RPG Digest

July 2019


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





 TOC \o "1-3" \h \z \u Editor. PAGEREF _Toc12451283 \h 2

Ernest Hemingway’s Novels Reflected His Adventurous Life by Rita Berman. PAGEREF _Toc12451285 \h 4

Natters of a Nomad by Peggy Ellis. PAGEREF _Toc12451286 \h 11

Yadkin Valley, Surry Living, and Mayberry Magazines by Rita Berman. PAGEREF _Toc12451287 \h 12

The Compliment by Eugene Field. PAGEREF _Toc12451288 \h 13

Nothing by Randy Bittle. PAGEREF _Toc12451289 \h 14

Influences by Sybi Austin Skakle. PAGEREF _Toc12451290 \h 15

What's a Good Gun for Church? By Tim Whealton. PAGEREF _Toc12451291 \h 15

Three Rivers to Cross – Serialized book by Elizabeth Silance Ballard. PAGEREF _Toc12451292 \h 17

Retribution by Marry Williamson. PAGEREF _Toc12451293 \h 24

About the Humble Teaspoon by Diana Goldsmith. PAGEREF _Toc12451294 \h 26

Saying Goodbye to “Hello”by Dave Whitford. PAGEREF _Toc12451295 \h 27

How It All Started by Brad Carver. PAGEREF _Toc12451296 \h 28

North Carolina Mountains in May by Sybil Austin Skakle. PAGEREF _Toc12451297 \h 29

Hammer Spade and the Inca Curse – Serialized book by E. B. Alston. PAGEREF _Toc12451298 \h 30

Suppose I Vanished by E. B. Alston. PAGEREF _Toc12451299 \h 41

Say What! PAGEREF _Toc12451300 \h 42

From  Medea by Euripedes. PAGEREF _Toc12451301 \h 44

From the Kitchen of P. L. Almanza. PAGEREF _Toc12451302 \h 45

Contributors. PAGEREF _Toc12451303 \h 48



Subject: Freedom


A reader has suggested that we rename the magazine The Redneck Gazette. I thought we were sophisticated enough already. Raising the bar would add work to my already busy schedule. Contrary to the general assumption, rednecks are more sophisticated than their critics suppose. Actually it is their critics who lack sophistication. Besides, we’re trying not to be snooty.

Now, on to the subject: Thomas Jefferson defined freedom this way, “If it neither breaks my leg nor picks my purse, what you do is your business.”

The United States has moved considerable distance from the Jeffersonian point of view and the change has accelerated by leaps and bounds since 2009. Sad to say, neither we, nor our descendents, will ever again see true freedom in this country. Totalitarianism is on the horizon and it advances relentlessly toward meddling in every aspect of our lives.

I don’t like to be pessimistic and there is no pessimistic literature worth reading. So, as a reminder of what we’re missing this Fourth of July, I have collected excerpts from famous speeches from glorious bygone days.

In 532 AD, Roman Emperor Justinian was facing a revolt and his prospects were not thought to be good. Taking the advice of his councilors, he was preparing to flee Constantinople. Ships were waiting in the harbor to transport him and Empress Theodora to safety in Thrace.

As the panicked Emperor made for the door, the Empress rose from her throne and said, “My lords, the present occasion is too serious to allow me to follow the convention that a woman should not speak in a man’s council. Those whose interests are threatened by extreme danger should think only of the wisest course of action, not of conventions.

“In my opinion, flight is not the right course, even if it should bring us to safety. It is impossible for a person, having been born into this world, not to die, but it is intolerable to be a fugitive. May I never be deprived of this purple robe, and may I never see the day when those who meet me do not call me empress.

“If you wish to save yourself, my lord, there is no difficulty. We are rich; over there is the sea, and yonder are the ships. Yet reflect for a moment whether, when you have once escaped to a place of security, you would not gladly exchange such safety for death. As for me, I agree with the adage that the royal purple is the noblest shroud.”

As a result of this brief speech, her husband changed his mind about fleeing. Instead, he rallied his troops and allies and led them to victory over the insurgents.



This is the conclusion of Daniel Webster’s speech at the dedication of the Bunker Hill Memorial on June 17, 1825

Let the sacred obligations which have devolved on this generation and on us, sink deep into our hearts. There are daily droppings from among us who established our liberty and our government. The great trust now descends into new hands. Let us apply ourselves to that which is presented to us as our appropriate object. We can win no laurels in a war for independence. Earlier and worthier men have gathered them all. Nor are there places beside Solon, and Alfred, and other founders of states. Our fathers have filled them. But there remains to us a great duty of defense and preservation; and there is opened to us also a noble pursuit to which the spirit of the times strongly invites us.

“Our proper business is improvement. Let our age be the age of improvement. In a day of peace let us advance the arts of peace and the works of peace. Let us develop the resources of our land, call forth its powers, build up its institutions, promote its great interests, and see whether we also in our day and generation, may not perform something worthy to be remembered. Let us cultivate a true spirit of union and harmony. In pursuing the great objectives which our condition points out to us, let us act under a settled conviction, and an habitual feeling that these twenty-four states are one country. Let our conceptions be enlarged to the circle of our duties. Let us extend our ideas over the whole of the vast field in which we are called to act. Let our object be our country. And by the blessing of God may that country itself become a vast and splendid monument, not of oppression and terror, but of wisdom and peace, and of liberty, upon which the world may gaze with admiration, forever.”



General Douglas McArthur had a remarkable way with words. He was also never at a loss for the most apt reply. A critic asked him if he loved war. The General replied, “No one who has seen combat loves war. Combat causes one to love peace all the more ardently. But once the decision has been made to go to war, war must be waged to win, to win at all costs, no matter what the sacrifice, until the enemy is defeated and their urge to make war is no more.”

His most memorable speech was his farewell speech at West Point May 12, 1962. This is the conclusion.

“You are the lever which binds together the entire fabric of our national system of defense. From your ranks come the great captains who hold the nation’s destiny in their hands the moment the war tocsin sounds.

“The long gray line has never failed us. Were you to do so, a million ghosts in olive drab, in brown khaki, in blue and gray, would rise from their white crosses, thundering those magic words: duty, honor, country.

“This does not mean you are warmongers. On the contrary, the soldier above all other people prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war. But always in our ears ring the ominous words of Plato, that wisest of philosophers: ‘Only the dead have seen the end of war.’

“The shadows are lengthening for me. The twilight is here. My days of old have vanished—tone and tints. They have gone glimmering through the dreams that were. Their memory is one of wondrous beauty, watered by tears and coaxed and caressed by the smiles of yesterday. I listen, then, but with thirsty ear, for the witching melody of faint bugles blowing reveille, of far drums beating the long roll.

“In my dreams I hear again the crash of guns, the rattle of musketry, the strange, mournful, mutter of the battlefield. But in the evening of my memory, I come back to West Point. Always there echoes and re-echoes: duty, honor, country.

“Today marks me final roll call with you. But I want you to know that when I cross the river, my last conscious thoughts will be of the corps, and the corps.

“I bid you farewell.”


Happy Fourth of July

Gene Alston



Ernest Hemingway’s Novels Reflected His Adventurous Life.

By Rita Berman


In a personal memoir about his close friend “Papa” Hemingway,  A. E. Hochner said many critics had called him the greatest writer of his century. “He was a man who had a zest for life and adventure as big as his genius, a winner of the Nobel Prize and the Pulitzer Prize, a soldier of fortune, homes in Idaho and New York, a solid marriage, good friends everywhere – and yet on July 2, 1961 he put a shotgun to his head and killed himself.”

The day following his death, statements were issued by the Vatican, the White House, and the Kremlin, as at the passing of a world statesman.

“Never before had an author been given such news coverage following his death. He lived as he died, violently. What finally failed him was his body,” said Leicester Hemingway, in his book My Brother, Ernest Hemingway.

In the last year of his life Hemingway had been depressed, was treated at the Mayo Clinic with electrical treatments which he said left him unable to write.

He suffered many injuries in his lifetime.  A skylight falling on his head when he lived in Paris gave him a prominent forehead scar. He contracted amoebic dysentery in Tanganyika, smashed his knee and suffered another wound to his forehead in a 1945 car accident.  In 1952 on his second trip to Africa, he was seriously injured in two successive plane crashes.  Some American newspapers published his obituary, believing he had been killed.

The airplane accidents hurt him so severely that he was unable to travel to Stockholm to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature.  He was awarded the prize “for his powerful, style-forming mastery of the art of narration.”

The themes of his stories include sports, human vulnerability, men alone, their competitiveness, and companionship.  Hemingway suggested that man can control the manner in which he confronts his fate and the manner in which he responds.  His stories embody a “code of conduct” by which a man may remain undefeated if he refuses to become a victim, instead confronts his destruction or end with dignity. 

Was suicide in the Hemingway genes? His father, Dr. Clarence Hemingway had committed suicide in 1928, as did his sister Ursula in 1966, and his brother Leicester in 1982.  His great granddaughter, Margaux, ended her life on July 2, 1996.

No matter the way he died and for what reason, his works are still read and discussed and movies have been made of his novels.  

His style of writing was lean, tightly written, short, pithy sentences, “a style which has influenced countless crime and pulp fiction novels,” according to Wikipedia.

Like Fitzgerald, Hemingway was a modernist, dismissing the elaborate style of the 19th century writers, and offering meaning through dialogue, action, and silences. He was said to be one of the most important influences on the development of the short story and novel in American fiction.

His early works were short stories, some of which were published as a collection called In Our Time.  Between 1926 and 1952 he completed about a dozen novels.  The Sun  Also Rises, The Torrents of Spring,  Men without Women, A Farewell to Arms, Death in the Afternoon, Winner Take Nothing, Green Hills of Africa, To Have and Have Not, The Fifth Column, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Across the River and Into the Trees, and The Old Man and the Sea.  In the nine years before his death he did not submit any major work for publication although he was still writing.

After his death A Movable Feast, was published in 1964, Islands in the Stream, in 1970, The Dangerous Summer, in 1985, and The Garden of Eden, in 1986. 

The act of writing, transferring something that floats around in one’s mind into a coherent, readable piece doesn’t come easily. A good part of Hemingway’s writing life was spent in Cuba.  There he followed a fairly strict routine of work, getting up at first light and writing standing up, shifting his weight from one foot to the other at intervals.  He wrote in pencil on onion skin paper.   He moved to a chair and a typewriter only when the writing was going well or presented no problems.

He kept a chart of his progress on a large piece of cardboard and made a point of catching up the following day if he had taken a day off for any reason.  He usually stopped writing about noon, or when he reached a point where he was quite certain of what was to follow.

He attempted to write between 450 and 575 words a day (that’s only two pages typed.)  Some days he would continue for about 1250 words to make up for lost time.

Often he began with only a vague outline of a story in his mind. He once said he tried to write on the principle of the iceberg.  The hard facts float above water; the supporting structure, complete with symbolism being out of sight.  The reader brings his or her own experiences into play and what is not said is often understood. This has also been known as the theory of omission.

One of his biographers suggested that Hemingway used “what if” scenarios.  And drawing from his own life he would take the story further.  As an example,” what if I were wounded and made crazy, what would happen if I were sent back to the front.”

Violent, physical action, whether in war or peace, is at the center of much of his work. Indeed, Hemingway’s life was led on a dramatic, physical level – boxing, going after big game, pitting himself against the elements, testing his courage by going to war zones.




Hemingway was born in the middle-class Chicago suburb of Oak Park in 1899 and remained in the area with his parents and five siblings for the first 18 years of his life. He was named after his grandfather and given the middle name of Miller.

He was delivered by his father, Dr. Clarence Hemingway, who afterwards stepped out on the porch and blew his cornet to herald the birth of his first son.

His mother was a devout religious woman with considerable musical talent.  She hoped that Ernest would develop an interest in music but his enthusiasms were for sports and physical activities.  He played football in high school and also boxed where he received a permanent eye injury that caused the army to reject his efforts to enlist in World War I.

Boxing, however, gave him material for stories.  He began his writing career while in high school where he edited the school newspaper.

After graduation he got a job as reporter on the Kansas City Star.  In 1918 he joined a volunteer American Red Cross ambulance unit as driver.  He was wounded by mortar shell in Italy and hospitalized for five months in Milan.   Here he fell in love with Agnes von Kurowsky, a Red Cross nurse who was 7 years older than Hemingway.  He was only 18. They planned to marry but she was not serious about it, and later became engaged to an Italian officer.

After a dozen operations on his knee Hemingway joined the Italian infantry. These experiences later provided the background for A Farewell to Arms, which was the most famous of the novels he wrote about war.

After World War I Hemingway returned to northern Michigan to read, write, and fish, and then to freelance for the Toronto Star in Canada.

In 1920 he lived briefly in Chicago, where he met Sherwood Anderson, and Hadley Richardson, a musician who was eight years older than Ernest.  Hadley and Ernest married in 1921 and moved to Paris where Ernest worked as foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star.




Sherwood Anderson had given Hemingway a letter of introduction to Gertrude Stein and he and Hadley visited her in March 1922.  Alice B. Toklas steered Hadley away from Stein (something she did with all wives of writers.)

The friendship between Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway is interesting because each wrote about it from a different viewpoint.  

Hemingway was only 23 when he first visited Stein’s salon.   Stein was 48.  She wrote that he was extraordinarily good-looking, with passionately interested, rather than interesting eyes. He sat in front of Gertrude Stein and listened and looked. He admired her forceful character and her strong Yankee personality.

 After that, Alice Toklas and Stein visited Hemingway’s apartment and Stein went over all the writing he had done up to that time.  He was writing a novel that Stein found wanting.  She told him “there is a great deal of description in this, and not particularly good description.  Begin over again and concentrate,” she said.  

