Writer’s Site December, 2012
VOL. 1 ISSUE 1
Christmas Eve by: Emily St. Clair Samuel Bolt had one obsession in life. One absolute weakness. He tried to balance this fact by reminding himself that every man had an Achilles heel. His just happened to have a great pair of legs to go along with it. And Lord, how he liked those legs. Now if he could just find her...
Christmas is an event in the Bolt family. And Christmas Eve is just as big. Still, this now meant that his wife, April, was lost somewhere among their Welcome to the Aurora Public Library’s very
fifty-odd invited guests. Family and friends gathered
first literary zine featuring the writing and
everywhere and Sam couldn’t take a single step out
creative works of the members of the Aurora
of the foyer without the doorbell ringing to bring him
Public Library’s Writer’s Night @ Eola Road
Continued on page 11
Poetry Can By Wendy Meyers Simpson Today I can make a difference I can change it I can will it I can move myself to advance I can I can make a difference I can walk I can run So much to do So much to make Control it Control it I can control it Control it
Wait Wait Must I do all that Today?
by Eileen Kimbrough I write my life on pages small words big pain
room and danced – leaping, twirling, kicking and sliding. I choreographed shows for my sister and me to perform for our parents. In junior high and high school, I never missed a dance if I could help it. Dance was my escape and my joy. I dreamed of being a dancer on stage – never the star, but definitely a backup dancer. But I didn’t realize dreams could come true, that I could really be a dancer. Fast forward to 2007 I was the network manager for a large and
Confession: I Kept Dancing
fast-growing school district. It was very stressful and demanding. Too much work to do and not enough time or people to do it, but I loved the work and was really good at it.
By Raksanna Larcher-Gore Editor’s Note: “I Kept Dancing” is an excerpt from Confessions of a Belly Dancer; Secrets of the Hieroglyph © (ISBN 978-1300-28931-9; available via Lulu), a collection of real life stories from actual belly dancers from around the world. The theatrical adaptation of the book debuted on November 3, 2012, at the Paramount Theater, Copley Stage in Aurora, Ill. For more information about the book, please visit www.confessionsofabellydancer.com)
As happens in work situations, things changed. A new manager came on the scene and he made my life hell. He took over my department while I was on medical leave for a hysterectomy; when I came back, I was pretty much pushed out of all decision making and planning. By the time I went to administration for help, I was a physical and emotional wreck. My heart was always beating fast and skipping beats. Finally, I went to an urgent care facility. The doctor was alarmed at the EKG and sent me to a cardiologist. She looked at the
Music and dancing have been a huge part of my life as far back as I can remember.
EKG, asked me some questions and then said,
When I was four, my two teen-age brothers
“Well, we could do a bunch of tests, but I really
would watch American Bandstand and I danced
think you’re having panic attacks.” I was floored!
along with them. In addition to American Band-
She said I needed to relieve the stress or I would
stand, I grew up to Soul Train, Shindig, and
develop serious health issues. Continued on page 22
Hullabaloo. I turned on the stereo in the living
Quiet Night By Wendy Meyers Simpson
The quiet of the night breathes serenity Locusts pierce the air with mesmerizing songs Moonlight brightens the night sky shining on the dark terrain
Like A Leaf
The moon's glow
by Eileen Kimbrough
lightly dusts the trees and the flowers
Like a leaf from a tree in the fall of the year
and all earthly greenery
Ready to drop trembling with fear
God's earth So sweet
Of trampling feet of rake and roaring fire
So sweet The quiet night
Of wind and rain trapping me in mire.
A soothing antidote
Dry and brittle color turned to rust
Crushed or burned my end is dust
Ignored by Eileen Kimbrough He hears me like white noise, so I am red with anger. I lose all poise and envy him his languor. And that green envy makes him blue. He’s blind to the cause. I might as well be mute.
THE SUNDAY BOOT CAMP CLUB By Patric Huff
I stood in line with the other members of the Sunday Boot Camp Club, an organization designed for those who failed to properly celebrate the mass at St. Pete’s Catholic Church. Father T., the Pastor, had appointed Ms. Clunc, a short, squat woman in her early 60s to supervise the program. Under the guidance of Ms. Clunc, the club members were trained to choose proper church attire, follow along with the prayer book, sing hymns, pay attention to the homily, and maintain proper church posture. Bertha Clunc marched up and down the line scrutinizing our appearance for church. At the head of the line, Maia, a plump, bleached blonde woman in her late 20s, had already been sent home three times for failure of the dress code. Ms. Clunc had followed her home on the last trip and handpicked Maia’s current attire.
Doubt by Eileen Kimbrough Each time success seems near, I feel the pressure of your anxiety, letting your insecurity threaten me. Each time I let you interfere. Even if I persevere, nothing saves my confidence, beaten by your dominance. Revel in your sweet success and make me see my worthlessness. Nothing I can do will please you. Doubting me is your specialty, then making me doubt myself as well.
Continued on page 27
The Flying Alligator By Bob Walker Sydney opened the door to his trailer home and yelled “Food Claude!” The announcement was greeted with a snort and a growl as “Claude,” Sydney’s pet alligator emerged from his bathtub home with a splash. “Here’s your dinner, baby,” as he dumped several pounds of raw hamburger on a large tray on the living room floor. The alligator, nearly five feet long, slithered out from behind a plastic shower curtain leaving a wet trail across the well-worn linoleum floor. Sydney had found the alligator as a fledgling infant and took him home to his trailer where he fed him tadpoles and minnows until he was old enough to eat raw hamburger. As Claude ate, Sydney related his unsuccessful job hunting efforts to his reptilian friend. “Nothing again today, Claude. The tourists are staying away this season.” The alligator’s only acknowledgment was a brief “snort” as he continued to gobble down his food. For years Sydney had been in the entertainment business in south Florida, catering to the tourist trade. As a teen, he had performed as a juggler, and later became a clown and roustabout for the Bruce Babbitt Carnival and Thrill Show. Continued on page 39
By Eileen Kimbrough
It Doesn’t Matter
“Who’s Velva?” I asked. Aunt Edna was
by Eileen Kimbrough
talking to Mommy and Aunt Ellen about who
It doesn’t matter what you say. It doesn’t make them go away, the scars that came from your abuse, no matter what your lame excuse.
would be coming to my fifth birthday dinner. “It’s just next week,” she said as she pointed at the calendar on the wall. October 1945. I couldn’t read it but I knew that the 10 was my birthday. There
What drove you to such cruelty? How could you be so vain? What prompted your ferocity? Who ruled your domain?
was a big red circle around it. “Velva is your grandmother’s name,” Aunt Edna answered. “Oh, I thought it was just Grandma.”
I know you meant to hurt me. There’s nothing to explain. Hurt at such a high degree, that memory is pain.
“She has three names just like all of us. A first name, middle name, and a last name. Grandma is a title. It tells how she is related to you. Mom is the title that your mommy uses for her because she is your mommy’s mother.” It was all very confusing to me. “So what’s her other names?”
Continued on page 42
“Yeah, I’m not. C’mon, what are you doing here?” Oliver asked. “Mechanical repair,” it promptly answered. Had it given this response to the question he’d intended, Oliver would have checked the guest’s documents and let it on through into the mall’s basement, had the papers been in order. The angel had a toolbox in one hand (an exceptionally clean one) and a clipboard in the other. It strongly resembled one of the myriad of technicians and repairmen who came to work on the mall’s HVAC system, or its electrical wiring, or its acres of hard-used heavy duty plumbing. But there was something about the way it said “be not afraid”—neither defiant nor crazed, just stoic and matter-of-fact, like a truck driver getting a speeding ticket he deserved, or a dermatologist informing a patient that the skin cleansing wipes weren’t working as well as she’d hoped. That ‘something’ made Oliver look closer and realize that he could not hold this visitor’s face in his mind, not even for a moment. Even though he was wide awake and freshly caffeinated, regarding this guest took him back to first period biology in high school, when the teacher’s droning recitation of the classes and phyla and species names slid effortlessly out of his mind as his eyelids drooped lower and lower.
The Bureau of Mysterious Ways and Means by Greg Stolze
Oliver didn’t recognize the angel as such, since it was dressed in gray coveralls and a matching cap. Both were adorned with a sewn-on embroidered logo patch, “MWM” in white, with wings from the sides, on a sky-blue field. He meant to ask “Hey, what are you doing here?” but a mild cough had been dogging him for days, so he only got as far as “Hey, what are you…?” before a gristly sound rumbled out of his lungs.
“What do you mean you’re an angel?” Continued on page 43
“I’m an angel,” the angel replied, in a tone that mingled resignation and embarrassment. “Be not afraid,” it added, as an afterthought.
Mine Workers of America (UMWA). On April 1, 1922, the UMWA under John L. Lewis, began a nationwide strike. Unfortunately, Lester’s newly opened mine faced serious startup debts. As a result, he negotiated a deal with the UMWA to allow union members to continue to mine coal as long as no coal was shipped out.
The Herrin Killings By Bob Walker Interstate Highway 57, in Southern Illinois angles westward between Herrin and Johnson City before the Marion exit as the roadway passes through Williamson County. The landscape adjacent to the highway is lush and pastoral belying the bloody confrontation that occurred within a few thousand feet of this roadway ninety years ago, long before its construction. Just west of the highway, tranquil blue water marks a submerged strip mine that was the catalyst for one of the most violent episodes in Illinois history if not the entire twentieth century labor movement. Indeed, the annals of violence in Southern Illinois and in Williamson County particularly, earned the county the unenviable title “Bloody Williamson.”
By June Lester had mined some 60,000 tons of coal while shortages created by the strike doubled the price of coal. Lester would realize $250,000 in profit if he sold the coal that had been mined so he decided to renege on his agreement with the union. When the UMWA members refused to ship the coal he had mined, he fired all his union workers. Lester then recruited and brought to the mine, a number of armed “security” guards and 50 strikebreakers, called “scabs” by the union members, that had been hired by a Chicago employment agency. By the middle of June 1922, Lester shipped out sixteen railroad cars filled with coal contending the work was being performed by members of the International Brotherhood of Steam Shovel and Dredgemen (IBSSD) union. But William J. Tracy, the IBSSD representative for the district disputed this saying no IBSSD members were working at the mine. Most felt Lester had contacted the IBSSD to hide the use of non-union miners.
The Southern Illinois Coal Company owned and operated by William. J. Lester opened a new strip mine between Herrin and Marion, Illinois in September 1921. The mine operated under a union contract with the United
Continued on page 48
taste of fresh warm milk before it was separated from the cream. I moved forward as if compelled. A harsh scream pierced the quiet. After my initial terror, I realized that I had just stepped on a catâ€™s tail. The cat had been frightened as much as I had, so it darted across the room and out the large door. I was now standing before a dusty old wagon, which still wore most of its red and green coat. One dismounted wheel rested against the wall and the axle leaned on the ground. Five kittens of assorted colors climbed halfway out of the wagon bed. Their ten curious eyes all looked at me. The old cat returned and stared anxiously from under the wagonâ€™s tongue. Had I once played quietly for hours with kittens like these? Above the wagon, dark bunches of crumbling tobacco leaves hung from the rafters. In my mind, I saw the faint image of an old man cutting leaves from a tobacco plant. I could smell it. Then the image flicked away as if a light had been turned off. Five rusty hoes, three spades, two shovels, and some other, unfamiliar tools lined the walls. Above those, and poked into the eaves, were several chrome pieces, shaped almost like bicycle handlebars. Irregular pieces of thin rusted metal with holes worn through them, hung among the chrome. The smell of dust made me feel thirsty. I glanced toward an old pump, whose cement covered well was probably dry also. On my way back toward the door, I passed an orange-red tractor. Its rear wheels were taller than I was. I felt like a small girl looking up at the huge machine.
Gray By Eileen Kimbrough The small gray building had peeling white patches, the remains of a once bright coat of paint. There were two doors. The larger one, an entrance for machinery, hung askew by one rusty hinge. I entered through the small side door. It seemed still strong, though it squeaked. Inside I detected a familiar odor. I smelled it long ago but could not identify it. Perhaps it was the combination of oil on rusted metal tools and the thick dust, which covered everything in sight. Straw and dry horse manure were strewn over most of the floor. As I walked farther into the room, a picture flashed in my mind of some cows standing with their heads in stalls, chewing cuds and waving off flies with their tails. I remembered the
Continued on page 54
She caught his look.
Christmas Eve, continued
A silent glance. “Jeremy, glad you could make it.”
She blushed. Heat built.
