspring, who shouted a lot, started to fight amongst themselves and made rude gestures. They were removed by a burly chap in a uniform and a mouth full of chewing gum.

There was another altercation when another big uniform walked past the line shouting : “anybody with a green card?” A few people said yes and they were taken out and walked straight to the front of the queue. This upset the rest of the queue and things threatened to get nasty for a while until about four or five chaps with chewing gum got everybody under control.

When our trio finally got to the front it became clear why there was such a long line. Another burly uniform asked them the most ridiculous questions about themselves, their parents and even their grandparents. Each interrogation lasted at least 10 minutes but at last they were through, got their luggage and hailed a yellow taxi into New York, their first port of call. The taxi driver was called Kostas Milodiakis. They knew this because there was a sticker in the taxi telling them. He also had pictures of his entire family and lots of colourful icons stuck all over the cab and a set of worry beads dangling from the mirror. All this he relied on heavily as he took on the traffic. He certainly did not rely on his driving skills or road sense. Hans and Pierre were petrified.

They gripped the edge of their seat, the cake having worn off somewhat and even Jan was sufficiently uncomfortable to let out a few ‘verdommes’. In the event they reached their hotel safely, thanks to Kostas’ worry beads and greek icons.

Their hotel was cheap and not very clean. Hans and Pierre were not too happy but Jan just got on with it. The next day they met two backpackers in the lobby. Bruce Hogan is from ‘Daan Under’. They knew that because he kept telling them “I am from daan under. He also wore a wide brimmed leather hat with corks dangling from it even though there are no flies in Manhattan. He said he is used to it and cannot think straight without it.

Bruce is travelling with an Englishman. Tristan Cholmondley (pronounced Chumly) Wallace. Tristan Cholmondley Wallace is from a small Somerset village called Shepton Beauchamps (pronounced Beechams). He was an old Etonian and resembled Hugh Grant. He lost his accent at Eton although the Somerset burr fights back when he gets excited which is not very often. Bruce has a bit of a problem understanding him sometimes. He travels with an umbrella in his backpack in case of rain and he carries his own teabags as he only likes English Breakfast tea. He searches but cannot find a diner to serve him a ‘sunday roast with Yorkshire puddings’ and gets upset if they don’t have Worcester (pronounced Wooster) sauce and Colman’s English mustard for his steak. In fact he has asked his mother to send him some.

Also in the lobby of the hotel was Lee Ching from Beijing. He is a happy soul and laughs at everything. He also mixes up his l’s and r’s and they have much fun to repeatedly make him say things with as many l’s and r’s as they can think of. He said that he is on his way to visit his cousin who runs a laundry business in Los Angeles and the five of them decides to join him on his travels.

They found the greyhound terminal and booked a bus west across America. What can one say about an interminable bus journey? The bus drove on an on, stopping at some terrible towns. Places the American dream had clearly passed by. Eventually they reached Los Angeles and Lee Ching’s relatives who welcomed Lee Ching with open arms and lots of red balloons and streamers.

They were not too sure about Hans, Pierre, Jan, Bruce and Tristan until Lee Ching said something in rapid Chinese. After that they smiled at them and waved them inside. In the evening they all went to one of Lee Ching’s other cousin’s restaurant and treated to a lavish meal of dim sum, chow mein, sweet and sour porkballs and spring rolls after which they got distributed among Lee Ching’s numerous cousins who were putting them up for the night.

The following day Hans, Pierre, Jan, Bruce and Tristan said a fond farewell to Lee Ching and his family and set off to the Greyhound terminal where they boarded a bus to Mexico



Dear Cupid

Laura A. Alston


Cupid dear, where are you?

I need you to work some magic for me.

This is the only time I’ll bother you.

So, please listen carefully to what I have to say.


When I was young, love knocked on my door,

But I quickly bid love to go away.

Now, I find myself seeking true love.

I need you, dear Cupid, to steer love my way.


Trying to find true love has not been easy.

At the time love knocked on my heart’s door,

I did not take love seriously at all.

Now I ask, Cupid dear, where are you?


Grandmother’s Photograph

E. B. Alston


The photo of my grandmother when she was nineteen

Is a revelation. Today she’d be a beauty queen.

Except for the quaint style of her hair

And her dress. Old fashioned. You don’t see them anywhere.


It’s hard to think of my grandmother as pretty.

She’d be a hit today on any street in any city.

She was born in the 19th century for Christ’s sake.

Yet, today, she’d be the target of any callous rake.


Not that grandpa would allow it.

He was pretty sharp himself in his courtin’ kit.

He had himself a grin wide as a mile.

Like a man who’s got it made, and knew it.


Zelma Clark Benson

Born December 7, 1886 - Died November. 24, 1977


Zelma Benson.jpg


Three Rivers to Cross

Elizabeth Silance Ballard


Chapter Thirteen


3 rivers.jpgBack at Meredith, Suzanne and I burned the midnight oil and got through finals, and then were faced with student teaching. From the beginning, even though I was nervous and shaky, I loved being in the classroom. I could hardly wait to get there each morning and, at our weekly seminar session on campus, I—the girl who rarely spoke in any class during my entire life—could not stop talking. I was that excited about the work.

“I just love it!”

“We’re so glad for you, Charlotte,” the seminar professor said, patting my shoulder, “but we need to allow the others to talk about their experiences, too!”


All too soon, graduation was only three weeks away.  As I walked to my dorm on Friday, after my last day of student teaching, Greg was waiting for me on the front  steps of my dorm.

“Where can we talk where we’re not likely to be interrupted, Charlotte?”

“The tennis courts are usually deserted this time of day and there are plenty of benches.  What’s wrong?”

Greg is going to break up with me. He wants to call the wedding off.

He squeezed my hand as we walked across the quadrangle, but he did not say a word until we found a bench well away from the front courts.

“Honey, something has come up and I hope you won’t be too disappointed.”

I looked at him, holding my breath, expecting the worst, but he wasn’t breaking up with me after all.

“There’s a mission group leaving for Brazil right after graduation. I’ve been asked to participate. This is a great opportunity, Charlotte, but they’ll be gone for six weeks. I have to give them an answer by tomorrow before 5:00 pm. The guy who was supposed to go was in an accident and can’t travel for a while and I’d be taking his place. If I can’t do it, they’ll contact someone else.”

“It does seem like a great opportunity but what about a passport, Greg? You don’t have time to get one.”

“Oh, I have a passport. Mom, Dad, and I all got passports when I was in high school, when our church was planning a mission trip a few years ago. It didn’t pan out so this is my first opportunity to use it. Anyway, I didn’t want to give them an answer about going until I talked with you. I know it will affect our wedding plans.”

“We haven’t actually set a date yet, Greg, since we’ve been so busy with this last semester. You just be ready to walk down that aisle when you get back! I don’t want you to miss this trip. I see how much you want to go and you’re right. It WILL be a great experience for you.”

“Charlotte, that’s not what I want to do. That’s why I’m here. I want us to get married before I leave.”

I was flabbergasted and that’s putting it mildly.

“It means you won’t have the wedding of your dreams, but one of my professors called a friend of his who pastors a Baptist church in Mount Robbins who is  prepared to marry us in his church next Friday evening, if that’s okay with you. We’ll need two witnesses so I’m thinking Suzanne and maybe another friend.”

“What about our parents?”

“I know this is going to sound selfish, Charlotte, but let’s not tell them yet. We’re going to have so little time before I have to leave on Sunday afternoon. I want to spend all the time we have together, just the two of us.”

I didn’t think twice. Normally I have to ponder over things, but not this time.

“It may not be the wedding of my dreams but I’ll have the husband of my dreams and that’s really what matters. I’m sure our parents will be upset but they’ll understand in time.”

He pulled a paper out of his pants pocket and handed it to me.

“This is my blood test certification. You’ll need to go be tested yourself and then take both certifications down to the court house and get our marriage license.”

 He looked at his watch. “It’s now 3:45. I have to get back for a meeting tonight regarding our mission objectives. I know I’ve thrown a lot at you in just a few minutes but I’ll leave you with a good thought: There’s a honeymoon cottage waiting for us next weekend. It’s all arranged. I hope you’ll be packed and ready when I get back next Friday!”

“I’ll be ready!”

I waved goodbye and ran to the room, praying that Suzanne would be there. She was and I just blurted out the news.

“What? You’re getting married next Friday? Oh, my goodness! Aren’t you glad we had your bridal shower last weekend?  You’ve got that beautiful blue negligee that some of the girls gave you.”

“Negligee?  What am I’m going to get married in? I have nothing to wear! Nothing that looks like a bride and I can’t afford to go shopping for a dress.”

From that moment on, the days were a whirlwind of  studying for finals and going through every item of clothing the two of us had for something I could  wear for my wedding dress and for clothes to take for my honeymoon weekend. On Thursday,  I was fighting tears as I looked at the clothes spread out on our beds.

 “Nothing looks like something a bride would wear,”  I said.

“No, it certainly does not!”

Suzanne stomped out into the hall of our dorm and yelled, “Bride needs help here!  Anybody?  HELP!”

Soon the room was full of girls who were loaded down with dresses and shoes. When they finished with me, I had on a beautiful white lace dress and a rather large bow with enough veil that I did really look like a bride. I even had on the prettiest underwear I had ever seen!

“The undies are a little honeymoon gift I got for you a while back. I didn’t know you’d need them this soon so I don’t have any pretty wrapping paper,” Suzanne said.  “Now look through these other things from the girls, take what you want, and we’ll sort it out when you get back.”


Suzanne and I left the next afternoon with just about everybody on the hall following us and, when Greg walked to the steps to meet me, the rice started flying.

“You look beautiful!”

Never in my life had anyone told me I looked beautiful and now every girl in my dorm, it seemed, was telling me. I knew I wasn’t, of course, but I admit that, for the first time in my life, I felt beautiful!

