Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Hometown Thanksgiving

Every year, my hometown celebrates Thanksgiving as a real family. A group of volunteers led by one of my best friends, one of the attorneys in town, puts on a gala, day-long event, and everyone in town -- and all the surrounding towns -- is invited. The work stretches for weeks prior to the big day, and the cleaning up and packing up can sometimes extend into the new year, but it's so much fun, and the fellowship among people from every walk of life is well worth the effort. The day includes breakfast beginning at 8:00 a.m., a complete Thanksgiving dinner beginning at 11:00, televised football, movies, board and table games, live music and dancing, bocce games when the weather permits, and supper at 5:00 p.m. I thought perhaps you'd like to take a little look at some of the fun involved.


It's The Perfect Week For This Christmas Story


So you're breaking up with me on my birthday? And Thanksgiving is just three weeks away. What about the plans we made with my family?” Victoria felt the sting of tears behind her eyes, but she was determined not to let them show.
The man across the table from her looked around to make sure no one else had heard Victoria's response. He dipped his head slightly and then looked back at her. “I didn't deliberately choose today to tell you this, but I felt it wouldn't be fair to you if I waited longer. If I'm going to be dating someone else, I want to do this thing right.”
Right! How right do you think it is that you already have your picture plastered all over the paper with her before you tell me? All my friends saw the two of you in that embrace on the front page of the society section before I even had a clue.”
That wasn't my fault either,” he said. “We were at the cast party the night the play closed, and it just … well … happened.”
Victoria fumed, but she knew further argument wouldn't change anything. And she'd known from the beginning that dating an actor was probably asking for trouble in the emotional department anyway. Steve Templeton was a hunk in every sense of the word, and women were always after him. The chances of his becoming a one-woman man were about as good as a snowman lasting through the month of July here in the city. Besides, she didn't need to beg someone to love her ---- did she?”
I'm sorry, Victoria. That's all I can say,” Steve said now.
She took a deep breath. “It's okay. If you don't still have feelings for me, you can't help that, I guess. But what really stings is that this twit you're taking up with is so obviously out for just one thing.”
Steve looked offended. “That's a mean thing to say, Victoria, and I would have thought cracks like that were beneath you.”
Well, let's just look at a few facts then, shall we? She is a bleached blond. Those roots are black as Georgia soil. She's obviously anorexic. Her body is hardly there except for two prominent implants. And she talks in only one-syllable words. It's a wonder she can even say your last name correctly.”
Steve stood up. “That's enough, Victoria. I don't need to hear anymore.”
Victoria stood too. “Don't worry. The subject under discussion is so shallow that I have nothing else to add. You two deserve each other,” she said as she turned, snatched her jacket from the back of the chair, and walked away from the table.
Two weeks later.
Vicky, we've got problems,” Dale Springer said as he entered Victoria's office on the top floor of Springer's Department Store.
What's up?”
All those mannequins we ordered to use in our front Christmas window have been in an accident.”
“What kind of accident can dummies get into?”
“A real accident – auto accident – well, in this case a truck accident.”
Oh, you mean the truck they were shipped in.”
“Right, and evidently all the merchandise in that truck was totaled. There will be no mannequins in time for the display to go in by Black Friday.”
Victoria leaned back in her chair and rubbed the back of her aching neck. She'd been working day and night the past two weeks – partly because she was trying to get Steve Templeton off her mind – and partly because, as head of the window display division at Springer's, her busiest season was in full swing. She let out a deep sigh. “Well … I'll have to think of something. Thanks for letting me know as soon as you could, Dale.”
Sure thing.” He turned to leave, but then turned back. “You know, I thought those mechanical mannequins were a terrific idea. That scene you described to me would really be an eye-catcher. The scenes would have looked like real life. Too bad,” he said and finally started down the hall.
Yeah,” Victoria said, even though she knew Dale was already too far down the hall to hear her response. “That was the idea. To look like real li ---” She stopped mid-sentence because an idea had struck full force. It would mean going out on a limb, but did she actually have much choice?
As her mental wheels continued to turn, excitement began to build. “Yep. I really believe it will work,” she told herself out loud and swung around in her chair to reach for her Rolodex. Her list of close acquaintances included two agents in the city who each had a long list of actors who were out of work or looking for more publicity. They should be a lot of help.