Sam grabbed his teammate’s hand in
She bit her bottom lip.
welcome and took his coat. The two men
Sam was cut off at the knees. What that
played hockey for Chicago for the past two
woman could do to him…
seasons. Jeremy played with the same
April’s attention was turned when a
integrity and passion as Sam did and he was
neighbor began to speak to her, tiny pivot sending
the one teammate who was as close to him as
the hem of her new dress softly swishing against
his own brothers.
her legs. That singular movement brought Sam’s
When Sam was four, his father had
attention back to those legs again. Legs dressed in
taken him over to Hagger’s Pond. Dawn was
silky stockings… and heels… high heels.
just creeping up over the horizon. It was so
He really was a goner.
quiet you could hear the sunrise. He
Sam directed Jeremy to where the drinks
remembered carefully his father lacing up his
were; flung the coats he’d been holding into the
first skate. Then the second. There was a glint
closet and slammed the door shut. Time to get his
of cold steel. A frost in the air. His blade
touched the ice. And Sam knew…. He knew
“I have thoughts of stealing your wife, little
from that second that skating was what he
wanted. It was there his father taught him to
Two steps. Sam had gotten two steps
feel the ice beneath his feet, to respond to the
when Cain stopped him. Sam was three inches
ice. There was nothing he loved more… until
taller and twenty pounds heavier than Cain and
he met April.
still, Cain insisted on using that “little brother” thing.
And there she was… straight across the way - by the windows and beside the tree.
himself to the game and said nothing. “-you see, she makes the most fantastic
Oaky, they were all dressed up and Cain looked good in a suite so he’d play nice –
pastries. A bachelor like myself rarely gets such
sweet feminine delights.” “You get your share of feminine delights.”
“Over my dead body,” he
“If only I’d met her first-“
“You still would have been standing behind
“As convenient as that would be, no
me.” Daniel, the middle of the three Bolt brothers,
need to go to so much trouble.”
interrupted. “She really does have the best sweets,
Sam loved his brother but right now it
Sam.” Daniel finished popping a tart into his mouth.
was Cain’s easy arrogance that made him
Sam bristled but didn’t bite. He was only a
want to punch the man the most.
half inch taller than Daniel. More of a fair fight, but
Sam opted to glare instead.
Mother was in house tonight – and it was
Cain kept right on. “-I’d take good care
Christmas Eve after all. “Always putting your two
of her of course – see to it personally that she
cents in,” he commented instead.
was safely tucked into bed each night.”
Daniel laughed and slapped him on the
Sam took a deep breath, wiping his eyes trying to erase the flash of red he saw. It
back of his shoulder. “Bright shiny pennies they
wasn’t really a Christmas red after all. It was
are, too.” Sam’s brothers took a perverse pleasure in
more of a blood red – and preferably trickling
teasing the hell out of the “baby brother”
slowly from Cain’s nose.
– no matter how old they all got.
Oh, deep down Sam knew that Cain knew what he was doing. Pushing each other buttons started when they were still in the play pen. And it was obvious Cain was thoroughly enjoying what he was doing. Sam resigned
“Just friends. And for that crack I’m
But Sam was on to tonight’s games and
boycotting your games. Hockey is a rather Nean-
he’d play along – for awhile anyway. It was a
derthal concept anyway.”
damn good thing he loved them.
“It’s called skill, big brother,” Sam laughed
Still, it seemed the two men needing a
finally having the upper hand over the two of them,
little reminding of their own Achilles heel
“and you, my brother, have season tickets.”
tonight. “Mary has a new dress on tonight,
Daniel found the conversation amusing.
doesn’t she Daniel? That color really works on
“Personally, I’m cheering for the other side.”
her.” Mary and Daniel had been together
“All in the spirit of good clean competition,”
since college. They had a loft together down-
Sam threw over his shoulder as he walked away.
town and were everything except married.
Back to business.
Somehow it suited the power couple.
“Just keep your eyes where they Cain stepped aside and let Sam pass. He
belong,” Daniel threatened softly.
knew the look on Sam’s face. They all did. He took
“And doesn’t it seem that our old friend
a sip of wine from the glass he’d been holding
Jeremy over there is admiring Tina rather
giving things some serious thought. “He’s going
closely? A little further to the left and they’d be
after his wife again.”
under the mistletoe together.”
“Naturally,” Daniel confirmed.
“Jeremy’s no threat to me.” Cain assured him. Sam cocked a single brow. “I thought perhaps they were reliving the time the two had dated…” “They didn’t date. They were simply friends.” “Good friends.”
“It isn’t right.”
a brownie. And brownies were his second weak-
ness in life.
“How much they love each other.”
Through the swinging door and into the dining room
“Have you seen they way you are with
he found guests milling two deep around the table.
Not that he could blame them. Platters of food Cain ignored the previous comment
overflowed onto every inch. It was all the wonderful
and kept calculating. “He could be waylaid.”
food and desserts that took days to prepare so they
“He could.” Daniel agreed.
only were served at special occasions. It was
“We might have to get some help-“
exactly what Cain had been describing.
“All in the holiday spirit, of course,”
But right now Sam’s hunger was of a differ-
Daniel said more than asked.
ent nature. And only one thing – one person could
“Nothing but…” Cain agreed.
satisfy it. He slipped his way politely around and
Daniel shrugged. “It might be
between the crowds, each step carrying him closer
to his goal.
Cain tapped the brim of his wine glass
He’d gotten to the back staircase. “Have
to Daniel’s. “It might be an awful lot of fun.”
you seen Daniel?” Cain froze Sam’s movements. Sam inhaled and slowed down his
Pine. There was a sweet scent of fresh cut pine. Samuel noticed it as he moved
breathing. “Hmmm? Didn’t I just leave him with you
through the house. A wreath graced every
in the foyer?” “So you did.” Cain confirmed. “What about
window. Full, ample boughs lay across the
Mother, then. Is she about?”
hearth. A tall silver pine filled the far corner. It was all April’s touch. She always remembered the little things. Sam managed to make his way through the kitchen without stopping to pick up
“Cain, normally I’d keep playing along but
Sam kept his eyes over Cain his eyes scanning the crowd. “Mother was talking with
right now I have other things on my mind. So if
Uncle Harry last I saw.”
you’ll excuse me…” Still grinning, Sam left his brother at the
“Uncle Harry? When was that? I wasn’t aware he’d even arrived yet.”
bottom of the back stairs. He cut through the study,
Sam was, because he’d spent so long at the
a room rich in leather and dark browns and peace-
door while April was left to play hostess alone.
fully quiet. No time to really enjoy it right now
And now here they were again. Back to the
games. Sam didn’t even bother getting
Sam stepped through the opposite study
annoyed this time – it was Christmas after all.
door, looked up and there she was. A few short
The season of love thy neighbor, peace on
steps away. For all of the strength Sam possessed
earth, don’t kill your brother…
on the ice, for all the power of a hard, full stride, the woman could hip check his heart in one clean shot.
“Yes, Uncle Harry.” Sam confirmed. “I
“Have you seen Cain about?” Daniel
saw Mother talking with Uncle Harry just after
she was kissing Jeremy hello. Jeremy – who is still currently talking to Tina”
Daniel stood grounded; full view, point
blank, dead center, effectively extinguishing Sam’s
“Your girlfriend. She’s too damn good
vantage point of Amy. But that was his plan, wasn’t
for you, you know. If you let her get away, I
swear I’ll flatten you.”
Sam blinked. “What?”
“Yes. She is a marvel, isn’t she?”
“Cain?” Daniel asked again.
“Yes. Now marry her.” “In good time. Now, did you know-“ Sam just laughed. “No. I didn’t.” “Care for an eggnog then?”
kling lights from the tree Sam could see her
Sam had to hand it to his brothers. They were on their mark tonight. “Funny thing,
thoughts were for him. Thomas was nothing more
he was just looking for you.”
than an object in a public setting. Sam took five full
“We must have missed each other.”
steps in her direction. Five full steps. And then he
“Must have,” Sam confirmed. He
was stopped again.
shifted his weight; angling his head just
”How’d Jeremy do in practice today?”
enough to see over Daniel’s left shoulder.
Sam’s head dropped back. His eyes rolled.
Height had its advantages. Sam’s gaze nar-
“Oh… Katherine, not you too?”
rowed abruptly. “Do you think it would take
“Me too, what?”
more than one punch to flatten Thomas?”
Sam almost believed his cousin. She had
“Heavens, why on Earth would you
such innocence to her that sometimes it was hard
throw one at our cousin?” Daniel’s eyes
not to think of her as childlike even at twenty-three.
followed Sam’s gaze. Thomas was talking with
“Did Cain and Daniel put you up to this?”
April. Well, April was talking to Thomas –
“What this?” Katherine asked.
Thomas was leering back. Clearly their young
“Cain. Did he ask you to… ah detour me?”
cousin had had one too many drinks. This was
Katherine tipped her head. She reached
an unexpected twist, but the way Daniel saw
up, touching his brow, looking beneath his hair.
things it couldn’t be more perfect.
“Have you been hit by a puck lately?”
Daniel swung an arm companionably around Sam’s shoulders. “Relax”, he laughed. He’s a young pup, still wet behind the ears.” “He’s drooling all over my wife.” “So bring him a bib.” It was in the next second April’s gaze touched him. Calmed him. Through the twin-
down into her glass.
“Then it must have been Daniel.” Sam
He dropped a kiss to the top of her head.
hadn’t failed to notice the man took off the
“You’re my favorite female cousin, do you know
second he saw Katherine stepping up.
“Checked into the boards?” Katherine inquired, still looking for obvious signs of
“I’m your only female cousin.”
“That, too,” Sam chuckled. Men did run in the family. And a very large family at that. Two
“Okay, okay. I apologize. You’re
brothers, six cousins, and only one of them female
made for a lot of tree houses and snowball fights
“Always,” Katherine lowered her
and skinned knees. But it had also left him with
lashes. “So, how did Jeremy do?”
warm memories and a happy childhood.
“He’s over there, talking with Tina and
Growing up, they could beat the hell out of
Mother. Why don’t you go and ask him your-
each other but let anyone try to come between
them and they had to address the whole family.
“I don’t want to bother him. I was just
And heaven forbid anyone dared go near Katherine
It was the faintest hint of a blush that gave her away. There was clear interest and
Unfortunately, this had left her painfully
deliberate denial. “Why Katherine Rose Bolt, I
shy. Sam caught a glimpse of her frustration. “Just
do believe you’re smitten.”
go over and talk with him.”
“Not at all.”
“I wouldn’t know what to say.”
Sam raised an eyebrow in reaction to
Just then Sam caught sight of his wife. “I
know exactly what I’d say.”
“I’m just a little interested in how your practice was. Mere polite conversation over a cup of Christmas cheer,” she added staring
“Whatever we do, it will have to be good.”
“Really. Sometimes I wish you could see the way you look at your wife.”
“I know, damn it.”
“Too sappy?’ he questioned.
“Do you have any ideas?”
Katherine’s eyes shot back toward
Cain smiled like the devil himself. “Well, if
Jeremy and then quickly back down to the
we can’t keep him away from her, then we’ll just
glass in her hand. “If a man ever looked at me
have to keep her away from him.”
Daniel shook his head. “It won’t be easy.” Cain now grinned like that cat that just
It was a whispered confession if he’d ever heard one. “You’ll have that one day,
stole the Christmas canary. “Sure it will. You’re just
Kate. I promise.” Sam gave her one last quick
looking at it from the wrong perspective-“
kiss one her cheek. “You know what they say
Clarity rang a Christmas bell over Daniel. It
about Christmas wishes… They always come
was Hagger’s Pond, Sam’s skates and the fifth
grade all over again. “He’s going to kill you.” That said, Sam walked across the
Cain grinned from ear to ear. “I know.”
room and slipped an arm securely around his
wife. “It didn’t work.” Daniel sighed. “I know.” Cain said.
April had to guard her control. She was a riot of emotions on the inside whenever her
“We’ll have to think of something
husband was this near so she had precious little
else.” Daniel bluntly pointed out.
left. The man just did something to her. And oh, he
did it so well…
“Look at how he’s clinging to her. It’s going to be hell trying to get them apart now.” “I know, I know.”
“In good time,” was the only answer Daniel
The evening was filled with a game of
offered. “The wood?” he asked again.
cat and mouse – greatly due to Cain and Daniel, but April was enjoying it anyway. She
April stopped questioning why. Anything to
loved Sam, but the man sent a heat through
get off the subject of heat and bedrooms. “It’s out
her that couldn’t be explored with a house full
the back door, on the far right.”
of guests so staying away really was the best
plan. There was less heat in the kitchen. “If
April grabbed the tray. “Sam really needs
everyone will excuse me, I’ll go see about
to talk to those brothers of his.” She laughed to
refilling the trays.”
The cool wind that hit her as she
Tina popped in almost colliding with April.
pulled open the refrigerator was a welcome
“What’s that you said?”
relief. April grabbed a tray of cheesecake bites
“Men” April shook her head, dismissing the
and slamming the door closed found Daniel
whole thing with a laugh.
waiting on the other side.
“I’ll agree with that.” Mary chimed, strolling
“Where does Sam keep the extra
into the kitchen.
wood for the fireplace?”
“Have either of you noticed anything
“I think he just stoked the fire in the
strange about Cain and Daniel tonight?” April
living room not too long ago.” In more ways
than one, April thought. “Other than the usual,” Tina joked.
