Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Trees and Sweet Potato Latkes

Aging brings limitations.

I say this because the traditions that I thought would never disappear now only exist as memories. As I suppose it is with most families, my family has aged and scattered across the nation because of pesky adult responsibilities pertaining to life. Still, I cling to the moments that have shaped my view of what the holiday season means for me, and I delight in retelling the stories to those who are willing to listen.

First, I would like to share the magic of the Christmas tree.  The hunt would begin in the morning on a Saturday or Sunday just after Thanksgiving. There were only four of us, but we would pile into the Blue Bomber, our 1973 Ford Bronco, and off we would go. We hit every Christmas tree lot in a 50 mile radius in search of the perfect tree, singing along with Tennessee Ernie Ford, Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis, Emmylou Harris, Anne Murray, John Denver and the Muppets playing on the 8-track as loud as my mother would tolerate in-between lots.

“That one doesn’t have a good top for the angel. We can’t take that one because it’ll stick out too far into the living room. Will the nativity scene fit under that one? Too dry. Too tall. Too short. Too crooked. That one doesn’t have enough chutzpah. Did we get a Noble or a Douglas last year? Are we going to spend the extra money for a fresh wreath as well? That family got our tree. We could follow them home and take it by force. No wait, there it is. That’s the one. Where’s the kid that takes this to the front? NO! NO FLOCKING!”

By the time night fell, we were back at the first lot purchasing the first tree we discovered, or so was the generally the case. The tree never failed to grow three feet on the way home. My father would have to re-cut, re-drill, re-straighten, and re-shape the poor thing on our postage stamp of a front porch, usually in the rain. When I hit my growth spurt in high school, I became the measuring stick to which the tree was compared. It still didn’t matter. The tree grew three feet and my father would have to chop off a significant amount off the bottom of the tree.

Then the boys struggled with the lights while Mom made hot chocolate from scratch and microwaved the little bits of things on sticks for snack stuff while we decorated. Again, Tennessee Ernie Ford and Johnny Mathis echoed loudly through the house while we scrambled for our favorite pieces to hang on the tree. Oh there’s the paper plate and gold-glitter dove I made in preschool. It desperately needs a new coat of glitter. Careful with the macaroni bulb the brother made in elementary school. It sheds a piece or three of macaroni every year. The little rubber guys are older than dirt, but they have to be there also, as well as the partridges that are losing their tail feathers and the dime store nativity scene bulbs that we’ve had for even longer.

And we’d eat. And we’d sing. And we’d argue playfully about who is placing what where. We’d watch all the movies we’ve seen before: George C. Scott’s A Christmas Carol, The Lemon-Drop Kid, Fitzwilly, Donovan’s Reef, Miracle on 34th St (the old one, in black and white), The Bishop’s Wife, How the Grinch Stole Christmas and A Charlie Brown Christmas. It’s just not Christmas without any of that.

But a few years ago, my brother and his family migrated to Oklahoma, and I moved out and married, and my parents broke down and bought a fake tree.

From true Christmas tree magic however, the fake tree grew three feet by the time they got it home and my dad had to re-cut, re-drill, re-straighten and re-shape the poor thing on the postage stamp of the front porch in the rain. And the dove and macaroni bulb still shedding glitter and macaroni find their perches just below the angel. The movie marathon still takes place, happily, and returns me very quickly to each of my Christmas Pasts.

The potato latkes were relegated to traditional obscurity when my mother was told that she could no longer have potatoes. Up until then, however, we celebrated Hanukah too. “After all we are Christians, but Christ wasn’t,” my father would say. Of course, those of Jewish faith may have found our attempt as sacrilege but we always endeavored to represent the faith well. We’d light a candle of the menorah, say a prayer thanking Him for miracles great and small, and as we dug out the dreidels and the collection of pennies, Mom made potato and sweet potato latkes and served them with applesauce and sour cream. There is no better comfort food on a cold winter’s evening than sweet potato latkes hot from the griddle.

We still light the candle and say the prayer, but with all holidays, the absence of family and cherished friends makes the celebration bittersweet. The lack of latkes makes it a poignant tragedy.

When my friend Nemo introduced me to his significant other Karrie some time back, we became fast friends. Nemo and Karrie are two extremely intelligent and talented people who make up a critical part of my Zombie Apocalypse team. Karrie had a similar upbringing, but hers was a product of mixed faiths, her father a Methodist and her mother a Jew. Her parents are divorced now and subsequently remarried. When I spoke of my family traditions, she grinned.

“I have a latke story as well,” she said.

She was visiting her father and step-mother one Christmas season when they surprised her with a Chanukah celebration. “My step-mother thought it was impolite not to be sensitive to my religious diversity,” she explained. So she led a prayer and lit the candle and her step-mother made and served potato latkes.

“They were the best potato latkes I have ever had. The flavor was amazing,” she said, looking wistful at the recollection. Her step-mother was very proud, beaming from the compliment. She explained that she acquired the recipe from an on-line source but she thought it was a bit plain. So the decision was made to fry them in bacon grease.

“I didn’t have the heart to tell her about the ‘no pork’ rule,” Karrie said. “And I ate every one she put in front of me. Don’t tell my mother.”

I won’t. I promise. I’ve even changed your name in this post to help protect your identity.

So, as years pass and friends and family scatter on the far-winds, traditions evolve. Some are made richer through time, some disappear altogether. Some disastrous childhood memories are compounded by seasonal depression and amplified by the contrast of the joy of others. While aging has complicated my holiday season, I still feel incredibly blessed that I have memories I can cling to of Christmas past. My hope this year as in all years will be that everyone can know at least one happy holiday with family and friends, traditions dying in one household are renewed in another, and that Peace on Earth and Goodwill Towards Men is not a just fairy tale, but a way of life.

Happy Chanukah!
Happy Solstice!
Happy Christmas!

With love and good tidings throughout the coming years.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Write On Edge: Countdown Challenge

This weeks Red Writing Hood  challenge comes from . She gives us 300 words to write a piece of fiction or creative non-fiction about a countdown, starting with "Three. Two. One."

I offer the following: Downhill Fast

“Three,” she forced herself to breathe.

“Two.” She was a caged tiger, ready to fight the mountain.


The alarm sounded, Go!

