The Lure of a Sunny Day

lewis burlesqueI had seen that old, paint faded Chevy El Camino driving around the streets of Noel on many occasions but never gave the car or its driver a second thought.  The small Southwest Missouri Ozark town of Noel was home to many such vehicles, in fact, I often considered the possibility that I was the only one living there who didn’t own an older, and one in need of fresh paint, pickup truck.

“You know, he’s the guy that drives that old El Camino” my friend rather matter-of-factly stated.  “Lewis Helt, dag-nabbit, is a handyman and a gal-darn good painter.  He’ll paint your doors.  Give him a call.”  You see I was looking for someone to paint a pair of French doors.  My wife, Robin and I moved from Tampa, Florida to the Noel area in 2006.  There, on a hill which overlooked the Elk River Golf Course, Joe Cook and his crew used meticulously prepared blueprints to build a house which Robin and I believed would be the last house we would ever call home.

Everything had gone relatively as planned; well as those of you who have built a house surely know no building project goes exactly as planned.  For some reason, and a reason not known by me even to this day, the exterior paint on two of the six French doors began to peel.  Now, as a child, I spent several summers at my grandparent’s house on the town’s  North Kings Highway street but I found that as an adult and homeowner, living in Noel was much different than my time spent there as a twelve-year-old working at the miniature golf course on Noel’s Main Street.

My friend guaranteed me that Lewis Helt was the man for the job.  I was assured that Louis was a competent man in many facets of home repairs but he was an especially proficient painter.  “Well, he does have a few quirks that you city people may not be used to but he’s honest and doesn’t charge an arm and a leg.”  That endorsement was good enough for me and I decided to give the man who came highly recommended a call.

Lewis seemed to be a hard man to get in touch with but after several unanswered phone calls, a woman finally answered the ringing telephone.  I asked to speak with Lewis but was told he wasn’t at home, however, I was given the option of leaving a call-back name and telephone number which I did.  “He’s out working somewhere but when I see him I’ll tell him to call you,” the woman stated.

For two long days I awaited that conspicuously silent telephone to ring but it never did.  Robin was not a patient person by nature and on the morning of the third day without a call from the painter she let her feelings be known.  “The heck with that Lewis guy, or whatever his name is.  Let’s get ahold of someone else and get those doors painted.”

As I opened the kitchen drawer that was home to the myriad of telephone books for the Southwest Missouri counties and towns a loud sound caught my attention.  The sound was coming from the driveway and I could only assume that some sort of vehicle, and one in need of a new muffler, had pulled into the driveway.  The sound of a slammed car door caused me to close the drawer and walk to the front door.

Opening the front door brought the sight of a man dressed in paint-stained white overalls into view.  This had to be Lewis I silently surmised as I approached him.  “Hi, you must be Lewis.”  “Yes sir, are you Stan,” he asked.  “Yeah,” and as Robin’s image came into the corner of my eye I introduced her, “and this is my wife, Robin.”  “Hi, Mrs. Fine.”  “Please, call me Robin.”  “Okay,” he said as he smiled.

Robin and I explained that we wanted two French doors painted.  “What color do you want them painted,” Lewis asked.  “The same color as they are now.”  “No problem,” Lewis replied.  It was agreed that Lewis would get the original color code from an old paint can which we conveniently retained.

“When can you do the job,” Robin bluntly asked.  After Lewis’ mind calculated time and as he maneuvered that bit of Copenhagen Long Cut Wintergreen tobacco in his cheek he had an answer to the inquiry. “First thing the day after tomorrow; that’ll give me time to get the paint.”  Robin was determined to obtain every detail regarding the project.  “And how long will it take?”  “No more than a day.”  Once more Robin spoke and this was the deciding question.  “How much will it cost?”  Lewis thought for a moment then said, almost as if asking permission.  “Well, would $50.00 plus the cost of the paint be too much?”  I knew that Robin couldn’t spit the answering words from her mouth quickly enough.  “That sounds like a fair price I guess.  You’ve got the job.”

As promised Lewis did appear two days later.  He parked his truck on the grass near the driveway; I assumed to allow our car to be removed from the garage if needed. “That’s smart and considerate,” Robin remarked.  Lewis had a plan which would cause little or no mess and expedite the job.  He would remove the two doors and place them on a pair of wooden saw horses in the front lawn near the Red Bud tree.  There he would apply the burgundy red paint and return the doors to their hinges once the paint had sufficient time to cure.  “That’s fine”, Robin said.  “We have hidden screens in each side of the door’s opening which can be brought together.  When closed the screens will keep the annoying bugs outside where they belong.”

Robin, and I’ll admit I as well, occasionally glanced through the living room window to check on Lewis’ progress.  He was as busy as the proverbial beaver.  It was somewhere around noon as I recall that Robin first commented about the painter’s absence.

“Lewis isn’t out there,” she said.  “The doors are still on the saw horses but his truck is gone.”  “He probably went to lunch.  After all, he has to eat doesn’t he?”

The hours and the afternoon passed without any sign of Lewis.  Robin frequently reminded me of his absence as the dark of night hours slipped by.  She must have forgotten that I was fully aware of the large and conspicuous opening where a duo of doors once hung.

Robin and I heard the sound of Lewis’ El Camino the next morning as he backed it into his grassy parking spot.  Robin stormed out of the house determined to make her dissatisfaction known.  “Where were you yesterday afternoon? We had a big hole in our living room.”  “Sorry Robin, but it was such a nice sunny day that I just had to go over to Opal Hatfield’s pond and fish.  She lets me fish there as long as I fry up a mess of fish for her.  I’ll have these here doors hung in a couple of hours.”

