Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Memory and Loss

 I've been in a remembering mode for the last few days. I guess my last post on "A Christmas Memory" touched on that. Maybe it's the holidays or just COVID times. My cousin, who is deeply immersed in family history, sort of fueled it further with a Merry Christmas email that mentioned places my mom and grandmother lived before my parents were married.

That sent me to Google Street View to check out my childhood home. It's still there, though looking different on a little street across from the high school in my home town. The siding's new along with a few other features, but the back porch with its red brick steps and ornamental iron posts looks the same. It's only four or five steps, but it seemed mountainous when I was a kid.

It's hard to describe how looking at a recent photo makes me feel. It's a bit bittersweet, though that's not quite the right word. It's just a rush of emotion and memory.

I can recall the guy down the street got a pirate costume one Halloween, just one of those crappy, in-a-bag jobs with the shiny fabric they call vintage these days. I remember him before Trick-or-Treating hanging out and climbing onto that irorn work with a toy hammer and declaring: "Me gonna fix this ship."And I remember sitting on those steps and reading Superman No. 199 in which he raced The Flash. 

So that's the place I was in when I got word last night one of my old friends from high school and college days passed away. Not the kid in the pirate suit. The segue's a little awkward. 

This guy's name was Lee. 

I immediately thought of him calling and waking me up on what would have had to have been June 1, 1984. I'd started working the 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. shift at the newspaper, so an early call was like the middle of the night. I grumbled, but then I realized Star Trek III: The Search for Spock opened that day and we needed to find out how things turned out with our favorite Vulcan. 

Seeing Trek was a tradition. We'd been Trek fans a long time. We'd been friends a long time. He lived around the corner from me, and we rode bikes as kids. 

He'd actually been the one to purchase the Star Trek Concordance, which was a handy guide in the days before the internet. Gaming was on a Commodore 64, by the way. We explored Zork and other worlds of Infocom. 

We actually missed seeing Star Trek II together because he was running late, and we couldn't get into an opening night showing. I saw it the next day with my girlfriend at the time. She was not a Trek fan. Her friend, who did get in the night before, had been saddened. "Paula said somebody died." Yeah, that spoiler was on Lee. 

We got past that, and we continued to see movies during our early working life.

I'm not sure when our paths diverged, but over time we drifted into different circles. He went back to school, I got married. He later worked in IT at the company where my wife worked, so I'd hear of him a lot more than I saw him, then I left Central Louisiana.

We caught up on Facebook a couple of years ago. He found me, and we kept in touch via posts. He'd moved to Baton Rouge for new IT jobs and was active in a church music program. He'd always been in choir and played the piano well. 

I noted his occasional post about bad service at a quick stop or other steps along his path, noticed not too ago he was dating someone. I was happy for him. Saw pics at a high school reunion I didn't attend because of COVID. He was there in the mix of old friends. 

I shared a meme about Louisiana foods not too many days ago. How many have you had? Along with a lot of other people, he responded adding a quip, a familiar Cajun exclamation. Not something that warranted a response by me in a long thread, but a reminder he was out there living his life. 

Then word came he'd had a heart attack in his home. Someone I didn't know remembered him fondly. 

And suddenly 30 years are compressed, and I'm contemplating, amid this year of death and chaos, yet again how fast it all seems to have been when you look back.

And you start mining your memory. Yep, we saw Raiders together, my second viewing. Dune, Never Ending Story, Krull. All early '80s. 

Okay there were films and dinners. Was he in that mix of friends discussing 30's onslaught? When did we go our separate ways. 

Couldn't tell you. 

But he scored 22 out of 23 dishes on a New Orleans food test. Which one was he missing? Shrimp BBQ or turtle soup?

Ayeeeeee. I should have asked when I had the chance. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Favorite Short Stories - A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote

I read "A Christmas Memory" first in junior high. 

It was assigned reading in our textbook. I didn't know who Truman Capote was yet. My Weekly Reader neglected coverage of the Black and White Ball and didn't review In Cold Blood. 

