My Friend Rudy Died

Rudy MeltonPardon me, if you can spare just a moment I would like to introduce you to my very good friend, Rudy.  Oh yes, I know what you’re thinking.  You’re afraid to speak your mind fearing that those words might create an aura of awkwardness.  It’s true that Rudy and I are some years apart in age.  To be more to the point there are some seven and twenty years difference in our ages but both Rudy and I considered that no more than a number and found the difference in our ages to be most assuredly insignificant.

As I sat in that quite uncomfortable chair; that chair in room 214 of the impersonal and anesthetic nursing home room I thought about the last twelve years of my life and my friendship with Rudy.  I recalled that I first met Rudy at the local golf course shortly after moving to the area.  I can’t begin to explain it but I liked him from the first moment we spoke and I knew we were destined to become good friends.

I really only came to know the older gentleman from encounters at the golf course but the moments spent on the tee boxes, on the greens and in the clubhouse were time well spent and savored. During those well remembered moments Rudy shared with me the story of his life; and what a life it was.

Rudy talked about his childhood and his brother Walt.  He always referred to Walt as, “My Bud.”  I was captivated by the stories of Rudy riding the rails as a teenager.  For almost two years he crossed this great country in freight cars pulled by great locomotives.  He called it a carefree and adventurous time in his life and spoke as if every young boy should experience that undertaking prior to growing into manhood.

As Rudy aged, his eyesight began to fail and his hearing was poor at best.  Even the small amplifier that rested inside his ear often failed to enable him to understand my words.  I recall that, on occasion, I had to point to my ear which became the indication that the earpiece was emitting a low and annoying squeal.  Rudy recognized the gesture and adjusted the hearing aid.

Between stories about his military service during the Second World War Rudy hit golf balls from the tee boxes that landed in the centers of fairways.  I became used to assuming the unofficial role of his caddy and when Rudy asked, “Where did it go,” I pointed to the middle of the shortgrass.  I didn’t mind acting as his caddy.

There was a day which I will never forget; one that let me know just how good a friend Rudy was.  My wife died on a warm July morning several years ago.  I, as you might imagine, remember that morning and that day quite vividly.  A few days passed, or maybe even a week, but I returned to the golf course.

The first person to approach me was, well you guessed it, Rudy.  He put his hand on my shoulder then, without speaking a single word, removed his wallet from his back pocket.  Then, and only after opening the wallet did he speak.

“I have something to show you.”  He held open the wallet and removed a small photograph.  The photograph was of an attractive woman but I hadn’t yet understood the point he was trying to make or the reason for showing me that photo.  “She’s a nice looking woman.  Who is she?”  Rudy looked at me and as he returned the photo to his wallet he said, “This is a picture of my wife.  She died some years ago and I know how you feel.  Now, let’s play some golf.”  I didn’t say much but did manage to say, “Okay.”

As the years of golf with Rudy passed, his hearing became worse, he saw the flight of his golf ball less often and his memory began to suffer.  However those things didn’t matter to me and I still looked forward to days at the golf course and conversations with my good friend.

More time passed and with that passage of months and years I continued to go to the golf course but my days of receiving putting lessons from Rudy became fewer.  The aging man was most noticeably absent from more and more Friday and Saturday morning golf games.  Who would be there to tell me that he won the last hole and say, “I’ve got the box?”

I sat in that back ache birthing nursing home chair for some time while occasionally speaking a word or two but there was no response.  He just lay there sleeping.  I decided to read to Rudy thinking he might stir but after reading several passages there was no acknowledgement that he heard a single word.  I talked about my golf game, “I think my putting is getting better,” but still there were no words and not even one eyelid fluttered.

After the passage of a long quiet time I left, saying goodbye as I exited the room.  Goodbyes are important.  I asked the woman at the desk if I might leave a note for Rudy’s daughter, Judy.  “Sure thing, here is a piece of paper and a pen is in that cup on the counter.”  I left a note for Judy saying that I was sorry I missed her.

As I drove away from the nursing home and on my way home I was certain of one thing.  My friend’s life would surely come to an end very soon.  Rudy died two days later, never regaining alertness; never uttering another single word.

Far too often death comes to the young and the innocent without reason and far too soon; that car accident that takes the life of a small child or the slip and fall from a ladder as a young man helps his elderly neighbor patch that leaky roof.

However, death took its time when calling for Rudy.  The life taker waited until Rudy was ready and did not intervene in Rudy’s life path until that ninety five year old body was worn out.  I believe that the cause of Rudy’s demise was that of a worn out body.  He used that thin human frame every waking minute until it was no longer functional.  It was just plain used up and worn out.

I believe that life is loaned to each of us, not given and it is up to each and every one of us to make that life meaningful.  Well, Rudy certainly lived a purposeful and full life.  He gave to this world much more than he took and after his last word, his last breath and when he stood before his maker I believe I know what was said.

“Rudy, young man, I’m looking at the details of your life and thank you for taking such very good care of what I loaned you some five and ninety years ago.”  I only hope that the hearing deficient man could hear God’s words.

I have been told that the young of years lament the death of a friend or loved one more so than do the elderly.  It is said that those of advanced years have grown accustomed to death and the pain it often brings.  Maybe that’s so, nevertheless Rudy’s death diminishes me and the world I live in but it makes heaven a far better place.  As long as my life goes on so will my memories of my friend, Rudy Melton.

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Pointing the Finger of Guilt

screwdriver2I purposely haven’t shared many stories about one part of my life.  I don’t really know why; I’m not ashamed of that portion of my existence, in fact, I wholeheartedly believe that I did some good things and made a difference in the lives of some.  However, for fifteen years I saw how terribly evil humans can be and how they can at times be so cruel to one another.  I spent fifteen years as a police officer working for a metropolitan police department in the state of Missouri, leaving there with the rank of Detective Lieutenant.

