RPG Digest

May 2019


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


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Table of Contents

Editor by E. B. Alston. 2

Life’s Lessons by Laura Alston. 3

Daphne du Maurier Used Her Sense of Place in Novels by Rita Berman. 4

Natters of a Nomad by Peggy Ellis. 11

Capricorn Dilemma by Sybil Austin Skakle. 12

Hindsight by Diana Goldsmith. 14

A Walk in the Park by Marry Williamson. 14

And Then, the Universe Became Self-aware by Randy Bittle. 16

Black Widow by Dave Whitford. 18

Those Clever High School Students! 20

Dance the Jig by Paul Verlaine. 21

Life In Moccasin Gap by Brad Carver 22

Three Rivers to Cross – Serialized book by Elizabeth Silance Ballard. 23

Deep Medicine: How Artificial Intelligence Can Make Healthcare Human Again by Eric Topol. 31

Spies Like Us by Christopher Hall 32

IF by Alexi Tolstoy. 33

Familiar Questions Answered by Sixteen Year-Olds. 33

Hammer Spade and the Inca Curse – Serialized book by E. B. Alston. 35

The Call by Tim Whealton. 42

We Laughed a Lot More by E. B. Alston. 45

Stumped  by Mary Noble Jones. 46

From the Kitchen of P. L. Almanza. 46

Drunk Poet: 48

Contributors. 49



The Origin of Clubs


During the English Civil War in the 1640s, country people banded together into groups of men armed with clubs to defend their land from rampaging soldiers on both sides of the conflict. They continued their associations after the war ended and the clubmen’s “Clubs” gradually evolved into social organizations. 

The idea really took off and soon England had clubs for just about everything, including the famous Farting Club of Cripplegate where members met weekly to “poyson” the neighborhood with noisy “crepitations,” trying to out-fart each other.

Clubs soon became so popular, on both sides of the Atlantic, that a man was known by his clubs, and they by him.

It was the ultimate social disgrace to be horsewhipped on the steps of your club. James Gordon Bennett, publisher of the New York Herald, learned the hard way after he arrived late and drunk at the home of his fiancée, Caroline May. He mistook a fireplace for a urinal in full view of the other guests. Miss May broke off the engagement and her brother handled the whipping of Mr. Bennett.

An exclusive London club, called Pratt’s, requires members to address all club employees as “George.” And there’s the Drones Club where the spats-wearing members bombard each other with sugar and rolls.

Although we didn’t throw food, The Lions Club in Butner, NC, was in that category where members spent more time playing practical jokes than tending to business. They had a rule that the meeting ended at eight p.m. and if we had a long-winded speaker, by 8:05 p.m. he or she was speaking to an empty room.

They adjusted that rule at the famous meeting where one of my friends at the telephone company did the program. She was a good looking blonde who arrived wearing a mini-skirt and she spoke about palm reading. Although I had warned her about the eight o’clock rule, they kept asking her questions, while looking at their palms, until nine.

When I was transferred in my job to Southwest Virginia and moved my membership to the Lions Club in Richlands, Virginia, the Tail Twister in Virginia fined me a quarter for leaving North Carolina, another quarter for moving to Virginia and a third quarter for lowering the average IQ in both clubs.      

Today you can find a club for just about anything. There’s the Flat Earth Society, which states that the curvature of the earth is an optical illusion and the moon landings were filmed in the Arizona desert. There’s the Procrastinator’s Club whose motto is “Productivity Is Overrated.” They haven’t met in years. My favorite is The Man Will Never Fly Society, whose motto is “Birds Fly, Men Drink.” They remain dedicated to the principle that two Wrights made a wrong at Kitty Hawk.

Clubs of all types proliferated during the 1970s. When airline hijackings became common during the ’70s, the Society of Eastern North Carolina Airplane Hijackers (SENCAH) was formed to hijack a plane in Belhaven, NC, and force the pilot to fly them to Stumpy Point where they planned to pick up a bushel of fresh oysters. The club disbanded when the pilot told them the mule they used to tow the plane out of the hangar was sick.

There could be a very exclusive club called Important People Who Have Visited Manchester, Georgia (IPWHVMG). When I worked, I was sent to Manchester to train their technicians on how to use a new electronic cable analysis machine. When I arrived, my contact met me at the door and led me to the break room where coffee and donuts were laid out as if it was somebody’s birthday. When I asked what the occasion was, he told me I was the first person from the General Office who had ever visited Manchester.

I wonder why somebody hasn’t started a Writers’ Of Nonsense Club (WONC). However, now that I think about it, all the political journalists in the United States would automatically qualify for membership. They would drag the club’s reputation lower than the Farting Club, which would be almost as low as the Elected Politicians Club (EPC). Who in heck would want to be a member of that?


Gene Alston



Life’s Lessons

Laura A. Alston


Always strive to be real

And to live life with more zeal.

Cherish what is good and right,

And be a bright star giving off light.



The truth do not forsake.

Give, do not just take.

Be kind to those who are in need

And good advice always take heed.

From these things you can gather strength

And to your days perhaps add more length.

Always try to remember this:

From life’s lessons no one is exempt.



Daphne du Maurier Used Her Sense of Place in Novels

Rita Berman


 I read somewhere that there are only a dozen or so basic plots and all writings stem from these. It is, however the form in which the writer presents the basic elements of conflict, crisis, and resolution that makes the story different and thus interesting. The writer’s sense of place, his or her feeling of belonging, is injected into the story.

For Daphne du Maurier it was Cornish legends that inspired her. Born in London on 13 May, 1907 she was a talented and prolific writer who lived most of her life in Cornwall, England.  She loved that area and to her sense of place she added the history, legends, and folklore of Cornwall as background for her enthralling stories. 

Daphne-1.jpgShe was skillful in using a combination of fact and fiction.  With her descriptions of the Cornish countryside and her personal interest in sailing as well as a visual imagination she wove such stories as Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel, Jamaica Inn, Frenchman’s Creek, and The King’s General, which were later adapted into successful movies and television productions.  Her output of work is astounding when you consider that she wrote in longhand at first and later on a typewriter.  Revising took much longer in the days, before computers.

Over a period of 50 years she wrote 25 full-length books and several collections of short stories, as well as non-fiction books. She died April 19, 1989.  Her books reached an enormously wide readership, making her one of the wealthiest and most successful novelists of her day, said Judith Cook in her biography of du Maurier.

Daphne du Maurier’s father, Gerald du Maurer, was a popular actor-manager and her mother, Muriel Beaumont, was an actress. Daphne grew up in the make-believe world of the theatre and was educated at home with her sisters. Her elder sister, Angela, also became a writer, and her younger sister Jeanne was a painter.

Daphne’s father had desired a son and she grew up wishing she had been a boy. She called her masculine alter ego “Eric Avon”. In several of her novels she used a male narrator...

She kept a diary from the age of 12 until she was married in 1932.  She noted the books she had read – Scott, Thackeray, Robert Louis Stevenson, John Galsworthy and Oscar Wilde.  But it was the stories of Katherine Mansfield that made a lasting impression and many years later she visited Mansfield’s grave in France.

By her mid-teens, before she went to finishing school in Paris, she began to write short stories.  Writing came slowly to her at first, in her book, “Myself When Young”, (1977) she recalled, “It’s so much easier to think out vaguely in my head than to set it down in words.”

When she was 19 she visited Cornwall with her mother and two sisters. They were looking for a holiday home.  “The hired car deposited our mother and ourselves at the foot of the hill, by the ferry, across the estuary was the village of Fowey,” she wrote.

 “We could either cross the ferry to Fowey or lunch at the Ferry Inn in Bodinnick.”  They decided to have lunch at the Inn but before climbing the hill they saw a “For Sale” board on the gate of a house by the water’s edge.  The house was built like a Swiss Chalet. The ferryman standing nearby told them it was called “Swiss Cottage”. Boats used to be built there, down under, and the second floor was used for lofts. The top floor was for living.

After lunch Daphne left her mother talking to the proprietor of the Inn and walked back down the hill. She recalled looking toward the harbor mouth and seeing small boats everywhere, yachts at anchor, and a big ship drawing near.

“There was a smell in the air of tar and rope and rusted chain, a smell of tidewater. Down harbor, round the point, was the open sea. Here was the freedom I desired, long sought-for, not yet known. Freedom to write, to walk, to wander, freedom to climb hills, to pull a boat, to be alone.”

Her family bought Swiss Cottage and renamed it Ferryside.  The following year she returned to see the renovations. Instead of sail lofts there was now a bedroom and bathroom for her. “I am so pleased with it all,” she wrote in her diary. A year later, when she and her sister Angela were back in Fowey they trespassed on a driveway leading to a house called Menabilly.  “We were not yet rooted. We were new folk from London. We walked as tourists walk, seeing what should be seen.”

An old guidebook informed them that the house had been built in the reign of Queen Elizabeth and was owned by the Rashleigh family but the house was shut up, uninhabited, and the owner lived in Devon. The driveway to the house was nearly three miles long, and it was overgrown but after several attempts they were successful in seeing the house. “It was grey, still, silent,” she wrote. “The windows were shuttered fast, white and barred.  Ivy covered the grey walls and threw tendrils round the windows…the house was sleeping.”

The overgrown driveway and appearance of the house had a magical quality and that was in her mind many years later, when she began her opening paragraph to Rebecca.  Memories of this magical house also appear in Frenchman’s Creek.        

In April 1929 she was back in Fowey. After rowing herself across Pridmouth Cove she again got to Menabilly and prowled around the outside. For a number of years, each time she returned to Cornwall she visited Menabilly in secret, until eventually the Rashleighs learned of her interest and gave her permission to walk the grounds.

On one of her walks up Pont Creek she saw a derelict schooner called “Jane Slade” rotting on the mud flats and her curiosity was aroused. After discovering Jane Slade’s tombstone in the Lanteglos churchyard and going through a box of the Slade family papers she started to work on a genealogical table of the family.  Her diary indicate she felt there was enough material for a real book, though she would have to add a lot of imagination to it. 

Ernie Slade, the grandson of Jane Slade, told du Maurier that the schooner was going to be broken up and offered her the figurehead.  It was placed inside the Ferryside house. I photographed the house when I visited Fowey in 1998.

For du Maurier’s 21st birthday her mother gave her a thirteen-foot rowing boat that was built by the Slade family and she played around on the river with this while waiting for her sailing boat to be finished.  She returned to London in October that year after her mother agreed that if she earned enough money to keep herself entirely there was no reason why she should not live at Ferryside as long as she liked.

Just after her 22nd birthday she went into the local branch of the bookstore W.H.Smith in Fowey and bought a copy of a magazine in which one of her stories was published.  About this time she had several romances, one of them with Carol Reed, the son of the actor-manager Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree.  There was talk of marriage but Carol, who was five months older, than Daphne had little money, and she was reluctant to lose her independence down in Fowey.

The idea for a story about Jane Slade continued to brew at the back of her mind, while she visited France, read Katherine Mansfield’s stories, and then visited Mansfield’s grave at Montparnasse. On returning to England she gave Michael Joseph, the editor at Curtis Brown, the stories she had written while sitting in French cafes.

When her family shut up Ferryside after the summer, they kept one room open for Daphne to use as a study while she stayed in a cottage opposite.  On a terrible wild day in October she began her first novel which she called The Loving Spirit.  The title came from a poem by Emily Bronte.

She remembered it took about 10 weeks to write the book in longhand, writing all morning, then to Miss Roberts at the cottage for lunch, after which she would take a row in the afternoon or a walk in the woods with the dog.  A cup of tea and then back to work at Ferryside until it was time to pack up for the evening.  A typist did the final typing.  Some two months later when she was on holiday in Paris she got a letter that the book had been accepted by Heinemann for publication in England and America. 

Almost immediately she started work on another book that she titled, I’ll Never Be Young Again, about a young man running away from a stuffy family and having a host of adventures. Judith Cook, who was a friend of du Maurier in the 1960’s, said the character of the young man never comes to life and most of what happens to him is entirely unreal. 

Her third book, The Progress of Julius, was based on some research she did in Paris and it took her nine months to write. By then she was spending most of the year in Ferryside.

In the late summer of 1931, a thirty-five year-old major in the Grenadier Guards, Tommy “Boy” Browning, said to one of his close friends that he had read a novel called The Loving Spirit. “It’s one of the best books I’ve read for years, and apparently it’s all about Fowey in Cornwall. I’m determined to go down there in my boat and see the place for myself.” He thought he might have the luck to meet the girl who wrote the book and asked his friend to come with him.

They cruised up and down the area for a week and were spotted by Daphne’s sister Angela, who said, “There’s a most attractive man going up and down the harbor in a white motorboat. Do come and look.”  Daphne agreed he looked good. Local gossip informed her that he was said to be the youngest major in the British army.

The following year, while she was recovering from removal of her appendix, she heard Major Browning was in the harbor and wanted to meet her.  He sent her a note saying he was sorry to hear she had been ill and could not sail her own boat, and asked if she would like to join him on the river in his.  She accepted.  She went out one afternoon with him and found him to be one of the easiest going people she had ever met, and they spent the evening at Ferryside talking for hours over a roaring fire.

Browning had plenty of experience with women, he pursued Daphne for the next two days and then had to return to his battalion. A week later she found him in the garden sawing logs for the fire – he had driven through the night.  He was dressed in old clothes and sea boots.  When he saw her he opened his green eyes wide and smiled, and as Judith Cook put it, “she was hooked.”

For the next few months he spent every spare minute he could in Fowey. She showed him her favorite walks, they sailed the river in both of the boats and by the end of June they became engaged.  Eleven days after their engagement was announced in The Daily Telegraph they were married.

Daphne was determined to be married, like Jane Slade, in Lanteglos church and the ceremony was fixed for the unusually early hour of 8:15 a.m. to enable the wedding party to sail up on the tide to reach the church. Daphne wore her old blue serge suit which her mother had ironed the night before.

Daphne, her parents, and the best man sailed by boat to Pont Creek Quay. “Boy” Browning and the Hunkins, who were neighboring boat-builders followed in his boat.  They all walked up the steep hill to the church of St. Willow, to be married. After the ceremony the newly-weds loaded stores onto Browning’s boat and sailed off down the Fowey River to the open sea and a honeymoon on the Cornish coast.

At first, marriage curtailed some of du Maurier’s freedom, for as the wife of a career officer she was expected to take part in the social life of the regiment, but she still continued to write.  Her novel, The Progress of Julius was published in the spring of 1933 by Heinemann.  She then switched to Victor Gollancz as her publisher.