Stein said she advised him to drop his newspaper work if he intended to be a writer. Hemingway later wrote, “It was easy to get into the habit of stopping in at 27 rue de Fleurus late in the afternoon for the warmth and the great pictures and the conversation.”

Stein is reported to have said she had a weakness for Hemingway “after all he was the first of the young men to knock at my door and he did make Ford print the first piece of The Making of Americans.”

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

At one time Hemingway told a friend, “Gertrude Stein and me are just like brothers.” Later, after they fell out, he called her “an old bitch,” in his memoirs.




His first book was published in July 1923.  The first edition of Three Stories and Ten Poems, was only 300 copies, published by Robert McAlmon in a press at Dijon, France.   It made only a few hundred dollars. 

More stories would have been included in this volume but a suitcase containing Hemingway’s manuscripts had been lost by Hadley when she was traveling through the Gare de Lyons.  

The Hemingway’s returned to Toronto in 1923 for the birth of their son John Hadley Nicanor who they nicknamed “Bumby”. 

In 1923 Hemingway went to Madrid and saw his first bullfight. He found the Pamplona’s legendary running of the bulls so enthralling that he returned nearly every year for the rest of the decade.

He immortalized bullfighting in his novel, The Sun Also Rises. The novel was written in the weeks during and immediately following his 1925 trip to Pamplona.  He wrote the first draft in approximately 48 writing days, and said he nearly killed himself in the process.

“I knew nothing about writing a novel when I started. So I wrote too fast and the first draft was very bad…I had to rewrite it completely.”

He took a rest period, wrote The Torrents of Spring, then went skiing, then a trip to New York, in rewriting reduced The Sun manuscript to 90,000 words and sent it to Maxwell Perkins on April 26, 1926.

A later nonfiction work called Death in the Afternoon, also refers to bull fighting.He said what he was trying to do in all his stories was to get the feeling of actual life across, not just to depict it or criticize it.   He believed he had to put in the bad and the ugly as well as the beautiful.

Hemingway had four wives, and various lovers.  He was married To Hadley Richardson from September 3, 1921 – Jan 27, 1927.

While married to Hadley Hemingway had an affair with Lady Duff Twysden, whom he used as his heroine Brett Ashley in The Sun Also Rises.   After its publication Lady Duff told Hemingway that “her only criticism of the story was that she had not in fact slept with the bloody Bullfighter.”

A number of real-life people were identified with the fictional characters in this book, but not all of the events were drawn from life. The group of people featured in the novel are said to be vain, moody, weary of spirit.

They are part of the “lost generation.”  A term said to have been spoken by Gertrude Stein to indicate those who were young at the time of the Great War, who answered the call to fight and discovered death and disillusionment. In this war men were killed by bombs, minefields, and submarines, not by facing an enemy on a defined battlefield.   The individual was just one of many disposables.  

When Hemingway served as an ambulance driver in Italy during the war he encountered evidence of demoralization, he saw men questioning the ideals they had held before the war.  He included this disillusionment in The Sun Also Rises, and later in A Farewell to Arms.

Hemingway’s parents were shocked and bewildered by The Sun Also Rises book. His father was uncomfortable with the sex and drinking and hoped that Ernest’s future books would be more elevating.

His mother criticized the book and deplored the “use of his talent to write about such degenerate people.”  She asked was it some kind of honor to have produced one of the “filthiest books of the year.”

He reminded her that as an artist she should not force him to defend his choice of subject. 

Pauline Pfeiffer entered Hadley and Ernest’s life.  Pauline had just turned 30, was four years older than Ernest.   She read The Torrents of Spring and found it a brilliant parody. After this Hemingway decided she was a good literary critic.  She was an avid reader, slender and well built, unlike Hadley who at the age of 34 gave the appearance of approaching middle age.  

Hadley eventually faced up to Ernest’s interest in Pauline and sued him for divorce on grounds of desertion.

Ernest gave her the rights to the royalties from The Sun Also Rises, as alimony. 

Pauline and Ernest were married in a Catholic Church in Paris on May 10, 1927 after he converted to Catholicism.  Pauline gave birth to a boy, Patrick Hemingway, on June 28, 1928, and was told by her doctor that she should not get pregnant for at least three years.

Hemingway’s father committed suicide on December 6, 1928.  After A Farewell to Arms, was making money, Hemingway set up a trust fund for his mother – he put in $30,000 and Pauline put in $20,000 for his mother to have an adequate income during her lifetime.  Thereafter the fund would be divided between Hemingway’s brother and sisters and Pauline would get her $20,000 back.

Hemingway who was reported to have had a limited experience with women until his first marriage, now found that his sexual relationship with Pauline was not entirely satisfying. He commenced a five year love affair with Jane Mason, who was passionately devoted to sports fishing and pigeon-shooting.  Although she insisted as being treated as “one of the boys,” her beauty had men jumping to get her a drink or hold her rifle shells. 

She was friends with both Pauline and Ernest, and Pauline suspected something was going on with Ernest.   The relationship between Ernest and Jane came to an end after he used Jane as the prototype of the character Margot Macomber in his story “the Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” that appeared in Cosmopolitan.  Pauline gave birth to a second son, Gregory, in 1931.

In December 1933 Pauline and Ernest went to Africa on safari. Later Hemingway wrote about East Africa in his nonfiction book, Green Hills of Africa.  Scribner’s only paid Hemingway $5,000 for the manuscript. It received mixed reviews. 

The Snows of Kilimanjaro appeared in the August 1936 issue of Esquire and letters of admiration poured in from all over the world.

In 1936 Hemingway was in Sloppy Joe’s, a bar in Key West, when he first saw Martha Gellhorn, a young woman with tawny-gold, long hair, and long, shapely legs.  She was from St. Louis, a well-known writer long before she met Hemingway. He was then married to Pauline.

Martha and Ernest separately went to Spain in 1937 to cover the Spanish Civil War and Collier’s published her piece, Only the Shells Whine. In 1939 she moved in with him in Cuba.

Ernest’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, written while he lived with Martha in Cuba before they were married, was dedicated to her. The book was chosen as an October 1940 selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club. 180,000 copies of For Whom the Bell Tolls had sold by Christmas, and David Selznick had offered $100,000 for the film rights. Hemingway was now in the 62 percent tax bracket.

By 1940 Pauline knew her marriage to Ernest was over and he was grumbling that she was holding up his divorce.  She had agreed to a separation settlement, then demanded more money. The more she delayed the more he insisted that her devout Catholicism had ruined his sex life.

They were divorced November 4, 1940 and he married Martha in Cheyenne, Wyoming on November 21, 1940.   Martha continued with her career as a journalist and later was sent by Collier to report on the China-Japan war.   Although Hemingway pressed her to write under her married name she declined. 

Martha refused to be known as “Mrs. Hemingway”.  She did not want to live in the shadow of Ernest feeling that as a writer and journalist she should receive her own recognition.  She was adamant that she not be reduced to a “footnote in someone else’s life.”  She met General Chiang Kai-shek and wrote a book called Travels with Myself and Another.  In the book she referred to her husband only as U.C. which stood for “unwilling companion.” While she was out visiting opium dens, brothels, and sweatshops, Hemingway was hanging out at a hotel bar in Hong Kong. 

After returning to Havana she became bored and impatient for her next assignment.   When Hemingway took her place as correspondent for Colliers and went to cover the Normandy invasion she complained to Eleanor Roosevelt, “It’s quite a job being a woman, isn’t it...you cannot get do your work and get on with it, because that’s selfish.”

That’s how Hemingway regarded her career.

But she didn’t give up.  She stowed away on a hospital ship in the D-Day fleet, disguised as a male stretcher bearer.  She was able to witness the invasion first-hand after all. 

After the invasion, both Martha and Ernest made their way to England.  However, because he was angry with her, he returned by air, and she on a Norwegian freighter.  When they met up at the Dorchester Hotel in London they had a big fight and she walked out on him.“I was totally blocked,” she said and divorced him because of her career, saying their life felt like a strait jacket.

In 1944 a few days after his arrival in London, while recovering from a concussion received in an auto accident, he met Mary Welsh Monks. She was an American based in London and wrote feature stories for Time magazine. After three dates he told her, “I don’t know you, Mary, but I want to marry you.”

She assumed he was drunk. He repeated the proposal.  She pointed out they were both married. Mary liked being a good sex partner and such easy acceptance was exactly what Ernest needed after Martha’s outspoken rejection.

Mary divorced her husband Noel, and Hemingway agreed to divorce Martha in Cuba as she wanted. “I had no intention of leaving the war for weeks in Reno and I never dreamed of asking for anything, money, alimony.  …I wanted to be free of him and his name; and step out of the whole picture fast,” said Martha.

She was the only one of his wives to leave Hemingway, an act he would never forget.  The last time he saw her was in March 1945.  After she left she went to cover the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp and the Nuremberg Trials.

Mary Welsh was no slouch as a reporter.  Before marrying Hemingway she had covered the activities of the 9th Bomber division at Remargen and then got a seat on a Piper Cub and wrote down what she saw.

Hemingway returned to Cuba with Mary, and they married on March 14, 1946, three months after he divorced Martha. In 1947 Hemingway was awarded a Bronze Star for his bravery during WWII.

After marrying Hemingway Mary no longer reported but kept diaries of their travels, and her letters.  In 1950 she gave Hemingway a letter saying she was going to leave him because he was not a companionable and considerate husband.  He did not respect her, insulted her in private and public, was violent threw things and drank heavily.

His response was to say “stick with me kitten.  I hope you will decide to stick with me.”  And she did. 

In 1953 he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for The Old Man and the Sea, and the Nobel Prize in 1954.  He was unable to travel to Stockholm because of the pain he suffered as a result of the African accidents.

He was bedridden for a while. But in 1957 began work on A Moveable Feast. In 1959 Hemingway became unhappy with life in Cuba and so he bought a home in Ketchum, Idaho.  In 1960 he left Cuba for the last time. His house was appropriated after the Bay of Pigs invasion (two months before his death).  His collection of books was taken. He had to leave art and manuscripts in a bank vault in Havana.

He worked on a series of bullfighting articles for “Life Magazine,” the first installments being published in September 1960 as The Dangerous Summer.  The reviews were good but Hemingway’s mental health deteriorated. He was receiving electric shock treatments at the Mayo Clinic. Was hospitalized, returned home after more treatments, and in the early morning hours of July 2, 1961 shot himself with his favorite shotgun. One might infer, that like his fictional heroes who faced death or misfortune on their own terms and with honor, Hemingway preferred to shorten his life rather than face up to the waning of his intellectual and physical powers.

The graves of Ernest and Mary are at the Ketchum cemetery. Mary died in 1986.





The Kennedy Presidential Library has 90% of all existing Hemingway materials comprising more than 1,000 manuscript items, more than 10,000 photographs and his correspondence including that with Marlene Dietrich, William Faulkner, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Library also has his baby spoon, his scrapbook, collection of paintings, briefcase and his wallet.

 Deborah Leff, the director of the Library, explained that when Hemingway died in 1961, President Kennedy helped his widow Mary to receive permission to travel to Cuba and retrieve his papers and artifacts.  She offered them to the Kennedy Library with the active support of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and the collection was deeded to the Library in 1972.

The Postal Service issued a 25 cent stamp in his honor in 1989.

Ray Bradbury wrote a story he called “The Kilimanjaro Device.” A movie was made in 1993 starring Robert Duval, Shirley MacLaine, Sandra Bullock and others, called “Wrestling Ernest Hemingway.”

The Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West is open for tours every day of the year.  The tour rate includes a 30 minute guided tour.  Descendants of Snow White, the six-toed cat that Hemingway was given by a ships’ captain, may be seen on the museum grounds.



Natters of a Nomad

Peggy Lovelace Ellis


On the other side of the river from the “Hostile Brothers” castles, Rheinfels Castle dates to 1245 and is the largest castle overlooking the Rhine. Historically, it covered five times its current area. Originally a residence, in 1479 the owner expanded it into a fortress and it withstood all efforts to conquer it until 1794 when the French revolutionary army blew it up. Thereafter, until 1834, the remaining stones were used to reconstruct a castle at Koblenz.

It has everything a medieval castle should have: a moat, courtyards, secret tunnels, and underground chambers. It’s spectacular even from the distance. Today, the moat is a path around the complex.

Next to the main building, there was a tower 177 feet tall, with a 34-foot diameter and walls 11 feet thick at the bottom. In the 14th century, a narrow round tower was added to the top, making it the highest butter-churn tower in Germany. (See May RPG Digest issue, Marksburg Castle.)

While much of the castle is a ruin, renovation through the years has made it a tourist attraction. Beginning in 1973, some of the outer buildings contain a luxury hotel, a “wellness” center, and a restaurant. There is also a museum within some of the better-preserved structures.

Renovations in 1997 restored the cellar to its original condition. It now serves as a meeting place for concerts, theater performances, and other shows. It has a diameter of 34 feet with walls 11 feet thick at the bottom.

The castle museum is in the former chapel, which is the only finished room of the original castle. The museum contains a model reconstruction of the castle before its destruction giving a sense of the size of the original castle. The medieval castle courtyard is beyond, and slightly uphill from, the castle museum building. This was the center of the medieval castle, which contained a bakery, pharmacy, garden, brewery, well, and livestock. These amenities would have allowed the castle to withstand an extended siege. In peacetime, 300-600 people lived in the castle complex. During a siege, that number could swell to 4,500. Remnants of the original 13th-century plaster, which was painted white, can still be found on some walls.

Since 1925, RheinfelsCastle is a property of the city of St. Goar (patron saint of sailors who died in the Rhine).


Next, we’ll visit the Cat and the Mouse.




Yadkin Valley, Surry Living, and Mayberry Magazines

By Rita Berman


After a daily diet of television, newspaper, and radio news about the political situation in Washington it was a relief to turn to three magazines that my friend Cindy Martin had sent to me recently.

