Tuesday, July 15, 2014

OMEGA - Number 50 - 07/15/2014

This is the last post in the Short-Shorts Blog
Literary sketches depicting slices of life
in 50 stories published between 08/06/2013 and 07/15/2014.

In the last element of this blog the time has come to take off the mask for surely all readers have recognized that Stephen and Elijah are one in the same. Elijah came into my imagination in 1994 when I felt the need of a teller to relate the stories of Lost River Bridge. The inspiration was my great-great-grandfather Charles Taber 1783 -1853; a traveling Quaker preacher among the many Tabers to emigrate to Quebec from Vermont. About 1950, Elspeth and I visited the cemetery in the Eastern Townships of Quebec where he is buried.
      In my storytelling at the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History, Elijah became an entertaining character who needed a home in the Ozark Mountains and hence came Lost River Bridge. Lacking the voice control to speak in the dialect of the Ozarks, Elijah came from Canada and since he needed a background, whose better than my own. Thus the page titled Stephen & Elijah at the beginning of the publications introduces Elijah to the world with Stephen in the role of reporter. The stories expanded into a 340 page book.
      I published the first edition in 2001 consisting of twenty episodes, some of them based on true experiences, most fictitious. At that time I participated in a nation-wide writers group. I offered to send anyone in the group a free book in exchange for a review. The response astounded me, some of which appear on page 342 of the second edition under the title "What Others Have Said." For example, Michael Helms, editor, Karmichael Press: QUOTE: Against the backdrop of a rustic Ozark community, Stephen P. Byers paints a humorous and poignant story of a war-traumatized young veteran seeking solace among his mountain kinfolk. With tall tales, family legends and the unraveling of a centuries-old mystery, Elijah Taber's heartfelt narrative exposes the reader to a sense of family and way of life largely forgotten by mainstream America. UNQUOTE
      More recently an Amazon "Vine Voice" reviewer wrote the following: QUOTE: "Lost River Bridge" by Stephen P. Byers is the story of Elijah Taber. Returning from the War in 1946, Elijah is scarred by the battles he has seen. His hands shake as he tries to sip a cup of coffee with his mother. His mother sagely suggests he spends some time with a remote branch of their family, the Tabers in Missouri. Nestled deep in the Ozarks, the Missouri Tabers have struggled and survived in that harsh landscape. Byers tells the stories of the people of Lost River Bridge, in their own words. Each chapter is a miniature novel in itself, as the characters warp and weave around one another. The uniting thread of all these stories is a Saint Christopher medal that was given to Granny Taber 150 years ago.
     The strength of this novel is Byers' ability to tell a tale in the true style of the Ozark storytellers. When reading this novel, you're never quite sure what is fact and what is fiction. However, this story-telling style also does not lend itself well to fluid reading. There were several passages that had to be read out loud or re-read before they could be understood. There are nuances in vocabulary and punctuation that needed special attention while reading. UNQUOTE
     I am honored and grateful. Lost River Bridge may be purchased in paperback or ebook formats through http://booksbybyers.us/30LB01.html or directly through Amazon.com

With this, the fiftieth story in the Short-Shorts Blog, I say adieu with gratitude
to all my readers for your interest, loyalty and support. Thank you.
Stephen P. Byers

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

ELIJAH - Number 49 - 07/08/2014

A literary sketch depicting a slice of life in 500 words or less.
Published weekly at 2PM each Tuesday.
To view the works of Stephen P. Byers visit www.booksbybyers.us

