Are You Self-made?

America has gained this reputation as the land of opportunity. It has done so by trying to destroy any and all hereditary obstacles to advancement. Instead, in America the idea is that individual initiative alone could create social mobility. A self-made man would owe his advancement to things like self discipline, loneliness, sobriety, the avoidance of debt, an excessive workload, relentless effort, disregard for his likability, self denial, and self abuse. A self-made man would live for the future and reject any self indulgences like a holiday or even a day off. Instead, under constant pressure, he would focus on grueling accumulation, one penny at a time. I’m a self-made man. Vincent Gallo

Is the above list of requirements a useful motivational tool?

Do self-made people need motivational tools written by actors (or anyone else)? There certainly isn’t anything sweet about Gallo’s description of a successful person, but I think most of what he says is true.

I’m having trouble staying on vacation from writing, plotting, and self-abuse (all mental). Work keeps me believing I am sane (others may disagree).

The only thing Gallo leaves out is the joy of being driven, the reckless disregard for food and shelter, the adrenaline rush of being productive.

This thing called self-made is like any medicine. Read the label. Too much and you overdose on self, too little and you never make anything.

BALANCE … I’m not sure it’s possible with the self-made man. Balance is an elusive nirvana, a fiction for the coasters in life. This is what my self-driving brain says in a loop.

Walk in the field. Do yoga. Call a friend. A few days of such behavior and I’m worried I’ll never produce things again. My husband told me he was proud of how I was handling suddenly taking care of his two elderly parents in our home. The loop in my head says production is all that matters. Care-giving is just what you do when you’re not intensely involved in your self-made habit.  His compliment fell on deaf ears.

Like any addict I have moments of clarity. Life can’t only be about joyfully serving your ego and amassing material accomplishments. I am a Christian after all and believe (mostly on an intellectual level) that serving others and appreciating God’s creation outside my window are good, important things, yet  I struggle to put any of it joyfully into action when there’s work to be done.

I seriously believe God is cool with me obsessively thinking about writing … well if you knock off the obsessive part. Vincent Gallo’s quote paints a picture I admire and am troubled by. America has always been a place where most people have a chance to rise above perceived castes. I think obsessing about victimhood is more deadly than obsessing about success, but addiction (and aren’t we a nation of addicts in one way or another?) is getting things out-of-order. We fill that part of ourselves meant for God with something less than God. And then we wonder where God is.

Tell me what you think about working too hard. Is there such a thing? How does your work affect how you relate to the divine?

 

Dream Attained. Closing Shop.

001Fifteen years. Five books finished. The final chapters in the lives of my best friends soon to be sent off to the editor. I feel like I want to die.

Or maybe write an epilogue? Maybe another spin-off? My issue with God and writing books is that I followed the instruction to love my neighbor (in this case fictional) but hate the part after opening my heart where I have to say good-bye to people I so love. I used to ask: why love anyone if they’re only going to die or leave you heartbroken?

For fifteen years every book I read and every library I visited was in quest of information related to my characters and their world. I want to believe I was unearthing a real world in another dimension because at times I felt these characters urging me on and applauding the moments when I got them right. I want a near-death experience where these characters meet me at the end of the lighted tunnel. I want to say like Steve Jobs did before dying, “Wow. Wow! WOW!”

There you are, John Weldon, and looking so well!

002It’s raining outside, echoing my gloomy mood. I consider taking my dog’s anti-depressant but I won’t. I don’t like meds. I know mourning takes time. I’ve lost “real” people in my life. I’ve even lost favorite characters before, but to lose over ten people at once and to feel the loss so keenly is more than a little surprising to someone who only expected to write a cynical novella to prove I could.

I have ideas for the future but right now they don’t matter to me. I want to have an Irish wake but I have no one to invite. I want to wear a black arm band and sorry face so no one feels comfortable intruding on this sad time.

Someone will say, “You should be celebrating accomplishing something you didn’t think you could! You stuck to something, finally!”

