Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Editor's Corner


April 2020


"Don't wait for someone to bring you flowers.
Plant your own garden and decorate your own soul."

-– Luther Burbank.
Easter is the hopeful thought and celebration of Life in the midst of all the unsettling news concerning the Coronavirus. Our authors have approached each subject, both seriously and with a hint of humor. All in all, this issue hits the mark with both information and alternative methods to lift one's heart and soul.

Delighted is definitely the word describing your editor's feelings when LC Van Savage popped in with new content for her long standing column "Consider This." Although she has been busy elsewhere, getting her latest novel introduced ("Queenie") and setting up her new domain, her name dot com (of course), she is also hosting a radio show, AMAZING MAINERS, on WJTO 730 & 105.3 – The Memories Station. She seeks out people who were born there, or live there and they talk about what they do, why they do it and if they’re happy doing it. She asks, "Are you an AMAZING MAINER? Let me know."

"Armchair Genealogy" by Melinda Cohenour, takes on some pressing matters with the desire that when handled, everyone's genealogy will be properly documented despite current travel restrictions.

Thomas F. O'Neill --"Introspective," gives a link in his column for an interview which can be seen on UTube about how the quarantine due to the Coronavirus in China has affected him and his students. Marilyn Carnell -- "Sifoddling Along," lets us see what she has found to occupy her time and of course involes helping others. She manages to find humor in her tasks.

Judith Kroll ("OnTrek") has a lovely essay, "Today I Dusted off My Soul," in her column "On Trek." Mattie Lennon in "Irish Eyes" suffers a different type loss: the cancellation of the famous Listowel Writer's Week due to Ireland's "Total Lockdown." His ebullient sense of fun still pops into his column here and there.

Rod Cohenour ("Cooking with Rod") joins wife Melinda and as a team they developed their Southwest Poblano Brisket which he shares just in time for Easter. This will be a memorable meal.

Nice additions to the table of contents for April are the three articles: "Safeguards Against COVID-19" by Bud Lemire whose occupation is caring for patients who are housebound and otherwise incapacitated. He is not involved caring for anyone with the virus thus far but as a trained Senior Companion has to be current on warning signs.

Easter season prompted us to have an Encore Presentation by the late Leo C. Helmer whose historical knowledge was seemingly boundless. Here we offer his "Easter Commentary" which has info on into 2024.

When John Blair learned we were seeking Easter themed material, he came up with a wonderful reminisence about Camargo, Oklahoma, and his youth. The photos shared from that era are keepers.

Blair also has one poem for "Easter 2020" and two others: "First Butterfly," and "Coronavirus 2020." Bruce Clifford's single poem for April is "Lost." Your editor has one poem for this issue, "Wishing."

Bud Lemire's poems this month are: "Social Distancing," "That Damn Virus," and "Toilet Paper," and "The COVID-19 Pandemic." He includes a pic with some of his poems. "My Nineteenth Birthday" is from your editor's very first cousin Alice Anne Burks whose passing in February is mourned by all the family.

Thanks again, Mike! I can never express how grateful I am for your expertise as well as your friendship and support in this endeavor. May the tough times treat you tenderly and you and your loved ones stay safe. That is my wish for all our associates in this eZine and their loved ones.

See you in May.

Click on author's byline for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.
This issue appears in the ezine at and also in the blog with the capability of adding comments at the latter.

Armchair Genealogy


Reflections, Hope, and A Brighter Future

      This is a difficult column to write. Our world is topsy-turvy and it seems only appropriate to document the current events affecting, literally, billions of people on all continents. Three events compete for your author’s attention: The world is dealing with a pandemic. The first true pandemic in just over 100 years. A century ago, the Spanish flu took millions of lives. Although called the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, the ravages of that viral outbreak lasted three years, the last deaths attributed to it taking place in 1921.

      And this is the year of the United States Federal Census. Taken every decade since 1790, it is a keynote event for all genealogists. It is hoped every person in the country will, indeed, take the time to respond to the questionnaire. The results of the census will not be released for public review for 70 years. Thus, this year also marks the release of the 1950 US Federal Census – the first year many of us will appear in that historic document.

      Additionally, this month Christians the world over will celebrate Easter. Easter Sunday this year occurs 12 April 2020. The celebration coincides with the vernal equinox.

The Coronavirus Pandemic:

      This is a scary time. The world is held hostage, it seems, by a microscopic virus which has been named COVID-19. Countries all around the globe have enacted restrictions of varying degrees upon their own citizenry and upon foreign travelers in a bid to stop the transmission of this dread disease.

