Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Editor's Corner

September 2010

Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers; pray for powers equal to your tasks.--Phillips Brooks

Assembling this issue was a challenge. A welcome one, for it brings great variety within it. Building blocks are a good analogy as the Columns and Poems and Articles and one Story go together with the synchronicity that surprises but is always pleasant when it occurs. Much of it you'll discover yourself when you find Blair's poem, "Salathael" with its appropriate image then glance at LC Van Savage's column "Consider This." Unplanned pairings that blend for a classy effect are the blessings of an editor. And at this point new contributing author June Hogue's article "Reflections on Blessings of Aging" must be mentioned. We are pleased to introduce her this issue.
LC Van Savage's article "Here’s To the Guys Who Brought it Over," and Leo C. Helmer's latest "More Western Swing-Bill Boyd" details those subjects these authors wrote while thinking of your enjoyment.
Helmer's column "Cookin' With Leo" shares his find, "Maple Mustard Pork Roast." In the column "Angel Whispers" Peg Jones tells how to make your own gratitude and/or blessings box, and what to fill it with while Gerard Meister works at keeping up with cell phones in "Thinking Out Loud."
John I. Blair in "Always Looking" tells some family stories to emphasize how fascinating genealogy can be. Thomas F. O'Neill decides it might be his time to learn Chinese, and explains how he came to that conclusion in his "Introspection." Mattie Lennon's column "Irish Eyes" gives a neat review on Mayo County musician John Hoban's "From the Plain of the Yew Tree".
Mark Crocker adds the third installment in the Stories section of his "Rabbo Tales," and if you haven't seen the first two, you'll want to catch up to this engaging fantasy.
With 14 poems - seven from Bruce Clifford and John I. Blair with six, your editor added her own "Routine" to avoid having 13 poetic offerings. The others are:
    By Bruce Clifford:
      "How Many Ways," "I Think," "I Would Give You The World," "If I Could Bend the Time," "Nothing to Believe in," "This Love I Have For You," and "Parallel World."
    By John I. Blair:
      "Rosewaistis," illustrated; "Summer Garden," also with image; "Enough is as Good as a Feast," "The Dead Woodpecker," "The Neglected Garden," and previously mentioned "Salathael," with picture.
Remember you can be a fan for us at FaceBook. The issue appears in the ezine at and also in the blog at with the capability of adding comments at the latter.
See you in October!
Click on Mary E. Adair for bio and list of othe r works published by Pencil Stubs Online.

More On Western Swing-Bill Boyd

Author's Notes: This is to thank all the readers who wrote in about my original Western Swing article, and the many later ones, which appeared starting wiith the October 2000 Issue of PENCILSTUBS. Many of you wrote me personally or commented on this article and the ones that followed. Some thanked me for mentioning relatives and sent pictures. Some inquired as to where they might find a certain song or albums. And many asked for information on the artists. I hope I was of help to all and I do appreciate your comments. If I can be of any help in locating recordings, feel free to contact me here:

Bill Boyd and the Cowboy Ramblers

For true fans of Western Swing, Bill Boyd rates with his contemporary, Bob Wills even though the two utilized very different styles. Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys often used horns and songs from a variety of genres, Boyd remained true to his western roots, using only a string band, ‘The Cowboy Ramblers’.

Boyd was born and raised on a farm near Ladonia in Fannin County, Texas as one of thirteen children. His parents, Lemuel and Molly Jared Boyd, who originally hailed from Tennessee, came to Texas in 1902. During the Great depression, the family moved to Dallas. Bill and his brother Jim tried to survive the hard times by working different odd jobs.

Boyd grew up as a working cowboy, learning the traditional songs from the impromptu campfire jam sessions of the ranch hands. Both he and his younger brother frequently sang with the cowboys, as did their parents. The boys got to be pretty good, and in 1926, made their debut on KFPM in Greenville, Texas.
The family moved to Dallas in 1929, where Boyd played in a band that included fiddler Art Davis. By this time Boyd knew he wanted a career in music, first joining a band on WFAA, and then the first incarnation of ‘The Cowboy Ramblers’ in 1932 on WRR. Included in Boyd's new band was his brother, Jim, on bass; Davis on fiddle; and Walter Kirkes on tenor banjo. When not actually performing, Boyd was out recruiting new sponsors and in this way managed to survive the Depression.

Bill joined the Alexanders Daybreakers trio performing at early-morning radio shows. Together with Jim, he appeared on radio in Greenville, Texas, and at WRR in Dallas. Meanwhile, Jim formed the "Rhythm Aces in February 1932, Bill Boyd recorded with the "Blue yodeler" Jimmie Rodgers. In that same year, he formed the pioneering western swing band "The Cowboy Ramblers". His band consisted of himself on guitar, Jim Boyd on bass, Walter Kirkes on tenor banjo and Art Davis on fiddle. During the band's history, many of the members also worked simultaneously with the ‘Light Crust Doughboys’ and ‘Roy Newman's Boys’.
In 1934, he and the band moved to San Antonio to record for Bluebird, cutting hits including the standard "Under the Double Eagle" and "Going Back to My Texas Home." In the late '30s, their membership increased to ten; among their better-known members were fiddler Carroll Hubard, piano player Knocky Parker, and steel guitar player Wilson "Lefty" Perkins.

During their long association with RCA, Bill Boyd & The Cowboy Ramblers recorded over 229 singles; and in the early '40s, they appeared in six ‘el cheapo’ Hollywood cowboy films, including ‘Raiders of the West’ and ‘Prairie Pals’. Boyd's jaunt through Hollywood was interesting, as it overlapped with the career of cowboy actor William Boyd famous for his portrayal of Hopalong Cassidy.

Boyd effectively retired from the music business in the early '50s, and began a second career as a radio DJ at Dallas' WRR. Upon his posthumous induction into the Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame, a bill was introduced into the Texas legislature to honor Boyd and his contributions to the state's cultural identity.

The Cowboys Ramblers made more than 225 recordings between 1934-1951 The band had their own popular radio show, "The Bill Boyd Ranch House.” They made their recording debut for Bluebird Records on August 7, 1934. In 1935, the Cowboy Ramblers had a huge hit with their recording of "Under the Double Eagle" which later became a western swing standard and remained in print for over twenty five years. Other classics of the 1930s include "I've Got Those Oklahoma Blues", "Fan It", "Wah Hoo", "Beaumont Rag" and "New Steel Guitar Rag". One of his other hits was "If You'll Come Back",

After the outbreak of World War II, Boyd joined "The Western Minute Men" promoting the sale of war bonds. During the 1940s, Jim Boyd often led The Cowboy Ramblers when he's brother was indisposed. Eventually, Jim formed his own band, the "Men of the West." In the 1950s, the brothers terminated their radio show and became DJs. In the early 1970s, Bill Boyd retired from the music business. His brother Jim Boyd died in 1993.

For his contribution to radio, Bill 'Cowboy Rambler' Boyd has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6101 Hollywood Blvd.

Click on Leocthasme for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.

Thinking Out Loud

As the years advance my wife and I grow more dependent on our cell phones, so much so that we make sure never to leave the house without our link to 911 safely in hand. And because we each have the same identical phone with the same identical ring tone, an occasional problem pops up.
The other day after we had both showered I had dressed first and came downstairs for lunch (we usually lunch together). I was seated in my recliner waiting for my better half to come down and as she alighted from the stairs she made a bee line for me saying, “How come I have your phone, where’s mine? It’s not upstairs!
“How should I know?” I replied. “Why don’t you call your phone? Maybe you left it in the car?” “I doubt it,” she muttered as she dialed.
“I hear it, I hear it,” I shouted as I spun my recliner around. “I can’t see it, but it must be here, somewhere here!” I said, spinning wildly back around again.
“Well, it’s here alright genius, but you don’t see it because it’s in your pocket – I see the outline.”
“Phew,” I said, “really sorry about that, darling. I guess I got confused.”
Later that evening our daughter, who is a ‘techie’ changed my wife’s ring tone and explained, “now that mom has a different ring tone, you won’t get confused any more, dad.” (Little did she know how easily I get confused.)
The next morning I left early for a doctor’s appointment and to pick up a book I had ordered at the library. As luck would have it I took my wife’s phone again, proving that even though I have a steel trap mind, sometimes the trap springs shut at the wrong time or the wrong place or both.
So I’m in the library waiting for my requested book to be found, when the librarian says to me,
“Sir, your phone is ringing.” “That’s not my phone, madam,” I tell her.
“Well, it’s in your pocket and it’s ringing,” she persists.
“Okay, okay,” I say smugly, reach into my pocket grab the phone and say, “hello, who is this?”
“It’s me again, genius.”
“What are you doing there?” I ask, still uncertain as to what’s going on.
“Same thing I was doing yesterday, looking for my phone, which apparently you took again, so nothing has changed except for the date.”
Guess she got that right!

Click on  Gerard Meister for bio and other works in Pencil Stubs Online.

