Monday, December 7, 2015

The Boys of Summers Run, a novel swimming upstream

The Boys of Summers Run is written for seniors . . . parents . . .  grandparents . . . middle-grade teens . . . and boys, likely the reluctant readers in most households.

The back cover reads:

Fatherless boys become the Four Horsemen of the Outfield

Autumn, and high above the fields and forests of his family's historic farm, Claude Kinkade surveys his life there thus far. His future in rural Pennsylvania remains cloudy. His mother's marriage may move him to the deserts of Las Vegas and far away from his beloved Little League Baseball team, the Panthers.

Worse, Claude's loyalty is spreading its cloak over Shadeland, his father's ancestral acreage. He senses his departed father's shadow following him as he becomes the "farm-boy-in-training" of Summers Run. Must he forsake the memories he yearns to make among the Clan Kinkade? Will Shadeland suffer in his absence?

"Runs" are the brooks and streams linking the countryside together in Claude's new world. Summers Run is one of these, and The Boys of Summers Run is a story of deep roots and timeless springs, nurtured by traditions of family and folkways. It describes the friendships only boys can forge while learning of life and loss, the triumphs and tragedies of it all. One unsolicited reviewer writes:

"I think this is the best book I've read in a long time. I enjoyed it because it taught so many lessons. . . . I would recommend this book for all ages."

Be aware Boys is not a sports story. Nor the typical coming-of-age account. It is a story of a family preserving the land and the values it is duty-bound to protect and honor.  

To order from Barnes & Noble: The Boys of Summers Run

From Amazon: The Boys of Summers Run

From IndieBound: The Boys of Summers Run

(IndieBound is a huge community of independent bookstores found in your hometown and on the street corners across the nation. IndieBound members offer all manner of book services, shipping, and ordering of ebooks for your tablets and readers or softbound versions for your nightstand. Patronize them whenever possible.)

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Aunt Bea's Plymouth: "The Gad-abouts"

Somewhat strange, I suppose, for a twelve-year-old to tag along with his aunt as she made her rounds for the church. Yet, calling on old members and friends, new families fresh with babies or Beagle pups, farm folks and city dwellers––every visit made a memory for me.

One could peek down the hall or up the stairs of the homes we entered. I'd note the Victorian antiques or if the television was a DuMont, Philco, GE, RCA, Sylvania, or an Emerson. Then record what calendars or portraits hung on the wall, find the creaks in the hallway, smell the aromas that clung to the wallpaper. 

Church visitation was no respecter of persons: some homes reeked of old times and infirmities; others were upscale where finned Cadillacs were berthed and, on the Hi-Fi, lush violins played country club music to complement the plush draperies and polished heirlooms.

The Breathwaites lived close to the "fashionable" side of town and life back then. Often pictured in the Tribune, they could out-Carnegie Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People––a very popular book back in those days. They drove Buicks. A dignified Roadmaster sedan for Cecil; a smaller, sportier Century hardtop for Virginia.

We were ushered into the stone foyer just as Cecil's cousin was leaving, and my Aunt Bea was elected to negotiate an argument.

Yes, Cousin Jim told us, the elder Breathwaites were still holding forth on the family place. "Mom and Pop rent most of the land and pasture, and that's fine with me since I din't want to farm. And, . . . so here I am, trying to get these two down yonder to see 'em while they're still around."

"We're driving down soon's we can," Cecil laughed, embarrassed enough that even I could see it.

"That's what I heard the last time we had this discussion," Jim told us. "Every time we get into this."

"Jim," Virginia piped up, "we're busy people, just like you and Karen."

"I painted this house a year last summer," Jim told the both of us. "So I kept track of the to and fro around this place. Cecil would pull out, first thing in the morning. Then there goes Virginia, driving off. Cece comes back, then he leaves again. Virginia comes back. Cece drives back in, then Virginia takes off. Then Cecil takes off, and Virginia, in the meantime, comes back––"

Cecil shook his head and laughed, "Oh, Jimmy, now––"

"Y' might as well leave the garage door open––be easier. Needa traffic cop out here."

"Jim, we're social people––"

"Gadfly gad-abouts, I say."

"Well, you saw us on a Thursday and that's our busiest," said Virginia. "Miss Cotton knows all about how many things go on in this town." Jim started ticking off his fingers.

"They sing in two different church choirs, Presbyterian and Stone Methodist––practice every week for that. Then, Ginny plays the organ over at St. Paul's. They're both Gold Coaters, so have to get out and meet the tour buses comin' through. Then there's Rotary, and her garden club, Kiwanis, and the library board, something up at the college, and the Art and Book Guild, the Bird and Tree Club, the balloon fest, the pancake breakfasts––"

"And there's always work to be done and volunteers have to do it," Virginia pled her case.

