Saturday, July 4, 2015

THE LION AND THE EAGLE: Growing up with Oliver and Emily.

1768-1770. Growing Pains
Books! Books! Books! At first they baffle Abbey. Emily seems to carry one with her whenever she comes to visit.
“My father insists,” she tells the aunt. “He does not want my mind to grow lazy.”
They become used to the sight, viewing it as an appendage to her hand and not a symbol, as her father probably intended, of the superiority of her cultured background.
“She seems to like books,” Oliver says.
A book is certainly of great value, Abbey chuckles to herself, but can’t she, for once, leave the thing at home? There she is, climbing the big weeping willow with Oliver and Luke. And next thing you know, she’s down on her knees, digging for worms. And slopping the hogs. And rowing the galley with all that river flotsam and fish smell. And always racing through the meadow and around the house, muddying those lovely velvet dresses despite the pinafores protecting them.
“It must drive her mother and father—to say nothing of the washerwoman—absolutely batty,” Abbey sighs aloud.
The boys chuckle.
“When does she ever have time for those prissy authors?” she adds. “Marlowe and Pope? Jonson and Swift? Hogwash! Here’s your morning dose of book reading as taught by yours truly, Abigail Thorndike:”
King George he was a glutton,
A glutton bold was he.
He ate Vermont for breakfast
Had New York with tea.
But Pennsylvania made him gag,
Upchucking in pure ag-on-y!
Oliver and Luke double over laughing.
“And putting up with all the roughhousing,” she continues. “Going home with blackened eyes, puffed lips, bleeding shins. Thank goodness she is able to dish it out just as soundly to you boys.”
The boys smile. Aunt Abbey seems to know everything.
She acknowledges the rebellious streak in the young girl and, to the credit of both, does not mistake it for political rebellion. It is childish rebellion, pure and simple, against the straitjacket of an aristocratic world. A world of powdered wigs, bowing, and curtsying. A world of private libraries filled with globes that spin in walnut cradles and books that smell of leather and are filled with old ideas.
But Abbey does not know everything, for she was not present when Sarah died. She was not aware of what a frightened Emily saw as she placed the locket in the hand of the young boy, his head pressed tight against the breast of his lifeless mother. It was the look of determination in Oliver’s eyes. Without even knowing it, her life became entwined with that of Oliver Morrison.
One day while the two are sailing, the boom swings out and knocks her book overboard. Oliver laughs hysterically as Emily reaches down and pulls the soggy pages of Romeo and Juliet from the water.
“I don’t know what it is, Oliver Morrison,” she says, “but something keeps making me come back to you. It’s absolutely frightening.”
+ + +
Oliver teaches Emily how to row a boat, change a sail, fillet a fish, milk a cow, gather eggs—and hundreds of other actions taken for granted in the lives of the non-privileged working class. She continues bringing books with her, but she seldom has time to open them. He introduces her to an entirely new world—the mirror opposite of her dainty and dutiful world of French lessons and harpsichord lessons and the constant lecturing from her mother on how to be a proper lady. When she has to go home, it saddens both of the boys.
“Why do you always have to go just when we’re having fun?” Oliver asks her one day.
“My parents make me take lessons,” she replies.
“Why do they make you?”
“Because they know what’s best.”
“We don’t have to take lessons,” Luke says.
“You’re not girls. You’re boys.”
“Even if we were girls,” Luke says, “we wouldn’t sit still for those stupid lessons.”
“Maybe some people think they are better than other people,” Oliver says, glancing at Emily.
Emily starts down the hill, stops, and wheels around. While she is used to their boyish sarcasm and occasional taunts, she is not afraid to fight back.
“The Bible says ‘Honor thy father and thy mother.’ ”
Oliver and Luke stare at each other.
“It doesn’t say ‘honor thy Aunt Abbey and Thy Uncle Nathan,’ ” Oliver replies. “But we honor them anyway since our real mother is dead and our father is sick with the palsy.”
“They are like a mother and father,” Luke adds. “And they don’t make us take silly lessons.”
“You always gang up on me,” she shouts, ending the discussion. “I’m going home and I’m not coming back.”
She runs off, but she always returns.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Christmas in 1889. A scene from 'Secrets of the Lake.'