Elijah has crossed the barrier from being a vigorous retiree participating in a wide variety of enjoyable retirement activities into the realm of old age. To some degree—perhaps he never gave it a thought—he believed it would never happen to him, or perhaps he never paused to think of  immortality as not being a human choice. Every member of his family generation from his oldest cousin—fifty-five years his elder—to his next older brother who passed on in 2012, now lie in their graves, but Elijah is not depressed nor morose about his situation for he is blessed to have married a woman who has been his wife and companion for sixty-six years.
     After war service in Europe, his military action ended holding the rank of sergeant in the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry on March 7, 1945 when wounded in action at a battle near Xanten, Germany  He returned home in February 1946 aboard the Mauritania. The forty-foot high North Atlantic waves crashed over the bow with shuddering impacts. Between watching the breakers cascading over the bow and shooting dice in the endless crap game, he debarked in Halifax with about $800 he won playing the odds that he stowed away for travel after he got home. He played dice because he never at any moment felt sea sick and under the circumstances with most everybody below decks sick, he had nothing else to do except watch the waves. He felt inordinately lucky; he had not died on the battle field outside Xanten as did every member of his platoon under his command on that fateful day. The medics patched his wounds, set him on his feet after nine weeks hospitalization and rehabilitation, so he just kept rolling and came home to Mother all patched up in a brand new uniform.
    The Army discharged him on February 27, 1946. In Septem­ber he re-entered engineering school at McGill University in Montreal to complete his education. The government paid his tuition with a small living allowance for the next three years while he earned a Civil Engineer degree, graduating with honors. In the intervening months between arriving home and starting back to school, he celebrated, played endless bridge with his pre-war buddies, visited army friends in western Canada, drank and smoked too much, improving his bridge at every opportunity. 
     He joined a fraternity of hard-partying war veterans and high-stepping high school graduates. He dutifully studied all week, and enjoyed wild parties and late nights on the weekends. His Mother, in despair with no let up in his unruly behavior persuaded him to attend a going-away party for the daughter of her financial adviser, assigning his older brother to escort him to the festivities. Several months later, the wife of a fraternity broth­er described Elijah’s arrival at the party this way.
     “He stood transfixed in the doorway, gaping wide-eyed across the room. I could see the sparks flying. Entranced as never before, Elijah gaped at a beautiful blond girl. They married two years later.” 
When I count my blessings, I count you twice ~ Irish Proverb

Stephen & Elspeth

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

PERCY - Number 48 - 07/01/2014

A literary sketch depicting a slice of life in 500 words or less.
Published weekly at 2PM each Tuesday.
To view the works of Stephen P. Byers visit www.booksbybyers.us

Every once in a while an anomaly—a deviation or departure from the normal order, form, or rule—occurs. In living species it often takes the form of a gene misplaced in a DNA molecule with unpredictable results to the creature thus inflicted. At the turn of the century, that is nineteenth to twentieth, nobody knew anything about DNA, animal husbandry a virtual unknown science. In the Eastern Townships of Quebec lived one Percy Taber, a Quaker descendent and largest milk vendor in the area. His success lay in the unusual talent to spot animals showing signs of distress apparently unnoticeable to others.
    “Set that cow aside before she spreads infection,” he would intone. Or perhaps, “Something wrong with that one’s hoof.” Whatever his observation, he seemed always to be right so neighbors pestered him to examine their herds.  Among the poverty-stricken populace, the only way to pay for  Percy’s expertise would be to donate a new-born heifer. While most farmers felt fortunate to own fifteen or twenty cows, by the age of fifty Percy had hundreds throughout the township creating a severe problem in winter when the animals had to be housed in barns. To solve the problem, he bought nearby farms providing employment to former landowners to care for his stock. In 1902, one of his cows produced an albino calf, a never before seen anomaly, at least not in the Eastern Townships  as far back as anyone could remember. 
     It’s hard for me to ascribe the word beautiful to a bovine, but indeed Percy owned a rare animal with two qualities that set it apart from the herd; it seemed more intelligent and displayed a certain bohemian quality evincing a need for human companionship. At a distance, it could not be distinguished from any other of its kind, but at close range two significant qualities appeared. Its coat was soft, the hairs less wiry, and its eyes were alert as opposed to the usual doleful expression of cattle. With its head tilted to one side greeting two-legged trespassers who came to its pasture, it watched visitors open the gate.
     Early one Sunday morning, Percy discovered his prize heifer gone, finding it several miles away  on the lawn of the pastor’s home, while the good man rocked in his chair, reading the Bible. Percy was irate, first, blaming the pastor, then directing his wrath on the farmhands, and finally,  threatening the lives of pranksters should he catch them. He ruled out larceny; a thief would have made off with the valuable beast. Every week, another escape occurred, followed by yet more. And on they went, a continuous exodus each Sunday.
     No explanation could be found, yet in the early morning hours each Sabbath, the prize calf appeared on the parsonage lawn. Concealing his presence, Percy followed the calf on its weekly routine observing it had learned to open the gate itself and trek over to the parsonage where the congenial pastor read it the lesson aloud and rehearsed his sermon.
(500 words)

