A young friend of mine recently said he had heard someone say that hell is other people. I told him that I had heard that before and believe that it is a quote from the French existentialist, Jean Paul Sartre. Now, despite the efforts of some good schools and brilliant professors, I am not a very well-educated person. And I never studied philosophy. However, I explained to my friend that I believe Sartre was not saying other people are demons. I believe he was saying that if we permit ourselves to be in relationships with others that do not validate us, then our internalization of the ways they respond to us will be hell.
So stop believing that other people are your hell. You are your hell. I told my friend you should not ask, “Why did she do that to me? Why does she treat me that way?” The question you should ask is, “Why did I let her do that to me? Why did I let her treat me that way”?
Other people are not hell. Other people are heaven. God created each of us in his own image and He is there in each of us. Admittedly He is harder to find in some than in others.
When I moved to Meadows of Dan I was divorced and retired. I was not only retired but I was tired. I did not make an effort to become a part of the community. I have never been very social. I was a stranger. I was an unknown. I understood that the people who live here, or “up on the mountain” as the flatlanders say, are a hardy, resilient, and very private people.
Early on I made inquiry of an old woman from whom I bought some daylilies. I asked, “Will it be difficult for me to be accepted here?” She thought a while and then replied, “I married a man who was not from around here. We lived here until he died twenty years later. Everyone always referred to him as the foreigner.” Thinking he must have been from Turkey or Algeria, I asked, “Where was he from?” Her answer: “South Carolina.”
OK. That was it. I didn’t really try. It’s not in my nature, anyway. Then one day a few months after I had back surgery, I drove to the country store to buy two chairs. You know, those sturdy oak Amish rockers. My wife’s parents were coming to visit for a campfire cookout down in the woods. I didn’t think they would be very comfortable sitting on the stumps or the few strategically placed boulders.
I paid the young woman at the cash register and then asked her to have a couple of the boys who worked there to put the chairs in the back of my truck. She said, “The boys are all gone. There is no one here but me. Give me a minute to lock the cash register and I will help you load them.”
About ten minutes later, she had one side of a heavy chair, I had the other side, and we were slowly making our way across the parking lot to my pickup truck when we heard a local Christmas tree farmer yell out, “Stop. Stop. Put that down. Let me help. I’ll get it.” The girl and I sat the chair down immediately, and as he ran up to us, she said, “Thank you, sir. I appreciate that.”
“I wasn’t talking to you,” he said. “I was talking to him. He just had back surgery. You pick up the chair. Let’s go.”
On another occasion I was climbing into my truck at a garage where a local mechanic had just completed the required annual inspection. “If there is anything else you need, just let me know.”
“I think all of my vehicles are up-to-date, but thanks anyway.”
“No. That’s not what I mean. If you need a sofa moved or something heavy loaded, just call me. I’ll come do it.”
Last week I went to have my hair washed. Yes, I indulge myself once a week. I haven’t been walking too well recently. X-rays show severe arthritis in the left hip.
As I was getting out of the car, the woman who owned the shop came running out to me. Apparently, she had been standing at the door, watching and waiting for me. She put her arm around me and said, “Now you put your arm around me, and we will walk in together.”
Just a few days ago a local woman made a quilt for me. It’s a beautiful quilt. It is a gift that took her many hours of work. It was a gift money didn’t buy, a gift money couldn’t buy. It made me cry.
All of my life I have given to others and helped others out of gratitude because I have been so blessed. I have so much more than I need. But I have always refused help from others. I have always felt like the lines in Wayne’s World: “I am not worthy. I am not worthy.” I was just lucky.
But my wife, the smartest person I have ever known, has been changing my attitude. She tells me, “You are worthy, but I know you will never believe that. So, what I want you to remember is that when you let other people help you, that makes them feel good. It makes them feel just a little closer to God. Don’t let your macho ego deny them that feeling. You are a better man than that. You are strong enough to be vulnerable. Help them. Help them by allowing them to help you.”
So, as I told my young friend, hell is not other people. Heaven is other people. Hell is you. To paraphrase a famous song: Think. Think. Think about what you are trying to do to you…
I was middle-aged and, suddenly, I was divorced. I hadn’t been out on a date in 30 years, except for the mandatory pre-divorce counseling. That went well? Right? The therapist told us to converse in terms of “What you just said makes me feel like...”
I already knew what she said made me feel like, and I am sure she felt the same about me. That counseling session didn’t last long.
Some time thereafter, I was at Nicholas Roof in Atlanta, Georgia on a warm summer’s evening. It was a gathering for middle-aged singles that presumably were successful professionals. We were having cocktails before dinner. I saw a very attractive Asian woman and elbowed my way toward her. She was talking with two other women who noticed my intention and graciously turned away to let me have her attention. I smiled, introduced myself, and then asked her name. She said in a heavily accented voice, “My name is Jennifer.”
I replied, “No, no, no. That is one of the most popular girl’s names since WWII, but that is not your name. What is your name?”
“What would you like it to be?” she smiled coyly.
“I am sorry.” I replied. “I think I made a mistake. Excuse me. Have a nice evening.” I turned away.
I mingled with the crowd but felt lonely. So, I decided to leave when dinner was announced. I handed over my receipt at valet parking and jokingly said, “That’s a 600 Mercedes.” Actually I was driving a 3 series BMW.
I was shocked when a beautiful, navy 600 Mercedes with dark brown leather interior pulled to a stop in front of me. “Oh my god.” I said. “I was only kidding.”
Just then the beautiful Asian woman who called herself Jennifer pushed past me saying “It’s okay, honey. That’s my car.” She tipped the valet a $20, got in the car, and drove away.
Now, that wasn’t the first time I had made a fool of myself, nor was it to be the last. However, I did learn something and I want to share that with you.
If you read my previous blog, next to last, you know that my stepson recently bought a house. It is in a town about 30 miles away. For some time prior to that, he had lived in a guest log cabin on our property. He frequently came up in the evenings, had drinks and dinner with us, and then he and I played pool. I really enjoyed my time with him and looked forward to those evenings. Alas, they are no more.
My wife said, “Why so sad? You miss him, don’t you?” I mumbled something in reply and continued to sulk. She disappeared but soon was back holding a pool stick and wearing a pool shooter’s glove. “Want to play pool?” she asked. “Think you’re good enough, do you?”