“Why don’t you invite that boy you like so much along with his mother?” Susan had suggested to Caleb one week before the Christmas party.
“You mean Tommy Rogers?”
Susan nodded. “Tell them nobody is expected to bring presents. Just come and have a good time.”
On the day of the party, Jenny handed Susan a basket filled with cookies, cakes, and a mince pie. Susan took it, smiled, and bent down to Tommy.
“You and I are going to be good friends,” she said. “Please call me Aunt Susan.”
Tommy reached out a hand, and Susan shook it. She complimented Jenny on the vest she was wearing.
        “’Tis not much,” Jenny said. “Only cheap old gingham. I save all the good fabrics for my clients.”
         Caleb made sure they were introduced to everyone.
Susan took Tommy over to the piano. Crazy Pete, dressed in a Santa Claus suit and with a fat, brown cigar sticking out between his white beard and mustache, was playing ''Oh Little Town of Bethlehem." Charlie’s arm was around Dora. Susan had invited a handful of neighbors. Miss Ramsey was visiting relatives in Philadelphia.
“Does Tommy mind seeing Santa Claus like that?” Caleb asked as Jenny handed him an ornament to hang on the tree. He stood on top of the stepstool.
“He does’na believe in Santa Claus,” Jenny said. “He does’na even know who he is.”
        When the last ornament was ready—the silver angel that went on the top branch—Jenny tapped Caleb’s thigh with her hand.
        “Let me help,” she said. “I d’na want ye to fall.”
        Her arms were wrapped around his waist so that, stretching his full length, Caleb could feel her compact figure pressing against the backs of his legs. Slowly his hand reached up and tipped the angel into place.
        The others hurried over and burst into applause. “Perhaps ye will come down and take a bow,” Jenny said.
During dinner Major Murray appeared in his Civil War uniform, complaining that nobody had told him dinner was an hour earlier than usual. Tommy couldn’t take his eyes off the medals, and the major proceeded to explain them one by one, each coming with a story.
“I’ve been hearing the Major’s stories for years,” Charlie confided to Caleb and Jenny. “And each year they become a little harder to believe.”
Afterwards, Charlie read A Visit from St. Nicholas to everyone.  Pete sat under the Christmas tree and parceled out the presents, making sure the timing was such that every opening was a ceremony unto itself. He handed Tommy a present from Caleb.
Tommy started pulling on the ribbon.
“D’na be in such a hurry,” Jenny said.
Painfully, methodically, stubby fingers untied the ribbon and removed the shiny red and green paper. A leather box appeared, bearing the scars of use. Opening it slowly, Tommy let out a gasp.
It was a wonder of mechanical beauty and precision—it’s brass shafts gleaming like pistons, its lens reflecting the candlelight.
“It’s a microscope!” Tommy shouted, running his finger over it to make sure he wasn’t dreaming. His mouth fell open in childish wonder as he held it up for everyone to see.
        “It’s the one my father gave me when I was your age,” Caleb said. “I kept a diary of all the things I saw through it.”
 “’Tis beautiful what ye be holding in your hand,” his mother said, her eyes glowing.
“I think Mr. McBride expects great things from Tommy,” Susan said.
Pete handed Caleb another present, this one marked “for Jenny.” Caleb held it behind his back for a moment, eyeing her with a sheepish smile.
She pretended not to notice. He handed it to her and her jaw dropped.
“For me?”
“For you, Mrs. Rogers.”
She took it and slowly removed the paper, folding it neatly and wrapping the ribbon around it. She removed the tissue and burst into tears.
In a silver frame was the photograph taken of them at the Science Fair. “May the Saints be praised—‘tis all of us like in a family,” Jenny said. She clutched it to her bosom, tears rolling down her cheeks, her body convulsing in sobs.
They watched her in silence. Susan stood behind Tommy, her hands on his shoulders.
“I am so sorry,” Jenny apologized, handing the photo to Caleb, who began passing it around as she reached for a handkerchief. “’Tis just that Tommy and I have never had our pictures taken.” She paused. “’Tis a thing of beauty, Mr. McBride. Our photograph together.”
An hour later Caleb offered to walk them home, but Jenny refused.
“Thank ye, sir, but we do not wish to bother ye further,” she said as they put on their winter coats. She moved in front of Caleb and stood facing him for a long moment. “I just want ye to know how much we appreciate our presents, Mr. McBride.”
They thanked Susan and said goodbye to everyone.
“Goodbye, Tommy,” Susan said, coming over to shake his hand.
“Goodbye, Aunt Susan,” Tommy said.
The door creaked shut behind them. They were gone.
Later, Susan sat on the couch with Caleb as the party continued, quieter, more subdued, with Pete’s piano beginning to sound repetitive.
“He certainly is a pleasant, little boy,” she said. “And he absolutely worships you.”
“I think he has a bright future,” Caleb said. “If only he can stay in school and not have to go to work in the mill.”
“The mother seems nice. She told me she does sewing for Gloria Mueller. That certainly speaks well of Jenny,” Susan said.
They stood up and walked over to the piano, where everyone had gathered for one last round of carols. They sang Silent Night, Away in a Manger, and Deck the Halls with Boughs of Ivy.
Caleb went up to his room, removed his clothes, donned his nightshirt, and crawled into bed. Tonight he didn’t dream of Annabelle. Instead, he dreamed of opening a Christmas present when he was a child and finding a microscope. But when he peered through the lens in his dream all he could see was darkness.

