The Five Double Eagles

C7339207-02BD-4F4B-80F6-462BA8CF6C0AThe Third and final Chapter

The Yellow Guardians

By

Mark Ready

The secret hiding place was all anyone talked about. Could they find it? Were the coins still there? I almost felt like it was Christmas. You know, the anticipation you felt until you could finally open your presents. Miss Hannah was firm, work came first. There’d be no galavanting around looking for treasure during working hours.

Paul and I had to share a bed. An old bed that squeaked every time one of us shifted. He was also a bed hog. I got about a quarter of the mattress, and almost none of the covers. But every morning I got my revenge. At 6 o’clock sharp, Miss Hannah or Miss Anna stood at the bottom of the stairwell and banged on the bottom of a saucepan with a metal spoon.

I got up without a problem. So did my sisters next door. For Paul it was different. It was as if he were part of the bed, a Siamese twin that could only be separated by surgery. I loved to watch him. First his head left the pillow and he opened his eyes just a slit. He quickly shut them like it was a bad dream. When he opened them again he groaned. After that, resignation must have set in and he threw off the covers.

“Come on, its time to get up,” I always tried to sound cheerful because I knew it pi**ed him off. I also think not being able to have that first smoke of the day made it tough on him. “Hurry up and put on your overalls. Miss Hannah doesn’t like it when we’re late.”

I’m not sure if they ever slept, Miss Hannah and Miss Anna. Sam went to his room around 9 o’clock, but the sisters were awake when we went to bed, and awake when we got up. Plus, there was always a big breakfast waiting for us. Some days even fresh doughnuts. Paul didn’t walk into the kitchen, he more like stumbled looking mad at the world. We’d eat breakfast, then he and I would follow Sam outside and he’d line us out on our work for the day. This went on from early morning until dinner at noon, and then again until supper at 7 o’clock, everyday of the week, except Sunday.

We always went to church, Mom saw to that. Even dressed in my church clothes I felt out of place with the sisters and Sam. Miss Hannah and Miss Anna weren’t dressed in cotton print dresses today. Instead they both wore dresses like you’d see in the old movies they’d play on Saturday afternoons. They also wore pearls, white gloves and these little white doily-like things on their head.

Sam didn’t look anything like himself either. His black suit, white shirt and tie looked like something a shorter, fatter Humphrey Bogart might wear, and we took Papa’s car. I think they only drove it on Sundays, a gray 1947 Chrysler New Yorker. When Sam backed it out of it’s shed, the look of almost perpetual disinterest vanished from my brother’s face. I could tell it was love at first sight.

Sam drove with Paul and I in the front seat. Miss Hannah, Miss Anna, Mary and Ruth in the back. Paul even opened the backwards-opening rear doors like a chauffeur to let the ladies out at the church. I snuck a glance at him during Mass and couldn’t tell if he was having a religious experience, or thinking about the ride home. Anyway, after church was the first chance we had to look for Great Uncle Alphonse’s secret compartment.

Great Uncle Alphonse had never moved out of the family home. The fall from the horse had seen to that. Luckily, it was only a few miles away. Sam offered to drive us, but Paul said no. He’d decided since he was oldest, he was in charge. I think he just wanted to be able to smoke.

The lunch the sisters made for us took three people to carry. Mary packed the bag with the leftover roastbeef sandwiches. Ruth carried the cookies, cake and fruit for dessert , and I packed an old plastic bleach bottle full of water. Paul didn’t carry anything, but said he’d spell us if we got tired.

Grasshoppers crackled in the dry yellow grass of the roadside, and the air smelled of ripe grain. It was a beautiful day, blue sky and billowy white clouds. We walked on a gravel road, some of the gravel might have come from the old rock pit. All the while discussing the best place to look for the secret compartment. We were just starting up a shallow hill when we smelled them, flowers. When we crested the rise, we saw the old family home’s gray weathered boards and split cedar shakes almost entirely surrounded in green leaves and yellow blossoms. Roses, climbing yellow roses.

We walked up to where the front gate used to hang, and looked over the ramshackle wood and wire fence at the briar patch of thorns and flowers.

“It doesn’t look like we can get in this way.”said Paul. “I guess we should try walking around it and see if there’s anyplace we can get through.” We walked down the driveway and circled the old fence, but the rose vines were impassable. When we got back to where we’d started, all we had to show for our trouble was cheatgrass pokies in our socks.

“Even if we could get through those thorns, there’s no way we could get past the bees.” decided Paul. Bees hovered over almost every bloom, and the sound of their buzzing made us raise our voices when we spoke.

“I’m sure we could borrow loppers from Sam. I know he has them.” I said.

“Could we?” asked the twins.

“Bees,” Paul reminded.

“Oh yeah, bees,” the twins replied. They walked over and sat in the shade of a gnarled tree and were pulling off their socks. “At least we can eat our lunch,” Mary suggested.

“Yeah, we can have a picnic,” added Ruth.

I was hungry, but still disappointed. “Hey, Beekeepers use smoke to calm their bees. What if we built this big fire and made it real smoky ? Yeah, that might work.” I untied my shoe and took off my sock.

Paul grabbed a sandwich with mustard. “What about the wind? Oh, and the house is made of wood.”

“Yeah, that might be a problem…Wait a minute. We could come back in the Winter. Yeah, there are no bees in the Winter.”

Paul nodded, and looked at the rose covered building. “Well, that would work, but we’re only here for another week. I suppose if I had my drivers license I could come back in November.”

“November,” exclaimed Mary and Ruth.

We ate the food we’d brought and walked back to Sam and the Sisters.

Miss Anna heard us walk in and called out, “Did you find it?”

“No,” answered the twins.

I walked into the living room and found both Miss Hannah and Miss Anna dressed in their print dresses, sitting with their shoes off reading the Sunday paper. A gentle breeze wafted through the screen door, and it was silent except for the ticking of the mantel clock. Mary, Ruth and I sat down across from them on the sofa, while Paul settled on the hassock near their feet.

“Oh, that’s too bad,” she replied.

“We couldn’t even get near the house,” explained Paul. “It was surrounded by rose bushes and bees”

“Rose bushes and bees?” repeated Miss Hannah.

“Yeah,” I agreed. “There was no way we could get through them. Even if we cut the vines, there’s still the bees.”

She squinted her eyes and looked down at the newspaper. “The roses might actually be a good thing. If you couldn’t get in, probably nobody else could either.”

Paul nodded,”Yeah, I never thought about it that way.”

We spent the rest of Sunday afternoon goofing around. Mary, Ruth and I walked out to the rock pit and I think Paul took a nap.

The saucepan gong woke us as usual on Monday. This week we started picking the rest of the corn, digging potatoes and harvesting the remaining crookneck squash. Everything went as usual until we woke up on Saturday. This was our last full day at Pommerville, Mom and Dad were going to come and get us the next day. When we arrived down for breakfast, Miss Hannah, Miss Anna and Sam were all sitting around the table, something they didn’t normally do.

“What?” I asked.

Sam took a sip of coffee and replied. “We’ll wait to talk about it until everyone’s here.”

When Paul stumbled in a few minutes later he knew something was different because we were all staring at him.

“What?” He looked down at himself self-consciously.

Miss Hannah stood up from the table. She reminded me of my teacher Mrs. Rowland. “Children, you’re not going to work outside today because it’s raining.” I looked out the window. It was.