“I hope this paint lasts longer than that old paint did,” Robin, still seething, remarked.  Lewis smiled as he moved the paintbrush up and down in a large plastic turpentine filled cup; “That’s darn good paint.  It’ll outlive me.”  Robin soon absolved Lewis of any wrongdoing and laughed when she later told that story over and over again.

Noel is a small town and no one can hide from sight for long and so it was with Lewis.  I often saw him driving that old El Camino with saw horses and partially filled cans of paint rolling about in its bed.  I recall that when asked what he was up to Lewis would speak of several small projects that he needed to finish but without exception, he always talked about one client in particular.

Lewis always mentioned the work he was doing for Mary Jane Bright.  Mary Jane owned a home with some land on the outskirts of Noel and Louis was regularly in her employment.  He knocked down the grass and weeds around the pond, repaired whatever needed fixing and most important of all, fed the deer.  Lewis often told me that Mary Jane wanted to keep those wild deer fed.  I could tell by the way he talked about her that Lewis considered Mary Jane more than an employer, she was a good friend.  I’m told, however, that she found the missing floorboard in that old El Camino to be somewhat of a minor annoyance.

On a cold January day of this year, Louis fell asleep, but this sleep was like none before.  This sleep would have no awakening.  Louie, as he was known to his many friends, would fall into a sleep that would last for the rest of his life.

The medical experts said Louis lost his ability to think but I chose to believe that in that sleep; that final sleep, my friend Lewis dreamt of the old El Camino, feeding Mary Jane’s deer and he dreamed of Jeannie.  At least that’s the way I want to remember Lewis’ last few hours.

The paint on the French doors looks as good today as the day that Lewis splashed color on them.  Sadly though, Lewis was correct.  That paint did outlive him.  Lewis Ray Helt, the handyman who could fix almost anything, the master painter who used sweeping brush strokes to put new color to old wood; that is when the fish weren’t biting, died on January 26th of this year.

As Louie worked he often thought of worms on hooks and favorite fishing holes.  When the urge to tantalize a bass with that worm became too great Lewis often remarked, “Be back in a short.”

Thanks to Lewis’ best friend and companion of more than five and twenty years, Jeannie.

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Mary’s Journal; All About Our Baby

baby bookMy mother, Mary Louise Barr Fine, was a girl whose only view of life and the world was the one she had from the small Southwest Missouri Ozarks town of Pineville.  There she went to school, swam in the warm waters of the Little Sugar Creek and laughed with her best friend Maxine.  The two girls enjoyed lemon ice cream at the Havenhurst dam and speculated about how their lives might look following high school.  It was in that small town of 700 or so residents that she met her later to become husband, Floyd; Junior, as she called him.

As the years all too quickly passed Mary, her friend Maxine and Junior found that their time as carefree children dancing at Bonnibel Sweet’s store would come to an end.  It seemed as though Mary and Junior were destined to build a life together and after graduation caps were tossed into the air and the two became more than high school sweethearts, they became husband and wife.

Mary soon found that she was with child and she and Junior talked about how a baby would change their lives.  They talked about what kind of parents they would be and the two wondered; would the new child be a boy or a girl?  Mary knew little about being a mother and Junior struggled with the idea that he would become the growing family’s breadwinner.  Jobs were few and far between in Pineville but with the family’s addition on the way, money was desperately needed.

At 11:55 P.M. on Sunday, September 7, 1942, a healthy baby boy entered the world of Mary and Junior.  The blonde hair blue eyed infant would thereafter be known to all as Billy Joe Fine.  Mary and the newest resident of Pineville, that small bundle of joy, were resting inside Maggie Barr’s Main Street house.

Margret Maggie Barr’s house, the home my mother and her brothers grew up in, was a small house located on Main Street in Pineville.  The days that followed the birth of my brother found that small house crowded with visitors. T.O. Bradley, Vera Lou Myers and Ruth Oliver stopped by.  Jack Poyner and wife, Lynn Clark and Peggy Ann Bottles were among the well-wishers.  Mrs. Bill Carnell asked how Mary was feeling and through all the smiles and words of gratitude spoken by my mother that day the most sincere words of thanks were given to her best friend, Maxine Legore.

Friends and relatives anxious to get a glimpse of Billy arrived with words of felicitations.  Most not only expressed their feelings with words but, as was the custom, brought gifts for the new mother and child.  The first person to visit my mother and her new baby boy was Hazel Carnell.  Hazel brought with her a gift that would be part of Mary’s life for the next seven years.  Hazel brought Mary a book; a book entitled “All About Our Baby.”

I, now in my late and hard to come to terms with sixties, quite accidentally found the book once gifted to my mother by Hazel Carnell.  As I turned the faded and brittle pages of the book I wondered if Hazel, the wife of Martin, could have ever imagined that after 76 years the book would still exist.  I suppose that Hazel Carnell of Pineville, Missouri considered the book a thoughtful gift and possibly nothing more.

The cover page of the book is blank save for the ink scribed words, “Billy Joe Fine from Hazel Carnell, 1942.”  Two pages later I recognized my mother’s scribbling as she recorded birth details, “Born Sept. 7, 1942 at 5 min till 12:00 P.M. in Pineville, Missouri; delivered by R.E. Warmack, M.D.”

The writing on the following page, also written in my mother’s hand, described the newly born infant; Blue eyes, Blonde hair weighing 7 & ½ pounds and resembling the father, Junior or possibly my mother’s brother, Dallas.  I personally feel that newly birthed infants are little more than wrinkled, pink bed-wetter’s and I fail to see the resemblance between any baby and a fully grown adult.

My mother was not known, even then I suppose, as one given to describe objects, events or people in flowery or lengthy fashions.  For whatever reason, even to this day not known to me or my brother, next to the name Billy my mother wrote the name, “Pokey;” some sort of cutesy name she gave to my brother I suppose which did not, and thankfully so, follow him as he aged.