'Well, Gin, let someone else take that stuff on." Jim scowled her way. "They pawn these jobs off on you two 'cause they know it'll get done."

"Jim, Ginny and I've talked about this very thing. We're going to bring the kids––"

"Dad's got four tracks for his trains now. Goes clear down one wall and around the corner, across the other. Mom's family tree quilt is done finally. Th' folks would be tickled to death to show those grandkids around . . . and get acquainted a bit."

"Yes, just as soon as they have a free weekend, we'll load 'em up––"

"Do it before they turn sulky, . . . couple pouty teenagers don't want to bother with us old duffers."

"We will, we will. We'll get it done."

Jim made his way to the front door of oak and wrought iron. "One of these days, Cuz, you're gonna get the call, 'The funeral's on Friday, hope yunz can make it.'" 

The cousins said their goodbyes, and Aunt Bea and I were ushered into a den cozy with tartan upholstery, bookshelves built into the pickled oak paneling and a robust rock fireplace, trimmed in copper.

Church stuff took up most of the visit and most of which I don't remember. I do recall, though, the bit about pouty teenagers and pawning jobs off on folks entrusted and known to get such done.


Friday, November 13, 2015

Did You Miss This?

We posted this image and comment on another of our blogs, "A Feel Good Novel," but decided it deserved more exposure around and about.

Found on a pound of local coffee: 

"The Danish word, 'Hygge' (hyoo-gah) symbolizes the art of inviting closeness and paying attention to what makes us feel open-hearted and alive. Hygge happens when we commit to the pleasure of the present moment in its simplicity." 

Cherish moments. Live Hygge.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Aunt Bea's Plymouth

“Orlo and Eva”

