Sunday, November 25, 2007

This is the Place by Carolyn Howard Johnson

This is the Place


Carolyn Howard-Johnson

There has been a renewed interest in "This Is the Place" since it was published in 2001 just before the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City Utah. Warren Jeffs, the prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints is on trial in Utah for rape. "Big Love" has been a two-year HBO hit. And Mitt Romney, a Mormon who calls Utah his Zion, is running for the Republican presidential nomination. One way to learn about how this unique culture affects these current events is to read work by an author who was raised there, knows the culture intimately, does not depend on research only.

Utah 1959


Sky Eccles


There is a family story. It is told that when my Gram Harriet left her career and piano behind at her grandparent's house in Salt Lake City to come to Holladay to live with her mother, she left the breadth and breath of her life. Brock, her husband, had been determined to do what was impossible--to replace that life piece by piece. He finally settled on replacing the piano; perhaps he saw that he couldn't do all the rest for her, or perhaps he saw that the piano was, after all, the key segment of her soul's puzzle.

“Everyone knows Harriet's stubborn as an ox and blue-blooded and high strung as a thoroughbred,” Brock said, “So it's no onus on me if I happen to say so.” That's the way the first entry in Brock Eccles' diary read and that's the way, I, Skylar Eccles, recorded it on the day my cousin Rachel and I read it. We were in the fourth and fifth grades respectively and knew better but did it anyway.

The diary was lying next to one written by Brock's father, Hart, but that reading waited for another time that never came for Hart's diary has been lost. Only snippets survive, handed down verbally, father to son, like the tales of Odysseus. I don't have my original copy of the notes I took on that day either, flushed with the thrill of being sneaky. I memorized that first line so Rachel and I could quote it and laugh when Gram Harriet was on a tirade. Everyone-- even a couple of giggling grade schoolers--knew Grandpa Brock spoke God's truth when he said that. The rest of the story I have to remember the way my imagination recorded it and tell it much like the bards of Homer's day, with as much care with the truths of legend as possible:

Gram Harriet had been teaching piano to the neighborhood children at the old upright in the old Cottonwood Ward, the same one she had played when she first came to Brock's attention. All the brothers and sisters at the ward had agreed that Wednesdays the piano would not be scheduled for any church activity so that Harriet could teach their children. The very young children--some were as young as three-- brought small change for their lessons. Everyone knew that Gram Harriet could teach more children if she had a piano in her home and that there was one she loved and had left behind at the Cavewell home.

Grandmother Cavewell died of an attack of emphysema just seven days after Thanksgiving the year that piano appeared in Gram Harriet's living room. She had done a fine job of planning how to break through the wall of bitter pride that Harriet had built around herself. She had done it with trepidation, and without a notion that it would be her last gift to her stubborn, redheaded granddaughter or that her own death would somehow tie the whole package into a presentation Harriet would not be able to refuse.

After her grandmother's death Harriet let herself into the ward chapel with a quiet key. She played Morning Song until her fingers felt tired and her body was so numb she wasn't sure she could make the walk back home under the cloud-tainted moon. It was too late for any other amends and if music couldn't reach out to souls removed from earth then, in Harriet's view, prayer could do no better.

Not long after that Brock, along with his younger brother, Joseph, and his cousin, Stue, brought Harriet's piano from Salt Lake City. Because Stue's daughter took lessons from Harriet, Brock had asked Stue to help. He also asked him because, in Brock's words, he was as “big as a mastodon.”

All three believed that Franklin's old model A truck, one of the few engined vehicles in Holladay at the time, wouldn't be large enough to lay the piano flat. They used the old family buckboard because they considered a prone position essential to getting the instrument to Holladay, a small farming community outside the city. It was this process of getting the instrument up from the Cavewell home on the floor of the valley to the Eccles property on the foothills that most concerned Brock.

There was a wariness among the perpetrators of this piano scam. Joseph, Brock's youngest sibling, was sure Harriet would dig in her heels and not accept it. He wasn't crazy about turning the buckboard around and hauling it back; it wasn't, after all, a bag of coal or a bushel of apples.

“What can she do once the thing is in the parlor?”

“Well, she kin chop it to smithereens like she did the parlor wall.” Stue said.

“Or she c-can refuse to play until her temper flares down--it may take a couple of decades,” Joseph said..

“Well, its all been fixed so it will work” Brock said handing up blankets and quilts and ropes that would keep the piano intact on the way home.

“Sure you have...You've got her r-r-right under your thumb.” Joseph held up his pinkie with a grin that reflected his brother's own.

“Nope, you watch. Crystal got instructions from Grandmother Cavewell before she died. You just wait!”

When the buckboard came lumbering down the driveway Crystal, Brock's mother, was in the yard. “Did you remember Grandpa's note? For heaven's sake, be careful! She'll notice if there's a scratch. Be careful of the top. It'll fly open and spring its hinges. Goodness, you men. It's an instrument, remember?”

“Okay, Ma. We brought it all the way from the Avenues. I think we can get it through the yard. If you'll quit fussing, we can do the last twenty feet before Harriet gets home from teaching!”

“Yeah, you should be herding that chorus of kids. Are they going to be here before Harriet?”

When Harriet walked up the front path ten children tugged at her skirts.

“We're having a party.”

“Garret has cookies for us.”

“Come, look what we have to do our lessons on.”

The young musicians' parents stood proudly by in the parlor and the dining room and even on the porch. Most of them carried baked goods they had brought for the surprise.

There stood the piano, burnished wood, with sheets of music piled near the little circular piano seat. Harley had polished the front part--all he could get to before the guests started to arrive--with almond oil. One child at a time came forward as Garret called them and played their week's lesson “with feeling, Mrs. Eccles, just like you want me to!” Stue's daughter, Olivia, said, as a formal introduction, when it was her turn.

Harriet didn't speak. It was quiet even with the music and the children milling about. One child at a time climbed up on the adjustable stool that was twirled by Crystal to the proper height for each, with no applause in between.

Olivia played “The Birthday Party” a three-note extravaganza, right hand only, from John Thompson's Beginning Primer and then went back to her milk and cookies. Todd, Harriet and Brock's younger son, did a minuet. He was so young he was pudgy but it was still apparent that he had inherited his mother's skeletal fingers and her innate rhythm. Afterwards he hung on his father's pant leg and watched his father reloop the rope that had held the piano as the next child played.

When everyone had performed, including Bernice who was showing some promise for classical music, Harriet had been given a long, long time to think. “Well, I just think we'll have to have these busybody men make a proper piano bench,” she sniffed, “One that will hold a teacher and a student.”

“I guess that's one job I'd better not put off.” Brock said. As he walked into the kitchen to get more gingersnaps for the children he leaned toward Joseph and whispered, “Notice that even when we win, we lose?”

When the guests left, Brock said, “Harriet, there's a note from Grandfather Cavewell down near the pedals. Sometimes the best part of a gift is the card.”

The note was rolled tightly, lodged between the left pedal and the piano front panel.

“Dear Harriet,

Your grandmother and I kept your piano as long as we could to give your anger time to fester down.

Remember, this was a gift to you from your grandmother when you were a child. I can't give it to you again for it is already yours. Your grandmother always said, 'Love lasts about as long as you'll let it.' I guess that has special meaning now that she's gone.

Grandpa Cavewell”

Chapter 1

Sky Eccles

The Search

Sky Eccles sat in the old '49 Buick convertible she shared with her mother, its fenders riveted with salt decay from the Utah roads. “Old but cute,” Sky thought, patting the steering wheel rhythmically out of affection and nervousness. Rusted down to a washed matte-maroon, she still wished for something less distinguishable right now. Something less tank-like with less presence. Something less dilapidated that would blend in. Something with a top that would allow her to hide out. She sat in silence looking at her grandparents' house at the edge of Holladay, a small farming community turning suburb at the edge of Salt Lake City. She felt exposed even with shadows of lilac shrubs and cottonwood trees shuttering the late afternoon light. She was to deliver sheet music from Eldridge Music Store to her grandmother but she didn't want to go in. She also didn't want to turn around and go back home.

Located at what was once the dead-end of Meander Lane, the little house had been built by her grandfather, Brock Eccles, and her polygamist great-grandfather, Hart Eccles. The house and land was in Sky's soul, both sweet and scary, like a sugar apple with a dark spot in its core.

Sky watched her younger cousins, small versions of herself and the other cousins she had grown up with. Women in Utah gave birth young and their years of fecundity continued undiminished, like peas being skimmed from a pod, quicker and easier after the first pea burst from its protective sheath. Some of these youngsters were nearly two decades younger than Sky but were still of the same generational slot.

These first cousins were running in and out of the screen door that slammed against their rumps with each misjudged exit. The dog, a mutt called Old Black Joe with remnants of a herder in him, sometimes took the slam for them if he didn't negotiate the swing just right. This game of tag would continue as twilight gloom shrouded their figures into small screeching ghosts: In the back, through the house, out the front. There would be no adult interference and the children would wind down on their own like tired tops.

There was one major difference between this group of cousins and the one that played the same game in the 40s; there was no Sky in this one. Both groups would have looked the same. Kids of all ages. Hair shot through with gold streaks of sun. Eyes that reflected the pool of English ancestry. But these children were all Mormons, or Latter Day Saints, as they prefer to be called. Back in Sky's time what couldn't be seen by the eye surely tainted the atmosphere of any family gathering; Sky was not one of them.

It was certainly not this difference in religion that prevented Sky from opening the car door and walking up the lawn, for that difference, though usually unspoken and unacknowledged, had been one she had lived with for nearly nineteen years now. It was that this day she carried a sprouting decision she must make along with the Mozart and Debussy she must deliver. This errand, in this place, with these people could influence that decision.

“Sky. Sky. Sky-ay-ay!” One cousin began the chant; the others joined. The car had been spotted. A multitude of cousins with fjord-blue eyes abandoned their game. Clinging to her skirt and hanging from her elbows and arms like puppets, they escorted her in a rush along the path they had been taking. Old Joe nipped at her heels herding her along in the smell of children wet with excited play. Gram Harriet--Sky was the only grandchild to call her anything other than Gram or Grandma Eccles--was in the kitchen telling fortunes from the vaults of coffee cups to the parents of the crew of youngsters trailing behind her. No one had turned on the bare bulb hanging above the table. No one wanted to break the spell. Gram Harry's silver hair was traced with telltale red streaks. It gathered the dim, evening light in the room just as the strength of her presence had gathered the youngest four of her eight children to her. No one saw the wrinkles that shredded a once smooth expanse on her forehead or the eyelids laden with the gravity of time; they would only hear her prediction of vacations to come and of changes to be made in life.

Great-Grandmother Crystal sat with her hand on Gram Harriet's arm, like a supportive appendage. There was a triangular layout to the scene like Rembrandt would have used, support against support, spotted with strong light and shadow. The great-grandmother had quietly occupied an upstairs bedroom for the whole of Gram Harriet and Gramps' marriage in spite of Harriet's original insistence that she stay in the one off the kitchen that she and Hart had occupied until his death.

“Hart's and my room is now yours and Brock's room. You two are now heads of this household,” Crystal had said to the young couple and it had been told on many occasions since, out of gratitude and, perhaps, as a reminder.

Great Grandma Crystal was tiny, less than five feet, shrunken with osteoporosis. Her frail body was like a bunch of snap beans, showing all the under-structures of her being in ridges and lumps. Gram Harriet mostly said, when Crystal wasn't around, that Crystal had been the best mother-in-law a body could ask for. She also said, in some disconnected conversations scattered across the decades, that this home never seemed like her own for it had been Crystal's before her and was Crystal's still.

Now Grandma Crystal's head shook in tiny patterns of negativity as each fortune was told. Sky was not sure whether this minute disapproval was from a stroke she had suffered or because she did not believe a whit in the proceedings. Once Sky had asked during a similar fortune telling tryst, “What do you think, Sweet Crystal?” Crystal had smiled and tilted her head toward her daughter-in-law. “Harriet is doing the fortune telling here. I am along for the show.” Her voice had been like the reedy sounds from a Peruvian pipe; there was a non-committal wavering between octaves, a strength of purpose in the notes.

