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Posts Tagged ‘Literature’

There was a time a handful of decades ago when people read newspapers. They did it because newspapers (and magazines) were primary sources of news and entertainment. Imagine that.

Back in those days, the syndicated humor column “At Wit’s End” by Erma Bombeck was hugely popular. It appeared three times a week in 900 newspapers in the U.S. and Canada. A staggering level of readership.

Nowadays, people may know her name vaguely, but probably haven’t read any of her stuff. I aim to fix that, because everyone should read themselves some Erma Bombeck.

Someone wrote that “motherhood was her beat.” Well, she covered it with remarkable insight and wit. Bombeck had a knack for finding and sharing the humor and absurdity in the life of a typical suburban mom. Her columns, whether biting, ironic, sardonic, sentimental, or a combination thereof, rarely disappointed.

Here is a sampling.

———

Waking Up Momma (1966)

How I am awakened in the morning usually determines how I feel the rest of the day.

When allowed to wake up in the natural way, I find myself quite civil and reasonable to cope with the routine. When the children do the job for me, I awake surly, uncommunicative and tire easily. (I once fell asleep while I was having my tooth filled.)

It all begins at some small hour in the morning. The children line up at my bedside and stare at me as if I’m a white whale that has been washed onto the beach.

“I think she hears us. Her eyelids fluttered.”

“Wait till she turns over, then everybody cough.”

“Get him out of here.”

“She’s pulling the covers over her ears. Start coughing.”

I don’t know how long it will be before one of them discovers that by taking my pulse they will be able to figure out by its rapid beat if I am faking or not. But it will come.

When they were smaller, they were even less subtle. They would stick their wet fingers in the openings of my face and whisper, “You awake yet?” Or good old Daddy would simply heave a flannel-wrapped bundle at me and say, “Here’s Mommy’s little boy.”

(Any mother with half a skull knows that when Daddy’s little boy becomes Mommy’s little boy, Daddy’s little boy is so wet he’s treading water.)

The imagination of children never fails to stagger me. Once they put a hamster on my chest, and when I bolted upright (my throat muscles paralyzed with fright) they asked, “Do you have any alcohol for the chemistry set?”

Probably the most unnerving eye-opener was a couple of weeks ago, when my eyes popped open without the slightest provocation. “Those rotten kids have done it again,” I grumbled. “How can I sleep with that infernal quiet? The last time it was this quiet they were eating cereal on the front lawn in raggy pajamas.” I hurried to find them.

I found them in the kitchen intent on their cereal. No noise. No nonsense. “Go back to bed,” they yelled. “We won’t want any lunch until nine-thirty or so.”

It was going to be another one of those days.

———

The Paint Tint Caper (1965)

Once… just once… I’d like to be dressed for an emergency.

I don’t mean like my grandmother used to warn: “That is not underwear to be hit by a car in.” I mean just to be glued together, so you’re not standing in a hospital hallway in a sweatshirt (PROPERTY OF NOTRE DAME ATHLETIC DEPT.) and a pair of bedroom slippers.

In a way, it’s almost as if fate were waging a cruel war and you’re in the middle of it. Not only are you (a) bleeding to death, (b) grimacing in pain, and (c) worried half out of your skull, you are also plagued with the fear that the nurses in East Wing C are passing the hat to adopt you and your family for Thanksgiving.

Take our Paint Tint Caper, for example. Our small son climbed into bed with us early one morning and smiled broadly. I’m intuitive. I’m a mother. I sensed something was wrong. His teeth were blue. He had bitten into a tube of paint tint. Now if you’re visualizing some sweet, tousled-hair boy in his fire-engine pajamas, forget it. This kid looked like he was being raised by werewolves!

In addition to his blue teeth, he was wearing a pair of training pants and his father’s old T-shirt, which caught him loosely around the ankles. This was obviously no time to be proud or to explain that I was a few years behind in the laundry. We rode like the wind to the emergency ward of the hospital, where the doctor checked over his blue teeth so calmly I thought there was something wrong with mine because they were white.

“What kind of paint tint?” he asked clinically.

“Sky blue,” we said shakily, pointing to the color on his T-shirt.

“I can see that,” he said irritably. “I mean, what did it contain chemically?”

My husband and I stared at each other. Normally, you understand, we don’t let a can of paint into the house until we’ve committed the chemical contents and their percentages to memory. This one had escaped us somehow.

While they were pumping his stomach, we took a good look at ourselves. My husband was in a pair of thrown-over-the-chair denims and his pajama top. I was wearing yesterday’s house dress with no belt, no hose, and a scarf around my uncombed hair. I was clutching a dish towel, my only accessory. We looked like a family of Okies who had just stepped into the corridor long enough to get a tin can of water for our boiling radiator.

There are other stories, other dilemmas, but the characters never change. We’re always standing around, unwashed, uncurled, harried, penniless, memory gone, no lipstick, no hose, unmatched shoes, and using the dirtiest cloth in the house to bind our wounds.

Makes you want to plan your next accident, doesn’t it?

———

When God Created Mothers (1974)

When the Good Lord was creating mothers, He was into his sixth day of “overtime” when an angel appeared and said, “You’re doing a lot of fiddling around on this one.”

And the Lord said, “Have you read the specs on this order? She has to be completely washable, but not plastic. Have 180 movable parts… all replaceable. Run on black coffee and leftovers. Have a lap that disappears when she stands up. A kiss that can cure anything from a broken leg to a disappointed love affair. And six pairs of hands.”

The angel shook her head slowly and said, “Six pairs of hands… no way.”

It’s not the hands that are causing me problems,” said the Lord. “It’s the three pairs of eyes that mothers have to have.”

That’s on the standard model?” asked the angel.

The Lord nodded. “One pair that sees through closed doors when she asks, ’What are you kids doing in there?’ when she already knows. Another here in the back of her head that sees what she shouldn’t but what she has to know, and of course the ones here in front that can look at a child when he goofs up and say, ’I understand and I love you’ without so much as uttering a word.”

Lord,” said the angel, touching His sleeve gently, “Go to bed. Tomorrow…”

I can’t,” said the Lord, “I’m so close to creating something so close to myself. Already I have one who heals herself when she is sick… can feed a family of six on one pound of hamburger… and can get a nine-year-old to stand under a shower.”

The angel circled the model of a mother very slowly. “It’s too soft,” she sighed.

But she’s tough!” said the Lord excitedly. “You cannot imagine what this mother can do or endure.”

Can it think?”

Not only can it think, but it can reason and compromise,” said the Creator.

Finally, the angel bent over and ran her finger across the cheek. “There’s a leak,” she pronounced. “I told You You were trying to push too much into this model.”

It’s not a leak,” said the Lord. “It’s a tear.”

What’s it for?”

It’s for joy, sadness, disappointment, pain, loneliness, and pride.”

You are a genius,” said the angel.

The Lord looked somber. “I didn’t put it there,” He said.

———

A Mother’s Love (1985)

Someday, when my children are old enough to understand the logic that motivates a mother, I’ll tell them…

I loved you enough to bug you about where you were going, with whom, and what time you would get home.

I loved you enough to insist you buy a bike with your own money, which we could afford, and you couldn’t.

I loved you enough to be silent and let you discover your handpicked friend was a creep.