In no time at all, in a blur of pure happiness, Mr. and Mrs. Gregory Langlois Cleveland took off for parts unknown amid a shower of more rice. As soon as we were out of sight, Greg pulled over and gave me a kiss I knew I’d never forget.

“And there’s more where that came from, Mrs. Cleveland!  Now, take this and read the directions. The pastor gave me the keys to his family’s lake cottage. It’s ours for the weekend.”

I never knew I could be so happy. The lake was a beautiful setting for a honeymoon. The cottage was perched high up on a bluff overlooking Lake Chardon and there were steps leading down to the dock.

“That’s their boat, but I don’t want to take a chance with an unfamiliar boat on an unfamiliar lake. Besides, I don’t think we’ll have time for boating!”

“Oh? Got other things in mind?”

“Yep! There’s a pantry stocked with food and a freezer with steaks. Get busy, wife. Cook me some supper!”

I started for the kitchen but he pulled me back.

“I’m kidding! We’re not going to waste any time on eating and boating!”

And we didn’t!


On Sunday morning, we drove back to the campus.

“I hate to leave you, Honey, but they’ve got meetings set up to get us ready for the trip. I know you can’t come to graduation next Friday and I’ll miss yours, too. I just hope you won’t miss having a real wedding after things calm down and you start thinking about it.”

“We’ve had a real wedding, not to mention a real honeymoon, and we’ll have the real pictures to prove it. I’m going to take the film to the drugstore tomorrow and get it developed. I’ll have them make two copies and I’ll send you a set.”

“Oh, I almost forgot. Here is the address you can write to me in Brazil. It’s a Baptist Good Will Center address but that’s going to be our base. They’ll make sure we get our mail. Oh, Charlotte, I’m going to miss you. I’m not even sure I want to go now. Since I didn’t decline the offer on time, though, I really do have to go.”

“It’s all right. We have the rest of our lives to be together and this is a wonderful opportunity for you. By the time you get back, I’ll have my certification to teach and, hopefully, will have found an apartment for us.”

“Oh, I forgot to tell you! Don’t worry about an apartment. I applied for Married Student Housing and got it! We’ll have an apartment waiting for us.”

“Well, you were pretty sure of yourself! What if I had changed my mind and gave the ring back to you?”

“Fat chance of that! I’ve seen the way you use your left hand all the time.  I couldn’t pry that ring off your finger if my life depended on it. So just kiss me one last time and I’ll force myself to leave.”

I watched him drive away, his left arm out the window giving a backward wave. Everything had happened so fast but I knew I wouldn’t have changed anything about the last three days.

I had two more weeks to wrap up things at Meredith. My parents were coming for the proud moment of seeing me graduate. At least, Daddy was coming. I truly didn’t believe Mama would actually leave the island.

Suzanne squealed and jumped up to give me a hug!

“Well, if it isn’t Mrs. Cleveland. Excuse me, Ma’am, but this is a dorm for single women!” Then she laughed and yelled, “Okay, girls! Come on out!”

The room was suddenly filled with girls with Pepsi-Colas, bags and bags of chips and cookies, a big box of Moon Pies, and a huge cooler of ice.

“Welcome  to your  special belated wedding reception!”


Chapter Fourteen


I waited until after graduation to break the news. We went to lunch at  The Golden Calf and had ordered, and were waiting for, our meals. Mama was looking around as if trying to find a way out but Daddy was scowling. 

“Okay, let’s have it. Why is…?”

Mama interrupted him, something I had never seen her  do. “Charlotte Anne, where is your ring? Did you and Greg break up? Is that why he isn’t here? You gave his ring back? Why?”

“No, Mama. Actually,” I said, reaching into my handbag for my rings, “actually, Greg and I were married two weeks ago. Here are our pictures of the wedding and the place we stayed for our honeymoon weekend.”

Mama looked puzzled as if she hadn’t quite grasped what I had said. It was Daddy who reached for the pictures and I saw him slump, ever so slightly.

“So, why didn’t Greg come? How could he miss his wife’s graduation?”

“Daddy, he’s in Brazil on a mission trip with several pastors and ministerial students. His graduation was last weekend and I didn’t get to attend his either.”

“So,” Mama said, “I got only one daughter and she didn’t want to wear my weddin’ dress but it don’t even matter  ’cause there was no weddin’. Not one  we were invited to, anyway. We came for a graduation, so proud and lookin’ forward to the weddin’ this summer and now?  I’m sorry I came.” She looked at Daddy. “I’m sorry I let you talk me into comin’!”

It was the most I had heard Mama  say at one time in years. It was the most emotion I had ever seen her display. It was the only time I had ever seen her show anger. Or maybe it was disappointment. I wasn’t sure. It was obvious that I had ruined the special day for them both.

“What about his parents?” Daddy asked. “How do they feel about all this? Were they at the wedding?”

I explained how it all came about and described our ceremony with just Suzanne, her boyfriend, Greg and me. I told them all about the beautiful lake cottage and how the girls in my dorm had a “reception” when I got back.

“So, are you coming back home with us like you had planned?”

All the emotion had gone out of his voice. I knew Daddy had accepted the situation. To him, it was a “done deal” and there was nothing to say or do except finish our meal, stow my belongings onto the truck bed, and go home.

Later, Suzanne and I stood in our now empty dorm room. Our parents were in the parking lot ready to leave. We hugged and promised to stay in touch.

 Suzanne had pleased her parents by doing student teaching “as a back-up plan” but we both knew she was not cut out for teaching and  she  just didn’t want to do it.

“Would you believe they already found a school with a vacancy and contacted the principal about it? What a homecoming this is going to be for us both.  Our parents aren’t happy with either of us right now.”

We left the room quickly and never looked back. The halls were already empty. It was a bittersweet day.


Back home on Rattlesnake Island, I was more than restless. I was worried about Greg. I had been home for two weeks, which meant he had been gone three weeks and I had no mail from him at all. Even Mama seemed worried by that time.

“Are you sure Greg knows you’re here at home?”

“Yes, Mama, he knew I was coming home. If I don’t get some word from him tomorrow, I’ll  call  the  Clevelands.”

Of course, there was no phone on the island. I would have to go across the river and call my in-laws from Lon’s home.


I looked at my watch when the pounding on the kitchen door awakened me. It was exactly 2:30 in the morning. I jumped up and reached for my robe.

“Stay where you are, Charlotte Anne, you and Mama.”

At that moment, we heard Lon yelling,  “Mama! Daddy! It’s me, Lon!”

Mama and I followed Daddy downstairs and my heart was pounding. None of us uttered a word until Lon came inside. We knew something truly bad had happened to bring my brother across the river at that hour. 

Mama and Daddy started talking at the same time.

“What’s happened, Lon?”

“Is it one of the children?”

Lon came over and took me by the shoulders, “Charlotte Anne, I’m sorry. It’s Greg. His parents called us just a bit ago and I came straight over here. They had been worried because they hadn’t heard anything and didn’t know how to get in touch with you to see if you had heard from Greg.

“They decided to call the airline this afternoon and make sure nothing had happened.  Said they couldn’t get any answers on the phone but shortly before they called me, two officials  from the airline went to their home.

“They were told that the plane never made it. They were too broken up to give many details except that the plane had reported some problem while they were still out over the ocean and the last word from the pilot was that they were going down.

“One of the officials told them that with the speed of the plane and altitude it had been flying, there was no possibility of survivors, but that search and rescue planes, boats, and helicopters have been searching. So far, they’ve found nothing, not even plane debris.

“The airline had no way of knowing who to contact for many of the passengers and Greg was one of them.  The Clevelands are devastated. Said they had even seen on the news about a plane going down but never once thought that it was Greg’s plane because at the time they heard it, they knew Greg would already have been in Brazil.

“It seems that for some reason, the group Greg was with took another plane the following day. The Clevelands didn’t know about the change in flights and that’s why they really were not concerned when they first heard about the crash. Greg’s plane would have left the day before the second plane, the plane that crashed.”

“Wonder why Greg didn’t let anybody know about the change in his flight?”  Daddy seemed angry.

“We’ll never know why but my guess is that some of the group members didn’t make it to the airport on time for the original flight so they all waited and left together on the next available plane, which turned out to be the following day. Greg’s parents feel guilty about not calling to check right away.

“They didn’t have a phone number for any of us so they just called Directory Assistance for any Gurganus in Meadow View and they tried my number. They were mighty upset and kept apologizing for calling so late at night but the airline fellows had just left and their first thought was to reach you, Charlotte.”

Daddy held me close just as he did when I was a little girl and cried over a bad day at school.  I never knew one could be too numb to cry but there I was. I felt wild inside but unable to say or do anything.

 Greg was gone. I knew, from all Lon had said, there was no hope of a mistake or even a rescue. My husband was dead. We had our wedding, a week later he graduated and flew off to Brazil, a week later I graduated.

I had been home the last two weeks getting frustrated because I hadn’t had a letter from him, when all the time he was gone. While I was graduating and while we had our celebration lunch at The Golden Calf, Greg was already dead. Drowned.

I felt as if I were sobbing and screaming all at the same time, but it was all inside myself. I had no voice, no tears for the man I had dated for the last three years and had married without even telling my parents. The only boyfriend I ever had, the one man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, to have a family with, was gone.

I couldn’t understand what I was supposed to do. What does a woman do when her husband dies? Dies so suddenly when he had everything to live for, whose wife was not even there with him. I knew how I felt. I just didn’t know what I was supposed to say or do. It didn’t matter, though. I was, apparently, incapable of doing or saying anything at all.

Mama went to the kitchen and came back with a glass of water and a pill.

