Coming of Age

Sarah@fiveI unequivocally and readily acknowledge that I am old.  I fear that if the present trend persists I will continue of age until the one and only final solution to the aging process presents itself. There are moments when I tell myself that I am only as old as I feel but then I experience the soreness that originates from my lower back and my arthritic hands and fingers as I clumsily struggle to manipulate my shoelaces.

Like many of us, I tend to associate primarily with people who have experienced approximately the same number of years as I.  Although I regrettably attend more funeral services than I care to, I attempt to rationalize those losses attributing the deaths to sudden illnesses rather that old age; after all, I am approximately the same age as many of the dearly departed.

I have a granddaughter, Sarah.  She is now twenty-two years of age and, like many of that number of years, she is convinced that she knows more than I, or many of the elderly, do.  I will admit that she is a very bright girl as evidenced by her academic accomplishments.  She graduated with honors from high school and gained acceptance to the highly regarded University of Missouri’s School of Journalism.

With the assistance of scholarship and grant monies she spent four years at what is widely recognized as the top journalism school in the nation.  Sarah held several part-time jobs while in college yet managed to maintain a ridiculously high grade point average.  When the end of her studies at “Mizzou” was announced via an invitation to the university’s commencement ceremony Sarah was informed that she would graduate with honors, Cum Laude.  Her parents and I were so very proud of her accomplishments and accolades and we looked forward to attending the graduation ceremony which would be held at the campus’ Hearnes Center.

A young woman who announced her nationality as Argentinian gave a commencement speech.  The speaker spoke in broken English as she stated that she worked for an international news service which sought out, and reported on, human rights violations.  The journalist spoke words encouraging the graduates to seek out and expose injustice as she referenced the volume of such injustice in the United States, a country she was admittedly not a citizen of.  I found her comments and opinions to be somewhat ironic and I felt that I was not alone in that opinion as the applause following her words was sparse at best.

The commencement ceremony ended with the traditional throwing of oddly shaped caps and the thunderous roar of celebratory cheers.  The diploma recipients hugged and laughed as they celebrated their accomplishment which signaled the end of their college years.

Rob, Chris and I made our way from the upper section of the large arena and outside where the throngs of young at heart and years continued their embraces.  It appeared to me that in only a mere matter of moments the celebrations had transitioned into sad and heartfelt goodbyes.  It was as if the 452 young men and women had suddenly come to the realization that they were leaving not only their alma mater but the friends with whom they shared the past four years of their lives; friends whom they may never again see.

I found an out-of-the-way spot to stand which somewhat protected me from the bumping and inadvertent shoving.  As I stood there I looked up and noticed that the day was a particularly nice one and the sky itself seemed to be painted in soft pastels.  “Excuse me sir, can you tell me what time it is,” a young man still wearing his graduation cap asked.  “Sure, it’s 12:51,” I replied.  I recall wondering how the recent graduate ever got to his classes on time with so little knowledge regarding the time of day, but perhaps I was being a little too critical.

For quite some time I stood and silently observed the movements of and the words spoken by those around me.  I was certain that this scenario had been played out many times and the emotions displayed were ones which had been repeated over and over again throughout the years.  The parents of the young men and women must have, in some way, suddenly realized that the children they so lovingly raised from infancy were now all grown up.

Following the passage of many minutes and after the taking of countless photographs I was reunited with Sarah, Rob and Chris.  Unknown to me a post-graduation tradition involved the consumption of a meal and the three had devised a plan to partake of that meal at a well thought of restaurant which served Mexican cuisine.

The drive to the eatery took no more than ten minutes and, at least to my way of thinking, the establishment was much less crowded than one might expect given the day’s goings-on.  I had little actual concern over the restaurant’s lack of patronage but couldn’t help wondering where the other hundreds of families had gone.

We found our meals to be quite satisfactory and the conversation was enjoyable.  There were comments about the graduation ceremony, the size of the audience and the invited speakers.  For the most part I just listened as I felt the words spoken between Sarah and her parents were of far more importance than any I could offer.

As both the amount of food and volume of conversation dwindled the time had come to leave.  Sarah said she was expected at a post-graduation party so we drove to her nearby apartment.  Once there, goodbyes were exchanged and hugs were given all around.  Sarah thanked me for my attendance and said, “We’ll stay in touch, for sure.”  After a brief moment of silence I replied, “Just like always.”

As Sarah walked away and toward the stairs which lead to her cramped second floor apartment she stopped and for a moment looked skyward.  “What a beautiful bright blue sky and just look at those white clouds.”

I recall thinking that my differing interpretation of the sky was probably indicative of my advanced years and one’s vision most certainly changes with age.  My granddaughter, Sarah came of age that day in Columbia, Missouri but she wasn’t the only one; so did I.

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A Call To Arms in The Ozarks

Executive Order

81-20

escapees1WHEREAS, there are escaped prisoners threatening and engaging in public disorder which represents a present threat to the lives, safety and protection of the citizens of McDonald County, Missouri, and;

WHEREAS, such circumstances create a condition of distress and hazard to the public health and safety to the citizens of McDonald County recognized to be beyond the capabilities of local and State authorities;

NOW, THEREFORE, I, CHRISTOPHER S. BOND, GOVERNOR OF THE STATE OF MISSOURI, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and Statutes of this State and pursuant to Section 41.480 RSMo, 1978, do hereby declare that an emergency exists in McDonald County, Missouri, and I order and direct the Adjutant General of the State, or his designee, to forthwith call and order into active service such portions of the organized militia as he deems necessary to aid the local law enforcement officials to perform law enforcement functions, and it is further ordered and directed that the Adjutant General or his designee, and through him the Commanding Officer of any unit or other organization of such organized militia so called into active service to take such action and employ such equipment and weapons as may be deemed necessary in support of civilian authorities, and to provide such other assistance as may be authorized and directed by the Governor of this State.