Jamaica Inn, a mystery story about smugglers based in the 1800s was published in 1936.  It is a real place, located on Bodmin Moor. This was the first of her novels to be turned into a film. It was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starred Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara who made her debut in the film.

Du Maurier’s description of Jamaica Inn was not much different from what I saw when I toured the area in 1998.  It was a gloomy day and my guide and I took shelter in the Jamaica Inn. Sipping morning coffee in front of a log fire in the Smuggler’s Bar of the Inn it was easy to imagine weary travelers alighting from horse-drawn carriages instead of cars. Bodmin Moor is a bleak area, the wind sweeps across the bare ground and rock, and I saw no vegetation.    

In the fall of 1937 Browning was stationed in Alexandria, Egypt as commanding officer of the Second Battalion, Grenadier Guards. Daphne was with him having left their two small daughters back in England in the care of a nanny and the two grandmothers.

She was homesick for Cornwall but went to various cocktail parties that she was obliged to attend. She was working on the early stages of a new novel, jotting down the intended chapters in a notebook. This was to be set in the 1920s about a young wife and her slightly older husband, living in a beautiful house that had been in his family for generations. Obviously she was drawing from her own life and what she knew of the Rashleigh family having heard that a former owner of Menabilly had been married first to a very beautiful wife, who he had divorced, and then he married again a much younger woman. Du Maurier wondered if the second wife had been jealous of the first. She made drafts in her notebook and sketched out the first few chapters then put it away until they returned to England a few months later.

After being reunited with her children and settling down in a rented Tudor house she typed up her notes and called the book Rebecca, using the name of Maxim de Winter’s first wife.  She changed the name of the house from Menabilly to Manderley. The book has all the ingredients of Gothic romance, a mysterious haunted mansion, violence, murder, a sinister villain, sexual passion, and a spectacular fire.  And also Mrs. Danvers, the sinister housekeeper who terrifies the timid second wife.

It took her three to four months to complete the book before the finished manuscript was sent on to Victor Gollancz her publisher. After publication it became a huge success and has never gone out of print. In 1938 the Prime Minister of England, Neville Chamberlain, is said to have carried a copy of Rebecca in his briefcase when he flew to meet Hitler in Munich in September of that year.

Du Maurier later adapted the story for stage and then the film rights were sold. In 1940 Hitchcock directed the film starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine and it was an even greater success than the book. Hitchcock won an Oscar for Best Film of 1940.  Olivier is reported to have said that without his success in Rebecca he would certainly never have become an international star.

Nine years after she first saw that overgrown, winding driveway, she heard that there was to be a sale at Menabilly. Everything had to be sold up, and the house just left to fall to bits. As the house was entailed it could not be sold.  In 1943, when she returned to Cornwall with her by now three children, she went to Menabilly and saw the window panes broken, the house in terrible condition, shutters open and hanging loose, wallpaper falling off the walls.  But she still wanted the house so called her lawyer and asked him to write to the owners to see if she could rent Menabilly for ten years.  To her surprise the Rashleighs agreed to a 25-year lease and by the time her husband returned from wartime duty in Tunisia she had made the house habitable and was back to writing again.

When she moved into Menabilly she was at her peak professionally according to Judith Cook. In 12 years she had written and published 9 full-length books. She varied the genre of her stories. Sometimes mysterious or romantic. She said Frenchman’s Creek was her most romantic novel. She also wrote historical dramas, or psychological realism. She was on her way to being the highest paid woman writer in Britain. She had staff to run the house, cook, and look after her three children, and all the time she wanted to write or do research.

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/412zIuCG5hL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgHer pleasure in sailing came out in the character of Niall, the song writer in The Parasites which was published in 1949.  Niall is a man of simple tastes, enjoys staying in a hut beside the sea, and on his boat. 

Sailing was something that both du Maurier and Tommy Browning enjoyed but while they had deep fondness and affection for each other they were not temperamentally suited.  She disliked almost any kind of social life or public gathering while he was the complete extrovert, and a very physical man interested in sports and flying.  The sexual side of her marriage was never the vital element for her as it was for him.  He had a need to find physical fulfillment elsewhere.  I heard from my landlady in Fowey that Browning had a reputation in the village for being a womanizer.

Browning retired from the Army in the 1940s and was given a knighthood in 1946 which made Daphne du Maurier – Lady Browning. In 1953 Browning was appointed Treasurer to the Duke of Edinburgh when Elizabeth became Queen. He and Daphne were guests at Elizabeth’s coronation and were allowed to keep their chairs which had been specially made for the occasion.

While he stayed in London carrying out his royal duties Daphne du Maurier continued to live and write in Cornwall, in the house she loved.  After my Cousin Rachel was published in 1951 she wrote various short story collections and about a dozen other novels and non-fiction books, as well as three plays. 

In the early 1960s she learned that the lease would not be renewed on the house but instead was offered Kilmarth, a property with a splendid view of the sea.  Browning died in 1965 and after Kilmarth was renovated she moved in.  Here she wrote another historical novel, The House on the Strand, after discovering a collection of dusty bottles containing curious things, like embryos she said, in the basement. A scientist had been the previous occupant of the house.

Back in the 1970s the Durham Morning Herald asked me to write a book review of The House on the Strand. I was almost at the end of the book when I found my copy had about 20 pages missing.  I put that in my review as a caution for I didn’t know how many other copies of the book had the same printing error.  To this day I don’t know how the story ended.

In the 1970s it was estimated that more than 20 million copies of her books had been sold in 30 languages. The last novel that she wrote was Rule Britannia, published in 1972. She then wrote four non-fiction books, the last of which was The Rebecca Notebooks, published in 1981.

Several years before her death she gave an interview, published in The Lady magazine in 1987, in which she said she was no longer writing. This was difficult at first, she said, for she had no hobbies, but she had not given up reading and “particularly liked Katherine Mansfield’s short stories and the novels of Jane Austen, which she had read many times.”

Most of her effects including the coronation chairs were sold at auction after her death in 1989 but I saw some of her possessions in the small museum, alongside the Jamaica Inn. The display of memorabilia included her Sheraton writing desk top and copies of her books reprinted in many languages.

In May 1997 a literary festival took place in Fowey to celebrate the 90th anniversary of her birth. For many years the festival was supported by the Cornwall Council.  When funding ceased a group of local people incorporated themselves as a charity and now hold the Fowey Festival of Arts and Literature. This year it will be held from 10-18 May 2019. 

Fowey is an ancient Cornish seaport, with narrow winding streets on a hill that overlooks the River Fowey and the harbor.  On the opposite bank of the river is Polruan a small village associated with boat building and repairs.  Some of the cottages here are rented out to summer visitors, as they were in du Maurier’s youth.  A ferry service provides access between Polruan and Fowey.

In 1998 I spent a week exploring the harbor, coves and fields where du Maurier said she found the freedom to write, to walk, and to wander. I had traveled by train from Gatwick station to the western part of England, and stayed in a guest house only a short distance from Menabilly where she had lived. The fields I saw were the same fields that she looked at on her walks.  My landlady told me that although du Maurier was “not a mixer” she was friendly if they met in the village shops. 

Lynn Goold, the tourist office director, gave me a one-day individual tour and drove me to the Jamaica Inn, Castle Dor, Bodmin Moor and Polridmouth that were featured in du Maurier’s stories. We ate lunch at the Rashleigh Inn in Polkerris which is a pretty little cove with a curving harbor wall sheltering a sandy beach overlooked by the inn. Lynn also showed me the driveway but not the house that had sparked du Maurier’s imagination and which she described in her opening paragraph of Rebecca. I visited the churchyard and saw the Slade graves, and Pont Creek Quay to which du Maurier had sailed to on her wedding day.

On a boat trip that passed by Polruan and Bodinnick I saw the Ferryside house where she had lived as a girl and took a photograph. Kilmarth House the dower house in which she spent her last years was inaccessible as it had private owners.

The weather on the Cornish coast can be wet and cold in the early summer, and some of the descriptions in Rebecca are definitely similar to those I encountered. I saw a man ploughing a field with many birds darting and swooping behind him and it struck me that a scene like that might have sparked the idea for her short story, The Birds.

daphne-2.jpgIn his obituary to du Maurier, Richard Kelly, a professor of English at the University of Tennessee said that her stories “The Birds” and “Don’t Look Now” stand out as landmarks in the development of the modern Gothic tale. The accepted order of things suddenly and for no apparent reason, is upset.

Kelly had visited du Maurier in November 1988 and described her as appearing quite small, sitting in a chair surrounded by piles of newspapers she had been reading. In her eighties she was a recluse who had chosen to live amongst her memories.  In the dining room there was a large oil painting of her as a young woman, many photographs of her father in jaunty poses, numerous medals that had been awarded to her husband and a photograph of Dwight Eisenhower inscribed to him. 

In 2011 five of her early stories, that she wrote when she was in her early twenties but were lost, were discovered and published by Virago Press.  One of these was “The Doll” about a man who discovers that the girl he’s smitten with is besotted with a mechanical sex doll.

Ann Willmore, a book-seller who had searched for the story for years, and found it in a collection of stories rejected by magazines and publishers, said she was dumbfounded.  “Even in this day and age, when anything goes, it’s still quite shocking… I can understand why it wasn’t published at the time.”

A few months ago I streamed a movie that was made in 2012 movie that had me thoroughly enthralled. Afterwards I learned it was an adaption of du Maurier’s 1957 book, The Scapegoat. While her novel took place in France, this British screen version is set in the UK in 1952 as Britain prepares for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Wikipedia noted the ending is different from the novel and I have now ordered the book. The movie starred Matthew Rhys and Eileen Atkins and was written by Charles Sturridge.  An earlier film version made in 1959 had starred Alec Guiness as the leading character.



Ferryside, du Maurier’s house in Bodinnick. Sept.1998. by Rita Berman

Rita Berman at St.Wyllow Church, Polruan, Sept. 1998.



Reputation is what people say about you on earth.  Character is what angels say about you before the throne of God.



Natters of a Nomad

Peggy Ellis


We begin our journey in Koblenz where the Mozelle (also Mozell) River flows into the Rhine, two of Europe’s most important rivers. The city straddles both banks of these mighty rivers, and as a result, it has been an important defensive and economic center since circa 8 BC, when the Romans built a round tower. The remnant of this tower is the location of the Old Castle near a 14th century stone arch bridge.

Old Castle began its existence as a residence in 1185. Trouble rose in 1276 when Koblenz citizens demanded independence. Archbishop Henry II built the castle as a defensive measure to force the citizens to forget their demand for independence. His efforts were unsuccessful because, beginning in 1281 the citizens prevented further work on the castle and the ramparts.

In retaliation, Henry II subdued the city in 1283, with armed force. The construction of the Old Castle was completed in 1307. Originally surrounded by a broad, water-filled moat and a fortification wall, only the castle house has survived, and today it houses the city archives.

Our onboard historian said the Mozelle still supplies water to the moat. Guided tours are available by appointment.

§ § §


Our journey continues to the town of Braubach, where the Marksburg Castle, dating from 1117 and one of the principal sites of the Rhine Gorge UNESCO World Heritage Site, stands high above the town. It’s arguably the best-preserved castle of the entire Middle Rhine Valley, and one of the best of all the German castles.

Like most countryside castles, Marksburg was a fortress built by the landowners to protect their harvest, hired hands, and local residents, who paid annual taxes for such protection from outlaw bands that raided farms and villages. It also protected key roads and rivers, extorting tolls from ships plying the river waters. Can we say Robber Barons here?

Over the centuries, Marksburg Castle has expanded from its original keep, which is still in the center of the complex. Most of the additions were for defense including artillery and the round towers of the outer wall. Its butter-churn tower (a narrow, later-built tower situated on top of the original) is one example in this area.

We skip ahead to the Napoleonic era when he abolished the Holy Roman Empire in 1806. He gave the Marksburg to his ally the Duke of Nassau, who used the castle as a prison and as a home for disabled soldiers. Neither our onboard historian nor my limited research indicated the castle housed prisoners and soldiers at the same time.

After a Prussian ownership beginning in 1866, the German Castle Association purchased the castle in 1900 for a symbolic price of 1,000 Gold marks. The association had been founded a year earlier as a private initiative to preserve castles in Germany. The Marksburg has been the head office of this organization since 1931.

In March 1945, the castle was badly damaged by American artillery fired from the other side of the Rhine. However, it survived conquests, Napoleonic rule, and two world wars, so its construction is nearly all original.

According to our onboard historian, the Marksburg is the only fortress in the Middle Rhine to escape destruction and well-meaning restoration. I found contradictions to that statement in researching another castle. There is no contradiction that it has been inhabited continuously for more than 700 years, and contains many original furnishings. The chapel alone is worth the cobblestones and 137 worn steps on a rainy afternoon.

Next month, I’ll delve into a destructive family legend.


Capricorn Dilemma

Sybil Austin Skakle


Some may suppose retirement community life is dull. Mine is not, nor ever has been.  

Recently, a Capricorn horoscope indicated a new phase of romance. Perhaps for younger Capricorns, I thought, although one is not immune or incapable of loving at any age. Human hearts and spirits are of eternity. My own spirit is as young and inquisitive as it ever was. Only my body is old.

            Since tides are influenced by the moon and all things created by God are interrelated, it is possible my life, too, is influenced by phases of the moon and the stars. God is the Almighty. “All the earth and those who dwell therein belong to Him.” Psalm 24:1

In June 1980, our tour group, headed by Dr. Max Dunnam, was in route to Bavaria, Germany to attend the Oberammergau Passion Play. We stopped by Assisi, Italy and after Father George, our guide, pointed out the solid gold altar of the church, he said, “Why not? The gold in all the mountains belong to Him!” 

While I trust God, as the Holy Spirit within me, for guidance, I acknowledge that those who study the phases of the moon and the stars and their relatedness to humanity may be onto something. There are studies of all descriptions and sciences which study that which IS. It is true that God, Creator of the heavens and the earth, saw the wisdom of having the moon and the stars influence the tides and planting and harvest. Why not my life, as well? Mankind, while the highest form of Creation, “made only a little lower than the angels,” is of the earth, given free choice and the responsibility for choices made. We are told that the largest part of our own bodies is water.