I had to laugh. “Damn right I am. You’re on.”
As I racked the balls, I flashed on “What would you like it to be?” For the first time I realized why I had rejected Jennifer and why I so completely and unconditionally loved my wife. I had known that Jennifer would pretend to be whoever she thought I wanted in order to manipulate me. I would never have known her. All I would have known would have been a projection of my desires, as she perceived them.
On the other hand, my wife was not pretending to be someone she was not. She saw that I missed my stepson and missed playing pool. She offered herself as a companion and a pool competitor to fill that void because she saw the need in me, and her love for me compelled her to fill that need.
Isn’t that an important part of love, to recognize the needs of another, and then offer to fill those needs? Not by pretending to be someone you are not, but by being yourself and giving yourself.
When I started dating, my youngest daughter gave me this advice: “Dad don’t pretend to be someone you are not. Be yourself. Because if you pretend to be someone you are not and you win, then you lose. Only by being yourself can you ever win because that is the only time you are eligible to win. That is the only time you are in the game.”
P.S. My wife won two out of three games. RATS!
I awoke at 4:17 this morning. For most of my life, that would have been an unusual time to awaken. Recently, that has not been so unusual. That is especially so considering that I had gone to bed at 10 p.m. My wife is out of town visiting friends. It is hard to stay awake when she is not here. She is the only thing in my life that I do not find boring.
I lay staring at the clock, considering my next move. My relationship with consciousness has been completely redefined these past few years by arthritis. I was in pain. I am always in pain. But certain movements remind me that pain isn’t really that bad, but severe pain is really that bad. Getting up and out of bed is one of those movements.
The red digital light on the clock changed to remind me that I was one minute less away from death. Am I boring you? Hang in there just a little bit longer. You will see.
I had just watched an episode of “Outlander.” I enjoyed reading all of the books and the mini-series on Starz is pretty true to the written story.
It had taken me back to Scotland on April 16, 1746, near Inverness. It had taken me back to the Battle of Culloden Field, the last battle of that civil war and the last pitched battle fought on British soil. Allegedly, the Scotts lost nearly 2,000 men, while the Brits lost only a few hundred men. But we need to remember that the victors write the history books.
At any rate, the Scots with swords drawn, charging the ranks of British riflemen, were met with a wall of flying lead projectiles that ushered them into another world, into a life that we in this world call death. But what impressed me was their battle cry. I wondered if it helped in anyway.
I didn’t hesitate. I know that a coward dies a thousand deaths but a brave man only one. ARHARHARHARHARHARHARAH! I sprang out of bed. Then I stood quite still, attune to the pain receptors in my back, hips, and legs. Nothing. Well, at least nothing exceptional. What had happened? How had I managed to elude the extreme pain always brought on by that movement? Did I surprise it and sneak by before it had time to react or did I simply overwhelm it? I think the answer is somewhat more the latter than the former.
I remember that after my first date with my wife, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t do anything but think about her. I reran in my mind, over and over, the way she looked, the way she moved, the way she talked, and everything she said. I knew she was the one I had been searching for all of my life, and I was afraid to stop thinking about her, even for one second, lest she disappear. I was afraid that, if I let her go, I would realize she had been only a dream, a cruel delusion.
But what was I going to do? She was too young for me, too beautiful, too smart, and too accomplished. What was I going to do? As happy as I was at having found her, I was equally unhappy at the prospect of losing her. And I knew that if that really happened, it would be a pain I could not bear. It would be a loss from which I could never recover. But what was I going to do? ARHARHARHARHARHARHARHA! I sprang to my feet and started cleaning the log cabin where I was living. I swept it. Then I mopped it. I dusted it and then I polished every finished wood surface with bees wax. I was obsessed. I worked passionately all day, and then I performed a white glove inspection. Actually, I didn’t have white gloves so I used a white T-shirt. The cabin was immaculate. I felt better.
The next day, I detailed my car. No professional detailer had ever done a better job. The M6 had never looked so good. I felt better. Next, I started looking at the landscaping near the cabin. I was shocked. How had I never seen it before? Everything needed pruning. I worked until dark, then started again the next morning. When I had finished everything looked perfect. I felt better.
I wanted to be with her all of the time, but I could not do that. So, I concentrated on trying to not go crazy when I was not with her. Think. What can I do today? I know. It has been 17 days since I met her. I will send her roses, but not a dozen or two dozen. I will send her 17.
Soon it will be Valentine’s Day. She will be gone. She is going to Savannah for several days to visit with relatives. What am I going to do? ARHARHARHARHARHARHARH! I called my oldest daughter who is an event planner. She owns her own company and puts on events worldwide. I explained the problem to her. She said “Okay, Dad. Give me your credit card info, and I will take care of it.”
In Savannah on Valentine’s Day, I checked into the Mansion on Forsyth Park. I was booked into the Tower Room. After I picked her up, we went back to the Mansion for dinner. At the restaurant, we followed the Maitre d’ across the room and up the stairs. He opened a door on his right to reveal a room that normally accommodated 24 patrons, but this evening only a table for two was there in front of the fireplace. The warm glow from the fire and the candlelight played beautifully on the petals of the white roses placed around the room. The food and wine were perfect. The wait staff was perfect. The evening was perfect. She was perfect. Everything was perfect.
We were married in Paris several months later. It is now several years later. She makes the sun come up every morning and when she brings me hot tea she says, “I love you.” She is still perfect.
What do you want? I recommend you stop agonizing over it, scream ARHARHARHARHARH, spring to your feet, and go for it. You might be surprised.
I haven’t written recently. Why? I don’t know. I asked my wife. She said, “It’s because you have been totally concentrating on buying your son a house.”
Actually he is not my son. He is her son by her first marriage. And I am not buying him a house. I am financing the purchase of a house for him. He will repay the loan at the current interest rate.
Actually he is my son, now that I am married to his mother. And if his mother should ever cease to be in my life, for whatever reason, he would continue to be my son. We have a relationship of mutual respect and love. It is not contingent.
A lot of fathers want to be friends with their sons, but they can’t be because they have a history of being their father. I don’t have that problem. I wasn’t there. I am his friend and he is my friend. I am his father and he is my son.
The experience of purchasing the house has developed a significance that transcends the transaction itself. To explain, let me go back to 1986.
