RPG Digest

March 2019

 

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Appreciation

 

Thanks to all these talented writers who have contributed to every issue of RPG Digest with such enthusiasm. Photos by Betsy Breedlove and P. L. Almanza

 

 

march cover breedlove.jpg

Table of Contents

March Thoughts by E. B. Alston. 2

Tennessee Williams by Rita Berman. 4

No Parent Left Behind. 7

Natters of a Nomad by Peggy Ellis. 9

Universal, Necessary, and Certain by Randy Bittle. 10

Say Hello to My Little Friends! By Tim Whealton. 11

The Haymaker by Diana Goldsmith. 14

March by Marry Williamson. 15

Life with Eddie by Sybil Austin Skakle. 16

Three Rivers to Cross – Serialized book by Elizabeth Silance Ballard. 17

Spring by Marry Williamson. 25

The Error of Our Ways. 25

Different Perspectives by E. B. Alston. 27

The Say What Dept. 27

Loreley by Heinrich Heine. 29

Farewell to Utopia by E. B. Alston. 29

Laws Not Taught in Physics. 31

Hammer Spade and the Inca Curse – Serialized book by E. B. Alston. 32

Lexophile. 39

Little Boy Blue by Eugene Field (1850-1895) 40

Rum Runner by Dave Whitford. 40

Crossing the River by E. B. Alston. 43

From the Kitchen of P. L. Almanza. 45

Contributors. 47

 

 March Thoughts

E. B. Alston

 

How an old mind wanders! Two literary giants named John: John Updike and John Milton. Time flies. The author of Rabbit Run, John Updike, died 10 years ago. I don’t read many novels but I did read about half of Rabbit Run in the 60s. Would that I could write with the effortless ease that his work reveals. I understand that the appearance of effortless ease on any endeavor is a result of much hard and dedicated practice. His next famous book, The Witches of Eastwick, came out in 1984. He wrote sixty books in all and was a longtime contributor to The New Yorker magazine where he wrote countless book reviews. I liked his book reviews better than his books. His critics, who I think were jealous of his writing skill, complained that his reviews were too something, they couldn’t quite put their finger on. His command of the language had few parallels.

One who was his equal , in my opinion, was William F. Buckley, Jr., who for a number of years used a new word that he had never used before in his columns. He used some pretty strange words, always correctly, by the time I guess he ran out of usable strange words.

When Updike’s book, The Coup, came out, Buckley wrote an accolade to Updike naming him as his successor to the title of American Fountainhead of Recondite Words. Updike used harmattan, disphoretic, toubab, laterite, suras, euphorbia, extollation, jerboa, cussabe, sareba, bilharzias, pangolins, hyraxes, pestles, phloem, xylem, eversion, goobers, marabout, xerophytic, oleograph, cowries, chrysoprase, henna, scree, riverine, adsorptive, haptic, burnoose and sesquipdaliam in The Coup.

Throughout his life, Updike believed that the world was a lovable place. I agree, but it is also a duller place with him gone from our midst.

December of 2018 marked the 418th anniversary of John Milton’s birth. I read Paradise Lost when I was 19 and in mechanic school in the Army. I read most of it hiding on a creeper underneath an army two and a half ton truck and the rest when I was supposed to be learning how to work on the trucks. Milton was more interesting to me at the time than turning wrenches and getting grease on my uniform. My uniforms were clean when I went to the mess hall for supper. I agreed with Samuel Johnson when he wrote how glad he was that Paradise Lost was not any longer than it was.

Paradise Lost definitely affected my view of life. The only part I remember well enough to paraphrase is when Satan saw Adam and Eve making love in the Garden of Eden, he became jealous of their supreme joy. Satan hated them because he could not share their happiness. As a result of his disapproval of their joy, he plotted to deprive them of what he thought was undeserved pleasure by tempting them to disobey God.

Paradise Lost was not the only thing Milton wrote but it is his best work. He wrote a lot of forgettable poetry and tracts. He sided with the Republicans when they deposed and executed King Edward. He even wrote a tract justifying regicide. He soon grew weary of Oliver Cromwell’s government and complained that tyranny by religious bigots was no more preferable than tyranny by royalty. His fame allowed him to keep his head after the restoration and Edward II generously gave him an annual stipend.

Milton believed that the virtuous Christian hero shuns glory, sensual satisfaction, pagan learning and poetry. He also claimed that he spoke for the entire human race against the foes of liberty.

Here are a few lines from Paradise Regained,

 

But he though blind of sight,

Despised and thought extinguished quite,

With inward eyes illuminated,

His fiery virtue roused,

From under ashes into sudden flame,

And as an evening dragon came,

Assailant on the perched roosts,

And nests in order ranged,

Of tame villatic fowl; but as an eagle

His cloudless thunder bolted on their heads.

So virtue giv’n for lost,

Depressed and overthrown, as seemed,

Like that self-begotten bird

In the Arabian woods embossed,

That no second knows nor third

And lay erewhile a holocaust,

From out her ashy womb now teemed,

Revives, reflourishes, then vigorous most

When most unactive deemed,

And though her body die, her fame survives,

A secular bird ages of lives.

 

John Milton

1608-1674

 

His famous contemporary, Samuel Johnson, didn’t like Milton personally or his politics, but said Milton’s work constituted “a full display of the united force of study and genius and the poet, whatever be done is always great. Paradise Lost is among the finest productions of the human mind.”

 

Gene Alston 

 

 

Tennessee Williams

A prize-winning playwright.

By Rita Berman

 

Thomas Lanier Williams, was born March 26, 1911 in Columbus, Mississippi.   He did not adopt the name Tennessee until late in the 1930’s. 

Began attending the University of Missouri in 1929 but in 1931 when he was in his third year of college at the University his father said he could no longer keep him in college and he was given a job in a branch of the International Shoe Company earning sixty-five dollars a month.

He began writing at night, completing one story a week and mailing it out to the Story magazine. After learning he had a heart condition he resigned from the Shoe Company.  It was in 1934 when in Memphis that he realized he had an attraction to writing for the theater. Also an attraction for young men.

In 1938 he graduated from the University of Iowa with a Bachelor of Arts degree.  That was the same year that he published his first short story under his literary name, Tennessee Williams.

His first national recognition came in 1939 when he received a citation for a related group of one-act plays, American Blues, in a group Theatre play contest. His first commercial production was Battle of Angels (1940) which closed in Boston after a losing struggle with censorship and its own inadequacies. He spent six months in 1943 as a contract writer for MGM, during which time he wrote an original script, The Gentleman Caller, which he eventually turned into a play. The Glass Menagerie.

Biographies are my favorite genre of reading, autobiographies are even better by offering the life, as well as the work, of that individual from their perspective.    

I recently read Williams’ autobiography Memoirs that he began in 1972 when he was 60 years old. I understand why it caused such a sensation and bad reviews when it was first published in 1975.  It is a rambling mixture about past and present, a form of stream of consciousness writing, describing his sexual life of hookups and lovers, drinking and drugging, naming friends, actors and actresses who starred in his plays but very little on the actual writing of the plays that led him to be recognized as one of the world’s greatest playwrights.

In his foreword he admits “I undertook this memoir for mercenary reasons.  It is actually the first piece of work, in the line of writing that I have undertaken for material profit.”  

He wrote that the first time he received money for his writing efforts was in 1939 when he was employed as a feather picker on a squab ranch.  A telegram from the Group Theatre in New York informed him that he was awarded one hundred dollars for his one-act plays called American Blues.  For Williams that was a huge piece of encouragement and boost of morale in his pursuit of being a writer.

Later, when he was living in the attic of the family residence in a suburb of St. Louis, he learned he was the recipient of a thousand dollar Rockefeller grant, and was urged to catch the first Greyhound bus to the city of New York.  

In his memoir Williams recalled his riotous weekends in Havana with a friend and the time he meet Fidel Castro.  He was introduced to Castro by Ernest Hemingway whom he had met through the British theatre critic Kenneth Tynan.  To his surprise he found Hemingway was the exact opposite of what he had anticipated.  “I had expected a very manly, super-macho sort of guy, very bullying and coarse spoken. On the contrary Hemingway struck me as a gentleman who seemed to have a very touchingly shy quality about him.”

The day that Tynan and Williams went to the palace Castro was having a cabinet session at the time and they waited, sitting on the steps outside for about three hours, until the door was thrown open and they were ushered in. According to Williams, when Tynan introduced him Castro said, “Oh, that cat,” meaning Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which surprised me – delighted me, of course. I couldn’t imagine the generalissimo knowing anything about a play of mine.” 

In his book he briefly touched on his goal in writing informing that, in an essay to one of the printed editions of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof  he wrote he was attempting to, “just somehow to capture the constantly evanescent quality of existence.  When I do that, then I have accomplished something, but I have done it, I think, relatively few times compared to the times I have attempted it.”

For a number of years he wrote steadily, averaging rather more than a play a year. They include:  A Streetcar named Desire (1947); Summer and Smoke (1948) the Rose Tattoo (1951) Camino Real (1953) Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955) Orpheus Descending (1957) Suddenly Last Summer (1958); Sweet Bird of Youth (1959); Period of Adjustment (1960) The Night of the Iguana ((1961); The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here ((1963) Slapstick Tragedy (1966). Many of his plays were later made into movies.

His greatest commercial and critical successes were The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Night of the Iguana, according to The Readers Encyclopedia of World Drama, (1969). The editors noted “there is a thematic similarity in most of Williams’ work. From the beginning of his career he was preoccupied with the man or woman who by virtue of being different can (in fact, must) stand outside and see the world clearly – which, for Williams, means to see the horror in it).  His characters are never at home in the world, since they are usually running to or from something.

An article in the Vintagenews.com said Williams tackled topics previously considered taboo “rape, sordid family secrets, lobotomy, homosexuality, cannibalism.”

In 1947 he was hoping to get Elia Kazan to be the director for Streetcar Named Desire, and eventually Kazan signed a contract.  Later Williams got a wire from Kazan saying he was sending to him a young actor to read the part of Stanley.

The young actor was Marlon Brando, “just about the best-looking man I’ve ever seen,” recalled Williams.  The part of Kowalski was the first important part Brando ever performed on stage, all the rest have been on the screen. In the movie of Streetcar Named Desire, released in 1951, Vivien Leigh played Blanche DuBois and Brando Stanley Kowalski. “Marvelous performances in a great movie,” wrote Williams, “only slightly marred by Hollywood ending.” 

Because the play’s themes were controversial changes were made for the movie version to comply with the Hollywood Production Code. The movie drew very high praise and was the fifth biggest hit of that year.  It won four awards at the 24th Academy Awards.  Vivien Leigh won Actress in a Leading Role, and Brando received the first of four Academy nominations for Best Actor. 

In his book, Williams wrote that when people asked him, which is his favorite among those he has written, he would either say, “Always the latest,” or “I succumb to my instinct for the truth and say it must be the published version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof received the Critics Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 1955. It became his biggest and longest-running play. Elizabeth Taylor as Maggie and Paul Newman as Brick starred in the MGM 1958 movie version and it was highly acclaimed and nominated for several academy Awards including Best Picture.  Taylor and Newman both received Oscar nominations for their performances.

In 1976. A television version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was produced starring Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner and featuring Laurence Olivier as Big Daddy and Maureen Stapleton as Big Mama.

With the passing of time the sexual innuendos that had been muted in the 1958 movie were returned to the adaptation produced on television by American Playhouse in 1984.  This version starred Jessica Lange, Tommy Lee Jones, Rip Torn, and Kim Stanley. Stanley won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Special.

Williams drew from his family relationships as inspiration for some of his plays. The Glass Menagerie, (1945) was developed from a 1943 short story and had a long Broadway run.

The Glass Menagerie is about a young man named Tom, his disabled sister, Laura, and their controlling mother Amanda who tries to make a match between Laura and a gentleman caller. Rose, Williams’ sister was the source for Laura.

Between 1948 and 1959 Williams had seven of his plays produced on Broadway and by 1959 he had earned two Pulitzer Prizes, three New York Drama Critics’ Circle Awards, three Donaldson Awards, and a Tony Award.

In spite of his success and recognition as a great playwright Williams felt insecure and moved often in order to stimulate his writing.  He wrote, “Only some radical change can divert the downward course of my spirit, some startling new place or people to arrest the drift, the drag.”

Although he continued to write every day, the quality of his work suffered from his increasing alcohol and drug consumption, and a variety of illnesses.  In 1963 he was depressed over the death of his partner Frank Merlo.  Throughout the 1970s and 1980s Williams’ new plays became box office failures and his last play, A House Not Meant to Stand was produced in Chicago in 1982 and ran for only 40 performances. 

The novel he wrote, The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1950) was adapted into a film in 1961 and again in 2003.

At the end of his book, Memoirs, Tennessee Williams had written he hoped to die in his sleep, “when the time comes, and I hope it will be in the beautiful big bed in my New Orleans apartment.“ Sadly that was not what happened.  He died at the age of 71 in New York City on February 25, 1983.  The medical examiner reported that Williams had choked to death from inhaling the plastic cap of a bottle while he was trying to ingest barbiturates.

In his will written in 1972 Williams had requested that he be buried at sea in the Caribbean, close to where the poet Hart Crane had died.  But this request was ignored and his brother Dakin Williams arranged for him to be buried at Calvary Cemetery, in St. Louis, Missouri where his mother is buried.

He left his literary rights to the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn.  When his sister Rose died in 1996 after many years in a mental institution she bequeathed $7 million from her part to the Williams estate to the University of the South as well. 

Posthumous recognition includes festivals in New Orleans and St. Louis, Missouri, commemorating his work. The Tennessee Williams Theatre in Key West, Florida is named for him. In 1995 the United States Post Office issued a special edition stamp in his name as part of their Literary Arts Series.

At least eight biographies have been published about Williams, the most recent being by John Lahr in 2014 (W.W.Norton & Co). This is a sequel to the biography by Lyle Leverich that was published in 1995 and received reviews that praised it for the details and quoting from correspondence and the insight provided by Lahr a theatre columnist.

