Dedicated To Michael  My Son
The Greatest Man I Ever Knew
I Can't Stop Loving You

                                                                 John Denver

                           SOME SHORT STORIES FOR
                         THESE DIFFICULT TIMES

                                            FELIZ NAVIDAD

             Diego Enrique and his wife Maria Alicia were tired virtually every night when they got home. They worked hard. Maria Alicia would pick up their little girls from daycare and the three of them would ride the bus to the tidy little apartment. 

        Diego found he could save several dollars a week by walking to his jobs.   Despite being tired from his regular job, his part time work at a little "mom and pop" market in a tough section of town was a financial necessity.  Maria Alicia always worried about the dangerous neighborhood where her Diego worked at his 2nd job, but the money allowed them to afford a much safer neighborhood than they’d had when they first moved to America. 

His main job was in an assembly plant for cheap furniture and he worked with several men who relied on Diego to translate English instructions into Spanish. His second job was in a bad neighborhood and Diego had been robbed and beaten once as he walked home and once when he closed the market on a Friday night.

Maria Alicia anxiously awaited Christmas because Diego’s final night at the second job was the night before Christmas.  He was able to quit the market job because he was starting a new position with his main employer.  The promotion included a good and much needed pay raise.  There would also be the opportunity for overtime work so he could give up the part-time job.

        Despite trying to obey the rules in their new country, what little savings they had brought with them had been used up for an immigration lawyer.  It was a records snafu but it was still costly to straighten out.  Also, the two illnesses their little girls had experienced not only took their meager savings, they were still making payments.   The doctor had kindly discounted his charges but the hospital and pharmacy expected full payment.

        Anarosa and Daniela were both under 5.  They didn’t understand a lot of things that went on but like the few little friends they had, they were mesmerized by Christmas excitement.

        By scrimping and saving, the parents were able to put the girls in an excellent day care center and preschool. Mrs. Jean Watkins owned a group of these very popular centers.  As Christmas approached, she and her office staff filled in for workers who were allowed time off for shopping.  She spoke fluent Spanish and enjoyed talking in both languages with the Enrique girls.  She helped them and the others write letters to Santa.  She’d often do this and then secretly share the letters with parents before the letters would be “sent off to the North Pole.”

        Anarosa and Daniela were wide eyed as they heard more stories about Santa. Their letter to him explained that they still had the very special dolls he’d brought them last time and didn’t need anything new.  They asked Santa if he could bring warm gloves and hats for their parents because they both had to stand out in the cold waiting for busses or walking to work.  They told Santa they really liked their new country but it was very cold compared to Mexico.  Anarosa added that their Daddy had a hat but it was lost the time he was hurt and robbed.

        “They took his gloves too, Santa.”

      Mrs. Watkins had a tear trickle from her eye as she wrote what the girls explained.  She didn’t share this letter and she smiled at the thought of not wanting to risk it getting lost on the way to the North Pole. She knew the Enriques were struggling financially. She went out and bought 4 hats and 4 pairs of gloves.  She made sure 2 of each were adult sizes.  She hatched a plot to deliver the gifts on the doorstep, ring the doorbell and run.

        Maria Alicia opened the door and found the present addressed to all of them.   She suspected Mrs. Watkins had done it.   They really didn’t know anyone else very well and the kids talked glowingly of her.

        Maria Alicia couldn’t wait for Diego to get home on Christmas Eve to tell him of the package.  She had hidden the package from the girls along with the sweatshirts and hair ribbons they had bought as presents for them. That afternoon she had purchased a little Christmas tree from the lot near their bus stop.  There were only a few trees left on the lot and the man sold Maria a scrawny one for just a dollar. She told the girls they would make decorations for the tree.

“This is the best Christmas there could ever be,” shouted Anarosa.

        Maria was mildly concerned when Diego didn’t arrive at his regular time.  Her apprehension grew when he became over an hour late.  Suddenly there was a knock and she hurriedly went to the door.  She didn’t even check the little peephole as she undid the security chain.  Her heart pounded as she opened the door and found Oliveira, one of Diego’s co-workers.

        “Maria, it was a sweep.  ICE raided the plant and took everyone.”

        “But Diego is legal, we have cards and he has ID.”

      “They took everyone’s wallets and purses and everything and threw them in a bag Maria, Diego and some of the men tried to explain and they used those Taser guns on them.  They dragged everyone off to an unmarked bus and no one knows where they took them.”


                        FOR THE LOVE OF HOLLY


My name is Holly Bond.  OK, add your joke.  My teachers were nice.  They gently teased me about being one of the Bond Girls.  It was a joke you had to explain to a lot of the kids in my generation.  James Bond was known as secret agent 007 and he had a series of glamorous girlfriends in his movies.  I was the fifth and final member of the girls from the Michigan Street Bond girls.  We also had 3 brothers but there were no Bond Boys in the movies.

My older sisters were athletes and I was no exception.  I always liked sports and my particular pursuits were basketball and track.  I didn’t set any records but it was fun.  Two of my sisters and two of my brothers actually got partial scholarships to college but I wasn’t at their skill level.  My parents treated us “second-stringers” like we were just as important as anyone.  Truthfully, all of my siblings were better athletes than I but I enjoyed playing.  Looking back, I can see that maybe I hid a little bit in athletics to avoid what I considered my failures at being real popular socially.  I mean, I had friends and a few dates but my siblings had all been very popular.

My dad called me princess and he had a cute nickname for each of us as we came along.  My parents were good parents.  There was not a lot of arguing and when it came to one of us challenging the rules, we generally were up against a united front.  I guess we all took our turn at being a little rebellious and Mom and Dad would sometimes make us laugh when we took an especially preposterous stance.  I love my mom and dad.  My sisters were cool and I could always go to them with problems when I was too embarrassed to talk to Mom.

By the time I hit high school as a freshman I had a brother who was junior class president and a prominent athlete and a sister who was a senior and co-captain of the basketball team when she wasn’t runner-up as homecoming queen.  Some of the older kids were in college and one had already married and presented 2 delighted grandparents with babies we all couldn’t get enough of.  I may be a little prejudiced but my niece and nephew just may be the 2 cutest and smartest babies ever. 

It was clear from day one I’d never be a great athlete.  Mom and Dad still drove me around to every event and while there weren’t many clippings, Dad added mine and all the pictures he took to the family scrapbook.  I worked hard to please them and while I sat the bench a lot, you’d have thought I was a star.  Mom always prepared a special pre-game meal for us on our game days.  I sometimes felt like the chief klutz of the Bond Girls (and boys) but you wouldn’t have known it from watching my family support me.

I wanted to think I was kind of cute but I was probably just real average looking. I tried to have a perky personality like my sisters but I guess I was a little self-conscious.  I didn’t exactly ever have a movie star’s figure. Dad always said I was a “knockout” but he was a dad and probably had to say stuff like that.

I wasn’t much into boys and dating.  I read a book in junior high about a girl who thought she was the ugliest girl in school even though she wasn’t.  In the story she would always say smart aleck things to anyone, especially boys, if they looked like they were trying to get to know her.  She pushed everyone away before they had a chance to push her away. I wasn’t that bad.  I had friends and I’d had a boy or two ask me out.   I didn’t try to drive anyone away but I wondered if I was doing it without realizing it.  The book I read said the girl was subconsciously trying to keep from getting rejected or having her feelings hurt.  She didn’t want to be embarrassed so she always struck first.

I tried to talk to one of my sisters about how I felt about myself.  Andrea had once been nominated for homecoming queen and she was really popular.  I told her I felt like I was dull looking with a zero personality.  She said everyone thinks that and she added, “In the back of my mind I’m always thinking that.”  I was stunned. I’d gone to her hoping for support and she said everyone thought I was dull looking with a zero personality including her.  I was crushed but suddenly she caught on and laughed. “No, no, I meant all of us think that about ourselves sometimes.” She assured me I was as pretty and interesting as any of my big shot classmates.  She said everyone secretly worries about stuff like that.  She said even she does. That really helped and I felt a lot more confident. I still had doubts but I knew I was in good company.  All in all, school was pretty good and I had a lot of fun.

I had a social life but I think my older brothers and sisters were the real social creatures of the family.  My girlfriends all had steady and/or serious boyfriends.  And they talked about how serious they were.  Sometimes it seemed like I was the only one without an active love (read: sex) life.  Mom had had “the talk” with me and I had the advantage of older sisters who schooled their little sister in all things she needed to know. Mom was pretty open about stuff and she told me to always be sure what I was doing was what I wanted to do, not what I was pressured to do. Ours was a progressive school district.  Sex education started in elementary school and by high school we’d heard the whole drill from condoms to STDs and beyond.

I was pretty sure I knew it all.  I just didn’t feel inclined to have the kind of serious boyfriend everyone felt was such a mark of belonging.  I had dates but I just never felt the excitement the videos said I needed to keep in control of if I was going to protect myself.

William and I dated my senior year.  He was also a senior and we both had missed a full year of schooling in elementary school due to illness.  We were both a year older than the other seniors and I probably had some stupid sense of urgency about turning the ripe old age of 19 as an old maid. We got a little serious once in a while.  I can’t say I was especially enjoying everything but it was a new experience to have someone be that interested in me. One night I finally decided to find out what all the excitement was about.  His parents were away and we were in their family room.  He was determined but I was willing too.  Romeo had a condom and he pulled it from his pocket and left it unopened on the table as we gyrated and maneuvered.  I tried to be eager and I don’t think he had to make a conscious effort to be excited.  It hurt and I wasn’t feeling anything like the Roman candles or skyrockets I’d expected.  Twice I reminded him of the condom and he agreed, grunted and continued what he was doing.  I finally used that great Bond Girl athleticism to get free of him and try to open and apply the condom as we had been taught in sex ed class.  In class we giggled as Mrs. Wallace had us practice putting a condom on a fairly large cucumber.  I’m not sure why she chose that particular vegetable.  Maybe it was to intimidate us or maybe that was all she had in the refrigerator that morning.  Those thoughts crossed my mind as I worked to equip my writhing “lover” and I wanted to giggle at the thought I was dealing with more of a carrot than a cucumber. I was struggling to accomplish the task when William, how shall I say this, when William “finished” his mission.  It was a mess and he groaned like the piano had suddenly fallen on him.  He tensed and I could only think about how we’d hide the evidence of our “love affair for one.”  I eventually just reversed the couch cushions, hoping our encounter would go unnoticed until I was long out of the picture.  Prince Charming took the princess home after we rearranged clothes and put throw pillows back in place.  I honestly felt nothing good or bad and had no problem returning William’s good night kiss. I went to sleep assuring myself it would probably be a lot better when I met the right guy.

We dated several times and made love twice more.  Well, actually, he had sex with me twice.  Again I was eager to experience what this was all about.  His hands, his lips, nothing seemed to mean more than just an experience.  I liked him as much as any boy I’d known but I didn’t lust after him in my secret moments.  He at least got a little smoother at using a condom.  He would have been a good friend but sex kind of complicated that and we became just acquaintances after we broke up.

 I eagerly looked forward to college.  I thought I could find that special guy there.  I didn’t.  I had 2 dates and I was wondering if I was some kind of weirdo.  I didn’t even get a good night kiss out of either date. 

Athletics had always been my passion and I began working out in the college gym as kind of a comfort activity.  There were several intramural sports for women and I found myself enjoying learning to play tennis.  I played a girl in the fall league and she told me about a loosely organized women’s athletic center called “The Island.”

I had tried working out in the coed gym but college men can be kind of boisterous and obnoxious.  It was harmless I guess but you had to encounter stares and sometimes cruel and obnoxious comments.

The Island was formed by a woman’s coach and it was a safe haven for women to work out.  They’d had a few fundraisers and had accumulated some used treadmills, elliptical trainers and free weights all of which were made available in a large room provided by the university.  It was fun and safe and they even had a Yoga instructor provide a regular class.