I would like to share with you one, and only one, story regarding a crime and the ensuing investigation.  These series of events took place in the early 1980’s and the criminal act, although terrible in its nature, was not uncommon.  For the sake of argument, and for this story, I will refer to the perpetrator as Joe.

Joe was in his late twenties when this series of events first began.  He had been what most would refer to as a career criminal.  He came from a broken home and although his mother provided a house to live in, a bed to sleep in and food to eat she looked forward to the day that Joe was old enough to venture out on his own.

Joe spent time in and out of jail for all sorts of minor discrepancies but there came a night in the mid 1970’s when he committed a much more serious offense.  Joe, in a most hideous and vile attack, assaulted a young woman.  He broke into the innocent and unsuspecting woman’s home one night and changed her life forever.  The terrible events of that darkened summer night would surely live in her mind for all time.

After some time, Joe was identified as the suspect and following a brief trial he was convicted and sentenced to serve a term in the state penitentiary.  Joe’s only remorse was that he had been caught and would lose his freedom for several long years as he peered at the world through steel bars.

Joe presented himself before the parole board on several occasions.  He told the men and women of the board how sorry he was for the crime.  He lowered his head and said he wanted to apologize to his victim but knew she would not, and could not, accept his words of regret.  Joe exclaimed that he was then a devout Christian and a reformed man who would never again commit such a heinous act.  Each request for parole was swiftly followed by the board’s decision; “denied.”

Then, Joe once again appeared before the board and quite unexpectedly parole was unanimously approved.  After all, Joe was a rehabilitated human being worthy of re-entering society and he would never again be the person that had entered that prison.

I think it was sometime after midnight, a Monday I believe, when I initiated the investigation, a sequence of events if you will, which would ultimately bring Joe and me together.  I and another detective were called to a home on a street that looked like any other.  There were rows of houses and yards that looked much alike.  In fact, someone unfamiliar with the area might drive down the block without turning their head as there was nothing extraordinary whatsoever about the street or the home where a young divorced woman lived alone.

The examination of the crime scene, the house and surrounding area, led me to discover that someone had pried open a bedroom window on the side of the house.  There were no outside security lights and after examining the window itself I found that it was an older wooden framed window which just about anyone using any flat and pointed tool could have very easily pried open.  However, something out of place lay on the bedroom floor’s carpeting.  It was an old wooden handled screwdriver.  Upon closer examination I discovered that two letters had been scratched into the handle; the initials “R.F.”

The woman who lived there, the victim, had been taken to a local hospital for treatment and after spending several hours at the house another detective, who had been at that hospital, arrived and gave me the details of the event; the crime.

Someone had awoken the young woman as she slept in a bed located in the bedroom with the damaged window.  A man who concealed his identity with the aid of a black knit ski mask put his gloved hand over the frightened woman’s mouth and cautioned her against screaming lest he kill her.  The agony felt during the ensuing minutes would haunt the battered victim for the remainder of her life.

The following morning I and two other detectives did what detectives do.  We began the process of solving the crime.  I was determined to find the masked intruder and looked forward to saying to him, “you’re under arrest.”  I remember silently hoping that he would resist my attempt to arrest him but I shared that feeling with no one.

Several doors were knocked on and neighbors spoken to but little information was provided.  Those in the neighborhood said the woman was a good neighbor.  She led, at least to their knowledge, a quiet life and visitors were seldom seen.  No one had been observed skulking near that house on the night of the crime.  There was one thing though; everyone assumed that the woman must have been extremely proud of what God had done for her.  It seemed that she was known to spend time in her yard wearing a very small and tight fitting bikini.

Then there came a knock on one of those doors that would help bring the investigation to a successful conclusion.  I recall that an older man answered the door.  He looked as if he had been awoken and appeared somewhat annoyed as I produced my badge for his inspection.

I told him that I was investigating the previous night’s break-in of his neighbor’s house.  At first, I thought that he, as the others on the block had done, would tell me that they knew nothing, and had seen nothing out of the ordinary.  “How did they get in,” he asked.  “Through a bedroom window,” I replied.  Someone pried the window open; we believe with the use of a screwdriver.”

I could tell that the man in pajamas had something to tell me.  “Did you find the screwdriver?”  “Yeah, it’s an old wooden handled one with the initials R.F. etched into the wooden handle.”  “Please come in,” the man said as he pulled the door open.  “I think I might know something about the break-in.”

I sat quietly and listened as the man spoke.  I don’t recall interrupting him, well maybe just once, as he told his story.  The man said that several months ago his son, Joe had come to live with him and his wife, Joe’s mother.  Joe had been in and out of trouble and had recently been released from prison.  I do recall that there was one interruption as I asked, “Why was Joe in prison?”  “Well, he assaulted a young woman.”

It seemed as though Joe borrowed a wooden handled screwdriver from his father the day before; a screwdriver with the man’s initials etched into the handle; the initials “R.F.”

Joe was arrested without incident that afternoon and he freely and voluntarily confessed to the crime.  The case had been solved and I was certain that Joe would once again find his new home to be the state penitentiary.  But was Joe the only one responsible for the crime?

Surely the parole board must share some of the blame.  They granted his parole.  I later learned that on two occasions Joe had failed to report to his parole officer in a timely manner. What if he had reported the parole violation?  It was learned that Joe told several friends about the neighbor, her bikini and how he fantasized about her.  Shouldn’t they have told someone?

Suppose Joe’s father had not allowed him the use of that screwdriver.  At the very least that showed poor judgment.  How could the maker of that black knit cap that hid Joe’s face not be somewhat at fault?  And what about the victim, the woman herself; didn’t she contribute in some ways?  She walked in her yard wearing only a bikini, and let’s face it she was very attractive.  But, she was actually the loving and devoted mother who raised two children.  She was someone who merely wanted to tan her white and bleached winter skin as she nourished her flower-filled garden.