As Sky entered the kitchen with dog and children clustered about her, Aunt Leah was watching her cup being prepared. The sound of the upside down china cup chimed against the china saucer in the twilight. A personal future secretly appeared in the splotches of coffee grounds that appeared in the over-turned cup away from the eyes of all present. Everyone waited for Gram to pronounce what the grounds had revealed. This process was so ingrained that no one even considered that telling fortunes with coffee grounds was not the way it was usually done. All were aware that both tea and coffee were forbidden by The Church. All were willing to break the rules for a good eye-opening jolt of joe or the convivial projection of the future in this dim old kitchen.

Only Gram Harriet could decipher the messages in the cups and because this one was not to her liking, she swirled the last drops of coffee to rearrange the patterns a bit before she began.

“I see angry energy unfolding in your cup,” Grandma said to Leah, the youngest daughter. When the children saw the secret rites, they screeched for their fortunes, too, leaving Leah with the Delphic message to be unraveled later. Teaspoons full of spent grounds were put into Postum, a dark grain brew that Mormons often substituted for caffeine-ridden coffee. The children never commented on the difference. They just gulped the brew non-stop and then each of their cups was subjected to the wizardry of triple turnings amid childish awe like the whispers of evensong. Everyone knew that this was a family secret. No one mentioned the coffee outside this twilight kitchen because it was forbidden for the devout. No one was clear about whether the fortunes were also not to be mentioned so they weren't.

Gramps Eccles entered the kitchen from the back porch. “Couldn't help notice the angelic chorus of cousins. That must mean my eldest grandchild is here, Peter Pan to the hoard of Eccles grandchildren.” He put his hand on Sky's hair, an action only slightly different from the way he would put his hand on the top of her head when she was much shorter. Then his eyes narrowed in careful control. It was the same look he got when candles were put on the dinner table by Gram, who had at one time belonged to the Church of England. It was the same squint he once aimed at Sky's mother when she forgot and wore a tiny gold cross around her neck to Sunday dinner.

Many people in Gramps' beloved church felt a keen distrust of anything that pretended to be magical or even symbolic for such things smacked of false gods and the occult. It was not because they were not superstitious for they were, but not in a knock-on-wood or don't-walk-under-a-ladder way. They were a practical people, reserved, conservative. But there was a subtle awareness of spirits among many of them. An angel, Moroni, had been instrumental in the founding of the Mormon Church. Many also felt the presence, even in these times, of the Three Nephites who were Jesus' American followers in the Book of Mormon. It recounted the American continent's tribal and redemptive history. These Nephites were blessed with eternal, mortal life--sort of spiritual guardians. They roamed among their Mormon lambs, giving aid where needed and admonishing those who strayed. Spirits were the fiber of the unseen. They possessed power and were not to be taken lightly.

Once, when Sky and her cousins were in their early teens, Grandfather Brock Eccles had caught them moving the mysterious puck around an Ouiji board in search of information about which little boy at school might return their affection when Gramps thumped out their evil with such force that the children and board scattered into different quarters of the room. The anger and fear on Gramps face had been enough to discourage playing the game of evil ever again.

Now Sky reached up to give his bulk a hug and plant kisses on cheeks that were concave from ill-fitting false teeth, just as she had then. He wore a felt fedora-style hat, grubby from handling with hands rich with loam. A wide belt held old dress pants in place around his girth and a plaid shirt revealed the telltale ridges of the garments he wore underneath.

A kind of tricot underwear, garments were a spiritual staple that stayed with him always, in sleep and wakefulness, a part of his religion, a part of his essence like the smell of his skin rich with the mustiness of the soil he worked. He shared this symbol at the intimate level of marriage with Gram Harry and with all “The Church” members, as all people of Utah called the Mormons as if it was the only church that existed anywhere about. He wore them with a shared secret wisdom that tied them together like macramé knots that those who were not of The Church could never unpuzzle.

“I suppose you'll want your fortune, Sky,” Aunt Leah's voice suggested in the gloom of the room.

“No. I'll pass. I have Gram Harry's music for her lessons next week. I picked them up just before the store closed. Lucky the news room at the Tribune wasn't busy so I could get across the street by six.” Sky was relieved to have something else to talk about. What if Gram could foretell about Archer in the depth of the coffee grounds, patterns of Chinese dragons or fearsome grizzlies that never seemed to have any relationship at all to what Gram saw there? And what if Gram could probe out the story that she was unwilling to reveal on this night, either from the debris in the cup or by the way Sky carried her eyes.

“So, did Gram's fortunes send everybody on a long weekend to Bear Lake?” Sky asked looking at the flat, shadowed masks of three aunts and one uncle framed by a sheet of darkening backlight from the window. They were arranged like an audience on the opposite side of the table from Gram Harry and Crystal. The faces of the grandmothers gathered up peach tint from the trifling rays reflected off the clouds and waning sun. It was as if they had been spotted for a stage effect, leaving the rest of the room dark and undelineated.

“Jeez. How about a little light on this party?” Sky reached over to turn on the dangling light above the kitchen table. Seven pairs of eyes squinted at her in the globe's unprotected glare. The light had been a mistake.

Gram took Sky's hand. “So, what's up, Little Love? Trouble at work?” That would be Gram's immediate take. She hated that Sky worked for the liberal Salt Lake Tribune rather than The Church-owned Deseret News. Actually, she hated that Sky was a writer.

“You have musical talent,” Harriet had said when Sky had been chosen as an editor of her high school newspaper and stopped coming for Gram's music instruction Tuesdays after school. Sky hadn't answered, the better to avoid Gram's disapproval, the inevitable report of bad behavior to her parents. Gram Harriet was not one to let go that easily. “Music runs in your veins.” She put her hand on Sky's arm. A breeze had moved the Puritan lace curtain and the sheet music as if they were partners in a dance. Sky had watched the paper float to the floor.

“Gram Harry, try to understand. Words are my music. You love the notes, I love the lyrics.” Sky took her grandmother's hand in hers, could feel the fan of ribs in the back of her hand, her veins slide beneath the pressure of her fingers. Gram withdrew her hand to brace the music against a second breath of wind. Sky knew it was futile then. And now, as a writer working for the Tribune, she had poured gasoline into the fire of Gram's disapproval. In the state of Utah the newspaper a person read was an indicator of just who one was, what one thought. When--not if--they wanted to know what religion you were they would ask what ward--church house-- you belonged to or where your father had gone on a mission or a dozen other seemingly noninvasive questions that would require an admission that you were--or weren't--Mormon. So, “Deseret News or Salt Lake Tribune?” was a vital gauge of religious and moral status. Sky was blessed tired of it, one more indicator of how people--she--was different, one more way to box up a soul and bind it with a tie of twine.

Sky remembered to answer through the haze of memories. “No, Gram. No trouble at work. Maybe just tired.”

“Don't put Mom off!” Aunt Leah said. She was the one that most resembled Gram Harriet, tall with hips that looked as if they had been abbreviated with an ax, no width to them and no depth, either--so flat at the back that it must have hurt to sit. She was the only other redhead in the family besides Sky and Harriet and the only one with a disposition that matched Harriet's as well.

“It never works anyway,” she said. “Mom's like a weevil. She'll delve until you tell her what she wants to know or thinks you should know and if you don't tell her she'll spoon feed it to you 'til you get it right.” There was a pause. A boundary overstepped. But Gram laughed and general nervous laughter followed. The children fell back into the darkness of the yard that obliterated their presence like scrim falling on a darkening stage. The spotlight glared above the table.

“So what is it, Sky?” Gram shoved a cup and saucer at her. “You never turned down a fortune before. You always had an inherited sense that inner wisdom was the real stuff of life, even if the rest of the world lifts an eyebrow at it. Let's find out what's in these patterns of life.”

“Oh, Gramps is here and he doesn't like it much.” Sky's eyes felt bright, like fever. The bulb hung bare over the heads of the family.

“I don't know how you can stand it,” Gramps said. “This plague runs in the family. You've got a father who can tell where the pheasants are hiding and how the world will be in any given decade and a grandmother who reads cups.”

Gram Harry's eyes didn't move. She could watch silence.

“O.K. Gram. You're right. Tell you what. I'll come back over the weekend for a nice chat, and a nice fortune and maybe I'll bring along another surprise.” Cups and saucers cleared from the table with five pairs of hands, the rattles and clanks loud. The chair legs grated into position under the table, leaving the ghosts of themselves in rounded dents in the linoleum. Five sets of helping hands. Five hearts that had been scrutinized in their own time by Gram Harry's x-ray vision.

Only the two grandmothers didn't move. Harriet looked back into the pottery mug she preferred, twirling and tipping the droplets of coffee, pushing and reforming the grounds along its sides. “Ah, I see a very young man coming into my life,” she said, “and he is holding the hand of my namesake, Skylar Harriet, my own maiden name turned upside down. I see her hair and heart flaming as mine once did.”

There was an invisible sigh in the room's clatter that Sky recognized as her own, a wisp of sound, resigned like the color gray. “His name is Archer, Gram, Archer Benson. But I'm not sure I will be bringing him to you. I haven't made up my mind.”

“Benson,” Gram breathed the name like the whisper of bellows. “A good Mormon name.” Gramps stopped scraping chairs into position. Leah stopped rinsing cups. The ivory soap bar in her hand slipped away in a spurt like an exclamation point.

“Yes, Gram. But that's scary for me. The Benson family is just plain scary.”

“What's so scary? Benson is no stronger name around here than Eccles, maybe more 'Salt Lake' than 'Holladay' but certainly no better.” Gram Harriet sniffed.

Gram had missed the point of Sky's fear altogether. Sky did not tremble at entering a marriage with Archer as an equal. It was that it would be necessary for her, in order to take vows as an equal, to keep herself whole, unrearranged at the whim of religion or convenience. That meant equal but different. Equal but a painful reminder among the doubtful. Unequal and a painful sorrow for her own soul among the righteous. That she was a half-breed--half Mormon and half Protestant--clung to her like a blue aura that infected every Mormon room she entered, every Mormon heart that knew her. That she had denied Mormonism and chosen Protestantism was, for them, like an untended blister.

Sky's mother was an example of what it might be like to marry a Mormon and keep your spirituality intact because she hadn't converted. Gram Harriet was an example of what it might be like to marry a Mormon and borrow his spiritual identity for your own. No alternative was ideal. Two generations of women who had married away from their original strain.

Sky turned to look at Great-Grandmother Crystal's eyes. They could not be very much different from what they might have been a half century ago, the same ghost-eyes carried in the vestigial memory of the entire Eccles clan. Make that three generations. This woman lived her religion, denying the parts that pricked, caressing the parts that succored in times of darkness. Three different women. Three different generations. Was it possible for Sky to learn from these faces instead of having to learn the hard way, from experience? Maybe, but not now. Not with an audience.

Sky had come to soak up the vibrations of this house and its people, to ground her feet in the roots here, not to explain why she was frightened. Given some time Sky could sort out what she wanted from the fears of what marriage to Archer would mean for them both and for her family.

“Gram, give me three or four days,” Sky echoed her thoughts, “and I'll have the equipment to make a decision. Maybe it will be what you see in those grounds.”

As Sky left she heard Gram's voice filter through the screen door, dusky and hushed. “If it's a Benson wedding, it will be a temple wedding, Crystal. And I'll get to help her prepare for it.” Gram hadn't missed what made this decision frightening for Sky after all. It was just that, in her eagerness to reclaim Sky's spirit for Mormonism, she had got it backwards.


