RPG Digest

June 2020


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Thanks to all these talented writers who have contributed to every issue of RPG Digest with such enthusiasm. Cover photo by Betsy Breedlove. Below: Superheroes after the lockdown.




Table of Contents

Summer by Laura Alston. 3

Conceit by E. B. Alston. 3

Dorothy Parker Quotes. 4

Edith Wharton, Short Story Writer and Pulitzer Prize Winner by Rita Berman. 5

A Journey Back in Time by Peggy Ellis. 9

Mother’s Day 2020  by Tim Whealton. 11

Pandemic Barters by Sybil Austin Skakle. 13

Real-ativity by Randy Bittle. 14

Postcards from the Road, pt. 3 by John Burns. 15

The Japanese Garden by Marry Williamson. 19

Hologram by Howard A. Goodman. 20

A Blossoming Nation! By Diana Goldsmith. 21

Why Men Fail by E. B. Alston. 22

June 6, 1944-Omaha Beach by E. B. Alston. 26

Dusting Motes By Rita Berman. 27

Then How Do I Judge? By Tim Whealton. 29

Canterbury Cathedral, 1993 by Sybil Austin Skakle. 31

How Do Court Reporters Keep Straight Faces????. 31

Hammer Spade and the Four Horsemen. 34

Early Morning Flight by Sybil Austin Skakle. 41

Love Letter from the Past by Helen Clark. 41

Bubba by Brad Carver. 43

The Diary of Samuel Pepys. 44

From the Kitchen of P. L. Almanza. 47

Contributors. 51









Laura Alston


Summer sunshine streams through the windows

Of my mind and awakens lost laughter

And tears also- but oh! - the tears are opening

The locks that are kept on my heart.


My shutters are now open to summer breezes

Which dry the tears that flow from my eyes.

These tears work a magic on these summer days

To heal my bruised heart and wounded mind.


The warmth of the summer sun is felt

Upon a once cold and lonely spirit

That was often in a dark and dreary place

Where sunlight dared not to shine.


The fragrance of like seems sweeter now,

And for all the lost days and nights

Of the winter of my loneliness,

 In summer I can bloom anew.




E. B. Alston


Conceit is, “An excessively favorable opinion of one’s own importance, ability and wit,” according to my Webster’s unabridged dictionary.

We’re in the political season and conceit is everywhere as yokels from far and wide tell, actually yell at us, about how they are going to “straighten out that mess we are in,” you fill in the blank. They also plan to “reduce your taxes” and at the same time give you a bigger piece of the pie and more government benefits. “Win the war,” “get out of the war,” “kick their butts,” “kiss their butts,” it goes on and on and on.

It’s not just politicians either. It’s us. You don’t agree? Climate change. If we spent every penny of the federal budget on the measures advanced as saving us from a climatological Armageddon, we might move the ultimate disaster back another four seconds. Maybe not that much because the sun is heating up and all the planets are suffering from global warming. It is all  our fault, you see.

Then there’s immigration. Us rednecks want the country to be true to its redneck roots. Too many foreigners mess that up. Soft-hearted folks are appalled at our selfishness and want to provide opportunity for all of the world’s poor people who don’t have Walmarts, McDonalds and other accoutrements of high culture. So we bring into our country a million legal immigrants and about fourteen million illegals. We feel proud that we do that. But there are eighty million new poverty-stricken souls born in the third world every year. We allow one measly million! In California they need to build a new school every day for the foreseeable future just to accommodate the children of immigrants. But we are not helping the other seventy nine million souls who are just as deserving of our compassion. How conceited we are.

On a more personal level, we are bombarded every day with messages about how we are overweight, don’t get enough exercise, don’t read enough and all those other personal failings. We eat stuff that tastes bad, smells bad and doesn’t even resemble food because some actor in a doctor’s smock tells us it’s healthy. We might as well eat fatback. It tastes better. In the long run, it might be better for us than something made in a chemical factory. And what for? To remain in a vegetative state in a rest home for another week? How conceited we are.

I’ll remind you that the cemeteries are full of conceited, indispensable people. So have that glass of wine with your ham and egg and lard biscuit breakfast. Eat a steak tonight and kiss that pretty girl or that handsome hunk.

You might die tomorrow in a car wreck.


Dorothy Parker Quotes


“Their pooled emotions wouldn’t fill a teaspoon.”

“You can lead a horticulture, but you can't make her think.”

“Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.”

“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”

“If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at those he gives it to.”

“That would be a good thing for them to cut on my tombstone: ‘Wherever she went, including here, was against her better judgment.’” 

“That woman speaks eighteen languages, and can't say 'No' in any of them.” 

“If you wear a short enough skirt, the party will come to you.” 

“His voice was as intimate as the rustle of sheets.” 

“Of course I talk to myself. I like a good speaker, and I appreciate an intelligent audience.” 

“Mrs. Ewing was a short woman who accepted the obligation borne by so many short women to make up in vivacity what they lack in number of inches from the ground.” 

“Never throw mud. You may miss your mark, but you will have dirty hands.” 

“She runs the gamut of emotions all the way from A to B.” (About actress Katherine Hepburn)



Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful. Samuel Johnson


Edith Wharton, Short Story Writer and Pulitzer Prize Winner.

By Rita Berman


Edith Wharton, the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for literature, was multi-talented. A highly prolific writer she was also a landscape architect, interior designer and taste maker of her time. In addition to 42 books, she wrote at least 85 short stories.




Wharton was born Edith Newbold Jones, during the Civil War, in New York City, on January 24, 1862. She was the only daughter of George Frederick Jones and Lucretia Stevens Rhinelander. Both her parents came from families who had lived in New York City since the 17th century and traced their ancestry back to England and Holland.

She came from a family of impeccable social credentials and financial security. The saying “keeping up with the Joneses” is said to refer to her father’s family who were wealthy and socially prominent. They made their money in real estate.  They were “old money” as opposed to Gould and Carnegie who had recently made their fortunes in steel and railroads. The conflict between new and old money is revealed in “House of Mirth”, her first literary success.

Just after the Civil War ended the Jones family went to live in Europe, Paris, Rome, and Florence, to economize for six years, because the depreciation of the American currency had so reduced her father’s income. His townhouse in New York and country place in Newport were rented out.  She became fluent in French, German, and Italian. In 1872 the family returned to New York

From 1866 to 1872, the Jones family visited France, Italy, Germany, and Spain. After the family returned to the United States in 1872 she was privately tutored at home by a governess who later became her secretary.  Books became her passion, she read from her father’s library and from the libraries of his friends. In addition she was keenly observant of the goings-on of her family’s set.  She wrote sentimental poems, mawkish stories, blank verse tragedies, and sermons. Her mother forbade her to read novels until she was married and she obeyed.

Because of her shyness and solitude her parents decided she should make her debut one year early, in 1879, at the age of 17 rather than 18.  Edith wrote that she “loved it all, my pretty frocks, the flowers, the music, the sense that everybody liked me and want to talk and dance with me.”

Friendships and Marriage


She began courtship with Henry Leyden Stevens, the son of a wealthy businessman. During the middle of her debutante season the Jones family returned to Europe in 1881 because of her father’s health.  He died in Cannes in 1882. Stevens was with the Wharton family at this time and became engaged to Edith in August 1882. But the engagement ended abruptly the month the two were to marry. After her father’s death Edith and her mother returned to New York. Here she resumed a life dominated by the tastes of her mother.

In 1883 she met Walter Berry who was to become a key person in her life. She fell in love with him. He was a distant cousin, a young lawyer. He shared her love of reading. In her autobiography, “A Backward Glance,” she is reticent about their relationship stressing that they had “a deep understanding that drew them together.”  His thoughts, his character, his deepest personality were interwoven with hers.  She said, “not only did he encourage me to write, but he had the patience and intelligence to teach me how. Others praised, some flattered, but he alone took the trouble to analyze and criticize.”

According to Anita Brookner, who edited a collection of Wharton’s short stories, Berry was a loving friend but he and Wharton were never intimate.

That same summer she began seeing Edward (Teddy) Wharton, who was “good-looking, kind and has a nice sense of humor.”  He was from a socially acceptable Virginia family transplanted to Boston. He had graduated from Harvard but had no profession and lived on an allowance of $2,000 a year from his parents.

According to one of her biographers, “marriage was a dark mystery to Edith.” Just before her wedding day she had to ask her mother what being married was like. It appears Edith had little idea about sex. She married Wharton on April 1885.  He was 12 years older than her. It was a childless marriage. What they had in common was a love of dogs, horses, and travel. But he was no match intellectually, and later he developed manic-depressive symptoms. 

In the early years of their marriage the Whartons crossed the Atlantic by steamer almost every spring and Italy was their favorite destination. Edith kept a travel diary and after almost every trip published an essay in Scribner’s magazine. Later she took motor tours of Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Spain and Morocco. In 1897 Edith Wharton purchased Land’s End in Newport, Rhode Island and spent thousands of dollars to improve the main house appearance, decorate the interior and landscape the grounds.

From the late 1880s until 1902 Teddy Wharton suffered from acute depression and they stopped traveling. In 1908 his mental state was determined to be incurable.

In 1902, she designed The Mount, her estate in Lenox, Mass, and wrote several of her novels there, including “The House of Mirth” (1905). Here she entertained her close friend Henry James.

In 1910 she had learned that her husband had embezzled large sums from her trust fund, squandering some of her money to buy real estate in Boston and had kept a mistress in an apartment there. For Edith Wharton the idea of divorce was not only socially unacceptable, but more than that it suggested a kind of chaos, promiscuity, and casualness in human affairs that she detested, according to biographer Eleanor Dwight.

Before this Wharton had become the mistress of Morton Fullerton, “a handsome and probably bisexual journalist”. Henry James had introduced her to Fullerton in 1907 when she was living in Paris. Her friendship with James dated back to the late 1880s.

Fullerton was the Paris correspondent of the London Times, said to have immense charm and be unmarried and an incorrigible philanderer with men as well as women. Wharton’s affair with Fullerton began in 1908 and ended not by her choice in 1910. 

In 1911 she traveled with Walter Berry to Florence to see Bernard Berenson and his wife became lifetime friends. From 1910 onwards she made her home in France.  She divorced Edward Wharton in 1913 after 28 years of marriage.




Wharton found motoring a much nicer way of getting around than taking a train or riding in a carriage with horses to worry about.  Sometimes she was accompanied by Henry James. Since their first meeting their friendship had ripened from master and pupil to traveling companions.

During the First World War, she was one of the few foreigners allowed to travel to the front lines, and she and Berry made five or six excursions into the military zone.  She described those trips in the series of articles called “Fighting France: From Dunkerque to Belfort.” Wharton prided herself on carrying supplies to devastated regions in her own motor car, “laden to the roof,” with medicines, bandages, cigarettes and chocolates.

All during the war she was active in refugee work; and in 1916 was awarded a Legion d’Honneur from the French Government. She founded the American Hostels for Belgian refugees. In 1916 she edited “The Book of the Homeless.”

After the war, she tired of living in Paris and by 1917 had found a house a half hour from Paris in the village of Saint-Brice, in the area of Fontainebleau.  The house had been occupied by a Venetian family whose eldest daughter, a flaxen-haired beauty, had the stage name of Mademoiselle Colombe.  Wharton named the place Pavillon Colombe and, after carrying out extensive interior renovations as well as changing forested area into a garden, moved in by 1920.

She returned to the United States only once after the war to receive an honorary doctorate from Yale University in 1923. 



Anita Brookner suggested that, “many of Wharton’s novels, and many more of her stories have to do with a particular worrying situation; how to preserve the freedom of an affair within the bounds of marriage, or alternatively, how to safeguard an affair by turning it into a marriage.”  

The major themes in Wharton’s work include the effects of class on both behavior and consciousness (divorce, for example, often horrified the established upper class as much for its offense against taste as for its violation of moral standards.)  Some of this is revealed in Wharton’s own life when as her marriage deteriorated she decided to move permanently to France.  After her divorce she did not remarry, or return to The Mount, which had been her primary residence from 1901 to 1911.

Her first publicly published book, written in collaboration with the architect Ogden Codman, was “The Decoration of Houses”, Scribners, (1897). Her first volume of short stories appeared in 1899, “The Greater Inclination”. She said that its publication allowed her to develop her own personality.  Many of her early stories are autobiography barely disguised as fiction. During this time she often turned to Walter Berry for advice when she was blocked.

Wharton kept on writing and produced 85 short stories, 15 novels, seven novellas, as well as books on design, travel, literary criticism, and a memoir after the age of 40.  She was highly acclaimed by critics because of her taut, elegant prose and expert command of dramatic structure. Typically, the climax appears almost at the very end of a Wharton story, creating a swift deft finish – rather like O’ Henry’s short stories.

According to her biographer Hermione Lee, Wharton wrote in bed, “supposedly tossing handwritten pages onto the floor for her secretary to type. She balanced her writing desk on her knees with an inkpot in it, and a pet Pekinese dog on the bed with her.”

“The Age of Innocence” was the first novel she wrote after the First World War and for this she won the Pulitzer Prize in 1921. The novel is set in the 1870s and it presents detailed insight into the old New York society in which Wharton grew up.

An earlier novel, “The House of Mirth,” begun when Wharton was 42, was a best seller in 1905. She worked on it for about two years, and like Dickens’ work, it was first serialized in a magazine (for which she received $5,000), and then published in book form in October 1905. Thirty thousand copies were sold in the first three weeks of publication, and by the end of the month, a total of 60,000 copies had been ordered from the publisher.

By the end of 1905 Wharton had earned more than $20,000, (about $200,000 today).  This was equivalent to her income from trusts and investments.  By 1906 sales of the book had reached more than 100,000 and for four months it was the nation’s top best seller in 1906. Wharton knew only too well the fashionable, turn of the century New York society that she relates in “The House of Mirth”.  

I found some similarity in theme between “The House of Mirth” and James’s story
Washington Square”, published in 1880. Both addressed the necessity of marriage for young women. While James’ story centered around a plain but rich young woman, Wharton’s story is about a beautiful and sensitive girl who has no money but is a member of high society, old money. Both girls have their lives ruined by other people.  Wharton reveals the dislike and prejudice that the New York society held for those not of her circle.  

To her annoyance Wharton was always being told that her work was imitative of James. And to some extent one can understand this as they both wrote about the relationship between people in a certain society, and events that took place in the same location. Yet, James is much wordier, more intrusive and self-indulgent authorial, and inclined to Victorian notions of self-sacrifice.  I think Wharton through her prose allows us to get inside her character’s heads and thoughts whereas James is inclined to tell us what they are thinking.

Henry James’s story “Daisy Miller” involves an event at the Coliseum and so does Wharton’s short story, “Roman Fever” that was published in Liberty Magazine in November 1934. Wharton received $3,000 for it. This was her last writing about Italy and her best short story with an Italian setting. Here she is at the height of her powers, three years before her death, says Eleanor Dwight.

I have read it several times and thoroughly enjoyed the prose and pace, the buildup to the last line even though I know how it will end. In “Roman Fever” we are introduced to the manners and morals of two generations – the mothers and daughters are contrasted. The older women, Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley, have known each other all their lives. Wharton cleverly describes each woman through the eyes of the other and the reader has to decide whether the descriptions are accurate.

