Nick Russell

Eat The Damn Donut!

 Posted by at 1:07 am  Nick's Blog
Jun 252020
 

I got an e-mail the other day from a long time reader who just needed to vent. She is 55 years old and has been diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer. The doctors have told her that it has metastasized and the outcome is not going to be good. With Terry having survived stage IV cervical cancer, I know just how devastating news like that is, both to the patient and to their families.

But she didn’t e-mail me to talk about cancer. She wrote to say that we all have a bucket list, and some of us have been fortunate to check off many of the items from that list. Others never get around to doing much at all. She said she fit into that latter category. There are a lot of things that she always wanted to do but they never happened for different reasons. She said she has always wanted to learn to ride a motorcycle, but when she was growing up she was told that girls don’t do that. And then she became a wife and a mother and it wasn’t something she felt she could do. She dreamed of going back to college, and she told herself that someday when the kids were out of the house she was going to do that. But things always got in the way and it was put on to the back burner and eventually forgotten. The biggest item on her bucket list, the thing she wanted to do more than anything else, was to go skydiving. But it had always been the same story – “You’re a wife and a mother, you can’t take chances with your life, you need to concentrate on doing serious things.”

Now that she knows she doesn’t have a lot of time left, she has decided that she wants to make that jump just once while she still can. But her husband, her two daughters, and her mother are all absolutely opposed to her doing so. They’re telling her that she could get hurt. She could even die. Her response is, “I’m going to die anyway, and I would much rather do it jumping out of an airplane than I would lying in a hospital bed with tubes sticking out of my body.” She told her family that she was going to do it no matter how they felt about it.

She said she wasn’t asking for advice, she just needed to rant a little bit. I replied that even though she had not asked for my advice, I was going to give it to her, and it was worth exactly what she paid for it. I said if I was in her position, I would not hesitate to do that tandem jump with the instructor that she has wanted to do for so long. Yes, people do die in parachuting accidents. People also die in traffic accidents and boating accidents and home accidents. And a lot of people die of cancer.

Statistically speaking, the odds are that she won’t get hurt or killed and that she will have a memory to enjoy in the time she has left. But if the worst happened, at least she would leave this world with a big smile on her face.

I think I’ve shared with you before that my father loved to read. From the time I was a little boy, he read me stories about Moby Dick and the Drums Along the Mohawk and Treasure Island. But his favorite books were always about Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. My Dad always said that someday he was going to take a month off and rent a houseboat and float down the Mississippi River.

But that never happened. Raising kids and working and doing everything else required of a family man always got in the way. Dad died of cancer, and on his deathbed, I asked him what his one regret was. He said that the one thing he wished he could turn back time and do was take those 30 days and float down the Mississippi. In 74 years on this earth, he never found the time. We don’t regret the things we do nearly as much as we regret the things we never got around to doing.

I was also reminded of another friend who had cancer. Her diagnosis wasn’t nearly as bad, but it was not a minor issue, either. This is someone who always watched her weight, cared about her appearance, and stayed away from junk food, sodas, or anything that wasn’t heart and body healthy.

She said that after her first radiation treatment, she and her grandmother passed a Dunkin’ Donuts on the way home, and she mentioned that it had been so many years since she had a doughnut, and every time she drove by that place she was tempted to go in and get one. Then she thought about how many miles she would have to walk on the treadmill just wear off those extra calories, and she never did.

Grandma, who was driving, made a U-turn and pulled into the parking lot to Dunkin’ Donuts. My friend asked her what they were doing, and Grandma said, “I’ll be 80 next month. I have survived wars, and the polio epidemic, and tornadoes, and a house fire, and one thing I know is that no matter what you do, no matter how careful you are, sooner or later, something is going to take you out of this life. Six people are going to carry your casket, so it doesn’t matter if you have an extra pound or two on you. Eat the damn donut!”

How about you? Is there something you have always wanted to do but you keep putting it off because it’s not practical, or there’s not enough time, or whatever your excuse is? Throw those excuses out the window. Eat the damn donut. Jump out of the airplane. Live while you can. Because we all come with an expiration date, and none of us know when it is.

It’s Thursday, so it’s time for a new Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an audiobook of Fight For the Kingdom by Victoria Schwimley. It’s the story of two boys who go on a camping trip and find themselves on a magical adventure in another land. This is one your grandkids will love. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing, please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.

Thought For The Day – We must accept the end of something to begin something new.

The Man In The Cave

 Posted by at 12:41 am  Nick's Blog
Jun 242020
 

When a family searching for arrowheads in a cave in eastern Idaho way back in 1979 stumbled upon the dismembered torso of a man buried in a shallow grave, no one thought it would take forty years to determine his identity. And when it was finally revealed, it shocked everyone involved in the mystery.

The body was wrapped in burlap and missing its limbs and head when Earl Holden, the Clark County Sheriff at the time, arrived in response to the family’s panicked call. Holden ordered an immediate search of the area, looking for the rest of the body, but deputies and volunteer searchers were not able to find anything.