A couple of quotations from Williams give pause for reflection.

 “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers,” Blanche from Street Car Named Desire.

“Time doesn’t take away from friendship nor does separation.” Williams’ book Memoirs.

“There is a time for departure even when there is no place to go.” Camino Real.

 

End

 

No Parent Left Behind

From the Internet

 

Notes written by parents in an Alabama school district. Spellings have been left intact.  

1. My son is under a doctor's care and should not take PE today. Please execute him.

2. Please exkuce lisa for being absent she was sick and i had her shot.

3. Dear school: please ecsc's john being absent on jan. 28, 29, 30, 31, 32 and also 33.

4. Please excuse gloria from jim today. She is administrating.

5. Please excuse roland from p.e. for a few days. Yesterday he fell out of a tree and misplaced his hip.


6. John has been absent because he had two teeth taken out of his face.


7. Carlos was absent yesterday because he was playing football. He was hurt in the growing part.


8. Megan could not come to school today because she has been bothered by very close veins.


9. Chris will not be in school cus he has an acre in his side.


10. Please excuse ray friday from school. He has very loose vowels.


11. Please excuse Lesli from being absent yesterday. She had diahre dyrea direathethe shits.


12. Please excuse Tommy for being absent yesterday. He had diarrhea, and his boots leak.


13. Irving was absent yesterday because he missed his bust.


14. Please excuse jimmy for being. It was his father's fault.


15. I kept Billie home because she had to go Christmas shopping because i don't know what size she wear.


 17. Sally won't be in school a week from friday. We have to attend her funeral.


18. My daughter was absent yesterday because she was tired. She spent a weekend with the marines.


19. Please excuse Jason for being absent yesterday. He had a cold and could not breed well.


20. Please excuse Mary for being absent yesterday. She was in bed with gramps.


21. Gloria was absent yesterday as she was having a gangover.


22. Please excuse Brenda. She has been sick and under the doctor.


23. Maryann was absent December 11-16, because she had a fever, sorethroat, headache and upset stomach. Her sister was also sick, fever an sore throat, her brother had a low grade fever and ached all over. I wasn't the best either, sore throat and fever. There must be something going around, her father even got hot last night.

Natters of a Nomad

Peggy Ellis

 

Money is the absolute necessity for travel. Not just any money, you understand, but the money of the country you visit. Some people believe there is only one currency in the European Union. Based on the 2018 internet information, 28 nations comprise the EU, of which 18 are part of the Eurozone using the euro as their monetary base. Six countries use the euro although they aren’t part of the EU. Having a sufficient amount of a particular currency when traveling between countries that do use the euro and those that do not can be challenging. Examples we’ve confronted are Sweden, which uses the krona, and Finland, which uses the euro; and England, which uses the pound, and Ireland, which uses the euro.

Money woes in Argentina may haunt us forever. We’ve traveled there a couple of times (on our way to Antarctica and, later, to Patagonia) and each trip left a money memory, one pleasant, one not.

December weather is very hot, definitely ice cream time. In one walk around Buenos Aires, we stopped at Feddors, a chain ice cream store. Surprisingly, no one there spoke English and we didn’t recognize the varieties. Finally, I simply pointed to something that looked like mint. Jim chose a different one and we shared. We have no idea what we ate, but both were tasty and cooling. What more could we ask? Fotunately, we had the right money.

The less pleasant, in fact daunting, incident occurred on our second trip. Argentina’s financial situation was just coming to notice. We had obtained enough Argentine pesos at the airport to last several days intending to find an ATM machine. We found several but none accepted our travel card. Being in an area where cash was necessary, and we were low, was scary. When we finally found a machine that would accept our card, Jim obtained enough to be sure we could cover all possible contingencies. In the Miami airport on our return, he tried to exchange the pesos and learned the United States would not accept any exchange from Argentina (also a couple other South American countries) because of the financial situation. If we ever return to Argentina (not expected), we have a supply of their pesos. Of course, if they ever get their financial business under control, their monetary base will probably have changed, so the money we have now will be worthless.

We had an interesting monetary experience on a Hurtigruten working ship in Norway where they use krones. Weather caused cancellation of our overnight snowmobile trip from one port to another. The finance officer had already charged it to our credit card. When Jim tried to correct our bill, the officer said Visa would not permit them to remove the charge because it was international. They wanted to reimburse us in krones, but Jim insisted on United States dollars. They scrounged around for dollars among the crew, some as low as five dollar bills. Jim agreed to accept the difference in Norwegian money and made the exchange at the Copenhagen airport. He was very uncomfortable carrying so much money on his person until we got home.

The money situation in Ecuador is unlike any we’ve experienced elsewhere. The Ecuadorean dollar has the same value as the United States dollar. The resemblance ends there because the bills and coins are different in both appearance and size. When we received change after a purchase, we invariably received some of their money and some of ours. That was convenient because we would always spend their money first, thereby relieving us of the necessity of standing in an always long line at the exchange desk when we returned to the United States. That is, of course, if the desk is still open when we arrive, not always the case, so we’ve had to deal with local banks, some of which don’t supply that service.

Universal, Necessary, and Certain

Randy Bittle

 

Plato and Aristotle were on the side of universal, necessary, and certain Truths underlying experience.  Those are real Truths with a capital “T.”  Contemporary with Plato and Aristotle, the sophists were on the side of particular, contingent, and probabilistic beliefs and opinions based on perception and experience.  These would be ad hoc experiential truths with a lower-case “t.”  The 2500-year history of traditional Western intellectual development is an account of the struggle between the two types of knowledge, one being always-real necessary Truth, and the other being ephemeral contingent truth.  The struggle is still ongoing today in the twenty-first century.

The scope of this essay is much too small to trace the historical progression of the struggles between Truth and truth.  I will delve into the nature of the differences between Truth and truth for a better understanding of the issues.  Plato disdained the often deceptive perceptions associated with experience.  In the analogy of the cave (book VII of “The Republic”), Plato described the perceived “reality” of common experience being like observing shadows on a cave wall, with no way to see beyond the shadows to the causal reality behind them.

The shadows were truths with a small “t” and represented the world of perceived experience.  The causal realities behind the shadows are Truths with a capital “T” but are inaccessible to ordinary experience.  Equally True and more satisfying would be the undistorted reality of the world outside the cave seen in the bright sunshine, far removed from the restricted shadows of experience.  Plato thought that ordinary everyday experiences were analogous to the truths of perceiving shadows on the cave wall.  He devoted his life to exposing the causes behind the shadows of experience, deeper Truths revealed by seeing with the “mind’s eye.”

Mathematics, including logically consistent rules of geometry, meet the criteria of timeless, universal, necessary, and certain Truths.  Plato revered mathematics where one plus one is two EVERY time, always and forever.  He felt that Good, Beauty, Virtue, and Justice, properly understood, could meet the criteria for timeless, universal, necessary, and certain Truths similar to the example of mathematics.  The catch is the phrase “properly understood.”  Everybody should strive to understand Good, Beauty, Virtue, and Justice in their own minds’ eyes and try to glimpse the Truths, which Plato called Forms.  Of course, he knew that not everyone was suited to make the considerable effort required to see the causal realities of Truths behind the truths of shadowy experience.  In “The Republic,” Plato writes about a society that is ruled by Philosopher Kings with insights into Truths.  This is an idealistic utopian fantasy that is not feasibly practical.

Apart from whole societies and ethical issues regarding Virtue and Justice, modern science is struggling with the same tensions between experiential truths and Truths of underlying causes.  Einstein gave us a comprehensive mathematical analysis of space, time, matter, and energy in the special and general theories of relativity.  Based on the experiences of observational experiments, space and time are both distorted by gravity associated with matter and energy.  Einstein used tensor mathematics as a bridge between observational truth and causal Truth.  However, the math only describes experienced observational truths about gravity’s effects on space, time, and behavior of matter and energy.  The math does not and cannot tell us the causal Truths of how and why matter distorts space and time through gravity.  What is the “itness” of gravity?  How does it do what it does?

Sensory experience enhanced by scientific instruments is not all we have with which to see the world.  The shadows of experience can be penetrated with the mind’s eye.  I believe in the quest for universal, necessary, and certain Truths, although the going is difficult, requiring arduous mental effort.  Ephemeral, particular, contingent, and probabilistic beliefs and opinions are unavoidable parts of our daily lives and even apply to quantum mechanics, our best description of subatomic physical reality.  Nonetheless, I believe in underlying causes represented by universal, necessary, and certain Truths.  These Truths may be inaccessible to common experience, but the key is whether or not the mind’s eye can discern them.

 

Say Hello to My Little Friends!

Tim Whealton

 

This started with my Mother. She was always in the kitchen and a fantastic cook but she would never tell you she could boil water. Late in life she started trying to make a biscuit that she had enjoyed as a child. She grew up on Lukens Island at South River in Carteret County. It was called a freckled biscuit. The yeast was from a sour potato and when baked it would form big brown spots on top. She tried lots of recipes but never found the one that tasted like the ones from her childhood.

Before she died in 1989, I was in a duck camp on the Outer Banks and copied a recipe that was written on the wall. It was in Julian Hamilton’s camp. It looked simple but Mr. Julian said “It ain’t much good unless the right person makes’em” Well I discovered that the “right person” is the one that’s willing to keep at it till they get good rolls. If you are lucky enough to be from Down East (East of North River!) or visit there you will probably have tasted a Down East Light Roll.

Pilgrim’s Rest FWB Church in Cedar Island has a long history of yeast rolls and feeding visitors. They usually have a dinner after church on the first Sunday. Nice little get away, some good handmade food, beautiful un-crowded beach,  natural beauty that takes your breath away and you rarely hear a sermon on gluttony.

If you want to be known as a cook, this will do it. You can serve whatever else but if you have a pan of good light rolls, the meal is a success. If there are any left-over (highly unusual) you can freeze them and take them out one at a time and microwave them for 1 minute. You can also grind them up for filler in stuffed clams or dressing.   

Yeast are amazing little animals. There are over 1500 different types. They have caused a lot of misery and fun since the time of Noah. Noah has the distinction of being the first person to get drunk in the Bible. It still happens with boat builders to this very day!

Yeast are a lot like us it seems. When there is nothing going on they are real couch potatoes. They don’t do anything for anybody. But when you get them wet, warm and give them something to eat they really get going!

First they start to reproduce. They are very adept at this. They can do it by themselves or with a partner! (Told you they were amazing!) Either way they make more yeast and those baby yeast make more both ways too. Soon if the food, water and warmth hold out you have a yeast explosion! The Lord did say “Be fruitful and multiply!”

Well all that reproducing has a few side effects. First they make alcohol. They start converting the sugar to alcohol and the party starts! Just like some people they can’t seem to stop and they make alcohol until it kills them. That’s somewhere around 12% for most yeast but some of the little drunkards can live above 20%! I can remember a few from Bridgeton in the old days that could do it! That would be good news if we were making wine or whiskey but it is the side effect we are seeking. Seems all that eating and swimming in alcohol makes them pass gas and that is just what we need for a big soft yeast roll.

Bread has to have some way to form bubbles inside the dough and yeast gas is just wonderful. It has a pleasant smell (don’t say it) and the bubbles push the dough apart and make it rise. We use other forms of gas in other breads. Baking powder is a chemical that releases gas when mixed with something wet and again when the temp goes above 140 degrees. Great for a quick biscuit but lacking flavor and smell.

A mostly forgotten way to get biscuits to rise is an old southern recipe called the beaten biscuit. The dough is mixed and then beat with a board till it forms blisters. These blisters are what raises the dough. This biscuit is more like a cracker than what we call a biscuit but they are very good. Most need 100 sharp whacks to blister. Reminds me of when I was a student at Bridgeton School.

Our Bible makes many references to unleavened bread. This was not preferred bread but done in remembrance of when they had to leave Egypt and didn’t have time to wait for the bread to rise before baking. Our Civil War soldiers and pioneers carried a bread called hardtack that was similar. Without much room they wanted the most calories they could fit in the available space (I do the same with my stomach!). When I started learning how to make bread, I frequently made a version of hardtack when I killed my yeast or didn’t let them get going long enough. Hopefully my mistakes will teach you an easier way. Jesus baked bread too. He baked it on the beach for breakfast for the disciples after they fished all night. He still offers it.

 So how do you care for yeast? Once you realize they are alive it isn’t too hard to understand. First thing is the temperature. Too hot and they die, too cold and they go to sleep. You have probably already guessed what they like, yep 98.6 works and a little warmer. Usually if you make the water the same temp as baby milk your yeast will be happy. And just like a baby, don’t warm yeast in a microwave! If it’s too hot for comfort on your wrist cool it first.

Next we add the sugar. If the sugar is too concentrated it will kill the yeast! That’s why pancake syrup can sit on the counter. It’s also why honey will never spoil. Nothing can live in honey because it’s too sweet! A little trick I use is to never stir the sugar when I dump it in the water. Enough will dissolve in the water to feed the yeast and what’s on the bottom will sweeten the dough. I allow my yeast to work longer before mixing the dough than most cooks. Seems to give more flavor.

After the yeast have started well and there is a layer of foam on top it’s time to make some dough! (Rahab in the Bible made her dough at night) Remember yeast don’t like anything cold so pop that bag of flour in the microwave for 2 minutes first. Then you can pour the flour directly into the yeast mixture. Add the salt and whatever type of oil or fat you like. I like bear lard but light tasting olive oil or grapeseed oil will work just dandy. If using hard fat like lard it should be warmed first. If you don’t it will slow down the yeast.

If you notice the recipe, it calls for more salt than most. I don’t know if it balances out the extra sugar but it just works. I don’t remember making any that even tasted salty but this is a framework recipe that you will adjust so make it your way!

