Memorial Day 2017

This one is kind of special. The reason why is that twenty-one-year-old young man in the photo, the one in the white shirt holding up his right hand. That is Blake Casteix, my grandson. That was Tuesday when he was in the process of swearing to “defend the Constitution of the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic”. He is now at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Texas, for Air Force basic training. That will be followed by tech school at Keesler AFB in Biloxi, Mississippi, where he will be trained in cyber security. Sounds like a career field he can use when he gets out, assuming he doesn’t make a career of the Air Force.

His dad was also in the Air Force, where he learned a trade, one he is using today, as a civilian, to make a good living with his own business. Everyone thinks you must go to college to be successful and make the big bucks. Ain’t so. There are many career fields in the military where a young man or woman can learn a trade and make a good living at it afterward—or even use it as a springboard to attend college on the GI Bill. Sadly, not many young people are willing to do that. Instead, they whine about not having any opportunities. I am calling Bravo Sierra on that. If you want it, there are ways to get it, but you might have to work for it instead of having it handed to you.

I was also in the Air Force but after I graduated from college. I had my college handed to me by my parents. It took the Air Force to gave me maturity I did not get in college. There I learned to do my job in a way that reflected on the fact that someone’s life might depend on how well I did it. For that reason, I believe in universal military service. Unfortunately, that would open the military up to having a lot of people that will never “get it” and never appreciate what it can give them. And maybe it is better if it isn’t that way.

This Memorial Day I salute Blake Casteix and all those who have written that check out to the United States of America for payment “up to and including my life”.

The complete Oath of Enlistment –

“I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

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Why I Hate Flying.

I HATE flying and refuse to get on a plane unless I have no other viable choice to get from point A to point B. In most cases, I will drive before I will fly. No, I am not afraid of flying. I have many hours in many different types of aircraft. In civilian life, I have flown in many of the big commercial planes, both prop and jet, enough that I earned sufficient points to upgrade to first class on the return trip home from my business trips. I even had a couple of helicopter rides and a flight in a single engine Cessna that was dropping skydivers back in the sixties.

In the Air Force, I flew more civilian flights for training schools or TDY deployments, plus trips in Huey helicopters, six-seat U-6 Beavers, C-130s, one of which was ski-equipped landing in an unimproved runway, and even a seaplane landing on a lake once. I almost had a ride in the back seat of an F-4 Phantom II as an “atta-boy” award. That would have been fun.

Even been involved in one minor “crash”, which I wrote about here.

So it isn’t like I have not been exposed to flying. I used to enjoy flying, even the nine hours I spent in the cargo hold of a C-130 coming back from Alaska. (I was on leave and grabbed a “space-available” flight out of Anchorage with some Ohio Air National Guard types returning from summer camp.) In spite of the canvas jump-seats and loud interior of the C-130, I actually consider that to have been more comfortable than having my knees crammed into my chest on a modern commercial flight. And the “boxed-nasty” they gave us for lunch on that C-130 flight was better than what you get in today’s commercial flights.

I hate flying because the experience has become a miserable affair for me. Some of that is because of those lovely folks who brought us 9/11 and the government agency that sprang from that (TSA) with all their silly efforts to make us think we are safe. I mean, really—patting-down a five year-old girl or a 90 year-old grandmother is going to protect me? Or my favorite, the Muslim garbed TSA agent patting down a nun. Give me a break!

To go almost anywhere by air today, you will at some point be routed through a “hub.” That involves a layover of an hour or more—better make it “more” to cover for flight delays and weather. I once missed a connection (last flight of the day to NOLA) because of weather and spent the night in the Atlanta airport to catch the first flight out in the morning. Lovely experience. At least they don’t close the terminal at night. On that C-130 flight from Alaska, it landed in Toledo, Ohio late at night. The airport was joint-use with the Air National Guard on one side and the civilian part on the other. By the time I got there, the last flight for NOLA was long gone, and they were locking up the terminal for the night. I begged, and they agreed to lock me inside rather than go search for a hotel. It was actually a better experience that the one I had nearly 30 years later in Atlanta, because I was much younger then, and there was no CNN blaring its propaganda all night long in the Toledo terminal.