In September of 1981 Governor Christopher, Kit, Bond was the highest ranking governmental figure in the state of Missouri, however, he obviously had little familiarity with his constituents residing in the rural southwest area of the state known as McDonald County.  Almost every resident there owned at least one firearm and needed no special invitation what-so-ever to display their rifle, shotgun or pistol.  The rearview mirrors found inside pick-up trucks were rendered relatively useless as the owners of the trucks covered the rear windows with gun racks which were home to several rifles and shotguns.

The issuance of Governor Bond’s executive order was prompted by the theft of a Lansing, Kansas State penitentiary guard’s uniform and found its conclusion alongside a set of railroad tracks in the small town of Goodman, Missouri.  Seven dangerous inmates escaped from the Kansas correctional facility on Sunday, September 7, 1981 and for seven anxious days and six sleepless nights the group, five of which were convicted murderers, avoided capture.

Shortly following the escape, three of the fugitives broke into a farmhouse located a mere fifteen miles from the prison.  The Bonner Springs, Kansas farm was owned by an elderly couple, Robert and Roseline Seymour.  Robert said that the trio could take whatsoever they wanted but he beseeched the intruders to show mercy and asked that no harm come to Roeseline.  Lengths of rope were used to restrain the Seymours and as one of the intruders fastened the knots around Roseline’s hands he said, “Don’t be scared lady, I’ve got a mother too.”

That group of wanted men, John Kitchell, Robert Bentley and Everett Cameron stole the couple’s car and drove to Springfield, Missouri where they absconded with yet another vehicle.  That car belonged to a college student who was also bound with lengths of rope.

Three of the fugitives, Terry McClain, Marvin Thornton and Larry Miller were spotted by a Bonner Springs police officer only hours after the escape.  After a car chase and the exchange of gunfire, the three were apprehended but not before four bullets fired from the guns of the outlaws penetrated the body of the officer.

escapees4The seventh escapee, James Murray was spotted near Aurora, Missouri the following Tuesday and following a brief, and relatively uneventful, foot chase he was taken into custody.  That left only Kitchell, Bentley and Cameron still out there and on the lamb.    Kitchell and Bentley were convicted murderers while Cameron had been found guilty of rape. These were desperate, dangerous men and nobody knew where they were headed, but that uncertainty quickly came to an end.

A car occupied by three unrecognized and rough looking men was stopped by a Noel, Missouri police officer.  Before the lawman could determine the identity of the men the trio leapt from the vehicle and fled into the woods and out of sight.  Accounts of the men’s sightings soon began to be reported by residents of McDonald County.  The news media provided the men’s descriptions and three strangers fitting those descriptions were seen walking in the wooded rolling hills and low lying pastures of the sparsely populated area of the Ozarks.

Men gathered up their weapons and groups of shotgun wielding volunteers dressed in blue-jeans or bib-overalls, some wearing their favorite John Deere caps, stopped cars on dusty and desolate dirt roads.  As cars and pick-up trucks were flagged down apologies were offered to friends and neighbors for the inconveniences but it didn’t seem as though the vehicle’s occupants minded the delays one bit; many found the whole experience somewhat exhilarating.

On the afternoon of Saturday, September 12th a keen-eyed man who resided just west of Ginger Blue, an area located between the towns of Noel and Lanagan, reported the sighting of three suspicious men near a secluded house.  The sighting prompted two law enforcement officers, State Troopers Walters and Ferguson, to drive to the house where they, with the benefit of the patrol car’s loudspeaker, ordered anyone inside to come out with hands raised above their heads.  Cameron and Kitchell later stated that they were not inside the home at the time but saw and overheard the proceedings.

Bentley came outside with his hands raised skyward and from the porch asked, “What do you want.”  The officers were certain that Bentley was indeed one of the fugitives and soon had him in handcuffs.  Bentley was allowed to use the loud speaker and asked the two remaining fugitives to give themselves up.  He attempted to entice the two when he said, “They have treated me kindly and have not threatened to shoot me.”  The officers later learned that Cameron and Kitchell had indeed been there but Bentley’s words had not convinced them to surrender.  Bentley had apparently discovered a bottle of wine while hiding in the house and was found to be inebriated when arrested.

In an attempt to leave McDonald County, Cameron and Kitchell climbed into the boxcar of a northbound Kansas City Southern train.  Kent Grigsby, a Lanagan resident saw the two and called the sheriff’s office.  He reported seeing the two fugitives inside the boxcar and gave the train’s direction of travel.

McDonald County Sheriff Lou Keeling arranged to have the getaway freight train stopped near the small town of Goodman, Missouri.  There Cameron and Kitchell, the last remnants of the elusive band of scoundrels, were taken into custody.  Following a brief foot pursuit, the short-lived freedom enjoyed by the last of the escapees came to an end.