Based upon the condition of the body, which still had some skin left on it, the local coroner said he believed it had been in the semiarid cave for about ten years. When the Smithsonian Institute’s Dr. Doug Ubelaker, considered the top forensic anthropologist in the world, examined the torso, he stated that while the coroner’s ten year determination was possible, the death could have been as recent as a few months. With no identification found with the body, he was listed as a John Doe.

More than a decade later, in 1991, a young girl exploring the same cave found a human hand sticking out of the ground. Excavating the area, the man’s missing arms and legs were recovered by searchers. His severed head was never located.

The grisly remains were stored for many years until March, 2019, when the Idaho State University Anthropology Department asked the nonprofit DNA Doe Project for help identifying the man from the cave. The DNA Doe Project uses emerging technology called genetic genealogy to identify unknown people by using their DNA to create a reverse family tree.

A team of investigators, including volunteer genealogists, spent over 2,000 hours researching the case, comparing DNA from their John Doe with other DNA found online before identifying the remains as Joseph Henry Loveless. His identity was confirmed by a DNA comparison with his grandson, who was 87 years old. But what shocked the world was the announcement that he had died somewhere around 1916, long before it was first believed he had met his fate!

Born on December 3, 1870, in Payson, Utah Territory, to a polygamist family of Latter-day Saints pioneers, Loveless was by all accounts a very bad man. An outlaw, a bootlegger, an armed robber, and a bigamist, Loveless abhorred honest work, preferring to earn a living on the shady side of society. He used several aliases, including Charles Smith, Walter Garron, Walter Cairins, and Walter Curens, to name just a few.

Abandoning his first wife and child in Salt Lake City, Utah, he was supposedly married to a woman named Stahl or Stahlings for a short time before running out on her while she was pregnant. Those two women were more fortunate than his third wife, Agnes Caldwell, whom he married in Idaho in 1900, using the alias Charles Smith. Over the next few years, he was arrested numerous times for bootlegging and other crimes, escaping from jails and prison almost every time.

That marriage went sour, too, but in a horrific manner. On May 5, 1916, he murdered Agnes with an ax in front of their eight year old son and disappeared. He was arrested by a posse a week later and charged with murder. But again, his stay in jail would be short-lived. Less than two weeks later he sawed through the bars of his cell and escaped, never to be seen again until his mutilated corpse was discovered in the cave 63 years later.

Who killed Joseph Henry Loveless, and why? We will probably never know. It may have been an act of revenge by someone he had cheated or robbed. Or, it may have been in retaliation for the brutal murder of his wife, Agnes. Given her manner of death and the state of his own body when it was discovered, that seems likely. But the crime happened so long ago that whoever killed Loveless and dismembered his body no doubt took the secret to his own grave.

Thought For The Day – You know you are getting old when the candles on your birthday cake start to cost more than the cake itself.

Jun 232020
 

If you run a small town newspaper, you’re going to make some people mad. There’s no way around it. And sometimes the things that make people mad are amazing.

For example, I once ran a story about a man who got drunk and was speeding through town on a motorcycle, with the police in hot pursuit. They reached speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour at one point before he eventually lost control and crashed into a fountain in front of City Hall. Fortunately, he had slowed down somewhat, and because God looks after fools and drunks, he only ended up with a few with cuts and bruises and a broken wrist. It could have been much worse.

When I reported the story in the newspaper, his mother and aunt came into my office demanding that I round up every copy of that issue and get them off the streets because it was embarrassing to them to have the whole town read that a member of their family had done something so foolish. They were not disputing the story, they knew he was a troublemaker, but they did not want the rest of the town to know about it. When I told them it was impossible to do that, and I wouldn’t anyway, they called me names that even my ex-wives haven’t called me. At least not yet.

More than once, somebody who was upset about a news story or editorial threatened me, those threats ranging from burning my house or business down to actual death threats, and a time or two I was physically assaulted, as well. But fortunately, I was only cursed once.

Now, when I say cursed, I don’t mean cursed at or cursed out, that happened plenty of times. I mean actually cursed. A woman named Darlene, who was known in town as Ding-a-ling Darlene, was well known for going into businesses and creating scenes. It didn’t take much to set her off. One time she was in a furniture store and she didn’t like the fact that none of the recliners on display were the color she wanted. So instead of asking if they could order one for her, she threw a tantrum and told the owner that she was going to break all of his windows.

Darlene also routinely approached police officers when they had someone stopped for a traffic violation, demanding they let them go. Usually, they just ignored her and went on about their business, but a time or two she got so adamant about things that she was arrested for interfering with a police officer.

I had seen Darlene around town and knew who she was but had never interacted with her. At least not until the day I parked in front of a business and got out and was putting money in the parking meter. Darlene came along and asked me why I was paying money to the city for the right to park, which was guaranteed in the United States Constitution. I told her that since the Constitution was written long before the automobile was invented, I was pretty sure that was not a right guaranteed by our forefathers. Who knew that was enough to set Darlene off?

She followed me into the store, haranguing me and telling me that I was a Communist. When the owner told her to leave, she grabbed some things off the counter and threw them at him before making her exit. Okay, that was interesting.

