Mary and Maxine, Two Girls From Pineville

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Special thanks to Barbara

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Faster Than the Speed of Light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fred, The Golf Course Squirrel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Seven Years From Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Great Sulphur Springs Bank Robbery of 1925

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Terrible Black Dragon

Black DragonI overheard two friends talking about upcoming events in their lives.  One was going with his wife to a casino in Tulsa where they would celebrate their anniversary.  There would be fine dining followed by some time at the slot machines then a night together in a suite.  Another talked about the celebration of a child’s birthday and ensuing party.  There would be relatives, friends and a recently ordered birthday cake with 23 candles.

After the two talked and laughed for a matter of minutes one looked at me and, as if I was going to relate a similar story, asked what I was looking forward to; there must be some upcoming event that I was anxiously awaiting.  With the passage of no more than a few seconds I answered, “I’m looking forward to the end of this day and the time of the Black Dragon.”

There was a moment of silence then one of the two laughed, a brief cynical chuckle, followed by, “why would you say that, are you saying that there is nothing in your life that you look forward to, not even the arrival of the next day.  And what is this black dragon?”

I answered, “When that following day comes, just as it always seems to, I know that I’ll look forward to the ravenous Black Dragon, the darkness that the night brings and the death of that day.”  Both of my friends once again responded with uncomfortable and somewhat forced laughter while one soon commented, “It sounds like this dragon is a terrible creature.”  The conversation then took a turn to lighter topics.

After we parted company, and later that afternoon, I thought once more about the earlier conversation.  I realized that neither of my friends knew exactly what I was talking about and I knew full well that there was no way to ever make them understand my meaning; the meaning of my words when I spoke of the Black Dragon.

While asleep I can fashion dreams into works which very closely mirror my innermost thoughts but when awake I find that my life is filled with so very many flaws.  When I wake I find that I live in a land of giants where I am not welcome and those giants relentlessly torment me and beg me to leave.

The dragon awakes from his sleep each evening but does not move, not one muscle is flexed.  As he slowly opens his eyes he lies motionless while silently waiting for the prey, the light of day, to come to him.  And once within range, the striking distance, with great ferocity the monster attacks the unsuspecting prey, slowly taking from it its very life.

The scaly, fire breathing spiked tail ravenous creature has an insatiable appetite for lonely days, and that appetite cannot be satisfied.  Each night, as the last breath of the dying day is felt, the dragon’s lust for daylight offers me perchance the gratification of bidding ado to yet another lonely day.  When I fear that the bright sunlit day will never end the dragon appears, and that beast is in many ways, my salvation.

Each evening the unsuspecting sun travels to the very edges of the western sky unaware that there, hidden in a cloak of darkness, lurks the Black Dragon.  As the dragon unmercifully attacks the once great ball of fire the sun’s blood turns the sky orange, then red.  The darkness acts as if it were a ravenous carnivore, one that I have to come to know as the Black Dragon, as it kills and devours the day.

Just as I have no love for the unending sun-drenched days, nor do I harbor the slightest affection for the monstrous Black Dragon.  The gluttonous creature is merely a means to an end.  I pray that the black hearted dragon may indulge my candor.  I have no intemperate words to utter regarding the monstrous beast as I find that I must accommodate his existence. The dragon and I share an uneasy coexistence yet I ask not for the loathsome Black Dragon’s pity nor do I ask anyone else for that unwelcome gift.

When the funeral song for the sunlit day is sung I cannot find complete relief from its diurnal sadness as I know that the solitude I endure will be reborn in but a few hours when the dawning of yet another day will come, albeit vehemently unwelcome.  Although known to be one of little faith I pray that the good and gracious angels who once watched over me may someday return and bestow happiness to their helpless charge.

The tale of the dragon’s ferocity is carried on the winds that move across the land.  The red evening sky is looked upon with amazement and when the black monster sleeps the world is bright, but that brightness doesn’t bring happiness to some; and most assuredly joy doesn’t fill my heart when the Sun’s light warms the land below.

This world is filled with magic and each of us must find and possess the extraordinary vision to distinguish the dark and wicked magic from the bright and wondrous magic; and that my friends, can be so very difficult a task.

Unfortunately I find that my eyes are oversensitive to light and I cannot see that glorious and brilliant radiance which emanates from good magic.

There is an ancient and often spoken aphorism; my enemy’s enemy is my friend.  Well, the monstrous carnivore is not my friend but the fearsome beast does each day slay and bring an end to what I fear; the day in which I must live, today.

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The Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Ever

Noel schoolIt’s been one and seventy years since Larry walked to and from that old stone schoolhouse.  The walk home sometimes took various routes but the walk to school and Mrs. Viles’ first grade classroom was always the same.  Larry said goodbye to his mother each weekday morning as he walked, with brown paper lunch bag in hand, to the antiquated stone building that the children living in the southwest Missouri town of Noel called school.

Larry and his family lived in a rented house on North Kings Highway in Noel.  The family owned a home and property in an area known as Blankenship Hollow a few miles from the Noel city limits’ sign but on Thursday April 12th 1945 the wrath of nature came calling.