She exploded from the start gate, her heart pounding wildly. Stabbing with her poles alternately at the snow before tucking them under her arms, she then dropped into her crouch and began her decent on the piste. She eased into her attack, building speed, with shock-like legs working beneath her. Rapidly approaching, the first series of plastic gates taunted her, but she refused to yield. The few cross-blocks were over in less than a second and she landed the following jump with practiced precision. The wind bit at her lips, already chapped from exposure, an odd comfort in a torturous sport. She blurred through another series of hairpins and banked into a turn that had a substantial drop. Her landing was flawless but she refused to celebrate. The mountain would not surrender that easily.

The piste threw more obstacles in her way. She scoffed at the safety net as she cut through the next bend, shinning the hairpins immediately following, catching air over the dips. More gates raced effortlessly by. Finally, the expanse of open land stretched out before her. The finish line was mere seconds away. “Come on!”  Screaming through her burning lungs and tiring legs, she pushed herself through the straightaway. “Come on!”

At last, her struggle against the mountain was over. She sailed across the finish, victoriously gasping for breath. The sound of blood rushing through her ears was slowly replaced by cheering crowds. Panting still, she stripped off her goggles to look at the scoreboard.

For the moment, she was queen of the mountain, crowned by a mere half-second. Still the event was young and more tigers eagerly waited at the top.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Salvation Army and Other Red Buckets

From my earliest memories, the Salvation Army rang their little bells with joyful abandon outside the supermarket next their little red buckets. My mom would take a handful of change from her wallet and dump it just as cheerfully through the little slot. “Thank you and God bless you!” the Salvation soldier would say.

“Thank you, He has,” my mother would respond.

It happened at every red bucket, no matter where we were or how many we had been by that day. If there was a smiling Salvation soldier ringing a bell, we put change in the bucket. If the Salvation soldier wasn’t smiling, Mom made it her mission to get them to smile. My brother asked her why she did it in addition to her donation check every year. She just shrugged and said, “I can’t help it.”

There are other groups that collect donations during the holidays and we didn’t neglect them either. There are the toy donation boxes manned by uniformed servicemen. (Still a favorite, even though now I’m twice their age) and the food drives that would send us right back into the market to buy more canned goods. My mother didn’t use the food bank as an excuse to clean out her canned goods. She’d get them fun stuff alongside the practical stuff. A jar of strawberry jelly was purchased to go with the peanut butter. Canned pumpkin would not be gifted unless a jar of pumpkin pie spice, a box of pie crust mix, and condensed milk was also gifted.

Whether it’s from Nature or Nurture, I am my mother’s daughter. I’m a giver. I can’t pass a red bucket without dumping change in. I can’t clean out my cupboards for cans to donate to the food bank; I have to buy all new cans just for the drive. I can’t wait for the toy drive and those pretty, pretty uniforms. (Drool.)

But my compulsion doesn’t end there.

I decided one day to go to the corner drug store to pick up a few microwave items for lunch. Outside there was a young man with a backpack who asked if I had some change. “I’m almost to my sister’s and I need bus fare,” he explained.

“Where are you headed?” I asked him.

I wasn’t familiar with the town he mentioned, and when he described where it was, I gulped. He still had twenty miles to go. Small change just didn’t sound like it would get him there. “I’m sorry, all I have is this five,” I said, offering him the only cash I had on me.

He didn’t understand at first. I guess he had heard “no” too many times already that day. The light the flashed across his face once he realized I wasn’t saying no; that to me was worth every penny of that five dollar bill. I thought he was going to kiss me. “God bless you,” he said.

“Thank you, He has,” I replied as I watched him bounce like Tigger over to the bus stop.

I’m not perfect. I am deeply flawed. Is that why I’m a compulsive giver? Perhaps. Abraham Lincoln said once, “When I die I want it said of me by those who know me best, that I always plucked a thistle and planted a rose where I thought a rose might grow.” That is the sort of person I strive to be. I cannot singlehandedly end hunger in Africa or stop violence against children. I feel guilty that I cannot trust people enough to invite them into my home. I hate that we still have to lock our doors for fear of thieves and squatters. I hate that I’ve probably been a victim of a scam. If someone asks for my help though, I can’t walk away from him. I listen to what my gut is telling me and I help him the best I can. If that means I don’t get to eat out one night this week, or that I blew my entire shopping for kicks budget so that someone can make it to his sister’s house, I accept those terms. If they’ve lied to me, that’s on their heads, not mine.  It’s my responsibility to make my corner of the world a brighter, better place.

And if all I can do is bring a smile to the Salvation soldier freezing in front of the supermarket tonight, I will still see that as a mission accomplished.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Red Ink and Old Books

With the holiday season upon us, I am, like others, inspired to recall memories of seasons past. The laughter that erupted under the roof and made my sides ache for days, and the fervent, unthinking feuds that made my heart ache for years; both have served to fuel the fires to forge the steel foundation for the woman I have become.

What marks the start of the season for me is when Mom grabs her step-stool to reach the cookbooks stashed above the fridge. (Well, she used to. When the kitchen was remodeled, the cookbooks moved to a more convenient display at counter-height).

Of all the books my mother owns, however, her personal ones are probably the ones I cherish most. Earmarked pages and sticky-notes riddle my mother’s cookbooks. She has two she keeps now, one for savory and one for sweet, and both are busting at the seams again. One summer, before the computer made its way into our world, we painstakingly undertook the project of typing out each recipe on that brick of a typewriter. Did we convert all of them? No, we ran out of ribbon ink and patience part of the way through. By the time we sat down to make another attempt, technology had moved on and the typewriter never found replacement ribbon.

Those cookbooks represent my entire history. Every milestone of my life, my dubious public school education has a recipe to correspond with it. My third grade teacher gave us the Chinese Chicken Salad that my brother devours by the bucket load, as told by my mother’s red script penned in the margins. There’s a cookie recipe delightfully referred to as PTA Cookies with “rich and gooey” written in red ink across the top corner. Peanut Butter Play-dough was a big hit in kindergarten according to the red ink on its page. A random Pita Bread recipe we got from an in-class demonstration during cultural awareness week that we have never managed to recreate successfully is still found within the Breads section, again with the ubiquitous red ink notation that reads Grrr in frustration.

Editor, if you’re reading this: this is one of the reasons that I find your red pen a fantastic friend.

It’s not just the recipes I look forward to whenever I crack open the books. I swear Mom saved every single scrap of family notes we posted on the fridge. From the untidy child musings completed in crayon to the untidy swirls of teenage-angst-driven notes complete with happy faces and stars, each one remains stored between pages of these wonderful time capsules. My favorite is probably the collaborative effort between my brother and me, when we conversed in our butchered Italian phrases. He was a police officer then and awake during the hours the rest of us slept. I used to add to his notes the next day, and he would add to mine, taking days to exhaust a well-worn anecdote. I still laugh when I see the Italian note, and then I cry. It’s such a perfect moment, preserved forever, that it always strikes me as bittersweet. I’m grateful Mom could not bear to part with them because they grant me immediate access to my youth. Sometimes, I catch Mom with misty eyes over the same silly banter. We share a hug and a cup of forbidden cocoa, and then move on to the holiday baking.