The Dead Woodpecker

At first I do not recognize
This awkward little bundle,
Scuffled halfway out of view
Beneath the patio chair;
But then familiar patterning
Of spotted feathers on the back
Reminds me that I’ve seen it many times
Dancing through the joyous air
Above our garden.
What could have happened
To so suddenly stop
That fierce life it once radiated?
As I pick the stillness up
And place it carefully in the compost heap,
I grieve to think this husk
Is all I have to handle
Now that the life is gone.
©2002 John I. Blair
Click on John I. Blair for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.

Irish Eyes

Marked By Music

Mattie Lennon

John Hoban, singer/songwriter, music teacher, storyteller and musician has now another string to his bow. (Pun intentional.)  He has written “From the Plain of the Yew Tree.” He is much too modest to describe it as an autobiography and I'm reluctant to call it merely a memoir.It is, as it says on the cover, "The lifetime journey of a County Mayo Musician." John is summed up in the Introduction by the legendry Christy Moore, "Meeting Johnny Hoban is always like a good fleadh cheoil for me. I look forward to lingering with him upon 'the plain of the yew tree'."

It is truly a "journey" which takes the reader to Clare Island, Sydney, Dundalk, California . . or as the author says, "All over the world and a few other places." It's written about places from Castlebar to Kandabar and about every emotion known to man (and a few that haven’t been labelled yet.)

He was born on Sunday 31st January 1954 in Castlebar, County Mayo, and he now says, "All the major changes in my life are marked by music." "I don't know if describing music as my home is suitable or correct, but I do know that music gives me a sense of belonging and acceptance, no matter where I am at any given time."

"I couldn't wait to follow the trail of music which was lighting up my soul and giving all life meaning, creating a sacred path to the four directions." He "met two friends in the blue Mosque" wrote a song about a Mayo fiddle player in Freemantle, heard the Dali Lama in Perth and years later in Dharamsala, Northern India. "The common language of music makes me feel at home anywhere." This common language made him feel at ease,

"From Belfast to Boston and dear Achill Sound,
Okema, Oklahoma to old Santa Fe."

And all the time, music was "leading me by the hand." As a young man in Saint Jarlath's, Tuam, he felt that, "Music was the real world. It didn't matter where it came from or what it was called. What mattered was the feeling of the song and the way I felt listening to it."

Tried to figure out how a boy became a man
Sleeping rough in the West End in a red van.
Nobody could tell me what I was all about,
So in a few short days, I was back where I began.

For somebody who dug drains in the snow amid the din of London traffic and spent days at Fleadh Cheoils where the auricular sense was permanently assaulted albeit by pleasant and inspiring sounds and sang The Boys of Barr na Sraide in Oxford Circus he loves the absence of noise. Heather Marshall who interviewed him says, "His greatest inspiration is silence."

There are times in everyone's life when they feel scared. At such times John Hoban always, " . . . sang and played music and stayed close to the musical broken, truth of the life I had been granted."
Whether you read John Hoban or talk to him his tolerance comes across loud and clear but he does like people to be themselves. "I am only drawn to a voice that is natural; if it is trained or elocuted it does not sound true to me and I can almost find it amusing." Of the Showbands of the sixties he has this to say, "Everybody wanted to be somebody else. They sounded like they came from Texas or Nashville, not from Kiltimagh or County Monaghan, or Tucker Street in Castlebar. It was as if they had disassociated themselves from where they came from." And how about this? " A fiddle and a violin may be the same instrument, but how they are played are worlds apart."

The troubadour from Castlebar can play instruments that I hadn’t even heard about. Denbo Conti from Gambia, in West Africa, brought a "Kora" (a lute harp) to Galway. John Hoban bought it from him and it can now be heard at sessions in Charlestown.

Despite his many talents John experienced the same frustrations as everybody else;

"I spent three days by train, across the Nullabor Plain
with no trees in sight.
I near went insane".

He was "taught about the life of the spirit through the language of music." And his Life took a positive turn in the eighties. He doesn't elaborate but tells the reader, "Providence had another plan and it's still working for me."

He had no trouble dealing with, " . . . dreamers, schemers and real decent folk" since music, "acted as a signpost."

" My soul was always filled with music and song as my life seemed to flicker by like a slide show."

What can we expect from the Castlebar Pilgrim in the future? Is there a clue in the Epilogue?
“For the moment, my own music pilgrimage, spanning over five and a half decades, goes on, and is described in stories, songs, poems and pictures. Like the iceberg, or the swan in the water, the main story is hidden under the water.”

There will (at the last count) be two launches of "From the Plain of the Yew Tree."; On 12th September in Fairfield Library, Connecticut and on 26th October back home in Castlebar. And Providence's plan is still working well.
For more information go to:

Click on Mattie Lennon for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.


O what a way
They had with names;
To call their fifth-born son

After an exiled king
Of Judah on the Tigris
Whom only Bible scholars
Know today. Salathael,

You must have had another,
Maybe “Thael” or “Sal”
Or “my baby boy

And that for such a tiny time,
Just begun to walk, to talk,
To dream of running
When you died, Salathael.

Sheltered by the heavy stones
That mark your father’s
And your older brothers’ graves
On either side, Salathael,

Your broken bit of marble
Lies half-hidden in the ground,
Reclining like its carved lamb,
Your name, “Salathael,”

Curved around the top,
Almost too long to fit
And disappearing under moss,
Just as you, Salathael,

Disappeared so many years ago,
Beneath the grass,
The sky-blue vervain,
Salathael my kinsman.

©2010 John I. Blair

Click on By John I. Blair for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.

Enough Is As Good As A Feast

“Enough is as good as a feast.” So read
My fortune today; but when I digested
What my fortune cookie had said,
I wondered how I could know what’s enough.
Won’t it be later, when my gut
Passes on the internal report
That the food I et did not upset?
And sometimes isn’t enough too much,
As when I’ve had enough belladonna
To do the job? As for a feast,
Well, that’s a beast of a different color,
And probably one with an apple jammed
Full in its jaws. For isn’t the very
Idea of a feast replete with the notion
Of more than enough? How else can it be
A feast? That’s what I’ve always thought.
So, if excess produces stress,
Then maybe enough is better than a feast,
If it’s enough of the right stuff.

©2002 John I. Blair

Click on John I. Blair for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.

The Neglected Garden

Although I neglect it now,
Beauty abides in this space;
Life persists, and prevails,
With or without my spade.

Even if the design I laid
Has blurred,
I see it shifting subtly
Into a more natural arrangement.

Each plant is here because I brought
It, its parent, or its seed,
Or merely made
A better place for it to grow;

But just the plants
That belonged have stayed.
(The others
Vanished one by one.)

Mostly what I did
Was stir things up, enrich the mix,
And fertilize this bit of glade

©2002 John I. Blair
Click on John I. Blair for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.

Always Looking –

Always Looking – Write It Down!

Being from the Midwest, on Memorial Day I used to join much of my Mother’s family in following the long-standing tradition of visiting the rural cemetery in southwestern Missouri where dozens of my kinfolk are buried. We would make sure the markers were upright, the plantings neat and mowed, and put flowers on the graves. It was an old-fashioned cemetery where that was allowed. Then we’d get to the serious, but joyous, business of looking for other, living, kinfolk and standing around, visiting about the past year’s events and re-telling family stories.

Now I’ve gotten too old, infirm, and impecunious to make the near 1000-mile round trip. Instead I phone or e-mail my surviving relatives and chat electronically.

This year I obtained some new phone numbers from my oldest living relative, Aunt Mary, made some calls, got one answering machine, then one “live” contact – a first cousin once removed, also named John, who is 90 this year, and whom I’ve never met in person. I’d been advised he, like me, was interested in family history.

We hit it off just as soon as I convinced him I wasn’t a crank caller, politician, fund raiser or salesman. We talked for two hours. By and by, after we’d covered the basics, we got around to the telling of stories, about long-gone relatives and about ourselves. My elderly cousin, who could personally remember relatives I just knew as names and shadowy pictures in dusty albums, loved telling some obviously much-practiced tales that, nevertheless, I’d never heard before. And I told him a couple.

Grandpa Billy and His Pipe

Grandpa Billy lived to be 97 years old. A Civil War veteran who as a teenage militiaman had helped rebuild war-destroyed railroad trestles, he’d seen the last half of the 19th century and most of the first half of the 20th, surviving his wife and 11 of his 12 children.

Most of his adult life, the one personal vice he indulged himself in was smoking. Although he stopped smoking for awhile, when he got old he eventually decided, what the heck? He was already in his 90s; why deny himself? So he took up pipe smoking again.

Grandpa Billy with a Cigar and Granddaughter Ruth Percy

Now one thing Grandpa Billy also loved doing in his last years was to ride out to his farm in fine weather and watch the fields being worked. To combine getting a lift there and having a raised place from which to watch, he’d have a chair put on a wagon, then ride it out. One day his grandson John was tasked with plowing 20 acres to plant field corn. Young John carefully assisted Grandpa Billy up a short ladder to the wagon, saw him settled safely in the chair with his pipe, then climbed onto the big gasoline-powered tractor and slowly drove down the road to the field.

When they got there, John disconnected the wagon in a shady spot, hooked up the plow, and set to work while Grandpa Billy relaxed with his pipe.