The baby book has a page dedicated to those Pineville residents and friends of the mother; it is the “Visitors” page.  There on the yellowed paper, my mother wrote the names of well-wishers and those who visited the new mother wanting to get a glimpse of the newest resident of Pineville.  That particular page also has a section dedicated to the gifting and acceptance of gifts for the newborn baby.

Rose Brown brought a hot water bottle; always a useful and much-appreciated item.  Nanette Faust smiled and said congratulations as she passed to the new mother a dress.  Ms. Etta Lines held out for all to see a shirt that the boy might soon wear.

Mrs. Tub Allman also considered a dress to be a useful item of clothing while Mrs. Cockrell was certain that a bathrobe for the mother would come in handy on those soon to come cold fall nights; those nights when Mary would need to respond to the needs of a sleepless child.

Mrs. Jackson brought a pair of booties, Jack Hopper presented Mary with a small cap and Mr. and Mrs. Jeffers came with a very practical and useful present, two one dollar bills.  The baby boy’s grandfather Fine, also a person with a practical nature, brought $10.00 and great-aunt Rosalyn Hagerman followed suit with an envelope containing $5.00.

The next few time-yellowed and worn pages document Billy’s growth.  Amazingly, at least to me and someone who might know Mary well, adjacent to each month during the first year of the baby’s life she scribed in number of pounds the baby’s weight.  I noticed that at the end of the twelfth month Billy weighed 26 pounds and by his fourth year he had grown into a 44-pound boy.

There are pages with the baby’s ink impressed foot and handprints, which once again, were traditional in those days.  If I might once more interject a personal observation; for whom would the darkened ink impressed image of the bottom of a baby’s foot be of interest?

There are pages with timetables indicating the first appearances of teeth.  The book identifies the first picture snapped of the baby as one taken in Joplin sixteen months following the child’s birth.

The first outings took the mother and child to Southwest City, Neosho and Noel.  In Noel, Billy’s paternal grandmother and grandfather held the child.  The baby’s great-grandmother, Mary Hagerman, gently held the child at the family’s farm near Checks Corner.

The baby’s first steps were taken at the age of ten months.  This milestone occurred at grandmother’s house as the attentive and doting relative looked on; laughing and uttering words of encouragement and praise.

Apparently, at least according to my mother’s writings, Billy was a very loud and finicky baby.  Mary noted that for the three months following his birth he, “cried most of the time.”  Several different types of milk were given to the infant, all of which were soundly rejected.  Eventually, “Carnation Can Cream,” became the nourishment of choice.

The always remembered first Cold Ozark Christmas found mother and child healthy.  Grandfather, and McDonald County Sheriff Floyd Fine, gave the baby boy six new dresses.  Annie Brown’s presents were an apron and spoon while Mary’s friend, Maxine surprised Mary with sox and mittens.  Uncle Dallas offered up a more masculine appropriate gift as he presented the baby with 2, good for bouncing, balls.

Mary identified the baby’s favorite story as being “Peter Rabbit,” and apparently the child enjoyed listening to country music as the book notes that Billy enjoyed the song, “Don’t Fence Me In.”  Now that’s understandable as at the age of 75 my brother still enjoys listening to many a good ole country singer.

The family of three would eventually move to San Pedro, California where the fifth, sixth and seventh birthdays were celebrated.  Billy’s best friends there were two sisters, Jackie and Barbara Ann Jeffers.  As fate would have it, these two were the children of Mary’s longtime friend, Maxine; How strangely wonderful that things worked out that way.

The story told in the baby book find’s its conclusion there in San Pedro, California as my brother reached the age of seven.  Oh, there are some ink scribbled notes here and there but I suppose that in 1949 my mother’s life once again dramatically changed.  You see, I was born in 1949.

I don’t recall that my mother often put pen to paper.  I don’t know if she just couldn’t find that there were enough leisurely hours in the day or possibly writing was something she had lost interest in.  She did, for years, write notes on postcards which were mailed to her high school friend Maxine Jeffers.

As a child, I sometimes watched while she scribbled a brief note on a scrap of paper as she explained to my grade school principal why I hadn’t attended school the previous day.  I don’t remember her handwriting being particularly stylish and as I turned the pages of the baby book there were words and names which I found difficult to decipher.  But then, I don’t suppose she was trying to show off her prolific handwriting stylings but rather merely wanted to record those special, and once in a lifetime, things about her firstborn child, Billy Joe Fine, Aka “Pokey.”

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Bloodline, Discovering Who I Am

George Marion Fine picture2The inspiration for this story came from a single piece of paper.  That sheet of paper with ink imprinted words placed there more than 150 years ago was thought to be so irreplaceable that it had been encased in glass and metal.  My brother who lives one, well maybe now that I have aged into my late sixties, two stone throws from my house recently asked that I come to his home.

I find it extraordinarily strange that the most seemingly insignificant sight, sound or word can become the birth of great curiosity within my mind.  My brother, Bill seems to understand what sparks my interest and his telephone call ignited that spark.  “Hey, you need to walk over here and take a look at something I came across in an old box.”  I could sense by the tone of his speech that he was excited as he spoke about the discovery of an old letter that would most assuredly be of interest to me.  His words seemed to flow so quickly that they fell atop one another and I knew that I had to learn more about this prized discovery.  “OK, I’ll be right over.”

As my eyes focused on a large cardboard box resting on the patio table’s glass top I, almost without thought, lowered myself onto a chair’s cushion.  It seemed as though he wanted me to share in his enthusiasm but I calmly maintained my reserve as he pulled from that box a letter encased in metal and glass.  “Here, take a look at this,” he said as he extended the hand that held the prized discovery.