It was a warm day in Atlanta, Georgia. I had just picked up my oldest daughter after her ballet class in downtown. We were walking along the sidewalk to the car when a well-dressed African American man approached us. He looked to be in his thirties. He said he had lost his job in Orlando and was taking is family to Knoxville, where a cousin had secured a job for him and a place for them to live.
“Excuse me, sir. I am passing through town with my family. We have run out of gas and we have no money.”
I took out my wallet. I had exactly $17.00. “I am sorry that this is all I have, but you are welcome to it.”
Now, that was a situation where a father should be proud. He should expect words of praise from his little girl. However, the little girl in question had a mind of her own. She had always been that way.
When she was a mere toddler she saw me down at the barn killing chickens. She crossed the yard as quickly as her little legs could carry her. As I watched and waited, I was thinking how I would explain the difference between animals and people, how I would address the concept of a soul, but when she was still a few feet from me she called out, “Daddy, can I kill the next one?”
This was no exception. “Daddy, how could you do that? You just gave all of your money to street hustler? Why did you do it?”
“Well, you are probably right. But what we do in this life is meaningless in eternity, except for the development of our soul. Think of the millions of people who have gone before us. The only thing they had in common was that they were developing their souls for eternity. If there were one chance in one hundred that man was telling the truth, it was not worth $17.00 for me to take that risk.”
But back to the house purchase. A nice elderly couple was selling their house. They had lived there for decades with their special needs son. Our son was out of town, so we went to look at the house without him. Afterward our real estate agent asked, “Are you interested and, if so, what do you want to offer them?”
I looked at my wife. She has an uncanny way of always knowing what I am thinking. Sometimes, it scares me. She simply nodded her head, “Yes.”
I turned back to our agent and said, “We will take the house. No counter offer. Tell them we will pay the full price in cash.” He started to say something, but then noticed my wife was silently mouthing to me, “I love you.”
The next thing that happened was the inspection by our contractor. He returned a thirty six-page report on the condition of the house, very detailed and with pictures. I read it carefully and reduced it to a one-page list of twelve things that needed to be repaired or replaced.
Our real estate agent explained that we needed to go back to the house, look at those items and then decide what price reduction we would ask to compensate us for those deficiencies. This time our son and his girlfriend went with us.
Our agent had been a contractor. He knew the cost of repairing or replacing. He and I walked through the house, discussing each item in detail. Through the window, I saw our son and his girlfriend out in the yard, talking to the owner. His wife sat at the kitchen table. “May I join you?” I asked.
“Of course,” she replied.
“We need to discuss a price reduction to compensate for the needed repairs and replacements. Also, I would like to ask if you are interested in selling your deck and yard furniture.”
“I think my husband is discussing that with your son now. Perhaps you should join them.”
I thanked her, arose, and stepped out on the deck. I was having a bad day with my arthritis, and it was painful to walk, so I called out to the owner, “If you have time now I would like to discuss purchasing your deck and yard furniture and the sale price reduction appropriate to compensate for the necessary repairs and replacements.”
My son called back in reply. “He just gave us all of the deck and yard furniture. We don’t have to buy it.”
The owner said, “I will come up and discuss a price reduction with you.”
I replied, “That won’t be necessary. We are requesting no price reduction. We will pay full price at closing.”
Later, in the car, my son said, “I don’t understand. What happened?”
I explained. “The contractor told me it looks like the owner built the deck himself after the house was constructed. It is not bolted through, as it would be if built simultaneously with the house. It’s a large deck. It’s a beautiful deck. The furniture is very nice and of good quality. Obviously the furniture was purchased to go with the deck. That is why he gave it to you.”
“I still don’t understand. He could have asked us to purchase the furniture. And why didn’t you ask for a price reduction?”
“That was my gift to him. I gave it to him because of his gift to you. The only things you can keep are the things you give away. The things you try to keep will eventually be taken from you one way or another. Only the things you give away will be yours forever.
“Compare these two statements:
“#1. My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings, look on my Works ye Mighty and despair.
“#2. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
You can keep only what you give to others.
Several people have commented to me about The Fourth Of July story. Most of the comments can be summed up as “What?”
Many years ago I knew a man who lived to be quite old. He was several years past the age of 100 when he died. Even though his body was frail and shriveled, his eyes were bright and strong, and he was always willing to engage in lively conversation.
I enjoyed our talks and visited him as often as I could. He was the most interesting man I knew. Why?
First of all, he had some interesting opinions. For example, after he turned 100, an accomplishment that was publically acknowledged on The Today Show by Willard Scott, I asked him how he got to be so old. Did he exercise? No. Did he eat a special diet? No. Did he take supplements? No. Did he practice meditation or spend a lot of time in prayer? No.
“Okay. How did you do it?” I asked. “How did you get to be so old?”
“The answer is simple.” he replied. “It was not what I did. It was what I didn’t do. I had a brother who smoked, drank and stayed up late at night to enjoy various nocturnal activities. It killed him. I warned him that it would. I told him he was ruining his health. It really hurt me to watch him squander his life and waste his money. He died young.”
“How old was he when he died?” I asked.
“Ninety-one,” he answered with a straight face. I look at him closely. No, he wasn’t kidding.
“I see. Well” I asked “can you give me some words of advice on how to live life.”
The old man seemed to be thinking. Or maybe he had fallen asleep. He had been known to do that, sometimes in mid sentence, but not this time.
“I am not sure I know the answer to that, but let me tell you a story. I was raised on a farm. Encouraged by my mother, I left the farm, went to college, and then pursued a professional career in the city. However, as I neared retirement age, I remembered nostalgically the peaceful simplicity of life in the country.
“So about ten years before I expected to retire, I bought a few hundred acres outside of town. Not yet retired then, and not yet ready to move then, I leased the property to a young couple who wanted to try their hand at raising cattle. I remember thinking it would be nice to have an orchard, but I didn’t plant one because I didn’t live on the property. Conversely, the young couple didn’t plant one because they didn’t own the property.”
He paused, seemingly to marshal his thoughts, and as he did so the image of his orchard appeared in my mind. It was a magnificent orchard, with every kind fruit-bearing tree represented. It annually produced an impressive bounty. I especially liked the persimmons and the cherries.