I used to do a lot of business travel, and to go to Kentucky on business, I had to arrive at the airport at least two hours before my flight, fly to Atlanta (or Cincinnati), lay-over, fly into Louisville, rent a car and drive to Frankfort. I can actually drive from NOLA to Frankfort in about the same time all that takes and with easier pee stops, infinitely better food, and in considerably more comfort. And when the meetings are over, I don’t have a mad dash in five o’clock Louisville traffic to catch my flight. Less anxiety.

Airlines have squeezed the customer out of every last dime, charging or proposing to charge for what was formerly included in your ticket cost. Meals? Forget it. Either buy something in the airport or make do with a small bag of pretzels.

Seat comfort? Forget that. They have added rows both ways. You get to share that armrest with your neighbor (better hope it is a skinny woman), and when the guy in front reclines his seat, it will be right into your kneecaps. Reclining yours moves you to an awkward contorted position from which sleeping is possible only for those who have been without sleep for at least the last three days. Now I hear one airline is offering (and I use that word very loosely) a special lower rate with even less legroom, and the seat doesn’t even recline. Oh, and no carryon. You must check even your computer. Not gonna happen for me.

Overbooking – I understand they want to fill the seats of no-shows—milk every penny out of that flight— but aren’t those seats already paid for by the no-show (or his insurance policy)? Isn’t that double-dipping?

Standing with hand-straps like on the subway is next. Not for moi. Flying has become a form of self-abuse that I refuse to submit myself to unless I have no other choice. That takes a trip to Europe off the table for me.

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Meet Maggie

Been a while since I posted a teaser from my latest book 1943. Well, here is one. This excerpt introduces a main character to the story, Maggie. Considering that this story has an underlying romance element, it may seem strange that the second half of that romance (Maggie) doesn’t show up until almost half way through the book. Here we see her first appearance after she has had a particularly bad date that left her feeling a bit “desperate”. She is a divorcee whose husband has left her some years before. Dating, at forty-five, has proven to be something less than she had hoped for.

*****

After regaining her composure, she stood and tore off a paper towel from the dispenser under the kitchen cabinet, wiped her eyes, and blew her nose. “No use crying over it now,” she reminded herself.

Her cell phone rang, and she fished for it in the bowels of her huge purse, hoping to find it before whomever was calling was sent to voice-mail. It was Darrel, her most recent mistake. “Oh, it’s you,” she muttered when she saw the caller ID and simply tossed the phone back into the purse.

Maggie went to the refrigerator and retrieved a Diet Coke, popped the top and gulping nearly half of it down, expecting that to help. But it didn’t. She still felt like crap—useless and unloved—cheap—and now needing to belch. She let it fly, and it was a good one.

The phone rang again. “Go away!” she screamed at it. It did not. It rang for another eight rings before whoever it was gave up, probably HIM.

Then the house phone rang. She snatched it from the charging cradle. “What?” she yelled into the phone.

“My, aren’t we testy tonight,” said Scarlet. “Something wrong?”

“Nothing. Sorry. What do you want?”

“Checking on you to see how you liked your date.”

“He was an utterly useless pile of cow manure.”

“Wow! Liked him that much, huh? What did he do?”

“He was a jerk, a complete narcissist-in-love-with-himself jerk. Then he wanted me to go back to his condo for a drink and…”

“I take it you passed on that exciting offer?” quipped Scarlet.

Maggie laughed at her sarcasm. “What is it with men that everyone of them thinks just because I’m over forty I must be desperate to get laid by just any smooth-talking jerk?”

“You’re not?” Scarlet asked, trying to sound sarcastic.

Maggie sighed. “What am I going to do with you?”

“You have my sympathies. Finding a good one isn’t easy. I’m looking for husband number three now. The first two were jerks.”

“Tell me about it. I’m done with this singles and dating bit. I haven’t the time to waste on idiots who are trying to impress me with their toned bodies and clever, flattering banter.”

“Wait! Don’t do anything rash. I just opened a bottle of pinot noir, and I’m on the way over there.”

“No, no. I don’t need to get smashed over this.” But it was too late. The phone was dead and Scarlet was already out the door. Less than thirty seconds later she waltzed in Maggie’s back door.

“I’m sure glad you live across the street. Makes these midnight bitch sessions so much easier.” With that she grabbed two wine glasses from the rack and offered one to her friend. “You need to whine, and wine goes so well with whining.”

As Scarlet filled the glasses, Maggie laughed. “Scarlet, I love you. You could always make me smile when I was feeling down.”