This was in the days before cell phones, when we all carried pagers. A half-hour later my pager went off, and when I found a phone to call the office, my secretary said I needed to get there right away because there was a problem. I was about ten minutes away, and by the time I got there, there was no question about it. We had a problem.

That problem’s name was Darlene. She had stormed into the office, demanding that I be fired because I was a Communist. When Laurel, my office manager, explained to her that I owned the place and couldn’t be fired, and also mentioned that I was a veteran and she did not believe I was a Communist, Darlene staged a sit-in right in front of the counter. She said she was not going to leave until I had been fired. She opened a grease-stained paper bag and poured out a collection of bones, rocks, feathers, and who knows what else and began chanting some kind of mantra.

By then I was pretty fed up with Darlene’s theatrics, so when I came in the door and she pointed a finger at me and said, “There he is! There’s the Communist that’s ruining our country,” I told her to take a hike. Not taking it very well, she began screaming at me, and one of my employees called the police. Two officers arrived in short order and told Darlene she had to leave, but she refused to get off the floor, continuing her sit-in.

Did I mention that Darlene weighed over 300 pounds? The two officers together couldn’t get her on her feet. In fact, when they tried to lift her under her arms, she laid on her back and began making what I can only describe as snow angels on the carpet. In the process, her skirt ended up around her waist and I saw things no man ever wants to see. Darlene obviously was not a fan of underwear, and later one of the ladies who worked for me described what she saw as a hedgehog wearing an Afro.

Finally, more policemen arrived and they were able to pick her up by her limbs and carry her outside, but not before Darlene screamed at me that I was cursed. She told me she came from a long line of gypsies and that her grandmother was Marie Laveau, the famous voodoo queen from New Orleans. Did you know that Marie Laveau was a gypsy? I didn’t either. I’m not sure Marie Laveau even knew that!

I don’t know if it was just a coincidence since it was a small town, or if it was planned, but it seemed like for the next two weeks, everywhere I went, there was Darlene. Standing in line to check out at the grocery store, she saw me and started screaming that I was a Communist and someone needed to shoot me. Filling my gas tank at the Shell station, Darlene came storming across the parking lot, pointing her finger at me and telling me that she had placed a curse on me and my testicles were going to fall off. Well, that didn’t happen, my first ex-wife still has them in a jar someplace. They were part of the divorce settlement.

My next episode with Darlene was when I was in a restaurant with a couple of my employees having lunch. She walked by and saw us through the window and came in and did the whole finger-pointing thing again, telling me that I was cursed and I was going to choke to death on my lunch. Okay, Darlene. Thanks a lot.

This went on for several weeks, and though I still had the family jewels and I had not choked to death, I did find myself looking around wherever I went, just in case Darlene was there to create another ruckus. Eventually, she found someone else to harass and she forgot about me. At least I thought she had forgotten about me. As it turned out, that was not true.

About six months later the police scanner in my pickup truck went off as I was driving through town, saying there was an unconscious woman down on the sidewalk and needing help. Things like that are always news in a small town, so since I was close, I pulled up as the police and two EMTs were trying to get an unconscious Darlene onto a stretcher. This was no small feat because I think she had added another 20 or 30 pounds since our first encounter.

Eventually, they got her on the stretcher, and as they were getting ready to load it into the back of the ambulance, I stepped back to get out of the way and tripped over the curb and fell on my butt, right into a big puddle of water. Suddenly Darlene, who had been unable to communicate or move all this time, sat up on the stretcher, pointed her finger at me and said, “See, you son-of-a-bitch, I told you you were cursed!”

I saw Darlene around town every so often for the next year or so, and then suddenly she was gone. I don’t know what happened to her. Maybe she moved to a new town to spread her version of joy and terror. Or maybe she went to New Orleans to hang out with her grandmother, Marie Laveau, the gypsy voodoo queen.

Thought For The Day – You may delay, but time will not. – Benjamin Franklin

Jun 222020
 

Today is a very special day at our house. It’s Miss Terry’s birthday as well as my mother’s. That’s right, two great ladies who have made my life so much better were born on the same day.

One of the true regrets in my life is that my mom had passed away several years before Terry and I got together. I know they would have become close friends. It is amazing to me how much these two have in common. Both gentle souls, but with backbones of steel. Both devoted to their families, always putting others before themselves. Both never happier than when they are making the people they love happy. Both excellent cooks and both true ladies. Happy birthday Terry. And happy birthday Mom. I love and treasure both of you.

My Father’s Day started off with a Facebook video conference call from my son Travis and daughter Tiffany, and we shared some wonderful laughs. I loved being a father to my kids when they were little, but now that they are adults, I think I feel it even more if that’s possible. Thanks for making my day, you guys put a smile on my face that never left me all day long.

After breakfast, I was back working on my new book, getting in another 5,500 words by the time I knocked off for dinner. And what a dinner it was! Terry made one of my favorites, her deep dish double crust chicken pot pie. It was so good that I had to have seconds, and even though my stomach was full by the time I finished that second helping, my taste buds wanted more. I told them they would have to wait, because we are having the leftovers for dinner tonight.