“Oh, Miss Cotton, grand to see y’.” 
“Well, Eva, so good to be here, and may I present my nephew, Jimmy. He likes to tag along.”
We were ushered into the dining area of the huge country kitchen where a sweating pitcher of lemonade awaited on a checkerboard table cloth. A cup full of spoons sat precisely in the confluence of red and white squares, the cup a fixture for the morning’s “coffee time” and, if the workload permitted, one in the afternoon. With a sigh, Eva heaved herself down to the table after pouring us the home-squeezed juice sweetened by sugar and a dash of maple syrup. 
She was not a heavy woman, in fact, rather spare. But her manner told us she was dealing with weighty matters. Her complexion, flushed and dewy with exertion or concern, matched the checkerboard.
“I do need a visit . . . and I know you’ens will keep this to ourselves here.” She managed a smile in my direction. My Aunt Bea cocked her head, her gesture of concern and concentration. Eva smoothed the table top, clearing it of any ripples. “We’ve just had a family . . . well, not a rift. . . . Guess y’ might call it a ‘little tiff,’ or such like.”
“Oh, unsettling, those.”
“Yes’m. We finally got enough money from the insurance company to pay the kids a little wages after their old house burned down. An’ Bill, that’s our new son-in-law, asked Orlo if the check was for Linda too. Linda’s our daughter here on the farm,” Eva told me.
“So, Bill tells Orlo, ‘She’s been working as hard as I am.’ Well, truth of it, the kids have been working ‘specially hard, y’ know, cleaning up the mess over there and sortin’ through what they might salvage, plus all the haying and startin’ now on the grain. Linda milks in the morning and I try to help at night. That’s how we do in the summer when there’s so much to do.
“Well, Orlo came in all fussed up about it and said, ‘Guess Bill thinks Linda needs on the payroll now.’
“Orlo din’t know quite how to answer Bill. An’ later that next morning, Bill met me in the garden and said that he and Linda were a new ‘unit’ now and that since she got married, she can’t be what he called ‘your dutiful daughter any longer. When Linda and I married,’ Bill tells me, ‘it meant she became . . . separate . . . and needs to be paid by the farm for the work she does on the farm.’
“Well, I din’t know what to say neither. He said it nicely, kindly, but Orlo, like he does, got all huffy ‘bout the matter to me. He said, ‘I know there’s nothing writ down but we’re fair and honest people. Have been since we first settled this valley. Shysters didn’t last back then.’”
“An’ I told Orlo, ‘Times are a-changin’, Dad. Now I’m sorry we din’t pay them more like I wanted. It’s not easy, them just married and living in a tent.’”
“‘We’re gonna help them rebuild,’ says Orlo, meaning the money’s comin’ out of our pocket which is only right. An’ fair. We can’t expect those kids to pay much as they’re both just startin’ out an’ all.” Eva hoisted the pitcher and refreshed our glasses.
“I dunno. Family matters get complicated. Bill’s a nice enough boy and is educated about how things should be done these days.” Eva looked my way. “He just graduated from Penn State in the ag department. Orlo says books and lectures only go so far, that Bill would be better advised to shed some of those notions and accept things that are proven. What do you think, Miss Cotton? You’ens been through some of this, I ‘spect, coming from a big family an’ all.” 
“Yes, one can have some misunderstandings, especially when there’s land and the farm involved and passing it down. The Cottons tried to be fair but realistic.”
“We only paid Bill $250 for nearly two months of work, hard work, way long hours. I din’t feel quite right about it but with the crops not in yet and Orlo death on going to the bank, it just din’t work very well right now. I told Orlo we prob’ly oughter pay Linda a little somethin’. 
“An’ he just clammed up like he can and then y’ know nothing will get done unless everyone sees things his way. I dunno.”
“Perhaps, Eva, there’s someone you could talk to at the bank or with the county agent about wages and what arrangements some of the other families have made around here.”
“We might,” Eva nodded. “I might. I’m just afraid Bill and Linda might take a notion to move down with his people and settle there. There’s no place for them on the farm down there but they could get town jobs at State College, and he knows a lot of folks in the extension service. Problem is, we’ll need more help here some day as it’s gettin’ harder for Dad to roll out in the morning.
“An’ Orlo says, ‘Kids today gotta accept that farming’s their life and not their nine-to-five job. Y’ give up high wages and vacations to live on the place your forbears built for y’ and make it your own and for your kids some day.’”
“An’ I tell him, ‘We’re not getting any younger and what am I to do if you go first?’” 
She stood and closed the kitchen window now being spattered by the afternoon shower.  “Linda said the check was less than minimum wages today in 1955 and Orlo says right back, ‘Well, you’ll have a house soon enough, better’n the old house, plus there’s meals here and we pay the co-op for the lights an’ such. Gas to go to town, if y’ like.’
“I’m just afraid Bill will decide he’s just the . . . h-hired man around here and there’s no future,” Eva said over the quiver in her voice. “Bein’ a hiredee is not what I want for my daughter. My own father lived such a way and it’s no good for a man, not someone of Bill’s ambitions.” She leaned on the table and didn’t hide her anguish. 
“Orlo’s aging and he won't go to the doctor. We both live in the past like it was today––I know we do.” Eva sat down and studied the checkerboard covering the worn and creaking table, then poured herself a lemonade to the rim. 
“One thing, we gotta change the cows out, quit milking day and night and buy sucklers at the yard and let them graft when the cows freshen . . . I say. Orlo says, ‘Not until I cannot do it anymore. Those Guernseys are my father’s legacy and not to be abused with bein’ bunted around by a bunch of sickly Holstein calves and crossbred mongrels.’ So there we are and here we are,” she laughed. “Two hundred years of history and a hundred years behind the times.”
We left once the shower had passed on. As we drove down the lane and passed their mailbox, Aunt Bea noted the lettering: “Orlo Fisk and Eva”. 
“That tells you a lot,” she said.


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Award to The Boys of Summers Run

We're pleased to announce The Boys of Summers Run has been awarded a Medallion by a service supporting independent and self-published authors across the country. is owned and operated by indieBRAG, LLC, a privately held organization bringing together a large group of readers, both individuals and members of book clubs, located throughout the United States and in ten other countries around the globe. The word "indie" refers to self or independently published books, while B.R.A.G. is an acronym for Book Readers Appreciation Group.

Its mission is to discover newly self-published authors and help them gain visibility and traction for their work.

Only 10 percent of the books submitted are awarded the B.R.A.G. Medallion and are presented on its website. 

We are very pleased to be selected and included in this exclusive group of authors. The Boys of Summers Run is now listed on the website posted above. 

When you arrive at the BRAGMedallion site, simply click on "Home" and you'll see The Boys of Summers Run listed.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

When you open a book at the bookstore

We hope your selection contains a Table of Contents. We strongly support a Table of Contents. Even for fictional works.

For you novelists, a Table of Contents can become a selling tool. Shoppers will scan the TOC and gain a good idea of what the book's about and where it's going. More important than most think for fiction.

Here's the TOC from our novel, The Boys of Summers Run.

