Monday, August 16, 2021

An Unknown Friend

Quinn and Marty shared the same cubicle for two and a half years. Their chairs were back to back.

Quinn sat with his elbows resting on his desk. He clicked his ink pen over and over. Marty had hardly spoken a word in nearly a week. Quinn thought he had said or done something wrong.

Quinn swiveled in his chair. “Marty!”

Marty swiveled to face Quinn.

What’s up?” Marty said.

You tell me,” Quinn said. “You haven’t said more than a sentence or two in the last few days.”

Sorry,” Marty said. “Nothing is wrong. “I thought maybe you might have noticed but I get this way a couple of times a year. I just like to be left alone for a while.”

Are you sure that’s it?” Quinn said.

I’m sure,” Marty said, “Why, do you think it’s something else?”

It seems like no matter where I go I’m already there,” Quinn said.

What is meant by that,” Marty said. “I bring everything with me; all the problems, all the troubles, all the insecurities, and all the things that make me miserable.”

I know what you mean,” Marty said. “I used to feel the exact same way. I try to work through it.”

How did you work through it?” Quinn said. “I can’t go on like this. I move every three or four years. I don’t make friends and if I do, I can’t keep ‘em.”

Think for a moment about all the different experiences you have had by relocating every three of four years,” Marty said. “Most guys are afraid to pack up and start over, but you have adventure in your soul. You like to explore new things.”

It’s not that I enjoy it,” Quinn said. “I’m forced to do it. People tire of me easily and I have no friends.”

You have more friends than you think,” Marty said.

Give me the name of someone you have not spoken to in 10 years,” Marty said.

Quinn thought for a moment. “Bruce Spruce.” And he chuckled.

You got to be kidding me, Bruce Spruce,” Marty grinned. “I’m surprised that guy didn’t move and change his name.”

Yeah, like Peter Ceder,” Quinn smirked.

Where do you know him from?” Marty relaxed.

Lubbock, Texas, we worked together,” Quinn said.

Where did you work?” Marty said.

Horizon Industries,” Quinn said, “his desk was next to mine. We started out as friends and it kind of turned sour.”

What, a big blow-up or something?” Marty said.

Things just got stale between us,” Quinn said. “I got bad vibes. I got on his nerves.”

That’s what he said?” Marty said.

No,” Quinn said, “but I could tell.”

Give me just a moment,” Marty said pulling his cell phone from his pocket, “I’ll get right back with you,” Marty spoke into the phone. “Lubbock, Texas for Horizon Industries.”

What are you doing!” Quinn said.

Shhh,” Marty said, “I’m being connected.”

This is embarrassing,” Quinn said.

Yes,” Marty said into the phone. “Can I speak to Bruce Spruce?” Marty looked at Quinn. “He still works there. They’re putting us through.” Marty pushed the button for the speaker and handed the phone to Quinn.

Bruce Spruce, how can I help you?”

Quinn gave Marty a sour look.

Marty handed the phone to Quinn.

Hey, Bruce, this is Quinn.”

Quinn,” Bruce said and paused.

Quinn held his hand over the phone. “What did I tell you.”

The Mighty Quinn!” Bruce said. “Is that you?” Man, it’s good to hear your voice. Where the heck are you now? Somebody said you were in Houston. Tell me what’s going on with you. My life hasn’t changed a bit; same desk, same wife, and same ole, same ole. Are you in town? We got to get together”

Quinn smiled at Marty and whispered, “Thanks.”

That did me a lot of good too,” Marty said. “Nothing makes you feel better than seeing old friends back together.”


Sunday, August 15, 2021

Rudy And The Wolf

painting by James Augsburger

Rudy walked on an old timber trail. He carried his rifle, a Winchester 70, 30-06 with loaded a clip. A backpack and sleeping bag were strapped to his shoulders. The trail curled around a large hill covered in thick grass and sparsely arranged weeds. It quickly descended into a forest of pines and firs.

“That is where the wolf is,” Rudy murmured. “I will stay there until curiosity gets the best of him. He will show himself and I will shoot him.”

“He has consumed the last of my sheep.”

The wind from the valley of trees below blew into Rudy’s face. That was good. If to his back his scent would carry ahead. The wolf would catch the scent and know.

The tracks Rudy followed on the trail abruptly ended.

“He would go up the hill,” Rudy whispered.

Rudy bent over to look for tracks leading up the hill. There were none.

“He weaved through the weeds, clever,” Rudy thought. “Not a stock bent or broken. Where do they learn that?”

Rudy kept his head down and eyes focused for any signs of a wolf’s tracks.

“He’s watching me,” Rudy thought. “Keep my head down. As soon as my head is lifted he will disappear behind the hill. I must make him think he has outsmarted me.”

Without moving his head up Rudy rolled his eyes up. “There you are just over the tip of the hill. I see your eyes and ears.”

Rudy turned back toward the trail. He walked on the trail toward the forest. His steps were slow. His eyes pulled to the left watching his flank.