When John stopped to check on his Grandpa after finishing his job, he noticed a wisp of white smoke curling up from a burlap sack in the wagon bed. Unknown to Grandpa, a bit of his pipe ash had fallen on the sack. And what made matters worse was that a gas can was sitting next to the sack!

When he saw the imminent danger, young John first thought of his Grandpa and helped him move to safety. Then he asked Grandpa Billy if he should move the can and extinguish the smoldering sack. Grandpa just looked at him and dryly said “Yep; I do think that might be a good idea.” (John still laughed when he told that, more than 70 years later.)

How Cousin John’s Corduroys Won the Day

When he was a boy, Cousin John was given a pair of new corduroy pants by his mother. In those days, money was very short (In rural America the Great Depression started in 1920), and a pair of pants was an investment – in fabric and time and labor, if nothing else.

The first day he wore the pants, John got caught up in the excitement of a local festival in which one of the events was a greased pole climbing contest. The person who could first climb the debarked, heavily greased, pole to the top would retrieve a dollar (equivalent to at least $20 today).

One, then another boy tried and failed. A couple of John’s cousins (my uncles) even used a trick – they threw dust at the pole to reduce its slipperiness. One got halfway up before sliding down; another got 2/3 of the way.

John thought about his having on the pair of new corduroys – surely the ribbed surface would give him an advantage. But first he asked his mother. She told him to “go for it!”

John waited his turn, then jumped as high as he could to get started, clung to the pole for all he was worth, and slowly inched his way up. He was concentrating so hard, he didn’t even look to see how far he had gotten.

Then cheers! He’d reached the top! He grabbed the dollar and slid down, triumphant.

The Greased Pole Climb Contest had been so popular and generated so much excitement and interest, someone said it should be repeated. This time only a 50 cent piece was placed at the top (no one recorded how the money was gotten there). Newly confident from his recent victory and still wearing the now very greasy corduroys, John won again! As he told me, he took $1.50 home that evening, in his still new, but very soiled, corduroys. No word on what his mother said, but she probably washed the pants without complaint, proud of her boy’s feat, and happy at her part in it.

Cousin Percy

Cousin Percy couldn’t handle a car because he was, as the saying went, “a bit off”, though perfectly capable of independent living. So he walked everywhere. He was a strong walker. One day, as he was walking from the county town to his home far out in the countryside, Percy was spotted by a friend who was driving carefully along the same rough, rutted road.

Typical Rutted Road

The friend offered a lift. Percy climbed into the worn-out sedan, settled in, and rode along companionably for a few miles; but then he asked to be let out. The friend knew it was still some distance to Percy’s house, so he asked Percy if he was sure he wanted to walk the rest of the way. Percy’s reply: “I can walk faster than you’re driving.”

Percy always wore bib overalls with a rough work shirt for his everyday attire. The last time I saw him, at the cemetery on Memorial Day many years ago, that’s what he had on. Just recently my Aunt Mary told me Percy’s funeral had been open-casket. And there in the casket lay Percy, wearing crisply starched and pressed bib overalls and work shirt. Most everyone thought it was the best choice that could have been made for his burial suit. They would not have recognized him otherwise.

How Cousin John Became a Lawman by Accident

Born in 1920, my cousin John was in the prime age group of young men who served in World War II. He got through the war safely, then saw the common sense of taking advantage of the generous government program that paid veterans to get college educations, even though he’d only completed two years of high school before dropping out to work on local farms.

John lived 21 miles from the nearest college – a teacher’s college in Pittsburg, Kansas. Too poor for a car, all he had for transportation was a war-surplus Harley Davidson motorcycle. So every school day he would get up at dawn and ride the distance, on poor roads, go to classes, then return to his home in rural Missouri. Rain or shine, hot or cold weather, even on snow and ice.

Harley Davidson motorcycle

One day that happened to be icy, he had made it safely to Pittsburg and was rolling down a main street, almost to school, when he hit a slick spot while trying to make a 90-degree turn onto a side street. The bike, refusing to turn, skidded some distance; but he “didn’t even have to set his foot on the pavement” and recovered neatly – according to him, not a particularly difficult feat.

However, just behind him on the street, a following car happened to be full of Pittsburg policemen carpooling to work that morning. They had been quite impressed by his cycling skill. At the first opportunity, one of them approached him and suggested he could have a job right away as a motorcycle policeman with the city.

John responded that he already had a full-time job as a student, and a particularly demanding job at that, as he was having to make up for his truncated high school education.

A few weeks later, however, when the offer was made once more, John thought again about the decision and figured he might try it for awhile.

Twenty-five years later John retired from a career as motorcycle “cop” in Pittsburg (he’d worked his way up to Captain), only to be talked into running for county sheriff – an office he won by a 2 to 1 margin and stayed at until he retired for good. All because of an icy patch on the ride to class, a smooth recovery, and a lucky chance.

Lots of Johns, Some Firecrackers, and Grandpa’s Stable

The other phone number I’d called that day (and gotten an answering machine) had been my cousin Linda, in upper New York State.

Linda and I had not spoken in nearly 60 years; and there was a reason for that. Back in the early 1950s all of Mom’s family were gathered at Grandpa’s house in Missouri (Grandpa John), including my Uncle Jack (actually also named John), his daughter Linda, and his son, also named John. Not much imagination in my family about names.

It was the Fourth of July; and in small-town Missouri 60 years ago there were no restrictions on fireworks. Anything went. (I trace the start of my lifelong high-frequency deafness, especially in my right ear, to careless play with firecrackers at Grandpa’s house.)

Being 10 years old and utterly without discretion or sense, I formed an idea – I would talk my younger cousin John into conspiring with me at frightening his even younger sister – Linda – by luring her out to Grandpa’s stable (empty of horses, but not of straw) and setting off a string of firecrackers. Took real brains to think of that. (I did mention the straw, right?)

Of course Other John, being also a boy (even younger than me) and equally shy on good sense, went along.

Our little plot went beautifully. Linda – not much older than nursery school age – totally trusted her brother and cousin (both “honest Johns” no doubt), followed us, listened to our improvised tale of noisy monsters, then (when the firecrackers went off on schedule), ran terrified and shrieking back to Grandpa John’s house where our fathers and mothers and uncles and aunts and dozens of cousins were gathered.

As I said to Linda (when she finally returned my call, and after I apologized, 60 years late, for my stunt), I have never, in my nearly 70 years, been bawled out by so many people at once. Or so richly deserved it.

Grandpa John’s stable, in case you wondered, did not burn down. No thanks to me.

Getting to the Point, with a Caution

My family’s get-togethers have always been filled with tales like these – told around campfires, coffee pots, dinner tables, backyards, front porches. Everybody tries to take part. But most of the tales have never been written down; and when the thread from one generation to another finally frays, they will be lost. Hence the title on this column – WRITE IT DOWN! Already a couple of my cousins have joined with me in an effort to record some of the family lore. A tape recorder can be used (with permission), then the contents transcribed, verified with the source, shared with those who can’t attend reunions, and preserved for future generations. Those with ambition, skill, and resources can even put the best stories into a family “book” of lore. It’s so easy to share printed materials via the Internet nowadays, preparing simple books has become feasible.

But DON’T WAIT. Take every opportunity, right now, to preserve your family’s stories. Just try to use discretion about which ones get promulgated, however. Some family stories, inevitably, get some family members mad, as they so often appear to be told, at least in part, to embarrass someone. My Dad’s family, for example, had a classic tale about the night the game warden chased my uncle around the outside of his house a half-dozen times, trying to catch him red-handed with some poached prairie chickens. We all laughed every time we heard it – all of us except my uncle. I doubt he would have enjoyed seeing THAT story in print. Some times you just have to consider people’s sensitivities.

©2010 John I. Blair

Click on John I. Blair
for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.

Summer Garden

Now is the high time for all things that grow!
On my sunny patio the pots all overflow
With forty sorts of flower. Birds and butterflies fill the air
And the winding garden path leads me to a bower
Of wisteria and grape and a shady bench I know
Where I’ll sit for an hour, just happy to be there.

©2002 John I. Blair

Click on John I. Blair for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.


From my family history:
“He had lost ‘Rosewaistis’
through debts from his wife’s spending.
They had no children.”

I am not even sure
who this man was to me,
though probably a cousin
so many times removed
it doesn’t count.

He lived in Cornwall
between the English Channel
and the Irish Sea.

Rosewaistis still exists,
a hard and handsome house
nestled in green fields,
now in another owner’s name
and rented out to summer guests.

As such a guest I’d lie there
in a featherbed,
looking out the sash
at soft clouds drifting by
above the silent hillsides
of my mother’s mother’s
father’s father’s birth,

Wondering, is this the room
where she sat among her jewels,
stiff damasks, carved armoires,

Where he stared coldly at the walls
before he walked away?

©John I. Blair 2010

Click on John I. Blair for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.

Consider This

Tombstones And Other Easy Prey

One of my life’s sweetest pastimes is strolling about cemeteries, graveyards, necropolises, last resting places, whatever they may be called. They are beautiful places and so many of the tombstones give us, the living, mini-histories of the dead person’s past and even of our town’s or our country’s past. It’s a lovely way to spend a summer afternoon, not morbid, but peaceful and good and yes, sad and yes, unsad.