Chapter 1, The Flight of The Turnip 
Chapter 2, The Rooster
Chapter 3, If We Could See the Wind
Chapter 4, When the Scene Ended
Chapter 5, Mary Anne
Chapter 6, “He's Really Cute!”
Chapter 7, “It's Food and Drink”
Chapter 8, “We're Here and We're Back”
Chapter 9, The Four Horsemen of the Outfield 
Chapter 10, Mr. Standing Ovation
Chapter 11, The Country Gentleman
Chapter 12, Melodies from Memories
Chapter 13, Rivalry with Renata
Chapter 14, Life on the Farm
Chapter 15, The Clan Kinkade
Chapter 16, The Grumbling Hills
Chapter 17, “I Hown Center Field”
Chapter 18, Home on the Run
Chapter 19, Hearing a Bird Sing
Chapter 20, A Day of Pleasant Bread
Chapter 21, Fledglings
Chapter 22, “I Have Wren”
Chapter 23, Little Maple Man

Chapter 24, Halfway Hathaway
Chapter 25, “I Hear Yhou”
Chapter 26, The Morning Song
Chapter 27, Sunbeams
Chapter 28, “Chase Around Brown”
Chapter 29, The Crevices of Memory
Chapter 30, Little League in Meadville
Chapter 31, “And Now Batting”
Chapter 32, Peaches in the Morning
Chapter 33, “Bein' Watched”
Chapter 34, Good Stories
Chapter 35, Roping the Harvest Moon
Chapter 36, Families and Forever
Chapter 37, Between Doubt and Hope
Chapter 38, Bless This House
Chapter 39, Foggy by Supper Time 
Chapter 40, Montana in the Mourning
Chapter 41, Boys in a Balloon 
Chapter 42, “Your Father's Son”
Chapter 43, The Politics of Boys' Sports 
Chapter 44, “Live Where Your Heart Is”
Chapter 45, Return to Summers Run
Chapter 46, “We're Here”
Chapter 47, When It's Magic
Chapter 48, When Baseball Ceases To Be Fun 
Chapter 49, The Time Capsule of Boyhood
Chapter 50, A Class Act
Chapter 51, The Banter of Boyhood
Chapter 52, A Patch of Blue
Chapter 53, Pick Your Magical Place
Chapter 54, Jackknives and Judgment Calls
Chapter 55, Sunbeams in Our Hands
Chapter 56, Off To See The Rooster

These chapter titles listed in the TOC are not just tossed off or given "a lick and a promise."

No, they've been given careful consideration toward enticing the reader to linger and satisfy his or her curiosity. 

What does it mean, "Montana in the Mourning"?  Is that a typo?

How do "Jackknives and Judgment Calls" relate?

Who or what is "Foggy by Supper Time"?

What's The Turnip? The Rooster?

See what we mean?

It's foolish to just list the chapter numbers and pages in the TOC. Some electronic editions won't list the page where the chapter begins. So what's the point, then?

Of what value is such to the reader?

Most readers don't mark a fictional work. If they do, they'll turn down the corner of a page featuring a key or favorite passage. Or place a bookmark there. Or use a pen or highlighter to mark what they want to remember or recall.

Creating a Table of Contents with subheadings or chapter titles serves as a useful reference to readers who wish to find that passage again. It's a signpost, helping your readers retrace their steps through your work. 

It's easier for them to find their pathway back if your Table of Contents contains some memorable phrase or quote. "Oh, yes, something about the moon. 'Roping the Harvest Moon,' that's it!"

Sunday, June 28, 2015

POV is . . .

a writerly term for Point of View. Quite important when crafting fiction, especially. When one’s reading a novel, he or she will encounter a POV, sometimes labelled or confused with Voice. Here’s an example of third person POV and following, the first person POV.

“She felt strongly she shouldn’t poke around the study of Miss Manners. Yet, she was sure there were likely private matters squirreled away in those intriguing cubby holes of the roll-top or stuffed in amongst the slipcased files lining the shelves. But, on the other hand, perhaps she could justify just a quick scan of the possibilities.”

“I scolded myself, poking around the study of Miss Manners. Private matters here, squirreled away. Yet, those intriguing cubby holes of the roll-top lured me. Or, perhaps I’ll find some handwritten notes stuffed amongst the slipcased files lining those shelves. What harm, really, from a quick scan?”  

These are written to illustrate the contrast and different degree of impact. Yes, the third person could be revised to lend a greater sense of engagement or immediacy, intimacy or revelation of the character’s inner monologue. Let’s try it.

“She scolded herself, poking around the study of Miss Manners. Private matters here, squirreled away. Yet, those intriguing cubby holes of the roll-top lured her. Perhaps she’d find some handwritten notes stuffed amongst the slipcased files lining the shelves. What harm, really, from a quick scan?”