“When I retired at the age of 65, I sold my big house in the city, moved out here, and built this big farm house. I remember thinking it would be nice to have an orchard, but I didn’t plant one because I didn’t expect to live much longer. After all, I was 65 years old and most people didn’t live that long. If they did, then social security would be broke by now. When Roosevelt signed social security into law in 1935, the average life expectancy was 62 years old?
“Anyway, the years flew by. I remember thinking on my 75th birthday that it would be nice to have an orchard. I wish I had planted one when I was 65.
“It was a beautiful day on my 85th birthday. All of the nursery stock had arrived the day before and I had put colored ribbons on each tree to match the colored ribbons on the stakes I had put in the ground where I wanted them planted. The crew of workmen I hired to plant the trees arrived early. That evening I sat on my front porch, sipping a small bourbon, neat, while admiring my newly planted nursery stock. I remember thinking it sure is nice to have an orchard.
“That’s it.” he concluded, apparently satisfied that he had imparted a pearl of wisdom. I remember thinking: What?
“Okay. Thanks.” I said. “I’ll remember that one. What are you reading?” I asked as if I didn’t already know.
“Oh, this. It’s a fascinating magazine. It’s called “Organic Gardening.” You should read it some time.”
He had read that same issue of Organic Gardening every day for the past several years. His subscription to the magazine had been cancelled a long time ago, when his caretaker noticed that he always read the same issue over and over.
“I see. I will have to take a look at that sometime. So, what do you think about what the president did today?”
“I knew Harding was going to be a lousy president. He won by a landslide, but I sure didn’t vote for him. If this is a “return to normalcy” then I’ll eat my hat.”
“What’s the problem?” I asked. “It looks to me like you have a pretty good life here.”
“Here? Do you think I live here? I don’t live here. I am just visiting. I live about two miles down the road.”
So the answer to “What?” is: consider carefully your plans for today because today may not be as temporary as you think. Some time in the future your present may be your past. You may not remember this then, but I think you should know. Short-term memory is the first to go. So perhaps you should plant an orchard. It sure would be nice to have an orchard.
Finally, the day had arrived, Friday, July 4, 1817. Katie had longed for, dreamed of, this day for weeks. She couldn’t believe it had finally arrived. But it had. 5:45 a.m., she watched as the sun peaked over the horizon. It was the prettiest sunrise Katie had ever seen.
Katie was 15-years-old that summer’s day on Macedonia Ridge, just north of Burlington, Ohio. She was living with the Borden family. She was originally from Killarney, County Kent, Ireland, but had shipped to the Americas two years earlier, at the age of 13, when her parents died. Everyone said it was pneumonia what killed them, but Katie knew better. They had just given up. The endless days of hard work and starvation had finally extinguished the light in their eyes and as Katie watched, they each in turn smiled at her with love and pity, closed their eyes, and then were gone. First her mother passed and then a week later, her father passed.
Katie went to her mother’s brother, Pat, but he didn’t want her. He already had too many mouths to feed. However, in his defense, he did the best he could for her, or so he said. He took her to Kenmare and sold her into an indentured servitude contract for five years in exchange for passage to America, and a few coins in his pocket for his trouble. After all, virtue is it’s own reward, but a few coin don’t hurt none.
In Boston, Mrs. Borden's brother bought Katie’s contract and sent her west to his sister. She had wanted a girl to help her around the house. Katie had worked for the Bordens ever since. It wasn’t a bad life. Sure, she had to get up at 5 a.m. to punch up the coals and start breakfast, but she had plenty to eat and at night she had her own room to sleep in, except for the baby. She had to keep an eye on little Jessica, but that was all right. Katie was mature for her age. She had grown up quickly. She had to.
Anyway, the important thing was that last Christmas, at a church social, she had met Nathan. She had seen him before from a distance and he had seen her. After all they lived in the same area. But they had never met. When they met that night she knew. He didn’t know, of course. You know how guys are. Clueless. But she knew she would take care of that. God, he was so handsome. At 17 he had transformed from that gangly new born colt look that boys go through into a young man who turned many a girl’s head. And charming? Lawsy-mercy! Katie was sure that he could talk the birds down from the trees.
But what really, really made Nathan special was that he thought Katie was special, too. He liked her spirit. There was something about her. She was interesting. Hell, he just liked being with her. He talked to other girls but he kept going back to Katie. Not that it was easy to do. She had her share of admirers who gathered around her. But he could see that her eyes always followed, always knew where he was in the room.
Okay. Enough is enough. Breaking away from the bevy of beauties that surrounded him, Nathan made straight for and pushed his way through the ring of admirers surrounding Katie. “Katie. I remembered. I didn’t forget. I’ll get us some eggnog and meet you over by the fireplace.”
One of Katie’s admirers looked after Nathan and asked, “What? What didn’t he forget?” Katie just smiled. She knew that Nathan didn’t know what it was that he didn’t forget, but she also knew that she was going to teach him.
Mmmmmm. The fire was warm. Katie soaked up the heat from the fire, at least, that’s what she thought it was, as she watched Nathan walk across the floor toward her. Then he stood before her, extending a cup of eggnog. She could feel him just as if he were embracing her. She could smell him, fresh soap and masculinity.
He smiled his brightest smile as he looked down at her and said, “You look different tonight. Don’t get me wrong. It’s good. But I can’t quite make out what it is.” Katie looked back up at him, directly into his eyes. She started to confidently speak a clever retort, but before she could do so, her body betrayed her true thoughts. A flush, hot and bright red, spread across her chest. She quickly raised a hand to conceal it but Nathan had seen and still could see the color that had arisen in her cheeks. They were silent for a while, awkward, embarrassed, but during that interlude something changed, something changed between them forever.
They were secluded the rest of the evening, alone with each other in the crowd. He told her a little about himself. She told him a little about herself. He confided in her some of the things he held most dear. She did the same. They spoke earnestly, almost passionately, as they alternatively revealed themselves to each other with an urgency they did not understand but unmistakably felt.
After that night they found many ways, some quite creative, to be together. Often they were observed walking hand-in-hand, apparently discussing matters of great importance. And speaking of importance, that is why Katie is so excited this 4th of July. Two weeks earlier Nathan had said, with the gravest formality, and that is noteworthy, “Katie, I think it is time you met my family, I mean all of the cousins, aunts and uncles. We are getting together at the Camp Creek picnic grounds for the 4th of July, and I would like you to go with me. I want you to meet them and see the people I come from. They are not all something to write home about, but they are, all-in-all, a decent lot. I hope you will like them and I know they will love you. What do you say?”