The woman allowed tall bushes to touch the sides of her house allowing easy concealment for anyone trying to force their way in.  There was no outside security lighting and she certainly hadn’t purchased an alarm system.  That window, that old window; surely a newer and more tamper-resistant replacement would have been prudent.  Maybe if she had a pistol in that nightstand that sat beside her bed she could have prevented the attack.

What must by now be blatantly apparent to you is the extreme culpability which must be assigned to that old wooden handled screwdriver.  For without that sinister tool no window could have been wrongfully opened.  However, that was the same screwdriver once used to assemble a small child’s Christmas tricycle.

As for the motive: well Joe’s only thoughts were of satisfying his sadistic urges.  He gave nary a thought for the innocent and unsuspecting young woman and was in no way concerned about the ensuing sleepless and frightful nights she would come to endure.

Looking back on that terrible crime; one that changed a young woman’s life forever, one could speculate about “what-if’s” until the end of time.  I don’t believe that we can ever truly know the evil that lives in the hearts and minds of some.  Maybe we must, although reluctantly, accept the truth that there are wicked people living among us and they commit evil and hideous acts.  And the vile actions by some, I truly believe, regardless of our best and most sincere efforts to avert the pain these actions inflict, will never cease to soil the world we live in.

Joe, that monstrous sociopath, returned to the place he belonged, prison.  There, three years later and on the exact date of the terrible crime, another inmate repeatedly plunged a pair of scissors into Joe’s chest causing him to expire.  A guard at the correctional facility found Joe lying on his blood-soaked mattress; His lifeless body so still and so alone.

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I Don’t Swim Anymore

no swiming sign

I don’t often eat at one of the much advertised fast food restaurants but not more than a week or so ago I found myself enticed by one of those better than life commercials.  How could one satisfy their appetite for only one dollar I wondered?  Well, I just had to put the advertisement to the test so I drove my Hyundai Sonata the eighteen miles to the restaurant.

It wasn’t quite lunchtime yet but the place was starting to fill with workers from nearby businesses who I’m certain appreciated the speedy preparation and serving of their meals.  I wasn’t in any particular hurry, and that seems to be the story of my humdrum existence, so I allowed several to enter the order line before me.

Once at the register a nice enough looking young lady asked if she could help me.  “Hi, I’d like something from that side of the menu board.  You know, over there where things cost one dollar.”  “Sure,” she said.  “What can I get for you?”  I selected two items and of course a drink from another side of the menu board and much to my surprise the total was, well she said, “That’ll be $5.43 please.”  Somehow my one dollar lunch had become a greater than five dollar meal; that darn sales tax I reckoned.

I gathered up my purchases and found a nice corner table near a window.  I like to peer out of the window as I eat but after all these years I don’t recall ever seeing anything astonishing. Well, there was that one fender bender back some twenty or so years ago but it wasn’t then or now much to talk about.  However, that day several weeks ago, and I can’t recall why, I scanned the inside of the restaurant paying particular notice to the people seated at the other tables.  Suddenly I came to the realization, and after some mental calculations, that I was most assuredly the oldest person in that eating establishment.

I find that I more often than not purposely avoid eating in restaurants.  Ill at ease with thoughts that pairs or groups of people find me worthy of some silent pity as I have no companion causes an uncomfortable feeling to come over me.  I recall feeling that sense of pity years ago as my friend and I enjoyed each other’s company while seated in one of our favorite restaurants.  My friend often expressed her sympathies for that sad old man or woman eating alone; how terribly lonely they must be.

I finished, although quite a bit more hurriedly than I preferred, my more than one dollar meal and left the restaurant feeling all the while as if the younger clientele were watching every step I took.  As I walked to my car I silently vowed never again to eat alone in any restaurant regardless of the enticing advertisements.

While driving home I couldn’t help but think of all the things I no longer choose to do as a result of my advanced years and the single lifestyle imposed upon me.  I here and now freely admit that the list was somewhat longer than I would normally care to acknowledge in public but after all, I started this discussion, therefore, I must afford to you all the pertinent facts.

With purpose and after careful deliberation I have concluded that I will avoid all soirees of any type for you see I find the unaccompanied attendance at my age to be quite awkward and uncomfortable.

I occasionally find that the release of a new film strikes my fancy.  I and my friend regularly visited the local cinema and relaxed as we enjoyed a newly released movie.   I now find the thought of attending the cinema alone distasteful.  After all, to whom would I express my displeasure with the cost of the stale concession stand popcorn?

I recall that some years ago my friend and I enjoyed swimming.  We laughed and splashed each other with the cool water and reassured ourselves that the exercise would keep us young.  Time has a way of setting things straight and so it has with me.  I am no longer young and the face that was once the target of my splashes has left my life.

I miss my younger days and the carefree attitude of youth.  I seem now unable to remember my childhood ways and that may be the cruelest and deepest cut of all; my gradually fading memory.  The years have stolen my youth and now those accumulating years and decades are pilfering my recollections of better and brighter times.

I suppose that, and for all to see, I am exposing my seemingly unreasonable fears, my paranoia if you will but each of us has our own fears, our own demons, now don’t we.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt once remarked, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” but then he didn’t dine or swim alone, Eleanor was by his side.

I fear that I will never cease to mournfully lament the untimely passing of my dear wife and, save finding myself in a drowning situation, I find no plausible justification which would cause me to ever again swim alone.  The once inviting water just doesn’t seem as clear and cool as it once did.  Hence, I don’t swim anymore.

