Monthly Archives: May 2017

Toby Chapter Twenty-One

West Texas farm boy Harley Sadler had a great career in a traveling tent show, playing the comic sidekick Toby. Even though his lost his money during the Great Depression and suffered the loss of his daughter Gloria, Harley and his wife Billie decided to give going on the road with a show one last try.
Billie relented, and in a few weeks they were back on the road with a show. It was that not bad, actually. They did not have to be responsible for the bookings, billings and paychecks. All they had to do was show up for promotional appearances and the plays. Billie handled the books for the nightly ticket sales. Harley had time to try wildcatting again. He just couldn’t stay away from the gambling.
Not surprisingly, crowds gathered to see Harley Sadler as Toby again. It was the only happy memory from those difficult times. Even if Toby were years older than the villain. Some audience members were too young to appreciate what Harley represented. They found the situation on stage funny, but for the wrong reasons.
“Gosh, he sure is gettin’ old,” a young man whispered to his date.
“Yeah, he looks kinda silly dressed up like that and tryin’ to act young,” she agreed derisively.
The loyal farmer, who first came to Harley’s show when he was courting his wife, turned to glare at the young couple. Yes, Harley was old. The farmer was old. And one day that young couple would be old too. It was what happened if you did not die young.
Harley amazed at least most of the audience with his agility and exuberance on stage, but as soon as he cleared the curtain line he collapsed in a chair placed there for him. He gasped for air. Sam Bright walked up in work clothes with a clipboard under his arm. He was the director now. A little thick around the middle, he no longer played heroes or villains. He handed Harley a glass of water.
“Are you all right?” he whispered.
Harley drank the water and panted. “Fine.” He peered through the curtain at the actor playing the hero, David Bodie. “He’s not trouping.” Harley shook his head. “Let’s troupe! Let’s troupe!”
By the time Toby and Susie Belle were due on stage, Harley had sufficiently recovered to pretend to be an energetic young man courting his young lady. Billie looked over his shoulder.
“Here comes the Goodhearts’ little girl Mollie.”
A child with blonde curls ran up to them, fell to her knees and clasped her hands, pleading, “Please, Toby and Susie! You’ve to help my mama and papa!”
Billie froze, as though she had seen a ghost. Harley frowned at her before looking down at the little actress.
“Aww, Mollie, what can I do?”
The child started her line, “Oh Please, Toby and Susie…”
Harley realized what Billie saw. She did not see the child in front of them. She saw Gloria when she played that role many years ago. This girl had brown eyes, but Billie saw Gloria’s sky blue eyes. This girl wore an ill-fitting wig, but Gloria had her own, naturally curly flaxen-golden strands of hair. Soon Billie saw nothing at all. Her eyes filled with tears. She heard her own daughter say, “You’ve got to help my mama and papa.”
The little actress began to panic. “Um, please, Toby and Susie.”
His years of experience kicked in, and Harley knew he had to save the scene. He picked up Susie Belle’s line. “Don’t worry, Mollie. We’re going to help you.”
He put one arm firmly around Billie’s shoulders and with the other lifted the girl to her feet and guided them off stage. He hugged his wife, giving little baby kisses over her face to comfort her. Eventually she wiped away her tears and managed a smile.
Harley whispered sweetly into her ear, “Let’s troupe.”
With her husband close by her side, Billie made it through the rest of the play. She put on a brave smile for the curtain call and bowed in appreciation of solid applause. When the curtain dropped Billie lowered her head into Harley’s shoulder and bawled. They tried to move to the dressing room, but Joe McKinnon strode up, his had extended.
“Great opening night, Harley!” He shook the showman’s hand vigorously. “Sold out house and reservations are coming in like crazy!”
Harley dropped Joe’s hand and guided Billie away. “We’re not doing that play again.”
“Why not?” Joe tried to keep up with him. “The audience loved it.”
“I said we’re not doing that play again.” His voice had a bitter edge to it. “Tomorrow night we’ll open ‘Spit It Out, Sputters’.”
Before Joe could object, Harley huffed off holding his wife close to him. Joe grimaced as Sam walked up.”
“I hope I can make it through the tour with those two.”
“Gloria used to play Mollie,” Sam informed him.
“Oh.” Reality dawned on Joe. “So. Sputters it is.”