Several people have asked how I feel after the RF nerve ablations were performed on my back Friday afternoon. It is amazing how much better I feel. I really can’t believe it. I have some slight discomfort if I stand in one place or bend over for very long, but otherwise, I am pretty much pain free. I can get up and down from a chair painlessly, climb the steps from one level of our house to the other, and lie down in bed and roll over without hurting. I wish I could have done this years ago.

While I was busy writing and then going to the surgical center for the ablations last week, I forgot to mention that I got a shipment of printed copies of Big Lake Quarterback and The Road To Wrinkle Ranch from Amazon. I was very pleased with how they came out.

Congratulations Barbara DuFresne, winner of our drawing for an autographed copy of Big Lake Blizzard, the fourth book in my Big Lake series. This copy has the original cover before I commissioned Elizabeth Mackey to design all of my book covers. We had 91 entries this time around. Stay tuned, a new contest starts soon.

Thought For The Day – My neighbor with the big boobs is outside gardening topless again. I sure wish his wife would do that, too.

My Dad

 Posted by at 12:58 am  Nick's Blog
Jun 212020
 

Growing up, I think every kid thinks his Dad is the best. I did, too, even though my Dad was not your typical father.

By saying that, I don’t mean that he was an oddball or not present in my life or anything like that. I was the youngest of eight kids, and we were spaced so far apart that my oldest brother had a son three years older than me. So when I was growing up, my father was the age of most of my friends’ grandfathers. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t a great guy who didn’t work hard to take care of his family and to teach his children right from wrong. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

Dad was a jokester, a storyteller, he could play any kind of musical instrument with keys or strings, though he couldn’t read music and never had a lesson in his life, and most of all, he was a man full of love. But at the same time, he had a set of rules, and he expected you to live by them.

Rules like, “if you drop it, pick it up” and “if you use it, put it back where it belongs” and say “yes, sir and no, sir” and “yes, ma’am and no, ma’am.” I was taught to always open doors for people no matter if they were younger or older than me, and to always treat women like ladies.

I got my love of books and travel from my father, but I got other things from him, too. One was a work ethic. The summer before I turned 16, I got a job in a local gas station. The owner was hesitant to hire me, but his wife and daughter were going back to see family in Europe for the summer and he needed a hand. I asked for the job, and he said, “No, kids don’t really want to work” (yes, they said that way back in my day, too).

But I kept asking him to hire me, and he finally talked to my Dad and said, “Frank, if you tell me to hire him, I’ll hire him. But he has to come to work every day.” My Dad explained to me that it was a six-day a week job, and I couldn’t take time off. I had to go to work every day, so before accepting the job, I had to understand exactly what that commitment meant.

Well, I got the job, and I worked a week or two, then some of my friends decided they wanted to go to the lake one day and asked me to come along. I told them sure, I’d see them first thing in the morning. When they left, my Dad asked me how I planned to be in two places at once because I was also supposed to be at work that day. I told him I was just going to take the day off. Dad said, “When you give your word to someone, you keep it. You gave your boss your word that you would be there every day, and you’re going to be there.”

Being young and thinking I knew it all, I told my Dad he couldn’t force me to go to work of I didn’t want to, and I’d just quit the job. Dad told me that I was more than welcome to quit the job if I wanted to. But I would spend eight hours a day Monday through Saturday, sitting in my room. This was long before the days when kids had computers and TVs and things like that. I would spend the day in my room, and that was it, coming out only for meals and to use the bathroom. “One way or the other,” Dad said, “You promised 48 hours a week this summer to somebody, either to my boss or to me. So you can sit in your room and look out the window watching the grass grow, or you can go to work and earn some money. And more importantly, earn the respect of your boss and myself because you kept your word” I didn’t go to the lake that day, and by the time my 16th birthday rolled around, I had enough money to buy a car and motorcycle. Thanks, Dad.

Something else Dad taught me was that no matter who we think we are, there’s always somebody better off than us and some who are worse off than us, and you treated them both equally. There was a mentally challenged man in our neighborhood who was probably somewhere in his 40s, but had the mind of maybe a ten-year-old. He was fascinated by the sound of music, and if my Dad was sitting on the front porch playing his guitar or his fiddle (Dad would never play a violin) David would show up and stand and watch.

Most people thought he was a pest and shooed him away whenever he came around, but not Dad. He brought that fellow up on the porch and taught him how to play both instruments. Not only play them but play them damn well! Then he went to a pawn shop someplace and bought David his own guitar and fiddle. I asked him why he put so much effort into it and he said, “You can do so many things, son. You can read and write, you can tell stories, you can ride your bicycle, there’s nothing you can’t do. There’s not much that Charlie can do at all. So if I can help him learn to play music and give him something to be happy about, it’s time well spent.”

Someone once said, “My father didn’t tell me how to be a man, he just lived his life, and I learned from watching him.” It was another lesson well learned. Thank you, Dad. Happy Father’s Day. I love you.

Today is your last chance to enter our Free Drawing for an autographed copy of Big Lake Blizzard, the fourth book in my Big Lake series. This copy has the original cover, before I commissioned Elizabeth Mackey to design all of my book covers. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.

