Monthly Archives: September 2014

Nap Nightmare

His dream started out innocently enough. He was flying. Above the clouds. Not a care in the world. Then the world went black. As he gasped for air, he realized that what he gulped down into his lungs was tepid and stale. Was he still flying? He could not see anything. No clouds, no sun, nothing. He tried to scream for help, but the words stayed in his throat.
Tom Wagoner realized he was dreaming. If only he could make himself wake up everything would be fine. A nagging voice in the back of his brain told him to continue sleeping. Tom would just have to put up with the inconvenience of a nightmare until his brain’s caboose felt rested.
To hell with that, the frontal lobe shouted and forced Tom to open his eyes.
Yelling, Tom jumped as he returned to consciousness and found himself in darkness. He squinted to adjust his eyes. He was still on the airplane. His memory came forward to remind him he was returning home to Houston from a business trip to New York.
“Hello? Anybody there?”
His muffled echo informed him that no one was still on the airplane. Tom did not know for sure if he were in Houston or still at the layover airport in Atlanta. No, he remembered the plane landing and taking off at Atlanta. He had to be in Houston. Tom pulled out his cell phone and called his girlfriend Debbie.
“Where the hell are you?” she demanded. “You were supposed to take me out to dinner tonight!”
“Honey, I’m still on the plane.”
Debbie paused before asking, “Did you get stuck in Atlanta?”
“No, I’m in Houston, I think. It’s dark, and nobody else is here.”
“Are you shacking up with that blonde broad in New York again?” Debbie said in a challenging voice. “If you’re pulling that trick again, we’re through. I warned you the last time!”
“No, no, I’m telling the truth. I guess the flight attendants didn’t see me,” he explained, his words tumbling over each other. “I was really tired and I fell asleep right after the layover in Atlanta—“
“Atlanta!” Debbie screamed into the phone, “You promised me you’d never have a layover in Atlanta after that incident last spring!”
“It was the only flight I could get. Listen, please call United Airlines. I’m on ExpressJet flight 641.”
“Maybe you’ve finally flipped out. I told you not to watch those Twilight Zone reruns.”
“Debbie, I’m locked on the plane. I’m telling you the truth. You better go somewhere and get me off this plane!”
“Oh yeah, sure, make me be the one to call the airport. I’m the one that’s going to look nuts,” she replied in exasperation.
“Just call the damn airline, okay?”
Debbie sighed. “Okay, but you better be in that plane or else just don’t bother to come home!”

Bug Poem

A bug flew up my nose.
What kind of bug, nobody knows,
But a bug flew up my nose.
It must have thought my nose was a rose.
Why else would a bug fly up my nose?
That bug must have screamed a lot
When it discovered it was snot
A rose but a nose where it had got.
I was nervous, I was in a pickle
‘Cause that darned bug began to tickle
As it continued through my sinus holes
To find a way out of my nose,
Defying the laws of gravity
As it navigated through each cavity.
The bug found the exit, there he goes!
Vowing never again to mistake for a rose
The inside of an old man’s nose.

All Wet

Joe and Mabel ran under an awning downtown as a loud clap of thunder introduced a downpour. Each hunched over but were careful not to brush shoulders when the giant drops began to fall.
“God’s peeing on us,” Joe announced somberly.
“That’s not nice,” Mabel replied, keeping her eyes forward. “It’s God’s lemonade.”
Joe stuck his head out slightly and extended his tongue. After a moment of smacking his lips he said, “It doesn’t taste like lemonade.”
“Well, I’m sure it doesn’t taste like piss either.”
“Try it.”
Mabel made a face before extending her cupped hand to capture some of the deluge. She sipped it and wiped her hand on the lace handkerchief she pulled from her pocket.
“I still don’t think it tastes like piss.”
“How would you know? You never tasted piss.”
“Neither have you.” She paused. “Maybe you have. I wouldn’t put it past you.”
“No, I haven’t. It’s a metaphor, anyway. It doesn’t have anything to do with taste.”
“You’re the one who tasted it in the first place.”
“Only because you,” Joe stopped and pursed his lips. “It’s a metaphor.”
“What do you mean a metaphor? A metaphor for what?”
“I don’t want to take the time to explain what a metaphor is.”
“I know what a metaphor is. I don’t know why you’d want to make a metaphor about God pissing on us.”
“Why shouldn’t God piss on me? Everybody else does.” Joe ducked his head and turned away.
“God is a spirit. God doesn’t drink so there’s no need to piss.”
“You are so literal.”
“And you are so—never mind.” Mabel stuck her hand out to get it wet again. “Anyway, I like it. I don’t think of it as piss. And nobody’s pissing on you.”
“Then how come I feel all wet and stinky?”
“If you feel stinky take a shower.”
“It’s a shower out there now, and I say it’s piss.”
“Now you’re pissing me off. We’re supposed to sing and dance in this stuff, you know, not complain about it.”
“You don’t even like to sing or dance, no matter what the weather is like. You don’t like to do a lot of things.”
Mabel sniffed. “It depends on the company.”
“There it goes again, pissing on me.”
“Nobody’s pissing on you.” Mabel’s voice intensified. “Not God, not me, nobody!”
A truck drove by, splashing Joe and Mabel. Each of them stepped back too late to keep from being soaked.
“Now we’re all wet,” Joe mumbled.
“I’ve known that for a long time.”
“I have too.”
“Once you’re all wet there’s nothing you can do about it,” Mabel replied with a sigh.
“Just stop pissing on yourself, I guess.”
The thunderstorm lightened to random drops. They looked up and down the street.
“Nothing left to do but go home and get dry,” Joe said, trying to keep his voice from cracking.
“Yep, get rid of the wet clothing and put on something dry and comfortable,” she agreed.
“It didn’t really taste like piss.”
“I know.”
Joe began to step away and looked over his shoulder. “I hope you never get wet again.”
“See you in church.”

