Posts Tagged ‘Children’

Here is another excellent short story by 19th Century American author Kate Chopin, this one about a childless woman suddenly obliged to care for four energetic children. I doubt if a childless woman could have written it.

This tale, like the previous story about the unfortunate Louise Mallard, takes place in rural Louisiana in the late 1800s. The characters:

Mamzelle Aurélie — (“Mamzelle,” meaning “mademoiselle,” the French title for an unmarried woman)

Ponto — Aurélie’s dog

Odile — Aurélie’s neighbor

Elodie — Odile’s baby daughter

Ti Nomme — Odile’s young son (Translation: “petit homme,” French for “little fellow”)

Marcéline, Odile’s daughter

Marcélette, Odile’s daughter

Valsin, Odile’s manservant

Aunt Ruby, Aurélie’s cook



By Kate Chopin
Published in 1894

Mamzelle Aurélie possessed a good strong figure, ruddy cheeks, hair that was changing from brown to gray, and a determined eye. She wore a man’s hat about the farm, and an old blue army overcoat when it was cold, and sometimes top-boots.

Mamzelle Aurélie had never thought of marrying. She had never been in love. At the age of twenty she had received a proposal, which she had promptly declined, and at the age of fifty she had not yet lived to regret it.

So she was quite alone in the world, except for her dog Ponto, and the negroes who lived in her cabins and worked her crops, and the fowls, a few cows, a couple of mules, her gun (with which she shot chicken-hawks), and her religion.

One morning Mamzelle Aurélie stood upon her gallery, contemplating, with arms akimbo, a small band of very small children who, to all intents and purposes, might have fallen from the clouds, so unexpected and bewildering was their coming, and so unwelcome. They were the children of her nearest neighbor, Odile, who was not such a near neighbor, after all.

The young woman had appeared but five minutes before, accompanied by these four children. In her arms she carried little Elodie; she dragged Ti Nomme by an unwilling hand; while Marcéline and Marcélette followed with irresolute steps.

Her face was red and disfigured from tears and excitement. She had been summoned to a neighboring parish by the dangerous illness of her mother; her husband was away in Texas — it seemed to her a million miles away; and Valsin was waiting with the mule-cart to drive her to the station.

“It’s no question, Mamzelle Aurélie ; you jus’ got to keep those youngsters fo’ me tell I come back. Dieu sait [Note1], I wouldn’ botha you with ’em if it was any otha way to do! Make ’em mine you, Mamzelle Aurélie ; don’ spare ’em.

“Me, there, I’m half crazy between the chil’ren, an’ Léon not home, an’ maybe not even to fine po’ maman alive encore!” — a harrowing possibility which drove Odile to take a final hasty and convulsive leave of her disconsolate family.

She left them crowded into the narrow strip of shade on the porch of the long, low house; the white sunlight was beating in on the white old boards; some chickens were scratching in the grass at the foot of the steps, and one had boldly mounted, and was stepping heavily, solemnly, and aimlessly across the gallery.

There was a pleasant odor of pinks in the air, and the sound of negroes’ laughter was coming across the flowering cotton-field.

Mamzelle Aurélie stood contemplating the children. She looked with a critical eye upon Marcéline, who had been left staggering beneath the weight of the chubby Elodie. She surveyed with the same calculating air Marcélette mingling her silent tears with the audible grief and rebellion of Ti Nomme.

During those few contemplative moments she was collecting herself, determining upon a line of action which should be identical with a line of duty. She began by feeding them.

If Mamzelle Aurélie’s responsibilities might have begun and ended there, they could easily have been dismissed; for her larder was amply provided against an emergency of this nature.

But little children are not little pigs: they require and demand attentions which were wholly unexpected by Mamzelle Aurélie, and which she was ill prepared to give.

She was, indeed, very inapt in her management of Odile’s children during the first few days. How could she know that Marcélette always wept when spoken to in a loud and commanding tone of voice? It was a peculiarity of Marcélette’s.

She became acquainted with Ti Nomme’s passion for flowers only when he had plucked all the choicest gardenias and pinks for the apparent purpose of critically studying their botanical construction.

“‘Tain’t enough to tell ‘im, Mamzelle Aurélie,” Marcéline instructed her; “you got to tie ‘im in a chair. It’s w’at maman all time do w’en he’s bad: she tie ‘im in a chair.”

The chair in which Mamzelle Aurélie tied Ti Nomme was roomy and comfortable, and he seized the opportunity to take a nap in it, the afternoon being warm.

At night, when she ordered them one and all to bed as she would have shooed the chickens into the hen-house, they stayed uncomprehending before her.

What about the little white nightgowns that had to be taken from the pillow-slip in which they were brought over, and shaken by some strong hand till they snapped like ox-whips?

What about the tub of water which had to be brought and set in the middle of the floor, in which the little tired, dusty, sun-browned feet had every one to be washed sweet and clean?

And it made Marcéline and Marcélette laugh merrily — the idea that Mamzelle Aurélie should for a moment have believed that Ti Nomme could fall asleep without being told the story of Croque-mitaine [Note 2] or Loup-garou [Note 3], or both; or that Elodie could fall asleep at all without being rocked and sung to.

“I tell you, Aunt Ruby,” Mamzelle Aurélie informed her cook in confidence; “me, I’d rather manage a dozen plantation’ than fo’ chil’ren. It’s terrassent! Bonté! [Note 4] Don’t talk to me about chil’ren!”

“Tain’ ispected sich as you would know airy thing ’bout ’em, Mamzelle Aurélie. I see dat plainly yistiddy w’en I spy dat li’le chile playin’ wid yo’ baskit o’ keys. You don’ know dat makes chillun grow up hard-headed, to play wid keys? Des like it make ’em teeth hard to look in a lookin’-glass. Them’s the things you got to know in the raisin’ an’ manigement o’ chillun.”

Mamzelle Aurélie certainly did not pretend or aspire to such subtle and far-reaching knowledge on the subject as Aunt Ruby possessed, who had “raised five an’ buried six” in her day. She was glad enough to learn a few little mother-tricks to serve the moment’s need.