Sure, many of the deceased perhaps suffered terrible deaths, maybe even terrible lives but here, they rest in peace and it is so tranquil to stroll amongst them and it gives me a feeling of ...what? Serenity? Yes. Their problems are over. The world’s problems they left behind are never over.

I’ve never visited burial places in other countries, except for the American Military Cemetery in Verdun, France, when Mongo and I were living in Germany in the very early 1960s. Those meticulous, pure white grave markers lined up so perfectly, so still and at attention, like the men and women buried beneath them had stood in silent attention so many times before they fought and died. There are far too many grave markers to count and staring at that sea of white on green makes one wonder about war and death and family and country. It is one of the saddest places I’ve ever visited in a world far too filled with sad places.

I’ve seen the mummified remains of the Egyptian dead in museums, and like everyone else am utterly fascinated with all of that nation’s burial practices, while hating that the Egyptian dead folks have been pulled from their graves out of pyramids or not, and put on display in museums around the world. That’s just wrong. That’s just gruesome. The people who loved them did not go to such extremes of burial to have their loved ones, or kings and queens, carted away to be propped up in museums thousands of miles away from their homelands. And yet even though I think this way, I also won’t miss an opportunity to view them when I can. I am a curious hypocrite I know, and I cannot resolve this in me.

I’ve never seen first-hand the burial practices of other places in the world. Some people used to and maybe still do “bury” their dead up high to keep them from predators, some in caves, some standing up, some facing the east, face up, face down, some curled in the fetal position, and some even burned on pyres. These practices may seem crude or primitive to us, but they shouldn’t. After all, to people in other countries, our practice of dressing and making up our dearly departed and displaying them in big boxes may seem odd and primitive to them. There are no rights or wrongs in the burial biz.

No matter how people take care of their loved ones at the time of death, their practices must be respected and not judged in any way by us. Religious or not, it’s no one’s business. Who are we to say what’s right or wrong in these situations? We are as no one as they are.

And so here I am asking you to not judge when I am caught in a web of angry judgment regarding a recent news item; the terrible, senseless, awful desecration of a graveyard in a town near where I live. This isn’t anything new. I just want to understand why it ever happens, why there are such endless desecrations of graveyards? Has this been going on ever since humans began to bury their dead in their own ways? Why? I’ve thought and thought about his and can’t reason anything about it. Do people wreck graveyards and gravestones because they can, because they are bored, because the people at rest there can’t fight back? Do the wreckers feel strong and powerful as they smash these personal icons erected to tell the world that a human once lived nearby and perhaps contributed good and productive things to our towns or our country? Does it give them pleasure to think that families will be forced to grieve again? I think it does. People will even grieve for family members buried a century ago when their graves and stones have been smashed. Why does this happen? Can someone out there please email me and let me know the answer to this?

As most of you know, three stupid punks recently toppled over more than 100 gravestones in a local cemetery. Ah heck, maybe they were drunk or drugged out, so that makes it all OK and not their fault, right? Yes, let’s blame the chemicals they’d willingly ingested and do not force the poor dear youngsters to be responsible. Did they have bad childhoods? Oh please. Bad childhoods are a terrible thing and should not happen to innocent kids, and I genuinely, truly feel for those humans who have had to suffer that way. But come on, it’s getting just a bit too much having to hear that people who commit terrible crimes have given themselves permission to do that because they suffered as kids. Let’s force them to read the endless books and stories about horribly abused kids who grew up and made our world a better place anyway. So, to their way of thinking, dead people have to pay those bad childhood bills for them? Is that what’s going on here? These young grave wreckers weren’t just a few innocent and bored kids committing a little vandalism to pass the time on a summer evening; no, these were young who-gives-a-crap hoodlums who decided to hit on a few hundred dead people and to hopelessly wreck their final resting places because it was fun, because dead people can’t fight back, because at night who’d know, so why not just go for it? These guys are very likely bullies who beat up on weaker, helpless kids who also can’t fight back. Big men. Tough guys. Heroes. Macho boys.

But again, why? Why does anyone trash a cemetery? I guess I can understand, not condone but understand a bunch of brainless thugs trashing a graveyard because they hate a certain religion or skin color. They were carefully taught to hate when very young. But this graveyard wasn’t about one certain religion or kin color. So why? Because they could? Because the grave markers were there? And by the way, now that these three big shots have been caught, what will they be made to do to repair what they’ve done? Can they come up with the large amount of money it’ll take to repair the damage they did? No. It’ll end up another slap on the wrist punishment.

How about having them walk all year ‘round to the homes of the people who’d paid to put those gravestones in place, or to at least their descendants, and how about if they get on their knees in front of each and every one of those families to beg forgiveness for what they’ve done? OK, I know public flogging is way out of style now, and hanging by thumbs is so two centuries ago, and I haven’t seen public stocks in decades. So I think begging forgiveness on their knees at each home and then working for the rest of their lives to pay for what they did, maybe donating 50% of their future salaries to the families who have to pay to repair their pointless damage, and then of course working with the repair people to get those precious monuments back up where they belong might all be a start. But I’d still be left wondering why they had to do that. Do you know?

Email lc at
See her on “incredibleMAINE”
on Saturdays at 10:30 AM on MPBN.
Click on LC Van Savage for bio.

Cookin' With Leo

Mustard Maple Pork Roast

Ok, so every month I gotta’ come up with somethin’, whatever. So I gotta’ go searchin’ here an’ there an’ everywhere to find some good eatin’ to write about in this world famous column. My Dear Sweet Italian Fairy Godmother has gone to the South Pole for the summer. Aztec Annie visited me awhile back but she had to go back to guardin’ the Fountain of Youth, which has never been found anyway, so I guess her efforts are workin’ out, whatever.

And, now here I am on my own lookin’ all over the internet and everywhere else for somethin’ good what will please the palates of my far flung following of food fanciers, whoever. Now I know there ain’t many places what can exemplify good stuff as well as I can, but, then as many years as I been doin’ this how much more can I exemplify, however? Seems to me it is time to retire from this plush job and bail out with my golden parachute. But Pencilstubs ain’t got no golden parachutes to bail out with, so now what?

Well I guess I am gonn’ have to conjure up My Dear Sweet Italian Fairy Godmother, Aztec Annie, and a few other fantasy friends famous for formulating food, whatever. Anyway, meanwhile, I found this great recipe somewhere in cyberspace, wherever. So without any further fanfare or fantasy, here is a good recipe for making a Pork Roast.

Here is what you need:

  • 2 ½ pound boneless pork loin roast
  • 2 tablspns Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablspn maple syrup
  • 2 tspn finely shredded orange peel
  • ½ tspn salt
  • ¼ tspn ground black pepper
  • At least 20 tiny new potatoes
  • 1 16 oz package peeled baby carrots
  • 1 tablspn Olive Oil

And here is how you do it:

Preheat oven to 325° F. Combine mustard, syrup, sage, peel, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, and pepper; spoon onto meat. Place roast, fat side up, on a rack in a roasting pan. Insert a meat thermometer into center. Roast, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, scrub potatoes and cook potatoes in boiling water for 5 minutes. Add carrots; cook for 5 minutes more.. Drain vegetables; toss with oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Place in pan around meat. Roast, uncovered, for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until thermometer registers 155° F.. Remove from oven; cover with foil. Let stand for 15 minutes before slicing.

Ya’all Enjoy Now, Ya’heah!

Click on Leocthasme for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.


Time to learn Chinese

Well the summer is over and I’m back to teaching at the Suzhou International Foreign Language School. The semesters go by very quickly here in China and each class I teach is so uniquely different. It is mostly due to the student makeup. The students seem quite curious and somewhat reserved when they first appear in my classroom but within a few weeks they open up and are full of questions. They each hold various opinions about everything under the sun. I enjoy the lively discussions about culture in general and the role language plays in our cultural development.

When foreigners like me enter a foreign land where English is not the native vernacular a part of our self seems somewhat cut off and I mean that literally. This is especially true in China because the Chinese do not use a written alphabet they use symbols that go back thousands of years. Long before us Schuylkill County coal cracker folk in Northeastern Pennsylvania walked the earth.

We take our native language for granted each time we turn on the radio or the TV. When we go out to see a movie or watch a live performance in a theater part of the enjoyment comes from our language.

I tell my students at the beginning of each semester, “I arrived in your country as an illiterate immigrant because I cannot speak or read your language. I still have difficulties but I have learned ways to overcome some of those obstacles.”

My students always ask me how I get around the City not being able to speak Chinese fluently. I explained to them some technological tricks I use in communicating with the Suzhou locals. “I use the Google translator on my Blackberry Cell phone” I said to them, “but sometimes I still stumble because Suzhou people have their own native dialect and simplified Chinese doesn’t always cut it.”

Once I told my class a story about a frustrating experience I had at a China Mobile office. “No one at that office could speak a word of English,” I told them. “I got so frustrated that I called a China Unicom customer service number that has an English support line. I politely asked the woman on the phone if she could please translate for me. The woman I was speaking to was 2,900 miles away in Beijing, China.” When the students stopped laughing I continued the story.

