Wednesday, December 17, 2014


         All around me are churches that are nearly empty on Sunday mornings. The church where I have been preaching has four members who still come to Sunday morning worship. In the vicinity are many other churches whose attendance has steadily declined. Churches that once had 250 or more in attendance now see 35 or 40. Yet the population has not decreased, it has increased.
You can blame any of a number of factors – television; more activities on Sundays such as shopping and sports; the breakdown in traditional families; demographic changes; more people are working on Sundays. The sad fact is that church attendance has steadily declined in importance. It is steadily losing priority to more and more other claims on people’s time.
The churches have responded in various ways. Some have tried to make worship more attractive with colored lights, upbeat music, drama, and shorter sermons. Others have focused on community outreach in various forms – feeding the homeless, clothes closets, food pantries, community activism. Church services have become more and more about being happy in this life and less and less about pleasing God and looking forward to eternal life with Him.
Churches advertise in a variety of ways in the newspapers, on social media, with outdoor signs and billboards, on the radio and television. What the churches have failed to do so far is to give people in their ads a compelling reason why they should come to church. In the early days of the church the message that Jesus Christ rose from the dead drew people of every nation to hear this good news proclaimed.
That is still the Gospel the churches have to proclaim. Why isn’t it a compelling reason for people today to come to church? Why is living for the here and now so important that people do not consider what will happen to them when they die? Is their working assumption that everyone who dies goes to heaven or else everyone who dies ceases to be?

If there is no everlasting punishment, then there is no compelling reason to go to church to find out how to escape it. Worse than that, if there is no belief in everlasting punishment, there is no effective deterrent to violence or terrorism or any other sin. The decline in church attendance should be a flashing red light warning of disaster ahead for civilization.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Reflections on "Orpheus Leading Eurydice from the Underworld" by Jean Baptiste Camille Corot

There is some question about whether Orpheus was an actual historical human being. Most ancient writers, with the exception of Aristotle, believed that he was. However, so many legends grew up around his name that he took on mythical status. It was said that his music and singing would cast a spell on any human, animal, bird, or fish that heard him. He interpreted omens, had visions, practiced magic, and was an astrologer.
The ancient world’s counterpart to our “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” was the tales of Jason and the Argonauts, “The Agonautica.” Orpheus claimed to have been the musician who made it possible for Jason and his men to sail past the Sirens of Sirenum scopuli. He said that he played music that was louder and more beautiful that the charming songs of the Sirens.
Beginning during his journeys with the Argonauts and continuing throughout his life, Orpheus was a sexual molester of young boys. Ovid writes that “Orpheus had abstained from the love of women,…Indeed, he was the first of the Thracian people to transfer his love to young boys…”
Nevertheless, the best-known story about Orpheus concerns his love for his wife, Eurydice. While she was walking in the grass at her wedding, she was attacked by a lecherous forest god. Fleeing from him, she stumbled and fell into a nest of poisonous snakes. A bite on her heel caused her death. Orpheus was overcome by grief. He sang such mournful songs that no one could bear to hear them. Orpheus travelled to the underworld and with his music he persuaded Hades and Persephone to allow Eurydice to return with him to the world of the living. They agreed on condition that Eurydice must walk behind him and that he could not look back at her until they were both in the land of the living. When Orpheus exited the underworld, he turned around to make sure Eurydice was there behind him. He didn’t realize that Eurydice had not yet exited the underworld. She was taken away from him forever.
Toward the end of his life Orpheus ceased to worship any god except the sun which he called Apollo. This is despite the fact that earlier in his life he had promoted the worship of Dionysus and had called her his patron. Angry at Orpheus for his rejection of Dionysus and for taking only male lovers, the Ciconian women at first threw sticks and stones at him as he played. Subsequently, they ripped him to shreds during a frenzied Bacchic orgy.

What I find interesting about this painting, “Orpheus Leading Eurydice from the Underworld” by Jean Baptiste Camille Corot is his depiction of the underworld. It is not a place of sulphurous fumes and fires or yawning pits or people screaming in anguish. There are trees growing and lush vegetation. People are standing in groups talking. There is even a pool of water. If this is the underworld, what is it under? This is all Corot’s imagination. It has no basis in Greek mythology. What was he thinking?     

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

"Snowden From Llyn Nantlle"by Richard Wilson - An imagined conversation from the Canvas

“Mildred, I don’t know why you came along with me this morning. I came out here to fish. You don’t have any fishing gear with you. In fact I have never known of you to go fishing, even when you were a girl.”
“Wilmuth, I have been telling you all week that we need to talk about something. Every evening when you come home from work, you wash up, eat your supper, and then fall asleep in your chair.”
“I work hard, Mildred. I am bone tired when I get home from work.”
“I know that, Honey, that is why I came along with you on your fishing day. I thought that we could talk while you wait for the fish to bite. Anyhow, what is Andrew doing here? I thought we would have some time alone.”
“Andrew is here because I invited him to go fishing with me.”
“So! You can make time for your buddy to go fishing with you, but you can’t make time to talk with me. Is that it?”
“Mildred, I came out here to relax and fish. Andrew can fish all day alongside me and never say two words the whole day. I can sit here with my fishing line in the water, look off into the distance at those mountains and at the trees all around. Everything about this place is so peaceful and quiet. Why spoil all that with talking?”

“I spoil it all for you, do I? That isn’t the way you talked before we were married. Now, while you are working all day, I am working at the house – washing clothes and bed sheets, tending the garden, feeding the chickens and pigs, cooking our meals, cleaning the house. In addition to all that…we are going to have a baby and my husband is too busy to let me tell him!”

