Sunday, October 26, 2014

Coming for Halloween, 3: The Crazy Old Lady's Secret

Another excerpt from The Crazy Old Lady's Secret - Now available for pre-order. It will be delivered October 30th!!!

Many of the shops along Tremont Street had grinning illuminated jack’o’lanterns in their windows and bunches of cornstalks that rustled in the night breeze by their doors. Gold twinkle lights wrapped around lamp posts and decorated trees. Whoever had strung the lights in the trees did so in such a haphazard manner that they appeared to have been placed there by a wizard too drunk to operate his magic wand. Though all the little trick-or-treaters were gone from the street, adult revelers in costume were everywhere. Music spilled out of bars and restaurants and the cool night was festive in a nerve-wracking way.

On the Common a group of musicians dressed in black outfits with glowing white skeletons on them played music by the Visitor’s Center. A pushcart vendor sold hot mulled cider and pumpkin cookies to ghosts and zombies, mermaids and monsters. Viv cut across the Common and, once she crossed Beacon Street to the Hill, all the noise seemed to fall away. In the glow of gaslight she saw that many of the houses had pumpkins on their doorsteps and in their flower boxes, but the decorations were mostly natural and discreet. Walking past number eight Walnut Street, Viv noticed someone had spread cob webs between the columns on either side of the door and she could not help thinking of George Parkman who once lived there and the grisly way he was murdered. It was not a good night to think about gruesome murders. She walked faster and turned down Mount Vernon Street.

A few lights were on in Ramin’s house—the sort of low, subtle lights that anyone would leave on while they were away. Viv hurried around the corner and entered the little alley behind the house. Except for the dim glow of windows the alley was dark. Shifting, moody clouds broke to reveal a brilliant crescent moon that was just as quickly swallowed by another cloud. As she approached the iron gate to Ramin’s back garden, Viv saw that it was closed and that his Aston-Martin was gone. She stood for a minute trying to decide what to do and, as she did, she heard footsteps behind her. Someone entered the alley and, instinctively, she ducked between the wall of the garage and an old lilac bush. The shadowy figure was large and walked briskly. She worked herself into the shelter of the garage’s side door and held her breath.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

"Wapiti" from Elk County, Pennsylvania


As readers of this blog know, I grew up in Elk County, Pennsylvania, where there is a large herd of elk. In my book The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall there is a chapter in which Oliver, my reclusive woodsman, tells Blaise, a taxidermist, about how he saved an elk's life. Today I came across a couple beautiful videos of Elk County elk so thought I would share them, along Oliver's story.





"Anyway," Oliver said, "it was a cold December afternoon – I remembered that because it was archery season. I was in Grandpop's workshop when I heard an elk. Have you ever heard an elk bugling?”
Blaise nodded. “It's not a sound you forget.”
I recognized the direction it was coming from so I hiked up toward it. What I found was terrible. It was a young female elk. She'd been shot through the rear haunch with an arrow. The poor thing was miserable. She was trying frantically to get the arrow out by scraping herself against a tree and she'd torn open a huge part of her haunch. She just lay there exhausted and in pain. The bugling was coming from farther up the hill so I knew there was a bull nearby.”
She was probably part of his harem.”
That's what I thought. At first I thought I should go get a rifle and put her out of her misery before the coyotes found her. I went back to the house but then – I don't know – I just had to try to save her.”
Blaise watched him quietly.
So I got some pliers, a jug full of water, and I took some antibiotic salve Grandpop used back when he had horses. I tore up a couple clean sheets and I took my rifle just in case. I had no idea if she'd let me near her or not but... well, what else could I do?” He looked around at the stuffed animals that seemed to be as intrigued by his story as Blaise was.
When I got to her she was just lying there, her eyes rolling so you could see the whites. I knew she was in awful pain and I didn't want to hurt her any more than I had to. I didn't know if the bull was watching or not but, well, I kept talking to her and stroking her. It was a nasty job getting the arrow out but I managed it okay. She just held so still. I kept thinking she would die but she didn't. I did what I could to clean the dirt and bark out of the flesh where she'd scraped herself against the tree. Then I spread the whole horrible mess with salve and bandaged her haunch with sheets. I backed away slowly and watched. She was tired but she knew what was going on. It took her a couple of tries to get to her feet but she did. She just turned and limped away. I followed her for a few yards then I looked up and saw the bull standing on top of the ridge. He was waiting for her and I knew he'd take care of her.” He took a deep breath. “It's strange to say this but I think it did more good for me than it did for her.”
I wouldn't be surprised. Do you have any idea what happened to her?”
Oliver smiled. “That spring I found the bandages in the rocks along Pistner's Run so I figured she'd made it. The funny thing was I found Toots a few days later just a few yards away.” He looked at Blaise and felt a deep sense of relief that he had shared his story. “Last summer I was coming back from town when I saw a female elk alongside the road. She had a calf with her. I'm always happy to see one but I didn't think much about it. Then, as I passed her, I saw the scar on her haunch. I think it was her.”
I'm sure it was.” Blaise smiled. “You know Native Americans call them Wapiti and in many of their traditions they believe them to be the protectors of women. What you did would be considered a sacred act.”
He shook his head. “It was just the decent thing to do, especially after Grandpop's story.”
Blaise leaned forward resting his arms on the table. “Can I ask you something personal?”
Sure. If I haven't spilled my guts enough.”
Are you in love?”
Oliver looked at him momentarily speechless then he cleared his throat. “Yeah. Yeah, I am.”
Good. That's good. You make sure you hang on to this one.”
Oliver sat still for a minute. “I want to. Why?”
Wapiti are also the symbol of true love. I think that cow you helped has brought a gift to you."

