The Cairo Puzzle

Today’s guest is Laurence O’Bryan.  He’s an Irish writer who has achieved some notoriety with his “puzzle” novels.  Today, he talks about his fifth in the series, The Cairo Puzzle. 

I visited the Great Pyramid of Giza in February, 2017. The passages inside were very different to what I had imagined. They were smaller and narrower. But the Grand Gallery, shown above, is a stunning space, which we still don’t understand.

It’s located in the center of the pyramid and leads to the King’s Chamber, the location of a number of scenes in The Cairo Puzzle. See its location below.

The interior of the Great Pyramid. CP Smyth, 1877.

What interested me most was the possibility that the Grand Gallery was a scared space used for the recitation of hymns by the ancient Egyptian priesthood. The space echoes wonderfully. It would have been a powerful place in which to recite hymns.

If this was the case, the Cannibal Hymn is likely to have been recited there.

Appearing first in the Pyramid of Unas at the end of the Fifth Dynasty, the Cannibal Hymn preserves an early royal butchery ritual in which the deceased king slaughters, cooks and eats the gods and others, incorporating into himself their powers.

The style of the Cannibal Hymn is characteristic of the recitational poetry of pharaonic Egypt. This will give you a taste of what the Cannibal Hymn was about:

A god who lives on his fathers,

who feeds on his mothers…

Unas is the bull of heaven

Who rages in his heart,

Who lives on the being of every god,

Who eats their entrails

When they come, their bodies full of magic

From the Isle of Flame…

The cannibal hymn also reappeared in the Coffin Texts as Spell 573.

Which got me thinking. Where did the early Christian fathers get the idea of Christ’s body and blood being given out to all those who attend Mass? Isn’t there an echo of our cannibalistic past in this central Christian ritual?

Christ himself is believed to have spent his missing years in Egypt. If so, that may have been where he learned his magic, turning water into wine and raising the dead. Egypt was the home of ancient magic and a place of great medical knowledge. Roman Emperors wanted their physicians to be Egyptian.

Galen, one of the most influential physician in history, who helped the Empire deal with the Antonine plague studied at the great medical school in Alexandra. Hippocrates (the “father of medicine”), studied at the temple of Amenhotep, and acknowledged the contribution of ancient Egyptian medicine to Greek medicine.

That Christ learned how to heal the sick in Egypt is a perfectly reasonable proposition. That his followers adapted the ideas of the Egyptian priesthood, including the mythic symbolism of eating a part of a god to have something of that god transferred to you, is also very reasonable.

Whether the ancient Egyptians priests were also cannibals is open for debate.

The question is, how does this all relate to The Cairo Puzzle? Well, here’s the thing, the Great Pyramid still holds secrets. The parts that we know inside represent only a small part of what the ancients described as being inside the great pyramid.

Historical commentators, such as Manetho and Plutarch, claimed that a Hall of Records, under the area of the pyramids at Giza, housed written records of the founders of Egypt. And records of ancient cities that came before, and of how the larger pyramids were constructed.

If the Hall of Records contains such records, it will also contain more details of the uses of the Cannibal Hymn.

As the Cairo Puzzle opens, Isabel Ryan travels to the city in search of Sean, her husband, who went missing, presumed dead, at the end of The Nuremberg Puzzle. The first place she looks for him is in a hospital.

To find out more stay tuned. The Cairo Puzzle will be released in July, 2017.

 

 

What’s in Your Retirement?

Retirement Can Change Your Life – Or Someone Else’s Life.

Retirement. That word means different things to different people. And it means different things to an individual at different times of his or her life.

Some see it as an opportunity to travel, to go places time has not permitted in the past. Others see it as a time to kick back and do nothing, watch more TV, read more books, get in a daily siesta, join a coffee klatch with other retirees, or have no schedule at all.

How many retirees use the additional free time to improve their golf game, or develop a better bridge game. Others use the new-found time to work with charitable organization.

But some choose to use their skills to train or otherwise help people in need.

Sylvia had begun sewing as a child, making her own doll clothes. She continued as an adult, making her husband’s suits, ties and shirts. After awhile, Sylvia Remple began teaching sewing and eventually opened a clothing manufacturing business. It grew quickly and before long she had three hundred employees. In 1982, her company, Sun Ice, outfitted the first team of Canadians to conquer Mount Everest. Two years later, her company was awarded the contract to outfit many Canadian teams for the Winter Olympics in Los Angles. Following that success, Sun Ice became the Official Clothing Supplier to the Winter Olympics hosted by Canada

In 2001, Sylvia Remple sold the business. Retirement. What to do now?