Thought For The Day – A father is neither an anchor to hold us back nor a sail to take us there, but a guiding light whose love shows us the way.

I Have Been Ablated!

 Posted by at 12:58 am  Nick's Blog
Jun 202020
 

Thanks to all of you who sent e-mails, text messages, and made Facebook comments about the RF nerve ablation on my back yesterday.

We had to be at Park Place Surgical Center in Maitland, Florida, at 2 p.m. We always try to arrive early for an appointment, especially to a place we haven’t been to before, and we got there at 1:30. Due to restrictions in place for COVID-19, I was told to call when we arrived, and then they would call me back when it was time for me to come inside.

It was a hot day, in the low 90s, and we sat outside in the Pacifica with the air conditioning on until they called me at 2:15. I was told that I could come into the waiting room, but Terry would not be able to, which we knew already. Terry assured me she would be fine, she had her Kindle to read and had brought some knitting with her.

Putting on my mask, I went inside, where there were three other patients in the waiting room, all sitting in chairs well apart from each other that were marked for use, as opposed to others that were covered. They took my temperature, gave me some paperwork to sign, and then told me to wait. So I waited, and waited, and waited some more. Finally, at 3:30, they took me back to begin prepping me for the procedure.

When they called a few days ago to confirm the appointment, they told me that I could have my choice of a local anesthetic or light sedation. I said either was okay with me, so they said they would leave it up to the doctor. As it turned out, he decided to go with sedation, so they inserted an IV into a vein in my hand.

Then the doctor and I talked for a while. He told me that based on the MRIs and CAT scans that he has of my back, that while ablation should help, there is so much damage back there that it is not an end-all. He warned me that I will still have pain from other areas in my back, although hopefully not as severe as I have been experiencing.

Then the doctor asked if he could say a prayer, which he does before every procedure, and they took me back to the operating room. I was told to lie facedown on the table, and he gave me a couple of local numbing shots, saying I needed to be awake while they placed the probes so they could tell when they were in the right place. That wasn’t the most pleasant experience I have ever felt, but I’ve had worse.

Once he had everything in place, and I could feel the tingling from the slight electrical impulse they used to test things, he said, “okay, we’ll start in thirty seconds.” I woke up twenty minutes later when the procedure was done.

The doctor wound up burning three different nerve endings, at the L4, L5, and S-1 vertebrates in my lower back. Dr. Creamer said that it could take anywhere from three days to three weeks before I started feeling any noticeable difference and that the results could last anywhere from a couple of months to over a year, and sometimes longer.

By the time they were done with me and I was back outside, it was 4:30 and we headed home. As I write this, a little after midnight, there is some stiffness and tenderness at the site where they made the three injections, but I have noticed already that my pain level seems to be much less. I can get up or sit down in a chair without hurting, and I can go up the three stairs from one level of our house to the other and back down without wincing and crying out in pain as I have done for so long. If it doesn’t get any better than this, I will still consider it a success.

Be sure to enter our latest Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an autographed copy of Big Lake Blizzard, the fourth book in my Big Lake series. This copy has the original cover before I commissioned Elizabeth Mackey to design all of my book covers. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.

Thought For The Day – After watching how some people wear their masks, I understand how contraception fails.

The Real Aunt Jemima

 Posted by at 12:19 am  Nick's Blog
Jun 192020
 

Note: With all of the controversy going on over Quaker Oats’ decision to change the iconic Aunt Jemima brand, I thought I would reprint this blog post about the real Aunt Jemima.

We’ve all sat down to a breakfast of pancakes and Aunt Jemima syrup at one time or another. While munching away, did you ever look at the picture of the large African American woman on the label and wonder if she was real? You may be surprised to learn that several women portrayed the pancake princess over the years.

Wikipedia says that the inspiration for Aunt Jemima was an old minstrel show song called Old Aunt Jemima and that the Aunt Jemima character was prominent in minstrel and vaudeville shows in the late 19th century. Some accounts claim that the character was actually a white actor in blackface, who may have been a German immigrant.

In 1890, the R. T. Davis Milling Company, which produced Aunt Jemima pancake mix, hired a former slave named Nancy Green to be their spokesperson. Until her death in 1923, Green represented the company, including appearing at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois, in 1893.

The Quaker Oats Company acquired the Aunt Jemima brand in 1926, and in 1933 hired Anna Robinson, reported to weigh 350 pounds, to play Aunt Jemima as part of their promotion at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933.

She was replaced by Anna Short Harrington in 1935, who played Aunt Jemima for fourteen years. Born in North Carolina in 1897, Harrington supported five children and was able to buy her family a large house with her earnings.

Over the years several other women played the role of pancake icon and things get cloudy trying to identify who they were and when. Rosie Moore was the last woman to represent the character Aunt Jemima for the Quaker Oats Company, touring the country as a company spokesperson until the late 1960s. Her headstone at the Hammond Colony Cemetery in Robertson County, Texas, said she played Aunt Jemima for 25 years.

