EMPTY SPACE

By Mort Harris
An obscure astronomer recently made a startling discovery. He found an area in outer space that was empty. He ran to his computer and calculated that the empty space was one and a half billion light years across. He published his findings and there was a scramble of searchers rushing to their telescopes to check. When interviewed the astronomer was asked, “How did you realize such an important discovery?”
He said, “When I found there was nothing there, I knew I found something.”
Other astronomers questioned each other. Had they seen the same thing? Some said that they have seen nothing out there. Then that must be it.
When asked the significance of his discovery he said, “if it’s true that there is nothing out there, we could be on the threshold of finding another nothing or possible countless nothings. Someday with this discovery, we may find there is nothing in future explorations.”
Some had trouble seeing the area discussed; they were told they couldn’t see nothing for the star. They were reminded if you can’t see it, that’s it stupid.
There were many photographs taken of the space “Nothing.” Time magazine had a picture of it on its cover. Under the Time caption was a complete cover of “Nothing.”
One artist was so inspired he painted the empty area. It was hung in the gallery. One little boy with his mother asked “what is that?” referring to the painting of nothing.
“What does it look like?” she asked him.
“It looks like nothing,” he replied.
“That’s right” she said, patting him lovingly on the head.
Congratulations came from all over the world to honor the man who contributed “Nothing” to science. It appears now that “Nothing” will be the new frontier. We will be rapidly moving from the Atomic Age into the great new era of “Nothing.”
The astronomer was given the Pulitzer Prize for discovering “Nothing.” He admitted that finding “Nothing” was something. Soon it will be common knowledge. Ask any school boy what he knows about outer space and he will surely reply “Nothing.

If I Won The Lottery

Decade Seven and beyond: Exploration and mostly ill functioning body parts

To test to my grade school sentence diagramming skills, my father offered, “If I had a million dollars, I know what I would do,” probably his longest composition ever, discounting run-on sentences. Yet, too complex for my fifth-grade grammatical skills. An adverbial clause introduced with hypothetical if had me stumped. Seven decades later, Judy’s hypothetical creative writing challenge surfaced a pleasant memory, an early morning father-son discussion at the breakfast table—Dad and I were the only early risers in our family. He apparently knew what he would do with a million 1950’s dollars, today worth perhaps twenty million. Maybe he didn’t realize how many zeros followed the number one. His example inflated to today’s economy requires an extra zero, total of seven, but I am inured to big numbers considering America’s national debt with figures reaching ten zeros and climbing. Or, stargazer’s 1950 estimate of 4000 visible night-time stars to a number today with 4000 zeros behind it. Inflation!!

What would I do with, let’s say, twenty million dollars? An amount quite conservative considering recent near billion-dollar lotteries. The concrete-sequential segment of my brain needs to visualize what twenty million would mean in manageable units. Mercedes Benz cars, for instance. I recently gave my vintage E350 to my granddaughter and did a spot check for a new replacement, its price tag, fifty thousand dollars. Today’s twenty million dollars would deliver four hundred E350’s to my doorstep. Sales tax and registration would seriously damage my retirement. Dad could have purchased twice that many 1950 Fords, that last new car he ever owned, but, of course, he didn’t have any sales tax back then. He even wailed about social security tax because his eight dependents only eliminated his income tax.

My first consideration would be Laurie’s and my four children and our three grandchildren since I have no desire for even one new Mercedes, let alone four hundred. Not to eliminate their financial problems for the rest of their lives, but how to preserve a few financial hurdles to challenge their integrity. Besides, total reliance on even 20 million, large as that number is, would too soon evaporate, perhaps by one or two family members to the chagrin of the others.

My family values were developed through poverty, and who knows if an acquired DNA could be squandered by a bunch of zeros. Unable to decide, I would probably die intestate relying on the wisdom of the state to make the dispersal. To parrot the advice of a child to Santa, “As for me, my little brain isn’t very bright. Choose for me Dear Santa what you think is right.”

Give to charity, you might suggest. To the best of my knowledge, no millionaire has vowed to give half of his fortune away when he or she leaves this planet. Such an act of charity is reserved for the billionaires who wisely horded their millions to become billionaires. I could use that strategy and hoard my lottery good fortune, but my investment skills aren’t that great and my horizon for growth is relatively short. And the number of potential charities numbs my mind, again, threatening intestate.
A friend vowed to create his own charity and screen the needs of people requesting funds. What a nightmare. I can’t tolerate unsolicited calls when I have nothing to offer but maybe a change of car insurance. And, to the best of my knowledge, that friend has yet to win any lottery.

More significant, how would I handle winning a negative lottery, the person chosen to leave a sinking lifeboat, or, Shirley Jackson’s short story, “The Lottery” where a villager is chosen each year to be stoned to death. Could I accept such a just or an unjust decision of my peers?

I won the world’s greatest lottery back in 1941. Competing with a billion competitors and myriads of ever-changing circumstances of time and place, my little package of DNA found a mate and, with the help of God, developed my soul. I am still grappling with God’s creation to prepare it for when I must give it back, or at least account for the eight decades it was in my care.

I can create longer and more complex sentences than my dad, sometimes too long and convoluted, but I don’t have his vision of what to do with instant wealth.