As noted, the third person becomes more effective as rewritten but must rely on italics to convey interior monologue. Why not just put the passage in first person and eliminate this third person narrator, this voice-over intruder separating the reader and the character? Why not avoid this interpreter who rushes in to explain the character’s actions or reactions? Let the character and readers develop their own communication. Reserve the author's voice for background, not center stage.

I consider first person fiction typically stronger and more effective than third person. The third person narrative risks what’s called authorial intrusion. Author Intrusion wedges itself into the discussion, often disrupting the relationship developing between the reader and the protagonist. (Or antagonist for that matter.)

It’s subtle, but careful and critical readers recognize it and find such annoying when they want to sit across the table and share a cup of coffee with the main or important characters on a one-to-one, face-to-face basis. Do they really want this outsider inviting himself, joining in, sitting down, this author butting in and telling the reader what to think, interpret, understand, suspect, expect?

Here’s something to think about. Would The Great Gatsby or To Kill a Mockingbird create greater impact if written in third person? Would Nick Carraway and Scout Finch plant themselves more deeply in our memory if relegated to some third person status?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Hand-Me-Down Morning

Not like him to be late. During Irene’s illness and after her death, his pattern became as predictable as the school bus. His light would come on at 6:30; he’d listen to the markets, then “Paul Harvey: News”, put the cat out, and come over for breakfast.
I often invited him to eat with the family, but no, he said. “I’d just as soon come later, if it’s all right. Morning’s a hubbub at your place and they all need y’ then.”
“You wouldn’t be in the way,” I told him.
“I ‘spose.” A familiar phrase our family knew as his real, final, or private decision.
And, the morning became a routine I enjoyed. For the house grew quiet and I would have my breakfast then too, getting better acquainted with the father-in-law I'd known for 15 years.
I snapped off the radio––an intrusion today––and watched his house for some sign. Its windows stared back cold and dark in the frosty light. On such a day, he’d come over and report: “I made me a little fire.” But the chimney stood stark and smokeless as a tombstone against the leaden sky.
I set the skillet off the burner and paced, finally into the front room where I could see the road and Rob perhaps coming back from the lower place. These are the times I wished for a two-way radio system. Then I could reach my husband in town or across the valley.
It became a family joke, Granddad’s war with the phone company: “Dad claims he’d drive ten miles t’ keep from callin’ someone,” said Rob. “I’ve seen him do it, too.”
As a kind of gag gift one Christmas, we kids gave him and Irene a cordless memory telephone. But it became her bedside friend right to the end. “It’s so light and I don’t have to fuss with dialing,” she said, happy for the companionship. After Irene was gone, he consigned it to the hall, and we all knew he regarded her little convenience as another reminder of his loss.
Fruitless to call but I did.
I rang eight . . . ten times and then hung up. Dad would turn the ringer down and made no secret of it.
Nothing to do but check, I decided. Plucking my “going-to-the-mail” sweater from its hook, I started down the walk toward his home, what we all called “The Little House.” Overhead, the sun was struggling to lift a woolly shawl mantling the land.            
      Sunshinewhy not? Take the edge off this coolness.
His things were in the storm porch where he left them. He hadn’t gone out. The back door was unlocked as suited folks around here.
The cat froze on the counter when I went in. Then it flew off in terror knowing it had violated one of Irene’s sacred orders. That––“Domino”scurrying to safer quarters––alarmed me: he hadn’t been fed.  
     “Dad?” I asked.
The stillness of an empty kitchen enveloped me. Only the Seth Thomas clock recorded each moment’s passing, a metronome of dread. Maybe I’d meet him in the hall. He slept in the front bedroom and when I started to knock, the door fell open at my touch.
His bed hadn’t been made. He’d been fussy about such. “Drill sergeant mentality,” he said of the habit.
I tiptoed into the room and edged across the carpet to where . . . I could . . . glance into the bath.
Relieved, I called to him again, loudly this time.
“Up here,” he coughed.
The narrow stairs led to what we all called “The Garret,” a little slant-roofed attic and emergency dormitory. Its sloping floors creaked with the weather and captured every step when the grandkids invaded the family “museum,” as Dad labeled it.
I climbed up and knelt beside him where he huddled over the photo albums Irene tended as faithfully as her geraniums.
“I woke like a shot,” he laughed. “An’ I came up here straight-a-way like these pictures were on fire.”
He turned the book for me to view a color print, faded just a little, showing my Rob and his brother with their roly-poly black steers, coats as glossy as bowling balls. He wagged a gnarly finger at the scene.
“That’s where we started, named them ‘Huff’ and ‘Puff’––remember? ‘Course you don’t, before your time.”
We leafed through the pages of county fair triumphs, the slimy new calves, winter feeding, the cattle drive they staged up on Highway 4. “That girl spent a potload on film. Wish now I hadn’t fussed about it.”
The morning light streamed in over our task. And as its amber glow bathed the dusky leather of his features, I studied him, dimly recording his recitation of the pedigrees and the purebred bulls he’d bought and admired. He was wearing the robe I’d made him years before. It shown threadbare here and there and his hair poked out in wispy spikes of auburn flecks and gunmetal gray. I had to smile when it settled down around me: I'm looking at my husband in 30 years.
“Well––” he slammed the album shut. “These need to go to your place. They’re for the kids to see, part of their past––jam sandwiches and fingerprints won’t hurt a bit.”
Now, it became his turn to study me. “You’ve been hopin’ I’d say that, haven’t y’?”
“Why didn’t you ask?”
“I knew you’d come to it . . . in your time.” I left him and cradling “Domino” in my arms, I started down the steps.
“Sorry I gave y’ a start,” he called to me. “We’ll be there as soon’s I shave.”
Stoking “Domino’s” silky coat, I looked at him over the boxes and suitcases, the ragged furniture and discards, beyond the remnants of memory and a marriage, across the years, trying to express what the moment meant to me. He waited.
“Looks like a golden morning out there,” I managed. “I’m glad you had your dreams, Dad. We all are.”