While the two women talk, their daughters, Barbara and Jenny, rush in and eagerly announce they are going off for the evening with two Italian aviators, and they will be unchaperoned. Even if the mothers disapprove there is nothing they can do.

After the girls leave the conversation returns to an incident that involved both of the older women some 20 years earlier.  As they converse the mood changes from apparent friendship to anger. You have to probe within the language to see the hidden meanings, to understand what is not being said.

Another of her works, “Ethan Frome” a novella published in 1912, was based on an accident she had witnessed in Lenox, Mass. When motoring in America she had explored villages in decaying rural existence and saw “sad slow-speaking people living in conditions hardly changed since their forebears held those villages against the Indians.”

She included these scenes in Ethan Frome, which is one of her few works that has a rural setting. Set in a fictional New England town named Starkfield, it begins with an unnamed narrator telling of his encounter with Ethan Frome, a man with dreams and desires that end in an ironic turn of events.  The point of view of this book is unusual because in the last chapter the story is again told in third person.

In 1913 Wharton published “The Custom of the Country.” Here we encounter Undine Spragg, a monster of selfishness and ambition. Yet she is hard to despise, said one reviewer.  Elevated by the money made by her Midwestern parents and by her startling and all-conquering physical beauty she comes to New York determined to have everything she wants.  The novel was adapted into a film in 1993, starring Liam Neeson, Patricia Arquette, and Joan Allen. 

“Twilight Sleep” published in 1927 is set in the roaring twenties, and according to some reviews is written with the same eye for details about the behavior of the flappers as for the old New Yorkers.




Wharton had a stroke in 1935 and a second one in 1937, she died at the Pavillon Colombe of heart failure on August 11, 1937, and is buried in the American Protestant section of the Cimetiere des Gonards in Versailles.

After her death her literary executor sold her manuscripts and letters to Yale, and forbad anything of a biographical sort for 30 years. After 1968 various biographers mined her life and R. W. B. Lewis won the Pulitzer Prize in 1975 for his book.  Later Hermione Lee added to the record with her access to unpublished letters. Wharton had destroyed many of the letters she had written to Walter Berry, and the majority of letters he had written to her over the years. Yet she left behind diaries, unpublished poems, fragments of autobiography, and unfinished stories.

After the 1920’s her work was taught less and less in schools and universities until for a period before and following World War II the academics dropped her. In the late 1960s and then on through the 1990’s she steadily regained both an academic audience and a general readership. Elizabeth Ammons of the Georgetown University faculty attributed this to the rise of the women’s movement and the interest in women’s experiences.

Her former estate The Mount is now a National Historic Landmark and cultural center that celebrates Wharton’s intellectual, artistic, and humanitarian legacy. Maintained and operated by the Edith Wharton Restoration, Inc. that was founded in 1980, it presents artistic and literary programs year-round.    



A Journey Back in Time

Peggy Lovelace Ellis

A friend here at Highland Farms, my retirement community, decided to make use of our isolation time during the Coronavirus pandemic by sharing her newlywed memories across the mandatory six feet of space in one of our daily walks around our 75 or so acres. This necessitated raised voices and she soon had a crowd getting closer and closer to her. You know, hearing impairment makes some things necessary.

Her memories as a 20-something year old bride were somewhat different from mine, I being a decade older when I took the fatal step. I’m laughing as I remember.

Poets wax eloquently about a lover’s croon . . . under the moon . . . in June. Apparently, they were otherwise occupied in June of 1968 when I met Jim, else they would have thrown in the towel without a whimper.

The first few months of any relationship are a journey of discovery. My journey with the man who later became my husband will surely go down in the annals of history as unique. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Eleventh Edition defines unique as “being the only one.” When I consider my own experiences, I can only say, “Dear heaven, I hope so.”

Take for instance, our first date. Well, not our first, actually. That was a blind date arranged by mutual friends. I thought they were my friends. Throughout that evening, Jim seemed perfectly normal, so how could I possibly be prepared for the phone call that came a few days later?

After a brief hello, Jim said he was going up to McDowell County to look for bugs and did I want to go? I had a fleeting image of turning over leaves looking for creepy, crawly things. After I got my squeaky voice under control, I asked him if he’d really said what I thought he did. Being assured my hearing was not impaired, I swallowed my surprise and gave the matter some thought. I admitted to curiosity. Just what kind of man invited a new acquaintance to go bug hunting? Especially a woman. There was one way to find out. It turned out the bugs he wanted to find were invading the tops of trees, so I got a crick in my neck instead of sore knees.

Time marched on. I learned a little about stock car racing and realized that, contrary to popular belief, Richard Petty most likely created the world. I tried, really I did, to learn about rocks. Jim gently corrected me. They’re not weapons to throw at cats; they’re precious minerals. But that’s another story. Remind me to tell you someday.

I still cringe when I think about cooking in the early months of our marriage. Mind you, I was thirty-one years old and for some twenty years, I had successfully maneuvered my way around pots and pans. Was I in for a surprise! Consider black eyed peas and stewed tomatoes, Jim’s favorite vegetable. That seemed a reasonable request to go along with pork chops, so I said no problem. Like any other red-blooded American working woman, I dumped a can of peas in a pot, added a can of stewed tomatoes, brought them to a boil, and let them simmer while I finished preparing dinner.

After my dearly beloved tasted them, I made the mistake of asking what he thought. He told me. It seems the peas are supposed to be cooked in one pot and delivered to the table hot, while the tomatoes are cooked in a different pot and served at room temperature. And besides, he reminded me, he’d said stewed tomatoes. These weren’t, no matter what was printed on the can label. Okay, I’m willing to learn. Just how should stewed tomatoes be prepared? With sugar and bits of toasted loaf bread was his answer. Oh, I said, you mean scalloped tomatoes, only to be corrected. So, never let it be said that I’m stuck in my ways. I accepted the difference in terminology. Since that time, I place a bowl of hot peas on the table beside a bowl of room-temperature stewed/scalloped tomatoes. I then keep my mouth shut when he dumps the tomatoes on top of the peas and stirs the whole mess together.

We really can’t ignore eggs, that breakfast necessity in his opinion. I prided myself on that first omelet. Chopped bell pepper, both red and green, diced ham and shredded cheddar. Oh, how I watched over it to be sure it was evenly golden brown on both sides. Then I made that same mistake. Would I never learn? I asked him what he thought. He said it was okay, but next time he’d rather I didn’t burn it. Omelets are supposed to be yellow, he told me.

That Christmas, he gave me an omelet pan which arrived from Swiss Colony filled with nicely packaged cheese and a recipe folder. Ah, yes, the recipe book. I read it carefully then contained my glee as well as I could when I pointed out to him the magic words: When the omelet is golden brown on the bottom, place it under the broiler until the top is also golden brown. He hasn’t mentioned it since, but being the dutiful wife that I am, I make sure his omelets are always a true yellow.

And so we come to snow. Watching through a window while white stuff falls outside is great. Beautiful. Even walking in it can be fun as long as the flakes are large and fluffy. Shortly before we met and after four years in our most northern cold, snowy state, Jim had returned to the outside. For anyone who is lacking in education, that’s Alaskan lingo for any place outside the confines of that state. His blood must have been as thick as molasses because he ran around in short sleeves, never feeling the cold like normal people.

Our never-to-be-forgotten wedding ceremony (another story—remind me) took place on December 5th, and throughout the winter when bedtime came, he turned down the heat, closed the bedroom door, and opened both windows wide for cross ventilation. Unfortunately, the bed was placed under one of those windows. I woke in the wee hours one morning when icy snowflakes bombarded my face. It took a couple of jabs from my elbow into Jim’s ribs before he came back from his visit to dreamland. Did he apologize? Did he tenderly dry my face? Did he even hand me a towel? You gotta be kidding. He shouted with delight, “Oh, great, it’s snowing!”

More than 50 years later, Jim is still living, which goes to show what an understanding, even-tempered, easy-going, fantastically marvelous woman he had the good fortune to marry. However, if I should succumb to an impulse to send the man to his just reward, I will be sure to ask for a jury of twelve women, good and true. They will surely acquit me on grounds of justifiable homicide.



Mother’s Day 2020

Tim Whealton


I didn’t have any way to know how blessed I was as a child. I just assumed everybody got parents like mine. Slowly after becoming an adult I learned not everyone was as blessed as me. Some grew up in very bad conditions, conditions made worst by indifferent parents or abusers. Some of these children decided when they grew up that they would be the parents they had wished for. Others just kept the dysfunctional ball rolling with new players.

As for me, I have to totally accept the failures in my life. I can’t blame anything on anybody else. Plain and simple, all my wounds were self-inflicted. Truly, I didn’t know how good I had it.

My mom was always there. She didn’t work outside the home till I was 15 but boy did she work in the home. She constantly had something going. Most of the time it was for someone else. 21 meals a week was the norm with lots of carryout for anyone that needed a little help. I remember taking food to the night man at the truck stop because mom saw him eating a can of pork and beans when we got gas. She didn’t know him but it just looked like he could use a little kindness.

She did a great job keeping us prepared for the future. Lots of canning, storing and freezing whatever was available. She was a doomsday prepper before anybody knew what that was. Her kitchen and whole house was a processing and production facility. Dead animals in, hot meals out.

When I was a young teenager my Dad had his first heart attack, mom stayed and took such good care of him that the nurses encouraged her to become a Nurses Aid. They saw she was a natural caregiver. At 60 years old she took drivers ed. (A story in itself!) and nursing. She went to work in the hospital and loved it. Nothing unusual for her to stay late to read to someone or rub one more aching back.

Even with so much going on she would drop everything if anyone just needed to talk or get help. She made a difference in so many people’s lives that it can’t be measured.

After I was grown and a member of the local Fire Dept. I made a joking remark after a meeting one night about my mom was so mean. Immediately two old men stood up and one said “Take it back or fight!” The other said “me too!” So all this just isn’t me. There were lots of others that felt loved by her. These old guys had been patients of hers.

So what made this woman into a supermom/super friend/super wife? Was she blessed with everything growing up? No, exactly the opposite. Her Dad died when she was 9 and left a wife with no income to raise seven children. No social services, no property and no jobs. They survived with their wits. They made use of everything they had and as she said “All the good things the Good Lord provided.” That statement shows her wonderful mindset. I grew up listening to the stories of her childhood and how they made it through the worst of times sharing love for each other and thanking God. The stories were never about how bad they had it. They were about how good it was to have birds or fish for supper, and how good a cold biscuit was with a little molasses. She saw the hand of God in her life and thanked God for it. She kept that mindset her whole life.

She loved me in a way I couldn’t understand as a child. She even loved me when I did things that made her not like me. She loved me enough to do her best to correct me. She insisted that we live by the “rules.” As a small child you had to obey. As you got older you were taught why and then coached to do your best. At no point could I ever doubt that I was loved. Even when I disobeyed and did wrong I knew I was loved from the hurt on her face. That look was worse than any whipping.

When she grew old she refused to be a burden on anyone. Stayed at home and read her Bible, prayed and made anyone that came by feel special. I wasn’t as prepared as I thought I was when she left us. The love she had lavishly poured on me was gone.

The problem was I had never had a day without her love. She was the woman the Bible speaks of in Proverbs 31:10. The virtuous woman that was worth far more than rubies.  It may be one of the hardest things to do in life is feel something that has always been there. You don’t know any other feeling. Since you don’t feel it you don’t know how to measure it, or appreciate it, that is until it’s gone! Sort of like pulling out a chair that someone is leaning on. Mom’s love was a constant.

I realized that the love my Mother showed for me can only be compared to God’s love. Cause even when I did wrong, I was still loved.

We do all sorts of things that would make God stop loving us if his love was any other way. Romans 8:38 says nothing can separate us from the love of God. We turn our back on his rules, his plans for our lives, and shun the good path he has cleared for us. We even blame him for the evil in the world. Yet he loves us!

God gets blamed for evil in our lives but evil doesn’t come from God. Oh it might seem like terrible things are going on, but what we are seeing is not evil from God. We are seeing what happens when God withdraws his hand from our life. We want him out of our lives and when he complies, evil rushes in. Evil is certainly in the world, Adam invited it in and we have kept it going ever since.

God has kept his hand in our lives so much that we don’t know how it feels to not be loved. It’s a feeling that I don’t want to ever know. I don’t want anyone else to know it either but each of us will have to make that decision. Sounds like a no-brainer but most of us are ok with a little evil in our lives.

We ask questions like “When does this become a sin?” or something similar to show we want to straddle the fence between good and bad but end up on the good side. Maybe we just want to wait a little bit before we commit to God. After all God has to forgive you right? The Bible says he will, right? Well yes, but do you think you are smarter than God? He says don’t wait. Maybe that’s because God knows how many have failed and been lost. The ones who were going to start following after they did some things. But they didn’t see it coming. We know that the oldest one here might outlive the youngest. God says stay ready.

I experienced another unexpected thing when I truly started to follow Jesus. It seemed like a weight was gone. I didn’t know what it was for a while but it was a huge burden I carried. It was a big bag of sins that I pulled with me everywhere. God said “you can leave those with me.” Satan (Old Liar!) said “you did it, you have to keep it.” Satan still wants me to open that bag and go through everything I did wrong. He tells me I can’t preach, teach, write or do anything that will help anybody. Jesus says “Don’t listen, he is a liar and the father of lies.” Jesus showed us all what to do when Satan shows up. Scripture! That Bible has the word of God and Satan can’t take it. He will run!

Don’t wait another day. Today is the most important day in forever. Ask God to forgive your sins and ask him to help you follow Jesus. That prayer has never gone unanswered since Jesus walked up To John the Baptist and said Baptize me!



Pandemic Barters

Sybil Austin Skakle


This morning I had a call from a friend upstairs in building two. Josephine! She and I have had an affectionate exchange, birthed at our first meeting. My older sister was named Josephine and I knew the song: “Josephine.” I copied the words and gave them to her, whose adoring husband is named Richard. Every time we see one another we react, dramatically, with the memory of: “There never was a girl I could love like I love my Josephine.”

            Richard smiles with amusement. He seems to enjoy our little comedy routine Josephine said that he brought her coffee in bed, so I know his devotion fits the words of song. 

            Jo had baked banana bread and asked if I would like a slice. Who would not, in this age of deprivation? Of course, I would enjoy banana bread.

            “Oh yes! Thank you! How about I trade you? I have toilet paper.”

            “Are you sure? “

            “Oh, yes! Even before the pandemic I happened to be shopping at Harris-Teeter. They had a sale: Scotts: buy a 12-package unit, with a second free, for $6.99. I did not even need toilet paper. That price?  I came home with 24 additional rolls. Then the pandemic and the shortage that resulted. So…

            Jo, masked, to deliver the banana bread. Claire Millar,  a first floor neighbor, returning with her dinner in her hand, stopped, six feet to her right, while  Jo and I made our exchange. Claire asked: “Would you like some blue-berries? I have a huge amount.”

            “Would you like toilet paper?” I asked.

