Boots Poffenberger: Still Bringing People Together

As rivulets of water streamed across the parking lot of Hagerstown’s Municipal Stadium Saturday night, fans streamed into the ballpark  to receive their Boots Poffenberger bobble head, handed to them by members of Boots’ family. I had been invited to attend and sign copies of Boots Poffenberger: Hurler, Hero, Hell-Raiser, which I did, and I had a great time doing so. I met a couple of Boots’ relatives, reconnected with a friend who also happened to be one of Boots’ old drinking buddies, and even met a gentleman–younger than I am–from Detroit who knew all about Boots. It seems that his legend is still very much alive in the Motor City.

From L-R, Laco Anderson, some writer guy, and Donna Weimer

I also got to talk to my friend Laco Anderson, who I interviewed extensively for the book. Laco was one of the kids that Boots would gather up when home on leave from the Marine Corps, and play baseball with them all day, “until it was time to go to Murray’s Tavern in the evenings,” according to Laco. Laco’s daughter, Donna Weimer, was there as well, and she, along with Pam Gouker, formed the first grade teaching team at Fountain Rock Elementary school where both Becky and Sarah attended. Now, of course, Donna and her dad can watch Sarah on WDVM, the local television station at which she is a reporter, and Becky teaches first and second grades.

The most striking thing that I learned about Boots Poffenberger when I was researching the book was how beloved he was and how, in spite of his eccentricities (or irresponsibilities, depending on your perspective) people gravitated towards him. He became the focal point around which new friendships and connections were formed and he continues to perform this role even 18 years after his death.

Thanks to the Washington County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau for sponsoring the bobble head and to the Hagerstown Suns in putting on the event. Oh, and as for the game? After feverishly working on the field for over an hour, the game had to be postponed because of wet grounds. Any fans who headed to a tavern to spend the time that they otherwise would have spent at the ballpark, were no doubt saluted by Boots with a frosty mug raised on high Somewhere Out There where there are no rainouts.

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What’s In the News: June, 1943

Recently, I wrote about the necessity to include only accurate details when writing fiction. That post detailed my quest for accurate information regarding tomato varieties that might have been planted during World War II. Even after publishing The Secret of Their Midnight Tears, I continue to concern myself with the details that it contains. On the streets of Winchester recently, I came across a 1941 Nash in beautiful condition, and the first thing that came to mind was wondering if my preacher-character, Reverend Hall, would have really driven a Buick, as I had written. I think I remain safe in that assumption—he sure wouldn’t have driven anything as flashy as this

1941 Nash

Nash—but it’s something that I never even thought about when I included that automotive detail.

In any case, what brought me to downtown Winchester was the pursuit of more details for the sequel to The Secret of Their Midnight Tears, specifically June 1-8, 1943. I ventured to the Stewart Bell Archives Room at Handley Library and found the microfilm that I needed from the Winchester Star.

Combing old newspapers is fascinating for several reasons. The ads are always fun. Tomatoes were $.22 per pound and there were ads for Marvels cigarettes and Spur, “The Cola Drink.” I have never heard of these last two products.

The copy for the movie ads are either dramatic or hilarious, at least to me. The June 5th ad for The More The Merrier starring Jean Arthur, Joel McCrae, and Charles Coburn, read, “Can they put a ceiling on ‘that old feeling’? Don’t give it another thought . . . They’ll never ration romance!” The movie, which plays on TCM is about the housing shortage in Washington, DC. The Andrews Sisters were starring in How’s About It, which not even I knew was ever produced, and virtually every star at Paramount appeared in Star Spangled Rhythm including Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Veronica Lake, Paulette Goddard, Dorothy Lamour, and about 20 other very big names of the day. Featured songs include “That Old Black Magic,” “Hit the Road to Dreamland,” and “I’m Doing It For Defense.” This last is sung by Betty Hutton who is fast becoming one of my favorite performers from that era and probably deserves a post of her own.

Of course, there were the news stories, many of which were grim then and now. Striking coal miners were threatening the war effort and bringing threats upon themselves from President Roosevelt, while black ordnance workers in St. Louis were refusing to work under white foremen.

The Allies were close to invading Italy (which would begin on September 3rd). Another war-related headline proclaimed, “Warsaw Ghetto Nearly Wiped Out By Germans.” The sub-headings noted that 2,000 had been shot, 3,000 had died in the flames, and 14,000 had been “deported.” We now know what being “deported” from the Warsaw ghetto truly meant.

The Zoot Suit riots in Los Angeles were covered, one headline proclaiming, “Sailors, Soldiers Strip Zooters of Bizarre Clothing.” Yes, the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies’ song details a real event.

Perhaps most interesting was a small, page-two article by the Associated Press that was no more than 5 column inches long. Headlined, “Axis Warns of Invasion Costs” the article led with the fact that “German Army experts, taking a long and careful look at the chances of [an] Anglo-American invasion of Europe, acknowledged today that such landings might be carried out successfully, but only at heavy cost to the invaders.” Those experts felt that a Mediterranean invasion point, or certain points in Norway would most likely be the target. The date was June 3, 1943. One year and three days later, the German Army experts were proven correct in at least their first assertion, and the story would be front-page news all over America.

