Tag Archives: missouri

Jack, the horse

5 Mar

This is Jack.
Jack is 30 years old.
Do not say, “Poor Jack.”
Jack has a good  life.
Jack lives with Harold and Joyce in North Missouri.
Jack has an entire pasture to himself, not counting deer and turkeys.
No ones tells Jack what to do. No, sir.

Jack taught a slew of grand kids how to ride.
He was almost always patient with them.
Even a patient horse has his limits.
He’ll slow down when he damn well feels like it.

Jack has a barn to go in when he’s cold.
He is seldom cold.
Jack is no wimp.

Jack’s old buddy Harold feeds him grain every evening.
Neither one talks much.
They prefer it that way.
They have an unspoken understanding.

When someone from the city visits, Jack gets lots of sugar cubes.
Harold is not entirely pleased about this.
Chill, Old Man.
Jack has earned the right to eat junk food.

In the summer, Jack gets fed corn husks and carrots.
This pleases him.
Jack deserves to be spoiled a little.
Good horse, Jack. Good horse.


Twenty or so reasons we should celebrate May Day

1 May

My mother and her friend, Wilma Jean, celebrated May Day. No, they did not march through Red Square in Moscow endorsing eighty hour-work weeks for little pay. They kept alive the ancient rite of Northern European pagans welcoming the coming of summer. And really, what smalltown Missouri girl in the forties didn’t love a good pagan ritual?

Here’s how May Day worked:

  1. Pick wildflowers.
  2. Make a paper basket.
  3. Place flowers in the basket.
  4. Throw in some candy if available.
  5. Place the May baskets on the porches of neighbors.
  6. Knock on the door.
  7. Run like hell.

Number seven was very important. According to tradition, you would have to exchange kisses with the person answering the door if they caught you. This would seem to limit the houses where you would leave baskets. For example, you might skip the house of the track star with exceedingly bad halitosis.

download (1)“This was before pesticides,” Mom said, meaning there was a greater inventory of wildflowers back in the day. “We would fill the baskets with Sweet Williams and Gentlemen’s Breeches.”

This brings to mind two questions. First, why isn’t there a bluegrass band named Gentlemen’s Breeches? Second, why don’t we all celebrate May Day?

Reasons we should:

  1. May Day is about giving.
  2. It’s like Halloween Opposite Day
  3. If you’re lucky, you’ll return home after delivering baskets to find one left for you.
  4. Still, giving is much more fun.
  5. It’s also a good way to get exercise.
  6. As long as you don’t pull a hammy running away.
  7. It’s a way to kick off warm weather that does not require a weed eater.
  8. May Day involves the entire family.
  9. That four-year-old ain’t gonna drive himself to every house.
  10. He’s not going to make the baskets either.
  11. And he’ll quickly get bored picking flowers.
  12. Still, think of the memories he’ll make.
  13. Delivering May Day baskets requires sneakiness.
  14. The anonymity of it means you don’t have to worry about matching the quality of the other person’s gift.
  15. It’s cheap.
  16. Everything can be made with materials on hand.
  17. We need another good holiday.
  18. Hallmark needs to fill the gap between Easter and Mother’s Day.
  19. Chances are extremely slim you would be shot by a homeowner.
  20. Chances are also low that you would be attacked by a pit bull.
  21. Chances of being shot by a pit bull with an assault rifle are just short of nil.
  22. A pit bull might appreciate a good May basket, if you throw in a Milkbone.
  23. Upwards of three percent of the population does not suffer from wildflower allergies.

Mom passed on the May Day tradition to her children. I loved it. When it was just my older brother and me, we lived in Iowa surrounded by Andersons, Hendersons, Sigmunds and other farmers with Scandinavian sounding names. Many of them would have been familiar with May Day. Some of them may have danced around a maypole or two in their younger days. Finding May baskets on their porches wasn’t so strange. The May baskets we made were actually paper cones made from wrapping paper. It took a lot of flowers to fill the cones, so we filled them with popcorn, mixing in a few dandelions and violets. That’s right, we gave away our weeds. We made up for that by adding butterscotch and peppermint candy. download

When I was five, we moved to a small town in northwest Missouri. May Day came around, and we delivered May baskets again. That’s what everyone did on May 1, right?