“What are friends for but to be there when you’re hurting?” As Scarlet passed the wine to her, she paused a long moment before responding in a more serious tone, “Maggie, you are a beautiful woman with so much to offer a man. Don’t give up on life. You just need to find the right one, one who deserves you. Your ex-husband didn’t. He was a jerk, and I told you that before you married him. Ken is gone from your life, out in California chasing beach bunnies and probably catching some social disease. That’s a plus—that he’s gone from your life, that is—not the social disease part. That has opened up a whole new world of opportunities for you, but you have to give it some time.”

“Time? What about the four guys I’ve dated since Ken left me? Explain those.”

“Simple. I never got to approve any of those. You were on your own, and well, you made bad calls. You should have passed them by me for my inspection first. I have a sixth sense about these things.”

“Sixth sense? But you’re working on husband number three. How can you spot my jerks but not your own?”

Scarlet shrugged as she took a sip of wine before replying with a wave of her hand, “I donno. I get all wrapped up in the heat of the moment, if you get my meaning. I can be more objective with your jerks and see their flaws before you discover them the hard way.” She held up her hand. “OK, so you had a bad experience—check that—a few bad experiences. I know this dating thing can be a pain, especially if they are auditioning for the role of life partner instead of just a goodtime friend. I know you well enough to know you’re not someone who can get along indefinitely without a partner. Frankly, I’m surprised you’ve lasted this long. I know you’re trying, but I think you may not be giving them a chance. You’re afraid to commit.”

“You suggesting I was too hasty with Darrel?”

“Not at all. He was and remains a jerk. What I’m saying is not all of them are. Don’t get discouraged. The right one will come along, and when he does, don’t let him get away. Because you’ve been hurt in the past doesn’t mean you’ll always be hurt in the future. Sometimes, you just have to trust your heart, even when logic is screaming no. I was the class clown and can be flip about this. You are the more serious member of our dynamic duo—well at least since college anyway. Back then, you were kind of wild, and now you’re a professional woman running a successful business—I’m babbling, aren’t I? You’re the kind of person who needs that happy-ever-after ending, but remember this: Every happy ending has to have a beginning.” Scarlet remained silent for a moment to allow that to sink in. “And sometimes, that beginning may look rather strange at first. Yeah, you’ve made a few bad calls, but not all men are like Ken or Darrel—or the other three. There are actually some rare gems out there that can appreciate something good when they see it. You have to give them a chance to show you that.”

*****

1943 – Road Trip! Searching for Miss Betty on a WWII Harley-Davidson is available here.

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Fifty Years Later…

In the fall semester of college 1965, I made a decision that has changed my life forever—and for the better. I made a whole bunch of new friends and had wonderful experiences with them I would have never had otherwise. I pledged a fraternity—Epsilon Chi Chapter of Kappa Sigma, to be exact. This was at the University of Southwestern Louisiana (USL), which is now called the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (UL).

I began that session with no thought of joining a frat, but my neighbors at our new off-campus apartment were all Kappa Sigs and recruited me and my two roommates. I am thankful they did. I “went active” in the winter of ’66 and finally graduated in ’68. Of all my college experiences, those three years were the best. I made friends that I still have contact with. Some stood in my wedding, and I stood in theirs. While those were fun times, they eventually came to an end with graduation. Many of us went off into the military, marriage, and jobs after leaving school, and many of us lost contact with most of our brothers.

Fifty years later, an event changed that. A brother, Bo Cooksey, was about to pass with cancer, and some of his Kappa Sig brothers reached out to others from Bo’s era for a party in Lafayette. About thirty-five brothers from that period were located and able to come, some from far away states. It was a wonderful time in spite of the reason for the gathering. It stirred in us the need to not wait again until one of us was dying before getting together again. A reunion sprang from that.

A year later 102 brothers from the 1960s were found and able to attend a reunion in the Alumni Center at UL. In the process of searching for all these brothers, we discovered that thirty-seven of us were deceased already, which isn’t surprising, considering we were all in our mid sixties–mid seventies. Some died of diseases or accidents—and even Vietnam—many way too early in life.

