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Archive for June, 2008

Henry’s Mistake

Harrison County, Ohio, November 27, 1926

 At exactly two-thirty in the afternoon under a gray and dismal sky, Hannah, newly widowed wife of Henry Moesher, and two weeks shy her forty-fifth birthday, stood at the edge of an open grave staring down at a plain pine-box containing the body of her deceased husband. Friends and neighbors, standing a respectable distance from the gravesite, did not notice her remove the plain gold ring from the third finger of her left hand, nor did they see her drop it into the open grave. Neither could they see the satisfaction her narrowed, upturned lips betrayed as she noted the ring’s disappearance into the symbolic handfuls of soil and the strewn flowers lying on the coffin’s lid. You might have taken me with you for all you cared. It was a ring that put you where you are. You might just as well have this one to go with it.

It was fortunate the widow’s improvised veil, fashioned of curtain material and dyed black for the occasion, obscured the tearless, dream-drained eyes behind the concealing drapery. Hannah continued to stare down at the coffin as though she would have one last look at the husband with whom she had shared twenty years of married life. She learned forward slightly and with hands clenched, in a voice too low to be overheard, hissed a message to the dead man, You shouldn’t have made me do it Henry. You sure shouldn’t have made me do it.

 

November 21, 1926

 

Hannah neither knew nor cared whether it was Henry’s scream of pain or the enraged bull’s bellowing she heard as she stood, back arched against the closed door leading into the barn from which she had fled in terror moments before. Damn you, damn you to hell, she silently mouthed while composing herself. She took a deep breath and without a backward glance, made her way to the house, kicked aside a milk bucket left for her to wash and return to the milkhouse, then flung open the screen door with such force it flew off its rusted hinges. The door, its screening long ago pawed into shreds by Scout, Henry’s beloved hunting hound, did little to keep out the pervasive flies in summer. Except for a small hand pump sitting at the end of a chipped and stained galvanized sink, the distraught Hannah entered a plumbing-free, refrigerator-free kitchen, her main living quarters since first entering as a bride twenty years previously.

Hannah’s anger dissipated but little as she poured herself a cup of tea and added a generous amount of brandy—something to which she seldom treated herself—before settling her still shaking body in the rocking chair she kept by the coal and wood stove. As the beverage dulled her nervousness, she remembered the fear that first froze her into immobility, followed by a rage twenty years in the making. She wasn’t sure if it was that or fear that caused her to fling aside the tool with which she was to clamp a brass ring in the nose of Henry’s prize breeding bull. She scarcely remembered her flight from the barn.

Henry had made it sound so easy. After I have Socrates’ head safely secured to a corner post of his boxstall, just do as I’ve told you. Place the opened ring inside his nostrils and push hard on the handles. No sense getting in paid help when we can do this ourselves. She had heard such assurances all too often. 

Hannah’s day had began, as had yesterday’s and all previous yesterday’s: Henry, always the first to rise in the morning, had stoked the stove in the kitchen below, bringing to life a glowing flame from a bed of embers. The sound of the poker hitting against metal was enough to rouse her from the bit of sleep she allowed herself after he left the bed. In winter, the kitchen would be warm by the time she entered to shed her nightgown and dress for the morning milking. It was one of the little things she appreciated about Henry, but if he valued her help with the milking and other chores before breakfast, he never said so. His morning grunts of satisfaction, after eating a hearty and generous breakfast she prepared while he stretched out on the davenport in the living room, pleased her. At least she knew that he knew she existed.

Hannah shook off such thoughts. There had been nothing out of the ordinary during the day; that is, not until just after the evening milking was over and the cows settled for the night. It was then Henry decided it was long past time to place a brass ring into the nose of his two-year old breeding bull, Socrates. The animal was large for his age and of a mean temper, making him dangerous to lead about when it became necessary. Hannah, town-raised but soon accustomed to farm life after her marriage to Henry, never lost her fear of Plato, his first bull. When young, Socrates had allowed himself to be led about like a reluctant calf. Now grown, he was much larger than Plato had been and out for blood, especially Henry’s. It was long past time to have changed from nothing more than a halter for control to the brass ring in his nose.