Ti Nomme’s sticky fingers compelled her to unearth white aprons that she had not worn for years, and she had to accustom herself to his moist kisses — the expressions of an affectionate and exuberant nature.

She got down her sewing-basket, which she seldom used, from the top shelf of the armoire, and placed it within the ready and easy reach which torn slips and buttonless waists demanded.

It took her some days to become accustomed to the laughing, the crying, the chattering that echoed through the house and around it all day long. And it was not the first or the second night that she could sleep comfortably with little Elodie’s hot, plump body pressed close against her, and the little one’s warm breath beating her cheek like the fanning of a bird’s wing.

But at the end of two weeks Mamzelle Aurélie had grown quite used to these things, and she no longer complained.

It was also at the end of two weeks that Mamzelle Aurélie, one evening, looking away toward the crib where the cattle were being fed, saw Valsin’s blue cart turning the bend of the road. Odile sat beside the mulatto, upright and alert. As they drew near, the young woman’s beaming face indicated that her home-coming was a happy one.

But this coming, unannounced and unexpected, threw Mamzelle Aurélie into a flutter that was almost agitation. The children had to be gathered.

Where was Ti Nomme? Yonder in the shed, putting an edge on his knife at the grindstone. And Marcéline and Marcélette? Cutting and fashioning doll-rags in the corner of the gallery.

As for Elodie, she was safe enough in Mamzelle Aurélie’s arms; and she had screamed with delight at sight of the familiar blue cart which was bringing her mother back to her.

The excitement was all over, and they were gone. How still it was when they were gone!

Mamzelle Aurélie stood upon the gallery, looking and listening. She could no longer see the cart; the red sunset and the blue-gray twilight had together flung a purple mist across the fields and road that hid it from her view. She could no longer hear the wheezing and creaking of its wheels. But she could still faintly hear the shrill, glad voices of the children.

She turned into the house. There was much work awaiting her, for the children had left a sad disorder behind them; but she did not at once set about the task of righting it.

Mamzelle Aurélie seated herself beside the table. She gave one slow glance through the room, into which the evening shadows were creeping and deepening around her solitary figure. She let her head fall down upon her bended arm, and began to cry.

Oh, but she cried! Not softly, as women often do. She cried like a man, with sobs that seemed to tear her very soul. She did not notice Ponto licking her hand.


Note 1 — (French) “God knows.”
Note 2 — (French) A boogeyman who deals with children who misbehave.
Note 3 — (French) A werewolf.
Note 4 — (French) “It’s overwhelming! Goodness!”

Author Chopin in 1877 with four of her five children.

Author Chopin in 1877 with four of her five children.

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In my little town of Jefferson, the Recreation Department has a very comprehensive after-school program for kids. My granddaughters Maddie and Sarah, ages eight and five, spend weekday afternoons at “the Rec,” and they love it.

At the Rec, the kids are monitored in age groups. They play indoor and outdoor sports, go on field trips, do craft projects, have story time, and otherwise stay entertained until late in the day when family members begin trickling in to take them home.

The staff people are young and kid-friendly, and Maddie and Sarah seem happy and comfortable with them. (It’s easy to tell when that isn’t the case.) The staff members  are called “Coach Mike” or “Coach Jessica” or whatever.

Normally, one parent or the other will pick up Maddie and Sarah on the way home from work, but sometimes, one of the grandparents is pressed into service. It happened to me last week.

At about 4 PM, the phone rang. It was my son Dustin, who was marooned at home after foot surgery, hobbling around on crutches, unable to drive.

“Dad,” he said, “Leslie is stuck in a meeting at work. Can you pick up the girls at the Rec?”

I’m always happy for a chance to see my girls.

An hour later at the Rec, I approached the fingerprint i.d. machine, placed my index finger on the glass, and — voilà — was granted permission to sign the girls out.

The device doesn’t always grant permission. Sometimes, you hold your finger wrong, and the machine rejects you and flashes red. All eyes turn in your direction, wondering if you might be a terrorist or a pervert. It’s quite intimidating.

But this time, the device lit up green, and a voice boomed out over the loudspeakers, “Maddie Smith and Sarah Smith to the office for checkout.”

Minutes later, the girls arrived, dressed in their school uniforms, weighted down with giant backpacks, brandishing assorted papers and artwork while dropping their lunchboxes and babbling non-stop.

Sarah was excited about her illustrated Christmas wish list. It consisted of small photos of stuff she wants, cut out of magazines and pasted onto a sheet of paper. The paste was still wet.

Simultaneously, Maddie was telling me an elaborate story about Coach Bob, who inadvertently took home a paper bag that contained Maddie’s candy, and, even after a string of promises, has neither returned the bag nor replaced the candy.

That story, I found as we walked to the car, was the preamble to a request.

Rocky, sometimes Mom and Dad let us stop at the CVS, because, you know, we pass it every day on the way home, and we ask them if we can please, please, stop and get something, and they say yes — not always, but a lot — and today, I have two dollars, and Coach Bob won’t bring back my candy, even though I keep asking him, and the candy is Xtremes Sour Candy, which is like a chewy flat plank, and it’s really good, and the flavor I like is Rainbow Berry, and that’s what Coach Bob took home accidentally — Rainbow Berry — and since I have two dollars and we’re gonna pass the CVS anyway —

Sarah then interrupted.

Rocky, I have two dollars, too! I have two dollars, so Rocky, can we stop at the CVS and get something? Pleeease, can we stop? I want to get Xtremes Rainbow Berry, too! Or maybe I’ll get a Juicy Drop Pop! The Berry Bomb kind like Maddie got once!

“Don’t get the Berry Bomb Juicy Drop Pop,” Maddie advised soberly. “The Berry Bomb flavor makes your lips blue.”

I managed to cut in. “Berry Bomb Juicy Drop Pop… Maddie, is that what you had last week, and it made your lips blue, and you didn’t want to go to school, and Dustin made you go anyway?”