Monday, August 25, 2014

Reflections on "Sunflowers" by Vincent van Gogh

In the spring they came up out of the cold earth and warmed themselves in the sun. As other plants came out of the soil, they grew taller as in a race to reach the sky. By early summer some of them were over eight feet tall. They formed flowers that mimicked the sun in appearance. The petals were like the flames shooting out of the sun’s surface. They stood proud and tall, smiling as they surveyed their land.
The gardener took advantage of their tall sturdy stalks, planting his peas and beans so they could wrap their vines around their stems. Only the birds could reach up to the flowers. For the birds these flowers began to produce hundreds of seeds.
In the late summer a hard rain and strong winds broke most of the sunflowers. Their heads, heavy with ripe seeds were bowed to the ground, giving obeisance to their Creator, scattering their seeds upon the wet, warm ground. The bottoms of their broken stalks remained as supports for the legumes.

The gardener’s wife brings the most attractive sunflowers into the house and puts them into a vase. It is a mockery of their former radiant beauty. They are fading fast. They can hardly hold their heads up. In a day or two she will scrape their seeds onto a tray to dry them in the oven. What remains of the former garden beauty queens will be tossed out to the chickens or hogs. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Ekphrastic Fiction on "Nighthawks" by Edward Hopper

Greg the counter man kept busy wiping the counter, rearranging the salt and pepper, the catsup bottle, and the sugar and cream containers. The boss wanted the counter men, especially those who worked at night, to be occupied. He said if passersby saw the counter man cleaning or serving, they would be more likely to stop in and order something to eat.
He was grateful for the work tonight. It helped him keep his mind off Peggy. Greg and Peg – they had been an item all through high school. Now he was in college, studying during the day and working five nights a week. He had been saving money for an engagement ring. This evening she had broken up with him. She didn’t want to wait four years or more before they could think of marriage. For now his only income was from a night time job in a diner. She wanted a man with better current prospects.
Mr. Anderson came in and sat on a stool. He came every night for a cup of coffee and a slice of pie. Greg knew from their bits of conversation each night that Mr. Anderson’s wife had been slowing dying of cancer. From the time he came home from work until time to go to work the next day he cared for his suffering, tormented wife. While he was at work there were aides to take care of her. Every evening, before going to bed, he allowed himself a break long enough to eat pie and drink coffee at the diner. Last month she had died and Mr. Anderson was still mourning her. He still came in every evening for his coffee and pie.

At one end of the counter was Mr. Darnell and a woman of about thirty. Always before this, Mr. Darnell came in for his supper about seven each evening. Greg knew Mr. Darnell was a bachelor who had lived with his mother until she died last year.  Greg was only guessing, but probably Mr. Darnell had invited this woman on a dinner date. They were interested in each other. They hadn’t stopped talking since they sat down. He surmised they hadn’t wanted to end the evening just yet and the diner was a “safe” place to continue their new friendship.                                                                                    