“It’s not the living room. It’s for
“Men will be boys well past the fact that
they’re grown men,” Mary added.
“The bedroom fireplace?” She didn’t need to be reminded of the bedroom right now. “Whatever for?”
Just then Cain crashed though the door. He was clearly a man on a mission.
Tina looked right at April. “Well, it just so
“April, do you happen to have more of those
happens that the reason tonight is you.”
chocolate dipped strawberries?”
April’s cheeks flushed a bright red. “Has it
“Mmmm. My favorite. I’ve been
been that obvious?”
craving them like crazy lately, too. There’s a
“Afraid so,” Tina apologized.
bowl in the fridge. But I’d be happy to refill the
“So what’s the part you’re not saying?”
tray for you if you just bring it in here-”
“No need,” he smiled, swiping the
“They’re going to kidnap April.”
bowl and offering April another chance at a April admitted that nestling in the window
cool breeze in one swift stroke. “Thanks.”
seat of the master bedroom watching the snow fall
The second Cain was out of earshot
was a pleasant way to spend her time in captivity.
April grabbed Tina’s arm and called to Mary.
Her brothers-in-law had kidnapped her to
“Okay. Now give over,” she ordered.
her room where she found candles lit, soft music “Are you sure you want to hear?”
playing and a tray of food laid out before the fire-
“We’re sure, we’re sure,” Mary threw
place. They informed her that they truly did not
back at her.
wish to lock her in so if she would be so kind as to
Tina’s reluctance lasted about a blink.
wait there until her husband found her they would
“I’m not supposed to say anything…”
be most appreciative.
“Tina!” the other two warned. “Okay, okay. See Daniel and Cain have it in for Sam tonight.” “Why?” April asked. “Since when do those three need a reason to play practical jokes on each other?”
few of the guests still milling about downstairs.
It took him exactly seven minutes. April knew this because she had felt like she
Both of them knew that Daniel and Cain would be
had been holding her breath the whole time.
there to see the stragglers off before locking up and
going home. “It really was a perfect night for Santa. Kids
Sam locked the door behind him when
everywhere are dreaming of Santa.”
he entered. The bolt clicked with a solid thud.
“And so will ours,” came a whispered reply.
The look on his face gave no mistake as to
Sam’s heart stilled. He watched his wife’s
what his intentions were. April tried to
reflection the pane of the window. “When?”
remember to breathe.
Sam walked over to her and paused, knowing that now they had all of the time in
the world. April did the most natural thing in
the world to her. She leaned in and rested
The breath he’d been holding came out in
against his warm strength. There, in the
a whoosh. April turned to look up at him. “There is
silence of the night, they watched the snow
no Christmas gift I can give you to compare.”
dance in the air before falling slowly down.
April smiled touching her stomach. “There
“I’m sorry my brothers dragged you
is nothing more I could want.”
through all of this.”
“I love you April Bolt.
“It’s their way of showing they care.”
April smiled, love clearly in her eyes.
Sam nodded, happy to have her un-
“Merry Christmas, Sam.”
And with that, Sam did what he’d wanted to
“Cain showed me a ring he’s giving to
do all night. He kissed his wife soundly.
“It’s about time he’s getting around to that.” The quiet was so still despite the last
4, which required a skills/knowledge test plus a 15
Confession: I Kept Dancing, continued
minute solo. I was happy for them, but resolved I That did it. I knew if I stayed in that
would never do a solo, so level 4 was never going
toxic environment, I would never feel better.
to happen for me.
So I quit! Luckily, I found my current job within
Time passed. In 2011, after about four
a few days and started work there two weeks
years of dance training with Raksanna, she started
later. And like magic, the panic attacks
pushing me to try for level 4. I felt I could handle
stopped – I felt great!
the challenge. I worked very hard to get my chore-
That year was filled with other events
ography the way I wanted it. The thought of
that made me take stock in my life. A brother
dancing a solo in front of my peers made me nerv-
died in January. My sister almost died of a
ous, but I kept telling myself that I was there to en-
brain aneurysm in June. Another brother died
tertain, and to make them happy. When the mo-
in August. My youngest went away to college.
ment came for me to do my solo, I wasn’t nervous.
I decided I needed to start doing things to
I did my best and had fun. The result, success!
make sure I was healthy so I could live a long
Raksanna started a standing chart and I
life, and started to put myself first more often.
was put in the second row, which surprised and
I asked myself, “What is it that makes me truly
pleased me. With the standing chart, Raksanna
happy, that gives me joy?” That was easy –
makes a statement to us about our skill and talent –
DANCING! On a friend’s recommendation, I
we literally know where we stand. This, and the
found Raksanna and belly dance!
successful solo, marked a turning point in my atti-
At first, I was very self-conscious; I
tude about myself and my abilities. When
hadn’t danced in any fashion, except an
Raksanna approached me the next time around
occasional slow dance at a wedding, in many
about going to the first row, I was stunned. I was
years. I was 53, overweight and my body
so excited and wanted to say yes so bad …but at
didn’t move the way it used to, but it felt won-
that point, I was dealing with a serious health
derful to be moving to music again.
condition that had come on very suddenly.
I continued to study dance through the
years and although I had doubts about my
When I discovered the lump, it had ap-
abilities, Raksanna gave me the same level of
peared suddenly and it was very large. I guessed
attention she did to dancers whom I consid-
that it was not cancer but a cyst or something else
ered had more potential. She prodded me to
non-threatening. During the exam, the doctor told
move up to level 2, then 3. I was always skep-
me that if the lump was soft and squishy, it would
tical, but then realized I wanted the challenge.
probably be benign, but since it was very firm it
I watched other dancers test into level
troubled her. The radiologist didn’t like the looks 22 22
inclined to play out all the possible scenarios in my of the mammogram and sent me for an ultra-
mind. While we waited for the results of the scan, I
sound-guided biopsy. Two days later, with my
put it out of my mind until the day we went to see
sister in tow, I went for the results. Based on
the way I was rushed from one test to the
In the beginning of this whole journey, my
next, I pretty much accepted that the lump
world was all about cancer – educating myself
probably was cancer. When the doctor uttered
about my diagnosis, researching doctors, getting
the words, I wasn’t surprised. Now I knew
second opinions, deciding which treatment to go
exactly what it was – infiltrating ductal carcino-
with, going to workshops and so on. It was
ma in the breast– stage 2. It was a very ag-
exhausting, but necessary.
gressive form and had invaded the lymph
I announced to my family that I wasn’t
going to let cancer take over my world. It ranked at My attitude was “ok, what do we do to
the top of things that I needed to take care of, but I
take care of this?” After getting the biopsy
had other things to do and there was fun to be had.
results, I was sent for an MRI. When I came
So they never fawned over me, but they were there
out of the MRI, I was told an appointment had
at a moment’s notice if I needed them. However,
been made for me to see a surgeon that after-
they were so supportive of my outlook, and the day
noon. One technician commented that I was
-to-day seemed so normal that there were a couple
handling everything so well, I was so calm. I
of times when I had to remind the two guys
explained that there was no point in getting
(husband and son) that I had cancer, and would
myself all worked up. I just have to stay in the
somebody just baby me a little? And of course,
now, take each step as it comes and not worry
they were quite willing to accommodate.
about all the terrible things that might happen.
My daughters and my sister are all like me
That’s how I dealt with it every step of
– “just tell me what you need, let’s do this!”
the way. I also really believed that I was going
They’ve helped me so much: talking things out,
to get through it just fine. I was not too
going with me to appointments, cooking for me (my
worried or concerned. I never said why me? I
sister-in-law was amazing!), always encouraging
was never afraid. Well, that’s not exactly true.
and positive. This whole experience with cancer
Until I got the results of the full body CT scan,
has given me such an appreciation for all the
I did feel like I was walking on eggshells,
women in my life.
because of the concern that the cancer may have spread. I did breathe a big sigh of relief when they told me it was clear! I never did the “what if”? I am not
increasing energy, increasing muscle, protecting the heart, decreasing neuropathy (numbness or
When I was diagnosed, I did my research on clinics that take an integrative
tingling in feet and hands) and the inability to taste
approach to treatment and settled on the
anything. For radiation, I took different supple-
Block Center in Skokie, founded by Dr. Keith
ments to help increase stamina, prevent blistering,
Block who wrote Life Over Cancer. My
and protect the bone marrow, immune system and
oncologist is at Edward Hospital, and she and
the tissue in the area of treatment. The end result was that all my doctors
the Block Center staff collaborated on my
were very pleased and surprised at my successful
treatment, which has worked well.
However, it wasn’t that easy in the
The surgeon and oncologist were very
beginning. At first, my oncologist gave me the standard recommendation to take a multivita-
surprised with the pathology report from the
min every day and no other supplements. I
lumpectomy. The chemotherapy had shrunk the
brought the subject up a few times. When I
tumor down to the point where there was no cancer
finally explained to her that I rely heavily on
evident anywhere in the breast tissue or the 23
supplements to keep me limber for dancing, to
lymph nodes that were removed! I didn’t suffer
keep me from getting colds and flu, and above
from nausea or fatigue, and there was only a small
all, to keep depression and anxiety at bay, she
area on the collarbone that blistered during the
understood. She expressed to me that she
radiation. Everyone was surprised that I kept work-
didn’t want to get in the way of a tried and true
ing through it all, never missing work except to go
regimen, so she gave me the green light. She
to appointments. AND, I’m a dancer and I kept
was intrigued by the Block Center’s methods
dancing! Dancing was key. If I didn’t have belly
and agreed that, as long as I kept her informed about the supplements I was taking,
dance, I imagine I would have slipped into depres-
she was fine with it.
sion and the whole experience would have been
The Block Center stressed the
completely different. Dance makes me happy. It’s
importance of a vegan diet, or as close as you
wonderful to be so physical, and to feel strong and
can get to it, because meat and dairy products
beautiful. It gives me something to focus on every
are highly inflammatory. Sugar was also out,
day and keeps my mind working. Being with all the
because cancer thrives on it. They prescribed
fun, crazy, fantastic women I dance with gives me
supplements that help increase the effective-
something to look forward to. I’m so lucky!!
ness of the chemo as well as reduce the side effects: keeping inflammation down,
Zerlina, the emotions I didn’t know I was feeling suddenly flooded out and tears filled my eyes.
One day, at the beginning of my treatment, I looked through my calendar to see
Then, almost as quickly as the tears came, they
when the chemo dates would fall. I realized
were gone …because Raksanna and Zerlina
that there was a very important workshop I
hugged me and said words of encouragement. I
wanted to attend. Mahmoud Reda, one of the
was so lucky to be there. That afternoon, I just sat
icons in the belly dance world, was teaching a
and watched. It was a joy to watch Reda teach –
two-day long workshop with a show in San
what a beautiful man.
Diego in a couple of months. I was already
Zerlina and I were scheduled to perform a
registered and in the show line up. My first
dance in the show that evening. I just had to do it!
thought was that I wouldn’t be able to go. I
I didn’t want to let Zerlina down. Plus, my friend
hadn’t bought my plane ticket, so I considered
Pam was there to see me dance for the first time.
cancelling. But to learn from Reda was a
Not only did I have to dance, I had to do well.
chance in a lifetime and at his age, it was
Adrenaline took over and I danced. It was fun and I
unlikely he would return to the US. This
was pretty pleased with my performance! I spent Sunday at the workshop, sitting and
conversation in my head didn’t take very long. I thought “I’m not going to start letting cancer
watching. But this time, I gave myself permission
stop me from doing anything I want! That’s a
to just sit and not be so hard on myself. The week-
bad habit to get into.” I really had no idea how
end was wonderful. I learned new things, met new
I was going to feel on the days of the trip.
friends and had so much fun with Raksanna and
Even if I can’t dance I can learn by watching!
Zerlina. In the beginning of my treatment, the will to
I bought my plane ticket and there was no turning back. As it turned out, I really
dance won out over the fatigue. I was slowing
felt the fatigue that weekend. The first day, I
down and getting out of breath, but it was still fun.
started with the warm-up, but I had to sit down
As time went on, the fatigue lasted longer. Just
after about five minutes. During the morning, I
walking up the stairs, or to my car, wiped me out.
danced a few minutes and sat down for 15
At dance, I had to slow down, modify the move-
minutes. It was very hard. In addition to the
ments, rest often. Eventually, I rested more than I
fatigue, my brain was foggy so it was hard to
was danced, and finally, with the Zar dance which
follow the choreography, especially with sitting
was very hard, I just had to sit and watch and try to
out so often.
When we went to lunch and I said, “I can’t keep up,” out loud to Raksanna and
that I made it through. I am so filled with joy to be alive and strong and healthy, and to have so many
But taking notes was difficult because
good friends and such a wonderful family.
I couldn’t think straight, so I gave up and just
I guess the newest part of my outlook is
that now I cherish my body like I never did before.