The following morning, Dale was back in her office. “Sonya just told me about the all-out search for live actors for our window. Are you sure this is going to be cost-effective, Vicky? It's a lot of money.”
Now, Dale, you said yourself that the idea of a scene that looked like real life would attract a lot of attention – and that converts to a lot of buyers – which converts to lots of money. We'll be a sensation, and just think, we will be setting the bar high this year. All of our competitors will be scurrying to try to catch up.”
Well … I admit that knowing Springer's is leading the way in innovative advertising has a nice ring to it. Okay … I'll back you on this, but … by jingles, girl, you'd better make it good enough to pay off.”
Victoria gave him two thumbs up and grinned at him.
Two days later, Steve Templeton entered her office. He hesitated at the door, but she put on her business face and greeted him with a smile. “Good morning, Steve. I bet you've come about the window display.”
Well, my agent sent me over. He said you were racing the clock on your displays and wanted live actors. But if you're uncomfortable ---”
Don't be silly, Steve. Our relationship is in the past. All I'm concerned about right now is getting enough actors to do our front Christmas window. We hope to make a dramatic impact this year, and we need a real hunk to pull it off – after all it's the window that covers half the front of the store.”
Steve preened and sat down in a chair opposite her desk. “Well, if that's what you need, this is your lucky day, Vic. It's just too bad I can't clone myself, isn't it.”
Victoria pasted on another false smile and said, “The hours are 10:00 to 6:00 with a break for lunch, and the actors will take turns working every other day so that no one gets too tired.”
Hey, that's not necessary. I can do every day from now 'til Christmas if you want. And let's face it, there aren't too many of us who can fill the bill,” he added, sliding his hand lovingly over his trendy hair.
Well, I'd be grateful if you could work every day, Steve. I know the newspapers are planning on a big spread about the new experiment with live actors, and the local TV station will be here at least one day to cover the act in the window.”
Terrific! I'm your man. Look no further.”
Well, do you want to take a copy of the contract and look over the details before you decide? I have several other actors to interview for the position as well, and then you can get back to me tomorrow.”
Hey, no, that's not necessary.” He stood up and moved to the desk, pulling a pen from his pocket. “Don't bother with interviewing those other guys. I'm your man. I don't need to read the details. I'm in for the long haul.”
But you don't know what all ---”
“Vicky,” he interrupted, lifting one hand like a stop sign. “No need to explain anything. Just let me sign the contract.”
Victoria shrugged her shoulders. “Well, if you're sure,” she said and turned to the last page of the contract for his signature. “I'll give you a copy to take home, of course.”
No need,” he said pocketing his pen. “Just tell me when we start.”
You'll need to be here by 9:00 this Friday morning.”
You got it, Vic,” he said with a wink and swaggered out the door.
As he left the outer office, Victoria's assistant came scurrying up to Victoria's desk. "Hey, wasn't that hunk who just left your office Steve Templeton, the actor?"
"Yeah," Victoria answered, grinning so widely her cheeks hurt.
"Did he come to beg you to forgive him for dumping you?"
Shhhh! Do you think I want everyone in the store to know he dumped me?”
Well, if he's come to his senses and asked you to come back to him, I don't see why it hurts ---”
For crying out loud, Marci, he didn't come to apologize to me!”
But you're grinning from ear to ear.”
Yes, I am,” Victoria answered with a satisfied sigh.
Then what was he doing here?”
His agent sent him, and I just signed him as one of the live actors for our main Christmas display window.”
You gave Templeton the part!? But the guy tossed you aside last month for that anorexic, bleached blond who, you said, can't even pronounce his last name!"
"Yeah, I know." There was the grin again. Victoria actually enjoyed the pain in her cheeks.
"So why give him a whole month's free publicity in your window?"
Wel-l-l-l, knowing him as I do, I was sure he'd sign the contract without reading the fine print.”
He didn't read the contract?”
Nope. And I offered it to him twice – three times actually. I even told him he could take it home. But, no … our Mr. Templeton has such an ego that he can't even imagine himself in a part that doesn't capitalize on his physique and his sex appeal.”
Sex appeal! But didn't you tell him ----” Marci's eyes grew large, and her mouth hung open. “Vicky, you didn't tell him!”
Tell him what … that he'll be wearing green tights, pointed rubber ears, a light-up nose, and jingle-bells on his shoes and his cap?” She shrugged her shoulders and got up from her desk to get a cup of coffee.
Wow,” Marci said, following her over to the coffee pot. “Way to go, girl!  Justice is served in the end.”  
Victoria picked up the coffee pot and grinned once more, looking at Marci before she filled the cup. “And, after all … a dummy's a dummy, right?” 
Hey, don't forget to visit my "Merry Christmas World" blog for lots of Christmas stories, songs, recipes, nostalgia, and other kinds of holiday fun.