Monday, August 11, 2014


(The following is an excerpt from the novel AFTER THE DEATH OF LAURA by Troy Lynn Pritt.)
   At Camp Dawson that Friday night Nathaniel was alone in the trailer that would be his billets for the next several weeks. He was having a real crisis of identity. He no longer knew for sure who he was or who he wanted to be. After ten years in the Army Special Forces, he had become hardened to people. They were two groups - either they were fighting alongside of him or they were the enemy. Three tours of duty “in the sandbox”, Iraq and Afghanistan, had made him suspicious and uncomfortable around civilians. The only people he trusted were the men in his unit. He had heard of instances when Iraqis or Afghanis dressed in the uniforms of their army or police turned their weapons on American military personnel. He had developed a “them and us” attitude. Moreover, several years of unconventional warfare had destroyed his confidence in his own moral behavior or the ability of others to act in a just and ethical way.
   Being around his father and being around his new friend Joy made him realize that there are people outside his unit whom he could trust. Being with Joy and her children was making him question if he wanted to continue being a soldier. That was another part of his identity crisis.
   Still another part was the nightmares and dreams. He had to keep them secret because they could cause him to be put out of Special Forces and into some “Wounded Warrior” unit going back and forth to medical appointments, counseling sessions, and supervising other, lower ranking, wounded warriors while they policed the company area or set up chairs for a concert. Maybe it would just straighten itself out. If , however, he had to go back over there for another tour, he didn’t think he would ever get straightened out.
   Tomorrow evening the troops would be arriving. They would be worn out. They would leave their armories early in the morning, ride in trucks and on buses to Biggs Army Airfield where they would board a chartered aircraft or maybe a military plane and fly to Morgantown, West Virginia. From there they would ride on buses to Camp Dawson. When they arrived, they would be issued tents, winter sleeping bags, and meals ready to eat for tonight and tomorrow. 
   Nathaniel knew that he would be out there among the troops eating ready to eats, putting up a tent, and sleeping in a sleeping bag. He would have to do those things when they went out in the field. Over two weeks he would be with them in the winter cold, clambering up stone strewn slopes, perched on rocky ledges, listening for the sounds of another group playing “infiltrators”. Every other time it had been fun to him. He had taken pride in the training he had given. Now he was dreading it.
   On Sunday the troops were issued gear and equipment. Tomorrow the various platoons would go out either as Red Team or Blue Team warriors. The company commanders and first lieutenants of the six Texas Army National Guard Special Forces units had been assigned as staff of Red Team or Blue Team roughly by rank and time in grade. The commander of Blue Team was senior of all the unit commanders and he had served a tour in Bosnia and a tour in Iraq. The second and third unit commanders in terms of seniority had not served in any theater of war so they were passed over. The commander fourth in seniority had served a tour in Iraq and one Afghanistan. He was appointed commander of Red Team. Nathaniel watched the first sergeants in the six units when the troops arrived, and when they were setting up last evening. He walked over to two of them pointed to the newly minted staff officers and said quietly, “You are the Blue Team sergeant major and you are the Red Team sergeant major.” The six units varied in strength. He was able to pick three units for Blue Team and three units for Red Team whose combined strengths were nearly equal.
   Nathaniel walked over to the group of officers with two large envelopes. Each one contained maps, initial tactical locations, bumper numbers of the vehicles assigned to them, and the location of fuel and supply dumps for their Team.
   “You have one-half hour to study the contents of those envelopes, divide responsibilities, and move your men out of this area. Any contact with local civilians is to be respectful but wary. Nothing in the rules says the other Team can’t dress up in civilian clothes and use civilian vehicles. Just pay for what you use! This isn’t Afghanistan.”
   He walked over to the large body of troops and told them,
   “Smoke them if you have them. If you have a cell phone, get rid of it now. Any cell phone taken to the field must be destroyed completely and immediately by anyone who sees it. The enemy can track you by the emissions from your cell phone. Get rid of them now. In less than half an hour those two temporary sergeant majors are going to come over here and start barking orders to the three units assigned to them.”
   He walked away and went to the Humvee assigned to him. He had it loaded with his field gear plus a number of pyrotechnics and other training devices such as trip flares, mock claymore mines, and sound effects such as recordings of incoming rounds, machine gun fire, people talking in a foreign language and laughing. His job was to terrorize them, to infiltrate, wake everyone up, and disappear. That was his night time work.
   During the day he was grading the officers on the performance of their men. They were out there in the cold and rain or snow for two weeks. The other Team might find their food and fuel cache and steal it or destroy it. They would still have to stay out in the field and manage however they could. Nathaniel was the only one who knew where the initial tactical positions of both Teams were. He was the only one who knew where both of the food and fuel locations were. If he found one unguarded, he might destroy it himself!
   Nathaniel settled into a one man campaign of harassing both Blue Team and Red Team. He did all this at night. He would sneak up from behind the guard on duty, clamp his hand over his mouth, throw the guard’s rifle over his shoulder, tie his hands behind his back, gag him, and then start setting off cherry bombs, or stink bombs, or screaming rockets. The whole squad would be awakened and about that time the guard would run into camp with his hands tied behind his back and without his weapon.
   He was always looking for their food and fuel caches. If they were guarded, he left them undisturbed. If they were unguarded, he would steal from them.
   The more involved he became, the more it started to become a replay of Afghanistan. He was working during the day with the two Team staffs – scoring, critiquing, and advising. He would get some sleep from supper until the middle of the night. As the days went on, he became seriously sleep deprived.
   One night, as he was setting off rockets over one squad’s tactical position, he fell to the ground on his knees and was rocking back and forth, screaming and crying,
   “Make them stop. Make them stop it.” then “Incoming, take cover.” and “Shoot, man, kill those ragheads. What are you waiting for?”
    At first the soldiers thought it was another tactic. Eventually, the first lieutenant who was out in the field with them, recognized that something was wrong. He took Sergeant Nathaniel Sterner back to the staff position for Red Team. The Captain had seen this reaction to combat when he was in Iraq. He called for the medic.
   “Do you think that we need to take this man to the local hospital?”
   “Let’s take him to his trailer, put him to bed, and I’ll give him a shot of tranquilizer. Have a man go with me to stay with him and call me if he needs help. If we take him to the hospital, the paperwork is liable to ruin his career.”
   The next morning after Nathaniel was awake, the Captain who was Red Team commander came to Nathaniel’s trailer.
   “You are confined to this trailer for the remainder of our time here. The medic will give you tranquilizer pills and you WILL take them. If you don’t, I can’t guarantee that you won’t have another episode as severe or more severe.
   “I want you to relax and sleep the rest of the time you are here. If you do, I won’t write any of this up. When you get back to Texas, I want you to voluntarily go to your commanding officer and tell him that you want out of Special Forces, that you want to be reassigned to some other branch. Tell him about this episode, any other episodes, nightmares, or any other symptoms. If you are straight up with him, he’ll respect it, and you will probably be able to remain on active duty. Whether he does or does not allow you to stay on active duty, you need help. As long as you deny it, the more chance that you will hurt yourself or someone else.”
   “Yes, sir”
   For the next week Nathaniel took his pills, and did a lot of sleeping and dozing. He tried to write a letter to Joy, but the words just wouldn’t come. In the end he just started packing and waited for the day to leave. That day came several days later. He boarded the bus with the other men, went to the airport, and they flew back to Texas.
   Nathaniel didn’t call Joy when he returned to his quarters at Ft. Bliss.
   The next day he called his commanding officer, COL Reisner at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.
   “Colonel Reisner, this is Sergeant First Class Nathaniel Sterner. I am on detached duty at Ft. Bliss, Texas assigned to the Texas Army National Guard Special Forces units as advisor. I am calling to request reassignment out of Special Forces. The units I am assigned to have just returned from Camp Dawson. I was there with them training them. One night when I was in the field setting up harassment activities, I went to pieces. They had to transport me from the field to the staff position of Red Team. They called for the medic. He gave me a shot. The rest of the time I was told to remain in my trailer. The medic looked in on me every day and kept me on tranquilizer pills. The Red Team commander said that he would not put it in his report if I would voluntarily ask for a transfer out of Special Forces.”
   “Good man! Okay, Sergeant Sterner, I will have my office cut orders transferring you back here. I want our own people to have a look at you, and have some input on the best course of action. Do you have any leave on the books?”
   “Yes, sir, forty-two days.”
   “Good. I will authorize thirty days delay enroute. That way you can celebrate Christmas and New Year’s before reporting here for duty.”