I know I still have marketing to do and a final cover to enjoy being a part of. I have wonderful readers who encourage me with their reviews and comments. I’m happy with the ending of the series, but I’m afraid that everything now will feel changed like when you see an old flame on the street and find it painful to remember all of the good times between you. Maybe someone will be sad to read the final chapters of THE TENAFLY ROAD SERIES one day. We shall see.

So I’m not quite closing my writing shop for good. I’m just putting a sign up: Closed due to death in the family. I know in a few weeks I’ll want to get started on another novel, but for now I’ll grieve.

Anyone find it hard to deal with endings? Real or imagined? Is there a character you really miss?

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Fiction: Tangled

“Seems the bit of merriment you boys had got the lieutenant shot,” said the veteran doctor.

Buck swung his legs to the side of the bed. “I have to see him.”

“No, I’m afraid not, son. Fahy won’t want to see you. He’s upset and angry, poor devil. Says you both stole horses and deserted him—even set him up somehow.”

“We didn’t steal anything! It was Fahy himself who put us atop those damned horses!” said Buck.

“But you left the camp and put everyone in danger,” the doctor said.

“But we were drunk,” said William. “Even the lieutenant was fuddled. Why would we set him up?”

“Well, of course when you’re recovered you’ll have your chance to give your side of the story, boys.”

“Are we under arrest?” Buck asked.

Buck laid back on his pillow and the doctor unwrapped his head. The old West Point wound still looked worse than the new injury, and it concerned him. “The Apaches turned in the fool who shot Fahy, so that’s done. It’ll be kept quiet. No one wants any civilians taking revenge. Fahy’s in trouble with creditors. He’s very popular at Fort Grant, but one of his men here blurted out something about fixing the rationing scales.”

Buck glanced William’s way.

“Do you boys know anything about it?” the doctor asked.

Neither of them said a word.

A commotion outside the door distracted them. The door flew open and Thankful ran to Buck’s bedside. “Oh, Buckie! I came as fast as I could!”

Buck pulled her close. “Thankful, I’m so sorry for you!”

She smoothed Buck’s hair from his inflamed temple. “You’re such a silly pet! Buck, will you ever stay out of trouble? But you’re all right now, aren’t you? At least you’re still alive. The telegram was so vague. Won’t you reconsider the army?”

“No, of course not. But—well—you know about the lieutenant?”

Kenyon made signs that she didn’t, but too late.

Thankful pouted. “Lieutenant Fahy hasn’t written in weeks and I‘m sore at him.”

Kenyon came to her now and took her hand.

“What’s happened to him?” Thankful asked.

“Dear girl,” Kenyon began but turned to the doctor to finish. The missionary hated bad news.

“Miss Crenshaw, the lieutenant has been very severely injured.”

“How? But he told me it was safe here for him!”

“I’m afraid Lieutenant Fahy was shot by a young Apache—very intoxicated and foolish.”

“No. But they’re friendlies—that’s what I was told.” Thankful’s voice quaked.

“Fahy followed us up into the mountains after the party he gave in Buck’s honor—and got caught out,” William explained.

“I knew it!” Thankful cried. “I knew you were involved in this! Your stupid behavior has gotten poor Buck hurt and my future husband—I hate you! You’re selfish and reckless and so stupid!”

“Thankful, stop it!” Buck said. “It’s not his fault. I chased after Willy and so did Fahy. We were all reckless and drunk.”

“Everyone has to chase after you and follow you and rescue you, William! It’s disgusting that I ever loved you!” Thankful slapped her hands to her mouth, having said more than she wanted to, and cried bitterly.

William hobbled over against Buck’s silent protests. “Thankful … I wish I’d known it sooner—I love you too.”

Thankful stared up at him. “I said I once loved you, but you’re hopeless now.”

“I can change if only you’ll have me.”

Thankful laughed. “Don’t ever dare ask me to be responsible for your behavior. Who are you? A man should be responsible for himself. Just leave me and my family alone. What sort of man considers himself when another is suffering because of him? I would never desert Lieutenant Fahy!”