MEMORIAL MEMORIES

Decade Six: Creative reflection

Father Pierz Memorial High School had been a mere hole in the ground across the fence from the cemetery much larger than any open grave on the other side. Who or what was to be buried there the spring of 1952? Just four of my sexual formative years, that’s all, which I struggle to uncover at a class reunion some fifty years later.
From the sixth grade playground, I watched that hole fill and grow into a three-story four-year high school. Sixth through eighth grade school students were considered mature enough for no-nun supervised playground north of the church, yet not quite ready for the hanky-panky of a middle school or a junior high school. Little did they know. We were the first television generation.
During the ’51-’52 school year, we sixth-graders played on the prairie, a vacant lot across from the construction site, post nun-supervision, pre hanky-panky. Three years later, we entered Father Pierz Memorial High School as the future class of ’59. We exited as graduates four years later through doors of a gymnasium that did not exist when our incarceration began.
Until the gym had been added, busses of basketball players and student fans traveled thirty miles down the road to Belle Prairie’s basketball court. As the tallest kid in tenth grade phy-ed, I’d been drafted to the “A” basketball squad because they needed a tenth player for practice scrimmage games. I got to suit up and even sent onto the floor for a full minute of play that season. Many years later, John Tax, team manager (towel-boy) at the time, recalls, “The home town fans cheered so loud the visiting team thought I was the team’s secret weapon to turn around a losing game.
Three lay members of our staff, Misters Peterka, Swartz and Graeve, names sounded like a lunch item at a German family restaurant. Father Schulzetenberg, resident superintendent, added color to the program, mostly with his fire-engine-red ’57 DeSoto, its interior accented with red and white cheerleaders. One morning I caught his attention and his disdain by screeching my ’49 Studebaker to a stop inches from his rear bumper. We jointly stepped out of our cars, faced each other and my rear left tire popped and fizzled just parked there.
I whispered, “Good morning, Father,” as my ego and my car slumped. He nodded and walked toward the building.
Years later, Father Schulzetenberg lit his signature cigarette after a particularly ritualized Christmas Mass and experienced a fatal heart attack. According to Father Voigt, he carried a card in his wallet that read, I am a priest. In case of an accident call a bishop. I had discovered his humorous nature too late to appreciate him.
Father Kunkel, an elderly priest recruited from a neighboring parish to instill sophomore boys with religion and sex education, stalked up and down the aisle slapping each of the faces of disruptive boys uttering, “You don’t give a damn if you go to heaven of hell.” Cause of his tirade, everyone giggling over his explanation of oral sex as misuse of an inappropriate opening in a woman’s body to avoid pregnancy. He walked out never to return, a little taste of the heaven he had mentioned prior to his exit.
Father Thompson replaced him with stories of growing up in gang-infested streets of Chicago, his favorite anecdote, holding the flame of cigarette lighter to the foot of some particularly bad gang member. He eventually left the priesthood and married one of my classmates after she had become a Franciscan nun. The married couple attended our tenth class reunion.
Father Robert Voigt confronted seniors as dispenser of religion. He taught us to believe hell exists! Between his glaring from his perch in front of the room and the funeral procession to a grave site outside our window, we paid attention. His teaching method was to select one student to stand and be interrogated about the assigned reading for the day. No one dared to not be prepared, just in case.
Confessions were offered in the room adjacent to the office on days prior to required Mass attendance such as First Fridays. With hormones raging and mortal sins well defined, mostly boys took advantage of this service.
Custodian Al Sand held court in the furnace room for us boys who needed to talk to someone without a mission to mold our character, yet effectively did. He gave me some fabric to cover the seats in my 1950 Mercury, but my Grandmother made me a winter coat out of the material in stead. A beautiful coat but didn’t wear it with the pride she so deserved. I chose the dark room as my escape from class, FILM DEVELOPING posted outside the door. One time our principal knocked and waited. We—discretion dictates I not mention who was with me—were caught. However, as seniors I had earned the respect of Sister Mary Gertrude.
Sister Shaun brought life to history while Sister Phyllis destroyed math. Correction, students like me destroyed Sister Phyllis, the consequences of guilt still felt fifty years later. Sister Romaine was the proper type to teach typing and Sister Magloire exemplified yet debunked evolution in biology class. A lively young Sister Renee taught Latin, a useless dead language. Sister Judine encouraged acting in public forums, while Sister Hilaire insisted we model Christ in our homes. Not once since Christian Family Living have I ever inserted a light bulb into my sock to darn shut a toe hole.
School lunches were served across the street in the church basement for fifty cents, a price increase from the dime we paid in first grade.
Jiggs Gilbride said, “Toss me a milk.” I did. He shoved his hands into his pockets and wandered off. I had to clean up the mess, and pay for the bottle. He was the bully of our class, the guy everyone wanted to befriend.
This and more from a memory jogged by a fiftieth class reunion.

Mitchell Phillip’s PATH to HELL reviewed

Mitchell Phillip’s Path to Hell is short and simple. However, consider Rob Reiner’s comment about his revisionist fairy tale, Princess Bride: “A fine line separates just simple from great satire.” Mitch’s story is not a satire, but his tongue in cheek approach to an old and well-worn genre creates irony. Some literary critics might see any turd on a dusty road as an allegory; however, some turds are allegorical.
Mitch’s simple characters, twenty discounting the dead and unnamed ones, interact in a series of vignettes, not always sequential. Interaction between characters supersedes their actions in furthering the plot, often with trite, near child like, dialogue.
Mitch’s elegant prose contrasting that of his characters—some even speak in dialect—challenges the reader to find depth and the reward is irony built into each character’s self exposure and/or comeuppance from the good-cop-bad-cop to a naive psychiatrist, to racial themes, legal justice versus street justice, and deadly sins contrasted with altruism. The hero reigns in the end—I might have preferred an ironic twist—leaving behind a cast of characters appropriately shunned or rewarded. Intimate sexual scenes are blocked to the reader’s irritation. It is a tale to be experienced on various levels.

