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.

outhouse2

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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

neighbor4

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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Throwing Dice at the Fuzzy Duck

Dice2The gentleman, the stranger, seemed to be unusually lucky at the game of craps.  The man shaking the pair of Bakelite butterscotch colored dice in his left hand seemed to be able to convince the inanimate objects to perform just as he instructed them to.  ”C’mon give me a 7,” he spoke to the dice as he rolled the duo against the wall of the “Fuzzy Duck.”  “A seven,” an onlooker and then loser angrily said.  “How ‘bout an eleven?” the man whispered to the dice as he again rattled them in his closed hand; “Eleven,” another loser cried out.

Several successful points were made when one of the less fortunate gamblers spoke out.  “Say, fella, where you from?”  It was obvious to the locals that this stranger was not only extremely lucky, but someone not known to others standing and kneeling about on the service station’s garage floor.  “I’m an Okie from Claremore,” the lucky gambler said with pride.  Another winning toss of the dice prompted one of the men to grab the pair of dice.  “Say, these aren’t our dice.”

One of the others, and one who had lost several dollars, grabbed the dice.  After some examination, the man exclaimed, “Mister, you been cheating us poor Missouri boys.  These here are loaded dice.”  With that, the men gathered around the man from Claremore, relieved him of his winnings and roughly escorted him outside and rudely deposited him into his truck.  “And don’t never show your face around here never again,” one man shouted as the truck from Oklahoma drove away.

In 1959 Harmon Landon and friend and mechanic, Frank Boyd believed the time had come to go into business together.  There wasn’t much discussion about the type of business or location as those minor details had already been decided.  The two would purchase the Rhoten’s Bargain Center.

Harmon knew the owners of the thriving enterprise very well as Orville and Eunice Rhoten were his wife, Margurette’s father and mother.  After some discussion regarding the conditions of the sale, Harmon and Frank took over the ownership of the business.  The only immediate change considered was an obvious one; what would the new business be called?  Well, that decision proved to be an easy one.  The new business would be called Landon and Boyd’s Bargain Center.

If one were to leave the small Ozark town of Noel, Missouri and travel south on the old highway 59 two-lane road motorists would pass Bluff Dweller’s Cave, the Red Barn Tavern and just prior to crossing the Missouri-Arkansas state line the motorist would see the Landon-Boyd service station and liquor store.

Three gas pumps, two dispensed regular grade gasoline while the other offered premium, rested in front of the building and rarely was there a time when they were not in use.  When customers entered the store the sight of bottles and bottles of various brands of liquor greeted them.  If a bottle of beer was more to their liking, several brands were available and the store offered for sale something to suit almost everyone’s tastes.

If one was to walk out of the building’s back door and pace off no more than ten short feet the building which housed a garage would be found.  Inside the garage, tires were sold and mounted and repairs were made to cars and trucks.  A lift raised cars and was used primarily for oil changes.  These services, especially tire sales, contributed to the store’s bottom line and every little bit helped.  It was the garage area of the business where locals gathered to talk, drink and shoot craps.  The garage came to be known as the “Fuzzy Duck.”

Upon entering the garage, some were taken aback by the lack of expected car repair odors.  The smell of grease, oil and gasoline was replaced by the odors of cigar and cigarette smoke.  If one got near enough to the wood-burning potbelly stove and the cast iron pot resting atop it the subtle fragrance of stew could be detected; a mixture that seemed to change as passers-by dropped chunks of meat and vegetables into the small hot cauldron.  Anyone brave enough, and with a strong enough stomach, was welcome to help themselves to the mixture of undescribed origin.

Landon and Boyd’s Bargain Center, at least on the outside, was much like other service station/liquor stores in the area.  Customers could buy gasoline, a bottle of whiskey or a bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer.  The rut-filled dirt roads created a constant need for tires and mechanic Frank Boyd was always glad to sell a set of “Double Eagle” tires.  The business did, however, offer something unique; games of chance based on a roll of the dice.

Those regular customers with a sporting nature sometimes proposed an alternative to paying for that premium gas fill-up.  “Say, Harmon, I’ll try my luck at ‘High Dice;’ double or nothing.”  “I’ll take that chance,” Harmon replied.  The customer rolled the two cubes; nine was the number of spots shown.  Harmon then tossed the dice.  “Ten,” Harmon called out.  You owe me two times the price of that gas.  That’ll be $11.00.”  “Seems like I never win,” the man said as he took some wadded up paper bills from the pocket of his overalls.

The garage area, known as the “Fuzzy Duck,” although even to this day nobody knows why, was where the real action took place.  It seemed like there were always men gathered there watching as the dice ricocheted off one of the walls.  The lucky gamblers left with hundreds, and even thousands of dollars, while those with less luck left with empty pockets.