William’s blood boiled. “He’s no great shakes.”

Thankful jumped up and slapped him hard. A fly buzzed at the window, and men a long way off laughed at a joke. Thankful turned to the doctor. “Please take me to him.”

“Of course, Miss Crenshaw. ”

The doctor’s face scared Thankful then, and she turned to Buck. “Won’t you come with me?”

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Featured Image: “Portrait de Femme au Chapeau Noir” by Gustave Jean Jacquet

What Does Your Name Mean?

How do names shape us? In ways we often little realize. Parents and fiction writers have their methods of putting name to face. Some search lists and meanings long before the person is made flesh. Some, like me pick names at random.

I thought it would be fun to compare the personality traits of the characters I’ve written about as I finish editing the last book in MY SERIES to see if the names I’ve given them actually match their  traits found on FIRST NAMES MEANINGS. I was surprised at how close the descriptions came!

House on Tenafly seriesJOHN WELDON: In THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD Sergeant John Weldon struggles with addiction after the American Civil War. His plans to struggle alone are dashed when he falls in love. From the start I knew the story would be about redemption and God’s grace (though I struggled with the concept myself at the time). What I didn’t know was that John’s very name means “Yahweh is gracious.”

According to the website “people with the name John are extremely attached to family and are willing to make great concessions in order to maintain a harmonious relationship with loved ones.”  John Weldon’s tortured desire to keep his family together keeps the book going.

KATHERINE WELDON:  It is guessed by some that the name Katherine means torture. Katherine suffers something like torture being in love and married to John Weldon.   “A nervous and often worried little girl, her parents should provide as much reassurance as possible.” Here Katherine’s parents fail miserably. They blame her for a sexual assault suffered in early adolescence that sullies the family name and sends her brother off to military school to escape punishment for his act of vengeance.

When John Weldon appears, Katherine, still saddled with the anxiety of childhood, sees him as her knight.

FIRSTNAMESMEANINGS.COM says that Katherine’s ideal mate “should be good-looking, tall, intelligent and worthy of admiration.” Katherine’s admiration causes her to follow her husband into the wilderness while little understanding his moods and motives. He is tall though!

Weary of running seriesBUCK CRENSHAW: “Buck is active, energetic, dynamic, courageous and of a passionate nature. Seemingly adaptable and accommodating, he is nonetheless capable of gently but firmly asserting his rights and ideas, occasionally with a touch of cunning and opportunism or even by amoral means … He is very highly strung, so action makes a perfect outlet for this excess energy; otherwise he could experience emotional upheaval and distress. … “

Buck’s life is all about emotional stress as the adult survivor of an extremely abusive and dysfunctional family. Yet, it’s true that … “challenges and difficulties stimulate him and spur him on. He has a profound sense of justice, and can react violently to any kind of iniquity …”   (Buck feels justified in his abuse of a fellow cadet who treats him unfairly). Despite this Buck … “feels great compassion for his fellow earthlings which often incites him to get involved with groups and associations that have a social or political objective. (he converts to Christianity and joins a community of utopian visionaries). He is a highly intuitive man who nevertheless prefers to present his more logical, rational side to the world…”

Some readers have expressed frustration with Buck’s self-destructive decisions but right here at FIRSTNAMESMEANINGS.COM it states: “He can be a real perfectionist or even quite obsessive in one particular area, while paradoxically revealing himself to be completely undisciplined in another.”

Now Lucy floored me:

The Dew SeriesLUCY: “Lucia was a 4th-century martyr from Syracuse. She was said to have had her eyes gouged out, and thus she is the patron saint of the blind.” Lucy appears briefly in THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD as a baby. Lucy’s father Simon comes home from The Civil War with a venereal disease – a pretty common occurrence. Simon suffers guilt. I assumed at the time that Lucy was a throwaway character so making her have weak eyes at birth was just to torture Simon – poor guy.  I had no idea that she’d be the light, hope and truth teller that she becomes.  Her personality is as described: “… sociable, friendly, cheerful, communicative, cheeky and likeable with a love of pleasure …” but also “…responsible, industrious, loyal, buttoned-down and attached to stability.” I suppose it’s why Buck finds her so appealing!