I loved you enough to stand over you for two hours while you cleaned your bedroom, a job that would have taken me 15 minutes.

I loved you enough to say, “Yes, you can go to Disney World on Mother’s Day.”

I loved you enough to let you see anger, disappointment, disgust, and tears in my eyes.

I loved you enough not to make excuses for your lack of respect or your bad manners.

I loved you enough to admit that I was wrong and ask for your forgiveness.

I loved you enough to ignore “what every other mother” did or said.

I loved you enough to let you stumble, fall, hurt, and fail.

I loved you enough to let you assume the responsibility for your own actions, at 6, 10, or 16.

I loved you enough to figure you would lie about the party being chaperoned, but forgave you for it… after discovering I was right.

I loved you enough to shove you off my lap, let go of your hand, be mute to your pleas and insensitive to your demands… so that you had to stand alone.

I loved you enough to accept you for what you are, and not what I wanted you to be.

But most of all, I loved you enough to say no when you hated me for it. That was the hardest part of all.

———

Are We Rich? (1971)

The other day out of a clear blue sky Brucie asked, “Are we rich?”

I paused on my knees as I retrieved a dime from the sweeper bag, blew the dust off it and asked, “Not so you can notice. Why?”

How can you tell?” he asked.

I straightened up and thought a bit. Being rich is a relative sort of thing. Here’s how I can always tell.

You’re rich when you buy your gas at the same service station all the time so your glasses match.

You’re rich when you can have eight people to dinner and don’t have to wash forks between the main course and dessert.

You’re rich when you buy clothes for your kids that are two sizes too big for the one you buy ‘em for and four sizes too big for the one that comes after him.

You’re rich when you own a boat — without oars.

You can tell people have money when they record a check and don’t have to subtract it right away.

People have money when they sit around and joke with the cashier while she’s calling in their charge to see if it’s still open.

You’re rich when you write notes to the teacher on paper without lines.

You’re rich when your television set has all the knobs on it.

You’re rich when you can throw away a pair of pantyhose just because it has a large hole in it.

You know people are loaded when they don’t have to save rubber bands from the celery and store them on a doorknob.

You’re rich when you can have a home wedding without HAVEN FUNERAL HOME stamped on the folding chairs.

You’re rich when the Scouts have a paper drive and you have a stack of The New York Times in your basement.

You’re rich when your dog is wet and smells good.

You’re rich when your own hair looks so great everyone thinks it’s a wig.

Brucie sat quietly for a moment, then said, “I think my friend Ronny is rich.”

How can you tell?” I asked.

His mom buys his birthday cake at a bakery, and it isn’t even cracked on top.”

He’s rich, all right,” I sighed.

———

No More Oatmeal Kisses (1969)

A young mother writes: “I know you’ve written before about the empty-nest syndrome — that lonely period after the children are grown and gone. Right now, I’m up to my eyeballs in laundry and muddy boots. The baby is teething; the boys are fighting. My husband just called and said to eat without him, and I fell off my diet. Lay it on me again, will you?”

OK. One of these days, you’ll shout, “Why don’t you kids grow up and act your age!” And they will. Or, “You guys get outside and find yourselves something to do, and don’t slam the door!” And they won’t.

You’ll straighten up the boys’ bedroom neat and tidy — bumper stickers discarded, bedspread tucked and smooth, toys displayed on the shelves. Hangers in the closet. Animals caged. And you’ll say out loud, “Now I want it to stay this way.” And it will.

You’ll prepare a perfect dinner with a salad that hasn’t been picked to death and a cake with no finger traces in the icing, and you’ll say, “Now, there’s a meal for company.” And you’ll eat it alone.

You’ll say: “I want complete privacy on the phone. No dancing around. No demolition crews. Silence! Do you hear?” And you’ll have it.

No more plastic tablecloths stained with spaghetti. No more bedspreads to protect the sofa from damp bottoms. No more gates to stumble over at the top of the basement steps. No more clothespins under the sofa. No more playpens to arrange a room around.

No more anxious nights under a vaporizer tent. No more sand on the sheets or Popeye movies in the bathroom. No more iron-on patches, rubber bands for ponytails, tight boots or wet knotted shoestrings.

Imagine. A lipstick with a point on it. No babysitter for New Year’s Eve. Washing only once a week. Seeing a steak that isn’t ground. Having your teeth cleaned without a baby on your lap.

No PTA meetings. No car pools. No blaring radios. No one washing her hair at 11 o’clock at night. Having your own roll of Scotch tape.

Think about it. No more Christmas presents out of toothpicks and library paste. No more sloppy oatmeal kisses. No more tooth fairy. No giggles in the dark. No knees to heal, no responsibility.

Only a voice crying, “Why don’t you grow up?” and the silence echoing, “I did.”

———

Plenty of Erma Bombeck’s columns are in print, and many are available online. Do yourself a favor and read some more Bombeck.

Bombeck E

Erma Louise Bombeck (1927-1996)

 

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In 1956, Truman Capote wrote a famous recollection about Christmas in the 1930s in rural Alabama. It tells of Capote’s close relationship at age seven with an elderly spinster cousin, his best friend and confidante. The story is warm, sentimental, and clearly heartfelt.

Capote grew up in Monroeville, Alabama, where, you may recall, his neighbor and childhood friend was Harper Lee. The spinster cousin, unnamed in the story, was Miss Nanny Rumbley Faulk, who was called Sook.

Central to “A Christmas Memory” is Sook’s magnificent home-made fruitcakes, which consisted of 21 ingredients and took half a day to prepare. Each fruitcake weighed almost 10 pounds. In case you’re feeling ambitious, here’s the recipe.

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, peace, and good tidings.

———

A Christmas Memory

By Truman Capote
Originally published in Mademoiselle Magazine, December 1956.

Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago. Consider the kitchen of a spreading old house in a country town. A great black stove is its main feature; but there is also a big round table and a fireplace with two rocking chairs placed in front of it. Just today the fireplace commenced its seasonal roar.

A woman with shorn white hair is standing at the kitchen window. She is wearing tennis shoes and a shapeless gray sweater over a summery calico dress. She is small and sprightly, like a bantam hen; but, due to a long youthful illness, her shoulders are pitifully hunched. Her face is remarkable — not unlike Lincoln’s, craggy like that, and tinted by sun and wind; but it is delicate too, finely boned, and her eyes are sherry-colored and timid. “Oh my,” she exclaims, her breath smoking the windowpane, “it’s fruitcake weather!”

The person to whom she is speaking is myself. I am seven; she is sixty-something, We are cousins, very distant ones, and we have lived together — well, as long as I can remember.

Other people inhabit the house, relatives; and though they have power over us, and frequently make us cry, we are not, on the whole, too much aware of them. We are each other’s best friend. She calls me Buddy, in memory of a boy who was formerly her best friend. The other Buddy died in the 1880’s, when she was still a child. She is still a child.

“I knew it before I got out of bed,” she says, turning away from the window with a purposeful excitement in her eyes. “The courthouse bell sounded so cold and clear. And there were no birds singing; they’ve gone to warmer country, yes indeed. Oh, Buddy, stop stuffing biscuit and fetch our buggy. Help me find my hat. We’ve thirty cakes to bake.”