“Take this, Charlotte Anne. It will help you. Come on. I’ll help you up to bed. You need to sleep right now. Things won’t seem any better in the morning, but you’ll be better able to deal with it.”

Sleep? I knew there was no way I could sleep but I believe I nodded and took the pill and then tried to stand up but I couldn’t move.

Finally, Daddy just picked me up and took me upstairs. It was late June but I was shivering. I couldn’t stop shivering. 

“Get a blanket, Lon! She’s in shock.”


Continued Next Month



I'm getting into swing dancing. Not on purpose. Some parts of my body are just prone to swinging.


Life In Moccasin Gap

By Brad Carver


Valentine’s Day: Greetings from Moccasin Gap where the women are beautiful, the men are handsome, and the children are perfect.

It’s Valentine’s and every woman in town is expecting flowers and candy. Mrs. Lester looks like she’s had one M&M too many. It takes a lot of chocolate to get a butt that size. You can spot that butt from outer space. I didn’t know they made bloomers that big. Her bloomers have more room than my apartment. Her bloomers can cover a blimp. She’s woman squared; too much woman for one man to handle.  Men are afraid of her. If she runs out of food she might eat them. Image that – eaten alive by a big woman. That is not the legacy you want.

I always get my wife Valentine’s Day flowers. And she gets me candy. I don’t want candy. All I want is for her to walk in front of me naked. If she has a beer in her hand at the time all the better. I’m not sexist, it’s just I’m really not hard to please, and my woman looks really fine naked. That’s all I want every holiday, my Birthday, Christmas, Father’s Day, Mon-day.

Valentine’s Day is definitely not a man’s holiday. But if we remember the flowers and the candy and the cards that say stuff that we never read then, you should let us watch Super Bowl Sunday and drink beer and eat those little weenies, and not give us a bunch of crap about it. Pack the kids in the car and go to your mother’s. And I’m having friends over so this is not the time to strut through the living room naked. 

I really don’t think that’s asking too much. We’ll even take you out to dinner. You can even sit there and watch it with us, just don’t talk. This is not the time to explain the game of football; this is the time to watch it.

Cousin Earl got his wife a big bunch of flowers last Valentine’s Day and they didn’t cost him a dime. He just strolled through the cemetery. Earl’s not the brightest light bulb in the box, but he knows how to save money, bless his heart.

I got a card from my ex. It reads, “You’re nothing but fetid sperm, a sack of dung. I have never known a viler dunghill.” I think she wants me back.

One’s first love is always perfect, until one meets one’s second love. My ex is currently on her fourth love. It seems that one can’t seem to find one’s true love, as long as it’s someone other than this one than this one is happy.

I don’t know who started Valentine’s Day, probably a bunch of florists who needed money. So support you local florist. Buy your woman flowers. And remember, the flowers, just like your love will someday die unless you give it water.

Water your love and keep it growing. I have no idea what that means, it sounds like something stupid from a fortune cookie.

I read up on St. Valentine. He was a Christian martyr who was beheaded in the year 270, but he had nothing to do with lovers. In fact, it’s actually more likely that the word Valentine came from the Norman word “Galentine,” which meant masher or playboy.

So ladies if you want to be politically correct, send your favorite masher a card that reads, “Be my Galentine!” And be prepared for anything.

On Valentine’s Day 1960 America had a new number one song titled Teen Angel by Mark Denning.  A perfect love song for Valentine’s Day, you will remember this tender love ballad was about a teenager who suffered a broken heart while being run over by a train, rock-n-roll. I was listening to the radio earlier, the number one song this Valentine’s Day is A Pimp Can’t Get Nowhere ‘Cause His Ho Don’t Know. It kind of misses your heart and goes right to the liver doesn’t it?

Have a happy Valentine’s Day and ya’ll come see us now you hear? We’re about twenty-five-miles from the Virginia border in the middle of nowhere, NC where outhouses are still in use and we don’t lock the doors at night, or any other time for that matter.

If you can’t find us, you don’t need to be here.



by Laura Alston


The greenness of spring is arriving soon.

I can feel it in spite of winter’s chill.

Although spring has been gone a long time,

Its memory has sustained me through the winter.


Spring is like a frisky kitten

Running capriciously among flowers.

It is warmer breezes blowing

Among the newly budding trees.


I welcome spring with its promises.

I will gladly shed the heavy cloak of winter.

I embrace the sunny days that it brings.

I salute the spring rain that is sometimes present, too.


Spring demands to be shared;

One can not keep it to oneself.

Now I have a greenness of my own to give.

There is no more grayness within me.



Gone but Not Forgotten

By Rita Berman


This past year some of our treasured writers and publishers left this world.  The loss of creative individuals is felt not only by family and friends but reverberates to the general public. Their voices are stilled and we are left only with what has been published, recorded, or filmed; stories that we have enjoyed before and may find ourselves drawn to again.  Thus we feel the passing of these individuals as keenly as if they were an old friend.

I mourn the passing of Carol Reuss, a friend and one-time fellow member of Women in Communications, Inc.  Carol died on Wednesday, December 31, 2018. She was one of the first women on the faculty of the UNC School of Media and Journalism in 1976.  Started the public relations program and guided many students in their choice of a career in communications. A quiet- spoken woman she was generous with her time and interest. After her teaching career ended and she became Professor Emeritus she served as an Associate Provost at UNC from 1987-94.

Perry Deane Young died on New Year’s Day 2019 in Chapel Hill. A couple of years ago I ordered a used book from Amazon.com and was thrilled to find not only had it been mailed from Chapel Hill but it had his name on the fly leaf.   Young was a journalist and author who first found fame as a Vietnam War correspondent.  He attended UNC in 1959 and returned to Chapel Hill in 1993. Young also wrote plays and books, one of which was the 1977 best-seller, “The David Kopay Story.”  His time in Vietnam as a war correspondent for United Press International was later fictionalized as the Dennis Hopper character in the 1979 movie, “Apocalypse Now.”  When he was interviewed by the News & Observer in 2015 he said that of all the Vietnam movies that was the one that got it most right.  His best-known book was also about Vietnam, “Two of the Missing.”

Billy Barnes, Sr. was a photographer, writer and film producer who died September 5, 2018. He too lived in Chapel Hill and our paths had crossed a number of times, participating in various community events and writers’ conferences. Barnes became a photographer during the late 1950s, following a tour of duty in the Korean War.  His first job was with McGraw-Hill Publishing Company in New York where he established his reputation as a documentary photographer. He worked for the North Carolina Fund in 1964-1968 which was an offshoot of Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. In the years that followed, his photographs and articles were published in local and national media, as well as short film features on WUNC-TV. Barnes was also a lover of music, and played the guitar and harmonica.

Ralph Bernard Reeves, III, died at the beginning of 2018 on February 24. Better known as “Bernie” he was a vibrant personality, civic and community leader. He had attended the University of North Carolina and had a keen interest in history. He founded an alternative weekly paper, launching the Spectator Magazine in 1978, and I was thrilled when he published some of my travel articles.  When he founded the Triangle Business Journal in 1985 I became one of his contributors.  Reeves was a keen promoter of the growing Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill area envisioning it would become, “the Triangle, a uniformed community, whether they liked it or not,” he wrote. He received many awards for his professional work and service to the North Carolina community, a more complete list appeared on the News & Observer Obituary page on February 26, 2018.  In 2011 he was honored by the Association of Retired Intelligence Officers for his founding and producing of the Raleigh Spy Conference. 

On the national scene I note the passing in 2018 of Anthony Bourdain, Harlan Ellison, Peter Mayle, V. S. Naipaul, Philip Roth, Neil Simon, and Tom Wolfe.

Their stories introduced readers to a variety of experiences.  Bourdain’s memoir of his life as a chef in “Kitchen Confidential”, warned what could happen if you alienated your waiter. Naipaul presented colonial society at the beginnings of great transition, using mostly his own family in “A House for Mr. Biswas”.  Philip Roth explored male sexuality, Jewish identity, and mortality in “Portnoy’s Complaint” and Tom Wolfe a journalist and satirist skewered the elite in “The Bonfire of Vanities”.

Harlan Ellison is said to have written more than 1,700 short stories and articles and at least 100 books. Although he was ranked with Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov he insisted he wrote speculative fiction. His best-known works include “A Boy and His Dog” was made into a 1975 movie. He contributed “The City on the Edge of Forever,” a back-in-time episode of the “Star Trek” television series in 1967, and numerous episodes to television series such as The Man from U.N.C.L.E, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and The Twilight Zone. Isaac Asimov once called Ellison “one of the best writers in the world.”

France has been a favorite holiday destination for me ever since I was a young girl and Peter Mayle’s memoir “A Year in Provence” describes life as it was in the mid 1980’s. The book was expected to sell only a few thousand copies but more than 5 million copies were sold worldwide. He followed up with “Toujours Provence” in 1991. After experiencing visitors knocking on his door and walking through his property he was disenchanted and for some years he moved to Long Island New York, but returned to France in the late 1990s without revealing his location. In 2006 he said, “The only thing I want from tomorrow is that it should be as good as today.”  He died in a hospital near his home on January 18, 2018.

V S Naipaul was born in Trinidad, he won the 2001 Nobel Prize for literature and wrote 29 books, 14 of them non-fiction works. “A House for Mr. Biswas” is said to be his most significant work. He was 85 when he died 11 August 2018.  According to his obituary in The Guardian, his native island, the former British colony of Trinidad, with its extraordinary meeting of peoples and cultures, was his seedbed. In 1950 Naipaul went to University College, Oxford, to study English and become a writer. He admired journalism (the occupation of his father), because it was much better than the novel in keeping up realistically with the changing world. In his Nobel lecture he said, “Everything of value was in his books.”