“Yeah. It was embarrassing.”

“I don’t care if it makes my lips blue!” said Sarah. “Berry Bomb is the best flavor! I want that! Unless I change my mind and get Rainbow Berry Xtremes! That doesn’t make your lips blue, does it, Maddie?”

Maddie affirmed that Rainbow Berry Xtremes do not turn your lips blue.

“Well,” I said, “You’ve got your own money, and we’re not in a hurry, and CVS is on the way, so I guess we can stop.”

We loaded up, buckled up, and were off to CVS.

The CVS candy display is cleverly located at the checkout counter at the front of the store, which every customer passes twice, once when entering and once when exiting.

We, of course, never got beyond that point. The girls ran to the display and spent the next several minutes kneeling there, discussing the relative merits of the staggering, brightly-colored assortment of sugary goodies.

True to her word, Maddie chose a plank of Xtremes Sour Candy, Rainbow Berry flavor. Xtremes, I discovered, are fruit rolls with a sour taste. The slogan of Xtremes is “Devour the Sour.”

Sarah changed her mind numerous times, but eventually, blue lips be damned, settled on the Berry Bomb Juicy Drop Pop.

Juicy Drop Pops consist of a hard candy sucker at one end and a dropper at the other end that dispenses liquid candy. “Dare 2 Drop!” the label says, “Can You Handle It?” The drops in the Berry Bomb variety appear to be made of concentrated blue food coloring.

When the clerk rang up the two purchases and announced the cost, Maddie and Sarah stood silently, eyes downcast.

“So,” I inquired, “Who’s going to pay first?”

Maddie looked at me sheepishly. “I just remembered that my two dollars is actually Daddy’s money. It’s change I owe him.”

“Yeah, me, too,” Sarah chimed in. “I need to give Daddy his change.”

All three of them — Maddie, Sarah, and the clerk — waited quietly until I took out my wallet and paid for the candy.

Hustled. Bamboozled. Hoodwinked.


Juicy Drops

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Civics Lesson

My granddaughter Maddie has been pestering her parents lately for a cell phone.

Maddie is eight years old, a third-grader. She has her own laptop and email account, both of which she uses freely, but under close supervision. She also has access to an iPad, an iPod Touch, and the cell phones of most of her relatives.

Last month, she borrowed my Kindle. I’ll probably get it back loaded with new ebooks — Harry Potter, Nancy Drew, and who knows what.

Maddie, then, has plenty of electronic toys. It stands to reason that she would want a cell phone.

But she doesn’t need a cell phone. More importantly, her parents have said no, she is too young.

In her lobbying efforts, she focuses primarily on her dad, thinking he might be an easier mark. Some days he is, some days he isn’t.

Last weekend, Maddie brought up the subject anew.

“Dad, WHY can’t I have a cell phone?”

“Because it’s illegal for eight-year-olds to have cell phones,” Dustin told her with a straight face. He later said he was partly pulling her leg and partly trying to avoid the subject.

“The law is the law,” he said. “Our elected representatives make society’s rules. If we disagree, we have to take it up with them.”

Dustin probably framed his answer that way because Maddie’s class, as a tie-in to the November elections, is studying civics. In fact, as an example of how the system works, Maddie is running against some other kid for class president.

Maddie asked Dustin who, specifically, a person would contact if they disagreed with a given law.

Perhaps you can see where this is going.

“Well,” Dustin replied, “Our district representative in the Georgia House of Representatives is Tommy Benton.”

Maddie nodded and went upstairs to her room.

She returned a short time later carrying her laptop. She had run a Google search and located Representative Benton’s website. She asked Dustin to help her find Benton’s email address.

Dustin was busted. He fessed up and explained that he had been, as Maddie often describes it, joking on her.

“Maddie, I was just kidding,” he said. “There’s no law against kids having cell phones. I’m sorry I said that. I apologize.”

With the need to contact Benton defused, Dustin showed her the location of the email address under the “Contact Me” field.

Maddie knows her father well, including his tendency to tease her. She accepted this turn of events agreeably and went back upstairs to her room.

Now I’m sure you know where this is going.

The next morning, Dustin settled in to check his email. He also checked Maddie’s inbox, which he monitors.

He found this message:


From: “Benton, Tommy”
Subject: RE: Inquiry from the Tommy Benton Website
Date: November 11, 2012 9:53:14 PM EST
To: “Maddie Smith”


That is a great question. You are a pretty smart little girl to think of this question.

If everyone knew how to act or behave correctly then we would not need laws. Also your freedoms extend only until they infringe on someone else’s. For example: You have the right of freedom of speech, but you can’t go into a crowded room and yell FIRE.

When you start driving, you will have the freedom to drive on the roads, but you can’t drive on the wrong side or speed because you would infringe on someone’s else’s privilege to drive on that same road.

Safety is a big concern. Most laws are made for a small number of people just like rules at school.

Laws for people are just like rules you have at your house. They are for everyone so that each and every person knows what is expected.

Tommy Benton
Chairman, Human Relations and Aging Committee
Georgia House of Representatives
District 31


The “great question” to which Benton had replied was this:


From: Maddie Smith
Sent: Sun 11/11/2012 8:41 PM
To: Benton, Tommy
Subject: Inquiry from the Tommy Benton Website

Hi, my name is Maddie Smith, and I am 8 years old. I have a question for you. If it is a free country, then why do we have laws?


[Two smily-face graphics inserted]


I note that Benton sent his reply a mere 12 minutes after receiving Maddie’s email. Most impressive.

So was the question.

That’s my girl!

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Here is a pleasant little story about alien invasion and the enslavement of all humankind. It’s a gentle tale, related by a kindly father to his rosy-cheeked daughter. Ah, literature.

This short story, being in the public domain, is widely available free at Project Gutenberg and elsewhere online. However, Nook and a number of other sources charge you for it, hoping you aren’t paying attention. Ah, capitalism.  

Other than where the story first appeared, I found no details online about the story, the author, or any of his other works. Ah, Google.