I use Kitchenaid stand mixers and have worn out more than one. They are great for bread and lots more. With the dough hook I watch the dough mix. Now comes the part that will take a little experience. I don’t know if it’s variations in flour or what but you can measure perfectly and get different dough. Watch the dough form and you are looking for a ball of dough that will ALMOST clean the sides of the bowl. Nothing wrong if it cleans but the dough will be a little stiff. If it doesn’t form a ball you add a little flour while it’s mixing. If it is really stiff and the mixer is grunting you add a little water. It will take several minutes of mixing before you will know if it needs more.

After you have decided that the dough is well mixed and has the stiffness you want it needs to rest. Now the yeast are alive and mixed into the dough. You find a warm place and cover the bowl (Yeast don’t like a draft or people looking at them). The yeast will start to rise and in about an hour the dough will be doubled in size. To get better flavor and texture you can punch down the dough to the original size.

Now it’s time to store the dough in the fridge or make rolls. Your hand size will make it easy or hard to push the dough out in the right size for your rolls. Generally a ball about the size of a golf ball will make a nice roll. I will place mine in a baking dish with sides that has been greased. Then I let them sit for 15 minutes in a warm (not on) oven. They will rise again! At this point they are tender and can’t be handled. I will turn on my oven to 330 degrees and let them bake until I see the tops just start to brown. I don’t preheat my oven but I do protect the bottom of my roll pan with a layer of foil on the bottom rack. That will keep the bottom of the pan from frying the rolls before the tops brown. We are now at the critical stage! Don’t even think of doing anything else!!!

Turn on the broiler and get on your knees in front of the oven. The rolls are done but we want to lightly brown the tops. The difference between light brown and burnt is 10 seconds under the broiler! Open the oven door and look, have your oven mitts on. If not brown enough (Use a flashlight, the oven light isn’t reliable!)) close and count to 10 and repeat. When they are ready remove and brush on melted butter (be generous!). When you take them out but before you get off your knees it’s a good time to pray.

Congratulations!  

Variations!

Variety is the spice of life and your yeast dough will prove it. After you punch it down it can be rolled about ½ “ thick and cut into doughnuts to fry in hot oil (325degrees). It can be rolled out and spread with a mixture of butter, brown sugar and cinnamon, then rolled and cut 1” thick. Bake like above and glaze for awesome cinnamon rolls. Rolls can be stuffed with sausage, cooked egg and cheese for breakfast or any crabmeat mixture you like for a seafood treat that always pleases. I like to dust these with Old Bay.

Delay of Game!

Many cooks make their dough and store it in the fridge. When they are ready they pinch off the rolls and put them in a warm place to rise and then bake. This is great if you are camping or going somewhere to cook. I will frequently mix dough at night and leave on the counter in a very deep greased pot. It won’t climb out and in the morning all I do is pinch off the rolls and let them rise in a warm oven usually 30minutes and bake. Great for a hunting breakfast and the extra ones can go it the hunting coat for lunch. A lot of old time cooks made dough once a week and pinched off rolls every day. After a few days the yeast are getting tired so don’t go more than a few days. If your fridge is too cold they might not survive so you might have to experiment.

Ovens

Your type of oven will dictate your method. Ovens heat objects two ways. First is direct or infrared heat. The glowing element sends out light that heats what it touches. This will be the inside of the oven and the bottom of your pan. If you notice most recipes say to preheat your oven. If you don’t, your food will burn on the bottom before it’s done. This is because the infrared light striking the bottom heats the pan bottom before the hot air in the oven can brown and cook the food. That hot air is the convection heat that is evenly distributed inside the oven. It is the second way an oven cooks.

Gas ovens have the burner beneath the oven and the infrared is much more contained. If you have been cooking much you probably like a gas stove and oven. I like the ones with a broiler on top so I don’t need to move the hot pan to the bottom or lie on my stomach to see it broil on that bottom compartment.

Electric ovens

With the electric elements exposed the electric oven will need an expert but it really isn’t much trouble. You just need a little understanding. I use and intermediate diffuser to block most of the infrared heat. Either a large cookie sheet on the bottom rack or a large piece of heavy duty aluminum foil will work. It slows down the heat and makes it more even. Try different things and find out what works best for you.

 

Recipe

2 cups warm water

6 cups bread flour

2 tsp salt

2 packages dry highly active yeast (bread machine yeast)

½ cup sugar

½ cup oil (or warm bear lard)

 

Dump sugar in water but don’t stir, add yeast and cover in a warm place for 20 minutes. It should develop a foamy top.

Mix flour, salt and oil into the yeast mixture till it forms a plastic looking dough ball. Add flour or water as needed to get it as desired.

Place in a tall greased bowl or pot and let it sit in a warm place till it doubles. Usually an hour with hyper yeast. Keep it covered.

Press it down and pinch off rolls about the size of golf balls in a greased baking pan with sides. Leave some space (3/4”) between and spray with melted butter or butter flavor pam lightly. Place in a warm oven and let them rise without disturbing.

Bake at 330 degrees till the first sign of browning, then broil on high for 30 seconds or so to get the desired brown. Remove and brush on a coat of butter and pat yourself on the back.

 

The Haymaker

Diana Goldsmith

 

I was the youngest of seven

Some thought it was heaven

Not if you have six brothers

I wanted to be like the others.

 

My Ma and Pa were content

I never heard an argument

They worked very long hours

Yet still had time to pick flowers.

In the kitchen at the big house

Ma would cook a pie with the grouse

Sometimes we were given what was left

Keeping the workers happy stops theft.

 

Pa was a game keeper for his Lordship

On a Sunday in church  we would worship

Wearing our best clothes, boots and a hat

After lunch we all would read, play or chat.

 

My brothers worked on the big  farm

Learning various skills would do no harm

They earned enough money to each marry

So I was one of the bridesmaids for Harry.

 

Luke, George, Robert, Matthew and Peter

I longed to be wed myself to Bob, a beater.

I was shy and he didn't know how I felt

So I prayed really hard by my bed as I knelt.

 

Please, dear Lord cause us to meet.

So at harvest time on the wagon seat

Next to Bob I was not daring at him to  look.

As we cut the hay and made it into a stook

 

He turned to me and we did kiss each other

He asked for my hand from father and mother

We made our vows and at the altar did pray

And I thanked  the Lord for the maker of hay.

 

 

March

Marry Williamson

 

The cold biting March wind had blown it into a corner of the the square. I saw it lying there. A crumpled piece of red paper. The only bit of colour on the square. The winter had gone on and on and the daffodils in the concrete trough outside Mrs. Miller’s front door were still not out. They were nearly there but not quite. I guess they were just waiting for sunshine and a little warmth like we all were.

It felt as if winter was reluctant to let go and spring shy to make an appearance. A little dog came along and lifted its leg against the wall narrowly missing the scrap of red paper. I had been watching the square for a good half hour. Just for something to do. I was bored. I had been forbidden to go out into the biting wind, this bout of flu lasting longer than usual.

I peered at the bit of paper. It intrigued me. My mother was in the kitchen, she would not miss me for a minute. I nipped outside and went right up to the scrap of paper and picked it up. A piece of Christmas wrapping. I stuffed it into my pocket, legged it back inside and re-positioned myself back on the windowsill.

The images came unbidden. I saw the man struggling with the impossibly large teddybear on his way home.

I heard his wife remonstrating .”Why did you buy that? It is far too big. How are you going to wrap it?”

I pictured the awkwardly shaped present sitting by the Christmas tree, drawing lots of comments and raised eyebrows. I saw the little girl on Christmas day tearing at the red paper, bits of it being strewn all over the floor. The mother sighing, a big black plastic sack at the ready, picking up the fragments.

I pictured the black binliner a week later standing on the pavement ready for the binmen, a big hole in its bottom. I saw the large man with the bald head and the high-viz jacket swearing, pieces of red paper falling out, the man trying to catch the scraps, a little bit of red paper blowing away out of his reach. The little piece of paper blowing across the road, past the park and into the doorway of the shop that had been closed and boarded up just before Christmas and had stayed closed for more than two months.

The bit of red paper had lain in the shop’s doorway undisturbed till last night when a homeless man slept there. He had spread out his cardboard and sleeping bag and kicked at the paper. It had blown away past the other shops and into the square coming to rest against the wall. And now it was in my pocket. I had no idea what I was going to do with it.

“Right. Time for tea. Why are you sitting there in the dark. Not reading your book? You were not dozing off to sleep, were you?”

Was I? Had I been asleep? I felt in my pocket.

 

Life with Eddie

Sybil Austin Skakle

 

             Motherhood did not await my convenience. I still had a year of college and a few extra courses to complete when our first son, Donald Edmund Skakle, Jr. arrived a month later than doctor said he would, July 26, 1948. Noncompliance! It foretold that once free from the womb, no one would be able to predict where Eddie might go or when he might decide to return.    

            Eddie walked at nine months and I began to chase after him. During his waking hours, he exerted so much energy that he required two naps a day. I napped too. At night, he slept soundly but awakened early to begin his daily adventures. 

            The job I expected to take after the summer at Hatteras, had fallen through. Don’s parents had visited at the end of summer and I went back to Waltham, Massachusetts with them, with the intention of working an internship there, while Don’s mother kept Eddie Actually, Poppa had talked to a pharmacist friend who was considering taking me on in an apprentice position, when Don and I decided that we needed to be together.

            So, leaving Eddie with his fraternal grandparents, I took a Greyhound bus to North Carolina to look for a job. During that week, I traipsed all over Chapel Hill, entered every drug store, to request a position. Then I did Durham’s hospitals- Duke, Watts, and McPhersons. Finally, I went to Greensboro, where Sister Marjorie and her family lived to explore. Banks Kerr, then the manager of a Leggett-Rexall drug store, located on west corner of West Market, across from the Jefferson –Standard building, and Elm Street, hired me as a pharmacy intern. The following year the store was sold to two brothers and Banks Kerr opened his first store in Cameron Village, Raleigh.

Eddie was 15 months old. My sister Marjorie and husband, Curtis Newton, and their daughter Beth, lived in an old mansion on Blandwood Avenue, within walking distance of downtown Greensboro. The house had been subdivided into eight apartments. We rented the right hand side front upstairs apartments. While I worked, Margie cared for Eddie for several month, until she acquired a job and Eddie went to day care.  Don, still eligible for the G.I benefit, attended the University of North Carolina graduate school, to use his final year of eligibility on the Carolina Varsity Tennis Team. He visited us on weekends, catching a ride to Greensboro on Friday after class; taking the last Trailway bus back to Chapel Hill on Sunday evening.

            One Saturday, Eddie and I walked up town to the Ellis Stone/Thalhimer's Department store, located across the street from where I worked. We were to meet Margie and our younger sister, Ramona (Mona), a senior at Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina. Before they arrived, Eddie disappeared. Frantic, I asked for help. A message echoed throughout the store, giving the description of the lost two year old boy, just as Margie and Mona arrived. They knew the identity of the missing child and came to reassure me and render help.

Someone must have alerted us, because we found Eddie, happily watching a movie next door at the Center Theater, enjoying a sweet treat. He had conned the people at the theater, telling them that his mother knew where he was. “I want to see the movie! She won’t care!”

Probably, the theater people sought to keep him safe until someone claimed him. Hank Ketchum’s comic strip character, Dennis the Menace, reminds me of my little boy. Like Dennis, he was charming, reasonable and funny. He claims I abused him. I claim that I am the victim. You be the judge. Remembering, I wonder why I ever decided to have other children.

           

Three Rivers to Cross

By Elizabeth Silance Ballard

 

Chapter Fifteen

 

3 rivers.jpgThe next thing I remember is waking up in my bed and screaming. Just screaming. Mama came running.

“Mama! Greg’s dead!”

“I know, Sugar, I know.”

I had slept for almost three days. They even had the doctor come over to the island but he said to just let me sleep. He said it was a way my body and mind were coping with the shock.

 “Mama?”

“Yes, Baby, I’m right here.”

“Mama, Greg—Greg is dead.”

I guess it was Mama’s arms around me or maybe just the sound of her soothing voice, but the tears broke through and it seemed as if I cried out every drop of fluid in my body before I finally stopped.

After that, neither of us had much to say. I asked how Greg’s parents contacted us since there was no telephone on the island.

“They called Lon’s house,” Mama said. “Remember Lon telling us about that? They didn’t even know he was your brother. They were just trying to reach anyone named Gurganus in Meadow View who might know you. Do you remember Lon coming over here to tell us?”

“Yes, now I remember.”

“They’ve called several times. They’re very concerned about you.”

“Is there any other news?”

“No, Honey, Lon said that Mr. Cleveland told him straight out they don’t expect to hear anything further.”

“Maybe I’ll go over to Lon’s in the next day or two and try to call them.”

I didn’t, though, not right away. I stayed there on Rattlesnake Island where there was only Mama, Daddy, and me, where I had always felt safe and happy.

I still felt safe there but there was no happiness for me that summer. I simply walked around the island. I walked and walked. I didn’t care if the wind blew my hair to kingdom come, didn’t care if it was raining or even storming. I just kept walking. There were times I even hoped I would see a rattlesnake and that it would bite me and I would die.

There was no rattlesnake, though, and I didn’t die. I had to keep living. Mama came out to meet me one afternoon and insisted that I go crabbing with her.

“Mama, you don’t need me. I just want to walk.”

“Yes, I do need you!  Lon and his family are coming out for supper and I’m gonna need a big mess of crabs for all of us. I can’t do it all myself. Here.”

She handed me my ball of twine, a big safety pin, some leftover meat from last night’s supper and a crab net. It was hard to concentrate. All I could think about was how, when I was younger, she didn’t trust me with the crab net. Now we both had a net. Silly, I know, but that’s all I could think about—that crab net.

We moved up close to the water’s edge and waited. Crabs were plentiful around our island but we had to be still and quiet or they wouldn’t come anywhere near the water’s edge where we were waiting.

After an hour, we had a basket full of the things and started for the house.