I was at the Island when I met Lisha. That’s how she spells it—it was short for Alisha.  I’d always respected an athletic build.  My brothers had trained for football and basketball with weights in the garage.  Some of the boys in high school had been in bodybuilding and the college gym was always populated with guys working out specific muscles in front of a mirror.  I said I appreciated the look but to be honest, I never found it attractive and certainly not sexually stimulating.  And then I saw Lisha working out.  She was trim and her muscles were smoothly defined but not bulky. Her skin was tanned and smooth.  I found myself watching her the very first day.  She looked up and smiled a most beautiful smile.  I felt something stirring in my body and I busied myself with a barbell.  I looked at a chart and began doing what it called curls.  I was never a weight lifter and even without weights on the bar, I was struggling to throw the device into the prescribed position.  I tried to do 20 repetitions and eventually I lowered the bar in exhaustion.

I was embarrassed to see the woman I’d watched, now watching me.  She introduced herself and I responded with my name. I felt nervous.  She asked me if I would accept some advice and I joked about how big my muscles felt already.  She laughed as she took the bar and had me rest before having me shake my arms to relax them further.  She demonstrated the curl, making sure I saw that the back was to be firm and motionless. She handed me the bar and showed me how to slowly raise it and lower it.  “You should feel this right here,” she said as her fingers gently grasped my bicep with a slight wiggling motion.  I almost dropped the bar.  I couldn’t explain the almost electrical stimulation I felt.  We worked out the rest of the night and she walked me home to my dorm.  I had the most powerful desire to touch her as we walked.  My mind was going a mile a minute.  I had trouble getting to sleep that night.

We had agreed to meet the next night for another session—this one on the treadmills.  We met 2 more nights and interspersed our workouts with stories about our families and high school years.  It was driving me crazy.  I never felt what I was feeling ever before.  Whenever she touched me I felt warm and excited.  One night we walked home and I was wondering if she was having similar thoughts as I was having. Suddenly her hand found mine as we walked and it was not the platonic grip of two friends.  We got to my dorm and I couldn’t take my eyes off her lips.  She moved closer to me and I responded by eagerly almost bumping her.  She guided us over into the darkness and I got a most wonderful and passionate kiss.  My knees were week and I could almost feel my heart pounding.  I pressed myself to her and she responded similarly. The next night we went to her dorm suite.  She had arranged for us to be alone. She had 2 roommates who were “Island Girls.”  I didn’t think we could go to my dorm as I had three roommates.

While I was alone with Lisha the first time  I learned who I was and I learned I really liked who I was.  I learned a lot of things that night and the following nights.  I found the Roman candles and skyrockets that had always eluded me in the past.

It’s been weeks since I willingly and eagerly came under Lisha’s gentle and passionate attention.  I was in romantic love for the first time in my life.  In an hour I would be driving home to see my family and my old friends. It was the Christmas break and I thought about my older siblings and how they came back from their first semester in college.  I was able to hear some of the gushing talk about dating and the breathless freedom college afforded. In a short time I’d be home and girlfriends would be calling and we’d get together just like my older sisters had.  There’d be parties and boys and I remembered how different my sisters had been when they returned.

I guessed I was going to be the most different of all.  One day it dawned on me just which mythical island the Island Girls had named their haven after.  It was appropriate. And we were on an island—isolated and sometimes made to feel less than good and valuable by those who didn’t understand us. I’d soon struggle with coming out to my parents and the rest of the family.  My new friends had told me personal stories of acceptance, rejection and parental disbelief.  I wanted to have my dad call me his princess again.  It wasn’t for me, I’d long outgrown that; it was for him.  I wondered what my mom would say. I wanted to tell her about Lisha.  I wondered, hoped actually, that they already knew. I worried I would crush them.  They didn’t deserve that and I thought about not telling them my secret. I needed them to know what I knew.  It was bad enough people tried to make me feel so different, so terrible.  I felt cold and alone.  I started to panic when I turned onto Michigan Street.  I had absolutely no clue how they would respond to their princess.  I was so scared I was trembling.


                            ALONG THE RED CEDAR


            I was born in far western Wisconsin.  It was a few years after the Great War ended.  I came into the world in a small cabin near the banks of the Red Cedar River.  A midwife who was my mother’s oldest sister attended my birth.  She had come down from Canada. She was unable to prevent the hemorrhaging that would take my mother’s life.  Such was the state of medicine in the 1920s.

            My father was left with a newborn son and a 6 year-old daughter.  He was also left with a lot of anger.  He worked as a section hand on the local railroad. Section hand work was hard.  I can remember later seeing men trudging from work to one of the two taverns in town.  My father would stop in the cabin and begin cooking supper.  He would send my sister Avril to the tavern with a quarter and his beer bucket while he prepared a meal.  When beer was illegal, he would send her to the secret location everyone, including the sheriff, knew about.

When I was older I’d be the beer runner while my sister would cook a meal. My father would collapse exhausted in a chair.  Beans and cornbread were sometimes augmented with smoked fish and, when times were better, canned and fresh vegetables and fruit. Sometimes a neighbor would allow my sister to make lutefisk when she made a batch. One of them taught her to make lefse and we ate that potato dish often. Norwegian people are friendly and generous.  Ladies taught Avril to make a great fish soup called fiskesuppe.  She sometimes cried when recipes turned out bad on her own and I tried to comfort her.

When the money wasn’t tight we had some fresh and processed meat and canned sild.  We had pea soup and at Christmas our father found the money for Avril to make krumkaker, rulle polse (meat roll) and rosettes. Christmas days are my happiest memories from growing up.

 We pumped water from a community well but our father drank more beer than water.  A neighbor had dairy cows and we were allowed to milk one of the cows in exchange for doing odd jobs around the small farm. 

Avril was my whole world for as long as I could remember.  I don’t know who took care of us in the early years but I vaguely remember different older women spending time with us.  However, from about the first time I have clear memory, Avril did everything.  I know she washed and cleaned and cooked.  And she wouldn’t let the older kids bully me.  When I was little she’d tell me stories and make me feel safe.

The railroad work was killing my father and the booze didn’t help.  At night he’d sit before the fire and we’d listen to this old wind-up phonograph. It was his prized possession. There weren’t many records but we could hear music and crackling voices from what I could only imagine were far away and exotic places. It always seemed to make him very moody.  He spoke little.  He would eventually turn off the record player and send us to our beds. 

Ours was one of the few phonographs anyone had in our part of town.  I found out later that our father had earned the device because he made numerous trips hauling things he wasn’t supposed to into and out of Canada.  I know it had something to do with the man who sold all of the alcohol in town.

The cabin had one tiny bedroom and the main room had what served as a kitchen and living room for most of the space.  My sister and I slept on what could best be described as cots in the main room. On cold nights Avril would call me to her bed and try to keep me warm.  In the morning she’d get up to tend the fire and I could see her breath in the dim light.  At night, my father would sit in front of the fire, or, in the hot months, in front of one of our four windows.  I’d hear the far off train whistle and it was obvious the sound affected my father.  He’d stare out the window and sometimes turn the phonograph back on.  Sometimes he’d finish what beer he had left in his bucket or find one of the whiskey bottles he’d always have stashed.

Many nights he would go to the local tavern.  Sometimes he’d come home stumbling with a loud, laughing woman.  I was usually awakened by the noise but I would pretend to be asleep.  I could hear them laughing behind the closed door and I would hear sounds and noises I couldn’t figure out.  The first time it happened, I wondered if Avril was awake and could tell me what was happening.  I heard someone say give me that bottle and it was followed by laughter.  It sounded like someone fell out of bed and there was more laughter.  I looked over at Avril.   In the darkness I could see her holding her ears and keeping her eyes tightly closed.  It wasn’t until I was much older that I discovered what was happening.

Some communities and parents were always very diligent about children attending school.  Ours were not.  My sister and I attended as frequently as we could but our father never encouraged it.  The house and garden needed to be tended and God help you if he thought you were putting “that damn school” ahead of what you were told to do. Winters were cold and we often didn’t have clothes to match the more brutal weather. We would go outside only to get the firewood we needed or make a hurried trip to the outhouse.

School was held in the local Lutheran church and the minister’s wife taught all grades in one room.  It was about 2 miles away.  Learning to read opened a world to me.  The county had a library and once a month or so, a wagon would arrive from which we could borrow books.  It was magic.  In summer we couldn’t wait for our father to leave for work so we could pull out the books and read.  Without the library books, we had little to read.  We had a Sears-Roebuck catalog.  Everyone called it a wish book and for us, wishes were about all we could do with it.  Avril had a hymnbook she borrowed from the church.  She would read it over and over as if it were a book of short stories.  I borrowed a dictionary from the school and I’m embarrassed to admit I used it like Avril used her hymnal. 

On warm weekends the community would gather for a baseball game.  The local team was called simply The Cedars and they entertained, and visited, teams from all the nearby towns.  I loved the games—partly because my father was the pitcher.  During the week he was just like everyone else, maybe just a little poorer. On Sundays they cheered his name and suddenly we were somebody important.  He could really throw hard.  I think the other teams were a little afraid of him because he could throw so hard but was also wild.  He’d sometimes hit a batter and step menacingly toward the other team if they protested. 

My father seemed always to be angry.  Sometimes he drank and got kind of mellow.  Other times he got drunk and even more angry than usual.   The ball games were different and we lived for the reprieve.

At the games people were always talking about him going off to Chicago or New York to play where people were actually paid to play baseball. It was the one time I would see my father happy.  The local tavern owners were the unofficial sponsors and would provide free beer for the players. Food would be cooked over open fires and women would bring covered dishes of food for all to share. Teammates would be pounding my father on the back and stories of the day’s game would be told, retold and exaggerated.  It would be after dark when we guided our stumbling father back to the house.  There’d be no phonograph those nights.  He’d stumble toward his bedroom and Avril and I would talk quietly in the dark as he snored and sputtered.

Two things happened when I was about 10 that would change everything forever. 

My sister left home. She was about 16.  She had managed to somehow save $7 from babysitting and little odd jobs—enough money to head for Chicago.  My father had been arguing with her often.  I overheard him telling her it was time she got married.  I can remember hearing him shout about this man or that man and how it was time she got a husband.  I do remember him bringing some of his fellow railroad section hands to the house.   I believe some of them were even older than our father. He’d make Avril go for walks with the men or sit on some old bench by the river.  I think Avril cried herself to sleep those nights. 

It seemed sudden, but now I realize there had been many angry arguments leading up to it.  One day Avril told me she was leaving in two days.  My father arranged for her to get a free ride on the train. The conductor was his catcher on the baseball team.  Our father patted her on the back, wished her luck and walked away. I never had much money if any. It took all I had to buy the red ribbon I gave to her to wear.  She squeezed it with both hands.  She then hugged me and kissed me and I hugged her back. As far as I could remember, she was the only person who had ever kissed or hugged me. I think we were going to start crying when she turned suddenly and ran to her train car.  I don’t know when I ever felt more alone. I watched long after the train disappeared along the tracks.  I missed her so much.

That same year, the economy of the nation was in free fall and the worst of it hit our valley. Something called a depression was snuffing out businesses and fortunes.  We had little of either but what we did have disappeared one Friday when my father returned from work in the middle of the day.  All of the local workers had been laid off.

For 3 years we got by on money my father could scratch from odd jobs he arranged for each of us. He began hunting and fishing to supply food.  I cut firewood and milked dairy cows for pennies.  He sometimes drove a team of horses, and later a truck, for hauling milk, but the pay from all of the jobs was sporadic and barely kept us in beans and buckets of beer.  I wanted to go to the county high school.  A lot of kids were in my boat and the school allowed for a certain degree of lax attendance.  Missing so much school made it hard to keep up and I guess it was pride that forced me to give it up.

I learned early that things could never be so bad they couldn’t get worse. 

Around the time I became a teenager, 2 hunters brought the lifeless body of my father to town.  There were whispers that he had committed suicide.  I was even asked by the sheriff if my father had left a note.  A note?  He would have had to dictate it.  He could neither read nor write.

I guess I just grieved for my father but maybe, I was only feeling scared about my future.  My father rarely smiled and his conversations with his kids could have been mistaken for someone merely giving orders.  My sister and I had both learned early not to cross him.   However, he was the adult in my life—my security.  I was a youngster, alone and on my own.

The year was 1938.  I didn’t know where Avril was.  I lived in the old cabin and survived on things I could hunt and fish with my father’s old equipment.  I relied heavily on handouts from the local minister’s family and others who could spare anything in those hard times. It was rural Wisconsin. Firewood was free for the cutting and gathering. I sold the phonograph and a few other things but they brought little money.  Kind folks would frequently invite me for dinner. I was hungry often. Times were hard for everyone.

