Monday, December 31, 2007

2007 Personal Highlights

The year 2007 will pass into the history books later tonight, an event that causes me to reminisce about the year that was. Overall, it was a good twelve months.

In January I joined the Hopkinsville, KY, YMCA, and was faithful to a fitness program there (primarily walking, stationary bicycle, and weights) until I moved West in late September.

I sailed the Caribbean in February with the National Association of Social Workers and MS Magazine. On that voyage I met several prominent feminists including Tyne Daly and Eleanor Smeal, attended a variety of workshops that were focused on feminist issues, and got a good look at Belize, Guatemala, and southern Mexico.

I celebrated my 59th birthday in March and moved to within one year of receiving my first retirement check.

My newest grandson, Sebastian Phoenix Files was born on July 5th. Later that month my son Nick and my other grandson, Boone, joined me in a train trip out West to meet little Sebastian. One highlight of that trip (other than Sebastian!) was a visit to the Grand Canyon.

In September I accepted a job at Luke Air Force Base in Phoenix. It was significant for two reasons: it located me in the same city as Molly, Scott, and Sebastian, and it brought me officially into the federal employment system. Now I am getting to see my grandson on a regular basis, and I am completing requirements for another retirement.

My nephew, Justin Smith, was married in Fayetteville, AR, in September. I flew to Missouri from Kentucky to take my Dad to the wedding. It was really great getting to see all of my sister’s kids at that happy event.

Nick helped move me to Phoenix at the end of September. I doubt that I could have gotten here without him.

I began work at Luke on October 1st. My new co-workers proved to be just as great as those at my last two bases, as well as the good people that I worked with at the Children’s Division in Missouri.

I began blogging in November and am really enjoying the challenge of coming up with interesting things to write about. This project also gives me a place to organize things that I have written over the years, and to present snippets of my personal history. It is a very introspective enterprise.

I made a trip home for the holidays in December and was able to spend a brief amount of time with all of my children and grandchildren. I also learned while there that Tim, my youngest, will be getting married to his girlfriend, Erin, in the near future. That was very good news indeed!

I ended this year by joining a local health club, Lifetime Fitness. After a good initial workout yesterday, I am almost too sore to move today. Old age is such a blessing!

My best to you in 2008!

Pa Rock

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Green Funerals

Everyone knows that the funeral industry takes advantage of people when they are grieving and clearly vulnerable. In most states the laws regulating funerals have been written by lobbyists for the organizations of funeral directors, and they stipulate processes and products designed protect the monopoly and guarantee profits. A careful consumer might wonder why funerals are so expensive and why there are so few options. In most cases about the only decision the family gets to make is which casket (coffin) to purchase, and even the least expensive are still obscenely over-priced. Everything in the funeral extravaganza has a hefty price tag.

Embalming is an unnecessary expense. Why, in this age of refrigeration, does a corpse need to be embalmed? It’s necessary because the funeral industry says its necessary, and their paid lackeys, our legislators, made it a law. In many states there is a requirement to have a cement box to place the casket in? Why? It’s just one more way that funeral directors can pick pockets – and hide behind the law while they do it. And remember, the “law” came from them because most legislators don’t have the foggiest notion about what should comprise a proper burial or why.

Missouri recently had a court case in which funeral directors were forced to agree to allow individuals not licensed as funeral directors to sell caskets. They had a sweet monopoly going until they hit that speed bump!

But the funeral industry is about to face a significant threat to its monopolistic posture and greed. The concept of “Green Funerals” has gotten a foothold in several states, and the movement appears to be spreading. Green Funerals will not only save grief-stricken consumers money, they also offer the benefit of helping the environment.

Green Funerals are eco-friendly events that basically offer the dearly departed up as compost. The corpse is not embalmed, and the burial container might be a homemade casket, or, in some cases, biodegradable containers made out of recycled newspaper. The family might even choose to plant a tree over the grave so that the deceased might feed life into a growing monument.

When my time comes, I hope that my children honor my wishes and plant me in a green manner. I don’t care where I am buried, but I want the peace of mind of knowing that, even in death, I am providing an on-going benefit to others.

Anonymous said it best:

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow;
I am the diamond glints on the snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain;
I am the gentle autumn's rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft star that shines at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there, I did not die.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Blood, Glorious Blood!

The film version of Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway classic, Sweeney Todd: The Demon of Fleet Street, opened this month to great reviews and sparse attendance. It is the sixth collaborative effort between director Tim Burton and actor Johnny Depp, both of whom tend to see the world from and a uniquely skewed perspective. (Their previous projects have included Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and The Corpse Bride.)