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Earthquake Parties

earthquake party Marilyn Carnell playing guitarDid you hear the one about the “Earthquake Party?”  No, well until just recently neither had I.  Earthquake party, what in the world is an earthquake party you might ask.  Well, it just so happens that you’ve come to the right person to talk to when it comes to this unusual event.  This is how the story goes.

The purpose of any party is to recognize, and most often, celebrate an event.  There are graduation parties, birthday parties and, well if you are following my train of thought, earthquake parties.  However, before there can be an earthquake party there must be an earthquake and what an earthquake it was that started a Southwest, Missouri tradition.

At 2:15 a.m. on a cold and dark December night in 1811 the crew of a boat moored along the Mississippi River was rudely awakened.  Crew-member John Bradbury later reported that he awoke to the sound of tree trunks splitting and birds screaming as the small boat beneath him began to violently move.

The small crew aboard the shaken boat did their best to keep the vessel afloat as wooden bits and pieces fell into the dark churning river water.  The remainder of that sleepless night was spent gathering displaced parts of the boat in an attempt to keep her afloat.  The darkness passed slowly and as the crew stood on the deck of the still buoyant vessel they spoke of the first violent quake and of the following twenty-seven aftershocks.

John Reynolds, who later became the fourth Governor of Illinois, said that as his family slept in their small log cabin the log walls began to shake and his father immediately surmised that the cabin was under siege by hostile Indians.  All through that night, and as a series of aftershocks moved the earth, the family cringed at the sounds of trees falling and the cabin’s logs stretched to the brink of collapse.

Two subsequent magnitude 7.5 or greater earthquakes would follow over the next several weeks. Those three intraplate earthquakes birthed far below the dirt roads and grassy meadows shifted; one plate moving against and over the other, along a line known as the New Madrid Fault.  The resulting movement created a trio of 7.5 or greater magnitude earthquakes with an epicenter in Northeast Arkansas.

The ripples of the earth’s movement were felt in Boston, Massachusetts and the ringing of church bells caused by the vibrations caused some to peer from their windows seeking an explanation for the untimely chimes.

The undulations spread as far south as the Gulf of Mexico and tourists seeking to escape the cold northern winters looked at one another for answers to unasked questions as they sensed the gyrations in the earth beneath their feet.  No earthquake east of the Rockies before, or since, has been as powerful.

It was later reported by many that the swells in the muddy waters of the Mississippi River caused the river’s flow to change.  Those who witnessed the massive quakes said that the violence was so intense that the water churned as it flowed upstream.

The quake lasted for two minutes and eleven seconds.  The following day, and as the sun made its appearance bringing light to the devastation below, occasional tremors caused those searching through rubble to pause in their efforts as so too did their breath pause.  The tremors persisted throughout the morning and afternoon and, over the ensuing weeks, two more, and equally devastating earthquakes shook the ground along the New Madrid Fault Line.  One occurred at 9:00 a.m. on January 23rd and the other at 3:45 a.m. on February 7th.  The epicenter of the last two had moved from Northeast Arkansas to a point near what we today call New Madrid.

Fewer than one thousand settlers lived in the New Madrid area at that time and the total population living in the area most affected by the series of earthquakes was no more than four thousand.  Several months passed before it was determined that the epicenter of the quakes was near the area of New Madrid.

It had been 160 years since the great earthquake of 1811 when Neosho, Missouri resident Harlan Stark had an idea.  Harlan had a keen interest in Geology and was familiar with, almost to the most infinitesimal detail, the series of quakes.  But it wasn’t that knowledge that motivated his proposal.  It was the desire to have a party; a good ole fashioned shindig.

Harlan contacted several acquaintances and discussed his idea for a gathering of friends.  There would be food, music and of course a variety of alcohol-based libations.  As ideas were thrown about and as interest began to peak there were three important and crucial ingredients missing, at least to Harlan’s way of thinking; the location for the party, the date of the event and Harlan believed the party needed a theme; yes every party should have a theme.

Another series of calls to prospective attendees served to resolve all three issues.  Harlan suggested that the first bash be held at the Salt Peter Cave near Pineville, Missouri.  The party’s organizer had given some thought to the event’s theme and decided that it would be an “earthquake party” in recognition of the earthquake of 1811 and, of course, the party had to be held on the night of December 16th.  And so it was settled, the first of many earthquake parties would take place on the night of the 16th day of December in 1970.

The old Salt Peter Cave near Pineville welcomed more than twenty-first attendees to the inaugural earthquake party.  Harlan welcomed everyone and thanked those for their contributions of food and drink.  He reminded all of the cave’s motion picture appearance as it had been used in the making of the movie, “Jesse James.” It was then that movie makers flocked to the area during the late summer and early fall in the year 1928.

Zella and her sister Marilyn missed the first few events, but in 1975 they made their first of many to come appearances. Once again Harlan Starks welcomed everyone to the event and reminded those in attendance of the 1811 earthquake which one hundred and sixty-four years ago caused the earth to tremble.  Nothing more was mentioned about the quake but one could almost feel the floor shake as Marilyn Carnell played the guitar while others danced.

After the passage of several get-togethers, the venue was moved.  Harlan sent word that the parties would be held at Truitt’s Cave in Lanagan, Missouri.  The picturesque setting once owned by well-known John A. “Dad” Truitt, “The Cave Man of the Ozarks,” would become the home to many lively parties.  Surely anyone passing by would have overheard the music and the laughter.

As they seem to do, the years fell by the wayside but the parties; those grand celebratory parties, continued. The location for the parties, however, and once again, was changed.  Future parties would be held at the Shangri-La Restaurant near Anderson, Missouri.  Zella was no stranger to the restaurant.  She had on more than one occasion found herself seated near a window marveling at the beautiful Ozark hillside view as she enjoyed a large plate of homemade French fries.  Regardless of the meeting place, the people gathered each and every year on December 16th to talk, dance and share their laughter.  Marilyn continued to entertain on the guitar as revelers danced the night away.