Yadkin Valley, Surry and Mayberry complimentary magazines, glossy, multi-colored, provide a view of life lived at a local level, more concerned with the beauty of nature, mountain views, farms and food, friendship, and community involvement, miles away from tariffs and trade and international problems.  The pages include advertising for area stores and services. 

A common theme in all three magazines is the connection to the Andy Griffith Show, Mount Airy, Pilot Mountain, farms and festivals. Pilot Mountain gets almost a million visitors annually. The annual Mayberry Days Festival in Mt. Airy draws tens of thousands. The Surry Arts Council Concert Series offered 15 different bands in May this year featuring beach, country and bluegrass music.

The Andy Griffith Museum, that opened in 2009 has become a centerpiece of the Mayberry tourism efforts for Mount Airy and is said to draw more than 100,000 visitors annually.

Rita photo.jpgWhen I visited Mount Airy in June 2017 I met some of the locals who play characters from the Andy Griffith Show. I was also given a 1964 Squad Car tour of the area in a bench seats, no air-conditioning vehicle, driven by Mike a local resident. He pointed out the “largest open site granite quarry” and the houses and churches that were made of Mt. Airy granite white, the distinction being the stone that was cut by hand, before machinery was built that could cut a straight line.

I was a little disappointed to see that the little shops, the house where Andy lived, Wally’s garage and other location were surrounded by more modern buildings and cars on the street and I felt no connection to the show.

The day was very warm and I was over-dressed, so feeling tired or possibly dehydrated, I skipped seeing the Andy Griffith Museum or the exhibit of the Siamese Twins.  Descendants of the Bunker family hold an annual reunion in Mount Airy. Eng and Chang Bunker, more commonly known as the Siamese Twins, were born conjoined in Siam (now Thailand) in 1811. After being on display in a traveling show they settled as farmers in Surry County, just outside of Mount Airy, married and raised 21 children between them. Plans are to build a museum dedicated to telling their story and preserving various artifacts.  

Since 2005, Pilot Mountain has been holding a Hot Nights, Hot Cars Cruise-in, as well as live beach music, on the first Saturday of each month from May through October. In addition to seeing antique and vintage cars cruising the streets, visitors will find food trucks, as well as local vineyards and craft breweries.

Photograph taken by Cindy Martin of Tanya Blackmon Jones and Betty Bunker Blackmon, descendants of Eng and Chang Bunker in front of photo of Eng & Chang Bunker.



The Compliment

Eugene Field


Arrayed in snow-white pants and vest,

And other rainment fair to view,

I stood before my sweetheart Sue-

The charming creature I love to best.

"Tell me and does my costume suit?"

I asked the apple of my eye-

And then the charmer made reply,

"Oh, yes, you do look awful cute!"


Although I frequently had heard

My sweetheart vent her pleasure so,

I must confess I did not know

The meaning of that favorite word.


But presently at window side

We stood and watched the passing throng,

And soon a donkey passed along

With ears like wings extended wide.

And gazing on the doleful brute

My sweetheart gave a merry cry-

I quote her language with a sigh-

"Oh, Charlie, ain't he awful cute?"




I've learned.... That life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer it gets to the end, the faster it goes. I've learned.... That we should be glad God doesn't give us everything we ask for.


Randy Bittle


            When a philosopher has nothing on his mind, you can bet it’s a complicated issue.  A philosopher wonders what nothing is and whether nothing can even exist in our universe.  Sure, we have a lot of so called empty space in our universe, but none of it is truly empty in the sense that nothing is there.  Photons, gravity waves, and neutrinos permeate empty space, reducing nothing to a meaningless imaginary concept akin to unicorns.  “Nothing” simply does not physically exist.  There is something in every nook and cranny of our universe, if only electromagnetic radiation, gravity waves, and neutrinos.

You cannot make nothing.  If you build a box that blocks all electromagnetic radiation and create a vacuum in the box by pumping out every atom and particle contained inside, gravity waves and neutrinos will still permeate the interior space of your box of nothing.  As far as I know, nothingness is impossible to find or create.  You may have heard that atoms are mostly empty space with a tiny nucleus surrounded by orbiting electrons.  That so called empty space is large in relation to the size of the electrons and nucleus, but it is filled with electromagnetic forces between the orbiting electrons and the nucleus.  Nothingness cannot be found in our universe, whether inside or outside of matter.

In everyday conversation, nothing usually means the absence of something specific.  If you are wearing nothing, it means the absence of clothes.  We even give this a name in terms of apparel.  It is called a birthday suit because, yes, we are born naked, clothes-less, wearing nothing.  A magician may claim to have nothing up his or her sleeve.  At the very least they have an arm up their sleeve.  They mean to say they have nothing else but an arm up their sleeve, but I recommend you do not trust a magician to speak the truth.  Misleading you is their goal.  Be suspicious of a politician who claims to have nothing to hide.  He or she is probably hiding something, not nothing.

One of my favorite syllogisms utilizes two different concepts of nothing.  The following three sentences are a syllogism consisting of two premises and a logical conclusion.  <Nothing is better than filet mignon.  Bologna is better than nothing. Therefore Bologna is better than filet mignon.>  If nothing is better than filet mignon, and bologna is better than nothing, consequently bologna must be better than filet mignon.  But that is not the case.  A logical fallacy exists in this syllogism that renders it invalid.  When you say nothing is better than filet mignon, “nothing” indicates the set of all foods.  When you say bologna is better than nothing, “nothing” indicates a null set, a set that contains no items.  The nothing in the first premise is different than the nothing in the second premise.  Therefore the argument is invalid and the conclusion does not logically follow from the premises.

A friend of mine says that to him “nothing” implies no space or time and is therefore inconceivable on that account.  I tend to agree with him.  However, there are lots of ways to play with the semantic meanings of nothing.  Nothing on TV, nothing in my wallet, nothing to do.  The list of nothings is long.  Play around with various semantic notions of nothing.  How many can you think of?  However non-existent “nothing” is physically, it has some meaningful value in shared communication.  Like the square root of -1, which is an imaginary number, “nothing” is imaginary but can be used to convey meanings.  The square root of -1, though not a real number, still has real world applications and is used in calculating phases of alternating current.  “Nothing,” although not real, still has real world applications, and I hope I have inspired you to explore them.


Sybil Austin Skakle


Influences? From whom or what? As a personal memoir,this will in some way be about what I believe affects me personally. Having 93 years to consider, to tell what those influences have been, in 500 to 600 words, is a huge assignment. During those years, I have spent many hours of introspection, questioning my own motives and the differences that exist between me and others, of which I am aware and have reacted to both negative and positive influences. Besides thousands of additional words, I published several books, attempting to express my feelings and the mystery my life is to me.

Someone said, “Every man is an island.” That is who I am; who every other person is, an island in the middle of the influences of the surrounding ocean. Having lived on an island, I know how the ocean and sound surrounding it influenced our lives. They influenced the industry, or lack of it, and our isolation affected us and the island itself, in every possible way.

The island I am is the result of parents I had, the time of year in which I was conceived and born. Every person and happening in my life exerted a singular influence.

Weather, sunshine and storms, are the positive and negatives which altered and shaped my boundaries. The change of seasons brought changes, as did the vast expanses of water.

My mother was a school teacher. My father was a merchant and entrepreneur. My mother was the story teller and my father’s story had to be discerned by watching him be who he was. Both were strong-willed, intelligent, honest, loving, kind, industrious, God-fearing persons, who sacrificed for children for whom they accepted responsibility by reason of five natural births. I was the fourth born, the third daughter and ten years younger than our only brother.

The experiences of my life on the island, education there and later as a university student, as well as, my careers as wife, mother, pharmacist, and beyond are all part of who I now am.

My earlier choices brought me to Carol Woods, where God told me he wants me to be. Sometimes I compare living here to life within my mother’s womb, where I received everything I needed. At Carol Woods, where I will be until I am born to Heaven, I have all my needs satisfied by the staff and community.

At my birth, God gave me the breath of life, fully aware of all I might achieve, or not. There was the possibility that I would refuse to accept His plan for me to live in trust and cooperation to achieve all I might do to further His kingdom plan, for which we pray, “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven.”

Since God decided which egg and which sperm should unite, which genes to use for my creation, most of my life I sought to discern God’s will for my life. After the usual struggle, I became convinced: God’s purpose is paramount.

Finally, I believe that I am an island in the vast ocean of God’s surrounding love and care and all is peace.


What's a Good Gun for Church?

Tim Whealton


It's a question that I never thought I would be asked to answer. In the world I grew up in that question didn't exist. But that was then and now it is a question that is asked daily in gun shops. If it doesn't prove the world has changed I don't know what would. Before we start talking guns we need to talk about the people.

Are you talking about doing this on your own or as part of a church security team? Understand that if the is a church security team present and you pull out a firearm they might shoot you. If you are willing and able to go armed to protect innocent lives check with the church admin first. Many large churches have teams and plans in place. If your church doesn’t then you might help get one started. I have trained many church members since the shooting in Texas. This has been a very enlightening experience to say the least.

If you are going to be effective in stopping a massacre you will need training and practice. Spend the money on a good trainer. Select one with a background in combat as well as bullseye shooting. Talk to as many people as you can find that been in a real shootout. I never talked to one that saw the sights on the gun. Nobody found a natural point of aim or worried about their stance or closed one eye. It was fast and instinctive. Train for what you will be doing.

Set up your training area with silhouette targets that are human size. Measure your church and then set up your target at the appropriate distance. Set other targets beside and behind your target. These are the people you will kill each time you miss. Read that again! Practice, practice, practice with your gun unloaded till you can draw and snap your gun on target. I use indoor training ammo with wax bullets for this practice. Drawing a pistol at combat speed is dangerous with live ammo. The wax bullet will make a blood blister but it won’t kill. To stay proficient you will need to shoot at least once a week. Once a month won’t do it.

Establish how far away you can draw and fire your gun in 2 seconds and hit every time. Your combat distance will be less than half of that. No way to make practice like a real gunfight. The tremendous stress of life and death does strange things to your body and your ability to think. If you are practicing with a team get them to holler when you shoot and throw things past you. Make the setup different every time.

Get help and tips from local law enforcement. They will come to your church and give you ideas about how to respond, where to place the team members and how to minimize casualties. They will tell what to do before they arrive on the scene. Remember they are coming through the door with assault rifles looking for a man with a gun.

The gun part is fairly easy. Carry as big as you can conceal in a way you can draw in one to two seconds. The holster is part of the plan and it should secure the pistol as well as position it for presentation. The pistol should be one that is quick to get in operation with a minimum of combinations. It should be able to be fired with only one hand if need be.If it has a safety you must practice with the safety till it becomes automatic. If you have more than one pistol you should dedicate the one you like best and practice and carry that one. Some have a safety design that pushes forward, some pull back, and some have more than one safety. My preference is a design that is never cocked so the safety is in the design and all I do is draw and squeeze. Glock, Springfield XD, Ruger LC9 or the S&W shield. If you buy an American made quality firearm it will be well made and safe. If you buy something made outside the US (Unless it’s European) you can expect less quality and more problems.

The caliber should be at least a 9mm and I prefer a 45. This person may be wearing body armor and the extra power without over penetration will be needed. Yes, a 380 in the right spot will kill but you don't have any margin of error. If the gun is a revolver at least a 38 special with +p loads. Short barrel guns are more efficient with lighter bullets. Heavy bullets need a longer barrel to get the bullet up to speed before it exits the barrel. Buy the best high-quality hollow-points you can afford and shoot enough to know they function perfectly. Then practice with everything you can find but make sure the good stuff hits in the same spot on target as your practice ammo.

Maintain your pistol with frequent cleaning and an inspection now and then with a gunsmith. Or you can sign up for my Handgun Technology class that starts in August! Above all practice and pray that your skills will never be tested.



Three Rivers to Cross

By Elizabeth Silance Ballard

Chapter Twenty-seven


It was not easy to go back to Rattlesnake Island after Mama and Daddy died. Violet offered to go with me that first time but I knew it was something I needed to do alone. As I rode 9780970682383_cover-small.jpgacross in the Putt-Putt, I naturally looked toward the south end of the island where Daddy’s fishing boat had been docked.

It wasn’t there, of course. Len and Lon sold it the week after we buried Mama. A commercial fisherman up toward Swansboro bought it. He had known Daddy for many years though none of us had ever met him.

It had been a month since I set foot on our island. While it was not easy, it wasn’t as difficult as I had expected. Isn’t that the way life always is, though? We dread something, put it off, make  excuses why we can’t do it. Yet, when we actually take the step, we find that the difficulty, the fear, the dread of the thing was only in our minds. We created a mental monster where a real monster did not exist.

My first thought was that the grass was high. I was either going to have to learn to mow or hire someone to go over there on a regular basis. With no one living there, the whole island would be covered over in no time. Not exactly a jungle, maybe, but not a pleasant place for sure.

I walked around back to Daddy’s “shack,” as he called it, and took the canvas off the lawn mower. There was no key. It was a machine Daddy just put together using parts he had on hand or found  in one junk pile or another.

He didn’t believe in spending money for something he could make or repair himself and one of our family jokes was that all he needed was a supply of rubber bands, safety pins, electrical tape, and chewing gum and he would either repair something or create a whole new item out of it.

Anyway, that lawn mower was quite a mystery to me.  I found a button and dared to touch it. It did start the motor but, after that, it was anybody’s guess. I had no idea how to put it in gear or even steer it! I saw no steering wheel anywhere! I gave up. I would have to ask one of my brothers to come over and teach me how to work the thing!  I started a list. I would need to bring over gasoline.

Now for the house.

I knew this would be my worst moment. Walking into our house with no one to meet me, no coffee pot on the stove, no good aromas from the oven. No one there but me. For the first time in my life, I was alone in that house.