It’s always the same: a morning arrives in November, and my friend, as though officially inaugurating the Christmas time of year that exhilarates her imagination and fuels the blaze of her heart, announces: “It’s fruitcake weather! Fetch our buggy. Help me find my hat.”

The hat is found, a straw cartwheel corsaged with velvet roses out-of-doors has faded: it once belonged to a more fashionable relative. Together, we guide our buggy, a dilapidated baby carriage, out to the garden and into a grove of pecan trees. The buggy is mine; that is, it was bought for me when I was born. It is made of wicker, rather unravelled, and the wheels wobble like a drunkard’s legs.

But it is a faithful object; springtimes, we take it to the woods and fill it with flowers, herbs, wild fern for our porch pots; in the summer, we pile it with picnic paraphernalia and sugar-cane fishing poles and roll it down to the edge of a creek; it has its winter uses, too: as a truck for hauling firewood from the yard to the kitchen, as a warm bed for Queenie, our tough little orange and white rat terrier who has survived distemper and two rattlesnake bites. Queenie is trotting beside it now.

Three hours later we are back in the kitchen hulling a heaping buggyload of windfall pecans. Our backs hurt from gathering them: how hard they were to find (the main crop having been shaken off the trees and sold by the orchard’s owners, who are not us) among the concealing leaves, the frosted, deceiving grass. Caarackle! A cheery crunch, scraps of miniature thunder sound as the shells collapse and the golden mound of sweet oily ivory meat mounts in the milk-glass bowl. Queenie begs to taste, and now and again my friend sneaks her a mite, though insisting we deprive ourselves. “We mustn’t, Buddy. If we start, we won’t stop. And there’s scarcely enough as there is. For thirty cakes.”

The kitchen is growing dark. Dusk turns the window into a mirror: our reflections mingle with the rising moon as we work by the fireside in the firelight. At last, when the moon is quite high, we toss the final hull into the fire and, with joined sighs, watch it catch flame. The buggy is empty, the bowl is brimful.

We eat our supper (cold biscuits, bacon, blackberry jam) and discuss tomorrow. Tomorrow the kind of work I like best begins: buying. Cherries and citron, ginger and vanilla and canned Hawaiian pine-apple, rinds and raisins and walnuts and whiskey and oh, so much flour, butter, so many eggs, spices, flavorings: why, we’ll need a pony to pull the buggy home.

But before these Purchases can be made, there is the question of money. Neither of us has any. Except for skin-flint sums persons in the house occasionally provide (a dime is considered very big money); or what we earn ourselves from various activities: holding rummage sales, selling buckets of hand-picked blackberries, jars of home-made jam and apple jelly and peach preserves, rounding up flowers for funerals and weddings.

Once we won seventy-ninth prize, five dollars, in a national football contest. Not that we know a fool thing about football. It’s just that we enter any contest we hear about: at the moment our hopes are centered on the fifty-thousand-dollar Grand Prize being offered to name a new brand of coffee (we suggested “A.M.”; and, after some hesitation, for my friend thought it perhaps sacrilegious, the slogan “A.M.! Amen!”).

To tell the truth, our only really profitable enterprise was the Fun and Freak Museum we conducted in a back-yard woodshed two summers ago. The Fun was a stereopticon with slide views of Washington and New York lent us by a relative who had been to those places (she was furious when she discovered why we’d borrowed it); the Freak was a three-legged biddy chicken hatched by one of our own hens. Every body hereabouts wanted to see that biddy: we charged grown ups a nickel, kids two cents. And took in a good twenty dollars before the museum shut down due to the decease of the main attraction.

But one way and another we do each year accumulate Christmas savings, a Fruitcake Fund. These moneys we keep hidden in an ancient bead purse under a loose board under the floor under a chamber pot under my friend’s bed. The purse is seldom removed from this safe location except to make a deposit or, as happens every Saturday, a withdrawal; for on Saturdays I am allowed ten cents to go to the picture show.

My friend has never been to a picture show, nor does she intend to: “I’d rather hear you tell the story, Buddy. That way I can imagine it more. Besides, a person my age shouldn’t squander their eyes. When the Lord comes, let me see him clear.” In addition to never having seen a movie, she has never: eaten in a restaurant, travelled more than five miles from home, received or sent a telegram, read anything except funny papers and the Bible, worn cosmetics, cursed, wished someone harm, told a lie on purpose, let a hungry dog go hungry.

Here are a few things she has done, does do: killed with a hoe the biggest rattlesnake ever seen in this county (sixteen rattles), dip snuff (secretly), tame hummingbirds (just try it) till they balance on her finger, tell ghost stories (we both believe in ghosts) so tingling they chill you in July, talk to herself, take walks in the rain, grow the prettiest japonicas in town, know the recipe for every sort of oldtime Indian cure, including a magical wart remover.

Now, with supper finished, we retire to the room in a faraway part of the house where my friend sleeps in a scrap-quilt-covered iron bed painted rose pink, her favorite color. Silently, wallowing in the pleasures of conspiracy, we take the bead purse from its secret place and spill its contents on the scrap quilt. Dollar bills, tightly rolled and green as May buds. Somber fifty-cent pieces, heavy enough to weight a dead man’s eyes. Lovely dimes, the liveliest coin, the one that really jingles. Nickels and quarters, worn smooth as creek pebbles. But mostly a hateful heap of bitter-odored pennies.

Last summer others in the house contracted to pay us a penny for every twenty-five flies we killed. Oh, the carnage of August: the flies that flew to heaven! Yet it was not work in which we took pride. And, as we sit counting pennies, it is as though we were back tabulating dead flies. Neither of us has a head for figures; we count slowly, lose track, start again. According to her calculations, we have $12.73. According to mine, exactly $13.

“I do hope you’re wrong, Buddy. We can’t mess around with thirteen. The cakes will fall. Or put somebody in the cemetery. Why, I wouldn’t dream of getting out of bed on the thirteenth.” This is true: she always spends thirteenths in bed. So, to be on the safe side, we subtract a penny and toss it out the window.

Of the ingredients that go into our fruitcakes, whiskey is the most expensive, as well as the hardest to obtain: State laws forbid its sale. But everybody knows you can buy a bottle from Mr. Haha Jones. And the next day, having completed our more prosaic shopping, we set out for Mr. Haha’s business address, a “sinful” (to quote public opinion) fish-fry and dancing cafe down by the river.

We’ve been there before, and on the same errand; but in previous years our dealings have been with Haha’s wife, an iodine-dark Indian woman with brassy peroxided hair and a dead-tired disposition. Actually, we’ve never laid eyes on her husband, though we’ve heard that he’s an Indian too. A giant with razor scars across his cheeks. They call him Haha because he’s so gloomy, a man who never laughs.

As we approach his cafe (a large log cabin festooned inside and out with chains of garish-gay naked light bulbs and standing by the river’s muddy edge under the shade of river trees where moss drifts through the branches like gray mist) our steps slow down. Even Queenie stops prancing and sticks close by.

People have been murdered in Haha’s cafe. Cut to pieces. Hit on the head. There’s a case coming up in court next month. Naturally these goings-on happen at night when the colored lights cast crazy patterns and the Victrolah wails. In the daytime Haha’s is shabby and deserted.

I knock at the door, Queenie barks, my friend calls: “Mrs. Haha, ma’am? Anyone to home?”