The beast will feed where the grass is greenest - Anonymous


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

NORA - Number 47 - 06/24/2014

A literary sketch depicting a slice of life in 500 words or less.
Published weekly at 2PM each Tuesday.
To view the works of Stephen P. Byers visit www.booksbybyers.us

Nora, born in 1930, appeared at one of my “Life-Writing” groups that I offered at various retirement communities. She asked in a soft, gentle voice if she could come and listen. 
      “No admission charge,” I said, “by all means, please join us.”
   I had simple rules: each active participant brought a story about any personal life experience they had written in the interim since the previous meeting. Then one by one, they read their stories aloud, each followed by a discussion period. I prohibited introductory remarks alluding to the quality or content of their story. 
     “Ladies and gentlemen, your stories are for your great grandchildren and beyond. If you are an  English major your tale will obviously be more grammatically correct than that by someone who has only a high school diploma. But we’re not engaged  in a contest. The sole purpose is to get your story on paper and to help one another through discussion. But if I do not insist each participating member read his story aloud you will soon be coming with excuses that the 'dog ate your homework' and the purpose of the project will fail."
   Nonetheless, I did allow observers on the sole condition that they must come to the meeting on time and could not leave until the meeting concluded simply to avoid curious busybodies. Nearly always after two or three meetings, observers became active writers overcoming their initial fear of the unknown.
     Nora was one such person, timid, quiet and polite. Her manner immediately attracted me and my intuition told me she would have gentle experiences to relate. Indeed she did, which she read aloud in a soft, sympathetic voice that mesmerized her audience. She grew up on a huge wheat ranch about midway between Bend City, Kansas and Pueblo, Colorado, a distance of nearly three hundred and fifty miles. Most children attended small one-room schools if a teacher could be found; many mothers home schooled their children. My favorite story by Nora does not need an epilogue to spoil it. Here it is, verbatim.
    “When I was twenty-two, I happened to meet an elderly woman on an elevator in a department store. She looked so confused, I offered to help her. I guided her to a sales counter, although I can’t remember what she bought. I could not abandon her; she seemed so frail and frightened. I helped her down to the street and boarded the bus with her. After escorting her home, I offered to visit occasionally. For our next meeting a few days later, she had baked cookies and prepared tea to welcome me. We had a lovely afternoon. I hoped to see her often. Our friendship grew. I learned she was ninety-two years old. For the next five years until she died, we were great friends. I took her shopping, read to her in the evenings. In her final illness, I sat by her hospital bed and held her hand. I was the only person who attended her funeral.”
(500 words)

A single rose can be my garden ... a single friend, my world. ~Leo Buscaglia

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

AUSTIN - Number 46 - 06/17/2014

A literary sketch depicting a slice of life in 500 words or less.
Published weekly at 2PM each Tuesday.
To view the works of Stephen P. Byers visit www.booksbybyers.us