WILLIAM (son of John and Kate): is “… charming with an elegant appearance … refined, eager to please and to be liked in return. Sentimentality, beauty and harmony are the values he seeks, somewhat confusedly; such is the extent of his need for equilibrium. Nevertheless, he is quite secretive, reserved and not particularly demonstrative in his interpersonal relations. He is extremely sensitive although he manages to partially conceal this aspect… “ by hiding behind a bottle in this case.

“He is attracted to all that glitters and all that is beautiful, while he wishes to succeed, to be in charge and to be admired. In love, he is an aesthete and is often first attracted by a woman´s beauty, although deep and meaningful exchanges are just as important to him. Therefore, his choices in love could be complex, often hesitating between the beauty of one and the magnanimity of the other or the reassuring presence of so-and-so… He is family orientated and desires a comfortable and attractive home with a wife who he imagines as being the perfect hostess and a fantastic cook, if that isn´t asking too much…”

Enter Thankful, his love interest!

Forget me not series THANKFUL: “these charming women were born to love and bring happiness to others, creating peace, harmony and beauty everywhere they go. Their presence is extremely soothing, and has a calming and balancing effect on those around them. Anxious to please, Thankful  is prepared to make a lot of effort to render herself lovable. She is “sweetness and light” personified: warm and affectionate, pleasant and helpful, she also takes great care of her physical appearance, not without a hint of vanity.” Yet … “they won’t go far …” if their childhood is unstable. (See her sibling Buck’s childhood)

How is it possible that random names could so accurately capture the personalities of characters real and fictional? Do we on a deeper level know what we don’t think we know?

 

For even more self-absorbed fun I read my own name and found it surprisingly accurate:

Enigmatic and mysterious: two words that perfectly describe these rather paradoxical women. Shy, reserved and unassuming; their behavior can be inconsistent and they are often anxious and nervous creatures who lack confidence in their abilities and have a tendency to become withdrawn. Nevertheless, they could react to this with defiance and a fighting spirit or by choosing a less conformist or unconventional lifestyle … not without pitfalls or changes of heart, due to a high mobility and carefree attitude combined with a certain instability… they will be driven by a desire to learn and mystery, spiritualism, religion, philosophy and anything to do with the cutting edge is bound to fascinate them.

Curious by nature, Adriennes are often quite unusual characters, undoubtedly because they prefer to take the road less-travelled; unless this difference is perceived as an infliction instead of a choice, born out of a certain maladjustment. They are cyclothymic and their emotions can be subject to extremes: alternately experiencing periods of elation, enthusiasm and hyperactivity followed by phases of doubt, helplessness and passivity… Bold and daring at times, they can be incredibly timorous and fearful at others but they tend not to let their distress show on the outside and can therefore come across as being much more easy-going than they really are. As children, Adriennes are extremely sensitive, suggestible and receptive to their environment. If they do not feel secure or loved enough they are likely to seek the affection that is so essential to them outside of the family home.

 

What about you? What personality traits has your name given you? How do you choose names? I’d love to know all about your name. Go to FIRSTNAMESMEANINGS.COM and then tell me all about yourself!

 

 

“I meant to write about death, only life came breaking in as usual” ― Virginia Woolf

Today a short post. I’m curious. Have you ever set out to write one thing only to have something totally different and surprising break through?

Tell us about your surprises in life and writing.

I’m anxious to hear from you all!

 

***Featured Image: The Small Meadows in Spring by Alfred Sisley

Fiction: A Race and a Rescue

William wasn’t used to such high-quality drink, and it affected him strangely. He pulled out his Bowie knife—passed down from his Uncle Simon’s old things—and started for the mountains where a band of Apache camped.

“Bill, what are you playing at?” Fahy asked.

“Apache tizwin. I heard it’s good drink. I’m gonna try it.”