I’m Real

Interrupting my walk to the white light, this voice said, “And just because the other children laughed, you thought I wasn’t real.”
“Who the hell are you?” I thought once I died I didn’t have to put up with crap like that anymore.
“I’m your wish to write a book.”
“It’s too late now so let’s not talk about it.”
Back in 1958 on a dusty playground outside a two-story brick schoolhouse in a small Texas town, all the boys gathered under a particularly large oak tree and laughed at me. Not a “tee hee hee, someone just told a dirty joke” laugh, not a “I can’t believe you farted in front of the teacher” laugh. They laughed because I said I wanted to write a book when I grew up. A mean, harsh, belittling laugh.
“Oh sure, I’m gonna be president when I grow up,” Billy said with a sneer. He was very good at sneering. His father worked at the bank, and he always sneered when a farmer came in for a loan to build a new barn. “I’ll have you arrested, burn your book and then shoot you!”
JimBob, the best baseball player in the fourth grade, twirled around until he got dizzy and almost fell over. “And I’m going to be a ballet dancer!”
The laughter continued, and I thought I was going to cry. I hated it when I cried in front of the other boys. It made me feel weak. Hoyt, the biggest boy in school, stepped in between the others and me. He already had some hair on his lip and callouses on his knuckles where he knocked the crap out of any boy who dared call him fat.
“Aw, lay off him.”
Whenever the other guys laughed at me—which was often– Hoyt softened his voice like he was up in front of the entire church congregation talking about how kids should never fight. I didn’t know if Hoyt meant that to be good or bad until I was in high school. The English teacher described that tone of voice as condescending, so it wasn’t a good thing.
“He can’t help it if he’s an idiot.”
When I came home that afternoon, I couldn’t hold the tears back as I told my mother and brother what had happened.
“You got what you deserved. That’s what you got.” My brother leaned down into my face. “Whoever heard of anyone from this one-horse town writing a book? You are an idiot!”
“Now if he thinks he’s going to write a book, he ought to have the right to think that,” my mother intervened in her best Sunday School teacher voice. (Now that I think about it, Hoyt was her favorite student.) After a slight pause she added, “And I think that boy should be a ballet dancer if that’s what he really wants to be.”
I never mentioned writing a book again. Writing always seemed fun to me–and Mother had her heart set on at least one of her boys graduating from college–so I got a degree in journalism. I came home, got a job with the local newspaper writing obituaries and the police blotter. By the time my heart gave out and was about to tick for the last time, I had retired after becoming editor. I still had to write the obituaries and the police blotter but the title “editor” made it sound better.
Frankly, I was relieved to die, so when this voice slowed me down on my journey I was annoyed when this voice out of nowhere brought up that damn book idea again.
“Aw, it would have never been published anyway,” I groused.
“You didn’t wish to make money writing a book. You just wanted to write a book. That part was genuine.”
“If you don’t get paid then it’s not really writing.”
“Hoyt was right. You are an idiot.”

Homophonic Nonsense

Stultifying tension hung like impending doom in the lawyer’s office as Harvette Haselmeyer’s relatives awaited the reading of the will. They were divided between the children from the first marriage and the second husband. Harvette had made a fortune with her shampoo and conditioner products. She made Paul Mitchell look like a failure. Here her hair heirs heard the lawyer rip open the envelope.
“Being of sound mind and body—“
“No she wasn’t,” snapped Harvette’s son Harry.
“Oh yes she was.” Her hairy chested second husband Harold chuckled.
This horrified Hortense to no end. “That’s my mother you’re sniggering about!”
Harold shook his shoulder-length hair and harrumphed out loud.
The harried hair heiress flared her nostrils and raised her eyebrows. “You don’t deserve to be a hair heir, you whore!”
“Here, here,” the attorney hollered, trying to halt the harangue. “Her ears must be burning, wherever she might be, at all this hysteria. “Being of sound mind and body I hereby leave my daughter Hortense a lifetime supply of Harvette shampoos, gels and conditioners. Goodness knows she needs them.”
“Hardy har har,” Harold chortled.
“To my son Harry I bequeath nothing because I still hold horrible heart-felt suspicions that he poisoned his father and my wonderful husband Herman Haselmeyer and would have done me in too if my handsome horseman Harold hadn’t ridden into my life.”
“That just proves mother was hare-brained!” Harry howled. “All three grand juries refused to indict me!”
“Poor helpless, hapless Harry, e’er ‘til the day I die, nary a hint of horseradish will pass my lips for fear Harry hath tainted it.”
“There Harold goes again, hasty to harp on his Harvard degree in Thomas Hardy.”
“Hardly!” Harold happened to be hot under the collar, hurt that Harry would hint such a thing.
“And to my hunky husband Harold I leave my horse Hildegard and a monthly stipend of a thousand dollars to keep Hildegard in high-grade oats for the rest of her life.”
“Hardy har har right back at you, whore!” Hortense hurled horrendous insults at Harold. “Hoisted on your own petard!”
“But the rest of the money?” Harold heaved a sigh that could be heard in heaven.
“Oh, it goes to me.” The lawyer stood, hovering over the horde of unhappy heirs. “Harold, Harry, Hortense, Harvette was indeed horny and had a hankering for yours truly, Henry Harrison Hardeman the third.”
“Oh hell,” they exhaled.