“Wolf, this is as real as it gets. It is life or death. For you the first time. You may have had to fight other animals but you knew them. Your prey has been sheep, rabbits, or squirrels. Sheep graze unaware of the danger. They are not meant to fight you off. I am no match for you with my hands but I have my rifle. I am more than your equal. My cunning will outdo your instincts.”

Rudy saw the wolf in his peripheral crouching and easing down the hill. Rudy eased off the safety of the rifle. The click almost seemed to echo. He curled his pulsating finger around the trigger.

“He’s not more than 30 yards,” Rudy whispered. “He thinks he is the stalker.”

Rudy had the advantage even though only the perception of being stalked was frightening to him. “I know how a stalked animal must feel.” Rudy thought. “My fear is nearly unbearable. I know how this will end but his blind confidence overshadows the reality. He is so confident all he sees is himself tearing succulent meat from my dead carcass. His vision is so powerful that I see it too. This must come to an end.”

Rudy heard his heart pound. He felt the veins in his neck throb.

Rudy reached and gripped the barrel's stock. He eased the butt to his shoulder. He whirled and took aim at the approaching wolf’s head.

The wolf left its crouching position and backed up a few yards. Three pups stood behind him.

The powerful vision of the wolf over his carcass was replaced with an inner voice, “Take my life but let my pups go.”

Rudy relaxed his finger. He breathed. The rifle fell to his side.

“I can’t kill an animal in front of its young,” Rudy said. “You are safe. Mr. Wolf.”

The wolf crouched and tucked its tail. The pups gathered behind him.

“Let’s make a covenant, Mr. Wolf,” Rudy said. “You know from where I tracked you. You know my sheep. For your life today and the life of your pups, leave my sheep alone.”

The wolf remained motionless. The pups fidgeted playfully as if unaware of the seriousness.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Rudy said. “And furthermore, tell your friends.”

The wolf stood and trotted away with the pups behind him. They reached the top of the hill. The wolf turned to look at Rudy looking at him. With two fingers Rudy offered an informal salute The wolf and its pups disappeared behind the hill.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

The Defeat Of Eddie Fishbones

There was this guy from the old neighborhood named Eddie Fishbones. They called him that because he was so skinny he looked like a rack of fish bones.  

Eddie Fishbones was the best stick (pool player) ever and nobody rattled him. He had nerves of kryptonite.  Some of those big shots from downtown brought their dolls with them to distract his game, but Eddie sent them back uptown every time with their billfolds a little thinner.

To give you another example of his ability to concentrate, I'll tell you about the day Kennedy got shot. 

Eddie was all set to brake and someone announced to the entire pool hall the president was dead. Eddie remained expressionless.  He made the break, ran the table, and went to St. Anthony’s to pray for Mrs. Kennedy and the children.

One day, though, Fishbones met his match.  We were all on the corner talking about the guys who came closest to Fishbones with the least spot and some new guy says he was from the north side and there's a guy there named Joey Two Thumbs who can outshoot Fishbones. 

Right then and there the match was set and a big crowd assembled at "Louie’s Pool Hall" for the show-down.

Fishbones waited for Joey Two Thumbs.  Joey Two Thumbs walked in with some of the boys from the north side and Eddie introduces himself and then he said, "How come they call you Two Thumbs? Everybody's got two thumbs don't they?" Then Eddie chuckled, sort of a nervous laugh he had ever since grade school.

Joey held up his left hand and said, "Not on the same hand." Joey displayed another thumb where his index finger should have been.  

The sight of a man steadying a pool stick with two thumbs distracted Eddie and he quickly fell behind.

After a couple of games, Eddie began to put on a real show.  He had a run of twenty-two straight.  Then some guy from the north side yelled out, "Hey Joey Five Fingers."

Eddie looked up at Joey and said, "I thought your name was Two Thumbs."

"They call me Five Fingers too," Joey said.

"But don't everybody have four?" 

Joey held out his right hand and said, "But I got five on the same hand."

Sure enough, where his thumb was supposed to be on his other hand he had an extra finger.

This made Eddie Fishbones' knees buckle and his stomach turn. Again, he gathered his composure and started another impressive run.

Another guy from the north side walked in and yelled out, "Hey Joey Three Eyes!"

Fishbones' eyes rolled back and he collapsed like a sack of soiled laundry.  

Joey Two Thumbs, Five Fingers, or Three Eyes won because Eddie could not be revived.

I said to this guy from the north side, "How come they call him Three Eyes? I don't want no demonstration, just tell me straight up."

The guy said, "He's the only Greek guy in the neighborhood and nobody can pronounce his name, but it's got three "I’s" in it."

I said, "This guy got any other nicknames?"

"Sure," he said and called out to Joey. "Hey Joey, take your nose off for these guys."