For more than 40 years Neil Simon, entertained readers and play goers with his humorous observations of life.  He won the Pulitzer Prize for “Lost in Yonkers,” and the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. His play “Brighton Beach Memoirs” ran for four years on Broadway in the post-1950s era.  In his 600 plus page book, “Memoirs,” Simon said he created the play’s family by doing the exact opposite to what happened to him in his own life. “The Goodbye Girl” is another of my favorite movies, with Richard Dreyfuss and Marsha Mason, who became the second of Simon’s four wives. Simon was 91 when he died August 26, 2018.    

For those of us who enjoyed their creativity there is sadness when their voices are stilled. But how fortunate we are that we can access their works in print or on screen.  They are gone but not forgotten.




Children Are Quick

TEACHER: Why are you late?
STUDENT: Class started before I got here.

TEACHER: John, why are you doing your math multiplication on the floor?
JOHN: You told me to do it without using tables.

TEACHER: Glenn, how do you spell crocodile?
TEACHER: No, that's wrong.
GLENN: Maybe it is wrong, but you asked me how I spell it. (I Love this child)

TEACHER: Donald, what is the chemical formula for water?
TEACHER: What are you talking about?
DONALD: Yesterday you said it's H to O.

TEACHER: Winnie, name one important thing we have today that we didn't have ten years ago.

TEACHER: Glen, why do you always get so dirty?
GLEN: Well, I'm a lot closer to the ground than you are.

TEACHER: Millie, give me a sentence starting with I.
TEACHER: No, Millie. Always say, 'I am.'
MILLIE: All right...I am the ninth letter of the alphabet.
TEACHER: George Washington not only chopped down his father's cherry tree, but he also admitted it. Now, Louie, do you know why his father didn't punish him?
LOUIS: Because George still had the axe in his hand.

TEACHER: Now, Simon, tell me frankly, do you say prayers before eating?
SIMON: No sir, I don't have to, my Mom is a good cook.

TEACHER: Clyde, your composition on 'My Dog' is exactly the same as your brother's. Did you copy his?
CLYDE : No, sir. It's the same dog. (I want to adopt this kid!!!)

TEACHER: Harold, what do you call a person who keeps on talking when people are no longer interested?
HAROLD: A teacher.




These United States


Harold Camping, the preacher who predicted the world would end with the Rapture on May 21st and when it didn’t, said the end was coming on October 21st, has quit the prediction business and is retiring. There’s still the Mayan calendar to deal with.


“We are no longer moving faster. ‘Clean-tech’ has become a euphuism for ‘energy too expensive to afford’ and a near certain way to lose a lot of money.” Peter Thiel NR October 2011


Kevin Gaylor of Colorado invited a woman he met online to come to his home. The woman and his girlfriend showed up at the same time. He told his girlfriend that the woman was a burglar and called the police to prove it. He has been charged with giving a false report to the authorities.


A Massachusetts couple got lost in a 200 acre apple orchard and called 911 when they couldn’t locate their car. The police contacted the orchard owners who rescued the couple in a buggy. When asked how often that happened, the owner said they had been in business 85 years and this was the first time.


A new American word courtesy of Russ Thomas: Ineptocracy (in-ep-toc-ra-cy) - A system of government where the least capable to lead are elected by the least capable of producing, and where the members of society least likely to sustain themselves or succeed, are rewarded with goods and services paid for by the confiscated wealth of a diminishing number of producers. 


A Texas man serving a life sentence for armed robbery got his sentence overturned because he was in jail at the time of the robbery. LaDondrell Montgomery has been in and out of jail so many times he couldn’t remember until his lawyer checked his records.


After a fake news release reporting he was dead was pasted on Twitter, rocker Jon Bon Jovi, who grew up in New Jersey, posted a picture of himself holding a sign that read, “Heaven looks a lot like New Jersey.”


The Marist College Institute of Public Opinion has found that “Whatever” is thought to be the most annoying verbal filler for casual conversation. “Like” was voted second and “you know” was third.


The issue of Playboy magazine featuring Lindsay Lohan has been their biggest seller in years.


A Utah couple who got caught shoplifting returned to their car only to discover it had been burglarized. “I think they were unlucky,” the policeman observed.



A British woman, Emma French, started labor during her driving test and drove herself to the hospital. She got her license and a baby and was congratulated for both accomplishments.


A research study found that there are more Porsches in Greece than people who make over $68,000.00 a year.


The banker, Charles Rothschild, in his time off from running the family bank, amassed a collection of 30,000 specimens of flea. Steven Brown in TLS


A Zimbabwean man was arrested for having sex with a donkey. He explained to the police that the donkey was really a shape shifting prostitute that he met in a night club and had paid $20.00. “She must have transformed herself into a donkey and tied herself to the tree” and he didn’t realize he was having sex with the donkey until he was arrested. (I don’t make this stuff up.)


A 92–year-old great grandmother didn’t have an ID and a British liquor store refused to sell her a bottle of whiskey.


The # 1 peril to Pakistani government seems to be, not India, not the Taliban, and, remarkably, not the United States.  It is rogue texters. Cell phone providers have been ordered to filter indecent words and phrases out of text messages. The banned lexicon includes any mention of human anatomy, sexual and excretory terms. Also included are “Jesus,” “monkey crotch,” “mango,” “taxi,” “hobo,” and “athlete’s foot.”


The European Union water standards committee has challenged a claim by a bottled water company that their product is useful in preventing dehydration. They asked for scientific proof that this had been demonstrated by scientific tests.



The reviewer of Trivia, by Logan Pearsall Smith, wrote, “There is little to be got from this book except pleasure. It contains no information.” It tells of a kindly advisor who warned an author to, “Beware of caring too much for style. Lest he become like those fastidious people who polish and polish until there is nothing left worth reading.”


If you want to organize your reading you could choose book titles based on the days of the week. Start with A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur by William Gibson. Then Monday After the Miracle by William Gibson, Something I’ll Tell You Tuesday by John Guare, Any Wednesday by Muriel Resnic, Thursday’s Child by Sonya Harnett, Felony Friday by Scott Decker and finish up with Saturday Night and Sunday Morning by Alan Stilltoe.



“To be counted among the world’s richest 1%, a single individual has to earn just $34,000 a year. Members of the planet’s true middle class live on just $1,225.00 a year.” CNN.com.


“The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has limits.” Albert Einstein


“Only one letter divides the comic from the cosmic.” Vladimir Nabokov


“The illiterate of the future will not be the person who cannot read. It will be the person who does not know how to learn.” Alvin Toffler


“A man of genius cannot help where he is born.” Ezra Pound

“To my mortification, I grow wiser every day.” Lord Byron


“The ability to appreciate a good sentence and the ability to fashion one are acquired in tandem.” Stanley Fish


“Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society.” Mark Twain


“Blessed is he who expecteth nothing for he shall not be disappointed.” D. H. Lawrence


“The man who does more than he is paid for will soon be paid for more than he does.” Napoleon Hill


“Advice is like castor oil, easy to give but dreadful to take.” Josh Billings


Hammer Spade and the Inca Curse

E. B. Alston


Chapter Four


hsic cover.jpgIt took me until late afternoon to interview everybody and get back to the conference room. The operation center called to say they couldn’t spare anybody and for me to handle it.

Sally was right about the staff. Although they were technically proficient in their assignments, they needed strong and careful guidance from somebody like Clover. I wondered if Don Stringfellow would be interested. He was the best I could think of because he had experience in this sort of thing. He helped me rescue Alonia from her kidnapper in the Midnight Treader case.

I couldn’t ask Jack or Dave for suggestions. I have always thought of myself as self-sufficient, but this case has shattered that personal illusion.

Isabela greeted me when I entered the conference room. Every foot of wall space had a chart or list of some kind taped to it.

“We have forty-five possible leads,” she said.

“Show me what you have.”

“Fuente has operations in Constitución in Chile, Córdoba, Argentina and Cochabamba, Bolivia. He may have others but we couldn’t find them.”

“Looks like we have our work cut out for us,” I said.

“A hearty amen to that,” Hart said unsmilingly. “I believe we are up against a pro.”

“What do you think?” I asked Oscar, who had listened to Isabela’s summary without expression.

“He is a man who hides from the world while he causes evil things to be done. He is vain and selfish. He cannot live without leaving tracks. We must find those tracks and follow them until we find him. When we do, I want to be the one who sticks the knife into the throat of the Ahanga!”

I hadn’t heard that word since I was on the Amazon River. “My sentiments exactly,” I said.

“Fuente has many men who work for him and many others in official positions who are his allies. I do not fear the man or his hoodlums. The more of them I can kill before we get him, the happier I will be.”

 I was surprised that Oscar was so bloodthirsty.

It was after eight p.m. We called it a day, had a quiet dinner, and retired to our rooms. I called Don and he accepted my offer.

“It’ll be good to get away,” he said, “but I need to be back before Thanksgiving.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Remember, I have a Christmas tree farm. Got to get back here and sell a few trees.”

“It’s possible, but I can’t guarantee that we will be finished.”

Don laughed, “Hammer, you always finish ahead of schedule. I have confidence that you will this time.”

“I’ll get Minerva to set you up and handle the paperwork.”

“I’ll see you sometime next week.”

He hung up. I wished I had his confidence.



Isabela was having a cup of tea in the dining room when I arrived for breakfast. Oscar joined us a few minutes later, followed by Hart. Isabela looked like a South American native but she acted like an aristocratic Englishwoman. She had impeccable manners and she was well groomed and appropriately dressed.

Sally joined us with a local newspaper and filled us in on the international news while we ate. I told them about Don Stringfellow and assured Sally that he was a very capable manager and logistics guy. She said she could work for anybody. If she could work for Clover, she could work for anybody, I thought. She said she’d tell the rest of the staff about Don.