“Mama, I’m sorry I never brought Greg to the island. Suzanne, too.”

“It’s all right, Charlotte Anne. We knew you were living off in a different world. We knew you didn’t really belong here anymore.”

“I guess I’ll be here forever now.”

“No. No, you won’t, Honey. Grief is a strange thing. Like a big nasty mud hole!  You cain’t wish it away. You cain’t pretend it isn’t there. Neither can you go around it, over it or under it. You cain’t hide from it, either.  You have to go headlong toward that mud hole.  You cain’t shrink from it.

“Now, some folks just stay in place and watch it for a while thinking that it will eventually go away. It won’t.  Other folks, they just stomp right on into grief, headlong and fumin’. Sometimes they’re angry; sometimes they’re sad, but they keep on sloshin’ around in that old mud hole called grief. But, they just go ’round and ’round. All they can see or think about is that mud hole. They cain’t get out of it and they don’t know why.

“Others, well, they step right on into grief, too. Yes, they hurt.  Yes, they’re lonesome.  They’re angry, too, because none of us expects somethin’ bad to happen to ourselves, especially when we’re young as you are.

“And, that’s not all. Sometimes they’re downright mad at the one who died, mad that they did whatever it was that took them out of this world.”

Listening to Mama talk on and on in her soft gentle voice, I realized I had never known Mama to have that much to say about anything.

“I’m angry at myself, Mama, not at Greg. And I feel guilty more than I feel sad right now. I’m not as devastated as I was, but I also feel guilty about that.  I think his parents must really hate me.”

“They don’t hate you. It ain’t your fault he died.”

“I could have asked him not to go. I know he would have stayed if I had asked.”

“You didn’t try to stop him because you knew he wanted to go. You both knew it was a mighty good chance for a man who wanted to be a preacher.”

I couldn’t believe that I could actually talk about it now without crying and THAT made me feel guilty, too!

“Charlotte Anne, you won’t never forget him. Your love won’t never go away completely and you’re gonna  cry for a long time.  You’re one of them folks who steps right into grief and it feels mighty bad.

 “You probably won’t believe me, but you have passed the middle of that big mud hole of grief and you’re on your way out to the other side, now. 

“When you reach a point that you can talk about it as truthfully as you are doing right now, when you can say you’re angry, that you feel guilty, and all the rest—well that’s when your healing has begun. I promise.”

She was right: I didn’t believe her. Later I would marvel at how wise my mother was. The mother who I thought knew only how to cook, do housework, garden, and clean fish.

Lon and his wife, Betty, came across that night to enjoy the crabs with us. Every one of them was eaten. “Tell you what,” Lon said. “I never have understood why folks rant and make a big deal over those Alaskan King Crab legs! I’ll take these crabs from our own waters any day of the week.”

I knew they were trying to keep things normal. They were trying to ease me into going on with life.

Mama had steamed all the crabs with her special seasoning and piled them all in the middle of the table on top of the oilcloth but she had pulled the meat from the some of  the crabs and panned it in butter.  She knew it was my very favorite.  

“Some fine eatin’, Louisa!” Daddy said, as we cleared the table. 

“Charlotte, can I talk to you?”

 I followed Lon out onto the porch.

“Listen, Sis, I don’t know if you’re ready or not, but  the principal at Meadow View Elementary, John Hayes,  called me the other day to see if you were still in the area and might be interested in teaching this fall. I know you’ve got a lot going on with Greg’s death but I promised him I’d mention it to you. It’s fifth grade.”

For the first time since Lon came banging on our kitchen door in the wee hours of that morning, I felt a stab of excitement. I couldn’t help it. I recognized that this must be a gift from God because it was a few short weeks before school started. I wouldn’t have even tried to find a position that late in the summer. In fact, I hadn’t even taken the State Boards yet. Would they really hire me?

My mind was racing and I knew that, more than likely, one of the teachers must have had a change in plans, a pregnancy, or had to move from the area, maybe.

“Lon, I want that job.  Please call him in the morning and tell him I’d like talk to him about it.”

Lon grinned. “I’m glad for you, Sis. I was afraid you were going to hide out here on the island like Mama.  I’m glad to see you on the move again!”

I walked with him and Betty and their two children down to their boat.

“Charlotte, I’m going out fishing with Daddy tomorrow so Betty will call the school. Okay?”

“Of course, thank you, Betty.”

“Charlotte, there are some nice apartments not too far from the school. Want me to check on them?” Betty asked. “There may be a vacancy coming up that you could get and wouldn’t have to go back and forth from the island every day. Just a suggestion.”

“Yes! Please do, Betty!”

It absolutely was a good idea. I had lived away from home for four years and I needed my own place.

Chapter Sixteen

 

To my surprise, when I met with Mr. Hayes about the teaching position, he told me he had already made arrangements for me to take the state exam the following Monday. He also took me down the hall to see my classroom and gave me the schedule for teachers.

“Well, I’m grateful, Mr. Hayes, but I had no idea I would be able to get a position this late in the summer.”

“Charlotte, it probably wouldn’t be done this way in a big city school system, but it’s not easy getting teachers in a small town like Meadow View. There aren’t many people moving into our area.

“You’re already here. You have an excellent record and—well, what can I say? I’ve been principal in this county a long time. Sometimes, it’s all in who you know in life when you need to get things done in a timely manner.

“In your case, the only thing you lack is certification and I was able to get that set up with no trouble at all but you don’t have to broadcast any information about that, if you know what I mean.”

I nodded in confirmation.

 “After you take the Boards, Charlotte, it might be several days before you get official notification. I’ve been promised, though, that I’ll be called as soon as the result of your exam is known. That’s to cover my behind, you know, from hiring you before you’re even certified!”

Before I started for home, Betty drove me to see three apartments. Part of me was simply overwhelmed: The school, the upcoming Boards in just a few days, and the idea of living alone in an apartment. Yet, somewhere deep inside, I was excited, too.

I called Greg’s parents and told his mother I would be in Raleigh.

“I thought since you’re only an hour from Raleigh, I might go by and visit with you for a little while.”

“We’ll be delighted, Charlotte. Plan to spend the night. We have a lot to talk about. Since you’ll be coming to Raleigh by bus, just get a one-way ticket. I’ll pick you up after your exam and you can get a bus from here when you’re ready to go home.”

I dreaded this meeting and wondered if any of us would be comfortable talking about Greg.

The following Monday morning, I took the boat across the river and walked to the bus station.

“A one-way ticket, Charlotte? Not coming back? It will be cheaper if you get a round trip rather than buying a one way from here and then another one back.”

“Thank you, Mr. Phillips. One way is all I need. ”

I took my seat on the Trailways near the driver. I always enjoyed riding on the bus. It was far more comfortable than Uncle Leonard’s truck and it gave me some wonderful alone time.

 I had been advised not to think too much about the exam.  Mr. Hayes assured me there wouldn’t be a thing on it that I didn’t know from twelve years of public school and four years of college and practice teaching. I had my doubts but I tried to think about anything other than that exam as the bus rolled down the highway past scenery which didn’t interest me at all that day.

It’s funny how quickly life can change. Well, not funny, really, but odd. Odd how, as quickly as the snap of a finger, you suddenly switch paths and your whole future, the future you had planned, had envisioned, had talked about with those closest to you, disappears as if a gate has been slammed shut in front of you on that path, slammed down and locked, keeping you forever from that future.

Just over six weeks ago, I was like Dorothy, and the path I saw in front of me like the Yellow Brick Road, golden and beckoning. That path, that road, was so perfect because Greg and I had been on that path together.

It had been such a short time since Greg and I had become husband and wife, had enjoyed the well wishes and excitement of Suzanne and my friends at Meredith who threw rice and rejoiced in our happiness.

Such a short time since we had gazed at our honeymoon cottage, hardly believing that it was all real. How brief was the time we had sunning ourselves on the dock, taking walks around the lake, and making love with moonlight streaming through the windows and with the night time sounds in the woods around us—the owls, the crickets, the frogs. Comfortable sounds. Happy sounds for two happy people.

But it had been over three years ago, out on the ocean at Sea Vista that we had fallen in love. That’s where our future actually began. It began the day Greg insisted that I go out on the raft with him, beyond the breakers.

The ocean! The ocean is also where our future ended when a plane went down with no survivors.  It had gone down far beyond the breakers, far from anything other than miles of ocean.

The ocean was there at the beginning of our future and the ocean had taken our future away.  I would still pass the State Boards and teach but Greg would not be going to seminary. He would never be a minister and I would never be a minister’s wife.  Our Yellow Brick Road was closed to me. I had to find another path.

This moment, cruising down the highway, moving away from the coast, away from Rattlesnake Island, from Meadow View, was part of the new path so this day was a momentous one. I was neither afraid nor worried about the exam. I would pass and, in a few short weeks, would be teaching—in Meadow View, a town I had vowed to leave, a town that held no good memories for me.

Why, Lord? Was it because I didn’t go to Sunday school as a child? Because we were not a church going family? Did you find me unworthy to be a minister’s wife?  If so, why did Greg have to die while I live? Why not  take me and let him live? Why?  And why, Lord, am I right back in the school where I never fit in before? Where I was such an oddball? Where there was so little…

 We had arrived and passengers were preparing to get off the bus. I reached for my purse and overnight bag. At that point, I slipped into “autopilot,” a familiar sensation, one I had lived with since I was six years old and left the island for school that first day.

It was a comfortable state of mind, really. I didn’t have to feel or even think. I only had to put one foot in front of the other and keep going.

 

Chapter Seventeen

 

Mrs. Cleveland was waiting when I completed the exam and left the building with a light heart. I was certain I had done well and wasn’t going to give it another thought until I heard from Mr. Hayes regarding the results.

I approached my mother-in-law—or WAS she still my mother-in-law? I wasn’t sure. The woman was trying to smile and I appreciated the effort but it was a difficult moment for both of us. 

“Hello, Mrs. Cleveland, thank you for coming.”

“Please, call me Clara and my husband is Will.”

We both steered clear of any serious talk during the hour and fifteen-minute drive from Raleigh to their home in Hamptonville. Later, I could not remember anything we said, nor could I remember a single landmark or place of interest Clara had pointed out along the way.

In Hamptonville, we drove past the high school and the First Baptist Church, both of which had played such an important guiding force in Greg’s life.  How well I remembered the day he said, “My mom believed if the church door was open, we were supposed to be there!”

He hadn’t said it as if he resented it. He said it almost with pride and affection. That was the day I told him that our family did not go to church.

“Ever?” He was unbelieving. “Not at all? Not ever? Charlotte, why not?”

“We just didn’t. My parents were religious. They had a strong faith and taught us to pray early. Really pray, you know. Not just, ‘Now I lay me down to sleep’ or ‘Thank you for the world so sweet.’  They taught us to talk to God as if he were standing right in front of us. They taught us that God was always in control and…”

“We’re here, Charlotte.”

We were driving into the garage that was attached to their small bungalow.

Greg’s home. How strange that I should be walking up the steps and into the house where he grew up. I was actually standing in his home, with his mother, both of us trying to make small talk.

It wasn’t until after Will Cleveland came home from work, took us out for supper (dinner, they called it) and we were back in their comfortable den that Greg’s name came up at all. I’m the one who broached the subject.

“Have you heard anything further from the airline?”

After a moment’s hesitation, Will said, “They found some wreckage but no survivor. The search has ended.”

I’m sure we were silent for only seconds though it seemed much longer.

 “We know he loved you, Charlotte. We were delighted when he told us of your marriage but we were disappointed that we weren’t included. I’m sure your parents felt the same.” 

I won’t look up. If I don’t make eye contact, I’ll be all right. I can do this. I will answer their questions, listen to what they have to say, and I won’t get emotional.  All I have to do is not look up.

I looked up, looked into the kind faces of the two people who were to have been my mother-in-law and father-in-law.

“It all happened so fast,” I told them. “I wasn’t expecting to see Greg that day. We were going to wait until after our graduations to even set a date and plan the wedding but he surprised me, you see.

“And—and he hadn’t even agreed to go on that mission trip but he was so excited, you know? I could have asked him NOT to go. He would have stayed. He would be alive today if I had only asked him not to go. I wouldn’t have had to plead.  I only had to say, ‘No, Greg, please don’t go.’ That was all I had to say, but I didn’t say it.

“I know you must hate me for that. I hate myself for it. We would both be sitting right here, telling you all about our plans. He wanted to be married here in his church.”

“Charlotte, he did tell us how it had all been arranged—the marriage ceremony, the cottage. You’re right. He would not have gone if you had asked him to stay.

“He told us he felt guilty about cheating you out of your dream wedding, but he did not want to delay your wedding until he got back. Perhaps he had a premonition. We’ll never know. But, we don’t hate you at all, my dear.

“You loved him enough to say yes—yes to his leaving, yes to a wedding you hadn’t planned. Back when Greg was a young boy in Royal Ambassadors in church, he said he was going to the foreign mission field one day. You supported him in that wish, in his dream.

“We’ll never understand why he did not get there. We went with him to the airport. He was so happy and excited.

“Charlotte, if we had stayed at the airport instead of dropping him off and leaving, we would have known about the change in departure. We could have had a little more time with him and we feel guilty about that.

“Oh, we know it wouldn’t have made a difference in the outcome, but we feel that guilt, anyway. So, don’t blame yourself any longer and don’t, for even a second, think that we blame you.”

Clara excused herself and went to the kitchen and came back bearing coffee and three slices of cake.

“This was Greg’s favorite dessert. Red Velvet cake. I just wanted us to have some tonight. I wanted us to enjoy his cake.”

Will reached over and hugged Clara and said, “We know there’s no possibility of a funeral. No burial. No marker. But we thought we should have some sort of memorial service. How do you feel about that, Charlotte?”

 “I don’t think I can do that, Will. I’ll understand if you want to do it but I can’t be there. I hope you understand.”

“I do understand. I’m not for it, either,” he said, nodding. “We’re still grieving but we’re also trying to move on. Greg’s whole life is his memorial. That’s the way I see it. He was a son we were proud to call our own.”