Learn more about This is the Place at www.howtodoitfrugally or from the 32 five-star reviews on Amazon at

One Smooth Stone

Name of book - One Smooth Stone By Marcia Lee Laycock Publisher - Castle Quay Books Distributor - Augsburg Fortress Books Author's website - Buy the book at

First Chapter:
  Alex Donnelly was alone. That’s how he wanted it. He told himself
that’s how he liked it. That was a lie.
He twisted the throttle on the boat motor to the off position,
leaned back, pulled his floppy-brimmed river hat off his head and
turned his face toward the sun. The silted water hissed against the
bottom and sides of the boat. A breeze tussled his thick black hair.
He heard a hawk whistle from a high cliff and squinted to watch it
plummet from its perch.
Closing his eyes, he slumped low. He would let the current take him
home. He had all day and there wasn’t anyone waiting for him, except
his dogs. At least they’d welcome him, if only in anticipation of food.
The hawk whistled again and Alex opened his eyes, letting them fill
with the sweeping green hills and wide brown Yukon River. As the boat
caught and circled in a whirlpool he dipped his hand into the cold flow.
Two minutes, he’d been told. If he fell in – or jumped – it would take
two minutes for this river to kill him. He knew it was true because it
had almost happened. He’d been looking for the cabin where he now
lived, had beached at the mouth of the wrong creek and decided to wade to
the other side to search for a trail. Half way across he realized he was
in trouble. It was deeper than he’d thought and his legs were giving
out. Then the bottom dropped off completely and he’d had to swim. He
barely made it to the shore in time; he couldn’t stand when he got there.
His legs were useless for several minutes, even though the sun was high
and hot that day. He remembered he’d shivered for two days.
His eyes caught the gray shifting of mist in the rift of a small
valley far ahead as thick clouds spilled their burden of moisture down
toward the river. He could smell it as the wind brought the fragrance of
poplar toward him. The trees on the banks seemed to turn their leaves
toward it. He pulled his hat back on and shrugged into an old slicker. As
the rain came toward him he started the motor and steered the boat
closer to shore. He knew a wind could come up strong enough to keep him at
a stand-still. He snorted as he thought about that. It was the story
of his life right now. Standing still. But at least he wasn’t running
anymore. He wondered how long it would last.
Just before the rain hit him a sudden shifting of light curved over
the hills in a faint rainbow. God’s promise. Funny how he always
thought that when he saw a rainbow. Someone somewhere must have said it to
him. He pulled his hat down and cut the motor again, to listen, as the
first softness of rain touched him. Everything around him seemed to
whisper. He breathed deeply and almost smiled. Out here a person could
almost want to believe in God and promises. Almost.

August 19, 2003, Vancouver, British Columbia

Inspector Stan Sorensen slumped into the driver’s seat of his
unmarked car. Another case closed. It was a good feeling, but as his eyes
absently scanned the neighborhood he knew it would not last. There was
always another case, always more people who’d been hurt, more creeps to
chase down. He sighed. There was a time when he’d thrived on it, but
retirement was going to feel so good. He flipped open his notebook and
wrote one more detail down, then reached for the ignition. His hand froze
as his eyes rested on a small house across the street. Much like all the
others, it had seen better days. What was it that made him …
Sorensen’s eyes narrowed as the memory surfaced. A young girl’s face - dark eyes
that held such longing it hurt him to even remember. He sat up
straight. That case had never been closed. He reached for his notebook again
and made another note. He hated loose ends.


August 20th, 2003, twenty miles downstream from Dawson City, on the
Yukon River.
Alex heard the boat but couldn’t see it. He took his binoculars down
from a nail on the wall and walked to the bank. Making sure he was
screened by the low slung branches of a spruce tree, he scanned upriver.
He caught the long outboard, skimming with the current about a mile
down. Adjusting the focus, he peered at the two people crouched in the
back. He knew the one with his hand on the motor - the son of the mechanic
in town. Alex couldn’t remember his name. Probably hired himself out to
the man in the suit.
The suit was hunched into himself, a large leather briefcase
clutched in his arms, his knees drawn up, head down. His tie escaped now and
then, flapping into the wind with sudden urgency until he caught it and
tucked it in again. The sight of a man in a suit on the river was so
out of context, Alex kept watching until the boat veered and headed
directly toward him. He lowered the binoculars and squinted as it beached
just below his cabin. Within seconds the men were out of sight but he
knew they were scrambling up the embankment. They’d missed the trail. He
considered slipping into the bush and pretending not to be there, but
his curiosity got the better of him. He went back into the cabin and
As the two men breached the top of the slope, Alex's dogs erupted
into high-pitched howls. The suit hesitated, peered around and seeing the
animals were chained, approached the cabin. Alex stepped back from the
window and waited for the knock. When he opened the door, he took in
several things at once: the man looked young, no older than Alex
himself, but smaller in stature. He was wiping his face with a handkerchief,
but wasn't breathing hard from the climb. His hair was the color of sand
and short, spiked at the front, reminding Alex of a small porcupine
he'd seen that week. The man's eyes weren't visible behind dark
sunglasses but Alex had the feeling he was being sized up in return.
"Mr. Donnelly? Alexander Donnelly?"
Alex kept one hand on the door latch, shoved one hand into his jeans
pocket and willed his heart to stop racing. "Who's asking?"
The man yelled over the barking. "I'm George Bronsky, of Adams,
Ferrington, Lithgow and Bolt, attorneys at law, Seattle."
When Alex did not respond, the lawyer slipped his sunglasses off.
"You're a hard man to track down, Mr. Donnelly."
The dogs continued their cacophony. Alex just stared. George Bronsky
stared back. Alex blinked first. He stepped out, turned his head and
hollered, "Lay down!" When the barking subsided, he turned back to the
lawyer. "State your business, Mr. Bronsky."
"I have some good news for you." He glanced past Alex to the
interior of the cabin and took a step. "If you'll allow me..."
Alex didn't move. "I said state your business."
Bronsky shifted the brief case and slipped the glasses into his
pocket. His head turned slightly to the boy standing behind him. "I suggest
we speak in private."
Alex tilted his head toward the mechanic’s son. "Mind waiting in the
boat? This won't take long."
The boy shrugged and turned away.
The lawyer cleared his throat again and lifted his chin. "I’m
pleased to inform you that you are the recipient of an inheritance, Mr.
Donnelly. Quite a substantial inheritance, in fact, and my law firm would
very much like to..."
"You've got the wrong guy." Alex turned his back on the man and
stepped into the cabin.
The lawyer stepped forward. "You just turned twenty-one, isn't that
Alex glanced back. “So?”
"So, this sum has been held in trust until your twenty-first
birthday, which ...”
“My parents died when I was a baby.”
The lawyer nodded. “I know.” Digging a sheet out of the briefcase,
he kept his eyes on Alex. “You were born in Seattle. Your birthday was
three weeks ago." He glanced at the paper. “July thirtieth, wasn't it?”
Alex hesitated for another moment, then turned and pushed the door
wide. "That much I know," he said. "Watch your head."
Bronsky ducked under the doorframe and entered the dim room. Alex
watched him take it in: the rough wood table, one chair and the small bed
in the back corner; the large worn chair by the barrel stove in the
other corner; the wall lined with shelves holding his few items of
clothing and a number of books. Alex was suddenly aware of the smell – wood
smoke with a strong overlay of tobacco, sweat and animal musk.
The lawyer placed the briefcase on the table, flipped it open and
began removing papers. "I'll need to see a birth certificate, then we'll
need your signature to certify that you've been notified. You'll have
to come into our offices to sign the rest of the papers and be sure to
bring a bank account number where the funds can be deposited." Alex felt
his neck stiffen when Bronsky lifted his head and looked at him.
"Uh... you do have a bank account?"
"Yeah, I have a bank account." He took a step toward the table.
"This inheritance –where’d it come from?"
Bronsky blinked. “Your parents …”
Alex shook his head. “If my parents left me money, why didn’t I know
about it before now? You sure you’ve got the right guy?”
"Well," Bronsky read from the paper in his hand, "are you Alexander
Gabriel Donnelly, born Alexander Gabriel Perrin, six forty-five a.m.,
July thirtieth, 1982 at Virginia Mason Hospital, Seattle, Washington? Is
that you?"
Alex cocked his head. "I know I was born in Seattle, but..."
"Mother's name, Janis Marie Perrin, father's name Thomas Allan
"I never knew their names." Alex's voice was so low, the lawyer
leaned toward him, holding out the sheet of paper.
Alex took it, stared at it, scratched his dark beard. "This can't be
me." He laid the page on the table.
Bronsky sighed. "Do you have a birth certificate here?"
Alex stared at him for a moment, then shook his head. “No.”
The lawyer raised his eyebrows. "You were adopted in 1985?”
"Yeah, when I was three.
Their names were Christopher and Anna Donnelly?
Alex nodded. “They died when I was five.”
"That fits. Do you have any documents from the adoption?"
Bronsky pursed his lips. "Child welfare in Vancouver must still have
them. We'll have to verify everything, of course, but..." George
smiled. "Congratulations, Mr. Donnelly. I think it's safe to say you're
about to inherit one million U.S. dollars."
Alex's head jerked up. "What?"
Bronsky chuckled. "I thought that might get your attention. It
appears your biological parents were rather wealthy. I believe the original
amount was considerably less, but some good investments were made and
interest does accumulate over twenty-one years."
Alex shook his head. A hank of black hair fell into his eyes. He
pushed it away. "But that's... that doesn't make any sense."
"No, it doesn't." Bronsky chuckled again, and reached into his
briefcase. "It makes dollars. Lots of them." He handed Alex another sheet of
paper, then pointed to a line on the bottom. "Now, if you'll sign
here, please, I'd like to get back to Dawson as soon as possible."
Alex stared at the paper. He took the pen the lawyer held out, but
did not move to sign it.
Bronsky straightened. “Go ahead and read it for yourself. All it
says is that you’ve been informed.”
Alex picked it up and moved toward the window. He read it twice,
then signed.
Bronsky handed him a business card. "Here's our office address, our
phone number and my extension. Call if you need anything. We'll be glad
to help." The lawyer shifted the flap of his briefcase until it closed
with the soft click of the magnetic clasp. "Uh, it would be expedient
if you could arrange to come to Seattle as soon as possible, Mr.
Donnelly. We've been looking for you for over six months and we'd really like
to close this file."
Alex stared at the card.
"Mr. Donnelly?"
He lifted his head, and frowned. "I've never been to Seattle. Been
back, I mean."
"We'd be happy to make all the arrangements. How soon can you be
ready to leave?"
“I don't know.” Alex looked down at the paper again. “Maybe
Alex shrugged off the surprise in the lawyer’s voice. "Maybe."
"Oh. Well, fine, that would be fine. I'll see if I can make the
arrangements this afternoon, then. I guess that means we could travel
together, at least to Whitehorse, if there's a seat on the plane. It leaves
at 1:15, so we should meet somewhere, say at eleven o'clock? I'm
staying at the Downtown Hotel."
"I'll have to arrange something for my dogs. If I can go, I'll be at
the Downtown at eleven."
"Good. I'll see you then."

Alex heard the boat motor roar as it pulled away from the shore, and
fought the current upstream. He looked around him. For a moment
nothing seemed familiar, nothing seemed real. He picked up the papers the
lawyer had left, scanned them, then tried to read more carefully. The
legalese got in the way. Tossing them down, he ran a hand through his
tangle of black hair and sighed. The last thing he wanted was to go
anywhere near a city, but... He pulled the papers toward him again and slid a
callused finger over the smooth words. Janis Marie Perrin. Thomas Allan
Slumped in the chair, Alex let his mind search into corners he had
closed off long ago. He was a small boy sitting on a bench, his thin
fingers outlining initials carved into the wooden arm. Swinging his legs
over the edge, he made sure they didn't bump and make noise as he
listened to the voices of strangers coming through the half open door.
"This one must have a black cloud. Twice in five years! Who'd wanna
be number three?" The man's voice sounded tired.
"He's a cute little guy, though.” The woman's softer voice was
hopeful. “Maybe they'll find somebody willing to take him."
"A five year old? Not very likely." The man sighed. "Well, he's off
to Clareshome for now. They can hold him and deal with the paperwork
while he goes into the system. I'm swamped. There's some legal stuff
here, from his biological parents. Perkins. That's the name, right?"
"Something like that. His legal name is Donnelly now. Wonder how
many more times it'll change before he grows up?"
Alex saw himself, a small boy being led down a long hallway by the
clutching hand of a stranger.
He stood, hunched his shoulders against the memories that slipped
like slivers of ice through his veins, and turned away from the table.
That was then, he thought. Stay in today, Donnelly. Stay in today. He
took a long-handled axe down from beside the door and went outside. The
cold bite of late August air hit him like a slap but he breathed it in
and deliberately turned his thoughts toward preparations for winter. His
wood supply was getting low. There wasn't much left to split, but he
fell into it with an easy, familiar rhythm. It was the kind of work he
loved - physical and mindless.
But now his mind would not stop. Questions swirled one upon another
like small whirlwinds stirring up everything in their path. And in the
midst of them, two names glowed like red-hot brands. Two names he had
always wondered about.
He stopped, pulled his T-shirt off and used it to wipe the sweat
from his face and the back of his neck. His hand brushed the scar that ran
down his neck from the base of his right ear. He tilted his head as
though to hide it and dropped the hand quickly.
Resting the axe against the chopping block, Alex left the wood where
it lay and went back into the cabin. He stared again at the legal
papers. He was tempted to toss them into the stove. He didn't need this. He
didn't want it. It was too dangerous to go back. But what if ...
He picked up the documents. It was then he realized his hands had
started to shake.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Murder By Association by Gary Starta


By Gary Starta

Chapter One

Peter did not know his attraction to Debbie had become fatal. That's probably because he did not realize a serial killer had factored into his love equation. The laughter and easy banter Peter and Debbie had enjoyed at a singles function, a few days earlier had fueled the rage of a serial killer named John.