“Oh, Nathan. Of course I want to meet your family. Mrs. Borden told me she had heard that we were walking out together and she said her family has always respected your family and considered you to be good people. I am sure she will give me the day off after I finish my morning chores.”
“WOW,” thought Katie, “Nathan wants me to meet his family. Meet the family. Meet the family. Yes. Yes. Yes. Boys don’t ask girls to meet the family unless,,,Could it be? God, I hope so. I really hope so.”
That morning, Friday, July 4th, 1817, Katie raced through her chores with a passion driven by the urgency of young love. And as she worked she sang to herself. Mrs. Borden smiled. She had always liked Katie. Finally she said, “It’s okay Katie. I will finish your chores. It is getting late. You need to hurry and clean up. Why don’t you wear that blue dress? I think you look very pretty in that one.”
Less than half an hour later, out the front door Katie raced, across the lawn at a diagonal and turned right at the road. She had to restrain herself from running any farther. For one thing, she didn’t want to start sweating, and for another she didn’t want to stir up the dust on the road any more than necessary. But still, if she didn’t run she would be late. She had to get there before they sat down to eat. She just had to.
Then it occurred to her. Yes. Why hadn’t she thought of that earlier. Of course. That was the answer. She would leave the road and cut through the woods. She had never done that before but how difficult could it be? The Camp Creek picnic grounds are over there, in that direction. She would just have to be careful to not scratch her legs or tear her dress. From the road here she would chart a course, and then, after she entered the woods, she would forge ahead accordingly. Yes. That’s it. Nothing to it. A piece of cake.
Katie stepped into the woods. She shivered. The cool, damp dark of the woods was an ominous change from the warm, dry sunshine of the road. Careful not to scratch her legs or tear her dress, Katie picked her way through the under brush. All went well at first. She seemed to be making good time as she pressed on, deeper and deeper into the forest. Her eyes adjusted to the dim light. She could see more clearly. Her ears adjusted to the sounds of the forest. She could hear more acutely. Maybe too clearly. Maybe too acutely.
What was that in the shadows to the left? Did it move? What was that sound? Could it have been a low growl? Eyes. Katie was sure she saw eyes. Intense eyes. Yellow eyes. The eyes of a cat. Oh my God. It must be a black panther. Just last week Mr. Borden said a panther had killed his best sow.
What to do? Climb a tree? No. Panthers can climb trees. Play dead? Katie had seen Plato, the Borden’s house cat playing with its victims. Playing dead didn’t help them. Run? How can you out run a panther? But what else is there to do. Run! Run! Run!
Katie could hear her breath as it came in ragged gasps. She could hear the pounding of her heart as it threatened to explode out of her chest. She could hear the crack and crunch of limbs as she raced over them in her terror. But above all of that, she could hear it behind her, running, running, smashing through the forest, closer, closer, coming ever closer.
And then she fell. An exposed root had caught her right foot. She fell hard, face down. She heard it, still coming. It was almost on her. She cried. She was racked with sobs. But through it all she repeatedly called out his name “Nathan. Nathan. Nathan.”
“Yes, grandmother. I am here. Let me help you. Are you all right? Everyone at the campground is worried about you. Please don’t wander off like that again.”
Katie didn’t understand. But it didn’t matter. It was Nathan. He had come. He had saved her. That was all that mattered. He picked her up and held her closely to his chest. Overcome with gratitude and love she looked up through tear bleary eyes at her handsome young savior. And then she saw it. She saw her right hand, the hand that she had lovingly laid against his left cheek. It was old, bony, withered, with dark age spots on pale paper-thin skin.
Then she did understand. Then she did remember. And she wept.
The purpose of this blog is to share my ideas, thoughts, and stories.
The ideas and thoughts are mine alone and are not intended to malign, demean, libel or harm anyone in any way.
The stories are not representations of any aspect of reality, past or present, and are not published for informational purposes. They are creations of my imagination and are published simply to entertain. The names, characters, business, places, events, and incidents are either fictitious or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
All of the years I was in college and law school, I received financial needs aid scholarships. But that money did not pay for everything. Most summers I worked at the Allied Chemical and Dye plant in South Point. My father and my maternal grandfather worked there. But sometimes I could not get on there.
However, I could always work at the Pepsi Cola bottling plant in Huntington. The owner and his wife were friends of my benefactor high school teacher and her husband. Loading Pepsi trucks did not pay as well as the Allied Chemical job, and it was harder work, but the job was always available.
I was working there the summer before my last year in law school. The empty trucks started rolling in around 5:30 PM. The beds of the trucks were constructed of shelves, two cases deep on each side. We pulled the cases of empty bottles off of the trucks and stacked them on pallets that the forklifts moved to the washer turntable. The employee running the turntable would pull the bottles from the cases and then place them on the turntable to feed into the washer. Out of the washer, they moved in single file on a conveyor belt past a light where another employee examined them to be sure they were clean enough to refill.
After they were refilled, the bottles came off the conveyor belt onto another turntable where an employee put them into empty cases and stacked them on pallets. Summer nights were hotter than hell in that plant, and the air was always sticky with sugar. After we had finished unloading the trucks, we broke for dinner, about 8:30 PM, then after dinner we reloaded the trucks with full bottle cases. We would usually finish a little after midnight.
During our hour-long dinner break, we usually walked a few blocks to a bar where we drank beer, ate cheeseburgers and fries, and if you left a nice tip, the waitress would let you grind out a slow dance with her.
That summer as I walked down to the bar the first evening at work, I noticed a pretty girl sitting on the front porch swing of a house across the street. I could hear she was listening to music. On the other end of the porch, a middle-aged woman did needle work as she rocked back and forth in her rocker.
One night, soon thereafter, I remember it was warm, the sky was clear, and there was a slight breeze. I saw her sitting there in the swing as she had been the past two nights. I couldn’t walk on. I stopped and, as I looked at her, she turned, looked directly at me, and smiled. I told my friends to go on, crossed the street, and walked over the grass to the porch railing by the swing.
“Hi. My name is Doug. I hope you don’t mind. I just saw you and…what are you listening to?”
“Angel of the Morning.”