      From time to time, throughout history, viral epidemics have erupted. The virus is a rather unique biologic, possessing the ability to mutate in response to its environment and its host. Each mutation is designed to permit the viral invader to take over the host’s body, its very basic cellular function, in order to transmogrify the host’s cells to become … the virus. This process, it appears, has been part and parcel of the Earth’s experience since the very beginning of time. Each time a virus is successfully fought off by a human host, the process of battle imparts a “memory” – antibodies developed in response to the viral invasion that defeated the enemy. Astonishingly, the human species has the ability – through its genetic structure – to develop what scientists refer to as “herd immunity” to each specific type of viral agent. You may be most familiar with this through the annual flu vaccination process. Each year, medical experts attempt to prognosticate – to prophesize as to the variation of flu that will be prevalent in the coming season. Vaccinations are prepared and offered to every person in the hope of preventing the agony and potential for death faced by flu victims. These vaccinations utilize the antibodies harvested from experimental subjects that successfully fought off that strain of influenza, among other things.

      What makes the coronavirus so deadly is that the coronavirus is not native to human hosts. The various types of coronavirus infections are ones that have for millenia infected other creatures: birds, swine, ovine, canine, feline, and reptilian creatures. Therefore, no “herd immunity” has been developed by humankind. The virus, somehow, modifies and becomes able to infect a human host. Once in that single human host, the virus “learns” to mutate and transmit from human host to human victim. When that process begins, scientists race to find a way to stop the virus.

      Many humans are able to develop their own immune response to viral infections. They experience the typical series of symptoms, from aches and pains, muscle soreness, cough and sneeze reactions, volumes of mucosal reaction, often even vomiting and diarrhea. The one marked and constant symptom is fever, as the human body attempts to “burn” out the viral invader. Although fever is most uncomfortable and millions of dollars are spent on NSAIDS (aspirin, ibuprofen, and the like) to reduce the fever, that fever is actually the best natural defense our bodies can provide. Yes. Fever can kill, but if permitted to go untreated until the thermometer reflects a temperature higher than … (doctors will advise, but often 102 or 103 degrees is when fever reducing medications are prescribed), the body is working to fight that disease!

      It should be noted that one of the ways viral invaders mutate is when your doctor prescribes medication for an illness and you fail to take ALL the prescribed dosages. Often, we feel better and don’t like the process of taking medications, so we stop taking the meds. MISTAKE! This permits the wily, evil little buggers to figure out a way to SURVIVE that particular medication. Next time, next year, next person, the virus is now immune to that cure. Another cure bites the dust.

      COVID-19 has been traced to what is believed to have been Host One who visited a live animal market in Wuhan, China. There, live creatures are sold for food sources. Somehow, one of those creatures was handled, slaughtered, or prepared for a meal in a manner that permitted the infected host’s viral invader to attach itself to the human. Once within that human host, it rapidly mutated and within a week, it is believed, had developed the ability to transmit from human host to human victim. The symptoms were, as reported, marked by rapid onset and – for far too many – rapid death. The cause of the fatalities appears to be a very quick acting pneumonia where the mucosa in the body becomes so thickened and voluminous the patient is asphyxiated. This location was particularly dangerous, as it was within close proximity to an international airport.

      China has a history of purposefully obscuring news of negative import. In spite of historical evidence that early acknowledgment and broad publication of such horrific illnesses helps to contain the outbreak, the negative impact to the international repute or economic impact has contributed to the tendency to cover up such outbreaks. The world first learned in January of the COVID-19 outbreak in China that occurred in December of 2019. However, there is emerging rumor that the earliest case was discovered in November. Whether or not that is true, is of little use now – other than as an educational tool for future response.

      Your author has two very dear connections to China: one, another PencilStubs columnist, Thomas F. O’Neill, author of Introspective. (Thomas gave a firsthand account of his personal experiences with China’s reaction to the outbreak in last month’s issue.) The second is actually family: our cousin, Gary Bullard, who traveled to China years ago in connection with his career in the petroleum industry, fell in love with the country and, more importantly, with the woman who would become his wife, and has made China his home for many years. For this reason, my attention was captured by the early news. Contact was made to both Gary and Thomas, queries as to the distance from Wuhan to their homes, whether or not their communities seemed to be affected, and prayers for their safety. From time to time, news of their personal experiences have been shared through social media. (What an incredible tool we have at our fingertips!)