Sweeney Todd is the fictional account of a barber (Johnny Depp) whose life is ruined by a conniving judge. The judge had designs on the barber’s wife and young daughter. He shipped the barber overseas to a penal colony for some undisclosed crime, but the ever-resilient barber made his way back to London, years later, as the film begins. There he sets about exacting his revenge by giving “the closest shave you ever had.” The barber very quickly forms a partnership with his downstairs neighbor, Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), a pie maker, and together they are able to create the tastiest meat pies in the city.

The 19th century London of Tim Burton is a visual feast of dark blues and grays liberally punctuated with brilliant blood red bouquets of arterial spray. It is alive with rats, cockroaches, and street urchins scurrying through the fog and hazy illumination of gas street lamps. It is the London of Charles Dickens, only more sinister and macabre.

Johnny Depp gives life to the title character with his usual brilliance, and, in the process, proves to be a surprisingly good singer. Helena Bonham Carter is as cheery and cunning as Depp is diabolical and tragic. Together they infuse dreary London with a twisted sense that any wrong can be set right with a sharp barber’s razor and a good meat grinder. And, if you can turn a nice profit along the way, well, that’s all the better!

Stephen Sondheim is a taste that I have never acquired, but it was well worth sitting through a Sondheim musical to watch Depp and Bonham Carter romp about Burton’s London. Serial killing and inadvertent cannibalism add such a nice touch to the holiday season! Now that the world knows Johnny Depp can sing, perhaps he and Tim Burton will resurrect some other old chestnut next year – Oklahoma!, anyone?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Road to Arizona

Each Christmas over the past four years has found me residing in a different state.

Christmas 2004: I was living in Missouri and finishing out a nearly eleven-year-run with the Missouri Division of Family Services, later renamed the Missouri Children’s Division. I joined the Division in April of 1994 as a Children’s Services Worker. My main duties included conducting child abuse investigations and working with children in foster care.

After being with that state agency just a few years, I was selected to attend the University of Missouri on a Title 4-E Scholarship where I obtained a Master’s in Social Work. In return for accepting a wonderful 2-year education, with pay and benefits, I had to promise to work for the state an additional four years. That wasn’t a problem to me because I loved my job and intended to keep doing it forever.

I completed the graduate program and returned to work at the Division. There I was promptly promoted to the position of Social Work Specialist where I handled “special” cases in seven counties throughout southwest Missouri. Fortunately, I loved that job as well, and things were good. I made many great friends in my travels and was able to do a lot of positive work for the children and families of that corner of Missouri.

My love affair with state employment ended after I became the Circuit Director over two of those seven counties. I had quite a lot of unhappy experience as a school administrator, and somehow I had forgotten how truly miserable life could be for the boss. But, even with that background I managed to maintain a cheerful attitude for several months until my boss was replaced by someone who was not known for her people skills.

During my last, very unhappy, year with the Missouri Children’s Division I was able to complete my social work licensure and finish my payback time to the state for the scholarship. It was time to move on, and I was surprised at how readily employable I was as a newly licensed clinical social worker. I was soon able to line up a position as a social work therapist with the U.S. Army at Ft. Leavenworth. As I was preparing to move at the end of December, 2004, the Great Tsunami hit Indonesia and George Bush was busy shuffling cabinet members and writing his 2nd inaugural address.

Christmas 2005: I was just completing my year at Ft. Leavenworth and preparing to move to Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, within the next couple of days. My pay as a new therapist had been more that I made as an administrator in Missouri, and it suddenly increased again by 17% in November of 2005 to counteract the flight of social workers into the private sector. Unfortunately for me, the raise was funded by a deletion of some positions, including mine at Ft. Leavenworth. My contracting agency came to the rescue and found a placement for me at Ft. Campbell.

Leavenworth had been a great place to work, so much better than my previous position. Our caseloads at Leavenworth were small (which is the main reason that my position was deleted), and it was an excellent place to learn clinical skills as well as the operation of the Army’s Family Advocacy Program. Our mission was to work with victims and perpetrators of family violence, something for which my background with the Missouri Children’s Division had prepared me well.

Leavenworth was also good from a family perspective. I was able to get back to the Ozarks to check on my Dad and my little farm, Rock’s Roost, every other weekend, and I was able to see my son Tim, who lived just down the road in Topeka, on a fairly regular basis. Up until that time it had been several years since I was able to reside in the vicinity of any of my children. It was poor Tim who had to help me pack up my apartment and drive the U-Haul to Kentucky.