John, the Serial Killer, figured there was only one way to solve this equation. Subtraction.

John was introduced to Debbie two days ago at the latest singles rage: speed dating. Why spend an entire night waiting for a bad date to end when only a few minutes were needed to determine if there would be chemistry or not? This philosophy had not worked to the advantage of John, who believed eight minutes was just not enough time to bare his soul to a partner. How could he ever condense the last thirty-three years of his life--not to mention six murders--in that amount of time? It didn't take Debbie the full eight minutes to realize John was not going to be her next soul mate--let alone her next dinner mate.

The last three minutes of the introduction were spent in uncomfortable silence. The moderator of the event then rang a bell indicating their time was up. This meant that the single men at the event would now trade their seats in order to meet the next woman.

Women participants remained seated at tables while male candidates visited their tables in clockwise rotation based upon the letters of the alphabet. John was now going to table M and Peter would now enjoy the company of the gorgeous brunette named Debbie at table L. John barely spoke to the red-headed woman seated at table M. He was too busy watching Debbie's face light up at table L. Debbie bared a smile, revealing her pearly white teeth and sparkling brown eyes for Peter. Unconsciously, Debbie's left hand began to stroke the curly ends of her lustrous black hair. John translated this as sexual interest for Peter.

John knew Debbie and Peter would be hooking up. It was highly likely they had marked their attendance ballots to request each other's phone number. John realized there was only an infinitesimal chance, that Debbie had requested his number. He decided not to request hers, in a futile effort to maintain his self-esteem. After all, why should he allow the speed-dating moderator the satisfaction of mocking him?

John would have to go to plan B if he was to save face.

After the introduction process had been completed, John decided he would get to know the man who had stepped between him and his latest love interest. After a few minutes of small talk, John was able to establish that Peter was a divorced software manager who lived in the Boston suburb of Needham, Massachusetts. The killer also learned that Peter did not work on Tuesdays. John had all the information he needed. He left the small Framingham bar aptly called Whirlpools, as a tidal wave of emotions once again threatened to drown the last vestige of sanity in him.

John's emotions eventually ebbed. His ranting gave in to a mental numbness. He utilized this state to immerse himself in work for the next five days. When Tuesday morning finally arrived, John picked up his cell to call out sick. A nauseous feeling in his stomach and dizziness in his head, reminded him of his next appointment with death.

Maneuvering his Lexus IS 300 through the usual heavy traffic on Route 1, John had time to reflect on his past murders. “They all had it coming.” He rationalized in reference to his six victims. All of his previous murders were a necessary means to an end. The four women and two men he had killed painfully confirmed his distaste for a crazy little thing called love. John hated the part of himself that kept seeking salvation in this despised emotion. But he was hardwired just like every other heterosexual male, to keep swimming upstream to land the big catch. John insanely reasoned that one day he would meet the love of his life. She would be an unattainable type of woman: A princess who would never criticize or hurt him. He fantasized that the two of them would one day look back at his present distressed life and laugh. The chances that John would find a woman who could chuckle about his murder sprees were quite slim however. This did not bode well for the good people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Utilizing his GPS system, John had little trouble locating Peter's house. It was located among a row of peach colored townhouses bordering a cul-de-sac. John found it ironic that the housing development ended in a dead end. Deep down, he knew love was a dead end for him and anybody foolish enough to stand in his way of finding it. The men he had killed all had won favor with the women he lusted for. The women he had killed fell into two categories. The deceased females were either objects of his unrequited love, or they had unintentionally branded him as a loser with what he interpreted as a scornful look or disinterested gaze.

John did not realize his hypocrisy. He was quick to judge as well, handing out death sentences to those who had offended him. At the same time, he despised what speed dating symbolized about today's society: Instant gratification and disposable people. He also hated those who behaved in a detached manner from society. Every time a stranger passed him by without so much as a nod or salutation, anger welled in the pit of his gut. This anger dug into him like a nail. Yet, he could do little about the matter but seethe in silence. He simply did not have enough time to punish these people. There were just too many of them. An entire populace had been trained to de-value their fellow human beings. Most of them couldn't be bothered with acknowledging their fellow man or woman. John eventually aired his sentiments to the nameless, faceless beings he spoke to in computer chat rooms. But nobody seemed to identify with John―the Serial Killer. His chat room buddies told him he was simply a victim of low self-esteem and to “get over it.” John refused to get over it. He was determined to make his tormentors experience the same psychosis he was experiencing. In John's mind, he wasn't really out of touch of reality―everybody else was.

John coasted his vehicle quietly into Peter's neighborhood and popped out of it without a noise. He approached his victim from behind, not so much to surprise him, but to assume a state of detachment. John feigned aloofness, coldly calculating his kill as if he were a snake and Peter were a mouse. But in John's heart, rage surged in tidal wave proportion. Each step towards Peter made John's heart thud like a drum.

Washing his car in the driveway with headphones on, Peter made an easy target. John scooped up a towel lying on the grass, grabbed the software manager around the waist, and shoved the chamois cloth into his mouth. From out of the corner of his eye, Peter thought he saw a neighbor moving a curtain in her bedroom window. He prayed the neighbor would alert the police of his plight. He couldn't scream to warn her though. The towel muffled his cries. The manager could feel the hot sting of tears in his eyes. Guilt welled up in him. He had terminated many people over the years. He wondered if the man behind him was a victim of his downsizing. Peter recalled the catch phrases he had used on his former employees: “Don't take it personal; it's only business.” But right now, things were beginning to get very personal for Peter the software manager. The catchphrase haunted him as he began to travel life's last superhighway―to his final destination, six feet underneath shade trees with an upside down view of one pricey headstone. John ignored Peter's tears. He plunged a knife into his heart. John waited for Peter to die so he could carve a symbol onto his stomach. The etching would depict a crude drawing, a line drawn across a heart in a diagonal fashion. Both the line and the heart were enclosed within a circle among a canvas of flesh. Investigators would later remark that the symbol reminded them of the wordless signs, which prohibited such vices as smoking. Detectives would also find a tarot card at the scene portraying the Three of Swords.

But crime scene investigators would find little else. John had used the water hose to effectively eradicate any boot prints or tire tracks he may have left. He had successfully subtracted Peter from the equation.


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I Can't Hear God Anymore: Life in a Dallas Cult by Wendy J Duncan

Title of Book: I Can't Hear God Anymore: Life in a Dallas Cult

Author: Wendy J. Duncan


“I can't hear God's voice anymore!” I shouted. “Your voice has gotten too loud!” I screamed at Ole Anthony, the leader of the Trinity Foundation, as I ran out of the room.

Earlier that morning in Bible study, Ole had chastised my boyfriend, Doug, for wanting to marry me. This was not the first time that Ole had rebuked Doug on the subject of marriage. It had happened on numerous occasions during the seven years we had been dating, but, for some reason, on that spring day of 2000, I could no longer tolerate Ole's manipulation. The proverbial light came on.

“Everything is perfect,” Ole had told Doug. “If you think things are not as they should be, you are in a state of sin. You have to deal with your problem of self, Doug. Your evil self rises every time you think something should be different from the way that it is. God abhors self. Whenever your mind tells you that something should be different, you must ask God to forgive you. This has massive implications, as it destroys your propensity to want to be in control. You must repent from your sinful self-seeking immediately.” In this manner, Ole persisted in deriding and verbally thrashing Doug for his desire to marry me.

The morning had started ordinarily enough. I was on a committee of the North Texas Council of Governments that was meeting that day in the nearby city of Arlington to review grant applications submitted by local nonprofit organizations. As I dressed that morning, I smiled while thinking of my friend Amanda who was also a member of the Trinity Foundation. Amanda was a tall, attractive woman with a strong personality. She and her husband, along with their children, had joined the group before me. We had similar religious backgrounds--she, too, had been a member of a Baptist church before coming to the Trinity Foundation. Her outspokenness always presented problems in her relationship with the Trinity Foundation's leader, Ole Anthony, and its elders. She had what the Trinity Foundation called a “rebellious spirit.”

Amanda and I had recently discussed Trinity Foundation's role in determining whether or not Doug and I could marry. Doug had been a member of the Trinity Foundation for twenty-one years and had been employed there for the last eleven years. I was still considered a newcomer since I had only been a member of the group for seven years, the length of time that I had been dating Doug. We believed that we were ready to marry, but we had yet to secure the approval of the Trinity Foundation's leader, Ole Anthony.

“What right does Ole have to say when you and Doug get married?” Amanda had asked me. I reminded her that, as the leader of Trinity Foundation, Ole was our “spiritual covering,” as were our Bible study teachers who were the elders of the foundation. There were three Bible study groups at that time. Amanda was in Ole's group and I was in the Bible study my boyfriend co-led with a married couple, Jan and Garth Brown. Another group was taught by Luke and Lee Ann, who were also elders of the foundation.

“But you and Doug aren't kids, Wendy. You are both in your forties, and you have been dating for seven years,” Amanda pointed out. “I don't know if this spiritual covering doctrine is right.”

Trinity Foundation was infused with the concept of spiritual covering, though the group's actual teaching on the subject was somewhat vague. The Bible study teachers were considered the spiritual covering for the members of their Bible study group, just as Ole was the spiritual covering for the other teachers and, by extension, for the membership of Trinity Foundation as a whole. Though how much authority the leader was to exercise over his flock was not explicitly defined, it was understood that anyone contemplating a major life decision should discuss it with his “covering” and respectfully submit to the leader's wisdom and discernment in deciding how to proceed. Doubts or questions a member might have regarding his spiritual advice were seen as evidence that the individual was headstrong and self-willed--or had a problem trusting the leadership.

On many occasions since we had been dating, Doug had discussed the possibility of our marriage with Ole and the two elders with whom Doug taught in one of the Bible study groups. According to their spiritual discernment, Doug and I were not ready to be married. Ole's official position was that he did not control whether or not anyone married. He simply said whether or not the Trinity Foundation could bless the union and participate in the wedding ceremony; however, this was disingenuous. When he would say things to Doug like, “If you marry Wendy right now, it will be a disaster,” he might as well have said, “I forbid it,” but Ole was too subtle for that. It was more effective to claim that he had the spiritual insight to see that we were not ready to marry.

As I was pulling out of my driveway that fateful morning to go to my meeting in Arlington, I saw Doug walking down the sidewalk towards my car and I immediately sensed from his facial expression that something was wrong. I rolled down my car window and asked him what was going on. He explained that Amanda had asked Ole during her group's Bible study the previous night where in scripture was the justification for the Trinity Foundation to control when and if members were allowed to marry. Ole apparently had stewed about her challenging question all night and had just attacked Doug publicly during the morning Bible study for his lack of contentment in being single.

That morning, for whatever reason, I could no longer tolerate Ole's manipulation. Although Doug begged me not to do so, I had to confront Ole. As I walked into the community dining room where Ole was eating breakfast, I was so angry that I could barely say hello to Hazel, Troy, and some of the other members who also were eating. I realized that what I was about to do was considered reprehensible behavior for a Trinity Foundation member. I knew that I was about to break one of the Trinity Foundation's unspoken rules: Do not challenge Ole--especially in public. I knew that what I was about to say was unacceptable in the minds of Ole and his followers--and would only be seen as evidence of my rebellious spirit--yet I proceeded.

“Ole, I need to talk with you,” I said boldly.

“What is it?” he replied as he sat eating his breakfast of grapefruit and toast.

I was almost shaking with anger as I said, “I cannot continue to allow you to use the Bible and your teaching of the cross as a justification for Doug and me to remain single. You are twisting scriptural passages to convince us that it is a sin for us to want to marry. Your interpretation of scripture is not right, Ole.”

“Wendy, your problem is that you have never understood the doctrine that we teach here at Trinity Foundation,” he replied as he continued to eat, not even bothering to look at me.

“Ole, I do understand the doctrine. What I do not understand is why you will not give us your approval. We have been dating for seven years. We love each other. We are both believers.”