Cameron and Bentley later told authorities that the week in the Southwest Missouri woods had been a terrible experience.  The men had eaten very little and fresh drinking water was hard to find.  Bentley, Cameron and Kitchell were covered head-to-toe with ticks and chiggers.  In many ways the three men of bad temperament were glad the ordeal was over.

While on the run the escaped convicts had stolen six cars, threatened six families, broken into two homes and taken three hostages.  It was estimated that the cost of the resources expended in their capture exceeded $65,000.00.

Sheriff Lou Keeling had only two full-time deputies at his disposal, however, law enforcement officers from Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, the U.S. Border Patrol and the F.B.I. as well as many Missouri National Guardsmen were involved in the search for the three runaways.  The fugitive’s short-lived freedom lasted only seven days ending on Sunday, September 13th.

Shortly following the capture of the last two inmates Betty Bray and Ralph Pogue used their cameras to capture the moment thus preserving the event for future newspaper perusers.  As Noel resident John Greer read subsequent newspaper accounts of the seven days in September he came to realize how near in proximity to his hilltop home the path taken by the bad men had come.

Greer hadn’t taken the potential threat posed by the convicts that seriously as he leisurely barbecued on one cool Ozark evening prior to their capture.  He did, however, rest his best locked and loaded shotgun against a nearby pecan tree while he turned the steaks on the charcoal-fueled fire; just in case.

For McDonald Countians the week in September of 1981, later touted as Missouri’s most extensive manhunt ever, was interesting but not earth shattering.  After all, these were the same people who twenty years prior gave nary the slightest thought to seceding, albeit for only a brief period of time, from the State of Missouri while adopting the name, McDonald Territory.

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Mary and Maxine, Two Girls From Pineville

Maxine and MomMaxine Jeffers, Maxine Jeffers Maxine Jeffers, that name was thrown at me by my mother like a warrior hurling a spear.  As a young boy I occasionally, I will freely admit, at times used poor judgment.  Exceeding the recommended number of days without changing underwear, sneaking into the kitchen in the dark of night and raiding the pig-shaped cookie jar and, with all sincerity, telling my mother why the substitute teacher didn’t assign homework.  However clever I thought myself to be, my sometimes attempts to deceive her were met with the battering of that name, Maxine Jeffers.

It seemed as though every childish trick exercised or each excuse for misbehavior offered was met with examples involving my mother and her high school friend Maxine Jeffers.  The two attended the small southwest Missouri school in Pineville.  Maxine was then known by her maiden name Maxine Legore and my mother was then called Mary Louise Barr.  Later in life, I learned that, in fact, Maxine’s true name was actually Virginia Maxine Legore but she was known to her friends as just plain, Maxine.  Apparently, at least according to the many stories my mother told about the two’s adventures, the duo was inseparable; Maxine was like the sister my mother never had.

For the longest time, I whole-heartedly believed that Maxine was nothing more than a mythical character concocted by my mother.  She would throw out Maxine’s name like a weapon whenever she believed I needed a verbal life lesson.  However, not so long ago that name, Maxine Jeffers, was proven to be someone more of reality than myth.

I religiously attend the bi-monthly meetings of the McDonald County Historical Society.  I find that the Pineville venue requires no more than a fifteen-minute drive from Noel and I always enjoy the scenic and peaceful drive along Highway H.

I’ll admit that I have several motives for attending the normally no more than two-hour meetings, one of which is the opportunity to gather information which may later be used in the composition of a story.  I don’t suppose many would hold that rather selfish excuse for attendance against me.

Some time ago, and as the meeting was adjourned, I heard a voice, “excuse me are you Stan Fine?”  I turned in the direction of the question only to find a charming looking woman standing there.  There was no more than a moment of silence before I responded, “Yes, yes I am.”  She then continued her part of the introduction ritual.  “It’s nice to meet you, my name is Barbara Simpson.  I believe we have something in common, something that may surprise you.”  “What’s that?” I asked.  “My mother grew up in Pineville and was your mother’s best friend.”  My brain fashioned the unspoken name I had heard so many times while growing up, however, before I could speak a single word, there came that name “My mother’s name was Maxine Jeffers.”

Barbara and I spoke often over the next several months and, as might be expected, the topics of the conversations were always of Mary and Maxine.  Barbara knew much more about the two girls than I did and she even had several photos of the pair, many of which I had never before seen.  The story of Maxine and Mary could now be told.

Mary lived with her mother Margret, Maggie, Barr while Maxine stayed with her Grandmother, Fannie Legore.  The two houses rested adjacent to one another on Pineville’s quiet King Street.  As their high school years passed, the two girls became more like sisters than best friends; they became inseparable.

The duo watched Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor in the thriller, “The Maltese Falcon,” at the Ace Theatre on the square in Pineville.  They danced the Jitterbug and Lindy Hop at Shadow Lake in Noel on steamy summer nights.  When the heat of the July days became uncomfortable the girls cooled off at their favorite swimming hole on Little Sugar Creek near the old Havenhurst Grist Mill.  Following the swim, the two sometimes stopped at the general store near the dam for ice cream.

On weekends the two could be found at Bonnie Bell’s Store on the Pineville square where local kids gathered to enjoy a bottle of Coke or perhaps a cold strawberry soda.  On special evenings local teenagers paraded their favorite dance moves on the second floor of Bonnie Bells to such songs as “Why Don’t You Do Right” by Peggy Lee and Benny Goodman.  An upstairs wall was home to a world map where Bonnie used pins to identify the locations of local service men and women who went off to war.