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.”

James Brown’s Favorite Uncle The Hal Neely Story Chapter Twelve

Previously in the book: Nebraskan Hal Neely started as a trumpet player in the Big Band era, served in World War II, graduated from college, and worked for Allied Record Manufacturing and King Records.
(Italics denote chapters from Neely’s memoirs.)

After getting King’s pressing business for Allied in 1949, I was in Cincinnati on a regular basis. All the staff and employees treated me as if I were one of them. I’d reassess Syd’s operations for him. They were obsolete and needed to be rebuilt with new, more modern equipment much of which could be built in King’s own machine shop. King was “hot.” Good deal all around.
I was now very active in Allied government production and supervised its recording schedules in five New York studios and on Riker’s Island where the Army had a production facility. I commuted between New York, Hollywood, Washington D,C and Cincinnati. It was hectic but rewarding. I loved my job, even the travel. It reminded me of my old band days, different town each day.
Jim O’Hagan died in January of 1950. It happened suddenly with no warning, and I was promoted to vice president and board member. Mary and I moved back into our house in Woodland Hills, California.
In 1952 I was spending most of my time in the East. Mary rented our house, put her little red MG Roadster in storage, and moved to New York. We rented a nice one-bedroom apartment on the East Side at 72nd St. and Second Avenue. Very nice. Mary would help out at the plant each day. We bought an Olds 88 convertible, parked it in a garage on the corner and drove to work each day. Also in 1952 the Army asked me to reconstruct my old 16-piece show band for a concert for 6,000 American and British troops at Wiesbaden Germany Army Air Base. I wore my captain’s uniform.
Union problems developed at the Allied plant. Allied decided to get out of the state of New York and move its business to New Jersey where it built a new plant. I would be the manager. I moved my office back to Hollywood. Mary and I drove back to California, spending a week in Cincinnati seeing Syd and my brother Sam and his wife Hazel who now lived in Dayton. We moved back into our house in Woodland Hills. I began a lucky and happy time. We and some friends went up to Lake Arrowhead and the mountains above San Bernardino over a long weekend. Our son was to be conceived there.
April 26, 1956, Mary went into labor. I cut it pretty close and got there late that evening. A neighbor picked me up at the plane. We took Mary to the hospital about 7 a.m. She and John Wayne’s wife had the same doctor and were both in labor at the same time. Both of us had sons. Mildred Stone, Mary’s mother from Lyons, came out to stay with Mary for as long as necessary. I was under great pressure to get the new plant operational and still take care of my sales duties. I only got home on several weekends and then back to Jersey.
Eventually we decided to move the family to Newark, New Jersey. Mary shipped her MG to the East Coast, and I found us an apartment in a nice section of Newark. She, our son, and I were on an American flight to New York, changing planes in Chicago. The Chicago airport ground crew went on a “sit down” for some gripe. We sat in the airport for about four hours with everyone else. American was able to get us a flight, but it was going to the Newark airport and not LaGuardia. What the hell. We took it. We got in very late that night and took a cab to the apartment which I had rented.
Mary walked in and said, “No way! I want a house.”
Friends of ours, Sid Bart and his wife, lived in a beautiful upscale closed enclave called Smoke Rise in the wooded hills of northern Jersey, close to the village of Mahwah. It was 40 miles from Manhattan.
We found a small house on a hillside, surrounded by trees and a beautiful lawn. It was two stories, two bedrooms, big basement and a huge screened-in back porch. In the back were flowers and a small spring-fed pond. Mary fell in love with it at first sight. We took out a mortgage and moved in. Mary found a nice widow lady to babysit our son, and we joined the country club. I was lucky again and had a good life.