About the same time, she became aware of the poverty in Sierra Leone and in particular, the desperate circumstances for some women. She came up with an idea.

Sylvia and daughters Tammy and Angela formed Sewing Seeds International – SSI. Its mandate was to create self sustaining sewing schools in impoverished areas, empowering women, bringing hope for a better future.

The first project was in Sierra Leone. SSI secured backing from some companies, purchased sewing machines and materials. In Sierra Lione, they found a place to hold classes, then advertised for women who wanted to learn a skill that would help them toward a better future.

The classes were intense. Sylvia also realized that to keep attendance and attention at a high level, the school must provide care for the many young children of the students. So, day care was provided, including meals.

At the end of the three week classes, the machines were left in the classrooms and the women were encouraged to continue working on their sewing skills.

A few months later, these same women were given another three-week school, introducing them to more advanced skills. Again, the machines were left for the students to practice and make clothes for their children and themselves.

A third course was offered. Now, the students were capable of using patterns and making items for sale. But most important for the Sewing Seeds mandate, the best students were trained so they could teach classes to other women.

The success of the school encouraged SSI to move into other countries. Classes have been given in Africa, Europe, South America, and Mexico.

Has it been successful?

Absolutely. All can make clothes for their families. Many of the women now make a decent living sewing for others. Several have formed companies to manufacture clothes. One graduate now has a company with eight other women working, all making a decent living. Graduates of another school formed a co-op which now has a contract to supply all the uniforms for a school system in a nearby larger town.

Because they are set up to be self-sustaining, these schools should bear fruit for years to come. The Canadian government has recognized SSI as a certified charitable organization. In many places around the world, SSI is recognized as a life-saver.

Is Sylvia bored in her retirement? Not even a little. Her compensation? Seeing impoverished women now able to be self-supporting, infused with hope for a brighter future. That’s better than a paycheck.

What is her retirement? To help others.

While going into extremely poor, perhaps desperate, areas may not seem like a fun thing to do in retirement, it must be extremely rewarding and give one a true sense of worth that a game of golf probably won’t.

Sylvia would tell you she has found the perfect retirement.

What do you see for yourself in retirement?  Leave a comment on your retirement.

 

A Greased Pig?

Many years ago, I was teaching in a private school. One year I was sponsor of what many of the faculty labeled as the most difficult of the senior classes. Actually, I found them to be a very energetic and imaginative group, perhaps less concerned with the rules than most, and certainly less studious. But they were interesting, fun and goodhearted. I never had a problem with any of this class.

So it was no great surprise when they proposed holding a greased pig chase as a fund raiser. I raised a number of objections, but they countered each with a reasonable answer. After seeking approval from administration, a date was set.

One boy in the class had an uncle who raised pigs, so that was taken care of. Posters were made. In fact, those in charge of publicity were very innovative . One day they were more animated than usual. The greased pig chase was being publicized on the local radio station most popular with high school kids.   However, only students from our school could participate in the chase.

Entries began immediately ,with an amazing number coming from the freshman class. Briefly, I wondered if there was any coercion, but dismissed that thought. In fact, the whole school was buzzing about the upcoming porker party.

The day before the event, I received a call from an animal rights group. They were concerned about the safety of the pig. I thought to dismiss that thought also. The pig was soon to be shipped off to the packing house which would be a much worse experience than being chased by screaming teenagers. But the animal advocate was very serious. I explained that the pig would not be harmed. Once caught and secured by one or more students, he would be quickly returned to his home on the range. The contestants were allowed no tools, no aids at all. They must catch the pig using only their hands, and maybe their feet. Instantly, the pig’s protector worried that someone might kick the pig. I assured her no kicking was allowed.

What were we going to put on the pig? Well, it was a “greased” pig contest. I guaranteed her it would be only natural products, quite possibly coming from the pig’s ancestors.

“This might be too tiring for the pig,” she continued. “I must insist you allow a rest period every five minutes.” I suggested every fifteen minutes and we ultimately compromised on ten minutes. I wondered how effective this would be. Would the pig understand a rest period?