It was a gathering with laughter and tears, and it will go down in my memory among my fondest. Yes, a few of us might have gotten a little snockered (not me). Many old tales were recalled, but the truth was never allowed to stand in the way of a good story. David Coughlin regaled us with his memories of the “Mobile Gross-Out Unit” activated in response to us being put on probation. Yes, we were on probation at least once while I was there. Back then Kappa Sigs (on the USL campus at least) were known as the “Animals,” and this was years before the movie “Animal House” came out. I don’t think we were as bad as those guys in the movie, but some might disagree, the Mobile Gross-Out Unit being just one reason for that.

For those who must know the details: It involved several brothers (who shall remain nameless, as they have attained some level of professional respectability as adults) riding around the campus in an IH Scout 4X4 with the top removed (and past the frat house that turned us in) while exposed their backsides, a position which is generally referred to as a “moon.” At least it was a simple moon and not a “double hog-back growler” (which, believe me, is much worse, but that’s another story, and it shall not be told on this blog.)

The infraction was hazing, which the Epsilon Chi chapter practiced back then. It really wasn’t that bad and prepared me well for my military basic training after graduation, which was a cakewalk after experiencing “Hell Week” as a pledge.

What’s my point? We make friends in our travel through the Valley of Death. Sometimes those friendships are allowed to fade away—and we should not allow that to happen. “Friends and Brothers” are too valuable to let slip away.

AEKDB

The pic is of me in my Eric “Otter” Stratton pose.

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I’m retired?

No, the question mark in the title is not a typo. I have been officially retired since February 15, 2017 after 44 years with SPAR, Inc. Been there since 1973 after I got out of the Air Force. It was a fun ride while it lasted. I got to work on some truly wonderful, challenging, interesting, and rewarding projects. During those years, I had the privilege of working with some very talented people, designing packaging and product promotions for local, national, and international brands. My team at SPAR won numerous awards over the years: locally with the New Orleans Ad Club, nationally with the American Advertising Federation, and even some international design awards. Like I said, I had a talented team.

But all good things must come to an end. Upon reaching 72, I decided I needed to hang it up and go home. My expectation was that I would live the life of leisure after working since I was fourteen. So far, that has not happened. I intended to devote my “leisure” time to painting, writing, and Bible study. It hasn’t quite worked out that way. I have done some Bible study, but no writing and I have not lifted a paint brush yet. Instead, Janis has had me digging holes in the yard to plant stuff in and running a chain saw cutting other stuff down. Seems rather contradictory, doesn’t it? I mean planting and then destroying?

I’m having to take more doses of OTC pain killers these days, and a good bourbon on the rocks in the evening feels mighty rewarding after a day swinging a shovel or a chain saw—and feeling it. I’m hopeful that this period of physical exertion I had not previously associated with retirement comes to an end soon—before it kills me. Otherwise, I may have to go find a day job so I can get some rest.

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Boy Scouts in Kenner

boy-scoutMost of my friends were in the Boy Scouts when I was a kid. Henry Legasse was the Scout Master when I joined, and that position was later taken over by Mr. Hansen and Mr. Carter.

We joined when we turned 11 and some of us were even in the Cub Scouts prior to joining the Boy Scouts. I joined because I liked the outdoors, and the Boy Scouts were all about the outdoors, plus I was into uniforms then, especially if they looked military. (I played army a lot.)

Boys like to go camping, and the troop had a supply of WWII pup tents, also known as “shelter halves” because two halves were put together to make one tent. We used these tents only once as I recall. Our Scout leaders, most having recently served in WWII, had had their fill of camping and anything remotely related to the Army. And pup tents and sleeping on the cold ground certainly fit that bill.

Instead, they took us places where there were cabins and real (alleged) beds, like Camp Salmon and Fountainbleu State Park group camps. The latter was probably a bit emotionally triggering for them because the buildings we stayed in were surplus Army barracks. But they had a roof instead of pup tent canvass and real beds with alleged mattresses.

Manard Lagasse was not what I would call a “momma’s boy” but every “camping trip” we went on, he puked all the first night and had to be taken home the next day by his dad. Frankly, the rest of us were glad, because it was hard to sleep and listen to Manard’s “Oommmoooogggg!” followed by liquid hitting the floor.

We played games and worked on merit badges on these trips, and learned Army stuff, like: fall in, ah-tennn-HUT, count off, parade rest, and other nifty things that would come in handy less than ten years later when many of us went into the military.