Me and Bonnie and Clyde

Me with car

I found this picture of me when I was three years old. My family had just finished eating in a Fort Worth, Texas, café with an aunt and uncle. My aunt said that I had wiped my mouth after every bite of food, which she thought terribly cute. When we got to the car, she said she had to take my picture.
My mother told me to stand by the car. I had just spent all my energy trying to be well-mannered and was now a little nervous about having my picture taken by myself. I’d never done that before and didn’t quite know what to do. Thinking I should try to hide as much as possible, I stood behind the car bumper. As you can see, it didn’t hide much.
By the time I married my hair had turned so dark brown some people thought it was black. Many years later my aunt gave me the picture. My wife was surprised to discover I had been a blond as a child. I told her I had seen a picture of my mother as a little girl in front of her family’s car and she had blonde hair too. She knew better than to hide behind the bumper so she put her hand over her face.
My daughter thought she had been adopted because she had blonde hair while the rest of us had dark hair. I pulled out this picture to reassure her we had not kidnapped her. Now she has dark hair and a little girl with blonde hair.
What jumped out at me when I looked at the old photograph was the pose in from of an old car. I got this strange feeling that if Bonnie and Clyde had a child he would have looked just like me. They posed in front of cars too. Of course, it couldn’t have been me because Bonnie and Clyde had been mowed down in an outburst of rifle fire on a lonely country road in the hinterlands of Texas and Louisiana more than ten years before I was born.
It’s just as well I belonged to Florida and Grady instead of Bonnie and Clyde. Loud noises always scared me so I’d been an emotional wreck in the backseat of the getaway car after Mom and Dad robbed a bank. With my luck one of the stray bullets meant for Bonnie and Clyde would have hit me instead. And if I had survived that day on the country road, who would have raised me? I don’t think the infamous bank robbers’ relatives would have wanted anything to do with me.
The photo did make me grateful for my nice boring family. Although at times my brothers could be real pains in the keister, they weren’t on “wanted—dead or alive” posters in three states.
This picture will be a keeper. My granddaughter will want to show it to her children so they’ll know they weren’t adopted. But that won’t be a problem if she does marry a blond-headed guy and the kids take after him.
Reflections like this happen when you get old and don’t have anything better to think about.