The Mathematicians

By Arthur Feldman
Published in Amazing Stories, October-November 1953

They were in the garden. “Now, Zoë,” said Zenia Hawkins to her nine-year-old daughter, “quit fluttering around, and papa will tell you a story.”

Zoë settled down in the hammock. “A true story, papa?”

“It all happened exactly like I’m going to tell you,” said Drake Hawkins, pinching Zoë’s rosy cheek. “Now: two thousand and eleven years ago in 1985, figuring by the earthly calendar of that time, a tribe of beings from the Dog-star Sirius invaded the earth.”

“And what did these beings look like, father?”

“Like humans in many, many respects. They each had two arms, two legs and all the other organs that humans are endowed with.”

“Wasn’t there any difference at all between the Star-beings and the humans, papa?”

“There was. The newcomers, each and all, had a pair of wings covered with green feathers growing from their shoulders, and long, purple tails.”

“How many of these beings were there, father?”

“Exactly three million and forty-one male adults and three female adults. These creatures first appeared on Earth on the island of Sardinia. In five weeks’ time they were the masters of the entire globe.”

“Didn’t the Earth-lings fight back, papa?”

“The humans warred against the invaders, using bullets, ordinary bombs, super-atom bombs and gases.”

“What were those things like, father?”

“Oh, they’ve passed out of existence long ago. ‘Ammunition’ they were called. The humans fought each other with such things.”

“And not with ideas, like we do now, father?”

“No, with guns, just like I told you. But the invaders were immune to the ammunition.”

“What does ‘immune’ mean?”

“Proof against harm. Then the humans tried germs and bacteria against the star-beings.”

“What were those things?”

“Tiny, tiny bugs that the humans tried to inject into the bodies of the invaders to make them sicken and die. But the bugs had no effect at all on the star-beings.”

“Go on, papa. These beings over-ran all Earth. Go on from there.”

“You must know, these newcomers were vastly more intelligent than the Earth-lings. In fact, the invaders were the greatest mathematicians in the System.”

“What’s the System? And what does mathematician mean?”

“The Milky Way. A mathematician is one who is good at figuring, weighing, measuring, clever with numbers.”

“Then, father, the invaders killed off all the Earth-lings?”

“Not all. They killed many, but many others were enslaved. Just as the humans had used horses and cattle, the newcomers so used the humans. They made workers out of some, others they slaughtered for food.”

“Papa, what sort of language did these Star-beings talk?”

“A very simple language, but the humans were never able to master it. So, the invaders, being so much smarter, mastered all the languages of the globe.”

“What did the Earth-lings call the invaders, father?”

“‘An-vils’. Half angels, half devils.”

“Then, papa, everything was peaceful on Earth after the An-vils enslaved the humans?”

“For a little while. Then, some of the most daring of the humans, led by a man named Knowall, escaped into the interior of Greenland. This Knowall was a psychiatrist, the foremost on Earth.”

“What’s a psychiatrist?”

“A dealer in ideas.”

“Then, he was very rich?”

“He’d been the richest human on Earth. After some profound thought, Knowall figured a way to rid the earth of the An-vils.”

“How, papa?”

“He perfected a method, called the Knowall-Hughes, Ilinski technique, of imbuing these An-vils with human emotions.”

“What does ‘imbuing’ mean?”

“He filled them full of and made them aware of.”

Zenia interrupted, “Aren’t you talking a bit above the child’s understanding, Drake?”

“No, mama,” said Zoë. “I understand what papa explained. Now, don’t interrupt.”

“So, Knowall,” continued Drake, “filled the An-vils with human feelings such as Love, Hate, Ambition, Jealousy, Malice, Envy, Despair, Hope, Fear, Shame and so on. Very soon the An-vils were acting like humans, and in ten days, terrible civil wars wiped out the An-vils’ population by two-thirds.”

“Then, papa, the An-vils finally killed off each other?”

“Almost, until among them a being named Zalibar, full of saintliness and persuasion, preached the brotherhood of all An-vils. The invaders, quickly converted, quit their quarrels, and the Earth-lings were even more enslaved.”

“Oh, papa, weren’t Knowall and his followers in Greenland awfully sad the way things had turned out?”

“For a while. Then Knowall came up with the final pay-off.”

“Is that slang, papa? Pay-off?”

“Yes. The coup-de-grace. The ace in the hole that he’d saved, if all else failed.”

“I understand, papa. The idea that would out-trump anything the other side had to offer. What was it, father? What did they have?”

“Knowall imbued the An-vils with nostalgia.”

“What is nostalgia?”

“Home sickness.”

“Oh, papa, wasn’t Knowall smart? That meant, the An-vils were all filled with the desire to fly back to the star from where they had started.”

“Exactly. So, one day, all the An-vils, an immense army, flapping their great green wings, assembled in the Black Hills of North America, and, at a given signal, they all rose up from Earth and all the humans chanted, ‘Glory, glory, the day of our deliverance!'”

“So then, father, all the An-vils flew away from Earth?”

“Not all. There were two child An-vils, one male and one female, aged two years, who had been born on Earth, and they started off with all the other An-vils and flew up into the sky. But when they reached the upper limits of the strato-sphere, they hesitated, turned tail and fluttered back to Earth where they had been born. Their names were Zizzo and Zizza.”

“And what happened to Zizzo and Zizza, papa?”

“Well, like all the An-vils, they were great mathematicians. So, they multiplied.”

“Oh, papa,” laughed Zoë, flapping her wings excitedly, “that was a very nice story!”

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My two youngest grandchildren — Maddie, who will be eight in a few weeks, and Sarah, who just turned five — enjoy the outdoors, albeit in moderation.

Accordingly, my ex Deanna and I took them to a nearby state park recently for a modest stroll and a picnic.

The park has many miles of hiking and biking trails, but we stuck to a short paved section along the lake near the all-important playground.

Around here, poison ivy grows aggressively in the spring. The stuff was alarmingly lush that day and way too close on both sides of the trail.