Thursday, October 16, 2014


“Secrets of the Lake” is far more than a historical romance between an Irish schoolteacher and the daughter of a Pittsburgh steel baron. It is an indictment of American industry—the greed and callous irresponsibility of the leaders of the railroad, steel and banking industry in the latter part of the Nineteenth Century. And as the author I fully intend it to be a wake up call regarding what is happening in America today. I simply had to get this message off my chest. It’s my fifth novel and it’s coming sooner than you think on Amazon.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

SECRETS OF THE LAKE. Sneak Preview III. Caleb and Annabelle find themselves alone at the lake.

She began removing the combs from her hair and glancing at him sideways. When she gave her head a shake, the tresses tumbled down in a cascade of shimmering gold, reaching all the way to the comforters.

He had only seen her once before without a bonnet or headpiece of some kind. Something stirred inside him—as if seeing her for the first time.

He had yet to realize what she had in mind—her lips were unsmiling and her expression resolute with the stubborn determination he had come to know so well. Slowly she removed her tunic, folding it and placing it beside her. Next she began unbuttoning the blouse.

“Help me, Caleb,” she said.

My God, what was she doing? She was supposed to be out of sorts, he thought. Timidly, he reached over and held the blouse, watching her soft, willowy arms slip from the sleeves.

She was wearing several petticoats with wide straps brocaded with flowers. She raised her arms, and in one motion he removed them also.

Now only a corset remained on her upper body—like a band of white steel beneath the softness of her arms and shoulders. Slowly she turned her back to him until he was looking at a long row of laces, white and cottony, tied in a neat little bow knot ending in a tassel.

“Untie me, please.”

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

SECRETS OF THE LAKE. Sneak Preview 2. Caleb has fallen overboard but discovers the weakness in the dam.

They held hands and said goodbye in front of Josh’s cottage. Caleb was dressed in Angus’s clothing—shirt and tie, trousers and jacket, plus a pair of shoes that were already too tight.

Annabelle told him the shirt and jacket, billowing around the middle, made him look like a clown. Then she raised her lips for a kiss. He hesitated, finally giving her a peck on each cheek that drew a smile.

“Don’t worry about the dam,” she said. “Father heads the committee. He would never allow anything dangerous to happen.”

“I hope you are right,” he said, brightening. “And thank you for giving me my first sailing lesson. It’s one I shall never forget.”

She ran a finger over the bump on his forehead. It was already turning purple. “My poor, wounded baby,” she said, leaning forward and bestowing a gentle kiss upon it.

Feeling her body pressing against his was more than Caleb could stand. He threw his arms around Annabelle and pulled her into him. Quickly his lips found hers.

He felt their hardness at first, but quickly they softened against his, as they surprised each other with their warmth and feeling—and the realization they were in no hurry for their lips to part.