A year later we moved to another small town. (I think Dad shot a man in Reno, and we were trying to stay ahead of the Law.) May 1 arrived. We delivered May baskets. So what if no one had brought May baskets to our house? That wasn’t the point. We loved giving and sneaking.

Two years later, we moved again. Hooray! It’s May Day again! By this time, I was a few weeks away from my ninth birthday. Jeff, my brother, was about to turn ten. We were on the cusp of getting too old for May Day, but not quite. Our younger sister was four—old enough now to enjoy the wonder of May Day. We now lived close to our grandparents. We would deliver baskets to them and to our neighbors. My brother also left a basket on the doorstep of a girl he was sweet on. “La la la la la, life is grand. Everybody loves May Day!”

No, they didn’t. Maybe they would have, it they had known about it. But they didn’t.

What in God’s good name are those strange Smith kids doing? Leaving popcorn and weeds on people’s porches?  Wrapped up in old Christmas wrapping paper, no less. Their garbage can must be full. They haven’t got the sense of a garden slug. Boy, I knew they were odd ducks the day they moved here. This proves it. Bunch of loonies.

That year was the last year we celebrated May Day. But I miss it, and I want to bring it back.


Encouraging Ignorance and Suffocating Nuance since 1995

17 Oct

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. –-Hanlon’s Razor

If you know anything about the Steubenville rape case, you don’t need me to rehash it here. If you are unfamiliar with it, welcome back to Earth. How was your space flight? Like most people, I followed the case only superficially, but I formed my opinion anyway, and I was glad to see convictions in the case. It bothered me none that mud stuck to the town of Steubenville. It became synonymous with small-town culture that values its high school athletes above much else. I found it amusing that the hacker group Anonymous got involved by hacking personal information on some of those involved.

Now another case, with a few similarities, has grabbed the national and international media’s attention in Maryville, Missouri. I’m sure many in Steubenville are keeping their fingers crossed that Maryville will take their inauspicious mantle. I won’t outline or debate the facts of the Maryville case here – thousands of other imbeciles with no knowledge of the situation have that covered. However, this situation hits a little closer to home. My brother and his wife live there. My sister was born there. Two grandparents, many aunts and uncles, both parents and all my siblings graduated from the state university there. Even so, when I read the story early Sunday morning on the Kansas City Star’s web site, a small part of me thought, You deserve what’s coming Maryville. You brought this on by failing to push for prosecution. I had spent ten minutes or so reading a news story, and I believed I had enough information to draw a conclusion. That put me in the company of millions of other fools.

250px-Nodaway-courthouseWhen the the national media got hold of the story like a Rottweiler grabbing a shank bone, I read a few more media reports, which were mostly re-hashes of the Star story, as well as an earlier series by KCUR, a KC public radio station. I rarely view reader comments online because I tend to lose faith in human intelligence when I do. I did not have to read far before recurring themes emerged. Words like “inbred” appeared liberally. The sheriff of the town was tritely labeled as Barney Fife.

Here’s a comment from a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reader:  “There’s just something about the NW corner of Missouri. The people there have no concern for what is lawful.” There’s a broad-brush statement that deserves one in response: Everyone who submits ill-informed comments on news web sites is a certified jackass.

From the Los Angeles Times, a common comment: “What a bunch of freaking HICKS.”

No, they’re not hicks, though some may be brighter than others. They’re just regular people like everyone else. Good ones, bad ones, and mostly in-between ones. People who make mistakes just like the rest of us. No better, no worse.

I texted my brother, Jeff, a Maryville resident: “Let me know how it feels to live in the new Steubenville.”

So far, he’s taking it well. That’s in part because he does not own a TV, being a hick and all, and he has not seen coverage from CNN et al.  He said one of the largest employers in town, a customer of his construction business, shut down its computer system after Anonymous hacked another manufacturer. These companies are not the sheriff’s office, the prosecutor, or anyone connected to the story. They are companies employing hundreds of people, some of them likely unaware of the story before this week.

I began to realize how the actions, or inaction, of a few people can impact so many others.