Toby Chapter Twenty

Previously in the novel: West Texas farmboy Harley Sadler had a long career on the tent show circuit through the High Plains, marrying the love of his life Billie, helping farmers during the Great Depression, losing his fortune and regaining much of it. His daughter Gloria died. He and his wife decided their hearts just weren’t in it any more and retire.
When the Sadlers returned to Sweetwater, the town threw a big banquet for them called “Flowers for the Living.” All their friends from the shows stood and testified how wonderful Harley and Billie had been to work with. Representatives of many of the small towns recounted how Harley had rescued farmers down on their luck. If their lives had been a play, that evening would have been the grand finale. But real people don’t go away at the curtain fall like fictional characters. They continue to live, struggling along as best they can.
Soon the highlight of Harley’s day—when the Legislature was not in session—was his morning walk through the neighborhood. Billie sat on the living room sofa looking out the window, waiting for him to appear along the sidewalk. She slipped out a pint of whiskey and took a nip. Suddenly she sat up and hid the bottle under a cushion.
Harley turned from the sidewalk into his yard. His girth was wide, and his thinning hair almost white, but his gait was still lively and his grin boyish. A group of boys, waiting at the corner school bus stop, saw him and ran his way. They were respectful and earnestly eager.
“Hi, Harry!” one said.
“Hi, boys!” Harley turned and smiled.
Another boy nudged the first one. “That’s Harley, not Harry!”
“I’ll answer to most anything.” He paused the proper amount of time before delivering the punchline. “Now President Truman, he might be insulted!”
The boys laughed.
“Like some gum?” He reached into his pocket.
“Yeah!” the boys shouted in unison.
He opened the pack and distributed the sticks.
A boy who previously remained silent, grabbed his stick and stuck it into his mouth. “Thanks!”
Walking up to his front door, Harley overheard them whispering to each other.
“Boy, he’s a nice old man.”
“I’m glad he lives in our neighborhood.”
“You know what he used to do?”
“My dad said he traveled in something.”
Harley turned and asked, “You boys ever hear of Toby?”
“No, who’s he?”
“Oh, an old friend of mine,” he replied.
Harley saw the bus pull up, so he went into the house and joined Billie on the couch. He closed his eyes and sighed deeply.
“Hi, honey,” Billie said. “What did those boys want?”
“Some gum.”
She stared into his face. “I noticed you turned back to say something to them. They weren’t being rude, were they?”
“Oh no. They’re nice boys.” He opened his eyes and wanted to smile but could not quite muster one. “I just asked them if they knew who Toby was.”
“Did they?”
Billie patted his leg. “I guess they would have just been babies the last time you were Toby.”
“You know the man Burnie works for?” he asked tentatively.
“The one with the tent show?”
“Yeah, Joe McKinnon. “He gathered his thoughts. “He’s been after me to go back on the road.”
“Oh, Harley,” she moaned. “I don’t want to do without you all summer.”
He turned to face her. “I told him you could handle the books. You could play Susie again.”
“I thought you said your heart just wasn’t in it anymore,” Billie pressed her objections.
“People want comedy, Billie. They’ve got enough sorrow in their lives already.” He paused and pinched his lips together. “I’ve had enough sorrow in my life.” He reached down under the cushion and pulled out the bottle. “And you’ve had enough too.”

Cancer Chronicles

I came across a dusty black ringed notebook with yellowed pages. It was in Janet’s handwriting which meant it was nearly illegible. She had many wonderful qualities but penmanship was not one of them. She had taken copious notes on a book entitled The Mummy by E.A. Wallis Bridge.
First notes she made were about the many early names of Egypt, mostly denoting it had dark mud, inundations, and was a land of olives. I’d tell you what the names were but I couldn’t make out Janet’s hieroglyphics.
She wrote several pages on the eighteenth dynasty. She listed many pharaohs and what countries they defeated. One of them was Hatshepsut, the female pharaoh who wore a fake beard. Most of them married their sisters. There was a list of gifts appropriate to give a pharaoh—horses, chariots, collars of gold and tables of cedar. She also listed all the gods with phonetic spellings, and what animals they looked like.
I almost got excited on one page. I thought she wrote lover Egypt. Upon closer examination I realized she meant Lower Egypt.
On another page it looked like she copied a prayer in phonetic hieroglyphics (I don’t know what it was; I’m guessing). I could not quite make out from the translations what the prayer was about, if it was indeed a prayer. Maybe it was a prayer said for the dead, since the title of the book she was reading was The Mummy.
This is what happens when cancer takes away your loved one. It leaves intriguing questions that will never be answered. It just reminds me why I loved her so much.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Eleven