I had no relatives other than Avril and I had no idea how to find her.  She had written for a time and twice included a dollar.  However, the last letter I sent to her last known address was returned by the post office.  I believe that my father was himself an orphan and from near the Minnesota border.  I’m pretty sure my mother’s people were all from Canada.  As far as I could figure out, I had no relatives I could hope to find.  I really was on my own.

I lied about my age and got into the Civilian Conservation Corps.  Men lived in tents and we worked 40 hours a week.  We got paid $30 a month—most of which we had to send to our “family.”   “Thou shalt not bear false witness,” the local minister said when I tried to enlist his support for my plan to enter the CCC.  I think it was only after I began dating his daughter that he decided I might thrive by being far away in a labor camp.  They agreed to be “my family” and hold the money sent home for me by the government.

Life in the camps was hard.  We lived in tents and worked hard building fire roads and fire towers.  Living in tents was uncomfortable and there was little privacy. We planted trees and fought forest fires.  I stayed for the 6-month period and applied for a longer enlistment.

We weren’t always welcomed in nearby towns and the rules kept us busy and mostly out of trouble.  The men gambled where it was allowed, or where they could get away with it, and we spent spare time playing baseball or reading what books we could find.  It was after dark by the time we would return after work so there was little light to read by.  Boxing was allowed in some units and it served as a way to avoid more serious fights in disputes between men.  There were bullies and there were thieves and scoundrels.  However, I was usually safe, warm and well fed.  I never thought of the Corps as family but looking back, I’m not sure how I would have recognized family anyway.

I got out of the Corps and returned to the only place I’d ever known.  I caught on with a farm family.  I worked for room and board.  On weekends, I earned a small amount of spending money as a fishing and hunting guide.  I rowed hours on the local lakes for rich men who seemed only to know there was a depression when it was time for paying the guy who rowed for them.

The next paying job I found was with Uncle Sam.  I was drafted into the Army and for about the next half dozen years, I had steady work.

I will jump ahead to now.  I’m old and I’m entitled. Hey, even my kids are getting up in years. My grandkids know I’m sad today.  My kids know what’s on my mind.  The young ones are something else—they’re a joy even amid sorrow.

I’ve just returned home from the cemetery.  We buried my sister Avril today.  Her husband had passed several years earlier and she eventually moved in with my wife and me.  My wife Elizabeth is a lot younger than I.  At times like this, it seems as if the whole world is younger than I.  Liz is the one who insisted I write this.  She said,  “It’s the little people who have done the big things.”  I think that’s the retired junior college literature and English instructor in her.  I told her all I ever did was put one foot in front of the other.  She responded that I had just found a theme if not a title.

Avril and I had found each other years ago in one of those miraculous episodes that just seem to happen to people.   Oh, I’m sure we would have eventually looked for, and found each other. In this case, it just happened in storybook fashion.

I was injured during WWII.  No, I’m not a hero. I never made combat.  I was assigned stateside as an ambulance driver for a military hospital.  I was sent to Chicago.  I was hit head-on by a drunken driver on my second night on the job.  Cars and ambulances were huge back then but reports said he was driving over 60 mph when he hit me.  Seat belts were non-existent and I was severely injured.  I would be in the hospital for almost 5 weeks and would have rehabilitation after that.  I will always walk with a slight limp.

A nurse was making the rounds in my ward and stood and stared at me.  She quickly grabbed my chart and grinned,

“Corporal, I order you to get well right now.”

The voice stunned me. She got closer and kissed me on my forehead.  It was Avril.  I never allowed her out of my life for the next half century. She married the young doctor she was dating and the two of them encouraged and financed my education.  The GI Bill paid for a lot and they supplied the rest.  I eventually became a hospital administrator.  That’s as close to the medical field a grateful guy with a squeamish stomach could get.

Avril and I guided each other through careers, marriages and a torrent of kids, grandkids and recently, the perils of old age. We made a couple of trips back to the old Red Cedar River Valley.  A lot had changed.  The old cabin was gone but some of the foundation and its footprint, and that of the privy, still remained.  We found our parent’s graves and Avril told me what little she knew of our mother.  We talked about our father and I think we both agreed to forgive him for not doing better.

We found a woman we had known growing up who was about our age. We were graciously invited to her family reunion where we made old acquaintances and sampled the old recipes of our youth.

Through it all, it was me and my big sister—putting one foot in front of the other.  In the childhood years it was pretty much Avril and me against the world.  Somehow, she made it a fair fight. 

When I came in to see her in the hospital, she was tightly clutching an old faded red ribbon.  She smiled. She died in my arms as I kissed her—just like that day she kissed me goodbye on the banks of the Red Cedar River.  Some kisses aren’t goodbye kisses; they are “I’ll love you forever” kisses. Yes, through it all, it’s been a good life.


                           THE GIRL FROM COPPERHEAD MOUNTAIN

    Fiona McKee was born in Eastern Kentucky. She was the 11th of 12 children of Collinsworth and Juliet McKee. By the time she came along, Ellsworth seemed like a typical Appalachian town in the mountains.
    Ellsworth Coal and Lumber once owned the mines, saw mill, the cabins and the company store. They didn't own the town—they were the town. Fiona's parents first experienced money in the form of company script and coins. Their fathers deep mined coal and were paid in paper and coins that could only be spent in the company store. They were frequently in debt to the store—the practice of buying on credit against future earnings kept everyone working and tied to the job. The company even owned the three room school.
    No one could save up money to move away. Even if you accumulated some of the company script, it was not honored at face value anywhere else and no bank would offer an exchange for real money at anything except a ridiculously low exchange rate.
     Every year in those days, Wellington Ellsworth would visit the camp from his home in New York. It was on one of these inspection tours when Ellsworth and his accountants discovered the men of Fiona's grandfather's mine had built a rustic looking shelter by the creek. Here the men of Liberty Mine Three would change clothes and shower in the icy water piped up from the creek by hand pumps. The men had built and paid for the shelter and used it so that they didn't continue to bring home the coal dust that permeated their clothes and lungs every day. Mr. Ellsworth agreed with his accountants that, though a nice idea, it constituted a fringe benefit and an intrusion onto company property. Ever concerned about his workers, Wellington Ellsworth agreed to allow the facility to operate but ordered that all workers be docked $1 per shift to use the facility. Ellsworth paid its miners by the ton and not by the hour. A dollar a day could sometimes be a foreboding charge in those years. Most men chose to avoid the facility.
     Fiona was lucky. Her grandmother had inherited a few acres on Copperhead Mountain. Her grandfather worked every extra hour he could (there was no time and a half) and the family scrimped and saved. Saturdays, he worked at the mill until noon and took his pay in lumber. On evenings and Sundays, he would drive to the mountain property and continue building the family dream house.
    The mines eventually closed and Ellsworth switched to strip mining what coal remained. Fiona’s father managed to work the last few years the mines operated. Her father later worked for minimum wage—standing ankle deep in various solvents as he rebuilt small engines in a large factory that came to town chasing low wages. By then, normal currency and stores replaced the company stores and script. Many of the people fled to the cities the first chance they got.
      Fiona left Ellsworth for Chicago at age 16. It wasn't the call of the big city. Her father died at age 63 after a lifetime of a heart destroying diet, cigarettes, the ever-present coal dust of his early years and the solvents of his latter years. Four months later, her mother succumbed to the Black Lung disease she may have contracted from an early life of breathing coal dust.
       Fiona had always dreamed of New York City, but her dislike for Mr. Ellsworth's record convinced her she didn't want to live where he lived. She had $137 in her pocket after purchasing her bus ticket. She carried a used cardboard suitcase stuffed with her meager clothes.
    Chicago was serious culture shock. She was overwhelmed by elevated trains and subways. She spent three days walking city streets and dozing in the waiting room of the bus station at night.
        She lied about her age and got a job as a waitress in a diner. It was her first job and she narrowly escaped being fired as she struggled to adapt to the pace of lunch hours and the confusing accents of customers. The diner provided a uniform and she kept her suitcase in a locker at the bus station until she could afford a place in a rooming house.  She would eventually get a (poorly) furnished apartment and enroll in a free night school program at the Salvation Army.  Armed with an actual high school diploma and new found confidence, Fiona McKee soon found both a better apartment and a better waitress position.
    It was on a Friday that a slickly dressed stranger circulated through the restaurant, passing out business cards for a local church. Peter Penland introduced himself as the "Singles Class" pastor of his father's church—City On a Hill Cathedral. It was a huge church and, at Peter's persistent invitation, Fiona agreed to visit. He came back after her shift and gave her a ride home. Along the way, he elicited from her the story of her background.  He invited her to a service.
    Fiona dressed in her Sunday best and soon found herself greeted and escorted by the young assistant pastor. The Sunday school and service were not unpleasant. It was nothing like the little Baptist congregation on Copperhead Mountain. Senior pastor, Paul Penland was an entertaining speaker and laughed along with his immense flock as he referred to himself by what was apparently a favorite nickname: "Prosperity Paul" Penland. He preached a gospel that God wanted his followers to be successful, happy and prosperous, tithe paying saints. She was introduced to the pastor after the service.
The following Monday, Fiona was surprised to see young Peter Penland and his limousine waiting for her after work. He offered her a ride home and she welcomed a chance to avoid the "EL," as she'd learned to call the noisy elevated train.
     Pastor Peter convinced her to call him Peter and he instructed the driver to head toward Joliet. He told Fiona that he would insist on treating her to a nice dinner as a way of welcoming her to their congregation. The dinner was excellent and Fiona tried to pay for her share but Pastor Peter would not hear of it. As they entered the limo, he told her she would really encourage his father if she'd stop and say hello. Peter told her his father had been praying lately for the Lord to help him minister to young people such as Fiona.
    "Dad's in our Joliet office, do you mind if we stop and see him?"  Fiona felt as if she owed her guide the effort and agreed.
    The office was in a condominium building and it appeared quiet when they entered. Fiona marveled at the expensive furniture. Peter said his father would be with her shortly and he entered another room.

      He soon returned to summon her with a smile and a motion.
     "Pastor can see you now."    
     It was a bedroom and not an office. Prosperity Paul stood in front of her wearing only his boxer shorts and a toothy grin. She backed away and Pastor Peter interrupted her retreat by utting his arm around her.
       "Fiona, each should give of what he or she has to serve the kingdom. Pastor and I want to help you find a better job—we are in need of help here in the church. The job pays well and you could live and work in this very condo. It is your chance to minister to Pastor and to me while you serve the church."
     Pastor Paul stepped forward and began to unbutton her blouse. She pushed him away.
     Peter spoke, "Don't refuse to answer God's call to minister. Pastor and I have needs—we have pressures and tensions from doing his work. He brought you to us. The Lord has told me he has chosen this service as your ministry."
    "I want to leave," she said.
    "Child," Pastor Paul said as he approached again, "each of us has gifts to share. The Lord has given you gifts of beauty and sexuality. He has given me wealth
and an opportunity to help others. We can help each other."
Unfortunately for Pastor Paul, Fiona McKee had a gift of her own. And she'd been taught to share. It was a strong leg and a kick that was more mule-like than lady-like. She kicked the preacher with all of her might. Her shoe landed squarely between his legs and he was immediately grimacing on the floor and having trouble breathing. Fiona spun around and ministered to the surprised young pastor just as strategically and powerfully. He doubled up across the bed.
     That's how I met Fiona. My parents are the resident managers of the huge condominium complex. Fiona had come to their office for help when the senior pastor appeared to be going into unconsciousness. She was afraid he was going to die. He probably felt like he was dying. We called an ambulance and I talked to Fiona while we waited for it to arrive. She was not the first young female “parishioner” we had observed taking part in the Penland plan of salvation.
     Both men refused medical help and the ambulance left quickly. The medics were fighting back laughter after hearing Fiona's account of her missionary efforts. I gave her a ride home.
       She told me later that the father and son team of lecherous preachers had angered her. She said she thought of the preacher she’d known on Copperhead Mountain. Like most all of the men in the area, he worked in the low paying jobs and his garden all week. On Sundays and Wednesdays he preached. He didn’t always pronounce the old Biblical names perfectly and his limo looked more like an old dusty pickup truck. He didn’t preach a gospel of riches but you could trust him with your little sister and your big sister.
        Of course, we were eventually married. Prosperity Paul and his son Peter would both do time for income tax evasion and grand theft. Young Peter also made headlines for trying to procure a prostitute. Unfortunately, instead of getting his kicks as he had with Fiona, this time he was dealing with an undercover policewoman.