She had the same look on her face Mrs. Rowland had when she was going to tell us something important. “There’s something about rainy days you might not know.”

I felt my eyes narrow, and I wondered what I didn’t know about rainy days.

Miss Hannah looked at us silently for a few seconds and said. “Bees usually don’t fly in the rain.”

“They don’t?” we all answered.

Sam smiled. “I loaded the loppers, hedge trimmers, a garden rake and the pitchfork in the back of the pickup. After we eat, I’ll drive you over so you can look for Alphonse’s secret hiding place.”

We all thanked Miss Hannah and Sam for their help and quickly ate our breakfast. When we finished, Miss Anna cut holes for the twin’s heads and arms in large plastic garbage bags. She dressed them in their coats and slipped the bags over their heads. Paul and I dressed in her and Miss Hannah’s old gardening coats, gloves and wide brim straw hats. “Well you don’t look pretty,” acknowledged Miss Anna. “But at least you’ll be dry.”

Five people in the seat of the old red International pickup was a tight fit. Sam scrunched as close as he could to the door, and Mary and Ruth sat on Paul and my laps.

It was lucky we didn’t have to go very far. When we got there, Sam pulled into the rose covered house’s drive way and we all got out.

“Boy, I can sure see what you mean. It looks darn near impenetrable.” Sam unloaded the loppers and hedge trimmers and handed them to Paul and I. There were no bees just like Miss Hannah had said, so we went to where the old gate had hung and started cutting through the thorny branches. Mary and Ruth stood out of the rain under the same tree where we had eaten our lunch and watched. Paul and I cut away the vines until we couldn’t go forward any farther. Then Sam would use the pitchfork and clear away our cuttings so we could move forward again. We did this ten or eleven times until there was a clear path to the old house’s front door. As soon as Sam had scooped up the last of our clippings, Paul and I rushed forward.

“Whoa there fellows,” Sam called. “You better let me look inside before you go barging in there.” He walked to the dilapidated porch and tentatively put his weight on the bottom step. It sagged a bit but held. “Ok,” he said. “I don’t want to risk putting my weight on anything else. I don’t think the old wood can stand it.” He turned to Paul and I. “I think you two have the best chance to get in and out without falling through the floor.”

“Now,” he looked at us with a surprisingly stern expression. “Stay away from the centers of the rooms and around the windows. Their glass was broken out years ago and the floors under them are most likely rotten. Walk around the edges of the rooms and don’t walk in the middle of the stairway. Keep your weight near it’s edges, that’s probably where they’re the strongest.” He shook his head. “And please be careful.”

“We will,” Paul and I assured him.

As we took our first steps onto the sagging porch, the rain quit and sunlight shined down through a gap in the clouds. Was this some kind of sign? The door latch had been broken long ago, and the door just pushed open, dragging along the floor. Inside, water dripped from the ceiling, and plaster lay in clumps on the floor. While empty cans , food wrappers, cigarette packages and beer bottles looked like they’d just been tossed to the side once they were empty. There were also roses.

The rose vines had grown in through the broken windows. They snaked across the floor, and clung to the wood lath exposed by the rotting plaster, adding bursts of color to the moldy wood and decrepit interior.

“This is like one of those ruins you see in jungle movies.”

“Kind of,” Paul replied. “But I think we should hurry. The bees will probably come back now that the sun’s out.” He looked around the room. “I’m pretty sure Alphonse’s room would have been upstairs.”

“I think so too.”

We walked around the perimeter of the room and I immediately realized Sam had been right. The floor felt spongy enough at the edges, I couldn’t imagine what it was like in the middle. The stairway was easy to find, so we climbed it keeping our feet near the edges. There was trash upstairs too, just like in the room below, but the packages, cans and bottles looked old. Alphonse’s was the first room we entered. We could tell because his wallpaper patch was hanging halfway off its lath and plaster backing.

“I don’t think anyone’s ever opened it.” I said, “At least not recently.”

“Yeah, he probably had his nightstand in front of it.”

“Kind of like where you hide your cigarettes.”

Paul gave me a snotty look and tried to pry the cover loose by its edges, but it just fell apart in his fingers. He lifted the bits of plaster and wood out of the cavity revealing a rusty tin lined chamber. “They’re still here.” He brushed the soggy plaster aside and picked out the five silver dollar size gold coins and set them in the palm of his hand. The five Double Eagles.

“They look perfect,” Paul said, turning to me. “It seems almost unbelievable he slept next to these for years and never remembered they were there. I feel sad for him.”

“I do too.” We stared at the coins in silence.

“Are you boys alright?” Sam called from outside.

“Yeah, we’re fine,” I called back. “We’ll be out in a minute.”

Paul reached in and pulled out two barely recognizable magazines. One was Colliers the other National Geographic. “That Mr. Elliott was sure nice to give him those cows.”

“Steers,” I replied. “It’s too bad he never got to make that trip he dreamed of.”

“Yeah,” Paul agreed. “It doesn’t seem fair.” He handed me the rotted magazines. The Colliers Weekly was dated July 6th, 1912, and had a blue eagle with its wings spread over a light green box on its cover. It said something about a convention, I couldn’t read anything else. The National Geographic was totally mildewed and ruined. I tossed them both in the corner.

I thought we’d all be more excited that we found the coins, but even Mary and Ruth seemed quiet. Paul seemed especially reserved, and didn’t say a word all the way back to the house. Sam was the only one who spoke. “Aren’t you happy you found the secret hiding place, kids?” He took his eyes off the road and glanced down the seat at us. “I’m not sure what those coins are worth, but they must be worth something?”

Nobody answered until Mary said quietly.”I feel funny. Like we took something that doesn’t belong to us.”

Sam nodded his head. “You have a point there, Mary. Is that how you all feel?”

We all nodded.

“Ok then, as soon as I get back to the house I’m going to call Sophie.”

“Why are you going to call Aunt Sophie, Sam?” I asked.

“She’s Alphonse’s oldest living relative. We’ll tell her about the diary and the coins and see what she says.”

Aunt Sophie and Uncle Matt arrived in their old gray Chevrolet Impala. Aunt Sophie was a tall thin woman with glasses and a hair net. Uncle Matt was short, bald, always dressed in gray Dickies work clothes and smoked cigars. Mary, Ruth and I ran out to meet them.

“Hi Paul, hi Mary and Ruth.” Aunt Sophie put a rectangular baking pan with a warm unfrosted cake in my arms. She handed Mary a plastic tub of vanilla ice cream, and directed Ruth to guide Uncle Matt, who’d gone blind from Diabetes, into the house. She got a box tied with string from the backseat and walked with us.

Once everyone had said hello, and the cake and ice cream had been served, we showed Aunt Sophie Alphonse’s diary and the five Double Eagles.

“Oh my goodness. I never knew any of this about him.” She looked at the diary’s last entry again. “I never would have guessed, he was always just a quiet simple man when I knew him. Uncle George and Uncle Willie watched out for him.” She stared over our heads. “ He died when he was only 35. I have a picture of him if you’d like to see it?” She untied the string holding the box, and shifted through it until she pulled out an old black and white photo.

Three men sat on the top rail of a wooden fence. They were all dressed in work shirts, black trousers and straw hats. The two on the outside looked straight into the camera, but the one in the center was smiling. “That’s Uncle Alphonse,” she said. “The one in the middle. I think he died the year after that picture was taken.” Aunt Sophie handed it to Paul, he studied it for about thirty seconds and passed it to me.