Friday, August 13, 2021

Family Tradition

painting by James Augsburger

Vermont is a forgotten kingdom of vales cradled by gentle green mountain slopes. Creeks, streams, and rivers trickle over stone beds and cascade over rocky falls. Pastures are grazed by peaceful sheep and munching bovine. And it is as if the folks play along for their own amusement realizing no man can change it; nor would they want to.

The kingdom is ruled by hard work and shaped by the skill of trades. Ingenuity is often another word for the easy way. Work is not shunned but invited.

Sixteen years old Dennis Petit sat on the bench of the mudroom tying his boots. Light snow fell on the other side of the windows. It was the finishing touches to the previous 20 hours of snowfall.

Where ya heading,” Dennis’s father, Ray, said leaning against the doorway with a hot cup of coffee.

Snowmobiling with some friends,” Dennis said.

Everybody will be here in a half an hour,” Ray said. “Every year, first heavy snow, the whole family takes a sleigh ride.”

I told you, last year was my last year,” Dennis said. “Half the family doesn’t make it, why should I?”

Half the family lives hours from here,” Ray said. “And I know what you said last year. I thought you may have thought it over…”

And give in,” Dennis interrupted.

It’s a family tradition,” Ray said.

Dennis finished tying his boot and stood. Ray sat his coffee on the kitchen table and slung on a coat and stepped into his boots.

Before you go can you help me harness Ole Patch to the sleigh,” Ray said.

They trudged through light snow toward the red barn housing Ole Patch. Patch was a family horse. He was called Patch because of the splotches of white on a brown coat. He’d been in the family for 10 years. Patch was used for an occasional ride but if not for the traditional sleigh ride the first heavy snow he had little use beyond that.

On the way to the barn, Dennis asked, “What did you think of this when you were my age?”

I thought it was stupid,” Ray said.

There you go,” Dennis said.

But I did it anyway,” Ray said.

When did you stop thinking it was stupid?” Dennis said.

When I was your age,” Ray said.

So all of sudden you got smart,” Dennis said.

No,” Ray said, “It took about five minutes.”

What took place in that five minutes?” Dennis said.

Grandpa was living with us then,” Ray said.

Grandpa Lou?” Ray said.

Yeah,” Ray said, “Grandpa Lou. I planned on meeting up with some friends and playing hockey. There was a good freeze before the snow. We flooded the basketball court at the old school a few days earlier.”

Ray helped Dennis slide the barn door open.

The cold air wasn’t good on Grandpa,” Ray said as he stepped inside the barn. “He insisted on harnessing up Ole Tom for the sleigh ride. It was important to him and he knew it meant nothing to me.”

He sat on that old footlocker over there,” Ray said pointing to it. “That’s from World War One. He had to catch his breath.”

How old was he then,” Dennis said.

Seventy-five,” Ray said. “He’d had a couple of heart attacks by then.”

While he sat there, I harnessed Ole Tom,” Ray said. “He wanted to help me so bad but just couldn’t. I figured this must be important to him. And I wanted to know why. Have a seat,” Ray said pointing to the old footlocker.”

They sat on the locker together.

In 1887 Peter Petit built a house on a patch of land given to him by his father Charles. That’s the house we live in now. Of course, it’s gotten bigger and there’s been a tremendous number of upgrades but that’s the house Peter built.”

It was finished late summer of ‘87. His wife Annie was pregnant with a son, Denton. Peter wanted to raise all his kids in that house and pass that house down to his firstborn.”

There was a terrible snowstorm late spring of 1888, a blizzard. During the blizzard, Annie went into labor. Annie was having too much difficulty. It was beyond what Peter could do. He hitched up a sleigh and his horse, Ole Tucker. He drove her to the doctor in that sleigh during a blizzard.”

Quite a story,” Dennis said.

So on that night Peter was born,” Ray said. “If not for harnessing up the sleigh and Ole Tucker, Peter would have never been born. He’d have died at birth and maybe Annie too.”

Great story,” Dennis said with little interest.

You’re right, it is a great story,” Ray said.

You see,” Ray said, “if Peter would not have been born, Arthur would not have been born. If Arthur would not have been born. Nathan would not have been born. If Nathan had not been born my Grandpa Lou would not have been born. And if Grandpa Lou would not have been born. Your Grandpa Mike would not have been born. And if Grandpa Mike had not have been born I would not have been born.”

Dennis interrupted. “And if you were not born I would not have been born.”

Yep,” Ray said. “A man not only passes on his genes and name but traditions too.”

I get it,” Dennis said. “I can go snowmobiling tomorrow. I’ll hitch up Ole Patch.”

Nah,” Ray said. “Sit for a couple more minutes. Let it all sink in.”

Give it a full five minutes, right?” Dennis smiled.

Can’t have you catching on quicker than I did,” Ray said.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Gun Control

 It was a slow week at Billy Bronco’s, a local watering hole.

Last week there was a shooting. There was an argument about gun control.

Three guys came into the bar, Joe, Hank, and Pete.