The days of watching the Zar practices were the hardest. I felt like an out-
As I got older, I started to appreciate that I’m not
sider, not because of anything the other
going to live forever and I have to work harder to
dancers did – they were always great – but
take care of myself. Now that I almost lost it all, I
because I couldn’t join in. I daydreamed about
really understand how important it is. I’ve recently
being strong again and thinking clearly again.
made a pact with my body (I talk to it!). I’ve
I was getting impatient. Fortunately that didn’t
promised to do my best to take care of her, feed
last long, because I did get stronger!
her good foods, drink lots of water, take my vitamins, keep the blood pumping and oxygen flowing
After months of treatment, I am happy
by exercising, and give her love and laughter.
to say that now I feel great! It feels good to
And in return hopefully I’ll be able to keep
dance with energy, to climb the stairs and to
dancing, in some fashion, until I die.
walk the dogs! My current outlook and philosophy about dance, nutrition, family, friends, and life have really developed over the
last four to five years -- walking away from an abusive job, almost losing my sister, watching two brothers die from cancer and seeing my baby girl walk out the door to start her own adventure. When I look back, I realize the irony just about the time I was really appreciating all I had, loving life, loving dance, becoming closer to my siblings – I got cancer. Now, I feel the same, but different. I’m not surprised that I beat cancer, but I was also so lucky. Sometimes I wonder, is my luck going to run out? So yeah, I kicked cancer’s ass, but at the same time, I am humbled. I am so lucky
distanced myself from my Dad. Dad on the other hand, was very resourceful in these situations. He turned to me and started shaking his finger at me, clearly implicating me in front of the whole congregation. Father T. was waiting for us outside the church. Sentence: One Sunday for disrupting mass. I couldn’t wait to discuss the situation in the car. “I can’t believe you pinned it on me.” “I’m sorry Eric, I panicked. I don’t want to be listed under the Boot Camp column in next Sunday’s bulletin.” “Well, what makes you think I want to be there?” “I know, but it’s easier if you’re a kid. I’ll make it up to you, I promise. Can’t you take the blame, just this once?”
The Sunday Boot Camp Club, continued Maia’s poor choice in clothing landed her here in the first place. She had shown up to last Saturdays 5:15 wearing a white outfit covered with a pattern of hands inappropriately positioned on the top and bottom. Father T. had just about dropped his hosts when she had gone up for communion. Maia attempted to leave after receiving communion, but she was cut off by a vigilant usher who read the distress signals coming from Father T. Sentence: Two Sundays, one for inappropriate dress and another for leaving before mass officially ended. Nathan Peters was next. He was in the eighth grade with me though I generally avoided contact with him. While in the communion line, he had been picking his nose. A loud warning to the Eucharistic Minister had been too late. Father T. cornered Nathan in the Narthex. Sentence: One Sunday for disrespect for Holy Eucharist. Emily Rogers stood next to me. She was a grade ahead of me in school, and about two grades below me in maturity. She had been purposely singing the hymns off key while hidden behind the chorus group. Several times during the mass, Father T. had studied the group to determine who was breaking up the harmony. Emily too immersed in her project and enthusiastically waving her hands along with one of the songs, accidentally continued on with an extra verse. She managed to out maneuver three ushers trying to catch her, but she was nabbed later in the communion line. Sentence: two Sundays, one for disrupting the choir and another for fleeing and eluding the ushers while church was in progress. Out of all of them, I was the only innocent one. My only sin had been attending 5:15 mass with my Dad. We always sat at the left hand side of the altar, in the front pew. As was customary at the end of mass, we received a blessing from Father T. There was always a moment of silence that followed the blessing. During that short period, Dad had the unfortunate luck to let loose a loud unexpected belch. I would never consider myself being quick on my feet or I would have immediately
It was obvious, that Dad wasn’t going to own up to his crime. Better to milk it for as much as I could. But, man oh man, Sunday Boot Camp. This was going to cost him. “Well, I’ll tell you what. You know how I’ve been saving up for that video game. I think I can stomach Boot Camp if you buy it for me.” “Hmm… I guess I could swing that as long as you kept it a secret.” “I’d also like an extra half hour of video games each day.” Dad winced at that one. I knew that was the harder of the two. It wasn’t an issue with him. I don’t think he cared whether I played them all day long. The problem was with Mom, who thought that I already did. “I can’t promise you on that one, but I’ll talk to your mother. Maybe if you’re willing to document your time, we might be able to sway your mother. Fair enough?” “Sure.” Everything was fine until we sat down for Saturday dinner with the “Great Negator” . . . Mom. Dad opened with a very subtle statement. “We had a little problem at church today.” “Oh.” Mom’s ears perked up, not a good sign.
Mom was very strict on proper behavior in church. Dad tended to be less tight as long as you didn’t disrupt the mass. When I was younger, I always went with Dad because I drove Mom crazy. Later, when I became better behaved, I still went with my father as a matter of habit Also, I preferred going to Saturday 5:15. That gave me the whole Sunday to goof off instead of having my play time interrupted by church. “Eric has to go to Sunday Boot Camp next week.” Mom’s eyes widened. We really had her attention now. “That’s just great Eric! What’d you do to earn this great honor?” My spokesman, Dad, answered for me. “He was given boot camp because of a loud belch during the final blessing.” I was amazed how my Dad informed my mother without lying. 15 years of marriage had made him an expert at it. Sometimes he got caught and had to fess up, but those were rare instances. My Dad continued. “It was an accident and the timing was unfortunate.” “Honestly Eric, I’m so disappointed. How rude can you get?” “It could have just as easily been Dad,” I returned. Dad turned red. Mom looked at Dad. “You know, you’re partly to blame for this. You’re always belching. Very rarely do you make any attempt to hold it in. I’m surprised it wasn’t you instead of Eric. You’re not a very good role model. I hope you’re proud of our son.” Dad gazed down at his plate. He was bordering on a lie by responding to Mom’s last statements. Carefully he returned. “Yes, I’m proud of him. There was a disturbance in church and Eric has accepted the consequences for it. It’s water over the dam now.” Mom wasn’t satisfied. “Well the church has done their part, and I plan to do
mine. Eric, how much have you saved up for that video game?” This was not good. I didn’t believe her intentions were to make up the balance. “Uh, around twelve dollars. Why do you ask?” “Because you’re going to deposit the whole amount in the collection basket next Sunday.” “Oh, man.” I tried to sound disappointed. It was an immense consolation that Dad was going to get me the game anyway. “And…,” Mom’s continuation concerned me. “You’ll not play video games for the next three months.” “As a matter of fact….” Mom got up and went into the family room. She rummaged through the entertainment center and came back carrying all of my games, inclusive of the game player. “I’ll put these away for safe keeping.” I glared over at Dad. I lost on this deal, big time. Dad looked down at his plate again. Sunday Boot Camp was a misnomer. It actually started on Saturday. Talk about a way to mess up a weekend of play. We had to meet at church at 4:00 for confession. After going to confession, we were remanded to the custody of our parents until 6:30 the next morning when we had to meet at Ms. Clunc’s house for breakfast and further penance. Luckily there weren’t many in line for confession. During the second grade, we had gone to confession in droves. Right after communion, we all instantly became saints and rarely went after. I had gone a few times with my parents. My father was in and out within a minute or so. My mom was in for what seemed to be hours. That always bothered me, as I had supposed Mom to be the more virtuous of the two. I can safely admit that I was a good kid with a severe conscience. I was an only child. If I would have had younger siblings, I’d have had more opportunity for sins. I usually had to make them up. I had gotten in trouble the last time I went.
I groaned and then said, “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. . .” I hesitated. “Well. I don’t have all day, young man. You know we have a crowd in the Boot Camp today. Lord knows, I’ll be lucky if I have enough time to listen to all of Maia’s sins.” “I kissed a girl.” “What?” yelled Father T. “Jeez, Father, could you keep it down. My parents are out there. It’s bad enough that I have to tell you.” “Who was it? Was it Mary Shepard?” “Uh no.” “Sybil Smith. That girl I tell you. She’s going to be trouble.” “No it wasn’t her either.” “Samantha Jones. It’s got to be her. She’s been making her way to all the eighth grade boys.” “No, it wasn’t her either. Listen Father, I’m not going to tell you. I’d rather she confessed herself.” Father T. put on his bargaining hat and softened his tone. “How about if I was to offer you leniency? Let’s say I let you off with a couple of ‘Our Fathers’ and maybe two or three “Hail Mary’s”. “No, I’m sorry Father, I just couldn’t.” “Could you at least tell me, was she Catholic?” “Uh, I don’t know. I didn’t really think to ask first.” “Indeed! Well then I have no choice. . . .” I got a pretty stiff penance. Mom’s book of obscure Catholic prayers would get a real workout today. But I didn’t mind. Father T. had given me three hot new prospects.
“Forgive me father for I have sinned. My last confession was two weeks ago.” Father T. peered as best he could through the screen. “Eric is that you?” “ Uh, Father, I thought you weren’t supposed to see who I was.” “Never mind that. I don’t remember seeing you here two weeks ago.” “I know. That’s my sin. I just lied. My last confession was almost a year ago.” Father T. wasn’t amused. I not only received a whole slew of “Our Fathers”, and “Hail Mary’s”, but several other prayers that I wasn’t familiar with. Father T. was also kind enough to have a conference with Mom and Dad regarding my behavior. Needless to say, I started going on a regular basis after that. However, I don’t know whether the Catholic Church scored on this one. Whereas before, I had been sin free, now I made sure I had committed at least one sin for Saturday Confession. I wasn’t looking forward to confession today. I’d really committed a dandy. I kissed Sally Jorgensen at a birthday party. They had this bottle. We were supposed to be dropping clothespins into it, but Andy Garvey found another use for it. I’d been lucky enough to get in one turn before Mr. Garvey came down. He must have been suspicious because he stayed downstairs for the rest of the party. All interest was quickly lost in the bottle. Nonetheless, this was my sin for the week. The party had been three weeks ago. I wondered whether there was a statute of limitations for sins in the Catholic Church. I really didn’t want to admit this one. I could just imagine what Father T. was going to say. He’d probably give me life in Sunday Boot Camp. I swallowed hard and entered the confessional. Maybe I’d get lucky and he wouldn’t recognize me. Father T. opened the screen. “Oh, hello Eric, I’ve been expecting you.”
had a generic answer such as a fireman or policeman. They’d usually said, “Oh that’s nice”, to pretty much every response. I decided to have a little fun with this one. “I’d like to become a nuclear physicist.” “Really?” responded Ms. Clunc. “Yes, I’ve been messing around with some plutonium in my spare time. It kind of makes my mom nervous, but since I haven’t blown up anything, Dad’s okay with it.” It went right over Ms. Clunc’s head. “Oh that’s nice.” She turned to Emily. “Emily what would you like to be when you grow up?” “I’d like to be a banana.” Emily, Maia, and Nate broke out laughing. Ms. Clunc didn’t see the humor. “That’s real funny, Emily.” She pointed at Maia. “Look at Maia. She didn’t plan for her later years. Did you Maia?” Maia nodded. Ms. Clunc continued, “I remember her mother was always complaining that all Maia wanted to do was sit on the couch and watch TV. She rarely ever did her homework. Isn’t that right Maia?” Maia nodded. “And when she got older, she wasted all of her time chasing after every boy in town. All of those boyfriends and not one of them married you. Isn’t that right, Maia?” Maia nodded. “Maia, as a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?” “An astronaut,” she softly answered.
