I believe in being prepared for any given situation. It isn't because I'm a pessimistic person; I think it is just good common sense. Hence, I've entitled my blog "Even Nothing is Something."

This covers my butt in any event. On any given day I can feel great exaltation that I have done something grand. I can scribble fiercely when my thoughts are leaping across the meadows of my mind like a happy little colt in the month of May, or my mind and writing can be as dry and arid, as cold and without life, as the Gobi desert - because even Nothing is Something.

I want to thank all of my fellow artists who work through other means and forms and who sell their work on the wonderful artist's site "Etsy," a place to buy and sell all things handmade, along with vintage items and supplies for their craft. They are a great group of people.

Those who have links to their site on my blog represent only a few of those whom I wish to include. Just click on one of those links and join the Etsy community. It is free. They are a great group of artists who have relieved me of my money in the most delightful of ways. If it weren't for their encouragement, I would have never shared my work through this blog.

Thank you my darling friends!

Enjoy my blog - The Poet or Not - More or Less

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Spirited Soloist

Many years ago, in the month of February, when spring came early to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, I was sitting in my rocking chair by a floor to ceiling window; I was reading late; it was past midnight. Our apartment was built on the top of another flat roofed building, so right outside this window was not only a view of the city but also a very good view of the rest of the roof.

On this particular night, winter reminded us that, although the weather had been unseasonably warm, it wasn't yet spring. The reminder was a violent storm of sleet and heavy winds. I couldn't have been more shocked when my reading was pleasantly interrupted by the sound of a songster singing for all it was worth right outside my window - sitting right there on the roof in the dark of night, in the wind and freezing rain. This little bird sang for some length of time; it was like a gift. I wrote the following poem. Like some of the others I've posted today, this one might not represent my best work; but it made me happy.

The Spirited Soloist

Frozen crystals beat a cacophony
Against the window pane,
Shattering the silence of night with
Wind and frozen rain.

Uncanny in its delicate power and
Beauty in its alabaster sheen,
Snow quilts the earth and sleeves
The branches of evergreen.

Next, dawn approaches, night fades
Albescent; Life quickens weary;
Awakening to an earth hibernated and
Made February dreary.

Yet, audacious Spring attends the dial,
And buds the tree branches;
While outside my window, a bird, in
Defiance of winter prances.

He beats his wings in a cadence to match
My heart and spirit - Sings his Song
With Proud Resonance, just loud
Enough for me to Hear It.

Another Apology to Caryn

I can't claim that the below poem is one of my best. But, I rather warned you when I said this was the blog of "The Poet or Not."

One winter day the ground was free of snow and the forecast gave us no warning when a sudden storm hit the Pocono Mountains and my husband and I found ourselves stuck at the bottom of the steep hill leading up to our community. Mothers who were meeting their kids at the bus stop were unable to make their way up this hill, and we found ourselves stuck at the bottom until everyone else had given up trying to tackle the steep slope.

Bruce is a great driver in the snow so we made it home. Within less than half an hour the woods around our home was transformed into the most beautiful winter scene. The snow was so heavy that many of the tree's branches were laying low to the ground. We were afraid that some of them were going to break from the weight, but by morning the snow had completely disappeared, as though it had never been.

I wrote this the following day. Several times I've sat and swivelled in my swivel chair, thinking I might bring some better literary talent to this piece of work; I did nothing but swivel. So here it is, just as it was.


The Luminary of the Day began its descent by degrees
Toward the Horizon; acquiescent to Twilight,
As the earth's spinning decrees.
Snow burdened clouds, driven by Northern Gales,
Migrated 'ore head and 'neath heav'ns floor,
Nature's Kite, Bearing a Squall, Winter's gift
to this Earth, a Generation given Rebirth.

A swirl of hoary snowflakes, dense and opaque,
Transforms the environs and different age make.
Where once the pines and spruce bore needles of green,
They now bow and embrace hooded cloaks of white.
Surrounding embranchments stretch outward and lean
To capture their own attire, generous and eager
For sharing their nature, to thrill and delight.

The Luminary of Night beams down on the scene,
Reflecting upward to'ard heaven, its radiance
Making the forest glisten, twinkle and gleam.
Courteous of life, the winds continue to blow,
so that, by Morn, before any damage is done,
The evergreens and branches are divested of snow.
The moon goes to rest and yet emerges the Sun.

Shakespearean Winter

QUIET! 'Gainst mine skin brushed Air's Breath,
Hastening to Chill, Inciting Wind's
Passion to another Winter Still. Welken
'bove adds its rejoinder, Rehearsals
Behind a Winter's Haze, Orchestrating
The Cradle Song of God's Harmony;
Thus begins this Annuals Laze.

ANON! Earth shall Slumber whilst snow, wind,
Ice and Rain, Artists of the Hour
Compile their Elements, Unleash their
Gentle Fury And Create by Divine Power
A Pantomime of Beauty, a Mute Song of
Muffled Silence, A Semblance of
Divergent Age. The Performance shall beckon.

Intoxicated by its Placid Vitality mine own Heart
Leaps upon The Stage. Mine own Spirit mergest
With the Vortex or Kaleidoscopic White Snow,
Gossamer Fair. Ah! Attempt to Match,
Attempt to Share Mine Own Enchantment,
Emancipate your own Perceptions and Transcend
Mine own Joy . . . . Only if you Dare!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Dream of Poets

There isn't a poet who doesn't want to see their work in print. A poet doesn't exist who doesn't want to see their work in a single publication authored by themselves. It sure is my dream.

In search of the dream, I used Google in hopes of finding small publishing companies that might give me a fair reading and be so bowled over by my words that they would be banging on my door begging for the opportunity to make a book few people would read and that would cost them money they would never recoup.

Instead, I found this pithy writing by a fellow poet and publisher of a small press in Easton, Pa. - a little city near enough I could communicate by carrier pigeon and the bird wouldn't have to stop for a respite on its journey. Being inundated with poets, such as myself, inspired the editor to create a form letter of, gasp, rejection to remind us of why we write and, oh how horrible the thought, of why we won't be published unless we pay for it ourselves. Here is her letter.

"Dear Would-Be Poet, If you are expecting to be paid for poetry, you are sadly misinformed about the genre. You are wasting your time writing poetry because you have missed the point of the entire effort. You have failed to understand that poetry doesn't pay, it costs. Writing poetry costs your heart and soul. It costs years of study, of reading, and of listening. Poetry costs going to readings not only to read your own work but to truly hear the work of others. Poetry isn't a paying job; it is a way of life. If you expect to get paid for your work, dear poet, look elsewhere. Poetry pays infinite intrinsic rewards and few, if any, external ones. Sincerely, the Editor."

God pity me. My dream is in tatters and I'll probably always be poor and unknown, like most poets. She goes on to remind us of these truths.

"Friends, you've got to love poetry to be a part of it. What else but a love of the art (and make no mistake about it, poetry is art) could explain endless hours spent on one poem -- or even one line -- squeezing it, rolling it, shaping it, into something that makes the connection between heart and paper via pen? Or driving an hour to stand with shaking knees behind a podium (or worse yet, just standing up in front of a group with no "prop"), to read one two-minute-or-less long poem? Or sending out submission after submission in hopes of publication; not in payment, but in publication.

"You've got to love something that gives such small repayment for devotion: the ink on a sheet of printed paper that spells out your heart with your name attached. And yet, friends, I've got to tell you that after more than 30 years of writing poetry, just seeing a poem of mine in print, with my byline, is worth everything, nothing more required. Funny, isn't it?"
Carole J. Heffley

That byline is worth more than money. When I was writing special interest articles for a local newspaper, I had to fight hard to get that byline. Ever notice that most newspaper articles don't have one of these coveted and precious bylines? Editors are stingy with them. Credit isn't always given where credit is due. I carried my scrap right to the mayor. If I didn't get a byline, the newspaper didn't get my articles, and, since I was writing about a wagon train that was traveling through our town, the editors really wanted my article. I won and was forevermore given appropriate credit.

Now, I rarely win. Journals want a particular style or subject and they have their own agenda. I can't write for the market. I can't study a hundred periodicals just to find out what is selling and then write accordingly. Hence, my dear followers, I've decided to share more of my work here on this blog. It may be the only opportunity I have to share my work. I've awakened from my dream to live reality and, if the dream ever comes true, that will just be the icing on the cake.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Some Days Thoughts Are Sad

Bittersweet Sorrow

I walked to the
edge of a cliff
and remembered
I couldn’t fly. I
prayed for wings
to carry me across
the dark abyss;
I sang a hymn,
a dirge, hoping
you would hear.
My mournful cry
went unheard; you
were nearby, yet
so far away and
my keening was
as silence in the
darkest loneliest
of nights. Your mystery
remained unequalled
while the moon cried
tears to bathe my
wounded heart of
a sorrow you never
knew, in a place you
could never go.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

In Honor of Eternal Friendship - For Rich C. Vietnam 1969-1972

With startling abruptness I lost contact with a dear friend who owns and lives on a ranch in Washington State. I've tried finding him on line, without success. This poem is in honor of our dear friendship, written with the desire to send it across the vast expanse of space, hoping that it somehow lands within his view. This one's for you, dearest sweet Rich.