The day finally arrived and Joe drove his truck in with a very sturdy cage in the back containing… The Pig. To many, it looked like a wild boar. It snorted and banged against the cage, and several of the small freshmen began to have doubts about chasing this wild animal. Some worried the razorback might chase them instead.

The class committee decided to use vegetable oil to grease the swine, assuring the pig would be very hard to hold. Ten minutes before start time, students lined up behind a rope marking the starting line, and Joe and two classmates poured corn oil on the shoat, who didn’t care for the attention. Hands would pop in and spread the oil and jerk back before the pig could bite.

Though close to eighty students had signed up, there were probably only fifty on the starting line. Possibly some had second thoughts after seeing this ferocious looking bovine. But there were probably another two  hundred and fifty spectators. On the count of three, the rope was dropped and the door to the cage thrown opened.

Porky just stood there.

After railing against the cage, it didn’t want to leave. Joe grabbed a pencil out of his shirt pocket, reached in the cage, and jabbed the pig in its hindquarters. The bore took off. And as the contestants started running and screaming, the pig kept running.

Two or three students got a hand on the porker, but the slippery oil let the swine escape. Several dove at the pig and got nothing but a handful of grass. However, twin brothers had devised a plan and simultaneously dove at the pig from opposite sides. As the greasy bovine slipped out of one twin’s hands, it put him in the brother’s arms.

In three minutes, the contest was over. The twins held the oil covered pig down for the required thirty seconds and were declared the winners.

This special class had once again deviated from the norm. During the week leading up to the event anticipation saturated the school and grabbed the attention of the entire student body and most of the faculty.

And though the contest was very short, everyone in attendance seemed to have a great time.

Except, perhaps, the pig.

 

James R. Callan

Callan is no longer teaching.  He writes mystery and suspense novels.  Thus far, none has featured a wild pig, with or without grease.  But he’s not ruling that out.

Complaining

We were complaining some time back that both of us needed to go see the eye doctor. My wife needed to have her glasses changed for a new prescription and I needed to get glasses.

Then we met Rudolfo.

Rudolfo is blind. But he has a beautiful voice. He walks along the Malecôn, a mile-long wide walk along the beach in Puerto Vallarta. He has a small device strapped to his chest. It amplifies music from a recorder the size of a cell phone.  Maybe it is a cell phone, for all I know. And Rodolfo sings. He walks along singing, and people will drop a few pesos into a small container also strapped to his chest.

Many days, he is also followed by a woman, who rests a hand lightly on his shoulder. She is his wife, and she is also blind.

He has a microphone, but the amplifier is set low so that is not obtrusive. In fact, ten feet away you wouldn’t hear him at all. But as he passes, you get this pleasant voice, singing quietly, offering what he can give. He does not ask for donations, but it is obvious this is his living.

We have had an opportunity to visit with him on a few occasions, when he was not singing and trying to earn a living. He is a humble man, always pleasant, never complaining, at peace with his place in life. We discovered his small device contains the music for three hundred songs. He can press a button and it scans through the songs so fast that I could hear only a blur of sounds. To me, it seemed there was one word, or maybe three notes, per song, and they were zipping by at five to ten songs per second. But to Rudolfo, they were clear. If I asked for a particular song, he would scan through the list and in seconds, he would have the music I requested. Clearly, his hearing is highly developed.

So, Rudolfo not only provides us with beautiful songs, but also reminds us that we have so much. I grumble about getting glasses. Rudolfo would love to have glasses, IF they would help. But they would not in the least. He and his wife both have been blind since birth. They do not grumble. They would like a few more pesos. But they are at peace with their lot.  Rudolfo sings beautifully.

And he has helped me.

James R. Callan, 2017

 

Our Guia in Chile

First a quick note:  Today the Kindle version of A Ton of Gold, the Crystal Moore Suspense book #1, is FREE. Check it out at www.fkbt.com  or at http://amzn.to/1UTY0Tv.  No strings. Just a great book for free.

A Ton Of Gold is one of those riveting novels that grabs the reader’s total attention from beginning to end. A deftly woven story populated with memorable characters, “A Ton Of Gold” is a superbly crafted and entertaining mystery and documents author James R. Callan as a gifted writer of the first rank. A Ton Of Gold is highly recommended for personal reading lists and community library Mystery/Suspense collections.” Midwest Book Review

I’ve talked about unexpected kindnesses, and I’m going to do that again today. And interestingly enough, this one also took place during our visit to Chile.