In the Red Oak Presbyterian Church Cemetery a few miles north of Ripley, Ohio, we found the grave of yet another Aunt Jemima. According to her gravestone, Rosa Washington Riles was the third Aunt Jemima employed by Quaker Oats, recruited in the 1930s and touring until 1948. Though I couldn’t find any official documentation by the company of her employment, at least one website said she was employed as a cook in the home of a Quaker Oats executive named Mills and went out for pancake demonstrations at her employer’s request.

While many women played the character, a lot of black women felt that the portrayal of a slave-era “mammy” was offensive and hurt the image of African American women. The term “Aunt Jemima” became slang to describe a female version of the offensive label “Uncle Tom.” Current Aunt Jemima products depict a slender, more modern woman with a stylish hairdo.

To me, it doesn’t matter who the “real” Aunt Jemima was, as long as my pancakes are covered with lots of her sweet syrup.

Be sure to enter our latest Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an autographed copy of Big Lake Blizzard, the fourth book in my Big Lake series. This copy has the original cover, before I commissioned Elizabeth Mackey to design all of my book covers. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.

Thought For The Day – Being loved and loving someone doesn’t make you happy but it certainly makes it an option.

The Halfway Point

 Posted by at 12:09 am  Nick's Blog
Jun 182020
 

Writing and storytelling have always come naturally to me, so while I know authors who complain about writer’s block, it’s not something I’ve ever experienced myself. That may be because of my years in the small town newspaper business, where you had to get an edition out on the street, and you couldn’t fill it with blank pages because you had writer’s block.

I never have a plot outline when I sit down to write a book, and I usually don’t even know where the book is going. But while I’m working on one book, I always have two or three others rolling around in the back of my head, getting things lined up as to how I think the story will go. But more often than not, that will change when I start writing.

Yesterday was another good writing day for me. The words just kept flowing, almost nonstop, and by the end of the day, I had cranked out another 9,000 words in the first book in my new family saga series. That puts me a little over 50,000 words, which is about the halfway point. I started the book on May 30, so I’m making good time with it. I’m looking forward to seeing how the story is going to go. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get some more done today.

While I was doing all of that, Terry was baking three loaves of her delicious banana nut bread, a loaf of French bread, and then made a wonderful dinner of spaghetti with homemade sausage-tomato sauce. I ate so much I could hardly move.

As for tomorrow, I don’t know what’s going to happen or if I will get any work done at all. I have an appointment at 2 o’clock at Park Place Surgical Center in Maitland, Florida, for the RF nerve ablation on my back that was delayed because of the COVID-19 shutdown. For those not familiar with nerve ablation, they basically insert a needle into your back and then pass a very fine wire through the needle, then send an electrical current through the wire to sever the nerve, preventing the pain signals from reaching the brain. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this will give me some relief because I certainly need it.

The very nice (and expensive) Lifeform chair I bought last year has helped a lot, and I can now work at my desk for hours in relative comfort. But I still have pain when standing up from a sitting position, or when bending over, and I can’t lie down or get back up without hurting. Rolling over in bed or walking up or down the three steps from one level of our house to the other makes me wince and sometimes snivel. I’m sure Miss Terry is sick of hearing my whining by now. With any luck, this will help.

They tell me the procedure won’t solve my back problems, but it is supposed to give me some relief for a while. I have heard that the procedure may need to be repeated anywhere from a few months to two years later. At this point, I will be grateful for any relief I can get for as long as it lasts.

It’s Thursday, so it’s time for a new Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an autographed copy of Big Lake Blizzard, the fourth book in my Big Lake series. This copy has the original cover before I commissioned Elizabeth Mackey to design all of my book covers. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.

Thought For The Day – I was going to take one of those Viking river cruises until I learned that you don’t actually get to pillage the towns and villages along the way.

My Way Or The Highway

 Posted by at 12:02 am  Nick's Blog
Jun 172020
 

As I’ve said several times before, we are staying isolated as much as possible, only leaving the house to go to the grocery store or to a couple of dental appointments. We also have not allowed anybody in our house since early March, including friends. Two or three people we know say that we are overreacting, and maybe so, but we’re going to do things the way we feel is best for us, right or wrong.

However, we did have to let someone in our house yesterday, because we had a problem that was beyond our abilities to fix.

We have two bathrooms in our house, and for some time now, when you flush one toilet, the water in the other one gurgles and bubbles. This was becoming more and more frequent, and it was getting to the point that it did the same thing when we would shower or use the washing machine. So we knew that there was a plumbing issue.

Then, on Monday, the downstairs toilet wouldn’t flush properly. The bowl would fill almost to the top with water, and it would just sit there and not go down. If you left it alone for half an hour or so, it would eventually drain down. Obviously, we needed to do something. Using a plunger and a snake didn’t do a bit of good, so it was time to call in a professional.

I called a local plumbing company on Monday afternoon and was told someone could be at the house between 2 and 5 PM yesterday. But the lady on the phone said if they had an earlier opening, she would call me and see if that would work for us. Sure enough, she called yesterday morning and said she could have someone here about 11 AM. Great, looking forward to it.