A Poem in Honor of Eternal Friendship

Keeper of the Gate

The world around me accedes
to and welcomes darkness
and sleeps while I
remain awake, as the
Keeper of the Gate, content
to feel the earth breathe
and softly moan. The stars
that dot the sky with
pin points of flame makes
me believe you are still
out there, somewhere,
as I stand here, the
Keeper of the Gate, while
the herd of wild Mustangs
snuffle softly in their corral.
Birds, in the wee hours
of the morn, sing for awhile
with quiet little chirrups,
sensing my mood, as
Keeper of the Gate; they
beg me to cheer up too. Llamas,
Llola, spelled with two Ls
in honor of her species.
move and rest within their
pen and the Great Pyrenees dogs
are like me, the Keeper of the
Gate, as they protect the flocks,
the goats, whose kids stumble,
sliding across the floors of your
house, making themselves at
home and the sheep whose
lambs frolic and play beside
the kids, the stray cats and mutts,
the brood of hens that lay their
eggs and the old leghorn rooster
who gloats about the time.
Crickets have not yet gone to
rest; the katydids make a scratchy
tune – the nocturnal singing
insects sharing their hypnotic
musical songs of night in a
great musical fest. In the somnolence
of night, I, Keeper of the Gate,
imagine that I could be Nox, that
ancient Roman Goddess of Night.
I close my eyes, but not in sleep;
it is to see to the far Northwest,
and nearly three thousand miles
away, the Northern Lights. I
can also see Vietnam and re-read
the stories written but never
told. The bartender in Denver,
an airport cocktail lounge on
one leg of a route between Arkansas
and Washington, who charged
four bucks for a drink, was given
a twenty and then gave in return
change in a ten, a five and five
ones, tapped a hat that said Vietnam
1969-1972 and said, “Thank you.”
A house without a wife, but two
sons, traveling the god-awful
Sonoran Desert in a van called
home. The forty-two men who died
and another wished he had – face
crushed by the windshield of an
M60. These memories kept by
the Keeper of the Gate. A Time
Capsule, the custodian of precious
remembrance. The Moon is brilliant;
even I can see tonight’s rings that
shine around the sphere of night.
The Earth has a succulent odor
of its own, the nectar of sunset;
deeply I breathe and my chest rises,
as does my spirit, to soar far, far
away, hoping to find out where
you are, the roots of our friendship
reaching out across the air, like
the roots of the Banyan Tree,
searching for life, a place to grow, a
locality to live. Another’s presence
is sensed and the Keeper of the Gate
must leave, giving way to Aurora the
Goddess of Dawn; I hope that you
are out there somewhere and, wherever
that may be, you have felt the gentle
touch of a friend, one who has always
cared, one who is now the
faithful Keeper of the Gate.

For Rich, wherever he may be.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Poop is Offal

Greetings to all of my followers,
I decided that, before the month ends, I should at least post something new for those of you who have read my current scribblings to your heart's content. This is a tidy piece of prose written after Bruce, my husband, and I went for a hike in the Pocono Mts. Enjoy; it is all true, including the quotations from our conversations - which were brief as Bruce conducted his research through the realms of, yes, poop.

Poop is Offal

My husband, Bruce, and I both enjoy hiking. He likes to look around and observe nature as we move through State Game Lands. I like to push my body into turbo, moving as fast and as far as possible. Our differing styles would surely remain, but they would be greatly mitigated if I weren't so myopic. I don't readily notice that deer in the woods; or see how the bark of this tree differs from the bark of another. Bruce loves to notice all those things and more.

From such perspectives, Bruce and I set out one day for a hike in Pennsylvania's State Game Land. On such trips Bruce always takes the lead while I follow behind. This prevents me from running into trees, tripping over boulders or walking off a cliff. Bruce tries to move at a pace that will satisfy both of us. My heart rate can climb a bit; and he can stop to smell his roses. Trouble is we don't often want to smell the same scent...especially if it's offal.

You see, we are following the paw prints of two bobcats. On an earlier hike Bruce had found their den. I am excited to see this den; I want to hike at a pace faster than would permit the observation of animal poop. But Bruce relishes the opportunity to impart a nature lesson to a captive audience.

"Deer have been running through here. There's their trail," Bruce says with appropriate solemnity. "There is a pile of their poop! Goodness, look how big that pile is! These are pretty big deer tracks. If this wasn't a buck, it was an awfully big doe." Bruce says this with the greatest of glee.

At suitable moments I acknowledge his comments with a few little grunts and just continue moving along.

"Oop, wait a minute. These tracks here don't look like fox. They may be the tracks of our bobcats, but the prints are too old for me to tell. Hmmm, just a minute, here's some poop."

Picking up a stick, Bruce bends down and closely examines the little turds. Poking at the soft little nugget, he comments. "These are guts. Oh, and here is some fur. Could be rabbit hair. Here is the blood."

How charming. Bruce gives his undivided attention to solving this puzzle. Meanwhile, I enjoy the blue sky, the unseasonably warm February air and the blurry view of trees. I don't particularly care to examine the poop.

With a frown he concludes his investigation by observing some spots of blood a short distance from the turds. "Look, those are spots of fresh blood. Whatever it was that made these tracks killed something and was dragging it away. Maybe to feed its young."

To indicate that I have been paying attention, I proudly sum it up. "So, in other words, this spot has been the scene of a meal in and a meal out."

Absently Bruce replies, "Yeah, something like that."

We continue up the mountain. "Look the same animal drug a mole away. See the paw prints leading to that little hole in the snow?" Bruce asks, knowing he is onto something.

"Uh huh," I respond, giving the little hole a quick glance and return my eyes to the muzzy trail.

"Look here, Caryn. You can see where the Laurel has its growth spurt. The turkey will eat this part of the stem, and here you can see the plant's growth." Using his fingers to indicate an approximate space, he continues, "It grows about this much per season."

I arrange my features into something resembling great respect for the Laurel bush.

We move on a pace. "Look there! Turkey poop!"

In a tone of voice nothing like enthusiasm, I reply, "Fascinating."

Bruce's head spins my direction. "You didn't even look!" He accuses.

"Yes I did. It was back there on those leaves - little white dots of turd," I defend my honor. Bruce is satisfied.

Further along we find some paw prints of the bobcats. They are more recent and easily identified. "Look Bruce. There is another spot of blood." I am so pleased he missed it and I saw it.

"Yep, sure is Babes," Bruce awards me with a nod of respect. "You saw that one all on your own."

At the top of the mountain, Bruce recognizes the area and knows we are in the vicinity of the bobcat's den. The big cat’s prints mark the snow in every direction. We can see where the cat has chased a snow shoe rabbit. The poor little rabbit's prints give evidence of its horrifying escape.

Bruce shows me some Laurel leaves the rabbit has broken from the bush and nibbled on, leaving behind the remaining leaves for another meal. I am so relieved that the hair Bruce found in that first pile of poop didn't belong to this particular rabbit.

Bruce descends down a steep slope toward the spot where he found the bobcat’s den. Much to our disappointment, a tree has fallen over the burrow. We spend a few minutes enjoying the view. I can see a lovely entrancing blur of naked trees. The sky above us is simply spectacular. The white, downy clouds are hanging so low a child might have tried to reach up and touch them.

Bruce and I turn around and head home by a different route. Oh no. Will there be different piles of poop to examine? On our homeward walk we see the paw prints of a fox. Bruce points them out to me. I acknowledge them with my customary grunt. How awful, we lucked out on its offal.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Poetry in Pain

Watching a loved one die a slow death is one of the most painful things a human being can experience. My brother-in-law, Bill, succumbed to lung cancer in February of 2008.

Five years earlier he and my sister, Barbara, rescued a 5 month old infant from a homeless prostitute. The child's biological father was in jail. They loved and cared for this child as no one else could have. Haley is now six years old and quite a handful with ADHD, OCD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder, all of which can be part of the ADHD symptomology.

In December of 2007 my sister and her husband finally had the money to legally adopt Haley. I will never forget the look of love and satisfaction that crossed Bill's face when he arrived home from his final hospital stay. He had come home to die.

He and I were alone in the living room that had become his bedroom. I held his hand and told him that he was such a good man and how much I appreciated him as a father for Haley and a husband to my sister. Bill began to cry and shake his head back and forth. In a voice filled with pain he denied my words. I asked him why he felt that he was not a good man. I'll never forget what he said, "I can't even take care of my own family."

I reminded him of the recent change in Haley's last name to his and how much he and my sister had given to this child over the years, how much they loved and sacrificed for her. This little family wasn't among the middle class, not even the lower middle class. They struggled for everything they needed. Bill worked two jobs so Barbara could be a full time mother to Haley.

The next moment after the shedding of tears is also one I will never forget. When I reminded him of the final formalizing of Haley's adoption, Bill stopped crying. His eyes moved to look upward at the ceiling and a smile of such peace, serenity and satisfaction transformed his face. He said two unforgettable words, "My daughter."

During the time that Bill battled this cancer, I wrote the following poems. I never shared them with him nor with my sister. I was afraid they might read into them something negative, something hopeless and that wasn't my intention. After Bill passed away I gave them to my sister. They speak for themselves. I need write little more.

The Warrior

MALEVOLENT CANCER dropped into their lives like a
METEORITE; but it did not bring with it Radiant Light.
Instead it brought an Atmosphere of DARKNESS, an uncalled for,
Unwelcome Roiling Entanglement with DEATH.

And the man found himself to be A WARRIOR as he took
Umbrage with this Immoral EVIL which Threatened
To transmute him from Life Into a Mortuary of Death.
He Advanced His Weapons of Fortitude and Strength.

THE WARRIOR who raised himself up from the Somnambulate
Numbness that comes from Death’s First Encounter.
CANCER, that foul fiend, that is Ingloriously Dishonorable,
Impersonally Murderous, and Brutally PILLAGES the

Body of THE WARRIOR who will Never Admit Defeat. CANCER
Contends with THE WARRIOR in a War of Attrition
That momentarily strips away from THE WARRIOR everything
Inconsequential to LIFE and THE WARRIOR becomes

A Toughened MAN who lives a LIFE made Lighter by
The Monumental Realization of the truer REALITY
Of Greater Priority to Those Grand Gifts not of Man’s Creation;
THE WARRIOR, with Guts of Iron and the HEART OF A HERO.

A Warrior in Death

He withstood the burden of his life in the face of death,
An Island of godless predation and wounded
Dignity. The author of Death wrote a requiem which would
Not be denied and life was not to be negotiated.