When we got to the conference room, I told Isabela, Hart and Oscar that once we found somebody connected to Fuente, we would develop detailed plans of attack. If it was possible, I wanted us to work in subtle ways that would keep Fuente from knowing we were after him.

Oscar and Isabela agreed. Hart said he’d go along with our plan. My impression was that all Hart wanted was to be around when the shooting started. He left strategic and tactical issues to others.

“Do we have information on any group?” Oscar asked.

“We have a name and address in Córdoba,” Isabela said.

“Who is it?” I asked.

“Ronaldo Saavedra. He lives at a place called Villa Retiro,” Isabela replied.

“That sounds quaint,” Hart observed.

“How do we know he’s tied to Fuentes?” I asked.

“His name has been mentioned in a lot of recent cell phone conversations of the type drug dealers have, all through messages passed back and forth from a man named Raúl, who seems to operate out of Peru.”

“What kind of conversations?” Hart asked.

“Deliveries, disposal of cash, collection of money from dealers. What made us suspicious is the man named Raúl has ordered Saavedra to kill two thieving canallas.”

“What is a canalla?” I asked.

“Scoundrel,” Isabela replied.

“What do you think, Oscar?” I asked.

“It seems worth trying,” Oscar replied.

“We don’t have anything else,” Isabela said truthfully.

“Then I say we check this one out,” I suggested.

Everybody nodded in agreement.

“We must be careful,” I said. “The Argentine government is still mad at the British about the Falkland Islands. If we get into trouble, the Brits might not be able to help us.”

Everybody nodded in agreement.

“Okay, get to work on a plan to send two people to Córdoba to scope out things. If it looks promising, the rest of us will follow. Maybe Ronaldo Saavedra will lead us to Raúl Fuente, wherever he may be.”



I called Minerva the next morning to check on things and tell her about Don.

“Things are normal here,” she said. “We miss you.”

“I miss being there too. This has been a tough assignment.”

“I was quite distressed to learn Jack has been hurt.”

“Me too. The woman who was his partner in Colombia is here with me now. Quigley’s in a British submarine somewhere in the Caribbean. He’s coming here as soon as they drop him off at the sub base in the Bahamas.”

“Have you spoken to Alonia?”

“Yeah. We’re trying to schedule a few days off so we can meet somewhere.”

“Hammer, she’s worried about you.”

“I’m okay. Just wrapped up in this case.”

I heard Juanita say something to Minerva.

“I’ve got to go, Hammer. Mr. Stringfellow is on the other line.”

“Get him down here as soon as you can.”

“I will. Take care of yourself.”

“Bye, Minerva.”

Minerva is the most efficient manager I have ever known and I am fortunate to have her minding my business. She’s pretty and she’s smart enough to do anything she wants to do. Why she chose to work for me is still a big mystery.



Isabela was already in the conference room by the time I got there.

“I think we ought to send Oscar and Hart to Córdoba right away,” she said.

“I was thinking the same thing,” I replied.

Hart and Oscar came in.

“We gonna work today?” Hart asked. “Or are we gonna shuffle paper some more?”

I laughed. Isabela gave me a sly smile.

“We are going to work.”

“Good.” Hart replied. “Where?”

“I’m sending you and Oscar to Córdoba,” I said with a grin.

“It’s about time we did something,” he grumbled.

“Are you ready to get started?” I asked Oscar.

“The quicker, the better,” he agreed.

We spent the morning planning their departure and the list of equipment to send by diplomatic courier. They would travel separately with Hart arriving a day after Oscar who would rent a vehicle and pick up the equipment from the Embassy. Then, he would find a warehouse-type building for operations where we could stay out of sight.

“After you get a place, check out where Saavedra lives and watch where they go.” I told them. “Set up a phone tap if you can.”

“Are we allowed to kill any of them?” Hart asked.

“Only if necessary,” I said.

Isabela agreed. “Our job is to locate Fuente. We must not jeopardize any chance to locate him.”

“You’re applying more precision to this business than is possible,” Hart said. “Chance is sometimes our friend and sometimes our enemy. If we leave some dummy alive that could harm us later, we have fouled up. I say we kill anybody in Fuente’s organization that gets in our way as long as we don’t waste any time doing it and don’t get caught.” Hart was bloodthirsty too!

“Suppose we get lucky,” Oscar asked, “and have a chance to get one or two before you and Isabela arrive?” “

As long as it doesn’t jeopardize the operation,” I reminded him.

Oscar nodded and grinned. “I won’t.”

He, too, was itching for revenge.

I asked Sally to make the travel arrangements. She got Oscar out the next afternoon. Hart would leave on an early flight two days later. Don would arrive the afternoon of the day Hart left and I could get rid of the responsibility of managing this facility.

We spent the rest of the day getting Oscar and Hart ready.

While Isabela, Hart, Oscar and I were having dinner in the cafeteria, Sally came to the door, got my attention and motioned for me to follow her to Security.

When we were inside the room, she said, “There’s a woman outside ringing the doorbell.”

I looked at the monitor and saw Alonia, with her suitcase, standing outside the door looking very impatient.

“She’s okay,” I said. “I had better let her in.”

I wondered how Alonia had found me. Then I remembered she had a talent for showing up at odd times, like when I was losing a fight in that deserted house near Belhaven, North Carolina. What a sight she must have been when that guy looked up and saw her framed in the doorway. He got a strange look on his face and swore a Greek oath, “Daughter of Zeus,” and dropped his guard long enough for me to whack him with a two-by-four.

I expected Alonia to be in a bad mood, but when I opened the door, she smiled, threw her arms around me and kissed me. I pulled her inside and dragged her suitcase along with us because we couldn’t let outsiders see inside the building.

“I had to come because I knew you needed me,” she said

She stood back and gave me a critical once over. “You look okay. How do you feel?”

“It’s been tough but I’m okay.”

“I’m sad about Lady Margot too.” She paused. “She was my friend and I liked her. She was an admirable person.”

“I thought she was a lot like you.”

Alonia arched her eyebrows. “In what way?”

I laughed. “She was a headstrong woman who was used to getting her way and you two are intellectually similar.”

“But I don’t always get my way.”

“She didn’t, either. Did you surprise me so we could talk about another woman?”

“No,” she said with a smile. “I came because I wanted to make you happy.”

“How long can you stay?”

“I’ve got three days before I leave for my next assignment.”

“I can’t leave here. But I do have a private room and we eat in a cafeteria that is more like a military mess hall than a restaurant.”

“Hammer, that sounds fine to me. I told you that I’ve lived in a tent in the desert. I am okay as long as I’m with you.”

I picked up her suitcase. “Then be my guest, and by the way, how in the world did you find me?”

“Phoebus told me.”

“He kept reminding me to call you. Have you had dinner?

“No, I planned to eat with you.”

“We were finishing dinner when you rang the doorbell. The cafeteria is open 24/7 so you can eat anytime.”

She smiled her sweetest smile. “Why don’t I have dinner in the cafeteria and meet your colleagues. Then we can retire to your room where we can have a lovely evening together.”

“I thought you’d never ask.”

I put her suitcase in my room while she freshened up. When we walked into the cafeteria, Oscar and Hart were having an intense conversation while Isabela and Sally listened. I introduced them to Alonia.

Isabela spoke first. “I met you at an Embassy party in Bogotá a few of years ago.”

“You look familiar, too,” Alonia said. “It was a benefit for orphans, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, it was. Why are you here?”

“I’m not on the case. I’m visiting Hammer.”

“Oh,” Isabella replied with a questioning look.

“Hammer and I are engaged,” Alonia explained. She cut her eyes at me to see my reaction. I didn’t say anything.

“Hammer,” Isabela asked with a sly smile, “why didn’t you tell us you were engaged to a world famous model?”

“The subject never came up,” I mumbled.

Hart had been giving Alonia the once over while we talked and now he said, “You look familiar. Where have I seen you?”

“My stage name is Venus. You might have seen me on television or on the cover of a magazine.”

Hart’s expression changed from one of puzzlement to excitement. “Venus! You mean I’m sitting at the table with the world famous Venus?”

Alonia smiled. “Yes, you are.”

“You’re prettier in person than you are on the screen.”

“Why, thank you,” Alonia replied.

Conversation followed this line for a few minutes. Even Oscar got into it until Isabela reminded them that Alonia hadn’t had dinner.

Over dinner, the conversation drifted back to work, and by the time Alonia had finished eating, they had forgotten she was a celebrity.

After we got back to my room and I closed the door, Alonia asked, “I didn’t upset you, did I?”

“You mean about us being engaged?”

“Yes. It just popped out.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“What do you know?”

“Margot heard you tell somebody at a party when you took Inga and Rachel to your place north of Santiago.”

“Oh, that was when a nosy old friend asked about my marital status and I thought that would shut her up. I’m sorry if I upset you, Hammer, but I think of us as a couple.”

“It’s okay. I don’t want anybody else.”

Alonia gave her most beautiful smile. “Hammer, I love you,” she whispered. She paused, “and you’ve already given me a diamond.”

“I did?’

“You gave it to me when you came back from the diamond smuggling case in South Africa.”

I grinned. “I guess I did at that.”

“I brought my favorite diamond necklace with me and I thought I’d wear it tonight.”


Chapter Five


Raúl Fuente had a mistress in Urubamba named Guadalupe Garza. Urubamba in the Incan Quechua language means "flat land of spiders." He had ensconced her in an upscale apartment on the colorful Avenida La Salle, which was within walking distance of the town plaza. Guadalupe was pure native Inca and she was proud of it. She respected the Inca pantheon and disdained the “Christian myths” as she called them. She attended UCLA on a tennis scholarship and met Raúl during a tournament with Texas Tech. They had a brief fling during the tournament and she returned home to Urubamba after she graduated. She worked in a succession of jobs, including teaching, and continued to play tennis.