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Coming for Halloween, 2: The Crazy Old Lady's Secret

Another excerpt from The Crazy Old Lady's Secret. Enjoy!!!



~~~

Avast, matey! You gonna walk a’plank!” Adam, dressed like a tiny pirate, with a black patch over one eye and brandishing a rubber sword, jumped in front of Viv in the living room of her grandfather’s apartment.
Mattie rolled her eyes. “Stan taught him to say that. Honestly, sometimes I feel like I have two little kids.”
Let me see your baby.” Adam pulled up the patch and peered into the carrier. “Where’s her costume?”
Viv crouched down beside him and placed the carrier on the floor. “She’ll have it on for the party tomorrow.” She looked at Mattie. “I found the cutest little outfit. She’s going to be a daisy.”
Hi, baby.” Adam leaned over to kiss Veronica’s cheek and she grabbed at his eye patch, laughing.
A daisy? That’s adorable.” Mattie followed Viv into the kitchen where she unpacked the cartons of food she brought from Chinatown.
It really is. There’s this green one-piece jumper and then a bonnet with white petals sticking out. She’s going to look precious. Was Joe around when you got here?”
No.” Mattie took dishes from the cupboard. “Darcy downstairs said he stopped and got coffee but didn’t stay long.”
Viv carried the cartons to the table. “I don’t know what’s going on with him. He’s being very mysterious.”
~~~

Did you have fun?” Mattie asked, lifting Adam out of the back of the taxi. Though they had walked to the Prudential Center for the party, by the time it was over Veronica was fussy and Adam was tired so they called a cab.
Yeah,” Adam said, rummaging through his bag of treats and prizes for the dozenth time. “That was cool.”
Why don’t I get some food from the deli and bring it up while you get Adam squared away?” Viv lifted out the carrier and her drowsy little one. “Joe was meeting his brother at Handsome Molly’s so he won’t be home for a while.”
Sure,” Mattie said. “I’ll take Veronica upstairs with us.”
Need help?”
Both of them looked up to see Brother Maksim coming toward them.
Hi,” Viv said. “What are you doing here?”
Actually, I’d like to talk to you for a minute if I may.” Brother Maksim took the baby carrier from her. “I’ll take this little angel upstairs and then come back down if that’s all right.”

Viv glanced at Mattie, who shrugged and said, “Sure. I’ll change Veronica and then I’d really like to give my guy a bath before we eat; he’s got candy corn stuck in his hair. Take your time.”

Friday, October 10, 2014

Coming for Halloween, I: The Crazy Old Lady's Secret

It's been a long time coming but it is almost time for The Crazy Old Lady's Secret:

Excerpt #1:

The day was bright and Commonwealth Avenue was full of people strolling in the crisp autumn air. Brother Maksim crossed to the mall so he could walk under a bower of colorful autumn leaves and think. It was Halloween and, if anyone asked he would have said that all this hobgoblin stuff was nonsense, but he also knew from personal experience that when the walls between worlds grew thin strange things could happen. He had participated in entirely too many inexplicable situations to be cavalier about their existence.
All his life Brother Maksim had taken pride in being a righteous man and a loyal one. Sometimes that led him into circumstances that endangered his life, but he had never shied away from trusting his instincts—instincts that were gnawing at him now. He did not know what was going on but he was certain that something was. While talking to Dori he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was lying. And he knew that something affecting Vivienne—his dear Vivienne—was involved. He took a deep breath and tried to ignore the feelings that churned in him whenever he thought of her. Since the day they met she had been as precious to his heart as anyone he had ever known. He told himself it was not just physical attraction, although he knew himself well enough to know that was part of it. But he had always found a wistfulness in her that appealed to his natural chivalry. 
The day he accompanied her to Ramin Aria’s house, Brother Maksim stayed behind to get a sense of Ramin without her presence influencing his feelings. He decided that he liked Ramin, but he was a complicated man who had the capacity to be ruthless under the right circumstances. But what man did not—especially where someone he loved was concerned? After Viv left that day Ramin took the monk down into the cellar to see the tunnel opening. Ramin had to duck his head when he stepped through the door but there was no way that Brother Maksim would fit, even turned sideways.
Are you going to keep it open?” Brother Maksim asked.
No, I’ll probably install a security door—or just fill it in. But if there are tunnels like this throughout this neighborhood, well, they could make life interesting, don’t you think?”
Brother Maksim agreed with that. 

The sun was low in the sky and All Hallow’s Eve was closing in as Brother Maksim crossed the Common and headed toward the T-station. As the streets filled with people in ghoulish costumes there were so many vampires, werewolves, and zombies that he could not help remembering himself as a boy traveling alone through the Carpathian Mountains. He changed his mind, crossed Tremont Street, and walked toward Washington. Vivienne had told him she and her friend Mattie planned to take the children to a party that afternoon. He decided they needed to talk.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Guest Post from Ray Beimel: More About the Bucktails

Since the next story in my Marienstadt series will include the Bucktails, the famous Civil War regiment of sharpshooters, many of whom were from Elk County, I have been fascinated by Ray's tales of the annual Bucktail Reunions.
 


Of Bucktails 
by Ray Beimel

First weekend of August was the 20th Annual Bucktail Reunion in Curwens-ville, Pa. That town has connections to both the original Bucktail Regiment (42nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, 13th Pennsylvania Reserves, 1st Pennsylvania Ri-fles, they had many names) and the 149th Pennsylvania, one of the two junior or bogus Bucktails. Thus the reunion of Bucktail reenactors is held there.
The encampment is held at a park hard by the West Branch of the Susquehanna River. As always happens at these things, the guy I signed in with was a distant cousin on the Beimel side.
That sine qua non of modern camping, the blue tarp, attends whenever there is old canvas. The camp is mostly authentic.
The original Bucktails  were armed with the breech loading Sharps rifle like the one seen here. Higher rate of fire and reloading while prone were the good things about them.
During the day visitors came and went, looking around, taking pictures, talking to the reenactors.