“Guys,” I said, kneeling down at the side of the walkway, “Come here and take a look at this.” The girls approached.

I pointed to a robust specimen of poison ivy and said, “This is poison ivy. Do you know about poison ivy?”

“I do,” said Maddie.

“Well, if the oil of the plant gets on your skin, it will cause a nasty rash,” I said. “Blisters, itching, and all that. Be very careful not to brush against it.”

They peered silently at the plant, contemplating the awfulness it represented.

“Remember what it looks like,” I told them. “Poison ivy has clusters of three pointy leaves. There’s an old rhyme that will help you remember: ‘Leaves of three, let it be.'”

Maddie, the skeptic, replied, “Anything with three leaves is bad?”

“No, but this plant has three leaves, and it’s bad.”

The lesson being over, we continued our walk, menaced on both sides by the noxious plant, now identifiable with the old refrain, Leaves of three, let it be.

About an hour later, during a lull in the activity at the playground, I said to them, “Do you guys remember the rhyme I taught you, the one about poison ivy?”

Sarah gave me a curious look and didn’t reply.

“Leaves of three, let it be,” said Maddie.

“That’s my girl.”

A week later, we all got together again at the home of the Joneses, the girls’ other grandparents, to celebrate a couple of May birthdays.

It was the usual informal birthday gathering. Food was in abundance. In addition to a table full of snacks, we had brats and burgers on the grill, a giant vat of pasta salad, a birthday cake, and homemade ice cream.

During the course of things, Sarah got a guitar lesson from her uncle Bobby. Sarah’s parents helped Bobby’s daughter Shelby tackle a math assignment. (Being a Journalism major, I was powerless to help.)

Bobby also found a baby snake in a flowerbed. His mother declared that she would not spend another night in that house unless someone got a firearm and sent the snake to glory. Her demand was satisfied.

For most of the afternoon, people drifted around in groups of various sizes, coming together as necessary for eating, gift-giving, snake-killing, and the like.

At one point, Sarah and I ended up alone in the front yard, sitting on an old Marker Tree created in olden times by an indigenous tribe.

Marker Trees were made by bending a young sapling and forcing the trunk to grow horizontally. The tree then was allowed to grow a new vertical trunk, leaving a distinctive horizontal section in the middle.

Marker Trees were used extensively by Native American tribes. They were used to mark trails, point to water sources, indicate the location of important minerals, etc.

The Joneses call their Marker Tree “Bruno.” Maddie and Sarah like to sit on Bruno’s long, bench-like trunk and take turns riding the swing suspended from his upper branches.

For a while, Sarah sat on Bruno, tunelessly strumming her guitar.

Finally she stopped and looked up. “Rocky,” she said, “That thing you told us about poison ivy, and the way to remember it. I don’t understand the rhyme.”

“What don’t you understand about it?”

“You said, ‘Three leaves, letter B.’ What does the letter B have to do with it?”


“Oh, Sarah,” I said, “I am so sorry I wasn’t clear. Let me try again.

“The rhyme is ‘Leaves of three, let it be’ — not ‘letter B.’  ‘Let it be,’ as in ’leave it alone.'”

She paused to think about it.

“Okay, I get it,” she said. “What it means is, ‘if it has three leaves, you better be leavin’ it alone!'”

That’s my girl.

Sarah and Bruno.

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I’ve thought about writing this post many times, but never followed through. Somehow, the subject seemed a bit too personal, and disheartening. You’ll understand when you read it.

Why address it now? Maybe reading about “Logan’s Law” was the catalyst.


Logan’s Law

In his 1997 novel, “The Runaway,” Terry Kay introduced Logan’s Law, which he defined as the law of the way things are.

He named Logan’s Law after the fictional Logan Dolittle, a cruel and corrupt sheriff who enforced the status quo in his county.

Kay’s novel takes place in the South in the 1940s. In that setting, Logan’s Law is used to keep the power structure in control, to maintain order in the community, and to keep the Blacks ruthlessly in their place.

That scenario is more than just a Southern thing. As Kay notes in his introduction, “Logan’s Law is enforced in one form or another by every race and culture on earth.”

Which explains a great deal about the behavior of people in groups. Living by the status quo, and willingly submitting to it, are forces as powerful and certain as the law of gravity.

Typically, average people in average communities defer to the status quo as a way to conform and belong. Exceptions are few. If a child questions why certain things happen, his parents may explain, because that’s the way things are. Things have always been that way.

In one sense, this helps maintain peace and order. In another, it perpetuates prejudice, corruption, and fear.

I’ve never been one to feel responsible for the actions of my forebears. I figure I wasn’t there, and I had no influence on their behavior. Whatever my ancestors did, positive or negative, well, that’s on them.

It’s a good thing I feel that way, being from the South. The history of this region is a mixed bag of highs and lows — one that, frankly, does not average out well.

As far back as I can trace my ancestry, my relatives seem to have been average people of average means. Some were country folks and farmers, others were city dwellers in various trades. If I had a relative of substantial wealth, or, for that matter, a slave owner, I haven’t run across him yet.

And I’ll freely admit that not everyone who populates my family tree was a good guy. I’m related to my share of rascals, villains, and criminals. This is real life, not Mayberry, R.F.D.

Family Money

Consider the black sheep brother of the Jones family from rural Bulloch County, Georgia.

George and Gincy Ann Jones were farm folk, and they raised eight children. My maternal grandmother Leila, born in 1899, was the youngest of the four Jones girls.

George and Gincy Ann sent five of their eight children to college, Leila among them. Two of the four brothers earned law degrees.

According to family lore, one of the lawyer brothers misappropriated a sum of family money and fled to Miami. The police were not contacted, the money was not recovered. The brother was simply disowned.

Bill Horne

Or consider my maternal grandfather, Leila’s first husband, Bill Horne.

Bill was from Macon, and he worked as a dispatcher for the Central of Georgia Railway. In 1920, during his business travels, he met and married Leila. Their daughter Ann was my mom.