When asked about the yearly earthquake parties, and even before she utters a word, a smile comes over Zella’s face.  One can see in her eyes that she recalls a time in her life of now eighty-seven years that was very special to her; a time spanning more than thirty some years when she and a group of friends gathered together each year on the 16th day of December for an earthquake party.

Zella Mae Carnell Collie now lives in Neosho, Missouri.  The former librarian loves to read and remains, even to this day, very independent and active.  The well-spoken woman freely admits that the parties had very little to do with commemorating the date of the earthquake.  The name, “earthquake party” where friends laughed and danced the night away was merely an excuse for good pals, and good people, to get together and have fun.

Harlan Stark passed away on the 21st day of August in the year 2009.  His longtime friend Dick Keezer organized one final earthquake party that took place at a Neosho venue on; well, it took place on the only possible date one might imagine appropriate, December 16th of 2009.

earthquake party sweatshirts 2003

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A Time to Remember

time capsule7I often wondered why people buried seemingly useless items.  I failed to understand the motive for burying a small cigar box or other rather ordinary vessel in cement knowing that the item would rest there for years or even centuries.  But, after watching those who gathered and waited at the Noel Methodist Church that day to celebrate the unveiling of a much talked about item as well as Jim Stauber’s eighty-eighth birthday, some measure of awareness, an epiphany I guess, came over me.

It seemed as though there was more than the meager aura of curiosity in the room.  There was some sort of bond between the current congregation and that of the one who worshiped there some eighty or so years ago; the same past collection of Methodists who had given cause for Jim to ponder his very mortality; and of course he also had more than a smidgen of curiosity about what might lay behind that plate on the wall.

Jim Stauber lives on the land that his ancestor, Alexander James Avery purchased on December 12th in the year 1888 and Jim’s predecessors have turned the soil on that land ever since.  The Methodist Church in the small Southwest Missouri town of Noel holds a special place in Jim’s heart for it was there in 1893 that his grandmother, Caroline Frances Avery Stauber, the wife of James Benjamin Stauber, played a significant role in founding the small Methodist church.

In addition to Avery Stauber, other charter and founding members of the church included; John Manning, Mrs. Anna Harmon, Mrs. Laura Caldwell and John Price.  These formidable men and women were people with purpose and resolve who possessed deep-seated convictions and who were equally strong of faith.

A spot in Noel was selected for the new church and that small parcel of land was donated by Elise and Willis Bridges Noel and Mary and T.A. Marshall.  Much of the stone used in the construction of the place of worship was quarried from land owned by Caroline and James Benjamin Stauber while timber from the John Manning farm was used in the construction.

Forty and four years passed until, In the year 1937, Jim’s father, Martin Stevens Stauber and other members of the Noel Methodist Church decided to create a small opening in the stone facade of the church’s front wall.  Under the watchful eye of the Reverend G.O. Tolman those in attendance that day secreted within that opening two rectangular pieces of metal and several similar shaped pieces of paper.  These items would be covered by a plaque which read 1897-1937.

After the passage of eighty years, it was finally here.  The day, date and time for the celebration had at long last arrived.  It was Sunday, March 11th and it was 12:00 p.m.  The place, well the venue was the rear addition and gathering room of the Noel Methodist church.  Here friends, neighbors, fellow members of the congregation and family would come together to celebrate the 88th birthday of Jim Stauber.  Oh yes, there was also the matter of the time capsule’s appearance for its unveiling was also eagerly anticipated.

On that cool March afternoon, the sounds of laughter escaped through the church doors.  Talk of Martin Stauber and the others brought back memories of a time some eighty years ago.  There were those who couldn’t wait until there was a break in the conversation so they could speak of their recollections of the church and of worshippers who no longer attended the Sunday services.

Round tables accompanied by folding chairs were scattered about the room, all of which surrounded a center of the room arrangement of tables and tables of delicious looking varieties of culinary delights.  The rumbling of stomachs birthed by the sight of the mouth-watering assortment of meats, potatoes, salads and desserts was only surpassed by the captivating aroma emitted by each and every delicacy.

As the gathering of what must surely have been more than one-hundred people poured through open doorways hands were shaken, smiles and hello’s were exchanged and stealthy glances were directed at the tables of food.  Seating was on a first come, first served basis so greetings were conspicuously brief as table-side chairs quickly filled.  It appeared as though the thought of a meal had, at least for a moment, stolen the group’s interest and original purpose for the party; That being Jim’s birthday and the viewing of the time capsule.

There had been all manner of rumors and speculation as to the capsule’s appearance and what might lie inside; Silver coins, various pieces of antiquated jewelry, possibly important documents whose existence had never been considered.  The possibilities were endless as were the softly spoken discussions about the capsule’s contents.  But now, the time had come to quell all of those many speculations.

Some of the few who gathered already knew that valuables were not intended to be hidden in that stone wall.  That secretive place was meant as a vault for memories; memories of a time some eighty years in the past; a time when Jim’s father and others massaged mortar between irregularly shaped stones while they dreamt of a day when memories of them and the time they spent here on this earth would be remembered.  On Sunday the 11th day on March in the year 2018 that day, that moment of discovery arrived.

The sense of heightened anticipation began to wane as the waiting minutes turned into a quarter hour, then half and passed an hour.  The gathering of friends and Methodists gradually dwindled to well below one-half its number and still time passed with no sight of Jim or the capsule.

As the hands on the wall clock moved to 1:30 p.m. a quiet but constant murmuring spread from one table to another.  Some of those seated leaned over, almost falling from their seats, as they strained to hear the words which were passed from table to table.