            “No, I’m okay,” Claire replied. “I need a container.”

            “Wait, I’ll get one.” The only one I could find with a cover was a quart size, square one.

            When she returned with the blueberries, Claire said, “Are you sure you have enough toilet paper?”

            Gladly, I went for a role of toilet paper, feeling that I was winning in these barters. Gracious! Yes! Claire and I made our exchange. For a roll of toilet paper I received a quart of blue-berries and I was ready for my late breakfast with cereal. I added an ample helping of blueberries to my Raisin Bran. The berries were so cold that they turned the milk in my bowl to an icy slush. Delicious! With purple milk!

            The other day, three rabbits frolicked in middle of the yard, outside my window. This morning, I saw a squirrel chasing a robin. The other day, a red breasted grosbeak stopped on my stoop. This morning a robin came. Birds fly back and forth, busy with the spring chores and am happy to see the cardinals back, enjoying my everblooming fuchsia azalea. My heart is so full that I want to turn my praise of God into words of poetry and melodies of praise. 




Randy Bittle


Einstein’s famous relativity theories established that observed reality depends on the circumstances of the observer in relation to the observed.  For example, envision a woman standing in a moving train car, with a man standing on the ground outside the train car.  When the woman drops her purse, she observes it falling straight down to the floor of the train car.  Through the window of the train car, the man on the ground observes the purse moving both down to the floor and moving forward in the direction of the train’s motion.  Thus he sees the purse fall in a parabolic diagonal trajectory to the floor of the train car.  Who is right in their differing observations, the man or the woman?  The answer is both are correct because the circumstances of each observer differ.  The same physical event will be perceived differently by observers in different observational states relative to the occurrence of a single event.

Einsteinian relativities have more complicated implications that are worth exploring, but this essay has another purpose.  It introduces my own theory of real-ativity.  I used a hyphen in the title, as well as in this first entry in the body of the essay, to clearly distinguish realativity from relativity.  Henceforth, I will use the word realativity without the hyphen, so read carefully.

Suppose two college students are watching a basketball game on television while sitting in a sports bar.  The Einsteinian relativity circumstances are essentially the same for both students, each seeing the TV clearly from their adjacent seats at the bar.  One student attends UNC, the other student attends Duke.  UNC and Duke are the two teams playing in the basketball game on the television.  A Duke player makes a last-second three-point shot and Duke wins the game by one point.  The Duke student is elated, jumping up with adrenaline pumping, yelling and waving his hands wildly.  The UNC student sits quietly in stunned dejection.  What caused the different reactions to the same event observed from virtually the same physical observational perspectives?  Realativity, of course.

Realativity takes into account the internal mental state of the observer when an event is observed.  The Duke student had a vested interest in wanting Duke to win.  The UNC student wanted Duke to lose.  These opposing internal mental conditions caused the dramatically different reactions of the two observers of the game.  The reality of the last-second shot was experienced differently by two observers in essentially the same Einsteinian relativity locations.  My theory of realativity states that perceived human reality is subject to internal mental influences.

It’s easy to see how realativity extends to many different arenas of human endeavor.  Food likes and dislikes, favorite songs and songs you can’t stand, people you love and people you hate—all of these vary from person to person, depending on the internal mental states of the observers, in true realative fashion.  In all of these cases, including the basketball fans, there is no externally valid version of reality beyond personal choice based on internal inclinations of the mind.

Certain cases of perceived reality can be independently judged to be wrong, however.  If your internal mental state inclines you to fervently believe the world is flat, it can be proven that you are indeed wrong.  Elaborate conspiracy theories are often at least partially wrong.  Guidance in cases that can be proven wrong or that are highly unlikely comes from careful analysis of facts, when available.  Realativity does not give you a license to believe what you wish, willy-nilly, and ignore observable facts provided by science or otherwise reliable sources.  Be aware of your own preferences and be respectful of others’ preferences, especially when others’ preferences have no significant impact on your life.  Realativity is a viable theory in a world where perceived reality differs between two or more observers experiencing the same event with different internal mental states.



Postcards from the Road, pt. 3

John Burns


·       Select one, and only one:

“If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there.” Lewis Carroll                                     “I'll bring my grits when I travel, because I get so hungry on the road.” Dolly Parton
“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Yogi Berra


·       Card #10 Ketchup Suzy

Spring break and all of my friends have gone off to the Bahamas for some sun while I stay in town. No Bahamas for me, I’ve got no money for going to the Bahamas. So I’ve stuffed my backpack with gear and food to see me through the break and I’m hitching to the mountains. Camping is cheap.

I’ve got no clear destination in mind. Just the mountains for some inexpensive communing with nature. My thumb is out when a bright red VW Bug putt-putts to a stop. The driver, a young woman, says, “Throw the pack in the back and get in.” Turns out she’d been in town visiting friends and was returning home.

She’s my age, maybe younger. We get to talking. “Where you headed.” Nowhere really, just going camping. “Nowhere, huh? Well, why don’t you come with me? Suzy and I’ll take you with us and bring you back when your break is over.” Suzy? There are only two of us in the car.  “Ketchup Suzy. That’s what I call my beetle.”

OK. Pretty girl invites me home. I don’t even know her. What have I got to lose? I’m game. Drive on Suzy. Putt-putt-putt-putt-putt.

We ride a while and she turns toward the mountains. I’m liking this. I wanted to go to the mountains. And it turns out, quite surprisingly, that her “home” is in the mountains. Southwest Virginia, beautiful country. But her home, well, it’s not what I expect.

It’s a commune. A hippie commune. Tucked away in a hollow on the side of a mountain. Man, it’s like Easy Rider. Far out. A commune. Twenty or thirty hippies living together in the woods, Dudes. Earth Mothers. The quintessential hippie experience.

And for the next few days life is idyllic. I’m new and thus the center of attention. Hanging out. Smoking weed. Playing non-competitive volley ball. Working the garden. Skinny dipping. Doing this, doing that. Doing nothing.  New guy in town. The ladies loved me. Just living the hippie good life. Who needs Haight Ashbury? We have a commune.

Like a dream. It was like a dream. And then I had to wake up.

School called me back. Responsibility. Yuch! Ketchup Suzy took me back to school. Putt-putt-putt.  Friends returned from the Bahamas. Life returned to normal.


·       Card #11 It is not all fun and games on the road

I left school in the late afternoon and caught a ride through the Park to the point where the road makes a sharp right turn toward my destination. My ride, however, is going elsewhere so I’m dropped off in the twilight.

Cars pass. It’s getting darker and harder to see me by the road. But there’s still light. Finally a car stops. I’m invited in and off we go.

I start a conversation with the driver who tells me that he’s headed home after work. From the Park.  It’s dinner time and he invites me home for a meal. Says that he and his wife would probably like the company.  But its not for me. I’ve got places to go.

He tosses out the invite again. I decline and he reaches under his seat and pulls out some photographs. “Take a look at these.” He gives me the photos. Inside dome light is turned on.

Wowsers. Those are some pictures. Of his wife. Of him and his wife. Of him, his wife and other people. Intimate photos. Private photos. Things I didn’t want to see alone in a car with a stranger. “We think you’d really like to come visit.” Nod, nod. Wink, wink.

Thanks for the invite, but no. Just no. Not my thing. I’ve got places to go. Got things to do.

He keeps insisting. Nod, nod, wink, wink. I keep declining until he finally gets the message.

He pulls over into the harsh light of a service station at an intersecting road. I’ve still got the photos. “I’ll take those and you can get out here. This is where I get off.” He says.

Okay. You bet. I’m out of the car in a jiffy. I brave the road again hoping for a ride.


·       Card #12 Bad to worse?

Another time. Got a ride through my home town on a well traveled road. Busy traffic. We’ve been riding together for a while, passing the time in conversation.

And something odd happens. The driver puts his hand on my thigh. Starts massaging it. Moving it around.

Buddy, don’t do that. I don’t swing that way. Not my thing. “Okay, okay. Sorry. I didn’t know.” And we drive on.

Traffic is getting heavier. We’re approaching an intersection of five roads. Five Points. The hand returns to my thigh. Higher this time, headed for Grope City.

I said don’t do that, man. You need to get your hand off my leg.

He slides it up my thigh. Toward my crotch. The family jewels.

Last warning, dude. Hand off my leg.

He clearly takes my warning as encouragement. And as we enter the crowded intersection he slides his hand higher. Touching in a not pleasant way. Enough is enough. I grab his hand, latch on to his index finger, the one on my thigh, and bend it back more than ninety degrees. He screams. His car swerves up over the curb coming to a lurching stop inches away from a big oak.

I give the finger another wrenching, and a twist for good measure, and jump out onto the sidewalk. Behinds us traffic is coming to abrupt stops, horns are blaring. I’m out of there. Quickly. Cross the street and take off. Enough is enough.


·       Card #13 Triskaidekaphobia

There is no card number thirteen for obvious reasons.


·       Cards #14 Going Nowhere in Particular

Saturday night in my home town. It’s summer. No school. Dullsville. Hanging out with my buddy, Alan. And we are bored. Nothing to do but the same old same old. We latch on to an idea. How to get something going. We’ll hitchhike along the main drag that runs by the university and see what happens. Adventure awaits.

Alan drives us, yes he drives us, across town and parks just off the road. We head out and stick out our thumbs.

No trouble getting a ride, the road is busy. It’s Saturday night. People are going places. “Where you guys headed?” We’re going that way. Down the road to the other end.

Back and forth. Up and down the road. Ride after ride. Nothing’s happening. No adventure. Until a car pulls over, we get in, and start off. “Where you going?” Nowhere in particular. Just looking for adventure in whatever comes our way, man. “You’re welcome to come over to my place. I’ve got some killer weed.”

Yes, that’s it. Adventure.

We end up at his place pleasantly stoned, listening to Cat Stevens on the stereo, mellow. Killer weed, really good shit. And we are sitting there when he gets up, turns out the lights. There are a couple of black light posters. Groovy. And it’s dark.

Suddenly, a flash in my face. And another and another. And I totally and irrationally FREAK OUT! Don’t ask me why, I don’t know. It’s a camera flash. He’s a cop. We’re getting busted! FREAK OUT!

I’m up in the dark, blinded by the sudden light trying to get out the door, tripping over furniture, falling on stuff. Mayhem! I’m freaking out! Alan and the other guy are, I don’t know what they are, they’re wondering what the hell is happening. I’m harshing their buzz. Squashing their mellow. Just generally ruining the night for them. And I’m in a panic! It’s the cops! Cameras! Jail! I gotta get out of there.

Finally a light comes on. They try to calm me down. “It’s just a strobe light man. A strobe light.” My heart is racing in the afterglow of panic. The night is ruined for us all. I cannot be calmed, so out the door we go. Back to the street.  Killer weed.

And it’s a long way back to the car once I return to reality.

·       Card #15 Pajama Man

Alan and me again. Bored again. One of us cooks up the idea of hitching ninety miles down the road to see our buddy, Reno, who’s in summer school. Chasing a dream. There and back again in one day. With a visit thrown in. Can we do it? Let’s try.

Sometime later we’re on the shoulder of the interstate headed west. Thumbs out. You know the drill. A car pulls off the highway. An older car, pretty shabby, but it is going our way according to the old fellow behind the wheel.

I take shotgun and Alan gets in the back. The old guy driving. It’s odd, he’s wearing flimsy, green hospital pajamas. He has a hospital ID bracelet on his left wrist. He’s thin as a rail and seems older than the hills. But he’s jovial and talkative. “I just got out of the hospital. I’m headed home.” That’s all he says about that.

After pleasantries we get to talking politics of all things. It is 1972, a presidential election year. Richard Milhous Nixon verses George Stanley McGovern. Sitting President vs. Senator from South Dakota. David vs. Goliath, and David has no slingshot this time. Not even a rock.

Now, understand this. The country is pretty divided over the War. Contentious. Argumentative. Sometimes violently so. It’s Vietnam. Marches, civil disobedience, even some bombing by the Weather Underground and other leftist radicals. Four dead students at Kent State. Crazy days. Looking at the old fellow in pajamas one would immediately expect a Nixon supporter. Maybe a life-long Democrat who voted Republican in the previous election. Beside him, me, a hippie by appearance, you’d suspect McGovern. Alan, in the back looks straight out of the 1950’s, so Nixon again. But you would be wrong. I was pretty much a Nixon supporter and respected his accomplishments. Vietnam was Johnson’s war. This was before Watergate, and even then I figured that escapade to be business as usual by both parties.

Alan, on the other hand, I don’t know his leanings at that moment, but in the discussion he supports McGovern and the Left.

It’s a lively discussion. Pajama Man is cagey, but leans toward Nixon support so we have a lot in common. He’s testing us. Dissent is coming from the back halfheartedly. A minority view. I suspect Alan has assumed the driver supported McGovern. We go back and forth. Vietnam. The Gold Standard. The China Card. The anti-war demonstrations. The driver is no fool, he knows his politics. We’re having a jolly time. A spirited conversation which goes on and on for miles.

Until we finally near our exit on the highway. The conversation winds down as the car slows. Pajama Man says, “I wasn’t too sure about picking up two hitchhikers. Especially boys that look like you.” Eyeballing me. “Never know what’ll happen. But if you boys had tried anything funny, well, I was ready.” He pulled over and stopped the car in the breakdown lane, then reached beside the seat. He brought out a long barreled revolver. Gunmetal grey. “I keep this just in case of trouble.”

Made me wonder, just what kind of hospital it was that he’d left wearing green pajamas with an ID bracelet on his wrist. Hmmm.

Well thank you, sir. This is where we get out. Nice riding with you. And we are out of there. Lickety-split. Waving goodbye as he drives off.

Ow! Nobody’s ever done that before. Shown me a gun from under the seat. That’s a new one. Alan is visibly shaken. He tells me he’d been playing the McGovern supporter all along thinking that I would make the driver angry with my support for Nixon. Looks like he was wrong.

Eyes wide open we walked up the off-ramp to the adjoining road and looked for another ride.

The Japanese Garden

Marry Williamson


A couple of days ago I read an article in the paper about a former Buddhist monk, Buddha Maitreya who is isolating in his two acre Japanese garden in rural Nottinghamshire. As he has devoted fifty of his seventy nine years of life to meditation he is very used to solitude and now, in lockdown, he is alone in his garden. Normally, at this time of year, when the garden is at its most beautiful, hundreds of people come to visit. “It is sad”, he says “that people cannot share the peace and the beauty of my garden but I am happy here alone. It is heaven”.

Reading this article I was reminded how some years ago we stumbled on this beautiful place. We were meeting my husband’s nephew and his wife in Lincoln. They were travelling down from York and we were traveling up from the West Country.  My husband’s late brother had been a navigator in the RAF flying Lancaster bombers during WWII. He had been stationed in Lincolnshire and my husband and his brother’s youngest son had arranged to visit the base and look at one of the three last surviving Lancasters. We had checked into a hotel near Lincoln the night before but because we were not meeting them until the afternoon we had some time to kill. We went for a drive in the morning meandering through Lincolnshire and straying into Nottinghamshire. Near the town of Newark we came upon a sign saying: ‘Meditation Centre and Japanese Garden’. Since we had at that time just taken up meditating we were intrigued and followed the sign.  It brought us to the little village of Clifton and through what looked like a council estate. We followed the signs into a grassy parking lot behind a sort of barn conversion. We had an elderly dog in those days and although we off-loaded Oscar from the back of the car we were not sure if he would be allowed in as dogs often are not permitted into gardens and we were quite prepared to take him back to the car. But we had a pleasant surprise there. The Japanese gentleman in the office-cum-tearoom said it was quite allright for a well behaved old Westie to go through to the garden. We paid our entrance fee and started on what was to become a most wonderful experience.