Footsteps. The door opens. Our hearts overturn. It’s Mr. Haha Jones himself! And he is a giant; he does have scars; he doesn’t smile. No, he glowers at us through Satan-tilted eyes and demands to know: “What you want with Haha?”

For a moment we are too paralyzed to tell. Presently my friend half-finds her voice, a whispery voice at best: “If you please, Mr. Haha, we’d like a quart of your finest whiskey.”

His eyes tilt more. Would you believe it? Haha is smiling! Laughing, too. “Which one of you is a drinkin’ man?”

“It’s for making fruitcakes, Mr. Haha. Cooking.”

This sobers him. He frowns. “That’s no way to waste good whiskey.” Nevertheless, he retreats into the shadowed cafe and seconds later appears carrying a bottle of daisy-yellow unlabeled liquor. He demonstrates its sparkle in the sunlight and says: “Two dollars.”

We pay him with nickels and dimes and pennies. Suddenly, as he jangles the coins in his hand like a fistful of dice, his face softens. “Tell you what,” he proposes, pouring the money back into our bead purse, “just send me one of them fruitcakes instead.”

“Well,” my friend remarks on our way home, “there’s a lovely man. We’ll put an extra cup of raisins in his cake.”

The black stove, stoked with coal and firewood, glows like a lighted pumpkin. Eggbeaters whirl, spoons spin round in bowls of butter and sugar, vanilla sweetens the air, ginger spices it; melting, nose-tingling odors saturate the kitchen, suffuse the house, drift out to the world on puffs of chimney smoke. In four days our work is done. Thirty-one cakes, dampened with whiskey, bask on windowsills and shelves.

Who are they for?

Friends. Not necessarily neighbor friends: indeed, the larger share is intended for persons we’ve met maybe once, perhaps not at all. People who’ve struck our fancy. Like President Roosevelt. Like the Reverend and Mrs. J. C. Lucey, Baptist missionaries to Borneo who lectured here last winter. Or the little knife grinder who comes through town twice a year.

Or Abner Packer, the driver of the six o’clock bus from Mobile, who exchanges waves with us every day as he passes in a dust-cloud whoosh. Or the young Wistons, a California couple whose car one afternoon broke down outside the house and who spent a pleasant hour chatting with us on the porch (young Mr. Wiston snapped our picture, the only one we’ve ever had taken).

Is it because my friend is shy with everyone except strangers that these strangers, and merest acquaintances, seem to us our truest friends? I think yes. Also, the scrapbooks we keep of thank-you’s on White House stationery, time-to-time communications from California and Borneo, the knife grinder’s penny post cards, make us feel connected to eventful worlds beyond the kitchen with its view of a sky that stops.

Now a nude December fig branch grates against the window. The kitchen is empty, the cakes are gone; yesterday we carted the last of them to the post office, where the cost of stamps turned our purse inside out. We’re broke. That rather depresses me, but my friend insists on celebrating — with two inches of whiskey left in Haha’s bottle.

Queenie has a spoonful in a bowl of coffee (she likes her coffee chicory-flavored and strong). The rest we divide between a pair of jelly glasses. We’re both quite awed at the prospect of drinking straight whiskey; the taste of it brings screwed-up expressions and sour shudders. But by and by we begin to sing, the two of us singing different songs simultaneously.

I don’t know the words to mine, just: Come on along, come on along, to the dark-town strutters’ ball. But I can dance: that’s what I mean to be, a tap dancer in the movies. My dancing shadow rollicks on the walls; our voices rock the chinaware; we giggle: as if unseen hands were tickling us. Queenie rolls on her back, her paws plow the air, something like a grin stretches her black lips.

Inside myself, I feel warm and sparky as those crumbling logs, carefree as the wind in the chimney. My friend waltzes round the stove, the hem of her poor calico skirt pinched between her fingers as though it were a party dress: Show me the way to go home, she sings, her tennis shoes squeaking on the floor. Show me the way to go home.

Enter: two relatives. Very angry. Potent with eyes that scold, tongues that scald. Listen to what they have to say, the words tumbling together into a wrathful tune: “A child of seven! whiskey on his breath! are you out of your mind? feeding a child of seven! must be loony! road to ruination! remember Cousin Kate? Uncle Charlie? Uncle Charlie’s brother-in-law? shame! scandal! humiliation! kneel, pray, beg the Lord!”

Queenie sneaks under the stove. My friend gazes at her shoes, her chin quivers, she lifts her skirt and blows her nose and runs to her room. Long after the town has gone to sleep and the house is silent except for the chimings of clocks and the sputter of fading fires, she is weeping into a pillow already as wet as a widow’s handkerchief.

“Don’t cry,” I say, sitting at the bottom of her bed and shivering despite my flannel nightgown that smells of last winter’s cough syrup, “Don’t cry,” I beg, teasing her toes, tickling her feet, “you’re too old for that.”

“It’s because,” she hiccups, “I am too old. Old and funny.”

“Not funny. Fun. More fun than anybody. Listen. If you don’t stop crying you’ll be so tired tomorrow we can’t go cut a tree.”

She straightens up. Queenie jumps on the bed (where Queenie is not allowed) to lick her cheeks. “I know where we’ll find real pretty trees, Buddy. And holly, too. With berries big as your eyes. It’s way off in the woods. Farther than we’ve ever been. Papa used to bring us Christmas trees from there: carry them on his shoulder. That’s fifty years ago. Well, now: I can’t wait for morning.”

Morning. Frozen rime lusters the grass; the sun, round as an orange and orange as hot-weather moons, balances on the horizon, burnishes the silvered winter woods. A wild turkey calls. A renegade hog grunts in the undergrowth. Soon, by the edge of knee-deep, rapid-running water, we have to abandon the buggy.

Queenie wades the stream first, paddles across barking complaints at the swiftness of the current, the pneumonia-making coldness of it. We follow, holding our shoes and equipment (a hatchet, a burlap sack) above our heads. A mile more: of chastising thorns, burrs and briers that catch at our clothes; of rusty pine needles brilliant with gaudy fungus and molted feathers. Here, there, a flash, a flutter, an ecstasy of shrillings remind us that not all the birds have flown south.

Always, the path unwinds through lemony sun pools and pitchblack vine tunnels. Another creek to cross: a disturbed armada of speckled trout froths the water round us, and frogs the size of plates practice belly flops; beaver workmen are building a dam. On the farther shore, Queenie shakes herself and trembles. My friend shivers, too: not with cold but enthusiasm. One of her hat’s ragged roses sheds a petal as she lifts her head and inhales the pine-heavy air. “We’re almost there; can you smell it, Buddy'” she says, as though we were approaching an ocean.

And, indeed, it is a kind of ocean. Scented acres of holiday trees, prickly-leafed holly. Red berries shiny as Chinese bells: black crows swoop upon them screaming. Having stuffed our burlap sacks with enough greenery and crimson to garland a dozen windows, we set about choosing a tree. “It should be,” muses my friend, “twice as tall as a boy. So a boy can’t steal the star.”

The one we pick is twice as tall as me. A brave handsome brute that survives thirty hatchet strokes before it keels with a creaking rending cry. Lugging it like a kill, we commence the long trek out. Every few yards we abandon the struggle, sit down and pant. But we have the strength of triumphant huntsmen; that and the tree’s virile, icy perfume revive us, goad us on.

