The first man in my life…


Posted by on Nov 25, 2010 in All things natural, Dad | 1 comment

I sat on the front step watching the lighting storm, feeling the cool damp air pressing down on my body as I hugged my knees to my chest, thinking of my father. He loved storms as much as my mother hated them, and perversely, seemingly to annoy her, he would carry me out with him to the porch to watch the wild play of light and noise. In the safety of his arms I never felt a second of fear.

I think about how many times over the years I listened to my father tell the stories of the early days of his marriage and the struggles they survived. Somehow he managed to make the worst of times seem funny and wonderfully entertaining. My father’s most amazing gift was his way with a story and even retold a hundred times we all sat spellbound, listening to every work, like a familiar and beloved book dog eared with the reading.

One of my favorite stories was about the time spent visiting with his in laws down at Echols, the rural village in Western Ky where my mother was born. It is a tiny community whose heart was my grandparent’s general store. Other than that were  a few houses, a Baptist Church,  and acres of farmland. Dad’s story was set in 1937, the first year of their marriage. Until that night my mother had always accepted her family’s actions as perfectly normal. I could always see the signs of discomfort on my mother face when my dad commenced telling about the time they were all awoken in the middle of the night, ordered to dress in their Sunday clothes, and then quick marched through the backyard and into the root cellar.

“The men,” my father intoned with an ironic seriousness, “all stood in the front, by the door.” That would consists of my placid, long suffering grandfather and his two oldest sons, Cleo and Billy, plus the kin by marriage, Uncle Bill the war hero, Uncle Hillard, Uncle Dick and my father. “The women and children were pushed to the back.” As he speaks I can see them huddled among the canned peaches and bins of potatoes listening to my grandmother predict their imminent doom with dramatic sobs and prayers.
“I think it’s gonna blow off over toward the river,” my grandfather states with quiet authority.

No Dad, the wind is blowing directly this way.” says one of the sons, but then a sharp look from his father and a loud whale from the dark recesses behind him reminds him how this game is played. The voice quickly recalculates,

“Well, if it veers a little to the south it just might miss us.” The men agrees with that assessment in a voice that is an echo of his Papa’s firm and steady grasp of the situation. My father remains silent, too sleepy and confused to understand this strange family ritual, feeling he has missed something in the news, in the air, that would justify their behavior.

The rain begins to pour down in buckets. The men shut the cellar doors and everyone sits cramped under the earth like buried victims of some mass murder, suffering but not quite dead. The minutes turn into hours before the rain subsides to a slow steady drip, and then, when my father thinks he can stand it no longer, the man we all called Papa declares it safe to head back to the house.

My Dad embellishes the story with each telling over the years until I can smell the air, feel the breath going in and out of the huddled bodies, see the tense frightened faces when the lightening flashes. Never is the story totally revealed without questioning from the rapt audience.

“Daddy,” I ask, knowing the answer from other times, “Why did you have to put on your good clothes?”

“You know punkin,” he answers with a mocking quizzical voice, “I wondered the same thing, so the next morning I asked your grandmother. Millie Burden just drew herself up proudly and told me,
“Well, if we died and they found our bodies I didn’t want them to think we were trash.” We all have a nice long laugh at the absurdity of the poor woman’s reasoning.

“Daddy,” I ask, “Why would anyone be afraid of the rain?” My father smiles and my mother gets up and declares that she needs to do some laundry.

When I married and had children of my own, my Dad told me another story, this one serious. He confessed that as a child his mother had locked him in a small closet under the steps as punishment for his misdeeds. He said he still had nightmares about the dark and enclosed spaces. My father, who stood a head above most anyone around him, whose square shoulders and barrel chest were still straight and strong at ninety years old, the man who had taught me to be as fearless as a badger had an Achilles heel. The fact that he admitted it to me melted my heart.

He’s been gone from me these four years now, but sometimes when the air smells like rain, I take a minute to slip outside and think about how often I stood beside him watching the clouds churn and the wind turn the leaves inside out. Sometimes he would just slip his arm silently over my shoulders and pull me next to him and we would stand there in wordless communion until the rain came.

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Snitched Melon is Always Best

Posted by on Aug 7, 2009 in All things natural, Dad | 0 comments

Summer has always been my fourth favorite season but somehow this particular August has caught me in it’s languid little trap. I realized it finally when I touched the watermelon on my kitchen island with the blade of my sharpest knife. The cracking sound of a ripe and ready to burst melon echoed through the empty room and the smell of it told me everything I needed to know about the taste. The only thing that kept me from cutting off an enormous chunk and heading out to the deck to eat it, juice washing down my face and hands, was the little black dress and high heels I had put on to go shopping later. Perhaps that’s what has got me about summer this year. I suddenly notice that I have had no time to lie back in it’s embrace and enjoy.