                                     CONLEY BRYCE’S IRREGULARS

    Professor Bryce was a kind of role model to a generation that was busy rejecting role models. Professor Conley Bryce really wasn’t even a full professor. Having always been an academic gypsy of sorts, our favorite professor had never stayed anywhere long enough for a shot at tenure. Technically, Dr. Bryce, who was only just a few years older than us, was listed as a history instructor. No full professor had more of our respect.
    Conley was a captivating speaker. Words rolled off our teacher’s tongue like poetry and lectures were enlivened with great humor. The discussion was once about a professor from an old highly regarded college in the 1800s. He had graduated at 15. Professor Bryce summed up and dismissed the man’s achievement by saying, “They have since become a better college.”
    Class bells meant little to the instructor, or really, to us. The students who were there because they were grinding out course work to score the paper they sought, would leave at the bell. Some of us weren’t painting by the numbers and we would gather around to enjoy the real class. There were usually about 12 of us true believers. Some of us actually were in the class. The others had had a class previously with Professor Bryce and simply showed up for the lectures and after class exchanges they knew would be coming. Someone once called us “The Regulars” but Conley quickly dubbed us “The Irregulars.” Our guru deadpanned, “I’ve seen regulars and you guys ain’t it.” We were hooked for the duration.  These sessions were times of open exchange where you could risk stupid questions. They were really a serious critique of American culture. You left these impromptu sessions feeling fed but wanting so much more.
    We talked about religion and even then, we were warned about the trend to wrap religion in the flag—a trend that dirtied both. Conley mocked the hypocrisy of modern religionists and even named names. The phony patriotism of those days was also held up to ridicule and we learned Conley had on occasion been the victim of a kind of blacklisting.
    One particular day we were off on some theological or spiritual errand. Someone ventured to ask if it could be proof of eternity if he could not imagine himself not existing.
“Aren’t you the ego?” Conley responded. No one laughed harder than the original questioner. We then were captivated to hear about our guru experiencing something akin to enlightenment and salvation on a cold, lonely starlit night while backpacking alone in the mountains. Conley described the pain and poignancy of love and uncertainty. It was the same pain and poignancy we were experiencing and it was clear that Professor Bryce was also still experiencing. Such things were described as the birth parents of the soul. There followed a long, delicious silence. The original questioner gave it his best southern accent, “Well shut my mouth.” We roared and Conley laughingly threw a paperback book at him and said to our laughter in an even better southern accent, “You are going to Hell, son.”
    During one session someone said he’d read the university guide and found that Conley was from a place called Bloomer, Wisconsin. We smiled. We heard a sometimes sad description of the pleasure and pain of growing up in northwestern Wisconsin. It was a bucolic place that was still a good place to be, or be from. There was a plaintive quality to Conley’s voice as simpler times and forgotten folks were lamented. We were told to cherish our hometowns and our roots because the days for such times and places were numbered, “The time and the times will pass in the blink of an eye.” 
    And just like that the pace changed and we were absolutely slain, “Listen, can you imagine the burden of growing up in a town everyone thinks was named for an article of old fashioned lady’s underwear? It’s responsible for whatever it is that I am today.” We roared. “Can you imagine the fixations a youngster had to deal with? I’ve been obsessed with chasing girls ever since.”  Before the laughter died someone asked if a fixation was like a perversion. More laughter.
    “Well, that depends on whether it’s being defined by your attorney or the prosecutor.”
    Sometimes we adjourned to Conley’s place—an old farmhouse just outside of town. We drank Burgundy wine, sometimes way into the night. You slept wherever you dozed off. Conley wasn’t afraid of much and had no qualms about sharing smoke with us. Many a night we passed around the pipe. It was kind of like a time warp to an earlier time in America. The power of flowers had long since faded but Conley often said that first fruits may well still be eternal truths.
    Weekends would find a lot of us helping Conley tend the huge garden and cut and split firewood. The greatest weekends were the times when Conley’s girlfriend Mishy flew in to visit with her lover. And there was no doubt they were lovers. Where we worshipped Conley, we adored Mishy. It was short for Michelle and Conley was constantly befuddled, captivated, entranced and thoroughly enamored around and by her. I think we each had a crush on Mishy and she would go for walks or simply sit on the porch swing and entwine each of us in her web. One day Mishy nuzzled the back of Conley’s neck and announced she was going for a long walk with one of her boyfriends (me). Conley embraced Mishy in a long passionate kiss. Mishy emerged and breathlessly said, “Maybe we’ll just go for a short walk.” We roared. I think we all wanted a relationship similar to what Conley and Mishy had. In retrospect, I can see that my later successful marriage is at least partially a result of the example set by Conley and Michelle. At the time, no legal document bound them to each other. They appeared bound by something deeper that I think each “follower” was encouraged to find for himself.
    My girlfriend and I were on 2 separate campuses over 1000 miles apart. We had partial grants and significant student loans mounting. We had both changed our majors late in the game and had incurred heavy class loads and an expensive extra semester to complete our degrees. We didn’t get to see each other often. She had a rare Saturday event called “Professional Shadowing” every week. As a result, I had to do the traveling if we were going to get together. .
    One weekend I was sitting on the huge porch glider writing a poem to my girlfriend. I missed her a lot and we emailed daily. Mishy came out and sat on the glider.  “Hard at work?” she smiled. No one could ever be too busy to talk to Mishy. I told her I was writing a poem and I hesitantly told her I was thinking about asking my girlfriend to marry me. As we sat on the porch swing and she turned toward me and swung her leg up onto the seat between us. She held my hands and asked me to tell her about my girlfriend. She listened intently and nodded a few times. I told her about our time together and how much it hurt to be apart. I told her about a dream I’d had that we were married and I had awakened with such a feeling of peace. I was a little self conscious but I let her read my poem. Worried about her critique, I waited. She suddenly put the poem down and leaned forward to kiss me on the cheek. “That’s for your girlfriend. She’s a lucky girl. Conley writes things like this for me and my heart melts. Boy, keep this girl.”
    She talked to me about commitments and how to know you’d met “The One.” She told me of her feelings for Conley— she talked of soul mates and how her feelings “tingled” at the thought of her true love. I told her of my belief that I had found the woman with whom I wanted to spend my life. Mishy leaned forward and kissed me on the cheek again. I think it was her way to give me her blessing. It was funny, I felt even more deeply in love with my girlfriend from that moment on.
    Both Conley and Mishy urged me to try to arrange a visit to the farm for my girlfriend. They offered to help with plane fare but my girlfriend and I managed to scrape together the funds for a flight and she was able to avoid one of her Saturday sessions. She knew all about my friends and she was anxious to meet them. It was a wonderful weekend. I picked her up at the airport and she literally jumped into my arms. Conley and Mishy loved her immediately. It was like they’d known each other already. The rest of the Irregulars were as accepting and friendly as I’d expected.
    It was Friday night and our sacraments had been passed around until all were tired. Those who were staying began working on where they’d sleep. Mishy insisted we take the 2nd bedroom “Because it has the only other double bed.” She added that she didn’t want to hear a crash in the night from some guy leaping from one twin bed to another. My girlfriend kind of blushed and Mishy whispered something to her and she laughed.
    “Something I should know?” I asked.
    “Girl talk,” Mishy said and I knew enough to drop my questioning.
    It was a great weekend and it culminated with me asking Rachel to marry me. We decided to wait until just after we graduated. Her mother, and my family to a lesser degree, had long ago expressed a desire that we two old high school sweethearts get married in the old hometown church. Conley, Mishy and the Irregulars threw a makeshift party before I took Rachel back to the airport.
    It was late in the spring when we were gathered at the farm. Classes were finished for the semester and the university was dispersing for the summer. Conley and Mishy were planning a vegetarian meal for us and we were all helping put it together. The Burgundy was flowing. After we cleaned up from the supper, the smoke was making its rounds. Conley told us about an impending relocation to the West Coast. We were most saddened. We had all heard the rumors. A former student was disgruntled by his “A” in the class. He was complaining because Professor Bryce only had one test in the entire semester. It consisted of one question: “What is the purpose of America?” Everyone had written furiously and at the end of the period Conley simply said, “OK, please take your paper with you and let your actions finish your own purpose. Let me know if your grade is less than an A.” Apparently, the angry student was upset that others would receive the same grade as he. It wasn’t the first time someone had complained about Conley and, of course, there was no protective tenure. There were rumors that Dr. Bryce once gave out more A’s than there were people actually in class. The professor told the dean to distribute the extras out to anyone needing them.
    Our guru had always approached teaching with the assumption that we were there because we were pursuing an intellectual journey. Grades were an irrelevant nuisance. For “Bryce’s Irregulars” it was true and our relationship was an island sanctuary that would extend beyond college. Conley promised us we would always be friends.
    We’ve stayed in contact and I’ve realized that Conley, Mishy and the Irregulars are part of my ground in reality. Rachel likes my friends and they like her. She “gets” what I see in Conley and Mishy’s relationship. Conley and Mishy came to our wedding from their new home on the West Coast. The rest of the Irregulars were there and we learned that Conley and Mishy are expecting. Conley was happier than I’d ever seen her. She and Mishy had gotten married. They had found a Native American nation in the Pacific Northwest that recognized and performed same sex marriages. Conley was very close to her brother and he had volunteered to be the donor for Mishy’s baby and Mishy’s cousin happily agreed to do the same for Conley.




        I was rummaging through some old belongings from my youth.  Report cards, B in English, C in algebra, A in geography.  Funny, I thought, they taught geography in the “old” days.  Maybe the world is smaller now and it’s not necessary to teach about it. I was finding nothing of much value.  My wife and I were scrounging to find some things to contribute to the local high school’s annual rummage sale.  I’d already found 2 baseball cards.  The Internet says they’re worth about 3 dollars in good condition.  That was a start.

        Beneath some old sweaters that must have shrunk, especially around the stomach, I found my old baseball glove.  It was tied up and tightly folded around an old baseball.  That’s the way I’d store it in the day.  We’d rub in a little neatsfoot oil and tie the glove up around an old ball or two to create the memory of a good “pocket” in the old glove.  A very special old man had taught me that little trick among a bigger bag of lore.  Next to my old glove was another one.  It was even older than mine.  It was a stiff catcher’s mitt and it too, was tied around a ball in its pocket.  I knew I could never part with the gloves.

        His name was Mr. Lafayette McCall.  I met him one day after I played baseball.  I was 14 and a high school freshman.  It was small town America.  I lived a short bike ride from school.  Down the hill from the school was the ball diamond.  We’d play pick-up games in the summer and in the spring, high school games occupied the grounds.  Two or three old black men would frequently be in the rickety old bleachers.  I knew who one of the men was because I’d pass his house and see him working in his tiny yard as I bicycled to and from school.  He displayed his full name on his mailbox, Mr. Lafayette McCall.  His house was on the corner of Baker and Cooper. Cooper Street was my street and it was reserved for whites.  Baker Street was one of the two streets in our little midwestern town that was “reserved” for black families.  They were “Negroes” or “Colored” in those days.  Baker connected Cooper with Warner—the street where the high school was located.  When running late, I’d sometimes take the shortcut through his neighborhood.  Looking back I realize that my safe shortcut was available to me but I’m not sure black kids could have enjoyed a similar safe shortcut through a white neighborhood.  It was the 1960s.I struggled as a baseball player. I struggled with everything back then including, but not limited to, passing school and understanding girls.

At any level of most any sport, speed is a key factor.  I couldn’t throw with much of any speed.  That ruled out pitching.  My foot speed was probably worse.  I smile as I recall a coach saying I could be timed around the bases with a sundial.  Well, in baseball, there is bat speed.  I wasn’t blessed with that either.  I guess my strong suit as a sophomore was not many kids tried out for the team. My freshman year I was cut when 21 boys tried out.  The next year they had the same 18 uniforms but only 15 players.  Welcome to the reserve baseball team.

