What The Wind May Bring

WindowI believe that the wind brings with it bits and pieces of once whole things.  It is for us to reassemble these fragments into complete thoughts which fit into our world.  Those works of our mind may reflect past recollections or they may be premonitions of things yet to come.

It was on one of those late nights, or more succinctly put a very early morning, and while darkness covered the land like a heavy woolen blanket that I felt a breeze.  As I sat in front of the computer keyboard with words in my head that were having a difficult time finding their way onto the computer’s keyboard I felt that whisk of wind.

I was tired but I wanted to believe that I would find the inspiration that would bring a story to life; a story, which when read, would create a sense of accomplishment within me.  I searched for words not yet dreamt of and, as I lowered my head, hoping almost beyond hope that my brain would find that elusive story, I felt a cool breeze.

The window to my left, which always seems to beckon my sight and tends to coerce me away from the keyboard, was open that quiet night.   I usually paid little attention to the movement of air, that soft puff of wind which touched my face like invisible fingers, but that night the draft garnered my attention.

The air that moved gently over me caused the white laced curtains to move as if they were in a choreographed dance.  The wind pushed them away from the wall and, upon passing the patches of cloth, and as the night’s breath moved my hair the curtains were allowed to return to their original positions.  I thought about that orchestrated routine and realized that I had never before taken much notice of the beautiful serenade created as the air currents moved around and through the thin fabric of the curtains.  It was as if the two had lives of their own and each spoke to the other birthing the creation of a wondrous ballet.  I wondered how this could be nothing more than mere happenstance.

I can’t explain why thoughts come to me but that morning, and in the quiet darkness of night, the wind passing through that open window brought back memories which I believed were forever lost.  It was if that faint breeze, that gentle movement of air with an indescribable aura of familiarity, whispered to me and beseeched me to recall a time in my life many years ago.  The wind which was born I knew not where was hinting at something that I wanted desperately to remember; a memory which would bring a breath of gladness to my melancholy heart.

I never did come to understand what it was about that breath of air that brought with it a sense of intimacy and I honestly don’t believe I care to understand it as I find that too much scrutiny can often be ill-advised.  I only know that it was as if an old friend, one I had not seen or touched for oh so many ages but greatly missed, had returned if only for one night; a night that brought a smile to my face and assuaged the terrible hurt in my heart.

I don’t know if it was just the uniqueness of that night, the exact amount of wind passing through the open window or the precise movement of the curtains but no such breeze has since touched me prompting that special feeling.

This story isn’t about the open window or lace curtains.  The subject matter does not deal with the slight movement of air or even the way it felt as it draped around me.  I do believe that some other set of circumstances may also invite a fond memory to come to mind but those special moments don’t seem to occur often enough.  I find it quite odd that a seemingly innocuous event can often inspire the thought of a special time, a memorable place or perhaps someone special.

My window remains open and occasionally, and very late at night, the movement of air, that seemingly innocuous puff of wind, causes the curtains to stir but it occurs to me that it’s merely the wind and nothing more.  I sometimes close my eyes and wonder if the soft caress of the air can in fact be truly nothing more than a slight gust of wind?  Who can really say for sure?

There was a time when the world was beautiful and filled with laughter but that was before, not after.

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I Don’t Want to Be a Cowgirl

RethaThere are many things which can prevent six-year-old girls from falling asleep at night; monsters under the bed, thunderstorms and of course the first day of school.  Retha, a six-year-old girl living on a spot of land in Southwest Missouri called Coy, couldn’t sleep that warm September night and wondered why the darkness seemed to linger so long.  Why wouldn’t daybreak make its appearance so she could jump from bed and get ready for her first day of school at the Anderson Elementary School?

Retha, her three brothers and her mother had come to live with Retha’s grandmother, Alma Robinson, and great aunt, Vesta in the small brown sided house in July of that year.  Tragedy came in pairs for the family that summer as within weeks both Retha’s father and grandfather passed away.  Her grandmother once told her that she knew her husband would die as it was prophesized by the change in the rooster’s crowing.  A train accident took the then family of five’s husband, father and provider leaving Retha’s mother, Leona, to care for the children.