The girls cheered on the basketball team at the Sulphur Springs, Arkansas gymnasium.  The low ceiling called for shots to have lower trajectories and it was such a small basketball venue that the upstairs room’s out-of-bounds areas were, in fact, the building’s four hard and unforgiving walls.

As the two friends neared the end of the high school years they met the boys who would later become their husbands.  Maxine met Chester, known to everyone as Jerry Bob, Jeffers and Mary found her high school sweetheart, Floyd Fine, whom his friends called Junior.  Like the girls, the two couples were rarely seen apart from the other.  Shortly following their senior years Maxine married Jerry Bob and Mary and Floyd were united in marriage.

When the days of high school became only a memory the foursome looked for work but job prospects were poor.  Floyd and Jerry Bob made a decision that would have an impact on the girls as well; Floyd and Jerry Bob enlisted in the Navy and traveled to Norman, Oklahoma where they would receive their basic training.

The world was at war and following the December 7, 1941 attack at Pearl Harbor America became an active participant in that horrific conflict.  Jerry Bob and Floyd completed their basic training and like many young Americans served until the Allies prevailed and claimed their victory.

Following the war, Jerry Bob and Floyd once again looked for jobs but none seemed to offer the promise of providing for growing families so the two men once again looked to the military.  This time the two enlisted in the Marine Corps.

In 1948 the two couples found themselves living next to one another in Signal Hill, California.  The small and Spartan structures were homes for many military families and, although money was scarce, the children happily played together not knowing, or caring, how far their parent’s budgets were being stretched.  Mary’s son Bill pulled a red wagon while Maxine’s daughter Barbara rode inside.  The sights and sounds of the nearby oil derricks were taken for granted and never given a second thought.Bill, mom and dad6

Maxine and Jerry Bob eventually divorced and years later Jerry Bob moved to Henderson, Nevada.  On one warm Nevada Thursday morning in 1965 his lifeless body was discovered in his boarding-house room.  Floyd is alive and well.  In his 92nd year of life, he has returned to the gentle, rolling hills of the Ozarks and now resides on the outskirts of Noel.

My mother once told me about Maxine Jeffers’ trousers.  Sis, as Maxine was often called, shortened the pants with frayed cuffs and transformed them into pedal-pushers; nothing went to waste.  Unlike the trials and tribulations of the days in 1942, my walk to grade school was merely a “teeny-weeny” stretch of the legs and the vast abyss in the leather sole of my shoe was nothing more than an “itsy-bitsy” hole; at least according to my mother.  I often wondered why Maxine Jeffers had not been given sainthood, or at the very least recognized as some famous historical figure widely revered by small children and the elderly of advanced years.

As each individual year turned into years and even decades of time passed people and friends came into, and often quietly and uneventfully, left Mary’s life.  I cannot help but find it so strikingly amazing that although the two high school chums hadn’t seen, corresponded with or spoken to one another for all those many years, and there were more than thirty, Mary always remembered Maxine and considered her to be her oldest and dearest friend.  And those kinds of friends only come into our lives once in a lifetime.

Maxine moved to Tustin, California where she lived for 28 years.  She raised two daughters, Debra and Barbara and two sons, Jack and John.  Maxine died on a Thursday, the 12th day of July in the year 2001.  Mary returned to Noel and lived out the latter part of her life in the area she loved so much.  I received a telephone call from Doctor Stiles early one cold Saturday morning in November.  He informed me that Mary, my mother, had died that day, the 1st of November in the year 1987.  Mary had three children Bill, Beverley and me, Stan.

The name Maxine Jeffers has lost it’s meaning as a lesson to be learned and its mere mention now brings a smile to my face.  After all, she was one-half of a lifelong friendship with the other half being Mary, my mother.

My mother taught me to swim, but of course she often remarked that I was never the swimmer that was her best friend, Maxine Jeffers.

 

Special thanks to Barbara

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Faster Than the Speed of Light

e=mc2I sometimes awake afraid and drenched in my own perspiration.  I am afraid that everything I thought I once unequivocally knew now seems to be so very unclear.  The once well thought out plans which I believed to be etched in stone now lie broken and in jagged pieces which are scattered everywhere I look.  I believe that there may be only one certainty that I can still believe in; the speed of light.

The Earth, Milky Way Galaxy and the universe itself are so complex that even now we have relatively little understanding of their complexities.  It seems as though when a new theory is proposed which might help explain everything another theory is offered which disputes the original hypotheses.  There is, however, one irrefutable constant, at least to this day, that most agree upon; the speed of light boundary.  Albert Einstein made the assertion that nothing in the universe can exceed the speed of light, 186,000 miles per second.

I have cultivated a plan.  I will leave this bit of rock, water and sky that is the third planet from our Sun.  Traveling at a speed more than twice the speed of light I will go on a journey, an excursion like no other ever attempted, that will last six years. I will travel past Venus, and after eighty four light minutes I will bid ado to Saturn.  My voyage will then take me out of our small and most insignificant grouping of celestial formations, our solar system.

I developed a means by which I can achieve this speed and this method must be kept secret.  I will say only that the technique used, which I refer to as a “Luminal Boom,” is similar to that of a sonic boom when the speed of sound is surpassed.