Marina Darling

Marina Oswald awoke in a vodka-induced haze the morning of Nov. 22, 1963. Rolling over, she reached for her bottle, only to find it empty.
“Lee Harvey Oswald,” she slurred in a sing-song voice. “I need some more vodka.” When he didn’t respond, she repeated, a little louder, “Lee Harvey Oswald, I need some more vodka.”
“Huh?” He had a distant air in his voice as he cleaned his rifle.
“I need more vodka.” Marina giggled. “Don’t you understand good old American English? I want vodka.”
“Oh.” Lee stood, walked out of the bedroom and reappeared a few minutes later with a full bottle. “Here you go, honey.” He handed it to her with a smile. Then he sat and resumed cleaning his rifle.
“You are so good to me, Lee Harvey Oswald.” Marina put the bottle to her lips and sucked down as much as she could before it began dribbling from the corners of her mouth. “Why are you so good to me, Lee Harvey Oswald?”
“I guess because I love you so much.”
Marina remembered the first time she saw him bundled up in a fur coat on a Moscow winter morning. The only object she saw was this cute round face sticking out, all twisted up and shivering. He had the most delectable lips she had ever seen on a man. By that night she had him in her apartment and peeled off each layer of his clothing until he was naked. Her hands ran over his thin torso.
Before she knew it, they were married and living in a place called Dallas, Texas. Marina gulped vodka as she regarded him sitting on the edge of the bed cleaning his rifle. His slender arm muscles rippled as he rubbed a cloth up and down on the barrel.
“Lee Harvey Oswald, you are a sexy Marine man, do you know that?”
He chuckled. “Oh, I haven’t been a Marine in a while.”
“You still sexy Marine man to me, Lee Harvey Oswald.” After her third slurp, Marina carefully positioned the bottle on the bed stand and crawled across the sheets to him. “Why do you have to go to work today? I am—what do you call it—I am horny, Lee Harvey Oswald.”
“I’d be glad to stay home, honey, but this is a special day.”
“What makes it so special?” She ran her hands across his back.
“Well, President Kennedy is coming to Dallas today.” He paused wiping his rifle. “His car is going right past my building.”
“Oh, who cares about the silly old president? I don’t like him. He’s an old man.” Sighing deeply, the young woman wrapped her arms around his waist. “I like young man. I like you.”
“But I care about the president.” He disassembled his rifle. “I care very much.”
“Why don’t you stop playing with your gun and play with me?”
“I keep telling you. It’s not a gun. It’s a rifle.”
“Oh yes, I know.” She stretched her arms out to touch the weapon. “This is my rifle.” Marina lowered her hands to his crotch. “This is my gun. One is for shooting. One is for fun.”
She breathed on the nape of his neck.
“Marina, baby, you know what that does to me.” He emitted a guttural sound, but then he shook his shoulders. “You don’t understand. I’m making history today.”
“Don’t make history,” she whispered in his ear. “Make me.”
“The proletariat needs me.” Lee’s voice began to reflect his dwindling willpower.
“I am the proletariat. I need you.” Marina’s hands went up under his T-shirt to his chest. “Lee Harvey Oswald, Lee Harvey Oswald….”
He dropped the rifle to the floor and turned around. Marina pulled his shirt off him and proceeded to lick and kiss his stomach.
“You do this to me all the time,” he murmured as he lifted her head and kissed her lips. “You drive me mad.”
“I know. I love you so much.”
And that’s how John F. Kennedy would have lived to serve two full terms as president of the United States if Marina Oswald had been an alcoholic nymphomaniac.