When Raúl settled in Urubamba to start his business, he moved his family there. One of the reasons he moved to Urubamba was its proximity to Machu Picchu, which was his place of escape from the cares of the world. When he was troubled he spent many healing hours among the ancient ruins dreaming of heroic times before the Europeans came.

His American wife hated Urubamba and Peru and everything else in South America. She soon sank into drug addiction and alcoholism. Raúl had kept playing tennis and it was inevitable that he would meet Guadalupe again. They rekindled their affair and, as Raúl’s success grew, he set her up in a luxury apartment with a cook and a maid. Guadalupe was not a pretty woman but she was trim, athletic and well groomed. Her eyes were her most attractive feature. They gave her a poetic “dark-eyed-glance” if she was in a romantic mood.

Guadalupe was trustworthy and Raúl could confide in her. She was the only person in his life that he trusted. They were not in love. Neither of them was capable of loving anybody. This arrangement was congenial to her because it allowed her leisure and enough money to play tennis all over the world. It was a good arrangement for Raúl, too, because he could speak freely around her and she gave him sex.

They were having dinner one evening after playing two sets of tennis when Raúl’s guard interrupted them.

“Menendez is at the door and asked to speak to you,” he whispered.

“Menendez?” Raúl asked. “Where is Castro?”

“Menendez says Castro is dead.”

“Bring him in.”

Then Raúl ordered the cook to set another place at the table.

The guard ushered a small, thin, wiry man into the dining room and motioned for him to sit at the table.

“Have you eaten?” Raúl asked Menendez.

Menendez shook his head. Raúl piled some food on his plate and poured him a glass of wine.

After the man had taken a sip of wine, Raúl asked, “What happened to Castro?”

“He was killed by an American.”

“What about Jorge and Milo?”

“They are dead too.”

“Did the American kill them?”

Menendez nodded.

“Did that fool Dan Allen get himself killed too?”

Menendez nodded again.

“What about Margot Fisher?”

“She is dead.”

“The American?”

“No, Allen killed her.”

Raúl went into a rage. He stood up and began pacing about the room swinging his arms and talking so loudly that people on the street below could hear him.

“I told that idiot to capture her and you and the others were supposed to help him bring her to me.”

He picked up his wine glass and took a big wasllow. With considerable effort, he regained control of himself and sat down at the table.

He looked straight at Menendez. “Tell me everything.”

Menendez took another drink from his glass but did not touch the food on his plate. He looked as if he had been condemned. He began speaking in a low monotone.

Señor Allen drove to the place he was supposed to meet the English Lady at the time they had agreed. He parked his truck where Castro told him to stop and got out. Castro had parked the Suburban so we could watch through binoculars for the time to come and pick up the lady. Allen must have been afraid of the lady because the first thing he did was pull his pistol out to get the drop on her. As soon as he did that, a man charged up the side of the road with a machine gun. Allen killed him. The lady knocked Allen’s pistol over the side of the hill and pulled her pistol out. Allen knocked her pistol from her hand and tackled her when she ran to get it. Then the American, up on the mountain, who we had not seen, shot twice into Allen’s pickup. Then the American started running down the mountain to help the lady. When Allen saw him coming, he cut the lady’s leg with a knife and then he tried to escape by going down the mountain.”

Raúl interrupted. “Did the American shoot Allen?”

“No. He shot at him but he missed. He picked up a rock and threw it at Señor Allen. The rock started an avalanche that killed him.”

“With an avalanche?” Raúl asked incredulously.

“The ancient gods assisted the American.”

“Ancient gods? Rubbish! What happened after that?”

“The American came back to the lady. Allen had cut a major artery and the lady bled to death while the American tried to save her.”

“So Allen disobeyed me and killed the lady. What happened next?”

“The American picked up her body, carried her to a place up on the mountain and buried her. Then he stayed by her grave all night to honor her. The gods visited him that night and blessed him for his devotion.”

Raúl interrupted him again. “What is it about you and these so-called ancient gods?”

“The mountain on which the lady was killed is sacred to Viracocha. He blessed the lady and called her “Daughter of the Sun.”

Raúl threw up his hands in disgust. “You are nothing but a stupid, superstitious Indian! Tell me what happened after the American spent all night with this dead woman.”

“The next morning, the American buried the other man, packed their camping gear into an old pickup and started west down the mountain. We watched him and when he stopped to go down a trail to where Señor Allen was under the rocks. Castro said we would ambush the American when he came back up the hill. I stayed with the Suburban. Jorge and Milo went first and Castro followed about fifty meters behind them. Jorge and Milo were supposed to make noise so the American would hear them and then Castro would surprise the American.”

“That was a good plan,” Raúl interjected. “What went wrong?”

“The American hid when Jorge and Milo went by and came back onto the trail about the time Castro arrived. The American was quick with his gun and killed Castro. Then he killed Jorge and Milo when they ran to assist Castro. The American does not miss when he shoots.”

Raúl sighed dejectedly. “What took you so long to get here to tell me this?”

“The American pushed the Suburban down the mountain and I had to walk for two days before I could get something to drive.”

“Did you get a good look at the American?”

“Yes, I was thirty feet from him when he pushed the Suburban over the cliff. He is a big, strong man.”

“Why didn’t you shoot him?”

“Castro did not give me a gun. I hid from the American because I am not a brave man.”

“Would you recognize him if you saw him again?”

“Yes, I have seen him in a newspaper.”

“You have? Where?”

“I read where he threw a Frenchman into a river in Paris. He was with a goddess.”

“I don’t want to hear any more crap about gods and goddesses.”

Menendez handed a folded, tattered page from a newspaper to Raúl. “Here is his picture with the goddess.”

Raúl opened the paper and looked at a picture from the French newspaper, Le Monde. It showed a scene beside the River Seine with a man standing beside a beautiful woman. The caption below told of an incident where the bodyguard of a fashion model, whose stage name was Venus, had tossed a member of the paparazzi into the river for taking a photograph of him. His name was Hammer Spade.

“Goddess!” Raúl scoffed. “She’s a fashion model, you fool!” 

Menendez stood his ground. “Señor Hammer Spade is favored by the gods.”

“I wonder if this Hammer Spade is immune to death,” Raúl mused. “Death is the only thing of permanence in the universe. Even the stars grow old and die. Death is beautiful, so illustrious, and so noble in its permanence. There are no more old men, only corpses.” He paused, and then continued. “Or are they demi-gods because in death they become immortal?”   


Continued Next Month



Groundhog Humor


Q: What happened when the groundhog met the dogcatcher?
A: He became a pound hog!


Q: What happens if the ground log sees its shadow?

A: We'll have six more weeks of splinters!

Q: Why was the groundhog depressed about his den?
A: He was having a bad lair day!

Q: What would you get if you crossed February 2 with a Christmas drink?
A: Ground Nog Day!


On Groundhog Day what does it mean if the groundhog sees a stupid monster?
You'll have six more weeks of stupidity!


What would you get if you crossed February 2 with a puppy?
Ground-dog Day!


What would you get if you crossed February 2 with a Christmas drink?
Ground Nog Day!


What's green, has four legs, and jumps out of its hole on February 2?
The ground frog!


What do you get when you cross a groundhog with a pistachio?
A green beast who predicts a dry spring, and acts like a nut.


On Groundhog Day, what does it mean if Punxsutawney Phil comes out and sees the village idiot? 
Within 6 weeks you'll have a village full of idiots.


On Gobbler's Knob I see no shadow today.
I predict that early spring is on the way


According to legend, if Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter weather. If he does not see his shadow, there will be an early spring.


If the sun shines on Groundhog Day;
Halve the fuel and halve the hay.


As Yogi Berra would say, "Groundhog Day is like Deja vu all over again"





Things turn out best for the people who make the best out of the way things turn out. John Wooden, UCLA Basketball Coach.


From the example of the past, the man of the present acts prudently so as not to imperil the future. Titian, 16th C Artist


Volunteers are unpaid, not because they are worthless, but because they are priceless.


Anne Perry

International Best Selling Novelist

Diana Goldsmith


I love reading and always have to have at least one book on the go. I do prefer to read a "real" book rather than a virtual one on my Kindle. I try to borrow from our local library provided by our council. I have a list of authors whose works I enjoy and tend to keep to them however. I have tried some new ones. I do use a very useful website recommended to me by a librarian, called "Fantastic Fiction". Here you can search for authors of by title or even genre. There is a short resume about the author at the beginning and then a list of the upcoming books together with their covers and the expected date of publication. Below this are the previous books listed in date order and in series if applicable. At the end are lists of authors who write similar books.

This month I recommend one of my favourite authors namely Anne Perry. Anne Perry was born Juliet Hulme in1938. She writes historical detective fiction and is best known for her Thomas Pitt and William Monk series.

She started writing the stories about a young policeman called Thomas Pitt in 1979 and finished the series just three years ago although the son Daniel  in the story, who is a lawyer now has his own series, The Daniel Pitt Mysteries.

The Thomas Pitt books cover life during the reign of Queen Victoria and Daniel Pitt, during Edwardian England. In these series, we are drawn into the contrasting lives of the upper and rich and the deprived and underprivileged classes where policemen were not considered gentlemen and we're expected to use the tradesman's entrance In houses!

In the other series set in Victorian London's dockyards, William Monk is head of the Thames river police. Here we are drawn into a dark side of the time and into "seedy" establishments. Crimes are committed which we now see some two hundred years later! These often involve the exploitation of the poor and desperate by the ruling classes, politicians and even the royalty!

Anne Perry's knowledge of the times has come from thorough research which makes her characters credible. Her pace is such that you are taken and immersed into the setting from the very first page until the last. The characters become familiar and make you waIting in anticipation to read the next  in the series.

perry 1.jpg perry 3.jpg perry4.jpg perry2.jpg












Try one of her books and see what you think. Let me know if you do like them too. Here is the link: http://www.anneperry.co.uk/books.