Those who loved him had to accept that all who live
Must eventually admit that the sense of human
Consciousness will inevitably be one of tragedy and the
Pain will pillage us of our desired misconceptions

Of Immortality. The horrifying truth will be so much more
Than we think we can endure. Mortality becomes
A distinguished Ancient dressed in Rags whose greater
Wisdom teaches us that we live in a delusional world,

With always a Future, when all we ever really have is Now.
Death will always unsheathe his sword and remind
Us of the truth - that our lives shall inevitably be the sum
Of the Monumentality of Human Disaster.

But, as long as we have Now one must see beyond the
Terrible, hideous affliction of our nature toward
Death, to the person we can be. Grief and Sorrow for those
Loved ones dead will be fresh each awakening.

Benevolent sleep will have been kind and offered us a
Brief respite from our sadness, it will have born our
Pains, causing them to recede like the outgoing tide of Sea.
Yet Now will intrude. We too must be A Warrior in Death.

The following poem was written for my sister. It was a horrible time. My husband, Bruce, and I had returned to our home so we could take care of some personal affairs. Had we known that Bill would pass away while we were gone, we never would have left. I still struggle with feelings of guilt. I should have remained with my sister, Bill and Haley. Barbara spent the final moments of Bill's life next to his bed, holding his hand.

She called me moments later. That particular memory is a blur; the images in my mind snowy like a black and white screen television with poor reception. Even the drive back to her home resides within the realm of the same obscurity. But, the time is captured in the following poem written for my sister. The first several lines were composed during that hellish journey.

She Cries

Rubber eats up the road,
like time ate up a life,
and we travel
toward the pain that
will descend upon our shoulders,
as teardrops well and drip from
a quivering chin. Death is chimerical,
a fire breathing dragon
biding its time, greedy and
implacable, refusing to be
forestalled or attenuated by love. We
will witness the indescribable
grief that we cannot imagine.
It will swell up from
her heart and spill from her eyes,
blue as the lake that contains
all the tears ever shed for the loss
of one who has been
loved so intimately.
She will have wept with the
regressive changes in his body
as Death mercilessly consumed
all that he was in substance.
The tires carry us closer and closer
to this place of affliction;
I hold my breath and
pray for intrepidity
where she may be vulnerable.
As we draw ever nearer
to where I will find
her in anguish, my skin crawls
until it shrinks, drawing me
closer to my inner core from
where my endurance must come.
We find her brave and stoic,
yet tender and frail.
Her mourning is
private, but I know her
sorrow must have grown to
become the whole of her existence.
The house is weary
and lonely, something is
missing. We know
it is a life, a man
whose voice we wish to hear,
just once more, a hand
opening a door, feet walking
across the carpet, a television
for background noise.
There is the aroma of
brewed coffee, but the
table is missing a cup and
in place of his chair there is
one with wheels. Even the
living room has been
stripped of him; perhaps
this is a blessing and
a gift for fortitude.
She cries; I know;
she is my sister.
Heartbreak has not
changed her, my
Sister of Strength.
Even in heartache she laughs.
In the days that come and
on the loneliest of nights,
she keeps her composure.
But, I know she cries;
we share a Sisterhood.
She cries and the salt
is on the palate of my tongue.
I know; she cries, and
I absorb the tears.
Wounding sorrow makes
us marvel that life goes on in its
perpetual echo, seemingly
unaware of our wretchedness.
She cries; I know.

This final poem was written for my niece. Last Christmas, as she and I stood by the Christmas tree, Haley said the words that are written in this poem. My sister - who was sitting on the floor with her laptop - and I locked eyes and the moment became a long pause as though someone hit the right button to freeze the moment in memory. The poetry speaks for itself.

And, My Daddy Died

Her eyes, the color
of a summer’s sky,
gazed so innocently
into mine and her
thick blond hair fell
to her waist in a
cascade of curls,

as she stood before me
and told me something
of her world. “I
have three dogs, two cats,
a bird, Mommy, Cousin
Putz, Aunt Caryn, Uncle Bruce
and my daddy died.”

I felt her little hands grip my
heart when she said to me,
“Aunt Caryn, you say that,
what I just said.” A pause,
pregnant with pain, closed
my lips; my sister’s eyes met
mine until I, too, could say:

“Haley has three dogs,
two cats, a bird, Mommy,
Cousin Putz, Aunt Caryn,
Uncle Bruce and her daddy died.”
Her daddy saw her last Christmas,
and he struggled through mid
February; a child watched

her Daddy die. While Mommy
held his hand, she danced
at the foot of his bed,
not understanding that
he spoke his final words,
and someday she would say:
“And, my daddy died.”

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

When Children Become Victims

I knew I would address this at some point in my writing here; I just didn't know when. The time to do so would come around naturally and I would be ready.

My focus isn't solely, or even mostly, on my own experience; it is just the one I know best. Many books have been written and read about other children who were abused and many of them speak a louder volume than mine; I just know mine best.

My purpose is twofold. I hope that any who may come across this blog and read it will benefit in some manner. If you are a good parent but you know a child who is being abused, don't look the other way; report it. Don't blame the child; be more kind and compassionate - just your smile or a few words in passing can make a difference in that child's life. Give your children even more love.

If you are a "bad" parent, then take several steps back from your life and make the necessary readjustment to become a better parent. Reach into your heart as far as necessary in order to make things right. No matter where you may be in the raising of your children an "about face" will bring joy and happiness. Children are not only very resilient they are also very forgiving. Even if you can't address the acts of abuse out loud, acknowledge them to yourself without turning away from them and move forward in a different direction. You will change your child's life, both now and in their future.

If you are a child who is being abused, speak out, ask for help, don't feel obligated to protect your parents; you must first protect yourself. If you are an adult child who endured parental abuse, then I hope you will find something here that will help you.

A long time ago I had a dream that will never be forgotten, nor will the emotion conjured by that dream be lost; I will always have it. I dreamed that my father was a different man. He didn't look different because I never clearly saw his face within this dream; but he was a father who loved me unconditionally. Something happened; I had failed in some way.

This father of my dreams was a rock, an anchor. He supported me; he loved me anyway and he made me feel so secure, so well loved. When I awakened I felt a long moment of awe. This is how it would have felt! This is the glorious sense of security there could have been and I had never known it. The dream was like a precious gift. Although I hadn't truly lived it; it was enough to have had such a glimpse into what unconditional love would have been. I often relive that dream.

It wasn't only my father who was abusive; my mother was too. But, you'll read something of that in my essay "Good Parents/Bad Parents." I've nothing more to add. First, I will share a poem written some time ago, then the essay and that will be enough. In order to keep all of this together, I'll include it in one post.

For the Battered Child

A man, like a tower, eyes wild with
Fury, face reddened and fists clenched,
Determined to make another cower,
A multitude of defenseless offspring whose

Eyes widen and weep silent tears beseeching mercy
Never granted. Days are dreadful. Nights are haunted.
Feeble chins, they tremble, but the resilient
Spirit somehow remains undaunted.

Yet in that moment of terror heartbeats
Quicken. Little hands are raised to protect
A face that is stricken first with incredulity
And then with blows from flesh and blood.

The room becomes smaller and filled with
Furniture. No matter how many doorways
There is no place to run. The hammering
Won’t stop until he knows he has won.

All that is needed is one drop of blood or
A slump to the floor, just any indication
That fury can control, conquer and maim
Proof that this being can’t take any more.

Sometimes in the gloom, with the dying of the light,
Sobs erupt, a tiny chest heaves. A heart is broken
But courageous still. Busted lips flutter like the wings
Of a butterfly. An anguished prayer is spoken.

“Please don’t let my bones be broken. How can
I explain if my eye is blackened? Dear God, help me be good.
Give me the right words, the most humble posture.
Help me to be clear and not misunderstood.”

These children are hidden and even if they live
A lonesome grave is dug as stability and innocence dies.
Another requiem is said. One more soul has been bled.
Somewhere in this world another Battered Child cries.

Caryn Arnold

Good Parents/Bad Parents Essay
Won “Writer’s Hood” Contest April 2003

I felt loved, special and secure until my mother fell down the steps. That is when I began to feel guilty, frightened and ashamed. I entered the first grade when I was six years old so this incident must have occurred when I was about the age of five. I remember that I had not yet started to attend school. I did not yet have a yardstick to measure the differences between my parents and those of others. I had not yet learned what the term dysfunctional meant. Indeed, I didn’t know that I too would, for many years, also be dysfunctional.

My parents were having an argument. Mother ran upstairs to their bedroom. My father remained in the kitchen. In the midst of their quarrel Mother would call. “Caryn, come up here!” I would go running to her. My father would then call “No Caryn, you want to stay with me.” I would turn and run down the hallway toward the kitchen. I recall the confusion in my brain and I can feel my little legs running. Back and forth I ran between my parents. Up and down the stairs I ran. Until my mother dashed from her bedroom and reached to grab me before I could turn and run away. This is when she fell down the stairs, tripping over an untied shoelace.

I thought that I was to blame. This was the beginning of feeling unloved and insecure. Or am I mistaken? I have an earlier memory. We lived in two downstairs rooms on the other side of this same house. My bed was a cot positioned against the kitchen wall. At night I would hallucinate. I know these were not dreams. By my cot, against the wall, I would see a cave wherein lived two bears. They would threaten me. “Caryn, you have been a bad girl today so we are going to come out!” I kept my replies silent. “No, no! I was a good girl today!” Most nights the bear remained at the entrance to the cave. Their threats continued until I fell asleep.

I also have good memories. My father was unemployed, seeking work. My mother worked at a factory next door making panties and bras. While she worked Daddy and I would clean the house and I would be allowed to dust the furniture. I remember that Father had to pick me up so I could reach the top of our Buffet. My favorite things to dust were the many books kept stored in the cabinet of our used black and white television set. While Mommy worked Daddy cooked and cleaned. He also taught me to read before I entered the first grade.