My three sons have different signs, due to their birth dates. Their personalities are supposed to be influenced by the sign of the Zodiac that fits their dates. My three sisters and I all had brown eyes and hair and training of the same father and mother. We shared their values of honesty, kindness, and loyalty. However, we were very different in personality and emotional makeup. My three sons are, as well.

Let me explain what happened and why I am writing about this particular Capricorn prediction. Several years ago, my son Cliff, who supplied me with the iPhone, put me onto playing Words with Friends on it. Family and friends were opponents. Over time, I have become better about tile placement and smarter about finding where placing them will give me the highest score. Another son and I play, as well, and we use the chat AP to keep in touch with one another. Actually, we find ourselves using it more often than either Email or telephone. Our communications, short and sweet, are convenient for all of us.

Words with Friends has challenges. I do not know why some win their badges with fewer words than I do. I need over 6000 points a week to win one. Within the last few weeks several strangers challenged me to play. Thinking they were striving to accumulate points, I accepted their challenges, as a means to my goal. 

When several strange men challenged me and began asking questions, I suspected they were using the game site for social media. Some commented about a picture of me holding Bogey, my dog that died a year ago. Photos usually flatter me. While I know to be cautious, I am influenced by a Bible verse about the treatment of strangers: “You may be entertaining angels unawares.”

The Ap itself, suggest players be respectful of one another. And the game itself: “Words with Friends” leads me to believe the intent is to have a friendly game with another person. However, lest they suppose they are talking to a woman of their generation, I told them my true age and status: 93 years old and resident of a retirement community.

They started by asking: “How long have you been playing?” Or, “Hi! How are you?”  Or, “Where are you?” When they continued to be interested in knowing me better, saying: “Age doesn’t matter,” I began to suspect they had another kind of game in mind.

Remember the 1998 movie, You’ve Got Mail, which starred Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. I know of marriages between persons who met on social media. The story that unfolded in my life over the next two weeks could be used as a movie script.

The stories these new friends told me placed them in far off places. One was in Argentina on an oil rig. Another said he was in Iran building bridges and other infrastructure. Another, an oil company engineer, said he was born in Canada but was visiting a daughter in California. All had been married, widowed, or divorced, or estranged, with children. After they thought they had gained my confidence, one wanted me to help them with money need. One claimed a great disaster and needing money to repair machinery for the contracted job. Another claimed a disaster that affected three other men, all badly injured. He had enough to pay for two but needed my help for him to pay money to the third’s family. Another was about to ask for help to send his daughter to compete in a contest in another country. 

Two claimed identity of highly decorated military men. These were separated from wives who had been untrue to them. One of them wanted to share 30 % of a million dollars’ worth of securities that he would send to me for safety sake. I see that one picture is still on the play list. For my part, I blocked each one when I realized they did not need my advice, as an older and wiser friend. They were not friends, but scammers. I used my ability to block them, except for one has disappeared from the players list.

The moon is in another phase.  I am glad this Capricorn is no longer threatened by romance. Discouraging men pretending to be romantically interested was interesting, but exhausting. 



George Orwell said: “On the whole human beings want to be good, but not too good and not quite all the time.”

 George Carlin said: “It’s never just a game when you’re winning.”

 Robert Orben on illegal immigration: “Illegal aliens have always been a problem in the United States. Ask any Indian.”




Diana Goldsmith

 We can all benefit from hindsight. However unless we are going to repeat something we've done before and would like it changed, we are not going to be able to.

Many people keep making mistakes  for example they may fall for the same sort of person with the same character flaws the after time.

I presume the saying has something to do with male deer having very keen eyesight and we do talk about having eyes in the back of our heads!

Thinking of some of the decisions made by people or nations in the past perhaps there would be benefit in being able to look back which of course we can in some ways by considering history. The trouble being that we often only think of ourselves and not what the consequences of our actions will be to others! We can note this at present with our government and Brexit! Our beloved country has been at war in the past with quite a few members of  the European Union; France, Germany and Spain spring to mind. It makes you think as we are members of a united Europe and now  we want to leave it our elected representatives cannot agree on a deal to make it happen.

It is said that a committee is a group of people who when agreed to design a horse came up with a camel instead! So what can we say of Parliament.

I suppose as one gets older there is the tendency to look back as the years ahead seem few compared with the past. I'm sure there are things we would have changed but there have been good things too. We haveet interesting people and been to great places. We have been around to see great achievements. I'm glad to have been around when Everest was climbed by Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Ten Sing and when Yuri Gregarin went into space in the Sputnik and when the first man walked on the moon just to name a few. I am sure some will say to have been there at the birth of their child or to have fallen in love and married.

Let us not be despondent therefore for each of us will have to give an account of our lives in the end to the one who created us and it is He and He alone who knows the beginning from the end.



A Walk in the Park

Marry Williamson

Things had not gone too well lately for Neil. He felt down in the dumps. He had managed to upset his entire family. First of all he had been responsible for his wife’s diamond pendent disappearing down the grate outside their home. He had phoned the council but they said that they could not dredge the whole drainage system just to look for a necklace. His wife said she would never speak to him again.

 Next he forgot to collect his daughter from her ballet lessons and she had to come home (heaven forbid) on the bus. She also stated she would never speak to him again. Thirdly, he forgot to collect his monosyllabic son from his mate’s house and he had to walk a whole mile home. As he never spoke more than one syllable at a time already there was not much change there. He felt he desperately needed a distraction. 

He sat moodily in front of the TV brooding on some plan of action. The wife and daughter were watching some vacant reality programme eating Danish pastries. He looked at the pastries and it came to him in a flash. A brilliant idea. He was going to take a walk in a park. But not just any park. He punched the air, “Halleluja”. The family looked at him suspiciously.

The next morning the alarm on his phone went off at half past five. He had put it underneath his pillow but his wife who was normally dead and deaf to the world till at least ten o’clock woke up.

She squinted at her watch. “What are you doing up at this ungodly hour?” “Go back to sleep” he hissed.

She shrugged and turned over. Phew. He breathed a sigh of relief. He tiptoed out with his clothes over his arm and dressed in the bathroom after his shower.

As he came out the daughter was lurking on the landing. “Where are you off to?”. “What is what ‘I never speak to you again’?” he said.

Downstairs in the kitchen was the monosyllabic son munching on a piece of toast and marmite. “Whatcha”. 

Two syllables! What was this?  He looked at his watch.  Five to six.  Why was everybody up early today? He went into his study and as he opened the desk to get his passport he heard the son behind him sucking his teeth. “Tsk”. So much for trying to leave the house surreptitiously. Once outside he hid his mobile phone under the lavatera bush in the front garden, walked to the high street and jumped on the early bus to the nearest Underground. He got the tube to Heathrow and got out at terminal 3 and the central area. Copenhagen. The little mermaid. Tivoli Gardens. Danish pastries. He found the British Airways office and bought a return with his credit card and checked the times. He was able to do it in the one day.  He just had time to get himself over to terminal 2 and checked in for the 8.30 flight.

The weather in Copenhagen was not too bright but at least it was not raining. He bought some Kroner in the arrivals hall and hailed a taxi into town. The first disappointment was that the mermaid was not at the Tivoli Gardens as he had supposed.

When he finally got to the part of the harbour where she sat on a rock he was quite crestfallen. She was tiny. A very little mermaid indeed. As he had not time to figure out Copenhagen’s transport system he got another cab back to town and was dropped just outside the gardens via the statue of Hans Christian Anderson which was gratifyingly large. The weather had improved and a hesitating sun had come out. The Fun Fair was in full swing and there were lots of people about. He did enjoy himself and was sorry that he had to leave in the afternoon and miss the fire works that were advertised for the evening.

He had a meal in the restaurant in the park and bought some Danish Pastries for the family. He took a taxi back to the airport and just managed to check in for the half past four flight back to Heathrow.

By the time he staggered up the front path and retrieved his mobile from under the lavatera bush he was knackered. 

As soon as they heard him come in the questions started.  “Where have you been all day? Why was your mobile switched off?” from the wife.

From the daughter: “brilliant Dad. I had to go to school on the bus. Again”

The son just sucked his teeth. “Tsk”.

He fished the Danish pastries out of his coat pocket. “What is that?” “Danish pastries.”  “Yeah we can see that.  Where did you get them?”

He took off his coat and sat down wearily. “Denmark”.

His wife heaved a big sigh. “Oh, be like that!”

When it dawned on her that he had indeed gone to Copenhagen to buy the pastries she got very angry.

“You miserable man, sneaking away like that. I would have come with you.”

He shuddered. Exactly. ‘Anyway” he said “eat the pastries, they were expensive”.

His wife stood up. “I am going to bed. You eat them and I hope they choke you.  I am never going to speak to you again”.

He was not too worried about the silent treatment. In fact, he found it rather comforting. In his innocence he thought that it meant that he would be left in peace and no demands would be made of him.

The next morning, as he went down to make himself a cup of tea he saw the little post-it notes stuck on the fridge door.

Two were in the wife’s handwriting. ‘Aunt Ethel doctor’s appointment - 1 pm’. Underneath was another one. ‘Hairdresser - 3 pm’. A third note in the daughter’s handwriting said; ‘Ballet lessons - 5 pm.’

He assumed they were notes to themselves and fleetingly wondered why they had not used the calendar in the kitchen. He put the milk back in the fridge, went upstairs carrying his cup of tea got showered and dressed and thought no more of it. Downstairs again he found the dog in the hallway longingly staring at his lead so he decided to give him a good walk.

He set out quite happy pondering the fact that he much preferred the dog’s company to any of his relatives when halfway down the lane he met his neighbour, walking his friend’s boxer dog. He liked Craig and both dogs also go on very well. They decided to have a drink in a little country pub 4 miles away.  The drinks stretched out to lunch and as the pub was one that stayed open through the afternoon they had a few brandies with their coffee afterwards and finally at around 5 pm they set off on the 4 miles back home.

He had a lovely day and felt extremely happy when he said goodbye to Craig, stumbled up his garden path, deftly avoiding the loose stone. As he got in all hell broke loose. Aunt Ethel, the wife, the daughter all shouting at him at once, the ‘never speak to you again rule’ quite forgotten. The son hovered in the background, sucking his teeth.

It was only then that he realised that the post-it notes had been for him.



And Then, the Universe Became Self-aware

Randy Bittle


This story defies comprehension.  Indeed, the most incomprehensible aspect of this story is that it is comprehensible at all.  The subject of this story is the universe itself.  As best we can determine, the universe began approximately 13.7 billion years ago.  We do not fully know why or how.  Various religions offer ideological explanations to resolve the why question, but the how, the actual physical processes involved in the development of the universe, is what I will focus on in this essay.

I got much of the information about the early formation of the universe from lecture 36 of the course “Physics in Your Life,” taught by Professor Richard Wolfson and produced by the Great Courses company in Chantilly, VA ( www.thegreatcourses.com ).  I highly recommend any of the Great Courses material for your own intellectual odysseys, forays, and excursions.  Learning can be addictive once you get started, but it is a wonderful addiction leading to better understanding and insight. The Great Courses has many topics to choose from in many fields of study.  Lifelong learning adds a meaningful dimension to your existence as a cognizant piece of the universe.

Professor Wolfson states that while we do not have an understanding of physics that is sufficient to allow us to trace the history of the universe back to the beginning, we can go back as far as 10-43 part of the first second of the universe’s existence.  My watch’s stopwatch function resolves hundredths of a second, but it cannot come close to measuring 10-43 of a second.  That is very close to THE beginning.  At that time the universe consisted of indeterminate blends of matter and energy, fluctuating from one to the other.  After a millionth of a second, the universe had cooled to the point that quarks were formed.  Protons and neutrons, each consisting of multiple quarks joined by the strong nuclear force, began to be created.  These nuclear materials were still too hot to stick together to form helium nuclei.

After about 3 minutes, cooling had allowed for the formation of atomic nuclei.  For the next thirty minutes protons and neutrons fused into helium nuclei and a trace amount of deuterium nuclei.  By the end of that half-hour, about 75% of the universe was hydrogen nuclei (single protons) and 25% was helium nuclei (2 protons and 2 neutrons fused together).  No nuclei of other elements common on earth, like carbon, silicon, and oxygen, existed then.  It took another 300,000 years before the universe had cooled enough for electrons to be captured by nuclei to form electrically neutral atoms.  The first stars formed after a few hundred million years from the beginning.  Stars were created as huge quantities of hydrogen and helium atoms came together under the force of gravity until pressure and heat generated the fusion of nuclei that fuels stellar existence.  This outlines “how” it all began, all the way up to the formation of the first stars.  As I mentioned earlier in the essay, you must consult your preferred religious source to explore reasons for “why.”

At this stage of the universe’s existence with the first hydrogen/helium stars formed over the course of several hundred million years, none of the heavier elements existed, other than a trace of lithium.  Heavier atoms up to the size of iron atoms were created by nuclear fusion inside of larger massive stars.  Atoms heavier than iron required the immense pressures occurring in supernovas for their creation.  Exploding supernovas distributed these atoms heavier than hydrogen and helium throughout space, where they eventually aggregated due to gravitational forces into solar systems like ours with planets consisting of these heavier atoms.  Only then did life as we know it become possible.

Our solar system is roughly 4.5 billion years old in a 13.7 billion year old universe.  In the past twelve thousand years humans developed agriculture, civilization, language, and writing.  Knowledge accumulated over those twelve millennia.  Humans consist of atoms created and dispersed by previous supernovas.  We are the universe made self-aware.  I hesitate to use the term “intelligent life.”  Just watch the evening news or your favorite social media resource and then tell me if you can find evidence for intelligence.  But I am hopeful, not full of despair.  Although we go around killing each other, cannot afford the artificial economic costs of quality health care, are destroying the air and water necessary to sustain our existence as living beings, and are consuming non-renewable resources at a remarkable pace, we nonetheless are self-aware pieces of the universe.  I have faith and hope in our youth to grasp the cosmic perspective of our precarious predicament and change their behaviors in favor of a more sustainable, healthy, and livable set of circumstances worthy of a universe with self-aware components.


Black Widow

Dave Whitford


"Roger," Mom said one spring day in 1957, "You need to get your barrel off Bob's burn pile.  Your dad wants to burn a big bunch of trash I've saved for him.

My barrel was a 55-gallon drum with the top cut out and a short length of two-by-six plank bolted on the outside, flush with the top edge.  I used it once in awhile, nearly full of water, to test-run small outboard motors clamped to the plank.  The drum had ended up, after the last such use, stored upside-down on Big Bob's burn pile.  I rolled it off the burn pile, up-ended it, and peered inside.