It’s these sorts of gems that I look for when I peruse the shelves of a used book store or antique boutique. I remember my first-ever used book purchase was an 1814 leather-bound accounting ledger someone kept of their dry goods transactions. I was all of ten years old at the time, but found the hand-written, dry calculations so intriguing. I had a defined frame of one part of a man’s life, right down to the cost of the last 5lb sack of milled flour. It was when I got it home that I discovered an extra treasure. In the back of the book, where the binding had become loose and created a sort of pocket, I found tucked away within someone’s last will and testament, dated April of 1956. On a small sheet of ruled paper, David bequeathed everything in his possession to his wife Anne and remarked that there was no need to notarize or authenticate his signature. I was addicted then, and still try to only purchase old books if there is some sort of personal notations made within the decaying pages. Not all that long ago, I added a mightily abused 1800’s printed German hymnal to my collection, simply because someone had taken notes in the margins of the book. Although I do not understand the words, I feel a connection with that person, no matter what their background might have been.

So here comes the true point to this essay. As writers, we attempt a connection through the telling of a story, fact or fiction, to an audience of readers. As readers, we will devour volumes of any work that we feel a personal connection with. I think when we find notes like those aforementioned in the margins and on sticky-notes, we feel we’ve hit the jackpot. Or maybe I’m the only one who feels this way. It’s the most tragic sacrifice of moving to the digital age, I fear, as we may never be able to discover a forgotten pressed flower among the digital pages of an eBook.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Write On Edge: Hair Challenge

With another NaNoWriMo remanded to the "desperately needs true focus and severe editing" pile, I'm happily back to my regular routine, on to other projects, and looking forward to the upcoming holidays. In feeding my unhealthy addiction to writing prompts, I'm back haunting the Write On Edge site and eager for the next challenge. This week in Red Writing Hood gives us 300 words using hair as the vehicle to reveal something about a character or situation. I decided to revisit Patience and her sisters from the Write On Edge: Road Trip challenge.

I offer the following: A Hair for a Hair

Patience slipped out of her bed once she heard Bertha’s soft, wheezing snore, indicative of her deep slumber. She wrapped her dressing gown about her to fend off the chill as her feet located her house-shoes by feel. For a long moment, she pondered the consequences. Could she risk her mother’s ineffectual pleas to let her daughter be, that sibling rivalry was healthy and natural as her father reached for the switch? She sucked in an icy blast of air to steady her nerves and reached for the hammer and nails she had concealed behind the nightstand.

She crept across the small space, afraid to make a sound. While Bertha had always slept like the dead, her youngest sister Charity woke at the subtlest of disturbances. She froze at each squeaky floorboard, holding her breath. Once sure the danger was passed, she moved into position, hovering over Bertha’s head. Her long plait of molasses brown hair draped conveniently over her pillow, begging to be nailed to the headboard. A hair for a hair, she thought righteously. Gently, she pushed a nail through the braid and positioned it against the headboard, wondering how to muffle the sound of the hammer.

Charity’s sleepy whisper made her jump, “Patience, don’t.”

Her need for vengeance still boiling within her blood, she hissed, “She deserves it after that stunt in school.”

Charity sat up, “She’s jealous you know. You have the perfect flaxen hair, and spiral curls keep without fuss. She feels plain next to you.”

“She dipped my hair in the inkwell,” she answered, not ready to let her anger go.

“And she got the switch for it after the dunce cap in class. Surely that’s humiliating enough,” she pleaded.

Her hand, poised to strike, trembled from the weight of the hammer.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Day for Thanks

I was. I am. And with Divine Providence, I may yet be.

And so I am Thankful.

I pass along my best wishes to you and yours this day and every day.

Happy Thanksgiving America

Friday, November 18, 2011

Write On Edge: Road Trip Challenge

In the Write On Edge Red Writing Hood challenge this week, gives us 300 words to tell the tale of a road trip.

The phrase "road trip" can conjure several memories for a person. Remember the time we crossed the States just to see a band perform in Chicago? Or when Cousin June went to Washington, DC to give a senator a piece of her mind, only to get lost in Detroit? As it is with most journeys, the destination isn't necessarily as important as the experience.

For this challenge, I wanted to break away from the idea that only automobiles can go on a road trip or the roads themselves must be paved with asphalt. I give you one of many dark moments from the history books.

A Trail of Many Sorrows

The wind, thick with the tell-tale scent of snow, rattled the trees at the edge of the muddy road. Patience shivered despite her cocoon of coverlets as she huddled with her sisters in the cramped space at the back of the schooner. I can walk faster than these oxen can pull this wagon, she thought indignantly, hating her father for forcing their move from Boston, and her beloved Johnny.

The wagon pitched unpredictably, making it difficult to sit still. Patience shifted again to a more comfortable position, only to become dislodged moments later. “Ow,” the middle sister cried. “You hit me.”

“S-Sorry Bertha,” she replied through chattering teeth.

Charity, usually silent, hushed them unexpectedly. “Listen,” she said, leaning forward to see around the canvas. “Do you hear that?”

Patience joined her, eyes and ears straining, Countless voices haunted the air with a familiar hymn. Through the trees she spied men, women, and children, treading defenseless against the bitter cold. Union soldiers with rifles drove them like cattle to the slaughter. “Mr. Jeremiah,” she turned to their scout as he rode his own horse alongside their train, “Who are those poor souls?”

His grim look did not change, “Cherokee, Miss Patience. They’re being relocated to Indian Territory by executive order.”

She gulped as a soldier horsewhipped a boy into submission, “Surely there is a more Christian way of handling the situation.”

His response was slow to come. “Best you not think on them.” He urged his mount forward, ending their conversation.

She watched the Cherokee for a time, disquiet. Their lament tormented her soul, banishing Johnny and Boston from her selfish thoughts. They had even less choice than she, and still they sang. “God keep you strong,” she prayed, hoping it would help. The snow was on its way.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Write On Edge Conversation Challenge

Write on Edge:  for Red Writing Hood challenged in 300 words or less:

Using surroundings, body language, visual cues and blocking, in addition to the spoken words, show us who they are and what their relationship is without coming out and telling us!