“What made the situation even more amusing, China Unicom, as you all know is China Mobile’s major competitor. I politely told the woman on the phone what I needed from China Mobile. What I needed was China Mobile’s office address in Chinese. So that the next time I needed to put money on my phone I could just show the taxi driver the Chinese address. That would be the most simplified way of getting there. I talked slowly to the China Unicom English customer service woman. Then I handed my phone to the woman sitting in front of me at the China Mobile office. The woman doing the translating was quite helpful but somewhat confused as to why I was asking her to translate for me I was after all in Suzhou China in a China Mobile office of all places.”

The students laughed at that story and various other stories of my inability to communicate in Chinese. A hand shot up, “Teacher” she said, “why don’t you take the time to learn Chinese?”

“I realize now,” I said to my students, “I need a tutor to help me with my language impediment.”

“I don’t see why you don’t learn Chinese” Donna my prized student said to me.

“The number one cause of failure in life is procrastination” I said to the class, “I need to stop procrastinating and make the time to study Chinese, especially, when I consider the fact that I want to remain living here.”

On my last day of teaching before my summer break Donna came up to me after class, “Mr. Tom,” she said, “you are the fattest teacher I ever had and the funniest person I’ve ever known. I’m going to miss you very much.”

I told her she has such a bright future because her personality shines. She was truly my prized student for that semester. Her term paper was written on the cultural differences between the Pennsylvania Coal Region and the Jiangsu, Province in China. Every evening she read various Newspapers, the Standard Speaker, the Republican Herald, and the News Item online - Newspapers that cover the Pennsylvania Coal region.

One day she came up to me before class all frustrated with printed pages of online Blog Comments, “I don’t understand,” she said to me on the verge of tears.

“What don’t you understand,” I asked.

“The comments,” she said in a flustered voice.

“I hope this didn’t keep you up all night,” I said with some amusement in my voice. I then read over some of the highlighted comments. I couldn’t help but to laugh but not at her at the comments.

“See,” she said in an upset voice, “you understand them.”

“Those comments don’t make any sense to you because they are not proper English,” I said to her.

I pointed out to her the atrocious spelling, the bad grammar, the run on sentences, and not to mention the lack of cohesive thought in the various comments.

“Ignore the comments you don’t understand,” I said to her, “and use the comments you do understand.”

Most of my students have mastered formal English and they try extremely hard to learn English slang and American Idioms. They enjoy watching American and British movies and television programs. They absolutely love the western culture.

Donna said to me in her first week in my class, “Mr. Tom, you don’t have a typical American accent.”

“I know,” I said, “I have a typical coal cracker accent.” I then went on to explain to the class about the Pennsylvania Coal region. Donna later told me that was the reason she chose to do her term paper on that particular area of the world. She said my manner of speech got her interested in the area.

Her term paper was extremely well written. She was blunt about the coal region’s attitude about illegal immigration. She compared the negative online comments about illegal immigration to the China government’s attitude toward North Korean defectors.

China prior to the Beijing Olympics gave North Koreans asylum in China. North Korea, however, made an issue of it and China did not want the issue raised during the 2008 Olympics. All the North Koreans and their entire families were deported back to their home country to face years of hard labor.

Some North Koreans are lucky enough to make it across the China boarder undetected. They then cross into Laos’ and seek asylum in South Korea. This is a long and treacherous journey for many North Korean families.

They chose to make the journey with an undeterred determination so that their children will have better lives and better opportunities. Many illegal immigrants cross over into America with similar dreams for their children.

I received a telephone call over the summer from Donna via the internet. She had been awarded a Scholarship to Princeton University for graduate studies in International affairs. She said half jokingly my class prepared her for the Princeton University’s way of talking.

No words could ever express the feeling that came over me at the moment when she said, “Thank you, Mr. Tom, for being our teacher.”

Always with love from Suzhou, China
Thomas F O’Neill, Shenandoah Native

Phone: (800) 272-6464
China Cell: 86-15114565945

(800) 272-6464
China Cell: 8615114565945

Skype: thomas_f_oneill


Other articles, short stories, and commentaries by Thomas F. O'Neill can be found at the links below.




Click on Thomas F. O'Neill for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.

Rabbo Tales - Chapter 3

By Mark Crocker

Classroom Time

The young rabbit awoke to the sun shining into his hutch. He sat up and sniffed the air and noticed that it had a cold feeling to it with the soft scent of wood smoke. There was also a hint of rain to come. He hopped over to his tube that the water came from and drunk slowly to clear his mouth of the night odor and then he hopped to the hutch door.

He pushed the hutch door open and hopped down the ramp and across the room into the kitchen. He looked around to see if the male human was around and saw signs of breakfast and an empty bowl on the kitchen table.

The young rabbit preceded across the kitchen to the stairs that lead upstairs to where the humans slept. He looked up the stairs with dislike as it was such work hopping up one step then another and then another until he had reached that top. Then he remembered that the male human had put in a little table that he could stand on in the kitchen that when he pushed the lever with his front paw or nose would lift him up to the closet at the top of the stairs. From there he could go though the little door that had been made for him and to any part of the upstairs that he wished.

He hopped down the hallway to where the human female slept and hopped in though the open door. He sat still and listened for the sound of her breathing but he could not hear her. So he hopped over to the ramp that ran up the side of her bed and climbed up the ramp. Once at the bed he sniffed the bed to find out if it was warm.

The bed was not warm and that meant she had not slept in her bed. This worried the young rabbit until he remembered that the night before she had told him that she was going into the village to help after the ground shaking.

He hopped up to the place where the female human rested her head and looked down and sniffed. He could see a few long fine strands of her brownish red hair and he thought about how he liked to rest on her hair when she slept in her bed. How warm her hair was when he would snuggle into it and that she only got upset when he would get tangled up in her hair.

He hopped to the other side of her bed and hopped across to the dresser. This was the first time he had been on her dresser and he wondered if she would be upset with him. On the dresser where normal things you would have found on any young woman’s dressers in any times, items such as hair brushes, nail polish, nail file and such. But also there were things on there that you would have wondered at what use they were.

The young rabbit sniffed a thin silver colored metal dish had a small hole in the center and sat on a black base. He placed his paw on the dish and sudden a small human female about 6 inches high was facing him. The small human female blinked and smiles as the young rabbit looked at her.

The small human female looked around and then looked right at the rabbit. “My darling daughter you will always have my love and remember wherever you go whatever you do mommy loves you” said the small human female.

The young rabbit back up and almost fell of the dresser. Then carefully he moved forward watching the small human female. She had long blondish brown hair that reached half way down her back she had greenish eyes a long oval face with a button nose.

As the rabbit looked closer he could see that this small human female looked like an older version of the human female that took care of him and had been teaching him. “Mother” he mused.

He wondered how someone so small human could have given birth to someone so big. Then he remembered how he used to look up to his mother when he was a tiny rabbit kitten and that he had grown bigger than she was.

Maybe the human male had done the same thing to the female human that she had done to him?

He moved closer to sniff the small human female and his nose pushed right though her. He backed up again in shock and fell clean off the dresser. He landed on the floor of the human female’s room with such a loud thumb that it seemed to echo of the walls. While he lay there in a heap trying to work out why his nose had passed though the small human female and catch his breath he heard heavy foot steps coming up the stairs.

The door fully opened “Thought that was you, you silly rabbit. What are you doing laying there in a heap on the floor?” said the male human.

“Who that small female human” asked the young rabbit?

“Who is she?” answered the male human, making it sound both like a question and correction of what the young rabbit had said.

“Who is she?” asked the young rabbit again.

The male human paused for a while looked up and then spoke softly as lost in thought and talking to himself. “She was a woman of rare beauty. So smart that she could hold a conversation with the wisest in council. She had such wit that she could make the grumpiest of people laugh and smile. She was so kind that she would not harm even the smallest of living things unless she had to. So gentle that her touch was as soft as a summer breeze. Her voice was like music to the ear. And every person wanted her and none could have her” after a pause “except this old man. She chose a fool that could not see what he had until it was too late”.

The young rabbit noticed tears streaming down the male humans face and a look of such sadness that the young rabbit too felt sad for the male human. The young rabbit stood up on his hind legs and placed a paw gently on the male human’s thigh and softly said “Love her much you did”.

“Yes” replied the male human.

The male human brought his hand up to his nose and wiped away the tears that had ran down the side of his nose. “Not a word of my tears to my daughter when she gets back. Please”.

Without a word the male human reached down and gently picked up the young rabbit and walked out of the female human’s room. The human male took him down stairs and though to the library where he had been only a few times and then the male human had tried to teach him how to look at shapes on a big square thing and to push small buttons on a long thing that would make shapes on the big square thing.

The male human spoke with a sad soft tone. “Computer. File lessons Athena 1”.

A female voice answered “accessing”.

The big thing went bright and shape appeared. The shape was the letter “A” and another female voice said “A”.

At once the young rabbit knew that the voice was that of the small human female that he had seen on the dresser of the human female.

The rabbit looked at the letter and shock his head. He was not sure what he should do so he looked up at the human male.

