If Only the Walls Could Talk

Driving to work down Route 44 with the sunroof open on a fine spring morning, Jason Murray looked over at the abandoned farm-house that stood perhaps 30 yards from the side of the road. Jason had the sense that other drivers never noticed the old structure, surrounded as it was by trees that had grown up in what was once its front yard. Jason had spotted it on the first day he had taken this route, and something had made him look over at the old house virtually every day since. He often wondered about who must have lived there over the years, and tried to imagine who had it built, and that first day that the original owners had moved in, which clearly was decades ago.

Just since yesterday, daffodils had bloomed along the side of the old house, while other sprays were scattered throughout the trees. Virtually every time Jason passed by, he thought, One of these days, I’m going to explore that old house!

For some reason, today was the day. Perhaps, it was because he was early, and he expected an easy day at the office, and so, he could afford the time. Perhaps, it was the daffodils. In any case, he ignored the rusty No Trespassing sign and tested his footing on the front porch, for he did not want to fall through any rotten boards.

Encountering a staircase upon entering, he carefully made his way up, and entered one of the bedrooms. Dust beams danced in the sunshine that filtered through the glass-less window. All was dim, cool, still.

“It’s about time you got here!”

Jason jumped when the cheery voice broke the silence.

“Who’s there?” he stammered.

He called out again, then called down the steps. When he did so, he heard the voice behind him.

“What took you so long?”

He returned to the bedroom from which he came. It was brighter and warmer, but a chill ran through him that was so severe, he felt frozen where he stood. Had someone slipped drugs into his 7-11 coffee? Was he having a seizure, or perhaps dying? For there was no doubt that it was the house itself that was talking to him.

“Yes, I’m talking to you, Jason. I’m so glad that you finally stopped in. I don’t think I can hold on much longer.”

Jason took a deep breath. “You’ve been waiting for me?” he said as his eyes darted about in an attempt to discover where to direct his voice.

“Thousands, maybe tens of thousands of people have passed by since my last family lived here. Very few of them have recognized that there is Life in me.”

“How can a house be alive?”

“I didn’t say that. I said that there was Life in me. You never just glanced at me, Jason, you looked at me, you really looked at me. You’re the one, Jason, the one to whom I must pass on this Life.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Go to the doorway and look.”

Jason did so and noticed a series of notches that began about three feet above the floor and stopped about five feet above the floor.

“Yes, there. . . . Ah, Timmy. He would run through me, laughing so hard that it tickled my walls. He came down with the flu, though in the big epidemic back in 1918. Two weeks later, my floorboards were wet with his parents’ tears. They couldn’t stand to live here anymore, so they sold me to a couple with eight children. Eight! The love that filled me. . . . Those boys—there were seven of them and the one girl—would cause their mother all kinds of consternation, climbing out that window there, and down the trellis that used to hold up Mrs. Cooper’s roses. She was the one who planted all the daffodils; she did love her flowers. Then, the war came along, World War II, that is, and the Cooper kids all served, even the girl. Ruth was her name, and she became an army nurse. Only Russ, the oldest boy, came back to the farm, but he brought a wife with him. British she was. She had a big, four-poster bed which she dearly loved. . . . In fact, go out in the hall and down a ways and look at the wall.”

Jason did so and his eyes fell on a spot that had been plastered over.

“When that thing was delivered, they left it on the front porch, so Russ had to lug it all upstairs and he banged the headboard into me. He cussed like he was still in the Army! And, as you can see, he didn’t do a very good job of patching me up. I didn’t mind though. Why I could show you a hundred nicks and dents and spots and they all have a story!”

The house fell silent.

“What happened next?”

“Hmmm? Oh, Russ and Patty, that was her name, Patty, they had three girls, but it was just the two of them here when the state roads people came along and told them they were buying the farm. Needed it to build Route 44 out there. Russ didn’t mind selling as there wasn’t any money in being a small-time farmer anymore. That was about 1970. Or ’71. Oh, well, the time doesn’t matter.”

“And you’ve been abandoned ever since?”

“Not exactly. I was filled up with Life. All of it, every bit of it, every ingredient that goes into it. Joy, sorrow, sadness, passion. One hundred and two Christmases, hundreds of birthdays. Four first kisses on my front porch, countless tears over everything from skinned knees to lost loved ones. You don’t feel abandoned when your full of such memories, but I have been waiting.”

“For what?”

“For you, Jason. People move into houses all the time. This old house needs to move into you. You see, people, animals, trees, even houses live, and then they die, but Life—ha! Life is a different story. Life is eternal, but you can’t expect it to just float around out there with no . . . home. It needs a place to be. That little slice of Life that was mine is now yours.”

“What am I supposed to do with it?”

“Remember it, respect it, learn from it.”

“How do you know I’m the right person?”

“You stopped, didn’t you? . . . It’s been nice to have someone cross the old threshold one more time, but I’m thinking that you need to get to work.”