On one trip to Fountainbleu, we begged our adult leaders to take us on a hike. They weren’t into hiking either, having recently hiked all over North Africa, Italy, and Europe. They decided to break us of that desire and took us on what more resembled some sort of death march rather than the leisurely stroll we had in mind. They took us into a swamp—into muck up to our knees—and we could barely move forward—and they urged us on deeper into the swamp, and some of us lost our shoes. When we came out, we were covered with stinking swamp mud, and we never asked for a hike again. And I don’t recall them ever offering to take us on one, either.

Once when we were on a winter campout at Camp Salmon in the little buildings with (alleged) real beds, we had a giant pillow fight, which, unfortunately, went badly. At least one of the pillows quite literally exploded, resulting in a blizzard of chicken feathers. That was a mess to clean up!

One of our favorite games was “infiltration” which we always played at summer camp at Camp Salmon. The objective was for all the scouts, under the cover of darkness, to sneak up on the campfire area along the bayou. Success was just about impossible without taking out a few of the camp counselors, but cutting throats was not then allowed. The scouts would blacken their faces with charcoal, dress in dark clothing, and crawl around in the woods infested with briars, snakes, spiders, ticks, and red bugs and attempt to sneak up on the campfire ring. We actually believed we had a chance of succeeding. I don’t recall anyone ever succeeding.

At summer camp, they were very strict about littering. They even had a rule about it. If you bought any candy at the little camp “trading post” and tossed the wrapper on the ground, whoever picked it up could charge you, and you had to buy them the same thing. It is amazing how many kids toss their candy wrappers on the ground. Some of us (punks) saw potential in this and formed a “vigilante” group. We hung around the “trading post,” and when we saw some kid eating candy, we followed him until he dropped the wrapper—and we pounced. I gained weight that year at camp. Yes, I know. I’m ashamed of myself. But hey, they needed to learn a life lesson about littering.

The last night of summer camp at Camp Salmon was the big campfire when we sang Kumbaya, did skits, and received awards. We would dress as Indians, and the costumes were pretty lame. We used towels as loincloths held on by our scout belts. Having that wad between your legs was pretty uncomfortable, and I don’t recall anyone taking a shower after that.

There was a priest there who somehow managed to attach himself to our troop. He was from some foreign country and spoke broken English. When he saw us dressed as Indians, he flipped out. I think the “skimpy” towel loincloths did it. We tried to reassure him we were pretending to be Indians just for the night. His reply was a pleading, “NO! Christians!” We went in our crotch-irritating loincloth towels anyway. He remained behind prayed for our lost souls.

And I must not forget the meals on these camping trips. Almost always we had access to a kitchen and lots of surplus Army aluminum pots, but every once in a while we got to actually cook our own meals over an open fire. That usually meant foil stew. Done right, foil stew can be very good. You simply make a pouch out of two layers of aluminum foil and place in it chopped potatoes, carrots, onions, bell pepper, and some kind of meat cubed up. Throw in a little seasoning and a dash of water, seal the open end well and toss that puppy onto a bed of hot coals and scrape a few on top. Cook it for about 20 minutes. Retrieve from the fire and split open the foil and enjoy. Later in life, we would make foil stew on hunting trip camp outs, only being older and wiser then, we used steak instead of the cheap of meat cut our parents gave us as kids and substituted beer for the water. Yuumm! And no pots to wash!

The weekly meetings at the Kenner VFW Hall were always the high point of my week. I really looked forward to them and getting together with kids I saw only then. We worked on merit badges and different scout projects. I never did learn Morris Code, however. The biggest event was the “Court of Honor” when we received our merit badges and promotions to the next level of scouting. It was all rather formal with everyone in uniform with candles glowing softly as the ceremonies played out. We scouts received our new uniform decoration and our proud parents stood by smiling and applauding.

Those were some good times.

I encourage readers, especially former members of Troop 176 in Kenner, to post their experiences in the comments section below.

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1943 is LIVE!

PrintMy latest book “1943” is now available. This one is very different from my previous Catahoula Series, which was historical fiction with strong romantic overtones, especially in the first two books. “1943” takes place in contemporary times and is a romantic comedy, road trip, mystery, action/adventure story. The story blurb is below.

*****

Still grieving over the death of his wife, retired San Bernardino Sheriff’s detective Mac McConnell is a lost soul wasting away with life passing him by. His closest companion is his deceased wife’s little, black and tan Pug dog (named “Pug,” of course), but the two barely get along.