   “Thank you, sir.”

Monday, August 4, 2014


                                                            by Troy Lynn Pritt
("Alma's Story" is an excerpt from the novel CRAZYQUILT CHURCH published by Mtnpride Books)
It was the second night in our new home. I had just gone off to sleep when I was awakened by noise from the basement. Mary, my wife, said in a frightened voice,
“Tom, what is that noise in the basement?”
I opened the door to the basement and turned on the basement lights. I went down the steps and as I reached the bottom,
“Please, mister, don’t shoot. I didn’t know anyone was in the house.”
A frightened young woman was clutching a baby in her arms. Both she and the baby were filthy. Her clothes were torn and dirty. She was wearing an Army field jacket. Her feet were in old tennis shoes that were ragged. She had no socks.
“Let me sit down to rest a minute and get warm. Then I’ll leave.”
“You sit right there while I go upstairs and get you something to eat. What about the baby? Can it drink from a cup yet?”
“No, sir. I nurse it when I can.”
I poured a big glass of milk, warmed up the spaghetti left over from supper, and buttered a piece of bread. I found a couple cookies our daughter Barbara brought home from her school lunch. I carried these down to the young woman. Tears came to her eyes.
“Our name is Binton. My name is Tom, my wife is Mary. She is coming down here so she can see what you need and maybe help you with the baby.”
Mary had already gathered up one of her nightgowns, a robe, a pair of socks, some dish towels (to use as diapers), safety pins, and a blanket. I pushed her in her wheelchair out the front door and around to the basement door.
The young woman was greedily eating the food. Maybe it was the first food she had that day. The baby looked numb. Mary immediately took charge.
“As soon as you finish eating, I want you to take off all those dirty clothes and get into the shower. There is soap, shampoo, and towels in there. Here is a dressing gown and socks. While you’re in the shower, I’ll clean your baby, change its diaper, and wrap it in this clean blanket. By the time you finish your shower, you should be ready to nurse it. Tomorrow morning, after breakfast, I’ll wash your clothes. We can talk then and see what we can do to make your situation a little brighter. Right now, getting cleaned up and a good night’s sleep are at the top of the list. After her shower, the young woman came out wearing Mary’s nightgown and carrying her dirty clothes.
“By the way, my name is Mary Binton, what is yours?”
“My name is Almedine Ferguson, but you can call me Alma. My little boy is named Harold, after his father.”
Alma held the baby for a few minutes and looked confused.
“I can’t nurse the baby. The baby isn’t mine.”
After that bombshell, I didn’t know what to do. Mary took charge,
“Call a taxi and get this baby to a hospital. I only hope it isn’t too late.”
I called the taxi company and asked them to send a cab as soon as possible. I only had $30 in my wallet. I hoped that that would be enough. I asked Alma if she had any identification.
“In my field jacket I have my old Army identification card.”
“Get your field jacket and your shoes. You can wear that nightgown instead of putting the dirty clothes back on you.”
When the taxi arrived, I told the driver,
“Take us to the nearest hospital.”
Arriving at the hospital, I gave the driver the $30 that I had. The fare had been $26.50.
Entering the Emergency Room I went straight to the Reception Desk.
“We have a very sick baby here. Please have someone look at it right away.”
“Everybody thinks they or their baby or child or husband or wife needs urgent care. You’ll be seen as soon as it’s your turn.”
I saw a nurse in the doorway.
“Nurse, there is a very sick baby here. I don’t think it can wait its turn. Would you please, at least, look at it?”
The nurse came over and looked at the baby in Alma’s arms. She swore. Then she grabbed the baby and rushed it back into the treatment area.
We were sitting on one of the benches across from the reception desk. We expected a nurse or doctor would come out and tell us about the baby. Instead, a policeman came in from outside, walked up to the reception counter, and the woman pointed to us. The policeman came over.
“Are you the man and woman who brought a sick baby in here about half hour ago?”
“I want you both to come to the police station with me. The car is outside.”
I knew there was no point in protesting. We went out to the police car and sat on the hard plastic rear seat. At least we were not handcuffed. At the station we were introduced to SGT Lance Hendrick. He was about fifty years old, neat and thin with some grey in his hair. His eyes were penetrating.
“Now, I want to know all that you know about this baby. At a minimum I think you both are facing charges of child abuse. I’ll start with you, Mr. Binton. What is your relationship to Almedine Ferguson?”
“Before tonight I had no relationship to her. She came to our door sometime after we went to bed at 10 o’clock. She was homeless, hungry, and dirty. She said that the baby was hers and that its name was Harold. We gave her some food and a glass of milk. My wife gave her a nightgown, a robe, and socks and told her to shower and shampoo. My wife changed the baby’s diaper and cleaned it up. After Alma showered my wife handed the baby to her so she could nurse him. It was then she told us that the baby was not her baby. My wife said to call a taxi and take the baby to a hospital; she thought it needed immediate help