“I don't give a rat's ass if you two get married!” he replied in a contemptuous tone.

“Then why do you keep opposing it?” I said. “Why do you persist in making Doug feel guilty for wanting to marry me? Your voice has gotten so loud, Ole, that I can't hear God's anymore!” I turned, ran out of the dining room, and drove away in my car.

I had never been so infuriated in my entire life or so confrontational, but as I drove through Dallas my anger dissipated, and I began to have a sinking feeling.

What on earth have I done? How could I have talked to Ole that way? I cried, believing that I had just lost the love of my life. Doug will never be able to forgive me for my blatant and shameless rebellion against Ole, and Ole will never let me forget it.


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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Three Feet Under - Christee Gabour Atwood

Three Feet Under: Journal of a Midlife Crisis

By Christee Gabour Atwood

Into every life some rain must fall. And that rainy season runs from mid-thirties to a mid-thirty inch waistline. It's midlife. That period that runs from the point of realization that attractive younger men now call us ma'am to the time when we realize that we're being nice to people just to be sure that there's a crowd at our funeral.

Midlife - It's a four -letter word … if you're a really bad speller. But it's also extremely funny it you look at it right … or if you ignore it … or if you sleep through as much of it as possible.

This journal chronicles my experiences from a year of midlife. Bad days, good days, bad days (yes, I meant to say that twice), and a couple of really special lessons learned along the way. Perhaps you have experienced similar moments. If so, we can suffer together. Or, if you haven't … I made the whole thing up… christee atwood

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Evolution of an Identity Indian American Immigrants from the Early 20th Century to the Present: A Fictional Family History

The Evolution of an Identity
Indian American Immigrants from the
Early 20th Century to the Present:
A Fictional Family History

by Diya Das

The First Wave:

Clash of Cultures, San Francisco, 1917-1918

“Some push us around, some curse us. Where is your splendor and prestige today?” - Ghadr protest song

“It was here the sentiment was born that this favored land must be maintained as a white man’s country, and we are resolved that this principle shall be established as fundamental and vital.” - San Francisco Chronicle, 1907

“...the white man has two standards, one for his own use and the other for the man with the brown skin.” - Sikh, 1908

The first Indian in the United States is believed to have been a sailor who entered the country in 1790, but the first sizeable migration of Indians to the United States did not occur for more than a decade, in 1907. The “first wave” of Indian immigrants consisted of mostly poor, uneducated Punjabi farmworkers, younger sons with no land in India. They initially immigrated to California, Washington, and Oregon in the hopes of making a quick profit and then returning home with some extra money in their pockets.

Following these Punjabis, who were mostly Sikhs, came a smaller group of young intellectuals who hoped to study in the United States. While well educated in India, some of these students were not wealthy enough to pay for their education at American institutions, and they often worked alongside the Punjabi Sikhs during the summers to pay their tuition. My Californian ancestor became one of these student-farmer types on a more permanent basis when he was expelled from Stanford University for his participation in the Ghadr movement, which university officials viewed as anarchist.

The most famous of these Indian students were Lala Har Dayal and Taraknath Das, both Hindus who studied at Stanford University. In 1912, Lala Har Dayal and Taraknath Das founded the Ghadr Party, whose aim was to gain Indian independence from Great Britain. Drawing on the ideals of the American revolution and the social difficulties experienced by Sikhs in the United States, Har Dayal, the primary leader of the movement, managed to create a significantly large organization to worry British officials, who infiltrated the movement and persuaded American officials to prosecute Ghadr members on conspiracy charges. The result was the infamous San Francisco Hindu German Conspiracy Trial which lasted from 1917 to 1918 and temporarily destroyed the Ghadr movement in the United States.

[Compiled from several entries all made in January 1917]

The day of the “Hindu” laborers begins before dawn, as we leave the bare cabins to work in the fields. The white employer is amazed at our industriousness, but for us, it is nothing. In the summer, we work especially long and hard by American standards. We normally wake up at 4 am and work with their teams until 10 am, use their hoes until 4 pm, and then their teams until 9 pm. Occasionally, workers wake up at 1 am if there is a great deal of work to be done. Our eagerness for difficult labor may seem odd to an American, but the work is nothing for an Indian who needs to make a living. The words of Professor E.E. Chandler at Occidental College are typical of the white employers’ attitude toward Indians: “I do not believe the Imperial Valley is a white man’s country and I am willing to hand it over to the Hindus and Japanese.”

The first Indian immigrants came to northern California in 1907, but the majority did not come for several years afterward. Many came to escape persecution and the British rule of India. They began working in the fields, orchards, lumber mills, and railroads around Marysville in Northern California. They were especially attracted to California’s narrow farming belt, which runs the length of the entire state. The climate is similar to Punjab, and the threats of typhoid and malaria are nothing to Indians and other East Asians. Many of the original immigrants became migrant workers, passing southward as the growing season progressed.5 By 1909, Indians were farming sugar beets in Monterey Bay, Visalia, and Oxnard; celery, potato, bean fields near Holt (a town near Stockton); and the orange groves of Southern California.

Indians have been working in America for nearly ten years, but we are still stereotyped by the white community. I am a true Hindu, while the rest of my comrades are Sikhs. This model is representative of the rest of the Indian population in California; there are Muslims, Hindus, and Christians, but mostly Sikhs. Still, the small minority populations have confused many Americans, who think all of us wear turbans, but call us Hindus. We are the “turbaned tide” of “ragheads” to the newspapers. While many of us fit the white stereotype of the uneducated savage, individuals like myself are largely ignored.

I was educated in India under the influence of British civilization, and I came to America to study at Stanford University. It was here that I made my connections with the Ghadr Party of the United States [party for Indian independence from England, founded in the United States]. However, I soon found out that revolutionary activities are not looked upon kindly in the country of the first modern revolution. I was warned to disassociate myself from the Ghadr Party or I would be expelled. But how do you give up your ideals and call yourself a human being? Now I have no money to return home, even if I desired to, so I remain as one of the few educated agricultural workers in the fields and orchards of California. Over the past few years, I have become a close observer of the largely Sikh Indian community and of the Ghadr movement in the United States.

The Sikhs are unusual in that they are isolated from every other community in the United States. There is no friendship between migrant workers of different races, especially because they are often competing for the same jobs. Only race, not a similarity of economic situation, can forge a bond between low-paid agricultural laborers.

One such example is the situation of 1907, the first year of a considerable Sikh influx. In that year, the Japanese keiyaku-nin (labor contractors) were on the verge of forcing better wages in 1907. White farm owners would have been forced to hire the Japanese at rates close to $3 per day. Employers were in a corner until the Sikhs migrated to America. Working at first for $0.75 per day, the Sikhs formed a migrant labor force along with Mexicans and a few Greeks.9 Although many were unskilled in the fields, they worked their way up in the labor force. Now, some of them work for $4 per day, most of which they send to their struggling families on the other side of the world in Punjab. The Japanese, embittered by the loss of their near-win in the struggle for dominance, often call Sikhs “English slaves” and “poles” because of their height.

Still, despite Sikh successes, the early years of low wages have ruined the image of the Indian laborer, not to mention the 1909 U.S. Immigration Commission report’s admission that it is “practically universal to discriminate against the East Indian in wages.” In their dealings with employers, Sikh bosses often recall how surprised employers are that they and their men are competitive farmers. The white men consistently underestimate the Indian, even as they praise him. The same Professor Chandler from Occidental College once made a remark that was complimentary and racist at the same time: “The Hindu resembles us except that he is a black ‐ and we are shocked to see a black white man.” Still, many Sikhs regard such remarks as compliments. On the social ladder, they say, they are much below African Americans and Mexicans. Sometimes the darker skinned ones have even attempted to pass themselves off as African Americans to obtain higher wages, while the lighter-skinned pretend to be Mexican laborers.

Banks may praise the Sikh, but almost no one else does. Angry whites, afraid that they might lose their jobs to a race willing to work longer hours for less pay, have called them names and beat them. In one incident in early 1908, many Sikhs who had worked for a man named George Pierce were driven out of Davisville. It was one of the most publicized attacks on Sikhs. The Sikh laborers had started work as orchard pruners, but the whites were afraid of the small, but growing, number of Sikhs in their little town. The white residents beat and terrorized the Sikhs, burning their camp, robbing them of $2500, and finally driving them out of town. At the end of its account, the Sacramento Bee happily declared, “All is quiet today and there will be no more trouble if the Hindus keep away.”

Another of my gang told me of another smaller, but not uncommon, incident. “I used to go to Marysville every Saturday,” he said, “[and] buy children ice cream and talk. One day a drunk ghora (white man) came out of a bar and motioned to me saying, ‘Come here, slave!’ I said I was no slave man. He told me that his (i.e. white man’s race) ruled India and America, too. All we were were slaves. He came close to me and I hit him and got away fast.”

The Sikhs, isolated from American society, have built their own organizations. They have formed labor gangs of pindi (village-men), even if their geographic proximity in India was questionable. They have “discovered” tenuous family links so they could truly call themselves family. An extended family in India is very important, so often the gangs consist of twelve to twenty men. They are fluid organizations, with members often coming and going, and during harvest time, there are sometimes sixty men in one gang. Some “gangs” have adopted American institutions. In Vacaville, Sotham Singh is known as a Sikh labor contractor, negotiating labor contracts for large groups of workers.

Sotham Singh has taken the place of the boss man in the traditional Sikh labor gang. The bosses negotiate labor contracts for the whole group. Sometimes, Hindus even join the groups because the work requires an extra laborer. Sharing living expenses and wages, the workers form gangs for a mutual support system, creating almost a collective organization. Each group of workers also takes care of an older man useless for field labor, and they pay him equal wages to serve as their cook. Gangs pay for weekly groceries, and when necessary, a funeral for their pindu (village-mate). They are often the only link to a past life in India, and it is for this that I stay with my gang, even though they are of a lower class and a different religion.

[Compiled from entries of February 1917]

There was another Ghadr meeting tonight. Increasingly, the leadership of the Party has struggled to stay in control of the meetings. The Sikh farm laborers have begun complaining more often about discrimination in the fields and the orchards. As soon as one man mentions how he is paid less than another worker of say, the African race, the others join in with a chorus of righteous exclamations.

The fools cannot keep their mouths shut about their difficulties in America. Ghadr Party members are forced to spend precious time listening to their complaints at a meeting of a political party designed to change the political, social, and economic balance in India.20 Their social complaints about life in America would be better addressed at one of their gurdwaras, those Sikh temples that house religious social service organizations.

Despite their social concerns, the quality of life in America is not as important as whether the laborers are able to earn a living. Most plan to return to India after they have earned a sufficient sum of money to support their families. The men here are mostly younger sons who have come to seek their fortune and return home. The Ghadr Party is merely a political organization founded in the United States for the benefit of the sojourners, who are supposedly able to do more to win Indian independence in America.

Rather than formulating plans to achieve Indian independence, the peasants spend the meetings telling stories. A select group of Hindu intellectuals founded this movement five years ago with the name “Revolution.” Some translate it “mutiny.” The name itself is Punjabi, and strangely enough, the farmers seem to have forgotten their native tongue.

It is most likely with the dissent in mind that Ram Chandra officially began the meeting with the singing of a particular Ghadr song, to remind the Sikhs of our purpose:

The time for prayer is gone.

It is the time to take up the sword.

Empty talk does not serve any purpose.

It is time to engage in a fierce battle.

Only the names of those who long

for martyrdom will shine.

The next textual items on the agenda were quotes from the works of Thomas Jefferson and others of his generation, who have long been regarded as the founders of the first modern democracy. They are one of the reasons why we dare to foment rebellion half a world away from our families and all things familiar: this is America, the land of freedom and opportunity, where, more than a century ago, another group of men declared their freedom from the British Empire. They fought a war and won the right to form their own nation; what better place to start a revolution than here?

If there is any doubt about the purpose of the Ghadr movement, the American Declaration of Independence justifies our actions:

But when a long train of abuses & usurpations pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce [the people] under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty to throw off such government, & to provide new guards for their future security...The history of the present king of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries & usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states.