Reply to digold@talktalk.net

From the Kitchen of P. L. Almanza


Valentine's Day Caramels



Valentine's Day Caramels.jpg12 ounces chocolate- and/or vanilla-flavor candy coating*, coarsely chopped

1 cup toffee pieces, crushed; finely chopped pistachios; and/or other nuts

48 short plastic or wooden skewers (optional but I use them)

1 14 - ounce package vanilla caramels (about 48), unwrapped

2 ounces chocolate- and/or vanilla-flavor candy coating*, coarsely chopped (optional)



In a microwave-safe 4-cup measure, place the 12 ounces candy coating. Microwave on 100% power (high) for 3 minutes or just until melted, stirring every 30 seconds.

Place toffee pieces, nuts, and/or nonpareils in a shallow dish. If desired, insert a skewer into each caramel. Dip one caramel into melted candy coating; turn to coat as much of the caramel as desired, allowing excess coating to drip off caramel. (If not using skewers, use a fork to lift caramel out of candy coating, drawing the fork across the rim of the glass measure to remove excess coating from caramel.) Place dipped caramel in toffee pieces, nuts, and/or nonpareils, turning to coat. Place coated caramel on a baking sheet lined with waxed paper. Repeat with remaining caramels. Let caramels stand about 1 hour or until coating dries.

If desired, microwave 2 ounces of a contrasting color of candy coating in a microwave-safe bowl on 100% power (high) for 2 minutes or just until melted, stirring every 30 seconds. Cool slightly. Transfer coating to a small, heavy plastic bag; cut a small hole in one corner of bag and drizzle additional coating over coated caramels. Let caramels stand until set. Makes 48 pieces.


Storing Them:

Layer caramels between waxed paper in an airtight container; cover. Store at room temperature for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 3 months.


*If desired, substitute milk chocolate, dark chocolate, and/or white chocolate baking squares with cocoa butter for candy coating.




Valentine's Day Marshmallow Treats


Dress up rice cereal hearts with frosting, pretzels, peanut butter, chocolate and other flavors for Valentine's Day treats.

Valentine Marshmallow Treats.jpg


1/4 cup butter

1 10 - ounce package tiny marshmallows

1 13 - ounce jar marshmallow creme

2 teaspoons vanilla

1/4 teaspoon salt

7 cups crisp rice cereal



Line a 13x9x2-inch baking pan with foil, extending the foil over edges of pan. Lightly butter foil; set pan aside.

In a 6- to 8-quart heavy Dutch oven melt the 1/4 cup butter over low heat. Stir in marshmallows. Cook and stir until marshmallows are melted and smooth. Stir in marshmallow creme, vanilla, and salt until combined. Remove from heat. Add cereal to marshmallow mixture, stirring gently to coat.


Transfer cereal mixture to the prepared baking pan. Using a buttered spatula or buttered waxed paper, press mixture firmly and evenly into pan. Let stand until set.

Using the edges of the foil, lift uncut bars out of pan. Using a buttered long knife, cut into bars.

To Store: Wrap bars individually in plastic wrap and place in an airtight container; cover. Store at room temperature for up to 1 week.


Other Ideas:

Chocolate-Dipped Marshmallow Treats:

In a small heavy saucepan cook and stir 1 1/2 cups bittersweet or semisweet chocolate pieces and 6 ounces chocolate-flavor candy coating over low heat until melted and smooth. Cut bars as directed. Dip half of each heart into melted chocolate mixture, letting excess drip back into saucepan. Place on waxed paper. If desired, sprinkle with desired sprinkles.

Caramel-Pretzel Mallow Treats:

Carefully spread caramel-flavor ice cream topping over cereal mixture. Sprinkle with chopped pretzels.


PB&J Treats:

Carefully spread creamy peanut butter over cereal mixture. Dot with strawberry or grape jelly on top of peanut butter. Using a knife or small metal spatula, swirl the jelly into the peanut butter.

Frosting 'n Sprinkle Treats:

Spread canned vanilla frosting over cereal mixture. Sprinkle with multicolored jimmies.


Valentines Day Sugar Cookies

Valentine's Day Sugar Cookies.jpg 


1 cup shortening

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

Red food coloring

1 cup sifted powdered sugar

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon milk



Beat shortening in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt; beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in egg, vanilla, and peppermint extract until combined. Beat in as much flour as you can with the mixer. Stir in remaining flour with a wooden spoon. Tint and shape dough as directed for each cookie variation. Place cutouts 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in a 375 degree F oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden. Transfer to wire racks and cool. Makes 30 cookies.


Other Ideas:

Checkerboard Hearts and Bleeding Heart Cookies:

Divide dough in half; divide one half in half again. Tint one quarter red and one quarter pink with food coloring. Wrap each portion in clear plastic wrap; freeze for 20 minutes. Divide plain potion into eight pieces. Divide each colored portion into four pieces. Roll each piece on a lightly floured surface into an 8-inch-long rope. Flatten each on four sides to form a square rope. For checkerboard design, place four ropes side by side on waxed paper, alternating colors with plain ropes. Top with four more ropes, alternating colors. Repeat two more times, forming an 8x8x2-inch dough block with a checkerboard pattern. Wrap in waxed paper and freeze 1 hour or until firm. Cut dough crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Cut a heart shape from each slice with a floured 2-inch heart-shape cookie cutter. Reserve scraps for Bleeding Heart Cookies. Bake as directed.


Checkerboard Hearts and Bleeding Heart Cookies:


Mix dough scraps lightly with your hands so dough looks marbled. Roll dough on a lightly floured surface until 1/4 inch thick. Cut with floured 2-inch heart-shape cookie cutter. Bake as directed.

Inside-Out Cookies:

Divide dough into three portions. Tint one portion pink and one portion red with food coloring. Roll dough, one color at a time, on a lightly floured surface until 1/4 inch thick. Cut with floured different size heart-shape cookie cutters. Using a smaller cookie cutter, cut hearts from the center of each cookie. Remove smaller hearts and interchange them so cookies have a contrasting colored heart in the center. Reroll dough scraps and repeat. Bake as directed.


New Wave Cookies:

Cover and chill dough for 2 hours or overnight. Roll dough on a lightly floured surface until 1/4 inch thick. Cut with a floured 3-inch heart-shape cookie cutter. Place cutouts about 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake as directed. Transfer to wire racks and cool. Frost with Powdered Sugar Icing. Dry on a wire rack. Combine small amounts of the remaining icing and a few drops of desired food colorings. Place each color icing in a small sealable plastic bag. Decorate cookies with colored icings. Let dry.



An Affair to Remember?

By Elizabeth Silance Ballard


I plead ignorance. I did not know that February has been designated the “An affair to Remember” month since 1996! Yes, that was the year it was officially entered on the National Day Calendar. I kid you not!

Now, I don’t know about you; but, to me, this far exceeds many of the other officially designated February “months.” I speak of Canned Food Month, Creative Romance Month, Great American Pie Month, and National Cherry Month.  Certainly American Heart Month and Black History Month have a large fan base but, think about it, folks!  “An Affair to Remember Month?”  Think about it, I say!

At this stage of my life, I don’t mind telling you that February has not been special in my life since February 14, 2002. Since that last Valentine’s Day that my husband, Sam, and I spent together, I have received nary a box of chocolates, nary a rose, no furs, diamonds, champagne, no sexy lingerie all tied up with fancy ribbons, not even a little dinky Valentine card from the Dollar Tree! I have been tempted to buy  the Dollar Tree card for myself and mail to myself just so I would have a pretty red envelope in my mailbox to make the postman believe someone actually sent me a Valentine! But, where would be the pleasure in that? So, I consistently resist that wacky temptation year after year.

But, now! Now that I know that February is the “An Affair to Remember Month” (or the AATRM, for short), I have reason to look forward to February because who among us has not had a few love affairs in their past?  And who would deny that they DO like to remember and dwell on their love affairs from time to time? 

Seriously, is there a woman in America who has not seen, dozens of times, the real Tearjerker, “An Affair to Remember,” starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr released in 1957?  Folks, that was sixty years ago! And it is still a top rated movie in the hearts of women everywhere. I’m certain that every time it is to be shown on cable, the stock in Kleenex goes up as thousands of boxes fly off the shelves in the time for the actual showing.

Since even the cable companies probably know by now what a truly special month February represents, this movie will surely be in a marathon showing all during the month!  I know that I’ll be watching for it and will be curled up on my own sofa wrapped in a super soft, cozy throw with my tissue box close at hand while I mentally superimpose my own self onto the screen: Meeting Cary Grant (CARY GRANT, people!), having dinner, romantic walks on the deck, meeting his grandmother who will find ME the perfect match for Cary, etc, etc, ad nauseum, but I will enjoy every minute of it.  Wouldn’t you? (If you’re a woman, that is). I mean, haven’t you always fantasized just a little about Cary Grant?

Hopefully, there will also be a marathon of the 1939 version of this movie which starred Irene Dunn and Charles Boyer. I believe I like this version even better. Let’s face it. Any man sounds more romantic with a French accent, right?  And Irene seems more real, more genuine, in that role, don’t you think? Or is it that I just really love the old black and white films?

Sam actually sat and watched this with me year after year. (I always sat with him to watch the Cubs play so he always reciprocated without complaining.) Anyway, after the good natured groaning about yet another black and white film, he began to take quite an interest one evening after I made the comment about men with French accents. In fact, he took it all to heart and apparently resolved to give me a man with a French accent.

Now, he didn’t actually speak French beyond a few words, so he simply began speaking everything with a French accent! A typical comment was, “Mon dieu but theese dinnair, eet ees ooh la, la! Oh, mon Cherie! Come wiz me to zee Kasbah!”  Seriously, the man actually began quoting nursery rhymes with his “French accent” which sounded a good bit like Pepe Le Pew   (Does anyone remember that cartoon?)