Just place the open prongs of the ringer inside his nostrils and push the handles together once I have his head so he can’t move,” Henry assured his terrified wife who had reluctantly watched him while he collected the tool needed from a cabinet in the harness room. “I’m not going to pay for somebody to come in when we can do the job ourselves. Just be ready when I say so,” and Henry, with a small quantity of grain in a shallow container in one hand, a leather and chain halter in the other, entered the wary bull’s stall.

“Please, Henry, come out of there. I can’t do what you want me to do. Can’t it wait until tomorrow and you can get Abner to help you? What if something goes wrong?” Hannah pleaded in vain. Confidently, Henry approached the bull, all the time gently shaking a pan of oats. The familiar sound of rustling grain caught and held the animal’s curiosity. His muscled neck arched and with his eyes fixed on the tempting treat, he allowed his enemy to approach. Henry deftly slipped the halter over the bull’s head with one hand, than, while Socrates was eating the grain, Henry quickly buckled the halter in place and left the the boxstall. Safely outside the pen, Henry threw the rope over a sturdy post set in concrete, formed a sliding knot in the rope and pulled the tether taut. Socrates quickly realized he could not move backward and pawed the ground, sending straw up and over his back. To ease the tension from the leather strap on the back of his neck, he took a step forward. Every time the enraged animal took a step or two forward, Henry drew in the looped rope until Socrates was trapped beyond movement and unable to move his head, The enraged bull  bellowed his anger and frustration and learned into the railing. Without taking his eyes from the angry bull, a grinning Henry called out, “Hannah, there’s nothing to it. Just put the ring in his nose and clamp it. I can’t hold him forever.” He never knew he was calling out to a wife with her hand already on the latch to the door leading out of the barn.

Henry said he had something he wanted to do in the barn before supper,” Hannah explained to her closest neighbors, Henry and Emily Willard, whom she called after discovering Henry’s body. “It was not until he was gone for almost an hour that I went out to the barn and found him lying in the walkway. It was so horrible. Blood everywhere.” She could go no further. Emily placed an ample arm about her friend’s shoulder and led her to a sagging horsehair-stuffed sofa at the far end of the kitchen.

November 26, 1936

It wasn’t often a woman, possibly in her middle-fifties, wearing the latest in fashion and driving a new white convertible, drove down the unpaved road leading to a farm once owned by a long line of Mosher’s. Everyone knew the story; Henry, the last Mosher to have farmed the land, had tried, without assistance, to put a brass ring through his breeding bull’s nose and was gored to death for his foolishness. His grieving wife, Hannah, while preparing to sell the house, discovered a small locked box that must have lain hidden in the attic since the days of the American Revolution. It was rumored about the neighborhood that the rare, black pearl necklace nestled into the disintegrating velvet lining of the container, was practically priceless.

 

The white convertible slowed to a stop before the abandoned and decrepit farm house. The woman behind the wheel sat for several moments as though deciding whether or not to get out of the car. Then, with tires kicking up a hail of dirt and stones behind it, she continued on. A half mile down the road, the vehicle stopped again, this time beside a small, country church in need of a new coat of paint, but otherwise in good repair. Behind the church, a low stone wall surrounded a small country-style cemetery. This time, the driver did not remain in her car. She reached for a package lying on the passenger’s seat, opened the door and stepped out. She noted with satisfaction that the cemetery, while not closely manicured, had been tended with reasonable care. The stranger found the grave she was looking for and stood for several minutes, her gaze on the name chiseled into the simple, marble marker. The woman glanced down at the platinum watch on her left wrist. It was exactly, two-thirty. “I’ve brought you something, just to let you know I forgive you,” and Hannah Moesher Biltmore placed a large wreath of blood-red roses on Henry Moesher’s grave.

 

 

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New monitor, but. . .