The plumber and his helper arrived just after 11, and when they started to come into the house, I told him they needed to wear masks, and offered them each disposable masks. He stared at me like I was some kind of creature from another planet. It was obvious he didn’t like that, and I told him not to worry about it, I’d call someone else. He shook his head and said they had masks in the truck and walked away, shaking his head and muttering about paranoid old people.

Hey, complain all you want. It’s my house, and I’m the customer. It’s my way or the highway. Coming back inside, I started to tell him where to go, and he replied, “Sir, I can find my way to the bathroom,” with a heavy emphasis on the ‘sir.’ It was a hot, humid day, and trying to be friendly, I asked if either one of them would like a bottle of cold water. The man replied, “Sir,” again with the heavy emphasis on the ‘sir,’ “we have a cooler and water in our truck.” Well, okay then.

I’m not sure what caused his attitude, maybe it was because of the mask thing, but I didn’t really care. I just wanted him to do his job and leave. However, as soon as he met Terry, his attitude changed completely with her. Everything was “My dear, I have to do this” or “My dear, can I move this,” My dear, this and my dear that, and making jokes about having a “crappy job,” but he enjoyed it. I was still Sir, with that heavy emphasis.

As it turns out, there is no cleanout valve anywhere in our yard. Don’t ask me how that happened, I didn’t build the house, and I didn’t make the additions to it. He wanted the young man working with him to crawl under the house and try to see if there was a cleanout or at least the direction of the drain line. The guy didn’t go far before he came flying out, saying he had seen a big bug and some kind of snake. Or at least something he thought was a snake.

I guess the plumber was having a bad day, because he immediately started berating his helper, telling him that part of the job is dealing with bugs and snakes and creepy crawlies, and if he didn’t want to do that, he needed to go get a job in an office someplace. I thought that was in rather poor taste. The day the Army pinned sergeant’s stripes on me, one of the first things I was taught was that if you have to dress down a subordinate, you don’t do it in front of other people. It’s embarrassing not just for the person on the receiving end, but for those around you. I guess this guy never learned that lesson.

Long story short, they had to remove the downstairs toilet and run a long, thick snake through its line. Somewhere about halfway between the house and the street, they hit a clog, and this is what they pulled up. At first glance, it looked a bunch of hair, but it’s actually small palm tree roots. The glove is there to show the size of the clog they got out. Then they ran a camera down through the line so we could actually see that everything was now cleaned out. Eventually, we will have them install a cleanout in the yard, but that will have to be another appointment.

Overall, in spite of the attitude thing, they did a great job, although his assistant knocked a picture off the wall in my office and broke the glass and frame. But he apologized, and it was no big deal. We will reframe it. The good news is, now our toilets work just fine!

Thought For The Day – I got mood poisoning. Must have been something I hate.

Jun 162020
 

Anybody who has ever owned their own business knows that you have to wear many hats. On any given day, you might be making a sales presentation to a new client, working the cash register, making deliveries, or taking out the trash. Or being a bill collector.

During my long career publishing small-town newspapers on the Pacific Northwest coast and in Arizona, I’ve dealt with many fine business people who always paid their bills promptly and were a pleasure to deal with.

I also encountered customers who were struggling to get by, and sometimes they got behind in their accounts. Not because they were trying to stiff me, they simply did not have the money. When this happens, a newspaper usually loses that customer. Being a small businessman myself, and sometimes having to wonder where my dinner might come from that night, I always tried to find ways to work around their situation.

One of those ways was bartering. If a business owed me, say $200, rather than lose them as a customer, I would suggest that we trade for something they had in their store. I would much rather have the cash, but anything is better than nothing, right?”

This is something that happens with most newspapers and radio stations in small markets. I can’t tell you how many meals I have eaten in restaurants, how many movie tickets I passed out to friends and family, and how much work I had done on my vehicles and home, or whatever somebody could give me to settle their account. Then I told them that we would start from scratch, and they could pay every week rather than waiting until the bill got out of hand again. They appreciated that, and many of them became steady, faithful paying customers for years.

This may not be the best business model, but it worked for me. It also made my family and employees very happy. When Miss Terry and I got together, she was shocked that on Christmas and birthdays, my employees got things like nice jewelry, big-screen televisions, and things like that. I also made sure that they always had good tires on their cars and that their vehicles were in topnotch shape. Terry will tell you that when we first starting seeing each other, I had a dozen roses delivered to her office every week until she finally had to tell me to stop it because it was getting embarrassing. All this because of bartering for unpaid bills.

However, there were always some people who just didn’t want to pay their bills, even though they could well afford to do so. Then you had a couple of choices. You could sue them and hope to collect, but just because you have a judgment against somebody doesn’t mean you’re ever going to ever see a penny of what they owe you. Often times, going to small claims court was just a waste of time. So, occasionally I got creative.

There was a dentist in Hoquiam, Washington, who ran up a bill with me for several hundred dollars for advertising. Every time I tried to collect, he was not available. He was either with a patient or in a conference with somebody, but I was always promised he would get back to me by the end of the day. Of course, he never did.