Many compliments accompany our sunset return along the red clay road to town; but my friend is sly and noncommittal when passers-by praise the treasure perched in our buggy: what a fine tree, and where did it come from? “Yonderways,” she murmurs vaguely. Once a car stops, and the rich mill owner’s lazy wife leans out and whines: “Give ya two-bits” cash for that ol tree.”

Ordinarily my friend is afraid of saying no; but on this occasion she promptly shakes her head: “We wouldn’t take a dollar.” The mill owner’s wife persists. “A dollar, my foot! Fifty cents. That’s my last offer. Goodness, woman, you can get another one.” In answer, my friend gently reflects: “I doubt it. There’s never two of anything.”

Home: Queenie slumps by the fire and sleeps till tomorrow, snoring loud as a human.

A trunk in the attic contains: a shoebox of ermine tails (off the opera cape of a curious lady who once rented a room in the house), coils of frazzled tinsel gone gold with age, one silver star, a brief rope of dilapidated, undoubtedly dangerous candylike light bulbs. Excellent decorations, as far as they go, which isn’t far enough: my friend wants our tree to blaze “like a Baptist window,” droop with weighty snows of ornament. But we can’t afford the made-in-Japan splendors at the five-and-dime.

So we do what we’ve always done: sit for days at the kitchen table with scissors and crayons and stacks of colored paper. I make sketches and my friend cuts them out: lots of cats, fish too (because they’re easy to draw), some apples, some watermelons, a few winged angels devised from saved-up sheets of Hershey bar tin foil. We use safety pins to attach these creations to the tree; as a final touch, we sprinkle the branches with shredded cotton (picked in August for this purpose).

My friend, surveying the effect, clasps her hands together. “Now honest, Buddy. Doesn’t it look good enough to eat!” Queenie tries to eat an angel.

After weaving and ribboning holly wreaths for all the front windows, our next project is the fashioning of family gifts. Tie-dye scarves for the ladies, for the men a homebrewed lemon and licorice and aspirin syrup to be taken “at the first Symptoms of a Cold and after Hunting.” But when it comes time for making each other’s gift, my friend and I separate to work secretly.

I would like to buy her a pearl-handled knife, a radio, a whole pound of chocolate-covered cherries (we tasted some once, and she always swears: “I could live on them, Buddy, Lord yes I could — and that’s not taking his name in vain”). Instead, I am building her a kite.

She would like to give me a bicycle (she’s said so on several million occasions: “If only I could, Buddy. It’s bad enough in life to do without something you want; but confound it, what gets my goat is not being able to give somebody something you want them to have. Only one of these days I will, Buddy. Locate you a bike. Don’t ask how. Steal it, maybe”).

Instead, I’m fairly certain that she is building me a kite — the same as last year and the year before: the year before that we exchanged slingshots. All of which is fine by me. For we are champion kite fliers who study the wind like sailors; my friend, more accomplished than I, can get a kite aloft when there isn’t enough breeze to carry clouds.

Christmas Eve afternoon we scrape together a nickel and go to the butcher’s to buy Queenie’s traditional gift, a good gnawable beef bone. The bone, wrapped in funny paper, is placed high in the tree near the silver star. Queenie knows it’s there. She squats at the foot of the tree staring up in a trance of greed: when bedtime arrives she refuses to budge.

Her excitement is equaled by my own. I kick the covers and turn my pillow as though it were a scorching summer’s night. Somewhere a rooster crows: falsely, for the sun is still on the other side of the world.

“Buddy, are you awake!” It is my friend, calling from her room, which is next to mine; and an instant later she is sitting on my bed holding a candle. “Well, I can’t sleep a hoot,” she declares. “My mind’s jumping like a jack rabbit. Buddy, do you think Mrs. Roosevelt will serve our cake at dinner?” We huddle in the bed, and she squeezes my hand I-love-you.

“Seems like your hand used to be so much smaller. I guess I hate to see you grow up. When you’re grown up, will we still be friends?” I say always. “But I feel so bad, Buddy. I wanted so bad to give you a bike. I tried to sell my cameo Papa gave me. Buddy” — she hesitates, as though embarrassed — “I made you another kite.” Then I confess that I made her one, too; and we laugh.

The candle burns too short to hold. Out it goes, exposing the starlight, the stars spinning at the window like a visible caroling that slowly, slowly daybreak silences.

Possibly we doze; but the beginnings of dawn splash us like cold water: we’re up, wide-eyed and wandering while we wait for others to waken. Quite deliberately my friend drops a kettle on the kitchen floor. I tap-dance in front of closed doors.

One by one the household emerges, looking as though they’d like to kill us both; but it’s Christmas, so they can’t. First, a gorgeous breakfast: just everything you can imagine — from flapjacks and fried squirrel to hominy grits and honey-in-the-comb. Which puts everyone in a good humor except my friend and me. Frankly, we’re so impatient to get at the presents we can’t eat a mouthful.

Well, I’m disappointed. Who wouldn’t be? With socks, a Sunday school shirt, some handkerchiefs, a hand-me-down sweater, and a year’s subscription to a religious magazine for children. The Little Shepherd. It makes me boil. It really does.

My friend has a better haul. A sack of Satsumas, that’s her best present. She is proudest, however, of a white wool shawl knitted by her married sister. But she says her favorite gift is the kite I built her. And it is very beautiful; though not as beautiful as the one she made me, which is blue and scattered with gold and green Good Conduct stars; moreover, my name is painted on it, “Buddy.”

“Buddy, the wind is blowing.”

The wind is blowing, and nothing will do till we’ve run to a Pasture below the house where Queenie has scooted to bury her bone (and where, a winter hence, Queenie will be buried, too). There, plunging through the healthy waist-high grass, we unreel our kites, feel them twitching at the string like sky fish as they swim into the wind.

Satisfied, sun-warmed, we sprawl in the grass and peel Satsumas and watch our kites cavort. Soon I forget the socks and hand-me-down sweater. I’m as happy as if we’d already won the fifty-thousand-dollar Grand Prize in that coffee-naming contest.

“My, how foolish I am!” my friend cries, suddenly alert, like a woman remembering too late she has biscuits in the oven. “You know what I’ve always thought?” she asks in a tone of discovery and not smiling at me but a point beyond.

“I’ve always thought a body would have to be sick and dying before they saw the Lord. And I imagined that when he came it would be like looking at the Baptist window: pretty as colored glass with the sun pouring through, such a shine you don’t know it’s getting dark. And it’s been a comfort: to think of that shine taking away all the spooky feeling.

But I’ll wager it never happens. I’ll wager at the very end a body realizes the Lord has already shown Himself. That things as they are” — her hand circles in a gesture that gathers clouds and kites and grass and Queenie pawing earth over her bone — “just what they’ve always seen, was seeing Him. As for me, I could leave the world with today in my eyes.”

This is our last Christmas together.

Life separates us. Those who Know Best decide that I belong in a military school. And so follows a miserable succession of bugle-blowing prisons, grim reveille-ridden summer camps. I have a new home too. But it doesn’t count. Home is where my friend is, and there I never go.