Bill’s job with the railroad kept him away from home for months at a time. He worked across the South, sometimes as far away as Texas. Periodically, he would return to Macon for a few days at home.

Bill was a frustrated writer. He wrote fiction in his spare time, but didn’t sell much. He also was a stringer — a free-lancer — for several small newspapers. Mostly, he wrote about sports and the outdoors.

Several times, Leila told me, Bill paddled alone into the Okeefenokee Swamp. He emerged days later with a fresh batch of stories about wildlife, or boating, or solitude.

Mom was still a toddler when Bill walked out on the marriage and left Leila to fend for herself. He moved to Hendersonville, North Carolina, and continued writing. If he had any success, we never heard about it.

Bill made no effort to stay in touch with his daughter. Eventually, he remarried. Mom never saw him again.

In 1950, when I was just a kid myself, Bill died of cancer. He was 49.

Mom never knew her father and had no memory of him. It was a regret she carried for the rest of her life.

Leila, being a strong and resourceful person, landed on her feet. She opened a beauty salon in Macon and ran it successfully through the Depression years and into the 1940s. At about the time Bill died, Leila married Frank Byrd and moved to Suwanee, Georgia.

Lucy Horne

Bill Horne turned out to be a cad, but his parents remained loyal to the wife and child he left behind.

Through the years, Lucy and Bill Horne, Sr. stood by their daughter-in-law and were doting grandparents to my Mom.

I never knew Bill Senior. I remember Lucy as a frail, elderly widow living alone in a small house in a modest Macon neighborhood.

She was a kind and gentle lady, but when we went to see her, she was very emotional — always sad and needy, crying easily. To me, it seemed excessive and abnormal.

I never knew why, and I didn’t ask. I just assumed she was lonely, and maybe had endured more troubles than I knew about.

Indeed, trouble had come to Lucy at a young age.

She was born in 1882. As a child, she was involved in a tragic and disturbing incident, surely the low point in my family history.

This is the story related to me years ago, always in a hushed and somber manner.

One hot summer day, when Lucy was four or five years old, she was sitting in the shade in front of her house. As she sat there watching the people go by, a black male — some say a teen, some say a young adult — walked past the house, drinking a bottle of cola.

No one ever knew if he threw the bottle intentionally, or if he simply didn’t see Lucy and casually tossed the bottle away.

The bottle struck Lucy in the temple. She was cut, but not badly.

No matter. Word spread quickly. A group of local men tracked down the man and lynched him.

Whether any of the men were from my family, I don’t know. No one was held accountable. Logan’s Law prevailed.

If you step back and look at our history objectively, the pattern is clear: we move forward haltingly, but we move forward nonetheless.

On the whole, we are moving in the right direction. Human rights, women’s rights, civil rights, gay rights — our society is slowly inching along a path toward greater fairness and compassion.

The pace is agonizingly slow. Always, there are fearful people and selfish interests trying to block the path. Sometimes, they succeed.

But, optimist that I am, I believe this is only temporarily.

I look forward to a time when people can explain “the way things are” to their children with pride.

Leila and Bill in happier times.

Lucy and my brother Lee, Macon, 1948.

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Last week, on my way to the lake to go kayaking, I stopped at Bell’s Grocery Store in Jefferson to get a deli sandwich to take along for lunch.

Bell’s is a small North Georgian chain, much smaller and more limited than your Krogers and Publixes, but they’re close, and they have good deli sandwiches.

Ahead of me in the checkout line was a young mother with a little boy of about two. The boy was babbling at full volume. Dennis the Menace was written all over him.

Dennis was seated in the cart, facing me. He shut up when I got in line behind him. He eyed me critically, taking in my NASA baseball cap, UGA t-shirt, red swim shorts, and blue mesh water shoes.

Finally, with a sour expression, he made eye contact. I gave him a cheerful smile.

His mother was the harried type. She fretted and fumbled with her purse, mumbling to herself as she struggled to fish out some cash. The checkout lady sighed.

“Mommy! Mommy! Let me hold it!” cried Dennis, straining to grab the cash from his mother’s hand.

Mom held the money out of his reach. “Not now, Brandon. Be still and let Mommy pay for the groceries.”

Aha. The child was a Brandon, not a Dennis.

“Give it to me, Mommy! I want to pay for the groceries!”

The mom hesitated, stuffed the bills back in her purse, and withdrew a credit card instead. “I think I’ll use this,” she said to the checkout lady, who gave her a whatever look.

When the mom reached forward to swipe the card, Brandon reached out with lightning speed and deftly snatched it from her hand.

“Brandon, give me the card.” said the mom. Brandon held the card behind his back.

She tried several times to grab it, but Brandon was too fast.

“Would you like a sucker?” the checkout lady asked. Her mouth was smiling, but her eyes were not.

“No!” he yelled.

“Mommy, I know how to pay! Let me pay!”

The mother looked tired. She turned to the checkout lady. “I changed my mind,” she said. “I’ll pay cash.”

She took the bills from her purse again and held them out for the checkout lady. Simultaneously, Brandon struck like a cobra, intent on grabbing the cash, too.

But the checkout lady was faster. She snatched the money from the mom’s hand and held it in the air, out of little Brandon’s reach.

“I knew the little fella would try that,” she said, sounding smug while trying not to.

Brandon, defeated, began to cry. His mother put down her purse and moved close to comfort him. While the checkout lady made change, the mom cooed and whispered to her son.

Through it all, I detected no anger or frustration from the mom. Fatigue and resignation, yes, but no anger and no frustration. Not a good sign.

She collected her change, placed her groceries in the cart, and wheeled off toward the exit. Brandon was still snuffling and pouting. She continued to talk softly to him.

After they were out of range, I said to the checkout lady, “That lady has her hands full.”

“That lady needs to snatch a knot in that boy’s tail,” she huffed. “She needs to put a stop to that nonsense, for his own good.”

“Yeah, it’ll only get worse,” I said.

“If that child was mine, he would act up that way exactly one time!” she said indignantly. “I would tan his little hide! My kids learned their manners, and that boy needs to learn his!”

