As my mother used to say, I have been running around like a chicken with its head chopped off. As I think I mentioned in a previous post, my father passed away on Easter. I am the executor of my father’s will and I took it upon myself to arrange the funeral, and go through his estate information. My dad was a hoarder so saying this was a nightmare does not adequately describing the blinding headache this experience has been.
All that to say, I haven’t been blogging a whole lot. For the first time in years I haven’t been reading a whole lot either. Goodreads informs me that I am 46 books behind my annual book reading goal, which is actually a hundred books less than last year.
Ah, well. Luckily, graphic novels are not long reads and I’ve always loved illustrated stories. This is part of a link up with Bookstooge and some others who are also reviewing this book. I’m not exactly sure how I link up. Hopefully Sir Bookstooge will help me out.
In the meantime, here’s my review:
Obelix, the big thundering refrigerator (except refrigerators haven’t been invented, yet) can knock whole legions of Roman soldiers into the stratosphere. With his little finger he can collect wild boar for the Gaullist feasts. He fears nothing and no one.
Except a gorgeous woman. Then he’s weak as a kitten.
The name of this beautiful woman is Panacea. I love these names pregnant with tongue in cheek meaning.
Unfortunately, Panacea has a fiancé, Tragicomix (see what I mean?) who has been conscripted into the Roman army and shipped to northern Africa. Obelix is heartbroken, but he is determined to save Tragicomix for the sake of Panacea.
That’s all you have to know, because then it’s the usual formula of Asterix and Obelix beating up Roman soldiers, meeting the pirate ship on their way to Africa and, you guessed it, obliterating all the pirates, eventually retrieving Tragicomix and returning him to his love, Panacea. Before, during and after this adventure, lots of puns, dry wit and very expressive illustrations accompany this basic plot.
No one reads Asterix and Obelix biting their nails, wondering how things are going to work out. We read it for the comic language and illustrations. I wonder if Italians read Asterix and Obelix?
One thing stood out to me. All the characters are so cartoonish and buffoonish in their drawing that Panacea and Tragicomix look almost boring compared to the rest of the cast.
I wrote this as a part of a link up to my blog. I’ve never done this before, so I hope I did it correctly.
We had a little excitement this week. Our neighbors on the other side of the green belt somehow set the trees on fire. Josh and I ran over to see if they needed help. It was two women trying to put it out with buckets. We called 911 and soon the Fire Department took care of it. Good thing, too, because the winds were still strong and it might have quickly spread throughout the forest.
What a week. I set up my paintings to be part of an outdoor art gallery downtown when gusts of wind blew everything down, scattered my oil painted cards all over the street and destroyed one of my favorite acrylics. Very bummed. I’m going to try to save some of it by cutting the canvas to a smaller size.
It was a part of my four seasons collection. This is Spring Before:
The only good was that people kindly returned my cards and the Italian restaurant behind my table took five of my paintings to hang up on their walls, including the other three seasons.
Rita, born and raised in Brooklyn by her Italian immigrant parents, finishes burying her mother, her father having died already and decides to travel to Assisi and live with her mother’s brother and family.
Poor and friendless, Rita has a lot of money for the first time in her life and she decides to break out of her devout Catholic spinster persona and become a modern Italian Donna.
Unfortunately, her uncle, the Count Casati and his family do not welcome her with open arms. If it weren’t for her sizable inheritance, they probably wouldn’t tolerate her presence at all. But they do and she moves into their mansion.
It’s Good Friday and the Casati family are waiting with the rest of town for the Religious procession to the church. Rita doesn’t show up. It would be nice to say that their irritation turns to shock and grief when Rita’s body is found in the Casati Mausoleum in the local cemetery, but it doesn’t. What the proud Casati family does not want is scandal marring their reputation.
Inspector Cenni and his crew embark on an investigation that leads them to many suspects with motives and opportunities, but which, if any, was it?
I am not normally a fan of fiction written after 1970, but this was a surprisingly good read. Aside from the occasional F word, the story and dialogue were intriguing and enjoyable.
I felt Brophy’s character development was superb. All of her characters were believable and multi-dimensional. I especially liked Cenni and his fellow detectives. They were written in a sympathetic, and very human way. It made me a loyal fan of Cenni and I hope to read Brophy’s next novel.
Saturday, April 16, my dad sent me this photo of himself. It was taken in 1960. He was stationed in Diyarbakir, Turkey near the Tigris river. He was 24 years old.
The next day he got to celebrate Easter face to face with his Lord.
Free at last, free at last! Praise God Almighty, you are free at last!
Franklin Benjamin Barrow April 11, 1936-April 17, 2022
I have to leave for Florida tomorrow and arrange the funeral and, as executor of the will, I will be meeting with a lawyer to figure out how to access all of his stuff and carry out his wishes according to his will. I say that to say, I may not be posting for a little while. Or maybe I will, but it will be in Florida.
This is my third mystery written by Pat McGerr. So far there is a definite formula to her plot lines.
As in Pick Your Victim and Follow as the Night, we immediately learn that someone is murdered. But who? There rest of the story is acquainting the reader with all the players involved until we discover which one is the victim.
In this case, we don’t know who the murderer is, either until the very end.
Seven Sisters, one for each deadly sin:
Clara, the sister who adopted her six younger sisters after their parents were killed is guilty of pride. She doesn’t care whose lives she ruins as long as they keep up appearances.