During restoration of an old Harley-Davidson WLA Liberator motorcycle from WWII, Mac’s friend finds a faded photo of a beautiful young woman that was taken during the war and a never completed V-Mail letter that was written to her by her fiancé, a soldier serving somewhere in Italy in 1943.

Knowing only the couple’s first names, Betty and Alvin, and with the letter, the photo, and the old motorcycle the only clues to go on, Mac and Pug set out to solve a seventy-year-old mystery. That leads them on a cross-country journey on the old Harley as they go in search of “Miss Betty.” Along the way the unlikely pair encounter some unusual new friends and find themselves in some unexpected, sometimes dangerous, and often humorous situations. In the process, Mac discovers there is indeed new life (and love) after a death.

*****

For Amazon Kindle Unlimited members, the digital version is available FREE here. Regular price is $4.99 for non-Kindle Unlimited members. The paperback is also available at the same link or at Create Space.

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Fifty Years Ago Today

wedding-leavingToday, 21 Jan 2017, marks fifty years of marriage for Janis and me. Yes, fifty years ago I watched her father escort my weeping bride down the aisle of St Rita Church in Harahan. Why was she weeping? I don’t know, and she doesn’t either. I asked. “Emotional moment” was the best she could come up with. It was so intense I don’t remember much about that day, the weeping bride being one of only a few things, but let me try to relate some of what I do remember.

I remember my friend Sam showing up at my door thoroughly confused about the workings of the bow tie on the monkey suits we wore. Gads, but they were stupid looking suits. “Does the tie go inside the collar or outside?”

I remember standing in a reception line for about a week. At least, it seemed that long. We survived only because my best man and a few frat brothers kept us supplied with food and adult beverages. Thankfully, they don’t do reception lines anymore. The bride and groom can now enjoy their reception.

At the end of the “week,” we were rushed from the reception line for the cake cutting, then the dance. Or was it the other way around? Then change clothes and leave for the honeymoon. We went to Hot Springs. (I know what you are thinking, but try to ignore that. I am referring to the place in Arkansas.) It was all we could afford, and I don’t recommend it for a honeymoon.

We visited the chicken circus where chickens do tricks. Whoo-hoo! I even have pictures of that somewhere. We visited an auction where I was suckered into buying a diamond ring. No one was bidding on the cheap diamond ring being offered, and the slick auctioneer asked me, “Would you give $125 for this ring, sir.” I think the “sir” impressed me because I replied in the affirmative never thinking he was asking for anything more than my “expert” diamond appraising opinion.

“I have a bid of $125. Do I hear $130?” He didn’t. “SOLD for $125 to the gentleman with exquisite taste in jewelry.” And I was the proud owner of a diamond ring, and my bride was looking at me like I had two heads. We immediately went and had it appraised. It was worth maybe $65. We went back to the auction house and complained and got some of our money back. The diamonds were chips, and Janis later had them reset and the ring melted down for its gold value. We actually made out on the purchase, but it took about thirty years.

Enough of that…

Our relationship goes back way past fifty years. We started dating when I was sixteen and she was fourteen, some six years before the wedding. She followed me wherever I went. I went to USL (University of Southwest Louisiana now ULL, University of Louisiana at Lafayette) and she followed. After a year or so, her dad asked while writing out a tuition check, “Tell me again why you are going to college in Lafayette.”

wedding-janis

Janis lived on Minor Street in Kenner. I lived on the intersecting Sixth Street (now Toledano), and since there was a vacant lot between my house and her house, we grew up within sight of each other. But I never noticed her until the hormones kicked in. Among many I have one very vivid memory of that time. It is of her walking home from the Airline Highway bus stop in her Mercy Academy uniform complete with saddle oxfords and white bobby socks, clutching her books to her chest, and her long ponytail dancing behind her head to the rhythm of her steps. In retrospect, I think that was when I fell in love with her.

After school and marriage, it was the Air Force for me, and of course she followed. Our oldest son was born in the base hospital at George AFB in Victorville, California. It was a difficult delivery that ended up as an emergency cesarean. She was in the hospital for nearly a week and got no real food until near the end. When I checked her out, I had to pay $14 and some change for her meals. She wanted me to go back and ask for a refund. “I didn’t eat that much.” I figured $14 for an emergency caesarian is pretty cheap regardless of how much she ate, but Janis was and remains very frugal.