One of the things we’ve found in traveling abroad is that foreign countries don’t have the abundance of coin operated, self serve laundromats. And often, to have the laundry done at a commercial shop may take longer than we will be in that town. We tend to stay away from home for long periods, but to stay in one town only a short period. Ah, the little problems. We need to plan ahead and decide that since we are planning on being in this town for five days, we can send the laundry out.

We had been in Chile for a couple of weeks and felt the need to do some laundry. And after checking around, we found a laundry (not self-serve) that would do the laundry for you and return it the next day. Great. My wife, Earlene, explained in her best Spanish, no planchada. No ironing. She tried again. No planchas. You don’t iron.

A woman had just walked into the store and she said to my wife, “You do not want your clothes ironed?”

My wife was only slight annoyed. She felt like her Spanish was good enough to get the idea across. But the woman was smiling and Earlene said, “Yes. I do not need any of this ironed.”

The woman spoke in Spanish to the employee behind the counter, then turned back to us. “My name is Maria and this is my business. I just wanted to make sure you got what you wanted.”

We talked for a few minutes, telling Maria where we were from, and answering a few of her questions. After a short while, Maria said, “Maybe I’ll be your guia tomorrow.”

We were surprised and I blurted out, “What does a guia cost for a day?”

“Nothing. It will be fun. I’ll show you around.”

A few minutes later, arrangements had been made as to where we would meet and what time. Then, she escorted us down a block to a restaurant she could recommend and spoke to the owner, asking him to take very good care of us.

The next morning, we met Maria, our guia, our guide. She showed us a number of places we would never have seen without her. She gave us a wealth of interesting facts about Chile and the area we were in. She took us to a lake where we boarded a boat which actually took us into Argentina. Of course, we bought her meals and boat ticket, etc. But she refused any other money. She took us to a great store where Earlene bought a jacket and shoes she still loves today.

It was a delightful day, made so much better by a unexpected kindness from a stranger. She seemed to enjoy guiding us around and giving us interesting information. For us, it was one of the highlights of our trip. What wonderful people strangers can be.

Leave a comment about your experiences with unexpected kindness from strangers.

James R. Callan,  2017

 

 

 

The King and I

Today, Steve Sabatka, talks about growing up watching the early animated movies when each scene would require twenty-four graphic panels for a single second of a movie.  Steve lives in Newport, Oregon and teaches at Newport High School.  Steve writes short stories (has won the NETWO short story contest one year) and in 2016, published a young adult novel about teenagers finding a … well, I’d better let Steve tell you.

  1. I was five years old, watching that classic old flick, King Kong, and losing my little boy mind. Drum-beating natives. Hungry dinosaurs. Wild, throbbing orchestral music. And a giant gorilla with rolling eyes and great, fearsome teeth – fighting biplanes from atop the highest building in the world. It was better than any three ring circus or screaming carnival ride. But when Kong, shaggy, bleeding, and defeated, let go and fell one hundred and two stories to the Manhattan pavement, I lost it, son, flipped out, crying and screaming so loudly that my dad thought a police car, old-style siren blaring, had pulled up in our front yard. The King was dead and I was not happy about it. Dad consoled my by explaining that Kong wasn’t dead – because he’d never really been alive. It had all been a trick. A special effect.

In time, I learned that Kong was a puppet, basically, just eighteen inches tall, with metal joints under layers of rubber and trimmed rabbit fur, and that an ex-boxer and newspaper cartoonist named Willis O’Brien brought the mighty ape, to life, one frame of movie film at a time, just like Bugs Bunny or Donald Duck, and that one fleeting second of snarling, chest-beating action required twenty four separate poses, twenty four clicks of the camera shutter. I could imagine Mister O’Brien going off to work every morning – with a briefcase full of toy monsters and dinosaurs – and being paid to play with them all day.

I wanted to be a monster tamer, too. Just like O’Brien and Harryhausen and all the other movie magicians, the names you see at the end of movies like Mighty Joe Young and Jason and the Argonauts and When Dinosaurs Rules the Earth. So I started making my own monsters out of dime store modeling clay – with toothpick points for teeth and eyes that were sucked-down lemon drops – posing them, a millimeter or two at a time, and then snapping off frame after frame of eight millimeter, Kodachrome film.