'Everything's Jake' E-Book On Sale Through November: $0.99

It's just a little love story. But, then again, it's a whole lot more than a love story. It's about finding out who you really are and learning to like that person – and discovering that liking who you are opens the door for the best relationships with other people. It's about family – and friends who are just like family. It's about letting God's way of loving take control of your heart.

Meet Mariah Jacoby. She's happiest working under the hood of a car, but she's convinced that grimy hands and greasy smudges on her face aren't exactly what guys are looking for in a girlfriend. Unfortunately, though, she's having trouble holding down a job in any other field, despite college degrees and an upbeat personality. Desperate to change her unemployed status, she finally admits it's time to face the fact that she's really a “grease monkey” at heart, but dare she hope there's a guy in her future who's dreaming of a girl who smells like engine oil?

Some of you will recognize this story because you were following my blog a couple years ago when I wrote it -- posting one chapter at a time here on this site. But it's time for it to get out into the real world now and show us what it's made of.
If you weren't along for the ride when it was under construction, you can buy it here  -- and purchase an extra as a gift for someone you love:

Waking Up In The 21st Century: My Digital Books

BOW & ARROW -- QUIVER COVER FOR KINDLE - beige - NARROWEDI don't like to think of myself as old-fashioned or boring. I enjoy the fact that 21st-century technology has made our lives a lot easier and made communication a lot richer. On the other hand, I do begrudge the quiet time, face-to-face interaction, and just plain good manners in the company of others that were thrown out the window with the adoption of some of that technology.
However, I have faced the fact that the world has changed dramatically during my lifetime. Life is now digital with a capital 'D.' So I have finally come to the place that I am eager -- okay maybe not eager -- but I'm very WILLING --  to get involved in making all of my written work available for the readers out there whose lives are now 90% digital.
And there are so many of them. I'm completely outnumbered. I'll never forget the day one of my editors (considerably younger than I) said, "Just e-mail me the manuscript." I looked at him, shocked, and said, but then you'll have to print it all out yourself."  He looked back at me with what I'm sure was a mixture of impatience and pity, and said, "We read from the screen now." I'm sure the words that were really going through his young mind were something like, "You poor, old-fashioned little thing. The world is passing you by, and you don't even know it." Now, about 10 years later, I'm finally used to the fact that people love reading words that are not delivered in the form of ink on paper.
That being the case, my publisher and I finally set up shop in the Amazon Kindle store a few months ago. And several of my books are now available in digital format, with more coming even as I write this post.
Now, don't misunderstand; I'm not going overboard technologically.  I still have my little flip phone rather than a smart phone or an Android. And I still use my trusty old desktop PC with a tower that weighs nearly a ton. So I'm not going super modern here. But I do want all those folks out there who have been asking me for the past couple years if my books are available for e-readers yet to finally hear me say, "Yes, you can get them from Amazon."
So, there we have it. You've heard it here first -- well, almost. One or two other people who are excited about the fact that they can FINALLY read my books while they travel have been spreading the news around. But, other than those few, you readers and my Facebook followers are the first to know.
The first novel to go digital was A Quiver Full of Arrows. It was not my first novel, nor the first one published in print, but it was the publisher's first choice for the newest venture. Many of you who were following me last year will remember it. I had written only half of it about three years ago, and I decided to write the rest of it in serialized form on one of my blog -- one chapter a day -- until I had made myself finish it. You were very gracious in your response to it, and I'm so glad you enjoyed it. It will no longer be posted for a free read, however, since it is now under contract with Amazon for exclusive marketing.
If you're one of the folks who read it and enjoyed it, I hope you encourage friends to buy it. And if you were not following at the time I posted it, then that's a good reason for you to visit the Kindle store and take a peak.

Just follow this link to my Amazon author's page to find a list of everything I have available on the Kindle store at this time. (By the way, for those of you who do not own a Kindle device, you will find a link for a totally free Kindle app available for use on any of the devices you have -- including your trusty old desktop.)
Progress is a good thing, generally, but it can also be just a tad poignant. I came close to shedding a tear or two when I said goodbye to my trusty old Canon typewriter back in 2003. But I do like the ease with which I can edit and correct text with a computer document program instead. And I'm sure I'm going to enjoy the world of electronic books just as much  -- now that I've finally gotten myself in gear. So look out, 21st Century: here I come!