Maryville is a good place, but not unique. Jeff says, “A lot of people here think this is a special town, but it’s no better or worse than anyplace else.”  Jeff should know. He lived for several years in Africa before settling in Maryville, and he has traveled internationally many times. I guess that makes him a well-traveled hick, contradictory as that may seem. He’s right, though. Don’t we think our communities are something special, as if other places have a higher percentage of nuts, lowlifes and buffoons? We believe we would act differently —better, of course — in crises. Just watch the next time there’s a catastrophe such as a tornado or earthquake. You’ll see a quote like this: “We’ll get back on our feet. People here in (town/city name) are tough, resilient.” As if people elsewhere were not.

If we live in a high population area, we assume our rural neighbors are ill-educated hillbillies. I am the only one of my parents and four siblings who lives in a city. Yet, I am the least educated of the bunch with my piddly bachelor’s degree. My parents live in a town of about 200 people. My sister lives in the country. My younger brother lives in a town of about 1,000 people. They drive trucks and go to church. They also listen to NPR, hold a range of views on social issues and worry about the cost of gas just like everyone else. Because they choose to live in rural areas, however, they are considered ignorant hillbillies who would, of course, let injustice reign in their communities because they know no better. (Disclaimer: I don’t equate education with intelligence; some of the highest-degreed individuals I’ve met are some of the dumbest. The converse is also true.)

Rural folks don’t get a free pass either. They can be just as guilty the other way. For example, I’ve heard several times how lucky a country resident is to live some place where they don’t have to deal with violence on a daily basis, as though we in urban areas can’t step out our front doors without ducking shots or feeling the crunch of used syringes beneath our Topsiders.

I suppose we have always been ignorant about our fellow humans, but the Internet brings it to the fore more readily. The Web delivers more information daily than we can consume in our lives, but it also allows us to demonstrate how little we know, particularly about each other.

We would like to think if we found ourselves in the same situation as Maryville at the time of the crime/incident, we would have reacted differently. We would have, by God, stood up and made sure the cops and the prosecutor did their jobs, even if we did not know all the facts or have any other direct involvement in the case. No, we wouldn’t. We don’t realize that Maryville is just like us.  No better, no worse, just human.

Fourth of July in the Fireworks Capital of the World

4 Jul

Poorboys2We have a soggy Independence Day in Louisville, which will make the Old Fashioned 4th brought to you by Cialas and Propecia a   little damp. I don’t mind if I have to skip the fun. Independence Day in Eagleville, Missouri (fireworks capital of the world, yessiree) set a high standard.shelton

Here’s how a typical Fourth went:


Ignore fatherly suggestion to arise as the day is already half over.

Explain to father that it’s a holiday, for God’s sake.

Listen to father admonish you for taking the Lord’s name in vain in the house, dammit.


You have not arisen, so father arrives with a cold cup of water to pour on your face.

Call father all sorts of names, though under your breath, because he is a large man who could squash you like a bug.

Listen to him explain how the grass won’t mow itself.

Express opinion that it would be pretty cool if it would.

Listen to father say for hundredth time that work is something to take pride in.


Stumble into kitchen where mother is already preparing the homemade ice cream mixture for that evening.

Ask why not just buy ice cream at the store, because it tastes better anyway.

Mother expresses opinion in so many words that you are spoiled and she can’t figure out where she went wrong.

You have a stinging retort, but keep it yourself. Though mother is smaller than you, she could squash you like a bug.

Mother asks you and your brothers if bedroom is clean.

Ask her definition of “clean.”

She does not find this amusing and slams a sauce pan on the stove. It is a sturdy Paul Revere saucepan, and it has been slammed many times before.

You scowl, and she tells you to quit looking at her like she’s an ogre.

Mother warns there will be an inspection of the room later that day.

Wonder aloud what difference it makes as only relatives are coming tonight for the cookout, and none will venture upstairs.


After a very long and leisurely breakfast consisting of two bowls of corn flakes with enough sugar to sweeten three Cokes, you and Jeff begin to mow the lawn.

It is a large lawn that can take more than an hour to mow if done correctly. It will take you about twenty minutes.

Father appears to make his usual pronouncement that if something is worth doing right, it’s worth doing right the first time.

Roll your eyes.

Hurry to finish mowing the lawn so you can mow the “ball field.” Your backyard abuts the school track, and you have adopted the track as your play area.

After mowing the yard, use the mowers, on their lowest settings, to cut base paths in the grass. This job takes half the day because you want the field to be as pretty as Wrigley Field.