The boy above is posing next to a genuine Army wagon. Many of the parts are original. In the war, it would have been drawn by 6 mules. We often forget how important horses and mules were to the war effort. Michael Parana, a St. Marys native was the force behind re-storing the wagon. He had photos and information about wagonning during the war and lots of people came by to listen.

In midafternoon, I left to do some biking on the Clearfield to Grampian Rail trail. That story will be at the end of this. Chuck Copello, the organizer, asked me if I could do the group picture for them later before dinner. I was packing the new beater camera which delivers professional results in the hands of a skilled operator so I said I would be happy to.

The group gathered at Colonel Irvin’s house (at top). He commanded the 149th PVI. 20 years before the group had a photo taken in the same spot and many were there for this one.

Afterwards we went to the Bucktail Monument nearby. The man holding the flag is Terry Rickard, one of my coworkers in the Camp Mountain Run days and his cousin Josie.

After the photo shoot, we all came back to the encampment for dinner. I joked that authenticity demanded that salt pork, hardtack, and green coffee beans be served. But instead, we had a nice catered meal, lots of good food and cake for des-sert. During and after there was a lot of conversation of the “ah shit, that’s nothing, back when I was…” kind. I was able to hold my own given that I was packing a heap of Gettysburg anniversary tales.

Then it was time for music. This young fiddler was doing a good job accompanying Greg Hernandez, the fifer I met at the dedication of the Company G monument.

Monday, September 29, 2014

A New Story: "Continental Divides"

I have not been a good blogger lately. I have been writing a lot and designing books for other writers and have found too little time to blog. I have started a new series of Marienstadt stories and already have six stories completed toward a new collection. Over the weekend I read a wonderful book, Fox: Buffalo Swamp To Marcellus Shale: The History Of Fox Township Pennsylvania by Robert Schreiber Jr. and was reminded of something about my home town that I had forgotten--it sits directly on the Eastern Continental Divide. I had an idea and I started to write. Below are a couple excerpts from the new story. I hope you like them.


CONTINENTAL DIVIDES

The Great Buffalo Swamp it had once been called. Back in the early days before the coming of the Europeans not even the native Iroquois Seneca lived in these woods. They used it as their hunting ground because the forest was filled with deer and elk, wolves and bear, panthers and smaller game. But the land was too rugged; the hills too steep; and the tree canopy too dense to make the land habitable. Until the Europeans came, of course. Some days, when Oliver Eberstark ventured alone into the deepest parts of Opelt’s Wood, he daydreamed of what it must have been like hundreds of years ago before the coming of the farmers, then the loggers, then the miners. Oliver loved everything about the woods he inherited from his grandfather. He never thought of the acres of forest land as a possession, but rather a sacred duty entrusted to his keeping.
He had not been born in Marienstadt but in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where his mother’s family lived for generations. His mother’s father, and all her uncles, once worked in the steel mills. When the steel industry died, they stayed and eked out a living as best they could—driving taxis and working as handymen. His parents met when his father left Marienstadt to attend college in Pittsburgh and fell in love with a waitress in a diner where he went to study when his roommates were too noisy. They fell in love, married, and Oliver was born while his father was still a student—a student who, while studying for his final exams, contracted a virus that left him with myocarditis from which he never recovered.
Oliver’s only memories of his father were of a sick, frail man who needed his wife’s constant attention. The few times Oliver saw his father laughing were when his parents brought him to Marienstadt to visit his Grandfather Eberstark. During those rare weekends in Grandpop’s big timber and stone house on the bank of Pistner’s Run deep in Opelt’s Wood his father was a different man. As a little boy Oliver could not believe anyone would want to live anywhere else and every time, when the visit was over and they drove back to Pittsburgh, he prayed the few childish prayers he knew, that next time they would stay with Grandpop. He was convinced that the magic of the deep woods would heal his father’s heart.