To purchase a copy of The Secret of Their Midnight Tears, please click here. Thank you!

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Now Announcing the Boots Poffenberger Bobble Head

My old friend, Boots Poffenberger is back in the news, as the Washington County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau has announced that its “mystery bobble head,” to be given away at the August 12th Hagerstown Suns game against the West Virginia Power, is none other than Cletus Elwood himself.

I was privileged to attend the grand reveal on Friday at the Welcome Center in Hagerstown. Also in attendance were Jerry and Joan Knode, Boots’ son and daughter-in-law. I expect that half of Williamsport will be in attendance on giveaway night and I predict that the Third Base Tavern will be emptier than it has been on any Saturday night since Prohibition.

Woolie B., the Suns mascot, Joan Knode, CVB Director Dan Spedden, and Jerry Knode

I can only imagine that Boots would be puzzled over this bobble head business, and it would be more appropriate to honor him by handing out beer mugs. In any case, I’ll be there on the 12th, answering questions and selling books and no doubt, more than anything else, listening to folks tell their Boots stories. That’s one of the privileges of being a writer: People carry around precious memories and and decide to share them with me.

If you are interested in going, I suggest buying tickets in advance. The gates will open at 4:30 that night, which is a Saturday, and the game begins at 6:05. Get there early, for the bobble head will be given to the first 1,000 fans only. For you Nationals fans who might not know, the Hagerstown Suns are a Washington Class A affiliate. I’d love to see you there and believe me, you’ll receive a one-of-a-kind souvenir of a truly one-of-a-kind person.

Click here for WDVM’s segment on the reveal.

Click here for the Herald-Mail’s story on the reveal.

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Victory Seeds to the Rescue!

“Fiction” is a story that didn’t happen, but must be written as though it could have. This is especially true for historical fiction, and sometimes insuring the accuracy of one scene or even one sentence can take more time than it does to write the rest of the chapter in which that scene or sentence appears. All of which leads me to Victory Seeds of Molalla, Oregon and Mike Dunton.

I am working on the sequel to The Secret of Their Midnight Tears (I couldn’t just leave my characters in the middle of World War II!) and Tom Marsh decides to plant 10 acres worth of tomatoes for a local cannery that has just been built. I wondered, exactly what kind of varieties would have been grown for commercial canning in the Piedmont area of the Mid-Atlantic in 1943? Most of today’s hybrids were developed after World War II—that much I readily found out, but discovering which ones would have been planted during the war proved difficult. Then, in searching the Internet, I came upon Victory Seeds. The name held promise, but one look at the logo told me that whoever runs this outfit has a great deal of respect for the World War II generation. Therefore, I sent Victory Seeds an email containing my inquiry and received an immediate response from Mike Dunton, the owner, who was more than happy to answer my questions. Not only that, but he has continued to send information about which tomatoes might have been grown in 1943. As it turns out, a seed company in Norfolk offered “Tait’s Trucker’s Delight,” and T. W. Woods and Sons in Richmond offered several other varieties including “Bonnie Best”, all of which we now refer to as “heirlooms.”

What happened to tomato production as a result of World War II is fascinating. Mike wrote,

As you guessed, the WWII-era is of deep interest to me and yes, most definitely was an influence when I founded the company about twenty years ago. The end of the war ushered in the industrial age of commercial agriculture and along with adoption of using chemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides, the seed companies that grew with this new era of ag began promoting the more profitable (for them) hybrid seeds. (As an aside, this corporate mentality is what influenced their decisions to develop and promote genetically engineered varieties some 25 years later.)

As with so much of our culture, World War II even had an effect on the breeding of tomatoes.

Mike also offered this concerning the Victory Gardens:

The “Victory Gardening” movement was equally important to the war effort. Home food production freed up agriculture for canning which fed the allied forces. Since canned foods were rationed items, nearly 20 million Americans gardened, producing up to 40% of all that was consumed during the war. Wood’s ‘Brimmer’ tomato, for example, was a popular variety as a fresh market / slicing variety.

Heretofore, I have always bought my 4-pack of tomatoes from a local store, and then stuck them in the garden without any thought, but next year, I intend to get seeds from Mike and, come summer, dine on the fresh taste of history.

I know many of you are gardeners and I strongly encourage you to visit Peruse this on-line catalog: You’ll enjoy it and you’ll learn something and you can contact me next spring so that those of us with small gardens can trade some seeds!


Thanks to Al Smith and Buffy Cooper who posted the first two reviews (and very nice ones!) for The Secret of Their Midnight Tears. Keep ‘em coming folks.

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At a recent graduation brunch, I was sitting next to a young lady at the Queen Street Diner in Strasburg who ordered scrapple. After it arrived, she inquired what was in it. Her mistake should be readily apparent: You don’t ask what’s in scrapple AFTER you have it sitting in front of you. Upon receiving an answer, she didn’t eat a bite.