“How? No, I can’t let you go up to the Indians in the middle of the night.” Fahy wanted no trouble with the peacefuls on his watch. “Weldon, how about a race—you versus Buck here. Winner gets bragging rights at home and what’s left of the spirits.”

Buck vomited, but was shoved along by the drunken men around him to take the challenge. They led him and William to the horses, and Fahy had the two fleetest ones saddled. The moon lit the flat grounds for a quarter of a mile. Someone ran to alert the sentries. Spectators wondered as the race began how the two would stay afloat as they mounted the horses drunkenly. The rushing air woke them both to the spirit of competition and they flew over the land. One was no better than the other, but at the specified end point William raced on to the Indian drink in the hills.

Only Buck was close enough to get William and turn him, but he had not been given orders to do so and he sat on an army horse. He slowed just long enough to hear Fahy yelling for him to follow William and pushed his horse forward.

William slipped out of sight, hidden by the dark and rugged terrain. Buck, getting sick every so often and lost, tried to follow what seemed to be a trail, but hoped his horse knew better. Something stirred to Buck’s left and barreled towards him on the narrow path. Buck clutched the small gun he had with one hand and the reins of his excited horse with the other. William’s riderless horse dashed past them back toward home. Buck pushed forward.

A small firelight and William’s familiar silhouette, drinking tizwin with a few of the older Apache friendlies around a bed of embers, appeared in a clearing just ahead. They aimed their weapons at Buck, who said, “Friend. I’m a friend.”

William staggered to his feet long enough to make signs that Buck was no trouble. He tried to grab Buck’s gun, but Buck wasn’t having it. “Willy, we have to get out of here.”

“No, try some of this …” William passed the tizwin, but Buck’s body revolted at the taste of it and he vomited again.

The Indians laughed.

“Let’s go—now!” Buck said.

“You go,” William replied, shoving him. “No one asked you to come.”

Buck waved his gun.

“Buck, put that away! Are you crazy?”

“William, we have to go!”

William lunged forward trying for Buck’s gun again and they wrestled. A shot rang out. The old men joined the fray, trying to break up the two boys, and into the confusion galloped Fahy and a few of his men. Upon seeing the cadet held around the neck by an Apache, Fahy took aim at the Indian, grazing him but angering the others, who took up their weapons in the murky light of early dawn.

Fahy and his men struggled and cursed at the tight spot they were in on this narrow trail.  They slipped off their animals and used them as breastworks, aiming into the ruckus. Stray bullets and arrows whizzed into the air amidst the shouting and stumbling.

Buck jumped on his horse after losing his gun in the scuffle and became an instant target. William stood like a wilting statue of wax. Now other Indians from the camp took positions behind the rocks and shot.

“Get out of the bloody way, cadet!” Fahy shouted, but Buck refused to leave his spot until he got William.

His voice was no use, so he pulled off his boot and threw it at William, getting his attention, and then pushed through the mess and took William by the hair on his head, helping him climb aboard.

Fahy shouted, “Leave the bastard who got us into this!” But he let the two get by him and down the path a short way.

Buck’s scarf at the neck shone in the breaking dawn. William felt a jolt and Buck’s body went limp, but William steadied him and took the reins. The Scotch and tizwin were still at work on William, and he soon passed out and slipped from the horse with Buck in his arms.

As the sun peeked through the tall pines on the hilltops, the Indians disappeared into the woods. The younger ones edged their way in to carry home their drunken elders as Fahy watched in disgust.

 

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How Will You Live in Old Age?

Some people seem to take years to die. In my family members crash and burn. One moment my father was cooking burgers on the grill for my son, the next he was dying of a heart attack. Aside from dying while sleeping, this is the best way to go, though it’s a shock to those left behind.

In novels, the excruciatingly slow death is my favorite. I’ll mention Prince Andrei in WAR AND PEACE as my personal favorite, gut-wrenching death. I cried over him (as some of you may know) for weeks. Yes, weeks. I hardly cried at all over my father because my morbid imagination had prepared me for his passing since worrying about it all through childhood. It was no secret that we loved each other immensely so perhaps that gave me peace. I also decided that I wanted to appear stoic yet stylish like Jackie Kennedy after her husband’s assassination. Funny what your brain and heart do to get you through tragedy.