One day when I stopped by his office in another attempt to get paid, the door was locked, but the receptionist for the doctor’s office next door said, “He’s in Hawaii. He won’t be back until next Monday.” Yes, this guy who had strung me along for several months decided to take a vacation to Hawaii! I couldn’t afford a vacation, but apparently, he could. Okay, we can handle that.

The day he got back, I called, not telling the receptionist who I was, and asked if he was available for an emergency procedure that afternoon to replace a crown. She said no problem come on in. He was busy, but he would fit me in. A woman who worked for me named Debbie had four of the most unruly children that ever crawled across a carpet on this earth. I asked her if I could borrow her kids and her van for a couple of hours. She looked at me strangely but said, “Take them. Keep them as long as you want.”

First, I took those youngsters for ice cream cones, and then we stopped at the store, and we got candy and soda. When we pulled up in front of the dentist’s office, I gave them all a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Then we went inside

Seeing me, the receptionist said that the doctor was too busy to talk to me that day. Yeah, I’ve heard that story before. I told her no problem, I would just sit and wait in case he had an opening. Then I turned those little heathens loose in the office. Do you have any idea how much havoc four little kids on a sugar high can do in a professional office?

Within minutes there were peanut butter and jelly stains on the carpet, on one of the chairs in the waiting room, on the big saltwater aquarium, and on the wall. One of them toppled over a stand with a plant on it, and another, who was just about potty trained, pulled down his pants and peed on said plant, which was now lying on the floor. And let’s not forget the one who was wailing at the top of her lungs.

Unbelievably, the very busy dentist was out in the lobby within five minutes, wanting to know what the hell was going on. I told him it was good to see him, and that I had missed him. Then I asked him how his trip to Hawaii was. Before he could answer, one of the kids threw up on the couch. I think she may have had too much junk food.

He yelled above the bedlam and said I needed to get those kids out of there. I told him I couldn’t because I didn’t have enough gas to get back to my office. Then I suggested that maybe if he paid his bill, I could fill up the tank and we could both get back to our regularly scheduled day. He paid me, and I rounded up my pint-sized terrorists and away we went. Mission accomplished.

When I was in the White Mountains of Arizona, there was a gentleman who ran a power tool shop, and he was notorious for not paying his bills. He owed me $500 or something like that, and every time I tried to collect, he always had a story. I’ll give him credit, some of the stories were pretty good! Once, his sister, who did the bookkeeping, had been in a terrible automobile accident and was barely clinging to life. He said he would have to wait until he could find someone to fill her shoes to pay me. He didn’t even know where she kept the checkbook, but it was probably at her house. On another visit, he told me he had been having chest pains and was just on his way out the door to go to the ER. Probably the best one was the time when burglars broke into his office, and the only thing they stole was his checkbook. Not the thousands of dollars worth of chainsaws and other equipment sitting on the shelves, just the checkbook.

Well, those were not the only thieves in the world. One day I went in and handed him his invoice and said I really needed to be paid that day. He told me he was with some customers and I would have to wait until we could talk. The shop was pretty busy, I’ll give him that, but every time he had a break from a customer, he would disappear into the back room before I could get to him.

When you live in a small town, everybody knows everybody. While I was standing there, the local police chief wandered in the door. We were good friends, in fact, we belonged to the same classic car club. He asked what I was doing, and I said I was trying to collect a bill. He told me he was going to buy a chainsaw.

Hearing the chief, the owner of the store came out, and they started talking. I interrupted long enough to ask what the most expensive chainsaw he had in the shop was. He pointed me to something, I don’t remember the brand now, but I do know that it was $1500 for the saw, the case, and some other equipment that came with it. So, while he was busy with the chief, I picked it up and went outside and put it in the back of my truck. The chief came out shortly afterward, not finding what he wanted, and I told him what I had done. Knowing the man’s reputation, he got a chuckle out of that and wished me well.

Back in my office, an hour so later, the phone rang, and guess who it was? The gentleman from the store said he remembered seeing me looking at the chainsaw, but now he couldn’t find it. Did I put it someplace else? I told him I’d put in the back of my truck and brought it home with me. He asked why I did that, and I said I traded it for the $500 he owed me. He didn’t take kindly to that and told me that the saw cost three times as much as the past due bill. I agreed that was probably right, but I had no use for a chainsaw, and I would probably have to sell it at a great loss rather than be tempted to start it up and more then likely cut one of my limbs off.

He told me to bring it back, and I told him no. He said he would call the police, and I told him to be sure to ask for the chief, since he had seen the saw in the back of my truck. I suggested that the chief might even be a witness for the prosecution. We went back and forth like that for a few minutes, and finally, he said to bring the saw back to his office, and he would give me a check. Having played that game before, and having his checks bounce, I told him no, he would come to my office, with cash in hand. No checks, no promises, I wanted five $100 bills. I wouldn’t even take $50s or $20s. I wanted five $100 bills.

He didn’t appreciate that at all, and he called me some names that were downright hurtful. But he did show up at my office within 15 minutes and give me my money. I thanked him very much and said I hoped we could do business again. After all, I had my eye on a nice Rototiller he had sitting in the shop, too!

Thought For The Day – If God ever made anything better than a good dog, He kept it for himself.