“And I believe he was truly called to the ministry,” Clara offered. “I’ll always believe that and he lived a life as someone who knew he was called by God.”

“Let’s talk about you, Charlotte,” Will said. “What are your plans? We have no doubt that you’ll receive certification but isn’t it too late to find a position?”

I explained that I had already accepted a fifth grade position at my old school and said, “I never expected to go back there.”

“And you feel up to handling a classroom of ten year olds while grieving?”

“Well, I had such a good experience as a student teacher. I loved it. I looked forward to going every day so I believe the quicker I get back in that setting, the easier it will be for me to keep moving forward and trying to find my way again, without Greg.”

Will picked up some papers from the coffee table and handed them to me. “Charlotte, we had a life insurance policy on Greg. Not much, just something we took out several years ago to handle funeral expenses, if the need arose, but we never expected to have to use it.

“Frankly, with today’s prices, it would have barely covered the cost of a funeral and now that we definitely won’t be using it, we want you to have it. We’ve already endorsed the check over to you.”

“No! No, thank you. I don’t want to profit from Greg’s death. I’ll just endorse it back to you and you can simply donate it to the church or the school.”

“Charlotte, you’re not profiting from his death. You were his wife! He most certainly would have made provisions for you himself. Please take it. It will help you get settled in an apartment and you’ll need many things as you begin this next phase of your life. We want to help by passing this on to you.”

“Yes,” Clara added. “We were planning to give you and Greg pretty close to this amount to help you while he was in seminary. We won’t have that pleasure, now, to help our son and his wife begin their life together.

“Please let us at least do this for you! Please! It will mean so much to us and, Charlotte, there’s something else. We know this is so personal, but is there any chance you might be—expecting?”

Clara sounded so hopeful and I realized they wanted me to say yes so they would have something left of Greg.

I hated to disappoint them yet again, but I knew that I absolutely was not pregnant. I would never admit it but I was relieved. I was not ready for motherhood, especially single motherhood. Yet, I felt guilty for feeling that way. Would I EVER get past feeling so guilty about everything in my life? Was I destined to always expect myself to do everything perfectly? What was wrong with me?

I should have, at least, wanted to have Greg’s child. His parents and I could have had a part of him with us always. But, of course, life for Charlotte Anne Gurganus Cleveland had to be one guilt trip after another. This  was a big one.

“No, I’m sorry, Clara, there is no chance at all.”

What little hope had been there before drained visibly and both Clara and Will seemed to age beyond their years in those few seconds. They had been hoping for a grandchild from their only son. Now, all hope was gone. They needed to be alone to grieve now over that lost hope.

Feigning exhaustion, I excused myself. I was glad they had put me in the guest bedroom rather than in Greg’s room. The evening’s conversation had left me drained and saddened even more. To be in a room that reflected Greg’s life would have been too much.

The next morning, we all went through the motions of a pleasant good-bye. Will said he would take me to the bus station on his way to work.

“Charlotte, you might consider buying yourself a good second hand car with that check.  Even if you live close to the school, you’ll have some rainy days. Think about it.”

I thanked him again and said I would probably do that. I was glad the bus station wasn’t far from their home. Everything was said the evening before and we seemed to have little to say now.

I realized I would probably never see the Clevelands again. There was no reason to stay in touch, really. If there had been a child, that would have been different but I knew this really was goodbye as we pulled up to the station.

“Charlotte, one more thing. I don’t know if you’ve considered it, but if you should decide to go back to your maiden name, we would not blame you in the least. We would understand.”

I nodded, not knowing what to say. I only had my small overnight bag so he hugged me and drove away as I went inside to purchase my ticket.

 

 

Spring

Marry Williamson

 

There is a new season, a new thing

I must write a poem about spring

A work-out for my inspiration

A severe test for my imagination

To clear my brain I took a gentle stroll

But all that came to me was spring roll

I filled my writing pad with doodles

But still my head was full of bambooshoots and noodles

My thoughts, such as they were, went round in rings

And suddenly a light went up - hot water springs

Except, and here is a real teaser

What do I know about an Icelandic geyser

There is another spring to go into the mix

The kind that is in biros, garage doors and pogo sticks

And then there is among other things

The hope that always eternal springs

I am wrecking my brain to help me think

But I cannot find the missing link

Between winter and summer, what can it be?

No, the answer to that one eludes me.

 

 

The Error of Our Ways

Mistakes are the engine of language's evolution

Johnson, Learning from Our mistakes

 

Children will not only inherit the world, but shape it. Especially in their linguistic mistakes. For example, a child collecting different kinds of animals in a video game: "I got a new specie!”, he cries. The source of the mistake is obvious. The child has heard the slightly rarefied word "species” and assumed it was the plural of something called a specie. Children do this kind of thing all the time as they learn language; generalizing from things previously heard and rules previously mastered is the only way they can progress with such speed. In most cases, errors disappear on their own.

Yet tempting, specie-type mistakes happen not just among children, but their parents too. Some survive, and even thrive, until they displace an old form and become the new standard. Few English-speakers today know it, but there was once no such thing as a pea. People ate a mass of boiled pulses called pease. But just as with specie, at some point English people mis-analysed pease as a plural, and the new singular pea was born. The same thing happened with cherry, from the Norman cherise, and caper (the edible kind), from the Latin capparis, both singular.

Another kind of confusion happens at the beginning of words. People once worked with a protective bit of clothing called a napron. But enough heard it as “an apron” that apron eventually sup­planted napron completely. Other words beginning with vowels and preceded by “an” went through the same process: nadder became adder and nauger, auger (a tool for boring holes). In other instances, an n was added, not subtracted, by a mis­take in the opposite direction: a newt was once a ewt, and a nickname was once an eke-name. (Eke is an old word for “also”) Not all such forms survived: while neilond, nangry and nuncle appear in older English texts, they never did replace island, angry and uncle.

Foreign borrowings are also a source of error-induced change. The French la muni­tion was misunderstood by English-speak­ers with shaky French as Vammunition, giving rise to the English word. English- speakers are not the only people who do this kind of thing, nor is French the only victim. The Arabic al-, meaning "the”, has been taken as an integral part of words borrowed from that tongue. So European languages are filled with alkali, algebra and the like. It is as if English had swallowed la munition whole as "lamunition".

Sometimes borrowings are mangled not because their structure is misun­derstood, but their meaning. A chefde cuisine, as it was originally adopted from French, was boss of the kitchen. Chef still means "boss" in French, but the English eventually took a chef to be a cook. Pariah trod a similarly improbable path: the word means "drummer” in Tamil, be­coming the name of a downtrodden ethnic group which often performed ceremonial drumming. That "downtrod­den” element of the meaning then be­came the only one in English.

The "pariah” example is instructive. This isn’t so much a word born of a single clear-cut mistake, as one that emerged from a gradual transformation: from drummer to outcast drummers to out­cast, each step is short and intelligible. Only to Tamils might the English sense of "pariah” seem wrong. In English, “out­cast” really is its meaning.

Every word is changing a little bit, all the time. Look at a few lines of Middle English, and it is nigh impossible to find words that have not altered in spelling, pronunciation, meaning, grammar—or all four. Consider Old English, and those rare examples become nearly zero. Even Shakespeare requires some practice to understand fully.

Many of the tweaks that have made those bygone Englishes into modern English could be seen as an “error” of some sort. Some such changes were systematic: all words with the same vowel gradually being pronounced with a different one, say. Others have affected just one word at a time, and so tend to be too subtle to catch the eye.

The naprons of the world are notable, then, not because they are exceptions, but because they are instances of a com­mon phenomenon—language change through “error"—that happened conspic­uously enough to make a tidy example. But modern English is deformed Old English and degenerate Middle English. In other words, like any living language, it is "error” all the way down. (Adapted from an article in The Economist, February 2, 2019)

Different Perspectives

E. B. Alston

 

Over coffee she told me, "I feel bad."

How could SHE ever "feel bad?”

Dark hair. Brown eyes,

Red sweater, pleated white skirt, heels.

 

Just seeing her walk by

Makes me feel good.

She might be sick.

But she certainly wouldn't feel bad!

 

GA/84

 

 

The Say What Dept.

 

His computer crashed at 08:23 a.m.  Many important not-backed-up documents lost. While he was in the first stages of accessing his loss, somebody mentioned a gadget that was simple to use, lightweight, cheap, incredibly reliable, with a built in delete function and could handle any language. When he asked what that was, they replied, “A pencil.”

 

When the permit to enlarge their cemetery was not approved, the village of Sarpourenx, France, passed an ordinance forbidding its citizens to die. “Offenders will be severely punished,” the ordnance said.

 

 “Art is moral passion married to entertainment. Moral passion without entertainment is propaganda and entertainment without moral passion is television.” Author Rita Mae Brown

 

“If the world should blow itself up, the last voice would be that of an expert saying it can’t be done.” Peter Ustinov

 

What a put-down! “To hardly know him is to know him well.”

 

A renaissance scholar has identified the model who posed for Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous Mona Lisa portrait. She was Lisa del Gherardni, wife of wealthy Florentine businessman Francesco del Giocondo. The sitter's identity was ascertained at the University of Heidelberg in 2005 by a library expert who discovered a 1503 margin note written by Agostino Vespucci. The painting was for their new home. There has been a lot of speculation about the identity of the model for the Mona Lisa, Mona was a common contraction of Madonna at the time, and some ill-informed speculators thought she might have been Da Vinci’s lover. Da Vinci wasn’t interested in girls.

 

A Japanese swimsuit model was acquitted of breaking into her ex-boyfriend’s apartment when she demonstrated to the court that her breasts were too big to allow her to go through the hole in the wall the intruder used to enter the ex’s apartment.

 

New definition of poor: “I’m broker than a West Virginia tooth fairy.”

 

The Relevant Church in Ybor City, Florida, issued a 30-day sex challenge for married members of the congregation. Members were supposed to fool around at least once every day-with their spouses-in an effort to reduce divorce rates. Methodists are definitely not with it!

 

Some remarkable statistics about Antarctica: It’s bigger than the United States and Mexico. It has 11,000 miles of coastline. The coastline is twice as long during winter. Ice at the South Pole is two miles thick. Antarctica contains 70% of the world’s fresh water. If all that ice melted, the oceans would rise 200 feet and the first 14 floors of the Empire State Building would be under water.

 

The so-called health food experts may be seeing the light…finally. After telling us, at one time or the other, that everything from avocado to zucchini is bad for us, now the nutrition experts are telling us avoid too much meat and fish and don’t eat anything made in a chemical factory. “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food,” they advised according to This Week Magazine.

 

“Some cause happiness wherever they go. Others cause happiness when they go.” Oscar Wilde

 

Albright College psychologist, Susan Hughes, did a study on men and women kissing. She says that kissing transfers a lot of germs around and “Men tend to think kissing should lead to sex no matter what. Women use kissing as a way of assessing a man’s worthiness through biochemical signals and hints about his emotional make up.” Wow! Dumb us. We thought women wanted sex too.

 

Bookseller magazine has listed their selection of the oddest book titles of all time. They are: Are Women Human, How to Write a “How-to” Book, Cheese Problems Solved, I Was Tortured by the Pigmy Love Queen and its sequel, Go Ahead Woman, Do Your Worst.  

 

We saw a list of Geraldo Rivera’s favorite books. They include Tarzan of the Apes, (Edgar Rice Borroughs) The Lord of the Rings, (J.R.R. Tolkein) The Naked and the Dead (Norman Mailer) and Seven Pillars of Wisdom (T. E. Lawrence)  We are impressed.

 

We didn’t make any of this stuff up.

 

 

 

“This year, for the first time in human history, there will be more people over 65 than there are under 5 years old.” The Economist February 16, 2019.

Loreley

Heinrich Heine (1797-1856)

 

I wist not what it is that daunts me,

And makes me feel erie and low:

A legend, it troubles , it haunts me,

A legend of long, long ago.

 

The air chills, day is declining,

And smoothly Rhine's waters run,

And peaks of the mountains are shining

Aloft in the setting sun.

A maiden of wondrous seeming,

Most beautiful, see, sits there;

Her jewels in gold are gleaming,

She combs out her golden hair.

With a comb of red gold she parts it,

And still as she combs it she sings;

As the melody falls on our hearts, it

With power as of magic stings.

 

With a spasm the boatman hears it

Out there on his little skiff:

He sees not the reef as he nears it,

He only looks up at the cliff.

 

The Waters will sweep, I am thinking,

O'er skiff, ay, and boatman ere long;

And this is when daylight is sinking,

What Loreley did with her song.

 

 

Farewell to Utopia

E. B. Alston

 

The ancient Greek philosopher, Plato, started it when he wrote The Republic and Laws. They were Plato's ideas about perfection in managing the affairs of cities. His writings were pretty much no-nonsense guides to effective government. Today's politicians could benefit from a careful study of Plato's theories. They would discover that the ancients knew a lot of important stuff.

Then in 1516, Sir Thomas More coined the term when he wrote Utopia. What More wrote was an elaborate pun describing a good place that is nowhere. More's Utopia was, paradoxically, an imaginary place where the possibilities were unchecked by reality and yet it was rational, restrained and sober. It did not cater to the popular fantasies of his time but, instead, strove to go beyond its time and place. The Utopians accepted that human nature was plastic and could adjust to ideas and behaviors beyond conventional limits of social and political thought.

But even Utopia had faults. William Morris' cheerful News from Nowhere was about suffering. George Orwell painted a bleak future for mankind in 1984 and Aldous Huxley painted an even bleaker one in Brave New World. What is scary is many of the scariest things in Orwell’s and Huxley’s books have come to fruition in the United States today. Just like the stories, the government is doing it to us for our own good. Political correctness is nothing but Huxley's newspeak. In 1984, Winston's job was to keep history up to date with current political fashion. Utopia is serious no matter how playfully it is presented.