I'm offering the following: Snake-Charming

She lit a cigarette and sucked a long drag before reaching up to pull the toggle for the ceiling fan. It emitted a high-pitched squeal as the blades wobbled loosely in their orbit around the dying sun of a light-bulb. She didn’t care about the smoke drifting from her nostrils into my face. “Comfortable?” she asked, condescendingly.

“Mrs. Davies, I really should be leaving,” I said, gripping the straps of my purse with uncertainty. My leg started bouncing like a jackhammer.

“I know, Pet. We have to wait for my husband.” A smile slithered onto her face, baring the lipstick smear on her fangs. “He’s the one with”

I wanted to bolt. I needed my money though, so I remained in the fifties-era plastic and chrome kitchen chair trying not to focus on the second-hand danger of the vent-less room or the annoying whop-whop-squee of the ceiling fan. Seconds crawled by like years and the swirl of the cigarette smoke was dangerously hypnotic.

The phone rang; the shrill noise cutting through the stuffy silence. She answered it immediately, “Hello?” Her features flashed darkly before she turned away, the tired telephone cord wrapping about her waist like a snake coiling about its mother. “Honey, do not lie to me. Working late is not an excuse for you anymore.” Her whisper was harsh.

I glanced into the living room, knowing the door to freedom was mere steps away. Mr. Davies always worked late. He came home in the mornings however, after Mrs. Davies left. Sometimes brought home companionship. I kept my mouth shut. I was only there for his invalid mother.

“You think I don’t know!” the snake hissed. “The damned caregiver Brad!”

The mistress wasn't me but I no longer cared. I ran.

In Memoriam...

November 11, 2011

Veteran's Day

America is because they were. We must not forget. For so long as we remember, their sacrifices shall never have been in vain.

When my buddy Omar went through boot camp, we exchanged letters often, he more faithful than I. When I ran out of humdrum daily life to discuss, I'd write tales my dad told me of his navy days or I'd share examples of my creative writing passion, usually a quick poem or story with a patriotic theme. I shared the tale below with him once, and he informed me that his CO reread the letter to his fellow marines. I have since polished it, and I would like to offer this today in remembrance of those who serve so that I can write.

The Last Casualty

Ah, the days of wine and roses. We had joy and song, even though the air was thick with ash and death. We celebrated every second we could, for no other reason than we had survived another hour. That was plenty of excuse for a pair of soft lips surrounding a gentle smile, with a lyrical voice and an angelic face, or a pint shared with our brothers at a rare cafe along our route. Bitter, but oh so sweet the recollections are that flood my senses.

It never occurred to us that we could lose the battle, you see. We didn’t have the luxury of that choice. For the sake of the world we could not fail our mission. The fears we had were more immediate in nature than losing. Would the sniper fire claim the life of my platoon brother next to me? Or worse yet, would that round have my name on it? These were the fears we faced every minute, but never expressed aloud. There wasn’t time. We were there to do a job, nothing more.

We were called a lot of names in those days. Heroes, warmongers, soldiers of freedom, cannon fodder….every name true in reflection. None of those names mattered though. We were brothers, young, and full of piss and vinegar. We were saving the world from itself. We believed we would change the course of history, and we did. Although, I imagine this future is not what we expected the present would become.

How we all came to pass that way will be forever argued among scholars who did not have to fight for every square inch of space in mud and acrid smoke with gas masks and bayonets. It is perhaps easier for them, those who wear suits in corner offices, drink lattes, and squander the freedoms they forget they have. Or perhaps they do understand and I judge them too harshly? I knew once the impulsiveness and eagerness of youth. It was idealism, after all, that led me to the lowlands to fight. Now those suits see in my face the old man I have become, and not the soldier battle-scarred and terrified of the night. Nightmares plague me incessantly, returning me to the age when cousin was pitted against cousin, and the whole world was consumed in angry flames. My men at least were honored and loved. Those who eventually followed us were spit upon by treasonous speaking do-gooders who have no right to judge. They didn’t bleed while the best of men died, listening to the horrific screaming of the injured. They could turn down the volume or change the channel.

Fear not, my band of brothers. Your memories I have kept faithfully. Those who have not may hold their manhood cheap, for they are not men, and I pity them.

This field in France lays fallow among a few scattered patches of red poppies, dancing happily in the summer breezes, and a few mass grave markers, standing stoic as testimony to Mankind’s darkest hours. A fitting end perhaps, to the stories that will remain unheard of glories that would never be. Here, among the trenches and the barbed wire, I lost my innocence as did the countless I fought alongside. The man I became was born from this ground, once scorched by fire and saturated with blood from the sacrifices of thousands of boys and a belief that the war would end all war. Knowing now what I didn’t know then, I still would not choose a different path, changing any of the events that touched my life. The trenches are gone, vanished beneath the protective blanket of earth. By the grace of God, no one will soon remember they ever existed. May we be lost forever among dry pages of history text books that collect dust on the shelves in school libraries.

If I had regret, it would be only that it was I who walked away from the trenches when so many more deserving men did not. Little Joey Petrelli, “Micky” Donnelly, Sean Wyatt, Corporal Watersone, Sergeant Brady, were a mere few of those that I would gladly have traded places with. Those men should have had my mundane civilian afterlife. I can only hope for their glory, not mine, that I fought the good fight, and lived out the remainder of my days to the fullest. I hope that will be all the tribute they need, for it’s all the tribute of any value I have to give.

I have made this difficult trip to say goodbye to the boy I once was, the boy I lost here. I am in my final hours, so my doctor tells me, and I am ready to join my fallen brethren, my beloved parents, and my dearest heart, and all those who went before me. Weep not for me, for I am happy to make this journey. My bones are weary and I wish to sleep.

This field is silent. I hold my breath to listen to the absense of machine gun fire, though I hear it still. I am the last man standing who remembers. When I fall, no echo of the past will sound. Nature has reclaimed the common clay beneath my feet.Like a mother's gentle caress, peace has kissed this valley and cleansed it of its sin. The smell of fear and the stench of death have not lingered here. The songs we sang, the women we wooed, the laughter we shared, the stories we made up are long since forgotten. The sun is warm and brings me comfort. I will lay me down here among the poppies and watch the clouds roll past until I can see the heavens part and angels bid me welcome.