PART TWO: CHAPTER FOUR (Latest chapter posted. Scroll down to chapter one and following chapters.)

CHAPTER FOUR

Groceries unpacked, I had rewarded myself with a Coke when the doorbell rang. Can in hand, I came face-to-face with my younger sister who had no reason not to be back in Illinois that I’d been aware of. Had she left Leroy? On-and-off-again relationships were common with my family but hopefully not dependable Mary Ann. She being nearest my age and my level of shared trust of all my siblings, any decision about sharing my stash of legal documents with family suddenly became more immediate.
“Come on in to my messy house. You’ve got some explaining to do.” My usual short and to-the-point sister greeting. “I’ll put some coffee on.”
“Guess what.” Allowing no time for any response, “We’re moving to North Dakota.” My reaction cut off in mid gasp, “Leroy bought a farm next to his Dad’s. One hundred and eighty acres.”
“That’s nice.” Since neither of us city girls had a clue of what an acre was, I assume she merely echoed Leroy’s enthusiasm.
“It’s a dairy farm.”
With an image from Dad’s nostalgic recounts about farm life in Wisconsin, I blurted, “Cows? Pigs? Chickens?” Replacing Dad with my sister in that picture didn’t fit.
“Just cows. And a bull. Leroy don’t believe in artificial whatever it’s called.” Spoken like a not quite yet farmer.
“With your kids?” A silly question, but I had trouble squeezing them into that developing scenario.
“Of course. They’re excited about being with their other grandparents.”
Our sons, born within days of each other, had strengthened our bond, but moving to Illinois soon after put some distance between us. North Dakota didn’t feel that much closer.
Details of their decision exhausted by a second cup of coffee—and Coke, I approached my subject of interest. “Do you ever look back on those years when Dad had all his problems with the court?”
“Not without getting mad at Hachey all over again.”
The importance of the research I eagerly pursued had suddenly dimmed, and might disappear entirely as far as family is concerned. It will have dead-ended with me; any of my siblings ever digging into the matter is unlikely. However, discussing the little our family knows, or think it knows, is still fair game.
“Dad’s starting to drink quite heavy.” Continuing to drink, but I needed a starting point for our conversation.
“He’s welcome to join us in North Dakota. It’s a big farm house and getting him away from St. Paul might be a good idea.” Touching a nerve, she added, “Leroy would be a good influence on Dad.”
My husband, Tim, until joining Alcoholics Anonymous, had an overwhelming influence over Dad, quite the opposite what Mary Ann suggested from her husband. I discouraged the idea. “Dad would never give up his job at Third Street Bar.”
“Ma said that’s temporary, just until he finds an automotive job.”
“You know Dad’s employment history. Always claimed to know more about the business than any of his bosses. He’d either walk away or get fired. After completing that course at Dunwoody Institute, he did have more knowledge about automatic transmissions than most.” I shook my head in frustration. “Still that superior attitude.”
“He did well with his beer and snacks route, until he stepped on some hoodlum’s toes.”
I left that false impression ride. The hoodlum was a local mafia boss who actually protected Dad’s venturing into Wisconsin. They were old buddies. He even wanted to hire Dad as a body guard after the war. Dad refused, probably his best decision ever, and they often played cribbage until Dad met Mother. “He quit that delivery job after an attempted robbery. Some colored fellow picked on the wrong guy for drug money. When cornered, Dad will protect himself.”
Mary Ann asked, “Is that when the NAACP got involved? I thought that was just one of Dad’s stories.”
“They defended Dad, even though one of their people got hurt pretty bad. Dad quit driving because he injured his back unloading beer barrels.”
“So, he takes a job at a bar and gets involved with a motorcycle gang.”
Away from St. Paul these past four years, my sister seemed well informed of family matters. My expression must have given away my surprise.
She explained, “Ma told me about some guy named Tiny and his motorcycle gang.”
“Gossip hardly worth the cost of a long-distance call.”
“No, not over the phone. Just yesterday, at home.”
“In St. Paul? At Conway?” Home should refer to husband and family, not back with Mommy and Daddy. Or, maybe I’m just envious of Mary Ann’s nostalgia for the place where we grew up.
“Yeah. Been back a week. I took Ma shopping and out to get her hair cut.”
“Back a week already?” Trying to make light of her slight, I chuckled. “Catering to Mother’s vanity.”
As a child, I longed to run my fingers through her hair. She wouldn’t allow me to get that close.
“What’s with the gun? Ma mentioned a revolver, but didn’t elaborate.”
“Belongs to the bar’s owner, keeps it hidden in a drawer near the cash register. A few weeks ago, Dad refused to serve one of Tiny’s buddies because he was drunk and obnoxious. The guy must have stewed a couple of days before rousing the gang to rough up Dad a bit.” A tidbit of information that should and did get my sister’s attention. “Tiny warned Dad ahead of time, and they hatched a plan. When a bunch of motorcycles pulled up in front of the bar and the gang tromped in, Dad greeted them holding the revolver like he was John Wayne. In a calm voice he said, ‘I’ll serve you, but I don’t want any trouble.’”
“Faking surprise, Tiny stepped forward and said, ‘Oh Hell, let’s just have a drink and let bygones be bygones.’ They all proceeded to get drunk.”