 Jewish and Christian themes play a role in our expectations of the future: the Jewish coming of the Messiah and the Christian expectation of the coming millennium with its "end of days" and the "end of history." Like the utopian writers, Saint Augustine downplayed the idea that the future millennium would bring earthly bliss and perfection.

 Karl Marx thought of utopia as a factory and he sought to harness all mankind in a goal to eliminate unfairness on earth. In his early writings, Marx was the most optimistic of the lot. He argued that the good society was struggling to be born and could be built with the social and industrial tools at hand. We already know how that turned out.

 Which brings me to my next point: from Plato on, Utopia imagines an ideal society on the pattern of a city or country planned to perfection. This is accomplished by a political, social and spatial organization with all the requirements of justice and goodness that provides for the spiritual and material wellbeing of its population. It is not an egalitarian organization because it recognizes that some functions are more important than others, some virtues higher than others and some needs have a higher priority. There is little liberty and no equality. It is an aristocracy. Like Edward Gibbon in Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, these utopian writers share the idea that democratic government is a dead end road and the seeds of its destruction are planted when the first vote is cast.

 Pereclean Athens is held up as the ultimate flowering of democracy but if you think American politics this election year are dirty and vengeful, read a little Athenian history. Sometimes in ancient Athens, the winning parties assassinated the losers. A few times they publicly regretted their hasty actions and honored with statues those whom they had tortured and killed.

 A problem has arisen with utopian ideals in these modern times. Today we cannot find the forms with which to express its message of hope and possibility. Because of the changes in educational focus we have lost the cultural unity in the larger population and we are experiencing a fragmentation of society. It is difficult to address large, common constituencies. The national press is in decline so we are no longer a nation speaking to itself. We are instead, an island nation splintered into thousands of constituencies, each speaking to a different group. Young and old, black and white, rich and poor, atheists and God-fearing are retreating into worlds of their own, satisfied to hear only the ideas of people like themselves. 

 There are intellectual reasons why utopia is no longer a viable topic for serious discussion. Multiculturalism, political correctness and a tendency toward corrupting the meanings of words has conquered academia and has spread its malign tentacles into the broader culture. Without a concise language to convey subtle, and often disturbing, messages, the ability to build new utopias is impossible. Those grand narratives about reason, and responsibility, duty and self discipline that sustained utopianism have fallen into disuse.

 Other obstacles are rampant worldwide capitalism that links countries and societies into a confusing amalgam of crossed wires with whole populations competing for a bigger piece of the economic pie. Nobody's job is safe. Nobody's savings are secure. Nobody's country, or region, or state, county or community is safe from economic ruin.

Compounding the issue is that today’s writers write half-truths, like Caesar when he wrote that 6000 prisoners were slain in Gaul, or like Cicero when he wrote that 55 elephants were killed in Pompey's games in 55BC. Neither of them mentioned that the onlookers were horrified at what they saw. Where are the independent thinkers, free from the cloying restrictions and conventions of professional and academic life?

Mankind needs utopias because in the long run we will suffer without a utopian vision of life that combines societies in a way that provides an integrated picture of a future. More, Orwell and Huxley and the other utopian writers wrote to shine a harsh light on the ordering of a society that promotes a Darwinian view of human life where ends are valued over means. They pointed out that the sacrifice of minorities and of ideas on the altar of public good is evil. It must be emphasized that this view, in its origins and in its nature, can only result in catastrophe for mankind.

 

Originally appeared in Topsail Island Info

 

 

Laws Not Taught in Physics

1. Law of Mechanical Repair – After your hands become coated with grease, your nose will begin to itch and you’ll have to urinate.

2. Law of Gravity – Any tool, nut, bolt, screw, when dropped, will roll to the least accessible place in the universe.

3. Law of Probability – The probability of being watched is directly proportional to the stupidity of your act.

4. Law of Random Numbers – If you dial a wrong number, you never get a busy signal; someone always answers.

5. Variation Law – If you change lines (or traffic lanes), the one you were in will always move faster than the one you are in now.

6. Law of the Bath – When the body is fully immersed in water, the telephone will ring.

7. Law of Close Encounters – The probability of meeting someone you know INCREASES dramatically when you are with someone you don’t want to be seen with.

8. Law of the Result – When you try to prove to someone that a machine won’t work, IT WILL!!!

9. Law of Bio-mechanics – The severity of the itch is inversely proportional to the reach.

10. Law of the Theater & Hockey Arena – At any event, the people whose seats are furthest from the aisle, always arrive last. They are the ones who will leave their seats several times to go for food, beer, or the toilet and who leave early before the end of the performance or the game is over. The folks in the aisle seats come early, never move once, have long gangly legs or big bellies and stay to the bitter end of the performance. The aisle people also are very surly folk.

11. The Coffee Law – As soon as you sit down to a cup of hot coffee, your boss will ask you to do something which will last until the coffee is cold.

12. Murphy’s Law of Lockers – If there are only 2 people in a locker room, they will have adjacent lockers.

13. Law of Physical Surfaces – The chances of an open-faced jelly sandwich landing face down on a floor are directly correlated to the newness and cost of the carpet or rug.

14. Law of Logical Argument – Anything is possible IF you don’t know what you are talking about.

15. Law of Physical Appearance – If the clothes fit, they’re ugly.

16. Law of Public Speaking — A CLOSED MOUTH GATHERS NO FEET!

17. Law of Commercial Marketing Strategy – As soon as you find a product that you really like, they will stop making it, OR the store will stop selling it!

18. Doctors’ Law – If you don’t feel well, make an appointment to go to the doctor, by the time you get there, you’ll feel better. But don’t make an appointment and you’ll stay sick.

 

Hammer Spade and the Inca Curse

E. B. Alston

 

Chapter Six

 

hsic cover.jpgAlonia was pleased to learn that she would see Don before she left. “I like Don. He’s a good person. He was quiet and reserved when we were returning from Brazil after you rescued me from that evil fiend, Miguel Glei. After I got to know him, I learned that he is a very interesting conversationalist.”

“I’m glad he could come. He got everything we needed in Brazil, and we needed a lot of stuff, to break into that concrete fortress. If I don’t get to the field on this one soon, we might be at it for years.”

“You shouldn’t worry,” she laughed. “You’ll finish this according to schedule.”

“You have a lot of confidence in me.”

She kissed me. “Mr. Spade, must I remind you that you have an unbroken string of successes.” The twinkle in her eye belied her mockery.

“Yeah, I do, but I’ve been lucky. My luck might run out this time.”

She took my face in her hands and looked me in the eye. “You will succeed,” she assured me.

“I wish I had your confidence,” I grumbled.

She made it sound like a walk in the park but I knew better. I had successes but at a price. Two of the most admirable women I have ever known, Sunee Mayseng and Lady Margot Fisher, were dead. In both cases, if I had done things differently, they would be alive. I don’t like death and killing. No matter how evil people are, killing them takes its toll.

After a quick kiss, she smiled and suggested that we go to breakfast.

The cafeteria was full and my teammates were on their second cup of coffee. Isabela smirked and remarked that I looked a lot more relaxed than I did yesterday. She was too smart for her own good. Alonia played along by agreeing with her. After breakfast, Alonia said she had to make some calls and she’d see me at lunch.

Isabela, Hart, Oscar and I reviewed the Córdoba plan and got Oscar off late that afternoon. Isabela was a very clever and efficient woman. I asked her how she and Jack got along.

“We worked well together,” she said. I thought I detected a twinkle in her eye. “He’s handy to have around in a fight but he glosses over details at awkward times.”

“He’s saved my hide a time or two. Did you two get into any shooting scrapes?”

“Twice,” she answered. “The last time was when he was wounded.”

“How did the woman poison him?”

“She wore a shoe with a sharpened roofing tack in the toe. The tack was coated with venom from a golden poison frog.”

“That’s an odd way to try to kill somebody,” Hart observed.

“It’s a common method of assassinating enemies in South America.”

“How did she do it?” I asked.

“We stopped to help her because we thought her car was broken down and she was stranded. When Jack looked under the hood of her car, she kicked him in the calf of his leg twice.”

“That was the perfect trap for Jack. He’s always eager to help women in distress,” I said. “I hope he’ll be okay.”

“I think he will. Jack’s tough. When I stopped by the hospital to tell him goodbye on my way here, he was sitting up in bed for the first time.”

“You like him, don’t you?”

“Yes, I do. We became friends while we worked together. I visited him at the hospital every day.”

“I’m sure he appreciated that.”

She smiled, “Jack is an unusual individual.” She paused. “He is a gentleman in the finest sense.”

“Yeah, he is,” I agreed. The look in her eyes when she spoke of Jack made me think she was telling the truth when she said she liked him.

“Are you and Alonia really engaged?” she asked.

Why was she so curious about us? “I haven’t formally asked her to marry me.”

Hart joined the conversation. “If you’re smart, you won’t let that woman slip away.”

“Does her telling people you’re engaged bother you?” Isabela asked.

The conversation was getting off-track.  “No, it doesn’t bother me.”

“You are a lucky dog,” Hart said.

Isabela laughed. “You and Alonia are so different.”

“Yeah, we are,” I replied, then changed the subject. “We had better get to work.”

We spent the morning working out details and checking out our gear. This was dull work but if we missed something, somebody’s life would be at risk.

When Alonia joined us at lunch, Hart asked her how she became a model.

“When I visited Rome a few years ago a fashion photographer took a photo of me that ended up in the newspapers. An agent contacted me after he saw the photograph.”

“Do you enjoy being a model?” Isabela asked.

“I make a lot of money but I don’t enjoy the work.”

“But you get to meet famous people,” Hart said.

“The people you meet in the modeling business are not people you enjoy spending time with.”

“I guess not,” Hart agreed. “But I hadn’t met any famous people before I met you and, in addition to being easy on the eye, you have an engaging personality.”

“That is a nice compliment. Thank you,” Alonia replied.

“On the plus side, you get to see the world at somebody else’s expense,” Hart said.

“That’s true, and I do enjoy the places I go but I could have done that anyway.”

“How?” Isabela asked.

“My family is well-to-do.”

“How did you meet Hammer?” Isabela asked.

“He did some detective work for me. As I came to know him, I realized that he is honest and faithful to his friends.”

“What did he do that impressed you the most?” Hart asked.

Alonia laughed. “Hammer is the first man in my life, other than my brothers and my father, who disagreed with me.”

Hart and Isabela thought that was funny.

“So,” Isabela said, “Hammer was first man who was not enthralled by your appearance.”

“He has never told me I’m beautiful,” she replied, looking at me.

This was embarrassing. I tried to stay out of this conversation.

“Hammer,” Isabela asked me, “didn’t you notice how lovely she is?”

“Yeah,” I admitted, “but I don’t dwell on it.”

Isabela wasn’t going to let that slide. “Then, if not her beauty, what is it about Alonia that attracts you?”

“We get along,” I replied.

Hart laughed. “The man, who has the affection of a woman whose beauty the world worships, likes her because they get along. Hammer, you’re one of a kind.”

Alonia came to my rescue. “Hammer is genuine. He’s honest, strong and brave and I love him the way he is.”

“Hammer,” Hart suggested, “I’ve never heard that kind of come-on line. It’s sort of like spending time with Marilyn Monroe because you think she’s nice. Maybe you ought to write a book about how to attract beautiful, world-famous women.”

Isabela giggled. “Do, Hammer. I’m sure it would be a worldwide best seller.”

“I doubt it,” I retorted.

Alonia pinched my cheek and laughed with the rest of them. Sally came to say that I had a phone call.

That afternoon, we worked out some basic attack plans on Fuente’s other teams.

 

Chapter Seven

 

In keeping with official administrative tradition, I wrote a letter to the warehouse staff advising them of the change in command.

 

17 June, 2009

 

Subject: Organization

 

To: All Operatives in the Iquique Warehouse Facility.

 

Effective today, Donald V. Stringfellow is in charge of warehouse operations and support of my team in the field. I expect you to give him your full support as we work to accomplish our mission.

 

M. H. Spade

Director of Operations

Iquique, Chile

 

Alonia didn’t hesitate to say she deplored my letter. “That is the coldest letter I have ever read.”

“I wasn’t writing a love letter, Alonia. Businesslike is not unfriendly.”

“You could have at least thanked them for their support.”

“They had Clover as their boss before he left,” I reminded her. “He’s a dictator. When he left me in charge, I tried not to interfere too much, so they think I manage by benign neglect. Don is a good manager and I’m sure when it’s over, they will prefer him to both of us.”

“You could have said that in the letter.”

“Some of them probably liked the way Clover operated; others may have preferred my style. By my saying nothing, they don’t know what to expect and Don starts with a clean slate.”

“I still don’t like it,” she said.

“I understand that you don’t like it, but the operative question to ask is: Will they understand it?”

“I dare say they will,” she replied reluctantly.

“Then I have accomplished what I was trying to do.”

Alonia was a stubborn woman and always hated to give up her opinion.

Then she started to laugh.

“What is so funny?” I asked.

“You have done it again.”

“What did I do again?”

“You disagreed with me.” She grabbed me around the neck and kissed me. “But I love you anyway.”

Alonia went with me to pick up Don at the airport.

“I didn’t expect the pleasure of seeing you, Alonia,” Don said when we met him at the baggage claim.

“I’m visiting Hammer,” she replied.

“Don’t you ever take a break, Hammer? What was it? A month ago we parted on the dock at Savannah?”

“Something like that,” I replied. “I’ve lost track of time. This has been a tough case.”

I briefed him on the way to the warehouse and explained what I needed from him.

 

 

Back at the warehouse, I introduced Don to Isabela and Hart. Then I called an all-hands meeting and introduced him to the rest of the team.

This was a motley collection of individuals who possessed specific qualifications needed to accomplish our mission. Clover didn’t choose them with any organizational goal in mind.

Don was the perfect pick to run this end of the operation, just like he was when we rescued Alonia a few months ago.