Father is in a good mood and gives twenty dollars to buy fireworks. This is the first time you’ve been allowed to buy the family fireworks without parental supervision. You have already bought a lot of Black Cat firecrackers and smoke bombs, but this is different. The entire success of the family cookout is at stake. The Huttons, who run a gas station and tire store, set up a large fireworks tent at the interstate exit every year.

Twenty dollars will buy a ton of fireworks, though twice that much would be better should some purchases be duds. There is a science to buying fireworks. First, you want to have enough money to buy the grand finale, the big doozy that will blow away all the others. You have already learned from experience that this is not necessarily the largest firework for sale. Still, the largest ones are quite tempting. Selecting fireworks is always a gamble. Some of the smaller, cone-shaped fireworks can be monumental for their size. Sometimes, though, they’re a disappointment. Choose carefully and buy fireworks in the order they will be set off. Sparklers are first.


Return home with a paper sack filled with explosives.

Father expects you to help churn the ice cream. The family has an electric ice cream maker, but he insists the hand-cranked ice cream tastes better. He is, of course, crazy.

Your sweat generated while churning the ice creams helps salt the ice.

Father is never satisfied with the ice cream. It always needs a few more turns, a little more ice, a dab more salt.

Mom has made chocolate and peach ice cream mixes.

Do not try the peach ice cream, because you are philosophically opposed to ruining ice cream with fruit.

Later, the adults at the cookout will go on and on about how wonderful the peach ice cream is. Worry that next year your mother will make only fruit-flavored ice cream.


Guests arrive. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins.

It’s time for baseball.

You don’t have enough players to form decent teams, but years of improvising have made it possible to play.

Fifty feet down the left field line is a cow pasture. Anything hit over that fence is an out.

Anything hit over the outfielder’s head is an out.

Anything hit hard is an out.

You have to use ghost runners because there will only be three people on each side.

You will expend more energy playing baseball than you did mowing the lawn and churning the ice cream.

You will not notice the irony.


Now that everyone who played baseball is dripping with sweat, it’s time to eat.

The deviled eggs don’t last long.

Skip the slaw and the potato salad, opting instead for a plate full of potato chips with a dab of baked beans and a hot dog.

Make that three hot dogs.


Time for fireworks.

The small kids are handed the sparklers, which signals to the adults that the serious stuff is about to begin.

Everyone watches the little kids twirl their sparklers, hoping they’ll tire of it quickly.

The sparklers create excitement for about three seconds before even the little kids grow bored with them.

Every child is admonished for the fourteenth time by every adult not to drop the sparkler wires on the grass.

There was that one kid in that one town who carelessly dropped his sparkler wire. A couple of days later, when his dad was mowing the lawn, the blade shot the sparkler wire right into the kid’s gut. He died on the spot. We don’t want that to happen to us, do we?


 Father is not ready to let you set off the fireworks yet. That is his job. He takes it seriously. He also takes it literally.

After the sparklers and before the roman candles, he instructs you to find an empty sixteen ounce pop bottle for the bottle rockets.

Also, bring out a two by two section of plywood as the launching platform.

Father sets off a few bottle rockets.

You wish you could help. You would tie together the fuses of several rockets and set them off at once. With luck, some would come toward the crowd. That would add some excitement.

The roman candles are predictably unpredictable. Some have the full complement of eight bursts, some fewer. One splutters and falls on its side, sending a feeble fireball toward the crowd sitting in lawn chairs.

As the show moves up the line to bigger and better fireworks, the crowd oohs and aahs at appropriate spots, just like they do with the same fireworks every year. Everyone jokes again about the propeller firework that Uncle Royce lighted one year that went straight for mother’s leg. It never gets any less funny, though mother doesn’t laugh as much about it as she used to.


The grand finale.

The rocket you spent thirty percent of your fireworks money on is lighted. Will it be a dud or a beauty? It’s somewhere in between, not much to look at, but noisy enough to scare any dogs or cats that are already cowering in some dark corner wondering why the apocalypse comes every year at the same time.


Everyone heads home. Tomorrow, you’ll have to pick up the trash from the spent fireworks. But tonight, you’ll go to bed sleeping in the dried sweat of your day.

Happy birthday, America.