“I called a cab, took Alma and the baby to the hospital. That is all I know.”
“All right, Miss Ferguson, let’s hear your story.”
“Earlier that day I was dumpster diving behind the Mars Store on Wise Avenue. I was looking for something to eat. There was another girl there, younger than me. She had been diving in the dumpster before I arrived. She had this baby lying on the ground. It just had on a diaper. It was turning red and blue from being cold I guess. I said to her,
“‘Aren’t you going to put something on that baby to keep it warm?’
“‘I’m going to put it in this dumpster when I am finished here. There is plenty in there to keep it warm.’
“‘Give it to me if you are going to throw it away.’
“‘Take it.’
“So I took it and put it inside my field jacket and tried to get it warm with my body. I didn’t know what to do, where to go. When I came to the Binton’s house, his wife just took charge and seemed to know how to help me and how to help the baby.”
“Let me talk to the Lieutenant. It doesn’t sound to me like there is any reason to charge either of you with child abuse.”
I was wondering how we were going to get home since I had given the taxi driver all the money I had. Just then the detective said,
“I’ll take you both back to West Inverness. I’ll tell the Lieutenant that I had to examine the home and the area behind the Mars Store. He won’t mind. After all, you may have saved that baby’s life.”
We arrived home about three-thirty in the morning. If there were any neighbors looking out their window, they saw me and a young woman in a nightgown and a field jacket getting out of a police car in the wee hours of the morning.
Mary was relieved to see us return home.
“Where is the baby?”
“At the hospital, I guess.”
“How is it?”
“They never told us. They may never tell us since the baby is neither ours nor Alma’s.”
“God knows how he is. I am going to pray that he survives and is given to a nice family.”
We gave Alma a blanket and a pillow and told her that she could sleep on the futon in the basement.
Several days later Alma told Mary her story and later Mary told it to me.
“I didn’t come from a happy family like yours. My father drank a lot and then he would come home and fight with my mom. He didn’t like me for some reason. If I would bring friends to the house, he would make it uncomfortable for us. He never hit me but he was always belittling me and making fun of what I’d say or things I’d do.
“As soon as I graduated from high school I joined the Army to get away from home. I did well and I liked military life. You make friends easily in the Army. Someone is always moving and someone new comes to take their place. That is an environment that lets you start making friends as soon as you arrive at a new base.
“I had always wanted to be a policewoman. I was able to get into the MPs. I made high marks in the Military Police Academy and was assigned to Fort Meade, Maryland. There I met a sergeant. He really made me feel like a million dollars. Every time that he saw me, he had something nice to say about me. But when we went on dates, he was always furtive about it. He said that since he was a non-commissioned officer he could get into trouble for fraternizing with a lower ranking enlisted person.
“We dated once or sometimes twice a week, always someplace that other soldiers wouldn’t see us. Our relationship became intimate. I had been a virgin but I gave that up to him. After we had been dating about six months, I discovered that I was pregnant. He immediately turned against me. He started finding things wrong with my job performance. When he couldn’t find anything, he would make things up. I found out that he was married and had two children.
“The Army will let you stay in the service when you are pregnant. They let you keep working as long as the doctor says it is all right. Then you go on medical leave, but you still have a place to live and your meals.
“I made arrangements to put the baby up for adoption. They wanted to know the father’s name. I told a lie,
“‘I don’t know his name. He was just a man I met in a bar. I was drunk and had sex with him in the alley behind the bar.’
“I knew that if I gave the sergeant’s name, he would be in lots of trouble. Not only would he suffer, but his wife and children would suffer.
“Meanwhile, he continued his campaign of discrediting me. After the baby was born, and I gave him up for adoption, I was discharged with a General Discharge ‘not suitable for military service’.
“I couldn’t go back home. I tried and tried to get a job. My savings soon ran out and I was homeless. I have been on the streets for nearly a year. I look for a vacant house, pick the lock, and make it my temporary home. My food has been from garbage cans and dumpsters. When I saw that baby lying on the ground by the dumpster, I thought of the baby I had given up for adoption. It seemed like a second chance for me. But I was no more able to care for it, than I was able to care for my own. It’s like my father always said - I’m a loser.”
Mary hugged her and they cried together. After a while Mary jutted her chin out and with fire in her eyes she said,
“You are going to stay with us until the winner in you, the winner that excelled at MP school and in your Army duties, shows its smiling face to the world once more!”