After the argument, their views changed dramatically.

Joe said he didn’t think guns should be in the hands of private citizens.

Hank immediately began quoting the second amendment. Of course, Joe said that was open to interpretation.

Pete didn’t care one way or another so Joe and Hank asked Pete to be the arbiter. They presented their arguments with passion and reason. So much so that Pete could not declare one the winner over the other.

You are both my friends,” Pete said. “Your arguments are persuasive and articulated well. I just can’t make up my mind.”

What do you mean you can’t make up your mind?” Joe said inches from Pete’s face.

I mean what I said,” Pete said backing away.

You’re a coward not to take a stand,” Hank said backing Pete off his stool.

That is my stand,” Pete said. “It pleases no one.”

Hank reached inside Joe’s coat and pulled out his concealed handgun. Hank fired one round through Pete’s foot.

Pete screamed. “You idiot! You argued for gun control!”

Yes!” Hank said. “To keep guns out of the hands of idiots like me.”

The police and rescue squad were called.

Joe was arrested for carrying a weapon without a permit. Hank was arrested for discharging the weapon and shooting Pete. Pete was taken to the hospital, treated, and released.

It has been six months since the shooting. Pete walks with a limp and carries .45. He swears if he sees Joe or Hank he’s going to put a bullet through their foot. But it will be controlled; “I’m shooting feet only.”

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

The Good Winter

painting by James Augsburger

Buck and his wife Millie bundled in heavy winter clothing to brave the knee-deep snow and below-zero temperatures. They leaned into the blinding blistering wind to make their way to the cattle barn. The 50-yard trek might as well have been 50 miles. By the time they reached the barn their faces, toes, and fingertips were numb.

Inside the barn, they stomped the snow from their boots and brushed it off their coats. They stepped into a small room between the main part of the barn and the milk room. It was used as an office and they kept it warm enough to remove the chill.

This is the worst winter we’ve had,” Buck said to Millie. “I know, I said that last year too.” He rubbed his arms,

And the year before,” Millie said holding her hands to her face and blowing

Buck grabbed a clipboard that hung on a nail and scraped frost from a window. He looked down the lane. “Milk truck will probably be late today. Looks like a drift across the lane. I’ll get the plow out. I don’t want the truck stuck in our lane.”

Didn’t you plow it out yesterday?” Millie said.

The wind picked up last night,” Buck said, “just enough to wrap a drift around the maple and across the lane.”

You ought to cut it down,” Millie said.

Buck ignored her and hung the clipboard on the nail in the wall.

Okay,” Millie raised her eyes. 

It’s a beautiful tree,” Buck said. “I’ll cut it down.”

Yeah,” Millie said and motioned with her head to the main part of the barn. “Let’s feed our guests.”

They walked out of the room and into the main part of the barn.

Buck looked up at the haymow. “I’ll toss the bails down.” He gripped the ladder and climbed up.

He tossed several bails to the floor of the barn. Millie grabbed hold of the baling wire and lifted the bails into the feeding trough. Then she tugged the wires free and wrapped them up. Several cows plodded toward the trough. By the time she completed most of the bails, Buck had climbed down from the haymow and helped spread the rest of the hay.

Although the barn protected them from the harsh wind and pelting snow outside they were cold. Their fingers grew numb again and their noses ran.

This will be our last winter on the farm,” Buck said. “It’s a pipe dream. I guess it has always been a pipe dream. We burn wood to save money on fuel oil. If it wasn’t for the wood I cut and split we’d all freeze to death.”

I thought you said it would take at least seven years before we’d get our heads above water,” Millie said. “This is only our fourth year.”

Our first three years were bad,” Buck said, “but this year has beaten me; I’m all in. Look at it out there.” Buck flung his arm toward the door. “It’s cold out there, more ways than one. It’s going to be below zero for the rest of the week.”

What will we do?” Millie said.

My brother called me last week,” Buck said.

Brad, the builder,” Millie said sarcastically.”I’m sure he called to tell you he had the money he owes for the two sides of beef from our herd.”

No,” Buck said. “He said his business is taking off. He has three houses contracted to build. As soon as the weather breaks, he’s starting. And he wants to be a partner with him.”

This is the Brad who sold a bunch of his tools and needs tools to start those houses?” Millie said. “What he really needs is your tools.”

I can work that all out with Brad,” Buck said.

What about the farm?” Millie said.

We can sell it,” Buck said. “We will at least break even.”

We move into town, right?” Millie said.

Yes,” Buck said.

New schools for Danny, Marti, and Jilly?” Millie said. “Where will we live at first? Not with Brad. I’m not cleaning his hair out of the drain and picking up empty beer cans.”

I can talk to him,” Brad said.

Start with paying us for the two sides of beef,” Millie said. “And next the truck you gave him.”

Buck clicked his cheek. “Yeah, Brad’s a leach but this has to be our last winter. We can’t live like this any longer.”