In my first novel I kill off a couple of characters. One dies in true Victorian fashion, lingering until the right words are said. Another dies suddenly of a heart attack. People exit. It’s part of the human story. Until recently many people lived with disfigurement and death as kissing cousins.

On Sunday my husband made a rare request.

He’s at a crossroads in his career. He’s searching for meaning. His proud and independent-minded parents are struggling to survive a few states away. One with painful blood cancer and the other with multiple issues only made worse by loneliness and depression after years caring for her suffering husband.

My husband wanted to visit the local nursing home nestled in the mountains of Washington County. He asked me to come. My first thought was to tell him talking to sick, old people wasn’t my thing and that I’d planned a day of reading by the fire. But, as I’ve said, my husband rarely makes requests. My daughter joked that we’d be the Will and Kate of Upstate New York. I practiced my royal wave in my Sunday best with a laugh.

Our pastor occasionally visits the home on Sundays. He had invited my husband to come by since we live five minutes from the place.

“It will only take half an hour,” my husband said to reassure us both as we walked down a long hallway with large windows and geraniums blooming on the sills.

One old soul napped in a wheelchair beside the main desk. She wore a faded pink sweatshirt and her hair went in every direction. The place smelled of housecleaning fluids and medicinal things only old people and doctors know about. We followed the booming voice of our pastor. We arrived a few minutes late for the gathering and tip-toed to a couple of chairs behind about twenty people in wheelchairs. Our pastor joked with them, shook hands and led them in singing old Christian hymns. And then he left.

One of the old men, in a hurry to get back to his room, smashed his wheelchair into a younger man who appeared to have had a brain injury. My husband jumped to his feet, took charge of the situation and wheeled the man where he wanted to go. I smiled as I watched my husband in his element (I’m the sort who tends to witness things happening with a detached inability to step in).

Just as my husband returned, and I zipped my coat to go, another man with a fake leg wheeled over to us.

“I need to talk to you. I said to myself if someone doesn’t talk to these two they may never want to come back.”

All thoughts of reading by the fire slipped away. In an instant this bunch of wheelchairs became people. I cast a sheepish look my husband’s way, but he was already engaged in talk about the old man’s life as a dairy farmer. Despite the fact that he was only just recovering from an amputation, Walter wanted us to know that he was still a farmer and that he was planning to walk again soon. I hate awkward silences because I feel the need to fill them which exhausts me. I needn’t have worried. Walter and my usually quiet husband talked tractors and milk prices. I wanted to take Walter home after only a few minutes.

All the while a lady stared at us as if waiting in line to speak with royalty. It was a little unnerving and humbling. After Walter went to get his snack of Lorna Doone Cookies and juice, Nancy waited for us to make the first move. We shook hands.

“I just said to your pastor that if his church wanted to do good he needed to remember us.”

I considered our pastor’s busy schedule. I considered that when writing one of my novels I got rid of a character by sending her to a home for the aged. I couldn’t keep her because she had too much wisdom and spunk and the other characters needed to remain stupid and inexperienced for the story to move forward.

Someone took Nancy to the beauty parlor or had someone come in to give her highlights. Grey hairs mixed with the blond strands but her face appeared young—maybe 50-ish. Her hands shook and her back curved unnaturally.

“You keep animals?” she asked. “My father was a farmer. He got me on a horse when I was three. Once my horse spooked and dove into the Mohawk River with me on back.”

“Were you scared?”

“No,” she said wistfully. “I was never scared when my father was around.” Nancy sensed we were uncomfortable with what seemed a sad remark. “I still intend to ride again someday.”

The characters in my novels lead busy lives. They mention the old folks’ home once in a while but they never go to see how their loved one is doing. My father’s last words to my mother were: “I always loved you best. Tell the kids I loved them all the same.”