“I love that song.”
“Me too. My name is Shawnee.”
“Really?” I looked at her in the sunset afterglow. She had a smooth, soft, tawny skin that was natural, not the result of a tan. Her eyes, almond shaped and grey-green, caught the fading light. Her straight, dark auburn, almost black, hair fell to her shoulders. Her cheekbones were high and prominent. Her lips were full. She wore only a simple thin cotton sundress, pastel pale green in color. Her feet were bare. She wore no jewelry.
“Yes, my mother named me that because I am one-eighth Shawnee Indian on my father’s side, or at least that is what he told my mother.”
“I’m sorry. Is your father dead?”
“I don’t know. I have never met him.”
I didn’t know what to say. I had always been that way with girls to whom I was attracted. So, I did what I always did. I shut down and withdrew. “Well, I’ve got to get back to work. Can I come over and talk to you again sometime?”
“Sure. That would be nice.” She smiled. I felt like she somehow knew what had happened. I felt like she was thinking, “It’s OK. Don’t worry. I understand.”
The next night she was there again. I crossed the street and stood by the rail. We talked. I learned that she had just graduated from Huntington High School and had obtained a job in the women’s shoe department at Anderson-Newcomb. She was saving her money to buy a car for her and her mother, who worked across town at a bakery. I complimented her on her appearance. Actually, her thin cotton sundress revealed, rather than concealed, her toned body. She wore it sensuously, but innocently, with no calculated artifice.
We talked about the best used car for her and her mother to buy. We talked about our favorite songs. Hers was “I Say a Little Prayer.” Mine was “This Guy’s In Love With You.” We never spoke about anything personal. We just couldn’t. It was so awkward with her mother listening to everything we said. Finally, I asked,
“I am off tomorrow night. Would you like to go out to dinner with me?”
I saw Shawnee glance at her mother, who nodded her head “yes.”
Shawnee looked at me, smiled, and said, “Yes.”
I told her I would pick her up at 7 PM.
Friday night, dressed in clean clothes, with a fresh shave and shined shoes, I picked her up in my father’s car that I had spent hours detailing for the occasion. Shawnee looked like a dream. She wore low heel brown leather sandals, a pale pink sundress, and nothing else. She smiled shyly when I held her hand as we walked to where I had parked the car on Third Avenue in front of her house.
I opened the passenger door of my father’s blue 1966 Impala. She got in. I walked around to the driver’s side and got behind the wheel. Shawnee smiled at me mischievously then slid across the bench seat until she was sitting next to me. I expected her to ask where we were going to eat, but instead she excitedly confided,
“I have a surprise for you. I will tell you when I get to the restaurant. I can’t wait.”
We drove in silence. I stole glimpses of her. She looked so exotic. She wore no jewelry. It occurred to me that diamonds and pearls would only cheapen the innocent sensuousness of her natural beauty. I noticed her hands, her long graceful fingers, as she turned on the radio and tuned it to her favorite station. I wondered if she played the piano. My mother played the piano. I drove in silence, enjoying her singing with the radio, “I Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” I thought, how wonderful to be with her.
I am ashamed to admit this now, but before I picked her up, I went to the restaurant. It was one of the nicest restaurants in Huntington, and I tipped the valet to say, “Good evening Mr. Mann” when I returned. I tipped the Maître d’ to say “Good evening Mr. Mann. It is good to see you again. Would you like your usual table?” Lord, I was so stupid. I didn’t realize that I was doing exactly the wrong thing. I was so pleased with myself. Shawnee seemed impressed.
We were seated at a dimly lit table in a back corner. The waiter brought us a bottle of red wine. “Compliments of the restaurant owner, Mr. Mann.” He poured us each a glass then left.
I help up my glass and offered a toast. “To Shawnee, a vision of beauty.”
“I am sorry, Doug, but I don’t drink. I am only 18. How old are you?”
“I am 24.”
“Really. I had no idea you were that old. You should know better than to do what you did.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You can’t afford to eat here regularly. You paid them to say those things to impress me. Don’t get me wrong, I am impressed that you went to all that trouble and expense. But it wasn’t necessary. I like you for yourself. It’s just that simple.”
I was shocked. I said, “I am sorry. It’s just that I really wanted you to like me.”
“I do like you.”
I reached across the table and took her left hand. I pulled it to me, turned it over, and then involuntarily recoiled at the sight of her palm. A round scar the size of a quarter had been burned into the fleshy pad below the thumb. She jerked her hand back and put it down in her lap.
“What was that?” I asked.
“Nothing” she said.
“No. I really want to know,” I demanded.
“It’s not important. It was a long time ago. One of my mother’s boy friends wanted me to do something I didn’t want to do. I’ve forgotten all about it.”
“Let’s talk about something else,” she said. “Here is the surprise I have for you. My mother’s first cousin is the supervisor of the night shift at the Pepsi plant. He has always been nice to me. I guess its because I don’t have a father. Anyway, I am sure that if I talk to him he can get you a better position with more money and less hard work. Wouldn’t that be great? And I was thinking that I could fix you dinner every night and you could eat with me. That would save you money. You need to start thinking about getting ahead. And don’t worry; I will get rid of mother. “
“Shawnee, thank you. That’s very kind.”
I looked down at the table as I hesitated. I knew she was eager to hear my answer, but I also knew it would not be what she had expected. It’s funny what you can instantly realize. Shawnee was a poor, working class girl. Yes, she was smart and she was beautiful, but she was pure and she was innocent. All she wanted was a poor, working class guy to love her and share her world.
I prayed “Dear God. Please.”
I took a deep breath and said, “Shawnee, I don’t need a better job at the plant. I am a rising third year law student at one of the top-rated law schools in the country. This time next year I will be practicing law.”
Shawnee looked at me incredulously. Then I saw it in her eyes. Disbelief turned into belief, followed by a look of horror, then betrayal and sadness. I watched helplessly as she covered her face with her hands and started to cry. Through her tears, she pleaded, “Take me home. Please take me home.”
We left the restaurant in silence. We drove in silence. When I stopped the car in front of her house, I reached over to touch her, but she recoiled from me, flung open the car door, and, still crying, ran across the yard, up the steps, and into the house.
I could hear my father say, “Rich people are not happy. Anyone who has money got it by exploiting the working class. The only purpose of higher education is to obtain a license to steal. If you associate with rich, educated people, they will corrupt you. There are no lawyers in heaven.”