I had already checked with Len, Lon, and their wives to see if there was anything in the house they wanted. There wasn’t. What was I going to do with decades of accumulation? And what was I going to do with the house anyway? I seriously considered the option of updating and moving over there. By updating, I meant indoor plumbing.

Mama had still been using the pump out by the back porch to bring in water for cooking and bathing.  The outhouse, of course, stood far enough from the house that we didn’t have to see it all the time but also far enough away that it was a pain having to traipse over there to use it in all kinds of weather and especially during the night!

 Daddy had plenty of money to take care of that. He could have made things so much better for both of them! For all of us!

And electricity! What would bringing electricity to the island cost?  Suzanne had loved all our kerosene lamps around the house; and, I must admit, the soft glow of the lamps did create quite an atmosphere of coziness.  BUT!  I could always turn off the electric lights if I wanted the ambiance of lamplight! No, electricity would be a MUST if I were to actually live in the house. I could not deal with Mama’s icebox, either.  Daddy had brought ice to her every couple of days. I couldn’t handle that myself. I would need a refrigerator and, thus, electricity!

Also, I had grown accustomed to central heating and air conditioning during my years away from home.  I would not go back to burning wood or coal in that potbellied stove in the “front room” where it was hot with the fire burning and icy cold all over the rest of the house in the winter!

I remember that on many occasions, there was actually a thin layer of ice on the INSIDE of the kitchen windows when we got up in the morning.

Yet, as I went from room to room, I began to get excited as I contemplated the changes I could possibly make, what I would add, what I would take away to make this house actually mine. But, did I really want to go through the headache and expense to update?  Did I really want to go back to the island to live?


The following day I had a local contractor meet me at Lon’s shop.  He, Lon, and I took the Putt-Putt across. He went right to work before we even left the dock.

“Hmmmm. I guess the first problem is you got no bridge so how we gonna get all the equipment, workers, and supplies across the river? You got a barge tied up on the island somewhere?  No? Well, never mind. We’ll have to hire one. Let’s see, that would probably run us…”

I looked at Lon. Lon rolled his eyes. We were to see Ken’s small notebook fill rapidly with figures to solve first one problem, then another and another and another.

“Lon, how did Daddy get everything over here to build this house?”

“Didn’t, Sis. It was already here. He told me and Len that he and Uncle Leonard cut down all the trees, then cut the lumber. He had to buy nails, of course, but hauling nails across the river wasn’t a problem.”

We tried to laugh.

“Nails!” Ken did laugh. “Miss Charlotte, we have to bring all the plumbing (and do you know how heavy a bathtub is?) plus the wiring, the insulation, new dry wall, and I know you’re going to want new floors in this place. Frankly, I’m surprised none of us has fallen through that back porch!”

Well, by the time he was finished, I was ready to forget the whole thing and that’s exactly what I did!

“This project is way too much for me to take on,” I told Lon and he agreed.

“I think you’re right, Sissy. You can buy a move-in ready house for far less than this house would cost you to renovate, much less build a new one out here.  We’ve all got used to being on the town side of the river now and there’s really no reason to come back over here to live.”

So, I began just going over there about every  week or so, mowing the yard, going through the rooms one by one to determine what I wanted to keep and what I was willing to sell on a yard sale or just toss.

“How are people going to get over to the island for a yard sale, Charlotte?”

Lon was always the practical one but I was ready with an answer. “I’ll take all the smaller things over first. I’ll have the yard sale there in the parking lot of your shop. I’ll have pictures of the larger items and if anybody wants them, they’ll have to figure out a way to get them.”

“Well, it might work, Charlotte, but I’m afraid you will probably be left with all the larger pieces!”

He was right. It didn’t “work.”  I ended up ferrying most of it back over to the island at the end of the day. I had no idea what I was going to do with it all.

I had taken nothing from Mama’s bedroom. That door remained closed. I couldn’t bear to go back in there so my brothers stepped in to help me. Len found out that the police department had the name of a cleaning company out of Raleigh who actually specialized in the cleanup of crime scenes. They were very expensive but I told Len to hire them and  that I would be more than glad to pay.

Both Len and Lon went with the cleaners to make sure that every single thing was out of that room so that it held no traces of Mama and Daddy. I never asked what was done with those things but about a year later, Lon brought me the family pictures from Mama’s cedar chest and the one piece of jewelry she owned, a single strand of pearls she had worn with her wedding dress. 

So, my life, my attachment to Rattlesnake Island, the island on which I was born and lived for eighteen years surrounded by love, that attachment was over. Other than going over once a month and making sure all was okay with the graves and that there had been no intrusions, my life would be totally on the town side of the river.

My life was filled with my students, my church, and my friends. The days again became easier to face though I still didn’t know what I would do about our family home on the island.

I was now thirty-two years old and had been happy in my little apartment for ten years. I was not really in any hurry to make changes even if I was “just throwing money down the drain” by renting as my brothers kept telling me.

It proved to be a wise decision. Tragedy had not departed from my life.


Chapter Twenty-eight


The following year, Violet was diagnosed with cancer. There was surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. For the next two and a half years, it was as if she took one step forward and two back.

I was with Violet Thompson at her home or in the hospital daily. Her situation was downhill all the way. I thought we were close before but now, with both us knowing her time was short, our time together was even more  precious.

“I’ve been so blessed to have you in my life. You’ve been the best friend I’ve ever had, Charlotte. You never made me feel old. Back when you, Melanie, Laura, and I had our little supper club and got to know each other so well, you all treated me as if I were just as young as the three of you. I actually felt as if I were and it was just so much fun!”

She was so weak that day but she was trying to talk as long as she could.

“We’ve had a lot of fun but, Charlotte, you have a lot of fun, laughter, and love ahead of you. You’ll enjoy the rewards of seeing many of your students going on to accomplish even more than you might have imagined them capable of doing. Just look at me. I have lived to see you and Teddy Stallard, both so successful at what you do and there are so many others I’ve heard from over the years.”

Another day she took my hand in hers and said, “I’ve had a good life, Charlotte. There’s a lot I’m proud of and some I’m not so proud of, you know. I’ve had good times and some not so good.  Listen to an old lady, Charlotte. Don’t get hung up on any one good or bad thing in your life because it is ALL important! It all happens for a reason. It all matters!

“Each event, each joy, each sorrow, each success, each failure—it all works together, flows together, to complete your earthly experience.

“We can only see one thing at the time so we place far too much importance on each happening, good and bad. God sees one’s entire life. We can sometimes recognize  in  retrospect how events in our past years have brought about the condition of our present. But, Charlotte, God sees how it ALL is unfolding into what we perceive as our future!”

Then she told me that she was tired and just could not face any more treatment, any more medications or any more days and weeks in the hospital.

“I’ve told my doctor that I want it to stop, Charlotte. I know where I’m going and I’m ready to meet the Lord face to face. I’m ready to see Mama again. Who knows, I might even see Lyndon again. I don’t think I’ve ever told you about him. It was a long time ago.

“He’s still special in my heart, though, even though things didn’t work out between us. I’ve always loved him. There’s never been anyone else I loved in quite the same way but I’ve had a good life, nevertheless. A very good life.

“It certainly didn’t work out the way I had planned when I was back at Meredith College, back when I thought I would have it all: Husband, children, home of my own, a great career. Oh, you know, what I mean. The things all girls dream about when they’re on the threshold of adult life. But, I’ve been happy, Charlotte, truly happy.

“Don’t grieve for me. You’ve had too much grief in your life already. Besides, I have a very strong sense that your life is about to change in a big way. Good things are coming your way, Charlotte Anne Gurganus. So, when it happens, remember that I predicted it. You just keep looking ahead and looking up.”

I leaned over and kissed her cheek, too overcome to say anything. As I turned to leave, I heard her whisper, “I love you, Charlotte.”

“I’ll come back tomorrow. I’ll see you right after school, Violet.”

When I turned at the door to wave, she was trying to hold her hand up, trying to wave—and she was smiling.

The next day was oral book report day and the class sat listening to Gloria Lipsky tell about her favorite book, Anne of Green Gables.  Gloria not only loved to read, but she loved to tell everyone all about what she read and she did so with dramatic effect. At that moment, she had everybody laughing over Anne making her “apology” to Rachel, the next-door neighbor.

I remember I was thinking that Gloria could be a good comedic actress when the door opened without a knock and one of the high school students, an Office Assistant, handed me a note saying the principal wanted me to go to his office.

“I’m going to stay with your class while you’re gone,” she said. “He said for you to take your purse.”

Oh, my goodness! I wonder what big project he’s going to hand me this time. I absolutely will not be in charge of anything right now other than my own work. I need to stay available for Violet. 

“Mr. Hayes, I …”

“Come in, Charlotte. Here. Sit here.”

He looked down at his desk for a moment before saying, “There’s no good way to say this so I’ll just—well, Charlotte, Miss Thompson died this morning. We’ve been told she was in no pain.”

“But, I was there yesterday. She was expecting to see me today, after school.”

“You know Violet Thompson was one of the very best teachers in the county. I can’t tell you how many times someone has come up to me and said they were her former students, or parents of students. I’ve never heard a negative word about her.”

“I was one of those former students, you know.” I was trying, unsuccessfully, to keep my composure.

“Yes, I know. Charlotte, I visited Miss Thompson a while back. She said she knew she didn’t have much longer and asked me to give you this letter as soon as I heard she had passed. I got word from her doctor that she instructed him to call me and to call her attorney, Stan Riggs.

“I’ll arrange for a substitute. Certainly take off  as much time as you need. I’m aware how much Miss Thompson meant to you, Charlotte. Would you like for someone to drive you home?”

“No, Sir, I’ll be all right. I can drive myself and I’d rather be alone right now.”

I’ll be all right. I’ll be all right. I knew this was coming. I’ll be all right.

At home, though, where no one was watching, I let go. I sobbed until I ached all over. I had truly lost,  not only my VERY best friend, but my last close friend.

I am truly alone now.

Of course, I had my brothers but they had their wives and children, their own lives. I was just their sister. I was “Aunt Charlotte” to their children. There had been such an age difference between me and my twin brothers that they never really knew me. They just knew a little sister. Even my parents never really knew me. They only knew a daughter, the easy child, after having two rowdy boys.   They didn’t know ME, the real me.

Only three people in the world really knew, and loved, Charlotte Gurganus: Greg, Suzanne, and Violet. Oh, I had other good friends but none as close as those three, the only three people in the world who knew ME and loved me unconditionally.

I needed to read Violet’s letter, which I had not yet opened. I knew it was important because she had taken great care to ensure that I would get it as quickly as possible after her death. I felt sure it was a letter telling me how much our friendship meant to her but I was wrong.

The letter was all about Teddy Stallard. She and I had already said our goodbyes. We each knew of the love we shared, the friendship, the support, so it was Teddy now she was concerned about. It was my first inkling of how deeply her feelings were for the little boy who sat in her classroom so many years ago.

Teddy had, apparently, stayed in touch with Violet all those years. She had only mentioned the invitations she received from him: high school and college graduations and his wedding. Violet had rarely mentioned Teddy again after she came home from his wedding and told me she thought he had made a terrible mistake.

Now, though, in true schoolteacher fashion, she was giving me instructions on what she wanted me to do immediately following her burial service.


Chapter Twenty-nine


It looked as if every single person who had been at the church service was now at the cemetery and I had been number 152 when I signed the guest book in the church vestibule.  I didn’t mingle with anyone, preferring not to share my feelings about Violet and, also, not wanting to hear the usual platitudes. The last words I wanted to hear were “It’s God’s will” or “She’s in a better place.” I had heard those words much too often over the years already.

Making funeral small talk, no matter how well intentioned, is not helpful.  That kind of talk has been said so often that it is meaningless, especially to the ones truly in grief. Believe me, I know!People mean well, but it is not helpful, comforting, or kind.

In fact, it’s downright irritating and unfeeling. I just know that one day I’m going to tell some good-hearted person with good intentions just what I think and blow my “good girl” image forever. I just hope I can keep myself from slamming my big, heavy, non-designer handbag right over somebody’s head!

So that’s why I chose not to mingle with the crowd at the cemetery. Instead, I stayed in my car until only a few people remained in line to speak to Teddy and Minnie Ross, the only two who sat in the “family” seats under the tent.  Violet had also asked me to sit in the “family” section at the church as well as at the cemetery.

“I have no living family members, Charlotte, so I want the three people I love so dearly to be there.”

I simply could not bring myself to do it. For my own well-being, I had to keep a low profile so I was the last person in line to speak to Minnie and Teddy. Minnie jumped up to hug me.

“You were supposed to be sitting here, too, you know? And in the church!  Violet told me so.”

“I know but I just couldn’t do it, Minnie. I didn’t want to have to talk to all these people. I’m sorry.”

Teddy touched my arm and I turned.

“You look so familiar,” he said. “Have we met?”

“We were in fifth grade together. I’m Charlotte Gurganus.”

“The Nice Girl! I always thought of you as The Nice Girl!  Like a title!”

 I didn’t linger but made my way back to the car, which was blocked in, of course. While I waited for someone to move one of the cars blocking me, I took out Violet’s letter one more time. I knew her instructions from memory but I still read it again slowly and carefully.

The letter stated that Minnie would notify me after she took Teddy to Violet’s home following the funeral. That much I already knew because Violet and I had talked about it.

“Minnie was his next door neighbor when he was young, Charlotte,” Violet said, “and she’s going to have him stay at her house. He’ll be comfortable with her. She always made sure he got home from school okay after his mother died and had snacks ready for him. She’ll take him to my house after the funeral and will call you after she does so.”

While I waited for the call, I changed out of my black dress and into a pale blue blouse and khaki slacks.

I also kicked off those three-inch heeled “worn only on Sunday” pumps and slipped into comfortable black flats.