Grandpop, whose name was Thaddeus, was a big, hardy, tough woodsman who built clocks in the workshop of his own grandfather’s abandoned sawmill. He loved the woods that surrounded his home and whenever Oliver visited he would take him for walks and talk to him about things that sounded mysterious and wonderful to the boy. Grandpop showed him great boulders with tiny mollusk shells embedded in them from a time long before the dinosaurs lived—when this land was tropical and near the sea. They found fossils with the imprints of ancient ferns and beetles in them. Grandpop told him stories of people and places that had names like Chief Tamsqua and the Chinclecamoose Trail. Those were the happiest days of the boy’s life. 
~~~ 

He skirted around the edge of a swamp with dragonflies flitting over it. The air was filled with the fragrance of blackberry blossoms. Bees buzzed back and forth collecting pollen before the petals fell away and the first green of berries emerged. Oliver climbed a grade to one of the logging paths so long abandoned that it was barely discernible through the vegetation. He remembered the first time Grandpop brought him here.
This is a very important place,” Grandpop had said. “Everything changes just about here.”
Oliver, who was always eager for new bits of Grandpop’s seemingly endless knowledge, looked up at him. “Why?”
Because right along here is the Eastern Continental Divide. Did you learn about continental divides in school yet?”
Oliver shook his head.
Well, a continental divide is a place that separates watersheds. Watersheds are areas of land in which all the water runs in the same direction. Here, I’ll show you. You stand over there.” Grandpop pointed to a rocky outcrop on one side of the path. “And I’ll stand over here.” He walked a hundred feet along the path then stopped and turned toward the boy. “Now, I might not be exactly accurate, but you are standing in the Atlantic Seaboard Watershed, where all the water from all the rivers and streams run toward the Atlantic Ocean. I’m standing in the Gulf of Mexico Watershed where all the water runs southwest toward the Mississippi River and down to the Gulf. Pretty interesting, huh?”
Oliver had turned and looked down into the woods where a small stream glittered in the distance. He pointed to it. “That means the water in that crick goes to the Atlantic Ocean?”
Yep. Come here.”
He joined Grandpop who pointed off into the woods. “On the other side of that ridge is Pistner’s Run.”
And so it goes to the Gulf of Mexico?”
Yep.”
Oliver looked back and forth between the two places trying to absorb what he was hearing. “So right here where we’re standing is where the Continental Divide makes them go in different directions?”
Grandpop put his big hand on Oliver’s shoulder and grinned. “Pritneer. I might be off by a few yards but this is just about the right place.”
Are there other continental divides?” Oliver liked these new words and he was eager to tell Nick and Dan about them.
Sure are. In North America there are six of them. Come on, I’ve got a map at home that shows where the others are.”

Since that day Oliver had often returned to the place where Grandpop told him about continental divides. It was a mysterious concept, he thought. Nothing you could see or examine and, yet, it seemed deeply important. If you knew which side of the divide you were on, you knew where the flow could take you.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

October is Mystery Month on Reader's Rock!!!

My books have been in several issues of Tammie Clarke Gibbs' fantastic Reader's Rock Magazine and they will be in the October issue with the spread below. I love this magazine. Get your free subscription by clicking here:

CLICK TO ENLARGE


Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Stories That Come In Dreams

I have written before about how Arthur's Story: A Love Story came to me in a series of dreams. I have no idea where those dreams came from but I still remember them and writing that story was a pure joy. Lately I have been dreaming again and last night's dream was particularly vivid. I'm writing because I'm still trying to catch it and hold on to it.

There is a very special, brilliant luminous quality to these dreams. This one started out on Thacher Island, a place I have been to and spent a lot of time exploring. The two stone lighthouses are very eocative for me—in fact they are the wallpaper for this blog. Last night I was walking along the stony cliff at the back of the island and was very aware of these huge stone towers looming over me. The sky was very blue and the wild beach roses and grass rustled in a breeze that blew in creating whitecaps on the ocean.

At first I did not know what I was doing there but it had something to do with finding a group of women. At first I thought they were princesses but then realized, no, they were beautiful and seductive but more the lorelei than princesses. I had to find them but then the story changed.

I met a man. He was young and strangely beautiful and he told me that he lived in the keeper's house. He said that the town could no longer afford to take care of the island and so they sold it and he was hired by the new owners to live there and care for it. He did not want to be there alone and so he was walking the cliffs every day waiting for the young woman they were going to send him. He was worried something would happen to her.

There is a lot of story potential in this and I wanted to write it down for two reasons—so I would remember it, and also to illustrate the mysterious nature of the subconscious. I have three stories in various stages of development right now. The Crazy Old Lady's Secret just got good marks from a beta reader and is now off to another reader. I am finishing up a new Marienstadt story called Candy Dippold and the Mail Pouch Barn. I have done a fair amount of work on a new Halcyon Beach Chronicle, Ghost of A Dancer By Moonlight, and have roughed out the beginning of another Pitts Crossing Tale, currently called The Tuesday Night Baking and Assassins Guild. I have plenty of writing to do—including rough drafts for at least four more Marienstadt stories.

I have no idea where last night's dream came from but I have a feeling it will haunt me for a long time—and maybe insist I write about it.


Thanks for reading.  

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Marouflage: The Things That You Learn When You Write A Book

The Crazy Old Lady's Secret is still in process. I hoped to have it out by August but it is looking like it could be October. It is a long story—the longest Beacon Hill Chronicle so far—and it is different than the others in that it is neither a mystery or a horror story but rather psychological suspense. It is not hard to figure out what is going on and, eventually, it is not hard to figure out who is doing it. The question is, why? Why is this happening?

And there is one rather juicy twist in the story that comes about two-thirds of the way through.

The story is mostly based in Boston's art world and one of my beta readers pointed out something intriguing to me. In one of the early chapters, Ramin Aria, the new owner of GrammyLou's townhouse, tells lawyer Cushing Phillips that he is going to have the murals removed and it Matty (GrammyLou's granddaughter) wants them he will ship them to her. This becomes important later on in the story. However, my reader made an interesting observation. She said that she thought murals were painted directly on to walls, so how could they be removed without removing the entire wall? Fair point.

Because I was an art major in college and have worked around artists much of my life, I knew that many murals are painted on canvas in the artist's studio and only affixed to the wall later. This serves several purposes. It allows the artist to work in her studio where the light is probably best. It frees the client from having someone working in their house for days, weeks, months. Plus it allows the mural to be removed at a later date if the owner so wishes to take it elsewhere.

What I did not know is that there is a name for this technique. It is called “marouflage” and is a technique developed by French artists. When I found the word (thanks to the internet) I was delighted because Ramin Aria, despite his Middle Eastern name, lived in Paris most of his life so it would stand to reason he would be familiar with the technique. I was also struck by the similarity of the word “marouflage” to the word “decoupage” which is the affixing of paper or fabric images to a surface and sealing them with a heavy coating.


So, thanks to my very conscientious beta reader, I changed one scene slightly to clarify it for future readers. To wit:

Cushing picked up the pearl-colored embossed business cards. "Mattie was only five when her parents died and she went there to live with her grandmother. It's very kind of you to be concerned."
Aria waved a hand dismissively. “I plan to do extensive renovations. There are a number of murals especially in the second floor rooms. Unfortunately they are not particularly distinguished and I will most likely have them removed. If Madame Michaud would like to have them, I'd be happy to ship them to her.”
"I suspect she doesn't," Cushing said, "but I'll let her know. I'm surprised to hear you say they're of little interest. The Thorndikes collected some very fine art. I remember paintings by John Singer Sargeant and Lilian Westcott Hale in that house."
Aria raised an eyebrow. “Those would be valuable.”
I remember the murals in that house.” Cushing's brows knit, as he probed his memory. “I didn't know they could be removed. I thought murals were painted directly on the wall. Do you have to remove the entire wall?”