The house on Patterson Creek Road in Coy was owned by William Frank Talley, known to everyone as Frank, who had for some time allowed the family to live there rent free.  Mr. Talley owned several milk cows and, with no expectation of compensation, milk for the family was left at the house each day.  The small home had a living room with a wood burning fireplace which was the only thing that kept the cold winter night’s air from entering the home.  The kitchen had a wood-burning stove where grandma cooked the meals for the always hungry kids.

An addition had been added to the rear of the house creating a long narrow room with bedrooms on opposite ends.  Retha, Grandma Robinson and great aunt Vesta slumbered together in a full sized bed at one end of the addition while mom and the three boys slept in a bed at the opposite end.

Everyone living in the small house with brown colored siding, and without exception, had chores.  Retha and her brother Roger were tasked with, among other things, bringing water into the home from a well located behind the house.  The well had a hand pump and neither the cold of winter nor heat of summer could deter Retha and her one year older brother from their chore.

As Retha moved the well’s pump handle up and down on that warm September morning the anticipation was almost more than she could stand.  The six-year-old had waited for that day, that start of school day, for so very long.  The inquisitive little girl loved to read and relished the chance to learn about the world that existed outside of Coy.

That normally heavy bucket of water seemed unusually light that morning and the pace of her walk was extraordinarily swift as she walked through the back door.  Retha tugged at her hair as she placed the bucket near the kitchen sink.  She preferred that her brunette hair remain straight but her mother had decided that she would receive a perm in anticipation of the start of school.  No matter how many tugs Retha gave to the hair it just wouldn’t straighten out.

“Here, put this dress on,” Leona said as she held out a beautiful black calico dress.  “Your cousin Hazel spent a lot of time making this especially for you and just for the first day of school”  Retha didn’t say a word but thought to herself that the dress had to be the most beautiful one ever worn by a first grader; even a first grader with curly hair.

As Retha reached for the dress, her mother again spoke.  “After you get it on put those boots on.”  Boots, what boots could her mother be talking about?  Retha must have given her mother a look of confusion, “those boots over there,” she said while pointing to the corner of the bedroom.

Suddenly the overwhelming anticipation Retha once felt transformed into a feeling of dread as she saw them; those tall, horrendous looking cowboy boots.  Had Leona forgotten about the black and white saddle shoes that would look so perfect with that calico dress?

“I want to wear these shoes,” Retha said as she reached for, then held up for all to see, the saddle shoes.  “No, you’re going to wear the boots and I don’t want to hear any more about it.  Retha Ann, go outside and cut me a switch and make it a long one.  Hurry up, and don’t you dare bring me a short switch.”  Leona called the little girl with the quivering lips and reddened eyes “Retha Ann” when she was annoyed with her and, as all the Deaver children knew, the cutting of a switch was the prelude to a spanking.

Retha’s mother, Leona was a country girl at heart.  She loved the songs of Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Gene Autry and she was fond of wearing western themed attire; she was particularly fond of cowboy boots;  boots just like the ones she wanted Retha to wear.  The little girl, now in tears, didn’t share her mother’s affinity for the cowboy look, in fact, she hated it.

Retha put the dress on and slowly squeezed each foot into a boot while all the while hoping the sounds of her crying would garner some sympathy and convince her mother to change her mind about both the boots and the switch.  It appeared that Leona was going to maintain her position on both matters and nothing could change her mind.

Retha gave a glance in the direction of grandma, possibly to look for support or even an ally.  “Leona,” the old woman said as she maneuvered the ever-present pinch of W.E. Garrett White Snuff which was firmly entrenched in her cheek, “why are you making her wear those old cowboy boots, and don’t give her a whipping right before her first day of school.”

Just when it appeared that Leona might reverse her opinions about the boots and the cutting of a switch the sound of a vehicle’s brakes could be heard.  The sound was coming from the road outside the home and could be caused by only one thing, the school bus.  “That’s the bus.  It’s too late to change your shoes so you better get going or the school bus will leave without you.”

Retha walked through the doorway leading to the front yard as her mother held the screen door open.  “See you later and be good,” her mother said.  Retha didn’t respond as she was still mad over the forced wearing of the boots.  As the young girl wiped the tears from her cheeks she could see that yellow school bus stopped just beyond the stone wall that separated the home’s front yard from Patterson Creek Road.