Courtesy of Jon at pdphoto.org. (Edited for post)
Courtesy of Jon at pdphoto.org. (Edited for post)
Black storm clouds roll.
Wind-driv'n waves hurled at land.
But high on knoll, sentry stands firm:




You call,
And, servant like,
I run to do your wish.
'Twill always be, and all I ask:
Your kiss.




Please take
My hand in yours.
It's warm and strong and sure,
And when you hold mine tight, I'm not



Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Sidewalk -- a short story

“Well, what'a ya know,” Ben whispered to himself, grinning, seeing his breath form vapors on the Christmas air. “Who would have thought it would be the brick sidewalk?”
He sighed. In one unexpected instant – as his feet had tread the bricks of this dear old sidewalk that had run the length of Main Street all his life – it had happened. He knew for sure the place he'd returned to was still 'home.'
Just yesterday he'd been dreading coming back – as he had been for a week – from the time the doctors had told him he was almost well enough to make the trip. He knew for sure how much he had changed, and he couldn't shake the deep, gut wrenching fear that the whole world had changed as well – including the little town nestled at the foot of the mountains in Montana. He'd grown up here, played high school basketball, and dated the girl from three houses down the street until she'd decided to elope with the captain of the basketball team.
He had to chuckle to himself when he remembered how devastated he'd felt back then. It had been his first serious relationship with a girl, but in hindsight, he realized that he hadn't really been in love – just fascinated with the boy-girl relationship.
Sometimes when he'd been hunkered down in the trenches, waiting the next command to move out into the threat of enemy fire, he'd started thinking about Allyson, and even though she belonged to someone else now, the memories comforted him. He'd known even during those hours that it had nothing to do with Ally or their time together, but it was all about 'home.' When he thought of Ally, it took him away from the cold, wet, ugly war he was fighting.
Sometimes he'd remember his mother and could smell again the warm vanilla scent that so often clung to her from her constant baking. He'd conjure up the image of Granddad, sitting with his feet propped in front of the living room fireplace, sweet-scented smoke curling from his pipe. He'd hear again his father's voice as he read the latest news stories from the paper as the family sat soaking up the security of their home and their quiet life together.
Then, sometimes, when he and his unit were on the move and trekking through secure territory, on their way to the next battlefront, he had remembered walking down that old brick sidewalk – past Old Man Chesterfield's hardware store, Woolworth's Five & Dime, the candy and tobacco shop, where he'd bought Ally that huge box of chocolates for the Valentine's Day they'd celebrated together. There was Mrs. Gallagher's Boutique next, and then Pansy's Pancake House. Some days, when his senses were crystal clear, he could nearly taste those light, fluffy concoctions smothered in her special Cherry Cordial Syrup.
When he let his memory take him wherever it willed, he usually ended up thinking about Christmas, and he'd see again the decorations strung the entire length of Main Street, with lights in the windows of every storefront, snowmen standing sentry at almost every corner, and wreaths and holly hanging everywhere. He could almost feel the frost in the air and the festive atmosphere that surrounded shoppers and merchants alike from Thanksgiving to Christmas. And oh those chestnuts! The scent of roasted chestnuts hung over the main business district for two whole weeks before Christmas Day. And often he thought that sweet aroma was his favorite memory of all. Sometimes he swore he could smell those roasted chestnuts even though he was thousands of miles away on foreign soil with no hope of even a warm dinner for that night.
He'd been wishing he could have some of those chestnuts just minutes before the ambush occurred, but then bullets and grenades had killed all thoughts and images of anything but the hell breaking loose in every direction. Those same bullets and grenades had killed twenty of the men in his unit as well. When he'd taken the first hit in his leg and fallen, his best buddy had turned back to help him up. But the bullet that caught his rescuer in the head snuffed out his life in seconds, and as Ben had tried to hoist himself with his friend's help, he'd taken a second bullet in the chest, blacking out at that point.