Tessie: Her sin is envy. She envies her sister’s success at marrying. She finally meets a man, who marries her, only to have him run off with her sister:
Doris: Doris has a huge hankering for men and she doesn’t care if commits adultery to get what she wants.
Agnes: What’s her sin? Maybe sloth. She leaves one husband because he wants to actually discipline the children and she’d rather they ran wild. She remarries to find that her second husband also thinks the children are in need of discipline before its too late.
Molly: Molly is frigid. And a liar. She marries a man who is hopelessly in love with her, but she keeps putting him off. When he finally consummates the marriage, she gets pregnant and runs off to get an abortion. That also makes her guilty of murder. Clara is horrified over what Molly has done and hopes their social circle never finds out, but she tried to force Doris to get an abortion, because her baby was out of wedlock and well, the neighbors would find out.
It’s interesting with Clara. She’s not a moral beacon. Her moral compass is completely centered around what other people might think of them. She strong arms her sisters into bad marriages because it looks bad for adult women to be single. Of course this causes all sorts of internal family misery. Next we have:
Edith: Edith is in and out of rehab centers do to a ferocious drinking problem. Clara has made sure that Edith and her husband are in another city, to keep them aware from, you guessed it: gossip from those precious neighbors.
Finally we have:
Judy: Hers is an obvious one, greed. She doesn’t care if her husband goes through all kinds of stress with work, she is determined to live beyond her means. Her only words to her husband is, “I want more” and like a petulant child she throws a tantrum if she doesn’t get her way.
It’s likely Judy would not get away with this if she were not enabled by Clara’s husband, Frank who views Judy, the youngest of the sisters as his own daughter who he likes to spoil.
The narrative reads like a soap opera. I got a little tired of the interplay between the characters because they were so obviously types and the tone of the story came off as a bit sermonizing. Nobody had any depth to them.
What kept me going was the mystery: One of these sisters killed their husband? Which one? All of them were selfish and mean enough to do it. Frankly I don’t know why their husbands didn’t want to top them off, but we know it was a sister who killed her husband.
I will say that the murder plot was well executed and worth treading through the tiresome personalities of the sisters.
A bit old fashioned for some people’s taste no doubt, but enjoyable if you can over look the dated stereotypes.
I have really been out of the loop lately with posting reviews and reading other people’s reviews. With surgery and book promotion, it’s hard getting my routine back.
Last Saturday I had a book signing at a local bookstore. I sold twenty copies! Which was actually about twenty more than I hoped to sell.
I have another book signing in April at a local library. So far three libraries have taken my book and put it in their local author’s section. Hopefully people will overcome their natural prejudice against local authors and give it a chance.
At least I can be prejudiced against local authors. Usually they have an interesting story to tell, but they aren’t very good at writing about it. Often their books sound like a very long Christmas letter. I do my best to avoid that kind of narration in my stories.
Here’s a book I read in the past couple of weeks. I’ve read a lot, but mostly mysteries. My brain is getting a little foggy and I’ve not been reading non fiction lately. I hope to “wake up” and become more intellectually alert.
This mystery had me going until the end. I’m not sure I was completely satisfied with the conclusion, but I rarely am with mysteries. The build up and intrigue is usually more interesting.
As in other mysteries written by McGerr, we learn of the murder up front, but not who was murdered. Then we spend the rest of the story getting to know all the players involved. In this case the murderer is known up front, even though the victim is not. The reader studies each person in the story wondering who will end up being the victim.
Summary: It is WWII. Our story starts in the Aleutian Islands. Pete Robbins and the rest of his platoon are in their barracks reading and rereading every book and magazine they can get their hands on to alleviate their boredom and to touch a piece of the U.S. which is so far away to them.
A package comes in from one of the Marine’s mothers. She has packed the box with old newspapers. the men eagerly pull out the scraps and read what they can about sports, the latest news, the latest murder…
Except this murder occurred in Pete Robbins work place back home. His boss Stetson is arrested for murdering one of his employees. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know which, because only half of the page was stuffed into the box.
Pete figures he’ll write a coworker from his old office and get the missing information from her. In the meantime, his fellow marines decided to place bets on who the victim is. They sit Pete down and tell him to describe the four years he worked in this office and provide details of all of his coworkers.
The bulk of the book is from Robbin’s viewpoint and he lays out each member of his office. The edition I own even has a cast of characters on the fly leaf and a map of the office on the back cover.
There’s so much drama between the office co workers that it was easy to forget I was reading a murder mystery.
Like the other McGerr book I reviewed, this one was written in 1946 and the roles men and women played back then will seem dated to the modern reader, but I kind of liked it. The women in this book were as tough as the men and as intelligent, yet acted feminine. It was nice.
My fellow classic crime story lovers will probably enjoy this book.
This is how I read a lot of the non fiction I review. I try to be a good steward of my body and exercise but I must confess that stationary machines are sooo boring! I’m also able to knock out a lot of my non fiction reading list this way.
This is the life story of William Wilberforce, the man who devoted his life to ending the slave trade.
Eric Metaxas gives us a thorough outline of Wilberforce’s life.
Wilberforce was born to wealthy parents and was as religious as your average English citizen. Which is another way of saying, he was not religious at all. Of course, every good English citizen belonged to the Church of England, that was only civilized. But to actually apply any of the fundamental attributes of Christianity as prescribed in the Bible, well, that’s the sort of thing those “fanatical, radical Methodists” did. Funny that Methodists were once considered fanatical.