And there she remains, puttering around the kitchen. Alone with Queenie. Then alone. (“Buddy dear,” she writes in her wild hard-to-read script, “yesterday Jim Macy’s horse kicked Queenie bad. Be thankful she didn’t feel much. I wrapped her in a Fine Linen sheet and rode her in the buggy down to Simpson’s pasture where she can be with all her Bones…”)

For a few Novembers she continues to bake her fruitcakes single-handed; not as many, but some: and, of course, she always sends me “the best of the batch.” Also, in every letter she encloses a dime wadded in toilet paper: “See a picture show and write me the story.”

But gradually in her letters she tends to confuse me with her other friend, the Buddy who died in the 1880’s; more and more, thirteenths are not the only days she stays in bed: a morning arrives in November, a leafless birdless coming of winter morning, when she cannot rouse herself to exclaim: “Oh my, it’s fruitcake weather! “

And when that happens, I know it. A message saying so merely confirms a piece of news some secret vein had already received, severing from me an irreplaceable part of myself, letting it loose like a kite on a broken string.

That is why, walking across a school campus on this particular December morning, I keep searching the sky. As if I expected to see, rather like hearts, a lost pair of kites hurrying toward heaven.

Capote-1

Capote-2

The photo taken of Truman and Sook by Mr. Wiston from California when his car broke down.

 

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More poetry that isn’t pretentious and a waste of time…

————

Abou Ben Adhem

By Leigh Hunt

hunt-l

James Henry Leigh Hunt (1784-1859)

Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold:—
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the presence in the room he said,
“What writest thou?” The vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered, “The names of those who love the Lord.”
“And is mine one?” said Abou. “Nay, not so,”
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerly still; and said, “I pray thee, then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow men.”

The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blest,
And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.

————

walmart

By nila northSun

northsun-n

nila northSun (B. 1951)

it is finally there
just on the other side
of the freeway
located on our tribal land
our poverty is over
we get all of the sales tax
besides the lease on the land
it is a fact
our unemployment rates
will decrease
an elder is a greeter
her white hair brilliant
against the blue of her
walmart smock
she smiles at me and
says ‘welcome to walmart’
minimum wage is
better than nothing.

————

At the Vietnam Memorial

By George Bilgere

bilgere-g

George Bilgere (B. 1951)

The last time I saw Paul Castle
it was printed in gold on the wall
above the showers in the boys’
locker room, next to the school
record for the mile. I don’t recall
his time, but the year was 1968
and I can look across the infield
of memory to see him on the track,
legs flashing, body bending slightly
beyond the pack of runners at his back.

He couldn’t spare a word for me,
two years younger, junior varsity,
and hardly worth the waste of breath.
He owned the hallways, a cool blonde
at his side, and aimed his interests
further down the line than we could guess.

Now, reading the name again,
I see us standing in the showers,
naked kids beneath his larger,
comprehensive force — the ones who trail
obscurely, in the wake of the swift,
like my shadow on this gleaming wall.

————

The House was still — the room was still

by Charlotte Brontë

bronte-c

Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855)

The house was still, the room was still,
‘Twas eventide in June;
A caged canary to the sun
Then setting, trilled a tune.

A free bird on that lilac bush
Outside the lattice heard,
He listened long, there came a hush,
He dropped an answering word.

The prisoner to the free replied

 

————

Rhyme for a Child Viewing a Naked Venus in a Painting of “The Judgment of Paris”

By Robert Browning

browning-r

Robert Browning (1812-1889)

He gazed and gazed and gazed and gazed,
Amazed, amazed, amazed, amazed.

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The deepest sin against the human mind is to believe things without evidence.

— Thomas Henry Huxley

###

If you torture data sufficiently, it will confess to almost anything.

— Fred Menger

###

A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.

— Winston Churchill

###

I am physically allergic to flip-flops.

— Karl Lagerfeld

Huxley

Huxley

Lagerfeld

Lagerfeld

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As documented here many times, I am a huge fan — HUGE fan — of Grand Canyon.

I’ve been to the Canyon 23 times; I’ve hiked many of the backcountry trails; I’ve taken four river trips down the Colorado River. Show me a random photo taken from the rim, and odds are, I can identify the landforms.

I’ve become more familiar with Grand Canyon than the average dude because, for reasons I can’t explain, I find the geography, geology, and history of the place endlessly fascinating.

Which is why I just got through re-reading “The Exploration of the Colorado River and its Canyons” by John Wesley Powell, a remarkable account of the first recorded journey down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon in 1869.

Here are some facts every schoolchild should know about that expedition…

——————

The leader of the 10-man Powell Geographic Expedition of 1869 was John Wesley Powell, geology professor, self-taught naturalist, and Civil War veteran. His purpose, in addition to being the first to explore the last uncharted stretch of the Colorado River, was to document the geology, biology, and native people of the region.

The members of the expedition:

Powell, who had lost an arm at the battle of Shiloh and was the only man who wore a life preserver. He was “Major Powell” to the men.
Walter Powell, his younger brother, a former Union Army captain. Described by the others as “surly and quick-tempered.”
John Sumner, a trapper and Civil War veteran. Worked for Powell on a previous expedition in the Rockies.
Frank Goodman, an Englishmen and skilled boatman who came to America to find out what the American West was really like. Signed on to have an adventure.
Oramel Howland, a mountain man and hunter, but also well educated. Worked as a newspaperman.
Seneca Howland, Oramel’s younger brother, a war veteran hoping the trip would bring fame and fortune.
William Dunn, a buckskin-clad hunter and trapper from Colorado.
William Hawkins, the expedition cook. An Army deserter who joined the group to lay low for a while.
George Bradley, an Army sergeant who joined the expedition on Powell’s promise of an prompt discharge afterward.
Andrew Hall, a strong, hard-working Scottish lad, age 20, a crack shot with a rifle.

Powell’s boat was the Emma Dean, a fast, lightweight, 16-foot vessel built of pine. The other boats, Maid of the Canyon, Kitty Clyde’s Sister, and No Name, were heavy, 21-foot oak vessels. The boats were divided into three compartments, one of which was watertight to protect the provisions.

The four boats were easy to handle on relatively smooth water, but not through the shallow, rocky rapids of the Green and Colorado rivers. Powell portaged most of the larger rapids or lined the boats through the rapids from the shore with ropes.

During the journey, several of the men grumbled that Powell was overly cautious, and many of the rapids he made them portage were runnable.

The expedition lasted three months, from May 24 until August 29. The men traveled about 1,000 miles. They began at Green River, Wyoming, journeyed downstream through a succession of canyons, and emerged from Grand Canyon not far from where the Virgin River meets the Colorado, near present-day Las Vegas.

Map-1

Map-2

In 1871, Powell repeated a good part of the original voyage, this time with more provisions, better equipment, and photographers in tow. He also knew what was ahead; the Colorado was the Great Unknown no longer.

After turning his diary of the first expedition into a book, Powell went on to head the U.S. Geological Survey and to serve as a director at the Smithsonian Institution. He died in 1902 at his summer cottage in Maine.

The expedition of 1869 was genuinely harrowing. The No Name was wrecked, the Emma Dean abandoned. They set out with provisions for 10 months, but most of the food was lost or spoiled. Only six of the 10 men completed the trip.