Daddy also taught me to sit on a barstool and quietly sip a Coke, occasionally dipping potato chips in the fizzy liquid, while he drank beer or liquor. He would make me promise not to tell Mother where we had been. Sometimes before he went to the Mountain Chateau to drink he would drop me off along side the road near woods filled with Evergreen trees. I would play amongst the trees, hiding beneath their umbrella of needles until Daddy would blow the horn signaling me that it was time to return home.

Often there ensued a scene of Domestic Violence. Less likely, but on at least one occasion there was humor. I had once told Daddy that “of course I can keep a secret.” Later while my parents were watching television I sauntered into the living room, sat on Daddy’s lap and said “See, I told you I could keep a secret. I didn’t tell Mommy we were at the Mountain Château!” Fortunately Mother was in the mood to overlook such transgressions.

Such was the substance of life until September 1963 when I entered the first grade. My first day of school was an exciting time for all three of us. One of my favorite cartoons was The Flintstones. Mommy and Daddy surprised me with a square metal lunch bucket featuring Dino playing the role of school bus. Inside this lunch box was a little thermos decorated with The Flintstone characters Wilma, Fred, Barney and Betty. My parents knew just the thing that would make my first day of school less frightening. In retrospect I know my mother must have sewed dozens of bras and panties to pay for this gift.

My first grade teacher brought to my parent’s attention that I spoke with a slight lisp. I could read but I said “Watch thally play and thee thee thpot run.” My parents agreed that I should be enrolled in a special speech class. For the next two months my childish mantra was “See Sammy snake slithering across the green grass.” My father was endlessly patient as he worked with me, trying to teach me to control my tongue for the proper sounding of S. What he would or could not control was his drinking and violent temper. And Life was about to teach us that much is beyond our control, that disaster can change our entire future.

In November of that same year our house burnt to the ground with nothing salvaged. I didn’t know that the strain of this tragedy would be the catalyst to plunge my parents into greater dysfunction; and I would be in the center of a vortex of violence that would escalate until I left home at the age of seventeen.

Several weeks before Christmas we found a new home. My father found a job and my mother had quit working. December 31, 1963 my baby sister, Barbara, was born. This was no surprise to me. I had been looking forward to her birth. For many months Mommy had been sewing baby kimonos and bellybands. All of which had been lost in the fire. My mother’s heart must have ached when she thought of all the hours of love that had gone into the sewing of those baby clothes. It must have been a tremendously difficult time for my parents. The Red Cross had assisted in providing us with furniture. A Church group shared with us other of life’s necessities.

Monday through Friday my father was a hard working man, still prone to outbursts of anger and even rage; yet he provided for us materially. Starting early Saturday afternoons and continuing into the late hours of the night my father drank whiskey mixed with soda. Alcohol exacerbated his quick and unreasonable outbursts of violent temper. Those were days and nights filled with fear and trepidation.

It was my job to scurry to and from the nearest little market for supplies of soda. He drank whiskey with Squirt. I’ll never forget the name of that soda. It will always bring back horrible memories. Sunday was the day to tip toe around the house while Daddy recuperated from his hangover, preparing to return to work on Monday.

It was on one of these Sundays that I recall the first savage battering. I know it was Sunday because my parents always took a nap on Sunday afternoon. It was my job to feed my father’s hunting dog. I never needed a reminder. Every day at four o’clock I fed Rex. On Sundays, if my parents were still sleeping, I was to gather the day’s food scraps, add dog kibble and make that daily walk to the end of the property where Rex was housed in his dog box.

It was winter and my sister was still a newborn child in her bassinette. I prepared the dog’s food and waded through the snow out to his box. I was to use the back door because it entered into a large pantry/mud room. From this unheated room was the door to the kitchen. When I returned to the house the door to the outside was, as usual, very difficult to close and even more difficult to latch with the dead bolt. I struggled with it until I believed it was properly latched. It wasn’t.

By the time my parent’s awakened, even though the kitchen door had been closed; the frigid winter air had permeated the house through the wind-blown back door. Mommy and Daddy dashed down the stairs to find out what had happened to the furnace. Barbara was sleeping in her bassinette. They were afraid she was going to become ill from the cold. It didn’t take Daddy long to discover the source of the cold.

He was furious with my “stupidity.” I stood in the kitchen doorway that led to the dining room appalled and humiliated that I was to blame. My father rushed at me and began banging my head against the doorway. Over and over again he bashed my head, all the while screaming that if the baby got sick “it’s going to be your fault.” When I fell to the floor I was violently ill. My mother did nothing. I was sent to my room and later my father came upstairs to make sure I was “okay.” I recall very little of what happened afterward. I can only remember pain accompanied by an overwhelming sense of shame.

I remember another beating, one more of countless. This time my father used his fists. Once again I was in the kitchen doorway. Was I always looking for an escape? I can still see my father’s fists coming at my face. Like someone who has died and claims to have seen herself from above, I can see myself lying on the floor. My mother was at the kitchen sink. Our eyes locked as I silently begged for intervention. She looked away. My mother always looked away. She would stand up for herself but never for me. Sometimes she even instigated my father’s attacks.

But she was not oblivious. Many years later, while I was in high school, I made an innocent remark that caused my mother to reveal not only her own pain but also her own lack of control. She was in her bedroom folding clothes. I had just returned from delivering a care package to a very poor family who lived down the road. I entered my mother’s bedroom from where I could see this family’s home. Their little daughter was playing in the yard. I commented to my mother that I felt sorry for Lori Ann because her father drank, came home drunk and then her parents fought. I failed to se the parallel in my own life. My mother was not so blind. Furiously she attacked me, pummeling me over the head with her fists and screaming. “Do you think you had it any better? Do you think you had it any better?”

I left her room in greater mental wonderment than in physical pain. In that moment I had an epiphany; somehow my mother could not help herself. Did that mean that my father was also at the mercy of his own torment? I did not understand but I was changed by this event. I realized that I, my mother, father and siblings were all in life together. We all had to make choices; and decisions were not easy. Life wasn’t always as we wanted or as we had planned.

But my mother was a good homemaker. We always had clean clothes that were neatly ironed. When there was no money for new school clothes my mother sewed beautiful dresses for me. We never went without a meal. Every morning when Mother would awaken me for school there was always something prepared for my breakfast. In the winter it was something hot. Our home was always clean, neat and tidy.

Life sometimes smiles fortune upon us. When I was in the third grade we moved into the upstairs of my paternal grandparent’s eleven room house. It was my grandmother who saved my life. It was she who would intervene when my father’s violence erupted. Once when my father was slamming the back of my head down into the porcelain kitchen sink it was my grandfather who stopped the abuse.

Oh yes, there are many bad memories. They appear before me like pictures in a family photo album and all of them are painful. The bad memories far outweigh the good. I lived in fear until I moved away from home. But I loved my family. I didn’t leave until I had graduated from high school. I had a job working as an Executive Secretary and I was capable of supporting myself.

In a rage and in a state of mind uninhibited by alcohol my father entered my room and hit me so hard that I landed on the floor behind my bedside table. For the first time I felt an anger that overpowered my fear. Staggering to my feet with my fists clenched I glared at my father, my eyes daring him to hit me again. My own father challenged me to a fistfight. I knew I had to leave home.

For three months both of my parents refused to speak to me. But, they never threw me out of the house. I would visit and be a silent presence. I loved my brothers and sister. I went home to see them. My grandparents invited me to share their Sunday dinner. And I loved my mom and dad. Oh, there were many times when I would walk the streets at night crying because I missed life with a family! I could stand on a bridge and look across the water and see my parent’s home. I would stare into the windows of my old room hoping to see my sister walk across what had been our shared space.

For many years I have pondered such memories. I have dissected them and searched for understanding. Mom and Dad were not the traditional “good” parents; yet I cannot judge them as “bad.” I’ve learned that life just doesn’t always help us to make the best of choices. Have I forgiven them? I’m not certain because I’m not sure there is anything to forgive. They did the best they could with the skills they had. Before they were my parents they were Fred and Ann, two teenagers who fell in love, quit high school and had a child. Their house burnt to the ground before the birth of their second child. They had two more children, both boys.

I cannot deny that my life has been affected by the physical and emotional abuse. My optic nerves have been damaged by the trauma to my head. Some of the rods in my eyes have been damaged further complicating a visual difficulty. I will never drive a car. But I can still read and my father taught me the love of books. My mother lacked many of the maternal skills which would have made her a “good” mommy; but she was barely sixteen when I was born. She did teach me other things like sharing. My mother did without new clothing and fancy furniture so her children could have the necessities of life.

Someone once told me that when people do things that seem wrong they either don’t know any better or they have a reason. I can’t see any reason for why my parents abused me. I can’t even say that they didn’t know any better. In addition to the physical injuries I have suffered emotional scars. But a scar is sensitive so I have become a more compassionate and tolerant person. I have no need to confront my parents with our past. Because it is our past and it was our life, the one we had lived together.

Our parents are our memories until we become adults mature enough to understand that first they are human, just like ourselves. They make and continue to make decisions. Some of them are splendid and some of them are mistakes.

I too will make errors in judgment. I’m quite sure that I already have and on many occasions. But time is life and it moves forward ever so quickly. All too soon I will grow old and my parents will grow even older. My past is part of me but it is not the whole. My parents poor parenting skills were part of them but they are so much more than just my parents. They are Mom and Dad. They are Fred and Ann. They are deserving of unconditional love.

I know that they love me too. Life fooled them and things went awry. Events and actions snowballed into an avalanche of chaos and disorder, violence and abuse. But I have learned to swim and make a breathing space for myself. I hope that Mom and Dad can do the same because then we shall be rescued from ourselves.
The footnote included below was not a part of the original essay sent to Writer’s Hood. I was limited to the number of words the essay could contain to qualify for the contest.