It was just another story in the reader back then, but Capote writes in that little tale of an elderly cousin who was a friend to him in his childhood. 

As I was growing up, my grandmother, my mother's mother, lived with my family. She was my babysitter when I was little since my mom was a high school teacher.

The relationship between Buddy, the narrator, and his cousin reminded me of my relationship with my grandmother. 

She was as much a friend as a guardian. She worked hard to keep me from killing myself, but she didn't worry much if the afternoon movie was playing Them or The Incredible Shrinking Man

She told me stories of her youth, an early bad marriage, an early widowhood in a second, happier union. She was an ally against my mom who'd inherited a strict approach from a Baptist minister grandfather even though we were Methodists.

My grandmother cooked though she didn't have the inclination toward fruitcakes exhibited by Buddy's cousin. I don't remember a signature dish.

I do recall her liking Delaware Punch, a soft drink. It's all but gone I read the other day. I haven't seen a bottle in years. But at a little grocery store back in the day, we'd slide bottles out from the case-style soft drink machines where the bottles dangled inside and cool air rushed up when you looked in.

The family lore held, since she'd lost a son to a heart attack two months before I was born, that taking care of me revitalized my grandmother.   

She took me to kindergarten on Fridays until I went every day the following year. We took a cab driven by a guy who looked to me like The Skipper from Gilligan's Island. She dressed up for those occasions, wore a hat and waited for me at the bottom of a flight of stairs outside the classroom. 

My grandmother was still alive, still living with us when I read A Christmas Memory for the first time. She'd live three, maybe four years longer. Happily at that time in my life years didn't tick past like seconds and certainly not like the blur 2020 has proved to be.

But even then, in reading, I could see that the world was finite. The story offered a bit of a bittersweet portent, especially when it reached this passage:

"...more and more thirteenths are not the only days she stays in bed: a morning arrives in November, a leafless birdless coming of winter morning, when she cannot rouse herself to exclaim: "Oh my, it's fruitcake weather."

I guess in some ways, the tale prepared me even as it celebrated the relationship of Buddy and his cousin. My grandmother passed away the day after I finished my first year in high school. I always suspected she held on to let me finish final exams.

I picked up the boxed 1966 edition of the story for probably a dollar years later at a library book sale. I keep it around for Christmas re-reads. It triggers good memories. 

Monday, December 21, 2020

Biblioholic's Bookshelf - The Dark Shadows Book of Vampires And Werewolves

Happily as I mentioned recently, the original Dark Shadows novels are being reissued. This is another adjacent, branded book from the original Paperback Library era. It includes classics such as John Polidori's early tale of a gentleman vampire,"The Vampyre." That was begun, of course, during the same writing challenge that produced Mary Shelly's Frankenstein.  It seems an appropriate public domain choice for a collection adjacent to the world of Barnabas Collins. 

The complete contents are listed on Goodreads

This one is copyright August, 1970 by Dan Curtis Productions.  

The Dark Shadows Book of Vampires and Werewolves

The Dark Shadows Book of Vampires and Werewolves Back Cover

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Season's Greetings - Robin and Red Berries

Robin and Tree Red Berries

Just happened to spot a robin while walking the other day. Looked seasonal. 


Monday, December 14, 2020

Biblioholic's Bookshelf - The Dark Dominion - A Dark Shadows Adjacent Collection

As you're probably aware, the Dark Shadows paperback novelizations were wildly popular when the gothic soap was on the air. Happily those are coming back into print from Heremes Press

A few adjacent titles were released in gold editions from Paperback Library. One of those was The Dark Dominion, dated December, 1970, with a vampire looking a lot like Christopher Lee on the cover and a werewolf looking a lot like Lon Chaney, Jr. The tales, maybe classic, maybe obscure, that are included are listed on the back cover pictured below and are available at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database.

Dark Shadows Adjacent The Dark Dominion Vampire and Werewolf Collection

The Dark Dominion back cover

A Dark Shadows-licensed collection, The Dark Shadows Book of Vampires and Werewolves, was also released by Paperback Library in 1970. That'll have to wait for another post. 