Both my husband and I are not particular ‘garden people’. I quite like looking at flowers and appreciate people’s trouble and dedication in creating lovely gardens. My husband keeps our own garden neat and tidy with the help of a gardener and grows tomatoes and strawberries in the greenhouse. But we are not into visiting famous gardens or stately homes. It was the meditation that attracted us. We were in for a most wonderful surprise. As we walked along the path a lovely vista opened up before us. Beautifully shaped trees, flowering bushes, pond with waterfalls, stepping stones and little bridges. Anywhere you looked there was something different springing to life. Little arbours everywhere to sit and meditate or just sit and think. Windchimes tinkling in the breeze. One could imagine one self to be somewhere else completely. We stayed in that garden about 2 hours and eventually made our way reluctantly back to the office/tearoom and the Maitreya made us a large pot of tea and home made scones with cream and jam. He reckoned that his cream teas were better than Devon ones and we had the usual discussion whether it is jam before cream or cream before jam. Apart from cream teas he was a very entertaining person to talk to and because at that time we were the only visitors we had his undivided attention.

The history of the garden is very interesting. Koji Takeuchi (the Maitreya) was born and brought up in Handa, Japan. In his teens he embarked on a search for truth which at first led him to Christianity. He later turned to meditation and in a moment of ‘enlightenment’ saw the absolute perfection and beauty in all things and beings, the essence of life. He then started on an MA degree in Buddhist Theology and for a time became a Zen monk. But he felt that life was too harsh, rigid and out of date. He left Japan, spent some time in Thailand, India and Nepal. He was invited to England by a friend and stayed in various centres and universities teaching and lecturing. While he was staying in Nottingham in 1973 he came across this property for sale in North Clifton. He made this his base from which to teach meditation.

In 1980 he began the process of transforming two acres of flat field into a Japanese garden. He missed the hilly and mountainous scenery of Japan and decided to create his own in miniature. Little by little he introduced japanese garden elements such as ponds with carp, bridges, moss, bamboo, evergreens, maples, cherry trees, stone lanterns, wind chimes, etc. All these were blended with some English plants, too. East and West in complete harmony.  The project was completed with the help of friends, villagers and local farmers. A small pagoda was built using scrap materials, a Zen garden consisting of rocks and chipped marble, a Japanese tea house and most recently the world’s first - it is believed - crystal garden has been finalised. (This was in progress when we visited the garden but not completed). Some 8000 visitors a year come to the garden but, of course, now the lockdown has brought this to a standstill.

The newspaper article said that the Buddha Maitreya believes the virus is a lesson to the world. He sees it as a grave warning from nature that we have to change and start looking after the planet. He believes that nature is telling us to stop economic, industrial and social activities, take stock and lock down the world. Whatever, I am rather envious of him being able to self isolate in such beautiful and peaceful surroundings (and eating lots of scones with cream and jam).




Fiction by Howard A. Goodman


“Steve, come look at this!” Ruth catches him as he’s about to jump into the shower. He grabs for a towel, wraps it around his waist, bending over to squint at the dial of the bathroom scale. “One hundred thirty-five pounds.”

“Isn’t that terrific?” she says.

“Yeah, sure is. Didn’t you used to complain you were getting fat whenever your weight neared a hundred and forty?”

“Oh, I don’t care about that anymore. I’m just so thrilled to have it back. Hey, while we’re both here let’s do my Hickman.”

Steve grumbles. “Can’t I take my shower first?”

“It’ll only take five minutes,” she says, parking herself on the ledge of the whirlpool tub. She unbuttons her top and removes her bra, exposing the two lumens, the remainder masked by gauze and bandage tape.

“Need any help removing those dressings?” Steve says. With the exception of being away on a business trip, now rare, he’s always around to assist with the procedure.

“Thanks,” she replies. “I can do it. Just hand me a couple Povidone swabs.”

“Okay, but I’ll have to purge the lumens before you redress it.”

“Oh, yeah” she says. “What would I ever do without you?”

And Steve ponders: I need to be a part of this. More than that, I need to show Ruth she’ll never be alone even during her recovery, never the solitary player in her care. Every time she feels a little ache or pain, experiences a minor increase in temperature, or comes down with the sniffles, her immediate thought is that it could be a sign her lymphoma is returning. Often it means not waiting until her scheduled check-up but taking the very next appointment available. The only way to beat this thing is for both of us to remain on guard at all times.

Later, Steve rejoins Ruth in the family room, and she looks as though she is going to burst into tears. Before he can muster the obvious question, she answers it for him. “Jim Valvano died.” Steve snaps back to the state he was in after Ruth’s diagnosis was confirmed, now with enough sense to let her be; that this is no time for him to interject his chatter.

“I felt close,” she says finally, “even though I never met him. You know he was being treated at Duke by another doctor on the oncology staff.”

“No,” Steve replies, raising his eyebrows. “I didn’t know that.”

Media coverage of Coach Valvano’s loss to bone cancer is unrelenting, and Ruth is unusually intimate with the TV. From the caddy-cornered love seat Steve remains focused on her as she flips from one channel to the next. Suddenly Ruth twists in his direction. “Steve, did you hear that? They’re talking about starting a cancer research fund—the Jimmy V Foundation, or something like that. I hope it doesn’t draw attention away from Duke’s program. We need all the awareness we can get.”

“Yeah,” he replies with a pinch of sarcasm. “It’s sports related, so naturally it’s gonna grab all the attention around here.” The irony hits him—even without NC State’s basketball coach the foundation they’re naming for him will probably live on to wallop Duke’s non-sports related Cancer Patient Support Program.

By eleven o’clock there’s news of renaming a street behind Cary High School in Coach Valvano’s memory.


“Ruthie, what’s the matter?” Steve rolls back over to his side of the bed.

“I’m sorry,” she says. “I just don’t feel anything.”

When she’s not immediately responsive it is very difficult for him to remain in the mood. “Was it the news about Jim Valvano?”

“No, it’s not that,” she says, appearing infuriated. “My treatments have robbed me of my sexuality.”

“It’s okay, Hon,” he tells her, taking her in his arms. “It’s probably too soon. I’m sure it’ll come back.”

Her words serve to remind him that her treatments have rendered her post-menopausal. “Are there any medications that would help?”

“Well, Dr. Oberman told me there are some, like hormones. But I’m afraid to try them. Too many side effects.”

“Then don’t,” he says emphatically. “We can find a way without them.”

Once she’s asleep Steve rolls on his side, gazing down at her. A frightening sensation grips him. Is this the same Ruth I was married to before all of this happened? He lays there, immobile, confronting his worst truth. Since this whole thing began I feel I’ve been living with a hologram.


A Blossoming Nation!

Diana Goldsmith


As I write this here in England the sun is shining in a perfectly blue sky with not a cloud to be seen. I look out into my garden and see the yellow poppies poking through amidst the lush green foliage with the rhododendron's mauve blousy blooms still trying to outshine everything else, but soon those buds on the rose bushes will burst forth and take their place instead. What can be more English than the rose. I am thinking pleasant thoughts even in these turbulent times!

I think I am learning some valuable lessons Oh, how slow I am at doing this.

Amidst all the jungle of doom and gloom of Covid there are those roses whose blooms produce a rainbow of colours to brighten our days of same old, same old!

There was the Chinese doctor who discovered about Covid in Wuhan only to lay down his life. However he is living now with his master and God and his wife and children know for sure that they will see him again.

Then there is our dear Captain Sir Thomas Moore who was given the final honour of a knighthood only this week.

He walked 100 metres up and down his garden using a walker, after having a hip replacement. He did this initially to raise £1,000 for the National Health Services charities, by the time he was a hundred having done one hundred laps. He being a sprightly ninety nine at the time

However he won the hearts of those viewing his appeal and in the end managed to raise £40 Million!!

Our prime minister, Boris Johnson asked our Queen, Elizabeth if she would kindly bestow the knighthood as Tom was an outstanding example . He said that he 'was a beacon of light through the fog of Coronavirus.'

On his actual birthday he was given an honorary rank of Colonel, was made an honorary captain of the All England cricket team, and had a fly past over his garden by a hurricane and a spitfire.

Since then others have been inspired to walk too to find raise including a young boy with cerebral palsy who also used a frame to help him walk.

Every Thursday evening at 8pm everyone in the UK stands at their doorway or in their front garden and claps, sings, or bangs a spoon on a saucepan to create a noise to say thank you to all key workers from garbage men and cleaners, to nurses and doctors.

People talk together and in some cases sing.

There are also volunteer groups in towns and villages where people will go shopping for those in isolation and also collect prescriptions from the dispensaries for them.

So among the weeds of loneliness and depression we can find bright blooms of goodness and love.


Why Men Fail

How a Guy’s Brain Really Works

E. B. Alston


I have read a lot of old stuff and in the process I have learned from the ancients the way our brain works. Why our educators have not passed this important knowledge down to us is one of the mysteries of all time. The ancients knew important stuff long before Wikipedia was discovered. Of course we moderns make fun of the ancients because they didn’t have rap music and American Idol and they didn’t talk a lot about global warming or whether Jennifer Anniston will ever get over Brad.

The reason we fail as persons is the same reason businesses fail, depressions come, wars are lost and civilizations collapse. It’s all right there written in stone and baked clay tablets and it has been there for all to see for thousands of years. The reason we fail is ineffective management. What I discovered is that the model for corporate management is  hard-wired into our brains. Our brains are our corporate headquarters. And modern corporations are organized the same way as our thinking apparatus. Our corporate leaders replicated what resides in the inner recesses of every guy’s brain.

Here’s how our personal management center works. Imagine you’re standing in an operations center that looks like NASA Space Command in Houston. There are lots of tiny people sitting in front of tiny computer screens and occasionally one yells something at another tiny person.

Your average up-and-coming corporate guy’s typical day would go something like this: he’s on his way to work, he’s in a hurry because he’s late. The reason he’s behind schedule is he didn’t hear the alarm. We switch now to the Person Command Center in his head right behind his eyes.

“Why is he late?” the Schedule Director asks.

“Because the Sleep Manager forgot to turn on his hearing before he went off duty.”

“This is the third time this month. Have you spoken to him?”

“Yeah. Looks like we need to make a change.”

“Sorry to hear that. He seems like a nice guy.”

“He doesn’t like the night shift.”

“But he’s got a degree in sleep management. When did he think sleep managers worked?”

“You know kids nowadays. They just pick something out of a college handbook and go for it.”

“What about the work our guy took home?”

“It’s not done. He stopped off at a beer joint after work. The Work Manager had gone off schedule by the time our guy made it home.”

“He’s got a presentation to make to the board today. Is he prepared?”

“I doubt it. He spent all day yesterday thinking about the new Human Resources Director.”

“She’s the one with the tight sweaters and short skirts?”

“And the red hair. Our guy is partial to redheads.”

“What’s her name?”

“Tootie Green.”

 “The Passion Manager is too humanistic. She lets him get away with an awful lot.”

“I’ve thought that for quite a while.”

“I’ll speak to her about it after lunch.”

Our guy is in the boardroom of his company wondering what he’s going to say to the board when his time comes.

“You know he’s not prepared,” the Job Manager says to the Preparation and Background Manager.

“He’ll do okay. We’ll just wing it today. He’s been working too hard.”

“But he hasn’t been working hard at his job. He’s been thinking too many irrelevant thoughts.”

“He’s been under a lot of pressure lately.”

“Yeah,” the Job Manager replies sarcastically. “He’s under pressure because he’s not doing his job.”

“He’ll work through it. He always has.”

“I wish I had your confidence.”

The Dress and Work Attire Manager comes in.

“Will he look the part today?” the Job Manager asks. “Were you able to get him in a suit?”

“It was quite a struggle but he’s wearing the navy pin-stripe.”

“That’s good. I hope the tie matches this time.”

“Sorry. The tie that matched had food on it. We had to substitute.”

“What kind of substitute?” the job manager asked suspiciously.

“He’s wearing the only clean tie he owns,” the dress and attire manager replied plaintively.

“What kind of tie is he wearing?” the Work Manager insisted.

“It’s a Hooters tie, you know, the one with the orange swirls strategically placed over the girls’ anatomy.”

The Preparation and Background manager laughed.

“You know, for a Dress and Attire Manager, you have horrible taste in clothes.”

“Can I help it if the Cleaning Manager is incompetent?” he replied defensively.

The Personal Mobility Manager strides into the office.

“Did you inspect his footwear like I asked you to?” the Job Manager asked.


“Why not? That was your highest priority assignment.”

“I was helping the Passion Manager get his mind off the redhead so he wouldn’t be too late for work.”

“What’s he wearing today?”

“Don’t know. Let’s have a look.”

They left the office and walked over to the vision screen where the Vision Techs were monitoring the system.

“Check out his feet,” the Personal Mobility Manager asked the man at the vision keyboard.

The monitor view moved to his feet.

“Jesus Christ!” the Job Manager exclaimed. “He’s wearing tennis shoes!”

The Personal Mobility Manager started to laugh and pointed at the Dress and Attire Manager. “Look, he’s wearing his second identical pair of socks with one brown and one blue sock.”

“At least they’re arranged the same way they were yesterday,” the Dress and Attire Manager replied sullenly. “Brown on the left foot and blue on the right foot, just like yesterday.”

“Why is he wearing tennis shoes?” the Job Manager asked incredulously.

“Because his leather dress shoes were scuffed up,” the Personal Mobility Manager replied defensively.

“And why were they not shined?” the Job Manager asked.

“Don’t know. Ask Maintenance.”

Suddenly the monitor moved and focused on another person who had arrived at the head table. It was the new Human Resources Director. She was wearing a low cut blouse and a very short skirt. She focused on our guy and winked at him.

Alarm bells started ringing in the health monitoring section.

“What’s that all about?” the Job Manager asked.

“Nothing unusual. His blood pressure spikes every time he sees her.”

The Morals Manager dashed up. “I knew it was her!” she exclaimed all out of breath. “Why does she do that to him?”

“He likes redheads.” The Job Manager replied.

The Human Resources Director repositioned herself in a way that gave our guy a better view of her charms.

The alarm bells in the health monitoring section became louder and a Claxton started sounding. 

A man sitting next to our guy leaned over and whispered, “Is that Tootie Green?”

Our guy replied, “No. It’s just the way the light shines on it.” Then he corrected himself. “Uh, yeah, that’s the new Human Resources Manager.”

The Job Manager, Personal Attire Manager and Personal Mobility Manager laughed uproariously at our guy’s reply.

The Morals Manager was indignant. “Why does she do that to him?” she asked again plaintively.