        My junior year wasn’t as promising. I think over 25 kids were trying out for the varsity team and they were going to keep 15 or 16.  I can remember it like it was yesterday. Mr. McCall and his friends were watching as the coach put us through drills.  Everyone seemed to contribute an error or two as tryouts continued.   I was trying out as an outfielder as I was the right fielder on the reserve team the previous year.  I missed one curving fly and somehow managed to stab another high fly after a long run.  As I ran, the ball seemed to jump all around in my vision but I managed to snare it somehow.  The coach told the group that he would also try some of us as a catcher since one of the 2 from last year had graduated.

        Batting practice was a disaster.  They had the regular varsity pitchers provide the pitching.  They were fast and good. And they were trying to impress the coaches too. A couple of them threw curveballs and I was lucky to be able to hit even the straight tosses. I think I managed an opposite field pop-up and several foul balls. I was pretty discouraged after the first day.  Tryouts were to last about 10 days before the squad would be cut down to the allotted number.  To make matters worse on day one, I found my bike’s front tire flat when I emerged from the locker room.

        Since I was walking my bike, I took my shortcut.  Mr. McCall smiled at my transportation predicament and invited me to his tiny garage.  He got down an old bicycle pump and quickly filled my tire.  I thanked him but before I could leave he pulled out an old tub and began filling it with water.

        “Let’s check her out,” he smiled.

        I  smiled back at him.  I lived with my mother and sister.  My father had died when I was about 8.  I could remember him, and still can today, referring to something to be fixed as “her.”

        He submerged part of my tire and slowly rotated it.  Eventually, tiny bubbles began to float to the surface from the submerged part of the wheel.  He squeezed the tire and the bubbles increased a little.

        “Valve stem,” he pronounced and added, “You’ll need to get a new tube eventually.”

        He smiled.  “I watched you boys playing ball today.  That is some pretty tough pitching.”

           I agreed and said something about me maybe not making the team this year.

           He concentrated onmy tire and said, “You need to impress the coach with a couple of hits.  Hitting’s the ticket.”

        I watched as he filled the tube with air and worked the valve stem around under water.  The bubbles seemed to be coming from the stem’s opening.  He slowly submerged the tube along its whole length to check it and said, “Got any gum?”

        “Sure,” I said and offered him a piece of my bubblegum.

        “No thanks, you go ahead and chew up a piece real good.  I’ll show you a little trick with the bike.”

        While I followed his instructions, he took an ancient looking baseball from one of the cluttered shelves.

        “A couple of those boys have nice curveballs but they telegraph ‘em big time.”

        He gripped the ball with his right hand and showed me how a fastball is thrown.

        “Now look here,” he said as he changed his grip.  The ball was much further back in his hand.

        “See, they load up their curve to get a lot more rotation on it.”  He stepped back and showed me the delivery.  He showed me how I could spot the curveball early in the windup just by the grip.  He showed me how to slightly bring my back foot forward and step into the ball with

my front foot and hit the ball before it could curve too much.

        “Try that tomorrow.  And with the fastballs just try to make contact.”

        He laughed, “But don’t do this when you make it to the Majors.  They catch you doing this and they’ll put one in your ear.”

        We both laughed and he said to give him a small piece of the gum I was chewing.  He put the tube and tire back on the rim and filled it with the pump.  “You’ll need to get a new tube soon but this’ll work for a few days.” 

         He took the chewed gum and tore it into smaller pieces and worked one of them around inside the stem opening.  He took a nail and used the blunt end to force the gum in firmly. He worked the cap around the protruding gum and tightly screwed it on the tire.

            He told me to get a tube and he’d help me put it on.  I thanked him and left.

        Two things happened the next day.  My bike tire held air perfectly and I got 3 solid hits at batting practice.  I don’t recall anyone else getting 3.  Mr. McCall smiled when I waved to him in the stands.  I stopped at his house on my way home and thanked him again for helping


        “Got a minute?”   I nodded and he showed me his old catcher’s mitt.  It was even thicker than the two the team had.  I got my first lesson on the fine art of catching.  He had a few little tips that he said would make me look like I knew what I was doing.  He showed me how to squat and move my feet to get in front of a pitch instead of just reaching.  There wasn’t much he could do about my arm but the next day I think I did OK when it came my turn at catching.

        Mr. McCall bombarded me with little tips the rest of the week.  He showed me how to read a fielder’s eyes during a rundown.  The coaches had us practice run-downs every day.  Once, I managed to read a shortstop’s eyes as I ran from the third baseman.  As soon as I detected he had the ball coming, I pivoted around and raced safely into the base.  Race may not have been the right word to describe my footwork, but I did slide in ahead of the tag.  Fortunately, I never got the chance to run toward a fielder’s glove and “accidentally” get hit by a throw with my body as Mr. McCall had also taught me.

        Well, I made the team.  They decided to keep 16 players and I was the third catcher and second right fielder.  I played for two years on the varsity but never achieved any kind of stardom.  Mr. McCall taught me a lot of baseball on my frequent stops at his house.  He taught me a lot that had nothing to do with baseball too.

        My mother tried to discourage me from spending so much time with this old widower.  Remember the era.  I didn’t have many friends so there was no one there to discourage me.  In many ways, I grew up in that little house on the corner of Baker and Cooper.  He taught me a lot of the little baseball tricks I never played enough to ever use and a few things I’ve finally lived long enough to apply outside of baseball.

        I am amused that some of the plays he taught me are now against high school rules in many places for safety reasons.  He talked a lot about decoys.  These are plays where the fielder pretends to be about to do something besides what he will actually do.  An example would be an infielder who pretends like a throw is coming and the runner slides thinking he’s about to be tagged.  This would be used to trick a runner into not taking the extra bases that he ordinarily would have safely taken.  These things don’t work if the runner looks at his coaches as he should.

In one of the few games I played, I once pretended like there was no play and I stood nonchalantly as an infielder relayed a throw toward me.  The runner broke stride and slowed.  The ball arrived just as the runner did and I attempted to swipe the ball and tag the runner with one motion.  I think he would have been out had I not botched the throw and tagged the runner with an empty glove!

Another time I was filling in at third when a batter hit a real shot to right center.  Many fields, like ours, were also used for football and had no fences.  I remember the hitter was a big star and though I can’t recall his name, I believe he went on to sign a pro contract.  As he headed around second and approached third, I pretended as if I was about to catch a throw.  The ball was still in the outfield and he should have had an inside the park home run.  Instead, he slid.  He stood up with his coach screaming at him.  He was confused and looked around before heading for home where he was thrown out easily.  When he finally figured out what happened, he had to be restrained by his coach and the umpires.  I looked up in the bleachers and saw Mr. McCall and his friends roaring with laughter.  One of them pointed at me with approval.  I felt 8 feet tall but remembered to leave the diamond with a ball bat after the game.  Hey, the clown was a big clown but he eventually cooled off.  In those days, the politically correct custom of teams lining up to shake hands hadn’t surfaced.  Sadly, those are probably the highlights of my storied athletic career.

         Mr. McCall came by his baseball knowledge the hard way.  He once shared a scrapbook with me.  It was about a man who’d played for 4 different teams in the Negro Leagues.  Most of the clippings featured the exploits of a man whose name I didn’t recognize.  The few faded photographs were familiar. Mr. McCall played under another name.  He had run away from home at 14 to play baseball. He lied about his name and age.  His girl friend followed later when he sent her money for the bus.  He had been afraid the fathers would track them down and force them to return to Alabama if they somehow discovered their whereabouts.  There weren’t too many Lafayette McCalls in the world so he couldn’t play under that name.  He went back to his real name when he retired. 

He was a catcher and a pretty good one.  He was also an accomplished hitter who, despite being a catcher, was a good base runner.  Look, as long as I’ve been around, there have been black players.  I knew vaguely about Jackie Robinson because I read a story in school about him.  Mr. McCall had a hundred stories but none of them were bitter complaints about never being allowed to play in the white leagues. I know today, that the so-called color barrier really wasn’t broken when the great stars were finally allowed to play major professional (and amateur) sports.  That barrier was only really threatened when black players began showing up on benches and bullpens.  Even today, it seems in some sports that minorities are under-

represented in coaching and management positions.

          It’s a trite term today, but as I went away to college and later my working career, I realized he was telling me to play the hand I was dealt.  I guess I’d always been envious, and maybe bitter, about not having a father like most of my teammates had.  Their fathers attended games and volunteered to drive the team in the makeshift carpools that such a non-revenue sport required.  I was always riding with some of my teammates and one of their fathers.  I envied them.  I’m sure my mother loved me and she worked hard to earn money to support us.  She had to be away much of the time and she was tired when she got home.  I felt silly complaining about my immature hurts in the face of the injustices he encountered.  It was a lesson I hope is still with me.

          Mr. McCall told me about a cousin of his who was lynched in a small southern town because a 13-year-old white girl had been raped and murdered.  His cousin was innocent, indeed, the murder was in another town and another man was arrested, tried and eventually executed for the crime.  It didn’t matter.  Mr. McCall’s cousin was singled out to be a lesson to all black men in the area.  I always wondered how Mr. McCall could like me.

         I once asked him why he helped me and he laughed and said I needed a lot of help.  We talked a lot and he told me about his late wife, his kids and his grandkids.  I even met them on a couple of occasions.  They seemed bemused at him having me as a friend.  His two sons were teachers and coaches in other cities.  His daughter was a nurse back in Alabama.  All 3 of them exaggerated how sorry they felt for me to have to listen to all of those old stories.

        Mr. McCall and I talked about the mystery I found girls to be.  And he told me about Wilda, the love of his life from his teens until the day she passed.  She accompanied him across the country as he pursued baseball.  They came to be in our town because that’s where the money ran out when the barnstorming team he belonged to folded.  They didn’t have the money to get back to Alabama.  Pregnant, no car, and no money—all they seemed to have was each other.  There was something that came over Mr. McCall when he talked about his wife.  He missed her a lot.  I don’t know, I was still pretty young, but there was a pride and now, I realize there was a poignancy that meant everything to him.

        “You’ll know the one,” he would say.  He assured me that someday I’d look into someone’s eyes and know I’d met “the one.”  “They’ll make fun of us, they’ll make fools out of us and cheat and drive us crazy, but “the one,” she’ll be different.  It’s in the eyes my young friend.  Those eyes won’t lie.  When you find her, you keep her and you treat her right.”  I think he was giving me an order.

          I went away to college.  And no, there were no scholarship offers for someone who was never more than a benchwarmer.  I made a point of stopping to see Mr. McCall whenever I came home. One by one, his old cronies passed.  Funny, he never would tell me how old he was.  I’d ask and he’d say things like he was old enough to remember when fire and dirt were invented.

          I was well into my chosen field when my mother called me to report she had read an obituary for my friend and mentor.  I flew home and barely made the funeral.  His oldest son gave me a package he said they’d found in their father’s house.  It was addressed to me and his son said they were going to mail it to me when they notified me of his passing.  Yes.  It contained a worn catcher’s mitt tied up and oiled with a ball in the pocket.            
         Now I’m older and retired. I sit in the local high school bleachers
and watch the kids play.  Mostly, I just sit at home with my wife and plan visits with grandkids.  Time seems to be flying by.  I think of him often even though so many years have passed.  My strongest memory of him is from my last visit. I eventually left him sitting in his back yard.  Little did I know he would soon pass.  He had been in a very nostalgic mood.  His parting words mean even more today as I sit in my own backyard and the early spring weather makes me think of old men and baseball. He said, “You know, sometimes it seems like only yesterday I was 15 and sitting on a hill in spring, writing poems to my girlfriend…only yesterday.” 




"Once in a while you get shown the light in
the strangest of places if you look at it right"

From Scarlet Begonias 
The Grateful Dead

Shots that don't fit elsewhere

There were clowns and elephants and dancing bears
And a beautiful lady in pink tights flew high above our heads

Peggy Lee...Is that all there is?

Foggy Mountain

Come on the risin' wind,
We're goin' up around the bend
Credence Clearwater Revival...Up around the bend.



Listen to the river sing sweet songs
To rock my soul
Brokedown Palace...The Grateful Dead

Autumn in the mountains

The Mentor I Never Met But Grew To Know
And Love

The early morning view from Father Merton's hermit cabin.  A gentle rain fell on the previous night's light spring snowfall.  I sat crosslegged on the dusty floor and enjoyed the rain.  I was eventually encouraged by the experience to write this poem.