They were without concern as to whether they would be seen. They were without fear that the future could possibly hold anything but happiness. They knew exactly what they were doing.

+ + +

When the brougham was halfway across the roadway spanning the crest of the dam, Caleb leaned out the window and yelled for Axel to stop.

Caleb got out and limped along the berm, Angus’s shoes cutting into his ankles like a tourniquet. He came to a wide spot where he could step out and look down the side of the dam.

It was an earthen dam, built with soil, rocks, and decaying tree trunks, and Caleb walked as close as he could to the edge. Looking down the side and into the valley, he tried to estimate the height by picking up a rock and hurling it as far as he could.

It landed about half way down.

Caleb figured finally that the dam was at least seven stories high and that the distance across was easily the length of two rugby fields.

He heard a twig snap. Turning, he realized that Axel had come up and was standing beside him. Together they stared down the wooded slopes and into the valley. And then, to Caleb’s astonishment, Axel removed his hat, sank to his knees, and crossed himself.

They remained there for a long moment—until Axel slowly rose. Without saying a word Caleb followed him back to the brougham.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Sneak preview--1 From SECRETS OF THE LAKE. A love story about the Johnstown Flood

As Caleb prepared to wade back into the water, he glanced down the bridle path. A figure ambled toward him from the east—her ankle-length white skirt seeming to flow along the bank. Golden braids bounced from under the stylishly wide brim of her summery straw hat with pink, red, and blue roses tucked in the band.

She was a tall woman with lithe movements. In the elegant way she carried her umbrella, keeping it folded and tucked under the arm, she could have been a tennis player carrying a racquet.

Smiling, she seemed to be waving at something or someone, and Caleb thought how nice and friendly it was if she were waving at him. As she drew closer he was surprised to hear her toss him a little shout while pointing the umbrella with the grace of a danseuse in the direction behind him.

At the same moment he heard hoof beats.

Caleb spun around just in time. The man on the horse was cantering toward him from the other end of the path. He wore army jodhpurs and had a badge over the breast of his grey military coat, all of which was well and good except that what the man carried on his hip gave Caleb pause.

It was a shotgun and it was pointed directly at Caleb.

“Identify yourself,” the rider shouted as he pulled up and dismounted. His tone was anything but polite.

Caleb turned and walked toward him slowly, sheepishly, feeling like he had been caught red-handed stealing the jewels of Queen Victoria. Slowly Caleb raised his hands.

“Did you mean me, sir?” Caleb asked, forcing a smile.

“Who do you think I am speaking to—you half-naked intruder?” He waved the barrel in little circles, but still it was pointed rather uncomfortably at Caleb’s exposed chest. “I doubt if you are a guest of a member, so you are therefore trespassing and only the good Lord knows what else. Disappear immediately or I shall lock you up.”

“I am sorry, but I did not know of your rules,” Caleb said, fully aware that he was lying through his teeth.

“The sign—you had to see it. The last I looked it said members only. And I am further of the belief there were also the words trespassing absolutely forbidden.”

The woman in the straw hat stepped forward.

“He is our guest, Mr. Grimsby,” she said.

She moved between the man and Caleb, jabbing the point of the umbrella into the ground as if preparing to make a royal pronouncement.

Reluctantly Grimsby took his eyes from Caleb. He turned to the woman with the look of a man who had just had his favorite horse stolen.

“I’m sorry, Miss Prescott. I didn’t know you and the gentleman were acquainted.” To Caleb’s immense relief the man lowered the shotgun and nodded to the woman.

“But the gentleman will have to return whatever he has procured in those specimen bottles. Those are the rules, Ma’am.”

“Don’t worry, Mr. Grimsby. I shall take care of the matter,” the woman said, painting a look of abject trust across her wicked, little smile.

Grimsby holstered his shotgun, climbed onto his horse, and cantered off. Several times he turned and glanced back.

Caleb and the woman stared at each other for a moment, grinning like a pair of thieves.

“Thank you, Miss Prescott,” Caleb said finally.

“Annabelle,” she said. “And whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?”

“My name is McBride,” he said. “Caleb McBride. I’m collecting Rachophorus Malabaricus—more commonly known by my sixth graders as tadpoles.”