“Computer pause” said the male human. “You have to say the letter that the computer will say”.

“Ok” said the young rabbit.

“Computer restart lesson Athena 1”.

The big square thing when blank for a moment and then the letter “A” appeared back and the female voice said “A”.

For the next 2 hours the young rabbit sat in front of the big square thing repeating the letters that where being spoken to him. He did not notice the male human get up and leave nor did he notice when he came back. All he could think of was the letters on the big square thing and that the voice somehow was keeping him there.

“Any questions” said the computer voice.

“Who are you” asked the young rabbit.

“I am Isis. Your mother my beloved daughter” said the computer voice with a sound of love and a little sadness.

“Computer end lesson” said the human male suddenly standing behind the young rabbit. The young rabbit looked back and was shocked to see tears again streaming down the human males face.

It was lunch time and the young rabbit sat at the table in his chair facing the male human.

“Listen rabbit. I am sorry that I got emotional it is just that after 800 years her voice is still a knife to my heart and hearing her voice is still very painful. So to avoid me getting emotional I will tell you what commands to give the computer so that you can have your lessons”.

The young rabbit looked up from his bowl of grass and grains and nodded.

“All teaching lessons are accessed by saying. Computer. File lessons Athena 1 or Computer. File lessons Athena 2 and so on. Dam you can’t count. Wait I think that’s lesson 2? Anyway you can stop the computer by saying Computer pause. But to restart the lesson from where you paused it you must say Computer resume. Or you can say Computer restart lesson Athena and the lesson number. That will restart the lesson at the beginning”

The young rabbit nodded and sat back on his hind legs to give his full attention to the human male.

“Any question rabbit”.

The rabbit thought a moment “Yes. When is daughter coming home”?

The human male smiled and looked at the rabbit for a moment. “Daughter is what she is to me. I am her father. You are not her father so I guess you should know her name. Her name is Athena”.

“I call her Athena”?

“Yes that is her name” said the male human. “Now once we have finished we will go back to the library and continue with your lessons. I will be in the garden digging a hole so that I can put in an earthquake pad so that when I rebuild the storage shed it won’t fall down again”.

For the next 6 days the young rabbit had lessons 2 times a day. 3 hours in morning and 3 hours in the evening with a 4 hour break where he had time to eat lunch with the male human and to rest.

By the end of the 6th day he could say his ABC’s read simple words and count to 100 plus add and subtracted. He felt very proud of all that he had done. Yet he felt sad that the male human would leave him alone with the computer.

He had also asked questions to the computer about male human and learnt that his name was Merwyn and that he had come from many light years from the planet that they were currently on. He also learnt that Isis was a student of Merwyn’s at a huge university that Merwyn had taught at.

The young rabbit also learnt that Isis knew that having a baby would make her sick and possible she would die and that was why she had made the records and lessons for her child. But she had gotten pregnant but never told Merwyn that she might die. The young rabbit felt sad after the computer had answered his questions about what had happened to Isis. He had not understood much other than that she wanted to make Merwyn happy and that he wanted a child from her.

It was the morning of the 7th day as the young rabbit hopped into the library when he saw Merwyn sitting at the chair in front of the computer monitor talking with the computer. The computers voice was a different female voice that sounded all business like and was talking about earthquake pads and how to build a small one for a building.

“When is Athena being home” asked the young rabbit?

Merwyn turned and looked at the young rabbit and smiles. “You should say. When will Athena be home? She is about 20 minutes away. I spoke with her early this morning and she said that she was leave before light to walk home”. Merwyn paused and his eyes looked unfocused for a moment. “Go outside and wait by the end of your run”

The young rabbit was a little confused but hopped off outside to the end of his run. When he got there he noticed a raised platform with a wire mesh around it and an opening that could be closed by himself if he wished. As he hopped around the raised platform he noticed a rabbit size elevator much like the one in the kitchen that he used to get up to the upstairs of the house.

He hopped onto the elevator pad and pushed the lever and up he went into the raised platform. From there he could see down the path that led into the woods. He noticed that the clouds were dark and heavy and that he could smell rain in the air. He also noticed that the trees branches were shaking and swaying in the wind.

As he sat in the raised platform he saw Athena sitting in the cart looking around and singing the song that she had sung to him when he had been going though all the things she had done to him. The song had always made him feel better and he would forget the pains of what was being done to him at that time.

As he watched he was unaware of the cat sneaking up behind him. Suddenly with a loud thud and a hiss the cat was up on top of his raised platform. The cat reached down with a paw and tried to bat at the young rabbit though the mesh. But his paw could not get though the mess. “Missed you my friend” hissed the cat.

The young rabbit looked up at the paw and the cat leaned forward and looked at the rabbit with his head upside down.

“Where have you been” asked the young rabbit.

“Here there. Helping female. Ears and eyes see and listen and look. People in village think cat I am and all I am. In night I tell female what they say and what they do. I help female as male wants”.

Just then Athena jumped down from the cart and ran up to the house ignoring the rabbit and cat. “Daddy I’m home” she shouted.

Merwyn came to the door and father and daughter embraced.

The young rabbit filled his lungs and shouted out “Athena what about me”.

Athena turned and looked at the young rabbit with her mouth wide open. Slowly she walked over to the young rabbit and looked at him closely. Then she reached into the raised platform though the opening and pulled the young rabbit roughly out. “I’ve so missed you. But where did you learn my name”.

Being careful to say things right the young rabbit answered slowly. “Merwyn has been giving me lessons on how to read and to do simple math. Or rather I have been sitting in front of the computer and it has been giving me lessons.” After a brief pause the young rabbit added “I’ve missed you to Athena. I missed you much”.

Later that night as they all sat around eating dinner Athena told Merwyn and the young rabbit about what had been going on in the village and badly it had been damaged by the earthquake. Athena explained how on the third day warriors had come by ship to raid the village and how she had to show her true self and drive back the warriors into the sea that they had come from. She explained how she had made herself seem 20 feet tall and once the warriors were gone she made herself invisible and returned to the ruined house that she had been staying in.

“Hope you did not hurt to many of the raiders” said Merwyn

Tears welled up in her eyes and her face contorted to such pain and then she started to sob. “I had to kill some of them as they were not scared off by my height. Dad I don’t want to ever kill or feel like that again. Each one I killed I still see his face when I close my eyes. And in my sleep I hear them scream. Daddy I can’t sleep. The only time I feel good is when I sing that nursery rime so I sing it over and over again to drown out their screams”. Merwyn got up so fast that his chair tipped backward and he raced around to his daughter and held her in his arms while she cried and cried for what seemed like forever to the young rabbit.

Merwyn reached down and gently picked up his daughter and carried her into the living room and placed her on the couch. He kissed her on the forehead and left the room.

He returned a few minutes later with a bottle of dark brown liquid and poured a glass for his daughter. “Drink this and lay still. I can’t fix the pain in your mind. But I can make it so you can sleep and the pain will be less. But my dear daughter it won’t ever go away. But you will be able to live with yourself”.

Merwyn pulled a chair over and sat down. He placed all of his finger tips on Athena’s forehead and closed his eyes. The young rabbit who had followed Merwyn into the living room sat and watched waiting to see what would happen. But after a long while he felt sleepy and went and sat on the rug by the fireplace. When he awoke Merwyn was still sitting leaned over with his finger tips rest on Athena’s forehead.

When the young rabbit awoke he could hear the wind outside blowing hard and the rain pouring down. When he looked over at Merwyn and Athena it was as if they had not moved.

The cat walked in and sat down and looked at the young rabbit. “Fire long gone out. Wet I am and need heat to dry. I wake male and female”. The cat looked at the rabbit and cocked his head to one side. “I bring fresh meat I catch. Make humans happy”.

The cat started to walk over towards Merwyn and Athena.

“Stop and leave them alone” said the young rabbit. “He is helping Athena not to feel bad”.

“Female need sleep” hissed the cat and stalked out of the living room leaving wet paw prints across the wooden floor.

It was mid morning when Merwyn opened his eyes and removed his finger tips from the forehead of Athena. He looked very tired and old as he stood up. He straightened his back slowly as if he was of great age and then walked unsteadily into the kitchen.

The young rabbit hopped over and jumped up on the couch and snuggled into Athena more to comfort than to get warm. After a while the young rabbit dozed off and started to dream.

He saw humans dressed in metal chest plates with bright bronze colored long knives and huge round plates. He saw them come up from the great pond from things that floated on the water. He saw them start to make fire and burn houses and stab at running females and small humans. Then he felt himself get huge and look down on them and filled with something he did not understand. He saw in his hand a huge silver metal knife and felt a metal skin on his chest and back. He felt a metal skirt around his hips and a metal helmet on his head and his long hair running down his back under the metal skin on his back. He saw the long silver knife flash and arc though the air and parts of the male humans fall this way and that. He felt hot liquid on his legs and arms and face. He heard the scream and then another emotion that he did not understand. Then he looked down into a pond to wash his hands of the red liquid on his hands and he saw that he was Athena.

The young rabbit woke with a start and sat up. He looked at Athena and she opened her eyes and looked at him. “Oh it’s you in my nightmare” she said sadly. “I’m sorry that you joined me. I wish you had not seen that horror”.