I began to read the letter that was sandwiched between two slightly discolored pieces of old glass.  Dated January 5th, 1864 and written in beautiful ink penned script It began, “Dear wife, iseat myself down to rit you those few lines to inform you of my health.”  The writing continued from the front and onto the full length of the paper’s reverse side ending with the signature, “Levi Fine,” and the sentiment “fore this time to his wife and children.”

The author talked of his acceptable health; He asked about relatives Martha and Sarah Downing.  “Tell Sarah Downing that James is getting better.  He is talking about coming back to the company.”  Levi gave some mention to a recent battle.  In that engagement, his regiment had taken 115 prisoners and killed 35 enemy soldiers.  He had emerged from the action unscathed.

After the passage of some moments I posed a question to my brother, “who is Levi Fine?”  There was silence as my brother tried to compute the relationship details.  “He was our grandfather’s grandfather.  Yeah, that’s right, our father’s great-grandfather who served in a Union cavalry regiment during the Civil War.”

Well, I knew right then and there that I had to learn more about Levi Fine.  Little did I realize the surprises that lay ahead as I began my research into the lives of my relatives, both recent and distant.  The first unanticipated revelation came as I learned of the existence of Vinette Fine.

In 1775, and during the struggle to create this nation, Vinette Fine and his brother Peter served in the First Independent Company of Dunmore County, Virginia under the command of Captain Jacob Holeman.  The brothers called Shenandoah County, Virginia home but only Peter would return to his family there.

In 1783 Peter, Vinet and several other men gave pursuit to a band of Indians who had stolen several horses.  The search for the horse thieves led the group of men to Crystal Creek, North Carolina.  There the two groups engaged in a fight that resulted in the recovery of the stolen animals but left Vinet fatally wounded.  His body was left by the frozen waters with the intent to later retrieve the body, however, Vinette’s remains were never recovered.  The creek was renamed Fine’s Creek as was the township that stands there even to this day.

Vinet fathered Abraham Fine and to Abraham a son, Abraham Melier Fine was born.  The Fine family made their way west and found a home in Montgomery County Missouri.  Another war came upon this country and Abraham’s son, Levi enlisted the union army’s 3rd Missouri Cavalry Regiment under the command of Colonel John Montgomery Glover.

George Marion Fine was the son of Levi Fine.  Not much is known about this man, my great-grandfather.  He was thought to be someone who professed to be a holistic healer.  The husband of Martha Louise Johnson Fine, traveled between Benton County, Arkansas and McDonald County, Missouri offering for sale roots and herbs thought to cure those complaining of the grip or other maladies.  George Marion is buried in McDonald County’s Petty Cemetery.  Martha gave birth to Floyd Fine Sr.

My grandfather, Floyd Fine Sr., served one term as McDonald County Sheriff.  From 1940 through 1944 he and one lone deputy kept the peace in the then sparsely populated hills and valleys of the county nestled deep within the Southwest Missouri Ozarks.

I recall hearing the story about the sheriff and three moonshiners.  It came to my grandfather’s attention that three men were cooking illegal shine in a remote valley deep within the woods.  Hearing about the three lawbreakers, my grandfather decided to shut the operation down and deal with the three lawbreakers.

As the story goes my grandfather drove down a rarely used country dirt road until the road came to end.  From there he walked as quietly as possible through the woods until he came upon a man seated on the ground with his back resting against a tree.  The man appeared to be asleep and, as luck would have it, neither the crunch of the leaves nor snap of the twigs beneath the soles of my grandfather’s shoes caused him to awaken.  Possibly, he had been sampling some of his own mixture.  Lying conspicuously across the napper’s lap was a double-barreled shotgun.

Without disturbing his sleep my grandfather came upon the man and with pistol drawn cautioned him against making a sound.  The shotgun was removed from the man’s reach and the sheriff, using his one and only pair of handcuffs, secured the surprised man to the tree.

“I say by God, how many fellas are down there at that still?”  Staring at the business end of that Smith and Wesson .38 revolver the man was quick to answer, “Two, just two, I swear that’s all.”  “Well then, I’m gonna go on down there and see about those two shiners.”  “Wait,” the man once again spoke.  “What if something happens to you and I’m stuck here attached to this here tree.”  Without hesitation, my grandfather answered, “Well by God, you’re gonna be in these here woods a long time.”  Luckily for the restrained man, his two cohorts were captured without incident and the still was destroyed.

Not one to leave a perfectly good pair of handcuffs behind, my grandfather gathered up the man as he and his two friends walked out of the valley and to his car.  Following his term as County Sheriff, my grandfather served eighteen terms as Noel’s City Marshall.  Floyd and his wife Phoebe are buried in the Noel, Missouri Cemetery.

Floyd and his wife, Phoebe had one child, Floyd Jr.  My father, Floyd Fine Jr. continues, at the ripe old age of 93, to be counted among the living and resides on the outskirts of Noel.    My mother, Mary, left this world some years ago and rests quietly in the Noel Cemetery.

The women, the wives of these men played no small role in their lives and the character of those women also finds its way into my life.  Those women were by no means passive bystanders.  They did not stand behind their husbands, they stood alongside them.

Floyd senior’s wife Phoebe Cecil Hagerman Fine was a strong-willed outspoken and independent woman who owned her own business.  Abraham Fine’s wife, Cynthia Harper Fine, moved from Kentucky to Missouri in 1810.  She never tired of telling stories of the early development and growth of the “Show-me” state she came to love.  She was the mother of twelve children and loved life to the fullest.

Mary Louise Barr Fine, my mother, was, to say the least, a unique person.  She married early in life and bore three children, me being the middle one.  She spent her childhood in Pineville, Missouri and times were hard; but then so was she.  I recall a seemingly insignificant compliment once made about Mary Louise Fine; I was told she was a good swimmer.  Maybe so, but I remember her as a good mother.