Just say “no.”

Look, if you’re going to order some pig product, you have to understand something: There are all kinds of ovine delicacies including pork chops, pork roast, pulled pork, ribs, and bacon. These all have individual names that are suggestive of what they are. Then, too, you have hot dogs and sausage, both of which are flavorful even if their respective characters are somewhat shady. Kind of like that neighbor who ran an import/export business and always had cash in his pocket. When he bought you and all the neighborhood kids a root beer, you didn’t question it, you just enjoyed it.

Scrapple is a different matter, however. It has “crap” in the middle of its name. Make this a rule: If a food name has “crap” in its name somewhere, assume that the food does, too, and don’t order it. And if you even think of ordering puddin’ without being certain that you’re willing to eat stuff that isn’t even good enough to go into scrapple, then think again.

You’re welcome, and bon appėtit.

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Not “4th of July”

Happy Independence Day! Yes, Independence Day.

Fourth of July conjures up images of picnics and fireworks, fun things to be sure, but I fear such things have become our only association with what should be a sacred holiday. This date marks the birth, not of a nation, but of an idea in the form of a nation. It marks the formal recognition of the idea that we are all free and equal.

To be sure, when the Declaration of Independence was adopted 241 years ago, not everyone was free and not everyone was considered equal. Do not disparage those members of the Continental Congress for failing to recognize that, however. Most of us fail to rise to the level of our ideals, and the Founders were bound by their Time, which shaped their perception. So are we. They were bound by their Time, but their idea is timeless.

Being “free and equal” carries many responsibilities which I think may be boiled down to two commandments: First, be generous in regard for others and second, be cautious in believing everything you think; or were taught to think.

If you fret over our “slow” progress in this regard, keep in mind that 241 years is a mere moment historically speaking and that, furthermore, the United States is still the only country founded on an idea that has managed to survive, at least up to this point.

For those of you with an interest in our Founding—and that should be all of you—I strongly recommend that you read Patriots by A. J. Langguth. I also strongly recommend that you watch the musical 1776, which is being broadcast tonight at 10:15 on Turner Classic Movies. This brilliantly written book and cleverly conceived and executed movie illuminate the oft-forgotten fact that our Founders were quite human and not just figures in an oil painting. It is good to remind ourselves of the struggles that took place, whether at Bunker Hill or in Independence Hall, that produced . . . us.

Enjoy this Independence Day but be sure to connect to the first Independence Day.

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World War II Became More Than Just “A Thing”

World War II was only 12 years in the past when I was born. For me, “the war” was this thing. Clearly, it was the focal point of my parents’ lives and of the lives of all their friends, but to me, it really was just “a thing.” We kids used to go to a place called Sonny’s Surplus—there were several stores around Baltimore—and get pistol belts and canteens and .50 caliber machine gun bullets (minus the primer and powder, of course.) I remember paying a nickel each for two cartridge pouches stamped, “KC 1943.” We used all this stuff to play army. It all meant so little, that I wore my dad’s sailor hat to the beach. Again, the war was just a thing and the matėriel from that war were just so many props for our games.

It was much, much later that I began to see my parents and their friends as they were 12

WW II event in Strasburg, VA at the old train station, now the town museum.

years before I arrived. Then, I began to see their friends whom I would never meet, those friends of theirs who never came back. And I began to feel a certain vibration in “the things” and I began to hear the songs from that time as my parents must have heard them. I already had an interest in the music and began to develop an interest in World War II reenactor camps. A visit to one in Strasburg, Virginia in 2009 was the inspiration for a story entitled, “Valley of Time,” which appears in Time Is A Pool. I felt compelled to listen to the stories the things and the songs and the places told. A trip to Bedford, Virginia, the home of the National D-Day Memorial fueled what was now more of a sacred obligation to listen. Believe me, if you read Alex Kershaw’s The Bedford Boys and then take a walk around that town, you will hear a story. And you’ll

Our daughter, Becky Dice, in the WW II fashion show from a few years back.

grow quiet and reverent.

As many of you know, our former home town of Williamsport began hosting a World War II Weekend, which included a USO dance on Saturday night featuring Jump Alley. This year will mark the tenth anniversary of the event and I will be attending for the ninth time. It is through dancing to the music of the time that I add my small piece to the reenactment picture. I never felt comfortable donning a military uniform and reenacting the role of a serviceman. I never served in the military and frankly, I don’t feel I’ve earned the right to wear the uniform, even one from 70 years ago, but my mom loved to dance and I think there is something to be said for reenacting, or perhaps, more accurately recreating the joy my parents also must have felt.

Beyond dancing, I have also given voice to that time and the people who populated it by writing The Secret of Their Midnight Tears. When you read it, you’ll be reading a tribute and not just “a story” that I thought might be interesting. I dedicated it “to the boys and girls—for that’s what they were—who saved the world.” Naturally, I hope you enjoy it, but I also hope that the sensations of the World War II generation will also resonate within you and that the time will not be merely “a thing.”

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