When the finished film came back from the pharmacy, I would thread up the projector, hit the lights, and then stare, awestruck, as my homemade creatures prowled across the white wall of my bedroom – on their own, as if they had been resurrected from their fossil tombs to growl and shake the earth once more. It was truly magic – and the thing I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

But then, as I got older, something very sad happened – just like in the folk song, “Puff the Magic Dragon.” Clay monsters and dinosaurs made room for other toys. I grew up, went to school, got a job as a school teacher, and pretty much gave up on making monster movies. I also started writing. A lot of short stories. Two bad novels. Strangely, monsters kept cropping up in my stories. Aliens. Dinosaurs, too. I even wrote a very short sequel to King Kong, entitled Fall Guy.

Jurassic Park all but killed the art of stop motion. Made it extinct. And so gone are the days when folks would walk out of a theater after seeing The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, say, or The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, asking. “How did they do that?” Everybody knows the three letter answer: CGI. Computer Generated Imagery. Monsters have become nothing more than a file on an ILM desktop.

I miss the old days. And I want younger folks to know about my heroes and all their frame-by-frame voodoo. So I wrote a young adult novel about a teenage monster nerd (me, basically), and his two oddball buddies – a Vietnamese refugee, and a 250 pound wrestler – trying to explain the scaly, hairy, multi-toothed horror that has just washed up dead on the Oregon Coast.

My book, Mister Fishback’s Monster, was recently unleashed on an unsuspecting world by Black Bed Sheet Books, and, from what I’m told, it was their bestselling young adult title for 2016.

The back cover of my book reads like a B-movie poster:

“Ravenous beasts from the dawn of time! Gun packin’ roller derby queens! Chattering freaks, belched up from the ocean floor! Bug-eyed Martian bullies! Political intrigue! Corporate corruption! Bigfoot! Blood! Guts! Pam Grier!”

Mister Fishback’s Monster is funny. A little creepy. And the special effects are amazing.

I hope you’ll check it out. And I hope to hear from my fellow stop motion maniacs. I’ll send a free copy to the person that can tell me (via Facebook) the name of the unsung hero, the amazingly talented man that actually made Kong (and all the other denizens of Skull Island) out of so much rubber and cotton and metal before handing them, lifeless, over to Willis O’Brien.

 Postscript:

I was fortunate enough to meet Fay Wray in person several years before she passed. I told her about freaking out when I was a kid and how I had hoped she and Kong would’ve lived happily ever after. Ms. Wray gave me the kind of expression usually reserved for the hopelessly delusional and said, “Surely, now that you’re older, you understand that the relationship was not very practical.”

Or something like that.

I guess she was right.

But still.

 

 

JIM:  We love for you to leave a comment.  Thanks.

When Someone Walks Through Your Door

A few years ago, my wife and I were in Oklahoma to remodel a house we owned on some acreage. Much work needed to be done. There was an enormous room that could be converted into two good sized bedrooms. We needed to remodel one of the bathrooms and completely redo the kitchen – new cabinets, new hot water heater, and on and on.

The house is in a thinly populated area, with few close neighbors. We were quite surprised one day when a man walked into the house and started watching our efforts. He made suggestions on how we might accomplish a task more easily.

After awhile, he asked, “Are you staying here at night?”

It was clear no one was staying in this house at night. There was no furniture, and it was certainly not fit for sleeping. I said, no, we were staying in a nearby motel.

He looked around at our tools and asked, “Do you leave your tools here at night?”

This gave me pause. Why did he want to know about our tools? Finally I said we locked the place up when we left, trying to make it sound like it was secure. It wasn’t all that secure.

He acknowledged my statement, turned around and disappeared.

We didn’t know what to think. We had come from Texas in a small Ranger pickup. Space didn’t allow for many tools, and certainly nothing large. Still, there were several power tools that would be a little expensive to replace.

About thirty minutes later, the man walked in again. “My name is Gary. If you will really lock things up tight, I’ve got some power tools that will make your job easier.” He produced a nail gun with various attachments for heavy work or trim work. He offered other tools to make the installation of door hardware easier, faster, and more professionally done.

He said he wouldn’t always be around to either deliver or take back the tools, so he would leave them in my care.

Over the next few weeks, he popped in frequently, always with some sound advice, usually with other tools. And when we were ready to paint the outside, he provided a professional paint sprayer and hoses.

Now, years later, we are still good friends with Gary.