So that’s what he looked like. Alphonse was shorter than his brothers and seemed to have lighter colored hair. He reminded me of the pictures I’d seen of my great-grandfather on his wedding day. I shook my head and passed the photo. Once everyone had a chance to see what he’d looked like, Aunt Sophie cleared her throat.

“Sam said you had something to tell me.”

Paul’s eyes shifted from Aunt Sophie’s face to ours. We all know what he was saying even though he never spoke. He piled the coins into a stack and slid them across the table like poker chips. “I think these belong to you.”

Aunt Sophie looked down at the stack of gold coins. “Why do you say that, Paul?”

“You’re Great Uncle Alphonse’s oldest living relative.”

She smiled and put her hand on the coins. She stroked them with her fingers like she’d rub the back of someone’s hand. I saw her eyes move to the diary and linger on it for a few seconds. Her head nodded, she sat up straight in the chair and she turned to us. She lifted a Double Eagle off the little pile and set it in front of Paul. Then she set one in front of me and each of my sisters. “Until you showed me his diary, I didn’t know my uncle dreamed of traveling the world.” Her expression changed, and she looked down at the lone Double Eagle in front of her. “He never realized his dreams, so now I’m giving them to you.” A tear ran down her cheek. “I don’t know if your dreams involve seeing Paris, or traveling the world. But whatever they are, please think of Alphonse when you finally realize them.

I wiped my eyes and noticed Mary and Ruth rubbing theirs. Even Paul’s eyes were watery. When I looked back at the coin I saw it differently than I had before, and knew I could never spend it.

“Aunt Sophie,” Paul asked. “What was Mr. Elliott’s first name?”

She crinkled her eyes, “I believe it was Clarence.”

“Is he buried in the Cemetery?”

“Not in the Catholic Cemetery, but he is in the one across the road from it. Why?”

Paul looked down at the gold coin. “I’d ahh, like to put some flowers on his and Great Uncle Alphonse’s graves. Roses, yellow roses from the house.”

Miss Hannah reached over and touched Paul’s arm, “I think that’s a wonderful idea Paul.” She turned to her brother. “Sam, do you think we can all fit in Papa’s car?

Sam looked around the table. “Well, it’ll be tight, but I think we can just manage it.”

THE END

The Five Double Eagles

CHAPTER 2

ALPHONSE EXPLAINS ALMOST EVERYTHING

Mary and Ruth lifted the old cardboard box from the table and set it against the wall.

“Where did you get these plates?” asked Mary. Miss Anna handed her 7 cream colored dinner plates with pink roses around the rims. “They’re beautiful.”

“We got them from Mama when she passed,” Miss Anna replied. “She and Papa got them as a wedding present.”

“They’re from the Montgomery Ward catalog,” added Miss Hannah. “We still have the complete set, so please be very careful with them.”

Paul disappeared from the kitchen and came back in a tank top and flip flops. He washed his hands, dried them, wet his hair and combed it. Tenseness seemed to leave his body and he walked over beside the box with the diary. “What is a box of Great Uncle Alphonse’s things doing at your house?”

Sam lowered his Idaho Register newspaper. “That’s a good question Paul. Do either of you girls know how it got here?”

Miss Hannah paused from removing a large roast from a blue speckled roasting pan. “I’m not sure.” She forked the big piece of meet out onto a platter, and slid the roaster over to one of the Monarch’s burners. “Do you know how it got here, Anna?”

Anna was handing small matching bowls, each with two canned peaches to the twins. “You know I think that’s one of the boxes Sophie gave us. There were mostly clothes on top. The book was on the very bottom.” She handed the last bowl to Ruth and grabbed a large matching bowl of mashed potatoes and carried it to the table.

“Are you just about done with the gravy, Hannah?”

“Yes, it’s done. Mary or Ruth, please come pick up the bread and butter. We have a bowl of good peas from the garden too. Oh, I forgot the spoons.”

“I’ll get them,” volunteered Paul. He picked up a small blue pitcher with spoon handles sticking out of it’s throat. He carried it to the table and sat down.

Miss Hannah cleared her throat and we all made the Sign of the Cross. This was different than our weeknight dinners at home. This was more like a Sunday dinner. I had three plates full.

After Paul and I were done with the dishes, he tapped me on the shoulder. “Let’s go walk to the rock pit.”

“Me?” I was surprised he asked. He usually seemed to avoid me. I got the impression he thought I was just a dumb kid, I mean I was only 11 and he was a teenager.

“Yeah, let’s go.”

“What about the diary?”

“It’ll be here when we get back.” He goaded me with his eyes.

“Miss Hannah, John and I are gonna walk to the rock pit.”

“Don’t you want to look at the diary?” asked Ruth. “We waited ‘til after you were done with the dishes so it’d be fair.”

I looked hopefully at Paul. Like maybe he’d change his mind and wait to see what was inside it.

“We won’t be gone very long.” Paul promised, walking toward the door.” I thought we’d go throw some rocks, or something. Maybe try and catch a frog.”

I could feel my jaw drop. He saw my expression and nudged me toward the kitchen door.

“Don’t be gone too long,” cautioned Miss Hannah. “Remember, we get up early.”

“We won’t,” said Paul. Paul ushered me out the door and headed to the back of the house. His cigarettes, with a pack of matches slid into their cellophane, were laying in the weeds under our bedroom window. He bent down and handed them to me.

“I’m glad the chickens didn’t eat’m. Put these in your pocket until we get away from the house.”

I shoved his smokes in my pants. “Is this why you wanted me to come with you? So I could hold your f**king cigarettes?”

He shook his head. “No, I need to talk to you.” We walked past the house and headed toward the old rock pit. Mom said they dug it to make gravel for the road, but that was a long time ago. It was full of water now. Paul looked over his shoulder.            “Ok, you can hand me my cigs.”

He tapped the pack and pulled a cigarette out with his lips, juggled the matches and struck a light. He took a deep drag and exhaled a cloud of smoke. “God, I needed that.” He took another drag and handed the cigarettes back. “Here, stick these in your pocket.”

“Why don’t you carry them yourself?”

“They won’t fit.”

“They would if you were wearing your new overalls.”

He turned toward me and shook his head. “F**ker.”

Paul smoked and walked in silence looking at his feet. “You don’t want to throw rocks or catch frogs, do you?” I asked.

“No, I wanted to ask you something, and don’t be a little f**ker about it.”

“What?”

“How would you like to go to the World’s Fair in Spokane?”

“I don’t know. I guess so? How are we going to get there?”

“Roy.”

Roy Wilson was a man Paul met on his paper route. He was over 21 and worked as a waiter at the Three Willows. According to Paul it was the highest class restaurant in town. Paul and I used to go to Roy’s apartment sometimes. He always had cold Pepsi. I think Paul liked him ‘cause he bought his cigarettes. When Dad found out he said we couldn’t go anymore, but I think Paul still did sometimes . They talked on the phone a lot. When Roy called, Paul stretched the headset’s curled cord into the broom closet and shut the door.

“You know Dad doesn’t like you hanging around with Roy. He thinks he’s a Nancy Boy.”

“I told you not to be a little f**ker about it.”

“He won’t let you.”

Paul took a last drag on his cigarette, tossed the butt in the dirt and ground it under his flip flop. “He might if you say you’ll come along.”