We all showed up at the crack of dawn at Ms. Clunc’s. She met us at the door and invited us in to a breakfast buffet of oatmeal and toast. “Do you have any Lucky Charms,” asked Nate? “I’d like some Count Chocula,” demanded Emily. Maia collapsed on the couch and fell asleep. I suggest you eat. You’re going to need your energy for the yard work before mass. However, on a positive note, I do have raisins and brown sugar to go with the oatmeal and jelly for the toast.” Nate wasn’t satisfied and pressed on. No, now cut it out. Emily, go wake up Maia would you?” A groggy Maia came to the table. “I’ll just have some hot coffee. You wouldn’t believe the night I had last night. . .” Ms. Clunc interceded, “Uh, save it for next week’s confession Maia. I don’t believe in coffee. It’s the Devil’s drink. I do have some tea though.” “Uh okay. I’ll take some tea then. Can you make me some flapjacks or maybe a Denver Omelet?” “Maia, it’s either oatmeal or toast.” “Uh, toast then.” I had already served up oatmeal for myself. I usually had it every day anyway. I didn’t much care for it, but it sure gave me a lot of energy throughout the day. Besides that, directly after breakfast, we had yard work. Ms. Clunc had three dogs. Mowing her lawn was Russian roulette with every swath taken across the yard avoiding the lawn torpedoes. It was better to have a weighty bland breakfast that was more likely to stay down. Ms. Clunc tried to make pleasant conversation. “Well Eric. What do you want to be when you grow up?” I hated when people asked that. I mean how was I supposed to know? I usually
I don’t know if she had the right stuff, but I have no doubt that she took up a lot of space in school. “An astronaut! That would have been something! Didn’t make it though, huh?” Maia shook her head.
the hedge shears.” “What are head shears?” “It’s hedge shears. They look like big scissors.” After Maia left, Ms. Clunc turned to me. Her eyes narrowed. “Father T. warned me about you. You’re a real Don Juan Casanova, aren’t you?” What had Father T. said? Wasn’t that against the rules? I couldn’t believe what she was saying. After all, I was the kissee, not the kisser. “Ms. Clunc, I, uh . . . “You leave Maia alone. She’s not very bright and I don’t want you taking advantage of her.” Ms. Clunc shook her finger at me. “I’m going to be watching you closely, young man. You get out of line once. . .” She put her hand into a fist. “I’ll crush you like a clod of dirt.” I didn’t see the logic of arguing with her. I no more wanted to have a relationship with Maia then I would with a rock. Ms. Clunc assigned Maia to the hedge trimming detail, while she supervised me. This wasn’t a wise idea. Maia started on one of the hedges, but the bush was too woody and tough to cut. She found easier trimmings with Ms. Clunc’s petunias, and proceeded to wipe out the flowers along the fence. I went about the business of mowing the lawn. Ms. Clunc’s lawnmower must have been made around the time of the Model T. I was surprised that there wasn’t a hand crank versus a pull start. I primed and pulled several times, yet I couldn’t get that baby to fire up. Ms. Clunc’s patience finally gave out and she stormed outside. She pushed me aside, and gave one mighty yank. It started up immediately. “Milquetoast,” she muttered while walking back to her post by the living room window. It seemed to take forever in the front yard. The mower only mowed a 12” swath, and I had to tiptoe to avoid stepping on numerous piles left by her dogs.
“Now look at her. She still lives with her mother and works at the cosmetic counter at the drug store for minimum wage. Are you happy Maia?” Maia shook her head. Ms. Clunc pounded her point home. “Emily, is this the life you want to lead?” “I think I’ll stick with the banana.” Emily and Nate laughed again. Ms. Clunc gave up and ate the remainder of breakfast in silence. Maia turned her head away from Ms. Clunc. Smears of jelly surrounded her mouth, obviously a very sloppy eater, which might have had a bearing on her spinsterhood. I would have laughed had it not been for the tears that were forming in the corner of her eyes. Silently, I picked up my napkin and wiped the jelly away from her face. She managed a slight smile. I looked down and pretended to be interested in my oatmeal, conscious that she was still staring at me. I finished my breakfast and got up, intentionally avoiding eye contact with her, while I put my dish on the counter. Later, Maia cornered me in the yard as I pulled the lawnmower out of the garage. “You’re very nice.” I didn’t have a good feeling about this situation. “Uh, thanks.” “How old are you?” “I’m thirteen.” She studied me closer. “You’re very cute. Hmm… Maybe in five years. . .” I didn’t like where this was going. “I’ll be sure to save myself for you,” I replied sarcastically. “Oh you would!” Maia hugged me and then. . . Ugh, she kissed me on my forehead. Ms. Clunc came running out. “You there, stop that. None of that! None of that!” Ms. Clunc glared at Maia. Maia was going to get it now. “Go in the garage and get
church bulletin that day. Mel Funk the church greeter and usher met us at the door. “Greetings Sunday Boot Camp Club. I want you all to know that even though you have behaved terribly, we still love you. Also, I want you to know that we’ll be praying that you’ll see the errors of your ways and become upstanding members of the congregation again.”
Later, when I made it into the backyard, Ms. Clunc moved to the kitchen window for further surveillance. Unfortunately, the people that she should have been supervising were unsupervised. Maia managed to snip off all of the flowers in the backyard and now moved to the flowers in the front. Nate and Emily were supposed to be raking up the grass into bags. Instead they were throwing grass on each other or jumping into piles. Finally, they raked the clippings into the neighbor’s yard and amused themselves by catapulting yard debris on their rakes into the street and against Ms. Clunc’s house.
“Thanks Mr. Funk,” I replied sarcastically. “That means a lot coming from you.” “That’s Usher Funk to you young man.” He pointed to his usher tag. “You’ve obviously forgotten that my position demands respect. You better not forget it if you want to get out of this club.” I had forgotten that the ushers at St. Pete’s were a breed apart from everyone else. The title wasn’t contained to church grounds. Many of them demanded the title outside on the street that is with the exception of Mr. Flusher. (He didn’t even like being called Usher Flusher in church.) We filed into the pew with Ms. Clunc and me taking the seats closest to the aisle. Maia and Emily were staged as far away from me as possible. We still had several minutes before mass started. The organist was practicing a new song. Already, I was experiencing the “Mass Mind-Drift”. I picked up my legal pad and pen. My name was already at the top. I figured now was as good as any other time to document how and where I drifted off.
We were all dismissed after yard work to return home to get cleaned up for 12:00 Mass. I didn’t particularly care for this time slot. It interrupted a Sunday of play, and it always seemed to last longer than other masses. On top of it, Father T. saved this mass for First Communion, Baptisms, or new Catholic inductees, which made the mass even longer. We stood in line. Ms. Clunc had me quarantined from the two girls. She checked both Nate and I to ensure that we were wearing real ties. She had warned us beforehand that the clip-ons would not pass muster. Each of us had a legal size tablet complete with pen to take notes during the homily. We had to have a thorough report in order to pass Sunday Boot Camp. I didn’t mind taking notes as I was going to conduct an experiment. I found that my mind always wandered during mass. I hoped to find out why this happened by taking detailed notes of my thoughts along with the notes of the homily. Ms. Clunc marched us the three blocks to the church from her house. St. Pete’s did everything to keep Sunday Boot Camp Clubbers in the spotlight. We had reserved seats in the very front center pew. We would all get to take up gifts during the offertory. We would also be mentioned in the petitions along with the aforementioned
I noticed that Ms. Clunc, although shorter than me when standing, is taller than me sitting down. I wonder why that is. I ordinarily don’t sing in church because I’m self-conscious of my voice. Today, however, I don’t mind. I’ll do anything to drown out the awful sounds coming from Ms. Clunc.
My writing was interrupted by the lead singer over the microphone. “Good afternoon. For those of you who are new to our church, I would like to extend a hearty welcome. Please rise and greet each other.” We all rose and I turned to Ms. Clunc to shake her hand. Ms. Clunc refused to shake my hand. She kind of coughed in reply. I avoided shaking Nate’s hand because I had observed him picking his nose earlier. Besides that he was in the process of a boisterous hand shaking session with Emily. And Maia, there was no way I was going to touch her. I turned around to the people in the pew behind us to find myself facing the notorious Samantha Jones. I know I blushed something awful and she smiled and took my hand. Her parents pretended to be looking the opposite direction, a common occurrence during this time to avoid contact with the less desirable. I’m sure that my membership in the Sunday Boot Camp Club put me high up on the “do not shake hand” list. I wasn’t concerned. I would enjoy catching them off guard during the sign of peace, and make eye contact immediately so that they would have to shake my hand. Plus I wouldn’t mind holding Samantha’s hands again. I looked off to the side and I could see my mother and father in the front side pew. My father was there for silent consolation and my mother was there to ensure that I would only go for one session. The music started and Ms. Clunc smacked my shoulder. I faced forward again. I could feel a slight breeze blowing across my neck. I looked back over at the door. The door was closed. I turned around. Again, I felt a breeze across my neck. I turned around and Samantha was smiling at me. It was her blowing on my neck. I smiled back. Her parents glared at me. Ms. Clunc smacked me on the shoulders, and I turned
around. “Hot dog,” I thought, “I must be next in line for, ‘Sammy the Lips’ Jones!” Ms. Clunc’s singing is much to be desired. She has a high nasal voice which is very unpleasant. It’s almost kind of hypocritical to punish Emily for what Ms. Clunc does every Sunday. I wonder if Ms. Clunc’s mother got mad at her for spending the money for singing lessons on candy and ice cream. Hah. Hah. Ms. Clunc has unwisely chosen to spend all of her efforts micro-supervising me at the expense of the other members of the Sunday Boot Camp Club. Nate is slouching with his head hanging on the front of the pew, picking his nose furiously. Emily is tying four prayer books together by their book mark ribbons. Maia is sitting down and sleeping. Ms. Clunc has been critical of my kneeling. She has smacked me several times on the shoulder to straighten up my back when kneeling. I have been informed that my buttocks should not touch the seat when kneeling. I doubt with her physique that she could do the same, but I decide it would not be wise to bring that issue up. Ms. Clunc was considerate enough to go through my prayer book before mass and put “post it notes” as bookmarks by all the pages of the songs. “If you’re looking at the songs and singing,” she said, “you won’t be distracted by looking at the girls in church, especially during communion.” I ordinarily don’t sing in church because I’m self-conscious of my voice. Today, however, I don’t mind. I’ll do anything to drown out the awful sounds coming from Ms. Clunc.
Ms. Clunc smacked me on the shoulder again. I think I have a bruise forming in that spot. I don’t blame her though. Father T’s homily was over. We were supposed to be standing and I was still sitting. Everyone was clapping. (Later I found out that Nate had clapped after Father T. had finished his sermon regarding the deficits in the collection basket. As was typical with everything in church, everyone followed along without thinking and clapped also.) It took several minutes for Father T. to quiet the church. I wasn’t looking forward to the offertory because of the dreaded petitions. . . . “Please pray that the members of the Sunday Boot Camp Club will learn to celebrate the mass in the proper manner.” Ring, ring, ring.” Everyone looked around in the congregation. There was a dead silence except for the continuous ringing of the phone. Of all places it seemed to be coming from our pew. I looked over at Ms. Clunc. She glared back. I doubt that she owned a cell phone. Suddenly, Maia’s ears perked up, and she looked into her purse and pulled out her phone. “Ms. Clunc had steam coming out of her ears. Maia smiled as she looked at the caller ID on the cell phone. “Oh, hi. . . . Yes, I had a great time last night. . . . Oh, no, I don’t mind that you’re married. . . .” Ms. Clunc reached over and closed the phone with a loud snap. If Maia wasn’t exiled to the more economical Doubting Thomas, surely she would be serving out the remainder of her life in Sunday Boot Camp. Father T. stared at Maia. Maia stared dumbly back. I don’t think she got it. Father T. noted, “You know, cell phones are supposed to be turned off in church.” “But it was an important call,” defended Maia. “We’ll talk after church,” returned Father T.
When she wasn’t looking I repositioned her post it notes in her book. It slowed her down a little bit looking for the correct song. She only sang half of the last song. I think she’s getting suspicious. She’s rechecking all of her bookmarks. The time has come. Father T. launches into his homily and I pulled out the pad again. The notes I take here will make or break whether I get out of boot camp today. Father T. begins, “Today, I’d like to discuss the matter of our collection basket. As you know, the cost of forgiving sin and providing salvation has gone up. However, many of you still give what you were giving ten years ago. And it just isn’t cutting it. You know who you are, and so do we. Now, I hope we don’t have to go to some sort of tithe system, such as our wayward Protestant brethren. But if the amounts don’t pick up, we’ll be forced to do the same. And if you don’t like it, you can go to Doubting Thomas instead. And you know that’s way on the other side of town in a bad neighborhood. They don’t have central heating and air conditioning like we do. Oh, and just because you’re out of town on vacation, you still have an obligation to . ..” Father T. droned on and on. . . I think I might get more out of mass if Father T. didn’t talk in such a monotone. I heard that he’s going to be giving the eighth grade talk on sex education in our catechism class. I don’t understand why a priest would be giving this talk. I mean, you’d think they would bring in someone with a lot of experience like a movie star, or maybe even a politician. The only reason I can think for him to give the talk is to promote abstinence. They want to discourage us as much as possible from wanting sex. With Father T’s voice and demeanor, it’s sure to take the excitement out of it.
We carried the gifts up to Father T., Deacon Ralph, and the two altar persons (altar boy not being politically correct). Father T. wasn’t too hip on girls serving mass, and rarely wrote them into the schedule. However, Deacon Ralph, a liberal in the Catholic circles, and usurper of Father T’s authority, had a hand in scheduling, and wrote the girls in at every opportunity. Ms. Clunc bowed her head and turned to go back into her seat. I did what was proper and genuflected. Nate, Emily, and Maia, showing no decorum for the church, didn’t even bow and tripped over my knee in their stampede back to the pew. Of course Ms. Clunc didn’t see what happened and assumed that I purposely tripped them. I receive another jab in the side when I rejoined her in the pew. “You’re in big trouble now, Buster,” she hissed. Father T. adjusted the flap of hair on his head and went back to the business of saying mass.