Brandon’s mom, I suspected, was incapable of tanning his hide, or of teaching him much of anything. She seemed terribly weary, like a woman who was in over her head.

The checkout lady rang up my deli sandwich, and I paid her and turned to leave, but she wasn’t through.

“If she doesn’t do something about that boy, he’ll be in a world of trouble when he starts school.”

I nodded my agreement while edging sideways toward the exit.

“And it’s never the child’s fault! When you see a child like that, it’s the fault of the parents, every time!”

Oddly enough, my son Dustin has expressed that same sentiment. Dustin, a former juvenile probation officer, and a former detective in the Domestic Violence unit, knows whereof he speaks.

“Maybe you should make a deal with his mom,” I said. “She could pay you to straighten the boy out. From what I saw, I don’t think she can handle him.”

The checkout lady paused to consider the idea.

“I like it,” she said. “The Brat Whisperer.”

“You might end up on TV,” I said.

“That’s fine with me. It’s bound to pay more than Bell’s.”

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Marital Status

My ex-wife Deanna lives in Jefferson, a few miles from me. This is a relatively (pun intended) new thing. Up until last fall, Phoenix was her home.

But now, with all of our kids and grandkids back in Georgia and living within an hour of here, Deanna made the move, too. These days, instead of seeing photos of events and activities she missed, she attends them.

The last week of April was a good example.

Wednesday was Field Day at Jefferson Elementary School for the second graders. Field Day is a competition between classes in track and field events. Deanna was on the sideline all morning, cheering for Maddie’s class, The Green Machine.

Thursday was Sarah’s 5th birthday. Sarah is in Pre-K. At lunch time, her mama showed up at the school with chocolate cupcakes for the entire class. Now that Deanna lives here, too, all four of Sarah’s grandparents could be present to see it.

We asked Sarah’s teacher how many of her students could muster all four grandparents for a school event. Sarah is the only one.

Friday was Deanna’s birthday, and we took her to dinner at her favorite restaurant, El Centinela.

Saturday was the day of Sarah’s birthday party. Her parental units rented an inflatable water slide for the kids, and we sat around and watched, and ate snacks, including more chocolate cupcakes.

So, the week was busy and fun and exciting, and Deanna had a blast, and she probably congratulated herself every day for moving back to Georgia.

For me, Friday night at the Mexican restaurant was especially memorable, for reasons I will explain.

El Centinela is Spanish for the sentinel, which sort of implies a setting of silence and solitude.

The restaurant is anything but that. It’s a crazy, noisy place, as Mexican restaurants often are, especially on a Friday night. That makes the place an ideal choice for kids like Maddie and Sarah, who are part jumping bean and whose volume controls often malfunction.

At this point, let me elaborate about my marital status.

Deanna and I got divorced in 1989, which is a long time ago. A couple of decades is plenty long enough for emotions to cool, and we’ve managed to maintain a cordial relationship — probably moreso than many couples who split up.

And that’s cool. I’m all for civility. It’s better for your blood pressure. And it spares the rest of the family a lot of grief and unpleasantness that isn’t their doing.

Now, I always knew that, sooner or later, the grandkids would get curious about us — why we live on opposite sides of town — why we aren’t a couple, like their other grandparents. What’s up with that?

When the matter occurred to the three older grandkids, Kelsey, Katie, and Maddie, they either figured it out for themselves or asked their parents. Divorce isn’t an alien concept to kids these days. They get it.

As for Sarah, the issue had not yet bubbled up. Until Friday night at El Centinela.

It happened after dinner, while we were waiting for the check. The adults were chatting and finishing off a pitcher of Dos Equis. Maddie and Sarah were in orbit around the table, flitting from person to person in an animated fashion.

At one point, Sarah materialized next to me and climbed into my lap. “Rocky,” she said, “I know who your son is, and I know who your wife is.”

Apparently, with so much family stuff going on that week, she had been pondering relationships.

“Dustin is your son,” she declared proudly, “And Grandy is your wife.”

I always knew the subject might come up, but I had no answer prepared.

“You’re right,” I said. “Dustin is my son. And Grandy used to be my wife.”

She blinked in confusion. “Used to be?”

“Well, Grandy and I aren’t married any more. But we’re still friends.”

She looked stunned. “What? You broke up?”

Maddie and The Green Machine at Field Day.

Sarah, the birthday girl.

Deanna and Dustin.

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Last Thursday, the family assembled at Jefferson Elementary School for an art show by the second graders. Word was, my granddaughter Maddie had made a clay owl.

We — being Maddie, her sister Sarah, both parents, and all four grandparents — met at the school at 6pm. I observed that the eight of us arrived in five different cars.

Sarah, who turns five later this month, is an affectionate kid. She ran over at top speed and greeted me with an enthusiastic hug.

Maddie is less touchy-feely. She ran over, too, but instead of a hug, gave me her patented head-butt. This is a move wherein she plants her head in your midsection, which provides contact, but prevents you from pulling her too close.

They both began chattering at once, Maddie about the art show, Sarah about a scratch on her face — an injury she suffered earlier on the playground when she fell off the monkey bars.

I tried without success to follow both narratives, but I managed to document Sarah’s wound.

We met in front of the school, a spot familiar to us all. That’s where the cars queue up after school to pick up the students.

The school has an ingenious pick-up system that uses color-coded stations. As the cars arrive, the students are sent to stand next to one of the colored posts — red, blue, green, etc. — to be collected. All very elaborate and efficient.

As we passed the pick-up stations on the way to the gym, I fell in step next to Sarah.

“Which color post is your favorite?” I asked her. “If you got to choose one pick-up station to go to every day, which color would you pick?”

“Any one except pink,” she replied.

“What? I thought pink would be your choice. Pink has always been your favorite color.”

“I am SO over pink,” she announced. “And I’m over princesses, too. And mermaids.”

“Wow,” I said. “Do people know about this? I mean, your birthday is coming up. You always get pink things and princess dolls for your birthday.”