In my mind’s eye I see my father in his work overalls and teeshirt cutting into a melon out on the side porch. It is one of the big oval stripy ones with seeds. He cuts off a thick slice and bites into the sweetness. Then turning toward me, mouth too stuffed to speak, he shakes his head back and forth in affirmation of delight. Soon he spits the seeds rapid fire into the green grass and bites again. Like a movie picture going to dissolve, the light slowly fades on the scene and he is gone again, a figment of my imagination, long dust. Then this story comes to mind…

My Dad, age 15, a tall gangly lad, slipped quietly into Mr Johnson’s watermelon patch under the cover of darkness. He moved quickly to pick three of the best melons, one under each arm and one in the front of his bid overhauls…

He stretches out the words and illustrates with a tug at the front of the freshly ironed dark blue ones he is wearing now. In his poverty ridden childhood they were threadbare hand-me-downs, soft with age…

The melon fit snugly against his chest as he plotted his escape path. Suddenly a noise of cracking branches echoed in the still night air. Knowing Mr. Johnson had a shotgun and might be on patrol, Dad “took off running” toward the dirt road that led home. As he skimmed across the ditch his foot rammed into something big and he fell flat on the muddy bank. The melon secreted against his body smashed, pouring sticky sweetness down his chest. Such was the quickness of the fall he never let go of the other two. Ignoring a muffled grunt from the ground he was on his feet again in seconds making his escape. The next morning, bathed and in fresh clothing, he ventured into the general store bold as brass, despite the fact that Mr. Johnson’s team and horses sat outside. He heard the farmer’s voice raised in anger before he was fully in the door. “Nearly killed me he did, broke a rib I think! Those good for nothing hooligans! If I ever get my hands on that one…”

Dad listened to the back and forth typical of the close rural community, trying to look nonchalant. The truth of what he had tripped over began to dawn on him. It was Mr. Johnson himself hunkered in the ditch watching over his precious crop, shotgun loaded with birdshot. He never got off a single round in the darkness such was the speed and stealth of the accomplished young melon rustler.

The mischief in my dad’s blue eyes had not diminished in the 30 intervening years. The story he told was as fresh as white sheet flapping on an old fashion clothesline on a hot August day. I remember how hard he worked, more than any man I ever knew, but he knew how to sit it down when work was done. Today he would be pleased with me. I’m going to take a lesson from him and sit for a hour in the cool shade, while the watermelon days last.

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Rear View Mirror

Posted by on Oct 3, 2006 in Angst, anger, anarchy, Dad, Mother, Reckless youth | 0 comments

I wish everyone could have a childhood like I imagined mine to have been. I find with time I have blurred the sharp angles of real memories with a heavy snowfall of fantasy gathered from books, movies and television. In short, I have Disneyized my own biography until everyone comes out looking like characters from a 50’s sitcom. I have to admit that I am a second generation enabler, although I’m becoming less so as each day progresses. Sometimes I wonder if anyone actually ever had a truly happy childhood. I read lots of stories to that effect, but then, I also write stories like that too. I am not denying there were joyful moments, laughter, true affection, and shared adversity that made us all strong, but a lot of the time we were no better than any other addicts, desperate, lying awake, wishing for it all to end, and terrified that wishing might make it come true.

I have become bogged down of late with writing true, and then finding I do not have the nerve to put those words out for everyone to read. The Disney version is so much more palatable, which is why I cover so many early memories with a warm blanket of nostalgia. I suppose my childhood was average overall, producing neither an ax murderer nor a saint, but like the majority of people, I grew up in a dysfunctional family. If you could squint your eyes just a bit though, the out of focus picture looked almost perfect, like the undertow in the ocean, invisible but deadly. When it was time for me to create my own family, I was determined not to use the pattern already cut for me. While feeling smug that I was wise enough to learn from their mistakes, I was at first oblivious to the fact that what I created was merely dysfunctional in different ways. It takes a lot of energy to keep up a fantasy family, making sure that everyone looks good all time to everyone outside. My mother processed that energy in abundance, and I seem to have inherited her skills, strength of will, and propensity to delude myself.