I wonder how I’ll feel if I end up in a nursing home. Will I welcome the rest and solitude? Will I fight for coffee or tea with my crappy cookies? My daughter says she’ll keep me in her home and we’ll die together like Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher (my daughter has a flair for the dramatic).

On the drive home my husband asked if I’d like to come with him again next weekend. How could I say no?

LINK: SENIOR LIVING 1800-1900

MORBID DEATH CUSTOMS FROM THE VICTORIAN ERA

THE UNSETTLING ART OF DEATH PHOTOGRAPHY

 

Fiction: Burnt

“Stay with me, cadet,” Fahy replied. “We’ll have some devilment tonight.”

But Buck had come west for a break from devilment.

The day glistened like a golden carpet to the west and Buck felt the nip of sunburn and weariness as the soldiers tended a massive fire with choice cuts of rare buffalo brought in by Indian traders to the north and a wild turkey shot on the hills. Buck had imagined something more in the desert than sunken-faced soldiers and debased Indians in their cast off military clothes. No one else minded the quick chill replacing the day’s heat.

“Why don’t you take off your scarf—it’s pretentious and off putting, to be honest, young fellow,” Fahy suggested as he poured Buck more scotch to drink.

Buck untied the cravat, exposing the vicious-looking, half-healed scar.

“Jaysus!” Fahy moaned. “What the hell—oh, cover it up again, please! Not before a meal!”

Buck followed orders.

“What’s the story, cadet?” Fahy asked.

“There’s no story but that it won’t heal,” Buck said, sipping his scotch.

A few favored non-commissioned officers helped with the barbecue and shared the drink. Out of the shadows came the missionaries and William.

“Party over!” joked Fahy.

“Will I pour you all a drink?” Buck offered in an intoxicated whisper. “It’s from my father’s collection. He’ll never know it’s gone.”

The missionaries as a group declined.

“Cadet, you’ve forgotten good old Bill,” Fahy said. “You’ll have a drink, won’t you, Bill? It’s a celebration after all. Certainly you can take one drink. You’re no fun without one and maybe Papa Kenyon will let you off the hook for one night.”

Buck looked on innocently.

Kenyon said, “Lieutenant Fahy, I see what you’re up to and I don’t like it. We’ve come as a gesture of good will. Now leave Mr. Weldon alone.”

Fahy laughed, poking the fire. “Bill, do you have ANY mind of your own or have you been completely brainwashed by this sour old man?”

“I’m not under anyone’s thumb and I’ll speak for myself,” William said with false bravado, glancing at Buck. “One glass is hardly anything and I’ve done a lot of good work for you, Mr. Kenyon. I’m entitled to a small bit of enjoyment, sir, just this once.”

“It’s like you’re an indentured servant, Bill. I’ve never seen the likes of it,” Fahy said.

“William, I have your best interests at heart,” Kenyon said.

“You want to control me!” William replied, handing a mug to Buck, who hesitated but then poured him a large helping from the fancy bottle.

“You asked for my help, William,” Kenyon reminded him.

“Yes, and thank you, but I don’t need your help anymore. I have things under control—I promise you.”

“William, you’re an adult. Do as you wish,” Kenyon said, but the other missionaries grumbled.

The soldiers laughed and shared another round. William gulped the scotch. He stood away from Kenyon, but not quite with the military men, who now under the influence, drew Buck in as their own.

“So . . . Buck, you’re on furlough . . . how come you’re not with your friends?” William asked—just wanting to be included.

Buck’s face fell. He had no friends and leave it to William to remind him. “Hey, Willy, spell lieutenant.”

“What?” William’s face soured.

“That’s right, why don’t you spell it for us?” Buck said.

“Oh, Bill isn’t all that bright upstairs,” Fahy said, pointing to his temple.

“My brother and I played tricks on Willy, didn’t we?” Buck said to William. “We convinced him to be in a spelling contest, taught him the words wrong. He got up there on his gimpy leg—he always had these headaches—we taught him every word wrong and he trusted us—ha-ha.”