A depiction of

A depiction of “Disaster Falls” in Lodore Canyon, where the “No Name” went down with much of the expedition’s food and supplies.

Probably the most dramatic and climactic event of the expedition occurred in late August, when three men left the group and set out walking north, back to civilization.

Two months earlier, the expedition had lost Goodman, who dropped out after a series of especially difficult rapids.

At the time, the party had reached a stretch of calm water on the Green River in Utah. Rolling meadows covered both banks of the river. The expedition remained there for about a week to make repairs and buy supplies from a nearby tribe of Utes.

On July 5, the day before the party was to continue downriver, Goodman informed Powell that he was quitting. Apparently, he had his fill of adventure.

Now, on August 27, three more men were leaving.

The three were Dunn and the Howland brothers. All were seasoned mountain men. The terrain was harsh and the heat scorching, but they trusted their abilities. With the food almost gone, and fearing that worse rapids were ahead, they concluded that the odds favored striking out cross-country.

This is Powell’s account of the incident in his diary.

——————

August 27 — After supper Captain [Oramel] Howland asks to have a talk with me. We walk up the little creek a short distance, and I soon find that his object is to remonstrate against my determination to proceed. He thinks that we had better abandon the river here. Talking with him, I learn that he, his brother, and William Dunn have determined to go no farther in the boats. So we return to camp. Nothing is said to the other men.
 
For the last two days our course has not been plotted. I sit down and do this now, for the purpose of finding where we are by dead reckoning. It is a clear night, and I take out the sextant to make observation for latitude, and I find that the astronomic determination agrees very nearly with that of the plot — quite as closely as might be expected from a meridian observation on a planet.

In a direct line, we must be about 45 miles from the mouth of the Rio Virgen. If we can reach that point, we know that there are settlements up that river about 20 miles. This 45 miles in a direct line will probably be 80 or 90 by the meandering line of the river. But then we know that there is comparatively open country for many miles above the mouth of the Virgen, which is our point of destination.

As soon as I determine all this, I spread my plot on the sand and wake Howland, who is sleeping down by the river, and show him where I suppose we are, and where several Mormon settlements are situated. We have another short talk about the morrow, and he lies down again; but for me there is no sleep.

All night long I pace up and down a little path, on a few yards of sand beach, along by the river. Is it wise to go on? I go to the boats again to look at our rations. I feel satisfied that we can get over the danger immediately before us; what there may be below I know not.

From our outlook yesterday on the cliffs, the canyon seemed to make another great bend to the south, and this, from our experience heretofore, means more and higher granite walls. I am not sure that we can climb out of the canyon here, and, if at the top of the wall, I know enough of the country to be certain that it is a desert of rock and sand between this and the nearest Mormon town, which, on the most direct line, must be 75 miles away.

True, the late rains have been favorable to us, should we go out, for the probabilities are that we shall find water still standing in holes; and at one time I almost conclude to leave the river. But for years I have been contemplating this trip. To leave the exploration unfinished, to say that there is a part of the canyon which I cannot explore, having already nearly accomplished it, is more than I am willing to acknowledge, and I determine to go on.

I wake my brother and tell him of Howland’s determination, and he promises to stay with me; then I call up Hawkins, the cook, and he makes a like promise; then Sumner and Bradley and Hall, and they all agree to go on.

August 28 — At last daylight comes and we have breakfast without a word being said about the future. The meal is as solemn as a funeral. After breakfast I ask the three men if they still think it best to leave us. The elder Howland thinks it is, and Dunn agrees with him. The younger Howland tries to persuade them to go on with the party; failing in which, he decides to go with his brother.

Then we cross the river. The small boat is very much disabled and unseaworthy. With the loss of hands, consequent on the departure of the three men, we shall not be able to run all of the boats; so I decide to leave my “Emma Dean.”

Two rifles and a shotgun are given to the men who are going out. I ask them to help themselves to the rations and take what they think to be a fair share. This they refuse to do, saying they have no fear but that they can get something to eat; but Billy, the cook, has a pan of biscuits prepared for dinner, and these he leaves on a rock.

Before starting, we take from the boat our barometers, fossils, the minerals, and some ammunition and leave them on the rocks. We are going over this place as light as possible. The three men help us lift our boats over a rock 25 or 30 feet high and let them down again over the first fall, and now we are all ready to start.

The last thing before leaving, I write a letter to my wife and give it to Howland. Sumner gives him his watch, directing that it be sent to his sister should he not be heard from again. The records of the expedition have been kept in duplicate. One set of these is given to Howland; and now we are ready.

For the last time they entreat us not to go on, and tell us that it is madness to set out in this place; that we can never get safely through it; and, further, that the river turns again to the south into the granite, and a few miles of such rapids and falls will exhaust our entire stock of rations, and then it will be too late to climb out. Some tears are shed; it is rather a solemn parting; each party thinks the other is taking the dangerous course.
 
My old boat left, I go on board of the “Maid of the Canyon.” The three men climb a crag that overhangs the river to watch us off. The “Maid of the Canyon” pushes out. We glide rapidly along the foot of the wall, just grazing one great rock, then pull out a little into the chute of the second fall and plunge over it.

The open compartment is filled when we strike the first wave below, but we cut through it, and then the men pull with all their power toward the left wall and swing clear of the dangerous rock below all right. We are scarcely a minute in running it, and find that, although it looked bad from above, we have passed many places that were worse.

The other boat follows without more difficulty. We land at the first practicable point below, and fire our guns, as a signal to the men above that we have come over in safety. Here we remain a couple of hours, hoping that they will take the smaller boat and follow us. We are behind a curve in the canyon and cannot see up to where we left them, and so we wait until their coming seems hopeless, and then push on.

——————

Ironically, the expedition was already over. The two boats encountered no more significant rapids. The next day, they arrived at Grand Wash, the unofficial western end of Grand Canyon. There, they learned from Mormon farmers that most of the country assumed they were dead.

Dunn and the Howland brothers were never heard from again. By many accounts, they were killed by men from the Shivwits tribe who mistook them for three prospectors who had raped and killed a Shivwits woman.

Prior to his second expedition, Powell visited the Shivwits, hoping to find out the truth behind the rumors. According to Powell’s Mormon interpreter, Jacob Hamlin, the Shivwits admitted killing the men in a case of mistaken identity. Powell accepted the story and smoked a peace pipe with the chiefs.

But speculation also arose that the Howlands and Dunn were killed by Mormons, who blamed the deed on the Shivwits. The Mormon colonies of the time were paranoid about a possible attack by the U.S. Army. Hamlin easily could have altered the story.

Further, the killings happened only a decade after the Mountain Meadows massacre, in which 100-plus settlers on a wagon train to California were killed by a Mormon militia force.

Shivwits, Mormons, the heat of the August desert — we may never know for sure.

Of the 10 members of the first Powell expedition, nine have geological features in Grand Canyon named after them — a butte, a point, or in Powell’s case, an entire plateau. Not to mention Lake Powell.

The exception is Frank Goodman, who left the expedition before it reached Grand Canyon.

In 1939, on the 75th anniversary of the expedition, the rapid where Dunn and the Howland brothers left the group was named Separation Rapid. A commemorative plaque was placed at the site.

Today, the plaque and the rapid are deep below the surface of Lake Meade.