To say I was nervous over what I was about to do would be a tremendous understatement.   All I had to do is follow Violet’s detailed instructions to the letter but I felt foolish.

I knew, however, that Violet had good reasons for everything she ever said or did, so I just had to trust that for some reason, she needed me to do this for her. I absolutely would not let her down.

I didn’t have to wait long for the call.

“Charlotte? I’ve just dropped Ted off at Violet’s house about ten minutes ago.”

I checked the time and set my clock to alarm as Violet had instructed. “In case you take a nap or lose track of time.”

So, in exactly one hour and forty-five minutes, I turned off the alarm,  made the call, as instructed by Violet, placed the order, picked up my bag, took two Cokes from my fridge and headed across town to Pizza Hut.

With the heavy aroma of pizza sauce,  pepperoni, and onions filling the air in my VW Beetle, I drove to Violet’s house. The nearer I got, the slower I drove but all too soon, I was in her driveway.

I rang the doorbell several times before he opened the door. When I saw how angry and irritated he was at my standing there, I wavered in my task.  Violet, though, had specified that I was to keep ringing the bell until he came to the door no matter how long it took, so there we stood.

“Yes? Can I help you?”

“Not exactly. May I come in?”

“Charlotte, it’s really not a good time right now so if  you’ll  just excuse me…”

I walked past him into the room I knew so well.

“I know you think I’m intruding, and maybe I am, but I’m not leaving, not yet. Miss Thompson told me to come.”

He looked at me as if I were not quite lucid but I managed to convince him to go to the back porch and have pizza and Cokes with me.

“We need napkins, “ I said. “I  must have dropped them when I was getting out of the car.”

I went to the kitchen and found paper towels. I wasn’t sure he would still be on the porch but he was.

“Here are some paper towels. I couldn’t find any napkins. Let’s eat this thing before it gets cold. I know you think you don’t want anything to eat but eat it anyway. Miss Thompson sent it to you.

“Now, Ted, don’t look at me like that. I’m just as uncomfortable at being here as you are at having me here but Miss Thompson sent us both here today.”

He was looking at me as if I might be from some other planet and he wasn’t sure it was a friendly planet.

We began talking, or rather, I began talking. I told him I had become a teacher, and that I had, in the early years, hoped to be just like Miss Thompson.

He still said nothing but I kept chattering on as if my life depended on it. 

Finally, I just plunged right in.

“I know you’re wondering why I’m here, Ted.”

“All right! Why ARE you here?”

“Miss Thompson told me to give you two hours here alone and then I was to come with pizza and cokes and make sure you ate something. She said this day was going to be very hard on you and that you were going to be feeling things she didn’t want you to feel. I don’t know what she meant but I do know I have to respect her request that I come and be with you for whatever reason.”

His expression softened then. “Come with me. I want to show you something.”

He took me to her bedroom, picked up a wooden box, handed it to me, and indicated that I should open it. As I did so, the tinkling tones of “You Are My Sunshine” began to play while I looked at each item in the box. It wasn’t until long after that day that I learned of the significance of that particular tune.

“She saved your Christmas gift.” I held the perfume bottle that he had he given Violet Thompson twenty-three years ago. The bracelet was still there, too, and I held it up to the light. 

“It still sparkles! I remember watching you fasten this bracelet on Miss Thompson’s wrist and I was one of the girls who stood in line for her to put the perfume behind my ear.”

“Charlotte, she even saved my homemade wrapping paper. And look at this. It’s her prayer journal.  You and I both are in it and many others, too.”

We had a long talk that afternoon, Ted and I. It was strange, in a way. Even though Violet Thompson and I had been such close friends for thirteen years, ever since I came back to Meadow View after college, now that Ted and I were talking about her, while sitting in her home, I reverted to calling her Miss Thompson! Strange!  Strange to me, anyway. 

The streetlights were on by the time I left. He walked with me to my car and we made arrangements to meet the next day. He wanted to come to the school and walk back into our old fifth grade classroom.


Continued Next Month




Marry Williamson


They were waiting for him.  Brian saw them as he stepped off the train at Waterloo Station.  There were two of them, coming towards him, dressed identically.  Black shoes, black trousers, black coats and black bowler hats.  “Hey up” he thought, “the Thompson Twins”. 

He wondered briefly who they were before they moved in on him, taking him by the elbows, one on either side of him and started to walk him to the exit. 

“Hold on” he protested.  “Who are you and what are you doing?” 

They did not answer but grabbed him more tightly and once outside hailed a taxi.  They shoved him in, not taking any notice of his protestations and took their seats.  One beside him, the other opposite him.  The taxi moved off. 

He tried to engage with them and smiled what he hoped was a friendly smile.  “Well”, he said, “this is cozy.  May I ask where we are going?  I have other things to do, other places to be.” 

There was no reply from the Thompson Twins.  They stared out at the traffic while holding on to him.  After about three quarters of an hour stop-start through the dense London traffic the taxi drew up in front of a smart, large town house in a pleasant terrace. 

The green front door was flanked by two little lollipop trees in white pots.  Brian squinted at them and had just decided that they were fakes, made of plastic when the door was opened by a chap in a butler’s outfit. 

“Hello Jeeves”  he said pleasantly.

 Jeeves did not move a muscle other than wrinkle his nose as if he smelled something bad while the Thompson Twins marched him through the hallway into a large kitchen.

“Well then”, Brian said as he sat down at an enormous pine kitchen table wincing in the uncomfortable chair, the slats of which poked painfully in his back, “what is the game?” 

The twins took their seats opposite him but said nothing.  So they sat in uncomfortable silence for a while.  After about five minutes the kitchen door opened and a big, burly man entered and gestured with his chin for the twins to go.

“Hi”,  Brian said, “I hope you are going to talk to me because Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum there seem to be deaf and dumb and I like to know why I am here”. 

The big man cleared his throat and said: “I am Mario”. 

Brian nodded and said: “OK Mario.  Should that mean anything to me?” 

“Mario” Mario said, “Mario Baldini”. 

Brian winced.  “Ah”. 

Just then the door opened again and two more burly men appeared. 

“And these are my brothers Guiseppe and Paolo Baldini” Mario said. 

“We also have a sister.  Julia.  Sad story.  She was badly let down recently.  She met this man who said he loved her and wanted to marry her.  She believed him.  She loved him.  He was supposed to meet her family, us in other words, to discuss the wedding arrangements.  Only he disappeared leaving Julia desolate and heartbroken.  You will understand that nobody treats  a Baldini in this way and gets away with it.  We have our ways to find people and obtain justice. Right now we want justice for our sister and our family. 

“OK” Brian said,  “you have me.  What kind of justice did you have in mind?” 

Mario cleared his throat again.  “There is going to be a wedding.  A wedding with my sister as planned”.

 Brian sighed.  Not too bad.  He had quite liked Julia in the beginning.  She was a pretty girl albeit a bit of an airhead.  That is why he had disappeared.  He got fed up with the constant inane prattle. 

“And if I refuse?”  Brian asked. 

Mario pointed at Guiseppe.  “He will make you disappear for real if you get my drift”. 

Brian gulped.  “OK” he said, a wedding with Julia it is then”. 

Mario smiled.  “Julia?” he said, “who said anything about Julia?  She would not have you now if you were the last man on earth.” 

He went to the door and shouted down the hallway, “Anna!”  and sat down again.

“We have another sister, Anna.  She has not had much luck finding a husband.  We have decided that you should marry her. 

The door opened and the ugliest girl he had ever seen appeared.  She really did not have any redeeming features.  She was quite fat with straggly greasy hair and a squint.

 The girl grinned at him, one eye looking at him, the other at Mario.  “Hi Brian”, she said.  “I am Anna”.  

“No, no” he said.  “Over my dead body”. 

He had not expected the brothers to take him quite so literally.  So now here he stood, in the middle of a field in a suit from the charity shop.  He was supposed to scare the birds away.  Well, the suit smelled as though it could scare anybody away.  He was sure that somebody had died in it.  They had put a large wide brimmed hat on his head which was thoughtful of them as the sun was beating down on him.  It was the middle of July and hay making time.  There was lots of the stuff around.  They even stuck some of it in the arms of the manky suit by the side of his arms which were stretched out wide with the help of sticks.  They had weighted down his boots and tied him to a pole so he could not move and to keep him upright.  He got very tired and very hot and he wondered when they would come back.  Then it occurred to him that they might not come back at all.  Standing there he had ample time to think back over the events that had gone before. 

His moonlight flit when he realised that Julia was getting serious, the abduction from Waterloo Station by two cronies of her crazy brothers and his refusal to marry Julia’s sister Anna with the greasy hair and the lazy eye.  Mario, Giuseppe and Paolo had not looked very kindly on that fact and a big goon of a minder had beat him with an iron bar and that was the last he knew until he woke up and realised that he was standing in a field.  He could not move or  even shout because they had stuffed his mouth with a foul tasting gag. 

There were men all around him in the field gathering in the hay and he could not do anything to attract their attention.  He got very thirsty and hungry and the agony intensified when the haymakers stopped for lunch and pork pies, big doorstop sandwiches and jugs of cider were passed around.  Thankfully after half an hour he passed out.

In the event he was not discovered until the farmer investigated the strange appearance of a scarecrow in his field and why the crows were not only not scared away but large numbers had started to peck at it.




About the Humble Teaspoon

Diana Goldsmith


Was it called a teaspoon because it was used to stir the tea or to actually help to dissolve sugar granules or crystals in the hot fragrant liquid. Or maybe to disperse the cold milk in the hot liqueur? However tea was originally served without the addition of milk a reminiscence  of its oriental heritage.

The teaspoon dispenses a small amount of liquid or solids. In its culinary usage it is often used to measure out spices when adding to sweet and savoury dishes. Also to add the likes of vanilla extract or rose water.

It is often employed when using strong flavoured ingredients.

The size of the spoon enables it to fit easily into a baby's mouth and therefore has been opused to help wean them off milk and onto solid foods.

Who can remember "posting" letters into the post box, that is the mouth or "here comes the aeroplane" with the teaspoon held aloft and whizzing it around before popping it, hopefully into an open mouth!

Also I can recollect being given teaspoons of "Famel syrup" to relieve my cough. Maybe my parents should have heeded Mary Poppins adage that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down!

These little objects come in various materials.

There are the grand silver ones. These are valuable and are to be treasured. This is where the origin of the phrase "being born with a siver spoon in one's mouth" comes from.Often these spoons were ornate and some had family crests on the handle.

Occasionally they are even made of gold. Commonly they were made of plated silver known as EPNS (electroplated nickel silver) and now of stainless steel which as it name indicates does not discolour.

Sometimes thechildren's spoons are made of plastic and of course there are also the disposable single use ones. However these hopefully will die out as we become more aware of our planet

In Wales there are some special spoons," love spoons" which are made of wood and intricately carved with romantic symbols.

Often people collect teaspoons and display them on racks attached to the wall of their living room.

In my great great grandmother's time when a couple were courting they were said to be spooning!  I wonder if that phrase came from Wales?

I have a special silver spoon which was my mother's and may have been my grandmother' s. It was used for jam and so the bowl is shallower than on a standard teaspoon because jam is thicker and adheres to it.

It's quite interesting to discover about a small everyday object such as a teaspoon, isn't it?



Saying Goodbye to “Hello”

Dave Whitford


I never answer the phone with "Hello".  Call me whatever nasty name you might want to, but this old tradition (since the late 19th century and Alex G. Bell) is nowadays an antiquated abomination, and it leaves you vulnerable.

What I do instead is: "Good morning, (afternoon, evening ... as appropriate), "Who's calling, please?"  I do this in as mellow and inviting a tone as I can.  It politely puts the onus on the caller to identify himself.

After all, would you answer a knock on your front door and talk to the knocker without first requiring him to identify himself and then state his purpose?  Of course you won't, unless it's the Police, and they will have already announced themselves through the closed door.  The knocker has come to your door.  He knows the onus is on him to identify himself and state his business.

Why is a phone call any different?

It's not!

If you start doing this, you'll be amazed at the responses.  First of all, you'll cut thru the crap and get to the purpose of the call straightaway.  Your friends will get used to it.  All others will just need to deal with it, as well they should!  They're invading your home, after all, and need to start thinking in terms of knocking at your front door.  Why should you make yourself vulnerable by just answering the phone with "Hello"?

This procedure is analogous to businesses answering the phone by stating that you've reached their business, only in reverse.  Businesses want phone calls because they are apt to produce more business.  Do you want unsolicited calls to your home trying to get your unsolicited business?  Of course not.  That's why you need to require the caller to identify himself at first.

The side benefits embrace all those pesky calls that ask you for something.  Here's the drill:  You answer by saying, "Good morning, who is calling, please?"  A telemarketer (or whoever) will normally counter with "Is this, Mrs. Duberstein?" or some such, still failing to identify himself.  So you repeat your initial question: "Who's calling, please?" in perhaps a more chilling and authoritative tone.  The caller might then counter with, "Is this 555-1234?"  To which you reply, "If you fail to identify yourself now, this call is over."  You wait for a count of 2 or 3 and hang up, even if the caller is still speaking.  He hasn't just told you that you won the lottery!  And even if he did have that good news, he was rude.  You weren't.

I've been doing this for 30 years, refining my technique.  If I ever lost any friends because of it, they weren't worth having.  These days of identity theft and scams over the phone make my measures even more important. 



How It All Started

Brad Carver


Age is strictly a case of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter. –Jack Benny,


I remember it well, the day my wife, who is fifteen years younger than me, asked if I ever wanted children?  We were sitting on the couch, watching TV.  I don’t remember what TV show we were watching, but she looked at me with that gleam in her eye and asked, “Do you ever want children?”

Right away I knew this was a trick question.  If I said “No,” I wouldn’t be able to touch her for a month.  I didn’t want that.  I’m old, I’m not dead.  So, I said what she wanted me to say and what she wanted to hear.  I said, “Sure, I want kids - one day.”