In m y newest novel, A Silver Medallion, a young Mexican walks into Crystal Moore’s life, as unexpected as Gary was to us. But in my novel, it is the young woman who needs help. She has been a slave in modern day Texas, held, not by chains, but by threats to kill her husband still in Mexico. By accident, she learns her husband has died, so she escapes. She tells Crystal of another woman held slave by threats to kill her two children left in Mexico.

Crystal lost her parents when she was seven. She identifies with the plight of the two young girls in Mexico, held captive, not knowing if their mother was alive or not. Crystal knows the woman will never escape as long as her children are held hostage.

The only way to free the mother is to first rescue the children. Crystal tries to put this out of her mind. It is not her problem. But her conscience will not allow that. After many sleepless nights, Crystal realizes she must travel to Mexico and try to rescue the girls. Only then can she help the mother escape.

When someone walks into your life, you will be affected, one way or another. Expect it. Make the most of it. It is usually easier to ignore the person. But look on it as an opportunity. It could be an important one.

James R. Callan,  2017

 

 

Road Trip to Main

Today’s guest bloggers are the Cuffe Sisters, Sadie and Sophie. They were born, raised, and still live in the rugged area known as the Unorganized Territory in Main. They maintain a small farm, but (we know) their main goal is to produce great novels. They write “squarely to the hearts of real women who don’t always wear a size two and who prefer boots to high heels. And they believe some of the best stories are composed on the seat of a tractor.  They will give a free copy of their latest book to a name drawn at random from those who leave a comment. Here are the Cuffe Sisters.

We grew up on road trips. After traveling around the State of Maine, we later branched out to cross-country travel, vising relatives in California. It’s 3240 miles (give or take) from here to there. We traveled in a VW bus and camped out along the way. Six people in an old canvas Army tent was an adventure in itself, LOL. At the time, one of our cousins pointed out that we’d now stuck our toes in both major oceans. Some people haven’t experienced either one. Funny, the things you take for granted.

We grew up on the coast and now live Down East – where the sun first strikes the easternmost point of the USA.

Throughout the years we’ve hiked and biked around many islands. To date we’ve visited about twenty, but that’s nothing considering there are over 6180 left to explore. Some are easily accessed by huge bridges (one of Sophie’s biggest dreads), others by ferry, some by private boat. We rode the mail boat on our first trip to Isle au Haut many years ago, and asked the captain if we could go out on the deck. It was choppy, but he let us. As soon as we stepped out, a huge wave slapped the bow and covered us in spray. We went back into the cabin, soaked, but laughing like fools. It was wicked fun!

We experienced ten seconds of fame once, when photographers from Down East Magazine took a picture of us roasting hotdogs at our island campsite. When we finally found the article, months later, we were surprised at the caption: Local campers cooking over an open fire. Even WE didn’t recognize ourselves!

Our coastline, as the crow flies is, 250 miles, but the reality is vast – it’s over 5500 miles when all the islands are included. Islands hold a precious place in our hearts, but they’re more than our memories and adventures. They hold their own special mystique in their fiercely loyal people, their rugged independence, and their wild solitude. We hope our love of Maine and its islands comes through in our newest book, Blind Man’s Bluff, A Candle Island Cozy. Come to Candle Island, hear the lonely cry of the gulls, feel the spray of the raging surf, and plant your feet on the bedrock ledges of Maine that have endured for millenia. We’re giving away a copy, so if you’d like to be entered in the drawing, all you have to do is leave a comment. Good luck, and thank you, Jim, for letting us visit!

JIM:  Makes me want to visit Maine again.  Please leave a comment and the Cuffe Sisters will draw a name and send the winner a FREE copy of their latest novel.  Thanks.

The Vanishing Horse

For some convoluted reason, Netfirms closed this site for a few days this past week.  So, I’m going to leave my Christmas story about the disappearing horse up this week.  And here is a very sincere wish that you and your family have a very happy holiday season, a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year’s.  But first, my thought for the day —

Some people hear voices. Some see invisible people. Others have no imagination whatsoever.

My second Christmas in Connecticut promised to be special. I had bought the house on Great Hill Road just a hundred feet from a quiet lake with maple, birch and spruce trees growing almost to the water line. The kids had ten free days to enjoy The Dolphin, a small row boat which they had helped refinish and paint, and which they could easily manage. If it turned cold enough and the lake froze, the ice skates would come out. And, though they didn’t know it, they were going to have a spectacular gift.