“I don’t know.” I looked at the crushed butt. “I guess so.”

“Ok, so when we get back you’ll say you’ll go with us?”

I looked toward the rock pit. “Yeah, but I don’t have any money.”

“Roy said he’d have money. He gets like $100 in tips everyday.” I started to walk toward the rock pit again.

“Let’s go back.” He turned toward the house. “You’ll like Spokane. It’s a big city, it’s not like Livingston. Roy says he’s gonna move there. He says he could get a lot more tips, and there’s something to do all the time.”

I caught up with Paul in a few steps.

“I can’t wait until I can drive.”

“Hey, maybe if we find these coins you’ll have enough to buy a car?”

Paul nodded. “Yeah, that’d be cool.” We walked the rest of the way back in silence.

When we got to the old picket fence, he leaned over and exhaled in my face. “Can you smell any smoke?”

“It’s not too bad. I can barely smell it.”

Mary and Ruth were sitting at the table with the diary open in front of them. “You guys find out anything?” I asked.

Ruth picked up a old beat up book that had the pages hollowed out. “This is why nobody found it before we did. He kept it in here. When Miss Anna got our aprons it must have just fallen apart. I think he glued the pages with flour and water paste.”

Paul and I moved closer. The cover said, Adventure Stories for Boys. He’d done a pretty neat job. Instead of hollowing out the pages so you just opened the cover. Alphonse had cut the bottom of the book and used a long hairpin to keep a plug of glued pages in place. It looked like a quarter of the Adventure stories for Boys first pages were kept original. He’d hollowed out the rest of the pages and pasted them together. Removing the plug was the only way you could get to the diary. It was pretty tricky.

Mary turned back to the first page and handed me Alphonse’s Diary. It was written in pencil, his handwriting was a lot better than mine.

January 1st, 1912.
It’s hard to believe Christmas is over and it’s the start of a new year. I wonder what 1912 will bring? I guess God’s the only one who knows . I’ll turn seventeen this year, so it’s only four more years until I’m my own man. I better start trying to make some money if I want to see Paris and the pyramids. I’ll ask Papa if I can buy a calf to raise. I’ve got two dollars saved. If that isn’t enough, maybe I can do extra work in trade for the rest. I’ll ask him tomorrow.

January 2nd, 1912
Talked to Papa about buying a calf with my $2.00. He said he couldn’t sell me one for less than $2.50, that’s what they’re paying at the Livestock Sales. I didn’t tell him I was trying to raise money for a trip. I’m not sure how he’d take it. Sometimes I feel if I leave the farm, I’ll be letting him down. It’s still four years until I’m 21, I guess I’ve got plenty of time left to tell him.

I looked up from the diary. “Did you find anything about his secret hiding place?”

“Oh yeah, he tells all about it,” said Mary.

“He tells how he got the cows too,” added Ruth.

“Well? Where is it?” I ask.

“You’ll have to read it for yourself,” they replied in unison and walked away.

I turned to Paul, “I hate when they do that.”

He nodded, took the book from me and sat down at the table. I tried to look over his shoulder but he flipped the pages to fast. “Hey, listen to this.”

April 15th, 1912,
Our neighbor, Mr. Elliott, stopped by on his way home from town. I overheard him talking to Papa about an ocean liner named the Titanic. Apparently it hit an iceberg and sank early this morning or yesterday in the North Atlantic. He said the news is all over town. I thought I heard him say something about it being unsinkable. I guess it sank anyway. I hope there weren’t too many deaths.

April 20th, 1912
Papa, Mama and I went into town today. We got some oyster shell, chicken scratch and picked up this year’s chicks from the depot. Mama got mostly Plymouth Rocks, but she also got a dozen Buff Orpington to see how they do. More news on the Titanic. It seems there could be as many as 1500 passengers dead. 1500! It doesn’t seem possible there could be ships that big. I hope that doesn’t happen on my crossing. Still need to figure out how to earn some money.

“Wow, the Titanic, that must have been something.” I exclaimed. Paul nodded and scanned more of the pages. “Listen to this.”

April 27th, 1912
Big news! Mr. Elliott subscribes to Colliers and National Geographic. I saw him at the post office when I was picking up the mail. Papa only subscribes to the St. Anthony Messenger and The Wanderer. I told him about the trip I planned and he said I could borrow some of his old Geographic’s if I wanted to. He said I could borrow the Colliers too. I don’t know what Papa will say? I should probably ask, but then he might say no.

“It looks like great grandpa only subscribed to Catholic magazines,” said Paul. “I wonder why Alphonse was worried about borrowing National Geographic and that other magazine?”

“Colliers Magazine. I don’t know? Maybe he thought he wouldn’t approve of them.”

“National Geographic?”

“I don’t know?” I replied. “I know as much about this as you do.”

“Ok, here’s something that tells about the hiding place.”

June 3rd, 1912
Mama and Papa left for the Saint Joseph’s Verein State Convention in Boise. They’ll be gone a week. This is the perfect time for me to make my secret hiding place. I found the extra wallpaper Mama had saved and some tin to enclose the inside. It should be perfect for the magazines Mr. Elliott loans me. I’ll start on it Saturday when Willie and George go to town.

June 4th, 1912
Everything turned out perfect! All I have to do now is wait for the paste to dry. It’s similar to the hollow book I keep my diary in, but I think I did a better job this time. I can hardly see it. Haven’t put anything in it yet.

“He must have cut a hole in the wall,” said Paul. “It sounds like he’s made a cover, and cut the scrap wallpaper to match it.”

I nodded. “Come on, read more.”

June 8th, 1912
I borrowed two Colliers and two Geographics. They fit perfectly. I never thought I’d say this, but it’s kind of a blessing I had a problem with bed wetting when I was younger. It was embarrassing at the time, but at least I don’t have to share a bed with George and Willie. I haven’t done it for years. Now I just shut my door, light my candle and nobody knows I’m reading.

“It’s in his bedroom!”

“His bedroom. Yeah, that makes sense,” I agreed.

“Whoa! Listen to this.” Paul flattened the diary out on the table.

June 20th, 1912
Mr. Elliott died. Nobody is sure when. Papa heard his cattle lowing and thought it didn’t sound normal, so he had George go check on him. George said he must have been dead at least a day. We fetched the Sheriff and Doctor Orr. The doctor said it looked like his heart gave out. I guess the coroner is going to come from Grangeville to do an autopsy. Papa said he was a good neighbor even if he didn’t go to church. I know I’ll miss him. He was the only person I could really talk to.

“Man I bet that was something. Imagine finding somebody dead.” Paul shook his head.

“Especially someone who was so nice to you,” I added.

Paul sat quietly for a few minutes. “I bet that was tough. I mean Mr. Elliott was the only person he felt comfortable telling his dreams too.” He blinked a few times.

Maybe it was the same with Roy? I thought. Maybe Paul had things he could only talk to Roy about?

Paul flicked through more pages. “Listen to this. This is where he got the cows.”

July 20th, 1912
Mr. Elliott left me 5 two year old steers in his will. I can’t believe it! I didn’t expect this. He left everything else to his brother in Humphrey, Nebraska. He never married and he didn’t have any children. I’d never thought to ask. Now I wish I would’ve talked to him more about himself. Mama and Papa wanted to know why he would do such a thing. I had to be honest, so I told them about the magazines I borrowed, and the trip I planned. They didn’t seem surprised. I should have told them sooner. I guess I wasn’t as good at keeping secrets as I thought.