Not at all. Many muralists, particularly those who paint finely detailed pastorals, paint on canvas which is then applied to the wall. Actually, the French developed the technique. It is called marouflage.” Aria's face became animated as he spoke. “There were, of course, some great muralists of the period during which my new home was built but the overwhelming popularity of murals at one time led some homeowners to settle for inferior work when a more accomplished artist was unavailable to them. Naturally, one always hopes that there are treasures to be found in these old homes but such is not always the case.”

Friday, September 05, 2014

Guest Post by Ray: Hanging with the Bucktails

Another guest blog post by our good buddy Ray in Pennsylvania: 

Hanging with the Bucktails 

by Ray Beimel

This past weekend I had the fine experience of being present for the 21st Annual Bucktail Reunion. This year it was held in Wellsboro, one of the most pleasant and interesting small towns in Pennsylvania. For my friends who are not Civil War buffs, the Bucktails were three regiments in the Army of the Potomac that wore the distinguishing buck tail on their forage caps. The first unit recruited was the 42nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, also called the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves or the 1st Pennsylvania Rifles. The initial core of that regiment was recruited in Clearfield, Cameron, Elk, and McKean counties by Thomas L. Kane. He wanted hardy woodsmen familiar with firearms. Fleshed out with men from other parts of Pennsylvania, the regiment had an enviable reputation for marksmanship and prowess in skirmishing tactics. Their success inspired the recruiting of two more regiments, the 149th and the 150th Pennsylvania. These two were called the Bogus Bucktails by the 42nd but earned a reputation as fighters in their own right. Books could be written and have been but that is enough from me to give you an idea of what being a Bucktail was all about.

Many Civil War re-enactors from this part of the state have chosen these regiments as their model. After many years of taking part in reenactments, they thought they should have a weekend just for getting together and sharing their stories and comradeship. This was the 21st year of that event. They were camped in a park, using vintage style tents and camp furnishings. Visitors were free to come by and talk. Down in the beautiful town square there were demonstrations and items for sale. You would see Bucktails in the shops, in the restaurants, sitting in the shade in the square.
The fellow below had a big display of Civil War medical items, including leeches, fake rubber leeches. He was quite knowledgeable and articulate and usually had a fair sized crowd listening to his presentation.

My part in all this was to make some photographs, including the official group photo planned for later in the afternoon. After a few hours of conversation, I wandered down the main street looking for something to eat. A Chinese place beckoned as I had not had any of that in quite some time. After that, it was down to the bookstore. This was a nice independent place with a very large selection, shelves almost as high as I could reach. I found something I had to have entitled Pacific Payback, the story of the dive bomber squadrons on the USS Enterprise that defeated the Japanese fleet at the battle of Midway, the turning point in the Pacific war. Heading back to the square, I stopped in one of the outfitter shops and picked up a guide to the Pine Creek Rail Trail. The trouble with outdoor stores is that I already have all the camping gear I can use and I don’t get to use it often enough.

I hung around the square for a while. I spent a fair bit of time talking to the president of the Clearfield County Historical Society. His organization published a book of the writings of one of the original Bucktails so I had to get one of those. He told me they were moving their records to a different building so we talked shop about moving historical societies. I met his wife and we exchanged anecdotes and would probably still be talking but I had a professional duty.

It was time to do the group photo. The location was an old house right near the courthouse. Now occupied by a law office, it was standing when the Bucktails held their first reunion in Wellsboro back in the 1880s. The group took a long time to assemble. I did some photographer stuff and worked out my location for the camera. The group milled about while the stragglers arrived. They were patient because they had nothing to do talk to other Bucktails. Finally, I turned on the crowd control voice and got everyone lined up. The location was good with only two window air conditioners to mar the period. Those were easily retouched out with a few minutes of Photoshop magic.
After the Bucktail group was finished we invited the ladies in period dress to join the group.
And then smaller groups were formed for photos.

The group was breaking up when one of then told me there was going to be a photo session at the Penn Wells Hotel. This inn was there for the first reunion. Several groups set up in the tavern in front of the same fireplace that was there back then.

I was having such a good time that I decided I would spend the night so I went to the front desk to see if any rooms were available. I was in luck, there was a cheap and yet small room available and I took it. But while negotiating for that, I missed a good photo opportunity. Some of the Bucktails in officer uniforms set up a table with whiskey bottles, much as officers were reputed to do in the Civil War. It would have been a good image but I missed the chance. The next thing happening was a pig roast dinner back at the park. I ended up sitting with some friends from Elk County but we made the mistake of sitting at the last table to be served. Not a lot of pig left by the time I got there. But it was good and the company better.

Then we got into the real part of the reunion, hanging out with likeminded folks in a pleasant setting. There was music from the period done by guys in period costume with banjo and fiddle.
Some listened, others sat around in small groups talking. I tried to do both. One of my old Camp Mountain Run staff buddies was there and I listened to him telling Bucktail stories that I hadn’t heard before. It was quite dark when I was ready to leave so I was really glad not to be driving the 100 miles back home.

I hadn’t planned on staying the night so I was not prepared with clean underwear, socks, or toothbrush. A shower was good and a little tooth scrubbing with a wash cloth got rid of most of the grody stuff. I read for a bit but soon found that the long day had tired me out. I was soon asleep. In the morning I woke up feeling well rested. As long as I was in Wellsboro I was going to have breakfast at the well-known Wellsboro Diner. Several years ago I ate breakfast there with Brad and Chris. We sat at the counter and watched the grill cook at work. Her name was Holly and she was still there this day. She did all the breakfast cooking for everyone, waited on the ones seated at the counter (like me) and kept up running banter with the other waitresses and the regulars. The show was well worth the price of admission. And breakfast was good too.

As I walked back to the hotel, the rain started. It would not stop that day. The Bucktails had planned a church service on the square and then a parade to the cemetery. I took a drive to find the cemetery and walked to the church service. It was under a tent and Reverend Herring was preaching. I waited until the service was over to get my briefing about what was next. Given the rain, the parade down the main street was canceled. The group would assemble at the cemetery and carry on their ceremonies. There were 7 former Civil War Bucktails buried in the Wellsboro Cemetery. Each was marked with a special wreath. The modern Bucktails formed up a platoon size marching unit lead by a color guard. They marched from grave to grave. At each, they stood at ease while someone read the biography of the deceased veteran.
Then the platoon was called to attention and a salute was given. Then the group marched to the next grave site.
Of course, it was raining at every moment and only a very few were wearing ponchos. Their wool uniforms got wetter and heavier. There were others accompanying the group who had the good fortune to use umbrellas. One of them was me. This kept both me and the cameras dry. After visiting all seven graves, there were some final words and then the group broke up and headed back to break camp, pack up, and head for home.

It’s an interesting group to hang out with. Some of them are quite knowledgeable about the regiments’ histories. All are good to listen to. It made for a pleasant weekend even with the rain. And as I close I have to speak again of Wellsboro. It is a town largely given to the tourist trade and they are very good at it. There is much to see and do and the area is well worth a visit whether as a day trip or overnight or several nights. If you want a hotel stay that will take you back to the turn of the 19th to the 20th century you can’t do better than the Penn Wells Hotel. The food is good there as well.
If you want to see more of the Bucktail photos, go to www.beimelphoto.smugmug.com. There they are rendered in the warm tones of Civil War era photography.
Thanks for reading, Ray


Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Marienstadt has a Mayor!!!

In my last post I said that my Pennsylvania Dutch town of Marienstadt needed a mayor and I was open to suggestions. I did not get much feedback on the blog (thanks, Tony Schreiber) but I did get some emails, several suggestions, and we have a winner! The new mayor of Marienstadt is Gilbert "Gibby" Stauffer. He is a forty-something machinist married to Maxine and the father of five grown kids. 

Some of the other characters suggested were so interesting that they may well show up in future stories but right now you are invited to meet Mayor Gibby Stauffer:

~~~
There were a lot of days when Gilbert Stauffer—known to everyone in Marienstadt as Gibby—woke up wondering how in the hell he wound up as the town’s mayor. Actually, if he was honest with himself he knew how. He was mayor because of his weakness for pork roast cooked with Mulligan Wolfe’s thick cut sauerkraut and Lola Eckert’s delicious Butterknödels, all washed down with a frosty bottle of Straub beer—or three, or four. As a young man, Gibby dreamed of a career in sports. He might not have been the smartest guy to graduate from Central Catholic High School but he was the tallest. At six foot five he was the star of the basketball team and was quite sure he was destined for greatness. The problem turned out to be that, while six foot five was towering three decades earlier in Marienstadt, it was not particularly tall in the world of professional basketball.
Gibby made the best of the situation. He went to work in a local machine shop and turned out to be even better at turning, cutting, milling, and grinding than he had been at sinking baskets. He married his high school sweetheart, Maxine, and together they raised five kids. By local standards, they had a better than average life. Once all the kids were grown and flown the coop, Maxine assumed the role of grandmother-at-large, devoting as much time as she could to their growing collection of grandkids, as well as to any other little ones in need of extra attention. She volunteered at the local parks teaching crafts and at St. Walburga’s reading to the pre-school and kindergarten kids. Gibby didn’t mind. It kept her happy and he was equally happy stopping at Fred Sarginger’s Snuff Box or the Moose Club for dinner.
It was the Moose’s weekly Tuesday night pork and sauerkraut dinner that cooked his goose. He had been sitting at the bar with Mulligan Wolfe, off-duty patrolman Dean Ginther, and Mulligan’s brother, Augie, as the coming mayoral elections were being discussed.
“Something’s gotta change,” Augie said, “this town has been run by the same bunch of bullheaded old Dutchmen for way too long. We need a candidate to boot their fat, old asses out.”
“No kidding,” Dean agreed. “The police department can’t do anything without getting called on the carpet. It’s got to change.”
Gibby, who was busy signaling to the bartender for another beer, didn’t notice they were all looking at him.
“What?” he said when he realized no one was talking.
“Perfect,” Mulligan said.
The next thing Gibby knew his name was on the ballot. When election day rolled around, despite the fact that he had done virtually nothing to campaign, he was elected in a landslide. If it could be called a landslide when less than a third of registered voters even bothered to turn out. The few votes his opponent got were exactly the same as the number of adults in his family. Since then, between local fear that the old timers might get back in office and, more significantly, voter apathy, he’d won reelection twice and was beginning to fear he may be condemned to serve as Mayor-for-Life.
“Candy Dippold called three times yesterday,” Max said as she slid eggs onto two plates and arranged buttered toast beside it. His wife, like most woman in Marienstadt was a good down-home cook but he considered her “dippy eggs” to be her finest creation.
“Did he say why?” He picked up a piece of toast and used the corner of it to break through the plump pink yolk unleashing a tiny eruption of glorious, hot, creamy yellow goodness. He stirred the toast around until it was well-coated then closed his eyes and let the delicious flavors fill his mouth with pleasure.
“I’m not sure. He said he’ll be in his store all day if you happen to go by. I’m going over to St. Walburga’s to help in the nursery during ten o’clock Mass.”
“Okay,” Gibby said. “I’ll go see him.”