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Response to Boys as Reluctant Readers

As I scan YA titles and plot blurbs, I find it striking the dominant themes are Alcoholism in the family, Abuse, Addiction, Abduction, and peer Approval, and those are just the "A's." Why would any boy spend time with some female protagonist agonizing over her miseries in such situations? Boys don't want to read about such. I know. I raised four.

Where are the books written today for boys? Who is writing for today's boys?

Comment by James Cotton, author of The Boys of Summers Run.

Monday, April 27, 2015

"The Girls with the Grandma Faces"

“The Girls with the Grandma Faces” were known to travel around and about in their “machines.” Only three drove, however.
My Aunt Bea’s 1939 Plymouth did not qualify as a suitable “machine.” It was but a three-passenger coupe and too old to stretch its tether from Pennsylvania to Montana in that autumn of 1966. Besides, it had no radio, a deficiency Aunt Bea considered correcting. 
“I talked to Mister Lamb about it and he’ll see if he can fit one in. Now that Erie might get an NPR station, I think I’ll try it.” Two other machines were enlisted for the trip west. 
Gladys Teasdale volunteered her pea-soup green Dodge. “The trunk’s big enough to fit eight two-suiters side-by-side.” Irene Waterhouse offered her new Olds, a Suitably Gray ’65 Eighty Eight with front seats that reclined.  
And so with transportation secured, “The Sisters of Sacajewea” set off for Yellowstone, Glacier, and Mount Rushmore on the return. United by the First Presbyterian Church, the Bird-and-Tree Club, the college, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and arthritis, they bundled into the “machines,” four apiece, silently acknowledging this might be their most ambitious and perhaps their last and grandest effort yet. Together.
They’d known each other for decades, some from girlhood. While most were amused by one honest young nephew’s label, the “girls” shared more than grandma faces. Bound by family ties, career and community, hope and disappointment, retirement, resignation, they decided a little folly might do them all “a world of good.” Fanylla Harper, Rebecca Cooper, and my Aunt Beatrice were cousins. Pearl and Gladys Teasdale, sisters. Irene Waterhouse and Virginia Carelton were fixtures at the college. Virginia Fendershot recently retired as the area’s Red Cross Administrator.
Yellowstone entertained them as predictably as Old Faithful. The Mission Range was mistaken for Glacier by one of the girls. They marveled and toured the birding sights as described by the guidebooks, rode the “Jammers,” luxuriated in the lodges, and pledged to paint the vistas of Russell Country when back home.
The arrivals and departures were captured largely by Irene Waterhouse and her “kodak.” Postcard memories were framed by “pleasant weather, though nippy . . . not an anxious moment . . . wonderful colors and wildlife . . . drove there and back, 4,000 miles and more, and not a hint of car trouble.” And, later, whenever my Aunt Bea shared her highlights, no account failed to mention what she called “the Missoula morning.”
“We’d left very early, wanting to reach our Glacier stop before nightfall,” she would say, “and the sunlight was just wonderful, with the sun following us along the river. The trees––we learned they were Cottonwoods––were turning nicely and led us right to Missoula where we tuned in and heard Mozart . . . Mozart in the morning on their national public station there! Oh my. It just set the tone. Both cars stopped for gas and then up the road for breakfast and we made sure everyone found the station.
“And we all agreed: if there’s an NPR station on the frontier of Montana, why can’t we have one back home?”
“The Sisters of Sacajewea” and the grandma-faced girls coasted back to old lives and some to new. Over the years that followed, a couple left the area to be closer to family. Another moved in with a daughter nearby. My Aunt Bea’s “machine”––the black 1939 Plymouth Road King Coupe––was sold to Mister Lamb who had maintained it faithfully all its years, and Aunt Bea settled in to what we call assisted living today. 