“Dad shouldn’t be messing with guns, especially at a bar.”
“I got on his case, too. He just sloughed me off. Claimed it wasn’t even loaded.”
“I’m surprised that Ma puts up with him anywhere near a gun, even if it’s not loaded. She sold his shotgun while he was…” Mary Ann paused as if trying to find the right word. “Gone.”
“Nearly gave it away, according to Dad. The guy took advantage of Mother because she didn’t understand its real value.” I accidently touched on Dad’s superior attitude toward his wife and most other women. With Mother, I agree he’s smarter, but she seems to have more common sense. Makes it all the more difficult for him to give up a good deal of control to her and his mother. I felt his defeat.
I changed the subject to another family trauma. “Do you remember the fire?”
Eyes lit up. “That kid could have gotten all of us burned to death. And what was his mother thinking? Shutting the closet door and leaving their apartment like nothing happened.”
“The kid was a pyromaniac and she covered for him.”
Mary Ann asked, “Were you home when it happened?”
A fair question. I was in junior high school and seldom hung around the apartment during the day, or even after dark, for that matter. “All eight of us kids were. Don’t you remember?”
“I was only ten. But I can still picture Ma walking us to Aunt Rita’s small apartment like a bunch of chicks following Mother Hen. Lucky Ma was there when the fire broke out.” Mary Ann peered into her coffee cup. “Seems like she’d been gone a lot. Was she working?” Her attention focused on Mother rather than Dad.
“The job at Whirlpool came later, after Hasting put Dad on out-patient status. At the time of the fire, she kept herself busy trying to get Dad transferred out of St. Peter.”
“And taking care of us kids.” Mary Ann reminisced. “I remember moving to the Projects quite clearly. Less crowded than at Aunt Rita’s, but the boys got the bigger bedroom, and four of us girls squeezed into the smaller one.”
“We had lived there years earlier.”
“I must have been a baby. How did we…?
I paused but Mary Ann failed to complete her question.
“When I got hepatitis from that filthy back yard and passed it on to our parents, Dad moved us back to the apartment on Seventh Street where we used to live with Grandma Leslie.” Thinking about that place conjured many unhappy memories as a toddler. Grandma fighting with my mother and forced out of her own apartment. Mother leaving me unattended and I fell off the second story porch. My being sent back to my Wisconsin grandmother because Mother was pregnant with Mary Ann. I can still feel Grandma’s swats across my butt with a willow switch.
“When did we move to the apartment on Ostego where that kid nearly burned the place down?”
“After a year or so on Simms Avenue.”
Mary Ann’s mood turned somber. “I remember moving often.” She brightened. “Well, once Dad got out of the hospital, it didn’t take him long to get us moved out of the Projects to our own house on Conway.”
“Thanks to being put back on one hundred percent disability. He made the down payment with the three years back pay he received.” The moment seemed right. “After nine months of lock-up at St. Peter, do you think Hastings’ psychiatrists should have allowed Dad that much freedom so soon? He was barely there a month.”
“No thanks to Hachey!”
“I suspect the judge made his decision and couldn’t change his mind without looking weak.” A deep plunge. “Dad could have gone haywire again and done something worse. Maybe even killed someone.”
“Dad would never do that.” Mary Ann voiced the opinion I’d shared until I read the newspaper accounts.
“That’s what we thought that back then.”
A childhood vision flashed of Dad asleep on the couch yelling and firing a make believe rifle into the air. Ma shooed us off to our rooms, said Dad was having a nightmare. Little did we know how his nightmare would become ours.
Mary Ann’s opinion remained firm. “Well, he’s a different man now.” She reflected, “That part of my life is cloudy. I was still in elementary school. All I remember is crying myself back to sleep ‘cause Dad wasn’t there to tuck me in.”
“You had Mother,” a direction I hadn’t intended for this conversation.
“Ma wasn’t as affectionate as Dad.”
“She let you brush her hair.” There, it was out, my only childhood envy of any of my siblings. Mother had long soft hair but, like touching a hot stove, a second attempt didn’t happen.
“Fixing her hair was my chore. We all had our jobs to do.”
“I never thought of it that way.” My leadership role in our family, belated but glaringly necessary, to stand up for my father as a counter to siblings who side in with our mother, or don’t give a damn about either. Mute though it must be, I will maintain my opinion about our father’s too casual treatment by his psychiatrist, a feeling I had resisted until researching the facts. He shot two men with little or no provocation. Location of the entry wounds indicted an intent to kill rather than just wound. Within inches, just one of the bullets would have changed Dad’s charge from attempted murder to first or second degree, or an insanity plea that would have been taken more seriously.
My head tells me Judge Hachey’s opinion was correct, and my heart sides in with those who diminished Dad’s crime. Why hadn’t I left the matter rest with family lore rather than dig into the facts? Consider the entire coverage of Dad’s criminal act buried permanently, along with the curiosity of one snoopy daughter.
The conversation with my sister steered back to Dad spending time in North Dakota. I agreed to work toward that goal, if I can’t get him to help himself without having to leave home.