One of Sam’s favorite nursery rhymes “in French” was “Heekoree, Deekoree, Dock, ze maus, he ran up ze clock, yess, ze clock mon Cherie!”  Believe me, a man with even an affected French accent is hard to resist especially if that accent is a cross between Charles Boyer and Pepe Le Pew! After that, he looked forward to another showing of “An Affair to Remember” as much as I did. It gave him a chance to practice his “French” with real lines spoken by Charles Boyer!

Some may not realize there is a more recent use of the same basic story line in the Tom Hanks /Meg Ryan film, “Sleepless in Seattle.” It was changed significantly but it is still the same premise. There is no luxury liner on which the parties meet as in the 1939 and 1957 versions though the Tom character DOES live on a houseboat in a Seattle harbor.

This version flip flops in that they don’t meet casually at all and Tom is not a well known playboy. He is a single dad whose wife died a year or so before and whose son (maybe six years old or so) listens to “Doctor Laura” on the radio and then calls in to tell Doctor Laura that his dad is sad, cries, and he wants to find another wife for him.  Doctor Laura asks to talk to the boy’s father who does get on the line and actually begins to chat with Doctor Laura about his situation with thousands of women in America listening.

 Listening to the radio at that moment is the Meg Ryan character who is actually engaged to Walter, a perfectly nice, somewhat dull, fellow who appears to have a fine future ahead of him.  Long story short, she becomes obsessed with the son and father and actually flies across country to try and meet him.  She finds his houseboat and ultimately sees him and is so mesmerized watching from across the street that she is almost run over by a Mack truck, or something similar. She flees the scene and flies back home but sends a letter, as do millions of women across the country, offering to relieve this man’s loneliness.

I don’t want to completely spoil the movie for you, in case you haven’t seen it, but I will say that the little boy comes across Meg’s letter in one of the huge postal bags of mail delivered daily. He writes to Meg and tells her that he wants to meet her on top of the Empire State Building on Valentine’s Day.

At their Valentine’s Day dinner, Meg dumps good old Walter, telling him she has to go meet her destiny atop the Empire State Building. 

Now, this SHOULD be, and I am hoping that this WILL be a third movie marathon during February! If we’re going to go schmaltzy, let’s go schmaltzy all the way! While we all watch, with tears flowing, all month long, we have several choices. We can daydream ourselves into the story with Cary Grant, or become the woman in Charles Boyer’s life, or we can keep ourselves closer to the present day by putting ourselves in Meg Ryan’s place and have a magical moment atop with Empire State Building with Tom Hanks! As for myself, I will be watching and daydreaming myself into all three films!

No doubt, all this movie love action will trigger memories of our own “affairs to remember.” What woman hasn’t had a few love affairs in her life?  Well, we still like to think about them in times like these as we sit and watch Irene, Deborah and/or Meg. 

Do not for a minute ask or expect your husband, boyfriend, or even the fellow next door to sit through three “chick-flicks” throughout the month of February. They don’t need that sort of thing because all they have to do is walk down the street or sit in a restaurant or bar and every pretty young thing  who walks by automatically creates his own personal “affair to remember” (or wish for)!

He doesn’t need to be like Cary, Charles or even Tom Hanks.  In HIS mind, he IS Cary, Charles or Tom and he enjoys the movie that is flashing across the screen of his own mind though he will never tell you about it! That’s because unlike Cary, Charles and Tom, he does not hold her dainty hand and gaze wistfully into her lovely eyes.  No, HIS mental “affair” movies are always action films! But, you probably already knew that.

My advice is to be sure and watch YOUR February “Affair” movies during the day when he’s gone or in the wee hours of the morning when everyone in the house is solid asleep so you can sit on your sofa or  recliner and sniffle, cry,  and smile and enjoy it to your heart’s content!

Above all, enjoy February, the “Affair to Remember Month!”  If you have a current man in your life maybe you won’t need the movie. Maybe you’re living the affair right now. If so, good for you!  Enjoy and make the most of every moment because sooner or later that moment will be over and you just might enjoy watching the three films we’ve talked about to help you get back to that moment and enjoy it vicariously again.


Happy AATRM!!


 Big Shirley Biscuits

Tim Whealton


I think every EMS system has them, we call them frequent flyers. Meaning someone who calls 911 for everything. So it was with Big Shirley (name change to protect all). I don’t think she wanted to call for every problem but when you are over 500 pounds you need a lot of help. Actually the first time we met it wasn’t her that called but a family member. The call came in as female unresponsive. For those of you that don’t know this is one of the most serious of EMS calls. It usually means unconscious (or dead!). We respond with sirens and lights while the crew readies equipment for resuscitation or code blue. I was the first through the door to see this large lady sitting on the side of the bed.

She said “ I told those fools I was going to take a nap and to leave me alone”

I said no problem just let me take your vital signs and sign our form and we will do just that. I was on my knees directly in front of her putting the stethoscope on my neck when it happened. Probably the loudest expulsion of gas from a colon that I have ever heard. Not only loud but also lengthy.

Now normal body functions are nothing new to an old EMT and are usually allowed to pass (no pun intended) without comment but this was a world record so I waited till the echo was over and calmly said, No , I want to hear your heart. If you have never been on your knees and looked up at a 500lb lady laughing you have missed a treat!         

My next visit was much more serious, she was in the bed and too sick to sit up. Her blood sugar was over 500 and she was almost unconscious. It took the ambulance crew and the fire department to move her to the ambulance and just as much effort to get her in the Emergency Room. And so it was time after time. I know she didn’t want to be a bother but she just couldn’t help it. A lot of people said it was her own fault, that she didn’t take care of herself and just needed to go on a diet but I had the feeling there was something more to the story.

Finally, one day I ask her why her sugar was so high and she wasn’t able to stay on a diet.

Her reply was one word “biscuits”. Biscuits? Yes biscuits. What kind of biscuits? My biscuits and they are good.

Now being somewhat of a cook myself I had to know more. So how do you make these biscuits? I listened intently as she described the process in detail. It wasn’t all that unusual but it did have a few extra ingredients.

Then came the warning, “If I was you I would never bake the first pan of them. Why I asked? Look at the mess I’m in. And all from that biscuit recipe. Well of course I didn’t believe that, her problems were from a lack of self restraint. Certainly not from this recipe. She didn’t restrain her passions. She could have just had one and stopped.  

Just for fun I decided to try the recipe for one of my weekly lunch gatherings. They were the most incredible biscuits, light, wonderful texture, light brown crunch on top and a flavor that was like it was hugging you tongue and making beautiful music. We ate all of that batch and everybody loved them. I made more with the same result and they became standard with every lunch. No matter what we ate it wasn’t much trouble to add a pan of biscuits.

Fast forward 6 weeks. Time for my routine medical checkup. Not something I dread because my doctor is the best friend I ever had and I look forward to seeing him. I hop up on the scales for his nurse so she can record my weight and hear her go whoa there big boy, what you been eating? Why? Up 24lbs since last visit! Let’s check that blood pressure. She pumps it up to 140 and starts to let it fall but stops and pumps higher. Damn son, good thing you came, you might blow a gasket. 158/98 and a little rapid. We need a blood draw and you need some new blood pressure medicine.

The next day my friend calls with the rest of the story. High blood sugar, diabetic! Diet, exercise and Metformin 1000mg every day. I looked down and in my hand was one of those beautiful biscuits. It took everything I had but into the trash it went!

Next came a solemn oath to never reveal the secret of the big Shirley biscuit. I just can’t take the chance that it might fall into the wrong hands. Big Shirley has gone on to the final reward so it is up to me to make sure the curse ends with me.

I have noticed for most of us the easiest problems to solve are other people’s problems. Need to lose weight? Go on a diet. Need more money? Get a better job. Depressed? Cheer up. Of course our own problems are very complex and have no simple solutions like other people’s. At least that’s the way we tell it. Maybe we should be careful when we wish we had somebody else’s problem instead of our own, we just might get what we wished for.



Will and Guy's Fun Facts and Interesting Trivia about Groundhogs

groundhog b-w.jpg

The average groundhog is 20 inches long and normally weighs from 12 to 15 pounds. Punxsutawney Phil weighs about 20 pounds and is 22 inches long. Groundhogs are covered with coarse grayish hairs tipped with brown or sometimes dull red. They have short ears, a short tail, short legs, and are surprisingly quick. Their jaws are exceptionally strong. The groundhog’s diet consists of lots of greens, fruits, and vegetables and very little water. Most of their liquids come from dewy leaves. A groundhog can whistle when it is alarmed. Groundhogs also whistle in the spring when they begin courting. Insects do not bother groundhogs and germs leave them alone. They are resistant to the plagues that periodically wipe out large numbers of wild animals. One reason for this is their cleanliness. Groundhogs are one of the few animals that really hibernate. Hibernation is not just a deep sleep. It is actually a deep coma, where the body temperature drops to a few degrees above freezing, the heart barely beats, the blood scarcely flows, and breathing nearly stops. Young Groundhogs are usually born in mid-April or May, and by July they are able to go out on their own. The size of the litter is 4 to 9. A baby groundhog is called a kit or a cub. A groundhog's life span is normally 6 to 8 years. Phil receives a drink of a magical punch every summer during the annual Groundhog Picnic, which gives him 7 more years of life.





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


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


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


Elizabeth Silance Ballard: An Affair to Remember and her book 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: Was Gertrude Stein a Genius? and Gone, But Not Forgotten; 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: A Tree’s life; 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.


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



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


Marry Williamson: Nationalities; 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: Big Shirley Biscuits : 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.




Happy February to Everyone!