“Why are you crying, don’t you want to go to school?” Kenny Roark the bus driver asked.  “My mother made me wear these ugly cowboy boots,” Retha answered.  “Well, I think they look just fine.  Here, sit with me I’ve got a job for you.  See this handle, well when I tell you to, turn it so the stop sign will come out.  Will you do that for me?”  “Ok,” Retha replied.

Once Retha arrived at the Anderson Elementary School any and all thought of the boots vanished.  There were other first graders, books and, oh yes, her teacher Mrs. Pauline Mitchell.  Retha couldn’t wait to start learning and she wanted to know what words were nestled between the covers of all those books.

That first year of school passed far too quickly in Retha’s mind.  Mrs. Mitchell played the song, “Ten Little Indians” on the piano, Retha was always the first to raise her hand when a volunteer was sought to read a passage from one of those many books and there was so much to learn.

Retha liked her classmates while one, a six-year-old named Ray, was smitten with the cute little girl.  Ray gave Retha his mother’s diamond wedding ring and said, “I want to marry you.”  When Leona saw the ring and heard the account of how it came into Retha’s possession she arranged for its immediate return.

Although Retha wore the calico dress many times that year, she never again wore the cowboy boots.  She wondered why her mother no longer insisted that she wear them, perhaps Grandma Robinson had softened her but she never dared to ask why her mother had a change of heart.

The second year of school came and Retha and her brother Roger once again rode the yellow school bus driven by Kenny Roark.  As the bus made its way down Patterson Creek Road the then second grader gave Roger a nudge.  “Hey, you see those two little boys?”  Roger looked through the window, “Yeah,” he replied as the image of two twin boys waiting for the bus came into focus.  “Well, someday I’m going to marry one of them.”

Retha is now grown and works for the McDonald County Library in Southwest City.  She is the branch manager and loves her job and the comforting idea that as she walks down each aisle she is surrounded by all of those wonderful, wonderful books.  There is something about the library that captivates her.  Maybe it’s the quiet and tranquility, the volumes of unread ideas and thoughts or maybe it’s the smell, yes the odor of the pages of printed paper.

Retha married Ronnie Mitchell and they will celebrate their 40th anniversary on the 28th day of September this year.  Ronnie and his twin brother Donnie rode with Retha on the yellow bus to the Anderson Elementary School but he only later learned of her claim that she would someday become his wife.

Retha has on only one occasion slid her toes into a pair of cowboy boots and that was on her very first day of school.Pauline Nan Roark Mitchell

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Only a Slight Miscalculation

Miami OklahomaThe Cessna 172 airplane is a single engine aircraft designed to accommodate a pilot and three passengers.  The 160 horsepower single piston engine allows the aircraft to comfortably cruise at a speed of 148 miles per hour.  The plane has a maximum takeoff weight of 2454 pounds and has a cruising range of 791 miles.  The Cessna 172 made its inaugural flight in the year 1955, after which more than 43000 units have been produced.

There was absolutely no reason that Larry would have reason to believe that this information was in any way important to him.  In 1970 he lived near the small Southwest Missouri town of Noel.  He worked for a nearby builder of manufactured homes and, when not working, his attention was focused on his wife and children.

The then 31 year old man had lived in the area since the age of four when his parents moved to the area from Pittsburg, Kansas.  He knew practically everyone living in or near the town of approximately 950 people and most of those Ozark inhabitants were considered friends.

Many of the locals passed their leisure hours floating on or swimming in the Elk River.  Anyone driving along County Road DD would have a difficult time counting the number of fishing rods that hovered above the calm warm summer water.

The evenings might find local residents strolling along the Main Street sidewalks exchanging greetings as they passed one another.

If you were in the mood for a good burger and fries, there was Carl’s Café located just the other side of the small bridge which the throngs of summer tourists crossed over as they drove into town.

Life at that time was, for the most part, very predictable and that’s the way most people, Larry included, preferred it.  But, every so often the opportunity to break out of that life of predictability presented itself and that chance came to Larry on a warm July day in 1970.

After working more than his usual ten hour day Larry walked through the front door of his Blankenship Hollow home just in time to hear the ring of the telephone.  The folders containing work-related papers that filled his hands were dropped onto a chair cushion as he made his way to the ringing phone.  “Hello,” he answered in a low and tired voice.