As I said I would, I purchased a new monitor, connected it to the TV tower and thought everything in good order. I must be “older” in the head than I thought: I’m having a bit of a problem adjusting to a light pink screen. I’ve given up after having spent considerable time trying to find out if pink was normal for this particular monitor and if not, what can I do about it. I’ve decided to do what I’ve always had to do when faced with a situation over which I had little or no control: live with it. The pastel hue is probably better for my eyes anyhow . . . a bit of a twist on an Aesop’s fable. Besides, I have other things to occupy me, like a printer that won’t work. Fortunately, I have a brandnew replacement ready for just such an emergancy.

Yesterday, while sorting out a few books, i came across a small volume from what once had been a set, “The World’s Famous Orations, printed by Funk and Wagnall’s Company in 1905. The first oration was given by Senator Hyne from South Carolina in reply to Webster’s speech, January 21, 1830. Here are Senator Hyne’s opening words: “Sirs, let me tell the gentleman that the South repudiates the idea that a pecuniary dependence on the federal government is one of the legitimate means of holding the states together.” Later on, he continues, “Finding our lot cast among a people whom God had manifestly committed to our care, . . . we resolved to make the best of a bad situation . . . to fulfil the high trust which had developed upon us as owners of slaves . . . we found that we had to deal with a people . . . totally disqualified  from the enjoyment of the blessings of freedom . . . even if we did not know that their condition here is infinitely preferable to what it could possibly be among the barren sands . . . and it was wholly irreconcilable with all our notions of humanity to tear assunder the tender ties which they have formed among us . . . (now, speaking of the awful Northerners) . . . set themselves systematically to work to seduce the slaves of the South from their masters . . .  

I can’t help but wonder: What if men with the identical thinking of Senator Hyne had prevailed?  

I like biographies and should read more of them than I do. However, nothing tells me more about a person than what comes from his very own mouth. My attention goes now to Calhoun’s “On the Expunging Resolution”. Seems the Constitution was in jeopardy during Senator Calhoun’s time in office. The words, “If you may expunge a part, you may expunge the whole . . . The Constitution requires the Senate to keep a journal.  Seems certain members of congress wanted to enact a law stating parts of a journal could be destroyed, something Senator Calhoun vehemently denied. For some reason, that sounds very much like something lately out of Washington, D C. 

The World’s Famous Orations goes with me, if and when i move to Merrill Gardens.

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Really, once back to blogging, I truly meant to jot down at least something each and every day on my blogsite, but “something” out ‘there’, or up ‘there’ has seen fit to thwart me. Computer working fine but I guess it’s time for a new monitor. I’ve managed to keep the monitor from going crazy while typing this entry, but the moment I have these few words safely on my blogsite, I plan on shopping for a new monitor. First: I wish to comment on a certain headline found on the editorial section of yesterday’s daily paper. 

I understand as well as the next person that as long as we have one party running against another in a race for the White House, we are going to have some rough politics envolved. I consider a certain editorial in yesterday’s  headline, “Mrs. McCain looks the part of the first lady”  to be as malicious as they come. What the writer, a Kathryn Lopez, suggested was as racist a remark as any I’ve read so far. Ms. Lopez did not dare suggest the country will fall apart if a half-white, half-black president is sitting in the Oval Office, but heaven help us if the First Lady isn’t white, with ash-blonde hair and rail-thin. Ms. Lopez is, of course, a republican. I can’t help but wonder which couple the rest of the world  would choose if given a choice—Mr. and Mrs. McCain or Mr. and Mrs. Obama?

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Books, Poetry Books

Any poet, or would-be poet searching for poetry books in a used book store, soon realizes how few there are in proportion to other genre. And every poet can tell you why. I can tell you why.

Though I wish to prolong, as long as possible, an eventual move into a desirable retirement home, I am, even now drastically thinning out both home and library. Every item I take with me must fit into a one bedroom/living room area. Because I have to weed out all books excepting those that can fit into two small book cases, most of my poetry books will have to be sacrificed. Though many treasured books are out of print and not available Online, there are but few poems unavailable on the internet. My computer definitely goes with me. 