Earlier in the month, after considerable research, I traveled into central Connecticut to look at horses. The selection process proved to be horse-angrycomplicated. A horse named Trouble pawed the ground, snorted, and would have bitten me had I not been considerably quicker than I am now. A second horse, Lightning, slept through the interview, barely managing to put two feet ahead of the other two. He failed to make the cut. The next candidate, Cara, passed with flying colors—until price entered the picture. Grace, a lovely sorrel, had two—no, make that four—left feet.

Eventually, I found a beautiful, if not young, roan with a gentle, if occasionally obstinate, disposition named Cheyenne. After a brief ride, I purchased Cheyenne.

Marvin Whittle, who was employed at the research lab where I worked, owned a stable right in town, not far from our house on Great Hill. We came to an agreement and I made arrangements to have Cheyenne transported from central Connecticut to the Whittle Farm.

Never in my life had I bought a saddle, but now I shopped and evaluated. What did I know about such things? There were western saddles and eastern saddles, but no southern saddles. Curious. I discovered that Western meant big and comfortable while eastern meant small and uncomfortable. Just like the states. I opted for a Texas style, not so big that the girls could not handle it, and with the proper leather smell.

Then came a bridle, blankets, and a source for hay.  Wouldn’t a dog have been simpler?

A week before Christmas, I had the present—Cheyenne and all the necessary items to outfit him, house him, and even feed him for the first month. Early on Christmas eve, I moved Cheyenne from the Whittle Farm to a neighbor’s near-by home. Things moved along as smooth as a well used halter.

christmas-tree-3The children were nestled all snug in their beds, with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads. I slipped out, sneaked down a quarter mile to the neighbor’s house, and on tip-toes, lead Cheyenne to our place, and tied him securely to a bush outside the front of the house.

The land bordering on this part of Great Hill sloped down to the beautiful lake. Most houses, and ours was no exception, faced the lake. The main floor of the house, while at ground level on the side nearest the road, projected out eight feet above the ground on the lake side. Positioning Cheyenne in front of the house kept him well below the sight lines from bedrooms and the living room where the tree twinkled and presents waited impatiently to be unwrapped.

As was tradition, the kids arose before the sun, leaping from deep sleep to hyper-active as quick as a sneeze, clamoring to see what Santa had deposited in our living room. (They never expected to find only a lump of coal. In fairness, I guess they never deserved such.)

Christmas and presents, even if meager, generate excitement, screams of joy, and only occasionally envy. This Christmas was little different, if somewhat subdued. In truth, Santa had not been as generous as had been his habit in years past. Even those holidays when I was in graduate school looked somewhat fatter than this year. So, while it is not fair to say they were disappointed, well—it didn’t take long to open Santa’s leavings.

After a slight delay, wanting them to enjoy the non-horse items, I invited them to follow me outside. This produced a few groans, and actually made the Christmas offerings look a lot better and difficult to leave. But since I knew how excited they would be over the horse, I persisted. We exited the back and with a sly grin on my face I led them around to the front of the house.

Triumphantly, we turned the corner to find—nothing. No Christmas horse. No Cheyenne. No saddle. No blanket. No bridle.

To say I was stunned is to say the Sahara is a sand pile. Horse thieves in Connecticut? The kids, not knowing what to expect, just looked at me … expectantly. What was the big surprise? I knew what my surprise was. No Cheyenne.

Pulling myself together, not wanting to look too lost in front of the kids, I surveyed the area. Not only was the horse missing, the large bush he had been tied to was gone as well. Why would rustlers take my bush?

I mumbled some nonsense and sent the kids back inside to play with their meager cache. Slowly, I became a cunning tracker. Before long, I was picking out signs, some of which I will not describe, with the skill of an Indian brave trainee. After only a quarter mile, I heard the sound I had expected earlier: excited children. Rounding a clump of cedars, there was Cheyenne—as well as two young kids thrilled with the newfound present Santa had left for them.

I eased up, saying some soothing, cheerful things to the young boy and girl as I endeavored to take the reins. They clutched the leather tighter, accusing me of trying to steal their Christmas present. I bent low, hoping not to look like a towering monster, and spoke softly with an angelic smile on my face. Logic had always been a strong point for me, so I explained to them, in child-like terms, what had happened.

I remained the evil Grinch.