Wilberforce lived a privileged life that was filled with drinking, gambling and all sorts of parties. He bought his position in Parliament with lavish expenditures on those in positions to vote for him.
He became close friends with William Pitt, the future Prime Minister. At some point in his political career he underwent a spiritual rebirth. This no doubt had to do with his friendships with some of the “radical Methodists” who influenced his life, including an aunt and uncle whom he once lived with as a child.
Thomas Clarkson, a major abolitionist, also influenced Wilberforce and through him, became aware of the horrors of the slave trade.
Metaxas’ book takes the reader through Wilberforce’s life, people of influence, marriage, sickly heatlh and his lifelong struggle fighting the slave trade.
One of the most amazing things the book describes is the fight slave traders gave, the waffling of politicians and the indifference of the English people against one of the worst and grossest exhibitions of man’s inhumanity to man.
Most harrowing are the descriptions of how Africans were treated as they sailed the Middle Passage (route from Africa to America). It’s not for the faint of heart.
The political backdrop of the American and also the French revolutions give context as to why the struggle was as long as it was. He also writes about the corruption of King George’s progeny who were more interested in emptying the Royal coffers on wine and women than any humanitarian endeavors.
Not only was Wilberforce concerned for the African people but also for the poor in England. He championed the cause of the down and outcast in his own country. It seems heartless to us today but the contemporary attitude of the time was to leave the poor alone and it was no one’s duty to help them.
Again, the Methodists created the soup kitchens and did their best to pass laws that would require more humanitarian living conditions for England’s poor. This was derided by the rest of the country. This is evident even in certain writers such as Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins. Both lampoon Missionaries and Evangelical Christians in their novels.
For those interested in history and the life of one of our greatest heroes (in my opinion), this is an excellent resource.
This is the second novel I have read by Flann O’Brian. I’m trying to think how I discovered him. I know it was by accident, looking for one author, came across him, perhaps on eBay or the book exchange club I belonged to. I have discovered a lot of authors that way. For me discovering new authors (that I like, mind you) is comparable to archeologists machete-ing their way through the jungle and arriving at the ruins of some unknown civilization.
Well, that’s probably an extravagant comparison, but I do get excited when I discover new authors.
Flann O’Brian was an Irish writer who is considered a key figure in post-modern literature. The first book I read by him, At Swim-Two Birds, was strange and hard to follow. Whether I caught on to his surreal style or not, I found The Poor Mouth comprehensible and quite funny.
The Poor Mouth is a story about a young Irish boy and his coming of age in Ireland. He lives with his mother, his grandfather, whom he refers to as the Grey Fellow or the Old Man, and a herd of pigs, all in the same hovel. Yes, the pigs live inside the house.
The book was written in Irish Gaelic and later translated by Patrick C. Power. The title comes from an Irish expression, “an béal bocht a chur ort” (“to put on the poor mouth”) which means to exaggerate one’s hard circumstances.
The protagonist, Bonaparte O’Coonassa, tells us about his hard life, starting with his birth. We see his grinding poverty, the hardship of his mother and grandfather, and yet also their humor and wit in dealing with all bad situations.
All the characters are colorful and we learn some Gaelic customs that are performed at birth, marriage and death-all of which involve more than a little drinking (surprise, surprise). We meet the woman he marries and his baby, both of which die soon after being introduced into the story.
Really, the timeline is not interesting at all, it is how O’Brian tells the story. It is really very funny and each trial O’Coonassa encounters takes on a surreal experience because of its absurdity.
He lightly mocks the Gaelic lovers who come from Dublin to learn the real language but soon leave because they can’t abide the impoverished conditions of this tiny Irish country (it is called Corkadoragha). He less lightly mocks the assault on the Irish language and customs when, as a boy, he is made to go to school and beaten because he has not conformed to a more Anglicized version of his culture.
In the end he must go to prison for murdering someone (which he did not do, he just came across the body and took his gold seeing as the dead man would no longer need it). While entering the prison a man is leaving after a thirty year sentence. It is his father. They meet for the first time, hug and promise to meet again when the son is free, which will be in another thirty years. The good news is that he will no longer be starving.
I cannot capture the color or the humor in the rich story of Irish parody. I suggest you read the story for yourself.
Allow me to introduce my first book. It’s a murder mystery.
Here’s the blurb on the back cover:
What does a single mom need to do to meet Mr. Right when there are no eligible men at church, and bars are out of the question?
You join a dulcimer club, of course!
Kimberly may not meet her future mate at the dulcimer clubs she’s joined but she finds the people friendly and fun.
Then one by one, her friends start dying.
Is this normal, she wonders? Or is something darker at work? With the help of her son’s new mentor, former gang member Miguel Villanueva, she discovers that even small towns in northeastern Texas are not safe from murder.
And just to give you a taste to see if you’d enjoy it, here’s the first four chapters:
Murder in East Texas
A Murder Mystery by Sharon Wilfong
“Why are we going to Pittsburgh?”
“Because there’s a dulcimer club there and I want to jam with them.”
“People don’t jam on folk instruments.”
“People jam on anything. People can jam on rocks, if they want to.”
“I don’t want to.”
“That’s why we have dulcimers.”
“I don’t want to play the dulcimer either. I asked why we are going to Pittsburgh. Why can’t you go without me?”
“Don’t get smart. I want to meet people with mutual interests and I also want to spend time with my precious baby boy.” I waited for the eye roll then continued. “I told you we’ll eat at Pizza Hut afterward.”