To you, who have found me, know that I am content, and I am where I wish to be. In my pack is the compass I used to bring me here, both times, a small pocket knife used often to open ration tins,, and a picture faded to yellow bearing the faces of those who I hope are waiting for me to take my place among them. I have nothing else to leave you except Hope. I hope you will never seek the path that will lead you here to this end, in one of many forgotten fields. However, should the trenches find you and should you be faced with the loss of all your tomorrows, do not hesitate to fight for the sake of your brother, celebrate all the tiny moments you can, loose upon your enemy all the fury of hell, and may God’s Grace bring you safely home.


Friday, November 4, 2011

8pm and all's well!

Taking some time out of my NaNoWriMo to participate in Write On Edge challenge: 8:00 am or pm, in less than 200 words. 

In addition to that challenge, I'm traveling in the passenger seat along the I-15 towards San Diego in the pouring rain, and attempting to complete this challenge on my smart phone. 

Grandfather's Clock:

     I'm alone in the house tonight, listening to the distinct tick-tick of my grandfather's old clock. I hold my breath in anticipation, poised for the top of the hour. I still feel the excitement of my childhood; the summers we spent in the shadow of Mt. Shasta at Grandfather's redwood home. Suddenly the brassy sound of Westminister Chimes echoes in the empty house "Ding dong ding dong!" it announces.I count the chimes...Six. Seven. Eight. I exhale as peace descends again. The perfect hour...

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Longest Drive

Preface: I've become addicted to writing prompts. The following was provided by writer's digest. 

You are having the worst day of your life when someone calls and changes it for the better. Who calls, what’s it about and what series of events follow that call to help brighten your day?
The Longest Drive

I stood at the edge of the bridge contemplating the churning water below me. The wind whipped passed my ears with alarming force, however it was the man who stood near me that made me feel ill at ease. “What are you waiting for?” Damien asked me.
He had hijacked me that morning. He dragged me through the convalescent home where my mother lay belligerent, drooling, and forgotten. We watched my husband rape his secretary up against the window in his corner office. He led me to my daughter’s elementary school so I could see her dealing drugs to her sixth grade peers. Now we were on the bridge that my little brother drove off of years ago. I tore my gaze away from the water and shot him the darkest look I could muster. “An explanation. Why me?”
“Because unlike everyone who abandoned you,” he paused, a grin of pure evil plastered across his face, “I believe that you have value.”
I peered over the edge of the bridge again, dangerously close to yielding to the stranger’s foul suggestion. Give me strength, I prayed silently. “Yeah, sure. I believe that,” the sarcasm oozed between my clenched teeth.
“Just jump, Cassie,” he said with counterfeit sympathy. “You are forsaken, left behind by all you love and hold dear.”
“Go to hell, Damien,” I hissed. “I’ll not do your bidding.”
He grabbed my neck and forced me back. I felt the weight of my heels drop off the edge of the bridge as I struggled to breathe. The wind became hot and dry, and stung my eyes.
“It can all be over. Just jump,” he urged; his voice a ghost of a whisper.
“No,” I choked, my heart racing wildly within my chest. His fingers burned into me and the pain was almost too much to bear. I clawed at his wrists, clinging to the last thread of hope for my survival. Fearful, but resolved, I closed my eyes. “NO!” I repeated with the last ounce of force my adrenaline could fuel.
A cell phone rang from within the confines of the stranger’s jacket. He reluctantly pulled me back from the edge as the phone rang a second time and at the third ring, he released my neck. Finally, he removed the phone from a pocket and handed it to me.
I stared blankly at the phone that advertized a restricted number. It rang a fourth time. “Is this a joke?” I asked him suspiciously through the fifth ring.
“Answer it,” he barked.
“It’s not my phone.”
“It’s your call.”
Finally, on the eighth ring I answered, “Hello?”
“Cassandra Sellers, you are free to go,” a bright, ageless voice said through the line.
“Do I know you?”
“Better than Damien believed, yes. Go back to your car. This will be as if it never was.”
My voice shook and sounded strange to me, “My family? I saw…”
“Fear not, Cassandra. Deception is a tool much favored by the wicked.”
I turned back to confront the stranger only to find him gone, a vapor of sulfuric odors lingering in his stead. I cast one last look towards the churning waters and asked timidly, “What comes next?”
There was no response.
The closer I moved towards my car, the calmer I became. I sank into the Camry’s interior, inserted the key into the ignition, and found I was back in my driveway. The green numbers on the clock indicated a quarter after eight. I had been transported to the moment the stranger jumped in my car introducing himself as Damien. I clutched the wheel, bracing myself for a repeat of the nightmare, but it never came. The voice on the phone had kept his promise. Glancing down at the passenger seat where I had tossed the devil’s phone, I spied a single white feather, glistening in the early morning shadows. “The Lord is my shepherd,” I whispered, breathing deeply. The day was definitely brighter now. If I could defeat a devil, I could certainly handle rush hour traffic.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Two Thousand Generations and Counting...

My mother told me once (if she told me a million times) that two thousand generations of my ancestors follow me wherever I go.
As a child, it struck me as a silly notion. I mean, just where did they fit in our Mercury Linx coup when my family of four and three Cabbage Patch dolls crossed the United States at break-neck speed because we only had two weeks to see all those rusty tractors? Were they in the bathroom when I took showers? Did they expect me to share my ice cream cone with them?
And if two thousand generations of my ancestors followed me wherever I went, what about my cousins? I have many cousins, and only two of them lived within a 5 mile radius of my childhood home. Could my ancestors really be in several states at once? Did they take turns? Did they get recess when I slept or ate dinner because I wasn’t going anywhere?
That’s a massive amount of pressure to put on the mind of an oversensitive child when I didn’t even completely grasp my own existence in the world.
Needless to say, I’ve never questioned the existence of Santa Claus. His accomplishments are completely doable in the scheme of ancestors.
I digress.
What I have come to understand as an adult (mostly, I still haven’t completely convinced my parents) is that I represent two thousand generations of my ancestors. In this precise moment, I am the reason they existed at all. That’s a massive amount of pressure to put on the mind of an oversensitive almost-adult. Although I no longer fear that my ancestors watch me shower, I still have questions. How do my behavior and the choices I make in this world reflect on them? Are they disappointed or embarrassed? Or am I already so far removed from them that there is no impact to all those linked to my lineage?
And if I’m representing daily the two thousand generations of souls involved in my DNA, is it enough that I attempt to be a better human being each day, or must I achieve perfection before my sins are washed from my gene pool? Maybe all they need is respect and honor. That’s all I have to give them anyway. It’s not like I can share my ice cream cone with any of them. I strive to be the best person I can be. In the end, isn’t that all that matters?
Now I’ve told my niece and nephew that two thousand generations of their ancestors follow them wherever they go. It’s nothing that they haven’t already heard from my parents. I’m sure my mother has told them at least once if not a thousand times. As an almost-adult, however, I couldn’t help but add that “when I become one of those pesky ancestors, I expect ice cream.”
Sorry, Mom.  I’m still working on my ancestor skills.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Write On Edge Tattoo Challenge

I was torn with this prompt. At first I didn't think I could participate. I dislike most tattoos on most people. Yesterday however I typed up not one, but two responses. The challenge was written on by in Red Writing Hood Prompts. 300 words or less to compose a piece where a tattoo is featured prominently. I apologize if I'm cheating, but both these stories screamed for attention and I, as their parent, didn't have the heart to choose between them.