Christmas 2006: I was well rooted in Kentucky by the holiday season of 2006, having already been there for nearly a year. Ft. Campbell is home of the 101st Airborne Division, most of whose members were fighting in Iraq at the time I arrived. The majority of my duties there involved working with family members who were left at the base during the deployment, and then helping with family reintegration as the soldiers returned. My most emotional experiences working at Ft. Campbell centered on meeting returning troops as their planes arrived at the base airfield – the bands, the speeches, the joyous family reunions! Those memories will be with me forever.

The first couple of years that I worked with the military were as a civilian contractor. The pay was great, but contracted employees receive less time off than federal employees and have no retirement system other than a 401-K plan. I applied for several federal social worker positions, but wasn’t experiencing much luck in that department. Then in July of this year I found an Air Force opening at Luke Air Force Base in Phoenix. I wasn’t overly anxious to move to the desert, but my daughter and new grandson were living there, so I threw my name into the hat. Much to my surprise, I was hired through a telephone interview and was on station at Luke on October 1st. Now, at long last, I was an official federal employee.

My oldest son, Nick, flew to Kentucky and helped me pack and move to Arizona. He and his brother both say that their sister, Molly, has to help move Dad next time!

Christmas 2007: I am at Luke preparing to start a new year. I like my job and have wonderful co-workers (as was the case at Ft. Leavenworth and Ft. Campbell), and I hope that I will be able to drop anchor here and stay for several years. It is also fun getting to know my little grandson and watch him grow.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Holiday Highlights

Feliz Navidad Amigos,

I have been in Missouri for the past few days celebrating the holidays with family and friends. There was no snow in the Ozarks this holiday season, so I will have to be content with watching it snow on television or in the movies this winter. It definitely won’t happen in Phoenix!

This year’s holiday adventure began as I was trying to get cleared to catch my flight out of Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport on the 19th. The good folks at TSA managed to find a reason to collect my shaving cream and toothpaste, even though I thought that I had met all of their insufferable criteria. (The plastic baggie that I had them in was too big, as were the containers. And, for all of you future travelers out of Phoenix, it’s not the amount of toothpaste in the tube; it is the amount that the tube was designed to carry.) Sky Harbor is one place where you do not want to argue with authority figures. Last September their airport security caused the death of a woman when they handcuffed her and left her alone in a locked room. The lady was inebriated, supposedly, and spoke impolitely to the airport cops. After they left her alone, she choked to death trying to squirm out of the handcuffs. Turns out she was a wealthy, well-connected socialite from New York. Whoops! That’s gonna cost them an airplane or two!

My second holiday adventure occurred at Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, a former cow pasture located just outside of Bentonville, Arkansas, near the little crossroads of Highfill. Highfill International, as it is lovingly referred to by the locals, is a relatively new airport that was put together about a decade ago by the Walton’s, Tyson’s, Hunt’s, and other assorted aristocrats of the area. My Dad arrived there on the 19th to pick me up. There was a parking space right in front of the terminal, which he thought was great, so he parked there and went inside. (My Dad is eighty-three. It takes a great deal of effort for him to walk, and he can hardly hear at all.) When I met him in the airport I heard an overhead announcement describing his truck and saying that the owner needed to get out there immediately. I put on my best smile and went out to resolve the situation. The lady with the ticket pad was already writing and refused to show any holiday spirit. I had her bring her supervisor outside and proceeded to give them some of my holiday spirit. Total price: $20.00 - and I don't regret a single peso! There is no doubt in my mind that Santa Claus will leave chicken poop in her stocking this year!

Adventure number three happened the next day after I had torn apart my Dad’s house searching for my car keys. I had left my car at a park and fly (The Parking Spot) in Phoenix, so I didn’t need them; I just wanted to know where they were. After a long, futile search, I telephoned the Parking Spot and asked Stephanie, the sweetest lady in all of Phoenix, if she would check my car and see if I had left the keys in the ignition. I gave her time to check and then called back. Stephanie replied that my keys were in the ignition, and that my car was still running – thirty hours after I had left it there! A Parking Spot driver was eventually able to get into the car, turn off the engine, and retrieve my keys. I will be nominating myself for the Darwin Award this year!