My destination is a cluster of five planets that orbit a star called Tau Ceti, a star twice as old as our Sun.  This grouping of cosmic bodies lies approximately twelve light years from my journey’s point of origination.  The massive fourth planet from this star, Planet E, is massive; approximately four times the size of our Earth.  I realize that I am nothing more than a frail organism of creation however this far off child of its star has the ability to support my human needs.

My purpose in making this arduous trek is not merely to escape my life here on earth, although there have been many times that an escape was considered.  My intent was to once again be with my old friend as she once was; as she was before the terrible illness came onto her.  For those who declare that I am a coward and should learn to live with my life’s losses I say, you may be correct in you assessment.

Why have I decided to leave my home and embark on this voyage you may ask?  Well, there are many reasons.  For several years now I believed the life I had and wanted to keep had been stolen from me.  I felt as though I no longer fit into the space I occupied or really belonged anywhere at all; I have been so very lost.

I want to once again be with my best friend.  I want to somehow believe that I can see her face, hear her voice and I imagine that I can feel her touch as she puts her hand in mine.  Simple pictures merely capture her image, however my thoughts of viewing her as she interacted with me and others while she was alive, and before anyone else saw those images, motivates me to make the decision to leave behind everything I know.

I will travel for six years at a speed twice the speed of light and when I reach my destination the light and images which were born on this Earth some twelve years prior, 2011, will only then be coming into view.

I will spend days, and weeks and years watching my friend as she was before the terrible invasion of her body by that cancer.  Although she will not hear me I will talk to her knowing that she is alive and well.  I will outlive my friend and when I have ceased to exist, and when my life is over no tears will touch her face as she will never know I’m gone.

We once vowed to remain together for all eternity but there came a day when I realized that eternity was much shorter than I imagined.  I see you and I’ve made a decision.  I will travel faster than the speed of light therefore the 14th day of July in the year 2013 will never have taken place. The dawning of that saddest of mornings will never birth an image that my eyes might see.

I believe the life that I now have and the life that I see in my future are of little or no consequence.  But, if I can make the life I lived years ago my future, well, that existence does have interest to me.  I came to a conclusion.  The only way for me to survive was to make the past my future.

Hope must live in the hearts of everyone, if not; the heart will surely cease to live.  I feel as though the life that seemed to lie before me is one which will find me imprisoned in the throes of an agonizing madness and is not something which I care to partake of, so I take my future in-hand.  I have decided to end my fragile solitude and bring the past alive and there live for the remainder of my years.

There are moments when everyone needs to find an escape from reality; there are those times in our lives when the burdensome weight of realism becomes too heavy to endure.  I choose not to accept reality.  My mind is made up, I will travel to a place where I know the harsh moments in my life will have not yet occurred and I believe that I can remain detached from those events which I cannot come to terms with.

Whether it may be brush strokes of paint on canvass or a vision living in the deepest place in my memory, the image of you will be with me for a day longer than forever.

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Fred, The Golf Course Squirrel

squirrel1Using my clean hand, I wiped off my golf cart’s seat.  Once certain the dirt once there was now on the palm of my hand I drove the cart the short distance which separated my property from that of the nine holes of golf and the pro-shop.  As always, I parked the cart near the shop’s front door and as I walked through the entry, and without really looking at her, I greeted the woman responsible for keeping track of the golfers. “What’s up,” I asked.

“Not much, how are you?” she replied.  Still moving toward the counter which separated the two of us, and only then looking at her, I noticed something distinctively different about the woman who I had seen almost every day for the past year.  She was wearing, at least it appeared that way to me, a small grey squirrel that was, from front to back, climbing about her torso.

“I can’t quite put my finger on it Theresa but there’s something different about you,” I sarcastically stated as I signed the guest book which was resting on the counter top.  “Yes I guess there is, this is Fred,” she rather nonchalantly replied.  Well, and without further ado, here’s the story of Fred, the golf course squirrel.

I’m a member in good standing of the Elk River Golf Course.  The course’s challenging nine holes provide golfers only one-half the number of holes normally found on golf courses, however those patches of grass can be difficult to maneuver.  Those holes of golf can be found on the edge of Noel, a small, rural Southwest Missouri town.  The 40 acres of grass and sand rest on a low-lying patch of ground nestled between the scenic bluffs, which provide a roof for Highway 59, and the normally quiet waters of Elk River.

Cows graze on farm land that has been in the same family for more than one-hundred years and the course of two and fifty years rebukes financial logic as it somehow remains open to the much appreciated plethora of golf club wielding men and women from all over whom each year travel to the beautiful fragment of Ozark ground.

Theresa and Bobby manage the course and the couple greets and welcomes customers, accepts payments, moves golf carts around and performs the endless number of daily tasks which keep the course running smoothly.  Functions which Theresa never anticipated, however, were the responsibilities of managing a squirrel rescue center and the parenting of an infant shadow-tailed rodent named Fred.  Never in her wildest imagination could Theresa have dreamed that she would one day become the surrogate parent to a small, furry ball of unbridled energy; and one with sharp claws and teeth.

Some weeks ago, and as Bobby walked along the bank of one the golf course’s many ponds, he heard a voice.  “Hey mister, take a look at this.”  At first Bobby wasn’t certain the request was directed at him but, as he continued to walk along the water’s edge, the voice once more broke the silence.  “Hey, wait a minute, we found something you need to see.”