Last evening I chanced upon a book that will take its place among my special collection: a few books given to me by friends or written by friends. Last evening I choose a small, hard cover volume that, as I remember, was not written by my friend, nor exactly “given to me”. You see, my dear friend, a Marion Schugardt from Philadelphia, was but a short few weeks from her death when I chanced upon the book while visiting her one afternoon. Not wanting to sound as though I knew she was dying and wanting something special with which to remember her, I dared not asked Marion if I might have the book, so, well, I guess you can say I simply stole it. Marion and Vernon had never had childen and no close relatives. Strangers would never miss one small volume of poetry. If I am required to feel guilty, I don’t.

The book, “From Gold to Green”  was written by Margaret Lathrop Law , copyright, November 1933 and printed by The Heymann Printing House in “connection with Poetry Publishers, Philadelphia. I’d like to pass along something I learned from the book. Outside of the initials W. A. L. and the words, ‘My Beau Ideal’, on an inside page, and a list of publications in which her poetry appeared, the author does not give the reader the slightest indication as to who she was, or is. There was no ‘foreward’ and no ‘preface’. All that I shall ever know of Margaret L. Law is what she reveals in her poetry. I think I would have liked her as a next door neighbor, and a friend.

The book may not contqain great poetry, but that little volume goes with me. Outside of a photograph or two, and memories, it is all I have that I can hold in my hand and bring that much closer, a truly lovely and remarkable friend.

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Though I may have a “bat” or two in the “belfry”, I can be reasonably certain there are none spending their daytime hours in the attic of my little house. I believe I have already mentioned that some four or five weeks ago, shortly after sunset, I discoved a small colony of bats wheeling about just outside my front porch area. When I went out the following morning to bring in the daily paper, it appeared as though they were returning to spend the day. Since then I had the old and broken soffits replaced making certain the last one was not put into place until long after any nesting bats that might have been in the attid, were on the outside looking for supper.  

Call me weird if you wish and I’ll be inclinded to agree. This morning, shortly after five I went out to get the paper only to find bats once more circling about the porch area. While I have a proper respect for the critters, I have an idea they have no wish to get their claws caught in my hair, and, there was but one way to make certain they had not found another way into the attic. I stood in the driveway close enough to the house to watch while the swarm of bats swooped around me to the point I could feel an occasional wisp of moving air on my face. With eyes firmly fixed on porch and roof, I watched them flitting, diving and darting about until they had to have given up and made their way over and into the park opposite my house. I can but guess they have found shelter in the pine trees and clumps of brush. Yes, I enjoyed the experience. Of course, I remember a bit of sadistic pleasure I received one chilly morning when I dismounted my riding horse, found a suitable stick and gently poked a large, coiled-up rattlesnake who  was enjoying the first rays of a rising sun, thus forcing him to escape into the brush.  I didn’t want him anywhere near on the return trip. Horses have an aversion to all kinds of snakes. Tomorrow, I plan on “talking” about books, poetry books.  

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Getting Prepared

If all goes well, come July 21st, my daughter Bev, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, and I will be heading for Bird In Hand, Pennsylvania and our annual Gallagher/Kaufman reumion. One of the things I dread leaving behind are the  wonderful “No Smoking” laws that apply to any and all establishemnts open to the public here in Florida. While I am out of the state and because restaurant owners who forbid all smoking are few and far between, I could choose to purchase food from a grocery store to eat at my leisure in the car or in a motel room. Out of Florida, I’ve no guarantee of smoke-free grocery shopping. 
Having a few faults of my own, I am, as a rule, quite sympathetic to other people’s faults, but, smoker’s are excluded. I believe in marriage between those of the same sex. I believe a well-behaved dog should be allowed at eateries where out door eating is provided. My tolerance goes further where dogs are concerned. I’d rather have a well-behaved dog lying on the floor inside a restaurant beside his owner’s table than ill-behaved children sitting at the table.  However, todays’ blog is all about smoking. A couple of years ago I sent the following letter to our local paper in response to another readers’ letter. I was not expecting everybody to agree, but at least no one sent a letter in rebuttal to mine.
A LETTER TO THE EDITOR
by
MARY A. GALLAGHER KAUFMAN
 