The Passion Manager strode up with a triumphant smile on her face. “This is so exciting!” she exclaimed.

The Preventer of Red-Faced Acts arrived to take charge and she sided with the Morals Manager in deploring the situation. “This sort of behavior must not get out of hand,” she screeched.

 The board meeting droned on until it was time for our guy to make his presentation. The Preparation and Background Manager was still confident.

“He’s very good at B…S…,” she said reassuringly to the Job Manager.

When our guy confidently mounted the stage, the audience and members of the board noticed our guy’s tennis shoes, mismatched socks and inappropriate tie. He’s an out of the box thinker. This is a man to watch, they all thought. The Human Resources Director’s thoughts cannot be stated in a family venue.

Our guy confidently strode up to the podium without a single piece of paper in his hands. He looked out over the approving audience that waited with baited breath for what he had to say.

“Mr. President, members of the Board, officers of this magnificent and hallowed organization,” short pause, “and fellow workers.” He paused to let that sink in. “I have examined the algorithms and I am pleased to inform you that we are one thousand percent on track. There are many reasons for this great success. First we must recognize the excellent guidance provided by the leadership of this company. We must also give credit to our client-centric approach, our consensus gathering processes and our core competencies.

We are the team to beat in this business!

Our customer experience team is motivated. Our customer relationship management process insures that we can provide customized solutions to our customers. We utilize best practices. We do not blamestorm We consider business needs first. We calendarize our activities in a centergistic process that places responsibility where it is needed and encourages collaborative behaviors. This gives us a competitive advantage in a field where competitive advantage is the hallmark of a thriving organization.

For each of us, individually, and for our beloved organization, the only way for us to move is UP,” he shouted.

 The whole room gave him a standing ovation, including the head table. The Human Resources Director hugged him right there in front of everybody.

The tiny people in the control room were elated as much as the people who were applauding. They were marching around giving high fives and laughing because of the part every one of them had in this success.

Our guy was supposed to pick up a few things from the grocery store on the way home after work. He bought a jug of milk with an expiration date the next day. He bought the wrong ice cream and he also went by a ladies apparel store and bought his wife a short skirt that was way too small.

He stopped by the beer joint and by the time he got home, the ice cream had melted on the front seat of his car.

The tiny people in his Person Command Center kept blaming everybody else for his failures. It was so bad that the tiny VP-Operations called an all hands meeting the next morning.

“People, we must do better than this!” he announced authoritatively. “And I have called this meeting to announce that we are going to reorganize!”



June 6, 1944-Omaha Beach

E. B. Alston


My uncle, James Thomas Benson, my mother’s oldest brother, was in the 4th US Infantry Division that was in the first wave of landings. He never talked about his wartime experiences. At some point he became a general’s jeep driver. We don’t know who that general was. This picture is the only record we found in his files after he passed away.

Omaha, commonly known as Omaha Beach, was the code name for one of the five sectors of the Allied invasion of German-occupied France in the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944, during World War II. ”Omaha” refers to an 8 kilometers (5 mi) section of the coast of Normandy, France, facing the English Channel, from east of Sainte-Honorine-des-Pertes to west of Vierville-sur-Mer on the right bank of the Douve River estuary. Landings here were necessary to link the British landings to the east at Gold with the American landing to the west at Utah, thus providing a continuous lodgement on the Normandy coast of the Bay of the Seine. Taking Omaha was to be the responsibility of United States Army troops, with sea transport, mine sweeping, and a naval bombardment force provided predominantly by the United States Navy and Coast Guard, with contributions from the British, Canadian, and Free French navies.

The primary objective at Omaha was to secure a beachhead of eight kilometers (5.0 miles) depth, between Port-en-Bessin and the Vire River, linking with the British landings at Gold to the east, and reaching the area of Isigny to the west to link up with VII Corps landing at Utah. Opposing the landings was the German 352nd Infantry Division. Of the 12,020 men of the division, 6,800 were experienced combat troops, detailed to defend a 53-kilometer (33 mi) front. The German strategy was based on defeating any seaborne assault at the water line, and the defenses were mainly deployed in strongpoints along the coast. The untested American 29th Infantry Division, along with nine companies of U.S. Army Rangers redirected from Pointe du Hoc, assaulted the western half of the beach. The battle-hardened 1st Infantry Division was given the eastern half. The initial assault waves, consisting of tanks, infantry, and combat engineer forces, were carefully planned to reduce the coastal defenses and allow the larger ships of the follow-up waves to land.

Very little went as planned during the landing at Omaha. Difficulties in navigation caused the majority of landing craft to miss their targets throughout the day. The defenses were unexpectedly strong, and inflicted heavy casualties on landing U.S. troops. Under heavy fire, the engineers struggled to clear the beach obstacles; later landings bunched up around the few channels that were cleared. Weakened by the casualties taken just in landing, the surviving assault troops could not clear the heavily defended exits off the beach. This caused further problems and consequent delays for later landings. Small penetrations were eventually achieved by groups of survivors making improvised assaults, scaling the bluffs between the most heavily defended points. By the end of the day, two small isolated footholds had been won, which were subsequently exploited against weaker defenses further inland, achieving the original D-Day objectives over the following days. Source: Wikipedia



Dusting Motes

By Rita Berman


I wrote this article some years ago and it was published in the Righter Monthly Review in June, 1914. I now live in a different house and as I dusted around during this period of “stay-at-home” orders because of the Coronavirus 2020, realized I still have most of the items mentioned. Maybe the topic is worth reprinting.

In the late 1980’s it was reported that the average person spends only 6.8 hours each week on housecleaning, in the mid-1960’s it was recorded as 11.3 hours. In 2014 it was reported that many Americans spend only 4 to 6 hours a week on housecleaning. Some people pay for a cleaning service every other week.

We now have machines that can wash our dishes and our clothes.  But, if you’ve got the time, doing some tasks can be beneficial.

In the late 1980’s I found ironing had a calming influence and allowed my creativity to well up.  Moving the iron back and forth, pressing wrinkles out of sheets, tablecloths, and blouses required little concentration and so my mind was free to dart here and there, rethinking the past week’s activities, or mulling over some future action.  As a result, after completing a couple of hours at the ironing board I was often ready to start on a new piece of writing.  But these days, with most of my clothes now made up of wash and wear fabrics, I spend more time looking at a blank screen and that is not as stimulating.

I do still enjoy dusting the furniture.  In carrying out what some may find a dull chore I take pleasure in seeing the lines of the furniture, the curve of a chair leg or a lamp base, or the composition of the pictures on the wall.  Gertrude Stein, in her book, “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas,” had Alice reflect that “the only way you’ll ever know your furniture and books is by dusting them.”

So it is with family and friends – we have to dust them off every once in a while—take a good hard look at them and us, instead of relying on a quick nod or flick of the eye, that, like the flick of a dust-cloth merely skims the surface without removing all of the motes.  If we take a closer look at what we are doing we might possibly get a better understanding of where we are heading.

In the early days of my marriage I used parts of my husband’s worn T-shirts as dust cloths. I was of the “putting hubby-through-college” generation.  Although we managed on the money that I earned as a secretary, every purchase was thought about carefully before it was made.  Many wants, some as trivial as dust cloths, had to be delayed for years.

Finally, I bought a real dusting cloth that came in a wrapper identifying it as such.  As I removed the dust, dead insects, etc. from our possessions, I began a nostalgic journey.

The downstairs recreation room was my favorite spot for lingering while dusting. The walls were lined with book-shelves, built-in filing cabinets and drawers that contained mementoes, and bric-a-brac collected over the years.

I remember starting at the mantelpiece above the fireplace, picking up a photo frame and wiping my dust cloth over it.  My husband’s face, mouth slightly open, gazes back at me.  He is standing behind the podium of a Washington hotel speaking at a scientific meeting, apparently caught in mid-sentence by the photographer.

Another photo frame, another wipe of the cloth, this frame is a collage, several photos of our daughters taken when each was about two years old and one of myself at the same age.  I am pleased to see the family resemblance.  There’s my father’s nose on my youngest daughter, my husband’s eyes and brow on the eldest daughter’s face.  As each child developed her own personality I learned not to assume that they had inherited their look-alike’s traits.

I rub my cloth over various trophies on the shelf.  At the far end is the silver cup I received in 1973 for feature writing.  This trophy has been a source of encouragement to me on the down days, when the words refused to come.  It is a reminder that someone had confidence in my writing ability.  Wrapping the dust cloth around my hand I wipe out the interior and exterior of the cup and replace it on the shelf.

I dust several bowling trophies that belong to our youngest daughter.  Is there a reason why children leave something behind for you to take care of after they leave home?

Here’s a Teen Miss Pageant trophy that our eldest daughter received when she was enticed into competition by the lure of winning scholarship money for college.  Oh, the hours of practice she spent in perfecting her dance and flag routines.  I knew those tunes off by heart.  Whenever, I hear them on the radio they bring back the zest with which she entered the pageants, and terrible disappointment she suffered when she didn’t win.  It takes a lot of drudgery and repetitious practice in order to reap a few moment of fame and success. Wisely, she decided not to continue with the frustrating experience.

This blue bowl given to me by a friend brings her to mind.  More time has been spent in dusting this possession over the past twenty years than in seeing her.  Distance is the problem.  The friendship has waned to an occasional phone call and the yearly Christmas letter or vacation postcard.   

I replace the blue bowl, and continue with the shelves containing various sculptures of male and female torsos. Working with her hands, my youngest daughter pinched and pulled the clay into shape and transferred what was in her mind into a tangible object.  Each succeeding piece appears more fluid and open. I like to think it reflects her own personal development.

Family, friends, and environment, our interests are revealed by the objects with which we surround ourselves.  A happy family vacation is recalled by looking at pieces of coral that we picked up from a deserted beach in the Caribbean many years ago.  This large conch shell with the tip broken off was used to call our children in from play when they were little.  I lift the conch, take a deep breath and blow through the hole. It sound like a fog-horn.  But no kids come running today.  I’m here alone dusting my things.

Yes, it’s a chore but one that I’m enjoying.  Touching my possessions, books, and ornaments, I relive some good times, and ponder on how our family has grown and changed over the years.  Taking care of possessions and people requires time and effort.  Surely, it is time well spent.



Then How Do I Judge?

Tim Whealton


I heard it many times and I read it myself, “Thou shalt not judge.” But that’s hard if not impossible right? Say you are selecting a new deacon or you are on the pastor search committee. How do you select the best without judging? Am I doing wrong when I pick the best person to fill the job? (Some of you are saying, “That’s why I quit trying to read the Bible!”)

Like so many other statements in the Bible when it is taken out of context it doesn’t make sense. We know we have to judge. It is a gift from our God that we intelligence and we are told to seek wisdom. Wisdom is the ability to judge wisely. Not just pick good from evil but the ability to select best from better.

 King Solomon was known for wisdom. He was so wise that people came from other nations for advice from him. In Proverbs he extolls the value of wisdom. “More precious than gold.” He knew that with wisdom you could always find more gold but without it you will soon lose the gold you have and won’t be able to replace it. Ever seen a rich dumb kid inherit a fortune? What happened?

Solomon tells us to seek wisdom above all else. Then he tells us where to look. He says “wisdom begins with the fear of God.” Maybe a better translation for us would be respect instead of fear. Respect for God can only come by having a relationship with God. Ask any long time Christian and they will tell you, “the longer you know him, the more you will respect him.

James the brother of Jesus says, “If any of you lack wisdom, ask God.” He knows Gods loves us and wants us to have wisdom. But James says you have to ask without doubting. That the two minded person is like a wave on the sea, going wherever the wind blows. So how do you remove all doubts? You get to know God. Only after you get to know God will the doubts resolve. James figured that out after Jesus died and was resurrected. He was nothing but a doubter till he saw his dead brother alive. James changed so much he became the head of the church in Jerusalem replacing Peter. Now if anybody replaced Peter he had to have been awesome. Evidently James was because he was known as “James the Just.” Thoroughly righteous. (Wouldn’t you like that title!)

Back to the judging thing. How did this topic pop up anyway? I was writing a message about generosity and I was using pen and paper. I was scribbling away as fast as thoughts popped in my head. I wrote a sentence about myself that made stop and think. Then it made me shudder. I had written it in ink and I couldn’t erase it. Every time I read it, the statement went deeper and broke my heart. I stopped for the night. That message is still unfinished.

So what was the devastating statement? I hate to write it but here it is “I want to be seen as a generous person.” When I read it my mind screamed “NO! I want to BE a generous person. But it was too late. I had written what my mind was thinking. Seen as a generous person? By who? Other people? Why? I wanted approval from others. Plain and simple. If I am a generous person God will approve, but If I want to be seen more than I want to be then it is the approval of people that I want more than the approval of God.

 Jesus himself and his followers all voiced the dangers of seeking approval of the world. Jesus said the man who fast and puts on the sad face, and the man who prays so others will hear him instead of God have already received all they are going to get. In other words, if you do something so that people will approve that approval is all you get. God will not approve your deeds if they are done as a show of how good you are. God approves when your deeds are done as a reflection of his love showing up in your life. Christians know this and certainly I know it, but I have to look at myself (or judge myself) to stay on the path Jesus wants me to follow. That’s because approval feels so good!

With the social media today the approval addict has fix at his or her fingertips. Write something that resonates with how most people feel and you get likes, maybe even a love and sometimes a share. It feels good! Maybe a little too good! Maybe you back off of somethings because they go a little too far, or might upset someone. You start to try and make the most people approve instead the only one that matters, God.

Your body works the same way. If you do something good that makes you happy the brain gives you a little good feeling brain chemical. You want more so you do more, but your brain needs more each time. What made you happy before isn’t enough. You seek more and more stimulation and you poor brain finally can’t be happy with anything less than everything.

But there something else that’s better. It’s called Joy. Joy is a better way of seeing. It is understanding that comes from knowing that you are already blessed. It comes from knowing you are loved by your Father in Heaven. You don’t need more and more. Actually the reverse, you need less and less from the world.

So what about judging? Isn’t this about judging others? Well yes but when I read the whole story from Jesus I learned the important part. It don’t judge others until you have judged yourself! Remember when Jesus asked “How can you get a tiny speck out of someone’s eye when you have a beam sticking out of your own?” In other words, look at yourself, correct what is wrong, and then try to help.

The same weekend that I wrote that statement, I listened to my wife tell someone, “Tim eats all the time.” Immediately I wanted to refute that and say “that’s not true.” But when I look at it from her eyes I know it is true. So what’s different from what she sees and what I see? I see everything through my filters. The filters allow me to discard what I don’t want to see. It works like this. I can have a tiny little bite of this so it won’t matter. Then this is ok because it has low carbs, and this one has carbs but no added sugar, and look this one has protein, I need protein! Here goes some peanuts, don’t have to be a scientist to know your body doesn’t get every calorie out of peanuts. Our filters are how we lie to ourselves to feel good about ourselves. Judge yourself as God sees you. Then and only then will you start to see the real you. That real you is loved by God. He has a plan for you that is so much better than lying to yourself. God’s plan brings Joy. Joy so good that it doesn’t even make sense! Paul calls it “Joy that passes all understanding.”