      At any rate, America was made aware of the outbreak of this new and deadly strain of virus as early as January 2020. Little was done in this country, however, to prepare for what has become a monstrous death-dealing pandemic. In the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak, China, of course, was the epicenter for infections and deaths. Soon, Italy became the country with the greatest number of infections and, sadly, deaths. Before long, countries around the world had their own outbreaks of the virus. Medical and scientific experts the world over have been working day and night to identify a vaccination, treatment, or – God willing! – a cure. One of the greatest trials has been the development of the most basic tool in the armament: a TEST that works. For without the data to identify known infections, recoveries, treatments that do or do not work, and causes of the many deaths attributed to COVID-19, no hope exists for its defeat. Sadly, today the greatest number of cases reported worldwide is in our own country, here in the United States.

      America’s response has been a mixed bag. No over-arching governmental decrees or use, thus far, of the extensive factories to modify their production efforts to the most basic protections for our healthcare workers: PPE – Personal Protective Equipment: masks with breathing apparatus made of materials with the ability to block out the microscopic coronavirus cell; standard gloves and gowns and foot and hair coverings, even! The country has relied upon a healthcare system that has an economic oversight: too few hospitals, too few hospital beds, far too few ICU units and beds for the onslaught of this pandemic. Even the healthcare professionals are facing daily stresses with double and triple shifts, no contact with their own families in many cases, and far too many falling victim to the infection, themselves.

      Further, each state’s response has varied. For instance, the pandemic was announced coincident with annual Spring break for colleges. Florida’s governor failed to close the beaches. In spite of news announcements, droves of college youth appeared on the Florida sands. Those youngsters returned to their dorms, utilizing public transportation: airplanes, buses, trains, or private cars where many stayed in hotels or motels on the trip home. It has been shown that COVID-19 in a host body is asymptomatic for TWO WEEKS. So, an unsuspecting host can be spreading the virus to everyone with whom they come in contact for that incubation period. Some of those infected may die. Now Florida’s numbers have soared. In Louisiana, the governor (mindful of the enormous economic impact) failed to call off Mardi Gras celebrations. The number of cases are soaring in that state and among Mardi Gras attendees now in their home states, spreading the disease. Other states’ governors have been egregiously ignorant of the need for precautions. Notably, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick of Texas even called for seniors to be willing to sacrifice their lives so that the youth could “get back to work.”

      In New York, where a core outbreak at a nursing home seems to have been the source of the initial cases, the numbers are frightening. Governor Andrew Cuomo has been giving daily Coronavirus updates on air. The state has rushed to utilize a Navy hospital ship docked in Manhattan to isolate COVID-19 patients. News less than an hour old shows New York CITY alone has over 38,000 cases and has reported 914 dead. In one six-hour period, the City was experiencing a death every 2.9 minutes. Governor Cuomo is desperately attempting to locate the PPE essential to keeping the state’s healthcare professionals alive and working. Some nurses have resorted to cutting up plastic trash bags to fashion make-shift “gowns” and “footwear.” Christian Siriano, a top fashion designer, has directed his team to the production of life-saving masks. Central Park has been closed off from the public; a temporary hospital tent facility erected. Times Square is empty. Broadway is closed. No restaurants are open for seating; only take-out and delivery.

      The evidence collected worldwide seems to reflect a frightening ease of transmission through droplets spread by sneezing or coughing. The cells of COVID-19 have a “shelf life” of extensive duration: up to 17 days on hard surfaces of a cruise ship whose passengers became infected. It appears to last for a shorter period of time on cloth, cardboard and the like. Those most direly affected are, of course, the elderly or immune-suppressed, or with other health issues such as diabetes, lupus, heart ailments and the like. There have been, however, deaths among infants and the young. A number of celebrity infections and even deaths have attracted attention through the news media recently.

      Our home state of Oklahoma, like so many other states, has called for personal quarantine, restricted travel outside our homes for any but essential needs (groceries, medications, doctor’s visits). Schools have been closed for the past two weeks; now, the directive is that school will not resume until the Fall. People are working from their homes when remote work is possible. Restaurants, bars, nightclubs are permitted to operate only delivery or pick up distribution. Casinos have been closed statewide. No assembly of persons larger than 10 is permitted. Churches have resorted to live video services when possible.