Thus ran the conversation between my son and myself. Christopher, fourteen years old, felt his Saturday was ruined by having to drive to a town forty-five minutes away with his mother, who was trying to rake up some vestige of a social life.
I was the music teacher at a local school in my town, Longview, Texas, and I decided that teaching my students the dulcimer would be a valuable addition to the other array of instruments we played. I was also the single mom of an adolescent boy.
I had been divorced for five years and did not like being single. I never wanted to be divorced, but there I was. There were no eligible men at my church, at least, I wasn’t meeting any, and I did not think hitting bars was a good idea. Sure, it’s happened, but my personal opinion was that meeting your future spouse at a bar… in addition to being highly unlikely… and how many sorry sod suckers would you have to meet before meeting the right one… assuming bars attract “right ones”… would not make the kind of love story you’d want to tell your grand kids.
Longview was pretty limited for social activities. In fact if you didn’t include churches and bars, you were left with Walmart. Could love happen in the ice cream aisle? So far, no. Which was why I was driving north to Pittsburgh to join a dulcimer club.
Perhaps I should mention that of all the things Texas is noted for, giving towns the same names as more famous cities from around the country and the world should be near the top of the list. Here in East Texas we have Athens (noted for its fishery), Paris (with its very own Eiffel Tower), Atlanta, (the economic center of Cass County!), Palestine (Hot Pepper Festival), and Pittsburg- home of, you guessed it, the Pittsburg Dulcimer Club.
What do these East Texas towns have in common wit their more famous namesakes? Aside from carbon-based life forms, nothing, what do they have in common with each other? Together they possess a population of your average state college. They’re small.
It was to Pittsburg I drove with high hopes of meeting someone. That special someone. Not the man of my dreams, because I was still plagued with nightmares of my ex-husband. No, someone with irresistible qualities, which at this point added up to a Christian man, somewhere near my age, who was single and wanted to marry me. I’d also like him to be employed, unless that was expecting too much.
I’d settle for a student studying engineering. He’d have to be a non-traditional student. (“After I retired as a full bird colonel from the Air Force, I decided to go to back school and get another degree…”) I always had high hopes of meeting my future spouse every time I entered a new situation, new job, new store, new room… and so far they had been dashed.
But this time was going to be different. This was a dulcimer club!
As Christopher and I entered the community center, I took a quick look around. My hopes wavered and came slowly sinking to earth like soldiers parachuting out of a plane. They always did. First high in the sky, then landing with a depressing thud.
The median age in the room was around sixty. It looked like a retirement home for elderly musicians. Everybody was sitting around in a big circle with dulcimers on their laps and music on little fold out stands in front of them. They all looked happy. They were happy. Only two people in that room weren’t happy and they had just walked into the room.
No matter. We were here and we were going to play the dulcimer. After all, I was truly interested in playing and teaching my students. I even got a grant from the local Lyons club to buy dulcimers for my classes.
And I must say, a good time was had by all, minus the youngest member of the club, as we strummed away for a couple of hours singing along to tens of folk songs.
Folk songs are easy to learn because they are made up of a simple A B construct: verse, chorus, verse, chorus etc… Most of the songs told stories, long stories, of unrequited love, hillbilly life, country life… life when people had a ton of time on their hands to sit around on a front porch and make up songs about their lives. Who does that now? Maybe they weren’t as educated as we are, but they were more creative.
One thing I like about older people is that they’re more sociable than young people. Go to one of those hip, contemporary churches and if anyone greets you, you know they’re over forty. I don’t know if the same is true for bars.
Before Christopher and I left, we got to meet and greet most of our fellow dulcimer players.
A couple of hours later found us standing outside the center waiting to cross the street.
I said, “Well, I enjoyed that. Those people were interesting to get to know. It’s a small town, and they all know each other, which is kind of nice, isn’t it?”
Christopher wasn’t as impressed.
“Mom, did you notice how they all talk about their medical problems? Everyone there had diabetes, or arthritis or some kind of sickness…”
“Well, let that be a cautionary tale, Christopher. When you’re old and people ask how you are you don’t give them your medical history.”
“They even all have the same…”
At this point a truck roared past and drowned out the end of Christopher’s sentence.
“What did you say?”
“Are we eating at Pizza Hut here or in Longview?”
“We could eat here, but you heard that the group was going to the Pizza Hut here so they could continue playing.”
“So let’s go to the one in Longview.”
“Aren’t you hungry? I am.”
That was met with a glare so I said, “There’s one in Gilmer. That’s closer.”
And it had an Italian buffet, something I did not need but oh well. I had lived in Longview for three years now. I had moved down here from New Jersey. I arrived a size eight and had since ballooned up to a size fourteen/ sixteen, depending on the make. I did not need to be eating at Pizza Hut, but it was the only way to appease my son. Mother guilt is a great motivator. I was too desperate or selfish, take your pick, to stay home and be lonely on the weekends.
I blame Longview for its lack of social activities, but if I were being honest, my efforts at creating a social life for myself had been minimal at best. A case of “I tried nothing and, for some crazy reason, it didn’t work.”
I am not an outgoing person and divorcing a man who had been unfaithful to me for years had left me crippled with self-doubt and hyper-sensitive to rejection.
School took up most of my time, which was OK because it paid the bills. I enjoyed my job, because it was a creative outlet and I loved the kids. I liked being the music teacher because I got to know the entire student body and it also meant that I only had to make three different kinds of lesson plans for the three different grades, although they all learned pretty much the same things, modified to their age levels.