Friday, December 11, 2020

Friday for Writers: A Character Description Lesson From Stanley Ellin

Ellery Queen's Grand Slam Cover
If not a household name, Stanley Ellin's still a not-inconsequential figure in the history of mystery and suspense fiction.

A new article about his unique private investigator novels popped up on the excellent Crime Reads website the other day.

That took me back to days when I was a kid and discovered Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine on the drug store magazine rack.

I found after reading numerous issues that Stanley Ellin's stories were among those I usually liked. 

His picture appeared on the cover during a period when the mag did a run of author portraits. Eventually EQMM released an edition of Ellin short fiction, Kindly Dig Your Grave and other Wicked Stories.

The Crime Reads article prompted me to pluck an anthology off my shelf, Ellery Queen's Grand Slam (1970). That included an Ellin story I hadn't read, "Coin of the Realm." It's a great collection that also included Joe Gores' Edgar-winning "Goodbye, Pops."

"Coin" is an interesting "all is not what it seems" piece from Ellin. 

I was struck enough by the way he slipped in the physical description of the POV character that I decided to share the passage with some writing students, and it seems worth a look for all writers making decisions about how to slip physical description in seamlessly. 

"You look like a million," he said, soberly nodding his approval.

Her own expression, as she eyed him from head to foot, was anything but approving."

"I wish I could say the same for you. Is that how you expect to go out? That ridiculous Hawaiian shirt and not even a jacket?"

"It's too hot for a jacket. And we're only going to Flea Market, for Pete's sake, not the opera."

"Even so. And that camera and that great big camera bag slung around your neck. And that awful cigar shoved into your mouth. Do you know what you look like?"


"An American tourist, that's what. A real corny American tourist."

Walt glanced at the beefy, red-faced, bald-headed image of himself in the full-length mirror...

The things he's carrying are ultimately significant in the story though it meshes perfectly with his wife's dissatisfaction that fuels the tale's opening exchange.

The guy does eventually look in the mirror--as many fictional characters are wont to--to study his appearance, but I thought the way Ellin built to that made it a natural move, and a great way to provide the reader needed information in an organic way.

If you haven't discovered Ellin as a reader and/or a writer, dig up his work and check him out. 

Ellin, Stanley. "Coin of the Realm." Ellery Queen's Grand Slam. Ed. Ellery Queen. New York: Popular Library, 1970. 29-43. Print.


Wednesday, December 09, 2020

One of My Favorite Holiday Train Ads


Christmas Train Ad With Santa

I like train travel and had started doing more of it right before the pandemic hit. When Christine and I were moving from Orlando to Williamsburg, we did a couple of car train rides. It was the easiest way to get two really packed automobiles from point A to point B.

Train ads capture the flavor of a different era, and the New York Central Railroad did some of the best, part of its competition with rival Pennsylvania Railroad. The two would later merge as train travel waned. 

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

The Obligatory Holding Up the New Book Photo - Fool's Run

Sidney Williams Holding Fool's Run

Holding the trade paper edition of Fool's Run. 

Christine did the honors, opting for the natural light of what is usually our dining room. 

Friday, December 04, 2020

Pandemic Walks Part 3 - Another Walk at York River State Park - Williamsburg, VA

We took another walk at York River State Park. After just a few weeks, the marsh grass had browned and more leaves had fallen though a good bit of color was still on display, and the sky was very blue on a crisp November morning.

Open air at any time during a pandemic is welcome.

I don't know that I have profound thoughts beyond that, but it's good to remember what's just a short distance from home.

Click for larger images.

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

New Short Story - The Fury - in Sanitarium Magazine No. 3


I was excited to receive a contributor's ebook version of the new issue of Sanitarium this morning. It includes a short story from me called "The Fury."

It's a bit of literary horror fiction, I suppose, as well as a tale of suburban revenge. Neighbors can drive each other crazy after all, and frustrations of the job can carry over to other areas of life. 