The soldiers laughed. Buck was getting sick with just a few drinks in him.

William took the open bottle near the fire and filled his cup again. Kenyon called him, but William ignored it.

“What else, cadet? Any other stories?” Fahy asked.

“Oh yes, many. There was the time we stole his father’s cane—he’s a cripple from the war. It was at church and Lieutenant Weldon—well, he’s proud and he’d have stumbled, so he waited till everyone was out of church and then him and Willy took the side door. We hid in the bushes breaking our hearts laughing at them as they searched for their carriage, clinging to each other only to find their horse moved around front where they’d have to be seen. I remember watching Mr. Weldon trip–and Willy’s face,” Buck didn’t laugh with the others. “My father beat us with that stick till it broke. It was the only time he hit us. Well, we got Mr. Weldon a new, gorgeous stick—a Grand Army of the Republic one—out of our savings—my father forced us.”

“No, my mother gave my father that for Christmas!” William said.

“Willy, your mother couldn’t afford shit and your father wouldn’t have taken it from us.”

Fahy wanted fun, not memories. “How about we eat?”

“It was a damned mean thing to do to you, Willy,” Buck said, his words slurring and his head beginning to spin.

William took another drink. Kenyon came up behind him. “Son, you’d better eat something.”

“Get away from me, you bastard! You’re not my mother!” William said, shoving Kenyon.

Fahy rushed up. “Kenyon, this is my fault. Don’t let Weldon ruin your night. He’ll be the same old self in the morning.”

“Yes, I’m afraid he will. The meat’s burnt to a crisp,” Kenyon replied.

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An Architect of Happiness: Henry Van Dyke

room“Dr. Van Dyke is the kind of a friend to have when one is up against a difficult problem. He will take trouble, days and nights of trouble, if it is for somebody else or for some cause he is interested in.” Helen Keller said of him.

There are some long-dead men who follow their kindred spirits. Henry  seems to follow me. I first shared his poem about AMERICA with my ethnically diverse bunch of 5th graders. They loved it so much they memorized every verse.

After moving to Saratoga Springs I came upon another poem he had written for his friends SPENCER and KATRINA TRASK who were grieving the loss of their four children.

Henry pops up everywhere I go:

“As he was beginning his career as a minister, Van Dyke was also launching his career as a writer. In September 1879 he went with his friend the artist W. S. Macy to the Red River Valley wheat farms where he saw the problems with large agricultural systems that were depleting the land and exploiting migrant labor. With Macy he did an illustrated article for Harper’s Monthly Magazine; it was the lead article for the May 1880 issue.”  ALL POETRY.COM

Only the other day did I discover that Henry had written one of my favorite Christmas carols after visiting the Berkshire Mountains:

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee
God of glory, Lord of love
Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee
Opening to the sun above

Melt the clouds of sin and sadness
Drive the dark of doubt away
Giver of immortal gladness
Fill us with the light of day

Hallelujah we adore You
Hallelujah

All Thy works with joy surround Thee
Earth and heaven reflect Thy rays
Stars and angels sing around Thee
Center of unbroken praise

Field and forest, vale and mountain
Flowery meadow, flashing sea
Chanting bird and flowing fountain
Call us to rejoice in Thee

Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah

Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee
Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee

Mortals, join the mighty chorus
Which the morning stars began
Father love is reigning o’er us
Brother love binds man to man

Ever singing, march we onward
Victors in the midst of strife
Joyful music leads us onward
In the triumph song of life

Hallelujah we adore You
Hallelujah
Hallelujah we adore You
Hallelujah

Henry Van Dyke saw God’s beauty, grace and love in nature.  He opposed art for art’s sake because he felt all art should serve man and make him a better, happier person. His life, like his art, did just that. I imagine my students all grown up with snippets of Van Dyke in their heads.

POET, NOVELIST, DIPLOMAT & FRIEND: HENRY VAN DYKE

A SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY

THE OTHER WISE MAN