Erie did indeed acquire a National Public Radio station much to her pleasure back then. She became a faithful listener and supporter. “One of my treasures,” she’d say, then repeating Missoula’s magic morning from the grand tour. “We were escorted by Mozart one morning and drove to the sun, the next.”

From our recurring series published across our family of blogs and titled, "Aunt Bea's Plymouth." This vignette, an entry in Montana Public Radio's recent short story contest, was written to comply with the station's rule to celebrate its 50th anniversary. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Late Frost in early April

Robert Frost, the poet, that is. From a biography by Jean Gould, she writes: "Spring flowers, always so slow to come to New England, seemed later than ever the next year.

"When there was still no sign of blossoms at the end of March, he 'made some out of paper and put them down the roads on April Fool's Day.' And if the neighbors saw him strewing the bits of colored paper along the path, he paid them no heed––or if he did, it was just to give a friendly wave, inviting whoever wished to ask just what he was about." ––Jean Gould, Robert Frost, The Aim Was Song.

Friday, April 3, 2015

From the Online Book Club: A review

"One gripe I had with this book is the meandering plot. I am normally a fast reader, but this book took me an unusually long time to finish. Some readers may not mind this, as some of the side stories and passages are absolute gems. 

"This isn’t a book you should race through, as you might with a thriller; you should savor every sentence. The writing is lovely and lyrical. I enjoyed reading the book as much for the author’s use of language as for the storyline itself. The story is quite engaging and Claude is a likeable main character. All of the characters are vividly written, particularly Claude’s friend Tim, who is deaf and an orphan.

"The dialogue is easy to understand, even with the heavy use of rural Pennsylvania dialect. I usually find the use of a dialect distracting, although it was natural and flowing in this case. I felt like I knew these people well and became used to their manner of speaking.

"I rate this book 3 out of 4 stars. I wish I could have given the book 3.5 stars. The story will tug at your heartstrings. This book would appeal to anyone who likes to read wholesome stories about country life and boys growing up. Actually, I would recommend this book to anyone who appreciates good writing."

Thanks, Carolyn, for this insightful and accurate review. The Boys of Summers Run is now available through as an e-book or in a softcover edition.

Or, better yet, patronize your local bookstore on the corner. It should be able to order The Boys of Summers Run through its network of distributors including the Indie system. Also, the Kobo platform provides a variety of e-book formats for those of you with tablets and the like. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Uncle Fritz and the Percheron

Here's my Uncle Fritz with one of my Grandfather Cotton's mighty Percherons. Alfred Banks Cotton became a noted breeder in the early 1920's and also maintained a "fine herd of Holsteins." Note the milk cans in the right of this photograph.

Quoting from the website The Percheron Horse Association in America, Fredericktown, Ohio: 

"This is how Alvin Sanders, author of A History of the Percheron Horse (©1917) describes the race of men who developed this race of horse: "Their horses are a part of their inheritance, particularly prized and accustomed to the affectionate attention of the entire household. Their docility, growing out of their intimate human relationship, is therefore an inborn trait".

More on this influential breed of draught, or draft, horse on another blog of our Along Country Roads family, My Corner of Pennsylvania. Just click the link on the right.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Aunt Bea's Plymouth

 "The Crumms"      