Levi Fine survived the bullets, cannonballs and December 1863 War Between the States battle at Jacksonport, Arkansas but he never returned to his Montgomery County, Missouri home and to the loving arms of his wife, Martha A. Watkins Fine.  He died at a Kansas City, Missouri hospital on the eighth day of May in the year 1865.  The cause of death was listed as “Rheumatic Carditis.”  Levi is buried in the Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery, Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas.  There, a stone Civil War era marker identifies his resting place.

The title, “Discovering Who I Am,” was not the original name for this story.  My first choice of names dealt with the idea that I learned more about my descendants than was previously known.  However the more I learned the more I realized what I was really doing.  I was finding out more about myself.

I am, by all means, the descendant of Vinette, Levi, George Marion, Floyd Sr. and Floyd Jr. but there is much more there than the sharing of blood.  As I came to know these men I came to realize why I have come to be the person I now am.  I found a better understanding of myself.  I discovered who I really am.

Finding the irregular bits and pieces of the puzzle of one’s place in this world can be so very difficult but it’s best to begin by looking at the ones who came before you.


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Keeping It in the Family


I find it odd that some of the most bizarre events or objects that were once part of our childhood seem to be the ones we remember best.  That dog who followed us everywhere; well who among us could ever forget that furry friend.  What about that special Christmas present.  The image of that electric train, talking doll with eyes that opened and closed or a Hula Hoop as the wrapping paper and ribbon was torn away.  Those images are just as clear today as they were on those long ago Christmas mornings.

For Larry, memories of those long-ago cold Christmas mornings and thoughts of his younger brother remain, even to this day, embedded there in his mind.  He vividly recalls the years his family spent operating the Riverside Station resort just outside the small Southwest Missouri Ozarks town of Noel.  Larry can recite a detailed description of his father’s sawmill which sat behind the family home, and the wood he cut and shaped.  But it is the eventual use of some of that rough-hewn lumber which he remembers most; the outhouse that his father constructed using boards cut by that sawmill’s steel blade.

Larry was born in the year 1939.  His parents were hard working Ozarkians who oversaw the day-to-day operations of a summer retreat for those seeking relief from their hectic city life.  When the rainy spring days faded away and the hot summer months arrived the lodge and the cabins at Riverside Inn began to fill with tourists.

Doctors from Joplin brought their families to the resort located on the old Noel to Pineville Road.  Lawyers from Kansas City and Neosho took a brief respite from their law practices and walked the quiet rolling Ozark hills and valleys.  The Lodge, once a Butterfield Stage Coach Line stop, and the cabins scattered about the property had no vacancies during the restful summers.

The hilly property was home not only to the lodge itself but also to several cabins that had, and nobody remembered exactly how or when, acquired colorful names.  Vacationers might spend the lazy days relaxing in Walnut Hill, Elm Lodge or Sycamore Inn.  Some may prefer to sleep to the sound of the crickets and owls in Oak rest, Honey Locust or Maple Shade.  If none of those cabins were found to suit one’s taste there was always the Cricket.

The sleep-filled nights were lit only by the glow of an Ozark moon and the bright sunlit days were not interrupted by car horns or other noises common to the large cities.  However, there was one city convenience not available inside the cabins and one which proved to be a slight annoyance.  There was no inside plumbing; hence the need for a conveniently located and communal outhouse.

In the year 1948 Larry’s father used a shovel to puncture the rocky Ozark ground as he dug a shallow hole at Riverside Station.  That hole was then concealed when a small structure constructed of rough-hewn lumber was placed atop that depression in the earth.  All this took place under the watchful eyes of Nine-year-old Larry and his two-year-old brother Jim.  Although Larry and Jim were fully aware of the structure’s purpose the two always envisioned that someday the old metal-roofed shack might be repurposed as a clubhouse; and so it was to come that the small building later became a place for two brothers to hide from the world.

Years passed and times changed and so it was for the caretakers of Riverside Inn, R.J. and Eloise Burkholder.  The couple and their family, who lovingly cared for the property, greeted the summer visitors and waved goodbye to those who reluctantly returned to their lives and jobs in the cities also bid goodbye to the resort.  The Inn was sold and the resort closed in 1954.

R.J., Eloise and the five children knew that the closure of Riverside Inn signaled the remorseful end to a time in their lives.  Sure, the work was hard and the hours were long, but they loved the Inn and the property there.  What would become of Walnut Hall, Elm Lodge and Sycamore Inn, and what would be the fate of the old outhouse?

Larry and Jim had an idea.  What if they could convince their father to load the shack onto a trailer and relocate it to the family’s home in Blankenship Hollow?  Well, following several days of arguing the case to R.J. he finally agreed to relocate the building.  With the aid of R.J.’s home built trailer the soon to be clubhouse would follow the family to their home.

The two brothers had already selected the perfect spot for the outhouse.  There was a flat piece of ground on the other side of the creek that would be perfect.  There stood a small stand of trees but that presented little problem to the determined duo.  The two brothers spent several days clearing a spot in the grove of trees and a path was cleared allowing access to the old wooden shack.  That was, at least in the minds of Larry and Jim, the perfect spot for the new clubhouse.

Larry and Jim called their clubhouse meetings to order in the old shack, although the meeting’s agenda was rarely known.  Each of the brothers tried to frighten the other with moonless dark of night ghost stories.  The short walk from the clubhouse to their home occasionally found the two boys running, not walking.

There were times when the two became cowboys and courageously fought off Indian attacks.  Firing their make-believe rifles through the gaps where the old boards once came together it seemed as though the pair of crack shots couldn’t miss.  “There, I got another one,” Jim would exclaim; “POW, POW!”