Saturday, August 30, 2014

HELP!!! Marienstadt Needs A Mayor!

As I work on a new collection of stories set in the town of Pennsylvania Dutch town of Marienstadt, it is becoming increasingly obvious that this town is becoming unruly and it needs a mayor. As readers of this series know, we have a wonderful Chief of Police—tall, blond, and handsome Henry Werner, who is a good person and looks out for his town but is not above overlooking a crime or two to protect his people. We have a judge in pompous windbag, Harrison Buerk, who, for all his pomposity, is always willing to be persuaded to give someone a break—especially when tempted by one of Lola's confections. And we have a town historian, Margaret Simons, who knows everything that has ever happened to anyone and likes them anyway.

So, my friends and beloved readers, what kind of mayor would be best for Marienstadt? Male or female? Young and eager or old and jaded? I am eager for suggestions. Please reply in the comments section of this post or on Facebook. Please give a description of the person you would like to see as mayor and tell me something about him/her. Suggest a name, if you like, too. I am open to any and all suggestions and look forward to your replies!


Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

More About Marienstadt

The other day on Facebook I wrote this status update: Cool, breezy day with lots of salt water in the air. The gulls have been in a big flap about something and carrying on quite loudly. Time to go to Marienstadt for a couple hours--we've got a barn to save.

This morning a guy commented on it by saying. You know, Kathleen, it's kind of cool to read something like this, "Time to go to Marienstadt for a couple hours--we've got a barn to save." and actually know where you're talking about. 

That cracked me up and so I decided to add more from the story I am working on. This one is a lot of fun!

“Mail Pouch Tobacco barns have been a beloved feature of the American landscape since 1890,” Margaret Simons said as she pulled a file folder from a drawer in the Marienstadt Historical Society offices on the third floor of Town Hall. “They used to be all over the place in the mid-west from Wisconsin to New Jersey.” She sat down at a table across from Candy Dippold. “By the mid 1960’s there were at least twenty-thousand of them. I’ve been able to document eight of them right here in Elk County.” She opened the folder and spread photos out on the table. “Unfortunately, Aaron Fledderman’s is the last one that is recognizable. There’s another one in a field out on the Bucktail Trail but it caved in several years ago and you can only see bits of painting on the boards.”
Candy sorted through the photographs, studying them carefully. “This one looks to be in good shape.” He turned the picture toward her.
“That’s in Potter County. The people who own that barn have done a good job of restoring it. I’m so glad they cared enough to do that.” She sighed. “I really hope the Fledderman’s barn can be saved. Aaron’s father built it in the thirties when he quit the Post Office and took up farming. That barn is painted on two sides so it’s especially significant.”
Candy picked up the photograph of the Fledderman barn. Though he had driven past it several times a week most of his life, and had always enjoyed seeing it, he had never thought of it as being anything more than one of the local features. It was a large black building with the traditional gambrel roof and sliding doors along the stone base. On both the front end and the side facing the highway the words Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco Treat Yourself To The Best were painted in white and yellow capital letters. Blue stripes highlighted all three visible corners. The barn was surrounded by elderberry bushes and a three rail fence formed a corral on one side.
“I wonder what shape it’s in?” he said.
“I don’t know but if the money could be raised to purchase the land it stands on we might be able to get a grant to help preserve it. When the Highway Beautification Act was passed in 1965, Mail Pouch Barns were exempted because they were considered historical landmarks.”

“Really?” Candy looked up at her. “You don’t say.”



Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Time to Return to Marienstadt?

Seems like it's a good time to get back to my favorite Pennsylvania community:

Other than the few years spent in the Air Force, Candy Dippold had lived in Marienstadt all his life. He had been lucky enough to serve his country during a peaceful period but, despite that, he came back to Pennsylvania convinced that it was the center of the universe and there was no reason to stray farther afield. He married Eunice Woelfel, who was, technically speaking, his third cousin, and took over the running of his family’s grocery store on Church Street across from St. Walburga’s Parochial School. For decades Dippold’s Grocery had been one of the busiest stores in Marienstadt and, even after the big Bi-Lo market moved into a shopping center out on the highway, Dippold’s continued to thrive. Candy accomplished this by making it his mission to carry as many of the locally produced food products as he could.
Due no doubt to the long-standing tradition of Bavarian thriftiness, Marienstadt was blessed with an impressive variety of unique and exceptional businesses. Kneidel’s Meat Market was one of the oldest in the county and Andy, the proprietor, continued to produce the sausages, scrapple, sultz, and more from recipes that his grandfather brought from the Old Country. Mulligan Wolfe, who owned Stooges Pigs and Kraut, made his own sauerkraut from cabbages he raised himself and cured bacon, jerky, and ham from his own pigs. Lola Eckert’s Strudel Shop was one of the prime gathering spots downtown and her strudels, pies, and pastries were responsible for more than a few locals taking up jogging. And Bearded Lady Hometown Treats, run by Stella Loeffler and Lettie Miller, was becoming increasingly popular for the relishes, preserves, jams and sauces they made from their home-grown produce. Candy was proud to carry as many of their products as they could spare. Plus there was his candy counter—the candy counter that was responsible for him being known as Candy and not his given name, Gunther.
The candy counter was four yards long, covered in glass, and featured every delicious morsel he could find to keep in stock. There had been a time when all the goodies were a penny but those days were long gone. However, because the store was across the street from a grade school, the candy counter was always busy regardless of the prices.
“Candy? Are you back there?”
Candy was in the combination warehouse/workshop behind the store when he heard the bell over the door jingle and a woman call to him. “Coming,” he answered. He put down the photographs he’d been sorting through and went out into the cheerful shop. “Mandy! Did you bring me more goodies.”
Standing at the counter carrying a large cardboard box was Mandy Herzing, a short, sturdy woman with curly blond hair that always made him think of Cupids. She wore jeans and a blue sweatshirt with the sleeves pushed up to her elbows and was, as usual, smiling her pretty smile.
“I did. I have some more of the pint jugs of our syrup and a couple boxes of the maple sugar candy you asked for.” She shoved the box up onto the counter. Mandy and her husband Bob owned Herzing’s Maple Sugar House, a large maple syrup bush and sugar shack. They harvested sap from their sugar bush every spring and boiled it down into syrup that they sold and made into a variety of candies, butters, and creams.
“Great.” Candy lifted out a box of maple sugar candies molded to look like little boys and girls in traditional Bavarian costumes. “I can’t keep these in stock and it isn’t just the kids that like them. Ezra Winter can’t come in the store without buying a couple.”
“Really? I didn’t know he liked them.” Mandy grinned. Ezra, who was well into his eighties, was generally acknowledged as a typical Marienstadt character. “Ezra’s father and my granddad were brothers. I’ll have to take him some. Bob said to tell you we’re getting some new molds so when those candies are ready, I’ll bring some by for you to see.”
“Good. What kind of molds?”
“Bob’s been wanting to do something with a local theme and he found molds that are shaped like elk. Then Father Nick came by—talk about someone who loves our candy—and he suggested we might look for some Belsnickel molds for the holidays.” She laughed. “Everyone always has ideas for us, that’s for sure.”
Candy grinned. “I think those are great suggestions. Father Nick has Sister Hilda at the convent making Belsnickel ornaments in the ceramic shop, too.”
Mandy nodded. “I saw them. They’re very cute.” She leaned closer. “Did you hear that the Fleddermans have put the family farm on the market. It’s been just sitting there ever since Aaron died a few years back. I guess I always knew this day would come but I sure hate to see it.”
“That’s the land right across the highway from you?”
“Yes. Bob said he’s going to talk to Harry Lenze at the real estate office to see how much is involved. Bob thinks there are quite a few acres. We don’t want the whole thing but if the land is going to be divided up, Bob said he wouldn’t mind getting a few acres close to us.”
“No kidding. What does he want them for?” Candy took the invoice from Mandy’s box and reached under the counter for his checkbook.
“He’s been talking to Stella Loeffler about starting an apiary.”
“Bees? Really?”
“Yes, but we want them far enough away from our house. We have three little ones and they play outside all the time. It might be better to keep the bees across the highway.” She took a deep breath and sighed. “I’m just worried about Aaron’s barn. I sure would hate for that to be torn down.”
Candy frowned, trying to picture the barn. “I don’t remember…”
“Candy! I can’t believe you forgot about it.” Mandy put her hands on her hips and gave him a mock scowl. “It’s the last Mail Pouch Tobacco barn in Elk County!”
Candy’s eyes widened. “Oh, that can’t be torn down. We have to save it.”