Five days later, when he regained consciousness in the hospital, he was hooked to all kinds of tubes and machines. The doctor had been compassionate and kind, assuring him that he was going to make it, but that it would be a month or so before he'd be fit to leave the hospital. When he'd asked about his unit, the news had been brutal, and he'd found himself so frozen by the grief that he hadn't even been able to cry.
The day he'd been released and given his extended leave for home, his doctor had been wreathed in smiles. “We're going to get you back to your family in time for Christmas, Son,” he'd said. And as much as the news brought a spurt of joy to Ben's heart, it also brought a stab of fear.
He'd made a short journey first to the home of the man who'd been his best friend in combat, the man who'd lost his life trying to save Ben. He'd learned that Rick's body had been shipped home for burial in the family plot. Ben knew he had to visit that grave and spend some time with Rick's family before he could get started on the longer journey to his own family. And it was with that family, sitting in Rick's home, remembering his buddy, that he'd finally been able to let the tears come. With his head on Rick's mother's shoulder, and her arms holding him tightly – the way she would never be able to hold her own son – Ben had finally cried out the pain and bitterness and loss.
Eighteen hours later, on the day before Christmas Eve, he boarded the bus that would take him to Montana. He had purposely refrained from letting his family know what bus he was taking. He had to walk out this journey one step at a time – in his own way and in his own timing. He had to find out what kind of world awaited him at the end of this journey, and he had to have the security of facing it on his own terms.
His physical wounds were almost healed, but the wound's in his soul would be with him forever. And that's what made him afraid. As long as he didn't go home, he could always try to tell himself that it was still a place of peace and safety and love and laughter – and that life was still good there. But all the time he sat on the bus, heading to that little town in Montana, he battled with the fear. The questions kept circling through his mind: when he walked down the streets of his old hometown – when he stepped into his mother's kitchen – when he visited the high school campus – when he sat in the park watching the breeze blow across the lake – when he met with friends in a restaurant –would he find what he'd left behind – or would it all be gone – forced out of existence by the same powers that had changed him forever?
Finally, at the end of the seven hour trip, he stepped off the bus, retrieved his suitcase and stood for a few moments just looking across Main Street at the row of well-remembered businesses – those stores and shops that had filled his dreams and imaginations hours at a time in the rare instances between battles.
Everything glowed with Christmas. It looked the way he would have expected it to look back before he'd had to wade through hatred, filth, and slaughter in another land. But could he relate to this place any longer? Could he ever belong here again? Would it welcome him – would he welcome what he found here now? He slowly walked across Maine and stepped onto the sidewalk that would take him from the north end of town to the south, where his parents lived.
He walked – slowly – hesitantly at first. His eyes caressed the old, worn bricks that stretched out ahead of him the whole two-mile distance of the business district, and he began to realize that each step he took was a familiar experience – the same experience he'd enjoyed for years, day in and day out – treading those warm brown bricks woven together by expert hands generations ago – just slightly uneven but plenty smooth enough for easy walking.
And every step reassured him. He began to breathe easier now, and as he took a good, deep breath, his nostrils twitched a little. Chestnuts, roasting, in a cart just up the street about two more blocks. He walked with more purpose then, his eyes still caressing the worn, welcoming bricks beneath his feet, stretching out before him invitingly.
Finally, he chuckled out loud. Yep ... it was okay. … It was really okay. … He was okay. And he really was home. ... Yep … this good old brick friend told him everything was going to be all right.