The decision stunk, but the outcome wasn’t so bad

29 Apr

My younger daughter Sophia and I drove an hour or so east of our home yesterday to watch a college softball game in Lexington, Kentucky.  It was a good day. Sophia was chatty, and we had our usual conversations about the source of tofu and other deep topics. My mind wandered a lot to the distant past during our trip. My Alma Mater, Missouri, played Kentucky in that game. Lexington was the first place I lived after college.


Roger Gafke, professor emeritus

When I graduated back in the Neanderthal days of 1981, I applied for a news reporter job at the ABC affiliate in Lexington. The TV news industry paid its young reporters in fame rather than fortune, and the offer was for barely more than minimum wage. I did a quick phone interview with the news director, who said the job was mine if I wanted it. I called my journalism school adviser Roger Gafke to ask what I should do.

“As your adviser, I advise you to keep looking,” Roger said. He didn’t like the sound of the opportunity. The money was too little, and the station seemed a little desperate. The station where I worked in college was the top-rated news operation in its market. The newsroom had just been expanded, the camera and editing equipment were new and plentiful, and the staff was comprised of dozens of  talented journalism students, many of whom would have careers at places like NBC, CNN and ESPN. Roger sensed I would be stepping into a much different situation.

“I will consider your advice,” I said.

I did not consider it. The Lexington job was the first I applied for, and I feared I would receive no other reporting offers. Ever. I imagined living at home and watching Andy Griffith reruns with my parents. I wanted a place of my own to watch Andy Griffith reruns.

My mother did not want me to live at home either, but she also did not want me to move far away.

“I read there’s an opening for a photographer at the newspaper in St. Joe,” she said.


There was no such thing as a busy Bluegrass Sunday.

“I don’t think my TV reporting skills would get me a job as a print photographer,” I said.

“Then how about applying at the radio station in Bethany?”

I did not want to read noon livestock reports on the local FM station the rest of my life, so I packed my car and headed east.

Also yesterday, I made the deposit committing my older daughter Isabel to her college choice. That should have been a momentous occasion, but Isabel didn’t seem very excited about any of her college options. The university she selected is a good one. It’s  not too far away, and the scholarship award is generous. Unless Isabel goes nuts at the nearby Ikea store, she should still have money in her savings when she graduates. Because Isabel doesn’t seem excited, her mother and I feel some anxiety. We worry she won’t be happy with her decision. What if she doesn’t like the atmosphere? What if she doesn’t make lifelong friends like her mother and I did in school? What if she regrets everything?

After the softball game, I drove Sophia around Lexington for a bit. We passed the church where her mother and I were married. I pointed out the stained glass window that was familiar to her from our wedding picture. I tried to find the first apartment we lived in when we married, though I couldn’t remember where it was. Then we drove by the TV station on our way out of town.


Timothy Shawn Patrick Doyle, one of the good guys who made WTVQ better

“It’s much different now,” I told Sophia. “The first time I came here, I thought I had made a huge mistake. The newsroom was small, the news vehicles were old, and the equipment was in terrible condition. The station was the laughingstock of Lexington.”

“So, did you make a mistake?” Sophia asked.

“Definitely,” I said, thinking how my career never really recovered.

Then I thought about the good friends I made, the wonderful person I married, the girl sitting next to me, and the other one back home preparing to graduate from high school.  None of which I would have without that poor decision long ago.

“Actually, no,” I said. “Things turned out quite well.”

From the other side of death

26 Mar

An excerpt from The Savior of Turk.

After I died, I figured I’d possess a clear memory of my whole life, from the day I popped out of my mama’s belly till they put a sheet over my head at the hospital. In eternity, I had in mind that I’d go back and forth over everything that happened to me like I was playing a movie, re-watching the nice parts and fast forwarding through the others until I about wore out the tape. But chunks of my life are fuzzier than others. Whole pieces got lost somewhere, things you’d think I’d remember. I recall but a few of the kids’ birthdays. Just a handful of Christmas mornings made the cut, and those memories are like looking through a window smeared with Vaseline.