CHAPTER EIGHT (latest posting–Scroll down for previous chapters starting from the beginning)

POSTED AUGUST 1, 2020

Monday Afternoon, November 27, 1899

Stella opens café door and bells tingle-tingle. Dark inside. Smell hurts nose, not rotten eggs. Makes eyes cry. Shiny bells jingle again when door closes. Two ladies at table stop talking, don’t like bells.
Stella pushes Caleb to ladies’ table. “Hello, Mrs. Cunningham. Hello Mrs. Sturgis.”
Mrs. Sturgis says, “Please call me Betsy. I’ve been plain ole‘ Betsy for over seventy years. We just came from a Christian Mothers’ wake.” Her eyes find Caleb. “Poor woman left an adult boy that isn’t quite right in the head.”
Boy gets own Mothers’ quilt.
Lady with Betsy wears big hat with make-believe pink and yellow flowers sewed on. Nana made “C” and “D” on Caleb’s baseball cap with green thread.
Lady with pretty hat moves purse moves purse with pink and yellow flowers. “You and the boy may sit with us until our husband’s arrive.”
Stella pulls off stocking cap from Earl’s mother. She should tell lady to say Caleb. Climbs on chair without help.
Lady holds purse on lap with both hands.
Betsy says, “You must be the orphan Mary Gerhard told us about.”
“His name is Caleb.” Nana pulls out chair and sits. “Say hello to Mrs. Cunningham and Mrs. Sturgis.”
Hands on table, fingers count each other. Whispers, “Hello.” Nana pushes hands on lap.
“You can call me Grandma Betsy. Mary told us how well you got along with her children.”
Grandma Betsy is nice.
Other lady tucks hair under hat. “Without any success of placing the child.”
Puts hands back on table. Tells Grandma Betsy, “Caleb rode Earl’s calf.”
“Who?” Lady with hat doesn’t remember Caleb.
“You rode a calf, how exciting.” Grandma Betsy tells Nana, “It’s a shame Matt won’t let Mary keep Caleb.”
“I stay with Nana.” Ladies look surprised.
“Nana?” Lady with hat shows sour face.
Stella says, “Nana is his sometimes nickname for me”
“Interesting.” Lady with hat looks at door. “Walt and Hank should be here by now.” She doesn’t like Caleb.
Emma carries many plates with food. Doesn’t drop any. “Where’s Father?”
“He should be here shortly. May we save him a place at our table?” Emma doesn’t hear Stella.
Grandma Betsy says, “Oh, the men will probably sit by themselves.”
“Mr. Cunningham will want to tell Father what he and Hank learned at the convent in Harrington.” Mrs. Cunningham looks at Caleb. “Without the boy.”
Looks at foot. Caleb has secret, too.
Emma comes back without plates. “Come with me, Caleb. Buddy needs help.” Buddy stands holding pan of meat. “Take it to Melvin’s group by the window.” She hands Caleb basket of bread. “Follow Buddy.” She gives little push.
Sees Man-in-Blue. “Caleb doesn’t…”
“You know Mr. Trask. If he wants to talk, just say hi.”
“Buddy can do it.”
“Okay.” Emma glances around. “I see Father, Walt, and Hank are joining the ladies’ table. Take this basket of bread to them.”
“Okay.” Holds with both hands. Careful not to drop. Man with white beard hooks cane to back of chair.
Nana says Man-in-Black with shiny shoes uses cane for street fighting.
Man with beard says, “What have we here?”
Holds up basket. “Bread.”
“I meant who is serving us today?” He sets bread on table.
“Caleb.”
Man puts thumbs behind suspenders. “You can call me Grandpa Hank.”
Wants to sit on Grandpa Hank’s lap. Tell him Caleb rode Earl’s calf.
Father waves hand. “Other tables need their bread, too.”
“Buddy can do it.”
Stella says, “You better help him. The adults want to talk.”
“Okay.” Looks at Grandpa Hank. Remembers one of Oma’s stories. “Caleb’s the ginker bread man.”
Mrs. Cunningham opens purse with flowers. “Other documents—”
“One moment, Clara.” Father waves hand again. “Scoot. Your friend needs help.”
Buddy not friend. Goes to kitchen and tells Emma, “Caleb has secret, too.”
“What prompted that bit of information?”
“Nana doesn’t want Caleb to hear Father’s secret.”
“You’re better off not knowing. Take it from Oma.”
Emma’s not Oma no more.
Buddy yells, “Pa’s got a whole deer cooking outside. Grab a plate and follow me.”
“Caleb stays inside.” Looks at Emma. “Take bread to tables.”
Emma says, “Now that’s teamwork.”
Follows Buddy with bread. Stella’s chair empty! Nana’s gone. Eyes won’t look. Mouth can’t say words.
Remember to use your words. If you go silent again, words might go away forever.
Father talks too loud. “I agreed to a meeting with the Franciscans about the orphanage, but not at the Rectory.” Ears don’t want to hear big people’s secrets. “The boy has caused enough of a scandal.”
“Oh, there you are Mr. Gingerbread Man.” Nana’s voice?
Opens eyes. Shows Nana bread.
“We already have ours. Go sit on my chair and I’ll find a table needing bread and locate another chair.”
Climbs on Nana’s chair. Father smiles too big. “Hello, Caleb.”
Already said hello to big people.
Mrs. Cunningham puts brown envelope in pretty purse. She takes pin out of hat and pushes hair back in. “One more thing, Father—”
“Tomorrow at the Rectory would be a better time and place to discuss this matter. You may bring Mrs. Sturgis along, if she makes you more comfortable, Clara.”
Father calls Mrs. Cunningham Clara. She says, “I am not afraid to come to the Rectory alone.”
Maybe Father scares Clara.
Grandma Betsy says, “I would love to go with you, Clara. After all, we Christian Mothers have supported the bishop’s plan from the start.” She glances at Father. “At least most of the women do.”
“But none have stepped up to the plate.” Clara peeks into purse and pulls string tight.
Grandma Betsy puts hand on Grandpa Hank’s hand.
She likes Grandpa Hank, too.
“He made some building blocks for you to play with. I’ll bring them to the Rectory when Mrs. Cunningham and I come to see Father.” She looks at Father. “When would you like to meet?”
“Tomorrow, I’m busy all afternoon.” Clara didn’t wait her turn.
Father says, “Morning will be fine. Perhaps ten o’clock.”
Walt shows big teeth. “I’ll contribute Wally’s cast-iron horse and wagon from his toy collection to haul Grandpa Hank’s blocks. Clara can bring it to the Rectory tomorrow when she and Betsy meet with Father. ”
Mrs. Cunningham makes eating-lemon face.
“Caleb likes horses.” Words come back. Wants white wagon.