I didn’t expect that ‘one day’ to ever come however.  If I really wanted children, I would’ve had them by now.  So, I went on about my business, never thinking about it again.  Until two months later. That’s when she came to me and said, “I’m pregnant.”

I said, “No you’re not.”

She said, “Yes I Am.”

I said, “Maybe it’s trapped gas. It could be trapped gas, you know? It’s the same feeling.”

She said, “No, I’m pregnant and I’m going to have it.”

So I reminded her, “I’m fifty-two years old. By time he’s getting out of diapers, I’ll be going in them.”

She didn’t care. She wanted a baby and she was determined to have one. There is nothing, absolutely nothing I can do to stop her. So I buckled down and waited for the baby to come. I watched her go through all kinds of mood swings during the pregnancy. At one time I think she actually tried to kill me.

Her mother was happy, of course. She was going to have a grandbaby. But her dad just sat there and looked at me with that, “I may kill you” look in his eyes.

When I first told them, her dad laughed. I don’t think he even knew what I said, or he did know and didn’t take me seriously. But when he found out I wasn’t joking, he changed his attitude. He stopped laughing right away.  After all, his only daughter is pregnant and I did it. I can’t make her un-pregnant.  The only difference between a light bulb and a pregnant woman is you can unscrew a light bulb.

The grandparents were at the hospital when my son was born and the first time Granddad laid eyes on him, his face lit up and he started smiling. He wasn’t angry anymore. He was proud just like I was. Isn’t it amazing what a baby can do to a person?


From Daddyhood


Brad is a professional comedian who lives in Semora, NC. This is from his fourth book. He also has a music CD out called BC & T Bone Lefty




North Carolina Mountains in May

Sybil Austin Skakle


Beneath cloud studded blue sky by stony steams,

We pass banks of white and yellow daisies,

Vivid orange blossom masses,

Flower beds splashed with purple, and

Poppy fields, hued pink to red.

Green slopes, turning darker each warm day,

Up ahead reach skyward.

Human traces, dotting the landscape

           of the roller coaster tracks

along the mountain roads

we ride toward Tennessee,

 include a house, a store, a barn, and utility wires.


Colorful canoe-topped vans park beside the roadway. 

On the left below us are refreshment stands,

by a dam, where the white water beyond it 

has called people to a May festival.


My friends and I journey toward Alabama,

To seek God's reality and His will.

God calls us to worship, to celebrate,

Calls us to risk deeper rivers and

Dangerous waters

To follow, and to serve Him.


Hammer Spade and the Inca Curse

Chapters Seventeen-Nineteen

hsic cover.jpg

We were back in the conference room to plan the next attack at seven the next morning.

Isabela reported on Oscar. “They said he was out of danger and should recover fully.”

“That’s good news,” I said.

Everybody at the table nodded in agreement.

In our absence, Don had put the intelligence people to work and they had assembled quite a dossier on Carlitos Figueroa in Constitución, Chile. He brought the papers into the conference room to brief us on what they had found about Figueroa’s organization.

My first question was, “Have you located Fuente?”

“No,” he replied. “But we tried. Fuente doesn’t contact anybody directly. He goes through somebody else and we can’t figure out which call records belong to him. I’m sure one of the numbers is his but we don’t know which one.”

He began the briefing. “Constitución is a seaside resort and an industrial town of about 36,000 residents located in the Maule, (pronounced “mule”) region of the Talca province. The main industries are paper and pulp products. It’s also a minor port. It has two universities, the Catholic University of Maule and the University of Los Lagos. The Maule River flows along its northern perimeter. The countryside is hilly and heavily vegetated.

“Constitución is Fuente’s pipeline for shipments of high quality heroin from the Far East. Carlitos Figueroa, a thirty-one-year-old American, is Fuente’s man in charge in Constitucion. His second in command is a man named Javier Venegas. Rounding out his crew are Rodrigo Silva, Jans Muñoz, Leon Alzate, who are Chileans, and Vicente Diego who is from Colombia.

“Figueroa is intelligent and manages his operation in a business-like manner. He treats his men fairly and they are loyal to him. From remarks we heard, Fuente does not think highly of Figueroa and doesn’t appreciate his skills. We suspect it’s because Figueroa doesn’t cultivate Fuente and stroke his ego.” 

After that remark, Dave said, “This one might be tough to crack.”

Hart agreed. “Saavedra and Colonel Shrimp undid themselves to such a degree that we were almost bystanders.”

“Figueroa’s crew is very young,” Isabela said. “They’re likely to be vigorous and alert.”

“We had better be on the ball on this one,” I agreed.

Don continued. “We haven’t figured out how he operates or receives goods and transports them out of Constitución. We know his name, his cell phone number, where he lives, and the names of his associates. That’s about all.”

“That’s a heck of a lot more than we had when we went into Córdoba,” Hart said.

I thanked Don and the intelligence crew and they went back to work.

Then I told the others, to get to work on a plan to get us to Constitución while I checked on Oscar’s replacement.”

Dave had a suggestion. “Hammer, why don’t we hire Figueroa and his crew to get Fuente? I bet he could get him quicker than we could.”

Everybody thought that was funny but I thought it could be true. What a pity to go after such promising men as these. I bet Figueroa didn’t allow his men to use the drugs they shipped north that ruined the lives of so many other young men.

I went to my office and called the London Operations Center.

“Haven’t gotten approval yet,” the voice said.

“Who’s holding it up?”


“I thought he was off the mission.”

“He is.”

“I also thought I was in charge here. I don’t like to be second-guessed.”

Somebody said something in the background. The agent put his hand over the transmitter. When he came back, he asked, “Are you sure this is the man you want?”

“0062 worked with him. 0068 said he worked for 0057 more than any other in-country agent. I trust their judgment.”

The person in the background said something else.

“Okay. We’ll make the arrangements and let 5418 know when to pick him up.”

He hung up. I bet Clover’s voice was the one in the background. Clover couldn’t let anything go!



Two days later, Tanner’s equipment arrived by diplomatic courier and the operations center called to say he would arrive the next day.

Dave and Isabela went to the airport to pick up Tanner. Dave had a lot of confidence in him but I had developed a nagging suspicion that Clover’s doubts about him had some justification. Still, I had learned over the years that a devil you know is better than a saint you don’t know.

Alonia and I were getting along better than ever. It was a happy circumstance that she could adjust to plain living better than anybody I knew. The arrangements in the Iquique warehouse were about as unpretentious as any place we had stayed. She never complained and seemed happy to be with me, although the food was not the gourmet fare she ate at home. She quickly made friends with Sally and Isabela. She also understood that I had work to do and left me alone during the day, but did not leave me alone at night. I was a lucky man!

Dave was right about Tanner being “rough around the edges.”

Everybody looked him over when he walked through the door. He carried himself like a football player. He looked strong and he looked rough.

We shook hands. “Pleased to meet’cha,” Tanner said. “I’ve heard a lot about you from Dave here and I hope some of it was the truth.”

“We’ll see,” I said with a smile. “Welcome aboard.”

He became serious. “I’m mighty upset about Maggie.”

“We are too,” I replied.

“Dave said you were with her when she died.”

“I was.”

“That was tough, won’t it?”

“Very,” I agreed.

“I’m not sure I could have handled that,” he said, shaking his head. “I liked Maggie a whole lot.”

“Dave told me that you did.”

“Yeah,” he said, “She was the best.”

He looked around the room. “Where’s Clover?”

“He’s been taken off the case. They said it was an emergency.”

“Who’s in charge?”

“I am.”

“Clover must think a lot of you. You ain’t even an Englishman.”

“I’m not sure ‘think a lot of me’ is quite correct. Here and available is probably more like it.”

“Don’t think I’ve got a problem with you being in charge,” he assured me. “The only limey I ever liked is dead.”

I grinned, “Thanks.”

He laughed, “I can work with ’bout anybody. We’ll do okay.”



After Roscoe put his luggage in his room, he came into the conference room where Isabela brought him up to speed on where we were. Then Dave and Hart explained the tactics we used in Córdoba and how the operation culminated.

“You had a lotta luck in Córdoba,” Tanner observed. “It ain’t often that happens in this business.”

Tanner had summed it up succinctly. Our opponents in Constitución were of a stronger mettle than they had been in Córdoba.

We broke up and went to the cafeteria. Tomorrow we would wrap up our plan of attack and get ready to leave.



Roscoe definitely had his own ideas about how to run an operation. I thought he was too aggressive and careless, but his earlier comment about the perversity of luck prevalent in this business tempered the underlying impact of what he said. He was an exceedingly devious man.

It was apparent that he and Dave respected each other but they were not buddies. Hart was the one who warmed up to Roscoe. Isabela kept him at arm’s length.

We got a call from Santiago that Oscar was back in intensive care because they had missed several pieces of shrapnel that penetrated deeply into his abdomen. That was not good news.

We Googled Constitución. to get the general layout of the city and surrounding area. The only airport close to the city was a 3,100 foot dirt strip called Quivolgo. The closest major airport was in Santiago, which was about 180 miles north of Constitución. We decided to send Dave and Roscoe ahead in a van with our luggage and equipment. After they found a place for operations, Isabela, Hart and I would fly to Santiago, rent a vehicle, visit Oscar, and then drive to Constitución.

We spent the rest of the day packing the van. With that done, we met again in the conference room to make sure we hadn’t forgotten anything.



Chapter Eighteen


On the day that Dave and Roscoe left for Constitución, Fuente was having dinner with Guadalupe. He had not heard from Santos since he received the call from Figueroa with the tip about where Saavedra was hiding. He was still mad at Santos for killing all of Saavedra’s men when he first arrived in Córdoba. That lack of continuity had left him out of touch with his operation. Although they limited correspondence, he had expected to hear something from Santos by now. What worried him most was that if things had gone well, Santos would have called to brag about his success. In this case, especially, no news was not good news. Three days ago, he had dispatched his accountant, Fernando Cáceres, to Córdoba to find out what was going on.

Cáceres interrupted their dinner when he came into Guadalupe’s dining room looking disheveled and distracted. Fuente motioned for him to take a seat at the table.

“You bring unpleasant news,” Fuente said grimly.

“I bring no news at all,” the accountant replied.

“What do you mean?” Fuente asked, his voice rising.

Cáceres shrugged. “The Villa Retiro is empty. Only the furniture remains and it looks as if it has been vandalized along with the interior of what had been a beautiful house.”

“What? No files? What about my money?”

“The house is empty and it was left unlocked and open. There is nothing in the house except broken furniture.”

“Did you find Santos?”

“No, I did not.”

“Did you check the newspapers? If he got himself into trouble, it should have been in the papers.”

“There is nothing in the papers.”

“Did you check that beer joint he likes so much?”

“I checked at the Owl Beer House and he had not been there for five days.”

“Would they know him if they saw him?”

“Yes, they knew him well because he was a generous tipper and always came with his men.”

Fuente pounded his fist on the table. “That spawn of the devil has joined Saavedra and the two of them have stolen my money!” he shouted.

Cáceres stood up and moved to leave.

Fuente shook his fist at him. “I will find them and I will make them pay for what they have done to me!” he shouted loud enough to be heard outside on the street. “They cannot hide from me! I will find them in darkest Africa if that is where they hide! I will find and kill their wives and their sons and their daughters!”

Cáceres left. He had already endured his lifetime quota of Fuente’s tirades.

Fuente paused in his mad rage and looked grimly at Guadalupe. “I will find and kill their parents the same way I killed the parents of that cold blooded murderer, Lady Margot Fisher!”

That night he made violent love to Guadalupe.



I couldn’t get to sleep the night after Roscoe and Hart left for Constitución. I couldn’t get my mind off Lady Margot, I was worried about Oscar and I missed Alonia. I finally gave up at 12:30 a.m., dressed, went to the dining room and ordered a cup of coffee.

I was staring at the bare wall, when an hour later, Isabela joined me and ordered a cup of tea.

“Why are you here?” she asked.

“I couldn’t sleep.”

“Is something troubling you?”

“Guess I had too much on my mind. I was thinking about the case, I couldn’t get my mind off Margot and I’m worried about Oscar,” I replied. “What’s up with you?”

“Same thing. I couldn’t sleep either.”

“What are you worried about?”

“My family. My son.”

“Has something happened to them?”

“No. They’re okay. But Jason has been asking for me, wondering why his mama stays gone.”

“Jason is your son?”


“How old is he?”


“It’s a bad age for his mama to be away.”

“I miss him too,” she said with a sad sigh.

“I’m sure he misses you just as much. Who’s caring for him?”

“My mother is staying at our house taking care of him and Geoff.”

“Geoff is your husband?”


“Have you spoken to them lately?”

“I called them last night on the secure phone in your office.”

“What happened?”

“When I asked to speak to Jason, Geoff said he was crying and he was too upset to speak to me.” She blinked away more tears.

“That must have broken your heart.”

“I cried when Geoff told me.”

“I’m sorry, Isabela. Did your husband agree for you to take this assignment?”

“Yes, and at first he was as excited as I was. He thought it was a lark; his wife a secret agent.”

“Is he aware of what the business is like?”

“Oh, yes. He’s involved in it in the diplomatic arena.”

“So he’s got all the clearances and you two can talk about what you do?”

“Yes, some. He has the highest clearance so I can speak in generalities about what I do. He was excited and pleased when I received the assignment with Jack. He took me out to practice with my new pistol and taught me combat shooting.”

“He did a good job with that.” That was the understatement of all time.

“I hate to sound callous, but gun fighting is exhilarating. I guess it’s the ultimate challenge when you pit your shooting and tactical skills against those who shoot back.”

This was from a cultured and beautiful woman.

I laughed. “Isabela, you are one in a billion.”

“I wish I could shoot as fast as Hart,” she mused.

“I do, too.”