Monday, July 28, 2014

O HENRY by Troy Lynn Pritt

Harry Ickes had a good job as production supervisor at Hammond’s Shoe Factory. He and his family lived well. There were six children ranging in age from fourteen to four. The Ickes family had a nice home in a good neighborhood. The children’s friends were in and out of the house all the time. Then the shoe company’s production was moved to Malaysia. Harry was out of a job and began a lengthy search for work. The family lost their house and moved into a three room apartment in a run-down neighborhood. Harry became more and more discouraged and was silent most of the time. He filled out applications, stood in lines, and occasionally went for interviews. His hopes then would rise, but when he wasn’t chosen, he was crushed. He would return to searching and applying once more. Finally, his unemployment benefits expired. The next week he said good-bye to his family and walked out the door.
Mary Ickes struggled to pay rent and utilities, buy food, and keep her children in clothes and in school. She worked as a waitress and took in laundry to wash and iron for friends from their recent affluent past. Working as hard as she could, they were barely managing while her husband was receiving an unemployment check. When the checks stopped, it was only a matter of weeks before the utilities would be shut off and they would be evicted.
Mary’s parents lived on a farm in northwestern Missouri. She asked them if she and the children could move in with them. They very reluctantly agreed. She loaded the car with the youngest child, clothes, and food to eat on the way. She picked up her children from the elementary school and the middle school. Their oldest son, Henry, was in high school. The car was full. Reluctantly she decided that he was old enough to take care of himself.
“How can I do this? He is my oldest child; I love him and I am so proud of him. What else can I do? The car is jam-packed as it is. Henry is smart and mature for his age. He’ll probably be sent to a foster family. Henry will manage. He always knows what to do. If we stay around here, the welfare will put all my children in foster care.”
When Henry arrived home, the house was empty. Open dresser drawers and clothes on the floor - his mother had packed up what she could into the car and had gone someplace with the other children and without him. Had she gone to someplace she had found that was cheaper to rent?  Would she come back for him? He searched for a note, but there was none.
Henry scrounged around for something to eat. The only food was canned goods. There were not many of those. What if she didn’t come back? He sat down in despair and thought about it. The longer he thought, the more he was convinced that she wasn’t coming back. Why didn’t she at least let him know where they were going? He didn’t know how long he could come back to this apartment before the eviction was carried out and utilities were cut off. He would go on living here as long as he could. Maybe she would mail him a letter.
What were his options if he were locked out?  He could tell the school counselor. The school counselor would report it to Human Services. He would be taken away to be placed in foster care. He had known youths who were in foster care. They told him:
“You might be fortunate enough to be placed with a decent family. Probably not. Most likely you’ll find yourself with other youths, mostly troubled semi-delinquents, in a family that is only interested in the money they’re paid by the State for keeping you.”
The other option was to look out for himself. If that failed, he could always turn himself in to the authorities. He had to start making plans now. He made up two rolls, each containing a pair of jeans, a shirt, underwear, and socks. He rolled them tight and tied them with string so that they would fit into a locker. One roll he would put into his school locker, and one roll he would put into his gym locker. In his back pack he put soap, toothbrush, underwear, and socks.
Next, he went to the window by the fire escape. It had always been locked. Now he unlocked it and banged and strained until he had it open. He rubbed soap in the grooves until it would open without a lot of effort. If the landlord padlocked the apartment, he would have an alternate way to get into the apartment for a few more days. It was still cold outside, too cold to spend the nights in the open.
At school he stashed the bundles in his lockers. Breakfast and lunch were free. He took any food items that were durable and put them in his pockets and later his back pack – little boxes of cereal, crackers, sugar packets, catsup packs.
After school he went to grocery stores and restaurants looking for a job. He told them that he was sixteen years old. One day he went into a small café with no name outside, just a neon sign “EAT”. It was what his mother called a “greasy spoon”. The man behind the counter was burly. He needed a shave. He was wearing a dirty white apron and a tired looking chef’s hat.
“Yeah. What do you want? I don’t give handouts. I don’t buy gimcracks for the school band.”
“I want a job. I can sweep, clean the tables, wash dishes.”
“Have I got a deal for you! My waitress and dishwasher both walked out. You clean off the tables, wash the pots and pans, and run the dishwashing machine. I’ll pay you five dollars a night and you can keep all the tips. When I get a waitress, she’ll clean off the tables, but she’ll get all the tips. When can you start?”
“I can start now.”
Henry’s mother wrote a letter to Henry telling him where they were and promising to send for him as soon as they had an apartment of their own and she had the money to send him for bus fare. The letter was returned “Forwarding address unknown”.
Henry worked evenings after school, on Saturdays, and Sunday afternoons. The work was hard and dirty. He was only able to get back into the apartment for about a week. After he finished work at the café, he would return to the school campus and look for a sheltered place to spend the night. Often he could get into the tractor shed, or he would climb onto a school bus. As soon as the school building was open, he would go into the gym locker room, take a shower, and change his clothes. On Mondays and Thursdays he would go into a room that was sometimes used for Home Economics. A washer and a dryer were there. It wasn’t long before the Home Ec teacher caught him.