Previously in the book: Secretary of War Stanton has placed Lincoln under guard in the White House basement and has charged Private Adam Christy with taking care of their needs. He’s gone upstairs to retrieve items for Mrs. Lincoln.
“Yes, ma’am.” Adam smiled as Alethia padded from the room to retrieve Mrs. Lincoln’s unmentionables. He liked this Mrs. Lincoln very much. Not that he disliked the other Mrs. Lincoln; mostly, she scared him. Perhaps under the best of circumstances the real Mrs. Lincoln could be as sweet and charming as the lady returning with a bundle of clothing wrapped in a sheet.
“Looking in the drawers, I found this paregoric,” Alethia said with a smile, holding up the bottle.
“Yes,” Adam said, “she asked for it.” He took it from her, and then smiled sheepishly. “You know, I don’t think I know exactly what paregoric is.”
“Oh, just a little bit of opium in a liquid that’s touched with alcohol.” Alethia shrugged, and her eyes twinkled. “It keeps the nerves calm, so I’m told. I’ve never really been the nervous type.” She turned to Duff. “How about you, Mr. Lincoln? Are you the nervous type?”
“No, not at all,” Duff said, “until—well, you know.” He glanced at Adam. “They’ll need chamber pots.”
“Three,” Adam said.
“Three?” Alethia repeated.
“There’s been a complication. I don’t know if I should tell you.” Adam looked apprehensive.
“Then don’t tell,” Duff said. “The less we know, the better.” He shook his head. “Remember, our main goal here is survival. Don’t forget that.”
“I thought our goal was to end the war.” Adam furrowed his brow.
“No, that’s Mr. Stanton’s goal.” Duff wagged a finger. “And he would strike us down to reach his goal.” He nervously grinned. “I talk too much.” Taking the bundle from Alethia, Duff added, “I’ll help you carry this stuff down.”
“Mrs. Lincoln also wants the lace curtains from the bedroom windows.”
“The lace curtains?” Alethia said.
“For a drape across the room,” Adam explained. “For privacy.”
“Anything she wants,” Duff said, putting down the bundle and walking to the window to take down the curtains. “Get the ones in your room, Molly.”
“Will you help me, Private?” Alethia asked as she left the room.
As they took the last curtain down, Tad bounded through the door yelling, “Oh, Mama, Papa, I had the best dinner I ever had. Pie, ice cream, cake, three ciders—” He stopped abruptly when he saw Adam. “Oh. You’re still here.”
Alethia dropped the curtains on the floor and walked swiftly toward the boy. “Yes, Taddie, my dear. Private Adam Christy is our new adjutant.”
Adam observed the gleam in her eyes as she patted Tad’s shoulders and ran her fingers through his unkempt locks.
“Our last aide was a lieutenant, Lieutenant Elmer Ellsworth,” Tad said in a huff. “Don’t we deserve a lieutenant?”
“We deserve the best man for the job,” Duff said, entering with the clothing bundle under one arm and the curtains in the other. “And right now Private Christy is the best man for the job.”
“Yes, Papa.” Tad cocked his head. “Why are you taking down the curtains? I thought mama liked them.”
“Well, you know your mother.” Duff smiled as he picked up the curtains from the floor. “She always wants new curtains and such.”
“Father, that isn’t fair,” Alethia said, trying to play her role. “The Executive Mansion must always have the best.”
“Oh, Mama never changes.” Tad laughed.