Father T. had more pressing issues, namely the larger bounty in the offertory basket. We were the first to receive the basket. I watched as Ms. Clunc put a ten dollar bill into the basket. She watched me as I pulled out my money, the ill-fated savings for a video game. I snapped my ten dollar bill straight and stuck it in the basket. “I’ll see your ten, Ms. Clunc,” I thought. I pulled out two more dollar bills and stuck them in the basket. “And I’ll raise you two.” Ms. Clunc gave me a dirty look and I passed the basket to Nate. Nate pointed to the right of Ms. Clunc. The ruse worked. Ms. Clunc looked in the direction of Nate’s finger. By the time she looked back, Nate had bypassed Emily and given the basket to Maia. Neither one had contributed. Maia dug into her purse and threw some change into the basket. The clinking of change caught Father T.’s attention. He stared in disbelief at Maia. Maia dug some more in her purse and threw in some more change. Father T. still stared. Maia looked up. “That’s all I have. I spent everything I had at the bar last night waiting for my date.” Father T. shook his head and continued on with the mass. I wasn’t looking forward to bringing up the gifts as we’d be in the spotlight again. Ms. Clunc jabbed me in my raw spot again. I noticed that, unlike me, she was gentle with the rest of the group while ushering them out. We were staged at the back of the church. She scrutinized the articles to be brought up. I received the hosts. Nate got the offertory basket and Emily got the water. She handed the wine to Maia, then thought the better of it and switched it with Emily. I don’t know what she was afraid of. I don’t think that Maia would have taken a swig off of it. But then again, Maia did carry on a conversation in church on her cell phone.
I don’t understand why Father T. is so concerned about his hair loss. I would think that if his hair is kept neat and clean that it should please the Dioceses. He doesn’t have to worry about looking attractive to women. Why doesn’t he just admit it and shave off the flap. It never stays on the side of his head no matter how many times he smoothed it back. I remember Mom’s brother Uncle Frank had a flap. Gosh it must have been a foot and a half. He used to scotch tape it to the other side of his head. I guess it worked okay. That is until he went swimming. It looked horrible when he got out of the pool. But back to Father T.’s flap. Get rid of it Padre. Oh and shave the eyebrows too. Isn’t it amazing how a man loses hair on one part of the body and it takes off like no tomorrow in other parts? I bet he’s got a hairy back too. Maybe he could grow that out and swoop it forward to fill in the holes. Probably wouldn’t look good though.
Ms. Clunc gave me a jab. This time I don’t mind. It’s time for the Lord’s Prayer, and then hoo, hoo, Sign of Peace after that. Ugh, double whammy. Not only do I have Ms. Clunc’s hand, but Nathan “the booger” Peter’s hand as well. I make a mental note not to eat my host with that hand. However, I noticed that Ms. Clunc’s hands are antiseptically clean. That’s the hand to eat with.
less to say, Mrs. Aspen backed off in a hurry. Ms. Clunc asserted her authority by handing her the wine. The ones giving out the wine always look disappointed. I mean they’re lucky is they see a third of the action of those handing out communion. Father T. has the honor of giving us communion. The one and only bonus of the Sunday Boot Camp Club is we get to go up first. Father T. refuses to put the host into Nate’s hands and I can only deduce that Nate’s activities have not escaped his attention. I could see him debate whether Maia is even worthy this week for communion, but he relents anyway. He probably assumes she’ll make it up in confession next week. I’m very cautious this time and I just bow, before returning back to my seat. Meanwhile, back at our reserved pew, the Sunday Boot Camp Club has gone downhill. Maia skipped out right after communion. Nate and Emily are singing the hymns off key in a loud voice. And Ms. Clunc and Father T. are too busy with communion to catch them. Meanwhile, a breeze is blowing on my neck again. I look up and Mary Shepard is just passing my pew. She stops and smiles at me. Father T.’s jaw drops. I quickly look down. I feel a gentle tap on my shoulder and glance up to see Sybil Smith. Again the timing is perfect for the ever-vigilant Father T. And then it happens. He drops a host. It seems to fall in slow motion, all heads turn at the flash of white falling from Father T’s hands. All talking, singing, sneezing, etc., stops. I braced myself to hear the thin little wheat paste hit the floor. But out of nowhere, Usher Flusher makes a dive and catches the host. Success comes with a cost. He smacks his head on the steps of the altar. He eats the host and then passes out. The other ushers pick him up and carry him into the narthex. Father T. is too overcome with emotion to continue giving out communion.
I can’t believe I blew it. In my haste, I turned around before the Sign of Peace started. Ms. Clunc nabbed me before I could shake any of the Jones’s hands. The Joneses were tipped off ahead of time, so eye contact was avoided. But that’s not all. They extended the time shaking Samantha’s hand to bar me from shaking in the allotted time for Sign of Peace. Now it’s communion. For me this has always been the dessert of the mass. It’s like sitting next to the bathroom at a restaurant. Sooner or later all the nice looking girls in the joint come into view. Hey, there’s Sally Jorgensen, the girl I kissed at the party. Well, I’ll be, she is Catholic. I wonder if that would make Father T. feel better. Another jab brings me back to reality. This time it isn’t Ms. Clunc. Ms. Clunc is a Eucharistic Minister. She’s up on the altar getting ready to distribute communion. It’s Maia and nuts, she’s switched seats. I ignore her smiles and go back to my writing. I think I’m making progress here. I have to wonder about how this Eucharistic Ministry works. Do you have to work your way up from distributing the wine and then to the hosts, or is it a pecking order scenario. I kind of feel it’s the latter. Mrs. Aspen went for the host at the same time as Ms. Clunc, and I could have sworn I heard a hiss. Need-
All eyes turn to the back of the church, through the clear doors leading into the narthex at the prostrate figure lying on the floor. Is he dead? Usher Funk, splashes holy water from the baptismal font onto his head. Usher Flusher sputters and then comes to. A sigh of relief goes through the congregation.
treadmills and stair steppers bouncing and jiggling all over the place. My eyes got the most of the workout. I remember afterwards, we stopped off at the jazzercise area and looked through the one-way mirror for about fifteen minutes. I finally grabbed my dad and pulled him away to go home. I think he sweated more at that time, then during his whole workout.
In the Catholic Church, the dropping of the host is a cardinal sin. I’m sure if there had been enough room on Moses’ tablet, it would have been included as the 11th commandment. (Even at the risk of ruining the symmetry of the tablets.) I had never seen one fall in person before, but I remember Frank Anderson telling me that he dropped a couple once, while doing the preparations for mass as an altar boy. He said he just mixed them with all the others and no one noticed. It didn’t seem to curse Frank. He was as blessed as they come. The best pitcher in our little league, top of our class, and I might add, I’m sure he was at the top of Samantha Jones’s list. However, I might point out that in Frank’s case the hosts hadn’t been blessed yet.
The ever-vigilant Ms. Clunc has just slapped me upside the head. I don’t know if it is because I’m sitting and she’s standing or if my latest transgression has allowed her a more vigorous license with my penance. Father T. is giving us the blessing, and I wonder if I’m included in his prayers. Then it happened again. Myself, I believe it was the guilt churning in my Father’s stomach that came out and reverberated throughout the church. Quick thinking Dad screwed up. What had worked with me, failed miserably with Mom. He wasn’t going to pin this one on her. You don’t mess with Mom. Needless to say, she exploded her wrath upon my Dad. In the ensuing melee, they had to be both escorted out of mass, so we could do the recessional. Nate and Emily pushed their luck and were caught red-handed singing off key. The AWOL Maia was finally noted. Ms. Clunc dashed out of the church as soon as we had made a respectable entrance into the narthex. As I walked outside, Father T. was in a heated discussion with Mom and Dad. I didn’t see the reason to stick around and started to walk home. “Just a minute, young man,” a voice called behind me. I stopped immediately to the voice of authority. I could feel the blood rushing to my head. I turned around to face Ms. Clunc.
Ms. Clunc rewarded me with a jab when she got back to the pew. Boy she was fuming. And she hadn’t even noticed the absent Maia yet. I’m sure that my chances of getting out of Sunday Boot Camp were like my attention span today, without a prayer. Father T. stood up to read the announcements. I never noticed as much before, but Father T. is fairly chubby. I wonder if he works out at all. Is a priest allowed to go to the gym? I would think that would be too much of a temptation. I once went with my dad, and there were girls all over the place in skimpy outfits usually positioned on the
“I need to see your notes on the homily.” “Notes on the homily?” “Yes, I know you did take notes. I saw you writing.” “Well my writing isn’t very clear. How about if I was to clean them up for you first? This is my first draft, you know.” She grabbed the pad out of my hand. Her eyebrows rose at the first entry and didn’t go back down. “Of all the nerve!” She finished reading and grabbed me by the ear pulling me over to where Father T. was still discussing my parent’s outburst. She pointed at me, barely able to speak. “Father T., this. . . .this creature. . . You won’t believe what he wrote!” She handed the note pad to Father T. I prepared for the worst. . . . I wasn’t disappointed. Father T. took it about as well as Ms. Clunc. “Why you. . . . little jerk! . . . You. . . you slander the church.” “But,” I defended, “there’s a silver lining in there.” “I didn’t see anything positive in here at all. You didn’t make a single note on my homily.” “You must have missed it Father. There’s the part in there about the girl I kissed. As luck has it, she’s Catholic. I saw her in church today.” Father T. turned to my parents. “Your son is a sex fiend. I dropped a host today because of him.” Usher Flusher came over to our cheery little group and pointed to the bandage on his head. He glared at my parents. “This is his fault!” Father T. handed my parents the notes. “Read!” Then he turned back to me. “You, my pagan friend, will be in Sunday Boot Camp for the remaining time that I’m in charge of this
“No, he won’t,” returned a voice. It was my Dad. “He shouldn’t have been here in the first place. It was me that belched during 5:15 last Saturday. I pinned the blame on Eric just as I tried to do with my wife today. Eric shouldn’t have been in this position.” “Well,” returned Father T. “That may be true, but he’s certainly done enough today to merit being a charter member of the club. I might add that he’ll have plenty of company with the rest of his family.” “We’re not going either,” retorted my Father. “And you better not print our names in the bulletin either, or we’ll sue.” “If that’s the case, you can’t go to my church!” “It’s not your church, any more than its Ms. Clunc’s. But it doesn’t matter. We’ll make the trek to Doubting Thomas” And we did end up joining up at the Doubting Thomas parish. And it wasn’t bad. On a bright note it opened up another source of girls that weren’t in my school district. I thought for sure that Mom would reinstate my video game privileges after finding out the truth. I thought wrong. I lost an additional couple of months of playing games because I had gone along with Dad’s lie. But it’s okay. My girlfriends from St. Pete’s and the new ones at Doubting Thomas take up all my spare time.
The Flying Alligator, continued
When he worked for the carnival, Babbitt had lent him an old pickup truck to get him and Claude to work and back. When the carnival left so did the truck. How could he get to Maryland? He used a bicycle to go to the nearby village for groceries. His unemployment had drained his funds so he couldn’t afford to purchase even a used car.
Show business seemed to be in Sydney’s blood. His father had also been a performer as an aerial barnstormer and stunt pilot. He’d taught Sydney how to fly his Stearman, a twoseater, open cockpit biplane. His son had secured his pilot’s license at 15. Unfortunately, Sydney’s father had passed away while the market for stunt flying vanished. Sydney inherited his father’s old biplane, which now sat behind the trailer covered with a tarp. He could rarely afford to take the plane up. The road to his trailer dead ended at the swamp providing just enough space for takeoff and landings.
Then he remembered there was a bus to Tampa that stopped at the general store. From Tampa he could get a bus to Washington, D.C. He figured he’d need to get a ticket for Claude, since the alligator was large enough to take up a seat. After packing a suitcase, he turned his attention to preparing Claude for the bus trip. He taped the alligator’s jaws shut and constructed a litter of old bicycle inner tubes roped together with four baby carriage wheels allowing him to push Claude rather than to lift him.
But Sydney’s real breakthrough was not with aircraft rather when he brought Claude to the carnival and wrestled the alligator before a group of awed tourists. At first Sydney was concerned that Claude might not realize it was all playacting, but the ‘gator seemed to understand and put on a fearsome act, displaying a toothy grin and a ferocious roar to impress the onlookers while being careful not to nip Sydney. In a short time Sydney and Claude became featured attractions with two shows daily for the amazed visitors.
The next morning, Sydney purchased two tickets at the store and a short time later a big bus came to a stop in front of the general store in a cloud of dust. As Sydney attempted to board the bus, the driver stopped him and pointing at the bound reptilian. “What have you got there?”
But after three seasons, the economy went into freefall, customers vanished and the carnival folded. Sydney and Claude were unemployed and show business opportunities appeared to have dried up in south Florida. Sydney’s mood brightened the afternoon he received a letter from Bruce Babbitt announcing he had resurrected his Carnival in Hapsburg, Maryland, and inviting Sydney to rejoin the show with his wrestling act. Then Sydney realized he had a problem.
“That’s my pet alligator. I’m taking him up to Maryland.”