She seemed to like what he said. He noticed the dimple in the middle of her chin.

“Shall I throw them back?” Caleb asked, trying to appear cooperative but having no intention of surrendering his hard-won specimens that had just risen considerably in value.

“I think we can spare a tadpole or two,” she said. “Do you come here often, Mr. McBride?”

“My first and probably my last visit,” he said, pulling on his shirt and vest. He tossed the haversack over his shoulder and grabbed the net.

He paused. It began dawning on Caleb McBride that he was talking to the most beautiful woman in the world. Slowly, a look of panic crossed his face. He couldn’t think of a single thing to say. His tongue was tied in a thick knot.

“Well, I suppose I should leave,” he said, finally.

“Perhaps we shall meet again, Mr. McBride,” she said.

“Caleb,” he said.

“Goodbye,” she said, pausing. Then in a voice that was filled with music he heard her say his name again.

“Goodbye, Caleb.”

Saturday, June 14, 2014


Two weeks ago I attended my grandson’s high school graduation in Denver, a gloriously beautiful ceremony held in the Red Rocks amphitheater—an incredible piece of work that God chiseled out of a mountain-side and a venue more accustomed to holding loud and unruly rock concerts for 60,000 fans rather than the 3,000 proud and sober parents and relatives attending the ceremony for the senior class at Green Mountain High School.

First of all, I was surprised—and deeply impressed—that the ceremony could be so awesome and inspirational. (Of course, how could it not have been with Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” blossoming from the school’s 60-piece orchestra.) But at least six of the top students gave speeches that were anything but dull. The comeraderie was real and enjoyable. And the weather was perfect for the thousands of cameras in the audience ranging from those taking cell phone snapshots to $10,000 Nikons seeking masterpieces.

But I don’t think I am alone in admitting that graduation is a time for allowing for some selfish pride as we remember our own graduations, compare them, and, perhaps for the more fortunate among us, lean back and revel in them.

During the Red Rocks ceremony my mind wandered back to high school and my own graduation. World War II had just ended. Half the senior class was Jewish and a couple were going to the new state of Israel to work in Kibbutzes.  Most of us had been together since elementary school, including Mavis Nathan who had been sent to us from England to avoid the blitz. As president of the senior class I had to give a speech, the opening sentence of which I remember to this day but not one other thought or word. Just as well—I’m sure it set a new standard for triteness.

Some jokers in the class started singing what they called our class song, which (I am not kidding here.) was Maresy Doates. (“Maresy Doates and Does Eat Oates and Little Lambs Eat Ivy. A kid will eat Ivy, too”) Please do not question me about this runaway pop hit and its lyrics—their ridiculousness bothered us just as much back then. This ‘song’ soon gave way to the more sentimental “On the Sunny Side of the Street”—far more appropriate to our futures. 

When it came to relationships we were saying goodbye to friends and opening ourselves to future considerations. My girlfriend and I kissed goodbye and although we were going to colleges in neighboring states we agreed to stay close. (We didn’t.)

The only thing I remember about my Midwestern college graduation was driving afterwards to South Dakota to meet the parents of the beauty queen who was to become my wife in a marriage that would last forever. (It didn’t.) 

Later I received my masters in journalism from Columbia but missed the graduation ceremony entirely.  All the guys were being drafted into the Korean War and we were urged to grab a job and get some experience before reporting for duty.

Comparing my own graduations to ceremonies happening today, the thing I miss most was the spirit of the times. In the late 1940s and early 1950s there was a feeling of relief in the air plus a genuine appreciation of freedom and government and everything that our flag stood for. Our nation had emerged victorious in the most horrible war in the history of mankind.  Maybe we didn’t appreciate it fully as we marched down the aisle but it was there—believe me. And all of our futures looked even brighter than the words pouring from the mouths of the guest speakers.

I wish I could say that about the ceremony I attended two weeks ago. I’m sure that more than one person in the audience shared my feeling of loss and dismay regarding the nature of times we live in. As for the rest of all of you happy young graduates who are perhaps better off for not realizing what you are missing—and to my own grandson—dig in and best of luck.