      Videos are found online offering tutorials in hand washing, how to protect food stuffs, how to sanitize the counter where groceries will be unpacked and stored, how to maintain a personal separation of 6 foot from others, how to cough into your elbow, the need to leave shoes outside (walking through those droplets), shower and launder clothes upon return, and other helpful precautions.

      Personally, our household consists of four persons all of whom are immune suppressed by a variety of health issues and age concerns. We have been practicing self-quarantine for weeks now. Our only contact to the outside world takes place when our Chief Forager (hubby) emerges from our cave to grocery shop. He wears a mask, showers before and after, groceries are subjected to special care to remove any contamination before going into the fridge or pantry, fruits are washed … still I worry. My last trip out of the house was an essential trip to my anti coagulation clinic. We both wore masks (bought last year when I had Type A flu and pneumonia) for the visit. No valet parking was available. Rod wiped down the wheelchair handles before transporting me inside. The staff had a table set up with nurses to take temps with sterile wipes there to immediately handle the thermometer (forehead touch technology). Questions: have you been out of the country in the past 14 days? Have you had contact with anyone who has been out of the country over the past 14 days? Have you had any symptoms of the flu? Fever, coughs, sneezes, aches, pains, vomiting or diarrhea? To add “interest” to the visit, a couple (homeless? It appeared so) had called the police to report a theft of her purse – as they sat on the bench outside the hospital complex. They were tracking the GPS on her cellphone and there were Hospital Security guards and a number of police present. Goodness.

      It is sincerely hoped that by next month’s issue, this pandemic has been contained, cured, eradicated! The prior coronavirus scares were MERS and SARS and those were quickly dealt with. In the meantime, life seems other-worldly: schools, restaurants, workplaces, stores, casinos closed. Travel restrictions in place all over the world in a helter-skelter fashion, as different municipalities, states, or countries’ leaders react in different ways. Fear dominant in many, but countered by those who have chosen to take the “this is a hoax” attitude. Some really far-out-there theories, even suggesting this is the work of the Illuminati while they engage 5G cell technology to (1) spy on all communities; or (2) spread biologics… Oh, my.

2020 United States Federal Census:

      This once-a-decade event should be the central theme for a column dedicated to genealogy, family history, and research. But, in this year of the pandemic, the Census certainly takes a back seat in the news. Our Census this year is to be completed online, with households receiving a mailing that contains an identifying code to be input once the online site is accessed. This ensures each household is enumerated. There will be reminders and – if no response is received – a team of door-to-door enumeration specialists will be dispatched. Libraries (if ever allowed to open again!) will have computer access for those who have none at home.

      The questions are very simplistic: names (first, middle, and last), ages, Race (offering a pre-set list of possibilities to be checked, including both White Hispanic and White, not Hispanic), and then Origin. In hindsight, having responded White, English for those two questions, I now wonder if I should have reported origin based on country of BIRTH, not ancestor’s derivation. No questions about value of real property, personal property, occupation, military record … no personal insights to tickle the imagination of future genealogists who, 70 years hence, get to review the Census data. After the big stir over really unnecessary and politically-motivated potential inquiries, this was both a relief and a disappointment. Relief that the simple queries may result in a greater response. Disappointment that future historians will have little personal insight into their families’ snapshot of their daily lives.

      PLEASE! DO respond to the Census. It is required, but so many ignore the enumeration. For your kids, grandkids, great grandkids – even later generations, your response may provide the critical brick-buster they need to identify a “lost” (to them) ancestor. Take your place in history. Fill in your household Census.

Easter 2020 – 12 April:

      In the midst of this horrific pandemic, the bright light for Christians the world over is the celebration of Jesus Christ’s victory over death. Yes, there will be colored eggs and bunnies, baskets of fruits and candies SURELY (?) even if those traditional celebrations must be limited to our backyard or even, within the apartment or home.

      For all of us who are devout believers, this is the penultimate celebration of our faith. Spring, itself, is a reminder of life after death as trees – long dormant over the winter months – bring forth fresh green leaves and, for many varieties, a floral tribute that brightens our landscape. The emerging bulbs of crocus, hyacinth, daylilies, tulips, jonquils – in their riot of colors paint our world with the glories of Nature. Gone are the dry brown fields of last year’s grasses, awakened to the splendor of new life – new birth – new fresh flowers and the warm breezes that chase away the cold and gloom.

      HE LIVES! And, therefore, we have the promise of victory over death. May this Easter bring news of a cure for this latest assault on mankind. Amen, so may it be.