Footnote: Since writing this essay I have begun therapy to work through the parts of my past that haunt me. Ironically the things that made me suicidal were not the things my parents had done to me. It was a peculiar state of mind that made me wish to erase the past from their minds. My father is in denial. He would never admit to the abuse. My mother knows and she carries tremendous guilt.

I knew I needed help when during a visit with my parents my father made a remark about my sister’s ex-husband. Dad said “I always thought that Bill had probably been abused. I just had a feeling about it.” My mother was sitting across the table from me. Her eyes briefly held mine, she bowed her head and I thought she was going to cry. My mother doesn’t cry. My heart broke. As my husband drove along the turnpike toward our home I had an almost uncontrollable desire to open the car door and fall into the lane of traffic. There were other suicide attempts and most of them caused by feelings of helplessness to change the past for my parents – to replace any bad memories with good. Or at least to eliminate their memory of the past.

Therapy hasn’t blighted the love I feel for my mother and father. But I have been helped to realize that they DID make choices and they could have chosen different ones. They really were not at the mercy of some uncontrollable force that drove them to violence. I now realize that they must live with their memories because they created them. I am not responsible.

My mother now admits that she doesn’t particularly like children. She certainly isn’t a good grandmother. We were all told that if we ever had children she would never baby sit for us. Well…I guess that was being honest eh?

I chose to remain childless. By the time I was thirteen I had decided I would never have children. My reasons were fallacious. I thought that having children gave you unremitting power over another human being and that power could break them. Never having had a normal childhood made me believe that my experience would or could also be the experience of my own offspring. I didn’t know about multi-generational dysfunction, I just knew I never wanted to hurt another child as I had been hurt.

My mother also thrust the responsibility of raising, disciplining and caring for her other children to me. My youngest sibling, Allen, is more my son than my brother. I was fourteen when he was born. It was me who answered his cries in the middle of the night. He remembers how I used to rub his arms and back if he awakened in the middle of the night and needed soothing. He recalls the lullabies I sang as he fell asleep.

When I moved away from home he and my sister, Barbara, would often meet me at a local restaurant and we would share a “family” meal. Allen spent the weekends with me. But it wasn’t until his late twenties that he told me how abandoned he felt when I left home. It had left him with some scars. Fortunately, we were able to discuss our past and resolve some of the things that haunted him.

Before I left home my father told me “You will never get out from under my thumb.” He meant it. It has been a very long haul. For many years, even after I married, he could manipulate me. He saw my husband as an extension of me and Bruce has had to endure much from my parents. In a way, he is a victim too.

My mother tries desperately to make up for the past. When we visit she can’t do enough for us. She prepares our favorite food. She loves Bruce as much as she loves me. We have become friends and confidantes. My father and I are on good terms but there are still occasions when he tries to manipulate me and my “obstinacies” baffle him. It is almost funny.

I will never be that child in my dream; I'll never be the adult that child would have become, but I've found a niche for myself in the world. I think I've learned much about people and become more tolerant of others. I'ved said enough!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Pleasures of Being Alone and Never Lonely

"The man who has no refuge in himself, who lives, so to speak, in his front rooms, in the outer whirlwind of things and opinions, is not properly a personality at all. He floats with the current, who does not guide himself according to higher principles, who has no ideal, no convictions-such a man is a mere article of furniture-a thing moved, instead of a living and moving being- an echo, not a voice. The man who has no inner life is the slave of his surroundings, as the barometer is the obedient servant of the air at rest, and the weathercock the humble servant of the air in motion."
Henri Frederic Amiel

Monday, June 22, 2009

Poetry on the Internet - Loss of First Publisher's Rights

Well, this is a source of consternation! Some of the best literary journals where I hope to someday share my poetry will not accept anything that has been posted anywhere on the internet. So, beware my scribbling friends. Unless you choose to primarily share your poetry with the world by means of your blog or through some other internet means, be very careful what you post. The literary journal "Poetry" is one such journal. Of course, this standard doesn't apply to all literary journals. There are still many that will accept work that has been on the internet.

There is also a lot to be said for just tossing all of those journals out the window; there could be a sense of satisfaction in rejecting them for a change - give them a taste of their own medicine. Sharing our writing by means of a blog or through any of those other on-line sources could be quite satisfying. Lord knows there isn't any money to be made in poetry anyway. And, most of us have to die before we acquire any real notoriety. If "Poetry" hasn't accepted any of my precious pennings by the time I'm, say, 90 years old, I'll gladly post them on my blog if I still remember where it is and my arthritic fingers can still type.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

A Diatribe Against the intellectualism of all Literature

Well, (you'll find I like to introduce lots of things with this word) I suppose this is another "Apology to Caryn." None of my literary friends have appreciated my little tale of "Characters in a Small Town." They have all asked me the same darn question: "What is your point? Are you just listing a bunch of characters without any plot? Where is your research? You must take this work and do something with it, maybe do some research about small towns in the United States and then make some point."

I've thought about that - for about ten seconds. Then, I have asked myself, and them too if they would have waited long enough to question, why does this work have to be literary? Is there a good reason why something can't be written without any plot in mind? And, what is wrong with listing a group of real characters from my small town and narrating some of their foibles? Does it have to be intellectual?

No, it doesn't. Actually, it would be quite ruined if I did "research" and turned this non-story into something much more cerebrally challenging. I haven't chosen this method because I don't appreciate more lofty literature. I'm fairly well-educated and I've read and still reread Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, along with all of those other great literary chaps.

By golly, I can boast that I've read War and Peace three times. My library is considered very eclectic so I stick out my tongue to those who would never be able to, for instance, enjoy Janet Evanovich's character Stephanie Plum because it is simple slap-stick humor. That defines "Characters in a Small Town." None of these people have been developed from my imagination. The only imagination provided has been in how I've chosen to tell you about them, the order in which I present them and what, specifically, I think their most hilarious qualities were.

Oh My God! I've just had an incredible epiphany! Maybe these people from my small town were so incredible that those who critiqued this tale thought they WERE made up characters! Well! That would explain why they think there should be plot! If they believed this was a list of fictional characters with fictitious character traits, no wonder they scorned this work of mine and considered it half-donkeyed. I assure you, my readers, I shared my growing up years with these individuals - and individuals they were. I hope you read it more kindly.

Characters in a Small Town

Characters in a Small Town

It started with Blabber Lips. My parents and I had recently moved to a small town in Pennsylvania, and this lady with the most spectacularly red protrusive lips attracted my attention. Her ample lips transmogrified her face into a caricature. She must have worked at some nearby factory because I always fell in step with her as I walked home from school.

I was in the first grade and adults attracted my interest in a most peculiar way. I found them much more fascinating than my schoolmates. The lips on this delightful adult were much less instruments of speech than a piece of furniture she wore on her face. They were worthy of beguilement. My mother disagreed. She forbade me to walk home with this marvelous lady. Mom called her a gossip and blabber lips. Well, I didn’t know what a gossip was but I could tell by my mother’s tone that it wasn’t complimentary. I did think my mother should have been more charitable toward my friend’s lips.

My mother was delirious with horror at my continued camaraderie with Blabber Lips. Since my mother had not thought to enlighten me as to the meaning of gossip, I innocently told Blabber Lips (I never called her this to her face.) that my mother had forbidden me to walk along with her because she was a gossip. I’ll never forget how those red appendages formed a huge “Oh!” of surprise at this revelation. Our house, and the end of the street Blabber Lips and I shared, was separated by a bridge crossing the Casselman River. It was at this point Blabber Lips and I would separate so my mother couldn’t very easily witness the continuation of my society with this fascinating lady.

There was a genuine Lady who lived a few blocks up the street from us. Her name was Mrs. Fhauler and she owned a small grocery store. Since it was primarily my duty to make runs to her shop, it was me who cultivated her closest friendship to our family. Mrs. Fhauler subscribed to Life magazine. I would sit in a large foyer entrance to her store and read the latest issue while she filled my mother’s grocery order.

My father had taught me to read before I entered the first grade, so my proficiency in reading was far advanced. Mrs. Fhauler appreciated this, but she did not like the pronunciation of some of my words. For instance: I always asked for ketchup with the emphasis on “chup.” That is just the way our family said ketchup. Unfortunately for me, the brand of ketchup sold by Mrs. Fhauler was spelled “Catsup.” She always held the bottle before my eyes and asked me to spell this loathsome word. She refused to sell this red condiment to me until I pronounced the word correctly, according to the combination of sounds printed on the bottle.

The building that housed her store was of great interest to me. The floors were of shiny hardwood and inside the foyer was a huge beautiful staircase to a second floor that Mrs. Fhauler let out to tenants. I desperately wanted to climb this staircase and discover the mysteries above. I never had this opportunity. But, Mrs. Fhauler did take me on a tour of her private quarters behind the store. We spent a great deal of time in her bedroom as she shared with me pictures of her family, pieces of favorite jewelry and every other item in her ownership she thought I might value. I was enthralled and pleased that she thought so highly of me as to share these beloved and private objects.

In fact, Mrs. Fhauler thought so highly of me that she requested permission from my parents to take me to a Mother/Daughter Dinner being held at her church. My parents were equally impressed by her high regard of their daughter, so consent was instantaneous. Mrs. Fhauler purchased a new dress and a pair of white gloves for me to wear to this dinner. Before the illustrious evening she also sat me down at her own dinner table and taught me proper dinner manners. I was quite embarrassed when, during the dinner, I used my thumb to push some elusive peas into my spoon. The lack of propriety did not go unnoticed. Mrs. Fhauler quickly taught me that the proper way to capture resistant morsels was to use the knife to push the food onto the appropriate utensil.

There was one other lady with whom I became acquainted while living on the south-side of town. Her name was Vera. She worked at the Dairy Dale Restaurant four buildings up from our house. She took a special liking to me, so I always tried to capture her attention when I stopped for an ice cream cone. She would fill the cone to its greatest capacity.