To The Editor,
 I wish to respond to Mr. Ross Stone’s article, Anti-smoking activists sometimes go too far, dated January 24th. Like so many addicts to nicotine, Mr. Clark just doesn’t appear to get it. He resents not being permitted to smoke whenever and wherever it pleases him to light up. He resents the fact that, invited out, his host and his host’s friends can indulge in martinis to their heart’s content, but he must either endure his craving for nicotine or leave the house to smoke outside. He misses a most important fact: unless Mr. Ross also accepts a drink and downs it, not so much as a gram of alcohol enters his system. He could be so allergic to the effects of alcohol that one drink could put him into a hospital, but other people’s drinking has no affect on him whatsoever . . . unless the drinking is followed by boisterous and threatening behavior.
 From the moment anybody lights up a cigarette, everybody within breathing range is also forced to smoke. For hundreds of thousands people, people like me whose lungs have been weakened from various occupations—in my case—thirty years spent in dairy barns and dusty chicken houses, the slightest whiff of cigarette smoke causes me distress. Since even a non-smoker’s distress is denied by many smokers, of what use is it for me to bring up what a host and hostess has to put up with from the awful stench of stale cigarette odor and stains left behind by a thoughtless guest on, and in, everything in the house including the very walls.
 I am among those “unfeeling” people who have friends who smoke. If you were a friend of mine, I’d endure your unpleasant, nicotine-laden breath and the smell of cigarette smoke saturating your clothing, however: NO SMOKING! Not in my car nor in my house!

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Hiatus, Over, I Hope

Suddenly—a word I’ve grown to dislike and mainly because it is so overused—I find it apropos as to why I’ve been absent from my blogsite for a few days. “Sudddenly”, and for no more reason than I’ve had for a long time, a few days ago while washing the luncheon dishes—in a slightly too warm kitchen . . . I  blame it on too many hours spent in dusty barns and chicken houses . . . I became a bit short of breath and headed for my lounge chair and the TV. “Suddenly”, I came to the realization the I am 88, going on 89, and tired . . . damn tired. Now, that is not a complaint: it’s merely a fact. 

I am also tired when it comes to listening to further election propaganda. As a loyal democrat, I will vote to put a democrat into the Oval Office, but I can’t say I’m any too happy with the choice offered me. Although I wish a person with more experience in world affairs had won the nomination, I also believe President Elect Obama, in spite of his inexperience, will be, if elected, a better president as well as a far more acceptable president to other nations than the president now sitting in the Oval Office. How can any president do more harm to this country than that already “accomplished”, and I put the word into parentheses for good reason. The only other news available recently has been the devastation wrought by floods, tornados and fires throughout the country, and I am weary to the bone of watching other people’s bad luck when there is nothing I can do about it. I wonder from where the money will come with which to rebuild the lives of those bereft of land, homes, buildings, crops, cattle and so on. Before our invasion of Iraq, Lawrence Lindsay estimated the cost of the war to be from 100 to 200 billion dollars. He was fired. The White House’s estimate was far lower. Today’s total is $528 billion and climbing. Yesterday, I fueled my car, that is, I put seven gallons of “cheap” gas into the tank. My bill came to over twenty-eight dollars. I do keep in mind this: I have a cozy little home I’ve manage to keep in good repair in which to live. I’ve no debts, my health a bit questionable but not too bad . . . as far as I know . . . and I’ve no worries. Just tired. I read “Dear Abby”, as does most everybody else, if they just admit it. I think, sometimes, I read it just to be reminded of how truly fortunate I am. Six wonderful, adult “children” who love one another and who never give me the slightest of heartaches. My one and only regret is the distance between me and my children, my nine grand-children and a passel of great-grandchildren. Yes, I’m one hell of a lucky, happy, person.

Well, folks, there you have it: I’ve simply allowed myself a bit of time off. Be back tomorrow.

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