“Clover told me you were very good yourself.”

“I can’t hold a light to Hart.” I got back to the subject. “Can your husband and son make it a few more weeks?”

“They’ll be okay, I hope. Geoff tries to understand but he misses me. I worry about Jason. I know children are tougher than parents think they are, but I don’t want him to not love me when I return.”

“I’m sure your son will still love you, Isabela.”

“I hope you’re right,” she replied sadly.

We stopped talking. Three other insomniacs came in and ordered breakfast. They took a table in the back corner of the room and ignored us.

After the mess hall attendant refilled our cups, Isabela asked me how well I knew Alonia.

“Pretty good. Her whole family’s kind of…” I paused, not able to think of just the right word.

She finished my sentence. “Odd?”

I laughed. “That’s not exactly what I was trying to say. But it’s close enough.”

“Alonia is unlike any other woman I know.”

“I agree,” I said. “She is one of a kind.”

“You must like her a lot.”

“I do.”

“Do you love her?”

“I can’t say for sure.” Her expression indicated surprise at my candor. “But I don’t have feelings for anybody else and I’m not interested in looking,” I explained.

“That’s not a good reason to marry somebody, Hammer.”

“She’s the initiator of the plan to get married.”

“That’s even less of a reason to marry somebody. Do you know how many times Alonia has been married?”

“No, but it’s a lot according to her. She once told me that she can’t remember the names of all of her husbands.”

“She’s had eleven husbands, Hammer. She looks as if she might be in her late twenties. She gets married more than once a year!”

I couldn’t think of a sensible comment about that.

“Do you remember the conversation we had the first time she visited here?”

“Yeah. You two had met at some high society function to benefit orphans.”

“The Alonia that visits you here is very different from the Alonia at that function.”

“In what way?”

“Alonia always dresses elegantly and she can make any garment look stylish. What she wore that night was very stylish and it looked beautiful on her. But it also didn’t leave anything to the imagination about Alonia’s obvious feminine charms.”

“I’ve seen her dressed like that, too.”

“I’m sure you have, but Alonia came dressed that way to seduce every man in the room. I elbowed Geoff twice because he wouldn’t take his eyes off her.”

“She doesn’t act that way around me.”

“I’m sure she doesn’t because she’s got a huge crush on you and she also knows it would be over if she acted that way around you.”

She paused again as if to let me comment but I didn’t say anything.

“She knows that better than you do. Alonia affects people in odd ways. Her targets are usually men. One of Geoff’s friends told him that he thought Alonia could inject thoughts into a man’s mind with her eyes.”

“Maybe it was his mind at work.”

“I believe Alonia can hypnotize anybody she wants to.”

“Her brother told me one time that Alonia could affect people’s minds and make them see a different reality.”

“Has it occurred to you, Hammer, that she’s doing that to you?”

“Not really.”

“You should consider that before you marry her. Alonia’s like a chameleon. She can assume any character she wants to. If the person she wants to impress expects her to behave like me, she does. If he wants a pole-dancing vamp, she can be one of them, too.”

“We have disagreements.”

“Maybe you have a stronger self than her usual victims. Does Alonia have any women friends?

“Only one that I know of.”

“Describe this woman to me.”

“Her name is Rachel and she’s very pretty. She’s a typical housewife and mother. Alonia loves her children. Rachel is exceedingly clever and she worked with us on the ring case.”

“Does this woman affect men the way Alonia does?”

“Yeah,” I replied, remembering how Rachel had flimflammed Hassan Al-Omar in Kuwait on the ring case.

“Her chosen friend is just like her. I rest my case.”

I didn’t have time to reply that Rachel was dedicated to her husband and children because Dave arrived at our table and ended that conversation.


Chapter Nineteen


The country of Chile is narrow from east to west, but it is a long way from north Chile, where we were, to south Chile. It took two days of hard driving for Dave and Roscoe to cover the 1,200 miles from Iquique to Constitución. It was dark the second day when they drove across the Maule River on the Viaje por el puente Raúl Silva Henríquez bridge. When they stopped to buy gas for the van, Roscoe got directions to a local hotel where they took rooms for the night.

“Progress” had not come to Constitución. There were no major hotels, nor were there any American fast-food restaurants. In Constitución, you ate their food because there was nothing else available. Dave commented that it reminded him of Cacatamas in Honduras except for the lawlessness.

It took them two more days to find a building to use as an operations center. It was suitable but inconveniently located a good distance from Figueroa’s house on the south end of town. Figueroa lived in a middle class neighborhood and all of his men lived within three blocks of his house.

Dave called to give us directions and the GPS location of the building. We flew out the next morning and visited Oscar in a Santiago hospital. He was still in intensive care, guarded by a Royal Marine. The British Embassy doctor was not confident that he would recover and that news dampened our spirits as we drove south on the M-24 Highway.

The building Dave and Roscoe rented was a big, old, ramshackle house on Calle Cruz entre Zañartu y Oñederra. We couldn’t park the vehicles inside, out of sight. However, the back yard had a tall wooden fence that partially obscured what was in the back yard and the house blocked the view from the street. Not perfect but workable. We ate dinner at Gladys Elizabeth Espinoza Escaída’s down-home eatery establishment that first evening.

We set up a lookout spot where we could watch the comings and goings at Figueroa’s house. We learned early that he was a methodical and practical man. On Tuesday afternoon, one of his men in a small moving van picked up him and the rest of his crew. Dave alerted Isabela and Hart, who followed the van to a warehouse in the port area.  The van was inside the warehouse for half an hour. Then they followed it to a white stucco building close to the end of the runway of the Quivolgo airstrip. The driver parked the van beside the building and the six men went inside with bags of groceries and sleeping bags.

Isabela and Hart found a place they could watch the building in a wooded strip about a quarter of a mile from the stucco building. Dave and I relieved them after dark and brought a spotting scope. The night sky was clear and, for the first time in my life, I saw the Southern Cross. We took turns looking at the sky with the spotting scope. 

At sunrise on Wednesday morning, we watched a Beechcraft turboprop land and taxi to the end of the runway, open its door, and wait with its engines idling. Figueroa had the van parked beside the runway and when the plane stopped, he backed the van to the open door of the aircraft. Men who were already inside the van handed a planeload of packages through the door to men inside the plane, while two of Figueroa’s men stood guard with submachine guns. Twenty-one minutes after the plane touched down, it was airborne and on its way to a northern destination.

“That was a slick operation,” Dave observed as we watched the men drive back to the stucco building, bring out their trash and sleeping bags and load up into the van. “Mr. Figueroa has got his act together.”

We followed the van as it dropped off Figueroa’s men at their homes. Then the van driver drove back to the warehouse at the docks, parked it inside the warehouse and in a few minutes, he drove out in a new Ford Explorer.

“You were right, Dave. Mr. Figueroa is extremely well organized,” I said.

“He’s a far cry from those clowns in Córdoba.”

We watched the same scenario play out at the end of that dusty runway the next Tuesday. If the routine remained the same for a third time, we would attack the next pickup.

We left Roscoe alone at the lookout on the third Tuesday night. Dave and Hart would relieve him an hour before dawn on Wednesday morning. If nothing changed, the plan was for all of us to be in place the following Wednesday morning.

When Dave and Hart arrived at the lookout Wednesday before dawn, Roscoe was nowhere to be found and that set off alarm bells.

Dave called me. “Roscoe ain’t here.”

“Is there any sign that somebody else was there?”


“Any signs of struggle?”


While we were talking, Roscoe emerged from the bushes on their left swinging a plastic grocery bag.

“He just showed up,” Dave said.

“Where was he?” I asked.

“Where were you?” I heard Dave ask Roscoe.

“Been on a little mission,” he replied with a self-satisfied grin.

“What was that?” Dave asked.

“Our job in Constitución is finished.”

“What do you mean?” Dave asked.

“Figueroa and all of his men have gone to their reward.”

“What in Hades does that mean?” Dave asked.

“They’re dead, Dave,” Roscoe replied. He showed them the plastic grocery bag. “Here’s all their cell phones.”

Hart spoke up. “How? Who did it?”

“I did,” Roscoe replied with a self-satisfied smile.

“Are you telling us that you snuck into that building during the night and killed all of them?” Dave asked in astonishment.

“Yeah, I did. Don’t look so dang surprised,” he replied defensively. “I’ve got a little hard-earned talent in this business too, you know.”

They heard the turboprop coming in to land.

“We better get outta sight,” Hart reminded them.

Dave spoke to me on the phone. “Did you hear that, Hammer?”

“Some of it. Come back here at once. We had better get out of Constitución right now,” I said.

“Gotta wait for the plane to leave first,” Dave replied.

“Okay. Watch how they react. That should indicate if Roscoe’s telling the truth.”

“Will do. I better get off the line.”

“What was that all about?” Isabela asked as I put the phone down.

“Roscoe killed Figueroa and all of his men last night.”

Isabela was surprised and visibly upset. “Did you know he planned to do that?”

“No, I did not.” From the tone of my voice, she knew I didn’t like it either.

“This unauthorized action could have put the whole operation in jeopardy.”

“Yeah, it could have,” I agreed. “We might be at risk and don’t know it yet.”

“What are you going to do?” she asked.

“Pack everything. We’re leaving here as soon as the others get back.”



Dave and the others watched the plane land and taxi to the spot where Figueroa’s van usually waited. The propellers kicked up clouds of dust as the plane sat with engines idling. The van was parked in their sight beside the stucco building. The men inside the plane opened the door and waited a few minutes.

After waiting ten minutes, two men armed with submachine guns left the plane, walked to the building and peered inside the window. Not liking what they saw, they broke down the door and went inside.

Minutes later, they dashed outside, sprinted to the plane and ran up the steps shouting something. The engines revved up and the plane started down the runway as they pulled the door closed. The plane took off downwind instead of taxiing to the far end of the runway, turning around and taking off into the wind.

Dave called me. “Roscoe told the truth. They looked inside the building, high-tailed it back to the plane, and the plane took off downwind in a big hurry.”

“Return here at once!” I ordered. 



By the time Dave, Hart and Roscoe arrived back at the house, Isabela and I had everything ready to load into the van. We moved out of the house in record time and were on our way out of Constitución within the hour. I assigned Hart to ride with Roscoe on the drive back to Iquique. We made it a point not to travel together and I told everybody that we wouldn’t stop at restaurants on the way back. We would eat MREs while on the road and take bathroom stops when we gassed up. I called Don to have airline tickets waiting for Isabela, Dave and I in Santiago.

“What did you think about Roscoe’s escapade?” Dave asked after we were on the road north.

“He acted like a fool.”

“I was surprised myself, but he has a habit of acting on his own.”

“My guess is Margot trained him to be that way because that was the way she operated.”

“Naw, it’s not,” Dave replied. “He said she was very methodical about what she did. He said she’d shoot the guy whose name was on her list when one ten times worse was sitting next to him.”

“How was he with you?”

“Focused on getting our man, but he picked our target. Clover didn’t know who we were after. After thinking about it, my take is he saw an opportunity to get the job done last night and he took it.”

“He didn’t have to kill everybody. I didn’t like that part, and I disapprove of him doing it alone. He chose not to ask me nor did he bother to tell anybody else what he planned do.”

“He took a big risk,” Dave agreed.

“He didn’t think about the risks involved. If they had somebody on watch, like they ought to have, the lookout would have caught him and Chilean Army tanks would have surrounded us at daybreak. Our mission would be a disaster and the British government would eat crow over it for a generation. They don’t pay us for that kind of performance. They pay us because we get in, do their dirty work, and get out without getting caught.”

Isabela spoke up. “If he had called in when he saw the opportunity, Hammer could have sent you and Hart out to back him up. That way, the chance of encountering a lookout would not have been a problem. Plus, if we were on alert and things did go wrong we could get away before the Chileans were alerted.”

Dave nodded in agreement. “I see your point. The other downside is that the people on the plane got away. What are you going to do about that?”

“There’s nothing I can do.”

“What are you gonna do to Roscoe?”

“Don’t know. I’ve got to think about it. I’ll talk to him when he gets back to the warehouse.”

“What are you going to tell London?” Isabela asked.

“Nothing until after I talk to Roscoe.”

“Those people on the plane are going to tell somebody,” Dave said.

“My guess is they’ll tell Fuente. I hate that. What went on in Córdoba was so disorganized it looked random and it can’t be tied to us. When the men on the plane report that all of his men in Constitución were wiped out in one night, Fuente will think somebody has it in for him.”

“And he’ll be right,” Dave replied.

Three and a half hours later, we were on a plane to Iquique. This case was getting harder and harder.



During the time Dave, Hammer and Isabela were flying to Iquique, Raúl Fuente got a phone call.

“We didn’t make the pickup at Constitución today.”

“Why not?”

“Figueroa and all of his men had been murdered.”

“Murdered!” Fuente shouted. “Who murdered them?”

“We don’t know. Nobody was around when we arrived. When my men checked out the building, Figueroa and all of his men were dead in their bunks.”

“Dead? In their bunks?”

“They bled to death.”

“How do you know that?”

“Blood was all over the floor.”


“Every one of them had a knife wound at the same place inside his upper right thigh where their femoral arteries had been cut.”

Fuente blanched and hung up the phone. He sat down beside the table, reached for a bottle of wine and tried to pour some into a glass while he stared vacantly out the bedroom window. His hands trembled so badly that the wine spilled on the table, his shirt and the floor. He threw the bottle against the bedroom wall, rested his elbows on the table with his chin in his hands and stared into the darkness outside.




“Our soul is a portion of the cosmos and travels a journey within the cosmos.”




I’m checking out of hotel loneliness

All my lonely days, they’re all through

I’m checking into Hotel Happiness

Happiness, (oh yeah)

Because, darling, I found you

I left all my teardrops in that old lonely room…


Brook Benton


Suppose I Vanished

Gene Alston


“Suppose I vanished?” she said one night

After we had made love.