I also liked it when she was my waitress when I dined at this restaurant. My parents never ate dinner out, but they allowed me to go out to dinner at this restaurant with my friends or cousins. But, oh how abysmally Mrs. Fhauler failed in her lessons of proper deportment in the area of public food consumption. Invariably, my first act was to pour sugar from the glass container into my hand and lick it off. In those days sugar didn’t come in individual packets. The waitresses chastised me for this glaringly rude abuse of their sweetener. Vera was much more tolerant. Once, when I spilled the entire contents of the container onto the floor, it was she who came running to clean the mess before other employees became aware of my latest errant behavior.

I think if it hadn’t been for Vera I would have been banished from this diner. It was she who also intervened in an altercation between me and another waitress. I ordered a cheese sandwich. In our home, a cheese sandwich was always a grilled cheese sandwich. I wasn’t aware that some people buttered their bread and slapped a piece of hard cheese between the slices and ate such a repulsive substance of nourishment. I ordered a cheese sandwich and it was the latter that came gracelessly to my table. I was indignant. The waitress was equally indignant. She proceeded to clear up the matter of how a cheese sandwich differed from a grilled cheese sandwich. Without the intervention of Vera, I would have been forced to consume my cheese sandwich! Vera politely grilled my order. Vera was quite a character. When she wasn’t working, she spent the majority of her time sitting on a barstool in one of our town’s barrooms.

Then, in the middle of my third grade year of school, we moved to the part of town called “The Bottom.” This was quite literally the end of town. The second house down from ours was the last house within the township. It was also the home of another town character, Cruella. Cruella lived alone, and in all the years she lived in that house we never saw any friends or family visiting. Just the house alone was enough to cause some curiosity. It lacked siding and was a plain board house.

Cruella was convinced that, if we kids in the neighborhood, rode our bikes or tricycles on her sidewalk, we were going to break it. Children are notoriously cruel. We deliberately rode our bicycles down her piece of pavement. Invariably, Cruella would catapult herself out her front door screaming at us to get off her sidewalk. We would laugh with great glee while, poor Cruella, in a state of hysteria, would threaten to beat us if she could catch us. Sometimes, we would try to be very quiet and sneak our forbidden rides on her pedestrian path, but she always caught us. I swear she must have sat at her window all the live long day watching for us. Much to the consternation of the neighbors, Cruella also fed about thirty or more stray cats.

My next new friend in “The Bottom” was a sincere gentleman. His name was Cass and he was blind. On the bottoms of his shoes he wore cleats that made a loud grating sound on the paved alley beside our house. I could hear him coming a block away; I would run to meet him. I had great respect for Cass. Everyday he walked down our sidewalk to the outside of town. He told me he had a relative, who lived outside the borough, with whom he shared dinner everyday. I would link my arm in his, (he never used a cane) and we would share a companionable walk to the end of Cruella’s sidewalk. Cruella didn’t mind this.

I was always amazed that he recognized me before I spoke. He would always say, “Here is my little lady.” One day I waited for Cass to come and he didn’t. He didn’t come the next day, or the day after that. I found out he had died. I don’t know if I ever stopped missing him.

Life is always bittersweet. It would be a perfect world if there were no sadness to disrupt our joy. But life isn’t perfect. Another friend acquired in “The Bottom” was a beautiful woman who remained a mystery to me. She doesn’t qualify as “a character” but my memories of the adults who peopled my young life would be incomplete without the inclusion of Cookie.

I met her one day when I was riding my bicycle behind her house. She was sitting on a swing beneath a grape arbor, and I was instantly attracted to her incredible beauty. Cookie had pale skin, black hair and lovely violet eyes. She always wore a diaphanous white nightgown with a matching negligee. Cookie was usually accompanied by a Cocker Spaniel named Christmas. In the summer, I visited Cookie everyday. We would sit on the swing in silence. I knew there was something most strange about Cookie, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I certainly knew it was odd not to converse. Instinctively, I kept our friendship secret. I feared that somehow discovery would take her away from me. She seemed to genuinely enjoy my silent companionship.

But one day she wasn’t beneath the arbor. I rode my bike to the front of her house and saw her sitting at an opened upstairs window. She didn’t speak but she motioned with her hand, giving me permission to sit on the swing under the arbor. I preferred to avoid those lonesome vines. Everyday I would ride to the front of her house, and everyday she would be sitting at the same upstairs window. I would stand, straddling my bike, and gaze up at her, silently wishing for her to join me under the arbor. I only asked her once, and she just shook her head no. A few weeks, after the beginning of this change, Cookie committed suicide. I was devastated. My parents never knew, but I went to the funeral home. It was a closed casket, but nonetheless I paid my respects and said goodbye. It took me about thirty-five years to come to grips with this loss. I finally wrote a poem and dedicated it to Cookie.

If Cookie was a great lady, and I believe she was, then Colonel Foy was her male counterpart. He lived up the street along the main highway through town. He spent a great deal of his time working outside in his lawn. When my mother or grandmother sent me to a grocery store, just on the other side of this main highway, I would often meet Colonel Foy. He very nearly bowed with his gentlemanly manner.

His house was a mansion with a glass staircase. In the naivety of my youth, I thought he was in love with me, and would prove to be the Prince Charming who would one day carry me off on a white horse. We always enjoyed some brief conversation to and from my walk to the store. Colonel Foy particularly appreciated a floppy brimmed hat I often wore through the summer. Eventually he married a woman not a whole lot older than me. I disliked her.

I promised myself that I would not exclude the characters within my own family. One of them was my mother’s sister, Bonnie. Bonnie liked to live life on the wild side. In the early-mid sixties Bonnie, unknowingly, married a Russian Spy who told her he was in the U.S. to train for the U.S. Olympic ski team. Imagine, Bonnie fell for that. Bonnie found out that he, at the very least, lied about that. For Christmas she gave him a surprise present of a weekend at a local Ski Resort. He didn't even know how to put the skis on.

I only met him once. I was probably about eight years old. It was Christmas, and I was very annoyed with him because Mom had bought me a bunch of grapes; he ate every one of them. It wasn't long after that when either the FBI or the CIA found him. What a charade. My family felt disgraced and never discussed it. Mom keeps an old, brittle and yellowed newspaper clipping of the article hidden away in her dresser drawer – amongst her panties. I used to sneak into her room and dig it out just to read about the grape snaffling slime bag.

Next, Bonnie married a serious biker from some gang. She purchased white leather pants, boots, jacket and helmet. She looked like a kitchen appliance. Bonnie also spent a lot of time sitting on the stools of the local barrooms. I think she spent just as much time falling off of them too. Her ordinary intake of alcohol was a fifth of Scotch a day.

So help me God, I am not lying when I expunge myself from this familial propensity to drink. My mother is a character, but she didn’t inherit this love for alcohol either. But, her biological mother did. The woman I called “Aunt Cot” was my biological, maternal grandmother. The woman I called “Grandma” was my biological aunt. This is the story:

Grandma was unable to have children. My “Aunt Cot” was quite proficient in this regard, and she had already given birth to two daughters when my mother was born. She offered my mother up for adoption to her sister, my grandmother, and her husband, Simon. Grandma and Simon were respectable people. They had no inclination toward the abuse of intoxicating potables.

I’m quite certain that, at least, one of the town taverns had the imprint of Aunt Cot’s butt on the stool too – probably right beside Bonnie’s and biker Spongepants Bob. Bonnie, her gigolo and Aunt Cot were nightly regulars. Of course, I never accompanied them on these excursions to the local tap houses; cousins kept me up-to-date about any recent inebriated inspired behavior.

Only three things stick out in my mind. Bonnie usually weaved and wobbled on her bar stool until her biker buddy slung her across the seat of his motorcycle and swept her home like a good Blended Scotch in shining armor. Once, while Aunt Cot was on a bender and went to Grandma’s house, she and my grandmother got into a fight; Aunt Cot broke Grandma’s collarbone. On a more mundane occasion, Aunt Cot chucked herself out the door of a barroom, only to find her feet situated beside a nice pair of slip on shoes. She was ecstatic. They fit, so she wore them home.

My mother was a character in her own right. She had the worst, most merciless and raucous phonation when she would screech, “Caryn, it’s time to get the hell home!” I was always very nearly home. I was rarely allowed out of our yard except to ride my bike around the block. Back then, The Bottom was filled with children. They always had to come to my house to play, and then we were not allowed to communicate above a whisper. On those very few occasions when I was allowed to go “up the alley” to play a game of four square ball with the gang, my mother would decide when I had, had enough fun.

There was a single window in the upstairs hallway of our house that had a view of our backyard and alley. My tiny 5’1” mother had to stand on her toes to peek just her eyes above the windowsill, like the eyes of an alligator swimming barely beneath the water. Her vocalization had no trouble transmitting for a quarter mile. Sometimes, I was so embarrassed I would say to my pals, “Wow, I’m going home before my mother yells like that.” Of course, I fooled no one. I was the only kid named Caryn.

Mom was always behind the times. Have you ever heard of the men’s clothing store named “Today’s Man?” Well . . . if there had been a counterpart store for “Yesterday’s Woman” that is where my mother would have shopped – with pride. When hemlines were short, my mother wore her skirts and dresses at or below the knee. When hemlines dropped to the calf or ankle, Mom had her skirts hemmed two inches above the knee.

Her own choice was bad enough, but when she tried to inflict the same onto me there was war. Many evenings found my mother, with a mouth full of pins, turning up the hem of my skirt or dress. She never made them short enough. It was the year of the MINI SKIRT. I wasn’t about to go to school with my hemline to the knee. She would allow a hem two inches above the knee joint. I insisted on five. Thinking she was wise, Mom decided that she would allow my grandmother to be the arbiter for this decision. Grandma lived downstairs, so I sought her out after I hiked the hem to about six inches above the knee. I knew what Grandma would do. She asked where Mom wanted the hem, and then, where did I want the hemline. She would pin the dress or skirt at a compromised length and I ended up with the five inches above the knee I wanted.