Jason looked at his watch. “I guess so. I . . . I don’t know what to say.”

“Just say good-bye.”

Jason walked out the front door and stepped off the front porch, being careful not to step on any rotten boards for he didn’t want to impart any further damage to the place. He turned and looked over the old house.

“Good-bye,” he heard himself say.

“Thank you,” came the answer.

Jason walked back to his car and went on his way, but it was a good thing that this was an easy day at work. Upon sitting at his desk he called his wife just to tell her that he loved her. Later, when he remembered that he needed to cut the grass when he got home, he thought he would see if his daughters wanted to ride bikes instead. After all, they wouldn’t always think it was cool to have Dad along.

When it was time to head home, he felt a certain wariness that he could not explain to himself, but as he drove along, he knew. He passed the spot where he had parked that morning, then began peering through the trees on his right. Sure enough, the old house had collapsed.

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Library-Digging Unearths Another Boots Nugget

I found a reference to my old friend and subject, Cletus Elwood “Boots” Poffenberger the other day while combing through microfilm of the Winchester Evening Star from September 1, 1944. A page two article headlined, “Park to play Wildcats Suday; Will Clash with White Sox Monday,” stated that “Boots Poffinberger (sic), former big league star now playing in a southern loop, may be with the ‘Wildcats’ Sunday according to Russell Potts, Park secretary. Williamsport is Boots’ home town.” The Winchester Park were a town team as were the Winchester White Sox. Every Williamsport team, including the present high school, have been nicknamed the Wildcats since, probably General Williams founded the town.

Did I mention that Boots was a real character?

The “southern loop”mentioned in the article is probably a reference to Boots’ time with the Nashville Vols of the Southern Association, which ended in 1941. Indeed, Boots was in a “southern loop” in a manner of speaking as he began pitching for the Parris Island Marine Corps team in 1943.

A September 5th article details the game, a Park victory, but neither the write-up nor the boxscore indicated that Boots was present, which a check of Boots Poffenberger: Hurler, Hero, Hell-Raiser (p160), explains. Boots had hoped to return to Williamsport in September, but his leave had been cancelled. Boots did get home the following month, and naturally, he played a ballgame then.

You never know what you’ll find digging through old newspapers and it’s always rewarding to come across something or someone you know well. It was nice to visit with my old friend, even if the visit was a brief one.

One question for my Winchester friends: Does anyone know where Winchester Park played its games?

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New Book on a Near-Death Experience to Be Published Soon

A new book on a fascinating subject is soon to be published by a “friend” of mine, Sam Cartwright, who has chronicled his near-death experience in A Faith in the Crowd. I came up with the title for him (and thought it rather clever if I do say so myself.) I also encouraged him to write this book, as he experienced a very non-traditional Heaven upon his arrival. Perhaps, Sam’s experience was shaped by the fact that he was an atheist, and while he still is technically, he has returned to this life as a much deeper spiritual person.

Sam is still not sure if his experience was real or manufactured from his subconscious. The subtitle for A Faith in the Crowd is One man’s journey to Heaven. Or not. Having read the manuscript, I’m not sure myself. If Sam’s experience was real, then I’m happy to say that there is both baseball and laughter in Heaven. I do know that real or not, the book will introduce you to an interesting cast of characters that includes Reverend Mr. Alfred J. Whitebucks, Methuselah, “The Boss,” his brother Myron, and Sam himself.

In any case, Sam is making it easy to decide for yourself, as he is listing the e-version of A Faith in the Crowd for free. I’ll pass along the link as soon as I finish helping him format the manuscript and uploading it to Amazon.

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Time Is A Pool Gets a New Look

My 10 story collection of flash fiction, Time Is A Pool, which I’m happy to say many of you have enjoyed, has a new look. I was perusing my Amazon page recently, saw the listing for Time Is A Pool, and thought, Well, that’s a nondescript cover. And by “nondescript,” I really mean amateurish, but then Time Is A Pool was my first effort to self-publish using CreateSpace, a branch of Amazon. (CreateSpace, by the way, has been replaced by Kindle Direct Publishing.) As we live in Snowden Bridge, a development just north of Winchester, VA, and which has beautiful pools on either side of the entrance, I knew where to go for my new cover. Mix some photos taken on a sunny afternoon with the requisite amount of cursing over the proper pixel proportion and voila! A new cover was created.

Nothing on the inside has changed except a new author biography and an update on what I have published since Time Is A Pool first came out in 2016.

If you have read it and haven’t left a review, please do so! If you haven’t read it yet, I invite you to do so. The book’s link is here.

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Remade Music

Readers of this blog know that I enjoy history and I enjoy music. Most music. Some music. Don’t buy me opera tickets. . . . I digress. Anyway, the history of certain popular songs is fascinating to me. Growing up in the 70s, I loved certain songs that I later found out originated in the 40s. While skimming Billboard’s Hottest Hot 100 Hits, by Fred Bronson, I came across a chapter, “The Top 100 Pre-Rock Era Remakes,” and was amazed to discover how many hits were recorded or written, years or even decades before.