A Delightful Party That Never Happened

What if obscure individuals who are just as much a part of determining the outcome of the Civil War as Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee get together for a party? You know, just some punch, cookies, lots of gossip about who did what to whom and why and perhaps some friendly debate about who influenced history the most and who most defined the character of the nation at war. Of course, celebrities are not invited, because they are the ones our guests will talk about, especially Lincoln.
Besides, we are on familiar terms with him. Born in a log cabin amidst ignorance and poverty, Lincoln was shy but articulate, aloof but friendly, passive in private situations but aggressive in his fight to maintain the unity of the United States. He was reviled during his lifetime, but our citizens revere him more than one hundred and forty years later. If he is off the guest list, certainly missing also is his counterpart in the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, a man not well remembered anyway. Few know details of his life much beyond the fact he was the rebel president. He was a Mississippi native, West Point graduate, Mexican American War veteran, Secretary of War during Franklin Pierce’s administration and a senator at the outbreak of the Civil War. Contrary to popular belief, he was not caught wearing a dress after the war, but was indicted for treason, though never tried. He retired to his Mississippi estate and never asked for a federal pardon.
This will not be a party for generals either, so Grant, final and most successful Union military leader in the war, definitely will be snubbed, although he is well known for his victories in Vicksburg and Richmond, and for bringing the rebels to surrender at Appomattox. His record as president was marred by corruption, not by himself but by the men he appointed and foolishly trusted too much. He possibly will console himself the night of the party by swapping old stories of the Mexican-American War with Lee, who turned down an appointment to lead Union troops, following a misguided notion that his loyalty belonged to his home, the state of Virginia. As were Davis and Grant, Lee was a graduate of West Point and served with distinction in the Mexican-American War, though he admitted not recalling any contact with Grant. His skilled strategies kept the South going for four years, which may give rise to party conjecture that if he had seen what Lincoln knew, that this is one nation and not many independent states only loosely connected by the Constitution, Lee could have saved many lives by serving the Union side and ending the war more quickly.
But this party is not for people commemorated in stone, it’s for folks like you and me, the nurses, actresses, seamstresses, bodyguards, secret agents, prison wardens and doormen who bring life to our American heritage.
Probably least comfortable around the punch bowl and preferring a nice cup of tea is Dorothea Dix, who was a sixty-year-old spinster in 1861 when she was named superintendent of women nurses in Washing, D.C., and who had already gained a reputation as a social reformer for the mentally ill. Her hair is pulled back in a severe bun, her dress a dark, uninteresting color with a collar high on her thin, long neck. A native of Maine, she was raised by an emotional unstable mother and alcoholic father, and eventually she went to live with her wealthy grandmother in Boston. Dorothea spurned her grandmother’s urgings to assume the genteel life of a cultured young lady to become a teacher, first of poor girls and then women inmates, prostitutes, drunks and the mentally ill. This led to her campaigns for reform in institutions not only in the United States but also across Europe. When the Civil War began she offered her services to the government which were accepted, probably with high anticipation considering her reputation. As the Union doctors found, she was, after all, a teacher and not a nurse who had no administrative abilities. In addition, her erratic behavior showed Dorothea to be neurotic and stubborn. However, her motives were well intentioned so she remained at the hospital throughout the war.
We can imagine what life would have been for the patients and staff at Armory Hospital near the Mall in Washington, dealing with Dix’s strict rules of conduct and ideas that only plan-looking women could attend the soldiers. She was shrill and demanding, yet soft and caring. What she lacked in medical knowledge of wounds and disease was compensated by her keen insight into the trouble minds of battle-weary young men.
How she would handle chitchat with flamboyant Confederate spy Rose O’Neal Greenhow, a Washington socialite with the ability to make influential male companions tell her anything? Perhaps they can talk about the advantages of being born wealthy and the consequences of losing parents early in life. Rose was orphaned while Dorothea’s mother and father left her to her grandmother. Romance is not good common ground. Rose married Dr. Robert Greenhow, a well-known scholar of the time, and bore him four daughters before his death. Dorothea rejected a proposal from a wealthy Boston attorney because she feared a marriage wracked with hysterics and drunken rampages.
They may exchange notes about political acquaintances. Dorothea proved to be a potent lobbyist, pushing passage through both houses of Congress of a bill to set aside five million acres for the benefit of mentally ill Americans. Pierce, another uninvited party guest, vetoed the bill. Rose Greenhow might have been able to help her; after all, among her social contacts were William Seward, soon-to-be Lincoln’s Secretary of State, President James Buchanan and controversial senate John C. Calhoun. However, Rose’s interest lay elsewhere. Though she was fifty at the outbreak of the war Rose was still a handsome woman of considerable charms. She flirted with influential Republicans to gain serious military strategies, including the army’s route to Manassas. These precious nuggets were turned over to the Confederate government. Her notorious activities did not go unnoticed, resulting in her arrest in January 1862. The North decided it better suited its purposes to escort Rose to the Virginia border than to put her on trial, so she went to Richmond where Davis eventually sent her to England. Ah, Europe, they can compare experiences abroad.
“London, I just loved London,” Rose exclaims with artful hand gestures. “I loved the parties and men, oh my dear, how attentive they could be and generous with their purses for the Cause.” Fluttering her eyes at Dorothea, she asks, “And what did you do in London, my dear?
“I inspected insane asylums,” Dorothea replies, her head held high. “The excrement-stained bedding was particularly alarming. Unfortunately, I did not find the gentlemen of England as eager to donate money to remedy the plight of their mentally ill countrymen as you did to fund the rebels.”
“Oh,” Rose responds, her eyes down momentarily, until they fly up with coquettish charm. “You should have written a book about it. Everyone loves to read about interesting things. I wrote a memoir, My Imprisonment and the First Year of Abolition Rule in Washington. I made quite a bit of money for the South.”
“I didn’t have time to write a book,” Dorothea replies in a dry tone. “I was too busy writing reports on the wretched condition of the asylums.”
“How wretched, I mean, how fascinating.”
Saving Rose from her uncomfortable predicament is the arrival of lovely actress Jean Davenport Lander, who grew up on London stages and gained wealth and fame performing all the leading roles from Europe to the United States. Plopping between them, Jean begins chatting about favorite hotels and restaurants that Dorothea and Rose may have frequented. Then she switches to the good stuff—stories about influential Washington officials. After Jean’s husband Gen. Frederick Lander died, she caught the attention of future Secretary of War Edwin Stanton in a brief period between his two marriages. She also shares with the two ladies a story of a party where she met a gallant Southerner who bragged he was going to do something that would “ring through the world.”