Thank God, Mom couldn’t impose upon my face her choice of eyeglasses. At some time in the past, more distant than I could remember, black cat eye glasses must have been a smashing fashion hit. Mom was still wearing them in the 70s and 80s. She refused to give up those glasses. She wore those same frames for over fifteen years. What kudos to the manufacturer. Every time she saw her optometrist, she insisted that he take her own frames and have the new lenses installed. By the late 80s, even my father could no longer tolerate this antiquated image. He teased her relentlessly; Dad loved to tell her she looked like a kamikaze pilot. Oh, Mom would seethe.

We finally found relief in the industry of eyeglasses. One day the optometrist delivered the most hateful news to my mother. Lenses could no longer be manufactured in the shape of cat eyes. Mom was forced to purchase a newer model frame. You would have thought the world had come to an end. Mom despised her new glasses. Back then, in the early 70s through the late 80s, Mom was a character in The Bottom.

Now, Mom is in her late sixties and has no trouble fitting in with the rest of the world. Her eyeglass frames are perfectly fine for fashion. She no longer wears skirts or dresses, forsaking them for sweatpants and sweatshirts in winter, and lighter weight slacks and pullovers for summer. Even her false teeth have a proper fit. Oh, and on those few occasions when she may be required to dress up for, say a funeral, she always asks me if her clothes “clash.” I have never had the heart to tell her she is using the antonym.

Town characters were not restricted to the South-Side or The Bottom. There were others to be found just about anywhere you looked. One of them was Bobby Morgan. Bobby was a mentally challenged young man. He was fortunate enough to have been taken in by a woman who cared for him as if he were her own son. Bobby was in his twenties.

He was delightful. Every political campaign season, he had the unique ability to recite, verbatim, every speech he heard. It was incredible. He would walk through the streets of downtown Meyersdale loudly reciting. At night, he would carry a lantern and recite some piece of poetry that included the stanza "and each one will carry his own lamp." I loved him.

Bobby was an enthusiastic individual. He was never in a foul mood. Local businessmen would hire him to clean their store windows. Those who spurned him, and they were few, deprived themselves of a joyful, congenial friend. My mother was one of those. She always did try to avoid Bobby, but one day, after he told her she had pretty legs, Mom really avoided poor Bobby. His compliment was innocent, and my mother did have beautiful legs. Bobby’s feelings would be hurt if he discerned that someone either didn’t like him or was making fun of him. Still, he was always happy and laughing.

Until his caregiver died. Bobby was probably in his thirties when she passed away. It nearly killed him. No one saw him after the funeral, which was quite odd because he was out on the streets everyday, and he was most conspicuous. Finally, someone went to the home of his dead caregiver. Bobby was found in a piteous state, ill to the point of near death. He was rushed to the local hospital where a friend of mine was on the crash team that took care of him that night. When Bobby came around, he sat up on the gurney and began to vomit. In the middle of retching, he managed to say, "Oh, it is so good to be alive!" Yet, he was so very ill. What an appreciation for life. What an exceptional man.

Unfortunately, after the death of his caregiver, Bobby suffered a drastic change in personality precipitated by a gang of degenerate hoodlums. But, I’ll save that sad story for later. For now, you will have to be content to hear about another town character my father befriended.

The fellow’s name was Jack Engle, but everyone called him Speedy. He didn’t acquire this name because he was speedy; he was quite the opposite, slow to move and slow to learn. Although Speedy aggravated my father, Dad felt sorry for him so he had regular association with this most unusual man. Speedy stopped by our house at least once a week. Dad took him hunting and fishing. Good Lord! The thought of Speedy with a weapon was downright terrifying. He could have been dangerous with a fishing pole. Once he showed up at our house with a permit to carry a pistol and some long discarded policeman’s badge, claiming he found a job protecting the citizens in town.

On another occasion, he appeared in a distressed state of mind, carrying a letter from Social Security Disability. He couldn’t read it with any comprehension, yet he was convinced it was a letter informing him that he would no longer receive Government checks. Poor Speedy kept proclaiming, “My eatin’ days are over!” It took my father days to convince Speedy that the letter stated no such thing. Everyday, until he was finally subdued, Speedy came to our home making the same proclamation, “My eatin’ days are over!”

There are numerous examples of exchanges between my father and Speedy that portray the total helplessness and intellectual challenge of poor Speedy’s scant mental acumen. Speedy purchased a new pair of hunting boots. When he and my father reached their hunting destination Speedy requested my father’s assistance in putting these new boots on his feet. He said he couldn’t tell the left boot from the right.

I witnessed this conversation. Dad handed Speedy one of the boots and told him it was the right boot. Speedy put the boot on. Then, he picked up the other boot, showed it to my father and asked, “Which foot does this one go on?” I swear to God. My father was very annoyed. His response was “Holy hell Speedy, how many feet do you have?” But Speedy would have given you the shirt off his back. Such intellectual kindness is far superior to any I.Q. rating.

Speedy was chums with two other town characters, Porky and Beans. Porky and Speedy were somehow related. When Speedy wasn’t available to take Porky to a town twenty-one miles away where there was a State Hospital, Porky would hitchhike. He always caught a ride. The State Hospital housed the debutantes of the Mental Health Community. It was here that Porky met Beans and they fell in love.

Beans was an unlovely sort of woman, and when she walked her body tilted to one side as though she were standing on the deck of a sinking ship. But, to Porky his Beans was the Heinz of all available debs. Her real name was Jeanie; she didn’t acquire the name Beans until her release from the hospital shortly after making the acquaintance of Porky. She and Porky could be seen, arms linked, walking all about town or thumbing their way to another.

On one of these jaunts to the State Hospital, Speedy fell hopelessly in love with a woman whose condition stood her no chance of release from custody. Speedy mourned the love loss of his life. It was really very sad. One day, late in the evening, Speedy came to visit in a distraught frame of mind. He told us that he couldn’t forget this lady. He said he couldn’t even read his comic books at night without seeing her face on the page. And he reminded us, “And you know how much I love my comic books.” Eventually, Speedy forgot about her and he, too, had a piteous end to his life. I’ll share that later, along with the end story of Bobby Morgan.

Oh, I can’t be remiss and forget the taxi driver’s family. There was only one taxi in our town. You called ahead and scheduled your ride a few days in advance to ensure your transportation. The couple who drove the taxi was ordinary enough, but the rest of their family was uncommon. These folks lived far out on the south-side of town. I suppose dishwashers weren’t an everyday appliance in those days of the mid-sixties. But, the Mognets found their own way of coping with the daily routine of washing dishes. At the end of their meal, each one licked their plate and utensils clean as a whistle. Then they were turned upside down on the table ready for the next meal.

Meyersdale also had its share of ever vigilant characters who spent their time in our little Uptown District which was comprised of a Five and Dime, two drugstores, an H.P. Department store, a couple of hardware stores, Kent’s Men’s Clothing Store, Baldwin’s Shoe Store, two Women’s Clothing Boutiques, a posh Tot and Teen’s clothing store, insurance offices, a jewelry store (which I will leave unnamed because it was really a front for suppliers of recreational drugs), a few restaurants and two Pizza Parlors, one of which was a front for the Mafia. Meyersdale also had a few competitive “filling stations” as gas stations were then called. There must have been half a dozen little Mom and Pop stores. They sold groceries on credit, and when you paid your bill, you got a good sized bag of candy bars out of appreciation for your business. I just loved this.

One of the drugstores had an old time soda fountain. This was a good place for a first date. And, if your date was smart, he went to Pasquale’s Greenhouse and bought you flowers. We also had a small diner that served tasty freeze ice cream through one of those little windows. You could also go inside and sit at a counter or at one of about six tables for a sit down lunch. Of course, there were as many barrooms and taverns as an ungodly number of churches. We had a shoddy Pool Hall with a corrupt reputation. There were a few car dealerships. We boasted two banks.

The most famous place to hang out was the Stagecoach Inn. It was considered the most sophisticated place in town. Among its patrons, it included the crowd who used drugs and the select businessmen who sold them. I was forbidden to even peer into the windows of this establishment. Since the entrance was below street level, I never dared to take even the quickest little peek. It still nettles me that my husband of thirty-four years, after a stint in Vietnam and before I met him, hung out there with great regularity. An entire part of my life was underprivileged due to my ignorance of this public institution’s singular worldliness.

Some of this deficiency was ameliorated when Bruce and I started to date. He was twenty-four and I was eighteen. The most distinctive and classiest of taverns was The White House. At least once a week, Bruce escorted me to this fashionable eating house. George, the owner, permitted me to order alcoholic beverages. As a matter of fact, I was his “taster.” When George would mix some new exotic cocktail, I was the first to imbibe this addition to his ever-growing list of cocktails.

At any given time, there were probably at least two or three other businesses trying to flourish. Now, as I write this little story with some thirty years between me and its current state of nothingness, Meyersdale has changed considerably. There are few stores left and the town has rather melted like the cheese in my grilled cheese sandwich. My point is this: those characters who found gratification hanging around uptown had a number of places to wander and socialize.

One character never left the uptown area. Her name was Rosie. I guess she had a serious nicotine addiction, but the inhospitableness of pauperism prevented her from purchasing cigarettes. Rosie had a sharp eye for any discarded cigarette butt to be found on the pavement. She was a nondescript little woman. Perhaps that was her disguise as she reaped the streets. There were those young men who found great fun in smoking half a cigarette, and then throwing the other half into her path just so they could watch her swoop down upon the butt like a Coopers hawk catching a mouse. I thought this was quite mean. My then future husband was much more kind. He would offer her a few whole cigarettes and occasionally an entire pack. Of course, I didn’t know that then.