July 22nd, 1912
I talked to Papa about pasturing the steers. I guess legally he could take them because I’m still a minor, but he said he wouldn’t. However, I would need to pay him for pasturing and feed. I thought that was fair. He said I could pay him after I sold the steers.

August 7th, 1912
Sold the steers Mr. Elliott left me today. I got five Double Eagles! I think I’ll buy a few yearling calf’s and raise them to sell. If I keep this up I’ll have plenty for my trip, and more. Need to talk to Papa about renting more pasture. I want to keep everything businesslike and proper. Willie and George are jealous. I think I’ll buy them each a calf of their own. Until then, I’ll put the Eagles in my special place until I decide exactly what I want to do.

“That’s all there is,” said Paul. “At least we know where his hiding place is.”

“Well, at least where it was 62 years ago,” I added. “That’s a long time.”

Paul nodded. “I bet they’re still there though. Great Uncle Alphonse was pretty clever.”

The Five Double Eagles

I’m publishing this as a serial. It’s a quasi children’s story that also deals with budding adolescent sexuality.

Chapter One

Great Uncle Alphonse

“He’s as guilty as sin. I don’t care if he says he’s not a crook, he’s definitely a crook.” Dad put the newspaper down and took a sip of his morning coffee. “They’re going to impeach him, you just mark my words. Tricky Dick knew all about this Watergate business. Then there’s that gap in the tapes. Come on, how much more proof do you need?”

I look down at my bowl of congealed oatmeal and milk. I never liked oatmeal. Maybe, if Mom put raisins in it or something, but she never did.

“John?”

“Yeah Dad?” I answered

“Finish your breakfast and go get Prince Charming out of bed.” He checks his watch. “I’ve got to be going to work.”

Dad pushed his chair away from the table and kissed my little sisters on their cheeks. As usual they’re dressed the same. Mary and Ruth were twins, and my Grandma Larry loved to sew them matching outfits.

“I’ll miss you girls. You be good for the Hertz sisters. You do what they say. You’re going there to help them. John, I’ll miss you too. Now, you better get Paul out of bed. Mom will drive you over to Pommerville as soon as she gets back from taking me to work.”

The Hertz’s were my aunts in-laws. They raised a garden and sold fresh produce, sweet corn, potatoes, fruit, eggs and preserves to help pay their living expenses and taxes. They gardened on an almost industrial scale, and had several plots of corn they planted at different times so the harvest would be staggered. Me, my brother Paul and sisters Mary and Ruth were going to spend the last two weeks of our Summer Vacation helping with the harvest.

“Ok Dad.” I use the edge of my spoon to cut the cereal into bite size chunks. I shovel them into my mouth and chew each a few times before swallowing. Mom comes out of the bedroom dressed in her nice summer blouse and blue pants wearing lipstick.

“I’m going to take Dad to work.” She told us again. “Be sure and be ready when I come back because we’ll need to leave right away. I want to get back in time to pick him up for lunch.” She turned to me. “Make sure your brothers ready to go.”

I picked up my empty plastic bowl and get up from the table. “Yeah, I was just going to go get him.”

“Good, now I’ll see you when I get back.” Mom hurried out the door to join Dad in our light blue and white 1972 Volkswagen Van.

I climbed the stairs to the bedroom we shared and kicked the side of my older brother’s bed. “It’s time to get up Paul. We’re leaving when Mom gets back from taking Dad to work.”

“Go away.”

I kicked the bed a few more times. “Come on. You gotta get up.” He doesn’t move so I start kicking the bed to the beat of, Row-Row-Row-Your Boat. Paul’s thirteen and thinks he’s boss of the world.

“Ok, ok, I’m getting up.” He threw the covers off and glared at me. “You’re a little f**ker aren’t you?”

“I don’t care if you sleep all day. But, Dad and Mom said I was supposed to make sure you were ready to go when she got back.”

“F**k,” he throws his legs off the bed, stood and stretched. “I’ve gotta take a pee.” He walked out of the room, I eventually hear the toilet flush. He walked back in and takes his pack of Marlboro from their secret hiding place under his nightstand. He turned to me again, “f**k.”

“I’m going downstairs.” I replied. “You probably have about twenty minutes before Mom gets back. Just hurry, that’s all.”

Paul’s already standing in the closet with his head out it’s small window. There’s a Marlboro between his lips. I think he looks stupid. He thinks it makes him look older. Whatever.

Mom walks into the house just as Paul emerges from the downstairs hallway, the smell of toothpaste wafting through the air. He’s dressed in cutoffs, flip flops and a tank top. “You can’t wear that.” She says. “You’re going there to work.”

“I’ll change when I get there. I have some long pants and work shirts in my bag.” Paul holds up the bag he uses for his gym clothes.

Mom shook her head but didn’t say anything. She looked at me and Ruth and Mary. “Come on, let’s get going. John you carry the suitcase.”

I nodded and picked up the old brown Samsonite she’d packed me and my sister’s clothes in. I thought I was getting to old for that, but it didn’t seem important enough to make a stink about it.

“Dibs on the front seat,” called Ruth.

I opened the van’s back hatch and tossed in the suitcase. Paul sets his bag beside it and climbs into the very last row of seats. Mary and I get in the seat behind Mom and Ruth. The van doesn’t have a radio, so the only sound for the whole trip is reminders from Mom to be good and do as the Hertz Sisters say, and the wind whistling through the open windows.

Pommerville is small. It straddles highway 95, the main North and South route through Idaho. It takes us about an hour to get to their house. It doesn’t look impressive. It’s two story, with weathered gray cedar siding. It hasn’t been painted for a very long time and is surrounded by tall unkempt trees. It looked like a farmhouse from the 1900’s, not something from 1974.

Mom parked in front of an old picket fence lined with rusty chicken wire. Behind it, dozens of small chickens scratch and peck at the ground. “They’re Bantams,” Mom tells us. “Listen to what happens when we open the gate.” The little chickens howl and screech when we enter and Miss Hannah and Miss Anna Hertz hurry out to greet us.

I’m not sure if it’s correct these days, but they used to be called Spinsters. Miss Hannah and Miss Anna were both old, and had never been married. They kept to themselves and only went into town to go to church on Sundays. Otherwise, their brother Sam, who lived with them and had also never married, delivered the produce, hauled home the groceries and mailed their letters.

Both women looked like something out of a 1940’s Farm Wife magazine. Cotton print dresses, full aprons, round metal rimmed glasses and gray hair wore in buns.

“Hello Helen,”said Miss Hannah smiling at Mom. “Hello children. Oh, aren’t you adorable.”

She was talking about my sisters. They were looking especially angelic, a skill they used mostly to get out of trouble.

“You must come inside and visit a little before you leave Helen,” ordered Anna.

Mom shook her head. “I need to get back to pick up Ed for lunch. I will use the bathroom, if you don’t mind.”

“Come in, come in,” they invited.”

I hauled the suitcase, and Paul his gym bag. After checking our shoes for chicken poop we walked into the house from the back porch. It was like a museum. Everything was old, but perfect. The only sign of wear was the rose patterned gray linoleum. It had trails worn into it where they’d walked and stood. There was a polished Monarch wood cook stove, big Monarch white electric range, round top refrigerator and a bent chrome metal dining table and chairs. All looked like they were brand new.