My final adventure occurred on the night of the 22nd as I was trying to leave. Winter storms were flirting with the Ozarks, and I made a decision to go to the airport the night before my 5:30 a.m. scheduled departure. I didn’t want to take the chance of having my Dad get out in bad weather. A friend took me to Highfill and I spent the entire night listening to taped TSA warnings about all kinds of ways those sneaky terrorists might bring their evil to Arkansas.

Three of my New Year’s resolutions are to always use the Parking Spot in Phoenix when I fly, always be polite to the Gestapo at Sky Harbor, and never fly into or out of Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport. Of course, there is a good chance that my next trip home will be by Greyhound, or in my amazing little car that can idle for thirty hours!

There were many happy times woven into this holiday. I saw all three of my children and both of my grandchildren. Tim, my youngest, informed us that he is engaged to his longtime girlfriend, Erin, which is great because we all love Erin! Boone, my oldest grandson, announced that he had given two girls diamond rings for Christmas. He bought them at the dollar store. I saw my sister, Gail, and two of her kids, Tiffany and Justin, and Justin’s wife, Lisa. I had lunch with some of my old co-workers, and ran into some others at the county courthouse. And I was able to visit with old friends Mertie Harmon and James and Patti Carroll. A lot happened in just a few short days! Now I will relax and spend the rest of the holidays with a few other good friends - both paperback and hardbound!

May '08 bring Peace to us all!

Pa Rock

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Taser Tag, Anyone?

The other night as I was channel surfing, I came across a clip of a guy selling personal tasers. “Whoa!” I thought. “Saturday Night Live. I’ll watch that!” Of course, the joke was on me (as it often is), because it was a real advertisement. For less than $400, the average homeowner, or criminal, can add a taser to their personal arsenal.

I should be shocked; we all should be shocked. This is us at the beginning of the 21st century - America on steroids! We have to be bigger, tougher, and meaner than any other nation on earth, and our citizens need to be soulless killing machines willing to take the life of every jihadist, atheist, environmentalist, hippie, or other miscreant who tries to get between us and our God-given, constitutionally-guaranteed, right to bear enough arms to equip a moderately sized army. Shocking, but true.

Guns and tasers may not be enough to keep us completely safe, but it looks like they will have to do until the arms merchants roll out tactical nukes for public consumption. Then we'll be safe, by golly!

I don’t own any guns because I don’t want people breaking into my apartment to steal them. Nor do I have any plans to order a personal taser, but should I receive one as a gift, I will give it a place of honor in my living room – right next to my Bass-O-Matic.

Peace isn’t about me controlling my neighbors, it’s about me controlling myself.
--Pa Rock

Monday, December 17, 2007

Molly Miranda Macy

My daughter, Molly, was born thirty-one years ago today in Joplin, Missouri. I was in the delivery room the day that Molly was born, but once labor was induced she came so quickly that I almost missed the big event. She was a beautiful baby, with tiny, wet, red curls. My mother and father came to the hospital that night to see her. There were about thirty babies in the nursery viewing room, and Molly was on the front row. I will never forget my mother pointing her out from among all of the others, and saying, “There she is. There is our baby!” The following day Molly’s maternal grandmother and great-grandmother showed up to introduce themselves to their new granddaughter. They brought the largest poinsettia that I had ever seen.

And then life hit like a slide show running way too fast, and now Molly has her own baby, my grandson Sebastian.

Seize the day, Molly, seize every day! Love that baby and enjoy each minute because he will grow up so very fast – just like you did. And when he grows into a happy and healthy young adult, I know that you will be very, very proud of him, as I am of you.

Happy birthday - I love you!


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Fall from Grace

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The God that Fred Phelps worships is one mean bastard – and that’s the way old Fred likes Him! Fred isn’t one of those “kissy-poo” preachers. He wants you to know that if you don’t follow the literal word of the Bible, as interpreted by Fred, God is going to kill you and send you to a fiery hell. Religion is a true comfort to Fred Phelps.

This week I had the disquieting experience of seeing a documentary on the Phelps Cult (a.k.a. Westboro Baptist Church) of Topeka. The film is titled Fall from Grace and it was put together by K. Ryan Jones, a film student at the University of Kansas.

On one level it should be a simple task to do a documentary on Reverend (sic) Phelps and his family of believers - just turn on the cameras and let them roll. Get those shots of him and his genetic residue carrying signs and shouting about hating “fags” and dead soldiers. (If there's a mourning family in the background trying to bury a loved one, that's all the better.) Make certain to include footage of the ragtag protesters stepping all over the American flag or using it as a football. Get a long shot of the flagpole in front of the Westboro Baptist Church flying the American and Canadian flags upside down. Zoom in on his web site,, and see how many days Matthew Shephard has been burning in hell, and then get some interviews with people who show up to be appalled by the Phelps circus.