“Haven’t you seen my gift list?” she asked pointedly.

I had indeed. Come to think of it, the list made no mention of princesses, mermaid dolls, or pink.

Abruptly, Sarah veered off to join the two grandmothers, and I put an arm around Maddie’s shoulder. “So,” I said, “You have an owl in the art show?”

“We’ve been studying prehistoric people and how they did cave paintings,” she said. “We had a choice of doing an owl or a cave painting. You’ll see my cave painting when we get inside.”

“I’m confused,” I said. “Your dad told me you made a clay owl.”

“I did,” she answered.

As I was about to try again for an explanation, a voice from behind us yelled, “Don’t chase me, Maddie!”

We turned to see a grinning boy of Maddie’s age, arriving with his parents. Maddie glared at him and didn’t reply.

“Is that kid in your class?” I asked after they were gone. She nodded yes.

“Is he a decent guy?”

“No, he’s mean.”

“Well,” I said, “That’s the way it goes. Some kids are nice, some kids are jerks.”

“Adults are like that too,” her mama Leslie added sagely.

Inside the gym, the artwork was surprisingly good. The cave paintings had a rustic authenticity. Displayed on the walls in groups, they were colorful and attractive.

The clay owls looked stamped from a mold, but some classes displayed chalk drawings of owls — which, like the cave paintings, ranged from pretty good to very good. By the second grade, kids know what they’re doing.

I never got the connection between cave paintings and owls. Maybe there isn’t one.

For the next half hour, we made the rounds of the gym, saw all the art, mingled with the crowd, and signed the yellow tablecloth, which is a tradition at Jefferson Elementary.

Eventually, it was time to choose a restaurant for dinner. We let Maddie decide. She picked Ali-V’s, a home cookin’ restaurant.

Ali-V’s is named for a legendary local cook and beloved aunt of the proprietor. Many of the menu items came from the kitchen of the late Aunt Ali-V.

A low rumble of approval rippled through our group. Maddie had chosen well.

Ali-V’s was busier than usual that night, but we didn’t have to wait long. The staff pushed some tables together, got us seated, and took the drink orders.

Then a woman appeared and handed each of us a bingo card.

Thursday night at Ali-V’s, we learned, is Bingo Night.

“Wow, Bingo Night,” said Dustin.

He held up his card, studied it like Hamlet contemplating the skull of Yorick, chuckled, and said, “This is how you know you live in a small town.”

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‘Tis the season. Girls and moms everywhere are at large selling Girl Scout Cookies.

Recently, when I pulled into the Kroger parking lot, I observed two contingents of Girl Scouts in front of the store, one at each entrance.

Apparently, the two groups were in cahoots, because uniformed little girls ran constantly back and forth between the tables. I had a mental image of soldiers at the battlefront carrying messages between units.

I sized up the situation. The table at the left entrance was a mob scene — three moms, seven or eight Girl Scouts, and a gaggle of would-be customers. At the table on the right was one mom, one girl in uniform, and no customers.

I chose the door on the right.

When I reached the table, the little girl stepped forward and deftly blocked my path.

“Would you like to buy a box of Girl Scout Cookies?” she intoned. The mom, also in uniform, beamed proudly.

“How about this,” I said, fishing out my wallet. “I’ll make a donation, but you keep the cookies.”

The little girl looked to be seven or eight. I handed her four dollars, which she placed in a cigar box on the table.

“Angela, thank the gentleman for his donation,” said the mom.

Angela meekly thanked me.

“We get the money, and we still have the cookies,” said the mom. “You can’t beat that!”

“I’m on a diet,” I explained.

“Angela,” said the mom, “Tell the gentleman why we’re selling cookies and raising money.”

Angela looked at her blankly.

“Tell the gentleman we’re all going to Savannah to visit the birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts.”

“Oh, yeah, Savannah,” said Angela. She turned to me to relay the information.

“And tell the gentleman,” Mom interrupted, “What else we do with the money we raise.”

Angela looked puzzled again. She frowned and pursed her lips in concentration.

“Tell the gentleman we make a donation to the Humane Society of Jackson County.”

“Oh, yeah, the animals,” said Angela.

The mom decided to address me directly. “We’re raising money for a trip to Savannah to see the home of Juliette Gordon Low, who founded the Girl Scouts in 1912.”

Angela broke into a run and dashed off to the other table. The mom continued.

“Going to Savannah is our pilgrimage to Mecca. It’s a great experience for the girls.”

“My family is from Savannah,” I said. “My aunt lives there in an old neighborhood called Gordonston, which years ago was the family farm where Juliette grew up.”

I was going to mention that my grandfather once worked for Juliette’s daddy, General William Washington Gordon II, but I let it go.

“So you know the history,” said the mom. “That’s wonderful.”

“Well, I know about the Gordons and the Lows. When Juliette died, she set up a trust to build a small park in Gordonston, as a family memorial. The park is half a block from my aunt’s house. It’s about 9 or 10 acres. Beautiful place.”

Angela returned at high speed, accompanied by another giggling little girl in uniform.

“I’ve heard of that park,” said the mom, “Maybe we can see it on this trip.”

“Just so you’ll know, the Gordonston residents are very possessive about the park,” I said. “They claim Juliette intended it for the residents of Gordonston. People in the surrounding neighborhoods say she meant it to be a public park, for all of Savannah.”

“So, who’s right?”

“The lawyers haven’t decided. The original trust papers aren’t exactly clear.”

“Well,” the mom said with a hint of indignation, “Surely a group of Girl Scouts would be welcome at the park.”

“I’m sure they would,” I said. “From what I know about it, the residents have two real complaints: outsiders who take their dogs to the park and let them run loose, and teenagers who gather there at night to party. That’s when they call the police.”

Angela, who had been listening quietly, tugged at her mother’s arm.

“Mom,” she said anxiously, “I don’t want to go to Savannah if the police will arrest us!”

Original wrought iron gates, designed by Juliette Gordon Low, at the entrance to Gordonston Park.

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