BeachOther recollections are as clear to me as if they happened a minute ago, in vivid Technicolor. But they’re not necessarily the kind of memories you’d think would have stuck. Like the time our daughter Kimmie — I reckon she was around two because it was before Karl came along — got her fingers slammed in the door of our car as she was getting out. I hadn’t been paying close enough attention, and I took for granted that she was clear of the door when I shut it. She bawled bloody murder for close to half an hour. We’d crossed up to Iowa to spend a Sunday afternoon at a state park where there was a little sandy beach, and we had just parked the car when it happened.

For the occasion, Polly had bought Kimmie a purple swimsuit with a little yellow frilly thing around the waist that made it look like a tutu. Kimmie wore it to bed the night before. She was so hopped up about going to the beach that she liked to have never got to sleep. Then I had to go and ruin it by slamming her fingers in the door. Her right pointer and middle fingers swelled up like hot dogs. We had some ice from the cooler to help the swelling, but it didn’t make her feel any better. She sat next to her mom on a beach towel and whimpered the whole afternoon. Never got in the water. I didn’t either. I felt so bad and wished I could have done something to make it right.

I don’t know why a memory like that would be so clear to me, but I guess I’ve got plenty of time to figure it out.


The #!@%$# Tree is Up

20 Dec

We put up our tree last night. It’s a small Fraser Fir. The names comes from an old Germanic dialect which means Dude, you were totally ripped off. I much prefer another variety of Christmas tree called coniferous cheapus.


A time long ago, when the girls still liked their picture taken with the tree.

I often buy trees from the boy scouts who have a lot at a nearby church. One year I was so late that the place was already closed. The scouts had packed up their kerosene heaters and  gone to celebrate the season by their warm hearths, mainly because it’s not easy to feel celebratory by a cold hearth. Back on the dark church lawn, aka frozen tundra, I stumbled across a forlorn Charlie Browner, which was so pitiful even the dumpster was too good for it. Like a mildewed sofa abandoned on a street curb, the tree had been left for any desperate soul who didn’t want to go home to a wrathful wife and disappointed children. I felt like Christmas  had come early.

One advantage of waiting until late in the season, besides the fantastically low, low prices, is the weight of the tree. By the time I usually bring our tree home, five or six weeks have passed since it left a tree farm in the Smokies and traveled to Louisville on a big rig. Most of the moisture in the tree has evaporated, and a good percentage of the needles have fallen off. Its lighter weight eliminates some of the time and profanity usually generated when I adjust the tree so it doesn’t look like the Leaning Tower of Pisa.


Dead Tree Walking

My wife and I used to take our girls to a you-cut tree farm in the country, but this period in our idyllic lives didn’t last long. There was a window of just three years when both girls were old enough, but not too old to find the experience stupid, OMG, just stupid.

When I was a kid, we didn’t buy our trees.  That would have been stupid, OMG, stupid. Instead, Dad usually grabbed a saw and went into the woods to cut one down. They were not spruces or even Scotch Pines that happened to be growing wild along a creek bank. They were invasive evergreens–ditch cedars–that needed to be eradicated even if we didn’t need a Yule tree.  The trees were flimsy and downright ugly. But once we got enough tinsel on them, and my, did we like our tinsel in the Smith household, we almost couldn’t tell the difference between them and one bought from a lot.  As long as we didn’t hang anything heavier than a feather on their weak branches, the trees held up. I occasionally still check out trees in ditches to see if they’d look good in our living room.

I have some experience on the other end of the Christmas tree life cycle, too. My brother and I, along with a couple of friends, got hired to plant them. Our employer, Keith, lived in the city, but he hoped to move back to our town when he retired to open a tree farm. Keith was known to be a little tight with his money, which meant he didn’t want to waste a single sapling. And if he was going to have to pay some kids to plant them, he expected them  to plant each one, no matter what. The weather that Saturday morning was cold but tolerable. Since I had never planted trees before, the experience was almost fun–for the first ten saplings or so. The repetitive process grew old quickly: bore a hole in the dirt, insert sapling, pack dirt around sapling, move to next hole.