Jones covered those Phelps’ basics. The strength of his documentary, however comes from his access to the Phelps’ family. The film contains several extended clips of old Fred (and boy, does he ever look old!) preaching (more like yelling and screaming) to his followers, as well as interviews with some of his children, both inside and outside of the cult. Jones even talks with some of the very young grandchildren who tell him that “god hates fags” and “fags are going to burn in hell.” Nice talk, kiddos!

Almost all of the members of the Westboro Cult are members of the Phelps family. Four of Fred’s children are major voices in the film. Shirley Phelps-Roper stated that she is the attorney for the church, and she lamented ad nauseam about how people refuse to recognize god’s word and live by it. Timothy, her brother, wanted the world to know that when his father dies, the church will live on – and it will be more active than ever because he and his siblings are “battle-hardened.” He also defended taking young children to protest at funerals as comparable to others taking their children to Easter and Christmas observances. It’s all religion, don’t you know! Those who try to limit the Phelps practice of their religion in their manner can “go to hell,” sayeth Timothy.

The film’s counterbalance to all of this sickness comes through interviews with some of the more conventional local clergy and public officials from Topeka, as well as telephone interviews with two of the Phelps’ adult children who escaped their father’s wrath and control. Phelps’ son, Nate, who fled the compound on the evening of his eighteenth birthday, talked of being beaten on a regular basis with a razor strap to the point of bleeding, and of his father hitting him unmercifully with a long, wooden implement handle. He said that the kids went to public schools but were not allowed to dress out for physical education because of the bruises that would be revealed. Nate also listed a precise set of reasons why he considers the Westboro Baptist Church to be a cult and his father to be a cult leader.

The other former family member to talk to the filmmaker was Fred’s daughter, Dortha. She described life in her father’s home as being “loveless” and “scary.” She depicted Fred as having “the emotional maturity of a fourth grader – on a good day,” and said that he was “addicted to anger – a rageaholic.” Dortha said that Fred wanted to control her every move, and her primary focus growing up was survival. The saddest part of Dortha’s story was her relationship with God. She was constantly told that her father spoke for God, and she knew that her father hated her, so therefore God hated her also.

While the film’s content was strong and strident throughout, it became absolutely riveting with the interview of Kelly Frantz, a young war widow from Tonganoxie, Kansas. Kelly’s husband, Corporal Lucas Frantz, was killed in Iraq in October of 2005. Lucas had been a high school football player and was loved and admired by the community. Kelly told the interviewer of the emotional pain and grief that she went through on learning of her husband’s death. Before that shock could even begin to subside, she was stunned to learn that members of the Phelps’ cult were coming to Tonganoxie to protest at Lucas’s funeral. Her parents and a local motorcycle club managed to keep the desecration squad away from Kelly, but her emotional farewell to the love of her life was sadly marred by the mean-spirited crazies from Topeka.

This student documentary was solid enough to be picked up and presented by the Showtime Network. It grabbed my interest and held it, and, perhaps as important, it left me wanting to know more about these people. For instance, how are they funded? How do they pay for their continuing nationwide travel? Do they maintain solvency through Internet begging? The compound is a set of mediocre houses and a church (of sorts) on a nice parcel of land. Has the city of Topeka ever considered removing this cancer through the process of eminent domain and turning the property into some sort of Tolerance Park? That might be a bit radical and not overly fair to the residents of the compound, but, hey, when have they ever been known for fairness?

But I digress. Fall from Grace will be rebroadcast by Showtime on December 26th at 8:00 eastern. It’s worth checking out, but keep your hand on the remote because this film could have a sudden, negative impact on your blood pressure!

Saturday, December 15, 2007


by Rocky Macy

Hillary, dillary, dock
Barack ran up the clock
Where he spoke with a passion
(As was his fashion)
Of ending the war in Iraq.