As that day’s sunlight transformed into the dim haze of evening, Larry’s parents talked about an event that shocked the country and, for that matter, the entire world.  Earlier that day President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, affectionately referred to as F.D.R. passed away at his Warm Springs, Georgia home.

Larry knew his parents spoke with serious and saddened words but he didn’t fully understand the meaning of the conversation, however the boy realized that his father was also concerned about the weather.  He left the house several times and while standing on the front porch gazed intently toward the blackening and ominous sky and it wasn’t long before terror came to Blankenship Hollow.

A rash of tornadoes had, earlier that day, brought devastation to Muskogee, Oklahoma and to towns throughout the country’s Midwest.  As the winds picked up and the treetops bent a tornado came to the once peaceful hollow.  The cyclone’s devastating circular winds tore at the windows and roof of the house rendering it unlivable.  After a day or so, the family gathered up their belongings and moved into the old Leeming house on North Kings Highway in Noel; a small stone house that would surely keep the uprooted family safe from any future winds.

Living within the city limits of the small town brought several changes to the family’s lifestyle and for Larry there was one very noticeable difference; he no longer sat on the hard seat of the #2 route school bus driven by Luther Hatfield.  The five year old first grader would now walk several blocks to school.

The children in grades one through twelve attended classes in an old stone building.  Classrooms were on the main floor while lunches were served to hungry children in the basement cafeteria.  The basement was also home to the coal fueled, blackened soot producing furnace that sent a moderate volume of heat upstairs to the classrooms.

Larry’s walk to school and Mrs. Viles’ first grade class each morning lasted fifteen or so minutes and was usually very uneventful.  The Main Street stores hadn’t yet opened for business and the parade of cars and farm trucks that normally moved along the narrow street was still an hour or so away from arriving.  However, the walk home from school was about to take an unexpected turn.

The walk home always seemed to take a little longer as the streets were full of interesting sounds.  As Larry walked along the old Main Street sidewalks his eyes darted back and forth as he tried to capture a glimpse of the source of those sounds.  While his shoes moved along the old and broken concrete the aroma of spring was carried by the south winds. The cold clean breezes of winter were soon to be a thing of the past as the flowers and trees were starting to bring color back to the Ozark hills.

But wait, that breeze carried with it yet another smell and it was one easily recognized by the young boy.  Larry instantly recognized that fragrance as being that of freshly baked cookies.  You see, five year old boys can’t hear their mother calling their name or see the mountain of clutter on their bedroom floor but they have the almost instinctual ability to detect the slightest of odors left by the baking of cookies.

The sound of a door opening suddenly distracted Larry from his game with the broken bits of concrete and as he glanced in the direction of that sound the image of an old woman came into view.  As the woman walked through the doorway of the log home and onto the porch the youngster noticed how cautiously the short in stature woman moved.  It appeared that each step taken was deliberate and well planned.

“Larry, would you like a cookie,” she asked.  Larry couldn’t explain why but although the name of the woman was unknown to him she looked familiar.  “I sure would,” he replied as he ended his game with the fall leaves and walked onto the porch.

In the woman’s hand was one, and only one, chocolate chip cookie.  “Hello, I’m Mrs. Jefferies, a friend of your mothers.  I see you in church on Sundays once and awhile.”  The accumulation of more than seventy years of life had caused Mrs. Jeffries’ posture to become somewhat stooped over and less than straight.  The years, and gravity, seem to have that effect on the elderly.

While Larry couldn’t recall seeing the old woman at the Methodist church located just around the corner, she never the less must have seen him, after all she knew his name.  “Thank you mam,” Larry responded.  “I really like chocolate chip cookies.”

Each afternoon as Larry left Mrs. Viles’ classroom he wondered if he would again see Mrs. Jeffries standing on her front porch with a chocolate chip cookie in hand.  To his delight the event became somewhat of a tradition and each and every day for the remainder of the school year the two said “hello”.  Mrs. Jeffries asked how his day was, cautioned him to be careful walking home and gave him one chocolate chip cookie.

Larry didn’t know exactly why, perhaps the tradition was a secret only to be shared by the old woman and the young boy, but he never told anyone about Mrs. Jeffries or the cookies.  Larry sometimes saw the baker of cookies in church but he didn’t speak to her; he only waved and smiled.

There were no more cookies after first grade and Mrs. Jeffries eventually left her Main Street log home in Noel and moved to Neosho.  Route #2 school bus driver Luther Hatfield left this world on June 8, 1991.  He was 88 years of age.  Larry’s first grade teacher, Mrs. Bernice Viles, taught at the Noel school for only seven years.  She passed away on June 14, 1986 at the age of 80.  Mabel Jeffries died on December 18, 1987.  Larry’s childhood friend was only one year shy of the century mark when she died.

With the passage of more than seventy years Larry finds that he still enjoys an occasional chocolate chip cookie but none have ever been as good as those he had when he was five years old.

There has always been some difference of opinion as to which is the more tasty, oatmeal raisin or chocolate chip; cookie-wise that is.  For Larry the preference has been, and shall always be, chocolate chip.

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