But then I came home, exhausted. Fridays were great. Christopher and I put on some high energy jazz music in the car, drove to Little Caesars and got some cheap pizza, which was fine by us, because we had cheap tastes, came home and enjoyed the rest of our day.
Saturday was OK. Sunday was another trial because every single week I went to church wondering if I was going to meet my future husband. As far as I could tell, the single men had girlfriends, except one, a single dad who sat behind me. Every week, I hoped he would talk to me. Initiating conversation would set me up for rejection so I avoided that. Aside from the normal meet and greet, this man never spoke to me at all, which was too bad, because he had the most delightful voice. It was deep and rich with a sexy, Southern drawl. He wasn’t bad looking either. But no. Never a glance my way. I always left church depressed.
Sunday night was the witching hour. My mother knew this and would call from Florida to help walk me through the valley. She faithfully called me every Sunday night and patiently listened as I told her how my life was a bag of garbage. I hope I’m as good a mother one day. I guess my son will have weekly conversations with his therapist about having to attend old people activities.
Then Monday came and I was fine for another week.
But not having a social life was starting to lie heavily on me. Doing nothing really does not work, so I looked up possible social outlets in northeast Texas. A couple of churches offered singles groups, but I was too self-conscious. “Here we are. Single. Looking to get un-single. Heh.”
I thought subterfuge was a better strategy. Join a group that is not obviously a place to meet people and then, surprise! A man my age looking for Mrs. Right. I was convinced I was somebody’s Mrs. Right.
I did not mind marrying a cowboy. Cowboys are educated. Cowboys have college degrees. Cowboys like to read. Some do. I knew I was working against the odds, not because they were Cowboys, but because I didn’t know anyone who read as much as I did. It’s like a sickness with me. Or that’s how some people make me feel.
One friend, after looking around at the piles of books in my house, on my coffee table, end tables, floor, informed me she only read her Bible and Christian books. For the record, I didn’t slap her, but God knows I sinned against her in my heart.
I considered joining a Cowboy church, there was number of those around the outskirts of my town, but I never did. At least I could join a dulcimer group. I also joined a traveling Sacred Harp group that gathered at different churches all over East Texas. Christopher did not care for those activities, either, although I think he enjoyed singing more than strumming. At least he could belt his heart out with the best of them.
And I joined another dulcimer group in Jefferson. This one actually included any kind of folk instrument, including singing if a voice was all you had. Otherwise the music was the same. Christopher liked this group because everybody brought desserts, which made it worth his while. Also, Jefferson is historical and scenic with big antebellum houses, and antique stores. After the gathering we’d walk around and browse, especially the stores with old books. It was fun.
The next month we were back at Pittsburgh. I wanted to sit next to the man who I sat next to the previous month. He was a widower. No, he wasn’t husband material, he was seventy-eight years old, but he was interesting. Yes, he told me his medical history (“I got the diabetes. The doctor told me on my birthday. How’s that for a ‘Happy Birthday’?”) but he also talked about his life. His name was Dave.
He had been in the Navy and had traveled all over the world. Served in Vietnam. He had been stationed in Iceland for a year.
“What was it like?” I asked.
“Dark for most of the time. We were there in the winter. We got about four hours of daylight. And we were alone. Men were going nuts. They got pet rocks and put them next to their beds. Just lay there and talk to their rocks. And you better not touch their rock or you’d have a major fisticuffs on yer hand.”
He was talking about Iceland. I had meant Vietnam, but maybe he didn’t want to talk about that.
After he got out of the Navy, he became a piano tuner. He sounded like a brilliant piano tuner. If I got a piano, I would definitely hire him.
“I learned not to just tune, but renovate. I got pianos from every sort of saloon and bar or old time Movie Theater when they played ‘em for silent films. People thought they were good for kindling. I took them, replaced the hammers, the strings…painted ‘em. They were good sounding instruments after I got through with them.”
I said, “Well, if you get one I can afford. I’d like to get it from you.”
“I have a player piano that was in a cabaret for eighty years. It was built in 1920. It’s a bright, lime green. I was going to paint it, but if you take it as it is, I’ll give it to you for a hundred dollars. You’ll have to move it yourself. Then I’ll come and tune it.”
“It’s a deal!”
That was last month. I looked around for Dave but did not see him, so Christopher and I sat next to a sweet woman, who had come with her son and his wife. I soon learned she had some sort of dementia, but we managed to carry on a conversation. Because her memory was limited, our topics shifted a lot, but I didn’t mind.
During a break I leaned past the woman and asked her son, “Where’s Dave?”
The son, whose name was Michael, said, “There’s three Daves.”
“Are they all here?”
“No, only two.”
You’re on your way to dementia yourself, aren’t cha, pal? I put on my patient smile, which I hoped did not look like my condescending smile, and crisply Drewiculating my consonants asked, “Where’s the Dave that is not here.”
“He passed away.”
“Oh! I did not know he was sick.”
“I heard him tell you he had diabetes. Don’t you remember him telling you that?” Michael frowned at me like I was suffering from dementia. I allowed my smile to become condescending.
“Diabetes doesn’t have to kill you, Michael. Did you know that?”