Hillary, dillary, bump
Oprah's on the stump
She's extolling the masses
To get off their asses
And make Barack's numbers jump.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Home Again (5)

by Rocky Macy

(Part 5 of 5)

As the ragged edge of morning’s first light crept into the cabin, Comfort was stirring her stew pot and gazing in bewilderment at the sleeping couple lying naked on her floor.  Somehow she would have to work around this new challenge while still managing to have a respectable Sabbath.  Of all of the times that the Lord had seen fit to test her, this, she knew, had to be His best effort.
“Wife, come here!”  Ephram’s sudden demand shook her from her deliberations and woke Thomas who immediately kicked his older brother awake.  Comfort threw her stew paddle aside and rushed to the bedside.
“What’s the matter? Have you been dreaming?” In all of their years and decades of marriage she had only heard Ephram cry out in alarm one other time – and that was the night of their deaths.
“I’m disappearing!”
“Ephram, show some patience and don’t pester me by playing the fool.  We have had a very hard night.”
“Something is happening!  Look!”  He placed her hand on the blanket covering his barrel of a thigh and slowly guided it toward his knee. All at once, just above where the knee should have been, her hand dropped flat against their straw mattress. As Comfort screamed, Thomas and Jeremiah bolted to the edge of the loft. Thomas, unable to control his forward motion, tumbled out of the loft and onto the floor where he found himself lying among the naked couple who had invaded their world late in the night.  Jessie jerked and gave a soft moan, as if acknowledging his entry into their union.
Ephram, sweaty and frantic, held tightly to the hand of his loving wife. “My legs are almost gone. I’m leaving, dear wife.  The Lord must be taking me.”
“What’ happening, Ma?” Jeremiah was as frantic as his father. “What’s happening to Pa?”
Abiah began screaming, and Thomas, taking stock of his surroundings, also began to cry.  Comfort, the stout farm wife who could normally be counted on to handle any number of catastrophes while still doing the work of two healthy women and a mule, found herself crying as well.  Her husband of more than a century was now just a head, and chest, and two arms. He would soon be no more.
And with the baby screaming, one son yelling and the other crying, and her husband frozen in panic, Comfort Miller had a startling revelation. “She’s conceived!”
“What?” Ephram stammered.
“The girl on the floor. She’s conceived, and the Lord has chosen you to go onward through her.”
Abiah was screaming more loudly now than she ever had in her long little life. In less time than it would take to catch a breath, Comfort ran to the cradle and plucked the baby from its haven. Rushing back to the bed, Comfort handed her youngest, the eternally sickly Abiah, to Ephram. “Take the baby, my loving husband, and watch over her always.”
“Always, my love.”
Comfort kissed her husband and daughter gently, and then, as she wiped the tears from her eyes, they were gone.
*  *  *  *  *
“What the hell!” The exclamation came from Bud as he sat up and found Thomas sitting squarely in his lap.  “Get off me you little pervert!” Bud slung Thomas to his feet, and the frightened child ran screaming to his mother.  Jeremiah jumped from the loft to protect his brother, but before he could act Comfort stormed forth and knocked him aside.  Then, behaving in a manner that neither of her sons had ever seen before, the newly widowed farm wife grabbed their visitor by the hair of his head and pulled him upright. The startled young man opened his mouth to say something, but before he could utter a sound, Comfort slapped him smartly across the face. A thin stream of blood began to trickle from the corner of his mouth.
Bud touched his lip and stared in disbelief at the blood on his finger. Enraged, he began to move toward Comfort. “You stupid cow! What the hell was that for?” Instead of offering an explanation that she considered completely unnecessary, Comfort backhanded the youth across the face causing the other corner of his mouth to also begin bleeding.
“That,” she advised, “is what comes from staining the Sabbath with your foul mouth.”