By the middle of the afternoon, the weather began to turn bad. First, it was just a light misting. Our clothes were getting a little damp, but no big deal. What kid doesn’t like to be out in the rain once in awhile? We still had a lot of saplings to plant, and Keith wanted them all in the ground before the day ended. The rain began to pick up; the temperature dropped. We were working along a terrace on a gently sloping hill, going as fast we could. Water began to stream down the bank into the holes faster than we could plug them with saplings.  The rain intensified further. To quicken the process just a bit, I stuck two trees in one hole. Keith didn’t notice. We were becoming soaked. Our hands were getting cold and numb. The ground had now turned to mud. Cats and dogs were landing all around me. I began to put two trees in every hole. Still, the mountain of saplings to be planted hadn’t decreased. They seemed to be multiplying in the rain like Furbies in Gremlins. I began to stick three saplings in each hole. It seemed impossible, but the rain intensified further. At the top of the hill, animals, two by two, were boarding a large boat. Finally, with five saplings left, I stuck them all in one hole and yelled “Finished!”


The trees I planted are in there someplace. Imagery ©2012 DigitalGlobe, GeoEye, Map data ©2012 Google

I’m sure Keith eventually discovered what I had done, but I never saw him again. Who knows? Maybe those trees survived. Maybe they even look interesting. Just spit-balling  here, but let’s say someone makes another Harry Potter movie. Let’s say it’s called Harry Potter and the Doctorate Years and they need a creepy forest with triple and quadruple trunked pine trees where Harry and the gang can go to discuss their dissertations. If that were to happen, I can give them directions to a spot just west of Eagleville, Missouri.


P.S. If you’re pining (get it?) for something a little more substantial, please check out my stuff here.

Thirty-two things I want for Christmas

13 Dec

My daughter keeps asking me for a Christmas list, so I’ll write one here, which she can reference if she cares to.20121212_202940


  1. I wish companies mistakenly delivered big cans of popcorn to my office year round.
  2. Popcorn is nature’s perfect food.
  3. Especially when it has caramel drizzled all over it.
  4. But I can do without the kind with the “cheese” coating.20121213_131021
  5. That stuff would give an automaton the runs.
  6. If movie theaters didn’t have popcorn to mark up 1000%, they would go out of business.
  7. We don’t thank popcorn enough for its service to the film industry.
  8. The best kettle-cooked corn I ever had was made on the spot in Hannibal, Missouri.
  9. Little known fact: Tom Sawyer was a kettle corn fiend.
  10. Becky Thatcher had her corn issues, too.

  11. I wish I hadn’t raised my children to believe it’s not Christmas without a live tree.
  12. Live trees have become a pain in the butt.
  13. I’m still finding needles from last year’s tree.
  14. I wish my grandparents had kept their aluminum tree with the color wheel.
  15. I sometimes wish I were Jewish this time of year.
  16. I would love to eat at a Chinese restaurant on Christmas day.
  17. Or just about any day.
  18. I wish we had gotten smaller stockings for our girls.
  19. You could drop a Crown Vic in those things and still not fill them.
  20. Maybe I’ll put a roll of toilet paper in each one.
  21. My mom used to pad our stockings with oranges.
  22. The kind with seeds.
  23. I wish the produce place I go to sold those little clementine oranges year round.
  24. Those things are like orange candy that’s good for you.Clementine
  25. And they don’t have seeds.
  26. I wish Nat King Cole were here to sing The Christmas Song live.
  27. I wish I knew what Bing Crosby was thinking as he sang the Little Drummer Boy with David Bowie.
  28. I wish How the Grinch Stole Christmas ended before it got all mushy.
  29. I wish people would quit using gift as a verb.
  30. Seriously now, give was doing just fine before gift started getting greedy.
  31. “Tis better to gift than to receive?”
  32. I don’t think so.

There you go, Sophia. Have at it.


P.S. I wouldn’t mind either if anyone checked out my books here. That would make for a decent Christmas wish.

My father’s voice

24 Aug

My father is in good health. (I have to assume so, 600 miles away, because it’s a family tradition to keep illness a secret until one can say, “I’m better now. Did I forget to mention I was in the hospital?” )  Still, I mourn for him, because Dad doesn’t want to talk on the phone anymore. Even with his hearing aids, it’s hard for him to hear.

Ma and Pa Smith

I didn’t expect to miss hearing his voice, because Dad has never been one to talk much. Our phone conversations were usually short.

How’s the weather?
How are you feeling? 
Are you sure you should be mowing the lawn at your age? 

Then I’d ask him the same questions.

Thomas Jefferson is credited with saying “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” I would suspect Tom got the idea from Dad, they being contemporaries and all, except my father would question why even one word was necessary.