“How terrible,” Dorothea says, putting a thin hand to her wan cheek.
“Oh really,” Rose replies, slightly stiffening her back.
“I relayed the story to Mr. Lincoln’s secretary, John Hay,” Jean tells them and then laughs gaily. “John is such a dear boy. I think he has a crush on me.”
Jean is right, which is probably why he boycotts our party, even though his role as one of two secretaries to the president qualifies him as a minor but interesting figure of Civil War history. In a new version of his book Inside Lincoln’s White House, the Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay, editors have restored parts that John himself had scratched from his manuscript including a sentence that says, “I like Jean M more and more.” No wonder he’s not among those gathered around the punchbowl. He’s too embarrassed by his reckless remarks.
“Did you catch the name of the dashing Southerner?” Rose asks.
“No, I didn’t,” Jean replies innocently. Whether she shared marquee billing with John Wilkes Booth on any theatrical production up and down the Atlantic seaboard is not known.
“Well, it’s probably not someone I would know,” Rose says.
“I know I certainly wouldn’t,” Dorothea adds.
“My dear,” Rose continues, eyeing Jean carefully, “we have just been discussing our literary careers. Miss—Miss—what did you say your name was, my dear?”
“She’s Dorothea Dix,” Jean says softly. “She is very well known for her work nursing our soldiers. I spent time tending the wounded myself in Port Royal, South Carolina.”
“Confederate?” An anticipatory smile flickers across Rose’s broad, striking face.
“Oh. Well. As I was saying, Miss Dix is known for her reports on mental institutions. I have my memoir of Yankee prisons.” She arches an eyebrow. “You must have tales from the theater and secrets about your ardent friends like Mr. Stanton and Mr. Hay.”
“My only writing has been translations of French plays in which I have performed. I don’t kiss and tell, as the expression goes.”
At this point Rose flies from the sofa to speak to one of her old acquaintances across the room because no further amusement is likely from her conversation with the nurse and the actress, which is just as well. They do not have an inclination to compare death scenes. Rose’s was most unpleasant, drowning on her return from England in 1864 when her ship sank off the coast of North Carolina, being dragged to the bottom by gold coins sewn into the hem of her dress. Dorothea died in 1887 after her frail body succumbed to the travails of a life spent serving the unfortunate. Jean continued her stage career and conducted a respectable life until her death in 1903.
“My darling Mr. Wood,” Rose gushes as she hugs a small but strong man in his late forties, “how is my favorite jailer?”
William P. Wood smiles ingratiatingly, as he did when he welcomed Rose and her daughter Little Rose to the Old Capitol prison when she was accused of spying in 1862. A coarse, crude man, William could nonetheless be quite charming to prisoners he wished to impress.
“We did so appreciate the fresh bread you brought in just for us,” she coos.
“Yes,” he responds through gritted teeth, knowing that he told all prisoners he had brought in fresh bread just for them, the crafty little hypocrite.
William was born in Alexandria, Virginia, raised in the Catholic faith and became a model maker. His entry into government was secured when, in 1854 he testified as an expert witness in a patent case involving Cyrus McCormick. Wood lied about the design of one of McCormick’s early reapers, causing the inventor to lose the case. The winning lawyer, coincidentally, was Stanton who later appointed him head of the federal prison in Washington.
“I never believed you were guilty, Mrs. Greenhow,” he tells her, “and you know I never lie.”
“How kind of you to say so.”
William conveniently fails to mention to Rose that as an adult he had abandoned his Catholic father and ridiculed inmates who wanted to participate in religious ceremonies. In his prison career as a civilian, he also made a point of ignoring military orders with a relish bordering on impertinence. When one office complained to Stanton about the warden’s rudeness, he was told to put up with it or resign. William always denied Stanton knew about how he lied in the McCormick case. However, if Stanton did know, he would be highly susceptible to blackmail which would explain why William seemed to have such influence over the Secretary of War. How embarrassing for Stanton to have his character flaws splashed across the nation’s front pages in the middle of the war.
“I’m always good to my friends, and my friends are always good to me.”
As Rose continues to sweet-talk the prison warden, another party guest breaks into a raucous rendition of “Blue Tail Fly,” a favorite song of Lincoln’s and dances about the room, doing a merry jig and playing the banjo.
“He’s so vulgar,” Rose says, in a judgmental tone.
“I think he’s been drinking,” Dorothea whispers to Jean.
They both probably are right about Ward Hill Lamon, Washington district marshal and self-appointed bodyguard to the president. He and Lincoln were law partners in Illinois, and he accompanied the president-elect to Washington to protect him from would-be assassins along the long route. He was a big man with a big ego, antagonizing members of Congress by enforcing the Fugitive Slave Law, which returned runaway slaves to the masters. They reduced his fees as marshal, an action that Lincoln refused to veto. They were opposites in personality and politics, but Lincoln saw in Ward a true friend who truly cared for his safety. At one point Ward even slept on the floor outside the president’s bedroom. His rowdy impulses for entertainment got him in trouble with the press. After he sang some songs for Lincoln at the site of the Battle of Antietam in October of 1862 Ward was lambasted by northern newspapers for not displaying proper reverence for the deceased. After the assassination he assumed supervision of the funeral procession from Washington back to Illinois through all the cities Lincoln visited on the way to his inauguration.
Then Ward returned to his Springfield law practice where he spent the next few years working with fellow Lincoln friend Thomas Herndon in writing a history of Lincoln which proved as controversial as his career in Washington. After a full life of altercations Ward experienced a quiet death attended by his loving daughter.
After a few minutes of Ward’s musical antics a short, muscular man with an unkempt red beard grabs his arm and swings him around.
“That’s quite enough of that,” Lafayette Baker says. He was a detective first in the State Department and then the War Department, tracking down Confederate spies in the capital. History does not state if Ward and Lafe—as Baker was nicknamed—ever worked together, but it would be easy to assume the two men did not like each other. Ward was everything Lafe was not—tall, handsome, educated and a close friend of the president.
“I do declare, Mr. Wood,” Rose remarks about the circumstances, “I think these two gentlemen are going to engage in fisticuffs.” Waving her fan against her flushed cheek, she adds, “I do believe the larger man will take him down.”
“I wouldn’t count on that,” William responds. “That’s Lafe Baker, the meanest man in town.”