When she made her final escape to a place where there is no need for delusion, I began to see more clearly. I have a stack of poems written in that era that attest to my loss, but also to my release. After a time though, I stopped hearing a lot of the voices she had set inside my head. By the time my father left to join her, I knew the voices I could still hear were being propped up by my own inner struggle alone, and I was finally able to stop their destructive power. No one gets a clean slate to write on however. I bear the scars of every word spoken, every blow landed. I wish it were myself alone standing bowed, but defiant, from life’s repeated jabs, but to my great dismay, it is too late to erase the pain that I have passed on to my progeny. Life repeats, laughing at our slow wittedness, and I come at last to the punch line to discover I have heard the joke before, and should have known.

So what to do with this too late revelation? For my own part I will embrace the reality, but try to refrain from the telling of needless hurtful truths. The kindness of loving lies is a difficult tightrope, but one that must still be walked at times. The one person I will never knowingly lie to again is myself. I have found the price for those comfortable and easy falsehoods too high to pay.

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Posted by on Jul 3, 2006 in Dad, Death and renewal | 0 comments

My father never had much curiosity about his dead relatives, but he traipsed around the graveyards of rural Kentucky with me, helping me in my search. I often wonder why his normal inquisitiveness was lacking in this area. It may have been because of the early death of his father and the ambiguous relationship he had with his mother’s relatives. Most likely it was because he was a self made man, and not drawn to disturbing sleeping dogs. Though an avid reader with a keen interest in the events of the day and the natural environment, he saw the world in broad strokes, not getting caught up in the details of scholarly explorations. The more compelling question is probably why I find family history intriguing. I guess a secret wish that I might have some kings or horse thieves in my distant past could be part of it, but I think it’s probably my natural curiosity, or what my kids refer to as nosiness. I certainly sought out the city lights as soon as I was able to fly from the nest. I landed in Virginia, ironically the very location where my ancestors first lived in America. It was here I learned the information that brought me to an overgrown cemetery one hot summer morning years ago.

Since my Dad’s father had died when he was 13 we knew little about his side of the family. I was proud to be able to tell him the names of his grandparents, Albert and Roxanne Crume, and identify a picture of a handsome man in a strange theatrical pose as the grandfather he had never known. That day we learned the tale of Albert’s first wife, a story of scandal and tragedy repeated with obvious relish by a distant cousin. Albert Marion Crume married first Elizabeth Ross, in May of 1859, when she was 20 and he 21. They came to live on his family farm, probably in the house with his parents, as families were prone to do in that time. Albert and Elizabeth had four sons in the next eight years, and while I have no idea what their marriage was like, I have seen the farm where they lived, still isolated in the rural countryside, and imagine it was a hard and monotonous life. From the appearance of her great grandchildren I believe she was a beautiful woman, and that she attracted the eye of many men. I don’t know if it was a whim, or lust, or the grinding routine of days that caused her to leave Albert, but the exact words of the gossip state that she, “left the babies in the bed and ran off with a drummer”.

Before you make the assumption that she was a groupie for a rock band, let me relate that a drummer made his living driving a sort of general store on wheels. With towns so widely spaced and travel difficult and time consuming, it was common for one of these wagons to pull into a neighborhood a few times a year, the driver beating on a pot or kettle to announce he was open for business, thus the title “drummer”. When Elizabeth climbed into his wagon that day I know she must have had mixed emotions. If she had known her fate was sealed and her children would be forever marked by her actions, I wonder if it would have stopped her. I do know she did not find what she was looking for, and that she was deeply remorseful after a short time. She returned home hoping for a second chance, only to find her husband unforgiving, her children strangers. With the scorn of her family and the community she must have lost her will to live, or perhaps it was just the cold December of 1870 that put her in an unmarked grave at the age of 31.

Roxanne Renfrow, born in February of 1845, became Albert’s second wife. They married in December of 1873 when she was almost 29, an old maid by the standards of the day. She became the instant mom of four children and quickly produced four of her own, Edward in October of 1874, Alva, my grandfather, in October of1875, Victoria, in February of 1877, and Florence, sometime in 1879. Perhaps exhausted by childbearing and the hard farm life, Roxanne died in January of 1880 the month after her sixth wedding anniversary and a month before her thirty fifth birthday. She was not put up on the hill in the Crume family graveyard, but taken to the more sacred ground of the Baptist church in Richlands. Albert, married twice, was laid to rest alone on that green hill on the family farm only six years later, leaving his 8 orphaned children in the care of his 72 year old father. His oldest child was 20 and the youngest 7 when he died at age 48. I stood beside his stone and read the oddly inapt words inscribed, evidently copied from some book of best tombstone homilies:

Ere sin could weigh or sorrow fade
Death came with friendly care,
The opening bud to heaven conveyed,
And bade it blossom there

His father, William Washington is intured on the same lovely hill. He lived another 10 years, long enough to see all the children to their majority. The same tombstone writer must have still been in business, because his slightly more appropriate inscription reads:

Dearest father we will try
To meet you happy when we die
Trusting it will be our lot
That we shall never be forgot

His sons are all buried on that ridge, overlooking their life’s work. My Dad has fond memories of visiting what he called “Uncle Jake’s farm” as a teenager and swimming in the large natural pool, spring fed, cold and sweet on summer days. He talked about those fleeting happy times with nostalgia when we walked the grounds that Saturday afternoon. Following the lead I had, we then drove to the Richlands church to find Roxanne, the grandmother whose name he had never heard till that week. It was a daunting task considering the size and condition of the plot. We faced a field of weeds with a few vine covered stones standing almost recognizable here and there. Luck was with us, for within a half hour’s time I had located it, broken and lying face down. It read:

She was a kind and affectionate wife, a fond mother and a friend to all.

I was touched by the honest and emotional words and shaken to think that this was all my father would ever know about his grandmother. Dad and I did not forget the day we spent, not only because of the poignant discovery, but because we took with us a large sampling of the larvae of the harvest mite, Trombicula alfreddugesi, commonly know as chiggers. We both had a miserable week with hundreds of red itching spots covering our bodies. Dad quietly had someone sent to clean out the weed patch and restore the abandoned cemetery.

I had to leave the next morning, but unencumbered by husband or children on this trip, I stopped in Bardstown Kentucky so I could explore the Poplar Flats cemetery, purported to hold the mortal remains of Albert’s grandfather, William T Crume. There, in the still dew covered field, I found his stone, born in May of 1783 and died in 1812 at the unexpected age of 29. I know from my research that when William died, his brother Ralph took responsibility for his wife and 4 orphaned children, all under the age of 6. They remained in his care after their Mom remarried some years later. I’m sure there’s a story there that I will never know, but a point of interest I did learn is that Ralph was married to Mary Lincoln, sister to Abraham’s father Thomas. That is as close as I have come to finding famous ancestors. Ralph was a generous man who loaned Thomas Lincoln a wagon and team to take his new wife and her furniture to Indiana after Abe’s mother died.

I though of them as I walked; the dim whispers of their ghosts darting between the grey stones in the still cool July morning. Toward the back of the lot, along the fencerow, I discovered briars heavy with sweet wild blackberries. Already beginning to feel itchy with the bounty of the last graveyard, I picked and ate the ripe offerings of another. Even though I have decided to be cremated, I am glad that my relations, in the pre computer age, choose to have markers set for their loved ones. It has provided me with accurate historical information, and a link to the past that I find compelling. As I strolled the tranquil spot at my favorite time of day, I felt in touch with that history, tangible and understandable, not merely words on a page. Their life is my story too, and like my more recent relations, they were good, bad, and many shades of grey, but they were most of all the real human family that I am forever connected with, for better or worse.

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Getting his Goat

Posted by on Jul 3, 2006 in All things natural, Dad | 0 comments

He got the goat to save money on mowing grass, which gives you an idea of my father’s keen business sense. Of course, he talked mother into it, so you know that what he lacked in business skills, he made up for in salesmanship. He often said the goat wasn’t really his idea, and in a sense he would be right. As I remember, he took the goat in exchange for repairing the car of a man who claimed the goat would be far better than money. It’s a fact that the easiest person to hoodwink with a good sales pitch is another salesman, and Dad was drawn to “bargains” like a moth to a flame. The goat was not the first or last of his impractical acquisitions, but it may have been the most obviously flawed. Dad soon learned that no matter what the man had told him, it is not possible to keep a Billy goat happily staked out in the yard until it eats a circle of grass, and then move him on to another spot. In fact, this goat could have taught Houdini a few tricks, as he had the ability to extract himself from any confinement. Once free, he didn’t seem to have any particular place to go, but instead hung around the house exhibiting a knack for local mischief that makes one understand why the devil has horns.