If Rosie was always to be found uptown, and she was, then another chap, who was a friend of mine, was to be found everywhere. His name was Paul Fisher. I kid you not. It didn’t seem to matter where you were, Paul was there too. And he had the keen curiosity of a newspaper reporter. Paul was also very well-liked and friendly. He did later become a news reporter for our local newspaper. There isn’t much else to say about Paul except that I rather miss him.

I do not, however, miss Mr. Roger Lickty. This featherless bi-ped fell abysmally short in the area of brain activity. And, he was a character. Roger, who was nicknamed Maharajah because he drove a big fancy car, would ride around and around my block just waiting to pounce on me as soon as I would poke my nose out the door. He was my most persistent and willing suitor. But he didn’t suit me. My grandmother, with whom we lived, was my savior. When Roger caught me, which he invariably did, Grandma would call for me to come inside for something or other. I could make my escape with gracefulness and tact.

But this blockhead could not get the picture. I could have pasted a huge billboard in town that said, “NO, I, CARYN BROWN, WILL NOT DATE MR. ROGER MAHARAJAH LICKTY!!!!” and this dangerously stupid, anthropoid simpleton would have not gotten the message – not even in a bottle.

Roger would even call me on the phone. In those days we suffered without caller I.D. His attempts at speech communication were insufferable. Roger was incapable of forming a meaningful composition of articulation. He was so unbelievably, nauseatingly boring he could think of nothing to discuss. Roger’s futile attempts at conversation constituted Zippo. I don’t know what could have lit a fire under any intellect he may have possessed.

He would try to tell jokes. I never once got the punch line. First of all, his voice was high, nasal and toneless, which was surprising because he was a big man, not yet fat, but with a middle hinting toward impending amplitude. Roger would already be losing control of himself at the beginning of the joke. By the punch line, he was braying like a donkey. Then, when he had to intake some air for the next bray, he would make loud snorting sounds. No single word was distinguishable.

One time we shared a few words that could be called “conversation.” He asked me why I would not go out with him. I told him we had nothing in common. Roger asked me how I could know that without giving him a chance. I replied that I could tell by his jokes that he would not interest me. When we hung up the phone, Roger was in a whimpering panic, wondering if I would talk to him the next time he came around my house.

Not only did I have to dodge Rodg, there were The Three Wise Men who hung around the Five and Dime on Saturdays. One of them had dirty blond hair and seemed to know some English, although it’s a good thing he was born an American citizen. I don’t think he would have passed the test. His handle was Duck.

The second of these sagacious men always wore an army jacket. His moniker was Soldier Boy. If Soldier Boy was the Man of Arms, then Pheonie, the third fellow, was the Man of Letters, and he seemed to hold their nominal collective intellect. It was he who always made the troupe’s decisions. Pheonie would decide if it was time to move one block further down from the Five and Dime. Pheonie made the decisions about which females they would follow and applaud with wolf whistles. In other words, he was the choreographer for the weekend show of The Three Wise Men. They amused themselves by following me around the Five and Dime as I scurried between the isles hoping to dodge Duck and his two sidekicks.

I wish we could also dodge the sadness in our own lives and protect the lives of those special occupants in our hearts. But not everything in life has a good ending; we can’t even expect it, we can only hope for it. After Bobby Morgan’s caregiver died, The Hetz Brothers, four of the most cynical, envious and mean of men, corrupted Bobby who, at that time, was in a state of extreme vulnerability. They taught him the vilest of language. Bobby had that astounding ability to remember things he heard and to recite verbatim, so it didn’t take long for these contemptible, bastardly men to shatter Bobby’s personality. It was as though shards of Bobby were scattered, haunting all those places where we had loved to see him – washing windows, walking the streets reciting, chatting with the town’s citizens.

My husband and I lived in one of the few Penthouses in the uptown area. Bobby had shared a large part of my every day life. We were friends. Nearly everyday he was washing windows. Our uptown area was so small that every time I left our apartment it was inevitable that Bobby and I would meet one another. Our conversations were brief. Bobby was quite diligent and enthusiastic in his work; he didn’t take time to chat when he was busy. But, I regarded him as a special friend. I wish he could have lived his life out in our little home town. Were it not for the Hetz brothers, he would have.

Once The Hetz brothers gained control of Bobby, he was rarely seen in the uptown area. He was more likely to be seen at a bar along the main highway into town. When I did see Bobby uptown, he was impatient, rude and surly. He had been given distorted and immoral lessons in sex; he had been taught to disrespect women. I had been told he now had a repertoire of perversive jokes. I wouldn’t know. He had stopped speaking to me.

Sadly, while inside the bar, Bobby began to regularly expose himself. Eventually the police intervened, and Bobby was taken away to a group home in another town. Before he left, he had been downright hostile towards me. I knew why, but I’ll save that for the conclusion of my narrative. I would like to exit my story on a more lighthearted note. There usually is one.

Speedy was also taken away. He lost his mind; his new home was the Mental Hospital twenty-one miles away where he and Porky had socialized and fallen in love. Heartbreakingly, and in the greatest of irony, Speedy starved himself to death. The man who came to our home worried that his “eatin’ days were over” now refused to eat. He recognized none of his friends. There were many people in our town who mourned his death.

The betrayal of Bobby Morgan should never have happened. Those who are intellectually kind and cheerful, those who are child-like and malleable, merit our love, kindness, respect .and generosity. They have so much to offer us. They teach us to discard our inhibitions toward strangers. They teach us loyalty in our friendships.

Sometimes life is ugly and there is no humor or satire to be found.. But, with all fairness, I did promise to conclude with a bit of drollery. Here it is.

The Hetz brothers cherished an intense dislike for me. Two of the brothers were older than me, one was my age and the fourth was younger. The two youngest of the brothers did make a futile attempt to acquire some Christian decency. One summer they attended Vacation Bible School at my church. I was sitting at the same table, but on the opposite side directly across from them. It was obvious they were confused about some assignment. I didn’t know them, but it was apparent they put up a united front against outsiders. I was a little afraid and shy of the brothers, but I was sincere in my spiritual endeavors, so I offered them assistance if they needed it. What a mistake.

Years later, after I graduated from high school, and was working full time and living in an uptown apartment, I frequented a favorite restaurant for dinner. The four Hetz brothers were usually there too. They made snide remarks to and about me. Their hatred was so obvious it was downright embarrassing. Occasionally, my fiancé, Bruce, would join me at dinner. Then, the Hetz brothers kept their nasty comments to themselves, but I still endured the dirtiest of looks.

After Bruce and I married we developed an evening custom. After dinner we would take a seven mile walk that took us to the edge and beyond the south-side of town. Right past the Hetzs family home. Most of the time they were sitting on the porch, all four of them. The intensity of their animosity could be felt as we passed their abode where they sat like overgrown trolls. There was usually a little girl with them, and she always seemed to want to run down the sidewalk towards us in greeting. She was smiling, excited and happy, but there must have been some command from the four nasty gnomes which prevented her from ever finishing that run down the sidewalk or calling a cheery hello.

Until one day when she was outside alone. This delightful little girl with such innocent exuberance took eager pleasure at being able to finish that run down the sidewalk to make my acquaintance. And, the entire time she ran toward me, she kept calling to me, “Miss Priss, Miss Priss!” Bruce and I burst into laughter. We knew precisely what the Hetz brothers still thought of me. What a hoot.

There is one final character – Fat Grew. Fat Grew was not a corpulent man. Quite the opposite. He was of medium height and slim. His hair and beard were gray, and he wore his hair rather long, his beard quite scruffy and his clothing bedraggled. Fat looked like Buffalo Bill, and he referred to himself as such. Fat owned a piece of property outside of town. His house sat on a little knoll, and below the house there was an old garage with the gas pumps removed. Fat advertised the old garage as a “Novelty and Dry Goods Store.”

This might have been right handy for the farmers in the area if he really had sold such dry goods as corn, hay or chop, but about the only thing Fat had for sale were old deer hides he bought from local hunters, mud flaps and hubcaps, of which he had a most prodigious number. Ole’ Fat was a shrewd businessman. His supplier for the hubcaps and mudflaps were the most dependable potholes left by the many coal trucks that traveled the main highway. He could spot their glistening orbs a quarter mile distant.

These hubcaps were given the most illustrious exhibit at his novel ex-service center. They were strung by wire and hung inside the windows like sun catchers. There weren’t enough windows for his display; the remaining plenteous expose’ hung from trees or leaned against the outside walls of his novelty shop. You could never go about your patronage without protective gear. On a sunny day, it was imperative to provide yourself with protective eye gear. The flashing of light off metal was like the eruption of a solar flare. On a gusty day, you might have been eager for a pair of ear plugs. The clanging of the hubcaps was unequal to any set of wind chimes you may have ever heard. If you were easily spooked, the line, “For whom the bell tolls” could have made you more than a bit ill at ease.

Someone sold Fat Grew a set of Texas steer long horns. These were his cherished possession. Fat had them mounted on the grill of his car. Each horn sported a spur, giving Fat a pair of goading, nonconformist hood ornaments that turned sharp corners before he did. But, it was unlikely that any driver would have missed Fat’s approach around such a corner anyway. His advance was announced by the clucking chickens he kept in a coop on the roof of his car. A careful driver could only hope their sharp-sightedness would not be clouded by a palisade of feathers. To ensure his own able parking, Fat had curb finders all around his car – ten of them. He was probably one of those kids who, for sound effects, clipped a piece of cardboard to the spokes of their bicycle tires.

Most of these people, with the exception of the Hetz brothers, are gone. Meyersdale has passed its heyday. Somehow, with the closure of most of the uptown area, the people who added color to our town also left with no one to take their place. My parents still live there, so I have left a small connection to Meyersdale. I’m grateful for what the characters in this small town bequeathed my remembering. I probably would not be the same person had it not been for them. I wonder if my current neighbors would find me to be a character straight out of the town of Meyersdale?