I’m starting to realize how much Dad’s voice has meant to me, because I get much of my “voice” from him. We both can be gruff, stoic, terse, laconic—all the words than describe someone who would rather listen than to speak. Or, in my case, would rather write than speak. An old friend describes my writing voice as “dusty.” Dry. Very dry. I have to give a big chunk of credit (or blame) to my father.

There’s a small horse pasture on a ridge behind my parents’ house in North Missouri. On a clear night, one can see the lights of the nearest small town in Iowa. Sometimes, the darkening blue of that horizon is so pure, clean, and clear of light pollution that I think it’s the most perfect sky in the world. If he were a poet like Neil Young, Dad might stand on his back deck and describe the blue, blue windows behind the stars, yellow moon on the rise. But he’s not Neil Young or anyone given to purple prose. He’s simply Dad.  As he looked at the same sky of deepening blue, my father would likely say, “Looks like a thunderstorm’s coming in. Better move the vehicles inside.”

Thank you, Dad, for giving me a voice like yours. Sorry it took so many words.

Burying Aunt Imo

18 Jul

 We buried Aunt Imo on the last day of August when Northwest Missouri was suffering through another year of drought. Grass had turned the color of dank wheat from the lack of water, and trees had begun to shed their prematurely-dying leaves. A cold front pushed through, leaving the day overcast, cool and breezy. It all tricked the mind into thinking fall had arrived, though blistering 100-degree weather had been the norm only weeks earlier. Showers would arrive the following day, bringing a little relief to the crusty ground, though too late to do much good for the crops. Rain was always a fickle visitor.

A small group gathered under the funeral home’s canvas tent as the preacher from First Baptist Church in St. Joe said a few last words over the casket. Uncle Donald and Aunt Eva were now the only surviving children of my great grandparents, Hadley and Sadie Brown. The family of eight was now down to two.

Aunt Imo had so disliked anyone knowing her age that it was not printed in her obituary. But her birth date had been chiseled on the headstone she shared with Aunt Geneve, her sister, who had died a few years earlier. It seemed funny that Aunt Imo had finally allowed her age on the one thing that would outlast everyone present.

After the graveside service, Robert made the long drive home to his family, including Zane Hadley and Sadie May, who were named to honor ancestors who died even before their father was born. The rest of the family— Aunt Imo’s cousins, nephews and nieces—would gather for lunch in Cameron, about thirty minutes south toward Kansas City. First, however, we lingered in the graveyard. It was a mile or so west of Jameson, surrounded by fields and pastures and across the road from the site of the old Grand River Baptist church, where the Brown family had worshipped nearly a century earlier. This ground was the Alpha and Omega of Hadley and Sadie’s family.

Lots of names on gravestones were recognizable, mentioned over meals at family reunions many years past. A few times, I could put a name to a face. Great, Great Aunt Scynthia’s grave was near the western edge of the cemetery; she had lived in an apartment in Columbia, and had cooked dinner for me a few times when I attended college there. Another great, great aunt, Mildred, was nearby, too. She had been full of energy even after a stroke left her bedridden.

Aunt Eva wanted to stroll a bit through the cemetery. Now in her 90s, she had recently moved into a nursing home with Uncle Clarence. She couldn’t maneuver the gravel drive through the cemetery by herself, so Carl, the son of her brother Gilbert, took one arm and I took the other. As we walked along the path, she mentioned people whom I had never known or did not remember, though the names were familiar:

 Croy, MacNeely, Feurt… Aunt Eva smiled wanly at the markers, as if wondering how 90 years had passed so quickly.

As we crept along, the newest generation of nephews and nieces, including my daughters, ran from one end of the burial ground to the other. Living 600 miles apart, the cousins were thrilled to see each other. They didn’t mind that they played among the dead—their ancestors. I wondered if they would be drawn to visit this cemetery when they were older. Seeing Aunt Imo’s name, would they remember her face?

The kids spotted the grave of Aunt Sophie. “Look, Sophia,” they said. “There’s your name.” Sophia was impressed. The kids leaped over headstones, indifferent to the graves they walked over. Aunt Eva didn’t seem to mind either, and no one else mattered.

P.S. Get more of my writing, including free short stories, at Smashwords.