“Boys, I’m leaving lessen I give you scoundrels all my money.  Marshal, there ought to be a law agin shooting dice,” the man said as he looked in the direction of the man wearing the brown wide-brimmed hat.  “I say by God there is,” answered Floyd, Noel’s city marshal.  “But this here garage ain’t in the city limits of Noel now is it?”  When the marshal felt lucky he too could be heard calling for that hard eight as he rolled the pair of spotted dice against the wall.

Not everyone called out a bet on the possibility that the spots on the dice might make a point or even come up seven or eleven.  “Five to two odds he doesn’t make his point; I’m giving five to two odds he doesn’t toss a six,” rang out a voice from the corner of the crowd of men.  The man from Gravette, Arkansas found a unique way of fleecing the gamblers and at the end of the evening, he usually counted his winnings as he walked to his pick-up.

The man from Arkansas was shrewd and realized that the craps games created many more losers than winners.  He did occasionally talk the city marshal into wagering on a game of high dice.  The first roller would dare the second man to beat his point, and as for the stakes.  Well, the loser had to buy the winner a cold beer.

Those not rolling the dice or betting on the outcome found ways to pass the time.  On one occasion a bystander pulled the dangling cord on the overhead light plunging the garage into darkness.  The lights were out for no more than a few seconds but when the darkness left, the light brought into view several pistols which had been removed from pockets and waistbands.  “Don’t never touch that cord again,” one man said as he returned a pistol to his pocket.  “Now, who’s the next shooter?”

Forty years passed, times changed and with those changes the store and garage were sold to Neal Sumers and Mutt Morgan.  The crap games ended and the man from Claremore with the loaded dice was never again seen.  Margurette passed away some years ago and is buried near her parents in Sulphur Springs’ Butler Creek Cemetery.  Frank Boyd, now in the eighty-second year of his life, lives in Jay, Oklahoma.  Harmon still lives in the area and if prodded he will tell you the story of the John Deere tractor he once bought following a night’s run of luck at the Fuzzy Duck.

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Wyndy’s Christmas Surprise

Butch7Nothing, not even the long and warm sunlit days of summer, lasts forever.  The warm months in the Ozarks were now only a memory in the mind of Wyndy and there were more important, and more immediate, issues which occupied the thoughts of the five-year-old girl.  “Wyndy, let’s get going.”  Wyndy was perusing the racks of candy, especially the small stack of Hershey’s Chocolate bars but she heard her grandfather’s words; at least to the extent that any small child listens to their parents or grandparents.

“Come on, it’s Christmas eve and we need to take this stuff over to Caddo and Mildred’s before it gets too late;  Quit staring at that candy.”  Caddo Gann, was a local house painter who frequently brushed color on many of the houses in the small southwest town of Noel, Missouri.  He and his wife, Mildred owned a house on property that was also home to the local refuse dump.  A small wooden box nailed to a pole asked that waste depositors put some money inside after depositing their refuge.  Collections were completely based on an honor system which not all patrons of the dump adhered to.  Caddo and Mildred had been blessed with ten children.  Wyndy’s grandfather, Claude “Butch” Wyatt owned Wyatt’s 7 Day Market and without solicitation took a box of food to the Gann family each and every cold Christmas Eve evening.

“Why do you have two boxes?” Wyndy asked.  “Well, because we also need to stop by Speedy’s place and drop off a box of food.”  Speedy was a well-known local charismatic figure whom, to say the very least, was unique in every way and lived his life at a frantic pace.  Regardless of the season or outside temperature, Speedy was known to gather up his small but cherished collection of dolls prior to hosing down the interior of his home using only the garden hose.  Dale McKim, Speedy, was known to everyone as someone who was in constant motion.  Speedy lived alone in a small apartment and Butch knew the gift of food would be appreciated by someone spending that most special of all nights alone.

Wyatt’s 7 Day Market opened its doors in 1948.  Claude D. Wyatt, “Butch” to everyone he knew, and his wife Ruth decided to start a business selling what the townsfolk of Noel would always need, food.  The store was situated on Noel’s Main Street and Butch, who had been selling meat from his vehicle, was the butcher and cut meat at the worktop near the back of the business while Ruth rang up sales at the front counter’s register.

Butch and his wife, Ruth were determined to make the business a success and hard work was nothing new to the couple.  Butch’s family moved to the area in 1923 traveling from Oklahoma in a mule-drawn wagon.  The families of Butch and Ruth Coultas were neighbors during Butch and Ruth’s high school years, and as is often the case, the two youngsters became more than just friends.  They became man and wife.

From 7:00 a.m. until midnight each and every day of the week the couple greeted customers with smiles and “hello’s” while helping them find that special item.  When the Wyatt children were old enough, and that arbitrary age was indeed a very young one, all three children Phillip, James and Elaine became employees at the store.  The store was truly a family owned and operated business.

Butch loved his family and he enjoyed talking to his friends and customers at Wyatt’s 7 Day Market but when there was a spare moment he could be found fishing in Elk River or playing dominos with friends in Les Porter’s Main Street basement pool hall.