The Wedding Shower

The Wedding Shower
by Mort Harris

A friend of mine was getting married. I was invited to his wedding shower that was held at a Dude Ranch. The wedding shower was great but the day ended in disaster. That was the day I received a new suit, got blisters on my foot and tried to explain to a judge why I was picked-up for indecent exposure.
There I stood in front of the judge with no pants and looking like a drowned rat. The judge stared down at me.
“It says here you were found by the police wandering on the bridle path in your underwear and no shoes. Do you have anything to say?”
“Yes. For one thing, I was not just in my underwear, I had a shirt on and I had one shoe on. I lost the other one trying to get my pants off.”
“Can you explain why you’re tried to get your pants off?”
“Yes.” “I was at my friends shower.”
“You were showering with a friend?” asked the judge.
“No your honor, I was with a horse.”
“You were showering with a horse?”
“ I was at a Dude Ranch your honor.”
“Okay” she said, “we’ll work that out later. Continue.”
“Well, it suddenly began to rain heavily so we were washed out.”
“You or the horse?”
“The shower was rained out so, we reined in the horses.”
She stopped me, “you said the shower was rained out and the horses were reined in?” “Yes.”
“We’ll work that out later too” she said. “Go on.”

“Well, we all rode our horses back to the stable but on the way my horse stopped to eat apples on the ground. I kicked, I hit, I punched but the horse would not move. So there I am sitting on the horse and getting rained on. I thought, if I could get off the horse and pull him away from the apples but that is when my leg got caught in the reins.”
“Wait” said the judge “you say your leg was caught in the rain? Where was the rest of you?”
“Getting soaked!”
“How come only your leg got caught in the rain?”
“Because your honor, I let the reins drop.”
“I know sir, in what direction did the rains drop” she snapped. Continue.”
“Well, as I was trying to get my leg out of the reins the horse started to run and there I was with one leg in the reins and the other on the ground being dragged along. To get my leg out of the reins I had to strip off my pants and lost a shoe at the same time. That’s how I got out of the rain.”
“Why was it so important to just get your leg out of the rain?”
“You don’t understand!”
“Please” said the judge “I’m confused enough. You must be telling the truth because no one could make-up a ridiculous story like that. We now find your story at the stable. They said your horse came back with a pair of pants but no rider. I have two pieces of advice for you. See a doctor and stay out of the rain. Case dismissed.”
When I returned to the stable there was my horse looking at me and laughing, and I’m sure the rest of the horses were giggling too. That’s the last Dude Ranch you’ll se me at.