After several years and many Indian attacks, the clubhouse would be returned to service as an outhouse.  Larry’s sister, Jean and her husband owned a beautiful tract of land not far from the old Riverside Inn site.  A small camper-trailer was relocated to the wooded property which would be used for weekend get-a-ways.  The land offered the peace and quiet that Jean was seeking but the trailer lacked one important feature.  It had no inside facilities hence the need for an outhouse.  Without more than a moment’s thought, Jean knew just where to find that building and the shack was once again placed on that homemade trailer often used by Larry’s father.

Larry never forgot about the old clubhouse and after a series of events the building once again lost its original purpose, that of an outhouse.  Larry hooked up the trailer, traveled the short distance to Jean’s property and gathered up the old clubhouse.  The wooden, metal-roofed shack with all its history and memories was to find a permanent home on Larry and wife, Nancy’s property located near Burkholder Hill on the Noel to Pineville Road.

After the passage of so very many years, the now rickety old clubhouse rests quietly on Larry’s property. You see, Larry discards very little; especially something as valuable as an old outhouse.

When we are both young of years and heart our imaginations can find many purposes for seemingly ordinary and unwanted objects. Fallen tree branches may be transformed into swords, sand can be fashioned into medieval castles and an old outhouse can become the clubhouse for two brothers.

When Larry looks at the clubhouse he relives the good times he and Jim had there.  He recalls those nighttime tales of ghoulish monsters and hobgoblins and how he and Jim tugged at each other’s shirts as they ran to the house laughing all the way.

Wood, and metal and yes, even childhood memories seem to live forever but not so little boys.  Larry’s younger brother and the teller of monster stories, Jim passed away on the 25th day of February in the year 2003 after spending only 56 years on this good Earth.

For Larry, childhood memories, his brother Jim and yes, even old outhouses that became clubhouses, are the things that dreams are made of.


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I Can See More Clearly

I feel as though I must talk to someone about a movie I recently watched.  It was a motion picture which, on the surface, seemed to hold little promise of capturing my interest and attention.  After watching but only several minutes of the film I was tempted to turn it off but for some reason, I continued to watch.  As the plot unfolded I realized that the main character and I were in many ways very similar.

The pained man in the story was suffering through the loss of his young daughter.  She had been brutally murdered and he was, as one might expect, having difficulty dealing with the loss.  His family, a wife, a son and a daughter, wanted to help but he had become so very distant from them; what was there for anyone to do?

The grief-stricken father believed that life was not worth living and all had been lost.  He cast the blame for his loss on the one person who he blamed the most, God.  Why had God been so cruel as to allow his innocent daughter to die?  In the young man’s mind, there could be no reason for an all-seeing deity to allow someone to murder his beautiful child.  I will freely admit that I empathized with the character and his opinion of the seemingly flawed almighty.

You see, I too have questioned God’s motives.  Why would a God who so very many people believe in allow the tragedies that have been a part of my life to occur?  I have questioned the existence of a higher power as a means to explain the lack of intervention in life’s events for if he exists, if he created everything I see before me, alas he doesn’t care about those who have suffered so much; and he doesn’t care about me.

With so many obvious sinners living among us, why had God allowed such good and loving people to die?  There were other questions to be answered as well.  If there is a God, why did he love some but not others; why didn’t he love me?

As the movie plot unfolded the murdered child’s father tells of his concerns over his perceived flaws with God; the flaws I have described as being mine as well.  He needed an explanation for the unfolding events in his life, for the death of his child and for God’s apparent apathy.

I continued to watch the movie.  There was no way I could look away from the screen as it seemed as if in many ways the character’s thoughts, opinions and questions mirrored those of mine.  I began to feel as though the story’s author could have written a story about me; A story which had been lived and told by me.

A series of lessons were presented to the father, all of which were designed to change his opinion of life, the death of his daughter and God.  However, I found it interesting and completely in line with my own thoughts, that he could at any time reject the ideas offered to him.  What was the meaning of God and why did he exist?

Some of the storyline dealt with the issue of forgiveness for those who have in some way wronged us.  I find that forgiveness is a quality which must be hidden deep within me.  I have, throughout my life, forgiven people just as I have myself been forgiven but it’s hard.  I guess that virtue lives so very deep within me that it rarely comes to the surface.  Forgiveness of God’s perceived inattention has been one of those things which has been buried deep inside me.

As the movie nears its end, the main character finds that he has had little understanding of the true nature of God.  He learns that life is, in fact, worth living and he can find a place in it for himself.  The father and husband finds that he can love his family and accept what has happened.  He can overcome his loss and live.

Most of all, the man discovers that God is incapable of not showing love to all the people of this earth.  He realizes that no matter what happens God still loves him and feels his pain but God doesn’t, and won’t, intervene in every facet of his, or any other persons, life.  The life given to him is his to live.

I find that I am often overly critical about many things, however I am not a movie critic and have no desire to become one.  I have never been a particularly religious minded individual and I guess the last time I attended a church service was as a small child.  I have often contended that passing through the doors of a building with a cross atop the roof would in no way make me a better person.  It is in no way my intent to offend those who count themselves among the worshippers of any particular church; I am merely stating my personal opinion and you are, of course, free to disagree with it.

When the movie came to its conclusion I found myself asking two questions; ones which I had not before considered.  Did God exist and if so did he suffer alongside me through my hardships?  Oh yes, did God love me no matter what I had done and regardless of who I was?  Was the true meaning of God so very simple as to be nothing more than the knowledge that when we are in pain there is someone who loves us so very much;  I hope that is the true meaning of God because that may be one I can eventually accept.

This story is somewhat less in length than others I have written.  I suppose, and quite sincerely hope, that I have come directly to the point.  I often conceal the real meaning of my writings deep within the words, sentences and pages of the works but not this time.