He went around to everybody’s area to get a feel for what was going on while Isabela and I got Hart off to Córdoba. As soon as Hart and Oscar found a place for us to use as an operations center, Isabela and I would follow. I was anxious to get on with it.

 

 

Alonia was sad about leaving the next morning. I hated for her to go, but, even if she stayed, I would be gone in a couple of days.

She was also in a romantic mood and, afterwards, she wanted to talk.

“Have you ever taken a sailing voyage?” she asked me.

“Yeah.”

“When?”

“Tim used to have a sailboat and we sailed up and down the Carolina coast in it.”

“Tim’s your friend in Cove City?”

“Yeah.”

“How big was it?”

“A thirty-five-footer that he got on a trade for some work.”

“I want us to sail somewhere sometime.”

“Okay with me. Where do you want to go?”

“Anywhere. Just the two of us, alone, together on the wine-dark sea, no telephones.”

“I’d like that too. We can rent a sailboat in Morehead City.”

“I have a sailboat.”

“You do? Is she ocean-going?”

“Yes. She’s an old forty-five foot handmade cypress wood boat.”

“If she’s made of wood, she must be pretty old.”

“The keel was hand hewn from a sixty foot cypress tree. It has a square sail.”

I laughed. “She’s old then. Does she have a head?”

“She has a king size bed, a modern galley and a head with a shower.” Alonia smiled. “What else do we need?”

“I hope she has a compass.”

“She does. But you’ll think you’ve stepped back in time because it resembles an ancient Greek merchant ship.”

What did you name her?”

“The Cypriot Alonia.”

“Will we be able to handle a square sail?” I asked.

“I’ve sailed her alone.”

She touched my cheek. Her expression was serious. “Hammer, we have never been alone for any length of time because you or I always have to go off somewhere. I want us to just leave port and let the wind take us where it will.”

I kissed her. “I can’t wait, Alonia.”

I thought about how Margot’s life had been cut short. She could never do what Alonia and I were planning.

Apparently, Alonia was thinking along the same lines.

“We must not be so busy that we never enjoy our lives,” she said. 

 

Chapter Eight

 

Alonia was gone. Don was smoothing out the way we operated the warehouse. Sally and Don were getting along famously and I hadn’t heard any negative comments from anybody. Isabela is as antsy as I am about getting to Córdoba. She talks about Jack a lot and I get the feeling that he is never far from her thoughts. I don’t think they were lovers. This is partly because Jack wouldn’t allow that to distract them on a dangerous mission and partly because I thought Isabela was a moral woman who would honor her marriage vows. But it was evident in the way she looked when she spoke that there was a lot of affection between them. We went through the motions to stay busy while we waited for word from Oscar that it was time to go to work.

 

 

Oscar had never been to Córdoba. He was surprised to see such a beautiful city with picturesque neighborhoods, parks and monuments that celebrated its illustrious past.

Jerónimo Luis de Cabrera founded Córdoba on July 6, 1573. For a time it was the colonial capital of the area that became Argentina. The Jesuits founded The Universidad Nacional de Córdoba in 1613, making it the oldest university in the country. The German aircraft industry settled in Córdoba after World War II and the aircraft industry remains prominent in the city’s economy. From a 1760 census of 22,000, Córdoba has grown to 1.3 million citizens. The Suquia River, sometimes called the Primero River, flows through the city.

Oscar found a former grocery store converted to a warehouse on Calle Brown y Santa Ana in a mixed neighborhood. The owner asked no questions when Oscar expressed an interest in renting it for three months for a “project.” It had a garage door at the end of an upside down “L”-shaped driveway that made it easy to hide our vehicles. By the time Hart arrived, Oscar had set up camp inside the building and installed a makeshift table for them to study maps of the city. He had also installed a broadband connection for their laptop computers and a big screen monitor so they could study Google Earth images of the city and surrounding area.

After Hart arrived, they scoped out the places where Ronaldo Saavedra and his men lived and frequented. The Villa Retiro was in the northwestern corner of the city. It had a fancy entrance with classic brick pillars, a sloping, low masonry wall and a dirt driveway leading to a two-story white stucco house whose architecture could best be described as eclectic. They made several drive-bys to take photographs. Then they called Hammer and said it was time for him and Isabela to come.

That night at dinner in a restaurant frequented by Daniel Carazo and Roberto Salinas, two of Saavedra’s men, they got their first glimpse of the type of men Saavedra had in his organization. Carazo apparently had a crush on one of the waitresses because he made it a point to sit in a booth assigned to her. Whenever she approached their booth, his hands were out trying to pinch her and get her to sit on his lap. It was also evident that she didn’t feel the same way about him. When she dodged his hands, he whined and cursed and complained loudly to the manager about “poor service.”

Carazo was a bully, and the manager, a thin, nerdy looking guy, was obviously afraid of him. His partner, Salinas, tried to moderate Carazo’s behavior and told him several times to leave the young woman alone because she didn’t like him. His partner’s advice fell upon deaf ears.

Hart and Oscar watched this scene play out until the wee hours when the restaurant closed. Carazo evidently planned his leaving to coincide with the time the waitress got off work. When she left, he followed her as she walked down the wide sidewalk toward a rougher part of town. His partner got into a car and drove away, abandoning his cohort in apparent disgust at his behavior.

Oscar was itching to begin his crusade. He followed Carazo on foot while Hart followed at a discreet distance in their rental van.

When the waitress came to a section with no working streetlights, Carazo caught up with her, grabbed her and tried to pull the screaming and struggling woman into the wooded area of a park. Oscar was on the spot in an instant. One quick judo chop to the throat later, Carazo was on his knees with his hands to his throat, gasping for breath and spitting copious amounts of blood on the leaves. Before the woman could react, Oscar had slipped into the shadows watching Carazo as he fell to the ground. His body twitched a few times and then lay still.

After he was sure Carazo was dead, Oscar slipped quietly back where Hart waited, jumped into the van and Hart sped away in the opposite direction while the woman’s screams echoed in the night.

Score one.

 

 

Oscar met Isabela and me when we got off the Aerolineas Argentinas flight at Tallavera Airport. He helped us through customs and carried Isabela’s luggage to the van where Hart waited.

As we drove out of the airport, Oscar turned to me, grinned broadly, and said, “One down, boss.”

I realized from his enthusiasm that killing Fuente’s men was important to him and he was itching to avenge the death of Lady Margot Fisher from the bottom up.

 

 

We set up a regular watch schedule on Villa Retiro. Ronaldo Saavedra was a mountain of a man. He reminded me of Hoss Cartwright from Bonanza, but without the friendly smile. He had a young woman living with him who complicated setting up phone taps because she stayed at the house when he was gone. It was three days before we could attach the electronic tap to his line.

We soon learned that when Fuente communicated with his men by telephone, he did so through intermediaries scattered all over South America. Constitución in Chile, Cochabamba, in Bolivia, and a place called Cochrane appeared most frequently. Caller ID records were useless because the names listed were obviously fictitious.

We had to do something else. But what?

 

Continued Next Month

 

Lexophile

 

Lexophile describes those that have a love for words, such as "you can tune a piano, but you can't tuna fish," or "To write with a broken pencil is pointless." 

An annual competition is held by the New York Times to see who can create the best original lexophile.  This year's winning submission is posted at the very end.        

 

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

·       If you don't  pay your exorcist, you can get repossessed.

·       I'm reading a book about anti-gravity. I just can't put it down.

·       I didn't like my beard at first. Then it grew on me.

·       Did you hear about the crossed-eyed teacher who lost her job because she couldn't control her pupils?

·       When you get a bladder infection, urine trouble.

·       When chemists die, they barium.

·       I stayed up all night to see where the sun went, and then it dawned on me.

·       I changed my iPod's name to Titanic.  It's syncing now.

·       England has no kidney bank, but it does have a Liverpool. 

·       Haunted French pancakes give me the crepes.

·       This girl today said she recognized me from the Vegetarians Club, but I'd swear I've never met herbivore.

·       I know a guy who's addicted to drinking brake fluid, but he says he can stop any time.

·       A thief who stole a calendar got twelve months.

·       When the smog lifts in Los Angeles U.C.L.A.

·       I got some batteries that were given out free of charge.

·       A dentist and a manicurist married. They fought tooth and nail.

·       A will is a dead giveaway.

·       With her marriage, she got a new name and a dress.

·       Police were summoned to a daycare center where a three-year-old was resisting a rest.

·       Did you hear about the fellow whose entire left side was cut off? He's all right now.

·       A bicycle can't stand alone; it's just two tired.

·       The guy who fell onto an upholstery machine last week is now fully recovered.

·       He had a photographic memory but it was never fully developed.

·       When she saw her first strands of gray hair, she thought she'd dye.

·       Acupuncture is a jab well done. That's the point of it.

·       Those who get too big for their pants will be totally exposed in the end.

Little Boy Blue
Eugene Field (1850-1895)

 

The little toy dog is covered with dust,
   But sturdy and stanch he stands;
And the little toy soldier is red with rust,
   And his musket moulds in his hands.
Time was when the little toy dog was new,
   And the soldier was passing fair;
And that was the time when our Little Boy Blue
   Kissed them and put them there.

"Now, don't you go till I come," he said,
   "And don't you make any noise!"
So, toddling off to his trundle-bed,
   He dreamt of the pretty toys;
And, as he was dreaming, an angel song
   Awakened our Little Boy Blue---
Oh! the years are many, the years are long,
   But the little toy friends are true!

Ay, faithful to Little Boy Blue they stand,
   Each in the same old place---
Awaiting the touch of a little hand,
   The smile of a little face;
And they wonder, as waiting the long years through
   In the dust of that little chair,
What has become of our Little Boy Blue,
   Since he kissed them and put them there.

 

 

Rum Runner

Dave Whitford

 

            “So Janie,” I said one afternoon over at Thousand Island Park, “I hear you got your ol’ boat back, better than new.”

            “Yeah, Rodge, actually my grandpa’s boat.  It was up on timbers in the boathouse for lo’ these many years.”

            “How many?” I asked.

            “Oh gosh, I don’t know.  A lot anyway.  Grandpa hauled it out the last time somewhere in the middle-late 1950s.  Got to where he didn’t want to mess with the maintenance anymore.  Then he died in ’61.  For him it was the right move.”

            “That boat has some colorful local history, I’ve heard,” I said.

            “He didn’t name it Rum Runner for no good reason.  But that wasn’t until after.”

            “After what?” I asked.

            “Prohibition … after he quit running Canadian whiskey over from Ivy Lea.  Grandpa was a sport, but he wasn’t stupid.  Wasn’t gonna fling a boat name in the face of the Feds while he was actively engaged, doncha know.  He made good money at the bank legally.  The bootlegging was just a summer hoot for him, the sort of challenge he liked.  He only ever ran the hooch for trusted friends and a small circle of acquaintances anyway, a sort of accommodation in ‘less-than-civilized’ social times, shall we say.”

            “OK, but why his boat in particular?”

            “For one thing, it was new and fast, especially for its day.  He’d had Fitzgerald & Lee down to Alexandria Bay custom-build it for him.  Story I heard is that Mr. Lee said they could ‘sharpen the bottom’ … wouldn’t run as smooth in rough water but would go faster.  And they installed that monster straight-eight Chrysler.  And four-inch exhaust pipe.”

            “Yeah, I know that motor,” I said.  “Double ignition, weighs huge, and holds gallons – not quarts – of sump oil.  Pretty daunting in the early 1930s.”

            “Grandpa once told me it would run thirty.  He never ran it that fast that I recall, at least not with me on board as a kid.  Mom would’ve skinned him if he did!  Pretty swift for a 27-foot boat back in the day, though.”

            “So the restoration took, what?  About a year?”

            “Oh, every bit of that.  We got Ernie Slate to trail it over to Fishers Landing for us, April a year ago, to Ronnie and his crew over at Arrow Boat works.  Ronnie stays pretty backed up with these restorations, you know.  You should’ve seen his eyes bug out when we all drove in.  He recognized the boat immediately!

            “ ‘Oh, my sweet Crimus!’ he said.  ‘I thought this ol’ boat had rotted away long years ago.’  He was tickled pink, Rodge, especially to get to resurrect a boat that his great-grandfather had built, one of the few, you know.  Frankly, I think Ronnie discounted the job to us, although I’m sure he lost no money.”

            “Well,” I said, “The restoration is beautiful.  You like Ronnie’s work?”

            “Oh, absolutely!  Can I get you another beer?  My drink is stale too.”

            “You mean ‘all gone’?” I winked.

            Janie went to get our drinks while I looked west out her cottage window over the Saint Lawrence River between New York and Canada.   The Rum Runner glistened, tied up at the dock beside her boathouse, varnished decks reflecting back the sunshine.  The sides of the hull were brilliant white, and the bold black name letters across the varnished-mahogany stern stood out with their gold-leaf shadowing.  An American flag hung limp from the stern-light pole, and a TIPYC – Thousand Island Park Yacht Club -- pennant was on its little mast sticking out of the center white bow-marker light.

            Beautiful, I thought, the way boats should look.  Janie must’ve saved that pennant from when we were kids at the Yacht Club long years ago.

            Janie brought me my can of beer in a foam insulating sleeve and her own drink with ice swishing around inside an insulating coffee cup.

            “I rousted Ralph,” she said, “Got him off his computer.  Come on, Ol’ Boy, we’re gonna take a ride!  When you phoned you were coming over, we left Rum Runner out for a romp, instead of putting ‘er back in the boathouse.”

            Ralph appeared, looking well tanned and nautical.

            “You’re driving, Honeybunch, grab your hat,” Janie said.  “Rodge and I are drinkin’.”

            Down at the dock, Ralph said, “Look here, Rodge.  You’re an ol’ boat mechanic.  You’ll love this.”

            Ralph flung open the engine hatches amidships, between the forward two cockpits and the one aft of the engine room.  I peered in.

            “Holy cow, Ralph!  Think you got enough horsepower?”