OK. That was cheap, but Michael deserved it. Anyone his age who lets his hair grow as long as he did deserved a condescending smile. The top of his head was bald and as shiny as if he’d polished it, but it was encircled by long gray, stringy hair that looked like it was dancing “Ring Around the Bare Patch.” The front part of his face was covered with a long, gray, crinkly beard that lightly rested on his chest. With no mustache, he looked like a cross between an elderly mountaineer and an Amish Farmer.
I mentally prepared myself to rib him, but first I had to wait as he explained to me how someone could die from diabetes.
“Well, you can die from not taking care of yourself, eating the wrong food, stepping on a nail and getting an infection in your foot, because diabetics can lose feeling in their extremities.
“Yes, I know…”
“… and forgetting to bring your insulin with you and going into insulin shock with no one around to help.”
“Thank you, Michael, I happen…”
“Dave lived alone and he went into insulin shock during the night and the next Sunday morning his daughter found him dead.”
I remarked, “Well, at least his daughter came the next day.”
“Did I say that?” Michael was once again miffed at me for my poor listening skills.
“Dave did not die Saturday night?”
Michael began twisting the knobs on his dulcimer.
“How long had he been dead?”
“He was alive when his daughter came to take him to church the previous Sunday and he was dead when she came to get him the next Sunday. He had been dead a while.”
Dave only had a visitor once a week? He knew what loneliness is. I wasn’t the only one coming to the dulcimer club for friendship. After one conversation, we had become friends. My stomach began to hurt. I should not have taken my loss as hard as I did. I hardly knew the man; but my counselor told me that my divorce would leave me with abandonment issues. I fought back tears and felt like an idiot for being so unexpectedly emotional.
And here was Michael, being friendly and I was already pushing him away. Why? Because he looked like a hillbilly Moses? He faithfully brings his mother to the dulcimer club, even though she did not have a dulcimer, but because she loves to listen. I deemed myself a bad person and dropped the condescending smile. I decided to start a friendlier conversation.
“What do you do, Michael?”
“I am the pastor at a local church.”
“Oh, that’s nice. Which church?”
“First Christian Reformed of Pittsburgh.”
“What denomination is that?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I misunderstood. What’s its name, then?”
“First Christian Reformed of Pittsburgh. I said that already.”
“So you did. Why is it called “First”? How many Christian Reformed churches are there in Pittsburgh?”
“There are no other Christian Reformed churches here. The next closest is in East Mountain. After that, you’d have to drive to Tyler.”
“So you could call yourselves the ‘Last Christian Reformed of Pittsburgh if you wanted to, couldn’t you? Or even the ‘Only Christian Reformed’. The ‘Best Christian Reformed’ or the ‘Worst Christian Reformed.’”
“I suppose we could,” his tone had become frosty, but I had gained momentum.
“The ‘Hallelujah Reformed’, the ‘Standing on the Mountaintop with Christ my Savior Reformed Church of Pittsburgh; ‘Reformed Church of the Holy Spirit’;
“We were considering “Christ the King, Reformed Church of Pittsburgh…”
“… ‘Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam Reformed Church of the Rising Sun’…”
“You’re full of cow patties.”
I stopped, stunned. I admit I had gotten out of hand, but his mother was giggling at every brilliant title that poured out of my smart mouth.
I wasn’t non-plussed that a pastor used the term, “Cow Patties.” I was shocked because he did not say “Cow Patties”. He used the swear word.
“Oh, I’m sorry did that offend you?” Michael laughed.
“Yes, it did,” I answered.
“Why? What’s wrong with that word?”
“The Bible speaks against using coarse and vulgar language. You used a swear word.”
“No, I didn’t. A swear word is when someone takes a vow.”
“A curse word, then. That is unbecoming of a Pastor and remember that teachers are going to be judged more strictly by God.” Forgetting my previous irreverence, I had shifted into pious gear.
Michael shrugged. “Paul said it.”
“In Phillippians chapter three, verse eight.”
“Paul said all his good works were like a ‘dung heap’. ‘Dung’ is not a swear word.”
“Curse word,” Michael corrected.
He shrugged again. “It’s just a word our society decided is a swear word. Society could have decided that a red book is obscene. It’s just random.”
I will not bore you because this argument went on throughout the jam session. Between each song, we picked up where we left off. It continued as we walked to our cars. At my car, Michael apologized.
“I’m sorry I offended you,” Michael said.
That should have been the end of it, except his tone of voice changed the meaning of his sentence to:
“I’m sorry you’re so ignorant in your faith. Sigh. I suppose that I as the stronger brother should not have exercised my Christian liberty over my weaker brother.”
Yes, his tone was quite precise. I heard his meaning very clearly. Some people are masters at saying one thing while meaning something else. I hoped he didn’t deliver his sermons in the same snarky tone. He’d be lucky to have twelve people in the congregation.
When I got home I looked up the word the Apostle Paul used. There seemed to be two camps. One camp claimed Paul was swearing and thought it was funny and edgy. This included an Anglican pastor in New Zealand that had a blog with the entire passage typed out in Greek, I suppose to prove to everyone that he spoke Greek. It didn’t prove anything, because I don’t know Greek and I doubt most of his readers did, either. His argument seemed to be based on, “See? I can write Greek, therefore I am right. Aren’t I a clever boy?”
The other camp thought “dung” or “rubbish heap” was a more appropriate translation. This included a secular scholar whose interest was to accurately translate Greek and not whether Apostles used curse words or not.