Oh wow!  I thought.  Is that what I think it is?

I rolled the barrel a bit more and tilted it so that the afternoon sun struck the bottom.  Sure enough, it was a big black widow spider, biggest one I'd ever seen.  Its legs stretched out the size of a silver dollar, and the black abdomen was the size of a marble.  The notorious red-orange hourglass almost glowed in the dark and was utterly unmistakable.  I couldn’t help but shudder at its sinister, shiny black look and its mate-eating reputation. 

I went into the kitchen and told Mom what I'd found.

"Oh, Roger," she said. "Do you think you can catch it?"

"Why'd I want to do that?" I asked.

"Because Lisa is taking biology.  Penny commented the other day that it's bug-board time. Remember when you caught bugs for your biology project?"

"Yeah, well, I never had to fool around with anything as awful as a big black widow."

"Oh, but it'll be such a prize, Son.  Go get it.  Lisa will be thrilled!"

Lisa Sharp, the next-door neighbor girl, was taking 9th-grade biology.  Every spring, Miss Martin, the cool biology teacher, sponsored her "bug wall", a neat innovation.  She had a big corkboard on one side of the classroom. The deal was, you'd catch a bug, write its phylum and other classification data and your name on a 3x5 index card and pin the bug, card and all, onto the cork board. The person with the most bugs at the end of the collection period got the highest grade, and so on down.

Spiders were popular to catch because Miss Martin didn't require us to classify them down any farther than just arachnid because there are so many different kinds. That cut down on the research time and left more time for collecting.

Miss Martin preferred that we impale the bugs alive so that they wouldn't die and stink so soon during the two-week collection period.  That meant her corkboard was literally alive and crawling. That pretty well creeped me out, I'll tell you!                                                            

I got Big Bob's can of Ronsonol and liberally hosed my spider down.  When I was sure she was dead from the lighter fluid, I fetched her out and wrapped her in Saran Wrap, which was pretty new on the store shelves then.  I took it next door and gave it to Lisa.

"EEyouooo!" she cried. "What's that?"

"A big black widow, the biggest I've ever seen. Take her. She's for your bug-board project."

"Oh, wow!" she said, and gave me a wicked grin. "That's so neat! Thank you!"

I half hoped she might hug my neck and kiss my lips, but I suppose she forgot to.  Lisa was three years younger than I but was already knockout pretty.

Next morning before the school bus came, the phone rang, and Mom answered it.

"It’s Penny Sharp, Roger, for you."

"Hi, Mizz Sharp. Good morning."  I was puzzled.

"Roger," she said, "That spider you brought Lisa is writhing around inside the Saran Wrap!"

"Did it get out yet?" I asked.

"No, not yet, but do you think it's safe?"

 “As long as she doesn't get out it's okay," I tried to reassure her.  "Tell you what.  Double wrap it ... or better yet, have Lisa carry it in a coffee can or something.  Miss Martin will be especially pleased it's still alive.  And I'll bet Lisa is the only kid who'll have one this year, out of all five biology classes."

Lisa got an A for her bug-board presentation.  I like to think her black widow got extra points.


I took Lisa to the prom a few weeks later. She had the prettiest gray-blue eyes of anyone there and looked like a movie star. Her parents were pretty protective, so I was the first boy they let her date.  I’d bought her a wrist corsage, of course, and that seemed to surprise and awe her when I went next door to pick her up.  She just didn’t know the drill yet, I suppose … why the corsage seemed to mean so much.

On the way to our high school, Lisa was quiet and seemed tense, maybe a little nervous.  She was a quiet kid anyway, so I blew it off in my mind and kept up my magpie chatter.  It was the Junior-Senior prom, after all, and Lisa was only a freshman, in over her head, she might’ve thought.

When we got to the gym, she looked around the little tables that ringed the center dance-floor area and said, “Oh look,” there’s Alyson Hubbard, my best friend!  Let’s go sit with her.”

Alyson was also in ninth grade and was there with my pal, Mike Slaughter.  Just as I had done, Mike waited too long to ask one of the prettier girls our own age for a prom date and had also mined into the lode of pretty freshman girls.  As Lisa and Alyson took to one another like long-lost survivors, the evening’s prospects brightened.  Lisa lost her reserve; we all laughed a lot together, danced some, and had a trademark marvelous time.

Escorting Lisa to her front door at evening’s end, I leaned into her on the doorstep, hoping for some intimate lip sugar.

 “Oh, Roger, don’t,” she said, pulling away.

 “Don’t what?”

 “Don’t spoil it, Rodge.  Please don’t try to kiss me ... ruin such a fun evening together.”

 “What?”  I said.  “First date?  Too fast for you?”

 “No, that’s not it.  It’s just that … well, you’re sweet and all, but you’re just not really my type.”

 “What type is that?”

 “Well, first of all … you’re a guy. … And you’re … not … Alyson …” Her voice trailed off.  I recoiled as though slapped, my hands dropping from around her back to hold her gently at her elbows.

 “Oh, Rodge, please don’t tell your mama,” she beseeched.  “My mom doesn’t know either … and our moms are so close.”

I dropped her left elbow with my right hand, kissed my fingertips, planted them on her upturned forehead, and grinned down at her.

 “Good night sweet next-door girlfriend,” I said.  “Trust me.”

Lisa grinned back up at me, blew me a kiss, and went in.  I walked across our two front yards to my house, the bulge in my trousers receding.


 “So, how’d it go last night?” Mom asked the next morning at breakfast.  “Y’all have a good time?” an eager note in her voice.

 “Yes’m, fabulous,” I said. “A perfect prom date.”

 “Y’all got home right early on.  That’ll please Penny.  Y’all planning another date real soon?”

 “No ma’am, I reckon not, not right away.”

 “Why not, Son?”

 “Well, Lisa’s not quite my type, you know, so young and all.”

Mom would never need to worry that her son would be the mate whom Lisa would devour.


Those Clever High School Students!


Every year, English teachers from across the country can submit their collections of actual similes and metaphors found in high school essays. These excerpts are published each year to the amusement of teachers across the country. Here are last year's winners.....


1.  Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.

2.  His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.


3.  He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.


4.  She grew on him like she was a colony of E. Coli, and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.


5.  She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.


6.  Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.


7.  He was as tall as a six-foot, three-inch tree.


8.  The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife's infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM machine.

9.  The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't.


10.  McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.


11.  From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you're on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.


12.  Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.


13.  The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.


14.  Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m., at a speed of 35 mph.


15.  They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan's teeth.


Dance the Jig




Dance the jig!

I loved her best her pretty eyes

Clearer than stars in any skies,

I loved her eyes for their dear lies.


Dance the jig!

And ah! The ways, the ways she had

Of driving a poor lover mad:

It made a man’s heart sad and glad.


Dance the jig!

But now I find old kisses shed

From her flower mouth a rarer red

Now that her heart to mine is dead.


Dance the jig!

And I recall, now I recall

Old days and hours, and ever shall,

And that is best, and best of all.


Dance the jig!



Life In Moccasin Gap

Brad Carver


(I keep forgetting to add that Moccasin Gap is the Original name for Roxboro, NC)


I went by to visit my Uncle Harvey the other day. Harvey just turned seventy-six years old, so for his birthday, Aunt Maggie gave him a real nice toupee – which she knitted herself.

Looks like he’s wearing a Doyle. Every time I see him I just want to set a glass of tea on his head, sweet tea, of course. This is, after all, North Carolina. Sweet tea is our table wine. It should be illegal to serve unsweetened tea in the South.

If I ever run for office, that will be my first piece of legislation, to make unsweetened tea illegal in North Carolina. It starts to become un-sweet somewhere around the middle of Virginia.

We do a lot of things different here in North Carolina, like put slaw on a hotdog. That’s ‘slaaaaw’, not slaw. You have to drag it out so folks ‘round here can understand what you’re talking about.

We also say ‘naw’ instead of ‘no’. I remember Grandma saying, “Naw, we don’t do drugs around here. We take medication.” Okay.

When I was in Chicago I asked for a hotdog with slaaaw and the lady thought I was crazy. She said, “Slaw on a hotdog? I’ve never heard of such nonsense.” But she made me one anyway. She put a big scoop of slaw in the middle of the hotdog bun and charged me fifty-cents extra for it.

Then she made one for herself and tried it. And she loved the way it tasted. Now she has a sign on her hotdog stand advertising that they are the only place in Chicago that serves “slaw dogs.”  She’s making a killing. Thanks to me, people in Chicago now know what a hotdog really tastes like.

Something else they don’t understand up North is a banana sandwich with mayonnaise. Those people don’t know how to eat up there. They ought to be put away. How did they ever win the war?

I’m afraid to tell them about the half of cantaloupe with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream in the middle. They might think I’ve gone off the deep end. A lot of people think that sounds disgusting. All I can say is try it you’ll like it. Vanilla ice cream and cantaloupe go together like a redneck girl and a tube top.

There are a lot of Southern foods I won’t try. For example, I won’t try chitterlings or chittlin’s as we call them around here. I can’t stand the way they look and I can’t stand the way they smell when you’re cooking them.

I won’t try mountain oysters because there are some parts of a pig that you just shouldn’t eat. Who was the first person to eat mountain oysters and what made him try them? I’m guessing he lost a bet.

And to think, as a child I used to love pickled pigs feet. I used to get them out of a glass jar at the store on the corner. They were right beside the pickled eggs and pickled sausages.

The corner store is the country version of 7-11. My dad used to hang out there and drink red eye. That’s a beer with tomato juice. I don’t know why they would ruin a good beer that way.

Everything was better when it was pickled. We pickled Grandpa when he died. And speaking of death, I could never understand people who came to a funeral, looked in the casket and said, “He looks good.” He’s DEAD. He can’t look good if he’s dead. No one ever said he looked good when he was alive, they would just say, “He looks old.” He was 93 when he died. Of course he looked old. He was old.

I used to love going to funerals because after the funeral we’d go to the deceased person’s house and there would be lots of food. We always ate well when someone died in Moccasin Gap.

I have eaten a lot of things down here that I wouldn’t eat otherwise, like the stuff they put in Brunswick stew.

When they used to fix stew in Moccasin Gap in those big black kettles out behind the store they would put in it what ever they found in the woods nearby, like squirrel, possum, rabbit and beaver.

They taste fine in a stew with hush puppies but if they were served to me on a plate, I wouldn’t touch it.

The Pizza Place in Moccasin Gap has a beaver pizza. It’s their biggest seller.

If you ever want to try some real food, the kind of food that will put hair on your chest regardless of what sex you are, come visit us here in Moccasin Gap. We’ll fatten you up, get you drunk on shine and send you on your way happy. We’re just that way ‘round here.

Have a good day now, you hear


Three Rivers to Cross

By Elizabeth Silance Ballard

3 rivers.jpg

Chapter Twenty-two


Laura was the first to leave our little supper club but we didn’t foresee that departure when she first told us she had a date for the following weekend.

“His name is Lieutenant Benjamin Corey. FIRST Lieutenant Benjamin Corey, actually,” she said.  “I met him at my brother’s wedding a few years ago but haven’t seen him since. He called to say that he had spoken with my brother who told him I was living and teaching here and that he should give me a call. Since Camp Lejeune is less than an hour from Meadow View, I invited him to come over for a picnic at Riverside Park and…”

“And you told him to bring two friends for Charlotte and me, right?” Melanie asked.

I laughed. Melanie did not.

“I’m serious, Laura. Did you tell him to bring friends when he comes?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Melanie. I was so surprised to hear from him that it never occurred to me to tell him he was welcome to bring friends. You could come with us, though. We’re just going to have a picnic and go water skiing.”

“Ouch! That lets me out,” I said. “You can go, Melanie, but there is no way I’m going to get up on a pair of water skis!”

“Well, me either.” Melanie was nodding her head in agreement. “I’m not athletic, brave, or stupid!”

Actually, Ben never did bring a friend with him during the next several months as he and Laura became more and more serious. We knew it was only a matter of time before Ben would be popping the question and Laura would be flashing her engagement ring, which is, of course, exactly what happened.

 “Melanie is going to be my Maid of Honor and you, Charlotte and Violet, are going to be my bridesmaids.”

Violet refused. “I know it’s an honor and I’m flattered you asked, but I’m too old to be a bridesmaid. I’ll be there, though.”

So, a bridal shower was planned. The wedding was planned. The reception was planned. The bride was beautiful and the groom a “poster Marine” in his Dress Blues as his groomsmen, equally poster material, presented the swords for the recessional. 


“And then there were three,” Melanie said, at the following Monday night supper on my back  porch. “So, do we want to bring someone else into our little supper club or just go with three nights a week?”

We decided to just wait and see rather than replace Laura right away. It had been the four of us for two years now and, after all,  Melanie and I were the only single teachers in the entire school.

Laura and Ben would be moving into Base Housing and she would commute from the base during that last month of school. She was hoping to teach the following year at one of the Camp Lejeune schools.

“It really isn’t very far,” I said, serving the crab bisque.  “We’ll see them once in a while, don’t you think?”

“No. Take it from me, the Old Maid Teacher,” said Violet. “It doesn’t happen.  Even if they were still living here, their lives have changed while ours remain the same. They would find that we have less and less in common. No, we’ll be going on alone, just the three of us, at least for a while.”

So, the “supper nights” were now Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, but after that first week, we wanted to add Tuesday back into the mix.

“What about on Tuesdays we all meet at a restaurant?  Dutch treat.”

“Melanie, that sounds like a good idea. This week, I just had a fried bologna and mustard sandwich on Tuesday night,” Violet said.

“Okay, I’ll admit it. I just ate graham crackers with banana and peanut butter on Tuesday,” I said.

So it was decided and life went on with a new group of students each year, a new set of parents and we grew accustomed to having just the three of us. Once Violet mentioned that her friend, Minnie Ross, might enjoy joining our supper club but it just never worked out.

The years passed relatively smoothly as I moved through my fourth, fifth, and sixth years, and beyond, at Meadow View Elementary. Even though there was nothing earthshaking in my life during those years and even though I was teaching the same material each year, each year was still different and I never lost interest or excitement in a new class of students.

 By that time, I was a “fixture” over at the First Baptist Church.  I had always refused to teach the Junior Sunday School class, knowing I needed something different on the weekends. So, I was in charge, and spent most Sundays, in the baby nursery. Changing diapers and rocking babies was about as “different” as I could get from my fifth graders. So, in the nursery I stayed; and, each year, when the Nominating Committee member called, I would always say “one more year.”