Give it a couple more years,” Millie said. “If you don’t, you may regret it someday. At least give it the time you said you would.”

A man knows when he’s beat,” Buck said. “It’s smarter not to answer the bell than go out with the ring and get your head bashed in. I want to walk away, not be carried away. I’d like to have just a little dignity left.”

The door to the barn swung open. Buck and Millie quickly turned. Wind and snow rushed in like water through a gaping hole in the side of a ship.

It was Jilly, a ten-year-old bundled in layers of winter clothing. She pulled off her stocking cap. Wispy blond hair fell on her face. She gasped for air from the long walk from the house to the barn. She smiled like she crossed the finish line as a winner.

Dad, Mom,” Jilly said, “This is the best darn winter yet. All of us sleeping in the living room together to keep warm. Nobody has it better than us!”

Buck paused and smiled at Millie. “You and Jilly go back to the house and make some hot chocolate for us—plenty of marshmallows. As soon as I finish in here I’ll be up.”

Jilly pulled her hat back on and reached out to Millie. “Come on, Mom, I’ll race ya back to the house.”

They left and Buck went back into the small office. From the window, he watched Millie and Jilly stumble and fall in the snow. They laughed and giggled. They reached the porch of the house and disappeared inside.

Buck stood at the window. The bitter cold winds whipped around the house, the woodshed, across the barnyard, past the barn, and off into the white weather-beaten barren fields. He looked to the western skies. Foreboding fluffy dark clouds slowly rolled near like celestial gray mountains.

I got a drift to plow, hot chocolate to drink, and a family to keep warm. I hope next winter is just as good as this one.”

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Aunt Sadie's Locket

She was the last in my family of her generation to die. Aunt Sadie lived to be one hundred and two. She was actually a great-aunt, my grandfather’s sister.

Over the years my reasons for returning to a small Indiana farm town became less and less, but Aunt Sadie was always on my agenda. This year will likely be my last.

Aunt Sadie was dead and I sat alone in a funeral home sixteen miles from where she was born, raised, lived, and died. She never married although it was said she was engaged many years ago. She was a mystery to many in the family and community. She lived a quiet life. She was the town clerk for fifty years and held all the town’s secrets.

She was special and kind to me. She had the ability to pass on a pearl of wisdom at the most opportune time.

“The most precious things in life are no larger than your heart or a memory,” she always said and she would press her hand against a locket she wore around her neck. It was in the shape of a heart.

“What is inside the locket, Aunt Sadie?” I asked her when I was very young.

She smiled contentedly and said, “A teardrop.”

A skinny young man with curly blond hair arrived with a hurried stride.

He extended his hand as he looked around the room with only me and a closed coffin. “I’m Reverend Archie, youth pastor at…,” he motioned with his head toward Aunt Sadie’s closed coffin and continued, “her church.”

I smugly looked over his attire of well-worn running shoes, jeans, a t-shirt, and a cross carved from wood around his neck. “I wasn’t aware she,” I motioned to the coffin with my head and continued, “I wasn’t aware she belonged to a church.”

“Yes,” Reverend Archie said. “She never attended, but sent a hundred-dollar check the first of every month.”

“Did you know her?” I said.

“No,” Reverend Archie said.

“Did anyone know her?” I said.

“No,” Reverend Archie said. “I was sitting with the head pastor and the assistant this morning and they didn’t know her either. I’ve never done a funeral before so they sent me. They thought I needed the training.”

“Yeah,” I said. “You gotta start someplace.”

“Is this it?” Reverend Archie said.

“Yeah,” I said. “So listen, why don’t you just go if that’s not asking too much?”

“Sure,” Reverend Archie said. “But who pays me?”

“Look, Reverend Archie,” I said placing my hand on his back and gently directing him to the exit. “It’s only the fifth of the month. She’s not around to use up her monthly contribution, take it out of that.”

Reverend Archie left and I sat for another ten minutes.

Before leaving I stopped into the office of the funeral director. He was a bald round man with a nervous manner.

“I’m leaving now,” I said. “Thank you.”

“Thank you, sir,” he said. “And again, sorry for your loss.”

I smiled. “Is everything taken care of?”

“Yes,” he said. “And you want us to take care of the ashes.”

“Yes,” I said. “Per her instructions.”

I nodded and turned to leave his office.

“Oh, sir,” he said. “There is something for you.” He reached into his desk drawer and handed an envelope to me.

“Thanks,” I smiled.

I walked to the car and got in. I opened the envelope. Inside was Aunt Sadie’s locket and a note.

It read:

“Inside the locket is a picture of a doughboy who lost his life in France six months after it was taken. He was my love. He was my passion. I should tell you that besides his photo is one teardrop. Possess nothing larger than your heart and a memory, my dear lad. It is the small things that bring you the greatest joy and happiness.”