At that time my parents had a porch on the side of the house with a long row of screened windows. The goat, free on one of his mad adventures, decided to try leaping through one of the screens. He must have been a bit startled when he landed on a cushioned chair, but after milling about for a while and finding nothing edible, he decided to leave. He was not superstitious about using the same entrance to make his exit, so he went out through a different screen. Over the next several days it must have slipped his little goat brain that there was really nothing interesting on the porch, or maybe he just enjoyed the circus like thrill of crashing through the screen, but he continued his game till there was a goat sized hole through each and every window. I was too young to remember the reaction of my mother to this invasion, but she absolutely forbade any animal into the house, and she had a flare for drama that any horror movie producer would have been delighted to film. I recall an old hound dog that once innocently accompanied me through our back screen door and into the kitchen. Mother’s reaction was instantaneous and terrifying. She grabbed the broom and ran circles around the house after the terrified hound, swatting the floor where the dog had just been, and yelling like a banshee. Unlike the goat, when the dog finally located the opening to safety, a team of wild horses couldn’t have pulled him back inside. In fact, I spent the rest of the day far away from that backdoor myself.

The goat might still have been forgiven if he hadn’t developed an unfortunate habit of nighttime prowling. Dad was a large powerful man, but he had a surreptitious fear of the dark dating back to childhood, when he was often locked in a closet for punishment. The goat had no such trepidation, and being equipped with a natural stealth, would sneak up behind my father after sunset and nudge him in the nether regions, scaring the bejesus out of him. The goat’s final doom came the night my Dad woke to the sound of someone outside, trying to break into the bedroom window. He jumped bleary eyed from his warm bed and grabbed the revolver he kept in his dresser. He flung open the curtain and pointed the gun at a hideous hairy visage, with beady black eyes and a full beard. It took longer than you might think for his half awakened brain to morph that head from human to animal and realize he was eyeball to eyeball with our friend the goat. The culprit had his front hooves solidly on the window sash, and was attempting entry into the bedroom. Since Dad was not trigger happy, the goat lived through the night, but after that episode his days were numbered. I hope he went off to live on a nice farm with some interesting nanny goats to keep him entertained, but that part of the story was left purposely vague by my parents.

Some years later, when I was about 10, the family was sitting around the dinner table talking over the events of the day. Dad had pulled the sorghum molasses out and was slathering it on his biscuits. Those of you who have only had commercial molasses will have no idea how delicious our locally produced syrup tastes with country butter and hot bread. The marvelous sticky stuff is made by a very labor intensive process that involves first growing acres of sorghum cane, then pressing it in a mill turned by patient mules who must walk all day in a circle, encouraged by treats of tasty cane leavings. The resulting juice is then simmered slowly in giant metal trays over a hot fire for many hours. What with all the growing, crushing, collecting, and tending, the resulting dark treacle has always been a bit pricy. Dad, in the throes of a sugar induced daydream, started speculating on how easy it would be for the family to save money by starting a molasses making business on the side.

We all sat there silent for a few seconds, letting the irrationality of the idea sink in, then my sister began to tease, pretending to take him seriously. We all joined in, and before long we had a plan to grow the cane in a hothouse, keep the mules in the attic, and cook the juice on the stove, so we could keep the factory running all year round. I kind of felt sorry for Dad when he realized none of us had intentions of working in the cane fields so he could have a limitless supply of sorghum, but at least this time he didn’t already have a mule hitched to a tree in the back yard. We all left the table laughing that night, including Dad, but I know deep in his heart he still believed it might just work. As long as my Mother lived she kept Dad from major foolishness, and none of us ever knew how. He certainly wouldn’t take business or financial advice from family, friends, or even his own attorney after she was gone. I know it’s too late now, but I wonder if it would have helped if I had diplomatically mentioned the goat from time to time.

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Life Lessons

Posted by on May 7, 2006 in Dad, Reckless youth, Spirit | 0 comments

By the time I was six I am sure I had told a fib or two, probably influenced a lot by a neighbor girl named Judy Nell, with whom I was forbidden to play. She was a practiced, and almost professional liar, rare in a child so young. In me she found the perfect foil for her games, because I believed every word she said. I recall us sitting together one summer morning, on opposite sides of the wire fence that divided her yard from my grandmothers. She showed me a half dollar size piece of broken blue pottery that she was keeping inside a large box of wooden kitchen matches. She declared, with the greatest conviction, that the bit of blue plate had magical powers and would put out all fires, perhaps a prelude to getting me to start one. I begged her to demonstrate, but she would only show me one burned match, and told me that she had extinguished it that morning using the magic token. On this occasion her mother caught us, which was much preferable to being found out by mine. My mother was the one who had declared this relationship off limits, since I was the gullible chump that was being led astray. I don’t know what her mom thought about us playing together, but she never told on us, and managed to prevent us from setting the house on fire. I sure my mother was relieved when Judy Nell moved to another city, but I remember how sad I was when the notorious pre-scholar departed. I had no one to play with for a long time, until my own naive mark moved in across the street.