Knowing I needed more in my life than children and infants, I began bowling with Melanie and was surprised how much I really enjoyed it. It was a good start on the weekend since we bowled every Friday.

The League was a congenial group and it was such fun. I gradually improved but I will admit that I’ve never bowled a 300 game. Sometimes “average” is good enough. I learned that I could actually enjoy something even though I didn’t excel.

It was strange, really. On Fridays, I would drag home from school thinking all I wanted was to put my feet up and read in total quietness. That’s why I always put my bowling clothes and bag where I would see them as soon as I walked through the door. It always gave me a stab of excitement. After a shower, shampoo, and fresh makeup, I was always in the “going out” mode. 

One by one over the years, several of the other bowlers began to pair off and were obviously couples. Some even got married.

“But,” I told Mama and Daddy one Sunday afternoon, “it’s nice to be with others who are NOT schoolteachers and to do something just because it’s fun.” 

“I’m glad you’re happy,” Daddy said. “We would like to see you more often but we know you’re busy.”

That statement just irritated me to the point of anger and gave me just the slightest regret of coming back to Meadow View every time one of  them  said it.

I complained to Violet about it.

“The road is not one bit longer from their house to mine than it is from my house to theirs! Yet, I’m the one who has to do all the going!  And I’m beginning to hate going over there. I mean, here we are, in this day and time, and they’re still living out there on Rattlesnake Island with no electricity, no phone, no companionship except with each other. No friends, no interests, no hobbies.

“I can tell from the blank look on their faces that they really aren’t interested in hearing about my life but what else am I to talk about? In the first five minutes, Mama has told me that Daddy is going to be too old to keep fishing for a living and she has no idea what they’ll do then. She says her garden is doing well and that’s pretty much the extent of her conversation. I have to do all the talking after that with her nodding and saying, ‘uh huh.’ ”

“She just cannot relate to your life, Charlotte.  It’s really alien to her.”

“Right!  She’s been on that island so long that she just has nothing to talk about She doesn’t even read books for enjoyment. I’ve given her many books but she always says she just hasn’t gotten around to them yet.  She’s like a shadow of a person. I wonder if she and Daddy even talk when there’s no one there but themselves.

“He gets up to go fishing and she has his breakfast ready, a lunch packed, and a nice supper when he comes home. What kind of life is that day after day, month after month, year after year?”

“It’s the only life they know, Charlotte.  Do your brothers feel the same way you do?”

“Yes, but it doesn’t seem to bother them. They’re so much older than I am—ten years older, so Lon has already stopped fishing with Daddy. He bought the Bait and Tackle shop from Mr. Sonny Williams and he’s doing very well.

“His wife is going to open her own beauty shop in the spring. You know she’s been working at the Golden Shears for several years. Says she’s going to be open and ready for prom time.

 “My other sister-in-law is helping her with ideas for decorating it. She’s really good at that. She helps all of her friends with their home décor. She should go into business herself, but says she would need a lot of training before she could do that.”

“Do they go out to the island much?”

“Thanksgiving and Christmas. That’s all and they wouldn’t do that except Mama and Daddy refuse to go to their homes for the holidays, or even mine, for that matter. I think it’s selfish of them!”

“Why do you think it’s selfish?”

“Both of my sisters-in-law have always had to pack up gifts, children, toys and games, and what food they were going to take and trek over to the island by boat no matter what the weather.   I don’t blame them.  It would be much easier for Mama and Daddy to go to one of their homes. They won’t do it, though, and the wives resent it but keep on going over there twice a year for the sake of family peace and in the hope that the grandchildren will have some kind of relationship with their grandparents.

“It sounds ridiculous, I know. We all live in the same little town with just the river between us. I tell you, Mama rarely comes across that river anymore. Frankly, I can’t even remember the last time she did.” 

Violet shook her head and I dropped the subject; but, along with my brothers and their families, I spent Thanksgiving and Christmas on the island, frustrated because Mama could not see the situation for what it was and ashamed for feeling that way.

It was sheer joy when Christmas was over and we did not have to go back for a while. I was so grateful for the normalcy of my life and getting back to my own apartment was always such a relief.

Still, I worried and secretly hoped Daddy would outlive Mama. I was sure he would be able to handle it better. He would simply get up in the morning, fix his own breakfast, pack something to eat later with a big thermos of coffee and another of water. He would fish all day, go back and fix his own supper, and go to bed.

Mama, on the other hand, would be lost. Daddy had been doing the grocery shopping for years now. She was really only comfortable with Daddy and appeared to be more and more uneasy even when her own children and grandchildren were there.

Lon, Len, and I kept up a stream of conversation among ourselves. The sisters-in-law talked between themselves and to me. Beyond the perfunctory greetings and good-byes, we no longer tried to have a real conversation with Mama or Daddy.   It was an exercise in futility. Both of them seemed to prefer to just sit there with blank stares and listen to us talk.

My sisters-in-law freely admitted it made them angry that Mama and Daddy never showed any interest in the grandchildren.

“They both just sit there and look blank when we talk of midget cheerleading, or piano and dance recitals, or even Little League baseball,” Betty said one night as we were going back across the river.

“Of course!” Lon said bitterly. “Their children never had the chance to participate in anything like that. They have no idea what we’re even talking about.”

It was sad and Violet was the only person I could talk to about those things.

“You’re worried about your mother, that’s all, Charlotte.  Anger is an easier emotion to deal with than fear or sadness when a loved one is involved. God will give you the grace to handle whatever comes but you also need to trust your parents and focus on your own life. They’re happy with their life. Let them have that happiness.”


Chapter Twenty-three


Violet, usually the sedate one, came rushing into my kitchen the following Monday night, all smiles. I was putting the final touches on our supper while Melanie set the table.

“Charlotte, I’ve got some news! Teddy Stallard finished Medical School and is getting married!”

“Who is the bride?”

“Who’s Teddy Stallard?” Melanie asked. “I’ve never heard that name. Does he live here in Meadow View?”

“Melanie, I keep forgetting you didn’t go to school here. Teddy was a student in my fifth grade the same year that Charlotte was in my class. He moved away.”

“He’s also stayed in touch with Violet through the years,” I added.

“Here is the wedding invitation. I don’t know the bride but listen to this! Not only am I invited, but he wants me to sit where his mother would be sitting if she were still alive. I’m the stand-in Mother of the Groom!”

“Violet! That’s wonderful! You’re going, right?”

“You can count on it! You and Melanie will have to help me find a ‘sort of mother-of-the-groom’ dress! And if you could get me to and from the airport?”

For the next few weeks, it was a flurry of shopping for just the right clothes, getting flights set up (though I begged her not to fly!), and getting Violet ready and on her way to the wedding. I could hardly wait until she came home to tell us all about it.


She was waiting outside at the pick-up zone when I arrived but she was not as excited and happy as when she left for the wedding.  In fact, she said very little and I asked no questions until the bags were in the trunk of the car and we made their way out of the maze of traffic.

“Everything okay?  Rough flight?”

“No flight problem but I’m very much afraid that Teddy has made a big mistake, Charlotte.”

“What makes you think that?”

 “I just can’t talk about it right now, Charlotte. It’s all far too upsetting. Maybe later we can talk about it.”

Violet seemed so troubled that I didn’t mention it again.

“I thought we might stop by the Barbecue Barn for supper on the way home. Is that okay? My treat!”

“Charlotte, if you don’t mind, I’d really like to go on home. I promised Minnie I’d call to let her know when I got back and I want to get in my own bed and just sleep. Maybe things won’t seem so bad to me after I’m fully rested. I’ve been pretty much in emotional overload for the past few days.”

I thought sure Violet would open up and talk about the wedding but it wasn’t mentioned for days, not until she received the photos from Ted. They were typical 8 x 10 wedding photos.

“Wow! That’s Teddy?”  We were looking at a photo of Teddy and Violet standing together.

“Yes. Handsome, isn’t he?”

“Very handsome!”

“Here’s the one of just Ted and Avery. I’m going to get a really nice frame for this one and put it over my mantel. Might even have it enlarged. What do think, maybe 11 x 14? Here, take a look at this.”

“Oh! It was a BIG wedding!”

We were looking at the photo with all members of the wedding party, the bride’s family, and Violet, who was standing next to Teddy.

“What a beautiful bride!”

“She was a beautiful bride.”

“Her family looks happy.”

“They were happy and they absolutely adore Teddy. Her father, especially. He told me that he’d always wanted a son and that Ted was everything he could have hoped for in a son-in-law. I could tell he had a lot of respect for Ted and vice versa.”

“You looked gorgeous in that dress, Violet. You looked exactly the way a mother of the groom should.”

Violet smiled but it was a sad smile. It took several weeks before she seemed like herself again. She made it clear, by action and response,  that this subject was not up for discussion.

“We have no choice, Charlotte, but to hope and pray for the best for Ted.”

It was clear that she was not going to say anything further about Teddy. I couldn’t imagine what had happened. The photos portrayed a fairy tale wedding.  Her parents had certainly not skimped on anything. The church, the gowns, the flowers, and the reception hall were exactly as most girls dream about. What could have caused Violet to be so concerned?

My curiosity got the best of me and I asked her friend, Minnie, if Violet had ever said anything to her about Ted’s wedding.

“Charlotte, she did tell me what bothered her so much but I don’t feel free to tell it. She is still very concerned. I will say that, from what she told me, there is every reason to be concerned about the happiness of that couple.”

I quickly forgot about Ted. After all, I hadn’t seen him since fifth grade. It was Violet who was his friend and she rarely mentioned  him.



As we approached the end of another school term, I decided to do something different for summer vacation.

 Melanie would be spending the entire summer with her family in Myrtle Beach. Violet, too, had plans.

“My Sunday school class has decided to go to Sea Vista for two weeks,” she said when I asked her what her plans were. “I know that’s a special place for you, Charlotte, so I thought you might like to go with us.”

I knew that was not something I wanted to do. Melanie invited me to go with her to Myrtle Beach for even a portion of the summer, if not all of it, but I begged off from that as well. The beach will always bring back memories of happier days and  I didn’t want to start out my summer vacation wallowing in sad, or even bittersweet, memories, at Sea Vista or any other beach.

I’m sorry, Melanie, but no beach for me, not yet. Maybe never. I know you’ll have a good time, though.”

After thinking about it a while, I finally settled on the mountains and rented a cottage for six weeks at Lake Lure. It had been ten years since Greg and I had  spent our brief honeymoon weekend on the lake near Raleigh; but, this was a different lake and in the mountains. I invited Mama to go with me.

“Just try, Mama. I’ll bring you back home if you’re unhappy there, but at least give it a try.”

“No, thank you, Charlotte Anne. I need to be here with your Daddy. Who would get his meals? I know how he likes things done.”

“Daddy is perfectly capable of feeding himself.”

But it was one excuse after the other. Mama would not budge and I finally gave up and took myself back across the river.

On the morning of June 16,   I was on my way west and felt happier and more carefree as each mile passed.  That was what I needed. I needed a total change of surroundings and a chance to see and meet new people.

The days seemed short as I enjoyed my temporary home away from home. I loved walking down to the village each day and browsing through the little shops. I had only been to the mountains once before and that was with Suzanne that first year at college but this was different altogether.

I thought I might feel odd, being on vacation alone, but tourists were everywhere around Lake Lure. Most of them were just passing through and stopping to eat and shop and I didn’t feel out of place at all. In the early mornings, I sat on the deck high above the lake reading to my heart’s content. In the afternoons, I took walks around the village with my trusty camera in hand. 

It was while I was snapping pictures at various places around the lake and at nearby Chimney Rock that I came up with the idea for a school calendar.  I have no idea what triggered that thought.

One moment I was snapping pictures from the top of Chimney Rock and the next moment, the calendar flashed into my mind. I could visualize the entire twelve months, complete with pictures and captions.

At the end of July, I returned to Meadow View, refreshed and excited about my calendar project. I went to the school office to meet with Mr. Hayes, who was still our principal, to pitch my idea.

 “I thought we  could  use it as a fund raiser for new library books, playground equipment, whatever we need most.”

He was looking through some of the pictures I had taken at school over the years.

“We would use newer pictures, of course. These are just to give you an idea of what I had in mind.”

“I like the idea, Charlotte, but we have to be careful about publishing pictures of children. We’ll have to talk to the attorney for the Board of Education and see what our restrictions might be, though I’m certain that, at the very least, we’d have to get written permission from the parents for each specific picture we use. We also need to have the permission agreement worded by the attorney.

“All in all, though? I think it’s a good idea. Let’s see, this is now August 1st. It would be great if we could get this worked out and have the calendars ready by the time school opens, when everyone is excited and eager. Have you talked to a printer yet? We need some idea of what it will cost to print the calendars.”

“No,  I wanted to talk to you first.”

“Now, of course, I don’t have the final enrollment figure for this year but let’s take the figures from last year and add fifty to it. This will give us an idea of how many calendars we might want to order.

“Also, find out if there would be any difference in price if we should need to place a second order because I’m thinking this is something every grandmother is bound to want, right?”

 “Yes, Sir, that’s a great idea and I think we should have the calendar begin with the month of September. We could have all our important dates on it.”

“I agree. I’ll come up with a list of dates we should highlight for each month. You know, the fall festival, report card dates, holidays, that kind of thing.”

That’s all I needed. I was off and running. I met with the printer. Mr. Hayes met with the attorney and the school superintendent to get the necessary legalities covered. I also decided to call every teacher and asked for pictures from their classes from the previous year.

“It could be on the playground, in the cafeteria, classroom—whatever. We want to have a good representation. Could you come up with maybe two? Put your name on the back and I’ll be sure you get your original back. Maybe some of your grade mothers took pictures at Christmas, birthday parties, and other events. You might want to check with them.”

It was a much bigger headache than I expected. Mr. Hayes was ever mindful of the cost as well as the legalities and cautioned me to be absolutely certain we did not attempt any outside sales. It was to be sold strictly through the school population.

“If we get even one complaint from a parent,” he informed me, “the project is scrapped. This is non-negotiable. The Powers That Be have spoken, Charlotte.”


Melanie was due back a week before school was to begin and I could hardly wait to tell her all about the Lake Lure trip and the calendar project and hear all about her Myrtle Beach trip.

As it turned out, Melanie had exciting news of her own. She drove straight to my apartment when she got back to town.  