Noel was known by mid-westerners as a summer playground.  Tourists flocked to the small town where they enjoyed the cool waters of Elk River, danced on Shadow Lake’s dance floor and enjoyed a hot meal at one of the many cafés or restaurants.  Some tourists could be seen playing miniature golf, driving a go-cart around the oval track or just looking for that Ozark themed gift at The Noel Gift Shop.

However, Noel was also known for something else.  It was called “The Christmas City.”  When winter came, the tourists returned to their cities and jobs and winter lives while the people living in the small town of Noel stayed and waited for that special day of the year, Christmas.

The placing of the city’s decorations began several weeks prior to the special day as bows were hung from the Main Street light poles, store windows were painted in green and red colors and ribbon was draped on the Main Street Bridge’s railings.  All preparations were completed just days prior to the annual Christmas parade.

The parade was widely anticipated by all the local residents, especially those of fewer years, as the star of the parade, Santa Claus would surely make his appearance.  Wyndy had no doubt that the man in red, he who epitomized Christmas, was real but it was always reassuring to see him in the flesh thus leaving no doubt in the small child’s mind that he had undoubtedly received her Christmas list.

Wyndy was as confused as any five-year-old girl could possibly be.  She thought she knew everything there was to know about Christmas but just a week earlier all that had changed and in the mind of the five-year-old that event gave birth to a puzzlement.  It started with that traditional City of Noel parade.

The morning clouds had given way to a bright afternoon sunlit day as Wyndy, her mother and her two cousins stood alongside Noel’s Main Street.  “Wyndy it’s cold put those gloves on.”  Without acknowledging her mother’s directions with a word or even a nod of the head Wyndy put her fingers into each of the cloth gloves.  She purposely hadn’t made use of the ten finger warmers because she found it difficult to clap as each brightly decorated car or truck passed.

Finally, there he was; the reason why all the children had braved the cold day.  There was Santa himself.  He looked just as he had the year before with his red and white suit of clothes, his white beard and his glasses.  Wyndy, and without questioning, accepted the fact that Santa must have had poor eyesight and required the aid of glasses.

Suddenly the car with Santa in it stopped and the young of years and small of stature admirers flocked to his side.  As he passed out candy to the smiling children he repeated the seasonal words over and over, “Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas.”  Then and in a tone only to be heard by Wyndy he spoke, “Here Wyndy, here is some candy and I hope you’ve been a good little girl, Merry Christmas.”  As Wyndy held out her hand she realized that the bearded man’s voice was very familiar.  It was a voice she had heard for as long as she could remember.  It was the voice of Grandpa Wyatt.

Later that afternoon and into the nighttime hours the little girl tried to make sense of the experience.  There was the possibility that Grandpa Wyatt led a double life; that of a mild-mannered butcher and also one as the jolly Kris Kringle, aka Santa Claus.  Or maybe, and this was hurtful to think of, just maybe men dressed in red and white garb during the holiday season posing as a fictitious, and real only in Wyndy’s mind, Santa.

Wyndy didn’t talk to her mother or grandfather, or anyone else for that matter, about her concerns.  At some point, she just accepted the realization that the Santa in the parade was Grandpa Wyatt and that was all there was to it.  As for the real Santa, well as it is with all of us as we leave our childhood years, that issue seems to resolve itself.

Christmas day came and went for the Wyatt family.  Wyndy looked at her grandfather differently that cold December morning but she smiled as he gave her his traditional gift.  It was the gift of a handful of shiny silver dollars.  As always, the quantity of coins was equal to the number years of her life and that Christmas that number was five.

Butch Wyatt not only sold food, he sold fun and that product was dispensed at the Dairyette.  The Dairyette stood adjacent to the grocery store and was a place where the young in years could shoot pool, play arcade games, listen to music and on Friday and Saturday nights, dance.

Butch was known to mark some of the quarters with pink nail polish.  Those quarters were given to Wyndy, her two cousins, Mitch and Linda and Noel’s smallest and most needy ones who used the pink coins to play arcade games.  As the profits from the machines were collected each month the man who serviced those games returned the pink stained coins to Butch.

Grandpa Butch and Grandma Ruth have passed on to their reward and now peacefully rest in Noel’s Petty Cemetery.  Wendy’s mother, Virginia Ruth Wyatt, passed away in 2016 at the age of 88.

As for Wyndy; she lives on the outskirts of Noel in the house where Butch, Ruth and their three children Elaine, James and, Wyndy’s father Phillip once called home.  Wendy regrets the loss of the countless hours she and her father could have shared as Phillip passed away at the age of 27 on July 14, 1959.  Phillip rests with his parents in Petty Cemetery.  The little girl who once held a handful of silver dollars is no longer a child but Wyndy still loves Christmas and smiles when she talks about Grandpa Butch, Wyatt’s 7 Day Market and the Noel Christmas Parade.

Thanks to Wyndy

Butch8

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