The problems of the New England Quakers living in Vermont and New Hampshire in the 1770’s are  largely forgotten, or at best an unknown minority element in American History. Their conviction concerning friendly persuasion prevented them from taking up arms on behalf of either side in the War of Independence, probably further acerbated by their sympathies likely being with the invaders born in England as were the Quakers. As a consequence, the US colonials despised them, abused them and made their lives miserable in every way they legally could. The Quakers in their search for escape looked north to Canada.
In the vast triangular wilderness south of the Saint Lawrence River, bounded on the east by Maine and the south by Vermont and New Hampshire, they saw the possibility of refuge. They formed associations consisting of ten to twenty families, delegating one of their number to seek a land grant in this northern unoccupied wilderness. The French authorities obliged with grants of 50,000 acres to each such association as means of developing the land at no government expense. After the land grant, each association divided its acreage more or less equally among their members according to their numbers.
     Relocation to the new dominion, a difficult arduous process, took three years. The first summer the men traveled in groups to locate their properties. Each cleared enough land to build a log cabin home and primitive barns or fenced enclosures for their animals, returning home to their families when the snows came.
     The next summer they drove their animals north taking with them enough provisions for at least a few of their number to stay throughout the coming winter to tend to the creatures needs. In the summer of the third year, the women and children, traveling on ox-drawn carts or on foot completed the family move to their new homeland. Meanwhile other Quaker groups less inclined towards the enormous task of clearing the heavily forested French hinterlands moved westward to the Niagara Peninsula. Collectively, both transmigrations are known in Canadian history as the immigration of the United Empire Loyalists. 
     One such immigrant, a man named Nicholas Austin, built his home and cleared farmlands on a peninsula in Lake Memphremagog near Sergeant’s Bay. He erred; the property he developed  belonged to the Catholic Church. Benedictine Monks eventually ousted Mr. Austin and built their monastery on the property. Meanwhile, the quaint custom of the Quakers had named the developing town Austin honoring its first citizen. But the monks did not like living in a locality named after a Quaker, hence they changed the name to Saint Austin that they considered to be an anonym for Saint Augustine, who except for being a Benedictine monk, had never anything to do with this particular monastery, or with Canada in general, for that matter.
     This elaborate pretext became celebrated rather beyond the comprehension of the monks resulting in Nicholas Austin celebrating the rare distinction of being the only Quaker who ever became a Roman Catholic saint.
(500 words)

Oh, honey, God don't care which church you go, long as you show up!
~ Robert Harling, Steel Magnolias

Thursday, May 29, 2014

BABOON - Number 45 - 06/10/2014

A literary sketch depicting a slice of life in 500 words or less.
Published weekly at 2PM each Tuesday.
To view the works of Stephen P. Byers visit www.booksbybyers.us

“Look at the baboon!” I said
     The Sergeant-Major with the bushy mustache heard my wisecrack. "Tell the Captain what you said,” he ordered.
     "I questioned his ancestry; Sir!”
      I got twenty-one days CB with KP.”
    At 1900 that evening the baboon marched me to the mess hall trash room. “Dump that pail on the floor." he ordered, “the whole stinking mess.” He handed me a black marking crayon.
     “Write your name on the bottom of the pail … .”
    “That there is your personal pail. Now you clean up this here mess you made and take it to the dump. I’ll be back at 2300 and l want this here place smelling like a ladies perfume shop.” Cookie, a soft-hearted Chinese fellow, gave me some white powder to wash the floor.        The baboon walked in right on time.
     “Don't smell clean to me.” he said.
    “Sir,” I said, "an army man like you isn’t accustomed to modern ways. Me? I can’t smell anything but Eau de Cologne. Sir!”
     The next night, the baboon ordered me into the same stinking room, my empty pail beside him. He handed me some silver polish. a box of steel wool and a bunch of rags.                    “Twenty days from now  I want to see my reflection in the side of that pail.”
     I scrubbed and polished four hours a night for nineteen nights. I can't say I could see my reflection, but I guarantee no brighter trash pail existed in the US Army Corps. Then tragedy struck. On my twenty-first night, when I walked into to the trash room I found my pail covered in black paint.
     I grabbed the little Chinese cook in a choke hold. “Who done this, Cookie?”
     He wiggled and squirmed until he finally said “Riley done it.”.
    I went to the canteen. “Good to see you, Rilev,” I said, gabbing his right hand. Sure enough, I saw black paint stains under his fingernails. I swung him around, pushed his arm up his back, heard  two loud cracks and left him lying on the floor screaming in agony. I retrieved my pail in the cookhouse and threw it in the dump..