Mom went to the bathroom and reminded us again to be good, and do as we were told. Then she was gone. Hannah and Anna took us to our rooms upstairs. They were just as perfect as the kitchen. Hannah told us to change into our work clothes because Paul and I were going to hoe in the garden, and Mary and Ruth were going to help make plum jelly. I dug through the suitcase and got my old pants, then came back to the room Paul and I were sharing. All he’d brought along were his church clothes. The rest were cutoffs, tank tops, socks, underwear and a pair of tennis shoes.

I shook my head.

“I can work in these,” Paul said, when he saw me shake my head. “Besides, I can get a suntan while I’m doing it.”

“Yeah right.” I changed my pants and went back to the kitchen. Paul followed. He was met with questioning stares. The Hertz sisters were no longer alone, their brother Sam was there. He was eating a cookie and drinking a cup of coffee. I think Sam was younger than his sisters, but I couldn’t really tell. He was kind of chubby, with a bald head ringed in short gray hair and dressed in bib overalls.

“Aren’t you going to change?” He asked my brother.

“I can work in these.”

“Didn’t you bring any other work clothes?

Paul shook his head.

Miss Hannah’s brown eyes flashed sparks. “Sam, you need to go get him some proper clothes.”

Paul started to protest but thought better of it when he looked at Miss Hannah’s face. The last time I saw him before lunch he was sitting beside Sam in his old red International pickup being driven to town. I, on the other hand, was given one of Sams old straw hats, a hoe, and told to start in the cabbages.

I laughed when Paul finally showed up at the garden. He was wearing new bib overalls, a new long sleeve work shirt, an old straw hat and his tennis shoes. “On your way to play a few sets?” I asked. He told me to f**k off and started chopping at the ground with his hoe. That’s pretty much all we said to each other the entire day.

When Sam finally came and told us we could stop we were both beat. We put our hoes in the garden shed, followed Sam to the house and scrupulously checked our feet for poop before walking into the kitchen. Dinner smelled good and Mary and Ruth were sitting in front of an old cardboard box on the table.

“You guys need to see this,” called Mary. “It’s Great Uncle Alphonse’s stuff.”

“Great Uncle Alphonse? The one who got bucked from a horse and fell on his head?” asked Paul.

“Yeah,” replied Ruth. “This is his stuff. I think he had a treasure.”

“A treasure? Why do you think that?” I asked.

“Because Miss Anna found his diary when she was looking for aprons for us to wear,” Ruth answers. She points to the pages of a little book.

August 7th, 1912
Sold the steers Mr. Elliott left me today. I got five Double Eagles! I think I’ll buy a few yearling calf’s and raise them to sell. If I keep this up I’ll have plenty for my trip, and more. Need to talk to Papa about renting more pasture. I want to keep everything businesslike and proper. Willie and George are jealous. I think I’ll buy them each a calf of their own. Until then, I’ll put the Eagles in my special place until I decide exactly what I want to do.

“Everything after that’s blank.” Ruth picks up the book and flips through the pages. “

“See, there’s nothing else written.”

I look over her shoulder. “I wonder why he didn’t write anymore?”

“Because,” Miss Anna answered, from the big white Monarch. “The next day he fell from the horse. He was never the same after that.”

“What are Double Eagles?” said Paul.

“Do any of you children know?” Sam asked.

I raised my hand. Sam nodded. “They’re twenty dollar gold pieces, aren’t they?”

“Yes, but they could be worth a lot more by now. Maybe even thousands of dollars.”

My brother and sisters and I looked at each other. “Can we try to find them?” I asked.

The older siblings turned to each other. “As long as it doesn’t interfere with your work.” Miss Hannah replies. “I don’t think any of us mind.”

“Cool.” I said with a big smile.

A Gift more valuable than Gold

We are not beauty queens
Or captains of the football team
Nor the sons and daughters of the rich
We are the invisible ones
God did not bestow on us the superficial
Our gifts lie below our skin
Not outwardly apparent
But they are there
However You
The ones who feel worthless and picked on
You are blessed
In you grows empathy and compassion
Though the soil is rocky and the manure of vicious taunts
Seems foul and stings
in time the manure will mellow
your skin thicken
But only enough
You see God did not bestow on you the superficial
Your gift is much to precious
Your gift is a pure heart
Something much to valuable to lay exposed

Aunt Sophie and the Miracle in a Bottle

This is the story of unwavering faith, a seemingly worthless gift, and a miracle that happens over 80 years after it was first foretold. I’m calling it:

Aunt Sophie and the Miracle in a Bottle.

I got the little brown bottle from my Aunt Sophie along with a gold Seiko watch my Uncle Matt was given when he retired. Uncle Matt and Aunt Sophie had married late in life and never had any children of their own. Instead, they were godparents either alone, or separate, to dozens of nieces and nephews. I however, was the only one they had in common. I was their only common godchild. That’s why I got the watch and the bottle.

Uncle Matt died when I was about thirteen. He’d had diabetes for years and I remember him having to pee in a can after every meal so Aunt Sophie could measure the sugar in his urine with litmus paper. Then, depending on what the paper showed, Sophie filled the chrome and glass syringe with insulin and injected it into him. Matt went blind first. A few years later the disease finally killed him. My brothers and sisters and I would take turns visiting in the summer and help her around her house.

In my family, High School Graduation was celebrated like a birthday. We invited the relatives, Mom made a cake, and a special dinner after which we opened cards. Just like a birthday, but without the candles. Anyway, I’d never graduated before, so this was fine with me. Now, Aunt Sophie didn’t have much money but always sent a few dollars, a stick of gum and a card for our birthdays or Christmas. But this time, she made the trip in her old blue Oldsmobile to attend in person.

Sometime after I’d open the cards, and eaten the cake, Aunt Sophie came and sat beside me. She was a tall woman with smart blue eyes who always wore a hairnet. She was my Mom’s oldest sister and almost like a second mother too her.

“John,” My aunt said, while putting her hand on my knee. “I have something else I want to give you.”

“Oh, Aunt Sophie.” I replied. “The watch is more than enough. You really don’t need to.”

Her eyes suddenly looked more intense than I’d ever seen them, and her brow furrowed. “John, I’ve never told this to anyone but it’s time I did.” She looked over her shoulder an instant and reached into her purse. She pulled out a small brown bottle with a black screw on lid. It had a plain manila paper tag fastened around its neck with a string. The words, Spark of Life – Do Not Open were written on it in thick black pencil. “Here, this is for you.” She held it out, then withdrew it shaking her head. “No, I need to tell you something about it first.”

The tall old woman took a deep breath. “You’re Uncle Matt and I prayed and prayed for a child, but were never blessed.” She sighed. “One night after years of prayers I was visited by Saint Jude.” Her eyes looked sad. “Matt said it was just a dream, but I know it was real.”

“How did you know it was real?”

“Because the Saint gave me this.” She stared down at the bottle in her hand.

“Saint Jude?”

Sophie didn’t take her eyes from the bottle but slowly nodded. “Yes, he’s the Patron Saint of lost causes.” She looked up into my eyes. “I prayed to him everyday. Finally, he answered my prayers with this.” She reached out and put the bottle in my hand. “Its the Spark of Life for the child we never had.”