MY SEDUCTION

Career development and lasting relationships

My mother claimed I laughed after hanging up, but the information received wasn’t funny. Gerald was dead, and I felt some responsibility for his decision to end his own life.
My mother had called me to the phone and stood by, curiosity etched on her face. “Well, what was that all about?”
I said, “My cashier’s husband shot himself.” I distinctly remember saying my cashier, not the cashier at the Paramount, or calling her by name, Carol.
“But you laughed.”
“I didn’t laugh,” I replied. “At least I didn’t mean to.”
“Were the two of you friends, this man who shot himself?”
“No, as a matter of fact he was very jealous, and I think he wanted to hurt me.” I had already said too much, but she tucked that incident away with the other mysteries surrounding my life away from home. “That was my manager on the phone and he wants me back right away.”
I had been summoned, but more important, I needed to talk to Carol, the first person I ever had intimate sex with.
The thirty-mile drive from my parent’s home to my college apartment seemed to take forever, with emotions ping ponged from guilt to relief and back to guilt. My unplanned one-day trip to visit my parents was to avoid a conflict with Gerald. Carol and I had been counting the box office receipts, when he parked across the street, got out of his yellow Buick, and glared.
Against Carol’s advice—he had obviously been drinking—I crossed the street rehearsing a question that I hoped would break the ice. His features were shadowed from the overhead streetlight and gave no indication of his temperament, but the strong odor of alcohol offered a clue.
“Are you willing to talk to me?” I chose my words carefully, opting against the blunt can we talk?
I accepted his snort as yes, because I hadn’t a prepared response if he refused.
“I’m so sorry about what happened between Carol and me. I would give anything to change that.” Silence. I chanced what only a naive young man might attempt. I held out my hand and said, “I’m hoping we can get past this and still be friends.”
The double irony of the situation, we weren’t friends before the incident. From the details Carol told me about their relationship, he wouldn’t be the kind of person I would want as a friend.
He stared at my hand and said, “And to think I was just beginning to trust you.” He stepped off the curb and headed toward the Paramount. Carol scrambled from the box office and disappeared into the theater. Gerald paused in mid street and headed toward the Sportsman Bar. I felt a sigh of relief when he bypassed my uncle’s bar in favor of a more rowdy bar a few doors down.
Later, as I was taking the receipts to the night deposit at the bank, a huge yellow Buick swerved, jumped the curb and came directly toward me. I froze, not knowing which way to move, but it swung back into the traffic. Gerald’s last words through his open window, “You fucker.”
I didn’t go to my apartment that night, but decided to pay my folks a visit. The next day was my day off and I didn’t care if I missed a day of school.
The seduction began a couple of months earlier when Carol and I were counting the matinee receipts. I joked that my landlady painted the toilet seat without telling me.
She laughed and said, “My sister’s fixing up an apartment in her basement you could rent. I’m living upstairs with her for the time being.”
Separated from their husbands, both sisters could use the extra money; it seemed like a logical decision. I moved a couple of days later, just before the storm of the century. When I woke up, I found approximately four inches of water covering the floor. Sloshing to the toilet I thought about the painted toilet seat, my reason for moving to this swimming pool. I retreated back to bed, the only dry spot, and pondered my predicament.
A light knock on the door and Carol’s voice, “Are you awake?”
She entered before I could answer, standing in the open door with the sunlight behind her. Her long blond hair usually tossed over her shoulder and spread across her left breast or braided and trailing behind her, was rolled tightly into a circle on top of her head. The few errant strands glittered.
She sat on the edge of my bed and said, “I’m sorry. We never expected a flooded basement. I wouldn’t blame you if you want to move out.”
I lay on my back grasping the single sheet tight to my neck. “Does this happen every time it rains?”
“It depends on what you mean by this.” She crossed her arms, lifted her negligee and thrust it aside. She stood and pulled the cover from my grasp. I remember her cold wet feet against mine, barely recovering from my trip to the bathroom. We were side by side, naked.
I can’t remember what happened, or didn’t happen, but she said, “Maybe if I let my hair down it will help,” so I assume our first attempt wasn’t a total success.
I didn’t need her to let her hair down to appear more sexy. That wasn’t the problem. I couldn’t tell her that the stretch marks on her stomach disturbed me. I knew she had children, but I had no idea what pregnancies can do to a woman’s stomach. To this day I imagine, if she thinks of the incident at all, she will assume letting her hair down did the trick. Actually, I shut my eyes, and it worked.
I hesitate to tell what happened next. Gerald burst into the room, sloshed to our bed and cuffed me across the face. He pulled Carol up by the hair and dragged her through the water and upstairs.
About a minute later Carol’s sister came down and said, “He’s gone, but you better get out of here.”
After a night in my car, my friend Del Hoppe and I located an apartment above Harry’s Bar at the opposite end of St. Germain from the Paramount. Del, a fellow college student, worked as a relief projectionist at the Paramount. We maintained our friendship to the present.
I suffered bouts of anger and guilt, the first against Carol and second against me, and our relationship never recovered to the openness we once shared. She got into trouble reselling tickets and pocketing the money, a somewhat common practice at the time, and agreed to quit. She remarried one of my college buddies.
I stopped at their apartment one evening after work to share the details of my promotion and was surprised at her protruding belly. I resisted asking if the wrinkles disappeared, and then began to mentally count our months of separation, although nearly a year had lapsed.
She grinned and patted her tummy. “It’s my husband’s baby.” She cast her gaze to the floor. “I miscarried Gerald’s baby.”
Gerald’s baby. I again began to mentally count but had no beginning or ending reference dates.
“You probably figured out that we reconciled before I quit at the Paramount, but you and I weren’t talking much at the time.”
My turn to stare at the floor. “I’m sorry.” For allowing her to take the blame or for the loss of her as my confidant, I couldn’t express at the time.
She ignored my apology. “Gerald took advantage of my guilt and forced himself sexually on me until I got pregnant. After the doctor established my due date, he shot himself.”
“He wanted you pregnant? Why?”
“I would have three kids to support, not an attractive situation for finding another husband.”
“Well, I guess you proved him wrong. Where is Gary?” When I had called she said he wasn’t home but I should come over anyhow.
“He hasn’t left me, if that’s what you’re thinking, nor are you going to get a repeat performance. We’ve hurt each other enough.”
“You didn’t hurt me,” I lied.
“Good. Now tell me what happened to Sammy?”
Sammy had been fired as manager of Paramount’s sister theater, and I was promoted to his position, the news I intended to share with Carol that evening. Theater business dominated our conversation the remainder of the evening. I wish we could have dug deeper into our relationship, which, except for one incident of sex, was like a brother sister. Had things worked out different, my seduction could have been a positive experience.
Like an older sister, Carol cautioned me about stumbling into a forced relationship by getting a girl pregnant. “Always carry condoms,” she had advised. “Look at me. Pregnant at age seventeen and forced into a bad marriage.”
I refused her advice because the sin would be premeditated. Ironically, she hadn’t offered a condom that morning in the flooded basement.
I believe her intent was my initiation to sex and wanted to make the experience a positive one for me. Another gift of irony, it turned out to be the least safe sex of all. The incident ultimately blended with all my other growing-up experiences and helped shape my character.
I only wish Gerald would have shaken my hand that night in front of the theater.