It's been a lifetime tryin'
to outrun the rain
and now I'm tired,
my feet hurt,
and I'm soaking wet.
Time it is now to sit in the downpour
and feel its essence
to hear its sound among trees
to nod and smile to the rooftop tapping of simple gifts...
a code spelling loving graces.
Time to take refuge and rest
in the rain, Thomas Merton and my soul.

Thomas Merton understood the rain.  He realized it nurtured rich and poor indiscriminately.  Some of his greatest encounters with enlightenment were intertwined with the rain.  Rain is universal.  Merton knew further that salvation was universal.  Salvation was a gift of grace and it fell on all just as the rain.  He saw the duty and destiny of man to be one of abandoning oneself to enlightenment.  Man needed not to possess anything, he needed only to allow nothing to possess him.  For Thomas Merton life was a dance in the rain.  It was joy.  It was an unrestrained search and it was a calm day listening to the soft sound of rain in the pines.  No peaceful and sincere spiritual expression was exempt from its place at the dance or in the rain.  Buddhism, Judaism, Islam & Sufism, Hinduism...all spiritual paths, fit within the peaceful and loving world sanctified by Thomas Merton's dance in the rain.

Father Merton understood that rain without man was merely just a scientific event...a function of physical factors.  With man, rain became something to view with peace.  Contemplating the sound of rain caressing leaves brought comfort.  Rain tapping on the roof was the sound of God's fingers. Viewing the tiny droplets hanging from myrtle seeds like so many tiny crystal balls was to appreciate creation.  Rain became a metaphor for all that is holy.  Yes, Thomas Merton understood the rain.  Even more than that, he understood the dance of enlightenment.

Father Merton was crossing the street (4th and Walnut) in Louisville whem experienced a spiritual event that would change his life.  He realized his love and concern for his fellow humans.  He saw the God in man and he strove to serve both,

His prayer says it all:
"My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone."

Gethsemani Monastery  where Father Merton lived and wrote

Talk only occurs when necessary.  They are called Trappists.

The view from the old part of the monastery.  I joined the monks for early prayer and chanting at 3:15 AM
for Vigils. Monks assemble eight times during the day for prayer and chanting Psalms. The final
event is Compline at 7:30, leaving us time for prayer and meditation before welcomed sleep.
The monastic life at the Abbey of Gethsemani leaves time for hard work and prayer.

Father Merton's grave.  He's buried next to his Zen Garden.

The Gulf Coast is rich in beautiful views and wildlife

The beaches bring crowds but the crowds bring money and jobs

Sometimes the visitors are unwanted.  Dennis and Ivan were such visitors.

Adams, Brady and the other great photographers of the past had no choice but to provide black and white photos.  Some scenes still benefit from black and white.  Today we can take a short cut of sorts.  We can photograph in color and also get black and white shots in post productionSome of the following shots appear elsewhere on this site in color. I think there is a timeless quality to maritime scenes that are sometimes best represented by black and white photography.

How One Child Went Bad

I was born in a military hospital (Gardiner General) in Chicago as WW II was drawing to a close.  We lived on Cornell Ave and my father was in the Army and he met my future mother  while she worked for the Army Transportation Office.  The hospital was a converted hotel and is now gone.

Five year old living in the Cincinnati East End

First grade in Cardinal Pacelli School.

First Communion

First prayer book.

We were taught that you had a sure shot
at Heaven if you died wearing the right artifact.

Somewhere along the time of this photo, this smart ass
tried to come to grips with such heady terms as eternity
and transubstantiation.  Those were late Sunday nights
to agonize over.  I had been  thinking about becoming a
Trappist-style monk but the discovery of another deep
mystery interfered.  Right, I discovered girls and all that
went with that new world. 

The Trappists didn't lose much but the girls didn't get much out of the trade either.

High school kid who worked as a caddy, a gardener
and an insect trapper for the state of Ohio.

Bricklayer and team captain.  Basketball was our life.

Missing an "alley oop" attempt

Miss Heiserman was a teaching treasure who
introduced me to the power of the written word.

I was  young for high school.  I was still 13 when I went
from the Catholic school to register  at the high school.

I was the King of the Spanish Club Carnival!  
(standing,white sweater)

I played a psychiatrist.

My medal for being the leading athlete at graduation.

I had a good agent.

I admit I grabbed the diploma and ran
from the building before they could take it back.

My ever-present radio.  I am a "radio-phile" who came along at the end of radio's "Golden Age" before television dominated culture.  In the 50s, 60s and 70s I listened to local and far away radio stations.  WLS and WCFL in Chicago,  WLW in Ohio was the Nation's Station.  WWWE in Cleveland and WOWO in Ft Wayne were favorite as was KDKA in Pittsburgh.  Way down yonder in New Orleans we treasured WWL.  There were many others but none topped WLAC's night DJ John R who fed us the R&B lacking in the usual Top 40 markets.  The other king of the airwaves was NBC's weekend show called Monitor.  Staring at 8 AM on Saturday and signing off at Sunday Midnight, it was a constant 40 hour companion with news, weather, sports, comedy and anything else.  It was a joy and I only interrupted it with the radio drama and comedy of those days.  Only NPR even comes close today to the Golden Age

My first published work was in Statement Magazine.
It was controversial as it was critical of the war and other
aspects of society. I was defended by Dr. Martin Greenman
and Dr. Wilhelm Exelbirt.  They were beloved mentors.

Today I have self published 6 books: One novel, three
short story collections, one book on Existential
Philosophy and one poetry book. I was also the founder
and editor of an Internet poetry and photography site
which some great artists from several states and nations.

I had a number of my poems published in The San Fernamdo
Poetry Journal.  The editor was the late Richard Cloke. He was
great.  He fought in the Spanish Civil War against Fascism.

Existentialism class journal...my mentor, Dr. Greenman, made
 a big deal out of this and it remains the highlight of my college
 years.  He was a bridge over troubled water.  I miss him.

I don't mind if Christians doubt the salvation I experienced or
that the Buddhists likewise might question the enlightenment
I also achieved at the same time as I sat alone on the edge of the mountains.  The experiences remain exciting and ongoing.

My other favorite professor wrote to me after
graduation,  This great history teacher and scholar
had escaped the Nazi threat after he left school in Vienna.
I miss Dr. Wilhelm Exelbirt and his support and example.

The best day of my life.  We met while
walking in the rain on the quiet campus. 

She remains the greatest person I've ever known.

Draft card...!-A but they never called me.

While in college I often had to hitchhike to and from my work.
Summers I worked in a factory and  also drove a truck. I also
hitchhiked to other states.  I had some strange experiences but
the oddest encounter was  one Sunday morning as I hitched
across Indiana.  I guy picked me up and asked where I was
headed.  He drove us to a small airport and flew me to where
I was headed in a small Piper plane—my first ever flight!

How I felt (and feel) about the war.




An officer in a fraternal organization.

It wasn't a conversion to Buddhism.  I merely
added the philosophy to my beliefs.  I have
taken the vows of a Bodhisattva.  My Tibetan
Buddhist name is Sonam Yeshi. (Merit & Wisdom)

A full marathon at 240 lbs.

An article about me and archaeology.

One of the shop buildings I built when I
was a carpenter and a furniture maker.

I was a fisherman for a couple of years. 
The fish is a Muskie that I caught in a stream

An 8 pound Bass.

I fit in as a follower of the Grateful Dead.  I followed them from
Albany NY to San Fransisco and from Wisconsin to Florida.

The band provided special tickets for some of us to tape
their shows.  I have been to over 100 concerts including The
Grateful Dead, Neil Young,  Bob Dylan and several other rock
and folk performers.  First concert was The New Christie Minstrels

Like Paris,  San Fransisco and the
Grateful Dead are "a moveable feast."

Father Thomas Merton.'s monastery where I have stayed for
my spiritual life.  If it were not for my wonderful wife I
probably would be living there or in a Buddhist monastery.

I have backpacked, hiked and camped in 48 states and Canada.

At 75 (almost) they say you have the face you've earned!


The author  has undergraduate degrees  in political science and history.  He  worked in those fields for over 30 years.  He was first published in 1967. He attended Thomas More College and Morehead State University. He has also  received a fellowship to study  at the University of Cincinnati.  He has done graduate work in history at Xavier University.  Not one of these four basketball powers saw fit to offer him even walk-on status.  As a result a curse similar to the ”Curse Of The Bambino” has prevented these schools from winning an NCAA basketball championship although they won 2 before the curse. Bill bristles when it is intimated there is a reason he still has four years of eligibility but he remains willing to don his black high top Converse Chuck Taylors and reintroduce the basketball world to the two handed set shot.  Enjoying the tax advantages of living in what he claims is  a parsonage, Bill is an ordained minister with the Universal Life Church of Modesto, California. He will not try to sell you an indulgence.  No, Bill will rent you one first to see if you like it.  Bill worked his way through high school, college and several other periods of poverty with several jobs.  Along the way he learned money doesn't buy happiness but poverty isn't effective at achieving it either.  Income during his school and poverty years was acquired by stints as a caddy,  gardener,  insect trapper for the state (seriously), truck driver, plant worker (like a factory, not a house plant), postal worker, store clerk, warehouseman and forklift operator.  There are others but Bill is waiting for the statute of limitations in several states to run out.

Bill was taught and disciplined by nuns in his early years.  Their efforts made later classrooms work easy although Bill always seemed to find free time, and idle hands, a bit more than he could handle.  That and the comparative lax discipline of public schools made for a tense situation as Bill walked across the high school graduation stage.  In place of being given a diploma he was certain he would be handed an envelope containing a photo of the principal making an obscene gesture.  To this day the envelope remains unopened.

The author has taught political science, economics, history and natural history.  He has worked closely with elements of the criminal justice system both professionally and as a volunteer.  The San Fernando Poetry Journal saw fit to publish about ten of his poems. He has recently served as founder and editor of an international arts journal for 3 years. He has self published  6 books and maintains that a chimp with Microsoft Word and a few dollars can self publish a book.    Proving that a chimp with a WYSIWYG app can clutter even the World Wide Web, he has over 40 websites.

Bill has done volunteer work in the field of archaeology and formerly had a part-time business as a custom furniture and cabinet maker. The author has traveled, hitchhiked, backpacked and hiked extensively throughout the "Lower 48" and parts of Canada and Mexico. He has slept overnight in bus stations and farm fields. He once was hitchhiking when a person picked him up and flew him in his Little Piper airplane to one of the stops along his destination. He also encountered his share of weirdos but like the man sang: "Ain't that America."  Some of the most rewarding trips were solitary hikes in the wilderness. Born in Chicago, he was raised mostly in Ohio and felt most at home during his time in the San Francisco Bay Area and on the road following the Grateful Dead from city to city.  Bill loves music and has attended well over a 100  concerts including 75 Grateful Dead concerts.  Other concerts ranged from folk to jazz to such rock stars as the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and Neil Young.  He does not sing or play an instrument and the truth be known, he can barely play the radio.
On the more serious side he has taken the vows of a Buddhist Bodhisattva. He has briefly stayed on a "New Age" commune and has spent time in silence on a Trappist Monastery.  He is experiencing hopeful developments in his dealing with Cancer and continued heart “situations” that have caused him to have a few electrocardioversions to shock his heart into rhythm. One such pause in his heart rhythm featured a true out of body experience. He currently deals with Parkinson's Disease. Rejecting the fatalism that was taught him as a youth, he still warns those around him that should he defeat all of these maladies there is a chance the building he happens to occupy at the time could have its roof collapsed by a large meteorite. 

Bill maintains an interest in politics, religion, religious cults, wildlife photography and sports photography. He was first introduced to photography with a Kodak Brownie box camera in the 50s and later graduated to a Minolta.  The advent of digital photography made him, like everyone else, an active photographer.  He estimates he may have taken as many as 100,000 photos in the past 5 or 6 years.  He considers himself a freelance photographer although it has been suggested the term "free lunch" would be more accurate.

Bill has been happily married to the same wonderful person for over 50 years.  They met while each was walking alone in the rain on a college campus.  Bill has been in love with her and the rain ever since.  Bill's reading time has been devoured by the Internet and photography but he still finds time every few years to again read The Myth Of Sisyphus by Albert Camus and On The Road and The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac.  He wishes everyone else would do the same.  