I thought my Aunt had lost her mind. I turned the bottle over in my fingers and read the label, Nembutal 100 capsules, may be habit forming. “The child you never had?” I asked unbelievably. “This is the life of the child you never had?”

Aunt Sophie sighed. “John, Saint Jude said Matt and I were good people, but would never have children of our own. Then he handed me that bottle.” Her hand indicated mine. “He told me it contained our child’s Spark of life. The Saint said I’d know what to do with it.” She touched it lightly and nodded her head. “I must have had it for forty years. Now, I’m giving it to you.”

I held the bottle closer and read the label. Nembutal (pentobarbital sodium, Abbott) may be habit forming. ‘Did Aunt Sophie take any of these pills? Was she on drugs when she had her visit from Saint Jude?’

“John?”

“Yes Aunt Sophie?”

“I’m not just a crazy old woman. I know what’s in that bottle, and I know I’m supposed to give it to you.”

“But why? Why do I need this?”

She shook her head and looked at me with kind blue eyes. “I’m sorry, I don’t know. All I know is that you are supposed to have it.” Her body stiffened and her gaze became more intense. “Somehow I just know it’s meant for you.”

I shook my seventeen year old head and smiled. “Thanks, Aunt Sophie.” I reached over and hugged her. “I’ll go put this and the watch in a safe place.” I went upstairs to my dresser, put it in my sock drawer, and forgot all about it.

Aunt Sophie died penniless about two years later. The little bit of money she had was eaten up with nursing home fees. It was Medicare after that. Her remaining brothers and sisters paid for her funeral. That was almost forty years ago.

I hadn’t thought of that little brown bottle for years. Then two weeks ago it fell out of a box I was shifting in the basement. It landed at my feet just as the cellphone rang in my pocket.

“Dad,” it was my daughter Emily’s voice. She sounded panicked.

“Hi honey. How’s that new baby doing? Are you sleeping through the night yet?”

“Dad…”

My heart stopped in my chest. “What’s wrong?” Sobs fill my ear. It’s something genetic is all I heard. “Hold on honey. We’ll be there as soon as possible.” I flipped the phone closed and looked at the bottle at my feet. ‘Why now? I hadn’t thought about it for years. Why now? I suddenly remembered the look in Aunt Sophie’s eyes, and the words she’d told me all those years ago. “Somehow I just know it’s meant for you.”

Now, I am not a religious man. My faith has lost its dogma, and I consider myself more of a secular humanist, but this, this was too coincidental. The very second I receive the news that my grandson was in danger it just happens to fall at my feet? The odds must be astronomical. I picked it up and looked at the handwritten tag. Spark of Life – Do Not Open. I put it in my shirt pocket and went to tell my wife the tragic news.

“Martha,” I said to my wife. “It’s the baby…it doesn’t sound good. We need to go now.”

“The baby?” The expression dropped from her face. We made the trip as fast as we could, but it still took nearly nine hours of driving.

Lissencephaly, that’s what it was. I’d never heard of it, but the doctor said it was untreatable. It caused the brain’s cortex to develop into four layers instead of six. She said babies born with this defect are never normal, and seldom lived longer than their second birthday. Some died sooner.” I looked at my daughter Emily and her husband Steve. So young. Nobody should have this happen to them.

Emily looked down at her baby. He looked normal, no sign of the flattened head that sometimes accompanied the defect. It hadn’t been caught with any of the prenatal tests either. She looked at me with tears in her eyes. “It doesn’t matter Dad. We’ll love him for as long as he’s with us.”

“Yes,” added Steve. Stroking his cheek. “We’ll cherish everyday.”

I was more proud of her than I’d ever been, of them both.

I’d kind of winced when I heard my grandson’s name for the first time. Steinbeck, Beck for short. He was named after John Steinbeck, author of East of Eden. My daughter even had Timshel tattooed on her foot. Apparently Steve was also a fan. Now it seemed ironic. Timshel, Thou mayest, the theme of the book. It had to do with mankind overcoming sin. Was it our choice, or was it a certainty? I thought of the bottle. Was it a gift from a saint, or a deluded woman’s dream?

I looked at the young couple, and my wife. “Let’s go where we can talk.” Nobody believed me. Hell, I didn’t believe it myself. After I explained about Aunt Sophie, Saint Jude and the bottle falling at my feet everyone was silent. I took the bottle from my jacket pocket and sat it on the table. I looked at Emily and Steve. “What have we got to lose?” Nobody said a word.

Steve picked it up, read the tag and turned it over in his fingers. He looked at his son, then into my eyes. “I say we try. After all, like you said, what have we got to lose?”

Emily’s eyes lit up like she’d just been thrown a lifeline. It was a slim one to be sure, but a lifeline none the less.

“Please,” I reached out for my only grandchild. “I think I need to do this in private.”

I went into the room she and Steve had fixed up as a nursery and sat in Emily’s mother’s old rocker. I cradled Beck in the crook of my left arm, and put the mouth of the bottle under his nose. I unscrewed the cap, but hesitated before I removed it all the way. When I lifted it away there was a snap, and a thin spark like you get in the winter from static electricity. It jumped between the bottle’s mouth, and the tip of his nose. Beck’s eyes snapped open, but they weren’t his, they were Aunt Sophie’s. They smiled at me, then disappeared behind Becks and he began to cry.

Emily continues.

“My Dad died last September, but this is the first time we could get up to help clean out the house. Martha’s doing ok, but she really needs to downsize. Steve, Beck, Olive and I are only here for a few days but we think we can get most of the stuff out of the house and either taken to the dump or Saint Vincent DePaul. I hadn’t thought of that little brown bottle for years. But there it was, tucked in the back of Dad’s sock drawer. It had contained the spark of life. Beck was cured, it made all the medical journals. It was an actual miracle.

It was in a box that used to hold a cellphone charger. It still had the tag around its neck with the words, Spark of Life – Do Not Open, but there was also a note. It was in Dad’s peculiar style of printing, I could tell by the way he made the letter “a”.

“To whomever finds this bottle. Follow the instructions written on the tag and don’t unscrew the cap. Please make sure this gets to my youngest grandchild, be it male or female. I got this as a gift from my Aunt Sophie. They will know what to do with it…Eventually. Until then, all I can tell you is that Aunt Sophie and Uncle Matt were destined to have more than one child. This is a genuine miracle in a bottle. Treasure it with all your heart.”

The Journey Begins?

Ideas. Those firings of neurons in our brains that created every piece of technology we use today. “Would a rose smell as sweet by any other name?” Or, “All we have to fear is fear itself.” Nothing but patterned electrons flowing from the mind of a writer to the tip of a pen. We are an exceptional animal, we humans. So different, the Christian Bible says we’re made in the image of God.

Who am I to say we aren’t? I think all of us are exceptional. That’s  why I get so upset when I see people coasting through life, or settling for mere subsistence on a government handout. Humans were never meant to have it easy. Our brains crave input. We need problems to solve, challenges to conquer and a reason to exist. A purpose to our lives. A job.

Now, we all can’t be an Einstein or a Shakespeare, but we can all be productive. We can all add something to society, no matter how small. The next time you’re near a calm pool toss in a tiny pebble. If it’s not windy, and your vantage point is good, you’ll see that one little pebble covers the whole pool with very small concentric rings. That one little action changes everything around it.