Aunt Sadie

Monday, August 9, 2021

The Chair

painting by James Augsburger

Daniel stood in the living room of a cabin designed by his own imagination, built with his own two hands, and finished by his own grit. Half of it rested on the pebbled shore. The other half was supported on eight by eight pilings above the small lapping waves of a blue water lake.

He was arranging the furniture; sort of the finishing touch to his project. Everything fit but the leather chair inherited from his father. Well, not inherited—nobody else wanted it and Daniel was far too sentimental to leave it at the curb as junk for waste removal. However, for its age, it was surprisingly in good shape.

The view from the living room spanned across a lake dyed blue by the sky above. Rock bass, bluegill, and catfish swimming on the ten-foot bottom seemed close enough to touch. The oaks and maples a half-mile across the smooth blue lake huddled in green masses like clusters of moss.

Rushes of wind parted and bent the trees almost like the waves of wheat near harvest. They swayed and twisted as if dancing to some ancient song heard and known only by them.

It is no wonder natives built legends and myths around nature,” Daniel thought. “I think it started out knowing that nature is scientific and logical but the creativity in them wanted to make it romantic and fear-inspiring beyond something as simple as—‘God created the heavens and the earth.’”

Oh my God this is beautiful,” Daniel cried to no one but God.

In almost a reverential mood he slid the leather tufted chair across the hard oak floors until it rested in front of a large glass picture window. He stood back to gage if it sat in the right place.

He sat in the leather chair. A familiar soft odor surrounded him. He continued his gaze at the lake. He could not sit in that chair without thinking of his father. His father sat in that chair for years reading and occasionally looking off into the distance.

Dad had to have seen something besides smokestacks and utility wires,” Daniel thought. “That’s all that was outside our window.”

Daniel recalled a day when he was about fourteen. “What are you looking at, Dad?”

Just looking,” Dad said.

He never told Daniel what he was looking at or imagining. At one time Daniel thought his dad may be going insane.

Daniel now thought, “Why didn’t he just once share what was on his mind?”

There was the day I turned 18,” Daniel thought. “I asked him when he was ever going to tell me what he was thinking or what he saw.”

His dad replied, “Someday you will know what I’m looking at and what I thought.” His dad continued. “When I was 18 my Uncle Warren, you remember me telling you about him don’t you? Not much of a real Uncle. More like an older guy your parents tell you to stay away from. He told me for my graduation he’d take me on a road trip to California. He said he saved a lot of money for it and we take the entire summer. Truth is, Uncle Warren had just enough to make as far as Wyoming. The car broke down. He had no money for repairs. I had a buck fifty in my pocket and Uncle Warren said you’re on your own, kid. I eventually made it back home. Found a couple of odd jobs on the way. There was this one place I will never forget. It was a blue water lake surrounded by trees. I still see that lake and I have no regrets about what good ole Uncle Warren did. Because of him, I have a place to go whenever I want to.”

Daniel smiled soft and easy and thought as he sat in the chair, “This has to be the lake. Sitting here in this chair, I know, I know what he saw. He saw this long before I did.”

Daniel stood and moved behind the chair. “I’ve picked a good place for this chair. Dad, look all that you want to.”

Sunday, August 8, 2021

No Camels, No Love

 John Smith had no time for love until he was 40.

He explored the Amazon. Scaled 10 of the most famous mountains in the world. Sailed around the world 3 times. Spent a winter in Siberia, led an expedition to the South Pole, fought in two African wars, sipped coffee in cafes along the Champs Elysees, played snooker with the Duke of Wellington and the Prince of Wales, lived with Bedouins, hunted seals and Reindeer with Laplanders, killed a lion with his bare hands in Kenya, herded yaks in Mongolia, raised cattle on a ranch in Montana, and mined gold in the Yukon. He was an Alaskan bush pilot, worked on oil rigs in Saudi Arabia, smuggled diamonds out of Botswana, owns a coffee plantation in Honduras, a rubber plantation in Indonesia, a winery in California, and an olive grove in Greece, owns a golf course in Spain, a cattle ranch in Argentina, a restaurant in New York City, a movie production company in India, a Hotel in The Azores, a software firm in Ireland, an automobile parts manufacturing plant in Poland, and a Bank in the Caymans.

That was all by the age of 30.

For the next 10 years, he was even more active.

In all that time love had alluded John.

And finally, one day while sipping cognac at the ancient ruins of Loulan, a frontier outpost on the Taklamakan Desert in China love happened. After living with Chinese goat herders for a month he proposed to a herder’s daughter.

She declined his proposal. He promised her the world and her father 1,000 goats. The father insisted on three camels. John could not meet the bride price.

Years later when a journalist asked him how love and marriage managed to avoid him? He simply replied, “When the price of love is three camels in a two camel village it is not meant to be.”

Yet it is rumored there is a lad who herds 4,000 goats and has twelve camel dealerships in the Taklamakan Desert who bears a striking resemblance to John Smith. 