Some time ago, Jim and his son Robert had excused themselves and went to Jim’s home to search for the then misplaced capsule.  It had last been seen within the confines of Jim’s house but although for some eighty years it had remained safe behind that plate after no more than two days following its removal, it was now lost.;  Well, at the very least, it had been misplaced.

With looks of regret and disappointment on their faces men, women and children passed through the open doorway as they exited the room.  It seemed that an apology of sorts had been extended to the group with an accompanying explanation regarding Jim’s absence from his own birthday celebration.

The afternoon event ended and after all the fanfare and hoopla and following the rumors and speculation the great reveal was at best postponed.  Not yet known to everyone at the time was the fact that the capsule turned out to be nothing more than two pieces of copper.  As for the precious contents sandwiched between those metal plates; there were no antiques and there was no jewelry.  Concealed between plates of metal were old scraps of paper that had weathered over those many decades causing the writing that had once appeared on those scraps, like those who scribed the words there, to fade away.

The remainder of Sunday afternoon and well into the night was devoted to locating those elusive pieces of copper and paper.  The unsuccessful search ended late that night.  The missing time capsule had to be inside Jim’s home and so it was that the search began again early Monday morning.  As the late night hours of that day approached, and without success, it was decided that the hunt would resume early the next day.

Faith that the capsule would be found remained high as the inside of the house was once again, and for the umpteenth time, scoured.  Then, and when it was thought that every nook and cranny had been searched over and over again there it was.  A small sack was noticed hanging from railing attached to the wall near the back door.  It was certainly and conspicuously out of place.  Upon removing the bag and with the utmost optimism a glance inside brought the welcome sight of the copper plates into view.

When all was said and done, there really was no time capsule; in fact, there was no capsule at all.  There behind that metal plate which had been mortised into stones affixed to one wall of the church were two rectangular shaped pieces of copper.  When the two bits of old and tarnished metal were separated nothing more than brittle bits of brown paper were found to be hiding inside.  No money, no jewels and nothing of real value had been placed in that wall. Or had it?

Over the ensuing week, the bits of paper were scrutinized over and over again.  Faint scribblings could be seen but very few if, any, words could be deciphered.  It appeared as though the writing was in script, but what words could those letters possibly form?  Was there a spiritual message to be found within the writing?  Possibly something of historical value lay hidden within those words; maybe something about the church building itself or possibly a history of the worshipers who had stepped through the door over the preceding forty-four years.

The tattered and brown slivers of paper sandwiched between those copper plates contained nothing more than a list of names; a grouping of letters penned in script, if you will, which denoted the names of people like Mrs. Mary Leonard, Mrs. Jeanie Kerr, Mrs. W.H. Hatfield and Anna Pearl Rose Stauber.  So what was it that those members of the congregation wanted to leave for others to find so many years later; nothing more and nothing less than the evidence that they once lived.  And maybe, just maybe there was a wish contained within those faded signatures; a dream that after the passing of many years, and so very many lives, the Methodist church would continue to be a home to those seeking a place of worship.  It seems as though some wishes do come true.

I want to believe that Martin Stauber, John Hamby, Mrs. Mabelle Schifferli, R.S. Palmer as well as others who secreted those ragged fragments of paper between the copper plates did so with blessings of good will and with the hope that after the passage of some eighty years the congregation would be strong in numbers and pure of faith; A faith that would defy the decades to come and span another eighty years.  Those whose names once appeared so clearly on those papers asked nothing more than to be remembered; and so they are.Time capsule5

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Little Goat Songs

Gene Bunch5Marilyn Carnell grew up in the small Southwest Missouri Ozark town of Pineville.  She and her sister Zella knew just about everyone in the town of seven hundred or so people and many of the residents were, in some way related.  There was grandad and grandma Bunch and all of the Carnell’s.  The homes, in many ways, reflected the views and personalities of those living there.  There were no streets lined with cookie-cutter houses. Each house was unique and so too were the people living in them.  Take Cousin Gene for instance.

Marilyn’s cousin, Gene Bunch loved quarter horses.  He owned twenty-five or so acres on Big Sugar Creek not far from town and loved to raise and ride the horses he so lovingly cared for.  However, Cousin Gene didn’t earn a living raising horses.  He had an office on the square just across from the courthouse in Pineville where he offered bail bond and real estate services.

Although Gene was not large in stature he was known as someone who was normally impeccably attired.  He was often seen waving to friends and relatives as he drove around town in his freshly washed Cadillac.  Gene viewed the Cadillac not only as a statement of his personality but also as a business necessity.  After all, in the real estate game image was important.

Some folks purposely kept their conversations with Gene brief.  You see, Gene was in the real estate selling business and at some point in the conversation, he would mention a nicely maintained house or a beautiful parcel of land that was for sale.  To put it succinctly, he had the “gift of gab.”

As Marilyn recalls it was in 1978 or maybe 1979 when Cousin Gene acquired the goat.  You see, Gene thought, for whatever reason, that his horses were lonely and he heard that goats made good companions for lonely horses.  So, Gene looked for, and found, a goat for sale.  After some negotiations, a price was agreed upon and the hairy grey colored goat was introduced to the horses roaming in the pasture on the Big Sugar Creek ranch.

Days and weeks and months passed and as Gene went about his daily chores at the ranch it became apparent that the goat found Gene’s company far more fetching than that of the horses.  It seemed that wherever Gene happened to go so too went that goat.  Gene, in no fashion, discouraged the goat’s attraction to him and may have even been somewhat flattered by the goat’s preference to be with him more so than the horses.

Gene’s shiny pea-green colored Cadillac was in need of service so an appointment was made at the local garage to have the car looked at.  A means of transportation was very important to Gene and he was assured by the repair shop’s owner that a “loaner car” would be provided.  “It won’t be no Cadillac but it’ll get you where you want to go,” the owner said.