Now, certain that the words were directed toward him, Bobby turned only to see two young boys walking quickly toward him.  “What’s up,” he asked.  One of the boys held out his right hand and nestled in the palm of that opened hand laid a small motionless object which Bobby recognized as a squirrel.  “We think it’s still alive, but barely.”  “We found it over there,” as he pointed in the direction of a large oak tree, “just lying on the ground.”

Bobby didn’t need to give a minute’s thought to his response.  “Okay, give it to me.  I know someone who will take good care of it.”  The then temporary caregiver to a baby squirrel carefully took the lifeless package from the boy and walked the short distance to the pro-shop.

It was as if Theresa could sense the presence of an animal in need of her care.  Bobby had not wholly passed through the doorway when she asked, “What are you carrying?”  Bobby held the squirrel in the palm of one hand and with the other hand gently covered the small helpless orphan.  “It’s a baby squirrel that must have fallen from the big oak tree by the pond.  I guess he’s been abandoned and it looks like he’s barely alive.”  “Give him to me,” without the slightest hesitation, Theresa said.

Within the palms of her open hands Theresa gently, and almost motherly, cradled the poor helpless animal.  She spoke softly and as though she believed the baby could understand her words of comfort.  And maybe that lost motherless infant did in fact realize that this woman was a friend and one who wanted to help.

Theresa was determined to do everything within her power to give life to that squirrel.  She began to feed the baby a concoction made of goat’s milk, heavy whipping cream and yogurt.  As for the best container to hold the mixture, what better means to transfer the formula to the squirrel could be found than making use of a small baby bottle?

The homeless squirrel slept in a small box which was lined with warm blankets.  To further ensure that the baby would be kept warm an electric heating pad was placed under the thick layer of garments.  It wasn’t the same as the warmth provided by its mother’s fur, however the time for improvising was at hand and it would have to do.

After the passage of several days, which quickly turned into a week, the baby was alive, eating and doing well.  Theresa and Bobby decided it was time to give the little squirrel a name, but what should an adopted squirrel be called.  Theresa determined that the squirrel was in fact a female, a little girl, so the two foster parents, and unanimously, agreed that she should be given the name, Fred.

Several months have now passed and Fred has grown into a juvenile squirrel.  With thick fur and a bushy tail she roams the counter, racks of goods offered for sale and, of course, Theresa.  As Theresa sits atop a stool behind the counter, Fred jumps from one perch to another but always seems to prefer the shirt worn by her foster mother.

Theresa talks to her and tries to coax her back onto the countertop but Fred prefers the comfort of, what she must assuredly believe to be, her mother.  Just as it appears that Fred will never tire of her games she stops, and wherever she my be, closes her eyes and takes a brief nap knowing all the while that Theresa is there to protect her.

What are the long range plans for Fred the squirrel you may ask?  Well, Theresa would like to one day free Fred from the confines of the pro-shop.  It’s hoped that the ball of fur would live freely on the grounds and find that the many trees to climb are to her liking.  But, letting a child go alone into the uncertainty of the world outside can be frightening for a parent, even a foster parent.  What would become of Fred should Theresa not be there to break the hard shells of dinner nuts with the use of a nut-cracker?

Fred the squirrel doesn’t seem to be the least bit embarrassed or offended by the gender inappropriate masculine name given to her.  In fact, the small rodent appears to be quite content and seems to enjoy the seemingly endless amount of attention given to her.  Fred is most assuredly spoiled and Theresa spends hours talking to her, bathing her in the sink and doting over the gray bushy-tailed golf course resident.

Theresa once adopted a small infant cougar.  She raised that cat and for ten years that feline, named Precious, lived with her and her children.  Theresa will tell you the story of Precious and her life with her adopted family of people if you ask.  She will also readily, and with a smile on her face, talk about the baby squirrel, Fred, who lives at the Elk River Golf Course.

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Seven Years From Home

It’s been seven long years since this man, once young of years and heart, last saw his home.  As he stood on the hallowed ground where more than 11,500 years ago the people who once lived here gathered together to observe religious ceremonies this weary traveler could only gaze upon the ruins of Gobekli Tepe, the Turkish religious site now being excavated.  He hoped, beyond reason, that his journey had come to an end.

There at this oldest of religious sites the traveler of many miles met a man who may possess the answer to the question which initiated the journey.  This man of German origin worked at the now archeological site and was found to be a good listener.  “Klaus,” the man said, “just call me Klaus.”

This traveler of many miles told the story of the loss of his son and some few years later that of his best friend and wife.  The two died horrible deaths and, to this searcher’s way of thinking, without explanation.  He wanted answers and where better to find those answers than at the world’s most holy of sites.

Klaus stood silently as he leaned against a shovel and listened.  His head occasionally turned when he seemed to find some words spoken in Turkish to hold interest but his eyes remained fixated on the seeker of answers.  The traveler explained that he had traveled to the world’s most holy and religious of sites but still the answer to his question had eluded him.  “Why doesn’t God understand my words and why am I not able to understand his?

‘I have stood upon the ground of the Edicule in Jerusalem and spoken to the almighty only to find that my words would fall on deaf and unconcerned ears.  I stood before the Kaaba in Mecca and pleaded for its builders, Ibrahim and Ismail, to introduce me to the lord of all beings but the silence was deafening.