The mag's actually a hefty volume with 28 authors included, so it's really like purchasing an anthology. Like most books, it would make a great gift idea too!

Order now!

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

New Resident - Miss Zoë Moonshadow - Russian blue mix

My wife Christine began studying the Heritage Humane Society's website a short time back, feeling possibly ready to adopt a cat again. 

Oliver Littlechap passed away a year ago. Some of the pain of loss remains, and his absence has been apparent during quarantine. The empty spot, where he sat at our back door looking out, has been a regular and the most-obvious reminder. 

Zoë in her new bed

But we've reached a point of mostly thinking back fondly, warmed by his memory and the joy he brought. He was a gentle, good natured soul even though he was a fierce hunter when we lived at the edge of a wooded area in Texas.

We've always been happy too for the time he got to be the center of attention after cats older than he and higher in the pecking order of cat society crossed the rainbow bridge. 

As she perused cats, seeking the temperament that might match our own--and be right for our furniture--Christine realized it was proving a bit difficult and that Oliver and Ashley, the last two arrivals in our household found us. 

Oliver ambled about with other neighborhood cats until he discovered our back patio might be a spot for an occasional treat and Ashley was blown into our yard in Texas by the outer bands of Hurricane Rita. He was hungry and plagued by earmites, blind in one eye, and easily a good fit in our household once he decided he'd make us his own.

Christine weighs decisions with extraordinary care anyway, so candidates in search of a forever home required deep contemplation.


In a field of much need, with many deserving, something about a small Russian blue mix kept drawing her attention. Wide-eyed and a bit nervous in photos, reports indicated the 5-year-old dubbed Keesu was sweet natured but reeling from her experiences and life in a kennel.

She'd belonged to one service member who'd re-homed her when a deployment notice demanded it. Keesu wound up with the humane society because her new owner was deployed as well without the time for finding yet another home.

Keesu had done well with other pets though she had been terrified by larger dogs. 

Zoë on the bedChristine and I donned our masks and went for a visit. The kitty was in a cat bed inside her cage, draped with a comforting curtain. The staff had been doing all they could to keep her calm and comfortable.

She emerged slowly but greeted us pleasantly and rubbed her head against her bed much the way our tom Monty greeted us on a pound visit in Central Louisiana. 

She won our hearts in an instant, but we had learned on the way in someone previously had expressed an interest. Protocol dictated 24 hours for a decision. I hesitated to get too attached to her on our visit, given our relationship might be brief.

We went back home, and I felt more anxiety than I had expected. A few minutes with her had been all it took to confirm Christine's instincts in reading about her and studying her website pictures. 

Happily the call came early the next morning, a Sunday, and we made arrangements to pick her up that afternoon.

She spent time under our bed once we brought her home, a little longer not venturing from the bedroom, taking her meals in the master bathroom. 

But gradually she began to spend more time with us and travel a little further and a little further outward until she made a trip downstairs to visit Christine at her makeshift, quarantine-time office on our dining room table.


In a little more time, her name emerged. We suspected Keesu might have come from a figure in Elder Scrolls, a visual match for her grey features. But she wasn't responding to it. Not always an indication in cat life, but a fresh start seemed warranted and the humane society staff had thought a new name should be fine.

Something elegant and maybe Jazz Age, Christine suggested, but Zelda Fitzgerald's tragic end dissuaded that first notion. Zoë--"life" in Greek--slowly processed as a possibility. 

Life seemed a good and appropriately ironic fit for a cat of ash color in the midst of a pandemic, a burst of new energy in our world, a more permanent home for the new feline friend. 

And Cat Stevens tunes hit the soundtrack of our lives, triggered by a cover version of "The Wind" on the Netflix series Grace and Frankie. 

Moonshadow followed and became an earworm, and obviously the surname of a grey "leapin' and hoppin'" new resident, a new wind for the soul. 

Zoë sitting - Russian blue cat

Miss Zoë Moonshadow.


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