That observation was very near to correct, because Lafe began his life as a mechanic in western New York, moved to California where he was part of a vigilante gang putting down riots in San Francisco. He then joined the Union at the war’s outset and posed as a photographer to spy on Confederate troop movements in Virginia. When he was captured, Lafe escaped using a small knife to break away the cell bars. General Winfield Scott rewarded his exploits back in Washington to promoting him to colonel whereupon Stanton hired him to catch spies in the capital. Among his more notorious captures was Belle Boyd, a woman not unlike our party guest Rose Greenhow. He was also characterized as venal and infamous for his questioning of rebel prisons at the Old Capitol prison. Immediately after the war Lafe wrote a memoir of his secret service duties but close examination of the text had some historians think he may have exaggerated quite a bit.
“All this commotion is making me nervous,” Dorothea says as her teacup clatters against the saucer.
“Don’t worry, Miss Dix,” Jean reassures her. “I know Ward Lamon. He won’t cause a scene. Ward’s a good man who misses his wife and daughter in Illinois dreadfully. But his duty to Mr. Lincoln comes first. You can always tell a man’s character by his allegiance to his country.”
“What’s your problem, Baker?” Ward growls.
“Don’t you ever get tired of being the center of attention?”
There was some truth to that too. Somehow Ward finagled his way into being appointed the grand marshal of the parade going to Gettysburg battleground for dedication of the new cemetery in November of 1863. A few people attending the ceremony might have even remembered his hooting and waving to the crowd more than the few words President Lincoln uttered from the podium.
“Mr. Lamon, Mr. Baker.” A mellow female voice calls out from the other side of the room. “You stop this childish bickering right now, or I’ll tell Mrs. Lincoln.”
No matter how tough each man considers himself, neither wants to deal with the wrath of Abraham Lincoln’s highly excitable wife, so they just bow slightly in acknowledgement to Elizabeth Keckley, Mary Todd Lincoln’s closest friend and confidante in the White House. Lizzie, as she was called, was Mrs. Lincoln’s seamstress. Born in North Carolina, she learned her sewing skills from her mother. After buying her freedom she taught these skills to young black girls in Baltimore. After her years of making dresses for Mrs. Lincoln, she went on to found the Black Contraband Relief Association. Like so many others at our party she wrote her memoirs which so upset her former employer and friend that Robert Todd Lincoln had it pulled bookstore shelves.
Lafe wanders over to Dorothea and Jean and wonders aloud, “Who does she think she is, telling us what to do?”
“She’s a saint, as far as I’m concerned,” Jean answers. “Who else could have been as kind to such an unfortunate soul as Mrs. Lincoln?”
Indeed, Lizzie consoled the First Lady when her son Willie died in February of 1862, nursed her when she injured her head in a carriage accident in July of 1863 and patted her hand as she fretted about death threats against her husband. Sadly, very few ladies in the Washington social circles would have much to do with Mrs. Lincoln because of her unstable personality so it fell to a seamstress to fill the void.
A minor flirtation between Ward and Rose is on the horizon as he saunters over to her, bumping little William out of the way.
“You look like a lady who would know where they hide the hard liquor.”
“You are a big brute, aren’t you?” Rose’s eyes flutter. “I’d just love to hear about your last meeting with Mr. Lincoln. I imagine he told you all sorts of interesting things about the Union Army.”
“That’s enough of that, Mrs. Greenhow,” William says, pulling her away. “You’ve gotten into enough trouble for wheedling information from gentlemen.”
Disappointed that his encounter with the spirited Rose is cut short, Ward consoles himself with a cup of punch, spiking it from his own brass flask pulled from an inside coat pocket. Looking over at Lafe, he mutters to himself, “Somebody’s going to kill that guy one day.”
His observation had a ring of prophecy. Andrew Johnson dismissed Lafe from his security position for spying on him. Lafe’s only excuse was that Stanton told him to spy on the controversial successor to Lincoln. His testimony before a congressional hearing into the president’s assassination revealed that eighteen pages had been torn from the diary that Booth kept from the time of the assassination to his own death on a Virginia tobacco farm. Lafe was found dead in his Philadelphia residence in July of 1868. The official cause of death was meningitis, but some must have wondered if it were murder considering all the enemies he accrued over the years.
Back across the room from our more social types a tall, lanky man hands a cup of punch to Lizzie and whispers, “You always know how to make folks behave.”
“Thank you, Mr. Pendel. How kind of you to say so.”
They were old friends, both serving in the Executive Mansion. Thomas Pendel was doorman, hired from the Washington metropolitan police force and one of Tad Lincoln’s favorite playmates. The night of the assassination he was the one who put the boy to bed and lay next to him until he went to sleep. Thomas might be considered one of the first media consultants as he lit White House windows with candles perched on slats of wood he nailed on the sides. When Lincoln stepped up to the window to speak to the crowds, Thomas held a candle just out of sight but high enough for the people to see Lincoln’s face. He also shared with Lizzie a compassion for the First Lady. During the time between the assassination and her departure from the White House, Mrs. Lincoln asked Thomas, who bore a resemblance to the president, to wear Lincoln’s clothes in front of her, a disturbing request which he obeyed. He went on to serve many more administrations and, like many others, wrote his autobiography. Thomas smiles at Lizzie and shakes his head as he looks across the room at our ladies and gentlemen.
“Oh, my. What a party this has turned out to be.”
Over in another corner, shadowed by heavy red curtains, is another guest, who sips her punch and munches on a cookie, choosing to stay in darkness, for even among these forgotten figures of history she is a mystery. Jessie Home was an immigrant from Scotland who worked in the military hospitals of Washington, D.C., during the Civil War and at its end, she died of natural causes, probably some contagious disease she contracted from one of the wounded soldiers. That’s all the history books say about her.
“And who is that?” Rose asks William.
“I don’t know,” he replies with a glint in his eyes. “But she’s a pretty one with all that red hair.”
Rose’s nostrils flare at the thought she isn’t the prettiest belle in the room. Crossing to the divan where Dorothea and Jean still whisper, she taps the back of the furniture to get their attention and nods to Jessie in the shadows.
“Who is that girl?” she says.
“A lovely girl from Scotland,” Dorothea replies softly. “She volunteers at the hospital.”
“Volunteers?” Rose says incredulously. “Why would she do that?”
“She’s pretty enough to be on stage,” Jean offers.
“Not that pretty,” Rose says with a sniff. “I never cared for red hair and freckles.”
“I almost didn’t let her attend to the wounded because she was so lovely and kind,” Dorothea reveals. “But she was so lovely and kind, I couldn’t resist her.”
“Hmp.” Rose is not to be denied her indignation. “This isn’t even her country.”
“She chose the United States to be her country.” Dorothea turns to look at Rose sternly. “That makes her more of an American than any of us.”
“How intriguing,” Jean says in a murmur.
Suddenly the door wings open, drawing everyone’s attention.
“Oh no, not her,” Rose mutters. “Doesn’t she have her own parties to attend? She doesn’t even belong here.”
“Quick,” Ward goes to William and breathes on him. “Can you smell liquor? She hates it when I drink.”
“So that’s what she looks like,” Dorothea says. “She’s slimmer than her pictures make her appear.”
“Gate crasher,” Lafe says, turning his back.
“How wonderful,” Lizzie whispers with pride. “She’s wearing the first dress I ever made for her.”
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Thomas announces, “the First Lady of the land, Mary Todd Lincoln.”