      In the meantime, our household lifts prayers daily – for the good health of our family, near and extended, our friends around the world, our nation and our world.

Click on author's byline for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.

Cooking with Rod


Southwest Poblano Brisket


My sweet wife and I love to cook and we love trying new twists on old favorites. We like spice and this delicious brisket provides just the right bite. This one's a great recipe. It takes a little bit of time to cook, but Ooooh, it is worth it! The good part is, it's an inexpensive cut but tastes like a million bucks.

Stay safe. Stay well. Stay separate now so we can be together later.

Bon appetit~!

Southwest Poblano Brisket
by the Cohenour Team
* 5 to 6 lb brisket. Ask your butcher to leave about 1/4" of the fat cap (that provides the moist flavor that makes brisket so good)
* 2 large poblano peppers, stem and seeds removed. Rinse and slice to leave long, flat strips
* Barbecue sauce, use your favorite bottled sauce or make your own. Your choice. Our recipe is included.

* 1/4 cup brown sugar
* 2 Tbsp chili powder
* 1 Tbsp garlic powder
* 2 tsp onion powder
* 2 tsp cumin
* 1 tsp ground oregano
* 1 tsp smoky paprika
* 1 tsp ground black pepper

1. Prepare brisket. Rinse and pat dry with paper towels. Check fat cap to make sure it is about 1/4 inch thick. Check direction of the grain. When serving, you will cut ACROSS the grain to sever long fibers and provide the most tender slices.
2. Rub all surfaces of the brisket liberally with the rub.
3. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
4. Prepare a a foil packet to completely envelope the brisket. Using a baking sheet (broiler proof) with a rim or a large roasting pan, place the brisket, fat side up to permit it to self baste. It is important to make sure the foil pack will contain all the meat juices that will cook out. Place strips of one large poblano pepper on foil before positioning the brisket. Top the brisket with strips of second poblano. Seal the foil pack well but not too tightly. Leave room for the steam. Top with an additional sheet of foil over entire pan.
5. Roast brisket for about 1 hour per pound in the medium oven (300 degrees). Slow cooking leads to a more tender brisket.
6. Remove pan from the oven. Permit brisket to rest until cool enough to handle, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove brisket from foil pack but DO NOT lose any meat juices. Pour juices into a saucepan.
7. Brush brisket with some of the meat juices and return to the oven to broil until the fat pack is made crisp, 2 to 5 minutes as necessary.
8. Slice against the grain. Serve with the au jus or a barbecue sauce.
Delicious with baked beans or jalapeno pintos, a cool potato salad or pan-fried potatoes, and a crisp salad. Warm buns or crusty bread make a great accompaniment to sop up all those delicious spicy juices!

Our House Barbecue Sauce:
* 3 cups tomato catsup
* 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
* 2 Tbsp yellow mustard (like French's bottled mustard)
* 2 Tbsp brown sugar
* 1 tsp smoky paprika
* 1 tsp Chili powder
* 1 large onion, diced, carmelized
* Poblano pepper strips retained from roasted brisket, diced
* Retained meat juices (fat removed if you wish). To remove the fat, pour up meat juices in a narrow container, making sure they have cooled enough not to break your glass. Place container in the fridge while you chop and carmelize the onions (brisket resting at this point). Fat should congeal slightly and rise to the top. Skim off.

In a medium saucepan, add all ingredients. Cook, stirring frequently to prevent lumps or scorching. Sauce should simmer and thicken as it reduces slightly. Slow cooking permits the flavors to blend.
Serve in a bowl or gravy boat with a ladle.

Click on author's byline for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.

Consider This

My Sister's Friends


      In spite of being a fallen WASP, I still well remember the preachings of my youth advising me that forgiveness is healthy, not only for the forgivee but also for the forgiver. Not sure I buy into all that but whatever, I’m still wondering today if my sister Betsy has ever forgiven me for the variety of wildlife to which I joyfully subjected her for years. Yes, years.

      We are both in our 80s now, she’s 2 years older, and yet still the subject comes up, again and again. Come on, after eight decades, shouldn’t we all just move on? Apparently not. I’m not so sure that “forgiveness,” at least on this issue, is in her lexicon.

      Here’s the deal; I love animals, ALL animals, slimy, unidentifiable, legless, wild, domestic, dangerous, gross, hairy, toothy, bald, roaring, or malodorous. Betsy? Not so much. She knows they are out there, but she’d prefer they stay out there, preferably hidden. Me? I invite them all in.