The house belonged to my great grandmother, but when she passed away it became rental property and income for the heirs. Sammy was the child of the new tenant, several years my junior, and small for his age. Since my mother did not object to him, we had the roam of the dangerous, but delightful playground of my youth. We hung out in my dad’s body shop, and played in the junkyard and barn behind the shop. I will never know why I decided to be destructive that fateful day, perhaps because the heavy iron mall was just sitting there, right beside the pile of clay drainpipes. I had no idea what they were, but after I hit one with the mall, it shattered so satisfying that I couldn’t resist hitting another one. Since it was fun, I decided to give Sammy a turn with the mall, and he broke a few with no hesitation, except for trying to pretend he could lift the mall as easily as a girl. We kept taking turns until every pipe was smashed to bits of rock and red clay dust, but at no point did it occur to either of us that what we were doing was wrong.

That came later in the evening, when my Mom and Dad were talking about what happened to the pipes they had just bought. We were at the kitchen table, and each of the children was questioned, although there would have been no chance of anyone but me being the culprit. I didn’t hesitate for more than a few seconds before denying all knowledge of the incident. I’m sure my face betrayed me, because the next morning my mother told me she called Sammy’s parents, and he had admitted guilt. My mother had always threatened to tell my father if I didn’t behave, so I was terrified that she turned me over to him for punishment. The normal routine from her was an immediate spanking, with no words spoken, and remorse or guilt on my part was nonexistent. This was to be very different.

We all have defining moments, what psychologist call life scripts, which affect us so profoundly that they become the basis for our character. Dad and I were in the kitchen alone, and he sat on the chair with his arms around me. He told me what the pipes were intended for and how much they cost. He explained how my destruction had delayed a project he was working on and had made extra work for a lot of people, including himself. He told me that none of that mattered to him one bit, but he was so very disappointed that I had not taken responsibility for my actions, but instead had chosen to lie to him. He told me how important it was for him to be able to trust me and to believe what I said, and how it would be a long time before he would be able to have that faith in me again. He said I deserved to be spanked, and even though he had never spanked me before, he would have to now. He then patted me twice on my bottom with the force of someone brushing a fly off a piece of fragile crystal.

I will always remember the shock and horror on his face as I broke into uncontrollable sobbing. Mother came into the room, perhaps to restrain him from beating me to death after she heard my cries. He kept repeating that he barely touched me, but for the first time in my life, I had been touched to the depths of my soul. How much easier it had been with mother, where the brief pain of corporal punishment wiped the slate of guilt clean. The consequences of that day stayed with me like a grain of sand, around which I created a pearl of conscience. I won’t say I never lied again after that day, but I will say I never did it again without awful guilt. As far as my father and I were concerned, I know I had a quite a few sins of omission during the teenage years, but I like to believe I moved beyond that to establish the framework for my adult life.

I never knew what became of Judy Nell, and often wondered about her. Did she too have her Waterloo and face the truth about herself? Did she end up like my mother believed she would? Was she just an extremely imaginative child, who went on to many creative endeavors? I lost track of the little squealer Sammy too, although I would like to find him and thank him for ratting me out. I didn’t know it at the time, but it made all the difference in my life, and I am genuinely grateful.

The world we live in rarely rewards integrity, and sometimes it is very discouraging. Still, like many idealist before me, I believe that there is an earthly remuneration for a solid moral compass, if we are patient and persistent. I don’t know exactly how to recreate this homing beacon in others, but I have proof of its existence. It is not exclusive to any age, gender, race, creed, economic stratum, social class, or political party, but appears to be a scattered random attribute. Just when I have become disheartened with all the bold-faced liars that have been elevated to positions of power, I find that one honest man or woman, holding onto their convictions, and taking responsibility for their actions, no matter what the cost. I don’t know where I heard the homily, but have often repeated to others, that the best thing about telling the truth is that you don’t have to remember what you said. That is certainly accurate, as we have all watched the soap opera dramas that people create trying to cover one story with another. In the end, lying reduces our capacity for recognizing the truth, either in ourselves or in others, and makes for a very paranoid world. If it had not been for Judy Nell, Sammy, and my Dad I could have gone on through life untrusting and untrustworthy. Thanks guys, wherever you are.

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