“Its ok, my darling. He might have helped you more than I did. After all a trouble shared is a troubled halved. But you did what you had to do to protect the people of the village. And the warriors should not have attacked the village as there was nothing there for them in the first place. But that is one of the less attractive things about this planet. The people are too war like. The strong preying on the weak” the tone in Merwyn’s voice was sad and depressed. “Now young rabbit its way past your lesson time and you have so much to learn. So hop down and get to the library and to your lessons”.

The young rabbit hopped into the library and climbed up the ramp that Merwyn had made for him so that he could get on the desk.

“Computer File Athena lesson 13” said the young rabbit.

“Password please” asked the voice of Isis.

“Password? What is password” asked the young rabbit.

“Incorrect password”

The young rabbit shook his head and asked again. And the computer voice of Isis made the same statement “Incorrect password”

From behind a soft sad sleepy voice said “Computer override command Athena beta. Computer File Athena lesson 14”.

The voice of Athena’s mother Isis started to explain about writing and how to use the computer key board that sat in front of the young rabbit. When Isis asked the word “cat” to be typed out on the key board they young rabbit looked down and could see the letters. Gently using a claw on his right paw he hit first the “C” key then the “A” key and lastly he tried to hit the “T” key and missed hitting another key by mistake.

“Incorrect” said Isis. “Try again”.

The young rabbit tried again and this time his claw hit another letter instead of the “C” letter.

And again Isis said “Incorrect try again”.

It was about the 6th or 7th try that the young rabbit was able to spell out the word “cat” without hitting the wrong key.

For the next 3 hours the lesson continued and at the end of the 3 hours the poor young rabbits paws hurt and hopping was so painful and hard. As he hopped down the ramp each hop was painful to his front paws and he whimpered as they touched the ground.

As he hopped into the living room he saw Athena lying on the couch with a blanket over her and the fire burning brightly with the cat laying on top of her sleeping. Softly Athena spoke “come her silly rabbit and snuggle with me”.

The young rabbit hopped over trying hard not to whimper at each step but his paws hurt so much that even the pads of his feet hurt when they touched the wooden floor.

Suddenly he felt himself being lifted up by hands that he could not see. As he was lifted up a few inch’s the invisible hands went away and he landed hard on his paws making him squeal in pain.

“Darling you are too tired to be doing that. Let me pick him up” said the voice of Merwyn from the doorway to the kitchen.

Merwyn walked over and gently picked up the young rabbit and placed him on the couch next to Athena. As the young rabbit was placed on the couch Merwyn noticed that his paws were swollen and red.

Merwyn left and returned a little while later with a small cart that had soup fresh baked bread with fresh butter, a bowl of fresh carrot tops with grains and a jar of some creamy white stuff that the young rabbit could not make out. The young rabbit sat up on his hind legs and leaned over to sniff the jar of the unknown white creamy stuff. It had no odor at all but before he could taste it Merwyn picked up the jar and dipped 2 fingers in the jar and then with his free hand picked up the young rabbit and smeared what he had on his two fingers on to the pad of the young rabbit’s right front paw.

The young rabbit let out a moan of delight as the pain in his right front paw faded away so fast that it was very pleasurable not to have any pain in that paw. As soon as Merwyn had finished working the creamy white stuff into his right front paw he offered his left front paw.

Merwyn repeated the process and the young rabbit carefully placed both paws down on the couch testing to see if there was any pain. The young rabbit was so delighted that he started to bounce up and down the couch jumping on and off Athena. Weakly Athena pulled herself up to the sitting position and reached for the bowl of soup and the bread. She slowly ate the soup and soon it was all done.

Other the next few days the young rabbit would sleep with Athena on the couch at nights sometimes with the cat there and sometimes not. But he always snuggled close to her. When she was awake he would hop off reluctantly to his lessons in the library and learn how to read write and do arithmetic on the computer. And in between his classroom time he would come out and snuggle next to Athena. And each day she grew stronger and the color returned to her face. The shake that had been in her hands went away and she would sleep better and better.

On the 14th day after her return from the village she joined him in the library and watched as he read and typed on the computer. Athena made a few suggestions to help him type better on the computer and a few pointers on how to do the math problems that the computer was giving him.

The following day was a rest day from all his hard studying and Athena and the young rabbit sat out in the cold winter sun watching the cat drag something large out of the woods. As the cat got closer it was clear that what ever he was dragging was almost as big as he was and that he was clearly tired having dragged it possible a long way. The cat sat back looked around and then continued to drag the large object towards the young rabbit and Athena. After about 10 minutes the cat was close enough to see that it was dragging a large fat goose. The cat stopped walked up to the young rabbit and Athena and looked up at them clearly very pleased with the large goose it had dragged to them. “I hunt and bring you meat to eat” hissed the cat very happy.

“That’s very nice of you cat” said Athena.

“I bet you did not catch it yourself” said the rabbit.

“I did. I wait in tree. I watch it in water. Then it come out and drop I did. Neck make pop sound and I bite neck and it stop moving” the cat paused and looked around. “Then long drag to here for you to eat”.

Just then Merwyn came out and looked down at the cat. “Ahh dinner. Thank you my dear cat. I was worried that you would not find anything and we would have to go without meat today”.

Athena looked up at Merwyn. “Are we low on food”?

Merwyn did not answer but instead walked over to where the goose lay in the grass and picked it up. “I better get to plucking this thing and we can cook it up for dinner tonight” said Merwyn not looking at Athena.

“Dad! Do we have enough food for the rest of the winter? asked Athena with s stern tone in her voice.

Merwyn ignored the question and walked into the house.

Athena slid out from under the blanket and walked into the house.

The young rabbit turned his ears so that he could hear what they were talking about and it so became clear that Merwyn was avoiding answering any questions about how much food they might or might not have.

The young rabbit turned to the cat who was now sitting in the chair that Athena had been sitting in. “Oh great and mighty hunter of big birds. Can you hunt more?” asked the young rabbit to the cat.

“Hunt yes I can. Big birds gone far south now. But squirrels nice mice and big fat rats I can hunt. Or to village I go and bring silly fat chickens. But male human said no to hunting in village”

A cloud passed over head and suddenly it felt cold so the young rabbit and the cat headed into the house to be by the warm fire.

The young rabbit knew that soon he would have to hop into the library and return to his classroom time and all his learning. He had to admit that Merwyn had been right when he had told the young rabbit that learning was like a drug. “The more you learn young rabbit the more you want to learn.”

Merwyn sat in the corner with a pile of feathers and the goose hung between his legs looking like a naked goose which it was.

The rabbit knew what came next and did not want to stay around so he hopped into the living where he knew Athena would be sitting by the fire. That still worried the young rabbit that she got cold easy and he wondered if it had something to do with being in the village and the bad dreams she called nightmares. He hopped up into Athena’s lap and looked up at her. She looked fine and healthy but he could not help think something was wrong with her as it seemed wrong for someone to be cold even if they did not have fur. Athena reached down and pulled him close snuggling her face into his nice warm fur.

Then she got up and carried him into the library and sat him down at the computer pulling the keyboard close to him so that he could use the keys. Athena walked over to the far door looked though then closed the door slowly and gently so that it did not make a sound. “Computer access private file mother 1” said Athena in a very low voice.



“Second password required”


“Voice print and passwords accepted”

Isis voice spoke as if she was really talking to her daughter instead of being long gone, “What can I do for you my daughter”?

Athena talked with the computer for a while then stood up. She turned back to the computer and said “Exit program”. After a few moments she spoke again “Computer File Athena lesson 180.”

The young rabbit hopped forward and started his second lesson of the day. The words he had to type this time did not show up on the screen. Instead Isis spoke them and asked him to type them out. Each time he made a mistake the voice of Isis would take the wrong letters out and ask him to fill in with the right letters. Then he would have to read the word before it disappeared and then retype the word that he had just read.

The lesson did not last its normal 3 hours but instead when on for an extra hour and at the end of that extra hour the voices of Isis said “well done my dear daughter. I love you. Now your classroom work will become harder. Tonight you have studying to do as there will be a test in the next lesson. Please read the print out that will come out from the printer.”

Sheets of paper started to come out of the printer and land at the young rabbit’s feet. As they came out he noticed that each page had a number at the right hand lower corner. And when the number reached 12 he became some what worried. And when the last page came out he was very shocked to see 25 pages.

Gently he gathered them up using his claws to keep them in order and then holding them in his teeth he then backed down the ramp. At the library door he ran into a problem as when Athena had left she had closed the door and the young rabbit was totally unable to open the door.

The young rabbit sat and looked at the door. He thought about putting the papers down but they might get mixed up. He thought about holding them between his paws but again he might drop them and mix them up. He thought about trying to scratch the door with his front paws but was not sure if they would hear him. Then at last he had the idea of turning around and using both hind legs to kick the door a few times so that they would come and open the door.

If he had turned around he would of seen Athena watching from outside though the window. But he did not and he did not know that the door being closed was part of the test that he thought he would be taking in the morning but was in fact already taking it right then. He waited a few moments and then kicked to door harder and this time he made it make a thud sound with each kick and with each kick he made the thud sound louder.