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Jim's Painting

by James Augsburger

painting by James Augsburger 

Jim's favorite coffee shop was a short walk from his home. Since retiring five years ago he hardly missed a day there. The coffee shop catered to the college crowd. However, nonscholars frequented enough to keep the place real. 

Since retirement, he engaged in a passion once held at bay for decades—painting. He last painted his first year of college and from that point on, he simply could not find the time. His career as a surgeon, husband, and father left little time for anything else. There were, of course, no regrets; after all, painting, though a passion, was not a priority.

Over the years, in reflective moments, he’d catch sight of something and mentally paint it. He must have stored away a thousand images but painted none.

Jim walked into the coffee shop. It was a cozy place. A variety of comfortable chairs and tables; a place for folks to meet and exchange thoughts, theories, concepts, and reminisce. Before reaching the counter, Henry, the manager had his coffee ready.

Thanks, Henry,” Jim said and handed Henry two dollars. “Keep the change.”

Have any of my paintings sold recently?” Jim said. 

Not since last month,” Henry smiled. He looked around to see if perhaps another had sold without his knowledge.

Jim also looked around to where four paintings remained hanging. “Perhaps I should just take them down and give them to friends. They seem to be doing no more than collecting dust.”

I dust them, Henry said. “I’d hate to see them removed. Customers enjoy them.”

Perhaps you’re right,” Jim said. “I’m certainly not doing it for money, although there is a certain satisfaction in knowing somebody views them worthy of purchase.”

By the way,” Henry said, “notice the man in the brown sweater.” He nodded to a man sitting at the front of the shop.

Jim glanced. “Yes, what about him?”

He’s in here a little later than normal,” Henry said. “He’s usually one of our first customers. He sits in the same spot and looks at your painting all the time.”

Coming here, I don’t doubt his taste in good coffee but to be that attracted to my painting, I doubt his taste for good art,” Jim smiled.

You’re far too modest,” Henry said.

You’re far too flattering,” Jim said. “Do you know who he is?”

No,” Henry said, “but speaks with an accent. It may be German. It’s not heavy. I never ask him to repeat himself. Actually speaks better English than three-fourths of our customers. He’s polite and tips the same as you do.”

Hmm, a big spender,” Jim quipped.

Jim sipped his coffee. “Very good coffee, as usual. I think I’ll introduce myself to the man. Perhaps he’d like to meet a modest artist.” Jim smiled and walked to the table where the man in the brown sweater sat.

Hello,” Jim said to the man. “Allow me to introduce myself, I’m James Rupert. That is my painting above your table. The man at the counter, Henry, says you seem intrigued with my painting.”

The man leaned back and gazed at Jim. He smiled coyly.  “James, I’m Wolfgang Broeger. Please, have a seat.”

They shook hands and Jim sat at the small table across from the Wolfgang. 

I retired from medicine a few years ago and started painting,” Jim said sensing something peculiarly familiar but unable to recall anything. “I brought my work in here; one reason, for people to enjoy and another reason, my wife said my paintings would clutter the house.”

Wives,” Wolfgang grinned, “you can't live with them, you can't live with them.”

She’s right,” Jim said. “What good are they unless someone at least looks at them."

"We are talking about the wives or paintings," Wolfgang smiled. 

 "I guess it could be both," Jim said to play along. "But paintings have a way of calming folks.”

I’m a retired professor from the university,” Wolfgang said.

What department?” Jim said.

Economics,” Wolfgang said, “Eastern European Economics is what I taught. I started out in med school but it was too challenging. So I switched to something I better understood.”

You’re from Eastern Europe?” Jim said.

Austria,” Wolfgang said. “I came here in the eighties.”

Does the painting remind you of Austria?” Jim said.

Yes,” Wolfgang said.

Good,” Jim said, “because it is a scene from the Austrian Alps. I was there many years ago.”

Fascinating,” Wolfgang said, “I know the place you painted. That’s why I come in here and look at it.”

You know it!” Jim said.

Yes,” Wolfgang said, “in fact, the house in the painting belongs to my family. Of course, it no longer stands as it does in your painting. It has been replaced by a more modern home. It remains with my family. It belongs to my brother.”

Are you sure?” Jim said.

Absolutely,” Wolfgang said. “And what brought you to Austria?”

After my first year in med school, a pharmaceutical company sponsored a retreat for some med students,” Jim said. “I was chosen to go to Austria. We met with some Austrian med students.”

The summer of ‘71?” Wolfgang’s eyes widened and he leaned forward.

Jim sipped his coffee and curiously looked closely at Wolfgang. “Yes, the summer of ‘71. This is very strange.”

That painting is from a position on top of a rock, no?” Wolfgang said.

Yes,” Jim said.

It was me and you on that rock together, no?” Wolfgang said. “So brief and so long ago.” 

Ten days,” Jim said, “we became such good friends.”

And promised to keep in touch,” Wolfgang said.

Yes,” Jim said with a slight tone of regret.

But life is funny,” Wolfgang said. “So long ago and we meet here. It can’t be explained.”