We humans are greedy, lustfull, violent, evil and selfish. But, we are also compassionate, generous, selfless, kind and loving. Ahh, love. That immeasurable commodity. That almost magic sensation that transcends our basic human instincts.   We may not be the only sentient beings on the planet.  However to a human, love can be the epitomy of joy and contentment. Or, cause a pain so deep we loose the will to live.

My journey has begun. I am full of ideas. Neurons are flashing in my brain. Electrical impulses travel from my mind at the speed of light to the tip of my finger. Then finally to you. Marvelous isn’t it. To my daughter and wife, who I love with all my heart. Join me on this journey. The trip will do us good.

Pop Bottles

 

 

By Mark Ready

 

“What do you do with the empty bottles?” I asked Lyndon, the manager of the little convenience store in the dining center where I work.
“You put them in the recycle bin,” he answered, pointing to a counter with cutouts.
“But these could be reused!” I replied. “They’re made of glass, and they use the kind of caps that need an opener. All you have to do is sanitize it, refill it with pop and stamp another cap on it. Why, when I was a kid we used to return these and get a nickel.”
Lyndon is a barely thirty something millennial with a degree in psychology. He looked at me like I’d just told him the earth was round. “Really?”
“Yes, really,” I replied. “We returned all kinds of bottles when I was a kid. Beer bottles were worth anywhere from 1 to 3 cents. Quart pop bottles were worth a dime! That’s how we got our spending money. If we wanted to go to the store and buy some candy or something we went looking for bottles.”
“Wow! You were really into saving the environment. Imagine, walking around picking up old bottles.”
“Oh no, we didn’t have an environment when I was a kid Lyndon, the environment wasn’t invented until the 70’s. We just didn’t like throwing things away that were still good. Plus, we got money for doing it.”
“But, that’s recycling,” he insisted.
I thought for a second. “I guess it was…, but that’s just the way we were raised. You know, we recycled a lot of things when I was a kid. When my older brother outgrew his Sunday shoes Mom gave them to me. If they had a hole on the toe, or in the sole, she would take them to the shoe shop and get them fixed. My younger brother got them when they were to small for me.”
“We did the same with clothes,” I continued. “I remember my aunt bringing over a huge box of clothes. She and mom went through it and found new things for all of us to wear. Well, new to us anyway. Mom even made pillow cases from a dress that had nice embroidery on the hem, but was too big for anybody in the family.”
“Oh, yeah. There’s a shoe shop over in Moscow,” Lyndon replied, arranging the 5 Hour Energy Drinks. He looked down at his athletic shoes. “These can’t be repaired. I just throw them away when they’re worn out…It’s neat your mom made pillow cases out of that dress.
My mom doesn’t know how to sew.”
“Yeah, I throw my shoes away too.” I admitted. “My wife can sew, she made curtains for our house out of bedsheets. She’s from South Africa, she used to make all her own clothes too. It was cheaper than buying them.”
He nodded his head. “Maybe I should learn to sew?”
“I’ve thought about it myself.” I replied, nodding. “It probably wouldn’t be a bad idea.”
I looked at the pop bottle, it had ‘made with pure cane sugar’ hi lighted on the label. “Pure cane sugar, that’s all we used to have,” I explained. “Well, sugar anyway, but it could’ve been made from sugar beets, not just sugar cane. U & I Sugar, that’s what mom bought. It was made from sugar beets. U & I stood for Utah and Idaho, just like C & H stands for California and Hawaii.”
“I know about C & H Sugar, but I didn’t know it stood for California and Hawaii.” He paused “I’ve never heard of U & I Sugar. It’s pretty much all hi fructose corn syrup now,” Lyndon noted. He pointed to the pop bottle. “That’s throwback Mountain Dew. They make it in Mexico. I think it’s healthier than the stuff with the corn syrup. It tastes better too.”
“We used to have Karo Syrup in the cupboard, that was corn syrup. I think mom used to mix it in baby formula if one of her babies was constipated. “
Lyndon looked up from the order form he’d started working on. “Constipation?”
“Yeah. I think that’s what she used it for.”
He paused from ordering and looked like he was thinking. “Like a laxative?”
“I guess so,” I replied.
He raised his eyebrows, pursed his lips and went, “hmmm.”
“You know, my dad didn’t let us buy colored toilet paper.”
“Toilet paper”, Lyndon shook his head. “Why’d you think of that?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “Constipation, I guess. Dad said the dye in colored toilet paper wasn’t good for the environment.”
“I thought there wasn’t an environment when you were a kid?”
“This was the seventies.”
He looked at me and shook his head. “Sure, the seventies,” he replied skeptically. “You know, I’ve only ever seen white toilet paper.”
“I think doctors said colored toilet paper could also irritate your skin.”
“I can see that,” he answered nodding his head. “Wouldn’t be a good place for skin irritations.” I nodded in agreement.
“It’s funny,” I changed the subject. “My baby pictures were black and white. But when my youngest brother was born in ’69 they were in color.”
“What year were you born?”
“1962.”
“My dad was born that year too. He looked up from his work. Why’d you start talking about baby pictures?”
“I don’t know,” I replied. “It just seemed bizarre that toilet paper was colored, but my baby pictures were still black and white… A lot has changed.” Lyndon nodded and turned back to the form.
“Our tv was black and white too,” I added. “It was a seventeen inch diagonal Zenith. Seventeen inch!” I shook my head in amazement. “I have a fifty five inch flatscreen at home, I can’t imagine watching a seventeen inch tv. One thing about it though, if it broke down you could fix it.” I laughed.
“What’s so funny?”
“I remember once when the tv didn’t work and Dad took it apart and pulled all the tubes out and put them in an egg carton. We took them to the drug store and used their tube tester to see if one was bad.”
“Vacuum tubes, right?”
“Yeah, vacuum tubes. One was bad. Luckily the tester had the one we needed in its little supply cupboard. I think it cost about five bucks… I’ll probably have to throw the fifty five inch away when it quits working. Oh well, that’s progress I guess.” I looked at the pop bottle in my hand. “It seems ironic though.”
“Ironic?”
“Yeah, ironic. Today everyone is talking about sustainability and locally produced food but here’s a pop bottle from Mexico made with sugar from I don’t know where. We used to reuse pop bottles and the sugar we bought came from Utah and Idaho. Most of the time sugar isn’t even used anymore! It’s all hi fructose corn syrup, and my mom used corn syrup as a laxative. I shook my head. “I throw away my old shoes when they used to be repaired and passed down. Well, then there’s tv’s…, all electronics actually.”
“They recycle electronics,” Lyndon volunteered. “Besides, technology changes so fast there’s no point making things repairable like your old Zenith.”
“I know. I think they ship our old computers and such to China. I saw an article in National Geographic about it. The peasants burned and broke away the plastic, then melted the components loose in the same woks they use for cooking. Their children have very high lead levels in their blood. The lead affects their ability to learn and dooms them to a meager future, their children too.”
Lyndon looked up and shook his head. “Yeah, that’s too bad.”
I set the pop bottle down and took a deep breath. “Sometimes I wonder if we’re really advancing, or actually going backwards… Well at least there’s toilet paper.”
Lyndon squinted his eyes and looked at me. “Toilet paper?”
“Yeah, toilet paper. At least now it’s all white so colored dyes won’t irritate your skin when you wipe your ass. It also breaks down easier so it’s better for the environment. That’s something anyway.”
Lyndon shook his head and looked at me like I was an idiot.

 

 

 

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