‘As I fell to the earth on my knees in Lumbibi and gazed upon the birthplace of Guatama Buddah himself I called for God to hear my words, but no response was received. I wondered aloud if there could truly be such a divine being who would listen.

‘Vienna’s Weltliches Schatzkammer Museum led me to the home of the “Spear of Destiny,” the metal point that once pierced the skin of the son of God.  But alas, God wasn’t there and I was ignored as I prayed while bowing before the spear.

‘The journey of many years took me to Scotland where I looked upon the home of Margret McDonald and wondered why the creator’s son spoke to her of the rapture knowing that he had never spoken a single word to me, and I feared that he never would.

‘I was certain that in the royal chapel of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist I would hear the words of the lord.  The holy place of worship in Turin, Italy was the place where the “Shroud of Turin” was safeguarded.  However, once again, my words and questions were ignored.

‘I walked the ground at Cova da Iria hoping beyond hope that the mother of Jesus, Mary, would speak with me as she had done to the three shepherd children in 1917. But there was only silence and the “Lady of Fatima” miracle was not to be repeated.”  The disheartened man asked the German, “Can God hear me from this old place as I stand, all alone, here in Turkey.”

The man spoke fluent German and English.  Klaus spoke several words in what sounded to the searcher very much like German but he couldn’t be certain as he didn’t speak or understand the words passed onto him.

“Do you not understand what I have said; the words I spoke to you?”  “No I’m afraid I don’t understand what you have said.”  “That’s because you haven’t learned to speak and understand the German language.  I fear that you have also not yet learned to understand the language spoken by God.”

“God speaks of peace, love and hope. I feel as though the tragedies you have spoken of have rendered you partially deaf and you can now only understand the language of anger and faithlessness.  You however can learn the language spoken by God but only if you will vanquish that anger and look deep into your heart and find faith and love.”

“But the distances I have traveled over these seven years are miniscule compared to the vast desolation that lives within me,” the man replied with an almost desperate voice.  “Can faith and love still reside somewhere within me; I fear that I don’t have the answer to that question.”

This strange German said, “Find that answer and you will be able to understand the language which God speaks.  I don’t believe he only speaks to those who are standing on sacred ground, he speaks to all of us.”

The weary stranger is in need of a miracle but there is an obstacle in his way of asking for that event born of divine intervention.  He doesn’t speak or understand the language of God.  There seems to be a linguistics problem that he only recently became aware of and he is not sure he can overcome the obstacle.  That obstacle is in fact, he himself.  The inquisitive one needs to unlearn the language rooted in anger, faithlessness and despair and learn the language birthed from peace, love and hope; the language of God.

“My Missouri home; It’s been seven long years since I last saw the white springtime blossoms on the dogwoods,” the wanderer silently said to himself.  He found that he once more yearned to marvel at the beauty of the Ozark hills, valleys and streams.

“I must learn to remember one’s life, not one’s death; I’ll go home to Missouri.  I fear that I’m someday bound to leave you with scarcely more than an infinitesimal understanding of all the beautiful things I have so casually overlooked.  But maybe, and over time, that can be changed.”Gobekli Tepe

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The Great Sulphur Springs Bank Robbery of 1925

sulphur springs bankLike all final good-byes, the June 1925 funeral service for the dearly departed Sulphur Springs resident Louis Manker, L.M., Stout was a sad affair.  The service held in the park’s big tabernacle was attended by more than 500 mourners, after all, the small Northwest Arkansas town was a close-knit one and if those in attendance were not somehow related to Mr. Stout, they certainly knew the recently deceased.

As Reverend Runyan spoke, Clara Abercrombie was overcome with the feeling that she was somewhat responsible for the death of Stout.  As she wiped away a tear born from guilt which moistened her cheek her remorse could be heard in the broken words she spoke; “If only I hadn’t been the one to tell him about the men at the bank.  But, how could I have known what tragedy and sorrow my actions and words would bring to Sulphur Springs and to the Stout family; how could I have calculated the path of the bullet fired by the villain’s gun and the unforeseen tragedy that was to follow.  I am so, so sorry.”

The cold and uncompromising wheel of fate which led to Stout’s demise was put into motion on May 2nd when Sulphur Springs Bank cashier Storm Whaley opened a seemingly innocuous envelope.  The letter, penned by an Adair County, Oklahoma deputy sheriff, warned that a group of ruffians were planning to rob the bank in May or June.  Fearing that the threat was real, Whaley took the letter to Benton County Sheriff Joe Gailey.

Gailey considered the threat to be credible and gathered up some rifles, shotguns and ammunition.  He drove the sheriff’s patrol car to Sulphur Springs and left the small arsenal at Stout’s Grocery Store located on Hibler Avenue.  Sheriff Gailey told Stout to make good use of the weapons should the robbery take place.

Several weeks passed and the bank and the deposits stored inside remained secure.  No suspicious or unsavory characters were observed on the streets of the small town and no new warnings regarding the anticipated robbery were received.  On Monday, June 8th Gailey once again traveled to Stout’s Grocery Store.  “I’m going to gather up all the weapons I left with you.  It looks like this was a false alarm,” he said to L.M. Stout as he walked to his car, arms filled with guns and boxes of ammunition.  “Give me a call if you see anything suspicious.”