“Henry Ickes, what do you think that you are doing?”
“Ma’am, my mother works two jobs. She doesn’t always have time to go to the laundromat. Being in high school, I don’t want kids making fun of me for wearing dirty clothes.”
“I see. Use the machines as often as you want, Henry.”
The end of school was fast approaching. The weather was getting warmer. If he had to sleep outside he could, but it was dangerous sleeping outside. Where was he going to take showers? He had enough money to go to a Laundromat. There had been a waitress at the café for a long time, so he had just been getting five dollars a night. Even so, he had accumulated quite a bit of money. He was afraid of it being stolen. He had moved his rolls of clothing to the café. He had some money in his pockets, some in each clothing roll, and some in his back pack. He continued to spend his nights on the campus of the high school. There were a number of sheltered places he found, though the school buses were now locked inside the garage.
One day a policeman was in the café.
“Hey, Tony, haven’t you heard about child labor laws?”
“What do you mean?”
“That boy isn’t eighteen. Does he have a work permit?”
“I guess. I don’t know.”
“I’ll be in tomorrow and I want to see a work permit.”
As soon as the policeman left, Tony gave Henry a ten dollar bill.
“You’ve been one of the best workers I’ve had, but you have to go now; and don’t come back.”
Henry left carrying his two rolls of clothes and his back pack. Losing his job at the café meant two other significant losses. He had no place to store his clothes, and he no longer had access to free food. He always found enough food on the dishes that came back to be washed.
It was about that time that Mary Ickes wrote to the Department of Human Services:
Dear sirs,
In March of this year I was evicted from the apartment where I was living with my six children. My husband had left the previous month. I took my five youngest children with me to go live with my parents. I left the oldest boy, Henry Allen Ickes, and I assume that he has been placed in a foster home. I have found a job here and I am able to pay rent to my parents and to contribute to the food bill. I can afford to pay bus fare for Henry to come here and join us so that he will be here when school begins the day after Labor Day.
My address and phone number are below. Please let me know what I need to do to have Henry sent to us here.
                                                          /Mary Alice Ickes/
The Department of Human Services replied that they had no record of Henry Allen Ickes in their system. They suggested that she contact the police department and report him as a missing person.
Henry sat down on a bench in the park. He prayed,
“O Lord, please help me. I don’t know where to go or what to do.”
 After his family left, he had continued to attend church. As his appearance had become more scruffy, others had avoided him.
While he was praying a young lady sat down beside him. Her face was washed, her hair was combed, but her clothes were dirty and torn; her shoes scuffed and worn.
“Hi. My name is Alice. What’s yours?”
“My name is Henry.”
“Henry, you look exactly like someone who has just arrived in town and has no place to go.”
“You are halfway correct. I never left town, but my family did.”
“I ran away from home several months ago. My step father was abusing me. My mother didn’t believe me. She said that I was flirting with him. As soon as the weather was warm enough, I took money out of his wallet one night, went to the bus station, and took a bus to this city. I wanted to get far away from him. I didn’t realize what a dangerous thing I had done. There are pimps and drug dealers trying to snatch young teenagers and make slaves of them.
“I was standing in the bus station, almost in a daze, when this young man came up to me, and said,
“’Eleanor, I’m so glad to see you.’
“In a quiet whisper he said,
“’Come with me. I’ll explain outside.’
“His name is Douglas. He has taken it upon himself to rescue homeless youths and help them get some direction in their lives. I’ll take you to him, if you want.”
“It seems like God sent you to answer my prayer.”
They walked for many blocks to the warehouse district. Most of the warehouses were now vacant. Alice went up to a green door with a sign “No Trespassing”. Where there had once been window panes, there were now plywood pieces. She opened the door and led Henry into the dark, cavernous interior. His eyes adjusted to the dim light from a dirty skylight. He saw various bundles against the wall.
“Put your things down wherever there is a vacant space…Laugh, that’s a joke. Let’s check the bulletin board.”
She led him over to a corkboard bulletin board hanging crazily on the wall. In black marking pen and large letters on a white sheet of paper was this notice: “Supper @ St. Teresa’s 5PM”
“Douglas always has the name of the church where there will be food for the homeless that evening. Time and days lose meaning when you are walking the streets all day. When a church has a free clothes closet, Douglas lets us know that too.”
Henry and Alice walked to St.Teresa’s Church and waited outside the parish hall until the doors opened. Thin soup, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and hot coffee were the supper. The homeless sat at the tables, hugging their coffee, prolonging the time when they would have to go back out into the streets.
Back at the warehouse there were eight other youths. Douglas announced where they could go for breakfast. Then he took up his guitar and they began to sing: “Kum-Ba-Ya”, “Michael Row The Boat”, “Allelu”, “It’s Me, O Lord”, etc. Douglas ended with a prayer for each of them.  When Henry lay down on the rough wood floor, he was happier than he had been in months.
He never woke up. In another part of the warehouse some homeless men were drinking. They accidentally started a fire. It rapidly became an inferno and spread along the ceiling. Some of the youths woke up in time to get out. Douglas, Henry, Alice, and two others succumbed to smoke inhalation before the flames reached them.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