Gossip and Alpha Male

According to Yuval Noah Harari in his book SAPIENS, the key that set homo sapiens apart from the other animals about a million years ago can be found in the use of language. Most animals have speech related to specific needs: mating, danger, and pleasure. Some such as monkeys learned to deceive, a false alarm to clear the pack from a food source. Most sounds are memorized codes such as the alphabet soup of acronyms relating to our government, CIA, FBI, USDA, etc. Like the nouns in any language, the list could go on nearly forever.

Homo sapiens discovered relationships between these coded sounds, much like verbs, actions between them. On to higher forms of communication: abstractions (unseen forces in the universe) and hypothetical’s (if thens and what ifs.)

Abstract language coupled with a more basic interaction inherited from animals—rule of the alpha male over social groups, modern time extended to include alpha female—coupled with a basic human need for self identity. Who am I in relation to the other members of my social group. Gossip. These judgmental statements require abstract words—feelings, values, attitudes, appraisals, put-downs.

Social groups are still ruled by alpha males, but the lower hierarchy continually jostles for position, how do I fit in relation to those closest to me. Conspiracy theories—recently labeled fake news—add juice to the conversation.

HOW THE WEST WAS ACTUALLY WON

by Mort Harris
Nineteen forty eight, the American West teemed with hostile Indians. As more settlers moved out West, Redskins attacked wagon trains and burned ranch houses, tarnishing the name of Washington’s famous football team. The President, in desperation called upon Stephen Gold, the Secretary of State. “We have a serious problem with terrorism in this country” said the President. “The Indians are attacking us indiscriminately. We have information that they are stealing herds of women and raping the cattle.”
“Sir” asked Gold, “Could that report be in error?”
“Never!” thundered the President. “Our intelligence is indisputable; worse than that, they have resorted to suicide knifing.”
Gold was shocked. “Suicide knifing?”
“Yes” said the President. “Terrorists are attacking saloons; they knife a few people and then stab themselves to death.”
Gold shook his head. “Insane fanatics.”
“What’s wrong with those Indians?” questioned the President. “Haven’t we been generous with them?”
Gold whispered, “Maybe they are a little upset about us being on their land and slaughtering their Buffalo.”
“Nonsense. It’s those wild extremists, the Redskin Supremacists.” He grabbed Gold by the shoulders, “Gold, you are an expert on the far West. I need you to go and check out the tribes. We have received reports that they are preparing for more attacks. More importantly, it is rumored that they are compiling arrows of mass destruction.”
Gold asked, “Have you intercepted any vital messages between the tribes?”
“Only one, when we broke their smoke signal code.”
“What did it say?”
“Yankee go home.” The President shook his head. “Those inconsiderate heathens.”
“Ungrateful savages.” echoed Gold.
The President slammed his fist against his desk. “We have got to have more rigid immigration laws. The Indians act as if it were their land.”
Gold grimaced but nodded.
“One more thing Gold, when you’re out West find out what we can do to lure more settlers out there. I’ll send a large army with you as a peace measure, of course.”
After his futile search for arrows of mass destruction, Gold wrote:
Dear Mr. President,
I picked up some pretty trinkets and got a great buy on a blanket. At our pow-wow, I learned the tribes were not open to our kind of democracy. However, they thanked you for the gifts of whiskey.
Sincerely,
Stephen (One Braid) Gold
Toward the end of his trip, Gold found himself in Sutter’s Mill, California. Crossing the muddy main street, he was struck by a speeding stagecoach. People gathered around his injured body.
“Who is that?”
“That’s Gold.”
“What happened to him?”
“He was struck by a stagecoach.”
Word started spreading though the town. “They struck Gold.”
“Where?”
“Sutter’s Mill.”
The Pony Express carried the fake news all the way to Missouri. “They struck gold in California.”
The excitement spread by telegraph to Philadelphia, New York and Boston. Thousands of people stampeded out West to seek their fortune.
Swathed in bandages, splints on his arms and legs, Gold, leaning on a crutch, met the President in the Oval Office. The President nailed a medal into the cast that covered Gold’s chest. Gold attempted a salute but the cast on his arm locked at the half way point. The president heaped praises on his Secretary of State. “You have exceeded my expectations. You not only pacified the Indians with whiskey, but you discovered an ingenious way to get our people to migrate West.”
“Sir, the people of this nation are lucky to have a man such as you as President.”
“I know,” boasted the president. “I sent my best General and more troops to suppress the Indian uprising in the Dakota territory.”
Months later, General Custer stood proudly on a hill top waving the flag of the 27th Cavalry and shouted, “I will stop those Indians if it’s the last thing I do.”
Mort Harris is a comedy writer for Marty Allen.