In all that time, our only separations were the time I spent in basic training, tech school, the occasional short TDY assignment, and the eleven months I spent at King Salmon AFS, a remote station in Alaska.

Then came discharge in ’72 and buying a house in ’73. We had to borrow the down payment for the house. That money came from Janis’ grandfather in Oxford, Mississippi. When told the house was costing us $24,500.00, he asked, “What are they buying? A mansion?” I gather you get a lot more house for your money in Oxford. It was a two bedroom one bath little 1,100 square foot house built in the thirties. Son number two came along in 1975, another caesarian but planned this time. We moved into a larger house in ’86, and we are still there.

So two boys, five grandchildren, five great grandchildren, and fifty plus years later, we are still married.

I’m thinking about keeping her.

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1943 UPDATE (And FREE Excerpt!)

OK, I am a little behind on this—like two months! But it will be worth it. Beta readers have had their say, and I made changes accordingly—at least where I agreed, which was almost all suggestions. The manuscript has been edited and re-edited, but I’m sure something snuck through. The files have been uploaded both to Amazon and Createspace (paperback). I am waiting on a proof copy from Createspace before I hit the publish button. Most likely date now is before the end of January. So, hang in there.

1943 is very different from the Catahoula Series. It takes place in contemporary times as a retired sheriff’s detective attempts to solve a 70+ year old mystery and find two people from WWII. All he has to go on is an old Harley-Davidson motorcycle, a photo of the woman, and a V-Mail letter from her fiancé serving somewhere in Italy in 1943 (of course). Mac McConnell is drawn out of his grief over the death of his wife by what becomes an obsession to find Miss Betty and Alvin. This leads him and his little dog, Pug, on a cross-country road trip on the old motorcycle as they go in search of Miss Betty.

Along the way, they meet some “strange” people who become their traveling companions on this journey of discovery and recovery. The excerpt below is from when he meets the first of his new traveling companions. Also, note the redesigned cover. Enjoy.

*****

PrintWith the sun going down and a few hundred more miles behind them, Mac pulled into a gas station in Vail, Arizona and popped the cap on the gas tank while Pug ran off to relieve himself in a grassless patch of sand beside the paved area. As he stood there fueling the bike, Pug rejoined him and begged for a drink of cool water. Mac opened his last water bottle, took a long pull himself and then offered it to Pug, who eagerly drank right from the bottle.

And that’s when they showed up: four bikers, wearing their “colors,” and all riding a Harley in some form or another. One was a trike, pulling a small trailer.

“Oh, joy,” muttered Mac under his breath as they pulled up to the island he was using. A gas station with twelve empty pumps, and they come to my little fuel island.

The rider of the trike had his “bitch” on the back, and she was on the hefty side with weather balloons for boobs. Both of them were heavily tattooed, including full “sleeves.” The other “bitch” was riding a chopper with ape-hanger handlebars. She was a tall, lanky woman in tight-fitting leather pants and snug leather vest with her shirt open just enough to reveal ample cleavage with a tattoo of a black widow spider crawling from out of the crack. A lizard tat was wrapped around her neck and looking as if he might be after the spider for lunch. She was made-up like she was auditioning for a porn movie. Except for that, she was down right good-looking.

The one who turned out to be the leader, a hard-looking stout 180 pounds on a five foot nine frame with a sparse beard, pulled it up to the remaining open pump and shut down his tricked-out Fat Boy and stepped off. Both ears were adorned with a series of rings along the edge. Another pierced his left nostril and looked like it might interfere with a good sneeze. He was also tatted and was wearing faded jeans, traditional high-top harness boots and black leather jacket over a tee shirt. His helmet, not required in Arizona, was strapped on the sissy bar above his sleeping bag. The do-rag he wore on his head sported a flame pattern.

He smiled, displaying bright white teeth, somehow not what Mac was expecting. “A WLA! Classic iron! Outstanding, man!” And he proceeded to walk around Mac’s bike, admiring it as Mac put the gas cap back on. The others shut down their bikes and while waiting their turn at the pumps joined the classic iron fan club.

“They call me Darth Trader,” said the leader. “What’s your handle?”

“My name is Mac.”

“No, man, what’s your riding handle, you know?”

“No, I don’t know. Mac has always worked, at least until now.”