      We grew up sharing a bedroom, and attended the same high school for a while. There was a lab in that school, and in that lab were cages of white rats; big sweet funny loving squirmy white rats, all on death row, placed there by our teacher, Mr. Bissell. We obedient students were expected to murder them, slice them open from butt to chin, pin their hides open in wax-filled pans that looked suspiciously like cookie pans, and we’d all get to play with their wet, warm innards. Sorry folks. It’s how it was back then. To this day I still have no clue how doing all that furthered my education, but I felt precisely the same way about Home Ec, too. But we knew we had to do it, so with apologies to those beautiful rodents, we shut our eyes, chloroformed, sliced and pinned them, and learned, like it or not, where rats’ livers, lungs, bellies, intestines, personal parts etc. etc. were located. Hey, we didn’t have Google back then---everything was hands-on.

      But—LC of Arc that I was, I would sneak into the lab when Mr. Bissell was canoodling with Miss Yardley in the small Bunsen-burners, beakers, test tubes storage closet, and I’d kidnap a lot of those rats. It became my life’s cause to save as many as possible. Alas, because I’d have to sneak them onto the school bus in my bra, I could only take the small ones. Yes, I absconded with the grateful creatures but the condition of my undergarment at the end of the day was a little---well, let’s say nasty. But, did I care? No. I was on a crusade.

      However, where to stash the dear rodents? In a desk drawer with food and water of course, where they’d wait for my return. But you see I shared that desk with Betsy, and when she’d pull open a drawer to find tumbling, roiling white rats in there and leaping out at her to play---well the sound that came from her can only be described and a kind of slow, deafening, keening sort of noise. A sort of long, thin sword to the ear. Oh, it was simply delicious. I’ll never forget it and still smile at the memory.

      Recognizing I’d hit on a good one, my next adoptions were of course the occasional garter snake in her bed, and then came the great jars of thick, umber slime from a nearby brackish pond that was loaded with pollywogs and snails and lots of unidentifiable wriggling creatures. Oh, the smell—wonderful! Up they went on Betsy’s closet shelves. I quickly realized if the closet door was kept closed the smell would somehow quadruple, and get richer by the hour. I’d prop myself up on my bed, engrossed in the latest Confidential magazine, and I’d wait. And wait. Eventually my poor sister would go to the closet to get her outfit ready for the next school day, (I know my eyes were glittering like a snake’s) I’d watch her innocent hand turn our closet’s doorknob and then, oh that fabulous, fabulous scream. Like no other anywhere! How happy my sister could make me by emitting that sound. A symphony!

      Forgiveness? We have a wary relationship now. She never mentions these things, I mean unless we’ve invited a lot of people over for dinner, and then of course these old boring memories of hers bubble up. She does have a rather nervous tic in her right eye that I notice gathers speed when she starts to babble about all this. She really should see someone about that.

      Has she forgiven me? Hmmm—not sure. But when she talks about those halcyon days, she forgets my best animal incident. I used to spend part of every day in the woods as a kid and would happily bring home tons of specimens, sometimes live. Well, always live actually. One time in January I was trudging through the snow in the woods and found this sort of cocoon thing on a small twig, so I broke it off and took it home. It was so pretty. I put it into a lidless jar under our night table, and forgot about it.

      That scream came when I was sleeping. I just thought I was happily dreaming so I smiled, rolled over and ignored it. This particular keening, shrill noise got worse, louder, so I sat up and turned on the light. What to my wondering eyes should appear but my poor dear sister, in her nightgown, lying on her back, her mouth, ears, nose, hair---everything---stuffed and covered with thousands of baby Praying Mantises. That pretty cocoon thing in the jar under the night table next to her, thought the warmth of our bedroom meant that spring had arrived, so they hatched! All of them! Lots of them! Millions of them! Poor Betsy looked like a bad science fiction movie; she was simply encased in crawling, baby Praying Mantises. I mean they were everywhere on her, like tiny Biblical locusts invading Betsyland for food. Who knew that many were hiding in that cocoon awaiting their birthday?

      Betsy has never spoken of that glorious night. I think it’s a Freudian Forget thing, y’think maybe?

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Editor's Note: Be sure to check out LC's new domain at

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Click on author's byline for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.