The next 2 days found the town returning to normal and concerns over the possibility of the robbery turned to laughter as many considered the threat to be no more than a hoax.  The town’s inhabitants once again talked about the weather, the hay in the fields and their families, not bank robbers. That was, until Thursday June 11th.

“I’ll be back in just a bit,” Clara said as she stepped through the bank’s front door on her way to lunch.  There, just on the other side of that doorway stood John Burchfield and Elva McDonald.  For a brief moment the three stared at each other when all at once Burchfield said, “Just let her go.”  Was this an act of chivalry or was the gang’s leader overconfident in the group’s ability to successfully complete their evil task?

Clara tried to remain calm as she walked away from the two however she couldn’t resist the temptation to turn her head for an ever so quick glance back as the two entered the bank.  Clara’s thoughts were of a previous but very similar day not that long ago when the bank was robbed.  She was forced inside the vault and surrounded by the quiet darkness.

With pistol filled hands the two robbers entered the bank and as McDonald slowly closed the door the men’s intent was clearly stated.  “Produce all the money or suffer the consequences,” Burchfield brazenly announced.  Banker Storm Whaley and newspaper manager C.A. Swarens were inside the building when Burchfield blurted out his demand.

Concealed from the outlaw’s view was a pistol in the cash drawer but when Whaley’s hand came from that drawer it held only money.  Whaley calculated that the risk was far too great.  The robbers ordered Whaley and Swarens into the vault and as Burchfield collected the money stored there he threatened to kill the two victims should the vault door not lock.  “If this door doesn’t lock I’ll kill both of you.”

Once the vault door slammed shut Whaley used a hidden telephone secretly placed there as a result of previous robberies.  Whaley called Johnson’s Garage and alerted Elmer Johnson of the robbery.  Giving little or no thought to his own safety Johnson ran to his home and retrieved several guns.sulphur springs bank3

Clara found her pace quicken as she neared the entrance to Stout’s Grocery Store.  “Louis where are you,” she called out as the front door had barely opened.  “Louis they’re robbing the bank!”  While screaming, “they’re robbing the bank,” Clara ran to the rear of the store where she found Stout.  “Clara what are you saying? Who’s robbing the bank?”  Clara’s words couldn’t keep up with her thoughts.  “There are two men with guns inside and two men in a black Model-T parked on the street near the front of the bank.”  Stout didn’t speak but walked to a storage closet, reached inside and brought out and into Clara’s view a shotgun.

Stout, and his son Dick who was also armed with a shotgun, ran from the grocery and onto the street.  As the Model-T get-away car came into view, Stout saw that there were two men, later identified as Tyrus Clark and Boyd Jewell, seated inside the vehicle.  Burchfield and McDonald were running toward the black ford carrying the stolen money.

Stout shouted, “Stop right there or I’ll shoot!”  Clark didn’t surrender but rather fired one shot from his shotgun sending buckshot from the end of the barrel which struck Stout in the stomach.  As Stout fell to the ground he fired five rounds all striking the vehicle however no shots caused injury to any of the robbers.  Dick however, fired one single shot that found its mark and struck Jewell in the leg.  Another accurately aimed shot struck Burchfield in the shoulder.  Burchfield and McDonald eventually scrambled into the car and the shooting ended as the vehicle drove away.

Elmer Johnson and other townspeople caught up to the bandits before they left Sulphur Springs and Burchfield and Jewell surrendered.  Sheriff Gailey later arrived and took charge of the two prisoners.  Later that night Johnson and Jim Arthur found Clark and McDonald.  They were on foot and several miles away from the scene of the robbery.  Johnson demanded that they surrender but his words were answered with gunshots.  Johnson was struck in the face and chest while Arthur received a wound to the wrist.  On Tuesday June, 16th Sheriff Gailey announced that he had captured both Clark and McDonald.

Louis Manker Stout died as a result of his wounds while Elmer Johnson lost his right eye.  Three of the bank robbers were tried in a Benton County, Arkansas court while the fourth, Boyd Jewell, betrayed his co-conspirators and testified against the other three.  A large number of women onlookers crowded the courtroom which, at that time, was considered to be uncommon.

Tyrus Clark was convicted of the murder of L.M. Stout and was electrocuted on January 26, 1926.  Elva McDonald wept when his verdict was announced; guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison.  He was considered to be a model inmate and on December 23, 1930 his sentence was commuted to 21 years by then Arkansas Governor Harvey Parnell.  McDonald was released from prison on December 22, 1931.  John Burchfield was also found guilty of murder and was killed on May 24, 1926 while attempting to escape.  The bank robbers stole $933.00, much of which was recovered by posse members during the search for the four culprits.

Jewell seemed to harbor a grudge against Elmer Johnson and in 1931 relayed a message to him through local resident Butch Wyatt.  Jewell said that he was going to come to Sulphur Springs and upon arrival, kill Johnson.  Johnson, then living with only one functioning eye had moved to Kansas City but sent a message, again through Wyatt, to Jewell.  “Let me know when you’re going to be in Sulphur Springs and I’ll meet you there.”  Jewell, the scoundrel that he was, never returned to the small Arkansas town.

The four bandits assumed that the small town bank would be an “easy mark” but little did they know about the courage and determination of the townspeople of Sulphur Springs, Arkansas.  However, the four criminals would learn of that grit and resolve on Thursday, the 11th day of June in the year 1925.

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