The first offering: For Grandfather

Five numbers lined up on his leathered skin, distorted from age. 32897.

It was rare when he showed it. Most days it remained hidden under the sleeve of his ever present grey sweater. It was taboo to discuss it. I mentioned it once at dinner and my mother kicked me under the table. I didn’t understand at the time. I was five years old.

He died. After a long battle, cancer finally claimed him. That afternoon I walked into a tattoo parlor. The artist Mina asked if there was something specific I was looking for.

I nodded, the conversation I had with my mother still fresh on my mind.

I had summoned up the courage to ask my mother about the numbers as we congregated in the hospital hallway. She flashed a nervous smile and sighed, “Your grandfather was only three when the Nazis marched into Warsaw,” she said. I couldn’t tell if her voice was shaking because of pride or grief, or perhaps a bit of both. “His family was sent to a concentration camp not long after…”

I knew of course, at least understood that there was more pain than even my dry history books could remember. There was no need for details. She didn’t offer any. “You never said,” I accused her meekly.

I had unintentionally wounded her with those words. She spoke apologetically, “It wasn’t my secret to tell Tova. He came here after, well where could he go really? The Fidels adopted him. He’s only talked about it twice in his life. Once to your grandmother, once to me…There’s so much pain he tried to keep from us, to protect us.”

“I know what I want,” I said pushing the unopened book back to Mina. “Five numbers in a line, 32897.”

Second Offering: Homecoming

“What if he doesn’t like me?” Faith asked her mother with wide blue eyes.

They stood at the dock, waiting anxiously for the prisoners to be released from the ship. Somewhere among those hardened criminals was an innocent man, a husband and father, and his was a homecoming six long years in the making. Sally gripped her daughter’s hand fighting tears of joy. It had been a long fight to free him, and it was almost over.

A tall, thin man stood out from the others. They hadn’t been in contact with each other since the day they sentenced him to life on that forsaken island, she eight months pregnant. Sally knew her husband anywhere, regardless of the weight loss and the haunted look. He rushed from the plank, pushing passed the columns of the condemned to scoop her up in his strong arms. “I never gave up on you,” she whispered through her tears. When he released her, he knelt eye-level with his daughter. The child he had never seen. He was crying. “Your daughter, Simon. We decided on Faith, remember?”

“Hello Daddy,” Faith said timidly.

“Hello, my beautiful little girl,” Simon voiced. He reached out to touch her cheek, the sleeve of his shirt pulling back just enough for Sally to see a tattoo on his wrist.

Instantly she realized what it meant. It was his tether to life, his reason for holding on in the dark when all hope was lost. Sally watched as all he had endured ebbed away with a tide of tears. She touched his arm gently, and traced the exposed indigo letters of the crude brand.

A simple word etched forever into his skin. Faith.

He clutched them both tightly as if to make up for lost time.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Write On Edge Setting Challenge

So I stumbled across this from an announcement on Twitter. In 200 words, for Red Writing Hood asked for writers to paint a setting as vividly as possible.

This place is drawn loosely from my own memory files. I remember the raw emotion overcoming my entire family as we happened across this very unexpected find.

  It is a crisp Tuesday afternoon. Autumn colors draw me from my home in solitary pilgrimage. Cold, grey clouds clot the sky like eiderdown and play peek-a-boo with the waning sun. The Appalachian earth not yet thawed, crunches like corn chips beneath my feet. The perfectly manicured grass is shock green between seas of fathomless, motionless white markers, the callous account of freedom's ransom. Row after row of these sentinels stand vigilant for those they serve. The loss is immeasurable and washes through me as a torrent. I turn my collar against the contesting breeze laden with the scent of cedar and wild columbine and listen as the song birds hush their melodies in reverence. The valley that once harbored war against brothers now cradles her victims in sheltering arms hidden among the golden ash and rowan, far from the view of the bustling highway. I stand rooted, absorbing the voiceless whispers from forgotten ghosts. The rest, the rest is silence, Hamlet would say. I turn from the dead to take the long walk home, my steps heavy. I am weary and changed like the season, preparing for winter’s slumber and the promise of peace.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Ooh shiny....

Okay so I've been doing a little spring cleaning. I know it's autumn, but there's something I'm looking for and I can't find it. Not that I would remember what I was looking for once I found it anyway...

Sorry. My mind works like lightning. One brilliant flash and it's gone again.

Anyway I've come across an old journal of mine. It was a class assignment, at least that's how it started out. Then it doubled as a venue to take notes from history class in. It also seems to house a character back-story for some random role I had in drama class. Doodles line the outside edges of the paper, swirling about like melting ice cream. And there it is, smack in the middle of the Whiskey Rebellion, outlined with several sloppy five-point stars.

No, not the object I originally was looking for, although I still can't tell you what that was, or why I was looking for it in the box marked "miscellaneous past".

This little comment I wrote I remember actually submitting to my high school poetry publication.

If the universe only stretched as far as our imaginations, many of us would never see the moon.

Me. I wrote that. I was thirteen-ish. Apparently, I have moments of profound clarity while in the middle of an important task.Where is that girl now, I wonder, as I look at the hearts and flowers tucked into empty spaces between words. Then I laugh. All the years that have passed have not affected my core being. I have not changed. I wrote my 50k for Nanowrimo 2010 in between projects at work. It's as if my creative muse has always taunted me like a pesky sister might,  begging me to come outside and play even though I have a deadline I absolutely have to make. She's tempting me even now. She sent me on a wild goose chase for something I can't find so I'd have something to write about when what I really should be doing right now is going to bed. I have to be at work earlier than normal tomorrow and mornings and I are not mutually compatible as it is.

Okay Muse, you can have one last glass of water while I tell you another short story, but then I'm tucking you in and it's lights out! No, not War and Peace. Les Mis, really? Let's count sheep instead. One two buckle my shoe...Shoes! I was looking for my sneakers...