Many people know, for example, that the 1960 hit, “The Twist,” by Chubby Checker was actually a remake of Hank Ballard’s record which had been released in 1959. Ballard wrote the song, and his version, originally the B-side of the record, reached number 28 on the Billboard charts. Chubby Checker’s version reached #1 not only in 1960, but again in 1962 making it the only record to reach #1 in two different years.

The Platters, who scored a multitude of their hits in the 1950s took a great deal of material from the 1930s. “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” 1933 and “My Prayer,” 1939 are two examples.

Likewise, Connie Francis remade hits from decades before, including “If I Didn’t Care,” a remake of a 1939 hit by The Ink Spots, whose original version sold over 19 copies worldwide, making it at one point, one of the top 10 singles of all time. Francis’ “Who’s Sorry Now?” was originally written in 1923 and was actually featured in the Marx Brothers’ film, A Night in Casablanca.

“Are You Lonesome Tonight?” and “It’s Now or Never,” are two signature Elvis Presley tunes, the former first recorded in 1927, and the latter based on the 1949 version of “There’s No Tomorrow,” by Tony Martin. Elvis’ “It’s Now or Never,” which has its basis in “O Sole mio” sold 20 million copies, making it Elvis biggest hit, and also one of the biggest sellers of all-time.

Bobby Vinton’s “There, I Said It Again,” is a remake of Vaughn Monroe’s 1945 version.

Pat Boone’s, “Love Letters in the Sand,” is a remake of the 1931 recording by Ted Black & His Orchestra.

“Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime,” which was a #1 song for Dean Martin in 1964, was originally recorded by Frank Sinatra in 1948.

There is a lesson in all these remake remarks, and that is that good music, from whatever era, endures. A great song might not find its best performer or arrangement immediately, but sooner or later, it will emerge.

Same song, different eras!

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Ads in 1944 Life Magazine Reflect on Then–and Now

Even with the many dramatic events happening in the world today, most of us spend our time talking about mundane things—the weather, the score of last night’s game, the restaurant down the street that just opened, the cost of a loaf of bread. When writing The Secret of Their Midnight Tears trilogy—and yes, the first chapter of the final entry has just been completed!—I have incorporated just such conversations in order to make the characters as real as possible, and the best way to find out what mundane events folks were talking about is to peruse periodicals and magazines of the time. I did this recently with the July 17, 1944 issue of Life magazine. The lead article was entitled, “Task Force 58” about the Navy’s “great cruise to break the Japanese power in the Marianas.” The cover story was about the fashion trend of young women wearing peasant clothes. Ironically enough, there was also a story about the Japanese beetle invasion, which had begun a mere 28 years before, as well as other features. Looking back 74 years, however, the most interesting thing in Life are the advertisements.

Almost every ad had a war theme. Bell Telephone, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, Borden’s, and Sanka coffee urged readers to conserve. Indeed, Borden’s noted that while cheese was a rationed commodity, “Elsie [the cow] says, ‘If your husband was good today—do this . . . if he’s bought an extra war bond on the way home . . . Or if he’s been working in your victory garden since suppertime . . . SHOW YOUR APPRECIATION, LADY! Give him some of that swell Borden ‘s Cheese that he’s been hankering after!’”

Dot Fasteners, Stromberg Carlson, Statler Hotels, Chrysler, and Scotch Tape reminded readers that life would be better and their products and services would be more readily available, once the war ended. Indeed, NBC ran a full-page ad explaining that once victory had been achieved, the development of television would be renewed. Some companies proudly pointed out the manner in which they were contributing to the war effort. These included Plymouth, Veedol Motor Oil, Shell Oil, Grace Line Steamships, and Sperry. Mobil ran a two-page color spread touting its contribution to the war effort, as well as how things would be better once victory had been achieved. “War-Power For U. S. Planes Today—Driving Power For Your Car Tomorrow!” reads part of the copy regarding “Mobilgas.”

Even an ad for Hollander Furs, which featured an elegant woman descending a staircase, and clearly not wanting to remind readers of those sacrifices already made and those yet to come, contained a tiny tag that read, “. . . next to WAR BONDS, the best loved gift . . . FURS.”

Other advertisements for Ansco Film, milk, Gaby Suntan lotion, and Pequot Sheets reference in some way the soldiers themselves.

The old ads are fun—“Jeff” the husband in a Colgate ad when informed by his wife that he has bad breath, says, “Zowie! No wonder you’ve been glum, chum! Mister Dentist, here I come!” They are colorful. They tell stories, some containing more plot than half our modern movies,  and one can sense a growing optimism that the war would be won.

Still, the old ads make me sad, for they also suggest that, unlike today, there was only one demographic to whom these diverse ads were meant to appeal: Americans.

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