      In the morning the baboon snarled at me . “Where’s Riley?"
     “In the hospital. Sir!”
     “You hurt him?”
     “No, Sir. I was in the trash room. Sir!. Ask Cookie.”
    “I done that,” he said. "You was there alright."             
    Then he put his nose right up against mine. "WAS YOU THERE?"
    “Yes Sir,” I said. “Just like Kilroy, I was there.”

    That night an MP told me the baboon wanted me outside. I found him pacing back and forth, his face red, whiskers quivering.
    “Stand to attention,” he barked. “I found a trash pail covered in black paint in the dump. Had a a soldier’s name writ on it. Then I seen a fellow in the hospital.  And if you ever make trouble round here, you’ll regret for the rest of your life. Dismiss.”
    Maybe he wasn't a baboon after all.
(500 words)

The judge of disparaging wit lies in the hands of the offended authority ~ anonymous

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

DREAMER - Number 44 - 06/03/2014

A literary sketch depicting a slice of life in 500 words or less.
Published weekly at 2PM each Tuesday.
To view the works of Stephen P. Byers visit www.booksbybyers.us

The ad copy excites you: “Do you want to be an author? Do you want a pink hacienda in the tropics with swaying palm trees shading  your beautiful pool? With winter soon upon us, you have time to write your best-selling book before next year's wonderful leisure hours begin. Think about your  fans clamoring for copies of your book, each wanting an inscription signed by you.”    
     You calculate the numbers, stretching the arithmetic. Yes! Yes that’s what you want. You’re ready; Bachelor of Arts, English Major, honors student no less. The last step will  open the door to the wealth of published authors. Your dream soars into the stratosphere of fame on television talk shows. And the price! Well, a bit steep and your new job as tutor-lecturer at the university doesn’t pay much, but it doesn’t take much time either. You can easily fit in four hours of uninterrupted creative writing between lectures and you’re evening job flipping burgers … . Single, you don’t own a car, you can live with your parents covered under their health insurance for three more years. By that time you’ll be able to buy a retirement home for Mum and Dad, repay them for all they’ve done for you. “Just another five thousand, Dad and then—”
     Dad refuses. He’s spent half his retirement savings paying for your college education, reluctantly and against his better judgment. He wanted you to study science, medicine, or the emerging high-paying modern technology. You’re grateful to Mum taking your side, enamored with romantic images of her retirement villa as soon as the studios buy the movie rights.
     So you sign up; the down payment a whopping two thousand nine hundred and fifty dollars; more payments of a similar amount due in the coming months. This gets you six months of expert guidance;  you’re on your way.
     “How’s it going, son?”
     “Great, Dad! Got a real encouraging report back from my first submission.”
    Four months and you’re starting to drag. You sense a lack of balance. Your professor admonishes you concerning student complaints about your lectures. Your commitment to submit bi-weekly episodes crowds your time and you’re only into the fifth chapter. Your tutor makes hundreds of corrections. You quit flipping burgers to get back on schedule; short on sleep and the third payment coming up next month.

     Haggard and worn, hardly on speaking terms with Dad, you mail the completed manuscript. Two months and the copy-editor sends it back with more revisions than you can count. The publication date is set subject to re-submission of the corrected manuscript in thirty days. You work night and day, to meet the deadline. Another thirty days and the publishing contract arrives. Despite the rift with Dad, you have no choice. You sit down to talk to him, man to man.
     “I made it Dad.” You hesitate, sensing his suspicions. “It’s just … well … we’re obliged to buy 10,000 copies at $4.32 each plus shipping and handling we must market ourselves.
(500 words)  

The cost of reality far exceeds the glitter of advertising ~ Anonymous