Fortunately, the sky was clear with only a few scattered clouds since Sydney was not certified to fly on instruments and the Stearman only had rudimentary navigational gear. Sydney flew northeast until he located I-95. Then he swung north, setting the cruising speed at 95 MPH, planning to follow the Interstate all the way to Hapsburg. As the hours ticked away, Sydney checked off the towns as they came into view; Jacksonville, Savannah, Fayetteville. Occasionally he looked behind him to find the alligator wide-eyed, perhaps the first airborne alligator in history. But as Sydney passed Richmond, the clouds began to close in making it difficult to keep the highway in sight. Before long there was no choice but to enter the gray mass and navigate by compass. Flying blind, Sydney was unaware he had entered a “no-fly zone” over the nation’s capital.
“Not on my bus you aren’t,” handing Sydney back his tickets, “I don’t haul livestock.” “Wait, he’s very friendly and can’t bite.” “A friendly alligator? That’s like a friendly tax collector. You can ride if you want but your critter stays here.” The driver was adamant and Sydney had no choice but to abandon the bus trip since without Claude, there was no act. Returning to his trailer home with Claude in tow, Sydney was faced with a dilemma; how to get his pet to Maryland? Then it came to him that the solution was there, right in front of him all along. He’d fly the Stearman to Maryland. Consulting a map, he found Hapsburg, Maryland had a small landing field. The distance, 822 miles, was just barely within the plane’s range.
His entry was detected by an Air Defense Command radar site. However, the Stearman, made mostly of wood and canvas, did not offer a distinct radar image. Uncertain, the ADC asked the Air Force to dispatch a jet to investigate. An F-18 was scrambled with a pilot and weapons officer to check out the intruder.
Sydney used the last of his savings to fuel the plane. With the plane ready to go, he had to decide where to put Claude. The baggage compartment was too small to fit the alligator. He finally decided to prop Claude upright in the back seat of the two-seater biplane, allowing the alligator to view his surroundings as they flew north. Sydney even fashioned a pair of goggles for Claude to protect his eyes from the wind.
Meanwhile, Sydney had broken clear of the cloud mass and realized he was only a few miles from his destination. Then he spotted a black jet approaching at great speed. Uncertain of the newcomer’s intentions, Sydney ducked down below the cockpit rim and was not visible to the oncoming aircraft while Claude gave the approaching aircraft a toothy grin.
The next morning, Sydney propped Claude in the rear seat, spun the propeller, and hopped into the front seat as the engine roared to life. Taxiing out onto the roadway, Sydney revved up the engine and released the brake and in seconds they were airborne.
As for the Air Force, stories about a flying alligator persist to this day.
The speed difference made it difficult for the jet to get a close view of the biplane, but the intercom communications between the two officers was telling as the jet zoomed by.
Pilot: “Did you see what I saw?” WO: “I thought I saw an alligator flying a biplane.” Pilot: “If I report that we saw a flying alligator to ADC they’ll think we’re drunk or on drugs. It has passed out of the no-fly zone. I think we’ll say we saw a flock of geese.” WO: “Yes, I’m sure it was geese.” Concurring with the pilot on what they had witnessed, as the jet peeled away. Ten minutes later, Sydney landed at the Hapsburg, Municipal Airport. They had made it! Epilogue Sydney and Claude wrestled for two more years before the alligator grew too large and had to be retired to the swamp where he was born. Sydney took acting lessons and became a successful Broadway actor. His earnings allowed Sydney built a winter home where his trailer was formally located. Sydney would sit on his patio slipping a drink in the evening and hear an alligator bellow and wonder if it was his old friend and wresting partner.
Grandma Cheese , continued
“Well, Silly, Our grandmas made it.”
“Her full name is Velva Marie Starr.”
“Oh. Okay. Then I’ll eat it too.” Now both of us
“Well. What about my other
always asked for Grandma Cheese. We wanted to be
grandma? Is her name Velva too?”
“No, your other grandmother is your
I told my friends, Mary, Freda, and Loretta and
daddy’s mother. Her name is Jennie Vida
my Sunday school teacher. I was very proud to have
two grandmothers who made their own cheese. In a “Okay,” I said, thinking about all that I
box and everything. They must be very smart.
had just learned, while really concentrating on
One day when Aunt Ellen heard Timmy and me
the sandwich Mommy was helping me make.
ask for it, she asked, “Why do you call this Grandma
“I want this bread. Some lettuce. And that
Cheese?” So I explained. “Our grandmas made it. You
call it Velveda. It has both of their names put together.
We made the sandwich and I sat
Velva and Veeda. So it’s our Grandma’s Cheese.” It
down with my brother, Timmy, to eat it.
made perfect sense to me.
“Grandma isn’t really a name,” I told Timmy,
Aunt Ellen laughed. “I never noticed that, but,
feeling very smart... “It’s a title.”
no. They didn’t make it. Velveeta is just a brand name.
“Yeah,” he said. “I heard. Grandma’s
It’s not their names at all.”
name is Velva Marie and our other grandma is
We were a bit disappointed. But, after thinking it
Jennie Vida.” We finished eating then went
over, I threw my sandwich down. So did Timmy. “You
outside to play.
mean my grandmas didn’t make it? I only ate it because
After that, I always asked for the same
of them,” I said. “May I have peanut butter then? This
kind of sandwich. Even when there was
cheese really tastes yucky.”
peanut butter and jelly, my favorite, I still ate Grandma Cheese. “Why do you always eat
that icky stuff?” Timmy asked.
The Bureau of Mysterious Ways and Means, continued
“I still want to get clear on this “ angel business.”
“It sighed. “I’m an agent of the creator of the universe,” it tonelessly admitted, “Tasked with maintaining the cosmos in all its magnificent function.”
“What’s this machine do?” Oliver asked.
“Prove it.” It shrugged. “What would you have me do?” “I don’t know… fly around?” “You’re thinking of Seraphim,” it said. “I’m not that kind of angel.” “Sure… you got a halo hidden in that toolbox, then?” “That’s Dominions,” it said impatiently. “I’m a Cherub.” “Like Cupid on the Valentines’ cards?” Oliver grinned at this. “No, not very much. Look, I’m pretty sure my documents are properly vetted,” it said, presenting a clipboard. Oliver checked. They were. “What’re you here to fix?” “A high-grade Akrison 770 aerosol dispersal unit.” Oliver immediately felt that he’d seen a dusty, pressed-metal housing with that label hooked into the mall’s climate control hodge-podge. “I’ll walk you to it,” he said. “I assure you, that isn’t necessary,” the angel said hopefully.
Its face remained obstinately absent from Oliver’s memory, but he could tell it looked annoyed.
“It regulates human acquisitiveness.” “Excuse me?” “Surely you’ve noticed?” the angel said. “People walk into the mall and want things? Did you think that just happened by instinct? That people have a built-in, reflexive attraction to notepad computers and fashion jeans?” “I figured they come to the mall to buy, and they want stuff because they need it or because it’s been advertised,” he said, with a mild scowl, as they reached the device. “And how does advertising make people want things, then? No,” the angel said, popping open a panel and revealing an interior of pipes and cartridges and filters and circuits, all liberally sprinkled with cobwebs and dust. “It all takes advantage of acquisition gas, which we aerosolize here. Oh, this one’s been running hot. I bet sales have been up the last couple weeks, huh?” Oliver knew he had never seen tools like the red-handled, silver shafted devices that the angel unpacked with cool competence, and the thoughtless grace of long practice. As with its face, he couldn’t quite seem to affix them in 1 his mind, as if they were terribly dull and ordinary, though some part of him recognized they were remarkable, fascinating even, shaped with the by-blow beauty found in surgical equipment and other specialized implements. “Why are you telling me this?”
“What’s your name, pal?”
“No, I mean… why tell me you’re an angel?”
“Because I am an angel.”
“Can you show me one of these infatuation generators?”
Oliver emitted a small sound, similar to the noise he’d make if he were being strangled. “Even assuming that’s true, why admit it?”
Mitch-El’s shoulders slumped. “Yes,” it tonelessly replied. ###
“I can’t lie. You asked a direct question.”
The car ride to the high school was illuminating.
“Wait, so the world’s only 6,000 years old then?”
Yes. Really.” As Oliver paused to parse this, the angel made a satisfied noise in its throat and began reattaching the front panel. “That should prevent a few overdraft fees,” it said.
“Just like it says in the bible,” Mitch-El replied, chin in hand, staring out the window. “But what about carbon dating?” “Look, you’ve picked up on our faculty with machines, right? Carbon dating is even easier to spoof than all those radio telescopes.”
“You have to answer any question? Honestly?” “Yes.” It drew the word out, sounding quite impatient.
“But they agree,” Oliver said, pulling his gaze from traffic to glance once more at his passenger. It all seemed like madness until he tried, really tried, to look at Mitch-El’s face. But when confronted with that odd perceptual blind spot, it became weirdly difficult to doubt.
“What other things do you repair?” “Oh, all sorts of things… I recently got certified on a couple different classes of intuitive perceptualizers, like gaydar, déjà vu inceptors, or that thing that tells you when the phone’s going to ring right before it does. But I’m still shadowing a Throne on those. My day job is all human -impulsive contingency reactines, like the ol’ Akrison 770 there, or infatuation generators…”
“It’s all synched to the Equinoizer—the machine that makes the sun rise and set. They’re getting the same signal, so of course they agree.” “But… but what about the Hubble?” Oliver asked. “What about all those satellites out in space?”
“Wait, what?” “...infatuation generators?”
“They’re a huge pain, but not many pass the orbit of the moon, so they remain Adamic artifacts… the few that reach the celestial spheres, some chorister or other grabs it and reverse-engineers a false signal.”
“ driver is the same guy who sold me my cell phone card at the airport!’”
Oliver just stared for a moment. His instinct was to accuse Mitch-El of pulling his leg, but he knew the angel would just repeat that it was incapable of deceit.
“Nah, the Voyager and all that? Space has to be real!”
“How many human beings are there, then?”
Mitch-El shook his head. “No offense, but you sound like a kid who says Santa must be real because he got just what he wanted and the cookies were eaten.”
“Not quite five hundred thousand.” “Am I the first person to figure this out?” Mitch-El laughed. It was far less musical than one would expect from a Cherub. “Not even close! There have been magi and sorcerers around for ages.”
“I just can’t believe you guys are fooling… what, seven billion people?” Mitch-El snorted. “There aren’t anywhere near that many.”
“Wait, what? Magi? Aren’t they the guys who brought gifts to Jesus?”
“That many what? People?” “Trust me, the world is far, far smaller than you think. Europe, Africa, Australia… why do you even believe in them?”
“Those were wise men. They’re called the magi, but trust me, there’s very little overlap between true wisdom and a tendency to harass celestial entities.”
“I’ve seen… pictures, books, TV shows…”
“What do you mean?”
“Signals,” the angel said with contempt.
Mitch-El turned to him and gave him a frank stare, which was disconcerting, given its impossibly unremarkable features. “The best thing you could do is let me go, forget this ever happened, and never traffic in the business of angels again.”
“No, I’ve met people from there!” “They think they’re from there.” “Dammit, I went to Ireland once!” Oliver shouted.
Now it was Oliver’s turn to laugh, and it was even less attractive.
“No,” Mitch-El said, “You got on a plane and believed you flew through the sky for hours and hours and then you got out in a place where you saw, at most, a thousand people before coming home again. How many of those thousand did you really scrutinize? How many faces would you be able to pick out and say, ‘Wait, that taxi
“Fat chance,” he said. “Not when you can show me an infatuation machine.”
They progressed into the looming darkness of the school basement, with Mitch-El lighting the way with a quite ordinary D-cell flashlight.
It was a Saturday, and the high school doors were locked, but when Oliver asked how to open them, Mitch-El grudgingly explained which of the red-handled tools would do it, and how.
“There it is,” he said, pointing.
“Right, where’s the gadget?”
“It looks like the Eiffel Tower,” Oliver mused, bending down by the foot-high box with the antenna on top.
“Down in the boiler room,” Mitch-El replied, leading the way with sullen tread.
“Yes, well, there’s a reason Paris is the city of romance.” Mitch-El shook his head. “The idea was it would be far more efficient, but all it did was make adultery culturally normative. That’s what happens when you mess with the Great Watchmaker’s designs.”
“Do you have to do anything I ask?” Oliver abruptly said. Mitch-El sighed. “Yes, as far as is consistent with my nature.” “Really? No, I believe you. Why?” “Because as a mortal possessed of full free will and spiritual autonomy, you… outrank me.”
“Explain how it works.” Mitch-El paused as long as he could without actual disobedience, and was rather vague and obscure on some key points, but Oliver carefully asked follow up questions and took notes.
Oliver gaped, just a little. “So if I ordered you to… I don’t know, steal a car and give it to me, you’d have to do that?”
“So if I pointed this at Mary-Beth Harcourt, she’d fall in love with me?”
“Can’t transgress the Ten Commandments.”
Mitch-El winced at the longing in the mortal man’s tone.
“But if I asked you to go get me a sandwich?”