Six-Word Saturday

I think I smell Christmas Cookies!

Copyright: Brenda Calvert

Copyright: Brenda Calvert

To take part in the Saturday fun, visit here


Saturday, October 19, 2013

I Drank From the 'Colored' Fountain

(Throughout this article I will be referring to people of the Negroid race as Negroes or black people. I do not use those terms in any derogatory manner. It's currently considered “politically correct” in the U.S. to refer to people of this race as “African-Americans,” but, to me, that is a slap in their faces. To separate these people with darker skin color into a “segregated” group and label them AFRICAN-Americans rather than AMERICANS just like the rest of us is a terrible insult. 
I have always and will continue to use the proper name for their race: Negroid -- and the proper name for my own race: Caucasian.  But since we have for generations considered it acceptable to shorten those formal race identifiers to simply “black” and “white,” I see nothing discriminatory in continuing to use those less formal terms. I believe that my words (labels, if you will) show more respect for the race than does the term that labels all black Americans as “Africans.” 
Should anyone reading this article feel required to take offense at my terminology, feel free to stop reading at any time. I am not a “politically correct” journalist, nor will I ever be one. But I will continue to write honestly and passionately about what I know, what I believe, and what I feel.)
I Drank From the 'Colored' Fountain
I was 10 years old. My parents, my little sister, and I had moved to Nashville, TN, from a little town in Southern Illinois the previous year. We were on an adventure, and everything – but everything! – was different.
Most of those differences were good and wrapped us in happy experiences and precious memories. The people were warm and friendly – eager to help in any capacity at all. We began making instant friends from the very first day, and many of those friendships lasted far into future years. In fact, I can honestly say that my greatest disappointment when we eventually moved back north was that there was absolutely no answering friendliness or help coming from the people in our new hometown. And developing genuine friendships when back in Illinois again seemed very hard.
The schools in Nashville were different as well. They seemed to be much more education oriented, with no 'playing around' like that allowed in our schools back in Illinois. Structured lunch periods, structured recess (for only one half hour each day), and intensely focused academic work at every grade level were the earmarks of the Nashville school system. In fact, when we returned to Illinois, my sister and I were almost one whole year ahead of the students in the same grades in our new school.
And then, of course, there was so much more to see and do than there had been in our former hometown. The all-night convenience stores had never even been dreamed about in Southern Illinois back then, but they were prolific in the big city and its suburbs. There were multiple museums, libraries, movie theaters, restaurants of every conceivable sort, lovely little independent bookstores, and huge department stores.
Our favorite department store was right in the middle of the city. It was the epitome of the department store of the 1950's. Everything you could possibly want in the way of clothing, furnishings, appliances, entertainment equipment, and tools could be found under one roof. Prices ranged from exorbitant in some of the departments to modest when customers shopped the “Bargain Basement.” But everyone shopped the basement as well as the rest of the store, and it wasn't unusual to see one of the big stars in country music purchasing petticoats in the basement right beside “ordinary folk.”
There was an exquisite restaurant on the fourth floor, with food and service that made guests glad they had “dressed up” to visit. But there was a “Lunch Counter” in the basement, and that was just as much fun in its different way. The counter was shaped in a huge square that wrapped around the center area where the food prep was done. Most week days, it was so crowded at the middle of the day that there were people standing and waiting their turn to sit down and order.
I loved that department store, and it was in that very store that I experienced a strange and disturbing epiphany. It was there that I first came face-to-face with the one difference in lifestyle that was not good – not good at all. Strange and disturbing as it was, though, I welcomed it and have been grateful for it ever since. The experience was not one that took place in a split second, as epiphanies often do. This experience developed within me over a period of time, mainly because I was gradually accumulating data and meditating on all of that data, examining my own emotions and my responses. And let me hasten to add that this one department store was not the only place where the situation I'm addressing could be found. In fact, it was in every public place throughout the city – throughout the south. And years later, I was to learn that many places in Illinois and other northern states had their own version of this problem, but it was not emphasized quite so publicly.
My epiphany began one seemingly inconsequential day as I stood in the midst of that department store and realized I needed a drink of water. Mom found the water fountains. There were two. One was labeled “White.” The second was labeled “Colored.” We were busy, so mom directed my sister and me to drink from the one labeled “White,” which we did and hurried on our way.
But the next time I was in that store and wanted a drink of water, since I knew where the fountains were located, I went on my own. I stood in front of those two fountains and read the signs and wondered. The question rolling through my 10-year-old mind was “Why would one have colored water?” And, naturally the next question was “Why couldn't I have some of the colored water?” But because I had been admonished to drink from the one labeled “White,” I did so and went on my way.
Now, a handful of readers might possibly surmise at this point that I was lacking in normal intelligence. So just to put those ideas to rest I will tell you that I had been reading from my toddler years and had taught myself to write in cursive before I ever crossed the threshold of a schoolroom. I frequently carried on conversations with adults and held my own. So, no, the explanation for my confusion does not lie in the level of my intelligence -- but rather in the fact that I was fortunate to have Godly and wise parents.
My parents had never, in all my 10 years, hinted in the slightest manner that black people were unequal to white people. They never talked negatively about black people, nor did they treat them any differently in business or social activities. In fact, my dad, in later years, told us about a Negro gentleman who had been a great friend to my grandfather in the years before I was born. Moreover, my mother was descended from the Cherokee nation, and that being an altogether different race as well, we knew that our blood line was mixed. However, the point never seemed important to us, nor did it ever come up in conversations. There had not been a great many Negroes living in the Illinois town where we lived, but I do remember one or two people of that race who crossed our paths occasionally, and I don't recall having any feelings about them that differed from my feelings for white people.