“I thought you’d like that, Sport.  Turbo big-block Chevy!  Ronnie says that taking the old Chrysler out, putting this in, and shit-canning the old double-plank bottom for his new epoxy and marine-plywood bottom, we’ve shed more than 500 pounds.”

            “Where’s the old Chrysler?”

            “Gave it to the museum in Clayton … tax write-off and all.”  Ralph, Janie had told me, is an accountant, had worked in her father’s bank in Oneida.

            “Okay, Rodge, let’s cast off and take this ol’ mother for a ride!”  Ralph adjusted his yachting cap and ascot and pressed the start button on the gleaming mahogany dash … the old original nickel start button on the old original dash.  The white-on-black Stewart-Warner instruments looked original too, but I noticed a new tachometer as well, one that would indicate considerably more than the original 3500 RPM S-W tach.

We idled away from the dock out across Crystal Bay and headed roughly north across the mouth of South Bay toward the Narrows between the head of Wellesley Island and the foot of Murray.  Clear of Crystal Bay and its boat houses, Ralph eased the throttle forward and gave Rum Runner its comfortable old cruising speed.  With no other boats in the Narrows, Ralph maintained his cruising speed.  We entered the wide-open water of Eel Bay, whose shallow water – mercifully – was at only a rough chop in late-afternoon easy wind, instead of the ocean that it could be.

“Watch this!” Ralph said as he eased the throttle forward and veered left to parallel the back side of Murray Island.  Not many cottages are on this side of Murray, hence not many people to witness what came next.  Rum Runner took the added thrust in stride and hiked up her back end to plane on the water’s surface, like an outboard.

“Oh Man, Ralph, this is so cool,” I shouted over the turbo whine behind me.  “You don’t often get one of these ol’ boats running like this.”

For flourish, Ralph eased the wheel first left toward the island and then right again, before straightening to leave a generous S-shaped wake of foam behind us.  Withdrawing a GPS unit from his jacket pocket, he punched some buttons on it, held it up, and then displayed its speed read-out for me.

“Fifty-eight?” I shouted.  “You’ve got to be kidding!”

Ralph throttled back to the Rum Runner’s former pre-historic cruising speed and said, “Those old-timers knew a thing or three about building speedboats.  They just didn’t have the power then, eh?”

“Come right down to it,” I said, “Today’s plastic boats haven’t added much.  More power, more comfort, less speed, more fuel.”

“You got that right,” Ralph said.  “Ronnie advised me to be careful, though, said I could corkscrew the boat upside-down with all this torque on board.  They didn’t build the sterns quite wide enough then.  They couldn’t have known what we’d do nowadays about engines.”     

We rounded the head of Murray and ran the mile back down the channel between Murray and Grenell to Janie’s boathouse in Crystal Bay.  We went slow … or at least at the speed one would expect from a 1931 runabout.

After Ralph eased Rum Runner into the boat house and shut her off, we set the rubber bumpers over the sides, jumped out, and tied her into place with the four-way pre-measured mooring lines that kept her centered in the slip.

“Pretty impressive run out in Eel Bay, Ralph,” I said.

“Oh,  yeah.”  Ralph’s smug grin stretched wide across his face.  “Ronnie’s raced both cars and boats, you know.  He sorta knows what it takes to make things go by now.  Like, for instance, he changed Rum Runner’s bottom, too, when I told him I wanted her to go really fast.”

“How’s that?” I said.

“Well, you’d understand something about this better than me, but something about a new tunnel in back around the propeller, and flattening the bottom some in back.”

“Right,” I said.  “That’s a hydroplane trick.  Gives the prop cleaner water for a better bite.  That and flattening the bottom reduces wetted surface for more speed too.”

“Yeah, well, Ronnie said the ol’ boat is more nearly a hydroplane now than when Grandpa Lee built it, except for no cross step like the real racing hydroplanes of the thirties.  I’m here to tell you Rodge, she’ll go like hell.  What you saw this afternoon wasn’t all of it.”

“She’s a ‘sleeper’ for sure,” I said, “Looking so antique and demure just beside a dock. 

“I never raced against Ronnie,” I continued.  “We were running two different kinds of race boats.  But his boat-racing pedigree goes back to his other grandfather.  Ronnie once told me he designed and built his first race boat in high school.  ‘I got that one wrong, Rodge,’ he told me.  ‘Made the non-trip chines too short, and she wouldn’t turn good.  Always learning somethin’,’ he said.”  I’d tried to imitate Ronnie’s nasal North Country accent and didn’t do well at it.  Janie laughed.

We walked up the boathouse steps toward the cottage.

“You wanta stay for supper?” Janie said.  “It’s getting almost time.  I’ve got plenty.  We’re grilling out this evening.”

“No, thanks, just the same, Janie.  Y’all have been too kind already.  What a boat ride!”  I hugged her for old time’s sake and kissed her cheek, then shook Ralph’s hand.  He was still grinning.  “I need to get back to the Landing,” I said, “And walk the dog.”  Janie laughed again.  She knew I don’t have a dog.

“Yeah right, Roger,” Janie said.  “I’ve seen that new girl at Frank’s general store, and she’s sure no dog.  When are you ever gonna settle down, anyway?”

“I’m settled enough for now,” I said, opening the door of my Ford and getting in.  As I started the motor, Janie’s look at me was wistful.  She waved one of those little ones where you hold your hand up and sorta wiggle your fingers up and down, and I drove off.  In the rear view, I saw them watching for a moment, Ralph’s hands on his hips, and then they turned and walked toward the cottage.  I shouldn’t have let that one get away, I thought, although she’s better off with Ralph, and he seems a good sort.

 

Crossing the River

E. B. Alston

 

            The ancient Muse for writers was Clio. It was said she could be glimpsed but never caught. She is most often pictured with a writing instrument and a scroll. I wrote somewhere last year that I think of Homer and his stories of the Trojan War as history. Both stories have undoubtedly been altered by many retellings and countless translations but I believe those stories are based on real events. I say that because nobody could have made that stuff up. Conventional wisdom says that fiction, to be believable, must be logical and predictable and much of what Homer wrote was utterly illogical and unpredictable. His characters behaved like real people, that is to say, unpredictably.

            In the ancient world, the Spartans were the toughest of the tough and revenge for the slightest insult was their by-word. Yet, Paris, while on a diplomatic mission to improve relations between Troy and Greece, unpredictably lured the Spartan Queen, Helen, away from her husband and took her with him back to Troy.

            The Greeks waged a long war to rescue the gorgeous Helen. Her husband, Menelaus, was not the only Greek interested in “rescuing” that famous beauty. Forty of the Greek commanders had been suitors of Helen and came along in case “something happened” to Helen’s husband.

We go to war for dumb stuff like promoting democracy to people who don’t want it, or to insure our supply of oil. Those ancients knew what was worth fighting for. It would make a lot more sense to me if we went to war to rescue Catherine Zeta-Jones from some Arab sheik.

            Even the Gods got involved back then. When things were going bad for the Greeks, Odysseus prayed to the Goddess Athena for help. She was having a bad day herself because she made fun of him, the Greeks and all of mankind saying that men were only good for using up natural resources and killing. “Kill!’ she screamed at him. “You can’t create anything. All you are good for is killing. So kill, kill for me!”

            Odysseus went back to the old drawing board and came up with a Trojan Horse. You know the rest.

            After the war was over Odysseus took a long time finding his way back to Ithaca. While he was gone his wife, Penelope, spent most of her time fending off suitors who kept telling her Odysseus wasn’t coming home. Telemachus was their son and he went to visit Menelaus and Helen in their palace after they got back home from Troy. For us, who read all that bad stuff about the war, it is disconcerting to see Helen and Menelaus obviously reconciled and acting like Ward and June Cleaver. Telemachus’ visit was folksy, down-home and touching. When he was leaving, Helen told him she hoped his father returned safely and gave him a nice robe to wear so he would stay warm on that long journey back to Ithaca.

            The Roman writer, Virgil was commissioned by Augustus to write a sequel to Homer’s work that celebrated the exploits of Aeneas, the legendary founder of Rome. Virgil performed prodigious research and spent ten years writing while Augustus prodded him to finish it. Virgil hated the assignment and put Augustus off as long as he could but finally delivered the second, fourth and sixth books. Mark Anthony’s widow, Octavia fainted when she read the passage describing her recently dead son, Marcellus.

The Aeneid was never completed. Virgil died in 19 AD after visiting Athens. On his deathbed he begged his friends to destroy the unfinished manuscript but Augustus forbade them. The fragments are a masterpiece.

Virgil was the ultimate wordsmith.  In his description of the fall of Troy the Greeks were raping, looting, burning and killing everyone in sight. Aeneas and his companions, who had been allies of the Trojans, were in hiding while they waited for nightfall to try to escape from the fallen city. I would have described the end of that awful day as “when night fell,” or, “when it got dark.”  Not Virgil. In his masterful style, he wrote how “Sable night enclosed them in its hollow shell.”

The Roman writer, Lucian, who said that writing was a disease for which there was no cure, was skeptical of such brilliance. He wrote in one of his Dialogues of the Dead that Charon, the ferryman who took souls across the river Styx to the domain of the God, Hades, commanded a writer whom he was ferrying to the other world to “strip off that boundless length of sentences that is wrapped around you, and those antitheses and balanced clauses, or the boat will surely sink.”  Gene Alston, March 20, 2006, Originally published in Topsail Island Info

From the Kitchen of P. L. Almanza

 

Cauliflower Cheesy Soup

 

Cauliflower Cheese Soup.jpgIngredients:

4 thin slices bacon, cut into small bits

1 white onion, finely diced

1 head cauliflower, broken into small florets

1/2 teaspoon Cajun spice, or more to taste

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper (I never use salt of any kind)

8 cups (2 quarts) low-sodium chicken broth

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 cups whole milk (I use skim)

1 cup half-and-half

3 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese, plus more for serving

1/4 cup sour cream

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley, plus more for serving

 

Instructions:

In a large pot, fry the bacon pieces over medium-high heat until crisp. Drain the bacon on a paper towel and set aside. Pour off the grease and return the pot to the stove.

Add the onions to the pot and cook over medium-high heat for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the cauliflower, sprinkle with the Cajun spice and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and cook, stirring, until the cauliflower starts turning golden brown, another 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the chicken broth, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes.

Use an immersion blender to puree the mixture slightly, or all the way if you prefer. (Or use a regular blender; just don't fill too full.)

In a separate saucepan or skillet, melt the butter. Sprinkle in the flour and whisk to form a paste. Pour in the milk, then continue cooking until it thickens. Remove from the heat and stir in the half-and-half.

Pour the white sauce into the soup. Turn the heat to medium high and bring back to a boil for 3 to 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, stirring in the cheese and sour cream until the cheese is fully melted. Stir in the parsley.

Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve with a little extra cheese, a sprinkle of bacon and a sprinkle of parsley.

 


 

Chunky Monkey Breakfast Bread

 

Chunky Monkey Bread.jpgIngredients:

2 pkg Crescent Rolls

1 cup Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips

2 Bananas

1 cup Light Brown Sugar

3 tsp Ground Cinnamon

1 cup Sweet Cream Butter – Quarters

 

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a bunt pan.

Combine 1/2 cup brown sugar and the cinnamon in a bowl. Slice the bananas in to 1/4 wheels. Set aside.

Remove the rolls from cans, slice each into 4 pieces, roll each piece in the cinnamon mixture. Place roll pieces into the bunt pan.

When you have a single layer of pieces of rolls sprinkle half of the chocolate chips and half of the bananas wheels over the rolls.

Repeat with remaining crescent roll pieces, bananas and chocolate chips. In microwave safe bowl melt the margarine. Stir in the remaining cinnamon and sugar mixture and the remaining 1/2 cup of brown sugar. Pour over the rolls in the bunt pan.

Bake covered with foil for 30 min. Remove foil and continue baking for 25 minutes. Remove from oven allow to sit for 5 minutes. Flip on to a large plate. Slice or pull apart.

 

 

Strawberry Muffin Breakfast Cookies

 

Strawberry-Muffin-Breakfast-Cookies.jpgIngredients:

1 (7 oz) packet of Strawberry Quick Muffin Mix

1/2 cup rolled oats

1 (5.3 oz) container of Greek Strawberry Nonfat Yogurt (stir well as the fruit is on the bottom)

1 egg

 

Instructions:

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the muffin mix and oats. Add in the Greek yogurt and egg, and then mix well.

Using a cookie scoop, drop generous 2 tablespoon mounds of the muffin cookie batter at least 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake for 12-14 minutes or until baked through and the edges are slightly golden brown. Allow to cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, & then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

These breakfast cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.

 

 

A Pirate Walked into a Bar

 

The bartender said, "Hey, I haven't seen you in a while. What happened? You look terrible."

"What do you mean?" said the pirate, "I feel fine."

"What about the wooden leg? You didn't have that before."

"Well," said the pirate, "We were in a battle, and I got hit with a
cannon ball, but I'm fine now."

The bartender replied, "Well, OK, but what about that hook?
What happened to your hand?"

The pirate explained, "We were in another battle. I boarded a ship and
got into a sword fight.  My hand was cut off. I got fitted with a hook. I'm fine, really."

"What about that eye patch?"

"Oh," said the pirate, "One day we were at sea, and a flock of birds flew
over. I looked up, and one of them crapped in my eye."

"You're kidding," said the bartender. "You couldn't lose an eye just from
bird crap."

"It was my first day with the hook."

 

Contributors

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Rita Berman: Tennessee Williams; 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: Universal, Necessary and Certain; 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: The Haymaker; 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.

 

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

 

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

 

Tim Whealton: Say Hello to My Little Friends : writes a regular column from New Bern, NC. He is a gunsmith whose shop is in Cove City, North Carolina. His book, According to Tim was published in 2013.

 

Dave Whitford: Rum Runner, is retired from IBM and now writes in Toano, Virginia