Donald, David Herbert. Lincoln. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.
Hay, John. Inside Lincoln’s White House, The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1997.
Johnson, Rossiter. Campfires and Battlefields. New York: Gallant Press, 1960.
Kunhardt, Dorothy . Twenty Days. New York: Castle Books, 1965.
Leech, Margaret. Reveille in Washington. New York: Carroll and Graf Publishers, 1986.
Seale, William. The White House, Volume One. Washington, D.C.: White House Historical Association, 1986.
About Famous
Civil War
Living Vignettes of Notable Women from U.S.
Mr. Lincoln’s White

Another Time

He sat in the corner of the restaurant sipping on his glass of white wine, his eyes transfixed on the blonde in the sleeveless white dress, and considered his options.
For several weeks, he traded e-mails with her. They found each other on a website for connoisseurs of fine living. They both liked clothing made of silk, Egyptian cotton and cashmere. The textures were caressing and soothing. She, in particular, liked fur, no matter what others might think. He agreed he preferred lambskin and suede leather. Each expressed a disdain for beer, preferring a good wine or blended whiskey. The best beef was Kobe, and the best seafood was lobster, although those foods should be enjoyed in moderation. They wanted their tailored clothing to drape properly. And they both loved old, classic movies.
What a coincidence it was when they discovered they both lived in the same quaint little town on the outskirts of a major metropolitan center. Where would be a better place to live? Lovely old homes with endless restoration possibilities, an art community, antique shops and intimate cafes. And an international airport an hour’s drive away which could spirit them to Europe at a moment’s notice. Finally, they agreed they must meet for each thought the other must be as fascinating in person as in e-mail.
“I know,” she wrote, “let’s meet at 512 South for lunch on Thursday. It’s my favorite bistro.”
“How will I know you?” he replied.
“Well, I’m blonde and have blue eyes. I’ll be wearing my white sleeveless Vera Wang and ermine stole. How will I know you?”
After a brief hesitation he wrote, “I look like a movie star of a few years ago.”
“How exciting! Who?”
“I’ll be the only familiar face in the place. Trust me.”
Arriving early, he ordered a glass of Reisling and finished reading his newspaper. When she entered the café, he knew immediately it was her—white dress, fur wrap and the face of an angel. Sitting up he smiled, anticipating her recognition. She looked around the room until she stopped to stare. Walking up to a table, she leaned over and smiled.
“Well, hello there,” she said in a purr.
A thin young man in a T-shirt and torn blue jeans looked up.
“When you said you looked like a movie star from a few years ago, you were right. Except it was more than a few years ago. You look just like James Dean.”
He watched the young man’s face. A glimmer of a shadow crossed it, before he smiled broadly.
“Sure, babe. James Dean. I get that all the time.”
She slid into the chair next to him, cupped her chin into her slender palm, and stared at the young man who grinned back.
The man with the Reisling considered walking to the table and telling her he was the man she was looking for, but discretion warned against it. He should have been more specific, he told himself. He should have said the movie star he looked like was Gene Wilder. Back in his day Gene Wilder was somewhat romantic, in a funny, poignant sort of way.
“Hey, babe, I’m waiting on my burger plate. You want one too?”
“Sounds yummy.”
“Want a beer too?”
“More yummy.”
Well, she misrepresented herself, too, he thought, as he finished his wine and motioned to the waiter to deliver his check. He smiled as he watched her giggle and scoot her chair closer to the young man with the intriguing smile and T-shirt. The next time he went to the website for fine living he would be more forthright about which movie star he resembled.
Another time. Perhaps another website.