The movie was just that, a movie.  It didn’t give birth to an epiphany or provide substantive answers to questions I have but it did give me cause to think; a reason to reconsider my position.  Maybe that is all anyone can ask for in life.

The French have a phrase which I should remind myself of more often.  The words seem to most accurately and succinctly describe all that I have experienced.  “C’est la vie;” that’s life.

Oh yeah, the title of the movie is, “The Shack.”

shack story

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The Last Decent Man


Is it possible?  Is it conceivable that decency and compassion have ceased to exist?  I hadn’t given that possibility much thought, at least not until now.  Could it be that people no longer cared about their fellow human beings and no longer even bothered to masquerade as considerate neighbors?  Neighbors, I had to laugh when I thought about that word and how, at least to my way of thinking, these people possessed none of the qualities attributable to neighbors.

I recently and quite sadly learned that a neighbor of mine passed away.  As I recall, I only spoke to her on one occasion and that was to give her some mail addressed to her which had been mistakenly delivered to my home.  The conversation we had was brief and dealt only with that one single sealed item of mail.

I guess that the things I have done in my life compel me to assess the people I meet.  Do they seem to be honest?  Is there something they may be trying to conceal?  I find that I almost instinctively seem to observe and pay attention to body language and I always analyze the choice of words and phrases used, or occasionally not used.

The new to the block neighbor spoke very few words and her body language didn’t indicate any attempt to conceal anything.  I sometimes regret that I have learned to look for these traits but I find that I can’t help myself.  We all have things we keep from others and in that respect, I’m no different than anyone else; no better, no worse.

Christmas day in the year 2017 came and went for me with little fanfare.  I enjoyed the time spent with visiting family members and as expected I was sad to wave goodbye as they left.  The day of their departure was spent cleaning and putting the house back into its previous condition which took very little time.

The next two days passed and I recall wondering how many more Christmas days lie ahead for me but I guess those sorts of details are not for me to know.  Two cloudy and dreary December days passed and on the afternoon of that second post-Christmas day, I noticed an abnormal amount of activity at the home of my neighbor, the woman who once thanked me for the piece of mail.

Most conspicuously, an ambulance was parked on the street directly in front of the house.  Other vehicles were in the driveway and men walked to and from the home’s front door until the reason for the activity became clear to me.  A cold metal stretcher was rolled from the front door to a waiting vehicle.  Through the cold wind, two men pushed that stretcher along the concrete porch floor, onto the driveway and into the rear of the waiting vehicle.

As brief as my conversation was with that woman on that previous occasion I had never even waved to the other occupants of the home.  I began to wonder why I assumed there were others living there.  Maybe she lived there alone after all; I live alone and devoid of the company of others.

A few days passed and, as is my custom, I settled onto my favorite cushion on the sofa with the Thursday edition of the newspaper.  I don’t know exactly why but I always begin my inspection of the newspaper by reading the obituaries.  There, among the five or six names and pictures, I found the name of my neighbor, Felicia.

I am of the opinion that whosoever writes the obituaries must certainly have a lack of creativity.  The words and sentences seem so cold.  The few paragraphs which describe the life and death of a person are little more than a smattering of factual details and really give the reader no insight into the life of the person who passed away.  There had to be more to that person’s life than that which was contained in the few words written about Felicia.

A visitation was scheduled for a cold afternoon.  The opportunity to pay one’s respects was scheduled for 3:00 P.m. on a cold January afternoon.  A room within the funeral home was set aside for such events and would be the somber location for friends and family to say goodbye to my neighbor, Felicia.

My wish to attend the visitation wasn’t born of any misconception that my presence would in any manner begin to alleviate the sorrow felt by Felicia’s family.  I was relatively certain that with the exception of someday seeing my signed name on the guest register nobody would recall my presence.  I planned to attend the service because I believe that civilized people with virtuous natures should acknowledge the existence of, and death of, their neighbors. It was also my wish to free myself from any future guilt which may arise from laziness and apathy.  You see, I did also have selfish motives for bidding farewell to Felicia.

I sat quietly in the last row of pews within the room.  I sat there for thirty or so minutes in silence and alone not wishing to inflict my unfamiliarity upon the gathering of mourners who knew Felicia very well.  There were tears, words of goodbye and condolences were exchanged.  I didn’t recognize anyone there. That is, of course, anyone other than Felicia.

Reserved and shy, I kept my distance from the mourners but my memories of such tragedies were strong and my sympathies went to the saddened who once knew my neighbor.

I can unequivocally state that I felt better about myself as I left Felicia’s service and if my presence there contributed one iota to lessening the pain of the mourners, I am pleased

The ideals of neighborly kindness and caring once held so dearly by many go far beyond streets and neighborhoods.  The expressions of compassion spread throughout entire communities and beyond.  It seems to me that expressions of respect, virtue and congeniality were once commonplace and those offering a helping hand desired nothing in return; nothing except maybe the hand of friendship.

I suppose that the absence of the most minimal consideration for others saddens me more now than it once did.  I have, unfortunately, and not by my own choosing, been privy to the sometimes callous disregard for people.  Some of us can be so very insensitive.  This display of indifference in no way represents an unfathomable atrocity but is rather, and quite sadly, people being people.

Whoso among us has not been uncaring?  Who among us hasn’t shown indifference to someone in need?  Let me find that person who has always shown compassion for others; others they may not know and others who are their neighbors.

These affable but flawed examples of their species were, at least to my way of thinking, in no way neighbors.  They were merely people whose houses lie in close proximity to the home of Felicia.  I believe that a body must decide on which qualities he or she will eventually be judged.

I am not the last decent man.  There have been times, and more than I care to remember, when I was discourteous and lacked the basic virtue that should live in each and every one of us.  I have, on more than one occasion, been less than a good neighbor to those around me; and for that I am sorry.