If you do this, in the end God will say, “Well done, thou good and faithful Servant.” 



Amish Elevator

       A fifteen-year-old Amish boy and his father were in a mall. They were amazed by almost everything they saw, but especially by two shiny, silver walls that moved apart and then slid back together again.

The boy asked, “What is that, Father?”

The father (never having seen an elevator) responded, “Son, I have never seen anything like this in all my life. I don’t know what it is.”

While the boy and his father were watching with amazement, a fat old lady in a wheel chair moved up to the silver walls and pressed a button. The walls opened, and the lady rolled between them into a small room. The walls closed and the boy and his father watched intently as the little numbers above the walls lit up sequentially.

They continued to watch until the highest number glowed. Then the numbers began to light in the reverse order.

Finally the silver walls opened up again and a gorgeous 24-year-old blonde stepped out.

The father, not taking his eyes off the young woman, said quietly to his son, “Go get your mother.”



Canterbury Cathedral, 1993

Sybil Austin Skakle


We left the chilly, rainy day outside

Standing dry before the tapers,
I chose and paid for one.

Though his faith differed from mine,

I liked the thought that his soul

Might benefit from this single act of mine.

Surely, he knew that my

Love of him always sought his good.

And my heart was warmed,

As I stood lighting a candle

In Canterbury Cathedral.


How Do Court Reporters Keep Straight Faces????


These are from a book called Disorder in the American Courts and are things people actually said in court, word for word, taken down and published by court reporters that had the torment of staying calm while the exchanges were taking place.

ATTORNEY: What was the first thing your husband said to you that morning?
WITNESS: He said, 'Where am I, Cathy?'
ATTORNEY: And why did that upset you?
WITNESS: My name is Susan!

ATTORNEY: What gear were you in at the moment of the impact?
WITNESS: Gucci sweats and Reeboks.

ATTORNEY: Are you sexually active?
WITNESS: No, I just lie there.

ATTORNEY: What is your date of birth?
WITNESS: July 18th.
ATTORNEY: What year?
WITNESS: Every year.

ATTORNEY: How old is your son, the one living with you?
WITNESS: Thirty-eight or thirty-five, I can't remember which.
ATTORNEY: How long has he lived with you?
WITNESS: Forty-five years.

ATTORNEY: This myasthenia gravis, does it affect your memory at all?
ATTORNEY: And in what ways does it affect your memory?
WITNESS: I forget..
ATTORNEY: You forget? Can you give us an example of something you forgot?

ATTORNEY: Now doctor, isn't it true that when a person dies in his sleep, he doesn't know about it until the next morning?
WITNESS: Did you actually pass the bar exam?

ATTORNEY: The youngest son, the 20-year-old, how old is he?
WITNESS: He's 20, much like your IQ.

ATTORNEY: Were you present when your picture was taken?
WITNESS: Are you shitting me?

ATTORNEY: So the date of conception (of the baby) was August 8th?
ATTORNEY: And what were you doing at that time?
WITNESS: Getting laid

ATTORNEY: She had three children , right?
ATTORNEY: How many were boys?
ATTORNEY: Were there any girls?
WITNESS: Your Honor, I think I need a different attorney. Can I get a new attorney?

ATTORNEY: How was your first marriage terminated?
WITNESS: By death..
ATTORNEY: And by whose death was it terminated?
WITNESS: Take a guess.

ATTORNEY: Can you describe the individual?
WITNESS: He was about medium height and had a beard
ATTORNEY: Was this a male or a female?
WITNESS: Unless the Circus was in town I'm going with male.

ATTORNEY: Is your appearance here this morning pursuant to a deposition notice which I sent to your attorney?
WITNESS: No, this is how I dress when I go to work.

ATTORNEY: Doctor , how many of your autopsies have you performed on dead people?
WITNESS: All of them. The live ones put up too much of a fight.

ATTORNEY: ALL your responses MUST be oral, OK? What school did you go to?
WITNESS: Oral...

ATTORNEY: Do you recall the time that you examined the body?
WITNESS: The autopsy started around 8:30 PM
ATTORNEY: And Mr. Denton was dead at the time?
WITNESS: If not, he was by the time I finished.

ATTORNEY: Are you qualified to give a urine sample?
WITNESS: Are you qualified to ask that question?

And last:


ATTORNEY: Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse?
ATTORNEY: Did you check for blood pressure?
ATTORNEY: Did you check for breathing?
ATTORNEY: So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?
ATTORNEY: How can you be so sure, Doctor?
WITNESS: Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.
ATTORNEY: I see, but could the patient have still been alive, nevertheless?
WITNESS: Yes, it is possible that he could have been alive and practicing law.

These are from a book called “Disorder in the Court: Great Fractured Moments in Courtroom History”  which you can find on Amazon



Hammer Spade and the Four Horsemen


Chapter Fourteen


Cleopatra arrived by taxi at the hotel at noon carrying a heavy duffle bag and dressed like a movie star in a Clark Gable African safari movie.

“Nothing like being conspicuous,” Dave muttered under his breath.

Jim was smitten.

Cheriet drove up an hour late in a beat up World War II Chevrolet two-and-a-half-ton truck. The bed had a tarpaulin roof with two new-looking overstuffed chairs, four extra spare tires, camping gear plus ten GI water cans and ten GI gasoline cans in the back.

“I’m sitting in the back,” Jim said as soon as the truck came to a dusty halt.

“Cheb, Cleopatra’s going with us. Where can we get her a gun?” Dave asked.

“The Afrikaanse Markt. You and Jim ought to pick up a couple of AKs, too.”

“Why?” Jim asked.

“Your rifles aren’t suitable where we’re going.”

“What’s wrong with our rifles?” Dave asked.

“You need more firepower,” Cheriet replied.

“I’ll take an AK,” Cleopatra said.

“What about our dress?” Dave asked. “Should we wear native garb?”

“You’d still be conspicuous,” Cheriet replied. “You might as well wear what’s comfortable. Besides,” he added, “It is impossible to pass Miss Kerr off as a native woman.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. And I bet all of us will be conspicuous in Aama Tahar’s camp.”

“There is no doubt about that,” Cheriet agreed.

They loaded up and drove south to a huge sprawling collection of goatskin tents and corrugated tin shacks where you could buy anything from camels to the latest counterfeit CDs. They passed by a new-looking, black Mercedes Benz in the hot sun with the windows closed and a goat in the back seat.

Cheriet was a skillful bargainer. Two hours later, they had purchased three new AK-47s, 3,000 rounds of ammunition and, in a stroke of unexpected luck, ten cases of U.S. military MREs.

“I never thought I’d be glad to see another MRE,” Jim said. “But after eating the food at the hotel, these are gourmet grade vittles.”

Now that they were armed and provisioned up, they traveled back through the city and struck eastward on a rough dirt track.

“How far to Aama Tahar’s camp?” Dave asked.

“About 150 airline miles but it’s a lot longer the way we have to go,” Cheb replied.

“How long will it take?”

“About four days.”

“Is there water on the way?”

“We’ll pass two oases with good water.”

 “How about fuel for the truck?”

“None along the way and none there. That’s why we have fifty gallons in the back.”

“How much does the tank hold?”

“It has two forty-gallon tanks.”

“What kind of mileage does it get?”

“Eight to ten the way we’ll be driving.”

Dave looked back at Jim and Cleopatra, who were talking and relaxing in living room chairs. “They’ve got it too easy,” Dave said.

“The road is smooth now,” Cheb replied. “We will be on a rough track in about an hour.

They traveled along the dusty road toward the forbidding, starkly beautiful, Ahaggar mountain range. An hour before dark Cheb pulled off and parked out of sight from the road.

“We are not likely to meet any friends out here,” he explained.

“Then we better post a guard,” Dave said. “What time will we break camp tomorrow?”

“We’ll leave an hour after daybreak. We don’t want to show lights after dark, or before dawn.”

“You did all the driving today,” Dave replied, “We’ll handle the watch.” Then to Jim and Cleopatra, he said, “We’ll take four hour shifts. Who wants to go first?”

“Let Cleopatra take the first watch and I’ll take the second,” Jim suggested.

“I’ll take third,” Dave replied.

They helped Cheb set up a lean-to shelter that connected to the tarpaulin covering the bed of the truck. Jim set up the camp stove to heat water while they chose their MRE meals for the evening. Cleopatra joined in doing her share of the work. Soon after sunset it got cold. They were tired. The desert became quiet after the three men got into their sleeping bags. The last sound they heard before they dropped off to sleep was Cleopatra chambering a round in her AK.



The area they were traveling through was hot, even in winter, with summer daytime temperatures over 130°F. When the sun goes down, the dry air permits a rapid loss of heat and it is cold at night. The winds are heavy and gusty, day and night year-round. In summer, winds come from the northeast while winter winds blow from the northwest. It is a very dry area where it seldom rains during summer and not much during winter. Even the mountains are hot and dry and have sand dunes, called ergs, between mountains. The tallest mountain in the area is Mount Tahat which rises to 3,003 meters (9,760 feet). 

They were up at daybreak. Jim heated water while Cheriet kicked the tires and checked the oil and water in the truck. Dave and Cleopatra dismantled and stored the shelter. Wind and sand were everywhere.

They broke camp after breakfast and were on the road an hour after sunrise. Jim volunteered to drive, allowing Dave to sit in back with Cleopatra.



“You’re a good camping partner,” Dave said after they were underway.

“I love the outdoors and I always try to do my share,” she replied. “I’ve been a tomboy all my life.”

“Yeah, that’s evident. I’m surprised you stayed in Tamanghasset so long. I can’t imagine anyone staying more than a month to learn about their customs because every day in Tamanghasset is just like every other day.”

“It’s a long story. My male traveling partner got into trouble with the law on the first day and I used most of my money to keep him out of jail. Then, a few days ago, he disappeared.”

“So you’re staying here in hopes he’ll show up?”

“No, I was staying here because I didn’t have enough money to leave. I was determined not to ask my parents for money after all they said to dissuade me from coming. I was marooned until you and Jim showed up. The thousand dollars you owe me will allow me to go home.”

“Then you are a most remarkable woman to have weathered that predicament and survive with such a healthy mental attitude.”

“Thank you. I believe you must do your best no matter what life brings.”

“Cleopatra, I thought you were going with us as a lark. I can pay you what I’m paying Cheriet.”

“That would be wonderful! But can your project afford another person?”

“What we are doing on this trip is nothing but a big waste of time and government money. There is no reason not to pay you because you are here for a legitimate reason. We don’t trust Cheriet. You speak the language and you’re familiar with local customs.”

She looked at Dave for a moment and he saw a tear in her eye. “Thank you, Dave. And I thank God for sending you to rescue me,” she said with a tremble in her voice.

“It works both ways, Cleopatra. You rescued us, too. Why did you come to Tamanghasset anyway?”

“I’m a Mormon. In addition to the research for my doctorate, this was supposed to be my missionary trip.”

Dave was astonished. “You mean you came to that dusty, dried up hell hole thinking one of these danged Muslims would become a Mormon?”

She laughed. “Yes, I did.”

“I thought Mormon missionaries traveled in pairs.”

“We are supposed to.”

“What happened to your partner?”

“She got sick and had to go back home.”

“Why didn’t you go back with her?”

“I didn’t want to.”

“Did you convert anybody?”


“Did anybody tell you this was a bad idea?”

“Yes, several. Some guy from the State Department even called my parents to discourage me from coming.”

“But you did anyway.”

“Yes, I did.”

“Cleopatra, you are a remarkable woman to have endured, isolated and alone, low on money, in a country where women are chattel. What did you do with your time?”

“I got a job teaching English in the local school.”

“Did they pay you?”


“How much?”

“About two dollars a day.”



oasis-algeria b-w.jpgThey traveled east along the rough, dusty track, snaking through ever steeper terrain. They met two vehicles, one a pickup carrying six unsmiling men who didn’t acknowledge them as they passed a yard apart. The second party was tourists from South America on holiday who stopped to talk.

“How’s the road ahead?” Dave asked.

“Rougher and dustier,” the driver said. His grin split his dirty face. “You should reach the oasis before nightfall.”

“Thanks,” Dave said as they drove away in a cloud of dust.

Cheriet pulled off the road out of sight when they stopped for lunch.

Three hours later, they turned off the track, drove north a few hundred yards and pulled into an oasis. This place defined the true meaning of oasis. This one had a few date palms, sparse underbrush and an inviting pool of cool spring water.

Before the truck came to a stop, Cleopatra had sailed off and was out running to the pool. She lay on the edge, drank thirstily and washed the dust off her face.

Jim came as soon as he got out of the truck, with Dave and Cheriet not far behind.

“Now, I truly understand the significance of the word, ‘oasis’,” Cleopatra said wiping water off her face.

“Will it be safe to camp here tonight?” Dave asked.

“If we post guards,” Cheriet said. “It’s late. I don’t think anybody else will come after dark.”

After setting up camp, Jim filled the big tub with water and began heating it. “I’m gonna get a bath,” he announced. “However, tonight it will be ladies first, Cleopatra.”

Then he put up a tarp enclosure around three palm trees. 

By nightfall, everybody was freshly scrubbed. After dining on MREs, Cleopatra chambered a round in her rifle and everyone else was zipped up in sleeping bags after a hard day in the dust and sun.




Chapter Fifteen


On the third day, they stopped short of their destination to get a good night’s rest in preparation to meet the great Larbi Aama Tahar M’hidi in his stronghold in the wilds of the Ahaggar Mountains.

A subdued group of travelers drove with trepidation through a sparsely settled area with tents and primitive adobe houses. They passed a few estates with wall-enclosed houses and artificially watered gardens.

Their passing created a sensation and the closer they got to Aama Tahar’s city, the bigger the crowd became.

By the time they approached the gate of the main settlement, crowds were lining both sides of the dirt track. Cheriet stopped the truck in front of a five-foot thick, twenty-foot high adobe wall. Spearmen, standing at attention, were spaced a hundred feet apart along the top. Three story buildings were visible behind the wall.

“It’s big!” Jim exclaimed.

When their truck stopped in front of a wooden double-door gate, troops armed with AK-47s surrounded them.

A small door in the wall to the left of the big doors opened, and a tall man in a flowing adobe-colored robe exited the enclosure. He marched solemnly to the front of the truck.

“Who are you?” he asked in Arabic.

“We represent important men in the north,” Cheriet replied.

“Larbi Aama Tahar M’hidi only meets with government representatives bearing gifts.”

“We bring no gifts except friendship for the great Aama Tahar. However, we bring opportunities far, far greater than gold and silver.”

Without speaking, the man in the robe turned and walked back to the wall, opened the door and went inside.

The crowd remained in place, expectantly waiting for the second act.

“He must be checking with the great man,” Dave suggested.

Thirty minutes later the man in the robe re-appeared. “The great Aama Tahar heard that you were coming, but he is only interested in gold and silver. He does not seek opportunities.”

“Tell him the opportunity is world dominion,” Dave said to Cheriet, who interpreted.

The robed man left again and returned twenty minutes later. “The great Aama Tahar seeks only riches. World dominion is not his holy mission.”