Drawing of George Bradley rescuing Major Powell from a predicament. One evening, while exploring near camp, Powell became stranded on a ledge and couldn't go up or down. Bradley was able to haul him up by using his long underwear as a rope.

Drawing of George Bradley rescuing Major Powell from a predicament. One evening, while exploring near camp, Powell became stranded on a ledge and couldn’t go up or down. Bradley was able to haul him up by using his long underwear as a rope.

Photo of Powell prior to the 2nd expedition with Tau-gu, a Paiute chief.

Photo of Powell prior to the 2nd expedition with Tau-gu, a Paiute chief.

Noted violinist Maud Powell, niece of John Wesley Powell, shown in 1918 at the Powell Memorial, Grand Canyon, Arizona.

Noted violinist Maud Powell, niece of John Wesley Powell, shown in 1918 at the Powell Memorial, Grand Canyon, Arizona.

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More poetry that isn’t pretentious and a waste of time…

——————

Mid-Term Break

By Seamus Heaney

Seamus Justin Heaney (1939-2013)

Seamus Justin Heaney (1939-2013)

I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
At two o’clock our neighbours drove me home.

In the porch I met my father crying —
He had always taken funerals in his stride —
And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.

The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
When I came in, and I was embarrassed
By old men standing up to shake my hand

And tell me they were ‘sorry for my trouble’.
Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,
Away at school, as my mother held my hand

In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
At ten o’clock the ambulance arrived
With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.

Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,

Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
He lay in the four-foot box as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.

A four-foot box, a foot for every year.

——————

The Star

By Jane Taylor

Jane Taylor (1783-1824)

Jane Taylor (1783-1824)

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are!
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.

When the blazing sun is gone,
When he nothing shines upon,
Then you show your little light,
Twinkle, twinkle, all the night.

Then the traveler in the dark
Thanks you for your tiny spark,
How could he see where to go,
If you did not twinkle so?

In the dark blue sky you keep,
Often through my curtains peep
For you never shut your eye,
Till the sun is in the sky.

As your bright and tiny spark
Lights the traveler in the dark,
Though I know not what you are,
Twinkle, twinkle, little star.

——————

If All the Skies

By Henry van Dyke

Henry Jackson van Dyke (1852-1933)

Henry Jackson van Dyke (1852-1933)

If all the skies were sunshine,
Our faces would be fain
To feel once more upon them
The cooling splash of rain.

If all the world were music,
Our hearts would often long
For one sweet strain of silence,
To break the endless song.

If life were always merry,
Our souls would seek relief,
And rest from weary laughter
In the quiet arms of grief.

——————

JABBERWOCKY

By Lewis Carroll

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) (1832-1898)

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) (1832-1898)

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought —
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And has thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

——————

Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep

By Mary Elizabeth Frye

Mary Elizabeth Frye (1905-2004)

Mary Elizabeth Frye (1905-2004)

Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

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More winners of the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for pretentious writing — the best of the worst.

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2013

GRAND PRIZE WINNER

She strutted into my office wearing a dress that clung to her like Saran Wrap to a sloppily butchered pork knuckle, bone and sinew jutting and lurching asymmetrically beneath its folds, the tightness exaggerating the granularity of the suet and causing what little palpable meat there was to sweat, its transparency the thief of imagination.

— Christ Wieloch, Brookfield, Wisconsin

GRAND PANJANDRUM’S SPECIAL AWARD

“Don’t know no tunnels hereabout,” said the old-timer, “unless you mean the abandoned subway line that runs from Hanging Hill, under that weird ruined church, beneath the Indian burial ground, past the dilapidated Usher mansion, and out to the old abandoned asylum for the criminally insane where they had all those murders.”

— Lawrence Person, Austin, Texas

WINNER, ADVENTURE CATEGORY

“I told you to wear sensible shoes, but no, your vanity would not allow it!” he yelled at me, as if that had something to do with the airplane crashing into the jungle and all the bodies draped in the trees, but it was just the sort of nonsense I was used to from him, making me wish one or the other of us was hanging dead above us, instead of Rodney.

— Thor F. Carden, Madison, Tennessee

WINNER, CRIME CATEGORY

It was such a beautiful night; the bright moonlight illuminated the sky, the thick clouds floated leisurely by just above the silhouette of tall, majestic trees, and I was viewing it all from the front row seat of the bullet hole in my car trunk.

— Tonya Lavel, Barbados, West Indies

DISHONORABLE MENTION

The dame was stacked, both conventionally and in that she was the third of five bodies piled against the wall, the wall’s earth tones reminding me of Grandmother’s house, which figured, since it was her house, she having stacked the bodies there after poisoning them, so I studied the bodies as I munched on Grandmother’s ginger snaps and felt a twinge in my stomach.

— Kenneth Bennight, San Antonio, Texas

DISHONORABLE MENTION

The dame that walked into my office was statuesque and looked like she ought to be standing on a bed of roses… in other words, she looked exactly like the garden gnome my ex-wife had stuck in our flower bed, next to a bird bath that attracted a whole lot of bills, much like my in-tray, which was lousy with them.

— Jackie Fuchs, Los Angeles, California

Snoopy-5

2014

GRAND PRIZE WINNER

When the dead moose floated into view, the famished crew cheered — this had to mean land! — but Captain Walgrove, flinty-eyed and clear-headed thanks to the starvation cleanse in progress, gave fateful orders to remain on the original course and await the appearance of a second and confirming moose.

— Elizabeth Dorfman, Bainbridge Island, Washington

WINNER, ADVENTURE CATEGORY

“Listen, Control!” snarled Captain Dan McMurdo across the ether, “I’ve got one engine shut down, the other running on fumes, a seriously wounded co-pilot who won’t last an hour, 53 refugee orphans down the back, and a nun for a radio operator, so turn the goddam landing lights on goddam pronto — sorry, Sister.”

— Gavin Dobson, no address

WINNER, PURPLE PROSE AWARD

He was a stolid man, prone to excessive and extended bursts of emotionlessness; but when Maurice loved, he loved with the passion of a dog itching its face against the grain of a firm-pile carpet.

— Stephen Sanford, Seattle, Washington

DISHONORABLE MENTION

My name is Caroline, and if you’re reading this I’m either dead or I’ve gotten lost in some alternate dimension where Liverpool has exploded and been replaced with a fancy water park… though it’s probably the first one.

— Aiko Baker, Murfreesboro, Tennessee

DISHONORABLE MENTION

I will not repeat what she said when she came home and found out I’d been straying Endust on her dog and throwing treats under the bed to get him to harvest the dust bunnies, but you wouldn’t think a young lady would even know any words like that.

— J. Andrew Cleland, Gray, Tennessee

DISHONORABLE MENTION

“One cannot easily shake off old habits,” was all that retired Detective Tim O’Hara could say when, after rifling through the dead old man’s pockets (which, as he expected, were all empty), inspecting his throat, and forcing open his cold, stiff hand to get fingerprints, he was gently but firmly pulled away from the coffin by his brother Harry and piloted out of the parlor under the perplexed stares of Uncle Mel’s friends and relatives.

— Jorge Stolfi, Campinas, Brazil

Snoopy-6

With that, you are fully up to date on the BLFC. The winners for 2015 will be announced soon.

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