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Confessions of a Word Junkie

When I was in my tender years and my mind full of mush was still extremely pliable, my brother (who is nine years my senior) told me that words have meaning.

I don’t know if he realizes the profound affect that his words had on my writing life. The voice I have I developed in part because of his simple statement. So credit applied where credit is due, I have a confession to make.

I am a word junkie.

To further foster my addiction, my parents introduced me to the world’s most valuable book extant, the dictionary. If there was a word I didn’t understand, they helped me look it up for the definition. It was a glorious discovery. I could insult adults and peers alike without calling them vulgar names, and most were none the wiser. I began to read the Complete Unabridged Webster’s Dictionary at the age of seven, avariciously. I’m not saying that I understood all of it at the time, nor was I in a position to voice newfound knowledge I may have happened across. Still I read it, cover to cover and back again.

My elementary school had a basic library. Once a week each class was allowed to go to the library and check out a book. It was required to check out a book. The trouble was, I had read almost every book in that library by the time I hit second grade. My mother was the parent/volunteer coordinator so I had spent a great deal of time in the library where I was quiet and out of the way. As all my classmates swarmed about the early reader chapter books, I struck out on my own path. The book I chose my first week was James Harriot’s All Creatures Great and Small. My second grade teacher attempted to talk me out of the choice and implied that I should act my age. The librarian, knowing how much material I could go devour in a week, defended me.

I also did not score any points with my fourth grade teacher when I tried to explain that the word august did not need to be capitalized in my sentence because I wasn’t using August the month, I was using august the adjective. Her reaction when she read the definition in the dictionary? I quote, “No one old enough to read a newspaper will understand this sentence, so change the word to wealthy and move on.”

“But I don’t mean wealthy, as in rich, affluent, or prosperous. I mean august, as in noble, majestic, or imposing.”

“People won’t understand. You want to be understood, don’t you?”

“I want to be understood by intelligent people who know how to use a dictionary if they don’t comprehend the meaning of words.”

Needless to say, I was not teacher’s pet that year.

I am continuously amazed at the scope in which our language has truly degraded. Most people, if they are honest with themselves, use the same 200 words in their daily speech. Why? English may not be the romance language, but every year we lose our ability to effectively communicate our ideas simply because we forget a word exists. Like the dandelion on the ill-used path of life; obscure words are tragically left behind unappreciated and misunderstood. There are nutrients in a dandelion that can feed the body. There are nutrients in words that will feed the soul.

I have another confession to make. I have to have my commercials on television screened before I can watch them. Every single time the animal shelter one comes on and that song about being in the arms of the angels, I cry for days. I want to adopt them all, It’s a silly notion. No one person can assume responsibility for every abused or abandoned creature and maintain sanity. Those who try are labeled hoarders and become the abusers they rescued their charges from, perpetuating the vicious cycle.

So how do my two confessions relate to one another? I have an unhealthy addiction for language and an overwhelming desire to adopt every word in the English dictionary. They are valuable. Each one has a meaning. So many languages die every day for want of someone to speak them. Unfortunately, the technology that helps us see into the dark stretches of the universes is also the catalyst that confines our ability to express our imaginations.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Inspired by a Press Gang

Press Gangs in and of themselves aren't inspirational. They are oppressive. Centuries ago one could be pressed into service if one accepted a king's coin. Any coin, be it copper or crown. The trouble was, a sober, well-thinking man would not take a mere coin in payment for his life. The phrase "Mind your ps and qs" is said to originate from this dark era. A wife would tell her husband on his way to the public house to trade, to "mind your pints and quarts" for a few, critical reasons. The tavern keep would begin to charge whatever he wished for a pint if one was too drunk to notice, making the tab hard to ever pay off. The most important of these reasons though comes from King's men slipping a coin into one's tankard of ale. Once the tankard was drained of it's contents, the "accepted" coin was revealed, and one would be dragged from the pub towards the recruitment officer.

It's the beginning of glass-bottom tankards. Before accepting taking a drink, one could simply lift his tankard and peer through the bottom in search of coin.

Of course, the Press Gang could just as easily catch a person unawares in a dark alley and beat him until he's surrendered, or even kidnap him, especially if that person was out after curfew.

So why do I say "Inspired by a Press Gang"?

It's what I thought of when I wrote these silly lyrics. I just stumbled across this in my creative writing stash and I thought I'd share.

Lucky to be Unlucky

Some might be lucky in love and even luckier in bed
Some might be lucky enough to be lucky with money instead
Me I’m lucky enough to say that I’ve no luck with luck at all
I’m lucky to be unlucky, whack fol liall diall

When I was just a young man, I fell for a lassie’s charms
Little did I know that she was destined for another’s arms
On the night that we were to wed she left me high and dry
She bore twins and is with child again, so better that man than I

I left the heather of Scotland because I was tired of the bog
London weren’t much better but I couldn’t see it through the fog
The press gang found me in a ditch and shipped me out next morn
I heard the fire swept through London by the time we reached the Horn

We were attacked by pirates and they set my crew adrift
The storm that found the pirates drowned all aboard the ship
My crew washed upon the shore of an uncivilized isle
But I found a stash of forgotten rum that would last me for a while

The natives there were cannibals and ate up half my crew
I was next upon their list but then their plan fell through
The mighty chieftain’s daughter had her eye on me to wed
The morning after the pox swept in and the entire tribe was dead

I thought that I had the last of luck since I then was all alone
Until a whaler bound for Liverpool stopped to ask directions home
Now I’m back aboard a bark and bounding o’er the briny sea
I wonder if I should warn the captain about little ole unlucky me.....

Nah, He thinks he’s seen a mermaid, I’d better let him be.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Another Short...

A writing prompt from Writers' Digest spawned this little thought. It's a bit rough, but I felt compelled to see it through.

Original prompt:
After living for years paycheck to paycheck, a windfall of money comes your way from a distant uncle. But in order to receive the money, you must complete a mission from your uncle’s will. What’s the mission and did you do it?

The Last Postcard

“Tara, I’ve some bad news about Uncle Jim,” Momma announced gently.

I knew what was coming next. My heart was going to break
There was no need for her to say anything additional, but she continued, her voice cracking like fine porcelain, “He died, two weeks ago. He was trying to save a family from a burning building…”

Momma had said that Grandfather believed Jim was the only son-in-law worthy of the title until Aunt Jolene and Cousin Grace perished in an apartment fire. Momma had watched it happen on the news channel. Jim had to hear about it from his commanding officer while they were in Grenada. Momma said that he was never right after that. He slipped into a bottle before I was born and then after my third birthday, he simply disappeared. I was the only family he spoke to after that.