The door opened and the young rabbit hopped though and looked up at Merwyn who had opened the door. The rabbit hopped into the kitchen and looked up at Merwyn and wondered how he was going to thank him with a mouth full of paper and also where was Athena?

Merwyn looked down at the young rabbit and took the papers from his mouth and looked at them. As Merwyn read the papers he nodded and smiled. Merwyn then made a hole though the top left corner of all the pages and threaded a piece of string though so that the pages would not get mixed up. Merwyn then handed the pages back to the young rabbit and returned to finishing getting the dinner ready.

The young rabbit hopped across the kitchen into the living room and sat down near the fire were it was warm and there was light to read by. He looked over and the cat who was laying stretched out in front of the fire taking up most of the rug.

The young rabbit sat on his back and rested the paper on his hind paws and started to read all the pages that had been printed up. The first page outlined what he had been learning since he had started his time in front of the computer. Most of the rest of the pages were about how to use words one way or another and double meanings of words and word sentence structures. The last couple of pages were a questionnaire that would help him with the test that he thought he was going to have in the morning.

“Cat Rabbit dinner time” shouted Merwyn from the kitchen.

The cat leaped up and bolted for the kitchen running side ways with his tail swishing in the air. The rabbit sat up placed the pages between his teeth and slowly hopped into the kitchen. But as he reached the doorway he stepped on the paper and slipped then rolled across the floor coming to land head first in a crumbled heap at the feet of Athena. The young rabbit laid there in a heap and looked up at Athena trying to act like he had meant to slip and fall and that it was all part of his act.

Athena reached down and picked up the young rabbit and placed him on his chair making sure that his legs were just below the lip of the table and that his forepaws were at the right height for him to reach for his bowl so that he could eat his food. Merwyn placed the young rabbits bowl in front of him and then the cats bowl in front of the cat. The young rabbit noticed that his dinner was mostly a mix of older dandelion leaves spinach and some grains.

“Winters is coming dear rabbit. So we might be on short rations” said Athena as she looked hard at her father.

The young rabbit noticed that as she spoke she was looking at Merwyn with a hard look on her face as if she was trying to make a point about not having as much food for the winter as they should. Dinner was pretty much normal were the cat told them about what he had seen when he had been out on his travels in the day time and what he had heard when he had been near the village. Merwyn asked questions of the cat and Athena listened and asked her own questions while the rabbit listened and wondered if he would be able to move around and see the village much as the cat did.

After dinner the rabbit sat in Athena’s lap and reread the papers that he had been reading before dinner to make sure that he fully understood everything. The young rabbit stopped reading and looked over at the cat who was busy cleaning himself as he sat by the fire.

“Cat” asked the young rabbit “can you read”?

“Humans read, and rabbit apparently” hissed the cat. “Cat does not read. Cat won’t read. Reading for human’s and apparently for rabbit” the tone made it clear that the cat though reading a waste of time.

Athena leaned down and whispered in the young rabbit’s ear “His eyes are good at seeing things far away but up close all he can see is blurred letters. My fault as I did not have the skill to make his eye’s better. But he sees better than other cats do. But I did learn a lot when I did his eyes and you see as well if not better than we humans do”.

The young rabbit returned to his studying and read again all the pages and went though the questions in his head. Later feeling tired the young rabbit hopped to his hutch and let himself in. His mother was waiting and at once she grabbed him and started to lick his ears.

It was full light when the young rabbit woke and his mother was sitting looking out of the open door to the hutch. The sun was shinning off of her fur making her look as if she had a golden glow coming from her. The young rabbit hopped over and pushed her with his nose so that she moved forward and out of the hutch.

The young rabbit looked down the ramp and noticed that the door was closed and a little water was seeping under the door. He listened carefully and could hear a faint whispering noise coming from outside. As he listened he heard a faint crunch crunch sound as if someone was walking on soft sand.

He hopped down the ramp and touched the door to push it open so he could go outside to take care of his business. But the door would not open and felt cold to the touch. So he hopped back up the ramp and in his need used the box that his mother had learned to use when she took care of her business. A short while later and after pushing her with his nose both the young rabbit and his mother entered the kitchen.

Merwyn walked in from the outside and closed the door. On his boots was white hard water that slipped off and sat in puddles on the kitchen floor. The young rabbit hopped over and sniffed the white hard water and found it was cold. He looked up at Merwyn “What is this” and to add to his point he pushed the hard white water with his front paw.

“That my dear rabbit is snow”.

“Oh” said the young rabbit.

“And now my dear furry freak its time for your exam in the library” said Merwyn.

For the rest of the day the young rabbit sat in the library answering question after question that the computer voice of Isis asked him. He had to spell out words read out aloud what was being shown on the computer monitor. He had to type out on the keyboard sentences making sure that he put in paragraphs in the right places. Only once was he given a break and that was only for an hour so that he could eat and take care of his business. By the time he was done with his exam it was getting dark and he was very tired.

When he hopped into the kitchen he was surprised to see that his place as the table was set differently than normal and his chair was in the wrong place. At his place was a white plate heaped with all his favorite foods. A napkin was placed to one side with a glass of a red liquid.

Athena was wearing a short toga showing off her long legs. She had on a wide golden belt and her hair was held by a golden ribbon. Her sandals were also golden and that straps went half way up her legs. Merwyn was dressed in black pants with a white shirt and a dark green jacket.

“Pass or fail my dear rabbit you have done well and I am so proud of you” said Athena with the sound of pride in her voice.

The cat came strutting in holding a carrot in his mouth and placed it as the young rabbit’s feet. “A gift for a smart silly rabbit” hissed the cat. The young rabbit noticed that the cat’s fur was bright and shinny and had all the markings of having been brushed for a long time.

The young rabbit was placed in his chair which had been moved to the head of the table where Merwyn normally sat. Half way though dinner Merwyn got up and left. He returned a few moments later holding a single sheet of paper that was folded in half.

“Well dad” asked Athena “did he pass or fail”.

Merwyn stood still for a moment playing the moment out as if it was so huge dramatic event. “Dear rabbit” said Merwyn. After a pause Merwyn continued “My dear rabbit. You passed. Just barely but you passed. This does not mean your class room time is over. It just means we can take time off and relax for a few weeks”.

It was late when the young rabbit hopped into the room where his hutch was. As he stopped he looked up at his hutch and noticed writing on the side of his hutch. He looked across at his mother’s hutch and there was no writing on her hutch. The writing read “Rabbo” he turned around and hopped into the living room and saw Merwyn putting an extra log on the fire. Merwyn turned and looked at the young rabbit.

“Yes my smart rabbit”

“On my hutch did you put the writing there”?

“No it came from the container I had to use when I made your hutch. Why do you ask”?

“What does RABBO mean” asked the young rabbit.

“Well it was written on the side of the container and means Robotic Automatic Biosphere Bipedal Operations Repair and Maintains Unit. But I cut off part of it and what was left was RABBO”. The young rabbit thought for a moment “RAB like rabbit. BO hmm”. The young rabbit thought some more. “You are male human but that is not your name. Athena is a female human but that is not her name. I am a rabbit like you and Athena are humans. But rabbit is what I am not a name. I think I need a name. And I like the name Rabbo”.

From behind him the young rabbit heard a soft laugh of Athena. “I like that name too”.

The young rabbit turned and saw Athena wearing her bed clothes. She walked over and bent down and picked up the young rabbit.

“Hello Rabbo I am Athena”. Athena walked over to her dad and said “Rabbo meet my dad Merwyn”.

Athena held Rabbo close to her face and walked out of the living room. Her bare feet making a soft pitter-patter sound as she walked across the floor into the room where his hutch was. Athena paused and looked thoughtfully for a moment. “Do you think you could get your mother to sleep in my room without her hutch”?

“I think she would. But it would be hard for her at first. You would need to make it like her hutch or a home like wild rabbits live in. I read that rabbit homes in the wild are called burrows. Make her home like a burrow and put her bathroom box near,” said Rabbo.

Athena went and unbolted Rabbo’s hutch from his mother’s hutch and then she closed the doors to his mother’s hutch. Athena picked Rabbo back up and started to walk out of the room. Rabbo turned to look at his mother’s hutch and was surprised to see it lift of the counter top and follow behind them through to the kitchen and then up the stairs as he and Athena went up stairs.

“How are you doing that, Athena” asked Rabbo with wonder in his voice.

“How am I doing what” said Athena. She then turned back and looked at the hutch. “Oh that”.

“Yes that” said Rabbo “how is it floating and moving”

“Oh that’s easy. I am using my mind to do that. It’s something I can do. Dad is better at it and can lift more. Just he won’t unless he has too. Not sure why he won’t. He won’t even talk to me mind to mind unless he needs too or I am far away like in the village. Don’t ask why it’s just dad being dad”.

The hutch was placed on the floor where it was warm and Athena opened the door. She then pulled back her bed covers slipped off her night shirt and slipped between the covers. Rabbo hopped up onto the pillow next to her snuggled into her hair and closed his eyes.

©September 2010 Mark Crocker

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