In contrast to the American situation, the British have been abusing Indians for nearly three centuries. The first armed rebellion to our resistance movement caused the formal transfer of power from the British East India Company to the British crown, and there have been no other rebellions of note since. Only a collision of unbearable circumstances has forced us to rebel. In the early part of this century, many of us fled India for America because of famine and disease. Epidemics ‐ cholera, smallpox, the plague ‐ swept across the country. In the midst of the deaths, the British seized our land, annexed the state of Punjab, and forced us into poverty. Granted, subdivisions of land below profitable levels has increased the number of landless farmers because of foreclosures, but the loss of Indian land is not the first instance of British tyranny. The British have been physically torturing and tormenting our people in various ways since the day they entered our country. There is no justice: if a native Indian does have an opportunity to testify at a trial, he cannot afford to leave his home. In “The Rights of British America,” Thomas Jefferson describes the American situation under British rule, which is similar to the subjugation of Indians:

Single acts of tyranny may be ascribed to the accidental opinion of a day; but a series of oppressions, begun at a distinguished period, and pursued unalterably through every change of ministers, too plainly prove a deliberate and systematical plan of reducing us to slavery.

Just as the Japanese field workers call us “English slaves,” Indians are verbally insulted everywhere we go. As one Ghadr song states,

The whole world calls us black thieves, The whole world calls us “coolie.”

This abuse from those outside of our community ought to unite us in purpose, since the first step toward improving social conditions everywhere is respect from the rest of the world; that is, we must fight and win a war against the British in India. However, Sikhs have filled every Ghadr meeting for the past two years with complaints about the movement’s failure to improve their lives. There was a time, at the founding of our blessed organization in this country, that this tension between Hindus and Sikhs was not as apparent. However difficult relations between Hindus and Sikhs may be in India, in California in 1912, we all were able to ignore religion for a greater and nobler purpose: the freedom of India from the British Raj.

Our first newspaper, printed in San Francisco on November 1, 1913, proudly displayed an editorial written by Lala Har Dayal to describe our purpose:

Today there begins in foreign lands, but in our country’s tongue, a war against the British Raj...What is our name? Mutiny. What is our work? Mutiny. Where will mutiny break out? In India. The time will soon come when rifles and blood will take the place of pens and ink.

The patriotism of the movement, partly due to America’s own revolutionary history, led us for a year or so. Then, Lala Har Dayal, the Punjabi Hindu who founded the organization, was forced to flee to Germany, after he was arrested by American officials for preaching anarchism.

The movement nearly collapsed after Lala Har Dayal left the United States. He placed Ram Chandra, another Hindu, in charge of the movement. Ram Chandra is not a Punjabi like Har Dayal, and even more prejudiced against the Sikh farmers than I could ever possibly be. In only three years of his leadership, Ram Chandra has managed to alienate almost every Sikh member of the Party. He has reorganized the Party to exclude all Sikhs from administrative or organizing positions. Ram Chandra has also openly disparaged the Sikhs, calling them all sorts of filthy names, while at the same time using their money for Party activities. Many have broken away and under Bhagwan Singh, have formed a new Ghadr Party with the same name and newspaper. Now there are two organizations claiming to be the real Ghadr Party.

The same year that Har Dayal left, four hundred of our revolutionaries returned to India to start the freedom fight. The meeting before they left was a celebratory one, in anticipation of the coming victory. We passed around old copies of the Ghadr, reading aloud the messages that had led to this final send-off, such as one editorial proclaiming:

Enough: Wake, O Hindus and rub your eyes. Open your minds. Store your wealth in the Ghadr office and register your name in the army of the Ghadr. Cleanse your blood. How long will you remain seated in lethargy? Be ready to spring like tigers.

The initial call for mutiny in India was painted on one wall of our meetinghouse, just as it had been printed in the newspaper several months before:


Fearless, courageous soldiers for spreading mutiny in India

Salary: Death

Reward: Martyrdom and Freedom

Place: The Field of India

Although many Ghadarites did succeed in rousing the peasantry, a large number failed and were arrested by British spies. The rebellions were quickly put down, and the initial failure caused morale to drop sharply in America. Since then, we have worked to rebuild the Party in America, but the arrests have cost us support.

March 3, 1917

It seems that the Ghadr movement has attracted more attention than anyone had anticipated. In the middle of the Great War, a combination of envy and distrust has served to make us the subject of an investigation. For a few brief months in 1914, we had begun communications with German intelligence through the agent C.K. Chakraverty. We broke off relations as soon as the war began, but still the relationship with the Indian National Committee in Berlin has been exaggerated in the press. Some have accused us of disloyalty and treason because we sought to better the economic and social status of our people.

March 18, 1917

The Party has suffered a significant loss. Several members have been arrested on conspiracy charges. The newspapers describe it as “the Hindu German Conspiracy,” but there is little truth in that statement. There have been no communications with the Berlin Indian National Committee since the official declaration of war, when the United States entered the war against Germany, but anything deemed “un-American” has been under suspicion since that time. The American newspapers have changed the German names of streets, foods, and everyday household objects, and anything remotely connected with Germany is under suspicion. The bad reputation of the arrival of the Sikh laborers as the “invasion” of the “turbaned tide” has not attracted much sympathy for the Ghadr cause. British spies have infiltrated our movement, and the agent Hopkinson has supplied false information about Ghadr activities to the American government. The newspapers are only too happy to supply fictional accounts of our monstrous doings to satisfy the appetite of the American public.

The first people arrested have been only those directly involved in the dropped India-Germany link, not active members of the main Ghadr movement. The agent Chandra Kanta Chakraverty has been arrested, along with the Germans Franz Bopp, Ernst Sekuna, E. H. von Schack, and William von Brincken.36 So far, none of the main body of the Ghadr Party has been affected by these arrests, but I can only assume that many of us will be dragged into this mess before it disappears, through the association of the arrested men with the Ghadr Party.

November 4, 1917

I have spent this long summer and most of autumn in hiding, disguising myself as a Mexican migrant worker. The Mexicans looked at me strangely when I first joined their group, but they have been surprisingly sympathetic, allowing me to hide my Indian identity.

American officials have arrested Ram Chandra and one hundred and five of our fellow Party members since March, the time of the first arrests. Their trial begins in a week or two, and I have elected to remain in San Francisco to hear the fates of my comrades. Unquestionably, the Ghadr movement has been shattered in the United States. Most of the leadership either has fled the country, or is lying in God-knows-what condition in a filthy jail cell. I cannot visit the jail myself, but a few of my more adventurous Mexican comrades have taken their chances to peer inside the high-barred windows of the jail. They do not return with the same smile on their faces as when they had left, but they will not tell me anything.

Despite the dangers, I occasionally manage my own foray into town, although I am careful to stay several hundred feet away from the jail. It is not difficult to hide in San Francisco at this moment. Larger than usual crowds wander in the streets to catch sight of the new imprisoned attractions. Journalists from all over the United States are crowding around the courthouse and the jail, trying to catch a glimpse of those inside. They shout questions day and night at my miserable comrades cramped inside their prison cells.

May 1, 1918

It seems that it has been ages since my comrades first went on trial in the San Francisco courthouse, but it has only been a little over one year since the arrests began. On November 20, the first day of the trial, I finally dared approach the building to stare in through the windows, along with so many others who could not get a seat inside. The authorities had cracked open a few windows, so that the voices of the lawyers carried outside, and nearly all was silent in the streets as many people pressed up against the courthouse windows.

Inside, the dark, filthy, disheartened faces of the arrested Hindus and Sikhs on one side of the courtroom contrasted with the best clothes of the town officials and the handsome suits of the Washington diplomats. The prosecution was mostly calm and collected, confident of their ability to win, while my comrades were calm as well, but out of resignation rather than assurance of winning their case.

The trial began surprisingly with a reference to the esteemed Har Dayal. The U.S. Attorney said in his opening statement:

This conspiracy had its inception surrounding this one individual. This man, Har Dayal…was a rank, out-and-out Anarchist; he believed in a combination and consolidation of all Anarchistic forces in the entire world for the purpose of social, industrial and all other kinds of revolutions of the rankest character.

After this dramatic proclamation, the trial dragged on for weeks, which then turned into months. I cannot remember now when anything happened, but only what did happen. The highlights of the trial proved to be short bursts of drama, as the case took unexpected turns.

Sometime, days or weeks from the start of the trial, one of the former members of the Ghadr Party came forth to testify for the prosecution. His betrayal provoked the first reaction from the defendants, as they all stared in surprise and then glared at his reappearance. Jodh Singh was one of the four hundred Ghadarites who had left to stir up protest in India in 1914. The last the Ghadarites had heard of him, he had been arrested by British officials in Bangkok.40 It was obvious, now, that British agents had shipped him from Asia to betray the Party. Then, surprisingly, he refused to testify when he took the witness stand, shouting, “I will die with my own countrymen!” Officers removed him from the witness stand. I left the window to find something to eat, and to mull over Jodh Singh’s sudden changes of allegiance. I decided to return to work, and it was several weeks before I came to the courthouse again.

At the time of my arrival, there seemed to be an even larger drama than that of Jodh Singh’s reappearance unfolding inside. When I asked the watchers what was happening, they all told me in not-so-complimentary terms to be quiet. Phrase by phrase, I managed to hear the controversy through the courtroom windows. Apparently, one of the defendants was complaining of inadequate legal representation. The other Indian defendants shouted, “Give us justice--this is a farce!” It was at this point that I realized how long this trial could potentially last without any useful arguments being made.

The trial proceeded in a strangely comic manner over the following months. Each bizarre occurrence received the generally expected response, but for a few surprises. For example, one day, the agent Chakraverty decided to confess to his participation in a German-Indian alliance. The revelation caused a furor on the side of the defense, as all defendants vehemently denied any connection.

Sometime after Chakraverty gave his confession, another Ghadarite accused Ram Chandra of selling him and five others into slavery to the Germans for $10,000 and alleged that Ghadr rules stated that he ought to be killed for exposing secrets to the public. The prosecution also made further ridiculous comments on the Ghadr agenda, suggesting that party members plotted to bring Rabindranath Tagore, the famous Indian poet and philosopher, to the United States as part of a conspiracy. They brought forth evidence of a letter which they had “decoded” to read that Chakraverty had played a role in Tagore’s visit to the U.S.45 The prosecution also brought forth other decoded messages that supposedly indicated that Ghadr agents stationed in countries such as England, Germany, France, Japan, and China, as well as those on Pacific islands, were agitating for Indian independence as per orders originating from the United States. While it is true that the Ghadr movement does have sister movements outside of the United States and India, any communication between these groups has been strictly between leaders, with no involvement of the large body of Party members. Still, the newspaper reporters scribbled furiously, attempting to record every one of these ludicrous statements.

In the midst of all these accusations, however, the defendants managed to cause a small furor in the courthouse. One of the defendants subpoenaed an American, William Jennings Bryan, who has written a book about India. The newspapers speculated that the defense lawyers might attempt to use Bryan’s book to show that the German link was not the cause of revolutionary activities, but rather the conditions in India. Regardless of the controversy excited by calling upon an American man in defense of a foreigner, the situation soon resolved itself and the trial continued its slow march to a verdict.

The trial finally appeared to be coming to a close early this year, when the most unexpected event happened. The court had just announced a recess, when out of nowhere, Ram Singh, one of the defendants, shot Ram Chandra, who was also on trial. It appeared that the trial had succeeded in killing the American Ghadr movement. Newspapers based as far away as the Washington Post reported the incident:

Ram Chandra arose and started across the room. Ram Singh also arose. He raised his revolver and began firing. Ram Chandra staggered forward and fell dead before the witness chair, with a bullet in his heart and two others in his body.

At the same moment Ram Singh fell. Holohan [a U.S. Marshal] had shot once with his arm high over his head, so that the bullet should clear nearby counsel. The shot broke Ram Singh’s neck.

Everyone had scrambled for safety after the first shot was fired. There was great disorder in the courtroom, and it took the judge some time to restore order. The judge ordered everyone out of the courtroom, except for the law officials. The crowd returned home in a subdued manner, and all of us watching through the windows followed.

One week later, Judge Van Fleet has handed down the final verdict. Twenty-one of the 101 defendants left have been convicted of conspiracy in a fabricated court case. Their sentences are light, from one to eighteen months of jail time, but the loss still hurts the Ghadr Party. No one speaks of achieving equal status with whites in the United States, and there is little talk of revolution. The media has dispersed, but there is no talk of a Ghadr meeting or even a Ghadr newspaper. I suspect that after their jail time is over, many will return to India, or at least leave California. I myself have decided to return to India, taking whatever savings I have and finding a job there to support my family. America is no longer the land of opportunity for the Indian immigrant.