In short, I was totally ignorant about racial prejudice and discrimination. To any readers who do not believe that racial prejudice must be carefully taught in order to be carried on from generation to generation, I will tell you that I am living proof you are wrong. I honestly did not know that it existed. And having absolutely no frame of reference for discerning the meaning of those labels on the two water fountains, I had no choice but to believe that the labels referred to the water itself.
So I continued to believe that the water fountain labeled “Colored” held colored water. And finally one day, as I stood alone before those fountains, preparing to get a drink, I took my courage – or my rebellious nature – into my own hands. I had been instructed that the store did not allow me to drink from the “Colored” fountain, so I assumed the store authorities would be watching to make sure I did not. But I just had to sample that colored water. So I looked around to make sure no one was watching. Not a sole was looking my direction. In fact, no adult was even within speaking distance at that moment. So I hurried up to the “Colored” fountain, pressed the lever, and waited expectantly.
It's difficult to describe my level of disappointment. “Why it's just plain water – just like the other one,” was my obvious overt reaction. But I drank anyway, hoping maybe it would taste different. Again, disappointment. But inwardly, I was more than disappointed. I was thoroughly confused.
That confusion stirred me to the point that I was willing to face punishment for my “crime” in order to get my curiosity satisfied. So I confessed to my parents that I had drunk from that fountain. “But the water wasn't colored at all,” I complained. “It was just like the water in the “White” fountain.” When my parents confirmed that they had known that fact all along, I asked. “Then what does that sign mean?”
They explained the situation the best they could to a 10-year-old, emphasizing the fact that they did not agree with the practice, but that it was the law in that state. I was just flummoxed. Never, even in my inordinately active imagination, had I ever dreamed that people were treated this way because of the color of their skin. And for the first time, I think I realized that I should give some serious thought to who black people really were.
Adding fuel to that decision was another peculiar phenomenon that I became aware of during the same time. When we went into the store's public restroom, which always had a black lady in attendance, we found that there were two stalls with unlocked doors, and one locked stall that required the person to pay in order to use it. By asking insistent questions, I was finally able to ascertain that no black people were allowed to use that pay stall, and white people who wanted a stall that they “believed” to be “cleaner” were required to pay for that advantage.
Now, my parents were not paupers, and paying a nickel to use the toilet would not have affected their financial standing at all, but my mother never chose to use the pay toilets – except on the rare occasion that the restroom was packed with a waiting line, and we were rather desperate to go. On such occasions, she would acknowledge that wisdom dictated using the pay stall and getting the job done quickly. But my point here is that my mom never even considered that the restroom used by black people was any less clean than that used by whites. Again – I had no frame of reference for racial prejudice.
I cannot adequately describe how troubled I was as a result of those experiences. There was a heaviness and a sadness in my heart every time I thought of it from that time forward, just knowing that one group of people treated another group so shamefully. I had been taught the Word of God all my young life, and I believed it in my own heart. And, try as I might, I could not rationalize that holy Word with such unholy treatment. Yes, those two experiences dealt with seemingly minor issues, but they were just the tip of the iceberg – the surface symptoms of a raging internal disease. And the injustice of all of it weighed heavily upon my heart.
When I returned to that store, I wanted to stand by those drinking fountains and announce to people, “Hey, I drank from this “Colored” water fountain, and everything's fine! We're all the same! There's no reason to separate us! You can take off the signs!” There wasn't anyone around who cared to know, of course, but in my own 10-year-old heart, I was so glad that I had drunk from that fountain and could testify that we really are all the same.
My mind turned to the problem frequently during my growing up years, and the sadness grew as my understanding grew. I am now 50-plus years past those experiences, which initiated me into a level of man's inhumanity to man that I would not have dreamed up even for a piece of fiction. Unfortunately, the years that followed would teach me much about that inhumanity and how painfully real it was in this world – not just for blacks, but for all the American Indians as well.
I want to think that some few things I've written, or said, or prayed over the years have made a difference. And most assuredly, the Lord has brought into my life an enormous number of Negro brothers and sisters who are believers and have become part of my family in the Lord. Those precious saints have enriched my life so much, and I can't bear to think that they could be subjected to such treatment as that which has stained our past history. I do want to think – and believe – that the prayers and actions of each one of us individually – just like those of a 10-year-old child – can make a lasting difference.
I never freed a slave. I never took part in a civil rights march. My name won't be found on any of the legal documents that gave black people the right to vote or that ended segregation in this nation. Nor am I listed in any roster of heroes of the Civil Rights Movement. And, no, I still have never been forced to pay for the privilege of using a public restroom. Nothing I did will seem the least bit important to anyone else, and there's probably no one who would credit what I did as having any significance in the battle against prejudice and inhumanity in our society. But I know. And that's enough. I drank from the “Colored” fountain, and I was so glad that I had done so. And it matters to me that, in the depths of my 10-year-old heart, I took a stand against those evil forces.
The signs are gone now from the water coolers. And all the doors on the stalls in the ladies' bathrooms have swung free for years without the deposit of any coins. But the echos linger. Every time I remember, tears fill my eyes. And even though thousands of us honestly felt no prejudice whatsoever, I still feel some faint sense of guilt on behalf of all of us who called ourselves “white” back then. And I worry sometimes – plagued by the hints I see and hear every now and then – that the prejudice and inhumanity are not really gone from our land. But I pray: “Lord if, in the future, we ever face another time like that time – in which we dehumanize our God-created brothers and sisters for any reason -- please give me the courage once again to deliberately drink from the 'Colored' fountain.”
(The photo is the personal work of photographer Gordon Parks, whose photographs were well-known by readers of Life magazine. His works have been published in a collection by Steidl, and can be found at this site: 
More information about Parks and his work can be found at the Gordon Parks Foundation site:

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A New Day


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

'As I Sat on the Bus' Writing Challenge - Week of 6/23/13

Photo courtesy Wikemedia Commons
As Cody sat on the cracked seat at the back of the bus, jostled by the jerky movement of the nearly worn-out vehicle, he couldn't get her off his mind. He kept seeing her smile, hearing her throaty laugh at his flimsy excuse for jokes. He could still feel the softness of her fragrant hair and feel the warmth of her in his arms.
But mostly he could see the hurt in her eyes – the confusion and – yes – he was sure it had been fear. He shook his head now at those memories. He shouldn't have taken off like that. He shouldn't have given up so easily – shouldn't have left her in the clutches of that family of vipers!
He'd known what their attitude would be towards him. He'd grown up in the gypsy caravans – no confirmed lineage as far as a father was concerned – and the best he'd been able to do for work was traveling tool salesman for the local company. He knew as well as her relatives that he didn't deserve someone like her. Of course he didn't. But then who did deserve someone as wonderful as Tess?
Besides, deserving didn't have anything to do with it. It was love that mattered, and there wasn't another man alive who could love Tess Montague better than he did!
But she had to make the choice. He couldn't choose for her. And she had lived almost 30 years doing exactly what Mom and Daddy – and Granddad – told her to do. They held the purse strings, but that wasn't what put the pressure on Tess. He knew that. No – it was the emotional stranglehold they had on her. That guilt trip they always laid on her any time she wanted to be independent in any way at all. He shook his head again. He knew she wasn't strong enough to get free from them by herself. Why had he given up?
Well, for one thing, she had held back when he asked her point blank if she loved him. He'd confessed his love for her repeatedly for weeks, but she'd never say it back to him. She looked at him with love in her eyes. And goodness knows, the woman kissed him like she couldn't get enough of him! But she wouldn't say the words. And it would take words to make her his wife. It would take words to tell that lordly Brewster Harrison, Jr. that she wasn't going to have him as her husband, regardless of Granddad's threat to disinherit her if she didn't marry Brewster.
But if he had stayed a little longer …. He couldn't help but wonder if it would have made any difference.
He shifted his position sideways and stretched out his legs since the other half of the seat was empty. He sighed and leaned back thinking that his staying wouldn't have helped. Tess just didn't have the strength to choose him over all the rest. As the last thought weighed him down in spirit, he glanced to his left to look outside the rear window of the bus.
What the …! What was he seeing? He blinked … rubbed his eyes … strained to look again.
Was it …? Could it be possible …? Running after this bus for all she was worth …?
By golly … the woman did have the guts to do it!
He jumped up and stalked down the narrow aisle of the bus to the drivers seat. “Hey, buddy, I gotta get off!” The driver glanced in the rear-view mirror to get a look at him. “I gotta git off NOW!”
I can't make a stop out here in the middle of the road, mister!”
You got to. The woman I love is runnin' down the road after us, and I gotta go to her!” As he spoke the last words, he was already standing on the steps with his hand on the automatic door. “If you won't stop, I'll force these doors open and jump!”
The driver spared him a disgusted glance and saw more determination than he could fight against, so he put on his flashers and pulled over to the shoulder, shocking the other passengers into voicing their irritation. “You better get off quick, 'cause I can't sit here!” he ordered.
Cody punched the air with a “thumbs-up” sign, and the second the door opened he and his suitcase were on the ground. A quick salute to the driver was all he managed before the bulky vehicle lumbered away, with all gears grinding and a thick cloud of exhaust fumes burning Cody's nostrils.
But he didn't really notice. Because as soon as the cloud of exhaust cleared enough for him to see through the haze, Tess was all that filled his mind. She had run until she had collapsed to her knees, and she obviously had no breath left to speak. But she was beautiful. And her eyes told him everything he needed to know.
If you enjoyed this story, you might like the companion story -- Tess' side of the story -- which I wrote for the Friday Fictioneers challenge this week. Here's the link to the story from Tess perspective: "Racing for a Second Chance"