Comfort raised her hand to commence a further discussion on blaspheming, but Bud stumbled backward out of her reach. He turned to bolt for the door and hesitated as he caught sight of himself and Jessie lying naked on the floor. “Oh, God, no.” Bud was still mumbling as his knees hit the dirt floor beside the young couple. “Wake up, Jessie!” He shouted as he tried in futility to shake the girl awake. “Wake up, Jessie! I’m having an awful dream!” Each time he reached to shake the sleeping girl his trembling hand slipped through her body as though it was only smoke. “Jessie! Jessie, please get up!”
Jeremiah came up and knelt beside the terrified youth. He put his hand on Bud’s bare shoulder and tried to give some manly comfort. “It will be alright. I was scared for weeks when we crossed over.”
Bud turned and looked the boy in the face. Much to his astonishment he found himself staring at a slightly younger version of himself.  “You’re saying I’m dead?”
“We all are,” Jeremiah replied, “except for her.”
“Oh, Jessie.” The boy turned back to the sleeping girl and lamented to the heavens, “What have I done?”
*  *  *  *  *
Jessie wasn’t surprised to wake up and find that Bud had died. She had felt him leaving her even as she slept. Jessie had her own ideas on God. Her vision of a just and loving God provided her with a sweet solace on this cold morning when she found herself alone and naked on the forest floor.
Bud had said that he killed the old man for his car keys, but even with the awfulness of that sin, Jessie knew somehow that he was now safely in the Lord’s hands being remade into His image.  The Lord would have His work cut out for Him with Bud, but Jessie knew that her God would see it through.
Jessie knew something else on that cold November morning. She knew instinctively that she was pregnant, or “with child” as they said in the Good Book. She was fourteen-years-old, unmarried, pregnant, and maybe heading to jail, but her spirit was in flight!  She was carrying Bud’s child, and while the Lord concentrated on the redemption of the father, she would see to it that the child walked the path of the righteous and rebuilt the family’s good name.  Raising Bud’s child, raising him right, would be her life from this day forward.
*  *  *  *  *
It was late afternoon by the time Jessie had placed the last stone over Bud’s dead body. She had found a rusty pickaxe in a long forgotten cave at the base of the hill and used it to scrape out a shallow grave and uproot a hickory sapling. The little tree now stood timidly at the head of the new grave, aligned perfectly with the five giant timbers. As she knelt and said a final good-bye, Comfort and her three boys stood silently to one side. Jeremiah and Thomas were deep in grief over the loss of their father and sister, and Bud was in the throes of a weepy shock as he contemplated his loss of everything. Why, he wondered, had he allowed his life to come to this?
Jessie rose and looked around.  She sensed the presence of the other mourners.  As much to them as to the grave she said, “Bud, I want you to know that you’re going to be fine.  Just be calm and take what the Lord gives you.”  Jessie wiped her tears away with a dirty hand before continuing. “I’ve got your baby, Bud, and I’m going to do right by him. He will be a wonderful child, and he’ll carry your name – Ephram Samuel Miller the Sixth.  And if it’s a girl, I think I’ll call her Abiah.  I’ve always thought that was such a pretty name.”  Jessie turned to leave, but looked around one last time to the grave and softly whispered, “Good-bye, Bud.”
The mourners parted out of respect rather than necessity as Jessie left the gravesite and headed out of the valley.  Jeremiah and Bud followed her as far as the highway. They stopped at the pavement’s edge and watched as she disappeared into the evening shadows. Bud wanted to follow, wanted with all of his heart to run after the girl who was carrying his child out of the valley, but his feet stayed firmly planted at the road’s edge.  They were both so young, and he had already corrupted her life almost beyond repair. Bud knew in his core – or was it his soul? – that she could only grow into a wonderful woman and mother if he remained behind.  He had to let her go.
“There’s nothing out there for us.” Jeremiah turned and began walking down the old trail toward home.  “Come on, Samuel.  We’ve got chores to do.”
“I’m right behind you,” the boy said as he turned his back on one life and headed off into another.  “But you’re going to have to stay close and show me the way.”
“I will, brother.  You’ve been a lost sheep long enough.”