“No, I never change,” Alethia said in a whisper.
Adam and Duff left and went down the service stairs. As their feet crunched on the straw mats, Adam cleared his throat, again feeling uneasy by the stifling silence engulfing them.
“All this is for the best. Don’t you think so, sir?”
“What?” Duff looked around, aroused from deep thought.
“All this,” Adam repeated earnestly. “All this is for the best. To end the war. Mr. Lincoln was going—”
“I am Mr. Lincoln, Private Christy,” Duff interrupted sternly, stopping to look deeply into Adam’s eyes. “Don’t ever say otherwise. Don’t think otherwise.” A fatherly smile danced across his lips before they started walking again, the straw crunching once more underfoot.
After a few moments of silence, Adam said softly, “Yes, sir.”
“You’re a good man, Private Christy,” Duff said evenly, with a sad glance at him. “Take some advice. Be careful. Watch what you say. This is a dangerous time for all of us.”
“Dangerous?” Adam shook his head. “I don’t understand.”
“Don’t try to understand.” Duff smiled sagely. “Just be careful.”
When they reached the bottom and entered the hallway, Duff nodded to the door to the left. “That’s the kitchen, right?”
“I think I should put in an appearance,” Duff said, stopping in front of the door. “Please open it, Private Christy.”
Pushing the door aside, Adam smiled when he saw Phebe sitting at the rough table, one shoe off, massaging her toes.
“Oh.” Phebe quickly slipped her shoe back on her foot and stood awkwardly. “Excuse me, Mr. President. I was just resting my feet.”
“Phebe,” Duff continued uneasily, looking down and shuffling his feet, “we’re staying in town tonight, so you’ll have to cook for us.”
“Yes, sir; I know. Mr. Stanton told me.”
“Also, I have to confide something in you.”
Adam’s eyes widened, not believing this man chosen to replace President Lincoln might confide his deepest secret to the kitchen help.
“I’ve asked three very important, very intelligent persons to help me conjure up some winning strategies for this war,” Duff said, finding more assurance as he spoke, his eyes rising to meet hers. “Now, I’m not saying they’re from England, but if the folks out there thought the president was being told what to do by some foreigners—well, you can see…”
“Yes, sir,” Phebe murmured, nodding in agreement.
“We’ve already snuck them into the billiards room.” Duff nodded down the hall. “If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate it if you’d fix three of your best meals three times a day for these friends of mine.”
“Of course, Mr. Lincoln.” Phebe paused, and then looked at Adam. “That’s why you needed the cots.”
“Yes.” Adam smiled. “Of course. I didn’t think I should tell.”
“I’ll leave you to your work, Miss Phebe.” Duff looked away, and then added, “Oh. You might want to have a pot of coffee brewing. We’re having a Cabinet meeting later tonight.”
“It’ll be ready, Mr. President.”
Adam shut the door, and they walked across the hall to the billiards room. Duff hesitated, then handed the bundles to Adam.
“It might be best if you go in alone.”
“I think you’re right.” Nodding, Adam loaded his arms with the bundles and smiled. “You’re going to do just fine, Mr. President. All of us will do just fine.”
Duff shook his head sadly, stared at him, and said, “Don’t forget the chamber pots.”