“Charlotte, I’m back!” She burst into the living room and grabbed me as I came out of the kitchen.

“Charlotte! Look!” She exclaimed, extending her left arm with a flourish.

 “You’re engaged?”

“Yes, I’m getting married!”

“Wait, let me get my sunglasses. I’m being blinded by the light reflecting off that huge rock on your finger!”

Melanie laughed but kept holding out her hand to admire and to be admired.

“Isn’t it beautiful, Charlotte?”

“Yes! Sit down while I pour some iced tea. I want all details. Who is he?”

Melanie brought out pictures of her fiancé and talked non-stop for two hours.

“I had not seen Jack since high school. We had dated a few times back then but never went steady.”

“Went steady! Now, there’s a term I haven’t heard in a few years!”

“Well, his parents have a cottage next door to my parents’ cottage. He had gone down for the weekend and we got reacquainted. He came every weekend after that and then took his two weeks of vacation so we could spend more time together

 “Oh, Charlotte, it was so perfect, so right. We both grew up in the same church so we want to be married there. You’re my Maid of Honor, of course. Oh, there’s so much to do. I’d better go. I promised to call him as soon as I got home. He worries about my being on the road alone, you know. Bye! I’ll call you later.”

Suddenly, the room was deathly quiet. It was as if a cyclone had raced through the house. In and out.  There and gone. Where there had been joy and excitement and happiness, there was now total silence and—something else. I was not sure what that “something else” really was.

 I was happy for Mel. I really was. Only—well, suddenly I thought of myself, all alone, spending those six weeks in the mountains, watching couples of all ages coming and going, families with children laughing, teasing, grumbling—just living. Somehow, the whole idea of my walking alone among all those people now seemed rather sad regardless of how much I enjoyed it at the time.

Standing there alone, watching Melanie wave and drive away, I keenly felt my aloneness. I realized that I hadn’t even mentioned my trip or the calendar project at all. Melanie wouldn’t have cared anyway. She was in love and too excited to think of anything else.

At that moment, the calendar project seemed silly. The whole thing was embarrassing. I was sorry I had even come up with the idea at all. How dull! How pathetic! What had I been thinking? Now I would have to follow through with the thing. I actually hoped that some parent would complain or object, anything that would force us to drop the project.

I waved a last good-bye to Melanie as she sped down the street and went back to the kitchen to open a can of tomato soup. It was, after all, Sunday night.


Continued Next month


Deep Medicine: How Artificial Intelligence Can Make Healthcare Human Again.

By Eric Topol.

Basic Books; 400 pages; $17.99


Deep Medicine: How Artificial Intelligence Can Make Healthcare Human AgainThe AI will see you now. Artificial intelligence is coming to medicine—for good, ill or both For all the technological wonders of modern medicine, from gene-editing to fetal surgery, health care—with its fax machines and clipboards—is often stubbornly antiquated. This outdated era is slowly drawing to a close as, belatedly, the industry catches up with the artificial-intelligence (ai) revolution. And none too soon, argues Eric Topol, a cardiologist and enthsiast for digital medicine.

Dr Topol’s vision of medicine’s future is optimistic. He thinks ai will be particularly useful for repetitive, error-prone tasks, such as sifting images, scrutinising heart traces for abnormalities or transcribing doctors’ words into patient records. It will be able to harness masses of data to work out optimal treatments (for both condi­tions and individuals), and improve work- flows in hospitals. In short, ai is set to save time, lives and money.

Much of this is hypothetical—but ai is already outperforming people in a variety of narrow jobs for which it has been trained. Eventually it may be able to diag­nose and treat a wider range of diseases. Even then, Dr Topol thinks, humans would oversee the algorithms, rather than being replaced by them.

The fear the author harbours is that ai will be used to deepen the assembly-line culture of modern medicine. If it confers a "gift of time” on doctors, he argues that this bonus should be used to prolong consulta­tions, rather than simply speeding through them more efficiently.

That is a fine idea, but as health swal­lows an ever-bigger share of national wealth, greater efficiency is exactly what is needed, at least so far as governments and insurers are concerned. Otherwise, rich societies may fail to cope with the needs of ageing and growing populations. An extra five minutes spent chatting with a patient is costly as well as valuable. The ai revolu­tion will also empower managerial bean­ counters, who will increasingly be able to calibrate and appraise every aspect of treat­ment. The autonomy of the doctor will in­evitably be undermined, especially, per­haps, in public-health systems which are duty-bound to trim inessential costs.

The Hippocratic Oath holds that there is an art to medicine as well as a science, and that "warmth, sympathy and understand­ing may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug”. That is not just a plati­tude: the patients of sympathetic phys­icians have been shown to fare better. As Dr Topol says, it is hard to imagine that a robot could really replace a human doctor. Yet as demand for health care outstrips the sup­ply of human carers, the future may in­volve consultations on smartphones and measurements monitored by chatbots. The considerately warmed stethoscope, placed gently on a patient’s back, may become a relic of the past.

In the end technology may even be able to solve the empathy deficit. Japanese engi­neers are working on robots that simulate human presence, or sonzai-kan. A machine could never truly develop the shared hu­manity that helps patients heal. That doesn't mean it cannot be faked.


Spies like us

Our Man Down in Havana:

The Story Behind Graham Greene's Cold War Spy Novel.

By Christopher Hull

Pegasus Books; 324 pages; $25.95.


https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51LG9TxBpOL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgGraham Greene’s life was a gift to biographers. They—and the author himself—have amply chronicled his adventurous stints in exotic locations, his work as a secret agent, his love affairs and his Catholicism. Christopher Hull touches on all of these themes in his focused and entertaining account of the making of Greene’s novel of espionage, Our Man in Havana.

That book is set in Cuba, which Greene (pictured) first visited by accident in 1954, after he was deported from Puerto Rico. (He had unwisely revealed that, as a student prank, he was once a
member of the Communist Party.)

Greene disliked the authoritarian regime of Fulgencio Batista but enjoyed the climate and the seedy nightlife, returning frequently over the next dozen years. Ever anti-American, Greene approved when Fidel Castro overthrew Batista. Batista was Washington’s client. In 1959; Greene admired Castro’s social reforms but rued the puritanical clampdown on Havana’s fleshpots. Rather than merely witnessing the communist takeover, he tried to assist it, using his clandestine contacts to lobby against the supply of weapons to Batista and help furnish Castro with British buses.

These half-baked efforts were worthy of his own comic novels, of which "Our Man in Havana”—published just months before the revolution—may be the best loved. The protagonist is James Wormold, a vacuum-cleaner salesman re­cruited by the British secret service. Learning that the more information he provides the greater his remuneration, he invents a network of agents and in­creasingly farcical intelligence, to the delight of his minders in London. His masterstroke is a report of strange go­ings-on in the mountains, which he backs up with what are supposedly aerial photographs of sinister constructions. In reality they have been adapted from diagrams of vacuum cleaners.

In Our Man Down in Havana Mr. Hull argues that, as well as drawing on his secret-service experience to describe the bumbling nature of much intelli­gence work, Greene was eerily prophetic about the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, which arose when reconnaissance flights proved that the Soviet Union was constructing missile sites on the island. He makes a game case, but some readers might conclude that coincidence is a more apt judgment than prescience. Mr Hull even sees Greene’s "clairvoyance” at work in the faulty evidence of weapons of mass destruction on which the in­vasion of Iraq was based in 2003.

It would be interesting to know what the novelist would make of that reverent appraisal. Still, Mr Hull’s book is a del­icious companion to the tale Greene confected from the incompetence of spooks and an island in turmoil. "Yeemama Bet” has begun to identify polit­ical leaders by name, though not too criti­cally. "Back in the day it would be a suicide mission,” says Surafel, the director. Caustic Western-style satire, in which even a leader's appearance is gag fodder, is still unthinkable. One day, perhaps. "I want to make jokes about Abiy and I want it to be aired on government tv,” says Eshetu. "That’s political comedy, right?”







If thou lovest, reason scatter:

If thou threat’nest, make it matter:

If thou swearest, make lt hot;

If thou hittest miss him not!

Dost thou argue, do it boldly;

Dost thou punish, do it coldly;

In forgiving, hold not back;

And in feasting, have no lack!


Translated by Minnie Jarinszov



Familiar Questions Answered by Sixteen-Year-Olds


Q. Name the four seasons
 A. Salt, pepper, mustard and vinegar
Q. Explain one of the processes by which water can be made safe to drink
 A. Flirtation makes water safe to drink because it removes large pollutants like grit, sand, dead sheep and canoeists
Q. How is dew formed
 A. The sun shines down on the leaves and makes them perspire
Q. What causes the tides in the oceans
 A. The tides are a fight between the earth and the moon. All water tends to flow towards the moon, because there is no water on the moon, and nature abhors a vacuum. I forget where the sun joins the fight
Q. What guarantees may a mortgage company insist on
 A. If you are buying a house they will insist that you are well endowed
Q. In a democratic society, how important are elections
 A. Very important. Sex can only happen when a male gets an election
Q. What are steroids
 A. Things for keeping carpets still on the stairs
Q. What happens to your body as you age
 A. When you get old, so do your bowels and you get intercontinental
Q. What happens to a boy when he reaches puberty
 A. He says goodbye to his boyhood and looks forward to his adultery
Q. Name a major disease associated with cigarettes
 A. Premature death
Q. What is artificial insemination
 A. When the farmer does it to the bull instead of the cow
Q. How can you delay milk turning sour
 A. Keep it in the cow
Q. How are the main parts of the body categorised (e.g. the abdomen)
 A. The body is consisted into 3 parts - the brainium, the borax and the abdominal cavity. The brainium contains the brain, the borax contains the heart and lungs and the abdominal cavity contains the five bowels: A,E,I,O and U
Q. What is the fibula
 A. A small lie

Q. What does 'varicose' mean
 A. Nearby
Q. What is the most common form of birth control
 A. Most people prevent contraception by wearing a condominium
Q. Give the meaning of the term 'Caesarean section'
 A. The caesarean section is a district in Rome
Q. What is a seizure
 A. A Roman Emperor
Q. What is a terminal illness
 A. When you are sick at the airport
Q. Give an example of a fungus. What is a characteristic feature
 A. Mushrooms. They always grow in damp places and they look like umbrellas
Q. Use the word 'judicious' in a sentence to show you understand its meaning
 A. Hands that judicious can be soft as your face
Q. What does the word 'benign' mean
 A. Benign is what you will be after you be eight


Hammer Spade and the Inca Curse

Chapters 12-13


Chapter Twelve


It was easyhsic cover.jpg to find the La Volanta on San Martín 1262 where we had breakfast. The man at the hotel desk said to look for a garish green and yellow painted building with a carriage sitting on the roof. After a breakfast of huevos rancheros for Hart and me and a Provencal omelet for Isabela, we drove back to scope out the meeting place again. This was a good place to trade drugs for money for several reasons. First, there were no good places for us to hide close enough to hear what went on. Aside from the lake, there was only one way in and out unless you drove through somebody’s yard. In the area fifty yards south of the bridge, we found some shrubbery tall enough to hide the van with Isabela in it, if it was dark. A low, rustic, stone wall in front of another patch of shrubbery extended south from the bridge. Hart would be there. I would be behind some shrubbery beside the dirt road to block their escape route. Hart and I would have Remington 870 shotguns and our pistols.

We went back to the room, sketched the layout on a sheet of paper and played several possible scenarios. Our plan seemed as good as the lay of the land allowed. Both Hart and Isabela were thoughtful and businesslike during our discussion. I was beginning to feel more confident of them and the possibility of success. 



We were in place as soon as it was dark enough for us to hide behind our meager cover. The mosquitoes were relentless and the repellant we used seemed to attract the biggest ones. The only sounds were traffic on the bridge above and the gentle lapping of the water.

A green Chevrolet Yukon drove down the road and parked under the bridge at ten minutes to ten. Three men got out and did a quick check to make sure they were the only people around. They, too, were armed with pump shotguns. The sound of them chambering shells sounded harsh in the quiet night.

At 10:02, a beat up Ford Bronco pulled under the bridge. Two very rough looking characters got out. They didn’t bother to greet Raúl’s men or shake their hands. This was all business.

Y la plata, ¿dónde está? (Show us the money.”) the biggest man said.

Vamos, la falopa. (“Show us the stuff,”) Raúl’s man replied.

There was a momentary standoff until Raúl’s man produced a heavy briefcase, opened it and shone a little flashlight beam on its contents. Then the biggest man moved to the back of the Bronco, opened the hatch, pulled out two shotguns and tossed one to the other man.

¡Aqui la tienen! (“These are your drugs”) the man said.

Raúl’s men were caught flatfooted and not mentally prepared for the attack when the two men started shooting at them. A few seconds later, all three of Raúl’s men were down. The small man from the Bronco picked up the briefcase while the big man used a claw hammer to finish off Raúl’s men without the noise of gunfire. Hart chose this moment to make his move and with a pa, pow, both of them breathed their last. Then a third man that we hadn’t seen jumped out of the Bronco and ran south along the edge of the lake.

We heard one shot from Isabela’s direction and then we heard her start the van and come for us. We climbed in, with Hart carrying the briefcase, and drove back to the road and turned right. All of this had taken less than ten minutes and the shooting had lasted two minutes at most. We didn’t hear any sirens or see any law enforcement on our way back to the hotel.

“That was quick,” Hart said after we were inside my room.

“They didn’t have any drugs to sell,” I said.

“There is no honor among thieves,” Hart replied.

“They start so young,” Isabela said. “The man I killed couldn’t have been more than twenty.”

“At least we don’t have to figure out how to dispose of a big drug stash,” Hart said.

I opened the briefcase and saw that it was full of U.S. one-hundred dollar bills in wrappers.

“This ought to go a long way toward funding our operation,” I said.



Isabela bought a newspaper the next morning. Page three had a short piece about six men being found dead after a shootout under the bridge. The writer theorized that two drug gangs had fought it out and the survivors had taken the drugs and the money.



We hurried back to Córdoba to relieve Oscar. I set up a rotating twenty-four-hour watch on Saavedra’s house. Oscar, Hart and I rotated the lookout while Isabela manned the warehouse. It was late afternoon two days later when Oscar saw a man in a Ford Explorer drive into the compound, park in a cloud of red dust, get out, slam the door and rush inside the house without knocking.