I’m a physician,” Jim said. “My career was full of things that can’t be explained.”

Wolfgang laughed. “And economics can be explained.”

Both eased back in their chairs. They studied each other. They saw their faces young and slowly transform and age; twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, sixties, and now.

When things happen like this, what next?” Jim said.

We enjoy it,” Wolfgang said. “It is a gift neither of us expected and those are the best gifts.”

I think my morning coffees have somehow become more meaningful and interesting,” Jim said.

Friday, August 6, 2021

God And Secrets

It was one of those nights; a night for reflection, regret, and whisky. Nights that we tell tales of lost loves, passions, and dreams. It is when the night goes on forever and the sun rises too early. Desperation fills the spaces between the stars and the stars are connected by a script that spells loneliness and emptiness.

Two men sat at a table in a cabin in the woods in the middle of nowhere.

Tell me a secret no one else knows,” Mel said.

It will no longer be a secret,” Nick said

God knows,” Mel said. “So tell me.”

God can keep a secret,” Nick said.

Then tell me,” Mel said. “And both god and me will know.”

Then let god tell you,” Nick said.

Thursday, August 5, 2021


 Allen drug himself into the bar and pulled himself up to his favorite stool next to Zander. 

“Whoa,” Zander said. “It looks to me you’ve been run through the wringer twice. There ain’t enough left of you to bury.”

“It’s been a bad week,” Allen said.

“Couldn’t have been that bad,” Zander said.

“My wife left me for another man. My dog got ran over by a car. My son will be in juvy for six months. My daughter told me she’s pregnant. I’m three months behind on my house payment. My car was repoed in the middle of the night. I got fired today. The IRS wants to audit me.”

“You need to have a positive outlook on things,” Zander said. He slid his half-full glass in front of Allen. 

“I suppose you’re going to pull that is the glass half full or half empty crap on me,” Allen said. 

“No,” Zander said. “That’s how pessimists think. They want you to think it's water. The optimist pours his glass half full or half empty of vodka. It makes no difference. Just remember it’s not how much is in the glass, it’s what is in the glass.”

Allen smiled. “You mind if I have a sip?”

“No,” Zander said. “Take a good one.”

Allen slowly wrapped his fingers around the glass. He brought it toward his lips and as he did his eyes shifted to Zander. Allen smiled appreciatively. He downed a quick swig. “It’s water!”

Zander smiled. “But for a moment or two, you felt pretty good didn’t you?”

“Yeah, Zander, you know how to lift a guy's spirits,” Allen said. “Things will work out.”

“Sure,” Zander assured. “You’ll get a new dog. Your son will get out of juvy. You’ll have a beautiful grandchild to hold. That house was too much for you anyway. You’ll get another car. You’ll find another job. Make a deal with the IRS to take your house.”

“What about my wife?” Allen said.

“Just have her mail sent to my place,” Zander said.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021


 Jack was facing some tough choices in his life. He was thinking about changing jobs and moving. He drove out to his older brother, Ralph’s

Ralph was a quiet reflective man.

Let’s take a walk,” Ralph said and pointed to a path that led through the high grass and into the woods. As they approached the path Ralph said, “Pick up a hand full of pebbles.”

Jack bent down and gathered a handful of pebbles. He looked at Ralph not knowing what to do with them.

Put them in your pocket,” Ralph said.

Jack was confused, but he did what Ralph told him to do.

We don’t take time for reflection,” Ralph said to Jack as they walked along the path.

What do you mean?” Jack said.

Our grandfather used to walk this same path nearly every day,” Ralph said. “It was sometime during the day; in the morning, afternoon, or after supper. There were days he missed, but not many.”

They walked until reaching a pond lined with maples.

It’s a good pond,” Ralph said. “Not many people know it’s here. I always wondered what Grandpa did out here.”

They arrived at the water’s edge.

Have a seat,” Ralph said pointing to a large rock. “Between grandpa and me you’d have figured by now we’d have worn this rock away.”

What did Grandpa do here,” Jack said.

He made decisions,” Ralph said.

They sat on the rock.

Ralph reached down and picked up a pebble. “This is a decision.” He held the pebble in his thumb and index finger. He rolled it between his fingers. He tossed it in the pond. “What do you see?”

Ripples,” Jack said.

Every decision has ripples,” Ralph said.

What if you don’t make a decision?” Jack said.

Ralph stared over the pond as if Jack said nothing. Finally, a fish splashed. “There’s your ripple. If you don’t make it somebody else will.”

Stand up,” Ralph said.

Jack stood.

Ralph smiled. “Now empty your pockets of those pebbles. Sometimes we have to empty ourselves of decisions and then pick them up one at a time.”

Jack nodded and smiled. “You and Grandpa are a lot alike.”

Let’s go back to my place,” Ralph said.

You go ahead,” Jack said. “I’ll be along in a while. I got a ripple to make.”