Last Moments With Grady

When Grady’s life was almost done he told me once he hit a home run.
One of the last few times I saw my father–he was in his eighties and sinking into his final spiral of one illness after another–he told me how he hit the game winning home run in high school. This was significant because he only had one eye, and he played baseball better than I did with two.
I always knew he liked watching sports of all kinds and that baseball was his favorite. Way back in the fifties our little town in Texas had its own minor league team called the Owls. This was before television captured the nation’s attention and people actually left their houses for entertainment. It was nice to go someplace with my father but I never figured out which team was which.
“Which ones are the Owls?” I asked.
“They’re at bat,” Dad replied.
I was only four or five, and I didn’t know what “at bat” meant. As we left I asked him if we won or not. I think we lost.
I tried to play Little League, but I was lousy. I knew I was lousy because all the other guys on my team told me I was lousy. I think that summer I actually played in two games. In the first one I struck out. In the second one I got a walk and made it to second base before everyone started leaving the field. I asked why and someone told me the game was over. We lost.
I don’t think Grady even knew I played baseball that summer. He was out of the house on his Royal Crown Cola truck before I woke up and usually came home after dark. I had this wistful daydream that all of a sudden I was going to become a great baseball player. I’d be in every line up, making game-saving field catches and hitting home runs a couple of times a game. And then, maybe, I’d look out to the road and see the soda pop truck pull up. My father would get out, lean against the front bumper to watch me play a few innings before he finished his route.
When Grady’s spirit was about to go, he told me once he saw a UFO
My visits home were mostly awkward. We’d sit in the living room staring at the television. Probably a baseball game was on, and I didn’t know who was playing. For sure, it wasn’t the Owls.
“How are you doing?” I asked.
“How’s Hallie doing?” She was his girlfriend.
“How’s the weather?”
“As long as it’s under a 100, I’m fine.”
After a pause I announced, “I’m fine.”
“Janet and the boy are fine.”
“Janet’s mother is fine.”
On another visit Grady did ask about my mother-in-law’s health so I thought he’d be interested to know she wasn’t dead yet.
I ran out of the usual questions and became desperate so I mentioned a show on TV about UFOs. I didn’t know if I believed in them but the show was fascinating.
“I saw one of them one night, you know.”
This was when I almost fell off the sofa.
“Really? You never told me that before.”
“Oh, I never told anybody about it. I didn’t want them to think I was crazy.”
On one of his many late nights out in the truck, he saw the object in the sky. It didn’t move like an airplane, and took off across the sky faster than any jetfighter could. I often wondered what other stories he would have told if I had just mentioned the right topic.
As Grady lay there dying, he told me once he went flying.
After moving to Florida, I’d fly back for a visit. We exhausted the topics of weather and health (everyone was fine), so I talked about how the flight went (it was fine). Then I added that I guessed he never flew on an airplane.
“Oh sure, I went up in one of them biplanes way back then.”
Again I almost fell out of my chair. Cautiously, I pumped him for details. It seemed a barnstormer was going cross country taking people up in the back seat of his plane for five dollars.
“My brothers were scared but I was too young to know any better.”
What startled me more than the fact he actually went up in one of those flimsy contraptions was that he parted with five dollars. Remember, this was in the 1920s when five dollars was a week’s pay for most folks. It pained him to give me two-fifty a week for school lunch in the 1960s. I kind of felt sad that he grew up and learned it was better to keep his five dollars than have an experience of a lifetime.
Eventually, Grady moved into a nursing home. He decided he couldn’t keep up with paying his bills, and he wanted Hallie’s son to have his power of attorney. Hallie’s son told me he didn’t want to do it, so the only one left to take care of Dad’s bills was me. It was bad enough that he never said he loved me, he never kissed me or hugged me; now he didn’t want to rely on me to pay his bills.
The nursing home director convinced him that it was better to have a family member have the power of attorney so with a heavy sigh he accepted the situation. I came to terms with this state of affairs too. He was who he was. Nothing could be done about it.
On my last visit, we sat in the day room watching a rerun of Gunsmoke. Marshal Dillon was one of his favorites. Grady particularly liked Doc. At one point his hand moved to my knee, and it stayed there for a while before he pulled it away. He walked me to the nursing home door and hugged me. I whispered “I love you” and then he mumbled it back at me. I think he kissed my cheek but I’m not quite sure about that one.
I have written before about how Grady put his hand on my knee, hugged me and said, “I love you,” but I believe it bears repeating, like when he hit a home run, when he saw a UFO and when he went up in a biplane. It was an experience of a lifetime.
When I thought any hope of redemption was too late…Grady snatched my love from the jaws of hate.

Toby Chapter Nineteen

Previously in the novel: Farmboy Harley Sadler became a hit with his traveling melodrama tent show during the 1920s and 30s on the Texas plains. The Great Depression slowed the parade down for Harley and his wife Billie. It became a dirge when their daughter Gloria died.