One thing I noted was that those that insisted Paul was dropping the “S” bomb showed no examples in any other ancient Greek texts that indicated that the Greek word was considered a curse word. The ones that said it was not a swear word, showed many examples of the word used in government documents and other official records.
Because of my tendency to obsess, I brooded over this all month. I gathered my evidence and armed myself with irrefutable arguments and waited until the next dulcimer gathering to foist my retort upon Michael.
All of which was wasted because the next month there was no sign of Michael.
Christopher and I found a couple of empty seats, sat down and got out our dulcimers. A soft, charming accent asked if the seat next to Christopher was taken. I turned to see a short man with woolly iron gray hair and a mustache. His face was crinkled into a smile.
“Not at all,” I said and gestured for him to sit down.
He did and got out his dulcimer, put it across his lap and reached out a hand to me.
“I’m Jack McDuffy,”
I took his hand and shook it. Where did I know his accent? It sounded a bit British.
“Where are you from,” I asked.
“New Zealand,” he replied.
“You sound like you’re from Johannesburg. You’re not Afrikaans?”
“Well, my family is from Scotland but they moved to Rhodesia before I was born. I was born there. It is now Zimbabwe, you know, and I lived there for some years after my parents moved back to Scotland.”
I will briefly explain here that I am not an expert on all the accents in the world. My ex-husband was from South Africa and his father was Afrikaans. I recognized the unique way they pronounce English.
I asked Jack, “How did you end up in New Zealand?”
“Ach, Zimbabwe became quite intolerable, I must say. The living conditions became impossible, and there was no more work, so I moved to London where I met a woman from New Zealand. I followed her home, got work there and bided my time until she caught me (broad smile and twinkling of the eyes). Then I married her. I became a naturalized citizen and there you are.”
Twinkle is an appropriate description for Jack. The entire time he talked, his whole face twinkled. His voice was soft and low. I could have listened to him all day, besides, I was curious about him.
“Do you live here?”
“Oh, yes. Fifteen years.”
“How did that happen?”
Well, you see. I worked for an oil company for a number of years in Saudi Arabia, this was after I married and had children. We all moved there, our second son was born there…”
“Oh, that must have been interesting.”
“It was, but you know, it’s a Muslim country and they do not allow alcohol.”
“I see,” I said. But I meant, ‘So?’
Jack was apparently fluent in tone of voice.
“Well that is simply inconceivable,” he explained. “A man has to have his drink. So my wife and I built a still on the roof of our house. We then bought the separate ingredients at the local grocery store.”
“You never got into trouble?”
“Ach, no, not ever.” He pronounced it “evah”. “We weren’t the only ones. The merchants knew.”
He winked at me.
“Sometimes we would forget an ingredient and the cashier would remind us. “I believe you have forgotten the sugar, sir.’”
Jack laughed like a jolly little elf. He was about five foot four or five and just needed a beard and pipe.
“Well, I have never heard of someone, not from the backwoods, making homemade liquor.”
“Oh yes. It was quite good, too. My wife would go up the stairs to the roof with a baby on her hip. She made up little songs, ‘Up, up, up, to the tippy, top, top. That is where the drinky drink drink is. Down, down, down, to the bottom down, down, and now we have some fun!!’ Soon our boys were skipping up the stairs with their mummy singing in chorus.”
I must have looked judgmental because he said, “Now, now. We of the Commonwealth do like our Spirits. You Yanks have frightful inhibitions.”
It was time to change the subject before I lost my temper. A thought occurred to me.
“Where’s Michael? Do you know him?”
Jack said, “Oh yes. He’s our pastor; He was feeling under the weather so he stayed home.”
“You go to the same church?”
“Indeed I do. I’m an elder.”
This was my chance. Surely Jack did not know his pastor swore. Furthermore, he was an elder so he would hold him accountable.
“You know, I had a strange conversation with your pastor.”
“Yes, yes, I know all about it. Michael mentioned it at our last board meeting. Apparently you had a problem with his use of the word, ‘Cow Patty’” (remember I’m bowdlerizing).
I should have realized then that Jack would not be on my side, but still I plowed ahead.
Every point I made, each point I carefully researched and stored away was laughed off with a dismissive, yet cherubic, smile and chortle. If he had a pipe, he would have taken it out of his mouth and waved it around. How could someone look so much like a leprechaun yet mock my reasoning? Then again, I guess a leprechaun would mock my reasoning.
“How can Paul in one passage say no swearing and then swear himself in another section? It’s God’s word, is it not? It’s really God speaking to us.” I could hear my voice getting louder, but I couldn’t stop.
“Now, now,” he soothed. “You have to understand that each writer of the Bible has his own unique style. Paul was simply engaging in a little earthy Hebrew humor.”
“How many people attend your church, Jack?”
“About twelve. Why?”
I gave up.
Am I the one who’s crazy? Was there no one who felt as I did about swearing? And as to this dulcimer club, not only were Christopher and I the youngest people there, there were no eligible men. Sure there were some single men, but I’m only willing to go five years over or under, not ten years, especially since I was forty. I did not want someone already hitting the half-century mark and guys in their thirties were starting to look like children.
There was a guy there who looked about my age, but I was pretty sure he was married, if a gold band on the third left finger means the same thing in Pittsburgh, Texas as it does everywhere else in America.
I left a little disheartened. My only friend at the club had died. I waited all month to win an argument, only for the person to be too sick to attend. His substitute pooh-poohed everything I said. And then there was the slight depression I always felt at meeting no marriageable men. Again.