I cried. I thought I cried for Shawnee. Then I realize I cried for me. I had left the working class, but it had not left me, and so I could never be middle class. I was lost. I knew I would be lost forever.
I looked for her the rest of the summer but she never came out onto the porch again. I never saw her again. But I have thought of her often down through the years.
The following is from Vol. 19, No. 2 of The LRE Circuit For Friends Of Law-Related Education In Georgia. Fall, 2007:
"Marlene Melvin, curriculum and activities coordinator of the State Bar of Georgia's new Journey through Justice Program, announces the selection of Douglas Mann of Mann Bracken, LLC, as the recipient of the program's first Docent of the Year Award. Journey through Justice is a four-hour, interactive law-related education experience for kindergarten through high school students.”
"'Mr. Mann has committed to our program since its inception,' remarked Mrs. Melvin. 'In fact, he has generously donated over 105 hours of his time since February.' Mr. Mann demonstrates a unique ability to impart respect and understanding for the judicial process in a creative and inspirational manner. Congratulations on this well-deserved recognition.’"
Well, I must tell you, it wasn't a lot of work. It was a lot of fun. Most of the children attending the program were African American. They treated me with respect and appreciation. I tried to be worthy of their opinion.
One day the mother of a student attending that day's program approached me and asked me if I would come to her child's school to talk on career day. I told her that I did not feel qualified but was honored she had asked. She said she noticed that the children listened to me and that was all the qualification I needed. I agreed to speak. How could I refuse?
The night before career day, I sat up for hours and thought about what she had said and what I should say to any high school students who might actually listen to me. I knew what was expected of me but I also knew what I really wanted to say.
The school was located in a nice midtown neighborhood. The houses were brick ranches. Looking at the yards, the equivalent of checking out a man's shoeshine, revealed them to be neat and well kept. The school itself was large, brick, of modern design, and practical but comfortable.
Through the many-door entrance, the school opened onto a large, deep foyer. Upper school students milled about, talking. They were all African American. So much for effective integration. The students were all well dressed and appeared to comport themselves respectfully. I was impressed. Signs everywhere provided information about career day.
I thought about how I must look to them. I was an old, at least to them, white man wearing a suit, dress shirt, and tie. I felt conspicuous. I took off the tie and stuffed it into my coat pocket.
When it was my turn to speak, I walked to center stage through a chatter of small talk, but before I could begin, a boy called out, "Hey mister attorney. If you want me to listen to you, tell me how much money you make a year." I saw him sitting near the back of the room, handsome, cocky with a hot girl on each arm. I speculated that he was The Fonz of the senior class. I knew that he was in his element, at the top of his game, but I also knew that he had reached the zenith of his life and would soon and forever, be looking up to view his memories of glory.
I wanted to go whisper in his ear, "See that nerdy kid over there, the one sitting alone, reading his calculus book. Be nice to him. Some day you will be working for him. And when your not-so-subtle Lolitas are but tawdry reminders of their too brief desirability as ripe, low hanging fruit, the nerdy kid will be dating...where is she? Oh yes, back there in the corner, the skinny one in tortoise shell, horn rim glasses. He will be dating her when she is in town between modeling events. And those glasses? They will be all the rage. Every woman from porn stars to European princesses will be wearing them."
Then, I noticed one of the teachers, all of whom were spaced around the room, make a beeline for this kid’s seat. Temporarily forgetting that I was not addressing one of my employees in my downtown Atlanta high-rise law offices, I said to the teacher "It's OK. Let him alone." The teacher stopped, shocked by my audacity. All of the students had turned to look at him. He nodded to me, turned around, and left. They saw that. They turned back to me, expectantly.
Looking directly at the smirking student, I admonished him with a calm, controlled intensity that simulated a full body slam. "Never ask a man how much money he makes or a woman how old she is. It's bad manners. However, are you familiar with the BMW M6?"
He and several other boys and girls responded with vigorous nods. I replied, "It's the blacked out, custom wheeled beast parked right out front, unless it got towed. I parked it in a no parking zone." Some smiled, some laughed, some cheered. Then they all got quiet. I had gained their respect and their attention. They wanted to know what I knew that they didn't know.
I took my time looking around the room, making sure all eyes and minds were on me. They were a good-looking group, well groomed, well dressed, and with that confidence found only in the young. It occurred to me that I was about to address a future mayor of the City of Atlanta.
Then I began, slowly. "I am not going to talk to you about the law or what it's like being a lawyer. You can get all of that from TV and movies. I am going to talk to you about how you can become a lawyer or anything else you want to become.
"It's really basic. It's really simple. You can't lie, steal, or cheat.” I paused and looked around the room again. There was a lot of eye rolling.
"I know you boys think you are tough and tell your friends that you can do the crime and, if caught, you can do the time. You girls think you are too smart to get caught. But you are all missing the real issue here.
"The real issue is not the injury you do to others. The real issue is the injury you do to yourself. If you think you must lie, steal, or cheat to get what you want, then you think that you are not good enough to get it otherwise. You think that you are a loser. And if you think you are a loser, you will be a loser.
"Think about it. Michael Jordan has the ball in his hands. He sees the basket. Millions of nationwide spectators hold their breath. You and they watch in amazement as he swishes the basket for another three-pointer. How did he do that? It's simple. He saw in his mind the trajectory of the ball. He saw it sail through the basket without touching the rim. All he did was throw the ball into the picture in his mind. Swish.
"Stand up straight, look people directly in the eye and smile. Be open and honest. You are a child of God, created in his image and beloved by him. No one has any power over you unless you give it to them. You are a winner. Keep that image before you at all times, in all things, and never ever, never ever, ever give up. Do that and you will be a winner.
"In addition to knowing that you are a winner, it will be helpful to keep an open mind and think creatively. Let me give you an example.”
It seemed like they moved in unison, leaning forward in their seats.
“One day my marketing director excitedly came to me with good news. She had acquired a new client for the firm. The client would provide us with a large volume of work and pay a premium fee. I figured we would need an additional 30 new employees to handle the work. I sent for my HR director. I told him to hire 30 new employees. He said we did not have workspace for even one new employee. We were at max capacity.