“Ask him if this is the message we are to take back to the great man in the north.”

Cheriet translated what Dave said.

“The king says that is the message you are to take to the great man.”

“What can we say?” Dave asked.

“He hasn’t told us to leave,” Cleopatra said. “It is their custom to offer hospitality to all strangers. Tell him that we are sorry that the great Aama Tahar does not wish to achieve greatness. We must leave now.”

“Tell him that,” Dave ordered Cheriet.

After Cheriet relayed the message, the robed man wordlessly turned and went inside again.

When he returned, he said, “The great Aama Tahar thanks you for honoring his wishes.”

What a letdown. All this trouble and Aama Tahar wouldn’t meet with them.

“What a crappy attitude,” Jim exclaimed.

The man in the robe spoke again. “Now that the business is finished, great Aama Tahar wishes to offer you his hospitality. He wants to know which of you owns the golden-haired one.”

“Tell him that we do not ‘own’ women,” Dave replied.

The man in the robe left for instructions and returned fifteen minutes later. “The great Aama Tahar says that if you do not own the golden-haired one, the golden-haired one owns you. The golden-haired one and her slaves will be his honored guests for three days.”

Dave, Jim and Cheriet were surprised. Cleopatra thought it was funny.

“You know, he’s got a point,” Jim said. “Pretty blonde women could own all of us.”

“Shall I accept?” Cleopatra asked with a smirk.

“Sure,” Dave said with a scowl.

“I accept the great Aama Tahar’s hospitality,” Cleopatra replied in Arabic.

The solemn, robed man returned for further instructions.

“Why did you do that, Dave?” Jim asked. “She speaks their language. He probably thinks she’s some kind of goddess.”

“Her name is Cleopatra,’ Dave replied, “He might think she’s a Queen.”

“Cleopatra! Queen! Dave, you are putting me on.”

“After we’ve traveled this far, it would be a shame not to meet the great Aama Tahar. It’s right up there with talking snakes.”

“We’re dreaming, Dave,” Jim said. “This can’t be real.”

The robed man returned and addressed Cleopatra. “The great Aama Tahar is honored by your presence and invites you and your slaves to be his guests. We shall embrace the Five Flavors.”

Cheriet interpreted.

“What are the ‘Five Flavors’?” Dave asked suspiciously.

“The ancient Five Flavors are bitter, salt, sour, hot and sweet,” Cleopatra replied. “We’ll be his guests at dinner.”

“Tell him that we, or rather, you accept,” Dave said.

“I accept the great Aama Tahar’s invitation,” Cleopatra said in Arabic to the robed man.

At that moment, the sound of a cannon boomed. The big gates swung open, revealing a line of colorfully robed warriors standing at attention along an ancient boulevard paved with stones. The warriors held gleaming spears in their right hands.

The robed man motioned for Cheriet to follow him. As Cheriet drove the truck forward, the crowd inside and outside the walls chanted their welcome.

Dave and his crew were surprised as they passed through an open-air market with vendors selling fresh vegetables, meat stalls, flowers, clothing and hardware. Everything was clean and well maintained.

At the end of the line of warriors, they saw a jeweled throne on a raised platform under a fringed canopy. A bearded man wearing a crown and a multi-colored robe was seated on the throne.

Their guide motioned for Cheriet to stop the truck fifty yards from the platform. After they climbed down from the truck, Aama Tahar rose from his throne and approached Cleopatra.

“What is your name?” he asked.

“Cleopatra,” she replied.

A strange expression flashed across his face before he regained his composure. “The ancient legends say that you died from the bite of a snake.”

Cleopatra played his game. “I have recovered.”

He bowed. “I am truly honored.” Then he addressed his tribesmen in a loud voice. “We are blessed! The great Queen Cleopatra has honored us with a visit.”

The crowd in the compound exploded in raucous celebration with tribesmen yelling and throwing things, including spears, up into the air. It was a miracle that nobody was injured. 

Then he addressed Dave, Jim and Cheriet. “Most noble men, servants of the great Egyptian Queen, Cleopatra, you, too, are my honored guests.”

“I guess we’re not slaves anymore,” Dave muttered under his breath after Cheriet translated Aama Tahar’s welcome.

Aama Tahar then led them into his palace and up the stairs to a canopy on the flat roof. A variety of comfortable furniture was arranged to face another jeweled throne.

“What luxury out in the middle of a desert,” Jim whispered.

Aama Tahar motioned them to take seats. Servants served a local brew which Cleopatra thought was date wine.

“Tell me, Queen Cleopatra, how you came into our presence.”

Cleopatra played it straight, telling him how she had traveled to Tamanghasset from a country far to the west and had heard of the great Larbi Aama Tahar M’hidi while in Tamanghasset. She asked her noble companions to take her to see this great chieftain of that noble tribe who bested even the Roman armies of old. Aama Tahar beamed with pride when she complimented his ancestors. Cleopatra was clearly enjoying her royal role.

Then Aama Tahar regaled them with stories of his ancestors’ noble deeds of valor. He told how his father, his grandfather and his great grandfather had fought against the Arabs, and then the French.  Lately their battles were against the Algerian government, which had tried twice to subdue them, but ended up giving them an annual tribute to remain where they were and leave the rest of Algeria at peace.

“I didn’t see many guns,” Dave said. Cleopatra translated.

“We have many guns such as the ones you brought with you,” Aama Tahar replied, “We also have magic wands that send singing arrows far away where they go boom and cause much death and destruction.”

“Stinger missiles,” Jim observed. “Wonder where he got them?”

“Probably at the market in Tamanghasset,” Cheriet replied dryly.

Cleopatra was enjoying herself. Dave and Jim were dutifully playing their roles as servants of the great Queen Cleopatra, but Cheriet was visibly uncomfortable in these surroundings and the atmosphere in Aama Tahar’s stronghold. What did he know that they didn’t?

The sun was sinking in the west when Aama Tahar ended his speech and ordered his servants to show his guests to their quarters. When Dave, through Cleopatra, asked about securing their truck, Aama Tahar assured him that their transport was as safe as if it were in a bank vault.

“So this ignorant yokel knows about bank vaults?” Dave muttered. “He’s gaming us.”

“So, what else is new?” Jim replied. “Alain is playing a game, Cheb’s playing another game and Cleopatra’s playing a game. We’re the only ones not gaming somebody.”

“What does that make us?” Dave asked. “Don’t answer that.”

Their rooms were spacious, clean and luxuriously furnished with large windows and beautiful tapestries depicting ancient scenes hanging on the interior walls. They lacked air-conditioning.                                       

Continued Next Month


Early Morning Flight


Sybil Austin Skakle


We leave Raleigh-Durham in heavy rain

And climb through potato soup for ten minutes

Before the light above us flashes vivid peach

And it is sunrise.


Clouds below our plane to Chicago become thin snow

On an icy lake. Then, a bumpy snowmobile

Becomes a mighty eagle, gliding, high

Above fluffy white fields.


My destination is supposed to be Halifax, Nova Scotia,

By way of Boston, Massachusetts, and wonder why

My plane flight is flying toward Chicago.

I think of Christopher Columbu



When you mix politics with science, you get politics.  Historian John M. Barry


Madness is something rare in individuals-but in groups, parties, peoples and ages, it is the rule. Friedrich Nietzsche



Love Letter from the Past

Found in my Grandmother’s papers

February 6, 1936

Dear George,


I have missed you so much since you left for the CCC Camp. It seems like you have been gone for years instead of just three weeks. I could not have believed how much I would miss you.


That aggravating Rufus came over again last night. He spent the whole time he was here filling my head with new things to worry about, as if I didn’t have enough already. He told me about all those things in DC that could occupy a young man. He even told me for just the price of a beer you could see a naked woman on stage showing you everything she had. But, I’m not worried. I know you love me and wouldn’t think of anything like that. Besides, I also know you don’t have the price of a beer, even if you wanted to go. You know what a smart aleck Rufus is! He just thinks he knows everything. One thing he knows is I would never in a million years take him over you. You are the man I want. I got tired of listening to him last night and told him between the two of us, we probably knew just about everything there was to know. When he asked me what I meant, I told him he knew everything but that he was obnoxious and I knew that. He didn’t get it! He finally went home at bedtime.


But, I didn’t write this to talk about Rufus. George, I have made up my mind what I want to, and am, going to do. I am going to get one of Daddy’s field hands to take me to the train station in Norlina early Thursday, the 13th and I am coming to DC on the train to see you. While I am there, we are going to get married. You need to get off from the CCC on Friday, which is Valentine’s Day, and we will go to Front Royal and get married there. I think Valentines Day is a perfect day for us to get married. I am very tired of lying awake nights wanting to do with you what married people do. I am not going to wait another day. Valentine’s Day night is when I want you to love me like married people love each other. So, you make plans accordingly. Don’t worry about money. I’ll come with enough.


I will leave a note to Mama and Daddy telling them what I’m going to do. I know they will be really surprised, but they like you and won’t get too mad. I hope not anyway. I’ll get Maude to go to your house and tell your mama and daddy on Saturday.


I already have my ticket and I’ve packed what I’m going to take. I am bringing a real special gown for Friday night so you can see how pretty I am. I know you’re taking my word on this, but I am real pretty George and I just know you will think so when you finally do get to see me. I know you will be real handsome too and I can’t wait to see you either.


So meet me in the DC train station on Thursday night. I will be on train number 96 and it’s supposed to get to DC at 6:30. I have bought the tickets for both of us to go on to Front Royal Thursday night. I want us to get an early start on getting married on Friday.


I love you, George. I am ready to be your wife.





June 2009

Brad Carver


            I was sitting on the front porch the other day reminiscing about life in Moccasin Gap. I graduated from high school here in 1968 and left town the next week after I found out the highway didn’t end on the outskirts of town.

            Before that I thought I had to stay here because there was nothing outside the city limits. I actually thought this was all there is. How pathetic I used to think.

            Moccasin Gap, as you can tell by the name, isn’t a big town. We don’t even have a water tower with the name on the side. We have a bucket hanging on a tree limb outside town with the words Bubba loves Mary Lou painted on the side.

            I’m guessing every town has a Bubba and mine was no different. Every town had a Mary Lou also and she dated every guy in town. It’s just that Bubba was the one who was stupid enough to actually go with her.

            Bubba played on the school football team. That’s right, we had a football team. We were called the Fighting Possuum. Is that country enough for you?

            We had this one play where the quarterback would take the ball and then lie down and play dead.

            And the other team actually thought he was dead but he wasn’t. He was just playing possum. We loved that play. We never made any points with it, but it was always fun to play.

            We had a high school band too. It consisted of one guy who would march out onto the field and try to make an American flag while playing America The Beautiful on his saxophone. He was awful but fun to watch run all over the field making that flag.

            When I graduated I couldn’t wait to leave Moccasin Gap. That was my goal; to get out of this Godforsaken town and then, twenty-five years later, I couldn’t wait to come back. I’m just a glutton for pain.

            I left Chicago to come back to Moccasin Gap. Why Chicago? When you’re a comic you have to go to New York, L.A. or Chicago to see if you can make it.

            So I went to New York. They didn’t accept me because I’m not a New York comic. I’m not part of the New York click and the New York comics saw that I wasn’t going to be.

            So I went to L.A. to try and make it. I couldn’t kiss enough butt to make it in L.A. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind kissing butt, you have to in this business, but I’m not going to stick my head up it and that’s what you have to do in L.A.

            So I went to Chicago and they welcomed me with open arms. The comics in Chicago were just like family, sick and demented.

            I worked every club in Chicago and then decided I was homesick and moved back to Moccasin Gap, met a country girl and settled down.

            She’s really country too. She eats country food; rabbit, deer, squirrel. Have you ever eaten squirrel meat?

            She has a squirrel in her freezer right now. I saw it in there the other day; opened up the door, po’ little thing sittin’ there just shivering.

            Got ya’. Until next time, ya’ll come back now, you hear?



The Diary of Samuel Pepys


FEBRUARY 1, 1659-60. Took Gammer East, and James the porter, a soldier, to my Lord's lodgings, who told me how they were drawn into the field to-day, and that they were ordered to march away to-morrow to make room for General Monk; but they did shout their Colonel Fitch, [Thomas Fitch, Colonel of a regiment of foot in 1658, M.P. for Inverness.] and the rest of the officers out of the field, and swore they would not go without their money, and if they would not give it them, they would go where they might have it, and that was the City. So the Colonel went to the Parliament, and commanded what money could be got, to be got against to-morrow for them, and all the rest of the soldiers in town, who in all places made a mutiny this day, and do agree together.


2nd. To my office, where I found all the officers of the regiments in town, waiting to receive money that their soldiers might go out of town, and what was in the Exchequer they had.
Harper, Luellin, and I went to the Temple to Mr. Calthrop's chamber, and from thence had his man by water to London Bridge to Mr. Calthrop a grocer, and received 60£. for my Lord. In our way we talked with our waterman, White, who told us how the watermen had lately been abused by some that had a desire to get in to be watermen to the State, and had lately presented an address of nine or ten thousand hands to stand by this Parliament, when it was only told them that it was a petition against hackney coaches; and that to-day they had put out another to undeceive the world and to clear themselves. After I had received the money we went homewards, but over against Somerset House, hearing the noise of guns, we landed and found the Strand full of soldiers. So I took my money and went to Mrs. Johnson, my Lord's semstress, and giving her my money to lay up, Doling and I went up stairs to a window, and looked out and saw the foot face the horse and beat them back, and stood bawling and calling in the street for a free Parliament and money. By and by a drum was heard to beat a march coming towards them, and they got all ready again and faced them, and they proved to be of the same mind with them; and so they made a great deal of joy to see one another. After all this I went home on foot to lay up my money, and change my stockings and shoes. I this day left off my great skirt suit,
and put on my white suit with silver lace coat, and went over to Harper's, where I met with W. Simons, Doling, Luellin and three merchants, one of which had occasion to use a porter, so they
sent for one, and James the soldier came, who told us how they had been all day and night upon their guard at St. James's, and that through the whole town they did resolve to stand to what
they had began, and that to-morrow he did believe they would go into the City, and be received there. After this we went to a sport called, selling of a horse for a dish of eggs and herrings,
and sat talking there till almost twelve at night.


3rd. Drank my morning draft at Harper's, and was told there that the soldiers were all quiet upon promise of pay. Thence to St. James's Park, back to Whitehall, where in a guard-chamber I saw
about thirty or forty 'prentices of the City, who were taken at twelve o'clock last night and brought prisoners hither. Thence to my office, where I paid a little more money to some of the
soldiers under Lieut.-Col. Miller (who held out the Tower against the Parliament after it was taken away from Fitch by the Committee of Safety, and yet he continued in his office). About
noon Mrs. Turner came to speak with me and Joyce, and I took them and shewed them the manner of the Houses sitting, the door-keeper very civilly opening the door for us. We went walking all over White Hall, whither General Monk was newly come, and we saw all his forces march by in very good plight and stout officers. After dinner I went to hear news, but only found that the Parliament House was most of them with Monk at White Hall, and that in his passing through the town he had many calls to him for a free Parliament, but little other welcome. I saw in the Palace Yard how unwilling some of the old soldiers were yet to go out of town without their money, and swore if they had it not in three days, as they were promised, they would do them more mischief in the country than if they had staid here; and that is very likely, the country being all discontented. The town and guards are already full of Monk's soldiers.