Stuart woke up and looked at the clock. It was 7:15 am! He had to be at work by 8:00 am. On the way to the bathroom, he yelled down the stairs,
“Sue, why didn’t you come upstairs and wake me? My alarm didn’t go off. Now I’m going to be late for work.”
“I’ve been busy getting the children ready for school. Their school bus will be here in about ten minutes.”
Stuart didn’t hear much of what she said because, as he went into the bathroom, he slammed the door. He came back out several minutes later grumbling about what a mess the children left in the bathroom. When he went back into the bedroom, he slammed the door.
He had trouble buttoning his shirt. The tie was frayed; he had to find another one. One of the socks had a hole in it; he had to go back to the dresser for another pair. Finally, he was dressed. To emphasize his frustration with all the delays getting dressed for work, he slammed the door as he left the bedroom.
Sue was at the outside door waving goodbye and blowing kisses to their two small children who were boarding the school bus.
“Where is my breakfast? Didn’t I tell you that I was going to be late for work? What would we do if I lost my job?”
“Stuart, you are always angry. Anger comes from Satan. If you would only let Jesus into your life, you would start to experience some joy.
“I was busy getting the children ready for school. I didn’t think you’d have time to eat breakfast. Here’s a granola bar and a cereal bar. Take them with you and eat them in the car on the way to work. I’ve already poured a cup of coffee for you into a foam cup.”
Stuart took the cup, the granola bar, and the breakfast bar from her without a thank you. He put them all into one hand so that he could slam the outside door as his parting gesture.
“Jesus, my foot. I’m the one who goes into work every day and earns the money to provide a home, nice clothes, and food for her and the children.”
When he got into the car, he slammed the car door. In the car and driving, he was eating the granola bar, drinking coffee, and cursing every animate object along the way. He was going much too fast on the main street through their subdivision. Ahead there was a STOP sign. Yet another hindrance.
“There are never any cars on that cross street.”
He slowed down, looked both ways hurriedly, and sped into the intersection. Half way through he saw a green car that had come out of nowhere. He slammed into the driver’s side door of that car with his car’s front end. The impact threw him against the steering wheel, triggering the air bag.
When he extricated himself from the air bag, he walked around to the other car. He could tell at a glance that the other driver was dead. There was blood everywhere. He called the police and ambulance from his cell phone. Then he walked back to his own car and slammed the door.
The wind whooshed into the room as Harold Staynt opened the front door. He was dressed in brown trousers, pale yellow dress shirt with a dark green Tartan plaid tie, and a rust brown sport jacket. The effect he wanted, they wanted, was friendly, relaxed - not business like or professional. Across the room, at the bottom of the stairs was his wife Mariah, clad in a pink chenille robe. The wind parted it, revealing a gold cross on a chain around her neck. As she clutched the robe together, a new, gold wedding ring glistened on her hand.
“Mariah, how can I leave the house and face a day filled with doing Ammer Insurance Company’s dirty work with such an inviting reminder of what I’m leaving behind?”
“I’ll be here waiting, when you come home. And I’ll be praying for you while you are gone. Count on it!”
He smiled and almost skipped to his vehicle. The wind gusted as he was opening the car door. He backed out of the driveway. As he was driving, he went over in his mind the three visits scheduled for this morning.
Mrs. Hermannson was first. Her husband’s funeral was just last week. Mr. Hermannson had a life insurance policy with the Company for $500,000.
“Harold, we don’t want to have to pay out that much money in one lump sum. Do whatever it takes to persuade her to put the proceeds of his policy into one of our annuity plans. There will be a nice commission in it for you.”
If Mrs. Hermannson had other plans for the money, Harold would report that. The Company would then send a “specialist” to try to convince her.
His next visit would be to Mr. Elkins, who had been a passenger in a car insured by them. There had been an accident and the driver was killed. Mr. Elkins was badly injured. The Company paid his medical expenses. Now, they wanted Harold to offer the injured man $50,000.
“If he wants more than that, or if he talks about getting a lawyer, make him think that anything more would have to come out of the widow’s estate.”
The rear passenger window would not close all the way. The wind was roaring in and swirling around to the back of his neck. He thought of his last call for the morning.
Sister Angelica was a sweet, elderly nun. She had been hit by a driver they insured while she was crossing the street. The driver was drunk. The nun’s collarbone, right arm, left knee, and left ankle had been broken. She would be a long time recovering, and probably would never be able to work again.
“Offer her $25,000 – no more. What does a nun need with money? Besides, she won’t sue. It isn’t Christian!”
From the corner of his eye, Mr. Staynt saw, too late, a car barreling through the stop sign on the intersecting street. The car was going to hit him! There was a crash, breaking glass, crumpling metal. A scream started in his lungs, but never reached his dying lips.
Police Sergeant Paul Carbon went outside for his newspaper.
“It looks like rain.”
Rain clouds stalled over the roof of his life these past months. Several months ago his wife of twenty-eight years had died. After that thunder-clap, the rain had poured! He was passed over for lieutenant in favor of a younger, college trained man. The washer and dishwasher both had quit working. The roof was leaking. He was learning to cook, but half the meals he fixed weren’t fit for dog food. He depended on the dry cleaners to wash or clean and press his clothes and uniforms. That didn’t leave much money to eat in restaurants.
He poured dry cereal into a bowl; there wasn’t any milk in the refrigerator.
“I guess I can pretend they are potato chips.”
Just then the phone rang. It was Marge, the dispatcher.
“Paul, I know that you aren’t scheduled to come on duty for more than half an hour, but we have the report of an auto collision at the intersection of Maplewood and Trace. The other squad cars are either out on call or not answering. Would you cover it? I’ve already called the ambulance and it’s on its way.”
“Please, Lord, don’t let there be any deaths. I’m still all torn up inside over Nancy’s death. She was trusting Christ and I know she is with Him now; but looking at death is hard for those of us who are still here below. Even Jesus wept in the presence of death. Don’t make me face it yet.”
Maplewood and Trace was just six blocks away. He left the bowl of cereal untouched, put on his duty belt with pistol and baton, and grabbed his uniform coat. As he stepped outside, the rain was beginning.
“Great! This old police cruiser leaks water through the side window, and somehow it runs down onto my left leg and foot.”
When he arrived at the accident scene, he saw that it was bad. One car had the hit the other car broadside and had “T-boned” it. The paramedic came up to him.
“The driver in that car is dead. I was waiting for you, in case you need to take pictures. Then we’ll use cutting tools to pry the door open so we can remove the body. The other driver is over there, standing in that store entrance to get out of the rain.”
“Thank you, Steve.”
SGT Carbon went to the patrol car for the camera and tape measure. After taking a half dozen photos of the two cars from different perspectives, he measured the distance from the stop sign to the point of impact. By then, he was soaking wet. He walked over to where the other driver was standing. The driver spoke first.
“Now that you are finally here, I can give you my name, address, and telephone number. Then I am going to call my wife and tell her to pick me up and take me home.”
After taking the driver’s name, address, and phone number, SGT Carbon said,
“Tell me what happened.”
“I was driving to work. I stopped at that stop sign, looked both ways, and started off. That green car just came out of nowhere. I couldn’t stop!”
“There are no marks indicating you tried to stop. If you had stopped at the stop sign, your car could not have reached the speed necessary to cause that much damage to the other car,.”
“I tell you I STOPPED!”
“A judge will decide that. Let’s take a walk through the rain to my patrol car. I’m placing you under arrest for vehicular manslaughter. After the cell door slams shut behind you at the jail, I have to go to the new widow of that driver you just killed.”
“Lord, I don’t know how I can do it. Please go with me. Please, could You be the One to tell her through me?”