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Home Again (4)

by Rocky Macy

(Part 4 of 5)

Ephram was fully awake and had Comfort and the baby gathered at his side on the old bed.  They were staring in disbelief at the scrawny boy standing before the hearth and his sobbing young mate cowered in their doorway.  Ephram had often spoken of the “strangeness” that the Lord had chosen to visit upon them, but this night was clearly the strangest that they had encountered since they had stood silently watching their eldest, Samuel, bury their butchered remains.
“Oh, dear husband, whatever is happening?”  Comfort, always the family rock, was as near to being in a panic as Ephram had ever seen her. “That child is hungry, but he can’t see the stew pot.”
“Perhaps the Lord has used the aromas of your wonderful cooking to lead His lost lambs to us.” Ephram rose from the bed and walked over next to the boy. “Look at this lad, dear wife. He is so like our Jeremiah.”
“There is a strong resemblance, but he is older, closer to being a man.”
“Mama, who are they?”  It was Thomas peering over the edge of the loft. “Can I come down?"
“No!” Comfort snapped. “Stay where you are until we know what is going on.”
“But I need to pee.”
Ephram reached up and pulled his youngest son from the loft. “Come here, then. Our guests seem to be more bewildered than we are.”  He stepped through the apparition in the doorway and out into the night where his son could relieve himself.  When father and son came back into the cabin, the boy, Bud, had settled himself on the floor next to his mate. The young couple looked as if they, too, had spent a week hunting in the woods with no luck and few provisions.  Ephram found himself feeling as one with them. He lifted Thomas back up to the loft and then crawled into his own bed. “It would seem, dear wife, that there is little we can do in this situation other than to wait until the Lord calls us to act.”
*  *  *  *  *
“We’ve got to go back, Bud.  You need a doctor.”
“We ain’t going back. We can’t, not now.” The boy leaned his head onto her shoulder and clutched at his stomach with a trembling fist. “I think maybe I tore something loose inside when we hit that deer.”
“I’m going to walk back out to the highway and try to stop somebody. We’ve got to get you to a hospital.”
“No, Jessie! Leave me be. If I go to a hospital, they’ll send me to jail. I’ll be alright in a bit.”
“We just stole a car, Bud. We’ll get us a lawyer and pay for the car.” Jessie was crying softly as she ran her fingers through Bud’s stringy and bloody hair.  “We’ll both work and pay for the car.”
The boy raised his head and stared into her teary eyes.  “It won’t work that way, Jessie.”
“Yes it will.  I’ll work real hard. We can make it the right way, Bud. I know we can.”
The boy curled up almost placing himself entirely within the girl’s embrace. “I ain’t been honest with you, Jessie.”  The tears that were flowing freely now were his, leaving the girl to hold tight and give him what physical comfort she could.  “I’m going to die, Jessie, and I’m going to Hell.”
“Oh, Bud, don’t talk like that! We stole a car and…”
“I stole the car, Jessie.  You told me not to do it.”
“We stole it. We did it, Bud, and we’re going to make things right with that old man.”
“It’s too late.”
“No, it’s not.”
“The old man is dead.”
“No!” She pushed him away.  “He ain’t dead, Bud.  He wasn’t even home.  You said he wasn’t home!”
“He was there, Jessie. He was there and I killed him.”
“No!  No!  You didn’t kill no one!”
“He was there, Jessie.  I told him to give me the keys and he just laughed in my face.  The stupid old shit laughed at me, you know, like he was something special and I was just some piece of crap kid who was only good for washing his damned car and mowing his stupid grass!”
“I don’t believe any of this, Bud!”
“The old bastard laughed at me. He laughed and he laughed until I picked up a table knife and jammed it into his throat.  And you know what, Jessie?  The look on his face when he knew he was a dead man was worth every minute that I’ll spend in Hell.”
“Oh, Bud.”  She quietly took him back into her arms and they slowly laid down and sobbed as one on the dirt floor.
*  *  *  *  *
Jeremiah and Thomas were both sitting on the edge of the loft watching the scene below. Comfort was up tending to Abiah’s needs, and Ephram was sitting cross-legged at the foot of the bed close to where the young couple lay. He was obviously deeply troubled about the scene that was unfolding on the floor of their cabin.  Jeremiah chose that moment to break his father’s concentration.  “He’s a killer, Pa.  He’s a killer just like them soldiers that killed us.”
“No, son.  He’s a boy not much older than you.”
“The soldiers weren’t much more than boys either,” Comfort reminded her husband.  “Foolish boys drunk on liquor and the power of guns.  Boys that should have still been at home chopping wood and milking, not off being corrupted by a war.”
“What do you suppose has corrupted this lad, dear wife?"
“Husband, I know not.  But corrupted he is.  Perhaps the Lord has chosen to leave us in this world so that we will not be tainted by what lies beyond our lovely valley.”
The couple on the floor began to quietly move to the rhythm of a music that the cabin’s inhabitants could not hear. Very slowly the boy brought his hand up beneath the girl’s shirt and started to knead her breasts. As soon as Comfort saw what was about to happen, she sharply told Jeremiah and Thomas to return to their blankets.
“But, Ma!” Jeremiah wailed. “This is the first time we’ve seen anybody else in almost forever.”
“Back by the wall and cover up. Things may happen that you don’t need to be seeing.”  Even as Comfort spoke Bud was validating her concerns as he slowly began to unbutton Jessie’s shirt.  “And you, my curious husband, kindly turn your back on this matter as well.”
“But, Ma!” Ephram said, mischievously mocking the plea of his son.
“Turn around now!” She snapped – and turn he did.
*  *  *  *  *
“No, Bud.”
“Please, Jessie.”
“It just don’t feel right.  Not here, not now.”
“I’m going to die, Jessie. I think that I’m dying now, but if I don’t die here, the state is going to hang me dead.”
“Oh, Bud.”
Her shirt was completely open now and the boy was slowly massaging her bare breasts. “This will be my last time, our last time. Jessie, please.”
And knowing from somewhere deep within her soul that the words he spoke were true, the girl relented.