Having been retired for around twenty years from paid employment, Bill now happily and proudly enjoys the freedom of being classified as an "amateur" in everything he now pursues. With this brief bio he also now proudly counts speaking of himself in the third person point of view as proof he is an important person or at least one dripping in hubris or its fellow traveler chutzpah.  He is heartened by the realization that no one will probably read this which is good because he wrote it with himself in mind anyway.  As his memory clears he reserves the right to revise and extend these remarks.  Bill is smiling.  And that's not easy to do with tongue in cheek.

  "Lord and I stay blue all the time. Yeah but that's all right, I will overcome some day."
                                                                                        ...Big Bill Broonzy

"There is a comfort in the strength of love;
'Twill make a thing endurable which else
    would overset the brain, or break the heart"
                                "Michael"  By William Wordsworth

"But if one of us must go first, it is my prayer that it shall be I; for he is strong, I am weak, I am
not so necessary to him as he is to me—life without him would not be life; how could I endure it?
This prayer is also immortal, and will not cease from being offered up while my race continues.
 I am the first wife; and in the last wife I shall be repeated."

                                                                             Eve  talking in her later years about Adam
                                                                                 Mark Twain:  The Diaries Of Adam And Eve                     

                                                       "Wheresoever she was, THERE was Eden."
                                                                                          Adam at Eve's grave
                                                                                          Mark Twain: The Diaries Of Adam And Eve

        From The Old Latin Mass

Do you write poetry or create photographs?  I am the editor of a poetry journal that also features some great photography along with the world class poetry we publish on the Internet.  Please check our past issues at Banks Of The Little Miami  We have published poems and photographs from throughout the US and Canada as well as Norway, Iran, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand among others.  Send us 1-3 examples of your work and while we don't pay, we use only one time serial rights if we publish your work.  Individual artists retain their full copyright.  
Email Bill Stockland 

“The wheel in the sky keeps on turning.” “The wheel is turning and you can’t slow down.” The words belong to Journey and the Grateful Dead but the philosophy belongs to all of us.  For almost ten years I have been a “contributing photographer” for athletics at the University of West Florida. I started as a "walk on." Eventually some years I took around 10,000 photos. (ten thousand is not an exageration…I still have them stored on the net).  Unfortunately, I have become somewhat disabled as a result of Parkinson’s Disease and Cancer therapy.   Some of the venues are too difficult for a disabled person to navigate.  For example, the Soccer Complex contains a steep hill and difficult parking lot.  Because of  things like this  I created only about 700 photos this year.  Chemotherapy and radiation also mandated that I be careful about crowds.  Of course the current world pandemic requirement about avoiding too much social contact makes my temporary problem seem minor.  I have enjoyed my relationship with UWF Athletics.  It was a good run and I cherish the photos and memories.



Screen grab of score of the world record of "low score" yahtzee.  No one has beaten this record!



Check Out This Site:
Confessions Of A Backyard Naturalist

This site is about some of the natural features of my one third acre lot in Escambia County.  If you're trying to stay away from crowds why not get the kids involved in making a similar study of your yard.  All you'll need will be a digital camera, computer and a free web hosting site.  Free hosting sites often include free programs that make creating computer code automatic.  You also could go with a paid site such as GoDaddy. 

Some photos from near and far:

Scroll Down For These And Other Photos

Two softball teams were battling for a  trip to the NCAA Division II Tournament.  Western Oregon's  diminutive senior, Sara Tucholsky, hit her first ever home run.   There were 2 runners on.  The 5'2" player missed First and tore knee ligaments turning to return and touch the bag.  She collapsed and couldn't make it back to the bag.  The rules are simple.  If her coaches or teammates tried to help, she would be called out.  The umpire said a pinch runner could replace her but the hit would be just a single, not the home run she had hit. 

Here's where it becomes a story of character.  Central Washington's Liz Wallace and Mallory Holtman picked up their opponent and carefully walked her around the bases, pausing so she could touch each base!  That run eventually helped decide the game.  Such fears didn't deter the Central Washington players.  They did what they believed was the right thing. 

The name of the winner of that game will be forgotten.  What will be remembered will be two young women bending to lift a fallen opponent and looking as tall as any athletes ever looked.  Character counts.

Some shots from the pre-digital days...I took all of these photos in my hiking and backpacking throughout the United States.    Except for Hawaii and Alaska,  I have been in each of the lower 48 and Canada and Mexico.


Olympic trail



Hoh rainforest...Washington

Rocky Mountains


Rocky Mountains...where it's never summer


Badlands...South Dakota

Yellowstone National Park...Montana

Wilderness stream in Ohio





Frozen stream in Ohio



Garden of the Gods

Dangerous...taken with 200MM lens

Mist covered Oregon Coastline

Lake Superior Provincial  Park in Ontario, Canada

Mt. Ranier

Lower Yellowstone Falls

Frozen Ohio Stream

Autumn in the Appalachian Mountains

California Redwoods

This was too close.  A moose can kill

I panned for gold in this Colorado stream,,

Don't be fooled by prairie dogs and other cute critters.  They
have been known to carry the flees that spread Bubonic Plague.

Serpent Mound in Ohio...a powerful place


Email Bill Stockland 

Artist and Spiritual Guide
Jerry Garcia in New York 1992


Glenna & Bill in the Bay Area

My three favorite places in the world are:  Machu Pichu,  San Francisco and anywhere Glenna is.

                                                                      SOME SITES I HAVE CREATED

Oh Georgia
From Sun Prairie Wisconsin To The World...This is a colorful tribute to Georgia O'Keeffe.

   A look at America's favorite game!
The sight and sound of freedom
40's and 50's Style
There are many fine educational institutions in the Florida Panhandle. 
Unfortunately this isn't one of them.  You can't spell Escambia without scam
This is a study of the natural features in one suburban yard.
ARCHAEOLOGY 101  Time is running out to solve the mysteries of prehistory.

Gay or Straight
The vote by the Supreme Court to allow
same sex marriage was 5-4.
                                                                                                                                         FOR THE LOVE OF HOLLY
                                                                                                                               A Young Girl Discovers Who She Is
My life as a carpenter and custom furniture maker.
The Pensacola area is a wonderful place for bird watchers
All scripture is inspired if it works
In Political Science we learned about the Gerrymander—a creature that eats democratic principles
Chip Hilton is the only thing Bobby Knight and I ever agreed on.
Sears was more than just a store...it was a cultural influence.
This area has a fabulous zoo.
Part of a beautiful campus
Dear me...I had a  brief encounter

How you can lose an election while getting 71% of the votes,

Surfers honor one of their own
The streams of the mountains please me more than the sea.
More About Buddhism
Great Smoky Mountains
One of our most popular parks!










Be advised I have had some great lit teachers
who made learning fun with studies about satire
from the likes of Jonathan Swift and others.




“There isn’t enough darkness in all the world to
snuff out the light of one little candle.”

It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. 
                                                                    ...Eleanor Roosevelt, (and others)

“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of
 throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”
                                  ... Buddha
"...rest in reason and move in passion."
                                                         ...Kahlil Gibran,  the World
"I have things in my head that are not like what
anyone has taught me - shapes and ideas so near
to me—so natural to my way of being and thinking
that it hasn't occurred to me to put them down."
                                                                                   ...Georgia O'Keeffe, 

"Da Patchy is not what  Patchy was,
Da Patchy is as Patchy does."
                                                                          ...Patricia "Patchy" Brown,  Los Angeles

"What, me worry?"
                                                                     ...Alfred E. Neuman, beloved philosopher

“Never give a sword to a man who can’t dance.”
                                      ...Confucius,  China

"The situation is the boss."
                                         ...The Grateful Dead

"Hang in there Bro, it's always early."
                                        ...Raymond Mungo
                                                        Rebel, Author, Counselor

"I have long known that it is part of God's plan for me to spend
a little time with each of the most stupid people on earth,"
                                     ...Bill Bryson
                                                         A Walk In The Woods

"Mama Mama, many worlds I've come since I first left home."
                                                                  ...Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia

"When you ain't got nothing you got nothing to lose..."
                                    ...Bob Dylan

  "Lord and I stay blue all the time. Yeah but
that's all right, I will overcome some day."
                                          ...Big Bill Broonzy

"This city desert makes you feel so cold
It's got so many people, but it's got no soul
And it's taken you so long
To find out you were wrong
When you thought it held everything"
                                       ...Jerry Rafferty

"Think about how many times I have fallen
Spirits are using me, larger voices calling"
                                        ...David Crosby

"And they say that he got crazy once and he tried to
touch the sunAnd he lost a friend but kept his memory"
                                     ...John Denver

“My whole wretched life swam before my weary eyes, and I realized no matter what
you do it's bound to be a waste of time in the end so you might as well go mad.”

                                       ...Jack Kerouac
"But now old friends they're acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I've changed
Well something's lost, but something's gained
In living every day."
...Joni Mitchell

"Well it's all right, even if they say you're wrong
Well it's all right, sometimes you gotta be strong
Well it's all right, as long as you got somewhere to lay
Well it's all right, everyday is judgment day"
                                                          ...The Traveling Wilburys

"Take me for a trip upon your magic swirlin' ship
All my senses have been stripped
And my hands can't feel to grip
And my toes too numb to step
Wait only for my boot heels to be wanderin'"
                                   ...Bob Dylan

One toke over the line sweet Jesus
One toke over the line
Sittin' downtown in a railway station
One toke over the line
Awaitin' for the train that goes home, sweet Mary
Hopin' that the train is on time
                                              ...Brewer & Shipley
There is a great story associated with this song and its drug references.  Lawrence Welk was a kindly man who had a very "whitebread" music program  on TV. In the 60s and 70s.  He thought this was a "spiritual"  song and he had his lead singers perform it. It was introduced with Gospel references. Somehow no one on his staff, including the two young squeaky clean singers who performed it, had a clue as to what "one toke over the line" was about.  VP Spiro Agnew labeled the song as subversive and the FCC actually banned it from broadcast.  Remember, this was an age where the director of the FBI assigned agents to study the largely incoherent lyrics in the song  Louie-Louie for obscenity.  Can you imagine the scene when someone explained the references to Mr. Welk?

"Be careful out there among them English."
                                    ...Amish man in Witness

"There's a crack in everything—that's how the light comes in."
                          ...Leonard Cohen

“I got in trouble my whole life for having a big mouth.”
                         ...Steven Tyler

"Want to hear God laugh?  Tell him you have plans."
                        ...Noah Brown

“You are loved just for being who you are, just
existing. You don’t have to do anything to
 earn it. Your short comings, your lack of
self-esteem, physical perfection, or social
 and economic success – none of that matters. No
one can take this love away from you, and it will
always be here.”

                     ...Ram Dass

"If the people are buying tears I'll be a rich girl someday."
(From "Look what they've done to my song Ma.")
                          ...Melanie Safka
"Life is constantly offering us jewels.  It is whether we notice or not that is equally awesome."
                                                   ...Personal note from Holly Near

                                                    (Holly Near singer with HARP: Holly Near,
                                                                 Arlo Guthrie, Ronnie Gilbert Pete Seeger)

 “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."
...Ian Maclaren


Sometimes heroes make just a brief flash before our eyes.  Chuck Harmon was a hero to a nine year old boy in 1955.    I was attending my first ever Major League baseball game at old Crosley Field in Cincinnati. We had recently relocated from Chicago to an enclave of German Americans. Harmon had recently been signed to a contract.  He became the first black player on the Redlegs.  The name was briefly changed from "Reds" to "Redlegs" because local civic fathers were concerned about the "Red Menace" as Soviet, Chinese and North Korean entities were called in an era that would feature bomb raid drills and accusations of treason against anyone labeled as being "Red."  The Korean War was still smoldering.  The Iron Curtain was a reality.