Two minutes later, Saavedra escorted him out of the house where they had an animated conversation in the yard. By the time Saavedra finished, the man, who was much smaller than Saavedra, was visibly deflated and staring morosely at the ground. Saavedra turned away from him and stalked back inside the house. The small man got into the Explorer and sat there a few minutes before he turned around and drove out of the compound. Oscar called and requested permission to follow him.

“Saavedra may have just been told of the incident in Villa Carlos Paz,” he suggested.

“Maybe so,” I agreed. The next shift was mine so Hart drove me to the lookout.

Saavedra’s behavior toward the man who spoke to him was strange. I wished we had listening gear but that was back in the United States. It seemed an odd way for him to receive news like the information from Villa Carlos Paz. Maybe the little man didn’t report the disaster under the bridge. Maybe he brought other news, something Saavedra didn’t want his family to hear, or didn’t want to hear at all. Not knowing was frustrating.

After Hart dropped me off at Villa Carlos Paz, another man driving a black Jaguar XJ8 drove into the compound. Saavedra came out and greeted him with a big smile and got into the Jaguar. They sat in the car for a long time and talked. Then Saavedra got out and watched the man drive away. After he had gone, he went back inside the house. Now it looked like a big double-cross was in the making.

An hour later, a policeman drove into the compound, got out of the cruiser and knocked on the door. A pretty young woman answered and spoke to the policeman. They had a lengthy conversation, during which the woman became upset and put her hand to her mouth. My guess was the policeman was reporting what happened under the bridge in Villa Carlos Paz.

A few minutes after the policeman left, Saavedra got into a black Chevrolet Suburban and drove away. Twenty minutes later, Oscar called to report that Saavedra had arrived at the house of the man in the Explorer, called the man out and now they were driving out of the city. I told Oscar to follow them. It didn’t look good for the little Argentinean.



Oscar followed Saavedra in the Suburban out Route 38 west. About ten miles out, he turned north on a dirt road. They followed the road for a half-hour until they came to hilly terrain. Saavedra turned off the road onto a rough dirt track and followed it for two miles to a small, abandoned log cabin.

When Oscar saw Saavedra park at the cabin, he pulled off the road and hid the vehicle behind some underbrush. Then he took Hammer’s rifle, ammunition and a pair of binoculars up a small hill where he had a view of the cabin.

He saw that Saavedra had pulled the Argentinean out of the Suburban and dragged the struggling man to a well behind the log cabin. Oscar saw for the first time that the other man was handcuffed.

Oscar watched as Saavedra repeatedly poked the guy with his revolver. It was obvious he planned to kill him and, it was also obvious that Saavedra got a fiendish pleasure from terrorizing his captive. After a few minutes, he stopped talking, shoved the man to his knees and put the gun to his forehead. Before he could cock the hammer, the guy jerked a knife from his boot, gripped it with both hands and drove it into Saavedra’s groin through the pelvic opening into his abdomen.

Saavedra screamed, dropped his gun and tried to pull the knife out. When he succeeded a stream of blood gushed from the wound. A minute later, he fell to the ground screaming and writhing in pain.

While Saavedra lay dying, the Argentinean man held him down while he rifled through his pockets until he found the key for the handcuffs. After he removed them, he took Saavedra’s wallet from his pocket, removed the cash, and threw the wallet down the well. After searching Saavedra’s pockets for more money and the keys to the Suburban, he retrieved the knife, wiped it clean on Saavedra’s fancy shirt, kicked him in the face, got into the vehicle and drove away, leaving Saavedra quivering his life away on the ground. 

Oscar’s finger was on the trigger of the rifle but he let the scrappy little guy go. He admired his spunk and the way he fought back at his tormentor. The Argentinean was out of sight by the time Saavedra stopped twitching and lay still.



Oscar called and briefed me on what had happened. This was a filthy business and I was part of it. I wished I had never set eyes on Michael Clover.


Chapter Thirteen


Don called to say that Quigley had arrived and he would be on the last flight to Córdoba that evening. His equipment would arrive by diplomatic courier and delivered to our location the next day. I told him what happened to Saavedra.

When Oscar returned, we had a meeting.

“With Saavedra dead,” I said, “this could bring direct involvement from Fuente.”

Isabela agreed.

“We should maintain our surveillance,” Hart said. “There may be opportunities like the one where Oscar waxed Carazo.”

“Eventually, somebody will figure out that Saavedra is not coming back,” Isabela suggested hopefully.

“When Dave arrives, we can field two teams to shadow the Villa Retiro and the house of the man that killed Saavedra,” Oscar suggested. “Somebody else from Fuente’s organization has to show up sooner or later.”

Hart agreed. “If nothing else, Fuente will want the records.”

“We’ll stand by and wait for something to happen and hope Fuente comes to investigate. If he does, we can finish this and go home,” I said. “Isabela, you communicate well with the control center. Discuss this with them. Oscar, take Hart to the lookout at Saavedra’s place. After you drop him off, find out if the man who killed Saavedra returned to his house.”

Things were moving fast. I had to get my mind around the situation so we wouldn’t make mistakes. We still had the advantage of surprise and I wanted to keep it that way.



It was good to see Dave when Oscar and I met him at airport customs.

The first words out of his mouth were, “What kind of mess have you got going on here, Hammer?”

“A confusing one mostly. There’s plenty of everything to go around,” I said. “While you’ve been on vacation, we have been slugging it out here on the battlefield.”

“I’ve been the guest of the Royal Navy for a week.”

“So, you were living like a king while I was up on a desert mountain eating dust and dirt and dodging bullets.”

“It was pretty tough in Honduras. Don said Jack was in the hospital and Lady Margot Fisher is dead.”

“Yeah. Jack almost bought the farm.”

“Sorry to hear that. His partner was a woman. Is she okay?”

“Yes, she is. She brought him out and saved his life.”

“Jack always was a lucky dog with the ladies. I bet she’s good looking too.”

“She’s been assigned to me. You’ll meet her in a few minutes.”

“What happened to Margot Fisher?”

“Our plan covered every contingency except a man with a knife. She bled to death.”

“That must have been tough. Are you okay?”

“Staying busy keeps me from thinking about it.”

“I bet, but you can’t stay busy 24/7.”

I didn’t reply.

Oscar helped Dave through customs and we drove back to the warehouse.

Isabela greeted us at the door.

Dave shook her hand. “I knew it!” he said.

“What did you know, Mr. Quigley?” Isabela asked.

“When I heard Jack’s partner was a woman, I bet that she was pretty and I was right.”

Isabela laughed. “Thank you.”

“I’m sure working with Jack was an experience you’ll never forget,” Dave said seriously.

“That is true,” Isabela replied with a wry smile.

“I bet he won’t either,” Dave said. “You’re a savvy woman. I like that.”

“Isabela is a crack shot, too,” I said. 

That is important in this game,” Dave agreed.

I introduced Hart. “Hart shoots a single action Colt .45.”

“That so?” Dave said skeptically.

“He shoots it like a machine gun,” I explained.

“I’ll believe that when I see it, but I’m pleased to meet you,” Dave said. “You look like a veteran of Pancho Villa’s army.”

“I might be,” Hart replied with a grin.

“Hart is a good man to have beside you in a firefight,” I assured Dave.

“I’m sure you are,” Dave said to Hart. “If you weren’t, Clover wouldn’t have sent you.”

“Why don’t we go to dinner?” Oscar suggested.

“Good idea,” I agreed.

Over dinner, I brought Dave up to date.

“So, Fuente’s operation in Córdoba is in crisis. Good. Maybe we can fan the flames,” Dave said.

“Nothing on this operation has gone according to plan,” I said.



I felt better with Dave on the team, although by now I knew that Isabela, Oscar and Hart were top-notch operatives. The addition of Dave allowed me two two-person teams with someone manning the warehouse to take messages and coordinate the fieldwork. Plus, it gave us backup for emergencies.

Two days after Isabela reported Saavedra’s end to London operations, Dave and Hart were on watch at Villa Retiro when the pretty girl moved out. The guy in the Jaguar came with two men in a van to pick her up. Dave recorded the license number while he and Hart watched the man and the girl bring out her clothes and seven file boxes. The last items they removed from the house were eleven heavy briefcases like the one filled with money that we picked up under the bridge in Villa Carlos Paz. Dealing drugs in South America was lucrative.

They didn’t bother to lock the door when they left, which made sense because they hadn’t left anything of value inside the house. While Dave stood lookout, Hart slipped inside and reported that it was empty except for the furniture.

“The girl must have worked for the guy in the Jaguar,” Dave theorized. “Maybe he was using her to persuade Saavedra to work for him. It was obvious from her behavior that her loyalty was to the guy with the Jag.”

After Dave called me, I gave Isabela the Jaguar’s license number and asked her to have London track down its owner. The Jag driver was not on our list but I thought we ought to know something about him in case he showed up later.

I wondered if Fuente had been told anything yet. If he would come to Córdoba himself, it would be like us getting a present. We had Quigley with his rifle, I had mine, and we had Hart with his quick firing Colt. The reports said Fuente fancied himself a ladies’ man. We could use Isabela as bait.

We checked our guns, continued manning the lookout on the Villa Retiro and waited for something to happen.



Oscar and I were on watch when a group of men in two Chevrolet Suburbans roared in. Their leader was a little guy who remained in the passenger seat of the lead Suburban while his men got out of their vehicles in broad daylight with UZI’s at the ready. They stormed the house by breaking down the front door, without bothering to see that it wasn’t locked. We heard a few sub-machine gun bursts as they banged through the house kicking doors open, looking for Saavedra.

“I guess they didn’t come to talk,” Oscar observed dryly.

After finding the house empty, the men came outside and said something to the little guy. When he got out of the vehicle, I was surprised that he was a little shrimp of a man. He was armed with a chrome-plated Colt 1911 with pearl grips in a shoulder holster. I doubted if he was five feet tall and weighed as much as 110 pounds. Yet, he strutted around like a cocky military officer looking tough as he stood among his men, yelling at them because the horse had fled the stable. After he stopped yelling, he stalked inside while his men unloaded their luggage and moved in.

Just before dark, we saw the Jaguar drive by. This time there were four men inside and Oscar whispered that the man who killed Saavedra was one of them. Somebody else knew that Saavedra was dead. .

I called Isabela. “Two Suburban loads of men just arrived, barged in, shot up an empty house and moved in. If they go somewhere, Oscar and I will follow them. Alert Hart and Dave to be ready to come here to maintain surveillance if we leave.”

“Why do we have to watch the house if they leave?” Isabela asked.

“The Jaguar has gone past the house once and Oscar said the guy that killed Saavedra was a passenger.”

“I’ll alert them to move when you call,” Isabela replied.

“You know,” Oscar said thoughtfully, “none of this has been very clever. Fuente’s operation is more like a series of after-thoughts acted upon by clowns.”

“But they are mean clowns with guns,” I reminded him.

At 20:00, the little guy and his men marched out to the Suburbans, loaded up and drove off in a convoy.

“Colonel Shrimp must be hungry,” Oscar said.

While we were loading up in the van to follow, I called Isabela to move Dave and Hart to the lookout at Villa Retiro.

It was easy to follow the colonel, as Oscar had called him. Two black Suburbans are conspicuous anywhere, especially in a South American city. They traveled as if they were familiar with the city but they didn’t go to a restaurant at first as Oscar and I had thought. Instead, they drove to a lower-class residential area and stopped at a neat, white stucco bungalow. One of the colonel’s men got out, walked to the front door and knocked. A woman came to the door and they had a short conversation before she went back inside. Then a man came to the door and they had a short conversation. The man was escorted to one of the Suburbans where Colonel Shrimp’s goon shoved him inside. Then the caravan drove a short distance to another house where the same scene played out. Next, they visited the house where the man who killed Saavedra lived, but the house was dark. The little colonel’s man banged on the door but nobody answered.

“They are picking up Saavedra’s men,” I said.

Oscar agreed.

We followed the convoy to another part of the city where they picked up another man. Then they drove northwest, out of the city, stopping at a farmhouse on the edge of town where they picked up a fourth man.

“The way the little colonel acted at Saavedra’s house, my guess is these men don’t have much time to live,” I said.

“Looks tough for them,” Oscar agreed.

We followed the convoy out into the country for a few miles until we lost them in the dark among the hills and curvy roads.

“Go back where we last saw them,” I said. “We’ll hide and wait for them to come out.”

Oscar turned around and drove back to where we saw them last and hid the vehicle off the road. Then we got out binoculars and waited.

Forty-five minutes later, the convoy drove by and we saw that the four men who had been picked up were no longer with them.

“Colonel Shrimp cleans house quickly, doesn’t he?” Oscar said.

I nodded in agreement.

We pulled out and followed them back to town through some very rough parts of the city until they stopped in the parking lot of the Owl Beer House on Belgrano 437.

When we followed them inside, we realized Colonel Shrimp chose this place because it was open until two a.m. In addition to beer, they served gourmet pizzas and sandwiches. The menu was in English, Spanish and German and it boasted of a warm and friendly atmosphere as well as four different lines of cerveza artisanal. It must have been a popular place because it was crowded at this late hour.

By this time, Oscar and I were very hungry. As soon as Colonel Shrimp’s men began to order, we found a table within hearing distance of them and motioned for a waiter. Colonel Shrimp sat at the head of a long table with his men arranged on his right and left according to rank or favor. When he smiled, they smiled. When he laughed, they laughed; and when he voiced disapproval, they nodded their heads in agreement.

“The little colonel runs a tight ship,” Oscar said with an ironic frown.

“Makes it easier for us,” I replied.

“Yes, it does,” Oscar agreed. “They will all be in one place when the time comes.”

Oscar and I enjoyed a delicious meal while we watched the parody in the back of the room.

At precisely two a.m., Colonel Shrimp called for the check, ordered the man on his right to pay the bill and leave a generous tip for the pretty señoritas who served them. I noticed that none of his goons misbehaved toward the young women. They made no rude remarks or whispered comments, not one smirk and not a single pinch.

Oscar was right. The little colonel ran a very tight ship.


Continued next month


The Call

Tim Whealton


Many times I wondered about a call to serve God. What would it be like? What would I do? Had I already been called and didn’t realize it? Should I have been more in tune with God before I did so many sinful things? Am I now too damaged to be of any use to God? The Bible says I must be blameless but I know I am to blame for a lot of sin and pain that I have brought on others so how will that work? A lot of questions for anyone to answer but too important to leave unanswered.