The ensuing days passed in a blur. Harley was aware of standing there at the funeral home selecting the casket and flowers. He did not know how much anything cost. Everything looked very nice. Billie had good taste. Local neighbors filled the Sweetwater Baptist Church. He remembered smiling and nodding as hundreds of people offered their condolences. In the back of his mind Harley felt a vague guilt because he could not remember how John reacted or how he dressed or what he said during the funeral service. The only thing he remembered for certain was that Billie was devastated. He remembered her tears. He remembered he could not think of any words of comfort for her.
Once the flowers had faded away, and all the mourners had gone back to their normal lives, John announced he had to return to his job at the base. Harley helped him pack and drove him to the train station. As John mounted the steps, he turned to smile.
“Thank you for coming to the station.”
“Billie would have come but she still can’t seem to make it out of bed. She really is very fond of you….” His voice trailed off.
“I understand.”
“You’re my son,” Harley said urgently. “Don’t ever forget that.”
Then the train pulled out of the station, and Harley realized his life would never be the same. Not only not just the same, but he grimly accepted the reality that he would never be s happy again. Hope, that cornerstone giving the spark of reason to exist, began to erode.
Harley threw himself into his old activities trying to ignore the truth. He thought the adrenaline rush of wildcat oil drilling would be the answer. It might have helped if he had actually hit a gusher, but he still only struck water. He ran for re-election and won yet another term in the Texas Legislature. Pushing through legislation over the objections of the North Texas crowd gave him satisfaction but it did not last.
Harley Sadler’s Own Show began another season bringing entertainment across the plains to farmers. In the years following World War II the farm population declined because more families gave up the struggle against the hostile environment to move to the city where jobs were now plentiful. Still Harley and Billie continued the shows because they knew their most loyal fans needed them.
Gloria’s grave drew her parents for regular visits. Billie insisted on keeping the flowers fresh. She watered them faithfully with her tears.
“Billie, honey,” Harley whispered, trying to pull her away from the tombstone. “It’s time to go.”
“Oh, Harley. She was so young.”
“I know.” His voice pleaded with her. “We’ve got to go. We’ve got a show tonight in Spur.”
“I can’t—I just can’t put on that makeup and act like nothing’s happened–like Gloria never lived.”
“Because we continue to live doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten her.”
Billie looked up to shake her head. “I can’t. I just can’t.”
“I guess my heart isn’t in it, either.” Harley hugged her.
He agreed that as soon as their current schedule had ended, they would not commit to any other shows for now. Maybe never, but that decision was left to sometime in the future. Harley could sense the relief flowing through Billie’s weary body. Even he did not mind the prospect of a quiet time of reflection, to reconsider his lifetime belief that if you do good things to other people, good things will happen to you.
Holding hands tightly, Harley and Billie stared into the glaring spotlight, not seeing anything but nevertheless smiling as they bowed to thunderous applause. The banner over the proscenium said it all:
“Harley Sadler’s Last Performance.”

Cancer Chronicles


In the back of Janet’s closet I found The Thing I hoped had been lost forever. It’s still here.
On our honeymoon forty-five years ago in the Smoky Mountains, we had a pastel (that’s colored chalk, I think) portrait done of ourselves. The artist was a college student working for the summer and was quite chatty. He had us pose separately. I knew something was wrong when he turned to Janet and asked, “Does he ever smile?”
Yes I did smile and I thought that was what I was doing, smiling, not grinning. Smiling is turning your lips up at the corners. Grinning is showing off your teeth. Off to the side of the artist’s space was a portrait of a young woman grinning. The artist had carefully outlined every tooth. Poor woman ended up looking like Minnie Pearl.
It didn’t make too much difference how I looked in the drawing. Janet looked nice, and it was going to be a Christmas gift to her parents. We showed it to some friends and one of them said we looked like Ichabod Crane and a very tired Liz Taylor. I couldn’t help looking like Ichabod Crane. The artist gave me only half a neck. I did like the idea I was married to Liz Taylor even if she did look very tired.
After Christmas my mother-in-law hanged the drawing in a spare bedroom and gratefully I didn’t have to look at it too often. Like any young man I foolishly did not think to the future. After my mother-in-law died, of course, The Thing came back to us. Janet knew I didn’t like it so she hid it in a closet where it remained hidden until recently.
I would trash it but I’d hate to get rid of the reminder that I married a woman who looked like Liz Taylor. This is among the quandaries we face when going through a loved one’s things after cancer has taken them away. I suppose I will turn to my favorite option—put it back where I found it and let my children decide what to do with it when the time comes.
I still can’t get over that someone thought I looked like Ichabod Crane. Why on earth would Liz Taylor—even when she was very tired—want to marry Ichabod Crane? Although I’m glad she did.