 I was drifting off to sleep.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Are you going somewhere else?

Or leaving me for another?”


“No, silly. Not anything like that.

Suppose I just vanished?”

“I don’t get it.  Why would you leave?”

“I’m not leaving you,” she said.

“I just wouldn’t be here.”


Moonlight filled the room,

 The windows were open.

A gust of wind blew the curtains.

They brushed my legs as they fell back.

“I’ll miss you,” I said as I drifted off to sleep.


Time flew and I forgot.

Then one day she was gone.


She left all of her things.

The police suspected foul play.

But they didn’t know.


It’s been two weeks since she vanished.

Not a word. Not even a postcard.

I wonder where she is.

If she returns, I’ll vanish myself

Just to show her how it feels

Except, I don’t know how.


My life is pretty much like it was

Except, of course, for missing her.

The empty space she doesn’t occupy anymore.

I’m in our bed. Moonlight fills the room

A gust of wind blows the curtains

And they brush my legs as they fall.


 I know the answer to her question.

The one about what I’d do if she vanished.

After a while, I’d do nothing

But go through my day without her.


Say What!


The local paper in a nearby town has a columnist whose name is Dawn Vaughan.  There used to be a joke about if a country singer named Kitty Wells married Conway Twitty, she would be called Kitty Twitty. Wonder if Dawn has a husband names Sean?


I have always admired Emily Dickenson’s penchant for privacy.  Her lines on the subject go like this: “The soul selects her own society, then closes the door.  On her own divine majority, obtrude no more.”


Heard in a New York bookstore: Him-“Do you want a book?” Her-“No, I already have a book.”


Old Age: Old guy sitting in a bar complains to a man sitting at the other end of the bar, “Sometimes I forget to drink.”


Doctor to a woman in his examining office: “I can cure your back problem, but there’s a risk that you’ll be left with nothing to talk about.”


Nick Paumgarten wrote in The New Yorker magazine (June 9 & 16) that “It can be disconcerting to see people go nuts over a euthanized racehorse when the world is falling to pieces and human beings are dying in droves, but a living racehorse--a thriving champion, a super colt in his prime—is another thing, as good excuse as any for a little hysteria and wonderment.


Suggested self-help titles: Teach Yourself to Like Collards in Thirty Days. Or, Train O’possums to Play Soccer.”


I have never been able to like Erza Pound. He’s proof that if you consider yourself an elitist, get a few prominent people to admit it in public, and then write a few lugubrious free verse poems about living a despairing life with meager accomplishment and then you die, you will gain fame. Being a fascist didn’t help. They say in his last years that he spoke to no one. Good thing.


Albanian dogs don’t bark, “Woof, woof.”  They bark “ham, ham.”  Hungarian pigs don’t go, “oink, oink,” either.  They go, “rof, rof, rof.”


English translations for traditional Chinese dishes are improving. What was “Husband and wife’s lung slice” has been rendered as “beef and ox tripe in chili sauce.” “Bean curd made by pockmarked woman” is now “mapo tofu.” Still doesn’t sound fit to eat to me.


Those fastidious British have been spraying pink paint on dog poop on sidewalks. A spokesperson observed, “It’s a way of letting people see it before they step in it.”


Too many people: The environmental disaster movie, The Happening, has scenes where huge numbers of people kill themselves to protect earth’s environment.  It’ll be on TV soon.


Kurt Vonnegut wrote a hilarious story with a similar theme called Welcome to the Monkey House where people were encouraged to go to the nearest Ethical Suicide Parlor, the one with the purple roof right next to the orange roofed Howard Johnson’s restaurants.  There you could be served your favorite last meal from Howard Johnson’s by an Ethical Suicide Parlor Hostess who looked like a Playboy Bunny, wore white lipstick, heavy eye makeup, purple body stockings with nothing underneath and black leather boots. Her job was to persuade you to take the shot while you reclined in a Barcalounger eating your last meal.

Everybody was required to take ethical birth control pills.  The pills were ethical because they didn’t actually prevent pregnancies.  They took all the fun out of sex by making one’s body numb from the waist down.  One side effect was it made their urine blue, an example of science and morality being in perfect concert.

The villain in the story is Billy-the-Poet whose specialty is composing lascivious poetry and kidnapping Suicide Parlor Hostesses.  He recites poetry until the ethical birth control pills’ effect wears off.  Then they succumb to his charms.  None of the kidnapped Suicide Parlor Hostesses can seem to remember what Billy looks like after they have been rescued.

Vonnegut had an amazing sense of humor.


The United States is not the only country with crazy laws. In Holland you can’t light up your tobacco cigarette in public, but you can smoke marijuana. 


Author Tom Bodett is quoted as saying, “The difference between school and life? In school you’re taught a lesson and given a test. In life you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.” I believe Socrates or Aristotle (or both) said something like that a few thousand years ago.


“Smart people tend to be odd people,” says Sarah Bramwell in a review of George Washington on Leadership by Richard Brookhiser. (National Review June 30)


HAMMOND, Ind. — An armed robber held up a Hammond gas station and tried holding up a bar Sunday with a cheese grater. Police said one of the would-be victims realized it wasn’t a gun and threw him out of the bar. Police said James Plante ran away and dropped the cheese grater, but police caught up with him. He reportedly confessed and was charged with robbery and attempted robbery. Now they’ll be wanting to ban cheese graters as dangerous weapons.


New country song title: “Your Husband is Cheatin’ on Us.”


Dave Whitford sent this quote by Glen Zediker. “Writing is one of the very few professions where one never has to actually make any money, or even finish anything for that matter, and still be looked upon as having a legitimate occupation.” Zediker wrote a very readable and informative book about the AR-15 match rifle.


Marilyn vos Savant, supposedly the person with the highest recorded IQ (228), was immortalized when she correctly answered the mathematical dilemma concerning the three doors question on the game show Lets Make a Deal. The contestant stood before three doors. Behind one was a new car. Behind the other two were goats. The contestant’s odds for choosing the door with the car behind it were 33 1/3. If the contestant chose door #1 and the host, who knew which was the correct door for the car, opened door # 3, behind which was a goat. Then the contestant was given the choice of keeping door # 1 or changing to # 2. On the surface this appears to be a 50/50 chance. Our brains are programmed to see it this way. When this question was posed to Marilyn, she answered that the contestant’s best choice is to choose door # 2. Mathematicians from all over the world challenged her answer. When presented with the mathematical proof that the odds were 2 to 1 favoring door # 2, mathematician Paul Erdos proclaimed it impossible. But computer simulations proved that Marilyn was right.


Gilbert K. Chesterton is probably the most quotable writer in the English language. His writings are like the Bible. You can open them to any page and find a message, or a lesson, or something beautiful to recite all day in your mind.

·       Original sin is the only proven element in Christianity.

·       The advantage of being dull is you could never be accused of being flippant.

·       Worldly people never seem to understand the world because they rely on a few cynical maxims which are not true.

·       Spiritual doctrines do not actually limit the mind as do materialistic denials. If we believe in immortality we do not need to think about it. However, if we disbelieve in immortality we must not think about it. In the first case, the road is open and we can go as far as we like. In the second case, the road is shut.



From  Medea

By Euripides


Of all things on earth that bleed and grow,

A herb most bruised is woman. We must pay

Our store of gold, hoarded for that one day,

To buy us some man’s love; and lo, they bring

A master of our flesh! There comes the sting

Of the whole shame. And then the jeopardy,

For good or ill, what shall that master be…

Home never taught her that—how best to guide

Toward peace the thing that sleepeth at her side.

And she who, laboring long, shall find some way

Whereby her lord may bear with her, nor fray

His yoke too fiercely, blessed is the breath

That woman draws! Else let her pray for death.

Her lord, if he be wearied of her face

Within doors, gets him forth; some merrier place

Will ease his heart; but she waits on, her whole

Vision enchained on a single soul.

And then they say ‘tis they that face the call

Of war, while we sit sheltered, hid from all

Peril! False mocking! Sooner would I stand

Three times to face their battles, shield in hand,

Than bear one child.


Euripides (480-408BC)


From the Kitchen of P. L. Almanza


Easy No Egg Biscuits



3 cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 tablespoon sugar

6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

1 to 1 1/8 cups cold milk or buttermilk (use whole milk for the most tender biscuits)*



Preheat your oven to 425°F with a rack in the upper portion. Get out a baking sheet; there's no need to grease it. Line it with parchment if you like, for easiest cleanup.

Easy No Egg Biscuits.jpgWeigh your flour; you'll find its weight by toggling to ounces or grams at the top of the ingredient section above. Or measure it by gently spooning it into a cup, then sweeping off any excess.

Mix together the flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar.


Work the butter into the flour mixture using your fingers, a fork or pastry blender, a stand mixer, or a food processor; your goal is an evenly crumbly mixture (think breadcrumbs).


Drizzle the smaller amount of milk evenly over the flour mixture. Mix quickly and gently for about 15 seconds, until you've made a cohesive dough. If the mixture seems dry and won't come together, don't keep working it; drizzle in enough milk up to an additional 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) to make it cohesive.


Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface. Pat it into a rough rectangle about 3/4" thick. Fold it into thirds like a letter and roll gently with a floured rolling pin until the dough is 3/4" thick again.


Cut the dough into circles with a biscuit cutter for traditional round biscuits; a 2 3/8" cutter makes nice-sized biscuits. Or to avoid leftover dough scraps, cut the dough into squares or diamonds with a bench knife or sharp knife.


Place the biscuits bottom side up on your prepared baking sheet; turning them over like this yields biscuits with nice, smooth tops. Brush the biscuits with milk, to enhance browning.

Bake the biscuits for 15 to 20 minutes, until they're lightly browned. Remove them from the oven, and serve warm.


Store any leftover biscuits, well wrapped, at room temperature for several days. Freeze for longer storage. Biscuits are always best when they're rewarmed before serving


Tips From Other Bakers:

Substitute buttermilk, light cream, or heavy cream for the whole milk, if you prefer. Use enough of whatever liquid you choose to bring the dough together readily, without having to work it too much.

If you're going to use the biscuits for shortcakes, increase the sugar to 2 tablespoons, and stir 1 teaspoon vanilla into the dry mixture along with the milk. Also, dissolve a teaspoon of sugar in the tablespoon or so of milk you use to brush the tops; this will help them brown nicely and impart mild sweetness to the crust.


If you have time, prepare the biscuits up to the point they're on the pan before preheating your oven. Place the pan of biscuits in the refrigerator while you preheat your oven to 425°F, or for about 20 to 30 minutes. This short chill will help them maintain their shape while baking.

Placing cut biscuits closer together (with 1/4" of space between them) will help them rise higher and straighter; they'll literally hold each other up as they rise in the oven. The sides will be softer, also. If you like a crisp biscuit, space them at least 1" apart on the baking sheet so the oven's heat can reach their sides.


Banana Bread Delight



1-1/2  c. sugar

1  c. sour cream

1/2  c. butter, softened

2 eggs

1-3/4 (3 or 4) ripe bananas, mashed (I used 4 bananas)

Banana bread delight.jpg2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 c. all purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda

3/4 tsp. salt

1/2 c. chopped walnuts (optional)

Brown Butter Frosting:

1/2 c. butter

4 c. powdered sugar

1-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

3 tbsp. milk



Heat oven to 375F.  Grease and flour 15x10-inch jelly roll pan.  For the bars, in a large bowl, beat together sugar, sour cream, butter, and eggs until creamy.  Blend in bananas and vanilla extract.  Add flour, baking soda, salt, and blend for 1 minute.  Stir in walnuts.


Spread batter evenly into pan.  Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown.

Meanwhile, for frosting, heat butter in a large saucepan over medium heat until boiling.  Let the butter turn a delicate brown and remove from heat immediately.

Add powdered sugar, vanilla extract and milk.  Whisk together until smooth (it should be thicker than a glaze but thinner than frosting).  Using a spatula, spread the brown butter frosting over the warm bars. The frosting will be easier to spread while the bars are still warm.


Blue Cotton Candy Lemonade


Cotton Candy Lemonade.jpg 


Yields about 9 cups   



Lots of ice

6 cups cold water

1  & 1/2 cups fresh squeezed lemon juice*

1 & 1/2 cups Cotton Candy Snow Cone Syrup

Cotton Candy, pink or blue (at least 10-12 ounces)

more lemons to garnish straws



 Add ice to a 3-quart pitcher.

Add 6 cups of cold water to the pitcher.

Juice the lemons. It's much easier to use an electric citrus juicer, but elbow grease works fine too. Add the lemon juice to the pitcher.


Add the Cotton Candy Snow Cone Syrup to the pitcher and stir.

Pour each glass and garnish with lemons in the glass or on the rim. Add two straws to each glass: one to sip from, and the other to spear your cotton candy. The cotton candy can't touch the lemonade, it dissolves instantly! Let your guests add the cotton candy to their glass, it's so fun. You will want about a fist size hunk of cotton candy for each glass. I used a candy-apple stick to hold the cotton candy in a few of the photos above, it worked great.


Recipe Notes:

A large lemon has about 1/4 of juice, if you're lucky. Buy at least 6-7 lemons, 8-9 to be on the safe side (just for juicing. Buy more for garnish)


This lemonade is QUITE sour as written. The cotton candy sweetens it, so each person can adjust the sweetness level as they like. Start tart. You can always add more. More syrup, or more cotton candy, either way.





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


Randy Bittle: Nothing; is a self-taught independent philosopher who is still learning.  He has two books, both collections of essays, available on Amazon.com. His latest book, More Colors Through My Mental Prism is also available.


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


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


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


Marry Williamson: Retribution; 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: What’s a Good Gun for Church : 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: Saying Goodbye to”Hello”, is retired from IBM and now writes in Toano, Virginia