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With God There Is Hope: Hope For Humanity - Ellen Chaksil

With God There Is Hope: Hope For Humanity

Chapter 1

Hunger for God

In the fall of 1977, I had reached a time of crisis in my life. After twenty-eight years of marriage one would suspect my restlessness to be rooted in boredom, or even a state of midlife doldrums. Yet such was not the case; I was a healthy, very active housewife and mother who found enjoyment in being with her husband and family. I delighted in cooking, golfing and dancing with my handsome husband, and all this activity had also been interspersed with much involvement in my church.

On the surface my life appeared to be full, but inside I was troubled, or perhaps “restless” is a better word to describe my state. In spite of what I thought of as my very deep faith, I even began questioning the very purpose of existence, wondering if there was more to life than I was experiencing. The deep longing within me convinced me that something was missing in my life.

From time to time, I searched for the source or sources that were causing my uneasiness. I concluded that the unrest could not be caused by any problems in my marriage. Though I had been only nineteen when Bruce and I got married, we still shared a deep love for one another even after all these years. I also knew that the void within me was not due to our financial status; we were certainly not wealthy, but we were comfortable. Bruce had built up his own accounting business, and provided well enough for our family. Yes, in that area I was satisfied, but then again even in my earliest years I was never driven to desire things beyond my family’s means. Certainly when I was growing up, our family didn’t have a lot, but there was always love. Perhaps that was how I came to learn that material things were less important.

Today Enon, Pennsylvania, the town where I was born, bears almost no resemblance to what it was like at the time of my birth. The Appalachian mountains are unchanged, but nearly everything else in the surrounding area is totally transformed. In the past there were streams and fields where my siblings and friends and I ran and played, and we delighted in our carefree existence. We would use rocks to mark out the rooms of make-believe houses in the fields and furnish them with empty boxes and wooden crates.

In those days, coal mining was the principal industry, but the air was not congested with smoke and fumes as one would expect. Instead it was crisp and clear, because the mines were located a safe distance from the town. Our father had built our two-story family house on Adler Street himself. The dirt road remained unpaved for many years, and echoed with laughter every winter as our sleds raced through the snow.

Our paternal grandparents lived on the lower end of the street, and each morning the crow of their rooster awakened the entire neighborhood. I cherish a treasury of tender memories of them to this day. Bobba, as we of Slavonic descent called our grandmother, always wore a long dress and apron, with a babushka or scarf tied around her head. Each Christmas Eve, her entire family gathered to celebrate the birth of Christ. The three rooms on the first floor of her home were filled with tables and chairs to accommodate her children and grandchildren. Growing up, I liked to sit in the kitchen near the coal stove, which served not only to cook the delicious traditional foods but also lent a sense of coziness and well being which I am still able to draw forth from the recesses of my mind.

As we gathered around the tables every year to pray and then to eat, Bobba never failed to remind us of the reason for our coming together. She would point to the crib in the center of each table, where Baby Jesus lay resting upon a bed of straw. We children, assailed by those wonderful aromas, could barely wait to dig in, and yet we listened as she spoke. Those marvelous memories, filled with love and warmth, are imprinted upon my consciousness forever.

The town of Enon also had its dangers. We children often ventured into the nearby hills where there were some abandoned strip mines. The gaping holes which were left behind, filled with sulfurous water, were a great hazard. One balmy summer day when I was eight, my four-year-old brother Aaron tagged along with me and some of my friends as we trekked through the area near the abandoned mines. I must have lost sight of him for only a minute, but it was enough time for him to wander off toward one of those hazardous pits. By the time I caught up with him, he was nearing the edge of the deep sulfurous water. With my heart in my mouth I hurried down the treacherous slope until I reached him, took hold of his hand in the nick of time, and then began the climb upward again, reaching out to those waiting to help us. It’s strange how some memories are imprinted upon our consciousness.

Aaron and I were the two youngest in a family of seven, but two of our siblings were unknown to us, except for the following sad stories, so indicative of the time. The firstborn, a boy named Cyril, died at the age of two in the arms of our gentle father after the doctor performed an emergency tracheotomy on him as he lay on our kitchen table.

Another story I am always proud to share involves our sister Gertrude. During the Spanish flu epidemic following the First World War, my mother contracted the flu late in her seventh month of pregnancy. She was told her death was imminent unless she allowed the doctors to abort her baby. Her response was adamant.

“Well then, I’ll die, because I will not let you take my baby.”

Gertrude was born and lived long enough to be baptized and taken home from the hospital, where she was kept alive for a very short time in a box surrounded by heated bricks.

I think now you have a small idea of the character and goodness of our parents.

I have no at-home memories of our sister Maryann, as she married at an early age, even before Aaron was born. Shortly after her marriage she and her husband moved to New Jersey. Maryann had a gift of hospitality, and when anyone entered her home they were welcomed by her beautiful smile.

Our sister Mary Lucille took advantage of Maryann’s hospitality when she finished high school. Though she graduated with honors and greatly desired to attend college, she was unable to do so, as our parents could not afford it. This was during the Second World War, and so Mary Lucille decided to seek employment in the city, where good job opportunities were available. And of course Maryann and her husband Joe graciously opened their door to her.

There are many at-home memories of my brother Mark, who was four years older than me. He loved to fish and hunt with our dad. Often he and I were assigned the chore of washing the kitchen floor. He would scrub, then rinse out the rag and hand it to me to dry and shine the floor with it. More often than not, this ended in a free-for-all. Rather than simply wringing the cloth dry and then handing it to me, Mark would call out and then toss it, sopping wet, in my face. Today, instead of bursting into tears and lunging at him, I cherish the memory, because Mark is no longer with us.

Mark had a brilliant mind and, when he was old enough, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and joined the Seabees, where he became a member of a construction battalion. Upon his discharge from the Service, he entered college and became a successful engineer.

Then there were just two of us at home on Adler Street, Aaron and me.

* * *

When I reflect upon the year that I was born, 1929, the start of the Great Depression, and recall hearing so may stories from others about those difficult times, I realize I was graced even then in that I didn’t know enough to be negatively affected by our everyday hardships.

For example, we had no indoor plumbing, and yet thought nothing of going to the outhouse in any and all types of weather or, for that matter, of taking a bath in the tin tub after heating the water on the stove. It never occurred to me to be unhappy when my mother made some of my dresses from another relative’s hand-me-down clothes; instead I was pleased and proud that she had made them for me.

Whenever we sat down to dinner, even though our dad came home exhausted from working in the mines, he always waited until everyone else was served before he took his portion. In spite of our poverty, there was always enough food, as Mom was a good and resourceful cook. Every Wednesday the house smelled wonderful; that was the day she baked bread, and sometime even fried some of the dough, covering it with sugar for a special treat. Even now, just thinking about the taste makes my mouth water.

Growing up in Enon, we children had the opportunity to earn some extra money in the summertime by picking blueberries. It was necessary to get up at five in the morning and walk up into the mountains with pails attached to our belts. In later years Mom would make us laugh by telling stories of how each of her children reacted to this chore.

“Mary Lucille,” she would say, “Made every excuse, even feigned illness, so she wouldn’t have to go out and pick berries.”

Mark, on the other hand, was a good worker, and he always came home with his pail filled. As for me, I was filled with pride to hear Bobba say, “Look what a good girl Elenka is! She not only comes home with her pails filled, but then she starts cleaning the house for her mother.”

Even at an early age I made every effort to do my part so as to please those around me.

Aaron and I, as the youngest and only four years apart in age, were very close. However, as with all siblings, we had our differences, especially when it came to our choice of radio programs. In those days there was no television in our house, and only one radio. Every Saturday afternoon, the rest of us grew annoyed with Aaron as we were literally forced to listen to the opera being broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. Until today, I wonder how he found these broadcasts, and where he developed this passion for opera. Living in a small mining town, he had never been exposed to that beauty; it simply was not a part of our culture.

Yet Aaron loved that music so much that when he was in the eighth grade he walked all the way to the next town‐a good ten-mile hike‐to hear Patrice Munsel, a noted opera star, perform. Today, in these quite different times, we realize he converted many of us. My husband and I appreciate and love the music; time and again we have attended the opera with him.

Aaron also had a brilliant mind; he excelled in high school and became a member of the National Honor Society. As for picking blueberries? He did not do much of that, perhaps because once he was old enough our mother began working in the sewing factory and money was a bit more available. In fact our parents were able to pay Aaron’s tuition at a nearby high school which was considered to be academically superior to the one in our borough.

Our high school years were quite different from those of teenagers today. Our parents were quite strict, and we had a 9:00 p.m. curfew. In my junior year of high school in 1946, I was finally allowed to attend the dances which were held in a hall about six blocks from our house. Consequently, the course of my life was set in April of that year when I caught sight of a young man entering the hall. I could not help staring at him because I thought he was the best looking man I had ever seen.

Shortly thereafter, even though I thought I looked very young in my bobby sox and broomstick skirt‐the fashion of the day‐I was thrilled when this handsome man asked me to dance. As we slowly circled the hall, I learned that his name was Bruce and he had just been discharged from the Army. I was awestruck when he told me he had fought in the Battle of the Bulge.

When the dance was over he asked to take me home, but at first I politely refused, knowing my mother would not approve of my getting into his car. Once I explained my dilemma, Bruce offered to walk me home. That was the beginning of a romance that has lasted until today.

We often share a laugh with our children when we tell them about the first time I was finally allowed to ride home with him following the dance. We sat together, parked in front of my house, steam gathering on the car windows as we kissed. My mother must have spotted us as soon as she looked out the front window, because in an instant the door flew open and she came storming down the walk in her flannel nightgown. Just as quickly she yanked the car door open, reached inside and, holding me by the ear, pulled me out of the car.

Despite that bad beginning, however, as the weeks passed my mother apparently became persuaded that Bruce was an honorable young man and I really liked him, and so I was able to invite him into the house. Of course, once my parents met him they allowed me to date. Later that summer both sets of parents met as well, and the meeting resulted in a fine and lasting friendship.

In the Fall of that year, Bruce entered college and I began my senior year of high school. I was thrilled to bring him to my prom, and even more excited to attend a dance with him at the University of Scranton. We were engaged in 1948, and were so eager to be together all the time that we were married in 1949, just a year before he graduated from the university to begin his career in accounting.

Our first apartment was near Bru’s parents’ house, and I loved visiting with his mom and learning how to prepare his favorite foods. Bru was an only child, and so early on he and I planned to have a child. In the following year we were heartbroken when I miscarried, and then learned that because of a problem with my female organs it was unlikely I could ever become pregnant again. When faced with that possibility, I was told that perhaps surgery could alleviate the condition. In consequence, in the hope of conceiving a child, we decided to go forward with the operation.

Following surgery, as the months passed, I prayed in the fashion I always had, just as I believed all Catholics did‐I made novenas to St. Ann and the Blessed Mother. Because in those times before Vatican Council II, we as Catholics did not read the Bible, our knowledge of Jesus, except for His birth and His death on the Cross, was limited. As a result, instead of seeing St. Ann and Blessed Mary as intercessors, we prayed directly to them.

This is a very important point that I wish to make. In fear of mortal sin, no one in our family was ever allowed to miss Mass, but beyond that all of our prayers were directed to the Mother of Jesus. In fact, during the month of May, which was dedicated to her, we erected altars in our homes, prayed the rosary and said special Novena prayers before them. Little did I realize at that time how much my understanding would change years later.

* * *

Bruce and I were filled with joy when our son David was born in October of 1951. He was followed two years later by our second son, Jonathan and, five years afterwards, by our daughter Ria.

In that span of time conditions in Enon and the surrounding towns and cities changed tremendously. Numerous industries set up factories in the area, offering employment opportunities to many. Even on Adler Street, much to everyone’s glee, outhouses became obsolete. I recall how pleased and special I felt when our dad built a small powder room in our basement and there was no longer any need to venture

outdoors. The former dirt road was paved, and soon cars raced up and down its length. I often wonder what Bobba would have thought if she had lived to see that transformation.

Bru worked hard setting up his own accounting practice, and we were able to build a beautiful, two-story colonial house right on the border between Enon and the next town. We were a happy family, and whenever we were able we took wonderful trips with the children. One of our first was to bring the three of them to the place in Canada where Bru and I had spent our honeymoon. At the time, David was ten, Jonathan eight and Ria was three. Each evening at dinner, the boys looked so proper in their Eton suits and bow ties while Ria looked beautiful in her starched organdy dress.