"I sent for my bookkeeper. I asked him what was the cost percentage for overhead. He said it was 80% total, broken down into 60% labor and 20% all other. The net profit was 20%. I thought I could rent additional space and still make a profit. So, I called our commercial leasing agent. He said he would get right on it and call back to advise the next morning.
"The next morning, he called back to say there was nothing available. I called an immediate meeting of all department heads. I explained the problem and then asked for possible solutions. There was silence for a while and then one volunteered, as all of the others nodded in agreement, that it was impossible, that it couldn’t be done.
"I quickly and confidently replied, ‘No, I don't believe that. Nothing is impossible. The only question is whether it is cost effective. Now say the first thing that comes into your head. It doesn't matter if it sounds crazy. Just do it.’
"One skinny young man said, ‘Fat people take up a lot of space. Let's fire all of the fat people and replace them with skinny people.’ He got booed but I said, ‘No. That's good. Let's keep going. What else can we do?’
"A young woman spoke up, her voice strained, ‘Well, we have tall ceilings. We could build platforms above the desks and have people work up there.’
"She got booed until they heard me say. ‘Yes. That's it. You have solved the problem. We rent this space and equipment 24/7, but we only work 12/5. I want HR to find me 30 employees who can, and are willing to, work nights and weekends, when we are not normally working.
"And to that young woman, I said, ‘Congratulations. You not only solved the problem, thus retaining a major client, but you turned that 20% profit client into a 40% profit client by eliminating the need for additional space and equipment overhead.’
I looked out at the assembled teenagers, and said, "So, remember. You are a winner. You don't need to lie, steal, or cheat. And, if you also think creatively and never give up, you can accomplish anything.”
As I walked off the stage to weak, sporadic consolation applause, I noticed many of the students talking quietly. About my message? Did anyone hear me? Do I get any karma points if no one heard me? I don't care. If I reached only one, it was worth it. I felt good.
I walked out of the school. It was a beautiful, warm Atlanta day. I got into my BMW M6, which my administrative assistant called the Batmobile. I sat there for a while, thinking back to when I was their age. I thought of Burlington and the many African American friends I grew up with there. We played together and we took care of each other. We were honest. We were black. We were white. We were poor. We were naive. We were blessed. We were so, so blessed. And we didn't even know it.
When they stopped at the edge of the dark forest, the overhead canopy ended and Henry could see ahead a huge rock outcropping protruding out over the Ohio River Valley. The lead brave cawed like a crow and was answered in a similar fashion. But from where? It was then that Henry saw a brave sitting cross-legged on the hanging rock, watching the Ohio River to the east for miles upstream, and the rich forested valley through which it ran. It was the most impressive sight he had ever seen.
Henry understood that the brave on the hanging rock was a lookout sentinel. He thought, What a perfect location on the Ohio River Valley. Their village must be nearby.
The chief was dressed like the other men of the tribe, except that he wore a royal blue, wool coat, trimmed in gold braid. It was probably a gift from a French general. But also by the respect and deference shown to him, he was clearly in charge.
Thanks to the artist, Mary Louise Holt for allowing me to print a copy of her impressive painting, “Ambush from Hanging Rock.” Mary Lou is an extremely talented artist. You can enjoy visiting her website, marylouiseholt.com, where you will find many more beautiful and moving authentic paintings of the Shawnee in southern Ohio, as well as other fine paintings of interest.
ABOUT THE CHURCH
“Randolph what do you think are you doing? We don’t have enough supplies left to feed us until Christmas. Why are you building a church?”
“They worked for our master all of their lives. Upon his death, he set their bodies free. But freedom is fearful. The chains of fear now bind them. All of their lives they have been cared for, but also all of their lives have been structured by work. Now they have no structure, they have no work, they don’t know who will care for them, and they are afraid. I have just given them work. I have given them structure. I have given them hope. Now they will work for the Lord. Their work will set them free.”
During the day, the Macedonia Ridge Missionary Baptist Church appeared slowly growing out of the ground, pushing heavenly as surely and strongly as the risen Lord. Word spread far and wide that the freed slaves, fearless in the face of the coming Ohio winter, were praising the Lord, devoting all of their time to the construction of a church. It was said that Ed Mason was supplying the lumber and nails. It was further said that Mayor Wallace had promised upon completion to adorn it with the best pews and pulpits of any church in the area. It was even rumored that Randolph, the head Negro, had seen angels at the site. Negroes from Burlington and whites from miles around drove their wagons to the top of Macedonia Ridge. They came with all of their tools. They came with all of the food they could spare. They brought their wives and children. They set up tents and lean-to shelters. Under Beulah’s direction, they all sang the Negro spirituals as they worked together. And when they returned home, they emptied their pockets. The church, when finished, was not only debt free, it had $106.35 in the bank.
Randolph had conceived of the church and had ordered its construction to save his people. But what he did not realize was that others wanted to be saved, too. He had unknowingly created a local shrine, the destination of an area pilgrimage. Negroes, whites, men, women, young, and old wanted to be set free by working for the Lord.
On the day of the dedication of the church, Randolph spoke to the gathering of over five hundred. They were expecting a long sermon filled with many Bible quotes, but his sermon was the shortest of his life. He could see the people assembled in the church, and through the open windows and doors, he could also see the multitude assembled outside. He and the five hundred could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in each of them. When he walked to the pulpit, a hush fell over the crowd and the concentration from those there magnified the Holy Spirit in him five hundred-fold. His walnut skin glistened with a translucent glow. From behind the pulpit, he took a basket and then stepped to the side to show its contents. Inside were five small loaves of bread and two small fishes. The crowd waited expectantly. Then he said simply in a voice that came not from him but through him, with a calm peace that passes understanding, "Go forth and feed God's people."
There was silence as the awesome and mighty power of the Holy Spirit flowed back out of Randolph and into each of the five hundred in full-magnified strength. Some shouted "Praise God." Some cried. Some dropped to their knees and prayed. Then Negro spirituals arose spontaneously throughout the crowd.
That afternoon, many plans were conceived and many promises were made. Not all came to fruition, but enough did so that, as a result of Randolph's six-word sermon, eight other churches were founded in nearby southern Ohio and what was to become West Virginia, and thousands of God's people were fed for years to come.
Thanks to Wikipedia for allowing me to reprint this photo. Please go to the Wikipedia site and find out more about the church.