Whenever I asked people that worked in the ministry about their call to serve the stories were all over the place. Some had a defining moment that changed them forever but most simply began with small steps of obedience. As I studied God’s word I looked at how Jesus called his disciples to the ministry. Most of the time he didn’t do anything but simply said “follow me.” That simple command has changed more lives than all the self-help books ever written. It holds the simple truth that following Jesus is different than knowing about Jesus.

I was told to follow many times before I took it to heart. It was a snowy night in February when I finally knew I had to follow. I was in Vident Hospital in Greenville. I wasn’t sick but my wife Paula was fighting with cancer that had spread. It was in the early morning hours and she didn’t know who I was. It was heartbreaking. We had been together 23 years but I felt it was about to end. I had prayed so many times and so many ways I had run out of things to say to God. I had people tell me “God will never give you a burden that you can’t bear.” I realized that was lie. I was crumbling and falling apart. I sat it the darkness and stared out the narrow window at the swirling snow. I had prayed for God to cure her, to help her, to guide her care but now I finally prayed for God to help me.

I don’t remember the prayer but it wasn’t eloquent or perfectly worded. It was a simple cry for help. Through that simple cry for help I learned I can’t do or be anything without God. No, the cancer didn’t go away and 3 months later I would be spreading Paula’s ashes on Cedar Island Bay. I thought the defining moment of my life had happened and all I had to do now was get over it. I was wrong.

The next few months were filled with everything the enemy could throw at me. Guilt that I hadn’t done enough.  Did I seek the right treatment? Did I make the right decisions? Did she suffer because of me? My mind was filled with pain and loss so much that I wasn’t functioning, I was just going through the motions.

Paula had been teaching Sunday School one Sunday a month at Pilgrims Rest Church in Cedar Island. We had purchased an old trailer on a rental lot there a few years before. She loved that old church and the local people that filled it. I had taught Sunday School to the High School kids at our church home in Cove City but I tried to escape her Sunday School lessons by riding my bicycle at Cedar Island. I would come to church after my ride. I told her riding a bicycle in ferry traffic made me pray more than listening to her. When she became too sick to teach she volunteered me. After losing her I became the replacement.

It was after church in July that I walked down to the water’s edge where I had spread her ashes three months earlier. It was so painful to look on those waters. Life was getting worse and I didn’t want any more of it. I started the drive home and only gone a couple of miles. I had to pull over because I just couldn’t drive. I sat in the truck and looked at a small ray of sun coming through a cloud. I started to pray. I asked God to please stop my heart. I didn’t want any more life. It hurt too badly. I had messed up everything he had ever given me and I just wanted life to stop. I would not do it but I wanted God to kill me. He answered my prayer. He said NO.

God told me life wasn’t about me, it was about him. I was to start learning about his plans and stop worrying about mine. He wasn’t going to stop my life but if I would trust him he would give me new life and a new heart. I already knew that God’s blessings are always instruments to bless others. I wasn’t exactly sure what had happened but I cranked up and drove home. Yes I still had loss and pain and doubts in my life but have never had to face them alone since that day.

A couple of months later Rhonda came into my life. I quickly knew she was going to be a part of my life. Her smile was big and her heart bigger. She has a fantastic way with kids and they flock to her. Some people were dismayed that I was seeing someone. I guess they thought I hadn’t hurt enough. Well the hurt doesn’t go away. You learn to live with it.

My Pastor at the time was Alvin Keener at Cedar Island. After hearing my Sunday School lessons he asked me to fill in for him one Sunday. It didn’t seem like a big deal. It was the same people from Sunday School. Of course I was wrong. Any time someone steps to the pulpit it is a big deal. I knew I wasn’t worthy. When I was finished I knew I was not a preacher! I had rambled all over the place and made a mess out of my message. Then a lady came up and quietly thanked me and told me I had answered questions she had harbored in her mind for years and she was so thankful that she had come to church that day. I thought, did I just get used by God?

I came home and that day and brought back some fish for my favorite neighbor John Green. He is an old preacher that lives behind me and carries on a life of service to God in spite of many health problems. I told him I had done the Sunday service and he grinned and said “God will take some of the worse scrap out of the gutter, wipe him off and make a fine preacher out of him.” At first I didn’t see that as a compliment (and I still don’t) but I came to realize it is the truth. I also came to realize that no one should be more humble than the man in the pulpit.

After Rev. Keener left Pilgrims rest we didn’t have a preacher for a while. I was asked to do the Sunday service whenever we couldn’t find a preacher. It turned into most Sundays. Like most things what you do slowly will define who you are. I realized I was where I should be and doing what God wanted me to do. I was still resisting the idea that I should be a real preacher.

I resisted for good reasons. I am too old to start anything new was one. Then I did a sermon on Caleb. He was 85 when Joshua divided the Promised Land among the tribes. He got first pick and I’m sure everybody thought he would take the fertile flat land in the valley. But Caleb took the mountains because he felt that was where God wanted him. He didn’t care if it was harder or even that there were giants living there in forts. He said with God I will prevail. It’s really hard to preach a sermon and then say “That doesn’t apply to me.”

I looked at the qualifications for a preacher in the Bible and it said I must be blameless. Blameless? Me? Are you kidding? No one will ever judge me and say I am blameless but now no one can judge me alone. I have to be judged with a savior that is before me. When I stand behind Jesus and follow him I am blameless. That statement is so incredible you and I should read it over and over.

When I look at preacher skills I come up short. That incredible delivery. Booming voice, powerful persuasive speech. Then God shows me Rev. John Stanley. He doesn’t rattle the windows but his message rattles the heart. He is a teacher.

So one by one God destroyed everything I came up with to prove me a bad choice. The last straw was when I asked God “Are you sure?” I think I heard him laugh! Boy, so much for that saying “There is no such thing as a stupid question!”

So here I am. I can’t hide from God. I can’t act like he doesn’t exist because I know he does. Yes I have a lot of work to do to become ordained in the Original Free Will Baptist Eastern Conference but it is good work. Work that will make me stronger and better prepared. Work that will allow me to show God’s love and how to accept that simple offer of Jesus, “follow me.” 

Rhonda made my life better and I love her dearly. I was worried about her response to me going into the ministry. She just said “I already see you that way,” like that decision is already made, Buddy!

Many years ago I was sitting in my telephone truck on Broad Street in New Bern. It was a hot day and my windows were down. I was daydreaming when the light changed and there was a truck behind me. He waited as long as he could stand it and finally yelled out the window “Hey Buddy, It ain’t gonna get any greener!” I think he’s still right.



Beware of who your organ donor is:

An English woman who had a kidney transplant acquired the donor’s highbrow tastes. The former nightclub bouncer used to read thrillers and movie magazines. Now she reads Austen and Dostoyevsky. She used to watch the soaps but now she prefers documentaries on the Egyptian pyramids. She says she can’t get enough of them and its weird.

 Samuel Butler:

“Humans are the only animal that can remain on friendly terms with the victim he intends to eat.”


We Laughed a Lot More

E. B. Alston


People have changed a lot in the last eighty years. For one thing, when I was young, we laughed more and everything wasn’t graveyard serious. A benign observer of both times would readily admit that we had a lot less reason to laugh in the 40s and 50s than we do now.

Somehow, we've become a puritan society that frowns on levity. If you don't believe me, watch the evening news and see how serious they are when gravely discussing something that ought to have them (and us) rolling on the floor. The fear of offending has sapped the joy out of living. When I was a boy, we were required to be polite around adults but worries about offending somebody in fun were non-existent.

Now we can get into big trouble for making fun of somebody. This is hard for me because there is a lot out there to make fun of.

 I remember a particularly droll conversation between two of my cousins when we were about ten. Dorothy was a smart aleck but sometimes she wasn't too quick on the uptake. Our parents were visiting my cousin Joseph’s parents and we were walking past the barn where Uncle Gaston kept his mules. One mule had his head over the fence hoping we'd pet him or give him an apple from the nearby apple tree. This was a friendly, medium sized mule who happened to be very well endowed male wise. Dorothy asked what the mule’s name was.

"Big Dick," Joseph replied with a smirk. 

She studied the mule for a few seconds before remarking, "He's not that big a mule."

It took her a few more seconds to realize what we were howling about. Then she hit both of us because we were laughing too hard to run away.

There was another time when Joseph, C. W. Tharrington and I were roaming in the woods on my father's farm. It was spring, the woods were pretty thick and we came upon a moccasin lying in the path before us. The snake was aggressive and didn't crawl away. We turned to go back the way we came and were blocked by another snake. We tried to go left, then right only to encounter other snakes, none of which seemed in any way afraid of three boys. C. W. picked up a stick from the leaves. It was a lightwood knot and it was in the shape of a rather large male organ. He held it in front like it was his and we started laughing so hard we fell down in the leaves.

Imagine some TV reporter gravely discussing the hazard of the scene. Three eight-year-old boys rolling on the ground laughing at an odd shaped lightwood knot while surrounded by poisonous snakes. He would wonder where the rescue helicopters were.

C. W. finally stopped laughing long enough to throw the piece of lightwood at the first snake. The snake reluctantly crawled a few feet out of the path and let us pass. It hissed at us as we ran by. We were still laughing too hard to run very fast.

Folks, be honest. Even today, life is not all that serious. Unwind. Have a little fun and a good laugh once in a while. Even if it’s not politically correct. But, you had better watch out for those TV reporters and snakes.



Church Bulletin Request

 The pastor would appreciate it if the ladies of the Congregation would lend him their electric girdles for the pancake breakfast next Sunday. 



Mary Noble Jones


How often have you searched for something near and far, then find right there under your nose all the time?

Ever went through your entire closet for that perfect outfit only to go back to the very first thought of choice? How about going through the complete stack of laundry in search of that matching pair of socks, etc. and what happens? After you’ve made an alternate choice, there, right there, are the ones you were looking for.

You search and search in the highways and byways for that perfect home location or that car you just have to have. Where do you usually find it? Right there in your own backyard. Well, maybe not literally, but you get the drift. Usually in the first place you looked.  Right?

You may search the world over for that perfect mate and end up with the girl or guy next door. What does that tell us?

Then, why do we have to spread our wings and fly off to the unknown, only to end up right back where we started? Is this our way of satisfying our curiosity? If this was our best choice., why don’t we see it before we go to so much trouble, expense and distance? And why is the selected choice most likely already at our doorstep?

Is it phenomenon, fate or sheer coincidence?

Another perfect example: how many times when searching for that perfect greeting card, do you end up with the very first one you pulled from the display?  95 % of the time, am I not correct? I’ll bet so. Then why do we keep looking? Didn’t we like that first one mighty well right off the bat?

 I find myself doing this all the time. Then scold myself for wasting precious time on less satisfying selections.

Then I go trying to console myself for being so critical by saying, “Well, if I had not looked, how would I have known?  How did I know which one until I looked at others.”  Is it a physic thing?

This has me stumped!



From the Kitchen of P. L. Almanza


Seven Minute Caramels

 caramels 2-1.jpg


1/4 cup butter

1/2 cup white sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup light Karo syrup

1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk 



1. Combine all ingredients in heavy sauce pan.

2. Cook 7 minutes oven medium heat, stirring every two  minutes.

3. Stir and pour into lightly greased dish.

4. Let cool.

5. Cut, wrap in wax paper & store in an air tight container

Note: I add a little cocoa to the sugar to make them taste chocolatey and sometimes I add a little salt to the top for salted caramels as pictured...


Homemade Ranch Sauce


ranch dressing.jpgIngredients:

Black Pepper 1/4 C

Parsley Flakes 1 1/2 C

Garlic Salt 1/2 C

Kosher Salt 2 Tbsp

Granulated Garlic 1/4 C

Granulated Onion 3/4 C

Dill Weed 2 Tbsp

2 cups mayonnaise

ranjch dressing 2.jpg2 cups buttermilk

1 1/2 cups sour cream

1 teaspoon of lemon juice



Combine all ingredients, store in an airtight container. Makes about 3 1/2 cups of dry mix.

To Make Dressing:

Whisk together 2 Tbsp of mix with 2 Cups each of mayonnaise and buttermilk 1 1/2 Cups sour cream, and 1 tsp Lemon Juice. Refrigerate for 2 hours. Makes 1 3/4 Quart.



Homemade Pimento Cheese



homemade pimento cheese.jpg2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

4 ounces diced pimentos, drained

1/2 teaspoon dried mustard



With an electric mixer, mix the cheddar cheese and cream cheese together. Mix for 2-3 minutes.

Add in the mayo and mix.

Add in the garlic powder, paprika, onion powder and dry mustard. Stir everything together.

Mix in the pimentos.

Refrigerate for at least 10-15 minutes before serving.




Time's Up


An old Italian Mafia ‘Don’ is dying and he calls his grandson into his bedroom.

“Lissin-a me. I wanna for you to taka my chrome plated 38 revolver so you will always remember me.”

“But grandpa, I really don’t lika guns. Howzabout you leava me your Rolex watch instead?”

“Shuddup an lissin. Somma day you gonna runna da business…..you gonna have a beautiful wife, lotsa money, a big home and maybe a couple a bambinos. Somma day you gonna comma home and maybe finda you wife inna bed with another man. Whadda you gonna do then ……. pointa to your watch and say ‘Times up?”


Drunk Poet:

Li Po, the most imaginative of the 8th century Chinese poets was a notorious lush. He was once called to the emperor’s palace when he was too drunk to walk and had to be carried in on a chair. The emperor ordered him to compose a poem to the emperor’s favorite concubine, the plump and devious Lady Yang. Li dashed off the following verses on the spot. They were set to music and sung by the emperor playing a jade lute.


To drown the ancient sorrows,
we drank a hundred jugs of wine
there in the beautiful night.
We couldn't go to bed with the moon so bright.

Then finally the wine overcame us
and we lay down on the empty mountain--
the earth for a pillow,
and a blanket made of heaven.

Lovely now together, his lady and his flowers.

Lighten forever the Emperor’s eye.


Li T’ai Po


An old lady was asked, "At your ripe age, what would you prefer to get : Parkinsons or Alzheimers?"

The wise lady answered, "Definitely Parkinsons - Better to spill half my wine than to forget where I keep the bottle."




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


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


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


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


Randy Bittle: And Then the Universe Became Self-Aware; is a self-taught independent philosopher who is still learning.  He has two books, both collections of essays, available on Amazon.com. His latest book, More Colors Through My Mental Prism is also available.


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


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


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


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


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


Dave Whitford: Black Widow, is retired from IBM and now writes in Toano, Virginia



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