Christopher, on the other hand, always experienced an inverted mood to mine. As we left the Community Center, his spirits lifted as mine sank.
“Are we going to Pizza Hut, again?”
“Of course.” Who needs a waist line when there isn’t a handsome, single man to appreciate it?
Did this stop me from attending next month? Of course not. Surely there’d be someone then.
End of Sample.
As Amazon says, if you enjoyed this sample, maybe you’d like to read the rest. Here is the link for the book:
This has been an interesting week before Christmas. I have had a painful infected forefinger since September. After three rounds of antibiotics and no improvement, my GP sent me to a hand specialist.
I saw the specialist Monday morning. Monday afternoon I was in the operating room having surgery on my finger.
I remember so clearly being wheeled off to the operating room….and waking up in the recovery room. It’s a weird experience.
So that’s where I’ve been all week. I just got home today. I will be receiving antibiotics through a port in my arm for the next few weeks. My husband will be performing the honors. They have sent a thin tube all the way to my heart.
I’m really fine, until the painkillers wear off, but I am already feeling better than before the surgery and I’m grateful the staph infection did not reach my bone.
I am taking the next several months off performing the piano, something I probably should have done in September.
I had Josh bring me my own night gown and blanket to feel a little more at home.
Interesting painting at the foot of my bed.
So while my husband is off getting some antibacterial solution to soak my finger in, I will share my best wishes to all of you out there in blogging world. Here’s some photos of my home:
Angel tree. The nativity is from Ecuador.
I also have a bird tree and the very first nativity I ever owned.
Love and joy come to you and to you a Merry Christmas too!
And God bless you and Have a Happy New Year and God bless you!!!
For the month of December I have collected a bunch of cozy Christmas reads. So far they have been fun and go perfectly snuggled up in a soft, warm blanket and a hot cuppa. Here are a couple of reviews:
This is the first mystery I’ve read by Joseph Jefferson Farjeon and I can tell you that I am going to be reading a lot more of him.
A group of passengers on a train find themselves stranded in a snowstorm. They consist of four young people: a brother and sister, a young male clerk and a young showgirl. Two other people are with them: a middle aged man and an elderly man.
The group can wait until the train is cleared or brave the blizzard themselves and hope to find another train or other mode of transportation to get them to their destination.
None of them enjoy the prospect of spending the night on a train, especially since it’s Christmas Eve, so they decide to leave and plow through the snow to the next station.
This turns out to be a foolhardy attempt, because they are soon lost in the snow, and purely by accident do they blunder into a house. The door is open and the house is empty, but it appears to have been recently occupied: the lights are on; a fire is blazing in the fireplace and tea is getting ready to boil.
But where are the residents? Nowhere to be seen. As uncomfortable as it is for honest people to “break in” to a house, they see no other option as the snow is continuing to pile up outside and their chances of finding the train they left an hour ago being next to impossible.
Many positive elements to this story:
The main characters are well developed and multi-faceted. They inspire sympathy and create a believable ingredient since their personalities are convincing with no one person being the stooge or butt, even though certain of them start out that way. Less savory characters enter into the story at later times.
The dialogue never drags. The banter between each character flows with wit.
As to the story line, Farjeon’s mystery is well plotted with surprising, but believable developments that keep the suspense at a steady pace. The story is eerie with possible supernatural overtones, making this mystery not just about murder, but a good helping of ghost story elements as well.
And it takes place on Christmas Eve and Christmas making it a great cozy winter read.
I will looking out for more of this author. Farjeon was well known in his time (he died in 1955) but much of his work is out of print. Luckily certain publishers, like the British Crime Library and HarperCollins’ Collins Crime Club have reissued many of his detective fiction.
In a nutshell: An elderly lady is discovered by her landlady to be dead. She died of an overdose of drugs, presumably suicide.
Of course it is not suicide or we wouldn’t have a murder mystery on our hands. The lady turns out to be part of the Russian Aristocracy who escaped Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution. It also turns out she smuggled many priceless heirlooms with her and these are gone.
Who stole them? She lived with her grandson, Ivan, but he was at work at the time of death. Inspector Nightingale assigns Officer Beddoes to trail the grandson. This takes Beddoes on a tedious journey as Ivan proceeds to pub crawl his way across London, getting drunker at each turn finally staggering across a bridge, mumbling something about a “Christmas Egg,” until he jumps over into the river far below.
This is not the end of Ivan, nor of Beddoes, who jumps in after him, but rather the start of a journey that involves underworld criminals and traders in jewels both legal and stolen.
So. What is this “Christmas Egg” Ivan is crying over and what made him attempt to end his life?
Strengths: I love Inspector Nightingale and Officer Beddoes. Kelly does a great job making these two protagonists interesting and sympathetic. This is a primary ingredient as far as I’m concerned. I want to care about the good guys.
Also: the story developed very well as far as presenting the mystery and making it intriguing. I read the book at night before going to bed in a few sittings and it was a book I looked forward to coming back to. That’s an essential ingredient in a “cozy read”.
I suppose if I were to find a weakness, it would be I found the end part a little hard to follow at first, although it is made finally clear. I think the problem was that Kelly decided to uncover the mystery soley through dialogue, without 3rd person narration (of which the rest of the book is comprised), making it a little harder to put the pieces together. But, nevertheless I was able, after a small struggle, to catch the final solution. That’s the only reason I left off a star.
In short: I will want to read more of the author’s mysteries.