Mr. Crumm became an interest of mine, for he was a genuine farmer. At the eleven o’clock service, he often wore a medium blue, well-tailored wool suit with a matching vest and pocket watch linked by a golden chain. My mother always fell tongue-tied whenever they met in the aisle of the sanctuary or the vestibule during the organist’s Recessional. 
“I can’t picture him as a farmer. Can you?  He belongs to the Rotary!” she’d whisper. Any farmer holding membership in the local Rotary Club was stationed much higher than most farmers, in her mind and experience. My father would tease her.
“Oh, you’d fall for any fella in a blue suit. Bein’ Rotary is even better.” My father possessed neither the membership nor such a suit. He’d be met with her scowling rebuke. He seldom shared her notions but he did tell me once: “You’d do well, bud, to copy Squire Crumm. He's landed gentry but didn't fritter it away like some."  
On that Saturday, Aunt Bea announced we had a full afternoon of visitation rounds for the  church. And when I learned the Crumms were on the list, I hoped our stop there would consume most of our tour.  “Glad I am that you could make it today,” she told me as we left. “The Crumms are always a treat.”
When we pulled down the lane, we crossed the stone bridge and we were . . . treated . . . to a scene from Currier & Ives. A rock wall, rail fence, Colonial home rendered in Summer Butter and trimmed in Arctic White; it fit my expectations. “This home . . . goes back to the early 1800s,” said Aunt Bea. “Tops our Out Home by nearly seventy years.” 
As we parked in front of the house, Mr. Crumm climbed off his tractor and greeted us with a little finger-pointing wave. His carriage was a bit stooped but his step covered ground.
“There you are, Beatrice, driving your faithful steed. We always look forward to the black Plymouth pulling up the drive.”
I was re-introduced and Mr. Crumm shook my hand in both of his. “Ah, yes,” he said, “a Cotton to the core. Say hello to your folks––you'll be a credit. Well, let’s go in. Barbara June has set out her coffee cake, and I’ve been thinking about it all afternoon.” He ushered us toward the porch and asked, “And how go things at church?”
“Well, John, all programs are showing promise. Reverend Crawford is much improved. My, you have lots of enterprising projects around and about.”
“Yes, always something. The storm brought down some debris we must redd up.”
Mrs. Crumm––Barbara June––met us with a silver tray and the afternoon’s goodies, usually a feature of Aunt Bea’s visitations, kind of like the English taking time for tea. “Let’s visit on the porch, such a pleasant day, breeze and all.  J. R. took our storm windows down.”
Aunt Bea led off: “I understand you’ve heard from John Junior. He’s been out west,” she said to me. “He’s doing well, I hope?”
“Much the better,” said Mr. Crumm.
“At least his letters sound positive,” said Barbara June.
“I need him now that spring’s sprung, but we’re hopeful the exposure out there will give him some focus. He says he’s working pretty hard, learning the ropes on a ranch. They’re through calving. Might be too tame for him around here,” he laughed weakly.
Earlier, Aunt Bea had cued me in on the Crumm’s only son. He’d served in Korea as a conscientious objector and came home . . . “strange. He’s seen a lot of things, unpleasant and horrid things. I hope you never have to go to war.”
I’d met John Junior a few times. He cut our buckwheat crop Out Home and made a miserable mess of it. Though I was barely ten years old, even I could tell he was running the combine too fast. The reel became a blur throwing stalks of buckwheat into the air where they fell pell-mell, missing the conveyor belt. It was the only time I’d ever heard my family criticize a neighbor. “That boy’s got a screw loose,” said my uncle. “Always did, even before Korea.”
I helped myself to another slice of coffee cake at Mrs. Crumm’s insistence while she relayed her well-rehearsed explanation of her son.
“John could never accept the loss of our Catherine. Catherine,” she told me, “was an army nurse . . . in the world war.”
“Battle of the Bulge,” added Mr. Crumm. “Her ambulance ran off the road during some shelling and rolled over.” 
“Something happened then with John. He was but ten years old. So devoted to his sister. A beautiful thing––we were so pleased with the both of them and their love for each other. She was always ‘Cat’ to him.” 
“You’ve paid such a price,” said my aunt, and before an awkward silence followed, she rose and directed my attention to a large plaque on the wall, surrounded by photographs of the courthouse, the state’s governor, and local potentates. “John, can no one talk you into running again? You were such a good county commissioner. One of our best.” 
     He laughed.
“Beatrice, twelve years is enough. When John comes back home to us, I need to have things in place so he can take over here and hold things together. No time for local government. Why don’t you run? We need good men and women in our governments.”
“Oh, J. R., don’t wish such on Miss Cotton. All those meetings and the long-winded phone calls all times of the night.”
We said our good-byes and drove off, leaving the polished walnut, the white wickered porch furniture, the hooked rugs, the cobbler benches and shaker rockers, the wing chairs and camel-backed sofa behind until our next visit. Which I hoped would be soon. But, it was a big congregation and many folks to visit. The widows and widowers, the infirm, the young families, the spinsters, the kids off to college, the new members and the old guard. Nothing quite as interesting as a patriarchal gentleman farmer who I thought, as did my father, might be a worthy model for my future.
As we hit the county road, Aunt Bea let me shift the Plymouth’s gears, through the 1-2-and 3 from the floor-mounted lever. We were both thoughtful. She looked my way.
“The Crumms are community pillars for all of us. They hold up their end despite their personal tragedies.”
“Would you ever run for county commissioner?” I asked. “It would make us proud.”               
     There followed a long pause. “Some day, there will be women in public office. And, some day, maybe you’ll be our family’s county commissioner.”