Although I barely knew Felicia, I say to her, goodbye.

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The Pink Sky

Dave Fishing4Life is like a patchwork quilt.  As each event in our life unfolds, as every swath of colored cloth is sewn together, one touching the other, our lives and the quilt begin to take shape. The overall theme and picture becomes clearer.  I do believe that as I look back on that afternoon some years ago spent on the white sandy Florida beach it was one of those patches; a pink colored scrap of cloth at that.

The cancer that grew within my son, David had been discovered quite by accident some fourteen months ago.  David, who lived in St. Louis, Missouri hadn’t been feeling well but couldn’t really put his finger on how the new feelings affected him.  He didn’t have a cold or the flu but the absence of energy his thirty-six-year-old body usually possessed was cause for concern.

A Physician’s examination left only more questions yet to be answered.  There were blood tests, CT scans and MRI’s followed by a week or so of uneasy anticipation waiting for the results.  Then there came a call from the doctor’s office asking that David see the physician the following day when the results of all the prodding and probing would be revealed.

David and his wife Kim left the house and, although they tried to avoid talking about the purpose of the drive, it was on both of their minds.  As the pair tried to push the thoughts of doom from their minds they talked about work, their two children and the hot August day.

The time seated in the waiting room was much less than normal and every action taken by the nurse who took David’s blood pressure, temperature and pulse was scrutinized by David and Kim.  They were looking for some unspoken clue which would indicate the seriousness of the illness.

The couple sat on uncomfortable chairs in an inhospitable room and listened as the doctor spoke.  “You have stage 4 colon cancer.  It has spread to your liver and the treatment options are somewhat limited.  I suggest that you have surgery as soon as possible followed by radiation and chemotherapy.”  Through Kim’s tears and soft murmuring cries, David responded as only he could, “OK, let’s get started.”

The next fourteen months found David in hospital surgery rooms and treatment rooms with comfortable chairs with televisions hung on the walls where needles punctured the skin on his arms.  Through it all David remained, at least outwardly, the same person he had always been.  There were few, if any, complaints and he was often overheard saying, “it is what it is.”

My wife Robin and I lived in the Tampa, Florida area during the time of David’s treatments.  Robin became very ill during our stay there and most of my time was spent either at work or caring for her but I did manage to make numerous trips to St. Louis to be with David before and after his surgical procedures.  I could see the changes in him as the treatments took their toll on his mind and body.

Then there came the day in August of 2006.  The telephone in my Tampa home rang and the call was from David.  No more than a few words were spoken when David stated the reason for the call.  “I’d like to see you and mom and spend a few days with the two of you; would that be OK?”  “Yeah, that would be great,” I answered.

David and his teenaged daughter, Samantha arrived the next day and spent four days with Robin and me.  Three days passed and not one word regarding the cancer was mentioned.  On the morning of the fourth and last day of the visit, David asked if the four of us could go to the beach.  That afternoon was spent on the white sands of a Florida beach.

David sat in a folding chair and didn’t say much.  He occasionally walked to the water’s edge and seemed to enjoy the feeling of the salty waves as they crawled up his feet and legs.  As the sun began to set I walked with David in the gulf coast waters when suddenly he stopped and stared off to the west.

“You see that pink sky.  I’d like to walk out into the water and into that pink sky and never come back but I can’t.  I need to go home tomorrow and finish this.”  I knew what he meant and I knew he was right but I could find no words of comfort to offer so I tightly hugged him and said, “I love you and I have always loved you.”  “I know,” he said, “I know.”

David left the following morning.  Robin and I went to St. Louis a month later and spent the next and last few weeks of David’s life with him.  With his family near his side, David died in the early morning hours of the 29th day of September in the year 2006.

That morning and the ensuing afternoon hours were parts of a sad day; A day when family members and friends cried and talked about memories of David.  I think that everyone coming in and out of the house found it hard to imagine that he was gone.

That evening, and all alone, I sat on the back porch chair that David had rested on so very many times before.  I guess I wanted to somehow believe that I was a part of him.

There the most quiet and serene sensation came over me.  It was as if something or someone was asking me to look out over the treetops and beyond the small pond.  There, in the western part of the world I could see the Sun dying on the horizon; and yes, the sky was painted pink.  The soft white and pink clouds merged into the pastel-colored pink and blue sky with little reminder of the once mournful day that had passed before its coming.

Many memories came to mind as I watched that western sky and there, and for only a moment, I could have sworn that I saw a shape.  It was a shape reminiscent of a face that I could clearly recall.  It was the face of David.  Maybe, and I hoped so very much, he had gone to live in the pink sky.

I’m certain there had been many pink skies prior to that evening spent on that sandy Florida beach but that was the first one I recall paying much notice of.  Since then I find that as the evening Sun begins to die in the western sky I give a look in that direction hoping that the painted sky will be pink.

When I am fortunate enough to find that pink sky it invariably brings a sense of calmness into my life. I imagine that David is free of pain and no longer has a fear of dying as he may have found peace there in the pink sky.

Much like a book containing a collection of short essays I believe my life has been a compilation of stories; at first glance a random grouping of unrelated events.  But when the selections are examined in their entirety; well they compose what can best be thought of as my life.  I now consider the story of David’s pink sky to be one of the saddest yet one of the most often remembered stories.

As the previous year recently slipped away and on the eve of a new one I listened to words that Scottish poet Robert Burns first penned to parchment in the year 1788.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld Lang Syne?

There will never come a time when I will forget old acquaintances.

After David left my Florida home I discovered a note left by him and addressed to Robin and I.  “I love you both. Thank you for everything. I had a great life.”  The note was signed using David’s old soccer team number, “#9.”

That note is now encased in a metal frame and rests inconspicuously on my fireplace mantle.David note1

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