Gene dropped off the Cadillac and as he stood outside the building awaiting the arrival of his car, and through a maze of smoke, he heard the sound of what must have been some sort of engine.  Then, and through the smoke and dust, a car came to rest just feet from him.  It may have been the most offensive looking and sounding car he had ever seen.  The paint was faded and peeling and the engine undoubtedly burned just about as much oil as gasoline creating a cloud of smoke that emanated from what was left of the tailpipe.  That may have been the sole saving grace as the cloud of blackened smoke at times hid the car from view.  No matter, Gene knew the inconvenience would last no longer than a day or so and he kept reminding himself of that as he drove away.

The jalopy was parked at the ranch while Gene completed his daily chores and all the while accompanied by that amorous goat.  As the early morning hours passed, the craving for a good and hot cup of coffee came over the rancher so he washed up and got behind the wheel of that old Chevy.

Glancing into the rearview mirror Gene almost laughed at the sight of the black smoke that seemed to follow the car.  But there, through that billowing black cloud, something was moving.  As the brakes squealed Gene brought the car to a stop and there, through all that smoke, he caught sight of the goat running toward him.

It was apparent that the goat wanted to be with him so Gene reached over the front seat and opened the rear passenger’s side door.  He really didn’t believe that the goat would get into the rear seat of the car but that’s exactly what that goat did.  He calmly, and with purpose, casually climbed onto the back seat.

“Ok, we’ll both go to Shangri-La and get a cup of coffee.”  Shangri-La was a local restaurant near the town of Anderson.  It was a place where people could find good food, especially homemade French fries, at reasonable prices and most of all it was a place where local residents could find good conversation while they enjoyed a hot cup of coffee.

Cousin Gene parked that wreck of a car in front of the café.   “Now, I suppose you think you’re going inside with me.  Well, why not?”  Gene exited the old car, opened the rear door and watched as the goat climbed out.  As the duo walked through the café’s front door and even before reaching a vacant chair Gene “matter of factly” said, “coffee please.” “Coming right up, and what about your friend there” the waitress answered.  “Nothing for him thanks.”

Now, people in this area of the Ozarks had seen just about everything there was to see but a goat riding in a car then coming into a restaurant, well that was something new.  “Say, Gene, do you know that a danged goat got out of your car and followed you inside?”  As the man seated by the café’s window waited for a response Gene calmly replied.  “Sure do.  He likes to go places with me and I sing little goat songs to him.”

Well sir, one might think that there was an abundance of obvious questions which might be asked but to the inquisitive man only one came to mind; “What in the heck is a little goat song?”  Gene only smiled as he raised the cup to his lips and took a sip.  “Just songs the goat likes to hear, that’s all.”  Much to Gene’s amazement not much more was made of the goat accompanying him into the café.

Gene didn’t stay long at the café and soon he and the back seat goat left on their way back to the ranch.  It was no more than a minute or so that the smoking heap of a car caught the attention of Missouri State Trooper Merle Graham who radioed in his observations.

The trooper advised that he was following a car of unknown make and color that was on fire.  The vehicle, at least as far as he could tell, was occupied by two men.  The trooper stated that he was going to pull the car over and provide assistance to the two occupants.

With flashing lights and siren wailing, Graham eventually convinced the driver of the car to pull to the side of the road.  The trooper hurriedly threw open his door and through the black smoke ran to the driver’s side door of the car fully expecting to pull two semi-conscious men to safety.  However, and to his great surprise, there rolling down the car door’s window sat a man known to him, Gene Bunch.  Graham glanced toward the rear seat and found that the object he believed to be a man with facial hair was indeed a hairy goat.

“What for God’s sake are you doing driving a car that looks like it’s on fire and why is there a goat sitting on the backseat of your car?”  “Well, Gene replied, my Cadillac’s in the shop and as for the goat; well, he likes to spend time with me and I sing little goat songs to him.”

Obviously annoyed the trooper said, “Listen here; you get this piece of junk off the road and get that goat out of this here car.”  With that being said Trooper Graham walked away from the window.  “Yes sir, Merle; right away.”

Gene drove to the ranch and, at least as far as anyone knows, that was the last time Gene and the goat ever rode together.  After all, Gene certainly would not have allowed the goat to sit on the rear seat of his Cadillac.  Or would he?

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Return to Me

Robin deadRobin loved birds so very much.  She seemed captivated by their colors and songs and she watched as they soared and flew above the grass filled fields.  I now shamefully admit and mournfully regret that I never bothered to ask what fascination she found in the lives of those soaring things of beauty.  I now painfully find that the time to speak to Robin has passed.

For years, Robin filled the yards of our homes with an array of unusual birdhouses.  Small structures built of wood, metal or anything else which she believed might provide a nesting place for her friends were placed on poles or hung from tree branches.  She spent countless hours cleaning the boxes and was peculiarly persnickety when selecting just the right food for the intended species of bird.

The bird lover has for some time now been gone but the birds and their strategically placed homes remain.  I sometimes watch as nesting materials are carried into the openings of the small boxes and wonder when the babies might be expected.  But, I far too often get distracted with the tugging of life at my sleeve and lose interest in the lives of the birds; that is until something most odd occurred over the span of three short days.

I find that when the spring sun lasts longer into the evening hours I enjoy sitting in the old metal glider.  The metal chair that rests on the balcony just outside my bedroom isn’t really old but looks just like the ones I remember as a child.  It really isn’t all that comfortable but the great memories I have of its ancestors far outweighs its practicality.