The Ask Maude and Grady Show

(Transcript of the last performance of a radio advice program originating from Del Rio, Texas)
Announcer: Telephone lines are now open so call in your questions for Miss Maude, the sweetest church lady this side of the Pecos River, and Mr. Grady, who has been the janitor of the Eternal Flame of Truth Church for sixty years.
Miss Maude: Good evenin’, folks.
Mr. Grady: I gotta git outta here and milk Josie Belle. She’s about to bust a gusset. So iffen you got a question, you better call in fast.
Announcer: We just got our first caller of the night and it’s for Mr. Grady. Tell us your name, sir.
First caller: This is Homer Dipsheidt.
Mr. Grady: What can I do for ya, Homer? And make it fast.
First caller: Well, Grandma died in Fort Worth night and Mama’s wantin’ me to take the Greyhound up to her house in Cleburne, so I can drive her into town for the funeral. I got so upset about grandma that I went out to Mel’s tavern and drank up my whole paycheck on beer. I can’t afford the bus ticket no more. Should I call Mama and ask her to wire me the money?
Mr. Grady: Oh hell no. First, the phone call will cost too much. Then when you git to Cleburne your mama will expect you to pay the gas to drive into Fort Worth and on top of that you’ll have to pay her back for the bus ticket.
First caller: Mama will git awful mad.
Mr. Grady: Let ‘er git mad. You got a job to go to. By the way, tell your boss Jim Ed at the poultry farm I said hey.
First caller: I kinda wanna say good-bye to Grandma. She raised me, you know, when mama got caught stealin’ a car to run off with that travelin’ Bible salesman.
Mr. Grady: Aw, your grandma ain’t gonna hear you say good-bye. She’s dead.
First caller: But—
Mr. Grady: Get off the phone and let somebody else git a chance to squawk at us.
Announcer: Next caller is for Miss Maude and the name is Miss Odeen Fluger…fluger…how the hell do you saw that?
Miss Maude: Oh my goodness, I know Miss Odeen. What can I do for you, hon?

Second caller: Well, as you know, Miss Maude, old Mr. Dewberry went on to his heavenly reward last week, and they read the will today. I was flabbergasted to find out old Mr. Dewberry left me $500 with strict instructions to invest it in Sinclair Oil Company.
Mr. Grady: What the hell were you doin’ to get $500 out of ‘im, girl?
Miss Maude: Ever’body knows Odeen has been cleanin’ his house and cookin’ his food for the past three year.
Mr. Grady: That’s a hell of a lot of cleanin’ for $500!
Announcer: So what is your question, Miss Odeen?
Second caller: I don’t know how to go about investin’ in anythin’ so I thought Miss Maude could help me.
Miss Maude: The stock market is way too risky, my dear. You take that money and put it in a passbook savin’s account at the bank.
Mr. Grady: I wouldn’t trust that old devil down at the bank. You git that money in cash, put in a cigar box and hide it under your bed.
Announcer: And our next caller is Mary Beth Klownhausen. It seems Mary Beth has a bone to pick with the both of you.
Miss Maude: Oh dear me.
Mr. Grady: I didn’t hold no shotgun to ‘er head. It’s her own fault to call in to a silly assed show like this in the first place.
Third caller: Iffen you remember, I called last month ‘cause Kerwin Klownhausen asked me to marry ‘im. I didn’t know iffen I should or not ‘cause he jest got away with killin’ Susie Belle Mundkowski.
Miss Maude: Now the jury said he didn’t do it so you can’t say he did kill Susie Belle.
Mr. Grady: Listen, girl, you’re uglier than sin and marryin’ a damned killer is the best you can do.
Third caller: Well, Kerwin talks in his sleep and he’s sayin’ he did kill Susie Belle ‘cause he found out she was foolin’ around with Homer Dipsheidt.
Miss Maude: You should have slept with him first then you’da knowed he was a killer.
Third caller: But Miss Maude, you’re always sayin’ never give away the milk unless he buys the cow.
Mr. Grady: Susie Belle Mundkowski was a slut. You ain’t a slut, are ya, girl?
Third caller: No I was a virgin on my wedding night. Otherwise I’d never marry a killer.
Mr. Grady: There you have it. He’s not gonna kill you ‘cause you ain’t a slut.
Miss Maude: You’ve made your bed, Mary Beth, now you have to lay in it.
Third caller: But I’m scairt.
Mr. Grady: That’s what you git for callin’ in to a silly assed show like this.
Announcer: And we’re running out of time. Do you have any last word of advice, Miss Maude and Mr. Grady?
Mr. Grady: Stay away from the sexo-maniacs.
Miss Maude: I don’t know what that means, but I’d say Mr. Grady knows what he’s talkin’ about. He’s worked at the church for 60 years.
(After this program ran, Kerwin Klownhausen killed his wife Mary Beth Klownhausen, Homer Dipsheidt and Odeen Flugermeister, and stole the $500 in cash from a cigar box hidden under her bed. The judge ruled a mistrial and let Klownhausen out on $500 bail because Miss Maude and Mr. Grady were on the jury and couldn’t agree on a verdict. Shortly thereafter Klownhausen skipped town and was rumored to have moved to Las Vegas. The FTC took the radio station’s broadcast license away because Mr. Grady continued to call the program a silly assed show.)