“No,” the angel gently said. “Not love. It would… provoke a strong reaction. ‘Chemistry.’ Infatuation… arousal…”
“I’d go get you a sandwich,” the angel disgustedly said.
“I’ll take it,” Oliver said.
“Kind of a raw deal for you,” Oliver said.
“Look, Oliver, I really should warn you…”
“Well, there was a labor dispute over that issue, but it was a long time ago.”
“Shut up,” Oliver said. And the angel obeyed. ###
“I SHALL GIVE THEE A LIFT TO THY OFFICE.”
That was why, when they emerged from the school and were crossing the street, Mitch-El said nothing as a bus bore down on Oliver. At least, it looked like a bus to all the witnesses, who were preoccupied with their own thoughts and plans before the horrible accident. All they’d remember later was a man with a model of the Eiffel Tower, screaming, then a blaring horn that somehow sounded like a voice shouting “BE NOT AFRAID!” before the hideous, bloody crash.
“Thanks. I really appreciate it.” “NEXT STOP,” the creature rumbled, spreading its wings, “THE BUREAU OF MYSTERIOUS WAYS AND MEANS.”
Mitch-El got on the bus, while everyone else got off. No one paid him any attention. They were so busy phoning the police or gaping at the wreckage of Oliver’s body that they didn’t realize they had, in fact, been riding on the back of a great golden Sphinx with tiny, starlike spheres orbiting its forehead. “Thanks, Annab-El,” Mitch-El said. “I know that can’t have been fun.” “‘TIS A LIVING,” the bus/cat/Seraph replied. “And now I’ve got to get a replacement infatutator,” Mitch-El said. “There’s a dance squad performance on Tuesday and that’s always a heavy draw on sexual response…”
“ 47 47
The Herrin Killings, continued
troops to guard the property. Hunter advised McDowell to shut down the mine to avoid trouble. McDowell refused.
Lester and his mine superintendent, C. K. McDowell, were quite open about their plans to “break the union.” Lester’s armed security guards challenged anyone approaching the mine leading to a number of confrontations with the locals that only added to the resentment and hostility. In the mean time, Lewis made it clear in an angry news release, that Lester’s workers were nonunion “scabs,” not UMWA members and the union claimed sole right to mine coal.
On Monday morning, June 19, Hunter and Davis met with Sheriff Thaxton and Lester, the mine owner and operator. Hunter and Duty urged Lester to close down the mine to prevent civil unrest. Lester refused and asked Sheriff Thaxton to deputize his mine guards. Thaxton said that was not necessary and promised to provide protection. Following the meeting, Hunter took Lester aside and pleaded with him to shut down operations at the mine, saying that he didn’t believe the sheriff could be trusted to prevent violence.
When Colonel Samuel N. Hunter, personnel officer in the Adjutant General Office of the Illinois National Guard learned from the June 17 Saturday edition of the Chicago Tribune that the Southern Illinois Coal Company had begun shipping non-union coal, he knew trouble was brewing. Located in Springfield, Hunter was originally from Perry County, next door to Williamson and was well aware of the temperament of the union miners. Due to other commitments, Colonel Hunter was the ranking state ING officer. Alarmed, Hunter telephoned Delos Duty, State’s Attorney of Williamson County and determined the situation was serious. Based on the conversation with Duty, Hunter decided to leave immediately by train to Marion, the Williamson County seat. He made arrangements to meet with Duty and Williamson County Sheriff Melvin Thaxton, at midday on Sunday, June 18 to determine what action should be taken to avoid violence. Hunter also telegraphed Major Robert W. Davis of the ING who resided in nearby Carbondale and asked him to join the meeting.
Again, Lester refused to close the mine. That afternoon Hunter, Thaxton, State Senator William J. Sneed who was also president of the UMWA sub district that included Williamson County and several newspapermen returned to the mine. Once again, McDowell asked for troops and again Hunter asked him to close the mine but both requests were rejected. The next day, June 20, Hunter learned that the union miners had held a mass meeting but was unable to learn the nature of the gathering. When Hunter asked Sneed about the meeting, he got vague answers. Finally on June 21, things began to spin out of control. Near Carbondale a truck carrying several of Lester’s guards and a number of strikebreakers was fired upon and three men were wounded while the others were forced to flee. That afternoon, a group of several hundred union miners gathered at the Herrin Cemetery where Lewis’ scathing newspaper comments about strikebreakers were read to a large group of enraged union miners. Things turned even uglier when some of the union miners went to Herrin and looted a hardware store of its guns and ammunition.
After arriving, Hunter discussed the situation with Duty, Thaxton and Davis. Following the meeting, Hunter, Davis and a Marion policeman went out to the mine to talk with McDowell. The superintendent said, thus far, no one had threatened the mine operation, but he asked Hunter to provide a company of ING
That afternoon, Hunter called the Adjutant General’s office to report what had happened. He also attempted to contact the sheriff without success. He phoned McDowell at the mine that a mob was forming and many of the men were armed. McDowell once again pleaded for troops. Shortly afterward, McDowell called back and told Hunter what he had feared, the mine was surrounded. The mine guards opened fire, quickly killing a union miner and wounding two others. The union miners returned fire and a regular fusillade ensued. Unable to reach Sheriff Thaxton, McDowell phoned Hunter and asked for troops to stop the attacks and to restore order. After McDowell’s call, Hunter learned that Lester had left for Chicago two days previously. He was finally able to contact him by phone. Shaken, Lester agreed to close the mine for the duration of the strike. Hunter also attempted to reach the sheriff without success. He urged the sheriff’s deputy to dispatch all available deputies to the mine to stop the firing and disperse the mob. He also told the deputy to formally request troops. Unfortunately, the deputy refused saying only the sheriff had the authority to take such action and Thaxton was not to be found. McDowell called again to report the gunfire had intensified. Strikebreakers and guards were huddled behind railway cars and wood barricades. Hunter told him that Lester had agreed to close down the mine and he was attempting to arrange a truce and safe conduct for the strikebreakers out of the county.
“ In truth, the siege continued through the night. The mob began attacking the mine equipment with hammers, shovels and dynamite to prevent the mine from reopening. Under fire, without food and with little water, the strikebreakers agreed to surrender if their safety was guaranteed. “Come on out and we’ll get you out of the county.” As the firing stopped, the strikebreakers threw down their guns, put up their hands and slowly emerged from behind their barricades. The union miners lined up their captives in a column of twos and began marching them toward Herrin, five miles away. Some of the union miners fired their guns into the air and swore at their captives. When the group reached Crenshaw’s Crossing, about half mile from the mine, a larger group of men were waiting for them. The crowd became more agitated and unruly with one man shouting, “The only way to free the county of strikebreakers is to kill them all and stop the breed!” Some of the mob began to beat the strikebreakers with gun butts and blood began to mark the dust-covered faces of the cowed prisoners. A half mile further at Moake Crossing McDowell, bleeding from several head wounds was unable to keep pace with the column and told his captors he was unable to continue. McDowell was dragged down a crossroad a short distance and shot to death. The procession moved a mile further coming to a halt at a power station. The leader of the column announced, “Take four scabs down the road, kill them and come back and get four more and kill them.”
Hunter was finally able to locate a union official to go to the mine and raise a white flag provided McDowell did the same. It appeared further bloodshed could be avoided and troops wouldn’t be needed. McDowell was to call Hunter when the truce took effect. When he didn’t hear anything from McDowell, he tried calling him, but the line was dead.
The Herrin Killings continued Just then an automobile pulled up and a man believed to be Hugh Willis, a UMWA official, instructed the union miners in a commanding voice. “Listen, don’t you go killing these fellows on a public highway. There are too many women and children around for that. Take them over in the woods and give it to them. Kill all you can.” Then Willis reentered his car and drove away. North of the power station was a strip of woods, overgrown with underbrush. Into this the mob herded their captives where they encountered a barbed wire fence. One of the mob yelled out, “Now, damn you, let’s see how fast you can run between here and Chicago, you damned gutter-bums!” Then he shot one of the strikebreakers. The captives broke and ran for their lives while the woods became alive with gunfire. A number of the strikebreakers were shot down. Others managed to reach the fence but were shot as they attempted to climb over. A few made it over the fence, some wounded, only to be pursued by their attackers and shot to death in the woods. Some of the wounded on the ground were dispatched with a shot to the head. A few of the strikebreakers made it through the woods but were apprehended on the other side. Six of the prisoners were collected at a schoolhouse in Herrin where a crowd had formed. Once again the captives were abused before being herded to the Herrin cemetery, about a mile east. At the cemetery, word was received that the sheriff was on the way. A series of shots rang out and the six men slumped to the ground. Then one of the assailants emptied his pistol into the still forms. A few minutes later a victim still showed signs of life. A bystander used a knife to slash the throats of any that still lived.
Continued on page 54
When it was all over, Sheriff Thaxton went to the mine with a deputy and found the mine buildings ablaze. The sheriff followed the trail of dead and wounded. Those still alive were taken to Herrin Hospital while eighteen dead were sent to a warehouse, stripped, their bodies put on display for townspeople to file past with contempt. Twenty-three men were dead; including the three union miners shot in the original assault on the mine and eighteen strikebreakers killed after the truce. The final victim managed to get to Chicago but died of his wounds a week later in the hospital. When the word leaked out, there was a nationwide uproar over the murders. Every major newspaper condemned the killings and demanded that the perpetrators be brought to justice. Unfortunately, the wheels of justice moved very slowly or not at all in Williamson County. A coroner’s jury was convened but the six jurors, three of whom were union miners, found all the men killed on June 21 and June 22, except for a union miner shot by Lester’s mine guards, were murdered by unknown assailants. The jury placed the blame for the murders directly and indirectly on officials of the Southern Illinois Coal Company. The coroner’s jury report brought a new series of denunciations. Members of congress denounced the killings and even President Harding deplored the murders. The Chicago Tribune along with nearly every other major newspaper demanded the mine rioters should be apprehended and punished. On August 28, 1922, Judge DeWitt T. Hartwell summoned a special grand jury to investigate the Herrin homicides. After two days of deliberations the grand jury indicted Otis Clark and subsequently Bert Grace, James Brown, Oscar Howard, Jess Childers, Peter Hiller, Joseph Carnaghi and Leva Mann for murder.
“ 214 indictments, All together the grand jury brought forty-four for murder, fifty-eight for conspiracy, fiftyeight for rioting and fifty-four for assault. The UMWA provided lawyers and funded the defense. In two consecutive jury trials, all the defendants were declared not guilty by the jury on all counts when a multitude of witnesses testified the defendants were elsewhere when the murders were committed. The State’s Attorney ultimately dropped all the other charges. In the end, no one was ever convicted of taking part in the Herrin massacre. A follow up investagation by the Illinois House of Representatives censured the Adjutant General for not taking personal charge and ordering in troops. Sheriff Thaxton and his deputies were “criminally negligent” and derelict in their duties. Hunter admitted that he had the authory to call out troops, but at the time he believed only Sheriff Thaxton was authorized to call out the ING. As time passed, the carnage of June 22, 1922 began to fade from memory. However, a long history of violence before and after the mine murders left the county saddled with the stigma, “Bloody Williamson” to this day. Note: There was considerable controversy after the trials and the House investigation. Disagreement over who was responsible for the Herrin massacre still rages even though the principals have long since passed away. Some blame John L. Lewis for his inflammatory press release while others fault William J. Lester’s actions that provoked the blood shead. Through the ensuing years who-didwhat-to-whom was often polarized around unionmanagement view of events. This account relates the personal view of what I believe actually occurred in June 1922.
SOURCES: A good deal has been written about the “Herrin Massacre.” The most comprehensive description is contained in a book entitled Bloody Williamson, A Chapter in American Lawlessness by Paul M. Angle, pages 3 -71 published in 1952 by the University of Illinois Press. Other sources include The Herrin Massacre by Haley E. Anderson, Anna-Jonesborro Community High School, Anna. Herrin Massacre, Wikipedia. The Herrin Horror Retold, Time Magazine, Saturday March 10, 1923.
Gray, continued A blue wheelbarrow full of old dry horse manure was wrapped with cobwebs and sat next to the tractor. The adjacent wall was covered with saddles, harnesses, ropes, and stirrups. I closed my eyes and tried to envision the man that this had belonged to. A white void began to fill with the blue of his faded denim overalls. He seemed to age, his hair changing from black to gray with a small patch of skin showing at his crown. His hands were dark with broken nails, knotted knuckles, and a deep scar from thumb to wrist on his left hand. Between his eyes and mine, his round, wire-framed lenses obstructed my view so I focused on his thin white beard. I remembered how we could never see eye to eye. My throat burned and my eyes teared as I lost the picture in my mind. It too, became buried with the memories, the familiar odors, and the feelings that donâ€™t seem real anymore.
Writer’s Night @ Eola
Many thanks to the Writer’s Night group for their creative contributions and passion for writing. The Writer’s Night @ Eola is an informal critiquing group that meets on the second Tuesday of the month.
VOL. 1 ISSUE 1