4th. All the news to-day is, that the Parliament this morning voted the House to be made up four hundred forthwith.


6th. To Westminster, where we found the soldiers all set in the Palace Yard, to make way for General Monk to come to the House. I stood upon the steps and saw Monk go by, he making observance to the judges as he went along.


7th. To the Hall, where in the Palace I saw Monk's soldiers abuse Billing and all the Quakers, that were at a meeting-place there, and indeed the soldiers did use them very roughly and were
to blame. This day Mr. Crew told me that my Lord St. John is for a free Parliament, and that he is very great with Monk, who hath now the absolute command and power to do any thing that he hath a mind to do.


9th. Before I was out of my bed, I heard the soldiers very busy in the morning, getting their horses ready when they lay at Hilton's, but I knew not then their meaning in so doing. In the
Hall I understand how Monk is this morning gone into London with his army; and Mr. Fage told me that he do believe that Monk is gone to secure some of the Common-council of the City, who were very high yesterday there, and did vote that they would not pay any taxes till the House was filled up. I went to my office, where I wrote to my Lord after I had been at the Upper Bench,
where Sir Robert Pye this morning came to desire his discharge from the Tower; but it could not be granted. I called at Mr. Harper's, who told me how Monk had this day clapt up many of the
Common-council, and that the Parliament had voted that he should pull down their gates and portcullisses, their posts and their chains, which he do intend to do, and do lie in the City all
night. To Westminster Hall, where I heard an action very finely pleaded between my Lord Dorset [Richard, 5th Earl of Dorset, ob. 1677.] and some other noble persons, his lady and other ladies of quality being there, and it was about 330£. PER ANNUM, that was to be paid to a poor Spittal which was given by some of his predecessors; and given on his side.


10th. Mr. Fage told me what Monk had done in the City, how he had pulled down the most part of the gates and chains that they could break down, and that he was now gone back to White Hall. The City look mighty blank, and cannot tell what in the world to do; the Parliament having this day ordered that the Common-council sit no more, but that new ones be chosen according to
what qualifications they shall give them.


11th. I heard the news of a letter from Monk, who was now gone into the City again, and did resolve to stand for the sudden filling up of the House, and it was very strange how the
countenance of men in the Hall was all changed with joy in half an hour's time. So I went up to the lobby, where I saw the Speaker reading of the letter; and after it was read, Sir A.
Haselrigge came out very angry, and Billing standing at the door, took him by the arm, and cried, “Thou man, will thy beast carry thee no longer? thou must fall!” We took coach for the City to
Guildhall, where the Hall was full of people expecting Monk and Lord Mayor to come thither, and all very joyfull. Met Monk coming out of the chamber where he had been with the Mayor and Aldermen, but such a shout I never heard in all my life, crying out, “God bless your Excellence.” Here I met with Mr. Lock, and took him to an ale-house: when we were come together, he told us the substance of the letter that went from Monk to the Parliament; wherein after complaints that he and his officers were put upon such offices against the City as they could not do with any content or honour, it states, that there are many members now in the House that were of the late tyrannical Committee of Safety. That Lambert and Vane are now in town, contrary to the vote of Parliament. That many in the House do press for new oaths to be put upon men; whereas we have more cause to be sorry for the many oaths that we have already taken
and broken. That the late petition of the fanatique people prevented by Barebone, for the imposing of an oath upon all sorts of people, was received by the House with thanks. That therefore he [Monk] did desire that all writs for filling up of the House be issued by Friday next, and that in the meantime, he would retire into the City and only leave them guards for the security of the House and Council. The occasion of this was the order that he had last night, to go into the City and disarm them, and take away their charter; whereby he and his officers said, that
the House had a mind to put them upon, things that should make them odious; and so it would be in their power to do what they would with them. We were told that the Parliament had sent Scott
and Robinson to Monk this afternoon, but he would not hear them. And that the Mayor and Aldermen had offered their own houses for himself and his officers; and that his soldiers would lack for nothing. And indeed I saw many people give the soldiers drink and money, and all along the streets cried, “God bless them!” and extraordinary good words. Hence we went to a merchant's house hard by, where I saw Sir Nich. Crisp, [An eminent merchant and one of the Farmers of the Customs. He had advanced large sums to assist Charles I., who created him a Baronet. He died 1667, aged 67.] and so we went to the star Tavern, (Monk being then at Benson's.) In Cheapside there was a great many bonfires, and Bow bells and all the bells in all the churches as we went home were a-ringing. Hence we went homewards, it being about ten
at night. But the common joy that was every where to be seen! The number of bonfires, there being fourteen between St. Dunstan's and Temple Bar, and at Strand Bridge I could at one
time tell thirty-one fires. In King-street seven or eight; and all along burning, and roasting, and drinking for rumps. There being rumps tied upon sticks and carried up and down. The
butchers at the May Pole in the Strand rang a peal with their knives when they were going to sacrifice their rump. On Ludgate Hill there was one turning of the spit that had a rump tied upon
it, and another basting of it. Indeed it was past imagination, both the greatness and the suddenness of it. At one end of the street you would think there was a whole lane on fire, and so
hot that we were fain to keep on the further side.


12th. In the morning, it being Lord's day, to White Hall, where Dr. Hones preached; but I staid not to hear, but walking in the court, I heard that Sir Arth. Haselrigge was newly gone into the
City to Monk, and that Monk's wife removed from White Hall last night. After dinner I heard that Monk had been at Paul's in the morning, and the people had shouted much at his coming out of the church. In the afternoon he was at a church in Broad-street, whereabout he do lodge. To my father's, where Charles Glascocke was overjoyed to see how things are now; who told me the boys had last night broke Barebone's windows. [Praise God Barebones, an active member of the Parliament called by his name. About this period he had appeared at the head of a band of fanatics, and alarmed Monk, who well knew his influence.


13th. This day Monk was invited to White Hall to dinner by my ords; not seeming willing, he would not come. I went to Mr. Fage from my father's, who had been this afternoon with Monk, who did promise to live and die with the City, and for the honour of the City; and indeed the City is very open-handed to the soldiers, that they are most of them drunk all day, and had money
given them.


14th. To Westminster Hall, there being many new remonstrances and declarations from many counties to Monk and the City, and one coming from the North from Sir Thomas Fairfax. [Thomas Lord Fairfax, mentioned before.] I heard that the Parliament had now changed the oath so much talked of to a promise; and that among other qualifications for the members that are to be chosen, one is, that no man, nor the son of any man that hath been in arms during the life of the father, shall be capable of being chosen to sit in Parliament. This day by an order of the House, Sir H. Vane was sent out of town to his house in Lincolnshire.


15th. No news to-day but all quiet to see what the Parliament will do about the issuing of the writs to-morrow for the filling up of the House, according to Monk's desire.


17th. To Westminster Hall, where I heard that some of the members of the House was gone to meet with some of the secluded members and General Monk in the City. Hence to White Hall,
thinking to hear more news, where I met with Mr. Hunt, who told me how Monk had sent for all his goods that he had here, into the City; and yet again he told me, that some of the members of the House had this day laid in firing into their lodgings at Whitehall for a good while, so that we are at a great stand to think what will become of things, whether Monk will stand to the Parliament or no.



From the Kitchen of P. L. Almanza


Do it Yourself Wedding Cake


6-12 My Wedding Cake.jpgJune is a month for weddings. The cost of everything can really take the cake! So I have a solution for your favorite thing about weddings: the cake! You don't have to spend hundreds of dollars on it. Do-it-yourself! And here's one of my favorite easy recipes from my Grandma's recipe book!



Lemon Raspberry Wedding Cake


The Batter

2 separate batches of this batter are required in this recipe (do not double)

2 1/2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

1 stick (1/2 cup) plus 2 tablespoons butter, softened

1 1/4 cups sugar

3 large eggs

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

1 cup milk

1 1/2 tablespoons freshly grated lemon zest


The syrup:

2/3 cup sugar

1 cup water

Zest of 1 large lemon removed in strips with a vegetable peeler

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons eau-de-vie de framboise


The assembly:

Two 9-inch cardboard rounds*

Two 7-inch cardboard rounds*

Two 6-inch cardboard rounds*, trimmed to form 5-inch rounds

Lemon Meringue Buttercream

About 5 cups raspberries

Five 8-inch plastic straws

#66 leaf tip*

#70 leaf tip*

#113 leaf tip*

A cake-decorating turntable* is helpful for assembling and decorating a wedding cake.



Crystallized edible flowers and mint leaves*



Crème Fraîche Ice Cream or Vanilla Ice Cream

Additional raspberries


*available at specialty baking stores


Preparing the cake:

Preheat oven to 350°F and line a buttered 10-inch round cake pan (at least 2 inches deep) with a round of wax paper. Butter paper and dust pan with flour, knocking out excess.


Into a bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl, with an electric mixer, cream butter with sugar until light and fluffy and beat in eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, and vanilla. Add flour mixture and milk alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour mixture and beating until just combined after each addition, and beat in zest (do not over mix).


Pour batter into prepared pan and bake in middle of oven 35 to 40 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool cake in pan on a rack 5 minutes and invert onto rack. Peel off paper and cool cake completely.


Make second batch of batter:

Line a buttered 6-inch round cake pan and a buttered 8-inch round cake pan (each at least 2 inches deep) with rounds of wax paper. Butter paper and dust pans with flour, knocking out excess.


Make batter in same manner.


Pour 1 3/4 cups batter into prepared 6-inch pan. Pour remaining batter into prepared 8-inch pan. Bake 6-inch cake in middle of oven 30 to 35 minutes and 8-inch cake 35 to 40 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool cakes in pans on racks 5 minutes and invert onto racks. Peel off paper and cool cakes completely.


Cake layers may be made 2 weeks ahead, wrapped well in plastic wrap and foil, and frozen. Defrost cake layers (without unwrapping) at room temperature.


Make syrup:

In a small saucepan combine sugar, water, and zest and bring to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Remove pan from heat and let syrup cool completely. Discard zest and stir in lemon juice and framboise. Syrup may be made 2 weeks ahead and chilled in an airtight container.


Assemble cake:

With a long serrated knife halve each layer horizontally. Put each 10-inch layer, cut side up, on a 9-inch cardboard round. Put 8-inch layers similarly on 7-inch rounds and 6-inch layers on 5-inch rounds. Brush cut sides of all 6 layers generously with syrup, dividing it evenly among layers, and let layers stand 15 minutes to absorb syrup.


Spread about 1 1/2 cups Buttercream on top half of 10-inch layer, cut side up, and arrange enough raspberries, side by side and open ends down, in concentric circles to cover entire layer. Invert bottom half of 10-inch layer, cut side down, on top of berries and gently press layers together to form an even tier. (Discard top cardboard round.) Frost top and sides smoothly with some remaining Buttercream and chill while assembling remaining 2 tiers.


Assemble and frost 8-inch tier in same manner (use about 1 cup Buttercream between layers) and chill while assembling remaining tier. Assemble and frost 6-inch tier in same manner (use about 2/3 cup Buttercream between layers) and chill until Buttercream is firm.


Cut 3 straws in half and insert 1 straw piece all the way into center of 10-inch bottom tier. Trim straw level with top of tier and insert remaining 5 straw pieces in same manner in a circle about 1 1/2 inches from center straw. (Straws serve to support tiers.) Carefully put 8-inch middle tier (still on cardboard) in center of bottom tier. Cut remaining 2 straws in half and insert into middle tier in same manner, with 1 straw piece in center and remaining 3 straw pieces in a circle around it. Carefully put 6-inch top tier (still on cardboard) in center of middle tier.

Fill in any gaps between tiers with Buttercream and transfer remaining Buttercream to a pastry bag filled with a small (#66) leaf tip. Pipe a decorative border around top edge of top tier. With a medium-sized (#70) leaf tip pipe border in same manner around bottom edges of top and middle tiers. With same tip pipe 5 evenly spaced ribbons from top to bottom of cake. (These ribbons will support cascades of crystallized flowers.)


Transfer cake to a cake stand or other serving plate and with a larger (#113) leaf tip pipe border around bottom edge of cake. With same tip pipe, make a mound of Buttercream on top of cake. (This mound will support crystallized flower arrangement.)


Arrange crystallized flowers and mint leaves decoratively on top and sides of cake. Chill cake at least 6 hours and up to 1 day. Let cake stand at cool room temperature (Buttercream frosting is sensitive to warm temperatures) 2 to 4 hours before serving.


Serve cake with Crème Fraîche Ice Cream and additional raspberries.


Irish Pub Beef Stew
This recipe is from my Great Grandmother!


1 ½ lbs beef, cut into chunks

¼ cup butter

1 (10 ½ ounce) can tomato soup

1 (10 ½ ounce) can water

4 carrots, cut into chunks

4 large potatoes, cut into chunks (do not peel carrots or spuds)

2 stalks celery, cut into chunks

3.12 Irish Pub Beef Stew.jpg4 onions, cut into chunks

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped fine

¼ cup good quality cooking sherry

2 bay leaves


Preheat oven to 300F degrees.


In a heavy skillet brown the beef in the butter over medium high heat. Add the soup and water and stir well. Add the rest of the ingredients and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring once.


Transfer to a cast iron Dutch oven or oven proof pot and cook in the oven, covered, for 5 hours, stirring occasionally.


Remove from oven, remove bay leaves and serve with Irish Soda Bread and butter.


Peanut Butter Fudge


This is the easiest Peanut Butter Fudge recipe ever!

2 cups of sugar
1/2 cup of milk
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 cup of peanut butter


Put sugar and milk in small pot and bring to a boil. Boil two to three minutes. Remove from heat and add peanut butter and vanilla. Stir just until mixed well. Pour into greased pan. For thick fudge use very small pan. Cool and cut! Enjoy!

7-12 peanut butter fudge a.jpg

7-12 peanut butter fudge b.jpg






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


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


Rita Berman: 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 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: is a self-taught independent philosopher who is still learning.  He has two books, both collections of essays, available on His latest book, More Colors Through My Mental Prism is also available.


John Burns:  As a graduate student I could not afford to run the electric baseboard heater furnished by my landlord. Fortunately, my death was never recorded and I was able to earn my degree once I thawed out. “


Brad Carver: 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, has been a freelance editor for 48 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: 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.


Howard A Goodman: A veteran of corporate society his entire working life, Howard discovered his passion for writing—an occupation that had lurked subliminally in his subconscious—thanks to the grim reality of suddenly being forced to make a major mid-life career transition. Though he didn’t grow up in the South and is not particularly partial to grits, Howard considers himself a Southern author of sorts. In contrast to those who spin tales of being raised dirt-poor on a tobacco farm, Howard's focus is on the lives of corporate professionals and their families—the thousands who flocked to the upscale cities and towns surrounding North Carolina’s high-tech Research Triangle Park—the Neo-Southerners. Howard resides in Cary, North Carolina.


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


Tim Whealton: 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.


Marry Williamson: 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