At the time I didn't know that great athletes such as Harmon (who was also a championship level basketball player) and Jackie Robinson (A four sport letter winner in college) had been forbidden to play in the Majors because of their race.  White nine year old baseball fans hadn't heard about the Homestead Grays, Kansas City Monarchs, Pittsburgh Crawfords and other Negro League teams that were staffed by  great athletes like Willie Mays, Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige.   Even the city in which we lived had varioius Negro League teams we were never told about.  Military service and prejudice kept many players from joining Major League sports until they were older.  Brooklyn Dodger  (soon to be LA Dodger) owner Branch Rickey signed super athlete Jackie Robinson to a professional contract in 1947.  I don't know if he was trying to right a serious wrong or simply trying to get a leg up on his competition.  Maybe it was both.  An ever declining few have missed the irrefutable truth you build a great culture and great economy the same way you win a championship or a war.  You assemble the best and the brightest and get prejudice and other limitations out of their way.   The lesson from the American sports scene could not be more obvious.  Winners LOOK like all of America.

It was the summer of 1955.  The St. Louis Cardinals and the Redlegs were battling into the 9th inning.  St. Louis was ahead by one run when the Redlegs tied the score.  Then chaos broke out.  The two managers got into an argument between the mound and home.  Cincinnati manager Birdie Tebbetts lunged at St. Louis manager Harry "The Hat" Walker.  A bench clearing fight ensued and nine year old boys in the stands decided they wanted to be crazy baseball players too.  We were  hooked for life.  When order was restored Chuck Harmon was sent in as a pinch runner to 2nd base.  A ground ball through the infield sent Harmon flying around third base.  He ran so fast he had to take an unbelievably wide turn but he beat the throw to score the winning run.  Thanks Mr. Harmon.

In 2019 we received the sad news that boxing great Pernell Whitaker has passed.  I have been fortunate to have met three of the four greatest boxers of all time. 
As an 11 year old I met Rocky Marciano while he was on a promotional tour after retirement.  Later, as an adult I met Aaron Pryor "The Hawk."  He was friendly
and all so talented!  Sadly, Marciano and Pryor both preceded Whitaker in death  shortly after we lost Muhammad Ali. I never met Ali or Pernell Whitaker but like
many people around here, I had the honor of meeting arguably the greatest fighter of them all, Roy Jones Jr.  I took this photo at a softball charity  event at UWF

Email Bill Stockland 

Winter...The Good Old Days
If you've never lived in a cold climate you've missed something. Frostbite and pneumonia come to mind. Just kidding. Winter is an energizing event of hats, gloves, sleds and snowballs. It's the North Wind and it's every bit as refreshing as feeling the ocean breezes that reward you for living on the coast—even a coast as beautiful as this one. I don't remember much if anything about Chicago winters but I know they are sometimes brutal. The family took the train to Ohio.

Eventually we ended up in this Ohio house shown here and below. There was a heater of sorts built into the hall floor. You pumped until you spotted oil accumulating and the ignition system consisted of dropping pieces of flaming paper into the unit to ignite the fuel. Heat was to radiate up through a metal grate that ended up too hot to step on in bare feet. My father was from rural Wisconsin. He had no problem with someone being able to see his breath upon waking. My mother was orphaned and often near homeless before homelessness got our attention. Both parents were children of the Great Depression. It was nicer housing than they ever thought they could have,

Breakfast (and sometimes lunch and dinner) often consisted of an obscure German-American poverty food called goetta. It consisted of steel cut oats (called pinhead oats) and inexpensive meats (usually pork) that had most fat trimmed away before cooking and grinding. It was pronounced "gutta" in Low German. Today, most Germans on any continent have probably never heard of it. I still make a meatless version of it today. It's gone from a poverty food to a comfort food. Sugar and butter wer cheap. So was white bread.  Breakfast of sugar sandwiches was not uncommon.

Summers were hot and humid. Spring was full of the hope of happy futures (and baseball). Autumn featured the aroma of burning leaves and gradually colder nights and frosty mornings. Winter was the king of all of that. Cold, dark nights were tempered by lengthening daylight. The radio sometimes announced a snow day. For a little kid who hated school and generally feared the wrath of nuns, a snow day was a comfort. It's been easy to love winter and these occasional Florida cold (actually, cool) snaps are a touch of Paradise.

From the snowy recesses of my mind...

A place to walk—cold and wet
and alone

Winter in a bucolic little town in the American Midwest—it was the 1950s and we were taught to worry about communists waiting to take us over at any minute.  There were diseases such as Polio.  The Korean War was smoldering.   Most issues were black and white.  It was good vs evil.

There were no impersonal supermarkets or super highways.  The train whistle woke you in the night and beckoned of faraway places.  The radio had pop and country music and an insidious invasion of something called Rock & Roll.  It could be heard, via the radio, from mysterious, exotic places during the night.

The Street Where I Lived
The snow was pristine.  It was cold in the winter in Ohio.  Cities spread very little rock salt and sand.  A couple of guys in the back of a dump truck dispensed it with shovels. Autos were fitted with snow tires and chains. The cold wind came out of the north and the west.  They too, whispered of far away places. 

Crude televisions couldn't compete with the outdoors or even the radio, for my attention.

A person didn't have to know much to know enough.

This old house was home and shelter.

Only the super rich had big houses and luxuries such as air conditioners and reliable heaters.  Our house measured about 25 feet by 30 feet.  One tiny bathroom served a kitchen and 5 small rooms.  A damp basement with a low ceiling raised rats, mold and spiders.  For people in the post war housing shortage, it was paradise.

We were poor but we thought we were rich—therefore we were both.

Only hunters kept firearms and only the hard scrapple police chief carried a pistol in his pocket.  One of his deputies was armed, the other was not.  Nobody carried a door key and many left their car keys in their car.

Sled riding hill

Today, everyone is in a rush.  Cities spend a fortune plowing snow and spreading chemicals to keep traffic speeding along.   

Older children carry keys and let themselves into empty houses and apartments.  Younger kids sometimes go from pre school sitters in the winter morning darkness,  to school and then to latchkey sitters, before returning home after dark.  They have been cheated.

A child becomes those first things he sees each morning.  The spirit dies in increments. 

Winter Wonderland (to us, anyway)

The old school
One of the first of many 
places to be alone in a crowd

Winter fields in my heart

Barely 17—My senior year in a new high 
school—just another place I didn't belong

But seasons always change. The family moved  from the 
small house to an even smaller apartment behind some
stores and a bowling  alley.   It was cheaper but you had to 
lock your doors.

The wooded view and the sounds of birds were traded for a
 parking lot and traffic noises.  The wind that once tumbled 
leaves across fields, now blew litter across concrete.  Angry 
voices came through thin walls.

The dirt and gravel, bike riding alley of our youth   was traded 
for the noise and litter of stores and another kind of alley—a 
bowling alley.  There are several types of poverty.  The one 
of the spirit is the worst.

Apartment living—a taste of 
urban life and impermanence

The woods  of my youth—explored alone

The alley—a dirt and gravel road home

The Duke Of Wellington is credited with saying, "The Battle Of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton."  There is much disagreement about the authenticity of the saying.  No big deal.  It doesn't matter who shouts "Fire" as long as there really is a fire.  I've used the Wellington quote elsewhere in my work.  I've also experienced it in my life.   I am sure of this—a man is a product of what he experiences.  The spirit is truly the sum of its parts—those parts being  the things you see and hear—those things you touch and those things that touch you.  Growing up with few material treasures was not bad.  Nature and Nature's God had treasures for all to share and enjoy,   I have stumbled upon some of them.

There is a war raging in the hearts of men.  It is fought between the poverty of the spirit and the exaltation of that same spirit.  Choose your battlefields wisely.  Pick your weapons and allies carefully.  Invest your tears freely.  Winner takes all in this contest.   The man who fashions despair into optimism is a formidable warrior.  He is a dangerous man.

Like Charles Dickens, I have seen the best of times and the 
worst of times.  The entire quote is like an anthem for all ages:

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."

There is a lesser known quote from Dickens.  It may be of far more value to the soul.  It too, may qualify as an anthem—at least for those folks who have done time on the road—for those wayfaring souls who have felt the pain of being alone in the crowd.   In Great Expectations he wrote:

   "We need never to be ashamed of our tears."


I have decided to self publish some of my works on the Internet.   Pray the Internet survives.   MGB, Catawba Press, The San Fernando Poetry Journal and Statement Magazine are among the publishers/printers who found themselves defunct after handling my writing.  Being low-tech, I have no idea what if any device besides a computer can "read" these books. Believing as I do that you get what you pay for, I regret I can't get the price below free.  There are hard copies available but unless you're starting a campfire and need paper, I would suggest you merely read them on a computer screen. 

A longer self serving introduction can be found HERE



For All My Days

You Can Go Home Again

But I Was Just Passing Through


Email Bill Stockland 


The old library on a small college campus near the foothills of the mountains

As college classes begin each year I am reminded of what my own experience continues to mean to me so many years later.
 I received so much more than a diploma from what was first a picturesque little college near the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.  Soon to be invaded by the first wave of baby boomers, it grew into a university before my eyes.  I grew too. A university is people—no more and no less.  Those  times and that place had a significant influence on me.  It was the Sixties and anything anyone has ever said about what went wrong in those times is probably telling the truth. In retrospect, a lot of things went right too. Authority was questioned.   A song asked if we'd questioned all the answers.  It was soon a time to even question the questions.  It's never easy but I guess that lament belongs to all ages.  For good or ill every time and place has its story to tell. It's been over 50 years but I am still influenced by four people I met on that diminutive campus.

 Dr. Martin Greenman taught philosophy but more than that he taught me by word and deed that it was alright to be the existentialist I realized I was, and am. He taught me how to live.  I learned there were many scriptures from many sources. The times were turbulent and his example for all was to embrace the turbulence and turn inward for the salvation and enlightenment to face the world. He led me to the conclusion that living in bad faith (to yourself) was the gravest of sins.  One cool starlit night I sat alone near the foothills and experienced my own enlightenment and salvation.  I found it to be true that the test of any philosophy was simple:  Does it work?  Calling him a mentor is an understatement.  He was a sanctuary in dark times of the soul.  He was my friend. 

Dr. Carlisle Cross taught me that literature can pass the test of time.  He taught me of satire and parody on one hand and the deep touching power of words written from the heart on the other.  He embraced humor. A few years ago I created a mythical internet diploma mill called  Escambia University.  It was an attempt to poke fun at the pretense of educational institutions. If he were here today he would be the first to accept a diploma from that phony school and probably hang it in his bathroom. He was a scholar who didn't  take  prestige seriously. He once told me he was thinking of changing his name from Carlisle to "Old Rugged." I still think about (and read and re-read) things my guide encouraged me to explore.

Dr. Wilhelm Exilbirt earned his doctorate in  history  in Vienna before managing to escape the jackboots of the Nazis.  England was his first stop.  A little school near the foothills would be his last.  His words of wisdom and scholarship were validated by the example of his life. He  encouraged me to pursue the academic life. He once said he was mystified by American students who paid for education but tried to acquire as little as they could get away with.  When asked what was the biggest adjustment he had to make in coming to his adoptive culture he responded with your grandfather’s twinkle in his eyes: “Zippers instead of buttons” was all he said.  It somehow pleases me that I am now the age he was when I was first inspired by him. The world and I need him today.

The fourth person is, and will always be,  the most important.  I met my wife-to-be as we each walked in the rain on the quiet campus.  I've loved her and I've loved rain ever since. She was born and raised in the mountains but had come to college after working in the big city.  I was born on Cornell Ave. in Chicago and raised in an Ohio middle class suburb.  Though neither of us was seeking a relationship we almost immediately began sharing a life.  Lover, most trusted confidant and best friend, she is one of the greatest people I've ever known.  She would deny that or say that I should probably try to get to know more people. I know her and it remains the most meaningful of all knowledge.  She is my pearl of great price.  At times it's been the two of us against the world.  Somehow she makes it a fair fight.

Truth and beauty  are wherever you are lucky enough to encounter them.  The University of West Florida campus has its own natural and man made beauty. Many colleges are likewise beautiful.  I enjoy being  around the local campus even though it is larger and architecturally more modern than the school I attended.  For some, college is career prep and if that works education has served a beneficial purpose.  Colleges can also be so much more than just career prep.  That works too.  I would advise students to experience real college campuses. Walk there in the rain and in the sunshine.  Take the words and spirit from the professors you encounter.  I encourage the professor and the student to get to know what the other is about. The exchange can be joy and enlightenment. And always smile at those you meet in the rain.  It may be "The One" you'll be sharing the rain with.  It can make someone's day.  It could make someone's life.