To be continued.....

Friday, August 15, 2014

Guest Post: Dr. Tiffany Brown

This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Dr. Brown will be awarding an ebook copy of Anger: How to Control It So It Won't Control You to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

Everyone has experienced it at least once in their life. Some have experienced it at least every day.

I have traveled all over the world and have seen it in every place. I have struggled with it as well. It’s a family problem for generations. It can be your greatest motivator or worst enemy.

Anger. Anger is defined by the Webster Dictionary as a strong feeling of displeasure and belligerence aroused by a wrong; wrath; ire.

I will show you not only how to control your anger from a Christian perspective but also have manage it until it motivates you; not hinders you. Get Ready. Anger is nothing more than manifestation of fear. Once you eliminate fear, the anger will be gone. Become Fearless.

Read an excerpt:

Section 2 - What is Fear and its connection to anger?

Fear is defined as a perceived threat of some type. It can be emotional or physical. When you feel that you’re in some form of danger. This activates your fight or flight response. Most animals respond to threat by either fighting or fleeing. However, we don't always have the option to fight what threatens us. Instead, we have anger. Words are the civilized way that we get to fight threat.

Some of my biggest blowups often involved a fear of being alone. When I have depended on people to reciprocate support for me on various levels, (new venue, in a relationship, or just life) they have disappointed me. I have never felt more rage in my life. It wasn't the disappointment that I was feeling or the feeling of being used. It was the thought that all my hard work wasn't good enough. I was unworthy, not loved, and alone.

Anger is just a manifestation of fear. For some people, when you are fearful of something, the first response that comes up is usually anger. Anger is a mask of fear.

I have learned that despite it all, I must be able to rely on myself and God. People, situations, and organization will fail you time and time again. When God is with you, nothing is against you.

You can do all in Christ that strengthens us (which is my current Church's motto).

Through my personal evolution of how to handle my anger, I have become fearless. I think before I move, I think instead of becoming angry. I am also slow to anger. I have now begun to think about the motivations behind people's actions. Sometimes, the only answer is indifference. Never fight anger with anger. It causes long reaching effects in ways you cannot even possibly imagine.

Fear is nothing more than an illusion of a possible threat. If you can control your response to your fears, then the anger will melt away.

About the Author:
Dr. Tiffany Brown is a native of Atlanta has taken great pride in her education and strives to continue broadening her knowledge. Graduating with a degree in Political Science from the prestigious Spelman College in 2001, a Master's degree in Public Administration from Clark Atlanta in 2004 and also a Doctorate in Public Policy from Walden University in 2009, she earned these achievements through determination and the desire to achieve her goals. She has held positions with the United States Government Accountability Office, Fulton County District Attorney's Office, Georgia Law Center for the Homeless, Georgia Conservation Voters, Supreme Court of Georgia, Equifax, Coca-Cola Enterprises, and Atlanta Bar Association. Upon Graduation from Walden University, she has truly impacted change as an academic and practitioner. She is former 2009 Write-in Atlanta Mayoral Candidate and owner of 3 companies: Tribute Contracting LLC, a minority owned government consulting firm TB LLC; Tiffany Brown Design House; Tiffany Brown Holdings Inc. - Consulting firm that has five divisions: entertainment, vending, radio, food, nonprofit management and book publishing. She is an author of several books: Daily Reflections of Life: A Book of Affirmations for the Ambitious and Prayers of a Faithful Woman. In 2010, She is honored as a Influencer by BOSS Network. The BOSS Network is a women's empowerment alliance dedicated to highlighting women and creating opportunities for growth through networking beyond events. BOSS was named among the top 100 websites and one of the top 10 career sites for women in 2010 by Forbes.com

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