One particularly warm and bright evening found me nestled onto the glider’s seat while a glass of lemonade sat on a chairside table.  The glass was just within reach and I tried to estimate how long the liquid would last given the size of each sip.  I calculated that I would find the glass to be empty just as the darkness chased the light from the sky.

The balcony was built more than ten years ago, as was the house I now live in.  It has a white colored railing that spans the outside perimeter and the space is large enough for the glider, a metal loveseat and a single side table.  Enough unaccounted for space remains to allow for infrequent visitors to stand against that white vinyl railing and look out over the golf course and the tree-filled bluffs beyond.

As I rhythmically moved the seat on that glider forward and backward I heard a noise just off to my right.  Slowly turning my head, the sight of an American Robin came into view.  The orange-breasted bird seemed brazenly courageous as it had come to rest on the railing.  The Robin was easily within arm’s reach and I remember thinking that possibly the bird had miscalculated the length of my arm’s span.

The bird seemed quite comfortable there on that rail and appeared to have little or no fear of my presence.  I was careful to keep my movements to a minimum as I didn’t want to cause the bird to leave.  A feeling of quiet contentment came over me and the Robin and I enjoyed one another’s company for several minutes.  Then, and without as much as a nod or chirp, the Robin sprang from the rail and flew away.

The following evening was one of warmth as a moderate breeze seemed to cause the large oak tree’s branches to move to and fro as if in rhythm with all that is nature.  As I once again sat in that rust colored glider and recalled the previous evening’s visit by that beautiful auburn chested Turdus Migratorius, the sight of a bird in flight captured my attention.  I watched as the Robin softly came to rest on that same white rail.  I’ll admit that I spoke to the Robin, “hello.”  Maybe this was the beginning of a most unusual friendship and I desperately needed a friend.

The odd duo spent several minutes on that balcony together.  Now, I can’t speak for that bird but I once again felt an overwhelming sense of calm and serenity.  Several minutes passed and as if to say, “so long” the Robin chirped once then flew off into the darkening sky.  I said, “Goodbye, maybe I’ll see you tomorrow.”

I spent the following day waiting only for the evening to arrive all the while telling myself that I was being foolish.  What made me think that the Robin would again find its way to my balcony and that rail; But, I could only hope.

Following the previous two evenings spent with the Robin, I gave some consideration to the possibility of placing an old birdcage on a balcony table.  The door would be left ajar and food left there inside might entice the orange and grey bird into that impound.

I somehow thought that if I captured that bird I could discover why I felt such a close relationship with the Robin.  But, then I considered the reality; I had once before tried everything possible to keep my best friend Robin with me but I had failed.  There seemed something so very wrong with the idea of caging this Robin.

The Sun began to fall in the western sky and I filled a glass with lemonade.  I recall that I wasn’t at all thirsty but there was a routine that couldn’t be changed.  I walked through the French doors and onto the balcony, placed the liquid filled glass on that side table and lowered myself onto the seat of that familiar metal glider.

Then, and almost before I had settled my old aching bones onto that seat, the Robin came to rest on that rail.  “Hello, how are you this fine spring evening?  It’s been a mighty long time.”  There, of course, was no obvious translatable answer, just one, and only one, chirp.  But I’ll forever maintain that the Robin gazed at me when emitting that sound; that single sound.

We sat together for a time longer than that of either of the previous evenings.  “Why do you keep coming to this balcony each evening?”  Only one chirp was given in response.  After the passage of several minutes, the bird shook its feathers and several chirps were heard.  I can’t explain why I felt as I did but I somehow knew that the Robin would never again sit with me in the evenings.  Once more the Robin sprang from the rail and flew into the evening sky.  “Goodbye.”

I knew what I wanted to believe but I needed allies; others who believed an idea may, in fact, be plausible.  Reincarnation; I didn’t know much about the idea that a soul lived forever and could reappear in another form; another living entity.  But what if that were in fact possible?  After all, I believe that whatsoever the mind can imagine is possible.  There were documented instances of possible reincarnations.

Gus Taylor told his parents that he recalled a previous life.  He remembered details that only his grandfather, Augie could have known and at the age of four identified his grandfather in a group of photographs.  Taylor had never before seen his grandfather.  The boy recognized his grandfather’s car in a photograph and said it was, “his car.”

Finally, and most certainly most astonishing was the moment when, at the age of four, Gus told his parents that his sister had been murdered.  In fact, Augie’s sister had been murdered.  Gus Taylor’s knowledge of these facts has never been explained.

The Druze, a religious sect, believes that reincarnation is in fact possible.  The Druze believe that reincarnation occurs among everyone.  They deem that some, but not all, of the reincarnated souls bring with them memories of previous lives.

The Bible, yes the Bible; surely there would be accounts of souls living in another body.  However, the reassurance of a belief in reincarnation was nowhere to be found within the pages of that holy book.  Although the Bible speaks of resurrection and the rebirth of the soul it does not support the idea of reincarnation.  I knew what I wanted to believe but the book of the Christians offered no support.  What I wanted so desperately to believe came down to no more than my own abstract faith in an idea.  So, I made my decision.

Robin, I let you go, I let you fly with the angels above with the thought that I would never again feel your presence but could I have been mistaken.  What if the substance of whom you were, your very soul, had returned?  I challenged my own sanity with the question; am I so desperate for this small and beautiful creature to be the reincarnation of your soul that my feelings are born more of imagination than of fact.  It was certainly something to be considered.

I often find that evenings are the best time of the day.  The cool air comes over the land and the orange setting sun hints at the approach of darkness but “not just yet.”  The evening is a time when the Sun bids goodbye to yet another day’s passing.

I continue to spend warm evenings on the balcony but the Robin, that orange-breasted bird, was last seen flying into the darkening sky.  Maybe Robins are there for only a moment in time then they must leave but love certainly lasts far longer than just one lifetime.Robin bird

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