“Larry, it’s Tommy.”  Larry recognized the voice of his friend Tommy Kilmer.  Larry had known Tommy for most of his life.  Tommy worked for his father, Homer, at Kilmer’s Grocery on Main Street when he was a boy and the two often talked when Larry’s mother shopped there.  Larry was certain his mother only took him with her because she disliked carrying the bags of groceries.

“Hi Tommy, what’s up?” Larry replied.  “Me and Larry Largent are going to fly to Colorado Springs, Colorado tomorrow and I wondered if you wanted to tag along.  We’re going to fly out of the Neosho airport tomorrow morning and come back that evening.  We’re taking a young kid from Pineville there because he needs to report to the army’s induction center there and start boot camp.”

“How many people does the plane seat,” Larry asked.  “It’s a Cessna 172 and it seats four.  Largent will be the pilot and I’m going to be the co-pilot.  I just got my license.”  “Why not,” without much thought Larry responded.  Maybe that stack of work papers and the folder resting on the chair made his decision come more quickly.

Larry and the others met at the small Neosho airport early the next clear and sunny morning.  As Larry climbed into the plane and nestled into one of the two rear seats he looked to his left and saw a young man he did not recognize.  “Hi, my name is Larry,” he remarked.  “Hi, Tommy and Larry are flying me to Colorado Springs so I can report for boot camp.”  The boy’s name was Billy, or Johnny or something like that; “That’s nice,” Larry remarked in a sort off-handed tone.

Following an uneventful takeoff, Largent announced that prior to leaving he learned that storms were likely across the middle and southern portion of Kansas.  “I think we’ll fly north to Kansas City, then go west across the upper part of Kansas to miss the bad weather.  The flight will take longer but we’ll miss the storms.”  No objections or concerns were voiced.

The flight followed the paths of the main highways and everyone seemed relieved when towns and cities were seen.  Largent’s pilot’s license only allowed him to fly using Visual Flight Rules, VFR, meaning he could not fly in bad weather or at night.  Largent used a compass and landmarks as his guide.  The four stopped only once, that being for a brief lunch, at an old military airbase near Salina, Kansas.  The plane was refueled as the four talked and ate.

The plane made a perfect landing in Colorado Springs and not much more than a brief, “goodbye and good luck,” was said as the young man stepped from the airplane.  He offered one last gesture, a wave, as Largent asked for, and received permission to take off.

The distance, by plane, from Colorado Springs, Colorado to Neosho, Missouri is 587 miles.  As Largent turned the plane and headed East Larry asked, “How fast does this plane go?”  “It cruises at about 148 miles per hour Tommy replied.”  Larry glanced at his watch, and then the sky and the calculator in his brain which was processing data seemed to indicate that the sun might set before the three got safely to Neosho.

The hours passed and the three continued to call out landmarks, “there’s Garden City, there’s Wichita” and Largent often remarked, “The compass says we’re heading due east, we should be right on course.”  But that setting sun had its own timetable and that schedule would soon find the sun falling in the western sky behind them.

Almost at once the three cried out, “Look, there are some lights below us.”  “According to the compass and the time that must be the Neosho Airport,” Largent said, almost as if he had planned it that way.  The note of confidence in his words gave some relief to the somewhat concerned rear seat passenger.

The small plane began its descent when suddenly Larry spoke up, “that’s not the airport, it’s downtown Miami, Oklahoma.”  The plane had fallen low enough to allow the startled passenger to make out the Main Street lights, the name on the Coleman Theatre marquis and the sign on the KuKu Burger restaurant.

With no more than an “Okey-Dokey,” Largent brought the small craft up and, with a strange tone almost reflecting pride announced, “I know exactly where we are and how to get to Neosho.”  Sure enough, a few minutes later the lights of the Neosho Airport were visible and the plane, and its occupants landed safely.

That was Larry’s one, and only, flight in a Cessna 172 aircraft and it was the last time he ever flew with Largent and Tommy.  He could never quite remember the name of that young Pineville boy but he seems to, even to this day, recall the sight of downtown Miami very well.

The Cessna 172 requires a minimum unobstructed runway length of 1500 feet for a safe landing.  Larry looked up that information some days later.

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Coming of Age

Sarah@fiveI unequivocally and readily acknowledge that I am old.  I fear that if the present trend persists I will continue to 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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