“Man, you need a handle. I guess Mac will have to do. Nice ride. You restore it?”

Mac looked around at his new groupies and replied, “A friend did most of the work.”

“Beautiful bike. How’s she run?” the lone “bitch” asked as she knocked the kickstand down on her chopper. She stepped off and leaned closer for a look at the WLA’s motor. “Name’s Loco,” she added casually.

“Runs like she came off the assembly line yesterday.”

Loco noticed Pug then. “A Pug. Sweet dogs. I had one once. He yours?”

“More or less,” Mac replied.

“Where ya headed, man?” asked Darth Trader.

(REDACTED to avoid spoilers)

“Cool, you and the dog making a road trip to (REDACTED)?”

“Um, yeah. Where you headed?” Mac asked, hoping it was maybe north or south or west, anyplace but east.

Darth looked around at his friends and shrugged. Some of them shrugged, too. “Don’t know, man. Wherever the road takes us. You know, man, it’s the journey not the destination when you’re on two wheels?”

Mac nodded. “Yeah, the ride,” he replied while thinking, If he says “man” one more time, I might have to slap him. But then he thought better of that, seeing as he was outnumbered.

Darth put a reassuring hand on Mac’s shoulder. “Say, I have a great idea. We’re headed in the same direction.”

Crap! thought Mac.

“Why don’t you ride with us?”

Double crap!

*****

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December 30, 2016 – The Last Day

Technically, it isn’t the Last Day. That will come in about a month and a half when we close the books. But it is effectively the Last Day for SPAR, Incorporated, because it is closing its doors forever. SPAR was born December 17, 1956. I have worked at SPAR since January 1973, forty-three of SPAR’s sixty years. I began as a graphic designer right after my discharge from the Air Force, then art director, then creative director, and finally general manager. SPAR is closing because I am retiring, and the owners of the company decided they are in the beverage/alcohol business and not advertising and saw no need to keep SPAR open. The small profits we generated were “pocket change” for the owner.

There are seven of us (including me) who call ourselves “SPARtians.” (Bet you can’t guess why? Oh, you did guess correctly.) SPARtians are like family, complete with highs and lows and even a few spats from time to time. We went through the birthing of babies, the pain of personal losses, several moves, and being flooded by Katrina, in which we almost lost the business only to come back with one of our most profitable years. Through it all we were SPARtians drawn together by a common purpose, a deep personal fellowship, and a long history willing to pull together for our common good. Of the six who are losing their jobs, the shortest tenured has been with me just shy of ten years, the longest for almost three decades. You can’t be around someone for that long for five days a week and not develop some level of attachment.

Nor can you bring talented people together to create without them leaving a legacy, and SPAR’s legacy is huge. We designed some of the most famous beverage/alcohol packages and branding in existence, including the Buffalo Trace Distillery and Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Sazerac Rye, the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, WL Weller, Mr. Boston’s, Ten High, Nikolai Vodka, CLIX, Herbsaint, and Caribou Crossing just to name a very few. Sadly, we never got to complete one project, taking it right up to final approvals before we closed. I cannot give details or the brand name, but we redesigned one of America’s iconic brands. Hopefully, the designs will eventually be brought to market. I have no doubt that some of our designs will live on for many decades, maybe even longer.

It is painful to see these talented people go back out in the world and look for a job. All have families and financial responsibilities to meet. While the company is giving them a severance package to help in that transition, it softens the pain of the change and the sharpness of the fear very little. They are all capable people, and should be able to find employment, but it is a hard world out there.

After New Year, only my accountant and I will be coming into the office as we close the books on the company. I expect we will find the office to be quite “empty”—empty of the sometimes heated conversations about designs and presentations to clients, empty of the expressed frustrations when clients demanded some change we thought not wise, empty of the joy of seeing one of our designs approved and go on to win yet another design award, but most of all, empty of the laughter and even the tears we sometimes experienced as SPARtians working—and living together. I WILL miss that—and them.

How do you tell these people goodbye? How do you express your love for them and appreciation for their support through the years? You don’t really, at least not adequately.

Today, there was pain, and weeping, and hugging along with an unexpressed fear to say the word, “goodbye,” which sounds so final. There were vows to stay in touch and get together again for lunch—or something. But the truth be known, we will never again capture what we had for all those years as SPARtians.

That’s because December 30, 2016 was the day SPAR died.

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