He’d send me a random postcard, or he called when I was the only one home. I remembered the last conversation we had, about my dreams to attend an old world university, but there was no way we could ever afford the opportunity. We lived in Wilcox Springs, population 530, jobs 14. My uncle Jim may have been running from the pain of his past and this forsaken town, but it might’ve been the best thing he ever did after he crawled out of the bottle. 

My grandfather died angry with him. Jim had unfairly become his greatest disappointment. His wife, his three-year old daughter, both gone in one horrible night? How does one deal with such an immeasurable loss? A war-torn soldier like Jim might never find closure. “Fire claimed him?” I asked Momma hoarsely after the silence grew too much for me to bear. “I think somehow he would’ve wanted that.”

“He’s left this for you,” she said, pulling a postcard out of the legal-looking envelope. 

Too stunned to cry, I inspected the postcard, recognizing his terse script. Remember, Tara.  I turned the postcard around to view the peaceful grounds of Trinity College. “This is enough,” I said honestly.

“Honey, that’s not all,” Momma whispered, catching my gaze as she offered me the documents in her hand.

I took the communication delicately. The black words on white background played games with my vision momentarily. “To Tara,” I read aloud, shaking, “who reminds me of all that Grace would have been, I give all I would have given her had she survived me, to be held in trust with a small monthly stipend, and the remaining in full upon successful completion of a degree from Trinity College, or other higher learning facility of your choosing.”

“That sneaky, drunken fool made a fortune and he’s left it all to you,” Momma said without venom, tears dancing happily in her eyes.

I clutched his last postcard to my heart and refused to let go.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Tale of Two Johnnys...

The following are letters found in a keepsake trunk located on the Winthrop estate near Cartersville, Tennessee and are dated during the Civil War, a time of etiquette and eloquence.

Dearest Thomasina,

            My Beloved One, not a day passes when I don’t hear your voice on the wind, your name whispered among the leaves of gossiping trees. I miss you.
            It seems strange now to write these words. I was so keen to war for glory and fortune that I neglected letters far too long. I have almost forgotten the sensation of a quill in hand and I have little remembered how to avoid messy ink blots. The scratching of the nib across the stolen velum grates at my nerves. It is a blessing that I chose the life of a soldier, for I am ill-equipped to keep books, although I suppose that is of little comfort to my mother or you, who must fear for my life daily.
            I had hoped that we would have leave September next, but it would appear that November will come before we are released for the winter. The commanders’ fears for snow in the mountain passes drive this latest campaign although it is still August and the sweltering heat pushes us on amidst complaints.
            I happened across a meadow near Brighton Forge some weeks back. It was an idyllic place, fed by a fresh stream and cooled with breezes. It felt like heaven to relax there at the end of our two day march. When the war is over, I should like to bring you there. Truly, you will come to love the place as I have done, and we can build our life there. It may be a harder life than you are used to or than you deserve, but you will see. The ground is dark with fertile soil and I am eager to root, to start a family, raising crops and children in abundance.
            I must hasten to close these few lines although it pains me much to do so. Know that my slumber is saturated only with images of you. I will write again when next I can.

Your faithful devotee,

A month later, John received this response.

My own Johnny,

            I was stunned to receive your words so carefully addressed and marked with such poignant love. Truly I feel undeserving of your attention. It saddens me much, but I cannot allow you to maintain your charade for my benefit. I release you from your promises made me.
            You are free to seek another companion to wife.

Miss Winthrop

Johnny set this response a week following.

My dearest love,

            Now we are so formal? Pray tell me the offense that I have committed for I must make amends. There is no peace in my heart without your love. I will walk the ends of the earth to do your bidding. Every command I will follow. Please, love do not forsake me.

Your Devoted,

It was two agonizing months before he received a response.

Dear Mr. John Dempsey,

            I write you on behalf of my sister, who is quite sick of your correspondence. Your words, lovely and sincere though they may be, hold no merit and I must ask that you take this as a final sign that there can be no contract fulfilled between you.
            It is not due to our parents, who objected perhaps to your relationship but would not have forsaken their daughter for pursuit of her happiness, nor is it due another suitor vying for her affection. The fault therein lies with you.
            As you have asked which trespass you committed, I will oblige you. You have confused your mistresses. My sister, Miss Winthrop, is not Thomasina. Her name, should you ever be allowed to become so familiar with her again, is Abigail.
            I wish you good fortune in all your travels and pray that God keep you safe upon the battlefield.

Mr. Eugene Winthrop

John responded.

Dear Mr. Winthrop

            Thank you for your candor. I am most embarrassed that I have visited this grievous event upon your sweet sister, and solely upon my own manufacturing. If you have a mind when place and time permits, please do not hesitate to make it known to Miss Abigail Winthrop and any who will listen that I am an ass.

Mr. John Dempsey.

It should be noted that according to his ill-kept journal, Mr. John Dempsey was most confused by the Winthrop responses, as the woman whom he met upon the Winthrop estate claimed to be Thomasina, the youngest daughter of Percival and Lily Winthrop. He ventured to return to Cartersville during his winter leave to investigate the enigma and discovered that indeed, Percival and Lily had three children, but only one was a daughter, a woman John had not yet met.

In Miss Abigail Winthrop's defense, she was a comely lass with several suitors, half of whom were named John, and one in particular was a soldier named John Damsette. The last name being so similar, she came to the conclusion that Dempsey was that suitor. 

So, it turned out that both Abigail and John Dempsey were victims of misunderstanding. However, upon their introduction, John became enamored of her, and she of him. Her parents approved of their relationship upon their betrothal and they were wed before Mr. Dempsey was to return to his squadron.

Shortly after his leaving, scandal broke out at the Winthrop estate for it became known that a neighbor’s servant, a woman named Thomasina Damsette had become with child outside of wedlock. When questioned, she admitted to having misrepresented herself once to a young soldier by the name of John Dempsey as part of a fancied, misguided decision. Then, just as winter settled in, her brother John paid a visit upon his leave of service. Receiving news of the visit, Eugene Winthrop, eager to confront the man who broke his sister's heart, rode to the Graves estate through one of the worst storms in Cartersville history. The estate was snowed in, leaving all occupants unable to leave for two days. When the snows thawed enough for travel, John Damsette rode for his squadron with a broken arm and a bruised ego and Eugene rode back to his father's estate in embarrassment with a broken nose. The child’s father it would seem was Eugene Winthrop.