Another time we took a trip to Radio City in New York, followed by dinner at the then famous Mama Leone’s restaurant. One memory never fails to make me smile. We had just finished eating a sumptuous meal and the boys, who were unfamiliar with finger bowls, watched as the waiter set the finger bowls on the table. Simultaneously they bellowed out loudly enough to be heard throughout the entire restaurant, “No, no, we don’t want any! We just can’t eat any more soup.”

Even at that age, though, Jonathan always attempted to be prim and proper. Yet another time when we were out to dinner and it was his turn to give the waiter his order, he very seriously said, “I would like some breastless bone of chicken, thank you.”

The waiter managed to conceal his laughter, but Bruce and I had a hard time meeting each other’s eyes.

Growing up, the boys were very different from each other in many respects, but both were musically talented; David played the piano and Jonathan the violin. Often at socials and family gatherings they were called upon to entertain, and we were quite proud of them.

All three of our children attended the parochial school in a nearby town. It was there that we met a priest who is still one of our best friends today. Father Vinnie, as we continue to call him even though he is now a monsignor, is an important part of our lives. When the children were in the lower grades, he administered the Sacraments to them. He also married David and his wife Jan, as well as Ria and her husband Bobby. He would prove to be my guide and mentor through what was about to become the new focus of my life.

Years later, during that time of crisis in my life in 1977, as I reflected upon the lives of our three children and what wonderful young adults they had grown into, I decided they could not be at the heart of my unrest. Our daughter Ria was attending college and our twenty-six- and twenty-four-year-old sons were already making their way in the world.

Having gone through my mental checklist and found nothing outside myself that was causing my unrest, I determined that the restlessness was necessarily rooted in my very core. I began to wonder‐could this sense of deprivation have something to do with my relationship with God?

But how could that be? I wondered. How could such a thought even enter my mind? In my smugness, I attempted to point out to myself that this just could not be the cause of my restlessness. Why, I went to church every Sunday and even on Holy Days. I said the rosary and, before receiving Holy Communion, I did go to confession. In addition, I always participated in all of the activities at our church, serving at the dinners held as fundraisers, sometimes working at bingo. In fact, I could not, would not allow myself to believe that my relationship with God could be the cause of my unrest. Yet as the months passed, in some of my quiet moments, it seemed I heard my inner self accusing me.

But Ellen, I heard myself say, Do you have a close relationship with God? Do you really know Him?

I was taken aback by that question and, in seeking an answer, I realized that, yes, I was a good Roman Catholic, I did obey the laws of the Church, but as for knowing God in a close personal way, I had never given that any thought. I could truthfully say I did not have that type of personal relationship with God, and it seemed that just going to church was not the solution. Maybe, I decided, that was the reason I had begun church hopping.

Then again, maybe Vatican II had had something to do with that skipping around. Twelve years had passed since the Council had ended, and changes ordained in its deliberations were being implemented in the Church, changes which I had welcomed and was excited about, and I had wanted to attend Mass where those changes were in place.

For example, the Mass had become our prime form of worship and we the people, the Church, were allowed to participate, as the words were no longer spoken in Latin but in our own language, the vernacular of the people. It was also incredibly exciting the first time I took the Body and Blood of Christ into my own hands at the Eucharist. Then, too, at Mass I experienced a sense of community in exchanging the sign of peace with the people around me.

My reflection pointed out to me that the Mass was not what I had been searching for, because I already had it. Instead, I came to realize that the “something more” I was looking for in my life must be the Someone who is my God. I wanted to get to know Him in a personal way.

That stream of thought brought to mind our very good friend Father Vinnie, who was also my spiritual advisor. If he were here, I mused, instead of in Rome where he was pursuing his doctorate in theology, I knew he could have helped me; he would have pointed me in the right direction. It was he, after all, who had first introduced Bruce and me to the ways opened to all at the Vatican Council. I reminisced about how proud I had been when Father selected Bruce to be one of the first lectors in our parish. He was among the first lay persons able to stand in our sanctuary and read the scripture passages designated for that Sunday’s Mass. What an exciting time to live in!

Over the years we had developed a close relationship with Father Vinnie; it was he who had administered the Sacrament of the Eucharist to Ria at her first Holy Communion, and he was also present when the bishop confirmed our sons Jonathan and David. Yes, I was sure if he had been there at this time of my soul-searching, he could have helped me to understand and quiet my inner restlessness.

My thoughts about the return of our priest friend to Rome evoked a flood of memories, one of which was when Father Vinnie helped coordinate a wonderful trip to Italy for our family in 1967. Through his efforts and those of an acquaintance he had made during his seminary days at the North American College in the Vatican, we had been afforded a very special time in the audience hall in Castel Gandolfo, the summer residence of the Pope.

* * *

1967: Italy

Arrangements were made for us to hire a driver, Remo Velli, who knew the region well and who had been of service to many in the Vatican. Remo proved to be compassionate as well as competent. When our daughter Ria, then nine years old, complained of an upset stomach, my husband, who speaks fluent Italian, mentioned the problem to Remo, who stopped on our way to purchase some medicine to ease her

tummy troubles.

Needless to say, we were quite pleased, as then we were able to enjoy the beautiful scenery unperturbed as we drove up into the mountains. We soaked in more beauty as we walked into the center of the charming little town in Lazio where the Pope’s summer residence is located. We saw the townspeople sitting at tables in the square, enjoying each other’s company as they sipped their beverages and the men smoked their pipes.

When we finally entered the audience hall, we were surprised to see our driver up on the stage conferring with a group of cardinals. Apparently he was well known to them. We were further amazed when he came forward and invited us to take seats closer to the stage. However, we decided to remain where we were; we thought our seats on the aisle would afford us a better view of Pope Paul VI as he passed by.

At that point all eyes were riveted on the back of the hall where the Pope would enter; the excitement was almost palpable. After some time, amid shouts of welcome, we caught sight of the Holy Father. Though he looked frail, he smiled and reached out to the people from the chair in which he was being carried on the shoulders of some men. For Catholics like me, it was a thrilling and awe-filled moment!

We were quite pleased with our decision to remain in our original seats, for we were close enough to almost touch him. Then, wonder of wonders, as he passed by he did grasp and hold onto our son David’s hand. Moments later, when the Holy Father moved on, there was a look of awe on everyone’s face, especially that of our sixteen-year-old son David, who appeared dazed.

“Mom,” he said. “I can’t believe I was holding the Pope’s hand! He held on so tight my ring almost slipped off!”

After the audience, bubbling with excitement, we left the hall and made our way to the car. We marveled at our good fortune‐to think that we had had seats in an area where we could literally touch the Pope’s hand! In a short time we caught sight of our driver, who was carrying a very large box in his arms. Immediately Bruce told him of our good fortune. Instead of putting the box into the trunk, he turned to us and asked if we would like to take a picture with him and Ria holding on to the box. He went on to explain that the box contained some of the Holy Father’s clothing. Needless to say, Bruce immediately took the picture. Later, on our way back to Rome, our driver told us it was part of his duty to deliver the garments to an order of nuns inside the city who laundered them.

Today, as I reflect on those awesome events‐the Pope clasping David’s hand, and then being in the car bringing the Holy Father’s clothing to be laundered‐I could see that the Lord was preparing me for even greater happenings in my life.

Remembering that wonderful visit to Castel Gandolfo, I recalled yet other memories of that 1967 trip. Some days after our encounter with His Holiness, Bruce was filled with anticipation as we approached and entered the small town of Perticano, the birthplace of his mother. The town, nestled between some towering mountains, appeared to be unchanged from the earliest of times. We immediately caught sight of the communal oven located in the very center of town, made of stone and brick, that had been constructed at least a hundred years before. Bruce’s mother shared a memory with us once. She recalled seeing her own mother and grandmother baking bread and roasting meats in that very same oven. Certainly that shared activity fostered community in this lovely little town.

At the time we visited, there was no hotel in the town, and we stayed with Bruce’s relatives. Each morning our daughter Ria would run outdoors to catch sight of some of the women in kerchiefs and aprons as they led their geese through the streets; she also delighted in seeing the chickens, goats and other animals as they freely roamed about. Even though the language barrier was a problem for the children and me, we were made to feel most welcome.

On one of those days, though we hated to leave, we took an excursion to the nearby ancient city of Gubbio, parts of which, we knew, had literally been built into the hills and at the base of Monte Ingino, a towering mountain. The city not only looked like a page out of the past but was, in fact, unchanged for centuries, and it remained that way because of a law which prohibited the residents from altering the exteriors of their buildings.

A car could barely pass through the narrow cobble-stoned streets. The passages, constructed hundreds of years before, did accommodate a horse and carriage, the mode of transportation at that time.

In 1967, there was yet another way to ascend Monte Ingino, the site of the Basilica of Santo Ubaldo, a famed tourist attraction, and that was by cable car. When I caught sight of it, a shiver of fear ran through me. I had imagined it would be similar to the kind of car Bruce and I had ridden in to ascend some mountains in the Alps, but I noticed there was a distinct difference. The cars used to ascend the mountain in Switzerland had been enclosed, whereas those in Gubbio were open to the elements.

There was, however, no fear in the children; they could hardly wait to get into the cars, especially sixteen-year-old David and Jonathan who, at fourteen, had that same taste for excitement.

As for me, I knew I wanted to visit the Basilica, and I had no choice except to hop into the car with Bruce. When we finally began ascending the mountain, I closed my eyes, but the children’s escapades began. The two brothers loved their sister and, like playful bear cubs, they incessantly, lovingly teased her. Consequently her squeals of delight resounded in the open spaces between the mountains as they scrambled about, causing the car to rock. As we climbed higher and higher, Bruce held onto my hand and also kept a close eye on the children.

When the cable car at last came to a stop, I did breathe a sigh of relief as I hurriedly stepped out. The scene which confronted us was breathtaking; from that height the buildings below looked like the miniature ones we place around our Christmas tree.

After a short climb, we entered the Basilica of Santo Ubaldo. Amid the seemingly hundreds of burning candles, we could see the prominently situated reason for the tourists’ visits. There in the center of the church, high atop the altar, rested a glass enclosure which contained the uncorrupted body of Saint Ubaldo. He was attired in his miter and the full regalia of a bishop of his time. Certainly, it was a sight to behold.

I did not realize it at the time, but that trip to Gubbio played an important role in preparing me for future participation in God’s plan. Once again, though, looking back, I can see God’s leading.

* * *

As we left the basilica, I did not look forward to the cable car ride down the mountain, but I was more than pleased with our visit. I thought to myself that in time it would be interesting to learn about the life of Santo Ubaldo and also that of the City of Gubbio.

I may not have been looking forward to the cable car ride but, on the other hand, the children were eagerly awaiting its departure so that they could continue with what seemed to them to be a great adventure. And have it they did; Bruce and I were not too pleased when the boys proceeded to shake the car from side to side as we descended, but their sister was delighted. I could barely wait to reach the bottom, not only to set my feet on firm ground, but to get to one of the city’s numerous restaurants; we had been told that the food was delicious.

Having stored away those treasured memories from more than a decade earlier, I realized that I was still plagued with an unexplained restlessness. There was, however, one major difference in my thoughts since I had begun to experience this restlessness‐I now knew what was causing it. I knew I desired something more in my life and had come to understand that the something I was longing for had to do with the Someone who is God. I wondered how this could be resolved satisfactorily, and what course would be necessary to facilitate the solution. Shortly thereafter, a clue surfaced:

I recalled when Father Vinnie had been in our parish he had most likely helped stir up that longing when he conducted some adult education classes. My thirst to seek more knowledge about God had definitely been triggered; there was so much I didn’t know. A subsequent bible course I had taken made me more aware of the same void and thirst within me. That void seemed to be deepening, and left me with the question: Was learning more about God the answer for me?

I remembered also that, prior to our friend’s return to Rome, I had briefly touched upon my growing unrest with him. At the time he suggested I join a Charismatic prayer group which was gathering at a renewal center in Oakdale, not far from my home. However, at that time the bit of advice had slipped my mind. I did not go to Oakdale. Now, almost a year later, my unrest had become a spiritual crisis.

In retrospect, it is clear that I was not in tune with God’s plan at that time. However, perhaps back then it was not yet time for me to become involved in that renewal movement.

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