Irish Eyes


Total Lockdown

The Republic of Ireland is in virtual lockdown until April 12th, at the earliest. And people of my age are “cocooned.” Theatres, pubs and many stores closed. It is a scary time but we haven't lost our interest in literature or our sense of humour. Ireland’s greatest literary festival Listowel Writers’ Week has been canceled. It was great to read about two of its stalwart contributors still in the news.

Saint Patrick’s Day parades over the island were canceled and veteran writer Mary Kenny, in the Irish Independent treated us to a few lesser known facts about our national apostle. For instance she discovered that Saint Patrick was deemed to be the founder of Irish literature. The oldest surviving text penned in Ireland was written by Saint Patrick in the fifth century. The saint wrote in Latin so his text was called a littera from which we get the word “letter” in English and “Litir” in Irish.

This “epistle” of Saint Patrick which was sent to the British ruler Coroticus is believed to be the foundation of the written word in Ireland. So before we get too carried away by our world famous literary tradition we should reflect on the fact that the founder wasn’t even Irish.
As a child Christine Dwyer Hickey (see pic below) spent much time with her father and often accompanied him to the races. She used those experiences in her 1991 short story, "Across the Excellent Grass" which won the Powers Gold Short Story Competition at Listowel Writers’ Week. She won the same competition the following year with "Birdie’s Wedding" and was also a prize winner in The Observer/short story competition with "Teatro La Fenice."

I first met the author in Listowel and it was always evident that she would go places as a writer. Her Dublin Trilogy was published between 1995-2000 as "The Dancer, The Gambler and The Gatemaker" by Marino Books and was republished by New Island in 2006-07. The trilogy tells the story of a Dublin family between the years 1913-1958. Her novel Tatty published in 2004 has been chosen as the Dublin One City One Book for city 2020.

Alison Lyons, a director of UNESCO City of Literature explains the principle behind Dublin One City One Book, “To shine a light on a particular book, to make sure it’s widely available through the library system and to encourage reading of it with lots of free events themed around the story and the author.”

In this case the author and the work are closely related. Christine explains that when started to write Tatty she was doing it,” . . . as a sort of exercise in therapy to help me get my head around my complicated childhood which after my father’s death had come back to haunt me.”

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Despite the lockdown inter-county rivalry hasn’t died a death. The following dialogue between two Meath man was overheard at a wake in Nobber.

“I hear a Cavan man is after getting’ the virus.”

“Well there’s one thing certain, he won’t give it to anyone. I heard of a couple in Mullahoran, during the lockdown an’ they were watching Mass on the television. When it came to the collection they turned it off.”

* * * * *

Social Distancing is not a new phenomenon. It’s a long time since I encountered it first. It was a harvest night in 1969. I was parallel with the perpendicular outside the Marquee in Poulaphouca with a young one (well she wasn’t that young!) The Parish Priest came on the scene and, in a stentorian voice, commanded, “You should be two feet apart.” “Be God Father” says I “I’m here for the past twenty minutes trying to get her two feet apart.”

It would appear that some young people are not taking the advice of experts seriously. I’m doing my best to stay alive anyway. Because, in the words of the late John B. Keane, “A dead man is no good to anyone except undertakers and propagandists.”

* * * * *

It was Mother‘s Day here in Ireland. Mary Adair had reminded me that the deadline was imminent. I was sitting there trying to come up with something appropriate. Then it struck me. Why not use Patrick Kavanagh’s poem,
‘In Memory of My Mother’ I do not think of you lying in the wet clay
Of a Monaghan graveyard; I see
You walking down a lane among the poplars
On your way to the station, or happily
Going to second Mass on a summer Sunday
You meet me and you say:
‘Don’t forget to see about the cattle – ‘
Among your earthiest words the angels stray.
And I think of you walking along a headland
Of green oats in June,
So full of repose, so rich with life –
And I see us meeting at the end of a town.
On a fair day by accident, after
The bargains are all made and we can walk
Together through the shops and stalls and markets
Free in the oriental streets of thought.
O you are not lying in the wet clay,
For it is a harvest evening now and we
Are piling up the ricks against the moonlight
And you smile up at us – eternally.

* * * * *

I saw the following in the Social and Personal section of a provincial newspaper.
“Single man with toilet rolls would like to meet female with hand sanitiser . . . for good clean fun.”

* * * * *

We are told that we should turn our stumbling blocks into stepping stones. We now have a major stumbling block and converting it into a stepping stone will be difficult. But we can do our best.

The Future???

See you in May.

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