With some subterfuge, I got one end of the reins, and shielded it from the now screaming girl. But my gain amounted to little, as the boy instantly clamped his tiny hands around the stirrup. The boy’s cries now echoed hers and people on the other side of the lake came out on porches to see what malfeasance had come to Rainbow Lake.angry-woman2

Trouble was closer at hand. An angry mother burst out of the nearby house, ready to kill the miscreant trying to kidnap, or otherwise harm, her children. She was followed by a big, burly man, surely seven feet tall, who’s eyes did not exhibit the Christmas spirit.

paul-bunyonThe woman ran to her children, shielding them from scoundrel me, questioning them as to what I had done. The man, his Paul Bunyan legs requiring few steps to traverse the distance, grilled me. I quickly recognized he was a seven foot interrogator for the CIA.

At long last, logic arrived on the scene, tardy as usual in such situations. The children finally managed to sob that I was taking their horse. Santa had left their present outside, since it was too big to go down the chimney. They had found it, and now, Scrooge was trying to steal it.

With the aid of the one rein still attached to the bush, I described how Cheyenne uprooted his hitching post and wandered down to their yard.

The mother’s translation did not cheer the children. But they were somewhat mollified when I promised to bring Cheyenne down and let them ride him later in the day.

horse-1a           Needless to say, when I once more enticed my children outside to meet Cheyenne, Christmas became a lot brighter. He was an instant star, and continued to be their favorite even when, a year later, a younger, more beautiful buckskin named Major joined Cheyenne in the family circus.

James R. Callan

      A Silver Medallion, 2016

Cover - A Silver Medallion

 

Unplanned Kindness

But first, a PARAPROSDOKIAN —

Behind every great man is a woman – rolling her eyes.

Unplanned Kindness

Several years ago, we visited Chile. We stayed in Santiago and Vina del Mar for a couple of weeks, then headed south. We wanted to go as far as possible and still have roads back to Santiago.

The flight was in a small plane – one seat on each side of the aisle, maybesmall-plane-1 a sixteen passenger capacity. It delivered newspapers to every small town along the way, so it was up and down continually. Two young girls sat across from my wife and me. They were moving to Puerto Montt. Their father was already there and would meet them at the airport.

On final approach, the older girl, probably twelve, got sick. As the wheels touched down, she threw up. In the terminal, my wife took her to the restroom to help her clean up. The younger girl found her father. I went to rent a car.chile-map

Unplanned best describes our mode of travel. We fly into a city, rent a car, then look for a place to stay. No reservations. Though a bit risky, it always works out and quite often provides more interesting adventures than if we had planned things carefully.

I found Earlene talking with the father. I said there was only one car available and they wanted $250 per day. I was hesitant. The girls’ father said, “If you can wait until tomorrow, I can get you a much less expensive car. Where are you going?”

I said we had planned on going to Puerto Varas (about twenty miles away), but we could certainly stay here tonight.

“I’m going to Puerto Varas. I can take you.”

As we drove toward Puerto Varas, he asked, “Where do you have reservations?”

“We don’t have a reservation, but I’m sure we can find something when we get there,” I said.

“I can help you.”

Thirty minutes later, we were at a lovely lakeside B & B.

“Do you have plans for dinner,” he asked.

“No,” I said. “We’ll walk into the village and find a restaurant.”

“We’re going to Llanguihue for dinner. Why don’t you join us? I can pick you up in forty minutes.”

clake-clearAn hour later we’re in a beautiful tourist village on the shore of a crystal clear lake. He invited us to join his extended family for dinner. We didn’t want to intrude, so we found a different table. After dinner, we told him we were in no rush whatsoever but would wait outside near his car.

“Nonsense. There are very interesting shops along the shore. Wander through them. I’ll find you.”

We did find the shops and the surrounding area interesting. About thirty minutes later, he appeared behind us. As we drove back to our B&B, he gave us many interesting facts about Chile. We felt very fortunate to have joined this man and his daughters.

The next morning, during breakfast, the B&B owner entered and handed me a telephone. Who would be calling me in Chile? The caller wanted to bring a car over for us for our inspection. It a very nice car and only $80 USD per day. We took it.car-red

The father of the two girls went out of his way to be very friendly to a couple of foreigners he did not know. He could not have been more helpful if he had been a life-long friend.

Indeed, there are so many nice, kind, friendly people in the world, if only we are open to see them.

James R. Callan, 2016

Why not leave a comment and tell us about an Unplanned Kindness that happened to you.  It will make all of us feel better.  Thanks.